On a much better rebuttal of the anti-Apple iTunes crowd

Just go here.

He even has an explanation for why they can't just allow DRM free tracks for the artists who want them. It would be nice if Apple would officially make this point.

On DRM and iTunes

I was pretty happy to see Steve Jobs write his thoughts on DRM and post them publically on Apple's site.

I can't imagine that DRM is going to last. I'm sure that Jobs' article was a lot of spin related to the European lawsuits against the iTMS, but at the same time, I think he's trying to push things towards a DRM-free world. I hope it works.

Anti-DRM activists, like Cory Doctorow, have been criticizing Apple about their stance on DRM. I think perhaps the most logical point they make is that Apple has been asked not to apply DRM to tracks that don't require it (e.g., by indie artists that want their music to be in open formats), but they apparently have not been honoring those requests. I admit, I don't understand that in light of Jobs' comments.

The one thing that bugs me, though, is that if you read Slashdot or BoingBoing or any of Cory's anti-DRM articles here and there, they pile on Apple for locking us in to the iPod. Ok, I admit that iTunes will not allow you to simply copy music from your iPod to iTunes. But who doesn't know about PodWorks or Senuti or IPodRip or iPodCopy or iPod Access or iPod.iTunes or iPod Music Liberator or... It's not like these software packages are hard to find or seem in any way to be shady. The first time I found that I couldn't move my songs back to iTunes, I opened up a Terminal window, cd'ed to /Volumes, and found that using that ultra secret UNIX command "cp", I could copy my tracks onto my computer.

The other thing that annoys me is how the anti-Apple-DRM articles often try to make it seem like you have no choice but to listen to your iTMS tracks on your iPod. I have my tracks on a couple of computers, my iPod, my wife's iPod, and I've burned them to CD. Yes, I know the limitations of what you can and can't do when you burn, re-rip, etc., but the fact is, that you do have that capability. If you're going to criticize Jobs, Apple, and the iTMS, you can't just pretend that doesn't exist.

The other thing is, Jobs points out that for most people 97% of their music comes from their collection, and only 3% (on average) was bought at the iTMS. Cory points out that, for example, you may have spent $150 on iTMS tracks if you are a typical user. Between Shan and I, we've probably bought about that, although a fair amount of what we bought came from iTMS gift cards. Again, the criticism is that we are now "locked" to the iPod because of those 150 - 200 tracks. Ummm... I have >400 CDs. Multiply that by $10 - $15 each, and I think I have *far* more invested in CDs than in iTMS tracks, and I think that is common of iPod users. In the pre-DRM years, I agonized over the decisions to buy on CD music I had on LP or tape, but in some cases I did it, and in others I didn't. Now I'm occasionally buying iTMS copies of stuff I have on tape and LP and yes it does bug me. However, 10 years from now, if music is in yet another form, I think I will probably weigh the cost of format shifting vs. re-buying, and I may wind up re-buying yet again. I know that the music companies want us to keep re-buying the same music over and over again, but enterprising inventors seem to always come up with some way of format shifting. I could buy some hardware to convert my tapes to mp3s, I just think that spending say $100 at iTMS is better than spending my time, which I value more than that, doing the work.

I don't see what I've spent (or will spend over the years) at the iTMS being any impediment when the next music format comes along, I see my CD collection being the bigger issue. If I have to re-buy say 300 tracks, I'll be annoyed, but if I have to re-buy 8,000 tracks, I'll be downright pissed.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep using my iPod, I'll buy from the iTMS, and I'll continue to hope that DRM goes away. I'll probably read anti-DRM rants when they show up in the various media I read, but I will also roll my eyes every time someone yet again pretends that iTunes is some evil piece of software that should be avoided at all costs.


On the Fish Light

So there is this commercial on TV pretty frequently. It's for the WIC program, but I don't know if it is being shown on a national, regional, or state basis, so maybe no one else has seen it.

The idea behind it is that your car has idiot lights in it, and they go off when your car needs something -- battery dies, idiot light shines, wiper fluid empty, idiot light shines, etc.

