Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The substitute for smoking is…smoking

In real life, I've been joking around about smoking and nicotine lately, especially since I've watched Jeremy Clarkson review the Koenigsegg CCX on Top Gear.  All joking aside, I do not recommend that anyone actually smoke, since it makes life hell for you and people around you.  But why is this blog post such a paradox upon itself?

The main point of smoking is to ingest nicotine, mainly for its psychological effects.  Over time, a smoker will get addicted to smoking, not just to smoke, but for the nicotine.  When this smoker eventually decides to quit, he simply cannot go it alone due to the main nicotine addiction.  The solution: use pills or patches.  Guess what they contain.  Half of the time, prospective quitters start smoking again within six months.  Now, this paragraph forms the basis of this post title: the substitute for smoking is nicotine.  The substitute for nicotine is smoking.  Therefore, based on rather simple mathematical logic, the substitute for smoking is smoking.

That last sentence would be perfectly descriptive if the context was not to be screwed with in this paragraph.  Especially when you do not know for sure what kind of smoking this post is discussing.  So when I said that the substitute for smoking is smoking, was the context supposed to be nicotine, food or tyres?  I'll let the readers decide while I enjoy some smoked ribs.
Absolutely scrumptious
Unlike smoking for nicotine, smoke these often, but not too often.  Like with all foods that don't carry psychological effects (most fast food joints carry those…), you will get sick of these if you eat these too often.  And while you wait for your meat to cook, I'm going to do some doughnuts on some tarmac.
The ultimate smoker: Chevrolet Corvette C6
You can smoke the tyres of a Corvette much easier than a Koenigsegg.  It's all about putting too much torque on one axle and disabling traction control.  Oh, and painting this and other high-performance cars green to outsmart the fake environmentalists.  By that time, the conversation can go something along these lines:
Fake environmentalist: So, are your cars green?
Owner of multiple green-coloured cars: Yes! Very!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Setting consumers and the environment straight

Do not buy this car.  In fact, do not even argue about this car with me.
The movement to become environmentally-friendly is in full swing in the developed world, and various industries are jumping onto the bandwagon in efforts to improve their various images.  Among them is the automotive industry, whose marketing tactics are not truthful half of the time.

The following two words leave a bad taste in my mouth: Toyota Prius.  The car is billed as a highly fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly car.  While I do like the fuel-efficient part, the praise stops here.  Forget about the car being environmentally-friendly, because the total environmental impact is similar to any V12-engined Lamborghini or petrol-powered Hummer.  There is the impact from normal manufacturing and driving, but then add the battery.  While current batteries have the ability to be recycled, the manufacture of such batteries only adds significantly to the Prius's environmental impact.  However, that is the least of the problems.

Performance wise, the car is a piece of crap.  James May from Top Gear puts it well:
So far, most electric cars have been appalling little plastic snot-boxes that take all night to recharge and then take half a minute to reach their maximum speed of forty. And then run out of juice miles from anywhere.
In detail, there is less than 100 horsepower under the bonnet without the electric motor.  Even worse is that there is only one forward gear; the fact that it is a planetary gear does not help.  Driving performance cannot be fine-tuned apart from that one gear, as the engine and transmission do more than accelerate the car.  But even under acceleration the car is still not very good: MPGomatic.com's 0–60 runs in both power and eco modes yield 9 and 10 seconds respectively.  Beyond that, there is simply insufficient power to push the Prius much farther in terms of speed.  In terms of handling, I dare someone to take the car for a lap time around the Nürburgring.

With the Prius, it is easy to get distracted from the task of driving with the car's immense features and options, which includes not needing to ever shift gears.  There are better cars that offer similar functionality, lesser environmental impact and better driving experiences.  Look no further than Audi's S and RS models, Mercedes-AMG and recent diesel-powered cars.  Look even further and find cars that have similar environmental impact to the Prius but are much superior in quality.
The king of all cars: Bugatti Veyron
The next time you, the reader, shop for cars, think carefully about the car you buy before the smart environmentalists start labelling you as a crackpot for buying a Prius.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Bike lanes screw you: accidents galore

No, I do not mean trails or purpose-built bikeways.
This is a disaster waiting to happen, if I was the one holding the camera on my bike.
There is absolutely no substitute to sharing the road with all vehicles.

Case in point: I collided with a car just by using a bike lane. Lesson(s) learnt.

The real deal is, I and probably a whole lot of other sophisticated cyclists understand why bike lanes on the street do not work.  Many of the motoring public probably do not.  So this is my attempt to explain this topic while also blending in my experience from my accident in.

