Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bucolic Campus?

I left home at 5:30 a.m. today to walk across town and through the university campus to the radio station. (My classical music  show ran from 6 to 8:30. WPRB broadcasts at 103.3 FM and streams from WPRB.COM.)

Outside my door, the birdsong symphony was beautiful and intense. There was no traffic, and wow, there were a lot of birds. I bet it will sound even better on campus, I thought. There's only one road on campus, and the students would be asleep. I walked on, eager to find out what the birds would sound like among the tree-landscaped dorms and school buildings.

Campus was a surprising disappointment. A noisy bus plied up and down that one road. Students were asleep, but workmen drove their utility vehicles into place for their day's work. Giant A/C systems rumbled in the larger buildings. Against all this noise, birds sang their hearts out, but there weren't many of them.  For the first time, it occurred to me that our town has more tree cover than much of the open campus.

I'll listen to the birds at home.

Monday, May 28, 2012

I've invented an intelligent toilet.

Somehow I lack the energy to bring any of my inventions to fruition. This one has to be worth a lot, but I'm just giving it away, right here.

Consider a toilet equipped with a camera and some excellent video analysis software. When a person approaches the toilet and prepares to use it, the toilet controls the seat according to what is visible on the camera. If buttocks can be seen, the seat is lowered. If the user is facing the toilet, the seat is raised or lowered appropriately..

The hardware for the camera and its controlling software must be extremely simple and positioned so that anyone can easily verify that the device is not connected to the Internet.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nimble NASDAQ:

NASDAQ's computer fumbles in handling the Facebook offering reminded me that fifteen to twenty years ago, when I was developing finance software, NASDAQ was the uptodate, nimble, highly computerized system, while NYSE seemed to be an old fogey. I will give you one example that sticks in my craw.

At that time, both exchanges issued new specifications for the formats of messages that reported trades. The changes made it possible to specify stock prices in much smaller increments, and to specify total trades in much, much higher totals. Since the company I worked at was doing business with NASDAQ and NYSE, we were entitled to get the new format specifications.

I had to modify some software to handle the new formats. For NASDAQ, I went to their website and downloaded the full new transaction message spec. It was a document that was easy to search, and I often cut-and-pasted from the document right into my comments.

For NYSE, I had to call a general phone number and ask around. I soon found a person who was willing to send me their spec. It arrived a week later, a bulky paper document. It was much less convenient than NASDAQ's online spec. It was obvious that this bulky paper document had been printed from a word-processing program. I inquired, and was assured that I was not permitted to have the computer-readable form.

And NYSE billed me $25 for the paper document. (Which I never paid.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

*Uck Zuck* :

Do you trust Facebook? Do you expect this humungous webworld to play straight with you, and with our data? Well, let’s look at Exhibit Number One. According to news reports, it appears that shortly before FB went public, Facebook learned they had a problem that might be material and signifigant to the price of the offering. Information about that problem was shared with some of the banks’ biggest customers, but not with the rest of us who may have wished to take a flyer on some FB stock. If some of those bankers acted illegally, or even immorally, I hope they get what they deserve. But please remember: FB is nearly a one-person company, because an awful lot of it is owned by one person: Zuck. If anyone was in a position to make sure that we, the public, were properly informed about the prospects of FB, it was Zuck. If anyone was in a position to instruct the bankers to handle this late-breaking problem in the most honest way, it was Zuck. If anyone is ever going to keep FB honest about how the company treats you, me, and our data, it is Zuck.  Well, when FB went public, in my opinion, he blew it. I’m through trusting him for anything. Here’s what I just can't help thinking: *Uck Zuck*.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Human Nature and Business:

I apologized to my Physical Therapist today, saying that I probably would never see him again if I could only keep doing the exercises he had given me.
“If my patients kept doing their exercises,” he said, “I guess I would be out of business.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Raven's Daily Fortune Cookie:

I haven't been blogging enough lately, so I've started another blog. I'm trying to be succinct and useless, almost every day. You won't find advice like this elsewhere, and that's probably a good thing: Raven's Daily Fortune Cookie.

Tufted Titmouse:

We put up a bird feeder last winter. It had a cage designed to keep squirrels out and let only the smallest birds in. Weeks passed without a bird at our feeder. I complained to a neighbor. She said, “Don't worry, they'll find it.”

Gradually they did. I have an iPad app to identify the birds with, and learning this new skill has been difficult. We are feeding “finch food”, but I think we have yet to see a single finch. Black-Capped Chickadees came, sparrows and Downy Woodpeckers.

We are still feeding, and I added a “suet cage” that is another difficult challenge for squirrels. It appears that the presence of suet is a like a mighty billboard. A bluejay once poised above the feeder, looked around and flew away. Starlings have come by and chased the small birds off while they tried in vain to reach the finch food. And I think we are now getting visits from at least four kinds of sparrows.

The strangest visitor has a white cheek and looks positively ghostly. I may have misidentified it because of my life-long fascination with its name, but it seems to be ... yes … the Tufted Titmouse.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


On rare occasions, my father drank a single glass of buttermilk. Watching him approach it as a special treat fascinated me, and I often asked for a taste. I couldn't stand the stuff.

But because my father liked it, I tried to do as he had done and drink it. I'm sure I tried it at least once every decade. Around age sixty I started to like it, and now I often buy a quart. I can't explain how my disgust at buttermilk's sour, fermented taste has turned into pleasure. I suspect that commercial buttermilk itself has changed, and I know that my taste buds aren't as sensitive as they used to be. But no matter; buttermilk is now a special treat for me, and a special remembrance of my father.

There's a weird aspect to this story. How did it happen that my father occasionally drank a single glass of buttermilk? We never bought it by the quart, and I really mean that he had the occasional glass. Here's how it happened: he would see buttermilk on the restaurant menu and decide to order it. Have you ever, ever seen buttermilk on a restaurant menu?

Times have changed.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Spam with passwords:

Sorry I've been away for so long. I'm back today with a paradox. I received an email from a website called Zeekler that gave me an account, an account name, a password, and some free resources. Zeekler seems to operate some sort of buying/selling web site. I have never contacted them or requested an account, as far as I know.

I was tempted to log in to Zeekler and close my account, but my instinct is that it would be better to have nothing at all to do with them. I deleted their email (permanently, because it contains a password). I had thought about reporting them as spam when I realized a rather special problem.

First, I hope you know that you should not save emails that contain passwords. In fact, no website should ever send you your password. If one does, you should delete the email with the password permanently at once. Your email account might be hacked some day, and if it is, the hacker will use any passwords in your saved emails to hack your other accounts.

If you successfully report some site as spam, how will you know whether they have sent you another email with a password in it? That's my problem. If Zeekler ever tries to contact me again, I want to know it.

I use Gmail. The way you avoid spam is to mark specific emails as spam. If I had marked Zeekler's email as spam, Google would have saved it in my spam folder, password and all.