Monday, December 29, 2008

Text messages still overpriced

Congress, having fixed the economy and the environment and ended all war, is investigating text message prices. To be fair, they cost about 20 times more than they should, given the cost to cell phone providers of sending a text message. I think media companies are bastards who gouge us to get insane profits, while failing to invest adequate funds in journalism.

Friday, December 19, 2008

No home newspaper delivery Mon-Wed in Detroit

I guess I should have seen this coming, with the Christian Science Monitor dropping its print edition entirely.

The Detroit Free Press is suspending home delivery of its paper 3 days a week.

The downfall of journalism is tragic, and I hope society figures out a way to fill the void that dying newspapers leave. I'll keep my newspaper subscription for as long as it exists to subscribe to, but at some point I guess it'll just stop coming. I guess I'll have to start finding new places to get my local news.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Unethical pharma

Why am I not in the least surprised that pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to write favorable journal articles?

I'm in an uncharitable mood towards for-profit medicine anyway, but if doctors are going to be shills for corporations, I wish they'd admit it. If they're going to delude themselves that the huge piles of money they get doesn't affect their objectivity, then they shouldn't have anything to hide, should they?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coffee grounds as biofuel?

Certainly, the amount of coffee grounds I compost makes me think the idea of turning coffee grounds into biodiesel is a good idea.

If Starbucks alone could process all their coffee grounds into fuel for cars, that would be good for the climate and good for geopolitics. And hopefully, good for Starbucks' bottom line.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time Travel

Well, we may not be able to time travel in space, but we can on the web.

That video is pretty cool. It's an academic software experiment. I look forward to finding out what the interface gurus end up doing with it. At some point, time travel on the web is going to be awesome.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Checklists save lives

Just like in an airplane cockpit, a simple checklist can save the lives of hospital patients.

Particularly combined with electronic medical records, this is a great idea whose time has come. There are issues to be worked out, to make sure medical records are confidential and that appropriate checklists are used on the right patients. But medicine has become too complicated to try to do from memory.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Using Google to send secret messages

Google recently revealed something called SearchWiki, which lets you comment on various search results in Google for others to see. Among other problems with this scenario, one blogger realized you could use this technology to send a secret message. You could comment on several different search terms with different parts of your message, and it would only come together if someone searched for the right words.

Sadly, this is so widely remarked upon that the initial experiment no longer works. And I just made it worse.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gamer identity

As a theater person, I'm really interested in this paper about the lack of a fourth wall in video games.

In theater and movies and TV, our suspension of disbelief - our willingness to be sucked into the imaginary world the actors and designers create - is usually heavily dependent on the fourth wall, the actors pretending they can't see us, and we're invisible voyeurs silently observing their lives. Characters who know they're in stories lead to very messed up, brilliant stories of madness.

But in a video game, you're controlling a character in the story. Usually the LEAD character in the story. You basically are the lead character. So the fourth wall is meaningless. Your identity as an observer is mixed in with your ability to interact with the story and cause different outcomes.

Really interesting article. Especially given the recent series of World of Warcraft ads that focus on the game as a place where you can be something else, something you're not.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Alzheimer's cause figured out?

I know a single study does not ensure that a scientific "discovery" is solid, but it's pretty exciting that they may have figured out what causes Alzheimer's.

It looks like it's a strain of herpes, coupled with genetic predisposition. That means that all those stupid herpes medications we see advertised on TV, or something like it, could help prevent Alzheimer's. This could be a major step towards a cure.

Good job, science!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stupid Corporations

I guess Google is a corporation, too. But the greedy bastards at places like Comcast paid a guy to make up crap about Google.

If they're making up garbage this desperate, is network neutrality actually a solid guarantee? I don't think so. I think we've got to keep watchful. Desperate corporations tend to start doing desperate things, like suing 9-year old girls.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Damn you, Blue Cross!

So, in trying to get my fiance health insurance through my work, I have come to learn about and loathe HIPPA. Well, I don't necessarily loathe it. But I'm pissed off that we're getting screwed and we didn't have any warning.

It turns out that "health" insurance companies can deny you treatment for "pre-existing conditions" if you go without insurance for 63 days. (90 days in Washington State.) So, because my sweetie was without insurance for 66 days this summer, we're going to have to pay hefty premiums to the insurance company for 6 months while they get to deny treatment for anything she has.

I guess if she gets anything new, or gets hit by a bus, she'll probably get covered. But I don't trust the company to not be total bastards and claim that the bus was just part of a pre-existing condition and drive us to bankruptcy. And I'm pissed off that we're going to pay them thousands of dollars to do jack shit. Jerks.

I guess it's possible that before HIPPA you could get screwed like this if you went without insurance for a single day. But why the hell wasn't I informed of this? Why didn't my employer folder full of information about the terms and conditions of signing up for "health" insurance include a 3 page, tiny-font disclaimer about this bullshit?

Update: So I found the disclaimer in the fine print of the signup form for Blue Cross. Which is too late. People need to know about this when they lose insurance, not when they're signing up for new insurance.

And as it turns out, it won't be a problem after all because my sweetie was insured in Washington state, where the window to get new coverage is longer. Which begs the question: why isn't it longer in Oregon?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Damn you, ABC.

It's so very frustrating that ABC has canceled Pushing Daisies. It is one of the best shows on TV, but between the writer's strike and the Country Music Awards, no one watched it.

There's talk of wrapping up unfinished storylines with a comic book or a movie, a la Serenity. But it's a damn shame that brilliant works of art are shut down instead of being allowed to flourish and weave their stories out into full bloom.

Monday, December 8, 2008

God's Bailout

The photo in this story disgusts me. Cars on the altar of a church as people pray for auto companies to be saved.

I understand that a great many people depend on the car companies to make a living, to feed and clothe and house their families. But to explicitly involve religion in economics in this way, to laud a commercial product, not to mention using a pulpit to advocate Congress take particular action, is troubling.

I suppose there's nothing wrong per se with calling for particular political policies from the pulpit. Calls to end war, protect the environment, care for the poor - these are all political demands made in a religious context.

But to save a particular company? To hold up a product, a car, as a troubled thing in need of God's intervention? Particularly when American car companies have been shortsighted for so very long, chasing quarterly profits so assiduously that they failed to prepare for the future, failing to produce efficient or reliable vehicles. I'm hesitant to support a federal bailout of car companies. But I'm definitely opposed to praying for it.

I pray for the people affected, who lost or are about to lose their jobs. I pray for the hungry, the desperate, who are insecure financially and gastronomically. But I do not pray for a corporation. After 8 years of corporate welfare, I thirst for a little accountability for executives with 7 figure salaries and private jets and company cars.

Friday, December 5, 2008

No more batteries

This is awesome. We've had piezoelectrics for a while. They work as microphones and speakers in cell phones, and as motion sensors in the Wii and iPhone.

But now scientists have engineered a piezo sensor that not only can pick up sounds, but it can make a lot of electricity as well. Enough to power your phone.

This could change all sorts of things. Devices powered not by plugging in, but by ambient noise, or the motion of being carried around. Just because of being engineered to a particular size.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Bad Idea

This is a bad idea. I get that people with disabilities and mobility problems have rights, and those rights need to be protected.

But if someone has limited arm strength or hand dextrousness, giving them a gun seems unwise. I think it's even more likely than usual that the gun would be wrested away from them and even used against them. And if your arm is weak and unsteady, how do you expect to be able to aim?

It strikes me as a problem that should never have been solved.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Robots with guns

Scientists are seriously discussing giving robots guns. They want to program robots to be soldiers in battlefields.

While I think it's good to have an ethical discussion about the possibility of making these choices, I think we're nowhere near having battlefield robots. It's not even on the horizon. Robots can only be programmed with simple, unambiguous tasks. Ethical rules won't work. How on earth do they expect to be able to program a computer to distinguish a civilian from a combatant if our soldiers have trouble figuring it out?

Fundamentally, even the best AI follows a simple set of rules. Any enemy would be able to eventually figure out the rules, and get the robots to not fire upon them. If the robots are programmed to not fire upon unarmed people, they would simply throw down their weapons when the robot approaches. And use cell phones to trigger detonators to destroy the robot, because you can't shoot people for carrying a cell phone. If you set aside mosques and schools as safe zones that it's unethical to shoot at, soldiers will take up positions in mosques and schools, and fire away at robots unable to shoot back.

