Thoughts Made Words
Todd Hoff's Weblog.

Radio Home

Click to see the XML version of this web page.

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Radio User Land was originator in the blog field, but now they are packing it in. So I've had to move. The new location for my blog is at:

Please come by and visit me at my new home. No home warming gift is necessary :-)

comment[] 2:12:06 PM       digg   reddit

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why Some Photographs Look Alive and Others Look Dead

Artists have long worked at portraying a sense of dynamism in static sculptures and two dimensional paintings. To this end Greeks developed a technique called symmetria - dynamic counterbalance between the relaxed and tensed body parts and between the directions in which the parts move.

Look at the Egyptian sculpture and notice how static it feels. The purpose behind Egyptian art was political and religious. It was used to solidify the role of the Pharaoh as the rightful leader, the only legitimate contact between the sacred and profane worlds. So their art is impressive and enduring, but there's no sense of movement.

Now look at the Spear-Bearer by Polyclitus. It has a life to it that you don't see in Egyptian art. Look closely and you can start to see how this animated feeling is accomplished. Look at how the left knee is bent and the right knee is straight. The left foot is back and turned out. The right foot is forward and turned the other way. The hips are gently shifted the right and the torso is slightly twisted. The right arm is straight and the left arm is up and bent. The spear angles and forms a diagonal with the right hand. The two knees form an opposite diagonal. The head is turned slightly to the right and is looking off passed us. The muscles are clearly defined leading the viewer to imagine that this man has fought and is ready for action.

All these little "tricks" don't consciously surface, but the overall impression is one of liveness and rhythm. I've wondered how this technique developed. It's so clever, so subtle, and works so well. Where did it come from?

Now take a look at the picture of two lionesses playing in the wild. It may look like the lionesses are fighting, but they are really just having a grand old time. When I saw this picture (see Stuart Brown: Why Play is Vital) for the first time symmetria alarm bells immediately went rang a lang a ding dang in my head.

Compare Lionesses Playing with the Spear Bearer. Amazing similarities. Notice how alive this frozen two-dimensional snapshot of time feels. I've taken a lot of pictures of things in action and they usually feel lifeless and dead, so I know the feeling of liveness just doesn't come from the fact that they are moving. I think it feels so alive for reasons of symmetria. Notice the twist in the bodies, diagonals of the paws, parallel of the tails, diagonal of the head, twist in the heads, the correspondence between the feet, and the muscled arcs of the trunks in flight.

Taken together all these effects make the picture feel vibrantly and gloriously alive. Maybe an ancient Greek artist witnessed a similar scene thousands of years ago and thought hey, we can do that in sculpture!

comment[] 1:23:38 PM       digg   reddit

Monday, February 23, 2009

Grandma's Tips on Surviving Depression 2.0

My 93 year old Grandma thinks things are looking pretty bad these days, which is saying a lot for a women who survived the Great Depression. I asked her how they made it through those tough times. Her advice sounds a lot like what would work today.

The American People Have to Learn to Cut Down

Grandma was raised on a farm in North Dakota and she said they simply didn't have any money. Something she thinks people these days probably can't understand at all because people still seem to have money now. They were lucky even to buy food. Until Roosevelt there was absolutely no government help at all. Nothing. People were on their own.
  1. People didn't have luxuries.
  2. If they could afford shows they were worn  for a couple of years and were fixed, not thrown away.
  3. Clothes were handed down. New clothes were rare and they usually made clothes themselves.
  4. If families even had a car there was just one car per family at most.
  5. Kids walked to school. She walked 3 miles to school unless the weather was really bad.
So learn to do with less. When you have less you don't need as big an income to survive and you can ride out anything.

Learn How to Cook

They didn't eat out in those days. Food was prepared and eaten at home. They bought beans and rice in 100 pound sacks.  They made lots of soup, especially using cabbage grown in their garden and beef bones when they had them. To this day she still doesn't like beans because they had so much of them.

Grow Your Own Food

They had a big garden where they grew potatoes, carrots, greens, and tomatoes. Then they would can food so they could eat in the winter.

No Debt

Credit cards didn't exist so they saved up if  they wanted to buy something. She doesn't have any debt to this day. I would think a lot of people from her generation kept those habits all their lives. It's the later generations that reacted to times of plenty by wanting plenty more.

I asked what they did about medical care. She said they didn't go to the doctor or the hospital that often, but when they did they worked out a payment plan. They would pay a little each month or at harvest times. Eventually it did get paid off.

It was definitely a different time. The US in that era was still largely rural, still largely farmers, and the population was tiny compared to now. It's hard to imagine how our urban population could live without money as the entire economy is based on money. But even if the world has changed the things they did back then to survive make a lot of sense now, even if it's not the path to a continual series of double-digit growth projections.

comment[] 12:37:39 PM       digg   reddit

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What I've Changed My Mind About: Was the Civil War the Best Way to End Slavery in the US?

Each year the Edge Foundation asks leading world thinkers a big smart sounding question. In 2008 the question was What have you changed your mind about?. I'm not a leading world thinker, and nobody asked me, but I've come to change my mind on a serious issue and it's worth talking about because it's something that not too long ago I could never have pictured myself changing my mind about. 

The issue is: Was the Civil War the Best Way to End Slavery in the US? And by extension: is the military approach effective at solving a broad class of social problems?

Growing up on the West Coast of the US the need for the Civil War to end slavery was unquestioned. After all, if there's something bad we appoint a czar and make war against it. Drugs are bad so we make war. Cancer is bad so we make a war. Illegal immigration is bad so we make a war. Terrorism is bad so we make a war. Saddam Hussein was bad so we made war against Iraq.

This is a type of thinking we are comfortable with: X is bad so kill it. Kill or be killed. An eye for an eye. If we don't like it, kill it. It's an easy and conforting approach to problem solving. No thinking required.

Interestingly though when it came to the one of the biggest evils of all--Soviet Union--we did not destroy them. In fact, we never directly attacked them. We played a long game. We outwitted and outlasted until now Russia is now more or less (often less) part of Western economic life and culture. China is being handled in a similar way.

So when we think someone can hurt us we play the long game, but when we think we can win we play the short game of change through superior fire power. Notice that a long game based on values, patience, and intelligent structured interactions are the only games we seem to win.

As a child I never questioned that the Civil War was necessary. Even as an adult I followed the "if X is bad kill it" way of thinking on the Civil War, even though this approach has been proven not to work against many if not most problems.

I've recently read a book called the Greatest Emancipations: How the West Abolished Slavery by Jim Powell that changed my thinking on how the US chose to fight slavery. And I think the implication goes far beyond slavery and how we "fight" other "wars" as well.

This is a fascinating book that is filled with a history that I had no idea about before reading the book. The key points:

  1. For thousands of years slavery went unchallenged as a way of life.
  2. In a single century slavery was abolished in the West.
  3. Only the US resorted to a Civil War to abolish slavery.
  4. The more violence involved in the emancipation process the worse the outcomes were.

In the Civil War 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died. Perhaps more than 80,000 civilians died, most of them Southerners. Entire adult populations were wiped out in many communities.  An estimate $1 billion to $1.5 billion in property was destroyed in the South. The South experienced runaway inflation. Most of the fighting occurred in the South and everywhere was ruin and desolation. 

The point is that the South suffered greatly. And like Germany after WWI, if you suffer there's not much room for change in your heart. It fuels vengence and hate and those twin powers can last forever.

John Wilks Booth was outraged at the suffering of the Confederacy and showed his displeasure by murdering Lincoln. Booth did a good job furthering his cause. Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, was nothing like Lincoln and was prepared to let the South go its own way. The North won the war, but the white supremacists won the after-war.

What I didn't know when I was younger is abolishing slavery in the South didn't really fix the problem. Without these elements Powell asserts a society can't be truly free:
  • Constitutional limitations on government power.
  • Rule of law.
  • Equal rights.

    After the Civil War Blacks still had none of these. The problem was after such a long brutal war it was impossible to put aside the intense hatreds and meet together in reconciliation. When Northern soldiers eventually ended their occupation, pulling out of the South, it became impossible to keep a free society. What followed was an attempt to reenact slavery by other means.

    In 1865 Mississippi instituted Black Codes. The ability of former slaves to buy land, rent rooms, and enter various professions was severely limited. A pass was needed for a black person to go from one plantation to another plantation.  Without their employer's permission a black person couldn't travel on a highway. In Alabama blacks could only become farmers, no other occupation was permitted. In Opelousas Louisiana only servants could live in town. In Florida, the punishment for breaking a contract was whipping for a black person.  In Louisiana blacks were fined for missing work for any reason other than illness. It was illegal for blacks to hunt, fish, or own livestock because this interfered with their work on the plantation. Interracial marriage was banned as was gun ownership. Blacks couldn't serve on juries or testify against white people.

    And so it went through Reconstruction and long after Reconstruction faded into a forgotten purpose. This is far worse than the separate drinking fountain story we are typically told about life after the Civil War.

    The military strategy simply didn't work. The Civil War didn't change hearts or minds. The South was not convinced slavery was wrong. Blacks were barely better off. And an incredible resoluteness of purpose was forged in Southerners by the war. It became impossible to follow the non-violent abolitionist approaches that had worked elsewhere in West.

    I knew very little of this history before reading Greatest Emancipations.

    If a Civil War didn't really free the slaves in the true sense of the word, then the war didn't work. Easy to say of course given I'm a modern white person looking back on the lives of Black slaves. But I can't imagine a Civil War followed by another 100 years of near-slavery was what anyone had in mind.

    So if war didn't work, what might have worked? What worked in other abolitionist movements? In his last chapter Powell addresses an alternate strategy for emancipation that has a lot of merit. The major points of his strategy are:

    1. multiple strategies - no single strategy, including war, would have abolished slavery and secured equal rights in the US. Multiple strategies had to be perused to reduce the population of slaveholders and slaves, increasing the population of free blacks and the number of people who supported emancipation.
    2. slave rebellion - a reminder that slaves were able to help themselves and that slavery was a risky business.
    3. change public opinion  - abolitionist campaigns that involved publications and speaking tours, aimed at generating public rejection of slavery and support for emancipation.
    4. elect sympathetic politicians  - campaigns aimed at electing politicians who would support restrictions, then outright bans, on the slave trade, and on slavery itself.
    5. encourage runaway slaves  - give encouragement and assistance for slaves who were brave enough to run away from their owners.
    6. purchase and free slaves - raise private funds to buy the freedom of slaves.
    7. pay slaveholders to get out of the business  - use taxpayer funds for slaveholders who get out of the slavery business and emancipate their slaves.

      The beauty of this approach is that it is an interlocking and self-reinforcing set of policies. By encouraging slaves to escape and by buying the freedom of slaves, slave-free zones are created that are beachheads for further expansion. When the North agreed to return run away slaves they dealt a tremendous blow the to abolitionist movement. In turn, as the number of slaves decline so to does the power and influence of the slaveholder. This puts pressure on the slaveholders to negotiate with slaves so there would be a labor force to harvest crops. And as the influence of slaveholders dwindles other people would look elsewhere for income and these people would be more inclined to support emancipation. Slaveholder power would shrink. As slaveholders came under multiple angles of attack the offer of a buy out would become more and more attractive.

      These approaches had already proved themselves in other regions. For example, paying slaveholders to get out of the business was very effective in the British Caribbean and in Brazil.

      At the time the couldn't have know this, but in their near future industrial inventions were soon to put an end to the need of having large number slave workers to work the land. The pressure for large populations of low cost labor would have been removed. The South would have also found itself economically isolated as all other Western nations would be out of the slave trade and actively punishing those who were still using slaves, both for economic and moral reasons.

      The end result of this system of policies would have been the steady erosion and the relatively quick ending of slavery. The great divide would not have occurred between the North and South and uncountable lives would have been saved.

      But in my head I still think that's all good, but what if I were a slave? What would I think then? Maybe as a slave I wouldn't be so happy about this taking it slow approach at my expense. But it's clear the war wasn't a shortcut, it didn't work, and it created deep and long lasting divisions in the US that have yet to fully heal.

