Friday, January 21, 2005

A bit of snow overnight: just enough to cover the yellow lines in the
Trade Center parking lot, and cause my co-workers to lose whatever skill
at parking their cars they once may have possessed.

It’s not difficult to figure out where the lines are, and not hard to
ensure that one’s vehicle sits between rather than astride them; but when
there’s snow on the ground, most people don’t bother. (I have a word for
such people; it isn’t a very nice word.)

Chicago’s forecast calls for six to ten inches of snow tonight, with
more on Saturday. (How much more is unclear from the NWS storm warnings.)
Champaign will catch only the fringe of the storm: one to three inches
overnight. Any number of major storms have skipped across the midwest this
winter, and each time Champaign has caught only the fringe (or been spared
altogether). Lucky us.

Highs in the forties on Tuesday & Wednesday: perhaps then our long
sump-pump nightmare will be over.

Had the notion to use the Internet Anagram Server (
to look for pangrams.
It worked, too:

Mr. Jock TV quiz PhD bags few lynx
Cwm fjord bank glyphs vext quiz
Blowzy night-frumps vex’d Jack Q
Veldt jynx grimps waqf zho buck

The question is whether there’s a special check for pangrams in the
anagram algorithm. I suspect so—re-running the query without the Z
takes long enough that the site starts complaining about server overload.
(Sorry about that.)

[Obviously there’s a special pangram check: normally
the Internet Anagram Server returns its results in ALL CAPS, but the
pangrams are in mixed case. How foolish of me not to notice that earlier.]

In the news: Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers speaks on “the
under-representation of female scientists at elite universities” at
an economics conference, people take umbrage, media circus results.

It’s interesting to compare the news coverage. The Harvard Crimson
tries pretty hard to find out what Summers actually said, what he personally
believes, and whether either can reasonably be considered offensive. For
contrast, I found on a central Florida television station’s web site an
headlined, “Women Lack ‘Natural Ability’ In Some Fields,
Harvard President Says”, which is completely wrong.

Mr. Summers has posted a response
to the frenzy:

Despite reports to the contrary, I did not say, and I do not
believe, that girls are intellectually less able than boys, or that women
lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science.

So maybe they won’t fire him.

Handy rule of thumb when dealing with the mass media: anybody who brags
about being fair & balanced is likely to be neither. Edward R. Murrow
did not start his wartime broadcasts with This…is a fair and
balanced look at London
, did he?

(I wonder if those broadcasts are available online somewhere. A few
minutes of googling turned up nothing obvious. The search

Mail from Microsoft: they want my opinion as regards Streets & Trips
2005. The survey should take no more than 20–25 minutes to complete,
quoth the ‘softies. As an incentive to participate, I’ll be entered into a
drawing for…a free copy of Streets & Trips 2005.

Sorry, I’ve got one already.

Interesting software: Delicious Library (
It uses your webcam to scan the UPC barcodes of books, DVDs, etc., and
assembles a local database of information about your collection.

Alas, it’s OS X only. No Windows version.

After we win the Lotto (tomorrow, definitely) and I’ve bought myself a
tricked-out Powerbook, I’ll buy a copy of Delicious Library and get started
on my new library database.

My current library database, in case anyone’s wondering, has a long and
curious history. After two or three false starts written in BASIC (ever try
to implement a recursive height-balanced binary tree insertion algorithm in
BASIC?), sometime around 1987 I bought Cornerstone, an MS-DOS database
program from Infocom. (Infocom was a game company with ambitions of
getting into the business software market: Cornerstone was their first,
and only, attempt.)

I used Cornerstone until late 1994, when I upgraded to Windows NT 3.5
(the first usable version of NT). Cornerstone just couldn’t get along with
NT’s DOS subsystem, and kept crashing with some sort of drive A: error.
Fortunately, I had Access 2.0 lying around. (In those days, I had a
compulsion to buy every product Microsoft released—and the disposable
income and/or indifference to mounting credit-card debt to almost keep up.)

So I dumped my data from Cornerstone into a set of quoted, comma-delimited
text files, imported these into an Access database, then somewhat laboriously
recreated all the interconnections between the tables. (I seem to recall
writing some BASIC code to help out. It would have been easier to run a
bunch of queries in Access, but it never occurred to me that I could do
that. Oops.)

Since then, I’ve upgraded Access a few times (mainly by buying new versions
of Office). It’s up to Access 2000 now. At some point, I bought myself a
Visual Basic for Access book, and learned enough to add a few forms to the
database. Nothing very fancy, though.

And there it stands: an eighteen-year-old database that has run on
MS-DOS 3.1, 3.3, 5 and 6; on Windows 3.x, NT, 2000 and XP;
and on Cornerstone and Access 2.0, 95, 97 and 2000. It’s a bit clunky,
it has some unfortunate design choices, but it gets the job done.

The day after Inauguration Day 2005 seems just a little early to be
pushing candidates for the 2008 election, but
is already online: Condoleezza Rice for President.

Everyone says the Democratic candidate in 2008 will be Hillary Clinton.
(I guess we can skip the primaries, then.) If Condoleezza Rice is the
Republican candidate, that will certainly make for an interesting