Monday, August 31, 2009

1984 a reality?

The British Government is planning to install CCTV cameras in people's homes. So that government workers can monitor the citizens and stop undesired behaviour. Although it's not as completely evil as it sounds at first blush.

The government isn't putting cameras in private residences, but making families who are abusive or neglectful live in government compounds with surveillance and supervision. Still authoritarian, but not quite a plot point from Orwell.

Still, holy crap. And this is proposed by a Labour government.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Google image search includes rights

I don't know how long this has been going on, but it's awesome. When using advanced Google Image Search, you can search for images that are legal to use. Now you can choose to not steal!

Creative Commons had a search tool to comb flickr legally already. And Wikimedia Commons is a great repository of images that are legal to use. But I'm delighted that Google has gotten into the game, too.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why did the Segway fail?

Why was the Segway such a colossal failure? While I think it's because the inventor was used to the medical market and built a product that costs way more than it's worth, Paul Graham has another idea. He thinks it's because the Segway looks too easy.

Segway riders glide effortlessly along the road. If they were positioned in a pose that looked like it was work, and the machine looked like it takes skill to ride, people wouldn't lash out at it as slothful.

He gives some pretty convincing examples.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Carbon eating cement

I didn't know this, but cement creates a lot of CO2. Cement is just about as bad for global warming as cow farts. Which is actually quite bad. Not everyone-in-China-driving-an-SUV bad, but bad.

Which is why cement that absorbs carbon dioxide is so cool. By changing the chemical reactions that make the cement strong, scientists have developed a new form of cement that makes the world a better place instead of a worse one.

Yay, science!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

DRM is bad news

Wal-Mart and others sold music with DRM - copyright protection software that kept you from copying the music. It logged into corporate servers regularly.

Then they got tired of paying to operate those servers. So they shut them down. And all that music you paid for and bought? Gone.

The corporate response? Too bad. What, you thought when you bought that album you'd be able to listen to it forever? For more than 4 years, even? That's ridiculous, the RIAA says. You should be paying us a toll every year to listen to our products, because we can't figure out a way to sell you music that makes enough money for us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A wedding story

You think you know how this marriage story goes. After years of marriage, man comes to woman and says he's leaving, doesn't love her anymore, never did.

But what happens next is amazing and surprising.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bike law

So, on the heels of an awesome bike video, an article makes me want to write about how bikes are treated legally.

Traffic law does need to require bike riders to behave responsibly. We should be allowed to use the road, but we also should be required to obey signs and signals.

But the idea, often floated, of requiring bikes to pay for road-building? Doesn't make sense. We require people to pay vehicle registration fees because a truck does damage to the roads. Over time, we need to maintain the road surface and those fees compensate. Gas taxes are even more fair because you pay based on how much road you use.

But bikes do no damage to the road surface - they weigh far too little. We don't require pedestrians to pay a license to be allowed to walk on the sidewalk; we figure out how to maintain a decent surface by paying for it other ways. Oregon's existing funding system of devoting 1% of all road funding to bike projects is a great way to go: the infrastructure gets built with funding generated by people that use it, and a fringe is created for biking.

Monday, August 24, 2009


My favorite part about this very Portlandy biking video is the backup dancers. I think they're a great cross between music video culture and bike culture.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

I saw District 9 last week. It's a very good movie. A very violent, good movie.

It's about aliens who land in South Africa. But it's really about apartheid. The humans treat the aliens with the same racist contempt that whites treat Africans. And the parallels between the apartheid history and the movie plot are many. But being about aliens you can tell the story without fear of being too honest. And you can use fantasy technology to find a different way out of the problem than is possible in real life.

It's interesting how in the movie the humans keep the aliens oppressed, even though the aliens have superior technology. But their technology is all broken down, or the humans take all their weapons away from them. Of course, this parallels the Colonial experience: so long as you have superior weaponry, you can control the natives, but there's a constant fear that they will rise up and overthrow and take control themselves.

District 9 based on a 6 minute short film with the same premise, but doesn't explore the themes in the same way. It's called "Alive in Joburg".

Saturday, August 22, 2009

First Person shooter with real guns

With a few motion sensors, you can make a first-person shooter that uses real guns.

Or shovels.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Godwin's law

Are we really surprised that people are comparing Obama to Hitler?

I guess it's pretty cynical, but these days with people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh willing to advance the most insane allegations, it's not surprising that ridiculous over the top allegations are being made.

Although when you think about it, it's ridiculous. If Obama was Hitlerian, all the people who are yelling about how bad he is would be in jail. Or worse.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Star Wars makes no sense

John Scalzi wrote recently about flaws in the Star Wars universe.

I enjoyed his list very much. Until he said he's coming for Star Trek next.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Microsoft Word violates patent?

A court in Texas has banned Microsoft from selling Word there. Allegedly Word violates a patent. This seems unlikely to hold up to much scrutiny. This judicial district is known to be the place to go to sue giant corporations for violating stupid patents. I think, and indeed hope, that this patent will be thrown out as obvious, and Microsoft will be allowed to continue to make giant tons of money.

I'm no fan of Microsoft overcharging and invading markets. But the patent system is broken, letting people hijack truly creative work and claim it as their own. In this case in particular, if the random company that holds this patent wins, then the XML standard is dead. Instead of having a standard format for documents we can all send to each other, they'd want a fee every time you save a file. Which none of us would pay - we'd just go back to having to pay attention to file formats. Until XML 2 comes along.

The patent office needs 3 times the funding they have, so they can reject stupid crap like this to begin with. And the patent and copyright law needs to be changed so that you actually have to invent something to patent it, not just wave your hands in the air and describe something cool. Makes me want to patent "method for delivering chemical for cancer treatment" and then sue the crap out of the drug companies.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Using Games to balance your brain

Some guy on the internet had an interesting insight: some of us use games to keep our brain load balanced. When life is full of mental challenges, those of us who like games play games with simple rules as a distraction. When the complexity of life goes down, we play much more complicated games.

I can say this is true of me lately. For most of the past year, my life was full. I played simple games on the computer, seeking escape from the hard work of life. But I've had a break in the past few months, and I dusted off my copy of FreeCiv and have been fascinated by the complexity. I think in another month the pendulum will swing back the other way.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Kindle deletion aftermath

So, Amazon deleted copies of books that people had bought. That's a creepy amount of power for a corporation to have, even if they refunded the money.

But of course, they're being sued because the deletion made a kid's homework notes useless.

Never mind that this kid is clearly ridiculously wealthy, it's good to get corporate power under control before everyone is using the technology.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Take Back the Beep

David Pogue has an excellent post at the NY Times about how cell phone companies rob us with their instructions on how to leave a message.

The cell phone companies want to make as much money as possible. That's why text messages that cost them a hundredth of a cent to cent cost us 20 cents. (And 20 cents to the person you send it to!) So of course, they put a 15 second message on your voicemail before the beep, on the off chance that the person leaving a message is a customer, and they can charge them for the airtime. Even if I record my own outgoing message, theirs is there and I can't turn it off.

And of course you can't press the same button on every system to skip the message.

So: Pogue calls us to revolution. Complain. Complain to the phone companies about the ridiculous practice of adding instructions on how to leave a message. Here's where to complain:

* Verizon: Post a complaint here:

* AT&T: Send e-mail to Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations:

* Sprint: Post a complaint here:

* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here: