Worse than Viruses

Public computer surfaces are reservoirs for methicillin-resistant staphylococci.

The role of computer keyboards used by students of a metropolitan university as reservoirs of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci was determined. Putative methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant staphylococci isolates were identified from keyboard swabs following a combination of biochemical and genetic analyses. Of 24 keyboards surveyed, 17 were contaminated with staphylococci that grew in the presence of oxacillin (2 mg l-1). Methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), -S. epidermidis (MRSE) and -S. hominis (MRSH) were present on two, five and two keyboards, respectively, while all three staphylococci co-contaminated one keyboard. Furthermore, these were found to be part of a greater community of oxacillin-resistant bacteria. Combined with the broad user base common to public computers, the presence of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci on keyboard surfaces might impact the transmission and prevalence of pathogens throughout the community.

Thanks to Monique van Hoek for the pointer.

Worse than Viruses

Incidentally, it’s always seemed a bit curious to me that given what the Americans say they owe to the Separatists and the Pilgrim Fathers, and indeed it could be proved that they owe a great deal, the English are so often the villains and while we have people in America happy to be Afro-Americans and Irish Americans and Hispanic Americans, I have yet to meet anyone in the United States who has told me that he was an Anglo-American.
From Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time newsletter

Google File Search

Web pages are useful, but if you’ve ever wanted to find a specific file on the web, you noticed it’s not very easy. Fortunately, search engines like Google could be used for this tricky task.

Sometimes people create a web site, put some files in a directory, but forget to add an index file. So they end up with an unprotected directory that lists all of its files and subdirectories, when directly accessed from a browser. If someone links to the directory or submits it to Google, it becomes available to anyone who performs a search.

Because these directory listings are built using similar templates (depending on the web server), you can add to your query the most distinctive traits:

* The title starts with “index of” -> add to the Google query: intitle:“index of”

* They typically contain these words: “parent directory”, name, “last modified”, size, description -> you can add to your query “parent directory”, for example

* Since most sites use Apache servers, you could also add Apache, that appears in the footer of a listing for Apache web servers

To find the page from the screenshot, you could use a query like:
intitle:“index of” firefox 2.0 rc1 source

Of course, you could use this idea to find any kind of file from a PDF e-book to an MP3 podcast or song. Some of the files are shared by breaking a copyright law, so you must you use your judgment before downloading them.

But finding files using this technique is too complicated, you’ll say. First you have to enter a very complicated query, then visit all these strange-looking web pages and perform a new search in the current page to actually find the file. Then there are so many dead links and disingenuous webmasters that try to trick you with fake pages.

Some people with too much time on their hands built web apps that make it easy to search for files using Google. Briefli builds the query internally, loads the first results from Google and displays the links to the files on the same page. Moreover, the files that actually match your query are highlighted. To play the MP3s inline, you could add the del.icio.us bookmarklet to your browser and for Office files and PDFs, use Docufarm.

A site optimized for finding and playing MP3 files is mp3Salad. It lets you play all the MP3 files from a directory using a simple Flash player and even export the entire listing as a playlist.

The avalanche of file hosting sites brought a new to search for files: restrict the search results to one or more of these sites. Some examples of popular file hosting sites: esnips.com or megaupload.com. This custom search engine lets you restrict the search to 127 file hosting sites.

And then there are BitTorrent sites. Because they’re so many, this custom search engine is useful to search across the most popular ones.

Google actually indexes some of these files, mostly Office documents, PDF files, text files. You can restrict a Google search to a file type by using the filetype: operator in your query (examples: bash linux filetype:pdf restrict the search for [bash linux] to PDF files). This way you can search inside these files and not only in a listing of filenames.

For files residing on your hard disk, a desktop search engine like Google Desktop (Windows/Mac/Linux), Windows Vista’s search, Mac’s Spotlight are great and should be used before searching on the web.

Maybe one day Google will come up with a nice file search engine that indexes unprotected directories, FTP servers, file hosting sites, torrent sites. But probably the legal challenges outweigh the advantages of a such a search engine (Yahoo has a music search engine, but only for China).
Google File Search

What's actually annoying about bad customer service?

Jane Galt posts her thoughts on Sony Vaio customer service. I bought a Sony Vaio a few months ago, at the recommendation of a friend. Fortunately [it now seems] it arrived at the Best Buy with a broken drive and I never had the chance to lay my hands on it. It was only last week that they gave me my money back. Best Buy wouldn’t give me the computer, and Sony wouldn’t accept the damage claim from Best Buy rather than from the customer.

I see two especially frustrating elements in bad customer service. First, the reward/pleasure centers of the brain are already turned on, anticipating that a longstanding problem – lack of a computer – was going to be solved. The resulting disappointment is especially acute, much worse than before you try to fix the problem.

Second, we don’t like the tension of not knowing when the problem will be solved, or when being put on hold will end. Going to the dentist with certainty stresses me less than some chance I might have to go.

I try to manage the former problem by not getting excited until the product has been working for at least a day. That means I remain a bit emotionally flat in some spheres of commercial life and I don’t go out shopping enough or with enough gusto. I try to manage the second problem by mentally capitalizing the worst case customer service outcome I can imagine. That means when something goes wrong I toss in the towel too quickly. Sometimes I just buy a new item rather than solving the problem with the old one, or working to get a refund.

