Damn. My Mindstorm creations can barely pull 0.9Gs in a Hummer through the slalom while plinking Coke cans out the window at 1000 yards in high winds with a 9mm. Maybe I need the organic semiconductor cognitive self awareness accessory kit.
I just clicked on this ad from boingboing.net--for obvious reasons, I mean who can pass up a T-shirt that reads "I never wear pants?"--and a T-shirt site started loading. And kept loading. And kept loading. For like a minute! On a 6mbps cable modem connection. Turns out this page causes IE to soak up at least 14 megs of RAM when it loads, just in content--that's on top of about 20 megs that IE uses for its footprint to support all the features called for on the page. That's frightening. And this is a landing page from clicking on a banner ad! In the business have a word for this... actually, we don't, because nobody does this. But a small price to pay from the user perspective, I suppose, to be able to create your masterpiece of self-expression.
I'm going to hell for this. I'm not sure if it will be an intellectual hell or a moral one, but I'm definitely heading that direction in a fairly ballistic manner. Because the best thing to me about this article about Small Beer Press is not that an old essay of Bruce Sterling's about Slipstream is quoted fairly liberally, and not that these people are publishing stuff that almost no one can read and the few of us that do quickly realize we can't have conversations about it with "normal" people because it's so far out there and we barely understand it ourselves. What really strikes me is the awesome fashion statement made by wearing a skirt over jeans! To go there you have to be so pathologically concerned about how fat your ass looks that you might as well wear a 55-gallon oil drum with the two ends cut off. Or maybe not. Some segment of the population apparently finds this to be "hip." Hip. Ouch. But seriously, doesn't this defeat the selling points of both skirts and jeans? I mean take away the skirtily refreshing breeze between the legs and the ass-showiness of jeans and you're left with an ensemble that makes you simultaneously chunky, sweaty and likely to get caught in machinery. Is the statement here supposed to be "I'm so hot, I can get away with anything, and be incredibly uncomfortable doing it!"?
Why oh why would you offer me a Bennigan's Monte Cristo sandwich (or Monte Cristo panini? WTF?!) for $3.99? I've managed to not eat one of these artery-clogging monsters in at least six years. Why bring it up now at an almost irresistible price? What are you trying to do to me, Valpak? Why give me any additional enticement to enter a restaurant that sells something called "Death by Chocolate," the only restaurant dish known to humans that allows one to augment and replenish its hard shell chocolate coating at the table? I think the answer is clear: you're just evil. Evil, evil Valpak.
Bennigan's Monte Cristo sandwich: $3.99 Having a heart attack at age 40: Priceless!
This is why hotmail sucks so badly. Any web site that would have a page called "ThirdParyCookieCheck.srf" is just going to be evil (especially since third-party cookies are technically impossible, illegal or immoral, I can't remember which). But what's really great about this is that .srf is a Sun Microsystems raster graphics file extension. Yeah, so hotmail, one of Microsoft's oldest products, runs its evil marketing cookie handler on Sun, a company it's basically been at war with since both companies existed. And that technology somehow managed to hang a hotmail web page and crash Microsoft's browser in the process. Awesome.
It's all czars all the time at the federal government these days. As of this morning, we have a Piracy Czar! Because, you know, czars have such a great track record. And he's going after China. I like this quote: "Frankly, our goal is to reduce (China's piracy levels) to zero." Really makes you wonder what was replaced by that parenthetical, doesn't it? Because our war on anything (or is that everything?) usually involves blowing shit up.
This article uses the term "ecosystem services" to describe a concept that anyone familiar with the current state of environmental or economic thinking knows about but often doesn't have a word for. It refers to the part of an environmental or economic system where the work is apparently being done by "nature," but in effect what is really going on is the cashing in of environmental assets that have accumulated over a long time. There are examples of this is almost every hot-button environmental debate. Whether it's pumping down millennia-old aquifers in Arizona, cutting down thousand-year-old trees in the Pacific Northwest or pumping out million-year-old oil reserves in the Middle East, almost every booming area or business has one or more of these "ecosystem services" behind it. In fact, there is almost no aspect of our existence where we are not cashing in on the artificially low price of water, oil, coal and all the secondary products that rely on those (like electricity, plastics-based technologies and almost all food). Many people just cut to the chase and call this exploitation, but that kind of pejorative tends to polarize the discussion. "Ecosystem services" on the other hand, isn't very descriptive. Has anyone seen a better, more evocative word for this? It's sort of the opposite of "sustainable" as used by the movement, but since that word and metaphor are already so overwrought I hesitate to further burden them by calling this concept "unsustainability." A bit too loaded and difficult to parse, don't you think?