      I can't be sure if the likes of Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois would agree, but on balance since freedom and equality for slaves was the end goal it would have made more sense to pursue a more strategic and persistent approach instead of a military solution. And that's why I changed my mind on the US Civil War.

      Now, doesn't much the same logic apply to most of the other problems we are "solving" militarily?
  • comment[] 5:20:54 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    For a reason without reason I've always dreamed of riding in a zeppelin. No, not the Led variety. I'm not a groupy. I finally got my chance thanks to Airship Adventures. Here are a few pictures from the trip:

    Despite my lack of photography skills it was a picture perfect day. No wind and a blue sunny sky. Zeppelins are creatures of the wind. Too much wind and they can't fly. A couple on our trip were reschedulees from a wind day. We took the trip out of Moffet field. We originally signed up for the Sonoma trip but they had some issues with the landing field so we rescheduled. There's also an Oakland trip the goes out to the bay. I'm thinking I'll eventually hit them all. They also mentioned they eventually plan on a barnstorming type trip which will move along the coast. That would be a blast. Our trip went over 101 to San Mateo and back again. Not the fall colors of wine country but it was still gorgeous.

    If you are expecting something the size of the Hindenburg you'll be disappointed. These beasts are about 1/3rd the size and carry 12 passengers instead of 100. On the inside aren't the luxurious appointments of a gilded age, but functional seating meant for tourists on a short excursion. It's not claustrophobic on the inside (and I'm claustrophobic). All around you are windows so you can see from any angle. A few windows open so you can take pictures without window glare. The whole back end is a window with a window seat so you can look, sit, and contemplate. More than enough room and comfort for our 1 hour tour. And there is a tiny teeny bathroom if the need should arise (complementary picture included).

    Saying zeppelins are creatures of the wind gets directly to heart of what makes zeppelin riding different than a plane or helicopter ride. Zeppelins do not stay still. They are always moving. This makes getting on and off a zeppelin more of an adventure than expected. To get on the zeppelin is moving towards you and you have to scurry up the entry stairs on the fly. Same with getting off. It's quite a lot of fun and adds a bit of spice. The support people have all this worked out so you don't have to worry about anything going wrong. It's no problem.

    Seeing the world from a 1000 feet is a completely different experience. We are either high up in the air or on the ground. Trawling slowly close to the ground but still high above allows you to see patterns you may have never seen before. Some of my favorite pictures are of the sinuous river ways that lign the bay in contrast to the compulsively square shapes humans inflict everywhere. We humans love our boxes, right angles, and straight lines. Where is Antonio Gaudi when you need him? I Iike the contrast here:

    Someone went wild and made a circular shape:
    How crazy is that? It stood out amongst the Roman inspired order of everything around it.

    Another noticeable pattern is you can tell where people have money. It doesn't take a genius to know when you've hit Atherton:

    Though most houses are boring, company campuses have a little creativity:

    And there were a lot of buildings where I wonder what is that?

    There's not much green space for people to play in. We cram every spare inch with a house or something. It's hard to exercise when everything is covered in pavement. It would be nice to plan that out a little better so malls weren't the only place to get away.

    I also really had no idea how much wet lands we had:

    Spectacular to look at from above. Endless gorgeous patterns. And that's what I'll take away from this wonderful trip.

    comment[] 10:59:45 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Web 2.0 Won't Die Because it Excites Young Minds

    With the recent financial crisis we're continually exhorted grow up and drop this Web 2.0 nonsense. Move into more dignified niche revenue opportunities. Stop wasting everyone's time with this new-age hippie free ad stuff. There's no time for such foolishness. Be serious. It's as if I can hear my Grandpa whispering in my ear. Well, Web 2.0 ain't going anywhere because it excites young minds.

    I attend meetups around Silicon Valley and I'm amazed at the youth and vitality I see at the Facebook and other Web 2.0ish events. People are excited. It's not just about early exits and large cash. People are genuinely excited about the tech, even if nobody is quite sure how it works or what to do with it--yet.

    A historical parallel exists: the discovery and practical application of electricy. A microcosm of the excitement electricity generated in young soon-to-be scientists can be found in the life of Hans Christian Oersted. Oersted in the 1800s was ready to follow in his father's footsteps as a respected Danish pharmacist. But the new phenomena of electricity captivated his thoughts and he shifted careers. At that time the wonder electricity would become wasn't obvious at all. Studying it was a risk as there were no practical applications of electricity, but minds were drawn to it because they sensed in electricity something new, different and interesting. And in 1820 Oersted discovered electricity and magnetism were a unified force. Until that time they had been considered to be different forces. As a Kantian philosopher Oersted assumed there where deep unifying links behind phenomena, so he was able to find the unification of electricity and magnetism when the more conventionally minded did not.

    Fast forward to Web 2.0 and the constant heap of disdain shoveled on making "stupid" zombie applications on Facebook. The first electrical devices were simple too, devices like buzzers and telegraphs. These simple devices were made possible by understanding the nature of electricity and magnetism. With that knowledge it was possible to translate electrical potential into magnetic and kinetic energy. As understanding deepened, the miracles worked with electricity came to define the 20th century and make it different than any time before.

    While Facebook zombie apps may not seem impressive, they are similar to the buzzer in that they show practical applications of  phenomena still being researched and unified. Only this time it's not using electricity to turn a clapper on and off as in a buzzer, it's working out viral marketing, viral distribution, viral program design, viral loops, social networks, lifestreaming, sites as platforms, platforms as APIs, data portability, monetization strategies, mobile applications, friending, long tails, and so on.