On this matter, Natasha believes I am crazy, yet I persist in my ways.

What’s actually annoying about bad customer service?

Excel Tip: Copy Subtotal (Aggregate) Data Only

Have you ever used Excel’s subtotal functionality?  It’s great for counting things.  For instance, I’m running some tests right now, where the output is a sequence.  If I run the test 10,000 times, then I have 10,000 sequences.  I want to know how many times each sequence happens. 

I copy the output into Excel, then sort the column containing the sequence into alphabetic order, thereby sticking like sequences with like.  Then, I use the subtotal feature to count how many times each sequence occurs.

It’s great - it does exactly what I want.  See the snapshot below.

The only problem I have is that sometimes I want to manipulate the aggregate information, say, calculate percentages, or compare it to some hand-created date from somewhere else.  So, what I really want to work on is the aggregate data, not the underlying information.

As you can see in the diagram, there are actually over 10,000 rows of information in the sheet, even though I can hide all but 20-some.  But, when I want to do a calculation on the data, I end up also doing the calculation on the underlying data as well.  I can’t even just copy the subtotal information to somewhere else, because all of the underlying data comes too!

There has got to be a way around it.  After some searching, and some bad suggestions (i.e., didn’t work for me), I discovered help in the form of Joseph Rubin’s ExcelTip.com.  You can follow his instructions.  It’s really easy.  Basically, all you do is:

  1. In the view I have above, I just click on some cell in the data range, e.g., A260.
  2. Press Ctrl+A to select all of the subtotal data (would also include the underlying data).
  3. Magic Step: Press Alt+; (This selects only the visible cells.  Magic!)
  4. Copy and paste as desired.

Wow, that little Alt+; step is pure magic.  You can also get there by using the F5 key (which brings you up the Go To Dialog), selecting Special… and then selecting Visible cells only.  Why you can select visible cells only by going through the “Go To” menu is completely beyond me.

As you can see in the screenshots below, selecting visible cells makes them look slightly different.  The shot on the left (first) is the Ctrl+A selection (all data, including underlying, hidden, data).  Notice the dark border.  The shot on the right (second) is Alt+; selection (visible cells only).  notice that the border is gone.  A good visual way to make sure you’ve selected exactly what you want.


An interesting sidebar: I’ve just gone through the Help for Excel 2007.  I originally went there, but had no joy when looking for information about copying and subtotals.  But, if you search for “visible data”, you can get to a set of instructions that will let you copy just the subtotals.  Funnily enough, there are no shortcut keys provided, just how to do the task with the ribbon.  And, there’s not even a listing discussing what the Alt+; keyboard combination is good for!  Shocking.  It really is magic :)


Excel Tip: Copy Subtotal (Aggregate) Data Only

My review

Things I Can’t Do: Use gmail properly, insert a non-distorted TextBox diagram into a Word document, drive a stick shift, attach a zip drive, explain the distribution of prime numbers, set up a directory in a Verizon cell phone.

Things I Can Do: Blog, order books on Amazon.com, drive and parallel park on the left side of the road, set up, use, and type on an iPhone.

Enough said.

My review

Ornamental Decoration in 17th Century France

Jean Le Pautre titlepage

ornamental grotesque faces

decorative embellishment

fountain arabesque

armorial ornament

Le Pautre ornament with putti

17th cent. french ornamental motifs

extravagant 17th cent. french ornamentation

grotesque border motif

17th cent. decorative embellishment

border motifs - 17th cent. designs

border grotesques and arabesques

Le Pautre - 17th cent. ornamental design

ornamental design vignettes

17th cent. french ornamental design - Le Pautre

arabesque and grotesque fountain designs

decorative embellishment - architectural design

3 grotesque face designs

17th cent. french fountain decorative design

17 cent. decorative stand and vase design

17th century plinth design

french design motifs

Jean Le Pautre (Lepautre or Lepaultre) (1618-1682) has been described as the most important ornament engraver of the 17th century. His prodigious output extended to more than 2000 prints, mostly from his own original designs.

He was not only the originator of the grandiose Louis XIV style but was also responsible for disseminating and popularising its full lavish repertoire throughout Europe. Le Pautre’s often over-elaborate and flamboyant designs frequently included arabesques, grotesques and cartouches, together with elements from classical mythology.

His diverse range of subject matter, influenced by his carpentry/joinery architectural background, included: friezes, wallpaper, grottoes, alcoves, fireplaces, furniture, murals, ceiling mouldings, fountains and grottoes.

A 3-volume series of his works was released in 1751 by Charles-Antoine Jombert of Paris, under the title: ‘Oeuvres D’Architecture De Jean Le Pautre’ and was recently uploaded by the University of Heidelberg. (Hint: to get to the thumbnails, click on ‘Titelblatt’, then the ’-’ symbol and arrow across to reach the 147 illustrations) The sample of images above are from Volume One which concentrates on the grotesque/arabesque prints.

architectural border design - 17th century france
Ornamental Decoration in 17th Century France

Pocket Penguins 70s

Whenever I think about not buying the Pocket Penguins 70th Anniversary box set I punch myself in the face. I love how the images on these three are so dominant, and yet there’s great treatment of type as well.