I've poked around on WorldChanging, since I've actually heard guys from there talk about these issues, but a useful catchphrase doesn't materialize. I think this goes back to what Al Franken was saying at SXSW this year about "framing errors," that liberals have difficulty taking the analysis and debate on a given topic and framing it in such a way that the average person can not only understand what it being discussed, but can listen for more than five minutes without getting bored. There's a good argument that these issues are complex and not easily sound-bitten, but there's a counter-argument that says we're just defending our inability or unwillingness to sell our agenda.
Two parents try to abduct their own baby from the maternity ward. Why? Because they have two other children under the care of social services and were afraid this one would be taken as well. Talk about self-fulfilling paranoia. By the way, the hospital RFID tags I've seen are half the size of the damned baby, so how could they not know it was there?
Some Days Doesn't Google Just Make You Want to Marry It?
Or at least take it to a really nice dinner, get it tipsy on champagne and seduce it in a 4-star hotel room? Okay, maybe not. But they do keep coming up with cool stuff. Like today's Personalized Search. Yes, the creep factor is there. Yes, Google is now going to keep a history of what you search for and use that to influence your future searches (note, however, that A9 has been doing this for at least a year already). Yes this is going to be distracting and potentially embarrassing for people who use Google all day for work and then all night looking for information on Furries. But I know it happens pretty often that I want to go back to a specific pages I clicked on from a Google search and can't for the life of me find it in my polluted, disorganized browser history. And if I'm reading this right, unlike browser history, you can pause the Google history. I think the logical next step is to have a home and work mode for it, but you can accomplish that yourself today just by using two different gmail accounts as your Personalized Search accounts. In fact, extending the idea further, you could have a separate account for each of the unique tasks you perform on your computer. This is assuming any confusion results. Maybe gmail is smart enough to separate your daytime PHP programming searches from your nighttime... whatever.
This post finally explains why Bruce Sterling, sci-fi author turned viridian greenfuturist, took a year "off" to be a design professor. Because in the future (i.e. now, no now, no right now), the future itself will be all ad hoc ephemera: designed in an instant, incorporating the sum total of the past, instantiated on the fly, used for a minute, and repurposed and recycled the next into someone else's reality, like riding a speeder bike full tilt on the holodeck. That is, reality will scroll, just like your browser window. Sterling's just hanging out with the progenitors of all this. So what else is new?
I've been thinking this morning about blogging, again. I know many of you think I'm a complete blog addict and really into the whole technology of blogging, but this is not the case. I'm not quite a blogging Luddite, just as I'm not quite a Luddite in every other sense. Call me more of a hypocritical conscientious objector. I tend to embrace and grok technology while complaining loudly about how much it sucks. I get far more excited about the flaws in things than I do about how insanely great they are. This is just my perspective, and it's variously been labeled, by myself and others, pessimistic, cynical, radical, grumpy, hypocritical and depressive. None of these really captures the full range of my feelings when it comes to technology. As I think I've tried to explain before, I'm mostly just disappointed with technology and the paradox that as good as it ever gets there's always an order of magnitude more that could be done a hell of a lot better.
I'm not one to fall for the "one best way" argument, and even if I was it would be ridiculous to do so at this stage since blogging, as a technology, is still in its infancy (as well as being mostly infantile, but that's a different argument entirely). Still, it's surprising that so much can stay broken for so long. Some of the biggest names in blogging technology simply don't work very well. I've complained loudly in the past about feature limitations and technical problems with Blogger. I talked about the astounding klugeyness and shitty attitude of WordPress. I'm not sure if I've even bothered to mention Technorati because that's basically an insanely-popular service that only ever manages to accomplish 25% of what it claims to be accomplishing at any given moment. I wish I could believe we're fumbling toward ecstasy here, but I'm really not sure. I think we might be fumbling toward and ever-increasing capacity for mindless fumbling.