WIC provides funding for food for children, so they show babies, and they light up lights on their forehead to indicate what the kid is low on -- milk, bread, etc. Pretty good analogy, I guess, and everyone agrees that babies are cute, so this seems like a good, effective ad campaign.

One problem, though -- I'm guessing whoever made the ad didn't have much of a palette of icons to work with. The one baby's milk light goes off, another baby has his banana light go off, both things that babies actually do eat. Well, one baby has his fish light go off.

Now, I'm not a dad, but I know enough babies to have a pretty good idea of what they eat. I haven't seen a single one eating a jar of pureed salmon or strained cod.

I guess this isn't the most insightful observation I've ever made, but c'mon, a fish light?

On Equine Abuse


I realize I've become a one topic guy lately (and it hasn't been about science), but I have to beat this particular deceased horse one more time.

You see, I went to the PSU bookstore under the impression that surely, the Penn State bookstore would stock a book written by a former Penn State athlete that has been making the news almost daily. On Monday, I had no luck. My buddy tells me that even though Meech's book was advertised as being "in stores now", supposedly it wasn't showing up in some stores until today, 2/20. So, I went back today. No luck, again. This time I asked. The bookstore employee had no idea what I was talking about. "What's the title? Who is it by?" Ok, I know it's not the "Deathly Hallows", but it is #160 on Amazon. Surely a bookstore might want to have a copy on hand? Her response was "it's in the warehouse and it looks like we'll get some copies eventually".

Am I the only one that sees this as a bit funny? Shouldn't the bookstore manager be on top of the most popular books with a local angle? I guess I'm going to just order it from Amazon, but I really tried to give local stores my business, they just didn't want it.

I suppose I should check the truly local business (Webster's) before I give up on trying to buy this book in town.

Update (3/2) -- I did check Webster's the other day, and they didn't have it either. However, their new book stock is limited to one shelf, so maybe that's not as much of a surprise as Barnes & Frikkin' Noble not having it. I haven't gone back to B&N to check, I think I'm just going to borrow it from my buddy.


One more post on Meech with some history

Mikey sent me a link, but before I post it, I want to give some background.

I went to Penn State, but from the time I was a sophomore in high school until I decided to go to Penn State, I was planning to go to the United States Naval Academy. I had my congressional appointment, passed my physical fitness test, and was accepted. I have to admit that a lot of the appeal to me was the opportunity to go to college for free, but in the end I turned down USNA and went to Penn State with *no* scholarship or grant funds. As I've mentioned, I'm still paying off my loans (even though my second NJCLASS loan is paid off!), so although I have no regrets about my choice, it definitely had a financial impact.

Ok, now some Penn State history. When I arrived in State College, I didn't know anyone that was openly gay. When I was a frosh, the Collegian had articles almost daily about the gay advocacy group (their acronym has since changed multiple times, but I think it was LGBSA then). They were pushing the administration to add sexual orientation to the University's non-discrimination clause. My memory may not be completely reliable here, but I remember at the time one of the sticking points was that other universities that were specifically adding sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy were then having their ROTC programs challenged. I could be wrong, but I think at the time UPenn decided to remove ROTC from campus. Penn State wrote a policy with a specific exception for ROTC, and adopted the new text.

Well, something like two years later, a new group popped up on campus, and their stated goal was to get ROTC banished from campus. At the time I was a member of student government, and I was annoyed. My feeling was in their quest for rights, this new student group was, if they were successful, going to really hurt those students who, like me, saw military service as a way to get a free education. So, I went to my student government meeting, and I proposed the following: We send these students a letter which would point out that getting ROTC banished from campus would only serve to punish those students who had nothing to do with the military's policy on homosexuality. I suggested that instead, this new student group make their focus a national lobbying campaign.

Let me tell you, I had *no* idea what I had just stepped into. Something like 100 or 200 students showed up to tell me how I was an evil, vile homophobe. A fellow student who used to campaign with me for our seats voted against me (after telling me she supported my proposal), and after that we pretty much stopped talking. Mike, you're going to need to be careful you aren't drinking anything when you read this next sentence, but I was accused of being a horrible conservative monster that didn't understand the liberal cause of gay rights.

