Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"words, words, words" -- Hamlet, II:ii

I was wondering tonight how many words you read in law school. So here's a quick estimate.

Upon opening this book to a random page, I count 61 words in the first 5 lines of the page, for an average of 12 words per line. There are 53 lines per page. Standard reading load seems to be about 20 pages per week per credit. There are about 14 credits, and 15 weeks, per semester.

That's 12 * 53 * 20 * 14 * 15 = 2,671,200 words per semester. At two semesters per year for 3 years, you get a total of 16,027,200 words in your law school career. Give or take a few. And quite a surprising number of highlighters to make selected ones yellow.

That's a lot of words.

OK, back to reading. Words, words, words.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

California, Prop 78 and 79: Hopefully, it works ….

I did a little analysis on Prop 78 and Prop 79 in California. Prop 78 is “Discounts on Prescription Drugs” and Prop 79 is “Prescription Drug Discounts: State-Negotiated Rebates.” These propositions allow the state of California to build a state-run-drug discount program. The program sounds good, but I am afraid it may not work.

The successful operation of Prop 78 seems to depend on how many pharmacies and drug companies voluntarily participate into the state-run drug discount program. “Voluntarily” is a key word here. Voluntary participation means that it is perfectly legitimate that the companies decide not to participate. The state of California cannot require them to participate, either. What if many companies decide not to participate? Well, the program would not work. Here comes my concern: how many drug companies are willingly and voluntarily give discount prices to many Californians? I am not so optimistic…

With Prop 79, I believe that the state of California modifies Medi-Cal and builds the new drug discount program as an extension/a part of the current Medi-Cal drug discount system. Medi-Cal is the California version of Medicaid that is funded by both state and federal taxes. “Partially funded by federal tax” is a problem here. This means that the state of California would need to get federal approval to modify Medi-Cal, and you know how long it takes for the federal government to take any action especially in the social services arena. If it takes too long time, the state of California would never be able to implement the program.

There is no easy way for the drug discount program to be implemented, but we have to decide which one we want to vote for. Here is an additional info. about these propositions: with Prop 79, both low- and middle-income people would benefit. With Prop 78, low-income individuals would benefit, but not others.

OK … I hope I did not discourage you to vote in November.
Here is a bit more detailed info. http://www.moriarti.org/~coppertop/summary_4.doc

transparent aluminum

OK, I admit it, I'm behind the power curve again, or at least behind the news. (You know you're behind the news curve when you don't find out about tech developments till they show up in comics.)

In any case, the military is now testing a transparent aluminum compound for use as an armor. You can find a picture here. The compound is actually Aluminum Oxynitride. I've repressed enough of my analytical chemistry that I can't give you the chemical formula, but the summary is that it's a scratch-resistant ceramic that can replace window glass in armored vehicles. You can find details in this Air Force article.

I'd be very interested in knowing more about the mechanical properties of this material. Right now, the canopies for light aircraft are often made of plexiglass or similar plastics. They're light and resist shattering, but they tend to accumulate scratches. A scratch-resistant canopy would be a great feature.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

googlebomb maria

Maria posted that if you type "failure" into Google, you'll get a politically interesting link. The reason it works is that Google's search engine looks for links to pages and associated text. For instance, if there are a whole bunch of web pages that link to Maria's blog with the words hot mama blogger, guess what site will come up when you type in those words.

If you'd like to participate in this experiment, simply link to http://mamamaria.blogspot.com using the words "hot mama blogger." Or, in a blog comment, you can add the link by pasting this into your comment:

<a href="http://mamamaria.blogspot.com/">hot mama blogger</a>
By the way, this process is known as "googlebombing." You can read all about it on the wikipedia.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Naming of Snardblott

This incident took place during the Thanksgiving travel season of 2001. Here is some e-mail I sent at the time:

We had a number of airline misadventures this weekend, probably the most entertaining of which was the Incident of the Fountain Pen. As I went through security on Wednesday, they homed in on, of all things, my fountain pen. A fountain pen, you see, is pointy. Never mind that the tip of the nib is rounded, so it'll glide over the paper instead of tearing it. Never mind that it is made of gold instead of something much stronger like, say, paper. Never mind that there was a sharp, 0.5mm mechanical pencil in the same bag. No, the Pointy Fountain Pen was New and Scary.

