Camera Lucida

July 3, 2007

Tech tip

Filed under: Tech — CL @ 3:49 pm

The next time you travel by air, take along a small 5- or 6-plug adapter strip (the grounded kind, with three prongs) with you. (Best choice: the Power Squid.) Power supply is an extremely scarce resource at most airports. If you find an outlet with someone already plugged in, you should be able to persuade him to let you plug this device in so that both of you (and three additional people as well) can use the power.


April 8, 2007

Dangerous design

Filed under: Uncategorized — CL @ 9:52 am

From the Detroit News:

    Plug it in, fire it up, Mr. President
    Credit Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally with saving the leader of the free world from self-immolation.
    Mulally told journalists at the New York auto show that he intervened to prevent President Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of Ford’s hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid at the White House last week. Ford wanted to give the Commander-in-Chief an actual demonstration of the innovative vehicle, so the automaker arranged for an electrical outlet to be installed on the South Lawn and ran a charging cord to the hybrid. However, as Mulally followed Bush out to the car, he noticed someone had left the cord lying at the rear of the vehicle, near the fuel tank.
    “I just thought, ‘Oh my goodness!’ So, I started walking faster, and the President walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all the protocols. I touched the President. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front,” Mulally said. “I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen. This is all off the record, right?”

Um. . . If there is such a significant possibility that someone could make a simple mistake like this, with catastrophic results, shouldn’t Ford send the vehicle back for some rethinking on design?

February 17, 2007

Promoting ignorance

Filed under: Religion and law — CL @ 3:14 pm

“Rather than risk teaching a lie why teach anything?”

Believe it or not, this is an actual quote attributed to Ben Bridges, a Georgia state representative, in talking about a proposal to ban the teaching of evolution in Georgia’s public schools. Not to require teaching of an alternative, but a ban on teaching evolution.

This needs to be on a T-shirt.

January 27, 2007

Father and son?

Filed under: Uncategorized — CL @ 6:48 pm

Father Son

January 7, 2007


Filed under: Art — CL @ 7:18 pm

Needle Tower


Kenneth Snelson
Needle Tower, 1968

I took a photograph about 28 years ago in Washington, D.C., and it has always been one of my favorites. I took it standing under an outdoor sculpture in the sculpture garden at the Hirshhorn Museum, on a brilliant spring day against a beautiful blue sky. The sculpture in question consisted of a series of metal bars held together by cables, climbing about 25 feet into the sky as it narrowed. The perspective from directly below is interesting because the narrowing at the center provides the effect of a recursive six-pointed star, the Star of David. The title I gave to my photograph was “Aspiring”.

I have always wondered who the artist was and what he called his piece. I had no idea whether it was still there. A few years ago, I looked on the internet but found no information about it.

This week I tried again, and after a little work I found it. The piece is “Needle Tower”, apparently created in 1968 (thus ten years before I took my photo) by Kenneth Snelson. The accompanying photograph is from the Hirshhorn’s web site, taken from precisely the same location, and is nearly identical to mine. Technically the photo may be a little better than mine because it includes a kind of reflective effect that lightens the dark blue sky in the upper left quadrant.

The web discloses more:

Snelson’s web site —

A preview gallery features his work — including Needle Tower II, created in 1969, on display at a museum in Holland.

These sites note the early collaboration between Snelson and Buckminster Fuller, and their later rift.

Snelson has a number of patents, including “Space Frame Structure Made by 3-D Weaving of Rod Members”,

January 6, 2007

Printing Acrobat bookmarks

Filed under: Tech — CL @ 8:45 am

Although one commentator estimates that 90% of PDF files available online do not incorporate any of the available navigational tools, knowledgeable users are familiar with the bookmarks that can be created under Acrobat to mark pages of interest for later use and reference.

One regular gripe among those users is that Adobe did not think to include the ability to print the list of bookmarks, or to allow it to be selected as text and copied for pasting elsewhere. For such a sophisticated product, how did it allow this rather basic user need to be ignored?

There have been some suggestions as to a workaround. For a truly cumbersome approach, see the suggestion at the PDF for Lawyers site. There are vendors who, for a hundred bucks or more, will sell a plug-in to do much the same thing.

HyperSnap, an inexpensive screen capture utility, now has (with version 6) a TextSnap feature which comes to the rescue. Select “TextSnap | Text from a region”. Switch to Acrobat and draw the rectangle around the bookmark panel. If the list of bookmarks is long, repeat as needed. Each block of text is copied to HyperSnap, where it can be later copied and combined as needed.

October 8, 2006

Viva Sherwin Williams

Filed under: Constitutional law — CL @ 7:06 pm

In Ohio, the Sherwin-Williams Company has taken a novel approach to “public interest” lawsuits brought by the cities of East Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo, claiming damages for the use of lead-based paints in houses in those cities in past decades. Rather than relying on defenses in the state-court cases, the company has taken the offensive and has filed a separate lawsuit in Federal court, seeking to enjoin the state courts from considering these lawsuits on constitutional grounds. In the complaint, Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams says,

“These trial lawyers, attempting to garner huge contingency fees, have allied with certain Ohio trial lawyers, to instigate this new wave of litigation by certain Ohio cities.”