So, at that point, I was starting to get more serious about my research anyway, so that gave me the impetus to quit student government and devote my full attention to astronomy.

The story doesn't end there, though (although maybe anyone who has gotten this far hopes it will soon). Shannon was admitted to an honor society, and one of the guys from the group that wanted to ban ROTC was in it, too. When it came time to choose next year's class, Shan submitted my name, and the other guy submitted his boyfriend's name. Shan and I both knew his boyfriend, and we both got along with him well. So it is time to vote, and the vote on me was something like 14-1. Can you guess who voted against me? His reasoning was that he couldn't vote for an evil homophobe to be a classmate of his boyfriend. Shan pointed out that in fact I was on very good terms with this guy's boyfriend, and that he had no objection to being a classmate of mine. Not good enough! I opposed banning ROTC, so I must hate gay people, Q.E.D., the vote stood and I was kept out of this particular group.

I will admit to thinking that this particular gay man that I went to school with was an obnoxious moron. I didn't know him well enough to hate him, but you could say I disliked him strongly.

Ok. So back to the Meech story. Obviously, you've heard that Tim Hardaway hates gay people. However, I read one good response that quotes John's eloquent response. Mikey emailed me a link to a different take on the Hardaway comments, and the author makes the point that you don't have to like individual homosexuals, but that doesn't mean you need to oppose their civil rights. I agree. However, my experience is that the opposite is true, too. Gay people don't have to like all of us straight folks, either, but opposing poorly conceived proposals by gay advocates doesn't equal homophobia. I think I was pretty unfairly treated all those years ago -- believing that ROTC has a place on campus doesn't mean that I hate gays, but that's what I was told.


On the Man in the Middle

I have more to say now that the Meech story continues to stay in the news, but for right now a quick comment.

The Barnes & Noble in State College doesn't have his book. How stupid are they?


On PSU basketball

Just in case you're wondering about the flurry of posts, today was a snow day. PSU cancelled classes for as far as I know, the first time since I was a student in 1993.

Anyway... Shan and I had a fun evening. N8Ball called early this afternoon -- he had many extra tickets for the PSU/OSU basketball game. He bought them for friends & family who were planning to attend, but couldn't make the game because of the snow. So we braved the snow, went out for chinese food and went to the game. We proudly wore our "Amaechi Tea Company" t-shirts Nate made for Meech during his years at Penn State.

When Nate was on the team I used to go to the games frequently, and he turned me into a basketball fan. Over the years, my interest in basketball has waned, and with PSU 11th in the Big Ten, I haven't been to a game this year. In fact, I don't think I've been to a PSU men's basketball game since before the Jordan Center opened in 1995.

The team started things off pretty well against a top ten (top five?) opponent -- a few minutes into the game, and it was 10 - 6 Penn State. Well, it got ugly after that, and pretty soon it was 40 - 19 at the half, with OSU ahead by 21. The halftime show "Quick Change" was pretty amazing, so we thought regardless of the outcome of the game, we at least enjoyed that. Well, in the second half, Penn State woke up, and pretty soon it was 43 - 56, and we thought that maybe PSU could make it respectable. Then, suddenly it was 52 - 60, and then 60 - 64. Of course, with seconds left in the game, the refs blew a call (an OSU player ran over a PSU player, knocking him down on the inbounds pass). Amazingly, though, the OSU player missed the front end of a 1 and 1, and PSU got a shot off at the buzzer, only to clank off the rim, ending the game 62 - 64.

All in all, it was a fun night at the BJC, which *almost* ended in an amazing upset.

On silly creationists

As I'm sure all three of you recall, I mentioned in the early days of this blog that much of the crank mail that comes to the department makes its way to my mailbox.

I got another good one the other day. Unfortunately, this one was written by a young Earth creationist (who also believes the geocentric model of the universe!), so I'm not going to go quite so easy on him as I did the person who felt the Earth had slipped by ~12 degrees overnight.

So, here is the thrust of the letter:

1) Scientists claim that Mars is X number of miles away, and on a particular date, this means its angular size was ~20 arcseconds.

