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June 30, 2007

Commas in Thousands

At work I edit a manual of design practices and from time to time people will write with suggested changes. Recently I had a guy who was asking me to add some information. In the e-mail he quoted a sentence from the manual and included the new information. He also edited some numbers I already had in the sentence to add a comma, making 3500 appear as 3,500.

I don't know where I picked it up, but it seems like I learned at some point that you don't need the comma in 4-digit numbers, but should include them with 5 digits and above. I looked through the manual and at least I was consistent. I did a search to see what the standard practice is and it was pretty useless. Wikipedia has a big long article about commas that says one standard is to use spaces (actually half spaces) between thousands, like this: 15 000 and another is to use commas like this: 15,000. Of course they didn't use a 4-digit number. Naturally they had to add the crazy thing where commas are used as decimal points and periods are used for thousands in some countries (which I learned about when I got my very first HP calculator that could be set to display numbers either way). In a discussion on Wikipedia, one contributor flat out refuses to ever use commas in numbers because it is WRONG (his caps) regardless of what the Wikipedia style manual tells him to do. That's insubordination.

Another article on Wikipedia about decimal separators rehashes and adds to some of the comma article. It goes as far as listing countries as dot countries, comma countries, and momayyez countries. I thought it was pretty amusing that the world was being divided up by the decimal separator they use and that the Middle East didn't follow either convention but came up with something completely different that I've never even heard of. However, the article does at least mention that some publishing house manuals of style do not include a comma in numbers 1000 to 9999.

That brings up one of the flaws of Wikipedia: tons of information but not always an answer. And sometimes way more information and opinion than you really want or need.

Although the Wikipedia article about the momayyez says it is a forward slash, in the article it appears as a comma. Searching for images of a momayyez on Google results in pictures of a guy with a mustache and a woman in a cubicle. I played around with the unicode character in Word and came up with this image that shows that the momayyez looks a little different and does not descend like a comma. I will reiterate that since the momayyez is a decimal separator, the first image represents 40 to three decimal places and the next one 40,000.


Netflix Once Again

Last weekend I joined Netflix for the third time. I had joined last summer when I was able to see 45 movies in 4 months. I don't even want to try to see that many movies this summer, but I did want to get caught up on some classics, plus some things things that have come out on DVD since then. Also, my queue at Netflix from last time still had over 30 movies in it (though a lot of them were iffy at best).

I was able to quickly add another ten or fifteen movies to my old queue and have already watched Casino Royale, Letters From Iwo Jima, and Night at the Museum with The Godfather, Part II coming through my mail slot this morning. I added some old silent movies with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton that had made AFI's Top 100 list along with other classics like The Searchers and The Maltese Falcon, that I have never seen.

Probably what pushed me into going ahead with Netflix again this year was they sent me a coupon for 20% off my first three months. Since I would only be in it for 3-4 months, that was a very good discount. That brought the $14.99 2-at-a-time plan down to only $11.99. Within a day or two of joining I got an e-mail saying they were dropping the price of that plan to $13.99 and still giving me 20% of of that, so now it will only be $11.19 a month (plus tax).

Another factor was that even though I am able to rent DVD's from Kroger for $1.00, the selection in the machine is limited to only new releases and most of the very newest movies are not available (either it takes a while or they are rented out already). Plus you have to leave the house twice, and all of that hassle. And don't get me started on Blockbuster. Susan and I rented Shrek from there recently since she had never seen it, and it was over $4 for one old movie.

June 24, 2007

AFI's 10 Most Overrated

For the 10th anniversary of the American Film Institute's list of the 100 best American movies, they allowed re-balloting and added movies from the last ten years. It is important to understand how the ballot worked. First, they limited the nominees to 400 movies, including 45 movies that came out since the last list. You could write in a movie, but I don't know what chance a write-in would have. Instead of having people rank the movies, they just had people pick 100. Then you would rank your top 5 which was used as a "tie-breaker".

Some of the criteria for selection were cut and dry. There had to be significant American involvement and it had to be feature-length (60 minutes or more). The rest of the criteria are more flexible:

Critical Recognition
Major Award Winner
Popularity Over Time
Historical Significance
Cultural Impact

Note that liking the movie supposedly has nothing to do with the decision. Even some of these criteria could be ranked objectively, like critical recognition, award winner, and popularity.