According to the report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer,

“Sherwin-Williams is asking the court to prevent the Ohio cities from proceeding, arguing that it’s unfair to be held accountable for lawful actions that occurred long ago, before medical science could determine health risks associated with lead paint. It argues that the owners of property where lead paint has been allowed to deteriorate are responsible for injuries that result when that paint is ingested by children.

“Sherwin-Williams argues the public nuisance claims made by the plaintiffs ‘are arbitrary, impermissibly vague’ and so long after the fact that they deny the company due process.”

Although there are going to be several obstacles to this claim, including abstention doctrines, I find it refreshing that a company has considered that the 14th Amendment might actually be available to provide some relief to the tyrannical use of litigation in state courts to challenge the sale of products which were legal, beneficial, and sold in conformance with all state and Federal regulations at the time they were sold and applied.

The common wisdom among most constitutional lawyers is that the protections against oppressive state action afforded under the 14th Amendment are not available to protect corporations from product liability litigation under state law. I applaud this company’s willingness to challenge that position.

See Sherwin Williams sues three cities, Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 5

September 24, 2006

What is wrong with corporate America

Filed under: Society, Software, Uncategorized — CL @ 6:48 pm

At a weblog called The Old New Thing, one of the MSDN weblogs, the author had this to say in a post dated August 2003 about how Microsoft responded to a complaint about its time zone map. Its response highlights a significant problem with how corporate America responds to adversity.

The Peruvian government complained to Microsoft that the border was incorrectly placed. Of course, if we complied and moved the border northward, we’d get an equally angry letter from the Ecuadorian government demanding that we move it back. So we removed the feature altogether.

Why in the hell would Microsoft worry about a complaint from Peru? The best response to that complaint would have been to ignore it completely. The next best reaction would have been a polite comment that “We do not attempt to ensure that this map is entirely up to date at all times”. It was a time zone map, after all, not a world atlas. But removing the feature altogether was the worst possible response. A feature that was useful to tens of millions of users across the world is removed because a couple of people in Peru made a complaint? This is an example of corporate wimpitude of the highest order.

August 24, 2006

The corner store

Filed under: Society — CL @ 10:13 pm

Andrew Young is in trouble for something he said. In one sentence, he managed to insult Jews, Koreans, and Arabs. In an interview in the Los Angeles Sentinel, Young is quoted:

    When asked about Wal-Mart moving into areas and displacing the “mom-and-pop” stores, Young had this response. “Well, I think they should; they ran the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores out of my neighborhood. But you see those are the people who have been overcharging us—selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and retired to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs. Very few Black folks own these stores.”

In Slate, Timothy Noah tries to explain:

    Various African-American writers, including the estimable Clarence Page and Erin Aubrey Kaplan, have suggested that what Young was trying to say, in his admittedly ham-handed way, was that blacks historically have not owned the mom-and-pop stores in black neighborhoods, and that this is a source of legitimate frustration in the black community. A perfectly valid point, but not, you’ll notice, the one that Young made in the interview. Young didn’t say that more blacks ought to own mom-and-pop grocery stores in black neighborhoods; he said that the people who have owned and operated these stores have “been overcharging” blacks for “stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables” and then “sold out and retired to Florida.” They have “ripped off our communities.” They have done this, Young implied strongly, because they are not themselves black.

This is a remarkable comment – blacks have not owned these stores, and this generates “legitimate frustration in the black community”. I don’t see it that way.

Mr. Young fashions himself a spokesman for African-Americans. Has he asked himself why it is that “very few black folks own these stores”? The Jews came and went. The Koreans came and went. The Arabs came, and someday they will leave. All this time, black people have been customers, but it seems that they never owned the stores. Why is that? At no time in the last 30 years were there any laws that prohibited blacks from buying grocery stores. Indeed, if there had been any such laws, they would have been properly challenged as illegal under any number of laws.

Why exactly is it a legitimate source of frustration in the black community that blacks do not own the stores that serve their neighborhoods? As far as I can tell, the only reason that that is the case is that blacks have not chosen to participate in that segment of the economy. There may be a number of explanations for why that has happened, but lack of opportunity is not one of them.

August 6, 2006

Public ani

Filed under: Uncategorized — CL @ 10:18 pm

The opinion in the case of Dubay v. Wells (PDF), in which Dubay sought to invalidate a Michigan court’s paternity ruling on 14th Amendment grounds because he did not want to be a father, is now available online. The second paragraph of the opinion is priceless:

    According to the pleadings, Dubay commenced a personal relationship with defendant Lauren Wells, dated her, engaged in intimate sexual relations, impregnated her, terminated his relationship, and sued her for bearing his child. If chivalry is not dead, its viability is gravely imperiled by the plaintiff in this case.

In addition to ruling against plaintiff on the merits, the Court found that his claim was “frivolous, unreasonable, and without foundation” and thus awarded the state attorneys’ fees.

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