2) Big fat optics textbook claims that the angular resolution of the human eye is 24", but in practice most people can't do better than one arcminute.

Conclusion -- anything under ~30" must be invisible, but since we can see Mars, that means that scientists are wrong! It can't be that far away! It must be closer!

My first reaction (and also, when I showed the letter to Richard, his first reaction) was "I guess we've just been lucky then landing all of those satellites on its surface."

My second reaction was that this would make a good homework question -- what does it mean that the angular resolution of the human eye is ~30"? Does that mean that every source of light that subtends an angle smaller than that should be invisible? I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader, but I'll give you a hint.

If you ask, I'll point you to the link of this anti-science nut, but let me just say that his friendly letter took an obnoxious turn on the second page. There it said (paraphrasing), "now that I have proven that astronomers get simple things like the distance to Mars wrong, why should we believe the universe is old or that the Big Bang happened, etc. etc.".

I wonder if the guy knows that his website is being made available for the world to read using a system invented by a physicist from CERN?

On Praise for the Collegian

I don't usually have much good to say about the Daily Collegian (this is, after all, the paper that once referred to me as a "professor of astrology"), but there have been two good opinion columns about Meech:

Here is today's Collegian Editorial, and it is pretty eloquent.

Here is a "My Opinion" column from yesterday's paper -- also quite well written.

I'm a little surprised, mostly because the student newspaper really has no institutional memory, so I imagine that the name John Amaechi meant nothing a week ago to the Collegian writers. And since basketball really isn't a big deal here (really, since the Meech days), it's not like his name holds the same sense of history as Conlan or McDuffie or any other football player that played here when the Collegian writers were still finger painting.

It seems that John's coming out has really been seen very positively, outside of the Salt Lake Tribune's sports department at least. So once again, good for him. I hope that he feels better about having finally gone public.

(by the way, I searched the Collegian archive, and someone must have requested a correction, because I'm no longer listed as an astrologer in the article from 2001).


On bad reviews for homecenter.com

Go reread this post -- there is a comment by someone who is experiencing exactly the same attempted scam that we are. I was prompted by this comment to go out and post reviews of homecenter.com on some of the bigger business review sites, and lo and behold there are hundreds of reviews about how bad this company is. I wish I had found these last July.

Curiously, there are other reviews that give them positive ratings, and I'm guessing these are faked to balance the negative reviews. On average they get 3 stars, because for every 1 star across the board review there is a 5 star review. I find it odd that the distribution would be so bimodal.

Hopefully a few people will see this and my reviews and reconsider shopping at scam-artists-R-us, but regardless, I've learned my lesson. No more small internet companies unless I thoroughly read the reviews on-line.

Look at these reviews at Epinions and these at ResellerRatings. It looks like they haven't tried so hard to scam ResellerRatings, because there their lifetime average is 0.23 out of 10.


On CF bulbs

Just got finished playing around with Mac OS X's internet sharing capabilities -- it was fun, I had my old laptop connected to my cable modem via airport, and then connected two iMacs to the laptop. One was connected via firewire, the other via ethernet, and I had all three on the web simultaneously. I was doing this because tomorrow I have to go to a show at a hotel and we want to have multiple computers connected to the internet at our booth, and I only have the iMacs at my disposal and they don't have wireless.

Anyway... on to the *real* point of this particular post. Now that I'm done playing amateur network administrator, I have to write some bills to go in tomorrow's mail. I checked my electric bill, and it came down from last year pretty significantly. Obviously, there are variances in temperatures, which will make something of a difference, but I have actually been replacing every bulb in the house with Compact Flourescents in every fixture where it is feasible. As of last year, I would say about half of our lights were CFs, but now I'm *almost* at 100%.

From Oct 2005 - Feb 2006, we used 8023 kWh. From Oct 2006 - Feb 2007, we used 7404 kWh. That's not quite a 10% decrease in useage, and really, the only thing I have done is change light bulbs. I think my next project will be to look at improving the insulation in the attic & basement. If I can't have solar panels yet, I'll see if I can at least squeeze out another few percent of energy savings by conservation.

On Meech

So, the big news is that Meech is gay.

