Thursday, September 20, 2007

Whither we goest?

The title of a Vanity Fair article, Lazy-Ass Nation, intrigued me enough to peruse it online (hard also to not peruse pictures of Tom Cruise's ex-better half). But I digress. This was an amusing piece, which notes the extents to which modern society has succumbed to the allure of gadgetry, e.g.,
  • a motorized ice-cream cone twirler
  • battery operated self-heating jackets
  • cars that park themselves (better than you, no doubt)
  • peanut butter and jelly (in the same jar)
  • remote-control switch for a clapper
  • motorized, remote-controlled duck decoys (I want one!)
One interesting and distressing point is a quote from Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee. I have read this, but I probably banished the detail from my mind:
"Hunter-gatherers really do have more free time." He points to studies showing that Kalahari Desert Bushmen, a hunter-gatherer tribe that has survived to this day, "have leisure time, sleep a lot, and work no harder than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food has been reported to be only twelve to nineteen hours for Bushmen: how many [of us] can boast of such a short work week?"
From here, we go to the near future, where information might successfully be implanted into live neurons and bioengineering will cure us of everything. You've got to love the conclusion:
And once the goods and services we come up with are advanced enough to eradicate every last annoyance from our lives, we'll finally achieve that state of bliss known both to yogis of the East and Homer Simpson on the couch.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An awareness of hunger, appetite and eating enjoyment

A press release yesterday on PennState Live says "Eating competence may lower risk of heart disease."
University Park, Pa. – People who are confident, comfortable and flexible with their eating habits may be at a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than people who are not. Researchers at Penn State suggest that a curriculum that helps people understand their eating habits could prove to be an important medical nutrition therapy.

Coming from a family whose medical history is rife with heart problems, I am comforted by this news. I am a paragon of confident, comfortable eating. In addition, my eating habits are extremely flexible. I willingly will trade dishes or modify my eating times to accommodate my dining companions.

I think I shall embark upon my 100 Lunches in 100 Days program immediately.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Kobayashi Moru vs. Seppuku

I wish that I was Captain Kirk. The only Star Fleet cadet to beat the no-win Kobayashi Moru Scenario might be able to come to grips with using Office 2007 within Blackboard Vista. The problem is that Vista does not currently recognize Office 2007 file formats.

Office 2007 applications such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint save their files with a new XML-based file format called Open Office XML Format. This new format features new and different file extensions (e.g., .docx, .xlsx, .pptx), which help to indicate their XML-based content.

The file format container, which is comprised primarily of XML files, is based upon the compressed ZIP file format specification. The following problems can arise for users:

  1. Downloading the file from Vista with the default ZIP extension makes the file unreadable by Office 2003

  2. The default ZIP association forces the client to treat the XML format package as a ZIP file

  3. The client Office application does not recognize the XML format package encoding

A wise person at this point would simply not use, or allow to be used, Office 2007. Of course, a wise person would not be teaching Office 2007 for Fairmont State University and trying to do it on Vista.

There are two practical solutions:

  1. Rename the Office 2007 file before (or preferably after) you upload it to Vista. For example, change the .docx filetype of a Word document to .doc.

  2. Upload the four-character Office 2007 extension, but teach everyone to override the default ZIP filetype when they download and SAVE AS…

  3. Don't use Office 2007

Of course, none of this brings into consideration as to what someone who uses Office 2003 will encounter if they are faced with the Kobayashi Moru of handling Office 2007 files on Vista. It would help a lot if they had the latest Microsoft Office Combatibility Pack (sic) for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats.

It would help even more if they didn't have to do it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A foolish consistency is hardwired into conservative minds

Nature Neuroscience reports on some interesting findings by some researchers who have taken another look into the neurological differences between liberal and conservative people. In their article, Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism, the researchers (Amonio, Jost, Master and Yee)say that "greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity."

There idea was that "conflict monitoring," which they defined as a general mechanism for detecting one's habitual response tendency, could be tested by a Go/No-Go task.

In the Go/No-Go task used in our study, participants must quickly respond to a frequently presented Go stimulus, such that the 'Go' response becomes habitual. However, on a small proportion of trials, a No-Go stimulus appears, signaling that one's habitual response should be withheld. Hence, a No-Go stimulus conflicts with the prepotent Go response tendency.

In a nutshell, the researchers hypothesize that response conflicts are associated and detectable within a specific area of the brain. Their results indicate that a liberal political orientation was strongly correlated to greater conflict-related neural activity when response inhibition was required (e.g., a "No-Go").

Those with an inherent bent towards "staying the course" show little conflict-related neural activity.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Orifice Open XML

A Guardian Unlimited Technology article today, "Microsoft OOXML not a standard, standards body votes," tells of Microsoft's latest setback in having their latest non-standard declared a standard.

OOXML (Office Open XML)is Microsoft's XML-based document format, which is being used in Office 2007. Apparently the awkward name "Office Open" is meant to avoid any mixup with "OpenOffice," which is a multiplatform and multilingual office suite and an open-source project. Quite an orifice full.

The New York Times Technolgy article, "Panel Reject Microsoft's Open Format," offers more details of this tempest. In five months of voting by member of the International Organization for Standardization, or the I.S.O., Microsoft has failed to win designation of OOXML as an approved standard.

The fight over the standard, while technically arcane, is commercially important because more governments are demanding interchangeable open document formats for their vast amounts of records, instead of proprietary formats tied to one company’s software. The only standardized format now available to government buyers is OpenDocument Format, developed by a consortium led by I.B.M., which the I.S.O. approved in May 2006.

According to Gartner, more than 90 percent of all digital text documents in the world are in Microsoft formats. This statistic is important because many groups, here and abroad, are arguing for a reduction of our reliance upon Microsoft's propriety products.

BSI, a Brittish Standards group, has some great arguments against OOXML.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Do not adjust your set -- turn it off!

NewScientistTech has a disturbing piece about the results of a recent study, which show that watching television more than two hours a day early in life can lead to attention problems later in adolescence.
Symptoms of attention problems included short attention span, poor concentration, and being easily distracted. The findings could not be explained by early-life attention difficulties, socio-economic factors, or intelligence, says the team.
This is particularly disturbing in that the attention problems seem to be independent of whether a diagnosis for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder had previously been made.

One caveat, though, is that the children in the study were prone to attention problems, and they were drawn to watching television. Still, the results warn us that TV viewing is supplanting other activities that promote concentration, such as reading, games, sports and play.