Let's try a metaphor, introduced by a simile. Let's say that blogging is like working on your car. The perfect environment for this is easy to imagine for anyone who has had to change a brake caliper at 8°F in a snowstorm. What you need is a clean, well-lit, well-organized garage with good climate-control. You need a decent set of lifting equipment, so you can get at any part of the vehicle when you need to--not all the time, not when all you want to do is wax the finish (then maybe you need a stepladder), only when you need to get underneath and do some serious work. Off to the side, not too far away, you need a giant but really well-organized toolbox. Next to that you need a clean, sturdy workbench with a vise. And next to that, if you're really going to wish for the moon, you need a bookshelf with the service manuals for your vehicle and accessories, and if you're really lucky a computerized version of this linked to a nice online parts ordering system. If you're a car enthusiast, this is what you have. You can go out and buy this. Hell, you can pay someone to install it for you if you're in a hurry. What do we as blogging enthusiasts have? Let's take a look:
Blogger. This is like trying to work on your car with just a really cheap flat-blade screwdriver. It works well if you limit your expectations and are prepared for it to break at any moment. But absolutely everyone has a cheap screwdriver and can use it.
WordPress. Take that beautiful, refrigerator-sized Snap-on Tools toolbox, dump it into a heap on your garage floor, and then run over it several dozen times with your monster truck. What you end up with is a nearly-unidentifiable mass of mostly-broken tools. You can probably still accomplish almost anything, but it will take you ten times as long because you'll spend most of your time looking for tools, discovering they don't work right, and then cutting and welding them to make them function.
Technorati. You go to work on your car and find that someone has borrowed all your manuals and half your tools, left grease on everything, and most likely stolen your car and replaced it with a real junker where half the screws are missing, and half (but only half) the remaining ones are metric. Also, each time you turn away and come back, 25% of the parts are missing and 33% are new.
What I don't understand is how these three maintain their rock-star status. Why do people still talk to these guys at parties? Blogger I can sort of see, since they take an unlimited bar tab with them wherever they go. And presumably Wordpress gets by on pure scammer charisma--geek girls want to be with him and geek guys want to be him (with apologies to Deano). And Technorati, maybe, is just the crazy old guy we feel sorry for.
Has anyone even attempted to put forth the ideal blogging environment? Even in one-paragraph metaphorical form as I did above? Are the concepts of clean work environment, well-organized but mostly put-away tools, access to the undercarriage only when needed, and excellent documentation really that hard to specify?
Robot Wisdom labels this image of Robert Altman groping Lindsay Lohan on set "unfortunate." By I say, "Go man, go!" I mean shit, why are you directing at 80 from a wheelchair if not for the opportunity to grope the occasional starlet? It's called "age of consent" people, learn it, live it, love it.
Please, someone, anyone, tell me this is being misinterpreted and that we're not about to make all of this crap permanent. Presumably our legislators have at least had time to read the Patriot Act this time around, so they can't claim ignorance. Now what's the excuse? It was too heavy to carry home in my limousine? My constituents don't want me wasting valuable time reading the legislation I vote for because it takes away from my time with important lobbyists... I mean clients... I mean close personal friends who take me on nice trips and give me envelopes full of cash... I mean defense contractors... I mean setting myself up for a cushy consulting job... I mean the work of the legislature.
Isn't that kind of like saying the corners of the Earth? In any case, apparently the LaGrange points suddenly have strategic importance. I usually avoid Slashdot, but this was just too ridiculous not to comment upon. Reading the headline, I was seriously thinking they meant strategic importance in terms of fighting aliens! Otherwise, these largely theoretical--that is, the actual physics makes them not quite as appealing as the sci-fi physics--points of orbital balance are so far away and so technically challenging to get mass to you might as well site a missile silo on the far side of the moon.