Meech is a friend of a friend -- I only talked with him once or twice when we were undergrads, but he is pretty close friends with my friend Nate. So, over the years I heard about how things were going for him with the Cavs, Magic, and Jazz via Nate.

I was pretty happy for him when he was on the Magic -- he was playing well, getting good press, and he turned it into a spot on the Jazz. I think I remember hearing somewhere (maybe from Nate, maybe in the papers) that Shaq was actually trying to recruit him to come to the Lakers. Instead, he wound up on the Jazz, where I remember trying to follow how he was doing and seeing him get "DNP - coach's decision" almost every night. It was pretty clear he and Sloan didn't get along, and so he got paid very well to sit on the bench.

Now that he's all over the news again, this guy has decided to tear into him. He makes a big deal out of proclaiming that this isn't about Meech coming out, and I'm sure that's true. However, it is about the writer being an ass. There's no reason to write a "worst player ever" article. I'd nominate Luhm for worst journalist ever, but he's got *lots* of competition.

Here's my answer to Luhm. He apparently worships Sloan and thinks Meech was a bad investment on the part of the Jazz. Well, my question is, shouldn't a great coach be able to take a guy scoring 10.5 points and getting 3.3 rebounds a game in 20 minutes per game and turn him into someone who can get you say 15 and 6 or 20 and 10 in more minutes? I would think so, but instead, His Majesty Sloan coached Meech into a 3 and 2 guy in 10 minutes per game. I wonder why he didn't score more when you gave him 10 minutes a game on those nights you let him play at all?

Anyway, Luhm is an idiot. 'Nuff said about him.

Back to Meech. Good for you -- as a friend of a friend, I'm happy for you.


On a Stereotype

I'm driving and see a car barreling down a sidestreet towards the intersection at the same time I'm about to reach that intersection -- I'm driving straight he/she has a stop sign. I'm worried they're not going to stop, so I slow down, but they stop. As I pass, I notice it is a police car. I'm driving about 38 or 39 mph and look and see the speed limit is 35 mph. Seeing as how I now have a police officer behind me, I slow down to 35.

Police officer seems impatient behind me, but I'm not about to speed up and exceed the speed limit. Cop turns on his lights. I don't think he wants to pull me over, but I have no choice, so I veer onto the shoulder. Officer zooms past me, making me think he's on a call. About 10 yards past me (no joke), he turns off his lights, and about 100 yards ahead of me, he pulls into a diner / bakery parking lot.

I'm *really* hoping that the place called 911 to report a crime in progress, but I suspect that he almost hit me and pulled me over because he wanted a slice of pie. I don't think the place sells donuts.


On Tweaking Global Warming Skeptics

I seem to remember getting into a discussion in the comments section of one of Mikey's posts where I tried to make the following point, I just wasn't as eloquent, so I'll quote:

"And for those nonscientists who are still undecided about the issue, Grantham reminds them of an old logical principle known as Pascal's Paradox. It may be better known as the "what if we're wrong?" argument. If we act to stop global warming and we're wrong, well, we could waste some money. If we don't act, and we're wrong ... you get the picture."

(excerpt from this link I found at HuffPo)

So, let me just say that you should all go read that first link for yet another apocalyptic global warming tirade by another libruhl, in this case, Cheney's investment manager.

On Astronomy (really. I mean it.)

So I got an email from the Big Enchilada today (aka my thesis advisor).

Here's some back story -- there's a reason I chose to focus my career on education and outreach. If you read about what grad school in astronomy is like (for example at Cat Dynamics), you will find that it is research, research, research. To quote (and I just chose to quote Steinn, but have heard this in many forms from many different people):

"If you are not interested in doing research, you know, exploring the universe, adding new knowledge to mankinds inventory of nature and technology, then you should not be doing a PhD."

