Thursday, July 24, 2008

Microsoft is playing catch up to Open Office

Although is just beginning to gain popularity in recent years, it is already putting a lot of pleasure on Microsoft. Take a look at the new Open Office 3.0 (Beta), it has pretty much everything that Microsoft Office 2007 has to offer, and more. Open Office was designed to be compatible with Microsoft from day one (at least for the most common basic features). There are a number of nice new features that was pioneered by Open Office, and Microsoft gladly copied into their latest products.

Take PDF for example. Adobe has published the PDF format for ages. Yet Microsoft never supported this format directly in all previous versions of MS Office, until Open Office comes with the PDF feature built-in. So now MS Office 2007 also has export to PDF capability, just so they can be on par with Open Office.

Another obvious example is the bibilography. Until now, people from academic circles pretty much all using LaTeX. The most important reason is that LaTeX provides a rich bibliography capability, e.g. through the BibTeX package. Open Office has built-in bibliography features since its inception. Now Microsoft also learn the lesson, and it is supporting bibliography in Office 2007.

Competition is sweat. Consumers are undoubtedly the biggest winner in this cat and mouse game.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Depreciation in the Value of an American Life?

The EPA announced recently that the statistical value of an American life has depreciated to 6.9 million US dollars, which is a drop of $1 million from five years ago.

While this is all just statistics, there might be legal implications to the statistical value of an American life. Is $6.9million (or $7.9million five years ago) sufficient to purchase a life? Perhaps some lawyers may be tempted to cite this statistics to put a cap on legal damages.

If we use Euro to measure the statistical value of an American life:
  • 5 years ago, (assuming exchange rate US$1 to 0.9Euro): 7.11 million Euro
  • Today, (assuming exchange rate of US$1 to 0.63Euro): 4.35 million Euro
So the depreciation is almost 40% over the past 5 years, in terms of Euro!!!

There should be plenty of argument against putting a price tag on human life. Whatever the reason for the EPA to put a monetary measure on a statistical life, the number is probably controversial at best.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Anti-war mom: Cindy Sheehan for Congress '08

It's the Fourth of July, Independence Day. Let us take a look at our local politics. It appears that Cindy Sheehan, the famous Anti-War Mom, is now running for Congress in the 2008 election, against Nancy Pelosi.

Here is a brief summary of Cindy Sheehan's political background, quoting her campaign website:
Cindy's world changed forever on April 4, 2004, when her eldest child, Casey Austin, was killed while serving in Iraq. He was 24 years old. Casey, who was a Specialist in the First Cavalry Unit in Sadr City, was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star posthumously for his valor in combat.
and ...
In August 2005, Cindy traveled to Crawford, Texas, with the goal of speaking personally to President Bush to demand an end to the occupation of Iraq. Other peace activists joined Cindy's efforts and the demonstrations that came to be known as "Camp Casey" began. Camp Casey was a regular gathering held whenever Bush was in Crawford, Texas, and it drew thousands of activists and celebrities from all over the world to protest the Iraq conflict.
Cindy Sheehan is a world famous figure in anti-war activism. The main stream media has referred to her as "the Rosa Parks of the antiwar movement" and "Peace Mom".

It remains to be seen how much steam can this grass-root campaign go for. Whatever the outcome, it will be an interesting election coming this November.

The campaign website for Cindy Sheehan:

Their campaign headquarters is located at:

1260 Mission Street
San Francisco, California 94103

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Browser wars reloaded

How many different web browsers are you using now?

For me, I use an older version of Internet Explorer at work, not because I like Micro$oft or the older IE. It's because there are certain applications at work that are tailored to that older IE version. So people like me are kind of stuck with that.

I also use Firefox. It's pretty good, and extremely good compared to the older versions of IE.

However, the recent release of Firefox 3.0 brings many problems. It seems their development team have replaced the old memory leak bug with a bunch of new compatibility issues. As a result, there are several web pages at work that worked with Firefox 2.x but does not work with Firefox 3.0.

So I am shopping for a better web browser. Here are some candidates:
  • Opera: deemed the fastest web browser. It seems really fast in my experience, and it can access many web pages that Firefox 3.0 cannot. Until the next release of Firefox, I think Opera is superior.
  • SeaMonkey: an open source development continuation of Netscape, with many shared features of Firefox.
  • Safari: for Apple, runs on the Mac. But what about people who don't use Mac? Don't tell me we have to convert the entire world to Mac/Apple. It will be replacing Micro$oft with $pple, and even more expensive.
  • Flock: a social networking web browser.
What else?

Recharge your hybrid

Gasoline prices have skyrocketed for the past few years, and the petroleum-related inflation is especially noticeable in recent months.

A new experimental concept has surfaced recently: instead of pouring gasoline into your hybrid car, and charge the battery during vehicle movement (e.g. braking), why don't we just charge the battery at home. This would further reduce the gasoline consumption for your hybrid vehicle.

It appears Google is also participating in this concept via their project: