Blog: 2006-07

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How to Criticize Computer Scientists

"How to Criticize Computer Scientists"

Douglas E. Comer's Web page links several interesting and/or amusing essays.

Keen Sandals

At the urging of the girlfriend to be just a tad more fashionable, I replaced my ill-fitting 3-year-old sandals from Payless Volume Shoe Source with Keen Venice H2 units from EMS in Harvard Square. The 20%-off clearance sale made this extravagant lifestyle upgrade somewhat gentler on the spendthrift psyche.

L Glass Mystique

Speaking of fashion expenditures, my new big off-white Canon L lens has an unexpected feature: it sucks in bystanders, and not through the optics.

The second time out, a retiree who turned out to own a fleet of both Canon and Nikon approached while I was shooting, saying he'd seen me coming over the skybridge earlier with my white lens, and we talked gear. I was able to point him to a source for a particular lens hood he'd been told was unavailable.

In a busy Harvard Yard the other day, two separate groups of people stopped me as I was walking by, asking me to take their photo with their digicams. One articulated that she asked me because I "looked professional" and presumably would know how to operate her point&shoot.

Yet another day, I was approached in Boston by a man who wanted tips on how to take group photos of 30 Harvard students at a time with a digicam. (It is well-known that Harvard students reflect photons differently than MIT students, much less other people.) For the lighting problem, I suggested slave flashes.

Twenty minutes later, I was shooting the Hancock Tower in excellent light from across the Charles River, when a sailboat came straight at me and turned around right up against the seawall. The guy on the boat yelled up, asking if I had a Flickr account. I said no, and he yelled that he'd love to see the photos, then yelled his email address before the wind blew him away. I didn't think I actually got his sailboat in any shots, so I practiced running with the new lens, and shot him at various points along the river. When I surprised him at the MIT boathouse, to get the correct spelling of his email address, he remarked on the impressiveness of my camera, and what that might portend for the quality of the photos.

That's almost every walk I've been out with the L lens.

ABA Task Force Criticizes Bush's Use of Signing Statements

A panel of legal scholars and lawyers assembled by the American Bar Association is sharply criticizing the use of "signing statements" by President Bush that assert his right to ignore or not enforce laws passed by Congress.

In a report to be issued today, the ABA task force said that Bush has lodged more challenges to provisions of laws than all previous presidents combined.

—Michael Abramowitz, "Bush's Tactic of Refusing Laws Is Probed," Washington Post, 2006-07-24

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association opposes, as contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers, the issuance of presidential signing statements that claim the authority or state the intention to disregard or decline to enforce all or part of a law the President has signed, or to interpret such a law in a manner inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress;

—American Bar Association, Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, Recommendation

Presidential Rubdown

Buried in an LA Times piece:

Entering the meeting room, as relayed by a Russian television camera, Bush headed directly behind the chancellor, reached out and, placing both hands on the collar of her gold jacket, gave her a short massage just below the neck.

She smiled.

—James Gerstenzang, "Russia's Time to Shine on World Stage," LA Times, 2006-07-17

The handful of video stills from suggests that she smiled only after the fact. It might've been more diplomatically than amusedly.

Video is at and

Additional coverage at

Meds Nation

Between a quarter and half of the youngsters at any given summer camp take daily prescription medications, experts say. Allergy and asthma drugs top the list, but behavior management and psychiatric medications are now so common that nurses who dispense them no longer try to avoid stigma by pretending they are vitamins.

—Jane Gross, "Checklist for Camp: Bug Spray. Sunscreen. Pills.," New York Times, 2006-06-16

When I was camp age, it was a rare kid who needed any kind of medication. I think that's still largely the case.

Textbook Development In the News

This great article (which I'd read long ago) is circulating the blogs today: Tamim Ansary, "The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor," Edutopia, 2004-11-04

The dusting-off is perhaps due to the odd plagiarism reported in yesterday's NYT and elsewhere recently: Diana Jean Schemo, "Schoolbooks Are Given F's in Originality," New York Times, 2006-04-13

The first article is consistent with the stories I heard when I dated a textbook writer, and then two editors. (I thought textbook people were a tiny bit crazy, but then I dated a mathematician, and then an aerialist from a Paris circus school -- experiences that impressed me with how level-headed the textbook people were. I'm presently dating a scientist, and reserving comparative assessments.)

Canon EF 70-210/3.5-4.5 Lens Beats 70-200/4L?