War is hell. It's a morass of chaos and violence - the worst possible circumstance to try to use a robot. While the idea of a robotic mule to carry equipment, supplies and even wounded soldiers makes sense, giving robots autonomy and weapons is just dumb.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

McCain broke copyright

McCain's campaign is still making ridiculous claims in the face of having broken copyright law. The Ohio Republican Party, among others, used music without permission in pro-McCain commercials.

I guess breaking the law and stealing from artists is another way of being a "maverick".

Friday, November 21, 2008

The human mind

So last night the layoff at work finally hit me. I was already disappointed, and sad to see many of my friends go. But I didn't cry until the evening before my 3 day vacation. Not until I had time to. I was too busy to deal with, or even have, feelings about the catastrophe.

I'm still angry that half the floor educators were fired, after 6 months of attrition - not letting any educator who left be replaced. They fired 8 people this week on top of not replacing 5 others. You've got to fire a lot of people if you're going to decimate a museum to not go bankrupt. But this layoff was not done fairly. One team was cut in half, others were barely touched.

I have some survivor's guilt; my job is funded by grants, so it doesn't save any money to fire me. And I know these are tough times. But I am angry that the suffering isn't being shared equally. It's hard to get a job done without enough people to do it. But why should serving our customers be the only job that we stop doing? It seems like if our product gets really crappy, people might stop coming even more drastically than they are now.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Video games give life skills

According to a japanese researcher, video games and facebook teach kids life skills. Like, how to use a computer. Skills that prepare you for the working world.

And not just how to check your facebook page while you're at work.

I guess Steven Johnson may have been right after all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I should put one of these up

XKCD has invented a brilliant variation on the Jewish tradition of the mezuzah.

I almost want to put one of these on the door to my home.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Toyota goes too far

Toyota has demanded the removal of photos from a site where people share desktop images. They want all pictures taken down that feature Toyota cars. Even if they don't hold the copyright to the image in question.

Stupid. Makes me want to take pictures of my parents' Toyotas and post them online just to spite them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sharks are like golf balls

Sharks manipulate their scales to create dimples. Dimples of speed. Killing speed.

Like when the hair on the back of your neck sticks up, only deadly. To others.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cop Rock

I just discovered a few clips of Cop Rock on YouTube.

I hope they were trying to be hilarious, because it's brilliantly committed musical comedy.

Still a horrible idea for a weekly TV show, but I think it would work pretty well as a single broadway show.



Friday, November 7, 2008

Still president Bush doing his best to secure his place as worst president ever

Yes, George W. Bush and Richard Cheney are passing lots of last minute rules and executive orders to make our lives as bad as possible. They're making lots of work for the Obama administration, who will be able to reverse all these rules, but be slowed down in doing so.

Rules like letting FBI agents lie about who they are when investigating people. Letting oil companies drill in places without any environmental safeguards. And giving huge tax breaks to giant banks that have lots of bad loans.

Bush often says history will be his judge. I hope they do a good job of condemning him.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prehistoric spiders

Apparently a new fossil has been found of the creature that ruled the world before dinosaurs.

It ruled the underwater world. It looks like a jellyfish. And apparently it was awesome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Which came first...

For years, I've often amused myself by wondering whether we'd have a black president before a woman president, or the other way 'round.

I shouldn't count my chickens before they're hatched, but it looks that that debate is over. And I happened to be right. But it seems to me like that's just random chance, and the particular candidates we had at this time. Maybe I'm reading the degree of sexism in our culture wrong, but I wonder if Sen. Clinton hadn't been weighed down by the baggage of her husband, what might have been. Not to mention the mismanagement of her campaign itself.

Anyway, now I find myself wondering: gay or athiest? Will we elect an openly gay president before or after an openly athiest? My bet: gay. I think that in another generation sexuality will be viewed the same way we view race now - something you're born with. So it won't matter if you're gay or straight, we'll all just be people. But not believing in God, that's something that connotes character. Or at least some people think so. And will think so in 100 years.
Of course, both of these things are attributes about internal states, which you can lie about to others. But that's what makes the question interesting to me. While we may have had a gay president already, and probably have had an athiest, when would the public choose one willingly?

Why do we vote on Tuesday?

Apparently, we wanted to be able to get into town from the farm on our horse, and that took 2 days. And Wednesday was market day, so Tuesday was election day.

November is after the harvest but before winter gets really bad.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting technology

Turns out that our current form of voting, while susceptible to fraud, is really quite civilized compared to how it used to work.

Fascinating etymology in that article. Ballots use to be balls. Peas, pebbles, etc. And the party ticket used to be an actual ticket. And we've only been voting by secret ballot for 100 years, after we imported the idea from Australia.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kazaa you, MTV!

Apparently, MTV thinks names of file-sharing programs are curse words, since they bleeped them in a video of Weird Al's. (The song, "Don't Download This Song", which when it first debuted could be downloaded off Weird Al's myspace page.)

I recognize that MTV and the RIAA are legally correct in demanding their copyright protections, but even the judge in their trial recently pointed out that they're being cruel in bankrupting teenagers and housewives. For starters, copyright shouldn't be 125 years long. It should be more like 25 years, and anything older should be public domain. (Especially out of print materials.)

But more importantly, the RIAA is like the oil companies denying global warming. Technology is changing. In 50 years, (hopefully sooner) we're not going to use petroleum for anything we use it for now, with the possible exception of airplanes. And record labels have to change with the times, too. They have to make it easy to get music legally, and lower their prices to reasonably reflect their lowered costs of production. Because if it's easier to get it illegally, it won't matter what's right or wrong. People are lazy. And giant corporations beating up on 10 year old children doesn't feel right, even if it's the law.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Poison in your food, water, toys, medicine...

It seems these days that our habit of moving manufacturing to China has bit us in the ass. That is, if you like your toys, drugs and chocolate to not have lead or melamine in them.

My relatives and friends have been talking a lot about this lately. I read about candy Costco sold in Canada that was tainted. And then this article really summed it up well.

Bush has cut back the FDA to a shadow of its former self. We need food and drug inspectors out there to catch crooked companies before children die, not after. And if companies are going to open factories in China, we need to have access to ensure that the products that come out are safe.

That's not socialism, it's just obvious. Food shouldn't be poisonous. Selling poisonous food is a crime. Let's hire some cops and start catching the criminals, dammit.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Stupid Insurance Companies

So, it turns out that "health insurance" companies charge women more. I guess women are more likely to avail themselves of medical services, but are they really more expensive? And is it ethical, much less legal, to charge women more for the same healthcare plan? I'm not a lawyer, but it certainly smells bad.

And while the corporations might claim that childbirth creates costs that men don't incur, most of their policies charge extra for maternity coverage. Bastards.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Christian Science Monitor going all online

Wow. The Christian Science Monitor is going to stop printing. But they're not shutting down. They're just going to be all online.

The newspaper business has been dying in recent years, for a number of reasons. The only people who buy a paper are old and going to die, and the advertising market has evaporated.

Of note in this news is that the CS Monitor is a non-profit paper. I wonder if all original reporting in the future will be funded by non-profits, like public broadcasting is now. I'd prefer a variety of sources, and a hegemonic Google-funded AP is scary in its power over the Word.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Airport security is an act

From the folks who brought you "Mailing your ID home to get through security faster", here's: "Acting like a Terrorist".

A guy behaves like a terrorist at an airport, and no one stops him. Brings big bottles of liquid on the plane, not to mention Hezbollah paraphernalia. And gets through security with forged documents.

Interesting to note that the "no-fly" list (which allegedly doesn't have anyone on it) doesn't even work. It's remarkably simple to get around.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mapmaker, mapmaker make me a map...

I think this is interesting.

A guy worked for a company and came up with a way to use software to figure out where neighborhoods are. The boundaries between neighborhoods are, after all, fuzzy and indeterminate things. But apparently there's great amounts of money to be made, telling people where real estate values will and won't go up. And where tacos will be popular, and where people are more likely to prefer pancakes.