Normally, bike lanes are placed as close to the side of the street as possible so that drivers of wide motor vehicles will not have to wonder why a cyclist is taking up their lane.  That means that the bike lane will be in the door zone of parked vehicles.  It also means that the cyclist cannot turn in the opposite direction of which the bike lane is situated (e.g. if the bike lane is on the right-hand side, the cyclist cannot reasonably turn left).

In my accident, I was riding in the bike lane coming up to a fork.  The bike lane is striped to fork left.  I needed to fork left, so I followed the lane.  Amazingly, a motor vehicle just has to creep up on me from behind; he pulls up enough on my left for me to be in his blind spot, and then forks right.  I continued in my lane hoping that he would realise that I was right next to him and at least slow down to let me through.  However, in the United States, there exist those drivers who are nothing but crackheads, faggots, arseholes, impatients, distracted and downright stupids.

I took my spill.  Because neither of us were going very fast, I only sustained cuts and bruises to my left elbow, left hand, left hip and right knee.  Other parts, including my head and the bike, were not damaged.

I guess the motorist would have at least most of the blame apportioned upon him, but after thinking about the issue, being aware of it and actually taking the time to write this, I may as well take some of the blame as well.  If I really wanted to fork left in that situation, shouldn't have I actually moved to the left instead of remaining in the poorly-positioned bike lane?  It's just simple traffic sense, where the bike lane violates it.

Some people will read stuff like this and still remain oblivious towards the rationality of the presence and well-being of cyclists in normal traffic lanes.  Perhaps due to the misconception that bicycles are not vehicles in the sense related to motor vehicles?

First off, vehicle is defined as "A conveyance; a device for carrying or transporting substances, objects or individuals."  Furthermore, the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, an international treaty ratified by most nations and regions, explicitly states:
"Cycle" means any vehicle which has at least two wheels and is propelled solely by the muscular energy of the persons on that vehicle, in particular by means of pedals or hand-cranks;
Now, most roads are designed for all vehicles.  Like the one in the picture above.  Only when all vehicles share the same roadway facilities equally and responsibly can safety be guaranteed.  In fact, I have never had any altercations with other road users when all vehicles use the same lanes.  Now compare that ideal situation to the accident described in this post.

Monday, 17 May 2010

If you don't like it, don't pay attention

Fuck.

Yet police departments across the United States, specifically in Pennsylvania, New York and probably many other places, arrest people for swearing.

But that is considered profanity. Apparently law enforcement confuses that with obscenity, which is pretty different. Compare these two definitions I got from the Mac OS X dictionary:
obscene |əbˈsiːn|
adjective
(of the portrayal or description of sexual matters) offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency
I think this is what law enforcement is supposed to arrest people for. But the arrest rates are higher because the cops actually arrest for the following:
profane |prəˈfeɪn|
adjective
  1. relating or devoted to that which is not sacred or biblical; secular rather than religious
  2. (of a person or their behaviour) not respectful of orthodox religious practice; irreverent
So there you have your differences. Unfortunately, there exist a significant number of people in the United States who are so idiotic that they cannot distinguish the two, much like not being able to drive at 200 km/h (125 mph) on highways without getting into accidents.

In fact, the original story says that a woman in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania was arrested for shouting a swear word at a motorcyclist. I am going to guess that the two vehicles came a little too close, but in any case, it had nothing to do with sex, as the two drivers probably don't know each other. It had nothing to do with indecency either, as a driver would probably be noticed immediately, either by another driver or a cop, of his/her state of dress.

In addition, the article also states that the courts have repeatedly found that "profanity [⋯] is protected speech." The United States Supreme Court agrees:
Obscenity, under the Supreme Court's definition, refers to speech that mainly appeals to the "prurient interest" in sex, according to the ACLU.
Swearing aside, some people seem to take it upon themselves and harass a person who they think is being annoying when the accused is simply expressing their thoughts to a wider audience.  Maybe the accused does it a little too much on one medium (Facebook statuses, for example).  Whatever the case, unless your local laws do not have a freedom of speech provision, if you don't like it, don't pay attention.

Suck it motherfuckers.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Controversies galore

I'm going to keep this short so that my readership knows I'm still here.

So we started with the two-parter Webcamgate episode 1, and now since a full internal investigation had been conducted and the 72 page report released, I may as well do my own analysis. So be prepared for a "Webcamgate, episode 2" post sometime in the near future.

But at this time of writing, there is now another one brewing. It's unrelated to any of Webcamgate's issues, or is it?
That's a little teaser for you.  Expect a post about that in the near future as well.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Down with Domtar!

[⋯] and the environmentalists become more and more noisy… –James May, Top Gear
Noisy indeed. And get ready for some more of this noise than the ones produced by diesel engines and other assorted machinery.

