Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Big Snow of 2009

You may have heard that the upper East Coast had a rather large storm yesterday. It wasn't a blizzard, because the winds never picked up as had been expected, but there were record amounts of snow for December. As best I can judge, given that the large number of trees in our yard disrupt the snowfall, we got 19“.

I've been playing around with the Linux version of Picasa, Google's photo organizing software, and with Picasa Web Albums. I don't claim to be a gifted photographer, but here's a few pictures of the storm and its aftermath, all taken from our front door.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We're in the middle of what promises to be the biggest snow storm Maryland has seen in years. It will most likely set the December record for snowfall. We're scheduled to get something between 16 and 24 inches of snow, depending on how long the nor'easter hangs off the coast. Since it's a nor-easter, that means when the blizzard hits, an hour or two from now, the snow will be blowing east to west, a foreign notion for a Kansas boy like me.

The picture above was taken about 10:45 am. I'd estimate 10-12 inches of snow on the ground.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Read More (Please)

The Read more ⇒ link at the bottom of many front page posts is a Blogger feature that Liz Castro alerted me to. I'll let you go to her page to read all the gory details, but if you use a third-party template be sure to read all the way through to my comment, which tells you how to activate the feature in your blog.

If you want it. I'm not entirely convinced it's useful, at least for a blog like this. True, it lets the casual reader see more articles in less space, but as my click logger quickly shows, most people don't look at this blog every day for the Pulitzer quality prose — they directly click to a a specific post (or maybe this one) because a search engine told them help was at hand. Those people never see the link, since they automatically see the whole post.

So tell me, mythical reader of my every word, does that little Read more ⇒ link do anything for you?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

RSS Feed Template

When we designed the new version of our church home page, we constructed a page where we collect sermons. It turns out that this page, and the associated sermons, gets hit a lot. I've been told that the hits match the biblical texts specified by the liturgical calendar for upcoming Sundays, which suggests that most of the traffic is pastors looking for sermon ideas.

Nevertheless, it's useful for a congregation to put its sermons on the web, because, let's face it, the sermon is the biggest chunk of time in a service, and is most likely to give you an idea of the church's, or at least the pastor's, theology. So we want to publicize the sermons as widely as possible.

One way to do this is to construct an RSS Feed. Once you have one, people can link to it as, say, a Live Bookmark, or with a feed aggregator. You can also export the feed to other sites. For example, we've set up a church newsletter blog, and you'll see the titles of the last few sermons on the right-hand side.

Setting up an RSS feed isn't all that hard. I was able to do it using the prescription in Elizabeth Castro's HTML, XHTML & CSS, with a few modifications needed to get the thing to properly validate. I'm putting a template for the feed reader here, as much for my use as anyone else's:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Doubly Bad Seasons

At the end of this season, the Washington Nationals finished as the worst team in baseball, with a record of 59-103 (0.364). To add insult to injury, the Baltimore Orioles finished as the worst team in the American League, 64-98 (0.395). So if you had the misfortune to watch all the Orioles and Nationals games on MASN, you saw a combined record of 123-201 (0.380).

This set me to wondering how bad this really is. In most two-team markets, when one team is up, the other one is down, right? Well, not always. I went looking through the season standings in Retrosheet, searching for two teams in the same market that finished at the bottom of the division.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Pretty Good Average

June 12, 2011: This post completely fraks up the calculation of David Smyth's Base Runs statistic. I've now fixed that, and added the data from 2009 and 2010. You can find all the updated tables here.

I'm a big fan of Sabermetrics, the use of statistical information to understand how baseball teams win games. Part of this is my love for the game, part my natural tilt toward numerical data, and part is that I've always enjoyed reading Bill James's work (full disclosure: he and I overlapped at KU, though we never met). Not to mention the fact that, from my desk, I can see several editions of both The Baseball Encyclopedia and Total Baseball.

But … in the old days, we judged batters by average (> 0.300 is good), home runs (> 30), and runs batted in (> 100). That was it. These stats have some problems: batting average doesn't tell you how many times a guy gets on base by walking, you can only bat in runs when your teammates are already on base, and as for home runs — well, OK, home runs are a pretty fair way to determine part of a players value.