But now the copyright to this algorithm has been bought, and the original programmer is being sued, and may be banned from ever making more maps, unless he pays a license fee for the results of his work. Man, work for hire sucks if you're a genius.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Physics vs. Engineering

As I read this column about quantum cryptography, I was struck by the difference between physicists and engineers.

Physicists like quantum cryptography, teleportation and computing because they're interesting. Using lasers to transport electrons across space, creating an unbreakable code, and light-powered computers that can crack any classical code in the world are awesome. Sure, the most complicated quantum computers in existence can barely manage to count your fingers AND toes, but the idea is still cool.

From the engineering side, though, quantum teleportation is a useless trick. Like quantum computing, it only works with a handful of particles, and until you can operate with the millions (or googols) of particles it would take to be useful, it's just a weird trick.

While quantum cryptography works now, it's unnecessary. Classical cryptography is strong enough, because getting someone to give you their password is easier than cracking either code. So a code that's mathematically impossible is functionally the same as one that's really really hard. And since it's way more expensive, it's useless.

But since I'm a physicist, I still think it's cool.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lies!

Usually, the Republicans are content to have anonymous surrogates spread their lies, but the Sacramento Republican Party has no shame. They have posted ads on their website (gone now, I'm sure) advocating torturing Obama, and spreading false quotes and faked photos.

They're pretty desperate. It's frustrating to me that they can't accept that their ideology of low taxes and huge government, and government based on loyalty and ideology, with weakened regulations, has led to disaster. And disastrous disaster management. At least Senator McCain does repudiate falsehoods when he sees them on the campaign trail. Too bad no one who works for him does.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ha ha!

So, Senator McCain was among those who voted to pass the DMCA, the internet copyright act that among other things, has a "safe-harbor" clause that immunizes sites like YouTube from copyright suits unless the person whose stuff was stolen tells YouTube that somebody posted stolen stuff.

Now McCain's campaign is unhappy that their campaign ads are being taken down from YouTube for copyright violation. McCain's lawyers are arguing that the content of their ads is fair use. Fox and CSPAN don't see it that way.

And YouTube points out that it's their job, under the law McCain helped pass, to immediately take stuff down if they are asked to. It's just not practical for them to examine every video and decide whether it's fair use.

Kind of sucks to have to obey copyright law, doesn't it senator? Maybe the law is too stringent, and the rights of corporations are too strong? Welcome to the 1990s.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Maverick"

This is awesome.

The word "maverick" is a family name. The first person to make it famous was a Texas cattleman who didn't brand his steers. Others fought McCarthyism, invented the word "gobbeldygook" and even fought the Iraq war.

Apparently, this dyed-in-the-wool liberal clan is none too pleased with Sen. McCain's claim that he's a maverick. Especially since he seems to be 90% loyal Republican.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

X-ray art

A rebel out there has made metal plates that display messages when viewed through the X-ray scanner at the airport.

I'm amused, but I doubt TSA will be. And I suppose that's his point. If you want to line your bags with lead so they personally search you, that's your right. Good luck with that!

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm not a lawyer, but...

Last week I successfully acted like a lawyer. And not on stage.

My sweetie got a bill for last month's rent at her old apartment. Despite the fact she'd already paid it. Twice. (They lost the first check, and then demanded a late fee.)

I wrote up a simple letter, full of legal jargon: "In accordance with the Fair Debt Collection Act of 1971, I demand you cease and desist all further attempts to collect payment." She mailed it off, certified mail, return receipt requested, with a copy of the canceled check.

A few days later, we got the evidence the letter had been received, and then she got a letter saying her account has been updated to reflect a balance of zero, and her credit report will be updated to accurately reflect payment.

I win! It's all about the paperwork, baby.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Texas ballot still counts

Unsurprisingly, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit that would have kept Obama and McCain off the ballot in Texas. This, despite the fact that they didn't file paperwork until after the deadline. The Democrats didn't even file tentative paperwork in time. (Republicans filed something, even though they didn't yet know who their VP candidate would be.)

I have to say, I think Bob Barr was in the right on this. And he'd be just as right if it were in California. The rules for elections should be upheld fairly for everyone, not laxly for the 2 parties and strictly for everyone else.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Little Big Computer

This is awesome. A soon to be released video game lets you build stuff. Somebody built a computer inside their computer. Suck it, Babbage!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dexter

Through the power of Netflix, I've been watching Dexter lately. The first season, anyway.

It's a very well made TV show. It totally lives up to its pitch: a show about a good serial killer. One who only kills serial killers.

Lots of subtle, clever symbolism, and lots of tortured morality. It manages to get you to feel like the murderer shouldn't get caught, and root against the police. Although he is in the police department.

So complicated. I'm sure I'm conditioning myself to be afraid, but at the same time the acting and writing are so good. And they're taking ordinary fears about fitting in, being an impostor, not knowing how to act around other people, and turning them up to 11. And spilling lots of blood and showing lots of naked people.

So, definitely in the "guilty pleasure" file.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Palin baby name generator

This is pretty funny.

You can find out what your Sarah Palin name is. Or would have been, if she were your mom.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin's Couric Interview

I'm really pleased with the work Katie Couric did in her interview with Gov. Palin. She let Ms. Palin dig her own hole. Ask a simple question, and then let her failure to answer reveal her unpreparedness.

The Republican talking point is that she's as experienced as Sen. Obama to be president. But the national polls have shifted after the first debate, as people saw that Obama does understand the issues we face, and is prepared to handle them. Yay!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I like my Netflix/Roku box

I just got my Netflix box setup yesterday, and it's great!

I can watch movies and TV shows over the internet. While the selection is greatly limited, there's a lot of good stuff on there. And the 10 second download time to start watching is way faster than the 3 days it takes to get a disk in the mail.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Schadenfreude

I confess to glee that Jack Thompson has been disbarred. This ex-lawyer is the guy who you see on TV talking about how video games kill people. Even when the latest person who killed people never played video games, but did like to listen to loud music.

My favorite part of the story is that the prosecutor recommended a 10-year disbarment, with the possibility of letting him be a lawyer again later. But the judge decided to ban Mr. Thompson from ever being a lawyer in Florida again. Yay!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Digital TV

Apparently, there were lots of problems in the test city that switched to digital TV.

Although the FCC chair said only 1% of customers complained. Man, if 1% of America has problems, that's almost 4 million people affected. I wonder how it will all go down. (I wonder how my VCR will cope...)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Large Hadron Collider overheats

You've probably read that the LHC broke down.

I was amazed that it broke because it overheated. Not because that happened, but that "overheated" in this case means being at 4 degrees Kelvin.

It was at over twice the nominal operating temperature. But still cold enough to freeze you and shatter you into a million pieces.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Science of Fear

The Science of Fear, by Daniel Gardner, is a book that every science educator should read. (Way better than the last Fear book I read, that documented inaccuracies, but didn't explain why we fall for them.)

Gardner lays out in an engaging manner how human psychology reacts to danger, or the idea of danger. We assess potential risks instinctively based on a few rules that were well suited to the African savanna where it evolved, but are a horrible match for mass communication technology.

We react to stuff based on how familiar and common and good or bad it seems, not how dangerous it actually is. And when we teach people about the scientific knowledge on risky things, we have to deal with these emotional reactions.

TV news will mess you up. Don't watch it. The human mind can't be denied its instinctive reactions.

Friday, September 19, 2008

No Obama or McCain on Texas ballot?

Bob Barr, the libertarian candidate for president, is suing to block McCain and Obama from being on the ballot in Texas.

Seems Texas law sets a deadline for filing papers to be on the ballot, and both conventions took place after the deadline.

I think he actually has a very strong argument. I wonder if the Texas legislature will change the law. Barring that (ha ha), I think it would be fascinating if Texas is suddenly irrelevant to the presidential election.

And it's astonishing that both campaigns and both parties could overlook something that important. I suspect a couple people are being fired today.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

So much politics, so little time

I keep reading interesting and important columns about the presidential election. From strong cases about why McCain's agenda is a horrible mistake (and we know that politicians actually do, in fact, keep their campaign promises), to a conservative pointing out that Palin's preference for gut instinct over knowledge and ideas is exactly the mess we're in now.