    Web 2.0 isn't going anyway. There's a deep sense something is going on here and young minds want to figure out what it is. Our James Maxwell, who found four equations codifying every aspect of electromagnetism, has yet to be found for Web 2.0, but that won't stop the young from looking and being unapologetically excited about it. When historians define the 21st century, the roots of the miracle technology may just have started in silly zombie games.

    comment[] 7:00:40 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Rules For Superior Stories

    Charles Tilly in his book Why? distills down the rules for how Jared Diamond takes complicated ideas in books like Guns, Germ, and Steel and whittles them down to an essential yet still interesting essence:
    • Simplify the space in which your explanation operates.
    • Reduce the number of actions and actors.
    • Minimize references to incremental, indirect, reciprocal, simultaneous feedback effects.
    • Restrict your account--especially of causal mechanisms--to elements having explicit, defensible equivalents within the specialized discipline on why you are drawing.
    • Remember your audience: you will have to tell your superior story differently depending on the knowledge and motivation your listeners will bring to it. Think of your stories as relational work.

    comment[] 1:58:48 PM       digg   reddit

    The Lifecycle of a Typical New Product Announcement

    Look at enough new product announcements and there appears to be pattern. The same sorts of articles are posted on every product. So why not jump ahead of the curve? When a new product comes out see which of the following you want to sign up for:
    1. Rumor of X's Imminent Release. Oh Joy!
    2. X Has Just Launched! Live blogging now.
    3. How X Will Change Everything
    4. The Real Reason Behind X
    5. X First Impressions
    6. Warning: X has Serious Issues (performance, security, privacy, crash, design, licensing, etc)
    7. X Who Wins and Who Looses
    8. X FAIL
    9. Why X Sucks
    10. X is Better Than Everything Before and After Forever
    11. Why Y is Really Better than X
    12. The Story Behind Project X
    13. X Will Get These New Features Eventually
    14. Company Y Announces Support for X
    15. Indepth Review of X Here First
    16. X Looks Good But Not Yet Ready
    17. What X Means for the Plans of Company Y
    18. How You Can Make Old Product Z Work Like X Now
    19. X Over Hyped and Under Performs
    20. X is Now Bigger than Product Y
    21. Why Did We Ever Care About X in the First Place?
    22. I Wasted an Hour of My Life Using X
    23. X: The Video
    24. What X Means for the Future of Humanity
    25. Tips for Using X

    comment[] 1:48:24 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, August 04, 2008

    Which Batman Villain are You?

    On the theory that insight can be teased from any random meaningless thing in the world, I think the villains in Batman are useful objects of self reflection. What separates Batman from his arch nemesi are how they dealt with the tragic events in their life. Batman on the loss of his parents eventually chose the harder path, becoming a fighter of evil and protector of lost souls. Batman's villains chose the easier path when faced with tragedy.

    In a way each Batman villain symbolizes a different path for running away from fear and pain.  So when we reflect on Batman's villains we are also exploring how we may let situations dictate who we become rather than making our own conscious choice of who we become.

    Scarecrow - The Sadist

    Operating from a position of trust and power as psychologist, the Scarecrow enjoys seeing people's mind snap. Abuses trust and uses fear to get what they want without concern about the consequences.

    The Riddler - The Narcissist

    Yearning to be caught, the ever calm and cool Riddler's obsession to be recognized as cleverer than everyone else was so strong he left self-incriminating clues that lead to his eventual fall.

    Penguin - The Materialist.

    Penguin tries to fill the hole in his soul with money and things. The hole was created by the bullying he endured as a child. Taunted mercilessly by his classmates because of his beak-like nose, bulbous belly, and ever present umbrella (his mom didn't want him catching a cold), the hole grew bigger and bigger. He thought wealth and power could fill the hole, but it never does.

    Joker - Chaos

    The Joker is an agent of randomness and chaos. In any interaction he could be a harmless clown or a soulless killer, yet we never know what motivates him. Money will not buy him. He can not be bargained with. He will not compromise. In that he is like Batman's evil mirror image, but with a sense of humor.

    Catwoman - The Evil Twin


    Batman and Catwoman have much in common. The both enjoy the Furry lifestyle and from a conventional perspective have questionable morals, but are basically decent and do good. The difference is Batman has a line he will not cross, and Catwoman does not. Catwoman is a version of Batman without the ridig self imposed control. She is corruptible, not afraid to commit crimes, and loves the thrill for the sake of thrills.  And that's why they can never be together.

    Two-Face - The Extremist

    Harvey Dent was an abused and schizophrenic child who hid his madness in fanatic devotion to law and order. After an injury deformed his face his madness flipped to a life of crime instead of the law. It was his madness, his unexamined extremism which was his essential character, not good or evil.

    Batman's fight is our fight. He constantly struggles to keep Gotham safe from people who simply gave up and gave in. We also constantly fight the Gotham of our mind against letting fear and pain turn us away from our better natures. Batman may be a silly comic book, but there's a lot to learn from Batman too.

    comment[] 9:02:21 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, August 03, 2008

    Batman and Voltaire: An Unexpected Dynamic Duo

    "Everything can be taken from a man but the last of human freedoms, the right to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances--the right to choose one's own way."
    --Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

    Why do we watch all these silly cartoon super hero movies? What's the point really? I'm not from planet Krypton and the sun only gives me a melanoma. Chances are a toxic spill will never grant me spidy powers or turn me large and green. For me worrying about how to handle the "with great power comes great responsibility" existential crisis will never be a problem. Unless of course you think we all have hidden greatness inside of us and it's our responsibility to free it to make ourselves and the world better. OK, I might buy that in some abstract "we are the world" sort of way.

    Other than being a billionaire (can you see Bill Gates as Batman?), Batman has no special powers setting him above normal humans. Batman is all too human as we see in his childhood mythology. Young Bruce Wayne faced a life-changing tradegy that comes to all mere mortals in time: how to deal with an event so terrible you feel like you want to die and burn the world down with you. Typically such events traumatize normal humans. We feel a burning chaotic storm of fear, pain, guilt, regret and anger.  And that's exactly how young Bruce Wayne reacted to the brutal and senseless murder of his parents. With fear. With pain. With guilt. With regret. With anger. All normal responses. Did he immediately rise up as a young child and pledge everlasting retribution against his enemies? No, that's what a cartoon character might do. It would be too superficial and too easy. We would have nothing to learn from such a reaction because it would be so unnatural no human could possibly emulate it. This is why I like Smallville. It shows Superman growing up, making mistakes, learning, and maturing. In Smallville Superman is not born a hero, he earns his super hero street cred.

    A single spark doesn't light a fire that transforms you from victim to an integrated empowered human being in one step. No, it's much messier than that. Movies have taught us to expect everything to be made better in two 30 minute acts. We see just how messy and how long it takes as a fearful young Bruce slowly changes into a mentally focused Batman. Bruce could have reacted like his enemies did in similar circumstances, by becoming a villain himself. But he didn't. Instead Bruce chose a different route. He made a moral choice to take a stand against evil instead of letting the unfairness of the world turn him towards the dark side.

    When the Joker experienced injustice, he reasoned justice did not exist. When the Joker experienced meaningless, he reasoned meaning did not exist. Without meaning and justice the Joker chose to become the chaos he saw in the world. As chaos' Avatar on Earth he hoped to shock people into seeing the hypocrisy of their beliefs. To what end is uncertain.

    The Joker plays a similar role as does Candide in Voltaire's book by the same name. Candide was raised to believe the Leibnizian philosophy that "this is the best of all possible worlds," a theory essentially stating: whatever is is good.

    The logic behind the "best of all possible worlds" thinking goes something like: God would not be so cruel as to let evil exist, yet we has human perceive evil. How do we reconcile a good God with evil? Well, evil doesn't really exist. We puny humans only see evil because we can not understand the wisdom of God's plan. We can't see the big picture. If we did we would understand that the evil we perceive is really for the best in the long run. This is really the best of all possible worlds. And because this world is the best, change goes against God's plan.

    This nakedly self-serving philosophy provides all the rationalization needed to justify following one's own dark desires while ignoring evil and injustice in the world. Why feed people who are hungry if this is the best of all worlds? God clearly meant Kings to rule so revolution is wrong. Accept your role, sit down, and shut up. The result of this philospohy is what we see in a Batmanless Gotham. Voltaire witnessed Gotham all around him as the institutions of the church and nobility continually failed.

    Candide is moved around by Voltaire like a bitterly sarcastic Ninja demolishing the "best of all possible worlds" argument as a way to show just how silly are the foundations of this bankrupt philosophy. Once free of  Leibnizian blinders people become free to think how much better a world humans could build if they chose to believe, think, and act differently.

    As the world's first A-List blogger (20,000 publications, 1000s of letters sent throughout Europe), Voltaire's witty and savage attacks on the "best of all possible worlds" philosophy in Candide and other works gave rise to the Age of Enlightment, a period of history when people finally realized the only way the world will become better is if humans made it better. The responsibility is ultimately ours to build the world we want to live in. Nobody will do it for us. If there's good in the world it's because we consciously make good happen. It's because of the Enlightenment we have the vast social improvements we see in the world today. But the forces of evil are ever in search of means to rationalize their own hunger, so a scientific version of Leibniz's ideas were recreated in Social Darwanism. We still fight these wars today and we probably always will.

    The Joker wants plays the same role as Candide, but the Joker is essentially an anti-Candide character. The Joker takes a decayed post-enlightenment world and responds to it by shouting "Hey, this is all an illusion. The grand human experiment of civilization has failed. We are all animals and animals we will always be. So let's be honest and get back to doing what we do best--greed,  hate, war, pride, lust--and I'll show you the way. It's easy. It's fun. Why bother with the other stuff?" At one level it's hard to argue with the Joker as anyone watching current events intuitively feels. Were it not for the continual human effort expended against chaos, we would live in a Jokerian world.

    Bruce Wayne did not walk away from his early troubles unchanged. In his war for Gotham's mind and soul Bruce Wayne transformed himself into a triune man: playboy, private person, and avenger. Bruce Wayne as a playboy is Clark Kent with glasses on. Playboy Bruce diverts attention away from anyone making a connection to Batman. It's a coercive role, socially engineering others into thinking one thing so he can be another. The private person is someone we see very little of and we only see the private person in support of the other roles. A truly private and independent Bruce Wayne does not exist. Batman as the avenger is a role made possible by the other two roles. Batman is not good in a conventional sense because he stands outside societal laws as a vigilante, yet he has a rigid code (not killing anyone by his own hands) of his own that he will not cross.

    It's natural to ask when which role is the real person? As an answer consider the roles you play in your own life. At work are you the same person you are at home? When you are with your mom are you the same person you are out on the town with your friends? Probably no and no. And are any those roles more the real you than any other role? We are the sum of how we respond to different situations.

    One of the most meaningful findings for me in Philip Zimbardo's book The Lucifer Effect - Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is when he says: situations matter. We change who we are depending on the situation. Ordinary, average, good people can become evil if the situation nutures evil. Take the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison as an example. We can't admit it to ourselves, but most of us would have done the same thing. The guards in the prison were not special. They were not evil monsters just waiting to be set free. They were typical everyday people who when put in the wrong situation did evil things. Philip lists ways to combat the pull of evil in resisting influence.

    In the compromising situations Batman continually finds himself in, how does he not cross his self-imposed line? What if Bruce would have made different decisions when faced with tragedy? The white hot justifying rage of anger and self-pity easily rationalizes anything we want to become to make the pain go away. We see in Batman's villains what Batman could become if he ever stepped over his self-imposed moral line of no return. To keep on the right side of the line takes an iron will few others can duplicate.

    Batman perfectly embodies the world preserving ideals of the Enlightenment. He is the tamer of chaos, yet he is human. He is just like us. And he has chosen to do the harder thing. Batman chose to make meaning in a meaningless world. Batman chose to create justice in an unjust world. By his example we realize we can do the same thing. It's possible because Batman did it. That's why Batman is our most human hero. But his hero's journey was not an easy one, and neither is ours.

    "Whatever you do, crush the infamy."
    --- Voltaire

    Inspiration for this post was taken from the History Channel's truly superb Batman Unmasked: The Psychology of the Dark Knight.

    comment[] 9:55:34 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    The Cynics Guide to Becoming and Staying Rich

    Keeping Wealth: Never draw down your principle.
    Building Wealth: Have no principles.

    comment[] 3:00:47 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, July 07, 2008

    Are Web Icons a Modern Form of Illiterate Communication for the Dumbest Generation?