The inadequacy of the traditional trio of AVG/HR/RBI led to the development of new measures for player performance: On-base percentage, slugging average, runs created, etc., etc. The problem is that off the top of my head I don't know what's a good number for any of these statistics. OK, a slugging percentage of 0.900 is better than 0.400, but is a player who slugs 0.500 a power hitter, or just Joe Shlabotnik?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

How to be a Computer Expert

I really should just bookmark all of xkcd:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Designing a Random Photo Album

More on my Church Web Page redo:

It's nice to have a picture on the front page, showing the church, or, more importantly, the people who make up the church. It's even nicer to have the picture change occasionally.

The ideal way to do this is to make a Flash slideshow, something easily accomplished with SWFTools, available in fine Linux distributions everywhere. It's fairly simple: Load up all the pictures in order, and export the file, possibly making a political statement everyone in the Universe will ignore. ahem Sorry, some things die hard.

The advantage of Flash is that everything is loaded into your visitors browser once, and then stays there, rotating pictures, for as long as she/he is on the page.

The disadvantage, at least with the method used here, is that the pictures are always in the same order. Which means that the casual visitor, who only stays on your site for maybe 60 seconds at a time, will only get a few pictures, always in the same order.

Not to mention, every time you add or subtract a picture from the lineup, you've got to recompile the animation — not an onerous task, but an annoyance.

PHP can solve part of this problem.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

[Why Would You Want To] Run Multiple Copies of Internet Explorer[?]

Comes the time in the life of every web page designer, including those of us who are in no danger of losing our amateur status, when he must face the fact that half of is audience is going to be using Internet Explorer to view his artwork.

And not just the current version of Internet explorer. There's IE8, IE7, IE6, and, dear Lord protect us, even IE5 is sometimes seen in the wild. Of course, each version of IE has its quirks. IE6 does CSS badly, IE7 does it a bit better, and IE8 is better yet, though not perfect. To show you an example of the differences, here's a screen shot of one of our pop-up menus. The first one's IE8, but it's pretty much the same in all reasonable browsers:

Then there's IE7, which looks like this:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Page Under — Construction?

More on Church web page design:

In general, I tend to agree with the notion that under construction web pages are lame. However, a church is a collection of committees, and not every committee runs on the same schedule as your humble webmaster, especially during a Washington summer. So some pages just aren't ready yet. I have the structure of the web site set up, and I don't want visitors to jump to the File Not Found page when they click on a menu item. Something is needed to fill that empty space.

So I picked this icon off the under construction is bad page:

It's Da Vinci's helicopter, of course. An object that probably would work, but just hasn't been built yet. Perfect for a web page that isn't quite ready yet.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Amateur Web Page Design

Let's put this right out front: I'm not a professional web page designer. I'm not even a low-handicap amateur web page designer. I flunked web page design.

However, I have put together at least one web page that gets a lot of attention in its field — more for its content than for its looks. So, I guess, I'm a somewhat competent web page designer.

As a result, over the last dozen years or so I've been in charge of keeping up my church's web page. The thing just grew, sort of like Topsy. It started out as a high school web design project, the designer left for college and I just kept adding things. Sermon pages, Christian Education pages, newsletters, etc.

It got to be a bit of a mess.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stupid X Tricks

Buried in this Penguin Pete Post and Comments is a trick that I'd never seen before. It could be extremely helpful, albeit tedious to use, if your mouse suddenly scurries off or is otherwise inoperable, and it works in any setup running X:

  • Do a 3-figured salute using Ctrl-Alt-Numlock, (in Gnome and KDE, it's Ctrl-Shift-Numlock)
  • Press one of the arrow keys on the keypad
  • The mouse cursor will move on the screen. A bit of experimenting shows that the "5" key is button 1, and 1-3-7-9 move the cursor diagonally. (OK, I looked here. But the diagram is almost unreadable, and I probably would have hit on it eventually.)
  • Unplug mouse, free up USB port. (Well, maybe not.)
  • Apparently you can also do this with that Microsoft product, though not in the same way.
  • Apple? Don't know.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

You stick around now it may show

Forty years ago, on this very day, the Beatles shot the cover picture for Abbey Road.

The crosswalk is still there. A few years ago somebody at the Abbey Road Studio had the bright idea of pointing a web cam at:

Found via the New York Times newsfeed.