The new nominees are:

As Good As It Gets
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Boogie Nights
Good Will Hunting
L.A. Confidential
Saving Private Ryan B
Shakespeare in Love
American Beauty
Being John Malkovich A-
Fight Club C
The Insider
The Matrix
The Sixth Sense A
There's Something About Mary B-
Three Kings B
Erin Brockovich B+
Gladiator A
Requiem for a Dream
A Beautiful Mind B-
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring A
Moulin Rouge! A-
Shrek B-
Chicago A
The Hours
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Finding Nemo A
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King A
Lost in Translation B+
Mystic River A-
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl B
The Aviator B+
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind A
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban A-
Million Dollar Baby B
Ray B
Sideways A-
Spider-Man 2 A-
Brokeback Mountain
Good Night, and Good Luck C+
Hotel Rwanda C+

I've seen all but a handful of those movies and some simply do not belong (Austin Powers, Fight Club, Moulin Rouge!, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man 2, and Harry Potter). I guess I'm okay with many of the rest. The 4 that made the cut were Fellowship of the Ring, Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, and The Sixth Sense. I'm okay with The Sixth Sense, but the others were more about hype for their star directors (Peter Jackson, Steven Speilberg, and James Cameron) than how good the movies were. They were okay, but who has seen Titanic lately? Saving Private Ryan is always commended for the combat scenes on D-Day which were only at the beginning of the movie and had nothing to do with the rest of the movie, which amounted to one of many good World War 2 movies (and pales next to the made for TV Band of Brothers). Spielberg's best work consists of E.T, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. That's it. Likewise, Alfred Hitchcock is well represented, but my favorite of his was Notorious which didn't make the list. Psycho is probably his most famous, but not his best.

If I could only pick 4 from the list, I'd take As Good As It Gets, Crash, The Matrix, and maybe Mystic River. Not that those were my 10 favorites (I'd have to add Being John Malkovich), but those four meet some of the other criteria. Really, I'd pick completely different movies from the last 4 years, which I'll add at the very end.

The original list was pretty good, with Citizen Kane finishing at the top and some pretty good movies from the previous ten years, Silence of the Lambs, Forrest Gump, Goodfellas, Schindler's List, Unforgiven, Pulp Fiction, and Fargo, along with the more questionable Dances With Wolves. Movies that didn't make that cut but showed up in the next list were Do the Right Thing<, The Shawshank Redemption, and Toy Story. Those are all pretty good (Dances With Wolves and Fargo dropped off).

I've seen at least half of the movies on the list.There are some that are just very, very obscure like a number of silent movies and an odd collection of Westerns (I'm rejoining Netflix, so I hope to see some of those). With some of the ones I have seen I was left scratching my head at why anyone would find the movie remotely entertaining or worth recommending. So here is my list of the ten most overrated movies on the Top 100. I don't doubt that I would add some if I saw them (Easy Rider, Singin' in the Rain, and On the Waterfront look like likely candidates). I am listing them in order that they appear in the list, which doesn't necessarily mean they are the most undeserving.

1. The Godfather (2) Everyone I know who loves these movies says the second one is better than the first, but Godfather II is at 32. I'm not saying this movie doesn't belong on the list but only that it is in the wrong place.

2. Raging Bull (4) I watched this on video. It was depressing and boring. Scorsese and De Niro have done great work, but again I feel like they are rewarding the wrong movie.

3. Sunset Boulevard (16) I couldn't even get through this movie. It was just a horrible nightmare of a poorly made movie. Billy Wilder made some decent movies, but he has two that made my list of most overrated. The production values make these things like TV shows.

4. Midnight Cowboy (43) Depressing movie without any kind of plot. This is a classic critic's choice since it is depressing and gritty (deals with drugs, prostitution, and homosexuality). The thing is, I don't want to see movies about that.

5. Taxi Driver (52) Another Scorsese/De Niro flick. It is a showcase for De Niro's larger than life acting, but it is another movie that drags on and on.

6. MASH (54) Just plain not a good movie. The TV show was funny, but this movie wasn't.

7. Nashville (59) Classic Altman. It's like randomly put together documentary footage except that supposedly it was written and directed. Another really boring movie without a plot.

8. Cabaret (63) Depressing. Liza Minelli and Michael York are terrible actors.

9. Network (64) I saw this thing a few years ago and couldn't believe how bad it was. An indictment of television! Now that's bold.