Much consternation ensued. The Supervisor of the Checkpoint called over the Oversupervisor of All The Checkpoints. The folks with M-16s sauntered by to inspect the Fountain Pen. Finally, the Oversupervisor of All The Checkpoints called her superiors, whose titles were so lofty that she didn't tell me what they are, she just spoke of them in the abstract. Eventually, some duly appointed designee of Norman Mineta made the executive decision that yours truly wasn't going to hijack a 737 with a fountain pen, and I was allowed to carry it through security.

I've since decided that such a fearsome implement, the mere sight of which terrifies airport security and brings forth armed guards, deserves a name. So, I'm asking for suggestions. What name should I give the Fountain Pen of Doom?

Physical description: I bought it from a pen dealer in Columbus, Ohio (The Vintage Fountain Pen for those who visit the area.) It has no brand name or logo, and the woman at the fountain pen store here in California was unable to decipher the strange markings on the nib. It has a wide barrel and is fairly heavy. The barrel itself is blue, with a gold plaited clip, gold accents, and a gold nib. Ornamentation is minimal.

I humbly await your advice.

Creative friends quickly answered: SNARDBLOTT, Fiendish Fang dispensing Inky Venom of Vengeance. Indeed, Mason wrote the following poem:
Three Pens for the editors up on high
Seven for the writers in their cubes of foam
Nine for accountants that multiply
One for the dark lord in his dark home

In the land of order, where paperwork lies
One Pen to draft the forms,
One Pen to write them
One Pen to date the forms, and in the darkness sign them
In the land of order, where paperwork lies
Fear me, for I wield Snardblott, the One Pen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

They are supposed to be smart…?

I just read about a biology grad. student in a famous university in Japan. It is tough to pass an entrance exam of the university. People believe that students in the university are smart …but are they really?

An advisor of this biology grad. student asked him to send a biological sample (I don’t know exactly what it was) to a lab in the US. The student asked the advisor, “Which country’s stamp do I have to use?” This question shocked the advisor. The story did not end here. The advisor received a phone call from a post office later. A person at the post office asked him “Dr. ___, could you tell me what is the content of this envelop? It seems things inside are broken and some liquid is coming through.” It turned out that the grand. student simply put the sample in a test-tube, put it in a regular envelope, and brought it to the post office. The test-tube was broken while a post-office person was handling it.

Japan used to maintain high education levels, but the levels might be declining?

laptop update

Here's a laptop update and another case study in the Fedex phenomenon.

The new laptop (tentatively named "Halfdome") left Shanghai, China yesterday. (A Japanese company makes their laptops in China. Go figure.)As of 9:32 a.m. today, it was in Anchorage, Alaska.

The new CD-ROM drive for that laptop left Exton, PA yesterday. As of 11:33 a.m. this morning, it had left Lewisberry, PA, on its way here.

The old laptop (which will be renamed "Mt Terror") went to CompUSA's repair shop on Friday. As of 12:45 p.m. today, it was still there, and the person on the phone didn't know why. He said he'd find out. It's now 6:30 p.m. and I haven't heard anything back.

In this case, it's CompUSA that's getting bitten by the Fedex phenomenon. The shippers that are sending the laptop and drive have web sites that provide extremely detailed information about the location of the shipment along its path. I don't actually need that information -- the boxes won't get here any faster for my watching them -- so its main effect is to make CompUSA look bad by contrast. Especially since I keep having to call them to get information, rather than their voluntarily calling me with updates.

In the meantime, trusty ol' Everest is still chugging along, and I'm taking notes using the height of 19th Century writing technology: the legendary fountain pen Snardblott, the One Pen. By the way, the inventors of fountain pens really knew what they were doing: there is nothing as comfortable as a properly made and fitted fountain pen if you're going to do a lot of writing by hand.

Side note: It's normal for computers to have names, at least among civilized operating systems. As you may have guessed, I name mine after mountains. But how did a fountain pen earn a name? That's a subject for another post...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

technology dependence

It's amazing how dependent we become on technology. The old laptop is in the shop (again). The new laptop (purchased because of the old one's reliability issue) hasn't yet arrived. In fact, it's still officially "being packed" according to the order status web site, which I'm pretty sure is code for "we haven't finished building it yet." So I'm writing this on the safety net: a trusty Linux desktop machine named Everest. Except that Everest has been a bit neglected of late and really needs an upgrade which I don't dare do until I have a working laptop, since theupgrade will probably result in a day or more of down time.

There was a time, not too long ago, when people did school without laptops. A handful still do, and a few professors don't allow them in class, but on the whole pretty much everyone has gone to them because they really speed things up, at least when they're working. For instance, it's very useful to be able to brief a case and theninterleave that brief with your class notes so everything's in one place.

