Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Retro Incabulator

The Retro Incabulator is an excellent iterative improvement on the classic Turbo Encabulator, enhancing many of the superlative design features while preserving core functionalities. The Retro Incabulator leverages your resource management capabilities while utilizing optimal analysis potential.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Privacy in the 21st century

As any good constitutional scholar knows, whether the government is "searching" you depends on whether you have an "expectation of privacy". The problem with this legal concept is that as new technology has emerged, no one has an expectation of privacy anymore.

Bruce Schneier writes about the need for a new legal concept of privacy. He cites three different law professors who agree with the diagnosis, but have very different solutions to the problem.

It's an interesting problem. I expect my phone calls and emails to be private. But at the same time, I expect the government (at least between 2001 and 2009) to be listening to my phone calls and reading my email. I don't think it's RIGHT, and I think it should continue to be illegal. But new technology makes our expectations change.

Friday, March 27, 2009

R rated movies

Some nerds are worried that since Watchmen didn't make a ton of money, studios will stop making R rated movies out of comics.

Honestly, what puzzles me more is how The Dark Knight was R rated to begin with. Sure, there wasn't gore or nudity, but that was a scary, violent movie. I guess if the fear is in your mind instead of in the images you can show it to middle school kids. They only have to be 17 to see it instead of just imagine it and have nightmares for days.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nature finds a way

One idea to reverse climate change is to feed algae iron in the oceans, causing them to grow rapidly, sucking carbon dioxide out of the air.

Problem is, when they tried it, the algae got eaten.

Although I don't quite follow why that's a problem. If the algae become part of their predators' flesh, the carbon is still sequestered. I suppose most of the algae carbon ends up being exhaled in the animals' breath, though. Which is a problem. One you think they would have foreseen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Graffiti stop motion

An artist named Blu made this in Germany and Brazil. It's pretty cool.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sheep Art

Some welsh sheep farmers (funded by a major corporation) create some pretty hilarious art through shepherding. I think. It'd be pretty easy to fake on a computer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Autism Cluster

If we knew what causes autism, we might better understand why Somalian immigrants' children get it more often in Minneapolis.

I wish the anti-vaccine people would see the data that vaccines just happen at the same time as autism, but don't cause it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I don't want to live in Australia

You know, I didn't really want to live in Australia before. But now that I read about their censorship efforts, I really don't want to.

You know, it's one thing to ban certain websites. There are some things I want made illegal, like child porn and horrific violence. But banning the LIST of what's banned? That's not reasonable. That opens the door to all sorts of abuses of power, letting people who decide what's banned shut down all manner of things they happen to not like.

In this case, Australia has censored the list of websites which are banned in Denmark. Which makes no sense to me. Sigh.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


In addition to Scratch, there are other open game-designing/programming engines out there. A cousin pointed me to a game on Playcrafter, which is designed specifically for building games.

Man. Used to be you'd need very expensive equipment to build even the most basic of computer programs. Now you can download a fairly complicated game in seconds over the internet. Change is pretty awesome. We'll just need to figure out a new way to report on news.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Free Speech ruling in Boston

A troubling ruling in Boston about free speech. A court ruled that a boss libeled a former employee by emailing fellow staff that he had been fired for failing to follow expense policies.

The problem is that it was true. Usually to libel someone you have to have lied about them, spreading some rumor that is false. (And often you have to have known it was false.)

If this ruling were to become the law of the land, I could be sued for saying that the Bush administration condoned torture, because to say that defames the reputation of Mr Bush and Mr Cheney. But I should be allowed to say it - that's what free speech is for. And I'm not the one who injured their reputations - they damaged their reputations by authorizing torture. I'm just repeating the fact. And publicizing facts that powerful people don't want public is something important to protect.

To be fair, this ruling is about a private individual, not a public figure. Hopefully the appeals courts will note this distinction.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nationalize the Banks. Please.

Thomas Friedman makes the case that we're still not doing enough to stop the banking crisis. That the stimulus was a good start, but we need to triple it, and we need a major bank smackdown that somebody's not going to like.