10. The Apartment (80) Boring and pretentious. Billy Wilder would crank these things out in no time and it shows.

If I could pick 40 nominees from the last 10 years of movies that would contend for the top 100, here is what I would pick, with a few modifications, from the top 4 of each of the years I've been reviewing movies at my website (from most recent to oldest; the AFI nominees didn't list any movies from 2006):

Inside Man
United 93
Stranger Than Fiction
The Illusionist
Walk the Line
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Riding Giants
Garden State
Return of the King
Finding Nemo
The Italian Job
Mystic River
We Were Soldiers
The Quiet American
Blackhawk Down
Fellowship of the Ring
Gosford Park
Oceans Eleven
Almost Famous
The Patriot
Being John Malkovich
The Sixth Sense
Elephants of Africa (IMAX)
The Matrix
Out of Sight
The Spanish Prisoner

June 21, 2007

Amazon Runneth Over

I was planning on redirecting my Amazon links at the end of the month so that I would not get more than $600 in payments this year from the Associates program. Amazon reports earnings of over $600 to the IRS, meaning I would have to put that down as income and lose a third of it in taxes. Even if I earned another $300, I would only break even. There is a chance that in July, August, September, and October I could get a little more than $300, but I didn't think it was worth it.

What really got me close fast was someone ordering a $200 book yesterday for which I received a $13 commission. That puts me at $581 on the year and I still will have a few more items ship before the orders dry up. That also put me at $1,000 from Amazon since I started.

I wanted to find some non-profit organizations that have Amazon programs, but it wasn't easy. I did pretty well when I searched on "Amazon" and "portion of the proceeds". In addition to the Opossum Society and American Cetacean Society, that I already knew about and would use when I ordered things from Amazon (since I can't receive money from my own purchases), I discovered the San Diego Natural History Museum, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Rainforest Alliance.

So tonight I updated my web pages to use those different organizations' links (I also used Movable Type's search and replace to fix links I have on the blog). The only thing I don't like is that I won't be able to monitor how well my website is doing in terms of sales. But in November I can switch back since payment for November won't come until January 2008.

June 12, 2007


Kind of funny that a couple of days after I wrote about the SeaMonkey browser that Steve Jobs would introduce the Safari Browser for Windows. People don't seem that impressed, but to me that represents a huge step for Apple. They are bringing Mac to the people. Plus it can't hurt sales of the iPhone if people are comfortable using Safari (most probably didn't know that Safari was the browser for the Mac) at home and it is one of the key features of the iPhone.

It is a free download and is listed as still being a beta version. So I am trying it out. The installer was only 8 MB, which is pretty compact. And it seems pretty full featured. It didn't import my bookmarks correctly automatically but I was able to grab them (once I figured out where they were) manually. It seems to make text look bolder and a little more crowded, but maybe that is also more legible. Other than that, it looks a lot like Internet Explorer to me, right down to the search box (you can choose Google or Yahoo, not Microsoft which is live.com now) right next to the address box.

When I visited my web page, I then went to SiteMeter which listed the browser for my visit as Safari 1.3 and then said something about Mozilla 5 underneath. I don't know if that means the browser is Mozilla 5 compliant, or if Mozilla is part of the browser.

The only thing I found distinctly different was at the bottom of my Baja web page the Thai numerals at the bottom are supposed to be big (48 point) without underlines but they show up small with underlines in Safari (in Thai at least). I probably have some style codes that aren't kosher, but it renders fine in other browsers.

There were also some remnants from popups on my battery pack web page when I hover over Amazon links. Also when I first visited Mac5 the tiled wallpaper slowly rendered instead of showing up all at once after downloading like with other browsers. The background looked like a waterfall as it downloaded. Most people have internet connections so fast they wouldn't get to catch that.

Hmmm . . . after I hit the Save button for this entry, the page stalled out and just shows itself loading. The entry didn't show up on the blog, but when I opened up SeaMonkey and logged in the entry was there. I opened it and it seemed to be the version that I had saved from Safari. I clicked Save and now it shows up.

June 5, 2007

Introducing Lilli

The weekend before last Susan was volunteering for Paws Atlanta helping with adoptions at Petsmart. They had a batch of puppies and Susan wound up adopting a cute black and white female. She is half English setter, which is kind of like an Irish setter but without the sense of humor and doesn't drink as much. She was told the other half is Australian Shepherd, which is kind of like a German shepherd but <insert gross generalization here>.

After considering hundreds of names, Susan decided to name her Lilli as a short form of Lilliputian, which she certainly is right now: She can walk right under Beacon as if she were walking under a table.

