Archive for September, 2009

On Vacation

Julia and I are heading off to Philadelphia, New York, and DC for a bit of a vacation. Neither of us have been to Philly, and Julia has never been to New York, so it will be a lot of fun. I’m taking my camera of course, and I’m looking forward to taking photos in a very urban environment.

Back in October!

  • Current Mood: Excited

Controlling form access in Access 2007

I do a fair bit of programming in Access 2007, after having started in Access 97 and moved on to 2000. The 2007 versions of Office programs had many significant changes, including the Ribbon, but one change that slipped under most people’s radar was the removal of user-level security. Access 2007 files no longer used the “users-and-groups-in-a-workgroup-MDW-file” method of providing security; in fact, it pretty much did away with security on a per-object basis altogether.

Read the rest of this entry »

HDR photos

I’ve been playing around with Qtpfsgui, the freeware HDR generator. I’ve tried Photomatix but didn’t care for it, plus it costs money. I’m all about free and open source. Through my experimentation, I’ve discovered an important revelation: 16-bit TIFF files are far, far better source images than 8-bit JPG. I was using 8-bit JPG files for my source at first, and was extremely disappointed in the results. Now that I’ve moved to TIFF, I find things to be a whole lot better. Images after the jump.

Here is an HDR image of downtown Minneapolis, using Mantiuk tonemapping. I like the way it turned out:

Downtown Minneapolis HDR.

Here is a Mantiuk tonemap of the Mississippi River from the Franklin Avenue Bridge:

Downtown Minneapolis HDR.

Here is the same scene, using the Fattal algorithm. Fattal is definitely less realistic than other HDR tonemapping algorithms, but it can create interesting results:

Downtown Minneapolis HDR.

Now that I’ve discovered the best way to make them, I’ll probably keep creating HDR images. More can be seen here.

Missile defense shield: still a stupid idea

A little more than nine years ago, when I was a columnist for the Minnesota Daily, I wrote a column expressing my opposition to a planned missile defense shield. In the wake of President Obama’s decision to cancel the planned defense shield in Eastern Europe, I went back and re-read that column, and what was true then is just as true today: a missile defense shield is useless, and Obama was right to cancel it.

Read the rest of this entry »

You can’t have it all

I’m sure everybody’s heard the old joke that goes along the lines of "Your ideal spouse: Rich, Educated, Beautiful. Choose Two" or "Computer software: Fast, Easy, Affordable. Choose Two". No matter how much we want everything, it’s almost impossible to find something that has every positive aspect you are looking for. The same goes for health care reform.

Read the rest of this entry »

My increasing disgust with fellow bikers

I’m a biker. Living in Minneapolis is a real treat for bikers, as we have dozens of miles of trails to take advantage of: the Grand Rounds circling the city, the Midtown Greenway, the Kenwood Trail, the path along Hiawatha and the LRT, not to mention all of the on-street bike paths there are. With more bike-friendly plans on the way (I’m not the only one to be happy that the insane center bike lanes on Hennepin are disappearing), it’s little wonder that Minneapolis is second in the country when it comes to people who commute on bike, despite our harsh winters.

Despite the bike-friendly nature of the area, though, if bikers continue to act like they are acting, we will soon wear out our welcome. I’ve always had an issue with bikers who blatantly disregard traffic laws: running stop signs and stop lights, going the wrong way down one-way streets, and so forth. In the past, the number of transgressions committed by bikers were outnumbered by the transgressions against bikers taken by people in vehicles, and so it balanced out. But lately, perhaps due to some kind of acquiescence on the part of drivers to the reality of biking, there are far more bikers acting like idiots than drivers.

I try to call my fellow bikers out on this when I can, but when I’m stopped at a stop light and some idiot zooms through, it can be a bit hard to catch up. Whether it does any good is questionable, but somebody needs to speak up.

I do this not because I love laws, but because I respect the laws of physics: in a war between vehicles and bikes, bikes will lose, and I see no need to antagonize drivers so they have an excuse to start in on bikers. When one biker disobeys the law, we are all put at risk.

President Obama’s Target Center visit

Yesterday Julia and I had the exciting pleasure of volunteering at President Obama’s first White House rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis to argue for health care reform. We we asked to volunteer on Wednesday shortly after the visit was announced, and we jumped at the chance. Following a training session on Friday night, where we learned that we would be volunteer captains for the VIP section on the floor of the Target Center close to the podium, the rally left us tired, sore, and fired up. Here are a few of our experiences at that rally…

Read the rest of this entry »

Why health reform requires mandated universal coverage

If we are to have serious health care reform in this country, it will require everybody to have coverage. Universal coverage isn’t just a nicety, or “the right thing to do”, it’s an essential. Without it, real reform won’t be harder; it will, quite simply, be impossible.