Pocket Penguins 70s

Down with applause

MY FOREIGN colleagues are often amused by the way Americans leap to their feet at the end of most evenings at the theatre. The moment a curtain drops, everyone tends to stand–particularly if the cast includes a real-life celebrity. A visiting friend from Russia, who went to see “The Coast of Utopia” at Lincoln Centre, was very impressed by the standing ovation, assuming it was something rare and honourable. I hadn’t the heart to explain that he was in the company of ovation-sluts.

So in the weeks following the frenzy before the Tony awards, when Broadway producers can finally exhale, I was amused by Sunday’s New York Times piece about the tedious American habit of entrance applause. Actors find it disruptive (albeit encouraging, if it’s for them); directors find it a nuisance (“The whole rhythm of the play has to stop”, says one producer). Why do we do it?

Vladimir Konecni, a professor of psychology at University of California, San Diego, who has studied the psychology of theater, noted that while the “joiners” of the entrance applause are most likely engaging in a simple case of imitation, the applause starter is harder to explain. “Elitism is absolutely the issue,” Professor Konecni said. “I have good taste, I have money, I have sensitivity, I am rewarding myself mentally.” One feels a giddy sense of accomplishment, he said, for having made it into the same room as Kevin Spacey.

Another factor is the concept of “impression management,” in this case impressing your date. “You’re telling her, ‘I belong here, I know the rules,’ ” Professor Konecni said.

That sounds about right. There is a certain smug pride in being the first to start or stop clapping, as though the whole experience is old hat. “Look at me,” we seem to say. “I do this all the time. Take notes.”

I was particularly pleased to learn this bit of trivia about Japanese theatre:

In Japan traditional kabuki theater is known for kakegoe: shouting at actors upon their entrance, and throughout the performance. When an actor strikes a traditional pose along the entrance, audiences will shout out his yago — literally “shop name” or theatrical studio — or lines of encouragement like “You’re better than your father!,” referring to the tradition of passing roles down through the generations.

Kakegoe makes up for the nonexistence of curtain calls. “There’s a saying in kabuki theater that if you wait until the end of the performance, it’s too late,” said David Furumoto, who teaches theater at the University of Wisconsin.

Waiting until the end of a show is too late? Does this speak to a larger need for encouragement? Or an unspeakable fear of mortality? Regardless, it makes New Yorkers sound down-right restrained.

Down with applause

But, you could eat a bagel or donut?


The other evening while out with neighbors for dinner I mentioned that I had pork chops for breakfast the day before. Her response: I couldn’t eat a pork chop for breakfast. So, have a look at my breakfast. Would you rather eat breakfast cereal, a donut or a bagel like she does?

She does struggle with her weight and her rejection out of hand of nutritious food in favor of the convenience and her long experience with lousy carbohydrate-laden food is one reason for her struggles. You don’t give up anything when you eat the EF Way. You gain new foods and variety along with nutrition. And the weight just falls off.

But, you could eat a bagel or donut?

A "Healthy" Doctor Runner with Heart Disease

Following on the Salazar post on marathoners is another less dramatic story, but with the same plot: Excessive Running. The doctor who looked the picture of health and was a runner was expected to ace his treadmill stress test. Yet, he flunked and was found to have calcified arteries Hidden Heart Disease.

Note that by using vitamins C and E, natural antioxidants, the doctors treating the patient were able to partially reverse the disease. Don’t run excessively (or only when you sprint briefly in my opinion) and do take antioxidants, especially if you do run excessively.

A “Healthy” Doctor Runner with Heart Disease

Bryan Caplan in *The New Yorker*

Louis Menand, who has written a book on pragmatism, writes in response to Caplan:

In the end, the group that loses these contests must abide by the outcome, must regard the wishes of the majority as legitimate.  The only way it can be expected to do so is if it has been made to feel that it had a voice in the process, even if that voice is, in practical terms, symbolic.  A great virtue of democratic polities is stability.  The toleration of silly opinions is (to speak like an economist) a small price to pay for it.

There is much more at the link.

Addendum: Here is a good sentence from Menand: “People are less modern than the times in which they live, in other words, and the failure to comprehend this is what can make economists seem like happy bulldozers.”

Bryan Caplan in The New Yorker

Quote of the week, Bonus Edition: Socrates on the "book"

From Thomas West’s Thinking Like Einstein:

Long ago, Socrates described some second thoughts he had about the new and questionable technology called a “book”. He thought it had several weaknesses. A book could not adjust what it was saying, as a living person would, to what would be appropriate for certain listeners or specific times or places. In addition, a book could not be interactive, as in a conversation or dialogue between persons. And finally, according to Socrates, in a book the written words “seem to talk to you as if they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you just the same thing forever.”

[Socrates then went on to say, “It’s been five weeks since the book was introduced, and I don’t see that many people using it – books are so over.”]

Quote of the week, Bonus Edition: Socrates on the “book”