Very Fine Junk Science and Public Health Blog

Wow, just found Junkfood Science. Rigorous debunking of public policy about health. The recent articles focus on the childhood obesity overreaction, but I was drawn in by this carefully researched article on EMF regulation and MRI exams.

That article starts off with people freaking out about Wi-Fi, but moves on to the EU publishing EMF exposure rules which effectively prohibit MRI tests. This is a double whammy for that technology. It started off as “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance”, an accurate term which scared people because it sounded nookyooler and might make them radioactive. The industry reacted nimbly and renamed it “Magnetic Resonance Imaging”, simultaneously preserving their profit and making a valuable diagnostic tool available to the ignorant.

Long article, but plenty of data for why the precautionary principle is bad policy.

Reading Tolkien Aloud

Several years ago, I read The Lord of the Rings to my boys. My wife took an occasional night, but I did most of them. I wanted to reread the books before I saw the movies, and the guys were ready, so we did it. It took four and a half months.

Tim Bray just did the same thing and his son is the same age as one of mine was.

I was very surprised at how The Fellowship of the Ring flowed when read aloud. I’d read The Hobbit to the boys the previous summer, and it was OK, but this book was really a step up. I’m guessing that J.R.R. read it to his wife until he got it right. He was a Beowulf scholar, so reading tales would have been natural for him. There is a story of him starting off the year proclaiming Beowulf in the original for the entire lecture.

Also, I never noticed that Tom Bombadil spoke in rhyme until I read it out loud. Hmm.

I did skip a very few spots when reading the books. There is a really long committee meeting where they are organizing the fellowship at Rivendell and things bog down. The Hobbit has this problem, too, when everyone gets together at Bilbo’s and just keep talking. Committee meetings don’t seem to work for reading aloud.

I also skipped a few gory bits in The Return of the King. And, that book didn’t read as smoothly as the others. The language got a bit fussier. Too many kings talking to each other, perhaps. At heart, it really is a novel of the heroism of the common people (“little people”?), so it works better when the merchants and farmers are in the spotlight.

Since Tim Bray links to a cool map of Middle Earth, I’ll link to something for those who are bored with gingerbread houses, The Battle of Pelennor Fields executed in candy. Take that, Tim. And my slipcased edition from the 70’s have the big fold-out maps anyway. And a price tag that I lettered when I worked in Waldenbooks, befofre bought it with the employee discount. So there. Physical media have such a different history than bits.

One other thing — the whole book is written at a walking pace and reading aloud seems to be the right speed. Only the bad guys and magicians have horses (Nazgul, elves, and Gandalf). Going fast is either very bad (you are being chased) or very, very good (you are on Shadowfax). There really is a lot of walking in the book. Tolkien did not like cars, so it may be that his writing follows the pace of his walking and cycling through England.

Overall, it works very well read aloud. Find an eight year old kid and try it.

Are Websites Dead?

About four years ago, our website design consultants (at my previous job) sent me a survey. One of the questions was “List the websites you visit frequently.” I was quite surprised to realize that there were no websites that I visited frequently. Six months earlier, I had installed, then purchased, a copy of NetNewsWire and I had almost instantaneously switched to reading RSS feeds (or even better, Atom feeds) instead of surfing the web.

Note: NetNewsWire is now free. I don’t even mind paying them back then.

Four years later, I still don’t visit any websites regularly. These days, I even ditch web feeds that aren’t full-content, like The Economist’s Democracy in America. Well, except for Daring Fireball, and that is a big compliment.

This is fine if only I do it, but if lots of people follow suit it is a nasty turn of events for ad-supported websites. Way back in 1996, Infoseek couldn’t make a go of it as a subscription website and invented and patented banner ads. Twelve years later, we are talking billions of ad dollars.

Seriously, the web does not exist without advertising. Google is an advertising company (duh!), just like Infoseek was. 25% of the staff at Infoseek were in ad sales. 70% of Google works on ads. RSS feeds don’t show ads. This cuts off the oxygen supply for the whole web.

I suggested explicit Atom support for ads, but that didn’t get any traction. Now, I see separate “sponsored by” entries in two of my feeds. Hmm, one of them is Daring Fireball.

wunder@best.com is Dead, Long Live wunderwood.org

Verio killed off my wunder@best.com address without warning, so I’ve spent a few days getting mail working on wunderwood.org with the friendly but not always effective tech support at Verio. There is no forwarding, sigh, but you can send mail to the same username @wunderwood.org and you’ll get me. The rest of the family now has their own mailboxes there, no more party line e-mail.

I’m sad to lose the wunder@best.com address. It was my internet identity for a really long time, maybe fifteen years. It certainly goes back to pre-web, dialup internet. I had a shell account, and if you know what that is, you know your DCE’s from your DTE’s, I bet.

“wunder” is a lot older than wunder@best.com. My OS/370 batch processing account at Rice in Fall 1975 was WUNDERW and I switched it to WUNDER the next year. At The Rice Thresher, photo credits were first initial plus last name in all lower case. The period and space slowly disappeared (through the magic of kerning) over several issues to become “wunderwood” (thanks Mark). Both wunder and wunderwood live on at wunderwood.org.

wunder@best.com will bounce. Sorry about that, I can’t fix it. I own the new domain, so that will continue to work for a long time.

Best Internet Communication was a great provider, Mac-savvy, local, and even profitable. Check out the history at the link above for a taste of early ISPs.

After a couple of acquisitions, my old account is now with NTT/Verio. I need to have a chat with an account rep there, because their price list shows my account at $15/month and I’m paying $24.95. The joys of a grandfathered account.