And if you read the journal referenced, the argument is awesome. What do they use as an example? The Falkland Islands! According to the article, Britain didn't "need" the Falklands, but they went to war over it to protect national pride. This is why we need to "plant a flag" at the LaGrange points. So when our national sovereignty is challenged there (in what, 500 years?), we can fight a bogus war over it and regenerate patriotism? Brilliant bit of reasoning, that. Though you can sort of see the contemporary inspiration for the idea.
Um, can you sort of sense here the military-industrial complex urging us on toward perpetual war on the thinnest of justifications?
I'm trying to figure out why I don't have a SCUBA tank. I was out in the pool before cooling off and realizing, as I do every time I dive under, that one of the great visceral luxuries of the human condition is our unique ability as a land-born species to spend an arbitrary amount of time under water. Swimming is good, snorkeling is better, but SCUBA is really the best. Exotic locales aside, there's just something about being able to lie flat on your back on the bottom of a pool, let the water get really calm, and stare up at the sky for 10 minutes. It's meditative in the extreme. This is something you can safely do for about 25 cents worth of SCUBA air if you have the equipment. Weirdly, I have everything to do this except the tank. What's up with that?
This is interesting because I watched The Manhattan Project last night. I was just thinking how this ill-named movie--about a genius teenager who sneaks into an upstate New York plutonium-refining laboratory and steals enough plutonium to make a 50-kiloton bomb and then actually does so--could never be made today, and how amazing it is that it's actually still shown. Not only is it amazing in its political leanings: i.e. that a high school student might be justified in making a nuclear device as a political statement. But also in its technical detail. It basically tells takes you through all the steps necessary to make a nuclear device. And it tells you that this information is available in libraries and on the Internet. And I have to agree that this is okay. The problem is not that people know how to make bombs (which has been true since long before the Internet or even Abie Hoffman) or even that they have access to bomb-making materials (because while I agree that plutonium has no civilian purpose, it's morally arguable and turning out to be logically and logistically prohibitive to connect every purchase of fertilizer and diesel fuel with truck rentals and report such to the FBI, not even taking into account to all the "flying lessons without landings"-type anomalies that crop up in the American experience), but that there are ideologies that permit and require bomb making as a mode of expression. Because people will always have ways of killing other people, en masse or otherwise. Let's work on the why, not the how. If you believe in gun ownership and live under a roof that also shelters "assault weapons" (which many people did, possibly unknowingly and for various technical reasons, under the Clinton administration), then you have to believe in this. Yes, plutonium and C-4 in the public domain equals bad. Let's definitely ask how it's getting there. But let's also ask how people are getting to the point where they feel they have to use it. Because I have the technology to kill a lot of people if I want--I just don't. I could walk out of the house with about 500 rounds of high-power, high-lethality ammunition within 60 seconds of being chambered into highly-accurate and rapid-fire firearms, but I don't. Society as we know it is predicated, more than almost anything else, on the belief, the faith if you will, that I simply won't do that. Not can't, won't. And you know what? It's not even morality that keeps me from doing it. It's an absence of morality, it's a belief in humanity, it's the lack of a need to further my agenda and a logical mindset that tells me that, no matter what (maybe, though there are conditions that might justify revolution, and my right to revolt is even voiced in The Declaration of Independence) there's a better way.
Having access to plutonium and C-4 wouldn't push me over the edge any more than keeping 15-round clips out of the hands of most Americans prevents massacres. But that's how we mostly address it. People who want to kill people find ways to do it. You don't even have to be very smart to accomplish it. Would you rather live in a world that locks down every technique and substance or a world that discourages the furthering of ideologies that exploit those technologies for anti-social purposes?
I think what most bothers me about this kind of discussion is that I feel like I was raised in a climate of second-hand radicalism and now I'm being told that those expectations and ways of thinking are entirely wrong. How do I reconcile that? I know, given the current climate, some people think that their forays into liberalism were misguided, but how do they so easily discount their investigations of radicalism? How did they come to accept this populist viewpoint that the whims of the many invalidate heartfelt beliefs and reasoned arguments of the few, even when the difference between the "many" and the "few" is within the margin of error? And--this is the hardest part to imagine--when did they start to believe that their personal, private interests were in any way associated with the many? I would argue that the many has done nothing but attempt to and succeed in screwing the few over for most of their lives. The few owe the many nothing but scorn and skepticism. And jingoism and white middle classism aside, we're all the few. I don't care who is in power, you owe it to yourself to distrust them and be against them. If I'm wrong, how did I mis-learn this lesson so badly? Because I have to tell you, if the thought police are going to start coming into our houses, mine has to be pretty high on the list.