I formed most of my opinion listening to This American Life. They explain what the problem is, and the two main solutions - a bailout that consumers suck up, or a nationalization that bankers hate. Either we just give banks a pile of money to fix the problem - which means taxpayers just kiss that money goodbye - or we have the government take the banks over, which is what the IMF makes every other nation in the world do when their banks fail in exactly this way. That is also the approach with regional problems here, like when a bunch of banks in Texas and Oklahoma failed.

The objection to nationalizing the banks is that it's socialism. Which is a pathetic, ideological whine. After 8 years of ideology over policy leading to an unnecessary war and the destruction of an American city, I'd rather that people who won't accept a "socialist" solution on principle just shut up and sit down. But there probably is another critique.

The government taking over the banks is a big job. And while government is capable of many things, running an economy isn't something they've shown talent for, historically. But this critique is flawed, too. When other banking systems fail, the nationalization is temporary. Within a couple years, after all the problems are sorted out, the banks are sold back into the marketplace. And I like the solution of nationalization for another reason. The bankers are guilty, and deserve consequences.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Death of the Seattle PI

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is no more.

If all the reporters who got laid off had other work, and the stories they report on were still being reported, it would be a quaint anecdote about technological change, like the stopping of manufacture of Betamax tapes or tape cassettes or 8-track tapes. Tapes.

But since craigslist mortally wounded the financial model of the newspaper, no one has figured out how to fund professional reporters finding out stuff that bad people don't want us to know. Hopefully some genius will crack the code and make millions.

The New York Times collated several opinions observing that we're going through a revolution. That in time we will find ways to get and share news that will make the newspaper seem silly in retrospect. I just hope we get something better than what TV provides now, because TV news sucks. (Except Jim Lehrer, but nobody watches him.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who's watching me type this?

It's disturbingly easy to monitor what people are typing on their computers.

Turns out that most computer keyboards are tiny radio transmitters when you type on them. And with $500 and some skillz, you can detect what people are typing up to 20 meters away.

If you're French, at least.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mother of all Funk Chords

This video is awesome. And brings up massive copyright issues. If remixing lots of instrumental solos into a brilliant piece of music is wrong, then it stops people from doing amazing new, creative works of art. Yes, the artists who were remixed were infringed, but any reasonable theory of copyright can't possibly see this work as diminishing the market for their performances. I would have never watched any of them before, but now I'm curious to see the individual parts that fed into the whole, even unwittingly.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Torture Bad. Kindness Works.

In the "debate" about torture, which it shames me to think we're having at all, one fact needs to be elevated - even above the moral objections.

Torture doesn't work. The best way to interrogate our enemies is with kindness. When politicians wail "do you think our enemies will talk to us if we just give them a hug?" the answer is yes. Yes they will.
It's not just a hug. It's a long, slow process of conversation and understanding, and persuading them that we respect them and honor things that are important to them. And in a century of warmaking, it's worked.

And I've had enough of putting what seems "tough" ahead of what actually works.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nano War

I don't think it has anything to do with nanotechnology, but a Frenchman created a new online strategy game. It's pretty interesting. Very simple, but requiring enough strategic planning to hold my interest.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Sec. of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday that he didn't think Afghanistan would become a Valhalla overnight.
"Really, what I was trying to differentiate was goals that are 10 or 20, 30 years in the future in terms of a completely democratic, corruption-free, fully economically developed ally," Gates says. "That's the Valhalla, and I think that's a little ways in the distance."

Poor choice of metaphor for paradise. What with Valhalla being a place where everyone has a drunken party before a bloody battle that eventually kills everyone present. I don't think that's our goal for Afghanistan. I think even Olympus is a pretty chaotic place. Maybe Eden is what he was trying to say. (What's your favorite paradise metaphor?)

I can see that he'd be trying to avoid Christian metaphors so as not to offend a Muslim nation. But any Afghani who knows Norse mythology should be pretty pissed off at his choice of metaphor. Oops.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Science Fiction TV

Bryan Fuller wants to make a new Star Trek. The idea is fascinating.