I agree wholeheartedly. I think I did a reasonable job actually doing much of what Steinn recommends, but what I realized early on is that although I enjoyed research and was a capable observer, I was not driven to have my own stable of researchers working on the burning questions I deemed most important. I think that my classmates were much more skilled at identifying the interesting questions to pursue. Frankly, I think of all of us, Jamie (who left astronomy immediately after receiving his PhD) was best at identifying a direction for research and did great things in his spare time. He found a tool being used by another group, and applied it in a new and different way, and discovered what we all thought was a new Milky Way satellite when he was a second year grad student. I don't think it panned out, but regardless, it was a pretty interesting result when most of us were worrying about our latest problem set.

At the time, a paper came out that I found pretty fascinating, and wanted to see if the somewhat serendipitous result found by a group of observers could be pursued more systematically and if I could find multiple examples of one particular phenomenon associated with Milky Way-like galaxies. Even in this case, I wasn't very original -- I just realized that the technique Jamie was using could be applied to my prospective targets to choose the ones most likely to be interesting. Jamie and I actually went to Kitt Peak to do the observing, and got the data many years ago now.

I intended to make this a postdoc project, but didn't get a chance to reduce the data during the two years I was a postdoc. Instead, I gave the data to some collaborators, who reduced it and published some conference proceedings. We never got the data published in a refereed journal, but they did find that I was right -- one of the objects I preselected turned out to be something like the 3rd or 4th known example of a pretty rare class of objects. I don't think anyone noticed, though.

So, back to the beginning... I got an email from the Big Enchilada. The collaborators have new, better observations and confirmed this and found that it is even more impressive than we first thought. I think I'll get tacked on to the author list as a token gesture, but it would be nice if I had had the time to actually make this discovery and got this published in 2001.

I have one more good idea that I don't think anyone else has done (it dates back to my Master's thesis, so if you look that paper up in ADS, you can probably figure out what I want to do), and I think it can be done pretty easily with SDSS data. Maybe one of these years I'll make the time to do it.

On hyperbole

Sign at the local Exxon on Atherton Street:

"Early Bird Super Duper Special -- Fill up between 6am and 8am and get 2 cents off per gallon!"

Wow -- a whole *2* cents per gallon. I think I'll sleep the extra hour or two and pay full price, thanks.

Remember kids, it's not just a Super Special, but a Super Duper Special!


On Solar energy

Via Waldo comes a link here to a post by a homeowner who added solar panels to his house.

Bottom line: $24k investment, $2k tax credit, and <20% of their energy is likely to be generated.


That's even worse than I thought. I was under the impression that the system costs were likely to be around $10k, not $25k.

On tweaking Mike

I've been good lately, but I'm going to pick on Mikey again. I think it's funny that he links to me and drives traffic my way, because I'm sure the wingnuts who go to his blog to read about how libruhls are destroying the world don't see those same sentiments when they get here. I don't post *much* about politics, but I think it's pretty obvious that my views are basically diametrically opposite of his.

Anyway, if you read his last 10 posts, he's back on a roll on how Democrats are idiots that need the much more intelligent conservatives to hold our hands and show us what to do, since we can't figure it out on our own. I'll leave out the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. If it takes you more than 5 seconds on Google to find counterpoints to everyone of his posts about stupid libruhls, you need to brush up on your search engine skills.

What I find so funny, though, is (1) that conservatives get so worked up about actors who are politically active. Whatever they are doing, they are obviously doing something right if they are getting under the skin of our conservative overlords. What is even funnier, though is (2) that it is pretty clear when Rush or Bill or Neal give their flock of sheep marching orders about an issue to be all worked up about. A few days after Mikey's righteous indignation about Robbins & Sarandon et al., this amazing insight appeared in the Daily Collegian by one of our finest columnists. I didn't google it, but I'm betting it would take me about 5 minutes to figure out which of the blowhards (unless it was all of them) decided to make this an issue. Personally, I would have never heard anything about this event (or would have ignored it) had I not seen two reminders about it from conservatives. So regardless of the outcome of whatever Robbins & Sarandon did, the fact that it tweaked the right makes me think they were successful.

Lastly, since I'm assuming my comment on Mikey's post got deleted along with the spam comments, I'll make my point here -- to quote him: "The biggest problem wiith the Left in this country is the repulsive spokesmen they manage to conjure up." My response to this absurd comment is simple: Ann Coulter.