Armchair comparative linguistics


After playing for a little while, view
I managed to connect my Macbook Pro to the internet using my mobile phone via bluetooth. I have a small Samsung ZV10 and my service provider is Vodafone New Zealand. The steps are quite simple:

  • Click the bluetooth icon in the topbar and select ‘setup bluetooth device…’.
  • Check that the phone is running bluetooth and that is discoverable (Under settings, practitioner
  • Select mobile phone in the list of available devices.
  • The computer will search and—we hope—find your mobile phone.
  • The computer will generate a numeric passkey that has to be keyed in and accepted in the phone.
  • Select ‘Access the Internet with your phone’s data connection’ in the next menu.
  • The settings to connect to Vodafone in New Zealand are:
    • username: vodafone.
    • password: vodafone.
    • GPRS CID string: *99#
    • Modem script: Vodafone VC701SI

This explanation is based on the excellent—and illustrated—version by Pukupi.

After using the Macbook Pro for a few more weeks, this
I have been settling on my final software selection:

  • Quicksilver: which is a great launcher and keeps learning about my preferences. Additional plugins installed:, help dictionary, firefox and iphoto.
  • Office: well, I do exchange a lot of documents with colleagues and friends that use the Windows version. In general works quite well, although compatibility is not perfect. My main issues have been spreadsheets containing lots of VBA or embedded Activex controls and compressed graphics in PowerPoint, which show that puzzling ‘QuickTime and a TIFF/JPEG decompressor are required to view this picture’ message. In addition, Microsoft has not released a Universal binary for Office, and will not do it until they have the next version available, whenever that is.
  • Thunderbird: after trying and Entourage, my experience was disappointment with how unreliable was (missing emails and crappy IMAP support) and found Entourage too big and clunky.
  • Firefox and Camino: Firefox is a great browser, but it feels a bit un-Macintosh. Camino uses the same engine, but with a nicer interface. I like the ability of closing the tabs just next to their names (a la Safari). However, it does not have (yet) incremental search, which is something that I love in Firefox (PS 2006-06-29. It is possible to have a close button in the tabs of Firefox through the use of the Tab X add-on. PS 2006-06-30. Bob Cantoni points out ‘to close Firefox tabs, just middle-click on the tab to close it; i.e., click the scroll wheel’).
  • R: a great cross-platform (and free) statistical software. I do most exploratory analysis using it, and only go to SAS, using Parallels (see below), when strictly necessary for working with other people.
  • Parallels: allows running windows and I currently use it only to run SAS. It still feels a bit slow, but for writing and prototyping SAS code is good enough. I bought the pre-release copy at US$50.
  • Copywrite: I normally become very easily distracted when using a word processor to write. All the options, fonts and formats become a real nightmare. Enter Copywrite, which is a simple writer’s editor. It allows only basic formatting, so it is very good for the first couple of drafts.
  • Devonthink: after reading Merlin Mann’s comment on 43 folders, I decided to give it a try. I am quite tempted to use it in a continuous basis. It is a good brain dump, where I can put all odds and ends that I normally loose. The current version still has some bugs and missing features, like that the full screen editor works only for plain text and that changing the colours of text may have effects on other parts of the program. Anyway, searching and connecting notes seems to work quite well. I still think that Copywrite’s full screen editor is much better and less distractive. PS 2006-06-30: I have decided to wait until the next version before buying Devonthink: still too buggy for my taste.
  • Writeroom: I just started testing this great full screen writing system. Just write there, no need to save. If I want something a bit more complex, I can type using Markdown and convert it to HTML using Humane.Text service. PS 2006-06-30. Jers Novel Writer is another writing program that supports full screen mode and that deserves a try.
  • TeXShop a highly polished LaTeX distribution, that I am using for writing lectures notes for STAT220 (Biometry I).

