One in Sixty

USATODAY.com – Asteroid has 1-in-60ish chance of Earth hit

2004 MN4 is now being tracked very carefully by many astronomers around the world, and we continue to update our risk analysis for this object. Today’s impact monitoring results indicate that the impact probability for April 13, 2029 has risen to about 1.6%, which for an object of this size corresponds to a rating of 4 on the ten-point Torino Scale. Nevertheless, the odds against impact are still high, about 60 to 1, meaning that there is a better than 98% chance that new data in the coming days, weeks, and months will rule out any possibility of impact in 2029.”

60 to 1? I’ve seen better odds from things like surviving tropical diseases and surgery!

I suppose what was most interesting to me about the information surrounding this event was learning about the Torino Scale. This scale is graded 0 through 10, with our asteroid event mentioned above being a 4. This is the first time a 4 has ever been issued. Let’s see what a 4 is defined as on the Torino Scale:

A close encounter, with a 1% or greater chance of a collision capable of causing regional devistation

OK. Granted that this number is pretty low on the totem pole – er – Torino Scale, we are talking about regional devistation. On this scale, that is right between “localized destruction” (which doesn’t sound nice) and “global catastrophe” (which definitely would suck.)

but really, the guys to be concerned about, where you should probably finally go buy that power boat you always wanted, eat unlimited quantities of chocolate, and start confessing for your sins, are levels 8, 9, and 10. With an 8, a collision somewhere is certain, so you might just want to find out where on earth the impact will be and see about moving. A 9 is guaranteed regional devastation. In this case, switch countries, switch continents, or better yet – switch hemispheres. A perfect 10, the kind they talked about in the 1998 film Armageddon, is where pretty much all you can do is bend over, stick your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye.

Well in reality, the chance of impact from Asteroid 2004 MN4 is pretty low. At the very least, this will be a close encounter and probably a great opportunity for some scientific research. And perhaps some good amateur astronomy too? It’s almost a shame we have to wait 25 years.

The New Monitor and Color Diffs

I recently purchased a new NEC MultiSync LCD 1960NXi display to use as a second display with my PowerBook when I need to get some serious work done. The monitor has startlingly good color output and was brighter than most CRT displays I have seen in the past. It was also outshining my PowerBook monitor pretty heavily.

One fun trick is to run Windows XP in Virtual PC full screen on the laptop’s monitor while running the rest of my world on the new display. Very handy when designing graphics and CSS for new web sites to see how the dark side views things. Dark side indeed – the Windows gamma is so much darker. Some subtle color variations on the lighter side were appearing as white on the Mac side (or just much less subtle on the Windows side), while subtle dark hues appeared all black on the Windows output.

And besides, this monitor’s native ColorSync profile was blinding me. And the mismatch between it and the old built-in PowerBook display was a bummer.

With a quick calibration, this was made all better. In the Mac OS X System Preferences there is a Displays preference module, and there’s a Calibrate option in the Color section of that module. That little guy launches the Display Calibrator Assistant.

Running the Display Calibrator Assistant in normal mode yields pretty much useless results. Turn on the Expert Mode option to get a truly accurate display profile. I wound up turning my monitor’s brightness down to about 70% and set my gamma at 1.95 – a little less than halfway between the Mac’s usual 1.8 and the 2.2 PC standard.

The final match was very good color parity between the two monitors, especially when running Virtual PC, and a good approximation of color between what my Mac-using bretheren will see on the final website creations and what the Windows users will get as well. Not 100% perfect color accuracy between the two, but close enough for web work.

Show File Paths in Dreamweaver

One thing that has always bugged me about Dreamweaver is that when I have a document open I can’t really tell which directory it’s from if it’s coming from a deeply nested folder in the site structure and I’ve opened it by means other than by using the Files panel (i.e. via search results). All Dreamweaver shows you is the file name and the folder it is sitting in. Not helpful if the directory you want to work with is /includes/languages/english/modules/shipping/ and you have a half dozen parallel documents open from /french/, /german/, /spanish/, /italian/, /portuguese/ and /japanese/.

There is a solution: Danilo Celic has a great extension that solves this problem elegantly, called CMX Document Path Toolbar. Very slick! It installs a toolbar that contains a selectable field with the document path, a button to select the file in the Files panel, and preferences for the width of the field and how you want the path displayed.

Some Security Tips

Just a few tips on digital security from Bruce Schneier… Schneier on Security: Safe Personal Computing. Here’s a couple of excerps I want to emphasize:

Operating systems: If possible, don’t use Microsoft Windows. Buy a Macintosh or use Linux. If you must use Windows, set up Automatic Update so that you automatically receive security patches. And delete the files “command.com” and “cmd.exe.”

Amen brother. Really – switching away from Windows to an alternative such as Mac OS X, FreeBSD, or Linux will remove most of your security risk that is not directly the result of user error, social engineering, or other human factors.

Browsing: Don’t use Microsoft Internet Explorer, period. Limit use of cookies and applets to those few sites that provide services you need. Set your browser to regularly delete cookies. Don’t assume a Web site is what it claims to be, unless you’ve typed in the URL yourself. Make sure the address bar shows the exact address, not a near-miss.

Did you read that? Don’t use Microsoft Internet Explorer, period. Internet Explorer is a security liability. Stop it. Use Gecko-based browsers like Firefox, Mozilla, and Camino, Safari, or Opera instead. You will be glad you did.

And try to find an alternative to Outlook or Outlook Express if you are using either of those on Windows. It’s hard with the mandate of Microsoft Exchange implementations in the corporate world, but there’s no reason why you have to compromize your home or small business computer. Try Eudora or Mozilla Thunderbird instead.