I'm an avid reader of Slashdot, and I came across this rather interesting article that stood out from the piles of technology-oriented articles: the top executive from a major North American paper manufacturer has launched an advert campaign, hopefully to offset a projected 4 per cent decrease of paper demand. Domtar Corporation, with its headquarters in Montreal, encourages people to print more documents on paper, so much as to name the campaign Put It On Paper. The implication of that title is monstrous.

So how is John Williams, president and CEO of the corporation, going to convince people to print more in a world where digital technology is starting to depreciate paper? I guess the adverts will try to refresh people's minds about appropriate uses of paper, how to not feel guilty when using paper and then some.

But I do feel guilty when I use paper in ways where the task could be done with the equivalent or less amount of effort digitally. Perhaps it's the fact that trees are cut down and branches stripped with chainsaws (internal combustion engine machinery), then lifted on logging trailers and hauled to a factory to turn the logs into pulp (more assorted machinery), to packaging the reams and hauling that stuff to a warehouse (and even more machinery), where they sit until getting shipped to retail stores or straight to the customers. Talk about guilt: the multiple shipping legs already significantly contribute to global air pollution, and then add the tree cutting and manufacturing legs. Each leg also inflates the price of the paper by bounds. Talk about guilt out of my pocket.

As much as the company claims that they are committed to sustainability, they were also the subject of some environmental disasters that I will not list. As much as I've already believed that the company's supposed environmental sustainability is pretty much bullshit, and my being against the advert campaign's ideas, let the adverts run their course. The key to ensuring that Domtar comes out the loser in all of this is to not buy paper products from them. Bullying them may just be a stretch.

Monday, 19 April 2010

In sprinting, no starts are created equal

General note: had I had the time to actually post this right after what I'm about to tell you occurred, the title of this post would have been "Waterfalls are evil" and my tone would be much, much more abrasive than what you are about to read. Alas...

In athletics, all sprint and hurdle events, which include the 60, 100, 200 and 400 metres and the 110 metre and 400 metre hurdles for those unfamiliar, are started in lanes, and competitors stay in the same lanes throughout. Whenever the race is not in a straight-line, which includes the 200, 400 metres and 400 metre hurdles, the starting positions are staggered (separate lines with lane numbers) to ensure that everyone runs the same distance.
However, in lower-level meets, organisers sometimes make the last heat of (usually) the 400 metres a large heat, making the staggered start impractical. The start would look like a distance race (curved starting line, or waterfall).

If started in that way, competitors will immediately push for the inside, causing some competitors to be either boxed in or boxed out, with some elbowing along the way. Unlike distance races where competitors have time to move out of their confines for the inside before the finish, the chances of a 400 competitor moving up out of their boxed-in position without running the risk of disqualification is very, very low.

Furthermore, at the start, the standing start must be employed, not the block or down start. This practice favours distance runners who never start down in the first place and consequently disadvantages sprinters because they mostly, if not all of the time, start down. As the 400 metres is a sprinting event, more harm is done to sprinters because the standing start is simply not in the sprinters' training programme.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Don't buy a notebook computer…unless absolutely necessary

The things burst into flames for no apparent reason, and in the end you are left with a piece of useless crap. Most of the time.

As you can tell from the previous sentences, my experiences with these types of computers have been quite ugly. Most of the time, I tend to miss keys whilst typing on them left and right, especially with these MacBook keyboards; those are absolutely awful. There's also the inconsistencies in touchpads: MacBooks still have that separate button, MacBook Pros have the type where you must push down to click, and then there's those lovely Synaptic models. I'd prefer mice to any of those touchpads any day.

What I'm really concerned about is the hardware inside the case. Because notebooks these days are rather cheap, meaning a hell lot cheaper than a 1990s era Toshiba Satellite back then, when a hardware component becomes faulty and/or simply becomes unusable, the consumer may simply buy a new computer and leave the old one in the dust. There's one major source of e-waste right there. Hello environmentalists?

But if you are those who are keen on getting the most out of your hardware, like me, and would prefer repairs over clean-sheet replacements, expect to grumble a bit. Compared to people certified to mess with desktop computer hardware, those in the notebook business number a bit less. A major reason for that is simply how notebook hardware works: parts are small and even the slightest error can basically render the whole computer useless. For example, the pins of notebook hard drives are especially prone to shorting, so repair procedures may involve more equipment than a comparable desktop repair.