I finally got a couple chances to use my new Canon EF 70-200/4L, which is intended to upgrade my lovely 70-210/3.5-4.5 (see 2006-04-21). Surprisingly, the results of around 500 practical shots with the 4L seem generally inferior to what I regularly do with the 70-210. Specifically, the 4L seemed soft at both f/4 and f/8, both handheld and braced firmly.

Possible causes for perceived softness, in at least some cases, include: (1) increased difficulty holding this heavier and physically longer lens steady; (2) poorer lighting conditions; (3) my imagination; (4) copy's focusing is miscalibrated; (5) other defect with the copy.

The only optical advantage of the 4L I've noticed thus far is that it seems to have less fringing (although a few times the 4L produced bizarre orange-red fringing that was intermittent along a contour).

All my non-L lenses gave much better "out of box experience."

I'm going to have to do further testing-oriented practical shooting with the 4L, in different lighting conditions. If it doesn't start seeming a sharper, then I'll have to do the dreaded test targets and pixel-peeping of both it and my 70-210.

Separate from questions of optical quality, four advantages of my old 70-210 are: (1) easier to handhold for shots; (2) lighter to carry; (3) less conspicuous; (4) actually fits in my Lowepro Toploader 65 AW.

Incidentally, as soon as I decided I wanted to upgrade my 70-210, I regretted not grabbing the deal on a 80-200/2.8 "Magic Drainpipe" that I mentioned on 2006-04-24.

US Obesity Graphic on MSN

If you still have appetite for dire warnings of obesity epidemic, the animated graphic in this article is disturbing:

Only 20 years ago, what you weighed was mainly your own concern. That was before statistics showed that six out of 10 adult Americans weigh too much, and 17 percent of American children and teens are overweight or obese, too.

—MSN, "Obesity in America."

(If you prefer not to use Flash: good for you, and you can see a JPEG of the final frame of the animation.)

George Lakoff in Harvard Square this Friday

Harvard Book Store is excited to announce that on Friday, July 14th George Lakoff, an adviser to the Democratic party and the bestselling author of Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate -- The Essential Guide for Progressives, will discuss his new book Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America's Most Important Idea.

Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has relentlessly invoked the word "freedom." For many Democrats, it seems that President Bush's use of the word is meaningless and contradictory -- used to justify American military action abroad and the curtailing of civil liberties at home. But in Whose Freedom?, George Lakoff shows that the right has effected a devastatingly coherent and ideological redefinition of freedom. The conservative revolution has remade freedom in its own image and deployed it as a central weapon on the front lines of everything from the war on terror to the battles over religion in the classroom and abortion. In a deep and alarming analysis, Lakoff explains the mechanisms behind this hijacking of our most cherished political idea -- and shows how progressives have not only failed to counter the right-wing attack on freedom but have failed to recognize its nature.

The blurb makes some strong claims, and the talk should be interesting. I'd like to critique Lakoff's characterization of "conservative," but first I should hear the talk, and probably read the book.

National Heritage Museum: American Visitions of Liberty and Freedom

What do palmetto trees, rattlesnakes, and the Statue of Liberty have in common? The answer is revealed with a visit to "American Visions of Liberty & Freedom." The exhibition shows how generations of Americans, from Revolutionary times to the present, have drawn, carved, and quilted symbols to represent their sometimes conflicting definitions of liberty and freedom. Among the more than 200 objects in the exhibition are icons such as the Statue of Liberty, Uncle Sam, and the American flag that have been revived, revised, reviled, or reinterpreted to express the concerns of succeeding generations.

The National Heritage Museum, in Lexington, has an exhibition, American Visions of Liberty and Freedom, through October 15th. I haven't yet seen it, but plan to.

To get there via public transit:

Monday through Saturday from Boston/Cambridge: Take subway (Red Line) to Alewife Station. Change to bus #62 or #76 to the museum. The museum is located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue (Route 4) and Route 2A West (Marrett Road). There is no public transportation on Sundays or holidays

Eric Poehlman

A former University of Vermont College of Medicine professor was ordered Wednesday to serve a year and a day in federal prison for using false data to obtain federal research grants.

—"Former UVM researcher sentenced for falsifying work," AP via Boston Globe, 2006-06-28

A good popular article on the fraudulent research is: Carey Goldberg and Scott Allen, "Researcher admits fraud in grant data Ex-Vermont scientist won nearly $3m from US," Boston Globe, 2005-03-18

There's also a press release from the Office of Research Integrity of the Dept. of Health & Human Services.

Earlier to... 2006-06

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