Knowledge is not the enemy. Technique is not the enemy. The ability to make (or possess) a bomb is no different from the ability to make (or possess) a gun or gasoline. Doesn't it seem like ideologically, if we're going to accept the revolutionary spirit that has gotten us to this point, we have to accept all further expression of that revolutionary spirit? Can we really say that today we must stop, that we're done, that we've reached the pinnacle of human evolution and achievement? We all have a status quo to protect. Part of "getting old" is formulating this status quo. Does every generation's progressivism have to turn to conservatism? Do we all have to be so arrogant that we believe that something we envisioned, either personally or as a generation, is the end-all and be-all?
Am I reading too much into this? Does the reporting of this and me receiving it mean something other than "this should not be out there" or "these people are evil?" Because I would guess that several terabytes of data at Los Alamos trumps an article on bomb belt making in terms of total destructive evil. I mean how much, morally, does our "superior" ideology protect us? I don't believe in "us and them" totality, but taken as an argument, can we use "our" ideology against "theirs" effectively? That seems flawed. And if we don't believe in total transparency, if we don't believe in the ultimate freedom implicit in human free will, if we believe that there are ideas that are so dangerous they must be quashed by totalitarian means, then I'm not sure how we can construct a world we want to live in.
I seriously believe it should not be a crime to speak or write or publish the technique of making a bomb. Thought cannot be a crime. Expression should not be a crime. The power of incitement is in the mind of the beholder and something for justice and the court to decide. But reportage and statement of fact is a long long way from incitement. If thought becomes a crime then we have claimed, through arrogance or ignorance, that we have had every thought that will ever be worth having, that we as a culture are "done," and that will mean we as a species have outlived our usefulness. If we cannot see the difference between allowing an ideology that conflicts with ours and the survival of our ideology, then we are no different from "them." "They" are about controlling thought. We can't afford to be.
Um yeah, maybe because we never heard about it? Seriously, you'd think that having the first U.S. case of a mad cow-infected animal would have been at least a topic of discussion. And I'm not saying it's a local conspiracy to keep quiet on the subject, because clearly at least one local media outlet was reporting on the story. But this certainly didn't percolate up to a point where anyone I know was talking about it. So I guess if the Austin Chronicledoesn't report on it, I don't hear about it until it hits the Google News homepage. This points out a problem with the current state of my media saturation and the filtration I've imposed to maintain my sanity. Makes me wonder what else I'm missing that is potentially going to make me go insane and die.
How'd You Like to Live Downstream from the Plant that Makes This Crap?
When you read "albino wheat," "starchy endosperm" and "mushability" in the same article, what do you think of? That's right folks, Wonder is coming out with a whole-wheat product! I think this is the moment we all realize how misleading the "whole" in whole-grain can be. Mmmm, "dough conditioners."
And according to these graphs, the blogsphere--already a pretty manic bunch--was extra-shocked and worried this morning. I wish there was some explanation for the graphing algorithm, but I suspect we need none for the cause that backs up the quantities. I gather this system polls LiveJournal at intervals to count the number of new blog posts containing certain keywords.
This is perhaps the most simultaneously beautiful and asinine thing I have ever seen on the Internet. A gas grill "attachment" that heats an 8000-gallon swimming pool 20 degrees in 48 hours using "only" 3.5 tanks of propane. Um, dude, that's still $50! Not to mention what has to be several hundred bucks worth of copper pipe and untold hours with a torch (and, oh no, more propane!). By contrast I'm pretty sure my permanently-attached and dedicated pool heater could boil off my entire 10,000-gallon pool in that span of time and for less money.
Nothing Brightens My Day Like a New Species of Cetacean
But especially one with a name like the Australian snubfin dolphin. Yes, it's as tremendously cute as you imagine. Even it's Latin name makes you want to cuddle it: orcaella heinsohni! And it was first mistaken for an "Irrawaddy dolphin." Where do they come up with these names?