    How do you communicate with an illiterate population? That's a problem I hadn't thought of before, but on a recent trip to Europe I was fascinated to learn how medieval towns and merchants solved the problem of how to communicate with a population that couldn't read. Their solution was to use elaborate symbols that reminded me a lot of the iconography developed for websites and other computer devices. I couldn't help putting this together with the idea of Mark Bauerlein's new book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future

    Complex Store Signs in Salzburg Austria

    Another example of using pictures to communicate with non-readers is the amazing Salzburg street market pictured on the left. This is a very long street with markets running seemingly forever on either side. Imagine yourself a worker who couldn't read. How would you what stores were available just looking down the street? You couldn't know so the elaborately descriptive store signs evolved so people could tell what a store sold. Here's the sign for a McDonalds:

    German Maypole's Use Pictures to Represent Town Services

    Many German towns feature a maypole in the town square. In addition to being big and beautiful, a maypole communicates to an illiterate population what services can be found in the town with a picture symbolizing the service. Take a look at the maypole in Munich. It's gorgeous. Look closely and you'll see pictures of beer barrels which would tell you Munich has a beer available. And oh boy is that true! If there's a bakery you'll see a picture of a baker. If there's a wood cutter you'll see a picture of a wood cutter.

    It's all picture based so you can just look and immediately understand what you'll find in a town.

    Scan a webpage, an OS GUI, or a cell phone interface and I think you get a very similar feel to the ancient maypole symbols and store signs. I can't help but wonder if over time text will drop out as people stop readining and we develop ever more intricate graphical symbol systems to communicate instead of relying on text? Everyhing old is new again.

    comment[] 6:45:35 PM       digg   reddit

    Is Oil China's New Black Plague?

    The article Oil price shock means China is at risk of blowing up makes clear that if the effects of expensive oil have hit the US hard, they have hit China even harder because the China miracle is in large part built on cheap transportation based on cheap oil. When oil becomes expensive that advantage goes away which could have a devastating impact on China's economy.

    Curiously this parallels another time when a dominant China was brought low by a black substance, the Black Plague. Many do not know the world has been flat once before.When the Mongols ruled much of the civilized world (which didn't include Europe of course) they instituted many practices we think of being modern: religious toleration, public schools, a mail network for fast communication through out the empire, a rule of law that applied to all in society (both high and low), a common currency, a common trading language, book keeping, an elaborate system of trade through the whole world that allowed trading specialized goods from one area to others that demand the goods, manufacture of goods in one region with the specific intent of selling for profit in other areas, and much more.

    The Mongol empire was rich and vibrant in a time when Europe was mired in the comparative poverty of the middle ages. Europe was so poor the Mongols didn't even think it worth invading. The Mongols were all about plunder and the pickings were slim in Europe at the time.

    Then the black plague happened and 50% of China's population was wiped out. Mongol rule was based on profits from trade which rested on fast communication and travel. When the plague hit these networks broke down as expertise was lost and the world started to close in on itself to stop the spread of the plague. A once incredibly open and profitable world went dark for many a year.

    Few people realize the Christopher Columbus was attempting to reach India so that trade could reestablished with the Mongols. While Europe was not ruled by the Mongols it benefited greatly from trade. When that trade stopped because of the plague money stopped flowing into Europe as well and they wanted desperately for trade to flow once again. Columbus was a little lost. He thought he was in India which is why he called them Indians and that's the name we still use. This "discovery" of the new world opened up an entirely new economy, the role of the Mongols drifted from memory, dominance slowly moved to Europe as Atlantic powers opened a new land. Then the industrial revolution sealed the deal in favor of the west and the role of the Mongols was completely forgotten. But not just forgotten. The Mongols were vilified by Voltaire in his writings as a way to lampoon the Church and Nobility of his time as he could not safely attack them directly. So he used the Mongols as a symbolic device and ever since the Mongols have been reduced to caricature. Until recently we even spoke of "mongoloid" children as a pejorative when the Mongol empire was one of the largest, longest, most innovative, and most successful empires in human history.

    When I saw that expensive oil might cut the Chinese Century short before it even had a chance to get started, I could help thinking back to the Mongols and how the world was once flat and how disaster may again reform it to be a bit bumpier.

    comment[] 4:24:59 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, May 25, 2008

    Why Stressed Out-of-Control Americans Won't Carpool

    Gas now looks like it will be expensive until the sun burns dark. SUV and truck sales have flopped while sales of the tiny cars we've always sneered at have pulled a Robert Downey Jr. and have become stars once again. So why don't we American's do the smart and logical thing and carpool? Because we Americans need to feel like we are in control. Without that control we'll stay in our cars all lined up one-by-one in endless traffic jams even if at first it doesn't make rational sense. But this strange affliction does make sense and once we understand why we can design a mass transit system Americans are more likely to embrace, namely: A People Pod Pool of On Demand Self Driving Robotic Cars Automatically Refueled from Cheap Solar.

    The question of why don't we carpool was asked by a commenter in FuturePundit article American Car Drivers Cut Back Distance Traveled. When you read how the question is asked you'll wonder why you don't carpool either. Now, what's your answer to this?

    In the short run, I'm fascinated by the potential for carpooling. I don't understand why someone would switch jobs or homes in preference to carpooling (unless they wanted to anyway). It's easy, it's fast, it has no capital cost - 9% of Americans already do it. Modern telecom makes it easy to match people up - it used to be based on work site communication, but no more. It could reduce fuel consumption for an individual by 85% (4 people in a Prius), or for the nation by 25% (50% of US fuel consumption is light vehicles, and carpooling can be used for more than commuting) in a period of months, if we got serious. Also, car-sharing (igocars, zipcar) could share scarce PHEV/EV's - the average car is only used 1 hour per day, so 5M PHEV/EV's could be used by 50M people.

    My first reaction was well don't I feel like an oily dipstick. It's all so clear. So sensible. So reasonable. Carpooling is the future. Carpooling is smart, responsible, and good. Don't you want to be good?