McCain's ideas on energy policy are desperate attempts to squeeze a little more oil out of the ground, rather than investing in new technologies that will work for the future. Oil is so 19th century. We should stop putting money into that technology.

And his medical plan is horrific. Right now, the money I pay for insurance is pre-tax. He wants to tax it. And drive me out into the market for insurance. Which will make insurance more expensive. And he wants to deregulate it. Which has worked SO well with banking lately. Not to mention food and toy safety.

The kids in my sunday school class were talking about where they'd move if McCain got elected president. Australia vs. Canada. I don't think his election as president would push me over the edge. But it would push me closer. It's a question I don't know the answer to: when do you give up? When is a nation so corrupted, so unwilling to make choices that look toward the future instead of the desires of the present, that it's time to leave rather than try to get it back on track?

It's ironic that the Republicans successfully wield the mantle of morality. The liberals are depicted as "if it feels good, do it", while they have character and self control. But liberals are trying to make the world a better place. Liberals want breathable air and drinkable water. Liberals want people to get medical care. Liberals want your food and your children's toys to not poison them.
Republicans are the party whose main idea is "if it makes money, do it". No matter if people die. No matter if we have to torture people.
I'm mad as hell. I can't take it much longer. I hope we make some changes. I hope we have a Democratic Senate and White House next year.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Original work better than remakes

I read a review of a weird video game, and how it's way better than a Star Wars game with a similar concept. Some mushroom guy uses psychic forces in a way cooler way than Jedi use the Force. At least in video games.

Reminds me of how Slings and Arrows, the brilliant Canadian TV show, was everything that Studio 60 wished that it was. Slings and Arrows is a bitingly witty, tragicomic tale of a theater company that is failing, and the internecine political scheming of the directors, actors and everyone else involved.

It succeeds because the writers create brilliant, flawed characters, who often fail. Studio 60 set itself up to tell the story of great heroes flailing nobly against the evil military-industrial corporate monolith, and couldn't create characters that perfect and keep them interesting. Also, Slings and Arrows is funny.

I suspect that's why Mark McKinney, who co-wrote and starred in Slings and Arrows, was brought in to Studio 60 half way down the tube. Shame that he couldn't help fix it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fake Identity

Apparently, the old trick of creating a fake identity by acquiring documents in the name of a dead child who was born around the same time as you doesn't work anymore.

But the columnist linked above has some thoughts about equally effective ways of creating a fake id. It just takes 20 years. Almost makes me want to try, except for the whole "illegal" part of the scheme. That would be fraud, I would think.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

McCain's lies

An excellent column by Mark Rich highlights a number of things that McCain and Palin say they believe in, but don't. When you look at their past actions, here's what they actually stand for:


  • Gov. Palin lobbied for the "bridge to nowhere" and after it was canceled, kept the funding.
  • McCain and Obama's response to the Georgia crisis is the same.
  • McCain lied about who attacked us in 2001 (Osama bin Laden was the sole culprit)
  • Sen. McCain did not fully vet Gov. Palin.
  • Gov. Palin never issued a single order to Alaska's national guard.
  • Gov. Palin is under investigation for firing her sister's ex.



Not to mention Palin firing a librarian for not banning books, and McCain voting with Bush 90% of the time (according to his own estimation).

And Paul Krugman points out all the lies that McCain is telling about Obama. It's galling that the media is stuck in he said, she said mode, rather than calling out McCain on the bullshit. Obama voted to teach kindergarteners to protect themselves against predators. And the metaphor "lipstick on a pig" is a hackneyed metaphor used by lots of Republicans.

It's one thing to get beat by people who stand for something. It's really angering to have someone completely lie about their record and act like they're heroes. As Krugman points out, it makes the slick lies of the Bush administration look noble. At least they had the skill to use accounting trickery to make their lies hard to understand and hard to debunk. This is just stupid.

And yet, stupid seems to work for them. It's maddening that mindless stupidity, wrapped in the flag and indignation and "strong character" makes people want someone to lead us further into the hole of poison we're going down.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Liberal

Speaking of "liberal" and "conservative", Bob Herbert makes an excellent point.

Liberals have done well in the past. Republican't politicians claim that liberals are somehow responsible for the horrible state of the government that has been run by Republican'ts for the last 8 years. But liberals have built great institutions that have created positive change. Like clean air, clean water, safe medicine, food, cars, not to mention social security and medicare.

It's a shame that liberals are ashamed of being liberal.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Liberals don't understand conservatives

I was reading this column about a Sarah Palin rally, and seeing much of the same stuff I've seen before.

Conservatives are very skilled at the "elitism" thing. Saying that liberals feel contempt for conservative values, and making conservative people feel resentment, and then vote against liberals.

But at the end of the column, I saw something I didn't know before. Someone did a study asking liberals and conservatives to get inside each others' heads, and predict how the other would answer various questions.

Conservatives were very good at understanding liberal thinking, but liberals sucked at understanding conservatives. That's worth noting. George Lakoff and others need to work harder at teaching liberals how to understand the conservative mind.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spore

I am really looking forward to Spore. Although, after this review, less so.

It's really hard to make a really good game. Much less a game that contains 5 really good games. And the critic really outlines why Spore is harder to make be great than the Sims. In the Sims, it's ok, even fun, if your people live horrible, dirty, miserable lives. But in Spore, you're trying to survive, and thrive. That means meshing goal-oriented conquest games with open-ended design & explore. That needle is very hard to thread.

Good on Will Wright et al for trying. I still want to play it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Say what?

Between the Daily Show and The New York Times, it's really quite clear.

The Republican convention is a lengthy rant about how Washington politics are broken and it's time for a change. It's really hard for me to believe that Republicans sincerely think that continuing the same policies and reelecting the same people constitutes a change.

Do they really think we're that stupid?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

CERN rap

Yeah, you probably saw this. But I might be showing you this for the first, awesome, physicsy time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Republicans and hurricanes

As usual, Paul Krugman has some excellent insights.

While John McCain is delivering superior public reaction to the latest Louisiana hurricane, FEMA is still woeful in their response. Bush has successfully weakened government to the point that people can drown in their own homes. Ideological bastard. There's a reason I'm voting for competence this year.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I got the call!

I get to go to ComedySportz's Tuesday workshops!

This means I'm moving up from the farm team to the majors! I will practice with them for a while before they decide to put me into a show, but still, it's a great recognition of my growth as a performer!

Woo hoo!

Monday, September 1, 2008

This is not cool

Apparently, the St. Paul police are breaking down doors and scaring protestors. Arresting people who have committed no crime, and intimidating them. Trying to keep them from marring the perfect photo opportunity the Republicans want at their convention.

I guess they had a search warrant, and allegedly were afraid the protestors were making bombs.

But I fear this is a more dangerous public relations strategy.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

This is cool

I love stop motion animation. This is a great piece of reinterpreted household objects.


Stop Motion Spaghetti Cooking

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Security

I love this guy's columns. This week, he talks about using market incentives to get computer companies to do a good job with security. We've found, through trial and error, that making computer security flaws totally public is the only way to get manufacturers to fix broken crap.

Unfortunately, individual institutions and companies still get grumpy when the secret of their failure are made public.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Explaining Evolution

I really like how the teacher in this story explains evolution. I especially appreciate how he explains that the existence of God is a non-science question.

This is something that came up in the food books too. A lot of people have unscientific ways of dealing with the world. (And that's ok, a lot of the time.) But they often demand that scientific evidence be ignored, even on questions where there is a scientific answer. That frustrates and saddens me a lot. How can we get to a place where more people understand each other?

I wonder if an absolutist worldview can't tolerate anything that threatens the foundations of its self-justification. If we need Jesus to save us from the original sin of the first people in Eden, who were made in God's image, then evolution is a threat to your entire faith. That's a problem.
I want theologians to come up with a justification for conservative, born-again Christianity that's compatible with human evolution. That's a tall order. But we've let go of slavery, which the bible clearly tolerates, even offers guidelines on distinctions between good slavery and bad slavery. I feel like Christianity can change. And I know that it must. (My bet is that it will accept homosexuality first. It looks like I'm about to win my past bet that a black man would be president before a woman. I hope.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Food

I'm reading a book about food, and I'm sad. Scared, even. (Also heard an interview with another author on the radio on the cab ride from the airport a few days ago, ironically.)

