Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Head of TriMet wants to raise the driving age

George Passadore's column advocating raising the driving age in Oregon
to 18 is interesting.

He makes an excellent point that driving distracts high school
students from schoolwork, and that teen drivers are the most dangerous
on the road.

However, suggesting that Trimet is a good alternative for all of
Oregon is a bit much. (Although not too surprising from the head of
the agency.) While Trimet does provide excellent service to the
Portland metropolitan area, there's a whole lot of Oregon beyond that.

In most of Oregon, our towns and cities are designed around the car.
Our current system of tiered driving does a good job of allowing teens
to get places. I'd support raising the driving age to 18 in Portland,
but it's not a good fit for the rest of the state.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Patent Office Head Admits Problems

Well, it is a good thing that the head of the US Patent Office acknowledges that the patent system is broken.

Tons of junk patents are overwhelming the patent system, and then people with crappy patents are flooding the court system by suing people who actually invent stuff.

For me, the best commentary on this comes from this guy, who argues that Mr. Dudas is way late on figuring this out, and that the changes Mr. Dudas proposes will make the system worse, not better.

The same blogger has a great series of essays on the history of "intellectual property", exploring the origins of copyright and patents in America, and arguing that we have WAY too much intellectual property now.

I was surprised to learn that in patents, as in copyright, we have a system which actually stifles creativity rather than inspiring it. The system add protection of inventions after lots of inventions are ALREADY designed. Retroactive copyright or patents give no incentive to invent new stuff: they just give more money to large corporations.

Actual creativity should be rewarded. But copyright and patents should expire after20 years. And patents shouldn't be given for how you swing on a tire, or how you wait in line.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Plastics poison?

The mounting evidence that some plastics are poisonous is causing Nalgene to stop making polycarbonate bottles.

I'm frustrated that we need the Canadian government to make sure our water bottles don't poison us. I want the EPA and the FDA and the CPSC to do their jobs, and detect toys with lead and poisons in the water, and plastic bottles that are bad for you.


Here's the Oregonian's AP story.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


The Oregonian had a story yesterday about great sci-fi fan films.

Included in their best-of list was one I've been enjoying since the internet could handle it.

I really enjoy the mash-up of COPS and Star Wars that is TROOPS:

YouTube Science!

I'm on YouTube again. Doing science!!!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Travels with Coney

I recently took a road trip for work. We had time on our hands. So we took lots of pictures. Of a traffic cone we had in the trunk.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Drop of Gold

I just read a great children's book called Drop of Gold.

It's a story about how birds got so diverse, and so beautiful. It's a book that I think all the bird lovers in my family would really enjoy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

We're engaged!

Last Saturday, I proposed to my girlfriend Katy. Well, now my fiancé, Katy.

I surprised her in the Rhododendron Garden with the help of her friend Cassie.

The ring you see is my great-grandmother's engagement ring.

And yes, we've talked about timing. We're contemplating June 2009.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Trade Offs

Security is about trade-offs. If you put a lock on your door, it takes you longer to get inside when you come home. If you put bars on your windows, you can't escape through them if there's a fire.

We balance our desire for security with the costs of security all the time. Except we usually act not to make ourselves truly safe, but we act based on what makes us FEEL safe.

This essay spells it out. Human instinct is really bad at statistics. Planes are way safer than cars, but we don't feel that way, so we don't act in a way that reflects the truth.

Plus some people have their own idea about how we should use our resources and what we should trade off. And they make us feel afraid of stuff we shouldn't fear.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Grumble, grumble

The Bush Administration war on information continues. In addition to the disgusting memo claiming they don't have to obey the 4th amendment, they also are deleting articles about abortion, and disallowing "abortion" as a search term.

Yes, if you search for "abortion" in this particular government search engine, nothing comes out.

That's just dumb. No matter what your opinion of abortion is, putting your fingers in your ears and screaming "la la la" isn't going to solve anything.

And since we've seen the failures of abstinence-only education over the last few years, you wish we had a government that learned from its mistakes.

But this administration isn't about results. It's about principles. Even if the goal of "protecting life" is totally lost in standing on principle.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Nano Teeth!

Scientists are working on regenerating teeth.

That is, regrowing dental tissue to replace cavities. Not regrowing totally lost teeth.

I wonder how long it will take to do the procedure? I'd love to go to the office, have them find a cavity, and be all Star Trek and regrow the tissue in seconds. But I imagine it'll actually take hours.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Maureen Dowd

Yet another interesting column by Maureen Dowd. She argues that until this election, Barack Obama had been elected in relatively easy, unchallenging contests. His opponents were paper tigers, easily defeated.

And thanks to Senator Clinton, Senator Obama is now toughened from the battle, and ready for the general election with McCain. His arguments are leaner, his strategists nimbler.

It could be me, but Ms. Dowd's columns seem better than a while ago. She seems to have real, interesting insights into the Democratic Primary. Previously, she'd make broad caricatures of various people of power, and armchair psychoanalyze their motivations. And she even wrote a number of columns that became an entire book, lamenting how sexist all men are, when it seems to me she's really lamenting how wealthy men in New York are sexist. Trivial musings on significant topics.

But now I feel like she's hitting real, valid ideas. Has she changed, or have I? Or am I just more interested because she's addressing electoral politics?

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Apparently, when you study the chemistry of the brain, you can use up willpower. The mental effort to do an unpleasant task is drained in the doing. And if you stack unpleasantness, it gets harder to do it.

Apparently blood sugar to the brain helps us do better on difficult things.

Also, if you practice discipline, it gets easier to do chores.

Some of these findings are somewhat obvious, but it's interesting to see what pops out when you tinker with experiments in weird ways.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Intellectual "property" garbage

Sometimes people are dumb about asserting copyright, patent, etc. rights. Like someone patenting the iPhone, after it was invented. Although the courts continue to make it harder to get a patent. In particular, the courts may undo the ruling that made it possible to patent "business methods" and software algorithms. Which I think is a good thing these days, a proper swing of the pendulum back towards sanity.

And recently, REM was inspired by Improv Everywhere, and made a video where a bunch of people froze. And now they're arguing, and others are arguing, about who stole the idea from whom. Which is sad because no one really has the copyright on a bunch of people suddenly freezing in a room. Like Apple and Microsoft debating who stole from Xerox first, the world could benefit from more public domain. More ideas just being cool ideas anyone can riff on, rather than every idea ever described belonging to someone.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

They're inside my head!!

Apparently, scientists can read your mind. Well, if they can get you in a brain scanner. They showed a bunch of people pictures of stuff, and now they can tell which picture you're looking at based on the brain image. They know what you're seeing.

This could lead to being able to watch other people's dreams. Which could be bad.