    But I don't want to do it. I don't want to carpool. There, I said it. I don't hate the environment (as evidence of my virtue I both compost and recycle!). And I don't want to see mother nature stripped and turned out into the cold lonely night. But as one of those ugly Americans I feel deep in my plush leather seats and fine German engineering that I would rather starve my characteristically overweight American self into the normal weight range rather than give up and share MY car!

    Yes, I am well aware that this is totally irrational and irresponsible. I won't be the first or last time you notice this about me. Could there be some deeper psychological reasoning behind my madness? Let's hope so because a lot of people don't seem to like carpools and they don't like mass transit either. The Metro, a local San Francisco Bay Area weekly, published a wonderful article Fueling the Fire, on how we need to cure our car addiction using the same marginalization techniques used to "stop" smoking.

    A telling quote shows how difficult going cold turkey off our cars will be:

    Mitch Baer, a public policy and environment graduate student at George Mason University in Virginia, recently surveyed more than 2,000 commuters in the Washington, D.C., area. He found that people who drove to work alone were more emotionally satisfied with their commute than those who rode public transportation or carpooled with others. Even stuck in traffic jams, those commuters said they felt they had more control over their arrival and departure times as well as commuting route, radio stations and air conditioning levels. Commuters said that driving alone was both quicker and more affordable, according to the study. "They will have a tougher time moving people out of their cars," Baer said. "It's easier for most people to drive than take mass transit."

    The key phrase for me is: people who drove to work alone were more emotionally satisfied. How can people jostled in the great pinball machine that are our roadways be emotionally satisfied? That's crazy talk. Shouldn't we feel less satisfied?

    We Feel Good in Our Cars Because We Are in Control

    Solving the mystery of why we feel satisfied while stuck in traffic turns on an important psychological clue: the more we perceive ourselves in control of a situation the less stress we feel. Robert Sapolsky talks about this surprising insight into human nature in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.

    Notice we simply need more "perceived" control. Take control of a situation in your mind and stress goes down. You don't actually need to be in more control of a situation to feel less stress. If you have diabetes, facing your possibly bleak future can be less stressful if you try to control your blood sugars. If you are a speed demon, buying a radar detector can make you feel more in control and less stressed as you zoom along the seldom empty highways. If you are bullied, figuring out ways to avoid your torturer puts you more in control and therefor less stressed.

    Figure out a way to control and an out of control situation and you'll feel happier. That's what I think we are accomplishing by driving alone in cars. In our car we have complete control. Cars are our castles with a 2 inch air moat cushion. Most cars are plusher than any room in your average house. Fine leather, a rad sound system, perfect temperature control, and a nice beverage of choice within easy reaching distance. In our cars we've created a second womb. The result is we feel more control, less stress, and more satisfaction, even when outside, across the moat, a tempestuous sea of stressors await.

    Our Mass Transit System Must Supply Perceived Control

    Given the warm inner glow we feel from being wrapped in the cold steel of our cars, if you want people to get out of their cars and onto mass transit you must provide the same level of perceived control. None of our mass transit options do that now. Buses are on fixed schedules that don't go where I want to go when I want to go. Neither do trains, BART, or light rail. So the car it is. Unless a system could be devised that provided the benefits of mass transit plus the pleasing characteristics of control our cars give us.

    With Recent Technological Advances We Can Create a New Type of Mass Transit System

    New technologies are being developed the will allow us to create a mass transit system that matches our psychological and physical needs. Just berating people and telling them they should take mass transit to save the planet won't work. The pain is too near and the benefits are too far for the mental cost-benefit calculation to go the way of mass transit.

    The technologies I am talking about are:
  • Inexpensive solar with $1/watt solar panels. Our mass transit must of course be green and cost effective.
  • Breakthrough battery could boost electric cars. Toshiba promises 'energy solution' with nearly full recharge in 5 minutes.
  • Personal transportation pods. A reusable vehicle that can take anyone anywhere they want to go.
  • Self driving vehicles. We are making great strides in creating robot cars that can drive themselves in traffic. Already they drive better than most humans can drive (low bar, I know).

    Mix these all together and you get a completely different type of mass transit system. A mashup, if you will.

    Create a People Pod Pool of On Demand Autonomous Self Driving Robotic Cars Automatically Refueled from Cheap Solar

    Many company campuses offer a pool of bicycles so workers can ride between buildings and make short trips. Some cities even make bikes available to their citizens. The idea is to do the same for cars, but with a twist or two.

    The cars (people pods) can be stored close to demand points and you can call for one anytime you wish. The cars are self driving. You don't actually drive them and are free to work or play during transit. Different kinds would be available depending on your purpose. Just one person on a shopping trip would receive a different car than a family. The pods would autonomously search out and find energy sources as needed to recharge.There's no reason to assume a centralized charging and storage facility. When repair was needed they could drive themselves to a repair depot or wait for the people pod ambulance service.

    The advantages of such a system are:
  • Perceived control. You have a personal "car" you control the destination for, the interior environment of, and your own actions inside. This gets over the biggest hurdle with current mass transit options.
  • Better regional traffic flow. The autonomous cars could drive cooperatively to smooth out traffic jams. Traffic jams are largely caused by people speeding up and slowing down which causes ripples of slowness up and down the road. And automated system could prevent that.
  • Go where you want to go. It would be used because people can go to exactly where they need to go and be picked up exactly where they need to leave from at exactly the time they wish. None of these are characteristic of current systems.
  • Leverage existing road ways. Creating light rail and trains is expensive and wasteful (except for the high speed point-point variety). They don't extend to where people live and they don't go where people go. So it creates a multi-hop mess out of every trip. We already have an expansive road system that goes where everyone wants to go. Using the road infrastructure more efficiently makes a lot more sense than creating hugely expensive partial solutions. And since these cars would be eco-friendly, most arguments against using cars fall away.
  • Cheaper delivery. One force keeping truly distributed manufacturing and retailing from blossoming is high delivery costs. A $2 item is simply too expensive to buy remotely and ship because shipping costs more than the product. An automated transportation system would make this model more affordable.
  • Live where you want to live. Most mass transit systems are based on trying to socially reengineer our current suburbian and exurbian living pattern into a high density live-work pattern. While this should be an option, most mass transit proposals assume this pattern as a given and can't deal with current realities. For the foreseeable future people will not give up their houses or their lifestyles. The People Pod approach solves the mass transit problem and the "difficulties" of having to change a whole populace to behave in a completely different way for less than compelling reasons.
  • Still can own your own car. This isn't a replacement for the current car culture. It's leveraging the car culture. You can still own and drive your own car. Nobody is trying to steal your car away from you.
  • Cleaner and safer. Mass transit is disliked by many because it is perceived as dirty and unsafe. The pods would be safe and clean.
  • Road safety. Our new robot overloads will make our lives safer. Hopefully, possibly, maybe...