The FDA, over the last 50 years, has slowly had power drained from it until it's unable to keep us safe from poisoned meat, spinach, peppers, and so impotent it's not allowed to keep us away from medicines that will kill us.

This is Congress' fault. And every president since 1980 who's signed these crappy laws. Yes, the FDA can be slow. Making sure that a new drug is safe takes a lot of testing, which takes a long time. But I'm tired of people dying because we're in a hurry.

I was shocked to learn that you can die from overdoses of vitamins A or D. I could be persuaded to let go of the idea that herbal supplements have to be proven effective. But why the hell can't the FDA require proof that they're safe?

The FDA should be way more powerful and way better funded. We should have inspectors making sure our food won't kill us, and our drugs work the way they're supposed to. Hopefully we won't get to the point where we have antifreeze in our toothpaste, but I'm not hopeful.

Other interesting food facts - the fruit and vegetable growers of america can't get along. They see each other as competition, so they don't promote their products, which would make us healthy if we ate them, and make them lots of money.
On the other hand, Michael Pollan used the fact that we eat mindlessly in front of the TV to trick his child into eating vegetables. Put a plate of bite-sized broccoli in front of a child who's watching TV, and they'll gobble it down.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Election is Over - in Our Minds!

Yes, our subconscious mind has already decide who we'll vote for in November.

Unless we get some startling new information that changes our minds, "undecided" voters just don't know their true opinions. Reminds me of how I learned to detect how a job interview would go in the first 5 minutes. I hope my instinct is as right about this election.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Air Travel

My first time in North Carolina. Boy are they proud of their high wind. Although their airport police use Segways, so that's pretty cool. And I entertained a child at the baggage claim with my juggling, which I was doing just because I was bored and stiff. Bored stiff, even.

A little turbulence today, but nothing major. What was major was the line at the airport. Boy, Sunday morning at 5 AM is rush hour for United in Portland. Flights to each of their hubs every few minutes, and a massive crowd of people. Security went well - I was able to use a TSA-compatible bag to speed through the line. What with the work laptop I'm typing this on and everything.

Update: I forgot to mention the most aggravating part of the long lines at the beginning. United, in their grasping at dollars, wouldn't give me a boarding pass at checkin, because they wanted me to pay extra for an exit row. Since I refused to give them money, they gave me a pass that got me into the secure area, but not onto the plane, and then I had to wait in another line for my actual seat assignment.

Makes me think Southwest's totally random seating is the way to go. Charge everyone the same price, don't nickel and dime, just make us pay what it costs. If only the internet worked that way. Alas, since the cost of the "ticket" is what we see on flight search engines, added fees are the wave of the future. Maybe I should suck it up and get a bunch of 3 oz bottles and a 1 quart bag.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vaccines are good

The press is all over the fact that measles is on the rise. And it's sad that after 100 years of success with vaccines, some people are ignoring the evidence and avoiding vaccines because they're afraid of autism.

Eight of the 10 greatest causes of death 100 years ago are no longer in the top ten, thanks to clean water and vaccines. There's not been mercury in vaccines for years now, and autism continues to increase. It's not the vaccines.

But I learned something new from the stories about measles. Mercury never was in the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine. Never. So even people who feared the vaccines should have gotten their kids vaccinated with that one vaccine, just not the other ones. But they're not rational, they're running on fear.

I hope we figure out the cause of autism soon. And I'm really glad none of the kids who got measles this year died.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fascist bullshit

This news is bullshit.

The FBI is going to write new guidelines on investigation that allow them to investigate anyone. Anyone. They don't need proof, or even suspicion of criminal activity. They just have to feel like it.

That's crap. It's totally unconstitutional for the government to spy on people, subpoena documents, harass your family and friends - without the oversight of a court. I hope this gets shot down quick. Law enforcement should have the ability to catch criminals and put them in prison, but that power has to be kept in check or else we'll end up like China. Which is a bad thing.

It seems like every week we find out about another crazy move by the Bush white house to try to create new laws that are way outside the mainstream. Maybe they're bitter that the press is ignoring them, but I think they're just using the lack of attention as cover to pull off all the stuff that was too crazy to do before.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gah! Stupid patents

Microsoft is applying for a patent related to "browser privacy". The idea is that you can easily adjust how much information is stored in your web browser, so you can plan a surprise party, buy a birthday present, or look at porn without others knowing about it.

It's a good idea, and I'm glad Microsoft is going to add the feature.

But here's some text from the article:
"Microsoft watchers have spotted two patent applications covering ways to manage the amount of information a browser logs.
When introduced the privacy mode will match features found on other browsers."

If the mode will match other browsers, they shouldn't be able to patent it. BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T INVENT IT! God, I hope the patent office notices that slightly important detail and rejects the patent application. But why is Microsoft so arrogant as to apply for a patent for something that others already are using? So... frustrating.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's America that's dumb, not the internet

There's an interesting essay at Wired about whether the internet makes us dumb.

There are lots of books out there, dissenters not withstanding, that argue that our dumb tendencies against reason are being spread more quickly because of the internet.

They're right. But so are our smart tendencies. I wouldn't be a professional diet soda/Mentos exploder if not for the internet. Lots of fads and memes are spreading faster now, but we cultivated lots of stupid, irrational ideas before the internet.

The internet, like other technologies, just lets us be people faster. The struggles of reason vs. faith, liberal vs. conservative, bear vs. velociraptor, all will continue in new ways, but not fundamentally altered by the new technology.

Although the modern newspaper is dead. Brought to life by the telegraph, killed by craigslist. Thanks, craig. Thanks a lot.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Polaroid is Awesome

So, not only is Polaroid now making a bluetooth portable printer for quickly printing digital photos, but they're also designing a future digital camera with a built-in printer.

Yes, a 21st-century Polaroid. Woot.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Genetics and Parenting

An interesting story in Newsweek about genetics and behaviour. There are genes strongly correlated with addiction, but they also correlate with learning from mistakes more generally. And there are other genes that have effects on what effect parents have on their kids.

Most kids are harmed by bad parents, but some mutant kids are immune!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Politics and Security

This column is an excellent diagnosis for what's wrong with computer security now, why government is the one to fix it, and how it could be fixed.

There are ways the government can create incentive structures to get good software. And the government can create too many rules, but they have the scale of resources that can actually push the computer industry towards effective results.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Traffic Science

I think I find the science of traffic interesting because it has such a direct impact on my life.

In any event, how much do YOU know about traffic?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Watch the safety briefing

There's an interesting story about emergencies.

People are creatures of habit, and we don't react well to new situations, particularly in emergencies. I was most shocked to read about people in an actual airplane fire opening the overhead bins to remove stuff. On the other hand, I could totally see myself grabbing stuff at my desk in a fire.

Makes me glad I've used the stairwell for fire drills, so I won't die in a fire for taking the elevator. Now I think I should practice my alternative escape route at home, so I won't freak out there in an emergency.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Airport Adventures

I'm spending a lot of time in airports these days.

Recently I've noted how different the lines can be. Most days the lines I end up in are quite short. But sometimes a particular airline has really long lines. A few weeks ago, I flew 3 times, and each time Delta had really long lines. Katy's friend was flying Delta, and I saw the computer check-in kiosk fail to find her name and several other people's names. But today their lines were short, while Southwest was going down the block.

Although, that might have been capacity; the line to leave checked bags at the X-ray machine was quite long. There may have just been a LOT of people flying Southwest this morning for some reason. The line at security was longer than I've seen in a while. I guess I've been flying on less popular days.

My flight today was FULL! I was in a middle seat with a big man at the window, and a lovely 8 month old baby boy (named Sam!) on the aisle in his mom's lap. He was cute, babbling, and had big blue eyes just like me. Not too much screaming, mostly just wiggly. I got occasional massages from his feet, and handshakes and other clutching. Boy, did he want to play with the airline magazine! And he loved the tray table. That was his favorite new toy.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ohio



I had a great trip to Ohio last week, meeting Katy's friends and family. On the first day, I finally got my vengeance: I saw Katy's baby pictures. She was cute! (She's really pretty now, too!) Her mom gave me a copy of one of the pictures, and I took a copy of this one with my cell phone.