June 2, 2007


I've been using Netscape and then Mozilla as my main web browser for a long time. I've never been crazy about Internet Explorer and, for a while at least, it seemed to have a lot of security problems. SeaMonkey.png Recently, Jeb added Snap Shots to his page. It seemed like a neat thing, so I added it to mine as well. But as I browsed I noticed that if I tried to go Back in my browser, I didn't go anywhere. If I held down the Back button to see a history of pages, there would be about 3 copies of the current page in the Back history. So I took the code out of my pages rather than have to deal with that (although I have been getting a similar thing on My Yahoo when I would get information on a stock in my portfolio).

This morning Jeb put the Snap Shots code into my web pages anyway, I am sure not realizing I had already tried it and didn't like the problems it was causing with my browser. I tried Internet Explorer and didn't have this problem. So I thought maybe I should upgrade my browser. I had tried Mozilla's Firefox a few years ago, but it caused some kind of problem, so I uninstalled it. Plus the Mozilla suite included an e-mail component that I use for my SpeedFactory mail, and Firefox was a browser only. For a while I think they stopped development of the Mozilla Suite, so I was stuck with my Mozilla Suite from 2005.

Nonetheless I visited Mozilla to see what they were offering these days. Their suite is now called SeaMonkey. I downloaded it this morning and the transition was pretty seamless, with my e-mail coming over along with bookmarks, cookies, etc. Really about the only difference seems to be I have a new icon in the upper right and pages take longer to render (I'm hoping that is just because my cache is refilling). Also when I write blog entries it underlines misspelled words. Or words it thinks are misspelled, like Jeb, uninstalled, and SpeedFactory. And the duplicates on Mac5 and My Yahoo are no longer there. Yay! (also misspelled)

June 1, 2007

iTunes Plus

This week Apple started selling songs without piracy protection, calling it iTunes Plus. They had made a deal with one recording label, EMI, to offer this. EMI made the same deal with other companies so, while some people are saying Steve Jobs pushed EMI into the decision, I don't know if that is true. The new songs will cost $1.29 instead of the standard $0.99 (Jobs had previously insisted on the $0.99 price for all songs). But to sweeten the offer the songs are also recorded at a higher quality level (meaning the files are bigger).

Supposedly more labels will be offering the same deal by the end of the year, but again, I'm not so sure the recording industry wants to accept taking copy protection off of songs. Jobs says people can buy CD's that have no copy protection, so why should music people buy online need it? Also, Apple is having trouble in other countries that are worried about the dominance of iPods and iTunes creating a monopoly. And since iTunes doesn't support other companies' copy protection and iTunes purchases won't play on other devices, they might have a point. Some countries have said Apple must provide music without copy protection (which the labels haven't wanted to do) or share their copy protection software (which Apple hasn't wanted to do).

A few years ago I had a trial membership to eMusic. They are like iTunes but for mostly very small music labels. They offer all of their music without copy protection. I got about 50 songs from them that I could play on any MP3 player, including my iPod. These files were just like ones I would make from my own CD's. So any songs available on eMusic will probably go along with the iTunes Plus scheme.

Anyway, Apple has offered people who have bought EMI songs a chance to upgrade their old copy-protected songs for the new format by only paying the difference in price of 30 cents per song. I had checked out a list of EMI artists which included Frank Sinatra, Iggy Pop, Liz Phair, and The Beach Boys, who all had songs I had bought. To get the new songs, I had to upgrade iTunes again by downloading a 30 GB installer, which is at least the 15th time I've upgraded iTunes.

Once I upgraded the software, I visited the store and found the iTunes Plus link. I was given a list of songs I could upgrade. There were 13 songs out of over 200 that I have bought from iTunes that I could upgrade. And not the ones I thought. Frank Sinatra, Iggy Pop, and Liz Phair must have recorded the songs I bought on other labels (they move around). Plus I had others available that weren't in the list of EMI artists, including Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music, Everclear, and Fat Boy Slim. I don't know if EMI owns those others or if they just chose to participate. Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music are with Virgin Records, which probably isn't part of EMI. I upgraded all 13 for $3.90. All but one downloaded correctly (though it took all night due to the larger size of the songs). Maybe that $3.90 will encourage the other 93% of record companies to make the switch too.

I can't test the songs on my iPod since it has gone missing. But I did want to see if I could play the songs in Winamp, my favorite MP3 software on the PC (iTunes takes too long to start up and is too complicated for quick use). It didn't! It turns out that I was running the Lite version of Winamp and I had to upgrade it to the Full version (also free) to play Apple's .m4a songs. Because these are not mp3 files, they won't play on my Palm with the software I have right now, so it isn't quite as insanely great as eMusic.