Sharing printers in a mixed network

I can not remember another time when I have been using so many computers in such a regular basis. My main work machine is Mastropiero1 (Macbook Pro 15”), although there is an exception for simulation work, where I use Nutcracker (a.k.a. Black Box, a generic 3GHz, Windows XP machine, which just happens not to be beige). In addition, at home I also use Happy Meal2, a Power PC Mac Mini that acts as back up and has the printer connected. Last—and certainly least—I keep Beige Box (a generic 1GHz Windows XP machine) still functional at home, just in case we need some extra simulation capability when time is not an issue.

Last weekend, we bought another cheap windows laptop for Plus Tree, our consulting arm. It is a Compaq Presario V2000, temporarily named Lucrezia Borgia3.

Given that the printer is attached to Happy Meal and that we some times need to access it from either Mastropiero or Lucrezia Borgia using wi-fi, we:

  • Shared the printer (using System Preferences, Sharing), which works for any Mac computer in the network, including Mastropiero.
  • Allowed access from Windows machines—like Lucrezia Borgia—installing Bonjour for Windows, which has a handy ‘Bonjour Printer Wizard’. Use the Wizard and the printer is now available to Windows too. Piece of cake!

Incidentally, after using the Compaq laptop for a while, I can say that it feels as warm as the Macbook Pro on the top surface. The exception is the part above the function keys in the MBP, which is bloody hot.

P.S. 2006-06-30. Welcome to 43 folders’ readers. Five hundred visits in two days; not bad for a small sidebar link.

1 Homage to the (in)famous composer so many times presented by Les Luthiers (and English article in Wikipedia).

2 Its volume is actually a bit smaller than a MacDonald’s Happy Meal box.

3 Obvious reference to this Renaissance woman.

It has been a log time without writing about research. New country, click new city, unhealthy new job. In addition, thumb
consulting and professional service. Last but not least, family and friends come first: the end result is very little time to blog and even less for writing about research.

So, what am I doing at the moment? Simple, trying to figure out areas where I am not hitting diminishing returns too quickly. For example, estimating two hundred variance components is too rich, if we can do the job with ten. The practical return from all the additional works tends to zero: we are not making much of a difference. So, what’s the point? Yes, I can publish that, but who cares?

From a practical point of view, the real issue for me is on what is affecting competitiveness in a big way. Forestry is a long term endeavour, and the longer the rotation the higher the risk. From that point of view, extending rotation because radiata pine wood quality is not good enough borders on the stupid. Doh, of course is crappy wood; answers:

  1. Use something else or is there life beyond radiata pine?
  2. Select and breed for trees that have decent (I do not mean good) quality.

So, what are my current obsessions?

  • Profitable shorter rotations. What are the limiting factors (hint: crappy wood quality, small size pieces and scale of the operations) to make this happen?.
  • Very early selection of adequate trees. Notice emphasis: selection does not to be perfect to be useful. Adequate selections at age two is much better than good selections at age ten years.
  • Why do trees grow the way they do in wood properties? Why do trees choose different strategies that have such dramatic differences in wood quality?
  • Rapid turn-over breeding strategies. Are we still taking fifteen years for a breeding cycle? It is 2006! Can’t we do any better?

There is an obvious quantitative void in my obsessions, I know. But I am going back to attempting to understand some basic processes before I embark in more number cruncing. Despite of this, I am also interested (but not obsessed) in the following problems:

  • Simulation of breeding strategies. I have a project working on this topic starting in October this year.
  • Mate allocation and population structure. Trying to show that we can get rid of sublines and other artificial groupings when using sensible mating policies.
  • Large scale genetic evaluation: how simple is simple enough? My way to help having frequent genetic evaluations.

What else? I am involved in a couple of three projects with students, dealing with wood quality, breeding or both. I have a new Ph.D. student starting in August on the interaction of economics and breeding. Ah, I almost forgot: there is a large number of lectures coming my way, better look busy…

I ordered a 20” monitor from Dell New Zealand. The price was good (NZD 749), stomach
so I just took the plunge. After over two weeks of waiting I sent them an email and—given that I did not get a reply—gave them a phone call.

The phone call was plagued with noise, troche echo and stuttering sound. That together with the forced pseudo American accent gave away that there was something suspicious about the call centre. Just to confirm my suspicions I asked ‘where is your call centre located?’ Answer: Malaysia.