(Hey, you got a better lyric for the title, add it to the comments.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Because I Never Remember to Save This

From xkcd

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Found in Translation

You can do everything in Emacs, the One True Editor: read email, browse the web, check your calendar, play Conrad's Game of Life, talk to a shrink, oh, yeah, even edit files.

And now you can call up Google, Babelfish, or a couple of other translation services directly from an Emacs buffer. Load up babel.el, highlight a region, do

M-x babel-region

and your translation appears in another buffer.

Thanks to minor emacs wizardry for pointing this out.

Now if it just had a hook for Latin.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: The Summary

After considering the body of work that is the remade Battlestar Galactica, I offer this summary:

Be kind to your sheet-metal friends,
For that toaster is somebody's mother,
We make them do all our hard jobs,
And program them so they can't sob.
Now you may think that they'll kill us all,


Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Back of the Ticket

From the back of the Washington Nationals Baseball ticket for May 15, 2009. Footnotes added.

By the use of this ticket, the ticket holder agrees that: (a) he or she shall not transmit or aid in transmitting any information about the game or related activities to which it grants admission,a including, but not limited to,b any account,c description, picture,d video,e audio,f reproductiong or other information concerning the game or related activitiesh (the Game Information); (b) the Club issuing the ticket is the exclusive owner of all copyrights and other proprietary rights in the game, related activities,i and Game Information; and (c) the participating Clubs, Major League Baseball Properties, Inc., Major League Baseball Enterprises, Inc., MLB Advanced Media, L.P. and each of their respective affiliates, licensees and agents shall have the perpetualj and unrestricted right and license to use his or her name,k image, likenessl and/or voicem in any broadcast, telecast, photograph, video and/or sound recordingn taken in connection with the game for all purposes and in all mediao known and unknownp throughout the universe.q Breach of any of the above will automatically terminate this license and may result in further legal action.r

aSo if you sneak into the game, you can do any of these things?

bDon't worry, we'll think of other things later

cWhich is why I can't actually tell you about the game

dNo snapping pictures with your cell phone

eRemember Sonny ripping the film from the camera? Applies here, too.

fThe cell phone conversation, where you called your wife to tell her the game was going into extra innings? Verboten

gEven with sock puppets

hSuch as the young woman bouncing up and down three rows in front of you

iThis includes all bubble gum, sunflower seed shells, and tobacco wads spit out by players during the game

jOne of the five people you meet in heaven will be an MLB Lawyer. Oh wait, if there's a lawyer there …

krcjhawk will now forever be associated with the Washington National Baseball Club

lWell, I don't suppose they'll be using my likeness, but that woman three rows down …

mI have been told that I have a voice made for blogging.

nWait! We left out Leroy Neiman pantings!!!

oWhew. For a moment I'd thought we'd left a loophole.

pJust in case sending pictures via DNA encoding ever becomes popular

qAt least on Arcturus they don't complain about us calling our championship the World Series

rA century from now, if we find you put a picture of this game in a scrapbook, we'll exhume your body, drag it to the site of the Spanking-Brand-New Washington Nationals of Boise Park, and cast it out through the front gate. Then we'll sue your heirs.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The World's Best Visual Illusions

Well, I'm not sure they're the best, but here are some really neat visual illusions, including why a curve ball appears to make a sudden break as it reaches the plate, when we know it's really making a smooth curve.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Preserving My Web History

Back at the dawn of the Internet I had a GeoCities Web Page. For its time, it was marvelous. All you had to do to keep up with the terms of service was to make sure each page had a link to the GeoCities home page, and upload files through a somewhat clunky web interface.

I haven't touched the thing since about 1997, but it's still up on the web.

Not for long, unfortunately. Yahoo, which bought the place in 1999, is boarding up the site sometime this fall.

So, for posterity, I've downloaded my contribution to early web culture and uploaded it to my current free web site. That I was able to do this tells you something about why GeoCities is about to go the way of Thylacinus cynocephalus: AwardSpace gives me free web space so long as I register my domain with them, with minimal restrictions, and I can manage it with standard ftp. All I have to do is remember to keep my domain registration active.

