Archive for January, 2006

Those Wacky Politicians

January 30, 2006

I try to ignore politics and politicians as much as possible, but this morning I did get annoyed by the weasels who are publically professing “symbolic support” for their fellow Democrats’ desire for a filibuster of the Ailito vote. They claim that since there isn’t enough support for a filibuster–that the motion can’t possibly pass–they are showing their support symbolically rather than voting in favor of it.

Look, folks, you are either FOR something or AGAINST something. Have enough of a spine to put yourself on the official record one way or another. I say this without expressing an opinion on Ailito or on filibustering.

The idea that an elected official would publically state that they aren’t going to vote on something because it can’t pass is appalling to me. Is that the message they want to send to the voting public about how THEY should think about their next local, state, or federal election?


Bug Juice

January 27, 2006

Bad news for vegetarians and others who don’t like eating ground-up bugs. It turns out that “bug juice”–that ubiquitous summer camp drink–probably does actually contain real, ground-up bugs. And so do a number of other foods and drinks that are vivid red or bright orange in color.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal today, cochineal extract and carmine are two coloring agents made from the cochineal beetle. In the case of carmine, the bugs are ground up to create a stable, vivid red coloring agent.

Good & Plenty candy, several flavors of yogurt, Tropicana Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, and several other drinks are listed in the article.

I was going to blog about this last summer during bug juice season, but before I did I re-checked the local supermarket and found that “carmine” had disappeared from the list of ingredients in ruby red grapefruit juice and was replaced by the more generic “artificial color.” Since ground-up bugs don’t fit my definition of artificial, I figured that bugs had become too expensive and manufacturers and adopted some other approach. But no. It turns out that under current labelling laws it is okay to describe ground-up bugs as “artificial color”, or even just “color added.”

The FDA has published a labelling proposal which would require manufacturers to label these products as containing either carmine or cochineal. This has been brought about by objections related to vegetarianism, kosher foods, and the fact that a small number of people have potentially severe allergic reactions to these compounds.

The 54-page labelling proposal is here.

Ultra Deep Genealogy

January 16, 2006

I had my Y chromosome mapped recently, looking for short tandem repeats (STRs) on particular segments of the chromosome. Here are the my results, which list the DNA Y Segment (DYS) name and the number of repeats that occur at each marker site:

DYS 393 19 391 439 389-1 389-2 388 390 426 385a 385b 392
count 13 13 10 12 13 16 12 22 12 14 16 15

The diagram below shows roughly where these DYS sites are relative to genes on the Y chromosome:

I was tested as part of the Genographic Project, a five-year study to map the geographic migration of humans over the last 60,000 years using DNA studies. You can participate, too, by purchasing a Public Participation Kit and sending in two cheeks swabs for analysis. The fee supports research and data gathering and provides you with a basic analysis that includes 12 marker sites and a probabilistic mapping to one of the known haplogroups. My data indicate I belong to Haplogroup Q, which migrated out of Africa as shown below.

I know from other genealogical research that my male line (through which my Y chromosome passed unchanged except for mutations) came from Russia, which aligns with this result. As the study progresses and more data is gathered, I may be able to get more detailed information about my genographic background. There are also a number of places where one can get a much more detailed DNA analysis done– analyses that cover more than 12 marker sites. And an increasing number of web sites where people are archiving their Y chromosome marker profiles for genealogical purposes. I’ve already been contacted by several people through the ysearch database who match my marker profile.

OpenSolaris: A Word of Caution to our Prospective Partners

January 13, 2006

I’ve talked to two companies–one a provider of plug-in networking cards and the other a software vendor–who have been confused by Sun’s OpenSolaris effort and how it relates to their business. I guess that this is more of an issue for prospective partners who are new to Solaris rather than for those companies already established in our partner programs. We want all of our partners–established, new, and prospective–to have a great Sun experience, so please be careful of the following.

In the hardware vendor’s case, they were doing their first Solaris port and had used the OpenSolaris website to download the latest Nevada build as their development baseline. This is incorrect since they would like to sell their solution with Sun’s current hardware and software products. Sun’s products currently use Solaris 10 and will for some time. Therefore product development and testing should be done under the appropriate version of Solaris 10 rather than Nevada. OpenSolaris is a great venue for participating in an open-source OS development effort, for looking at source code, and for a peek at the future, but please be careful to think about whether it aligns with your immediate business needs or not.

If you are a prospective Sun partner, the best way to avoid issues like this is to get involved with our partner programs. Details can be found

Playing Music on…a Flat Bed Scanner?

January 12, 2006

Indeed. According to the February 1997 issue of the HP Journal, the HP ScanJet 3c/4c has a built-in music playing mode that takes advantage of the scanner’s variable speed stepping motor to generate notes of specified frequency and duration. Here is an excerpt from the article:

The HP ScanJet 3c/4c scanner uses variable y-direction scanning. This means that the scan head travels at different speeds dependent on the y resolution. This also means that the stepper motor runs at variable frequencies.

Musical notes are air vibrations at given frequencies. Play Tune (Esc*u0M) is an SCL (Scanner Control Language) command that can be used to make the scanner play any song downloaded into its buffer. The song can be loaded into the scanner s internal buffer using the SCSI write buffer command. The format for the song is: number of notes (2 bytes), note one, note two, etc. Each note is three bytes. All numbers are in hexadecimal format.