Being so near Cleveland, there were lots of UCC churches, with 2 or 3 near her parents' home.

We also went to a baseball game in Cleveland, which was very exciting and a lot of fun. The score was 5-4, including a home run by the opposing team in the last inning that scored 2 runs. At the end of the game, there was a runner on 3rd!
I did continue my unbroken streak of attending major league games where the home team wins. Both Blazer games I've gone to were won by the Blazers, and now the Indians have received my luck. (Sorry, Winterhawks, you're a minor league team. My luck only favors teams with more money.)

And her parents took us to a concert of the Cleveland Orchestra. It was awesome! They really are one of the best orchestras in the world. Their summer concert venue is also awesome. The acoustics were fantastic - I have never heard such balance. The bass was rich, textured and lovely.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Internet Fad Timeline

This is cool.

It's a timeline of Internet Memes. It seems pretty darn complete.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Emmy Nominations

Sure, all the news stories are telling you the same angle.

Cable has a lot of nominations for Emmys this year. Mad Men, John Adams, blah blah blah.

But Sarah Silverman's Matt Damon song got 2 nominations. How is that not news?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Logarithms, base one



This is hilarious to me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

You didn't say the magic word!

Wow.

A programmer in Pittsburgh has highjacked San Francisco's city computer system.

He changed all the other admin passwords, and is in jail, not revealing his. Straight out of Jurassic Park. Only there aren't dinosaurs loose in San Francisco, and the computers are still working, but he could change that.

I wonder if he's just jealous that he lives in Pittsburgh, and they're in San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Title IX for Science!

So, while many women are now professional biologists and doctors and psychologists and sociologists and lawyers and politicians, they don't represent a large percentage of physicists, engineers or computer scientists.

Some are suggesting using Title IX to fix this. On the one hand, Title IX is a law about equity in education. All education, not just sports. And I do believe that computers would be better if more women were in the field. And I believe women are just as able to do physics and math as men are.

But while sexist coworkers are still a problem, it does seem clear that there is a natural difference in interest between women and men. There's anecdotal evidence that testosterone makes math interesting. And left to their own devices, women choose socially relevant fields to the exclusion of computers and physics.

I think quotas are problematic. Some make the argument that it would appear that women are being put into programs they're not capable of getting into without affirmative action, leading to worse sexism and discrimination.

I personally suspect that the problem is one of interest, and we need to change how we teach physics and math and computers to make the applications clearer, and to make the tasks more relevant to life. That's how we make science, all science, and all learning in general, interesting to girls. We haven't done a good job of it yet. We can, and we should.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

High gas prices mean high bus fare

I'm frustrated that bus fare is going up. Yes, diesel costs are higher, so you have to pay for it somewhere.

But we want people to take the bus. It's much better for the environment, it's much better for road congestion, and it's much better for oil prices, if we have buses full of people.

If a bus ticket and driving cost about the same, there's less incentive for people to ride. We should invest tax money in making bus fares cheap, so more people will ride - now more than ever.

But apparently in Oregon there's a law against raising bus subsidy taxes. I think that's a stupid law.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stupid TV - be less scary

A new book talks about Fear, and what we're afraid of that we don't need to be. I'm glad there's a new one, because the last one I read was 10 years old, and while illuminating, it didn't address lots of current things.

You can take an online quiz about the relative dangers of different things, to see if you're afraid of the right stuff.

As we already knew, TV leads the media pack in sensationalizing dangers, and scaring the crap out of you, because that's what gets people to watch, and people watching equals money. TV is an emotional medium of pictures, not one of reason and ideas. I sometimes wish TV had never been invented. Certainly I'd be willing to lose Twilight Zone and I Love Lucy and the half dozen other great works of TV for the millions of crappy ones.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Poor Orangutans

Apparently the orangutan is severely endangered. As in, will probably be extinct soon.

That's sad.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Disappointed by Obama

There are some who make the case that I shouldn't be disappointed by Obama's centrism. It is what he's talked about endlessly for a long time. He's talked about compromise, and moderation. About common sense ideas that everyone can agree on.

While he opposes the Iraq war, he doesn't oppose all war. While he supports the separation of church and state, he supports churches using government funding for secular programs. He's not anti-conservative, he's anti-stupid. He's not a new FDR, he's a new Bill Clinton. Or maybe Tony Blair - less personal flaws. I hope.

But.

Obama's flip flop on FISA is just plain stupid. Letting the government listen to all international phone calls without any checks and balances is a bad, bad idea. The secret FISA court has refused less than 1% of all warrant requests. Abolishing that court and letting the president spy on anyone he wants is awful. Especially since Obama said he would filibuster the bill he voted FOR.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Taser or Boarding Pass?

The TSA is looking into electronic bracelets as a replacement for a boarding pass. It would be an electronic ID, it would have a GPS locator. Oh, and a built in Taser.

There's no way that it's a good idea to give the government the power to shock and torment an entire airport at the push of a button. As the promotional video for the bracelets says itself, technology is only as good as the people using it.

Yes, we need to keep bad people from blowing up planes. But now that we have the idea in our head, and stronger cockpit doors, it's not going to happen again.

The passengers will revolt, the pilots won't open the door. You don't need to shock everyone on the plane to get it on the ground safely. Unacceptable. I'm glad a right-wing newspaper agrees with me on that.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mashups declared fair use!

You can copy some things. And the Center for Social Media has written up standards for fair use that include some pretty bold uses.

It's interesting. One of their examples of illegal use is using favorite songs as a soundtrack to a wedding video. But if I mix together other copyrighted content to make a point, or convey a message, like a Daily Show montage, I'm totally in the clear. As is the Daily Show, even though they're a for-profit concern.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Yes, Virginia. It really IS torture

So, Christopher Hitchens has seen the light, and realizes that waterboarding is torture.

I'm sick and tired of having been right all along. I thought this war would be a disaster. I thought that torture was wrong. I thought this president would implement awful policies that would kill people.

Well.

Katrina, poisoned spinachtomatoesbeef, 4 Supreme Court verdicts in a row that criminals deserve trials, collapsing infrastructure, a disastrous war, illegal wiretapping......

Why did so many people have to die before we could see that Bush and the conservative agenda was massively flawed? Why couldn't we choose the right path to begin with, and fund our government, invest in our infrastructure, create a fair marketplace where criminals are caught and punished and those who play by the rules are enabled to succeed?

I know I have to learn some things for myself - some advice from my parents and grandparents just will be ignored. I guess the nation doesn't have to listen to me, either.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Boys and Subways

This blog post is just charming. A New Yorker's young boys are obsessed with the subway system. To a slightly disturbing, but essentially adorable extent.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Cars and Gas

So, as we all know, high gas prices finally have created less driving. Although I notice that I'm not driving less - but I was already in the lowest mileage category my auto insurance company offers. And I drive a tiny car that gets 35 miles to the gallon.

But sadly, if I wanted to get a hybrid, the tax credits will probably have expired. The government, in its anti-wisdom, said that you can only get a tax credit for hybrids for the first 60,000 cars. So in a year, no more Toyota hybrid tax credit. Honda will last a little longer.

But you can still get a tax credit for a Ford SUV hybrid that gets 20 mpg, instead of the 11 it gets un-hybrid. Which is dumb. (Not to mention the extra carbon impact of the hybrid batteries.)

Congress should extend tax credits for good technology that moves us in the right direction of energy independence. And they should close the bloody loophole that doesn't tax gas guzzlers. (Cars with low mileage are taxed, but trucks and vans aren't.) Because right now, if they closed that loophole, you could pay your guzzler tax with your hybrid tax credit. Which is stupid.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

No more selenium

Well, actually gallium. And indium and hafnium. You see, we're running out of these elements. There's a finite amount on the Earth, and in 10 years we'll use it all up making flat-screen TVs.

We're gonna have to start recycling better. (Not to mention the price of copper and zinc and these other elements will go up, up, up!)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Text Messaging Prices

Damn. I thought it was a bit much to charge 10 cents a text, but this blogger puts it in perspective. It's 200 times more expensive to send a text message than to mail a letter. Yes, it's faster, but talking on my cell phone is way cheaper than texting.