Fuller has made some brilliant TV shows in the last few years, although he does have a history of being canceled. Although just because Fox likes destroying good television doesn't mean it's not good. And while Pushing Daisies failed to grow an audience, the creativity in that show was frenetic. It was absolutely bursting with energy and ideas, characters that were endearing but surprising. I'd be curious to see what Fuller does with Star Trek, but sadly expect it to play for 6-13 episodes before vanishing into the mist.

I wonder if it all boils down to the fact that TV is anathema to art. Most people don't turn to TV for novelty and weird experiences that expand their brain. Most people want TV to comfort them. Disturbingly, when we watch favorite TV shows, our brain responds to familiar characters in the same way that it responds to the faces of our friends in the real world. Hopefully things like Dr. Horrible present the possibility of a future of actual creativity in entertainment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bike Hero

If you've never seen Guitar Hero, this may not make any sense.

If you have, it's awesome.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Egg Basketball Drop

I'm in another video. This time, I drop things on top of other things.

I can't really catch this well. 12 takes; 12 eggs.

Monday, March 9, 2009


I wouldn't download an emulator for a legacy game system. Because that would be a violation of copyright law. Nor would I download ROM files of various classic games, because again that would also be a violation of copyright law. And I wouldn't do that. Nor would I confess to breaking such a law in print, in a forum like this one.

Besides, if I had downloaded copies of games from my youth that I enjoyed greatly at the time, then I'd be spending all my time playing them instead of doing other things I need to get done. Escaping from the current stresses of economic uncertainty into low-resolution 8-bit fantasy worlds. Which I'm not, despite the amazing fact that games that used to cost me $50 are only 85 KB in size, small enough not only to download to my computer, but small enough to play online as web games.

I feel old. And innocent of breaking any laws.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Security Incentives

There are incentives that work, that motivate people to do things right and make the world a better place. Then there are the incentives that drive the security industry.

It's not about keeping you or me safe. It's about protecting corporations from lawsuits. Airlines aren't interested in keeping planes from blowing up because they care about our lives. They just know that if a plane explodes we'll all stop flying. And if a plane exploded, all the survivors would sue them for a lot of money.

Nobody wants to spend money on things that actually make us safer, but they do want to spend money on things that make it not their fault if we get hurt.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dead Men Pay No Bills

Well, actually, dead people pay off debt faster than most people. Because their relatives feel an obligation to. Despite the fact that they don't - have an obligation. Survivors of dead people owe creditors nothing if they inherit nothing.

Debt collectors are scum of the earth.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Interruption makes stuff better

A surprising result from the science recently: ads make TV better.

We knew that the ads were supposed to be the best part of the TV programming, because it's the goose that pays for all the bad eggs of shows that are out there.

But because we quickly get used to something, interrupting it with pauses refreshes it for our brains, and we like new stuff. Our attention is better held by something that has several breaks in it. (I know I get bored in meetings at work that last more than 90 minutes.)

I suspect TV executives knew this a long time ago. Now all of us can use this power, some of us for good!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Moral panics

The media likes to tell us stories that scare the crap out of us. Even if they're not true.

One commmon trope that they use is a moral panic, specifically that our children aren't as innocent as we were when we were kids. Ignoring the fact that kids today are plenty innocent, and our memory of our own innocence is extremely faulty.

I'm all in favor of protecting kids from things they aren't ready to deal with. Educating them at the level they're at, and not showing them too much about the horrors of the world. (The fact that lots of children live in the horrors of the world is a whole other speech.) But the media takes this reasonable intention and whips it up into a frenetic lather of panic with no basis in reality.

We're just not well adapted to having TV news from around the world.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Repropagandizing NCLB

The New York Times has an entertaining summary of people playing at renaming Bush's NCLB law.

I'm a fan of the Could We Start Again Please act.

Although I'm tempted to coin something like the Future Academic Improvement Law. Or the Kids And Teachers Rebuilding Infrastructure Nationally Act. Or the Barack Obama Law For Kids Who Can't Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too.

Lots more ideas are here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Twin Town

Apparently a town in Brazil has way more twins than normal. It's unclear whether it's just a statistical anomaly, or just a genetic cause, or if there's actually something in the water.

My bet is that it's just randomness. There has to be a twin cluster somewhere. Why not Brazil?