Calendars and Portals

I’ve been doing a little messing around hoping to make some progress on a portable calendar – a schedule I can access anywhere I have access to the net and a browser. Yes, I know that a date book would do much the same thing, but I do this kind of thing for a living – time spent goes in the professional development category. Plus – there’s the ‘ooh, blinking lights!’ factor.

Some things I wanted going in:

  • Multiplatform – I have a Wintel desktop and an iBook (pre-Intel). I want to be able to schedule on either.
  • Off-network capability – I want to be able to schedule something (likely on the iBook) when I don’t have a net connection.
  • Visible via a browser – I want a way to look at my schedule if all I have access to is a browser.

I started by looking at how to sync an iCal (the application) schedule with a Google calendar using iCalendar (the data exchange standard). I tried a variety of approaches and ended up using Mozilla’s Sunbird on both the Mac and Windows boxes; they publish to a WebDAV folder on my server, and I can see the calendar both from Google Calendars and from a new portal I set up for myself at netvibes. Interesting tidbits I picked up along the way:

  • – free public WebDAV filespace. Think of this as a small web-based hard drive. You can do almost the same thing with Gmail, but this is the real thing – subfolders and everything. You can set up a 1 Gb file cache that you can access anywhere a browser is available.
  • netvibes – there are a lot of portals out there; My Yahoo is the one I’ve used (it’s been a while – I have no idea what you can do with it now). Netvibes offers modules that clinched the deal for me – one will display a published iCal file, another hooks into and a third shows your Gmail inbox. Here’s a screencap of my portal:

If you’re interested in some of the details, let me know and I can post links to some of the how-to’s I used – or you can look on – my ID there is dr.hypercube, too.

Social Commentators and Evolutionary Biology/Psychology

Christopher Hitchens’ essay, “Why Women Aren’t Funny”, excited a certain amount of discussion around the internets recently. I’m not going to add my 2 cents on his hypothesis*, but one blogger’s reply did an excellent job of making some points that I think would be useful to keep in mind any time a pundit uses evolutionary biology to justify an argument. My 2 favorites:

1. Learning, culture, human malleability. It’s the whole nature/nurture thing cast in terms of how we adapt to different circumstances.

Many animals can be trained.

We can be taught. We are teachable.

To be trained is to be habituated, conditioned—reprogrammed. To be taught to how to do something is also to be taught how not to. Anything we’ve been taught, we can unteach ourselves.

So it seems to me that whenever you want to try to explain why a person, or a whole lot of persons, are the way they are, the first thing to look at is not what might have happened to their homo erectus ancestors millions of years ago, but what they themselves have been taught right here and now.

If you have to go back in time, you needn’t go back more than a few generations, where you can read what their great-grandparents were taught.

Now, the difference between believing that people are what they are because of what they’ve been taught and they are what they are because what they are was biologically determined for them millennia ago is that the first belief allows for people being able to change and the second belief is pretty much an argument that they can’t, they’re stuck being what they are, no matter what.

2. Panglossianism. Since the argument is that people have evolved to behave in such and such a way, we need to skate over the possibility that the behavior is neutral or (gasp) maladaptive. Instead, it’s a relatively straight path to the best of all possible worlds.

The general weakness in all these arguments has been that the amateur assumes that everything about us has an evolutionary cause. Take us for all in all, we are the pure products of natural selection.

But as Stephen Jay Gould was often at pains to point out—usually to religious types who wanted to prove that evolution is not a fact and thought they had a Gotcha! when they could point to something about an animal they felt made no sense as an adaptation and therefore could not have been naturally selected for or something that appears too complicated to have been the result of biological accidents to have invented and refined—not everything about an organism is there because it is useful.

Some qualities or features appeared because of accidents—mutations, etc.—and stuck because there was no reason for them to be naturally selected against.

And some features and qualities are there because they are contingent upon other features and qualities that were useful.

It’s finally an argument that whatever is, is right, an aphoristic thought that as Dickens pointed out, “would be as final as it is lazy, did it not include the troublesome consequence, that nothing that ever was, was wrong.”

The second point reminds me of why I stopped studying economics – it starts to smell like theology after a while – justifying the ways of god to man…

*why? 1. It’s a trap – “Look! Those that disagree with me – dull, earnest, no sense of humor!”. 2. Been done (better).

News with musical accompaniment

First – slow news day here in New Hampshire. While waiting for the weatherman to come on the morning news I was stunned to see a story on Nigerian spam scams. Gott im Himmel! How can there be, at this point, someone on the planet who is at the intersection of ‘has access to a computer’ and ‘is clueless about Mrs. Miriam Abacha’. In a nod to just how current the story isn’t, part of the feature discussed a NH man who went to jail for 4 years in 2001 as a result of one of these scams. The poor bastard has already done his time and yet this is news? I offer MC Frontalot’s Message 419 as music to shake your head by.

II. Roman burial unearthed in London. Very interesting stuff – I’ll probably now fly off on a tangent reading about Roman and pre-Roman Britain (Yo! Hadrian!). Ackroyd’s London: the Biography was wonderful, but didn’t go far enough into the really old stuff. The music that goes with this item is appropriate both for it’s last verse (la-la-Londinium) and for it’s focus on the people who built the burg (including the Victorian sewer worker who swiped the Roman’s head). Also, navvy is a great word. XTC’s Towers of London:

Wordly Wise

A few good words (and terms) I’ve run across recently:

  • Pareidolia – taking a vague pattern and seeing something clearly in it – pattern recognition gone awry. Think of Mother Theresa’s image on a piece of toast. The word is courtesy of Victor the Talking Budgie via the Kircher Society web site. Paredolia’s polar opposite (antonym just doesn’t seem to fit this context) is a phenomenon I’ve heard described as native vision – the ability of a local to see something that someone who wasn’t intimately familiar with the environment would miss. Hmmm… think I need to watch Dersu Uzala again.
  • Prolix – windbag-ish. I’ve read through this word many times, assuming I understood it’s meaning from context. I finally looked it up – huge sigh of relief – I didn’t have my head lodged.

Jollie (1976, 1977a, 1977b, 1977c) incorporated many aspects of the osteology of the group in his work, but as Olson (1985:108) pointed out, the work is “prolix and idiosyncratic” and it is “a labor of love” to extract information from it. The Lost World of the Moa, Worthy and Holdaway

  • Nutpicking – the practice of attempting to discredit a blog by grabbing the craziest comments you can find and claiming that they are representative. A vice that seems to be particularly prevalent among ‘traditional’ journalists.
  • Friedman Unit (abbr. FU) – 6 months.

The Long Horse

I came across this page introducing an equine variety I’d never heard of before – the “long horse”. There are more photos of long horses here. Apparently the breed is now extinct – too bad – I’d love to have one. Mine would be named (in an homage to Bob Heinlein’s Glory Road) Arse Longa. And when she eventually died the marker would read?


Arse Longa
Vita Brevis
Of course!