And apparently, the price is about to go up. It's going to double at the end of August.

This is why I don't send text messages. And why I get especially pissed off when my phone company does nothing to stop spam texts. Heck, I'd be willing now to rig my phone to block all text messages, but they won't let me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Microsoft wants to be more evil

Microsoft recently patented a system of digital "manners".

Different locations could have different "rules", and machines would obey these rules. So restaurants and movie theaters could automatically put your phone on vibrate.

And the government could turn off video cameras when they're kidnapping and torturing people. And turn off the cars of people who are fleeing, innocent or no.

This is why I'm not a professional writer. He says it very well. This is a BAD idea. A few of the fringe applications sound neat. But ultimately I don't want corporations limiting what I can and can't do with stuff I own. I can lend a book or a record or a video tape to a friend. And I should be able to do the same with digital objects. That's why I don't own a digital reader - I fear it being too limiting, rather than freeing.

Giving my boss or my teacher the technological power to shut off my phone or my laptop or my e-book so I pay attention in a meeting or class isn't "manners". It's dictatorship. It's Orwellian. Bad Microsoft! Bad corporation!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Email privacy

So, this guy got fired from a job.

Then he finds out later, they're reading his personal email.

Now I get that companies have access to your work email. It's their email server, you're using their computer to work.

But what the hell? When I use Gmail, or Yahoo, or any other free web email service, that should be private. How did they even read this guy's email? If he left himself logged in to a computer at work, and they didn't log out, and used the access, that's gross. But if they sniffed his password and broke into his account to read emails between him and his lawyer, that's just evil.

I hope the case goes to a judge who's younger than 80 years old, and can understand the differences in the technological examples, and apply traditional standards of privacy in a sane way. I suspect I'll be disappointed.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

It's hot. Damn hot!

I performed in Shakespeare last night, on a day with 100 degree temperatures.

Unsurprisingly, a wool coat is exceedingly uncomfortable at that heat. And my slave costume, a vest and trousers, which had been cold during dress rehearsal, was actually a little warm!

Evaporative cooling is great. I deliberately spilled water on the stage, and it dropped the temperature a few degrees. For a few minutes. Brick holds a lot of heat.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Attempted Copyright Violation

So, the MPAA and RIAA are suing people for stealing stuff. And claiming that if you have files in a "shared folder" where people can copy it, then you are stealing.

They claim that they don't need to prove directly that you were sharing the files, just that you are "making available" stuff that's not yours. Largely, this is because it's impossible for them to prove whether anyone downloaded stuff you were sharing.

I'm torn. On the one hand, lawyers I usually agree with say this is like charging people with Attempted Copyright Violation, which Congress hasn't made illegal. On the other hand, file sharing software is designed to evade the law, so that's WHY there's no proof of violation.

I doubt this metaphor will help, but if I made a bunch of bootleg DVDs and CDs, and set them out on a table with a FREE sign, would I be guilty of copyright violation before anyone took a copy? Or, if I set up a DVD burner on the street, and passersby could press a button for it to dispense a free illegal copy of a DVD, am I guilty until the first copy has been made?

Clearly I'm intending to violate the law. But it can't be proven that I have yet violated it. But that's because I'm deliberately making sure there's no evidence, if I did violate it.

I think the corporations are overreaching, but I wonder if that's just because I assume they are, since they always do that.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Religious Tolerance

So the Pew Center (I love good, solid research) did a survey of Religion in America. And the vast majority, 79% of people, believe their religion is not the sole truth. Most of us think other people have equally legitimate ways to worship.

Or they say they do. People lie to surveys. They know they're not supposed to be racist, so they say they're not. And when this article about the survey points out this fact, you have to wonder what they were thinking:
Another finding almost defies explanation: 21 percent of self-identified atheists said they believe in God or a universal spirit, with 8 percent "absolutely certain" of it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My job rocks

Yesterday, I created a version of this:


But that wasn't the best part. The best part was figuring out that in doing the diet soda/mentos activity, you don't need Mentos. (Diet Dr. Pepper is the most explosive soda, by the way.)

You can use sand. Because it's all about the surface area of the Mentos, and sand has lots of surface area.

But sand is messy, and grinds into your launch tube. So I tried iron filings. I used a magnet to hold them in the tube, and then pulled the magnet away. It was awesome. I'm sure video will follow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fire Video

Safety means knowing what will happen in an emergency. So firefighters sometimes burn stuff, so they know what they'll face later.

Which results in awesome videos.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Voice

Having finally seen Juno, I see why the media was abuzz about this movie. It earned its screenplay Oscar.

As much as I really enjoyed the movie, its unique voice did not extend to giving the different characters personalities. All the characters in the movie were are really the same person, or different aspects of the same authorial voice. Which isn't necessarily a flaw. I think Shakespeare does that, too. (Of course, so does Edison Lee, a "comic" strip whose "humor" allegedly comes from a precocious child, but the child is just an old person in a child's body, talking to other old people. Vomit. I'm glad my local paper finally stopped carrying it.)

I look forward to Diablo Cody's next project. I'm curious to see what else she'll write. And I wonder whether her writing will evolve so that more than one voice will present itself in her stories.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Run Fatboy Run

Speaking of movies with great acting but less than stellar plot, I recently saw Run Fatboy Run. It's a movie with an extreme premise, but lacking extreme instincts.

Simon Pegg does fantastic work as a schlub whose life sucks because he sucks, who's inspired to run a marathon to try to win back his ex.

But it's hard to swallow the extreme premise that he should be our hero, since he left her at the altar. Pregnant. And the script doesn't make her shine particularly much, and the villain new boyfriend is caricature, not character. And I'm pretty sure that the middle finger is an American gesture, not likely to be used by children in London.

But Pegg is awesome, as well as one gag as he runs a very slow marathon.

I wouldn't pay more than $3 to see it, but I don't want two hours of my life back.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Enchanted

Speaking of sexism, we recently watched the movie Enchanted.

It was pretty well made, but I could have done with a great deal more irony. There were a couple awesome moments, especially the musical number where the princess cleans up the apartment in New York with the aid of pigeons, rats and cockroaches.

And Amy Adams and James Marsden were very focused actors, totally committed to their characters' reality. Which was very fun to watch.

But I wished the traditional princess story had been turned on its head, not just stretched a little. If the princess had been truly shattered by the darkness of the real world, then found her inner strength to truly kick some ass, not just throw a sword to save her true love, with the aid of her trusty chipmunk.

And given her talent with animals, I would have preferred her to be seen in the epilogue as a talented zoologist, rather than a celebrated dressmaker. Although at least she did run her own business.

But this is too much to expect from a Disney movie, even one that occasionally winks. The eternal Disney dead-mother trope is still there, even if she's not dead, she just "left".

I did enjoy the irony of Disney's portrayal of Times Square as a horrible place, after Disney worked to make the real Times Square a less horrible place. And casting the star of Wicked as the woman who's replaced by the princess, but ends up with the prince? Nice touch.

Still, I had my hopes too high for this movie. While it pushes on the concept of the princess fairy tale, it ultimately affirms that worldview, rather than subverting it. Mocking feminism by turning Marie Curie's death into a cheap irony instead of a noble sacrifice. I hope someone will tell stories that balance the world, of smart women and caring men. I think it's ok for a powerful heroine to fall in love, but it should be ok for her to succeed in a non-traditional career, too. I just won't hold my breath for Disney to tell that story.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stupid Nerds. Be less Sexist!

I already knew that women, while achieving equal numbers in the law, medicine, architecture, and other high status professions, were underrepresented in science, engineering and technology. (Math, too. And not so much biology as physics, chemistry, etc.)

Now I read this story which gives lots of details and explanations why.

Damn.

Sexist nerds suck.

Engineers and scientists need to recruit tons of women to come into their industries and change their culture. Because then their work will be more useful to humanity. And they'll become less dickish.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stupid Media and their overarching narrative

Stories are powerful. Our human minds need stories to make sense of things.

However, sometimes we cling to a good story even though it isn't true. And even when it matters. And unfortunately, that's often done by journalists.

Take the idea that
Clinton supporters will vote for McCain. Turns out, according to that article I linked to, that Obama is polling way, way better than McCain with women. Far better than Gore or Kerry. And yet the media have a few old polls, and a few people willing to appear on TV, who were Clinton supporters who are voting for McCain.

Those few individuals may be completely truthful, but that doesn't a trend make.

Like the media's bias for conflict, the bias for narrative is dangerous. It means that Bush is president, because they freaked out when their standard election night narrative was disrupted in 2000. It means we're at war, because the Bush administration did a very skilled job of playing into the media's standard storyline about a nation going to war.

I wish there were an example I could think of where the story tendency cravenly advanced an agenda I agreed with, but I have a blind spot towards what I consider success.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No Country for Old Men

I had some thoughts about this movie, but now all I can think of is the Ninja's observation.

Which totally gives away the end of the movie. But let it be said the title is really misleading.

Damn, that is one scary, scary movie. Very excellent. And just a few moments of Coen brothers wackiness. Although it does seem to have a lot of the violence of their early work.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Second Coming!

I think the Messiah has been born on Earth.

This child being born is a miracle. The mother was on The Pill. And after she got pregnant, because the embryo very likely had (in fact does have) a genetic kidney disease, she had an abortion.

But the fetus survived the abortion procedure, not to mention ovulated right through the pill's hormonal restrictions. And now has been born, and is relatively healthy. (Apart from only having one working kidney.)

I think they should have named him Jesus. What kind of name is Finley for a Messiah?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

See! I wasn't the one downloading movies!

Researchers at University of Washington framed a printer for a crime. The crime of copyright violation.

At least, they signed the printer up for participation in Bit Torrent downloading, which caused the MPAA or whoever to send them a letter suing them. Despite the fact that IT'S A PRINTER, and can't possibly be downloading movies.

Makes for nice evidence if they sue you, pointing out that while my computer may participate in the completely legal Bit Torrent network, they don't actually have proof I downloaded the movie.

Ironically, the only way I can think of for movie studios to collect evidence of people stealing movies is for the studios to themselves participate in the illegal distribution of movies...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

McCain would wiretap warrantlessly

I don't know the most grammatical or the most poetic way to describe it, but the fact remains that John McCain says he would continue spying on US Citizens if elected president.

It's not weak to protect freedom. Finding criminals, protecting public safety, etc. are good things, but the Constitution requires checks and balances and getting a warrant from a judge before spying and searching.

At least he's slightly less insane than President Bush when it comes to torture.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Gross


This is a dust mite. I'm pretty sure.

Dust mites live in pillows and matresses, feasting on flakes of dead skin that we throw off. This dust mite is sitting on one tiny, tiny thread of insulation material from a pillow.

My pillow. Fun.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Security verification

This column contemplates why we use faxed signatures for stuff. Why do we use something so easy to forge? Because we usually only accept them in a context where there are ways to make sure it's real.

Unless you're a lazy jail guard, and release a prisoner based on a fax sent from McDonald's. (McDonald's has a fax machine?)

And I learned that banks don't bother to verify check signatures unless the amount is over $30,000. Because it's cheaper to clean up the mess later on the tiny percentage of fake checks, than it is to verify all the legit ones.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ironic Photo


This photo is awesome. It's a public domain photo - the photographer has released all claims of copyright, and anyone may copy it.

And it's of a guy selling bootleg CDs and DVDs, stealing copyrighted work.

Awesome

Friday, May 30, 2008

Internet memes

Thanks to Weezer's new video, which is a collage of various internet memes:



I now have seen the weirdly hilarious Shoes video. An ineffable presence.



You can read more about the Weezer video, and learn about the different memes that are included in it. They actually brought together all the different YouTube "stars" for the video shoot, and they all stayed in the same hotel, sharing stories about Netfame. The afterparty must have been surreal.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Crap!

I arrived at work today in my rain suit, with a sheen of mist covering the surface. I took off my coat and pants and laid it on the ground. I was locking up my bike, and noticed some sparrow poop on it. We recently hung a bird feeder up on the porch, near where I lock up my bike, and the birds often perch on my bike while approaching the feeder. They sometimes poop on my bike now, which they never did before.

So I'm muttering about the rice-grain sized turd on my handlebars. At that moment, a huge splash of crap falls from the sky and lands directly on my pile of clothes. We're talking seagull. Maybe a crow, probably gull or canada goose.

I repent, O Spirit of Audubon!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Binary humour

Two videos featuring binary jokes:

The Humans Are Dead by Flight of the Conchords



And binary stand-up from ReBoot, a canadian computer cartoon:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Should I buy the Netflix box?

Netflix has come out with a box that lets you watch movies online. You have to have Netflix already, (which I do,) and an internet connection. (Grumble, grumble.)

But it's $100 for the box. If I had a Windows computer, I could be watching movies now for no added cost. But I don't. I have a Mac.

I'm tempted. But maybe it'll be like my free wireless internet, and evaporate in time. So I should wait for something more stable.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I believe I will see a woman president in my lifetime

I really do.

I get sad and frustrated when smart people like Pat Schroeder say they don't think they will, because Senator Clinton won't be it this year.

I think there are lots of smart, talented women in the world. Yes, our country and our species is sexist. Yes, it's more acceptable to be overtly sexist than it is to be overtly racist.

But there are 71 women in the House, 16 in the Senate, and 8 women governors. One of them is about to lose a race for a presidential nomination. That doesn't mean that one of the other ones won't be vice-president next year. Or president 8 years from now. (Or that Senator Clinton won't herself be president 8 or 12 years from now.)

I don't think Senator Clinton's loss sends a message to all the daughters and grand-daughters to give up hope. But I'm a white guy, so I'm less sensitive to the awful crap that TV news dishes out.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Schadenfreude news

The guy who puts his Social Security Number in all his ads for his identity theft protection service? (Todd Davis, 457-55-5462?) Someone just took out a loan in his name. Oops.

And to add injury to insult, he's facing a class-action lawsuit for false advertising.

Irony. First, clearly it's not possible to electronically prevent crime. Second, the dude is being sued because his service just does paperwork for people to take advantage of services that already exist, and are offered free.

I already stopped getting credit card offers in the mail. And I check my own damn credit report regularly. If I was worried about credit card fraud, I would ask the credit reporting agencies to put a fraud alert on my name.

And all that is free to anyone. Stupid fearmongers.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Best. Game. Ever.

I read an article about the most popular computer game ever.

I was surprised, but maybe I didn't think about it first. Even blockbuster games don't have what this one has going for it.

I wonder if I've played it more than other games I've played. How do you measure that? Games played would bring tic-tac-toe to the top, but hours played would be a better measure.

Friday, May 23, 2008

On your... left?!?

Today, while biking to work, I was passed by another cyclist. No big deal. Although I was passing a pedestrian at the time, and the other cyclist went between us. Still, there was room. No big deal.

But she called out "I'm on your left" as she passed me on the RIGHT.

Whaaa?

I was too confused to shout - "No you're not!" And now I feel irrationally self-righteous that I usually say "Pardon me" when passing, or ring my little bell. Because that will still be true when I pass on the right. So there!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My free internet is going away

Stupid free internet. Apparently the provider I use at home is shutting down in a month. I wish they would just turn off the free service, and I could start paying them.

I only used the free because it was available. They still are better than Comcast or Qwest. Now I have to choose between the lesser of two evils again.

And dammit, Comcast is just more competent. I'd rather give lots of money to competent evil than incompetent evil. But I'd rather pay some other provider for internet. Grr.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Slings and Arrows

I love Slings and Arrows. It's a TV show about a theatre company putting on Hamlet. But then stuff in the lives of the actors starts reenacting Hamlet. It's funny and clever and feels true. A director who went insane playing Hamlet questions his sanity now that he's being haunted by a ghost.

Really good acting, too. Good job, Canadian TV. And mad props to Peter Carlin, who pointed me in the direction of the show in the first place.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy Bike to Work Day

Yeah, it's tough that Bike to Work Day in Portland is predicted to have a high of 97 degrees. Ow.

Still, bike commuting's not that hard.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Portal

I love the idea of Portal. It's a video game where you shoot portals onto walls, and then have to solve puzzles. Portable teleportation plus deadly spikes equals wicked fun.

My computer can't run Portal, but it can play the 2D Flash version. It's great.