By the way, in case you can't tell, I've pretty much moved in to Robot Wisdom. It's like Fark with twice the IQ and half the snarkiness (sorry Drew). And none of the girls in tight T-shirts (sorry everyone else).
I hate poetry. And please, nobody read it to me. And yet occasionally, given a certain brevity and symmetry, even I can handle it. We now return to our regularly-scheduled atonality and lack of meter. (via Robot Wisdom)
I've been reading for a few weeks that Costco's average wage is $16 per hour. This seemed so counter-intuitive given the current retail climate (read: Walmart) that I pretty much ignored it. But I keep seeing this quoted, so now I'm paying attention.
Costco, "forced" by partial unionization to pay its workers almost double and provide a comprehensive benefits package, still out-performs Sam's Club by every profitability metric (obviously not total profit given their size, but per-store, per-employee, stock price performance, etc.). Turns out if you pay more, you attract employees who work harder, treat customers better, and stick around. Who knew? Oh wait, pretty much everyone.
In fairness, I will say that Costco's growth strategy is, so far, different from and more self-limiting than Sam's Club's. Unlike the carpet-bombing expansion the Walmart supply chain has allowed Sam's to accomplish, Costco has cherry-picked the top high-profit suburban markets and--with a 50% higher membership fee--the top high-profit clientele for that matter.
So, apparently, after I figure out The Trouble with Islam, I'm going to catch up on my libertarian rants with Reason and then embrace my inner elitist consumer by reading the The Costco Connection. Not pictured here is all the meat I'll likely grill, but I think that's implied.
Sorry to disappoint, but I probably will not be discharging firearms into the air at any point.
How About an Atkins-Approved Guinness Latte Sportsdrink?
I'd heard rumblings of caffeinated beer, but apparently it's now available. You know, if they made a low-carb version, added a multivitamin, and crammed in 10 grams of protein, I could live on this stuff.
The Future Ain't What It Used to Be, And Here's Why
And so an unbroken line leads from the invention of the telephone, the vacuum tube and the transistor, the awarding of 30,000 patents and six Nobel prizes, to a regional phone company serving Texas and parts of the Southwest. Huh?
That's right folks the local telephone company of Texas--whose services I only subscribe to out of utter paranoia about having hard-wired 911 service due to owning a swimming pool--SBC, has acquired its own progenitor, AT+T.
It's interesting and a little sad, I think, that because nearly everyone we encounter these days "works in computers," the truly astounding science done by a place like Bell Laboratories is trivialized. I mean when everyone has a PC (or three) and a web-enabled cell phone, what's the big deal about inventing the transistor? The interesting thing is that viewed with a long enough lens, the AT+T monopoly actually looks like a socialist enterprise (in fact, some of AT+T's patents were voluntarily socialized consequent with the antitrust process). Because in today's hyper-competitive corporate climate, that's almost what it takes to roll a relatively large percentage of your profits back into basic research. And you know it's basic when it's winning Nobel prizes. A portion of your long distance dollar used to go directly into investigating particle physics and cosmology! You don't see Microsoft and Nokia doing that.
There's a real temptation in our technology-driven culture to think that everything "basic" has already been done. This is because the focus today is on productizing existing inventions. It's much easier (and more profitable) to make a cool new cell phone with twice as many features as last year's than it is to come up with a breakthrough in direct solar-electric energy technology. Of course "unintended benefits" has always been the argument for basic (and not-so-basic, look at the original space program) research. But with the government continuously cutting back on this kind of program, and private enterprise engaged in a do-or-die battle with global competition, this kind of long-term, low-expectation R+D falls by the wayside.
Today we have entire industries that can't agree on standards and sometimes actively conspire to destroy a significant new technology or application (hence the demise of Beta, BlueRay, and other technologies). At first glance open source looks like a possible bright spot in all of this, but consider that open source is very application-oriented--it's not really performing the functions of basic, undirected R+D, but instead is more of a self-organizing outsourcing of the production of technology based on existing science. This is not to say that no one is doing true science. But few institutions are doing it on the scale that Bell Labs could.