The only problem is that pretty much everyone has gone to laptops. It's sort of like Fedex: at first, overnight delivery was new and useful. Then it became standard, and now people get impatient or worse when they can't get their whatchamacallit overnight. If you don't Fedex, you can find yourself at a severe disadvantage. So here I am, caught by the Fedex phenomenon and calling the repair shop every day to try to wheedle any news I can from the sales drone who screens their calls. And hopingit doesn't rain hard enough to knock out the power.

Does anyone know of a twelve-step program leading to paleolithic nirvana?

Saturday, October 15, 2005

dear mister spammer

Dear Mr. Spammer, thank you for bringing a touch of brightness to my day. It is so kind of you to try to meet my needs for generic viagra, aphrodesiacs, offshore banking opportunities, anatomy enlargement, and the occasional jihad against my own country. I also appreciate your efforts to get closer to me, or at least to my machine, with your friendly daily port scans. In fact, it's flattering to know that you consider my hardware sufficiently powerful to join your army of zombie spamming machines. And the way you harvest my e-mail addresses from public archives and the WHOIS database is just breathtaking in its bold assertiveness.

The time has come, though, for us to part ways. I will miss your offers of "QUALITY ONLINE INSURANCE" and "Re-finance at the lowestt ratess", but the truth is I no longer have the time to continue our relationship. I hope you understand. I have moved on. Your hearty "Fw: [9]" just doesn't bring me the same thrill it once did. Yes, you got my attention when you hijacked that mailing list I run and spammed all the recipients. It was a clever move, but it's no basis for a long termrelationship.

No, the time has come for us to separate. I will remember you fondly when I'm studying computer crime, jurisdiction, and private causes of action. However, I am afraid I shall never be drawn to "URGENT RESPOND?" to your "featured small-cap company".

Fw: [9] to you, too.
False Data

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Search and Seizure

I've been reading about 4th Amendment Search and Seizure, especially stop-and-frisk under Terry v. Ohio. I now feel like I have taken my finely sharpened number 2 pencil and carefully drawn a line delineating the edge of a crumbling cliff.

Friday, October 07, 2005

airport check-in

Hanging out in the airport again, waiting for a flight. It's remarkably hard to concentrate in an airport, even with the iPod swamping the crowd noise into a dull roar, so I'm blogging while I wait for the expensive cheese "pizza" to hit my bloodstream. Hey, it's all carbon chains in the end, right?

Sitting at the gate's got me thinking about Southwest's online check-in system. Starting one minute after midnight the day of the flight, you can check in through the web. Today I hit the web at 1pm for an 8:50 flight and got in the "B" line, which means all the "A" line folks must've hit it this morning. Now I'm curious: how much useful information can they possibly get from having someone check in 12 hours before the flight?

As far as I can tell, the check-in can perform a few useful functions: (1) tell them roughly how many people are planning to get on the plane, (2) tell security that the person walking into the boarding area has a ticket, and (3) tell the people at the gate that the person getting on the plane has a driver's license.

Except it doesn't seem to work like that. The more time between check-in and boarding, the less reliable the passenger count's going to be. Twelve hours is a long time. And it could be longer: there doesn't seem to be much to stop some enterprising soul from setting up an automatic check-in service, where, for a nominal fee, their servers will automatically check you in the day of the flight and e-mail your boarding pass to you.

And what about our friend at security? All he really knows is that the person walking through the gate has a piece of paper, printed on her home printer, that happens to look like a boarding pass. He doesn't check it against a master list of issued passes. All he checks is to see if the thing resembles a pass, has a name that matches the driver's license being waved at him, and that the driver's license picture looks like the harried, shoeless traveler doing the waiving.

And finally, there's the gate attendant. The gate attendant does check the boarding pass against a database but doesn't check ID. So all she knows is that the person bought a ticket and which ticket holders got on the plane, both of which she could tell without the check-in step.

By the way, one other thing this line of reasoning should tell you is that the photo ID can't be all that important. After all, there's really not much to stop someone from using a fake boarding pass to get past security, as long as it looks more-or-less real, and then switching to a real boarding pass with a different name to get on the plane. So why do we check ID? My guess is two reasons: it makes the public feel safer even if they really aren't, and it discourages people from reselling their tickets which makes the airlines happy. The real security comes from the metal detectors, the reinforced cockpit doors, and a generation of cell-phone toting passengers who will never, ever let a bunch of folks with utility knives hijack their plane.