The reason is purely economic, and revolves around the other reforms that people seem to take for granted: preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, and preventing insurance companies from rescinding existing coverage due to new illnesses, “technicalities” on the application, and other invented, generally evil reasons. These common insurance industry practices, the ones that lead to big bonuses for insurance company employees that find ways to drop expensive customers, are rightly seen as inhumane, and people assume that any health reform would put an end to them. But in order for that to happen, you absolutely need mandated, universal coverage.

It’s quite simple really: if you don’t mandate coverage, people will choose not to buy insurance until they get sick. Then, since insurance companies can’t deny coverage to anybody, and they can’t cancel coverage, the insurance company will have to pay for all future medical care, despite the consumer not paying any premiums before that point. Sure, the consumer may be on the hook for anything that happened before coverage started, for for chronic conditions like diabetes, there’s plenty of expenses that will come later. The customer saves money, and the insurance company goes under because they can’t recoup the cost of coverage through premiums.

It would be no different than allowing people to buy auto insurance after an accident, or to buy life insurance after they are already dead, with the insurance companies being forced to issue the policy. That’s a fantastic way to put all insurance companies out of business, but not a terribly good way to ensure the long-term health of the industry.

Thus, you need to force people to buy into the system from the beginning, so that they don’t game the system by waiting to purchase insurance. The best way to do that, however, is the question. I don’t think a fine, up to $3,800 as suggested by Sen. Max Baucus, is the way to do it. My preference would be that anybody who does not have other insurance would be automatically enrolled and billed for the public option (yet another reason why a public option is essential). That’s not a fine, that’s just being nudged into a default plan and paying for it.

No matter how you do it, though, mandatory universal coverage is essential if we hope to do away with the worst of insurance company excesses.

The tempest over Obama’s school speech

The controversy surrounding today’s speech to school children by President Obama really did become ridiculous. In the end, I hope that the text of the message, and its non-political content, will put to rest at least some of the more reality-based opposition to it (of course, a good deal of the opposition was completely insane , and no amount of cool-headed introspection after the fact will change it). Even complaints based on the worry that he would somehow be “indoctrinating” kids or use the speech for political purproses were a bit ridiculous, though: as if Obama would fill the speech with exhortations to vote Democratic or else he will personally kill every child’s puppy, or something like that. Despite what certain Republicans would lead you to believe, the Obama administration is not so off the deep end that they would consider this to be an acceptable event.

I’ve thought less about the content of the speech and the objections thereof, though, and more about something that, to my knowledge, has not been touched upon very much by the media. There is an important reason why Obama should talk to school kids in this manner, but a lot of people completely missed this message (and as you’ll see in a moment, the fact that they missed this message is terribly telling).

I’m a white guy. All throughout my life, when parents and teachers told me I could do anything, I had no reason to doubt them. After all, whenever I turned on the TV or read history books or opened a newspaper, I saw plenty of white guys leading the way. Presidents, CEOs, news anchors, sports greats, politicians…they were all pretty much like me in a superficial, first impression kind of way, despite the fact that white guys make up a minority of the U.S. population (and an even tinier minority of the world population).

For a lot of students who aren’t white guys, though, statements like “You can do anything with your life if you stay in school, maybe even become president!” could ring a bit hollow; given the much more obvious lack of real-world evidence that this was true. It’s not that hard to see how some people, seeing the gaping chasm between platitude and reality, would grow a bit cynical. Toss in a bit of history (it’s only been a couple of generations since the firehoses, women have been able to vote for less than a century) and it’s clear that you can’t just talk the talk, you’ve got to have some evidence that you can walk the walk.

And this is exactly why Obama’s speech was not only appropriate, but a fantastically important event. Not just because of who he is, but because he is one of the largest examples of how barriers are breaking down everywhere: let’s not forget that a woman had a very credible shot of becoming the Democratic nominee and then president, and a woman was a vice presidential candidate for only the second time on a major ticket. When Obama says that staying in school, setting goals, and working hard can lead you to great things, a lot more kids will be able to identify with him, and hence with that message.

It’s sad that so many people overlooked this important take on the issue. However, the people that control our discourse are the same people who never would have doubted that they could do anything they wanted when they were kids; in their minds, how could any child think differently? While they may not see the importance of this message, fortunately plenty of others do.

Photos of Minneapolis and the Mississippi River

I took last Friday off, and instead of sleeping in like a normal person would do, I decided to get up as usual and instead take some photos just after daybreak. A couple hours after sunrise and a couple hours after sunset are the best times to take photographs, and Friday morning was no exception. Some samples after the break; the rest are here.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Current Mood: Headache