The first two bytes of each note specify the number of 3-MHz clock cycles between full motor steps for the desired speed. The third byte is the note duration in multiples of approximately 1/8 second. For example, middle C is 256 Hz. The clock frequency is 3 MHz, and the motor half-steps. For middle C, therefore, 3,000,000 clocks per second X 1/256 second per full step X 1/2 full step per half step = 5859 clocks per full step, which in hexadecimal is 16E3. For the third byte, a 4 would move the motor for 1/2 second (4/8 = 1/2). Thus, to get the scanner to play a 1/2-second middle C, the number to download is 16E3, 4.

For a rest between notes, set the frequency to zero and the duration to the desired length of the rest. When playing notes, the scan head always moves towards the center of the scanner and any frequency above the maximum scan rate of the scanner is truncated to the maximum scanning speed. This gives the ScanJet 3c/4c a three-octave range with the lowest note at about D below middle C.

To listen to a tune played on the ScanJet, check out the links at the bottom of this page. To me, it sounds a bit…flat. 🙂

With technology having moved forward nine years, it would be nice to see an updated version of this hack. How about a scanner that can read sheet music, parse it, and then play it back with its stepper motor?

Thanks to Monty for the pointer.

Steelcase Rocks!

January 10, 2006

Back in 2001 an ergometric analysis of my office workspace resulted in adjustments to my table height and to my office chair. My chair is a Steelcase Criterion model and one of the adjustments was to properly set the armrest heights for my geometry–an adjustment easily accomplished with the push-levers on each arm of the Criterion.

My seating situation was much improved, except that every time I pulled my chair in towards the now-lowered table, the push-levers on each arm, which faced forward, would hit the edge of the desk and then the armrests would fall out of adjustment and have to be carefully reset.

On a whim really, I sent an email to Steelcase to let them know of this problem, which didn’t seem particular to my situation. Imagine my surprise when I received a very large box containing a modified arm assembly with the push-levers mounted backwards and the following letter:

Dear Joshua

Enclosed is a set of Criterion arms with the height adjustment mechanism installed backwards. We’ve also included the drill bit necessary to change the arm assembly on your chair. I hope this addresses your concern about the arms and thank you for bringing this to our attention.


(name omitted)

Seating Product Marketing

How cool is that? I’m a Steelcase customer for life now.

Postscript: Why am I posting now if this all happened back in 2001? Well, because (real embarrassment here), I didn’t actually get around to installing the new arm on my chair until last week. I guess the dot com implosion distracted me. In any case, I asked a worker on my hallway with a power screwdriver to make the switch and the new arm is working quite well.

I did check the Steelcase Criterion page to see if perhaps I’d left a lasting legacy in the office seating realm, but, alas, the photos indicate that the height adjustment levers are still on the forward face of the arms.

Analog Ultra High Def

January 2, 2006

With some trepidation I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last week-end to view the Ansel Adams exhibit. Strangely, I think my hesitation stemmed mainly from the fact that his work is so popular–so popular that it seemed overrated given what I’d seen in the past in photography books or as posters on random walls over the years.

But go we did. My wife and I visited the museum on the afternoon of December 31st before meeting friends for a New Year’s dinner in Boston.

The exhibit included roughly 100 photos drawn from the Lane Collection with representative pieces from the 1920s through the 1970s, many of which are rarely shown. I didn’t care at all for his early work which was done in a then-popular soft focus style and printed on a creamy colored, textured paper. After about 30 of these prints I was beginning to regret attending.

That all changed when I got to his later work in which he began to embrace the small aperature, large-format, tack-sharp approach to landscape photography that he’s most known for. I had seen many of these images before, but never like this. The clarity and resolution of these prints was absolutely mind-blowing. I suppose it’s to be expected when the shots are taken with an 8×10 view camera, but I’d never seen it in person before. Early 20th century HD. In fact, the first time I saw HD video (at, of all places, the Naval Research Laboratory) I had a similar take-your-breath-away reaction. At the time, I felt as though I was looking through a window at a real, three-dimensional scene beyond the CRT glass. It was amazingly realistic. Same thing here.

There were two photos in particular that literally stopped me in my tracks. I think the first photo was titled Rain. It shows Bridal Veil Falls and El Capitan in a distant clearing mist after a rain with a large evergreen sprig in the immediate foreground. Sparkling drops of water are clearly visible on the evergreen needles while the entire scene to the distant falls is also rendered in exquisite detail. This image was chosen for the cover of the exhibition catalogue which was on sale in the gift shop. I was so disappointed because that rendition captured none of what made the high-resolution print captivating–it was if the life had been drained out of it.

The other photo depicted the Snake River winding into the foreground, silvery in the slanting sun with the Grand Tetons rising in the background. The National Archives has a set of Adams’ photos available on their website, including one shot at a different angle than what I saw at the MFA. You can see it here and not be impressed– I wouldn’t be. As they say, you had to be there. So as to not be totally annoying, here’s another photo from the archive, this one a 3768×2956 image, that gives a slightly better sense of the subtle tonalities and level of detail of his work. This is the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.

If you CAN be there–if you get the chance to see his work in person–then take the opportunity. I’m very happy I did.