Looking back on the thing, the only part that might still be relevant are my book reviews, most of which I did as a paid-for-connect-time science advisor for GEnie. They aren't particularly dated, but I obviously needed an editor to go over them. I've also mis-remembered some of the reviews. For example, I was certain that my review of The Curse of the Bambino started with the line Red Sox fans whine a lot, but that turns out not to be the case. (And, the curse having been obliterated, this is the most dated of the reviews.)

Anyway, it's a new home for old web pages, at least until AwardSpace disappears, hopefully in the far, far future.

The Science Hodgepodge Archival Edition

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Weather Didn't Constantly Change — It Was Always Windy

Holyrood, Kansas, 9:00 am, April 2, 2009:

5:30 pm, April 2, 2009:

9:45 am, April 5, 2009:

1:20 pm, April 5, 2009:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Passing it On

The lyrics of Avenues and Alleyways, sung here by Tony Christie, make no sense until you're told that the opening instrumental and the final chorus (where the soul of a man is easy to buy ...) are the music from the opening and closing credits, respectively, of The Protectors, an early 70's British crime-fighting import staring Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter. The only thing I really remember about the series was that Nyree Dawn Porter was in every episode.

Kids: Yes, we did really look and act like that. Someplace in your house are pictures of your mum and dad in this kind of clothes. Grab them. They'll come in handy when they threaten to change the will.

I stumbled on this a few days ago, and haven't been able to get the frakking song out of my head. I figure if I can pass it on to even one person, it will leave me alone.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Download Today's Sports

For years, The Sporting News was the bible of the Baseball world: complete records, weekly stats, team information, publishing yearly guides, rule books, etc. As a bonus, it would cover other sports as well, at least during baseball's off season.

Many of TSN's services have been replaced by such things as Retrosheet, the Emerald Guide, and, of course, the web sites of ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and even TSN's own site.

Trying to remain relevant while its popularity steadily declines, TSN has come out with Sporting News Today. If you are looking for investigative journalism, look elsewhere. SNT is a daily collection of articles, mostly from wire services, about what happened last night in sports. The four biggies (baseball, basketball, football and hockey), mostly, but other stories show up as well. At 40+ pages per day, it's the sports section your local paper never had, even when you had a local paper, and it had a sports section. For those of us far way from home, it's a godsend.

You can read SNT on the web, but I've found the best viewing is with the PDF download. This is predictably named, so I wrote a short script to pull it off the web, open it up with my favorite PDF viewer, and erase itself when I'm done. Feel free to modify this as and where you will. (With a few obvious modifications, it's excellent for looking at many daily comic strips.)

#! /usr/bin/perl

# Should download PDF version of Sporting News Today
# You probably should register first

# Make sure everything goes on in /tmp:

chdir "/tmp" ;

# Find the date

$daystring = `date +"%m %d %Y"`;


@date=split(" ",$daystring);

$m = $date[0];
$d = $date[1];
$y = $date[2];



# Get it:

system("wget $address");

# Read it, then erase it when you're done

system("xpdf /tmp/$name; rm /tmp/$name");

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Snooping on Snopes

If you've ever been forwarded an email that says something like Bill Gates will give you $1,000,000,000,000 if you forward this to twenty-five people in the next 10 minutes, then you probably know that before you tell the sender what an idiot he/she is you should check it out first at

If, however, you want to find out about the people behind Snopes, check out the article in Reader's Digest.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just in Case You Are Still Naive Enough to Believe Your Secrets are Safe

Rodriguez, A., On the propensity for unfavorable information to leak even though they tell you that it will absolutely, positively, be destroyed, ESPN (2009).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Technical Difficulties

Those of you who occasionally look at my web space, will find that my domain has been replaced by another. That's because my provider,, neglected to tell me that the domain registration expired until a full two weeks after it actually expired. I've re-registered, hopefully the everything will be back to normal in a day or two.

Actually, it took about an hour. Everything is back in place.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How to Explain the Metric System to Americans

Because it's time for a change:

xkcd: 5 January 2009

(If part of the chart is hidden, or it's too small to see, click on it to get the full picture.)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Twenty-First Century is When Everything Changes

OK, I'm about three years late finding this, but it's still cool:

Phobos and Deimos seen from the surface of Mars