According to customer service, a courier did go to my office, nobody was there so he left a card. This would be the first time that a courier notice disappears from my post, because I never found any card. I then asked them to deliver it tomorrow, but Dell could not because it was too little time in advance. I said that I could contact the courier and pick it up myself. Well, customer service did not have a phone number—or even the name of the company—delivering the monitor. Hardly surprising if I was dealing with someone in Malaysia. They could not provide me with a delivery time for next week either, so I was supposed to patiently wait the whole day (between 9am and 5pm) for the courier. It sucks and I am seriously thinking about asking for a refund.

After my phone call I finally received an email from my first contact with customer service:

We apologize for the delay in delivery and attention. Kindly advise if you have not received the order.

Should you require further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Once again thank you for your feedback and it is indeed a great pleasure serving you.

Have a pleasant day!

How about ‘canned answer’ to describe their reply? It sucks3.

P.S. 2006-07-21: I received a couple of phone calls from Dell, again with an incredibly bad sound quality. Customer service informed me that they have been again a day ago delivering the screen and that nobody was there to receive it. I asked her to read the delivery address: the street was correct, but with the wrong number.

P.S. 2006-07-22: I received an email from Dell in reply to one of my complaints:

I sincerely apologized for the experience that you had been through. Proper coaching has been done on the agent for further improvement.

and later

I had asked one of my senior agents to contact you in regards to the re-delivery of the order. Apparently, the order has went futile and thus, we need to re-arrange another delivery for you.

Yes, my order has went futile.

P.S. 2006-07-24. Still waiting. I have left two messages in the 0800 number I was given to contact the ‘senior agent’, because nobody answered the phone.

I am not alone in my trouble: a search for ‘Dell customer service problem’ returns about 2.8 million hits in Yahoo and 19.9 million hits in Google.

P.S. 2006-07-30. Dell sent the order to the University Warehouse rather than the School of Forestry. Of course nobody knew about me in the warehouse, so the order was rejected. Finally Dell gave me the name and phone number of the courier, who informed me that they sent the monitor back to Dell. I then called back Dell to cancel my order. Now, I am just waiting to get my money back in my credit card. One month lost due to Dell NZ.

P.S. 2006-08-01. I received a call from Dell, saying that they would credit my card after I returned the monitor. I patiently explained that it was physically impossible to return something that I have never received. Are these guys smoking pot?

P.S. 2006-08-02. Another call from ‘someone organising the refund but not working for Dell’ (how can that be?) that wanted to confirm the address of delivery and if I knew a ‘Paul’ who could have received the monitor. No Pauls and I want my money back immediately.

Better I continue listening to Neon Meate Dream of A Octafish. by Captain Beefheart. It makes a lot more sense than Dell.

P.S. 2006-08-06. Today my internet banking statement showed that Dell credited back my card. In summary, I lent the cost of the monitor to Dell for one month (on top of my time writing emails and calling them on the phone) interest free. Result: I will never buy a Dell product (or recommend them) for the rest of my life.

I started working with a Spanish speaker Ph.D. student. One of the topics of conversation is the (always long) list of things that do not make sense in English if taken in a literal way. For example:

  • To have a heart condition: everyone has a condition (good or bad).
  • It is a quality product: good or bad?
  • You have an accent: doh, page
    you too.
  • He has an attitude: everyone has one.
  • So on and so forth, page
    you get the idea.

Of course any language has a fair share of inconsistencies, case
strange turns of phrase or grammatical weirdness. Some classic Spanish cultural issues:

  • One takes a decision instead of making one, as if there is a limited set of decisions available (for which I am not responsible).
  • The use of reflexive as in ‘el vaso se cayó’ (the glass fell by itself). So, it is the glass’s fault not mine for dropping it.

The latter example puts the locus of control on the object not the person, so there is an issue of personal responsibility (or lack of it). This used to be a big difference, but English is catching up if not through language but via the legal system. Think of ‘tort law’ and ‘frivolous lawsuits’.

Just another day in language’s terra nulla.

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