Apart from repair, there's not a whole lot of ability to customise notebooks either. The fact that a lot of parts necessary to run a notebook must fit in a confined space precludes many customisations that can be done on a desktop. Forget about overclocking the notebook CPU when you know that all you'll do is burn the computer down. Those Western Digital 1 TB hard drives may not fit in your hard drive bay because they're slightly thicker than lower capacity drives. And there's plenty more you can't do on a notebook that can be done on a desktop…

You get the idea for the "unless absolutely necessary" part.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Apple is going crazy...again

First the iPad; now the iKey?

Read the title of this post. Let it seep in for a moment.

The iPad is essentially a blown-up version of the iPhone or iPod touch with less features. The iKey, as described in the Slashdot article, will allow users to wave their portable electronic device over a receiver-like thing on their door or other unlockable item, which will then unlock after a PIN or some other passkey has been entered. It seems that the same device will be able to unlock anything a user sets up with it, thus reducing the amount of keys you carry.

Sounds good in theory, but when you put in all of the possible attacks, interference, no electrical current and other problems into play, you may have a nightmare. And then add in the patents Apple are applying for.

Yes, patents. Please don't make me discuss them, especially in the context of computers and software. Patents are so evil that they make me sore from talking about them for over two minutes.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Webcamgate, episode one, part two

Mike Perbix is out.

About time, too. It is simply way too tempting to mess around with something you take great pride in while also having so much power in your hands. Guess Dilbert has a point…

In other complications, it finally mentions if the computer is a loaner or not. According to the article, it is, but until the computer name is disclosed, the fact cannot be confirmed. Also in the air is whether the student paid a US$55 insurance fee required to take the computer off-campus.

Here's the fishy thing: the student was disciplined for something completely unrelated to computer theft. If the assistant principal disciplined the student on the grounds of an uninsured computer going off-campus, this controversy would have never happened at all. However, because the assistant principal decided to bring up a possible behaviour issue on the student's part while at home, there's your privacy allegation.

Even at this stage of the case, both sides can be at fault. Interpret at your own risk.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Webcamgate, episode one, part one

Well, I hope that this is the only episode, but you never know...

So there has been a lot of buzz, speculation, confirmation and exaggeration about this internationally-known United States class action lawsuit. Basically, the Lower Merion School District has been sued by a Harriton High School student's family on behalf of all high school students in the district for privacy infringement. All high school students are issued an Apple MacBook for them to use for (primarily) classes, and the MacBooks contain an integrated iSight webcam. The Harriton student was called down to the assistant principal to be disciplined for possession of drugs at home with a picture taken from the iSight as evidence. Turns out they were Mike and Ike jelly beans. The district, in response to these allegations, supposedly disabled the software used to take that picture; the software was supposed to be used to track missing computers. Attorneys were brought in on both sides, news broke out, rumours spread and the situation caught the eyes of the FBI. More on the legal and ethical parts of this case can be found by going to a news site and searching "Lower Merion School District", "webcam" or some combination of those words.

I am going to focus on the technical aspects of the case. First off, identify the operating system on the computers. If you are thinking what I am, a red light should be going off, especially if you are a supporter of FOSS.

Second, the software, LANrev, has features that enable network administrators to secretly look at any district computer while connected to the Internet from any network. A network administrator by the name of Mike Perbix, who happens to be employed by the school district, produced this webcast (157 MB, contains some PDFs and an MPEG-4 video) detailing the features of LANrev. The webcast goes on for fifty minutes, but this is the part that deals with "theft tracking". With this, no wonder why students are suspicious when the light next to the iSight turns on automatically, and are told by school administration that that is a glitch. The comments section of news articles and videos pertaining to this case, specifically ones that have a school district student/alumnus identification, can shed more light on the ethics.

Third, this is mainly for Unix/Linux gurus, but apparently LANrev runs as root. Now that might just be scary.

For more technical details, plus some ethics, visit that above link.

To be continued?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Name

This was the filename I saved under for an OpenOffice.org equation file. I had to visualise a process for a maths question, and was given a quadratic equation. Everything was straightforward, except...

I have to post in LaTeX! OpenOffice.org only saves in ODF and MathML 1.01.

Fortunately MathML to LaTeX converters exist. But, alors, I get a lovely error:

Your request could not be processed.



The application encountered the following problem:


In file /scl/packages/jakarta-tomcat-5.0.16/temp/texmml/texmmlLOGS/mml2tex.log : An invalid XML character (Unicode: 0x0) was found in the element content of the document.


If the problem is input related please check your input and try again.

Apparently TeX or this specific program does not support Unicode (UTF-8 specifically). It could also be because my MathML source is of the OpenOffice.org-modified MathML. I removed all of the OpenOffice.org stuff to no avail.

Alright, I have to use the more basic method: export to PDF and then to separate PNGs. Why GIMP is awesome:

Select, cut, new, paste, save, upload. Done.