    It's a Usable Mass Transit System so People Might Just Use It

    After a lot of reading on the topic and a lot of self-examination on why I am such a horrible person that I don't want to carpool or use mass transit, this is the type of system I could really see myself using. It doesn't try to change the world, it uses what we got, and gives people what they want. It just might work.
  • comment[] 12:58:26 PM       digg   reddit

    Friday, February 29, 2008

    Web 2.0 Suicide Monitoring Using Twitter and Emotional Presence

    People on anti-depressant drugs--like Prozac--are supposed to be closely monitored for suicidal thoughts that could indicate the drug is having a "paradoxical result." While many feel better on anti-depressants others drop fast and dark into an even worse suicidal depression. Paradoxical isn't quite the word I would use, but we must keep everything clinical.

    Monitoring allows a doctor to detect if a patient is entering the paradox zone. If so, treatment can be changed and further harm avoided.

    I was thinking one potentially Web 2.0 way to monitor people's internal subjective state--their feelings and emotions--on an unnaturally frequent basis would be to combine Twitter with emotional presence and a bot that would notify a doctor if certain downward emotional trends were detected.

    I've been doing some work on a Jabber IM client lately, and I've done some work using the Twitter API, and I've done quite a bit of research on emotion (patent pending), so a mashup of these services seems a pretty natural way of helping people stay alive through their dark times.

    In IM (Instant Messaging) your presence is broadcasted to your contact list so everyone knows what you are doing and you're availability to others. Using your IM client tells everyone you are available. Don't use your IM client for awhile and and everyone will learn you are away. Pickup the phone, mark your presence as "On Phone" and everyone's IM client will associate your name with a cute little phone icon. And when you close down your IM client everyone will learn you are now unavailable.

    There's also an idea of emotional presence, often represented by emoticons. If you are happy or sad or angry you can broadcast your emotional presence in the same way you can broadcast your physical presence. Select an option that matches your current feelings and the whole world will instantly know how happy you are that it's Friday and a long weekend awaits.

    Now let's extend the emotional presence to indicate presence information for thoughts of suicide. I don't know what these would be, but I'm sure doctors could work up something. Say you have a fleeting thought of suicide you could quickly change your emotional presence to indicate your new state. More severe thoughts could have different icons. And so on.

    Now let's bring in Twitter. Twitter is a microblog. Its purpose is to share brief bits of what is currently happening in your life. That's the perfect match for emotional presence. You could also indicate with each post how you are feeling. These responses can be directed to a channel using the "@reply" syntax in Twitter. Doctors could follow those posts for their patients by briefly taking a look at how they are doing. Or a specially created bot look for certain trends and notify a doctor if a negative trend developed.

    This would allow a doctor to intervene much more quickly than they could otherwise and the information they are making their decisions on would be much more accurate because it's harder for people to fudge on their self-reports when they are in the moment. With the perspective of time we all do a lot of self-editing, but in the moment you are more likely to be honest.

    Clearly privacy is an issue. Users need to be able to select who sees what kind of presence information. But that's necessary anyway and exists in some form now as privacy lists. The type of information to block or allow simply needs to be extended to more granular types of data.

    What's great about this approach is Twitter is everywhere users want to be. On cellphones, browsers, IM, and desktop applications. Users will always be in touch with their emotional presence and doctors can always follow their progress.

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could read a lot less about people on anti-depressants committing suicide? It just always seems so wrong that people who are trying to get help end up dying.

    comment[] 9:54:48 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, December 31, 2007

    The New Mass Transit: People Pod Pool of On Demand Self Driving Robotic Cars who Automatically Refuel from Cheap Solar

    Our traffic in the San Francisco Bay area is like Dolly Parton, 10 pounds in a 5 pound sack. Mass transit has been our unseen traffic woe savior for a while now. But the ring of political fire circling the bay has prevented any meaningful region wide transportation solution. As everyone scrambles to live anywhere they can afford, we really need a region wide solution rather than the local fixes that can never go quite far enough.

    Commuters are Satisfied Not Carpooling

    You might think we would car pool more. But people of the bay don't like carpools and they don't much like mass transit either. In the Metro, a local weekly, they publsihed a wonderful article Fueling the Fire, on how we need to cure our car addiction using the same marginalization techniques used to "stop" smoking.

    A telling quote shows how difficult going cold turkey off our cars will be:

    Mitch Baer, a public policy and environment graduate student at George Mason University in Virginia, recently surveyed more than 2,000 commuters in the Washington, D.C., area. He found that people who drove to work alone were more emotionally satisfied with their commute than those who rode public transportation or carpooled with others.

    Even stuck in traffic jams, those commuters said they felt they had more control over their arrival and departure times as well as commuting route, radio stations and air conditioning levels.

    Commuters said that driving alone was both quicker and more affordable, according to the study.

    "They will have a tougher time moving people out of their cars," Baer said. "It's easier for most people to drive than take mass transit."

    The key phrase to me is: people who drove to work alone were more emotionally satisfied. How can people jostled in the great pinball machine that are our roadways be emotionally satisfied? That's crazy talk. Shouldn't we feel less satisfied?

    In Our Cars We Feel Good Because We Are in Control

    Solving the mystery of why we feel satisfied while stuck in traffic turns on an important psychological clue: the more we perceive ourselves in control of a situation the less stress we feel. Robert Sapolsky talks about this surprising insight into human nature in Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.

    Notice we simply need more "perceived" control. Take control of a situation in your mind and stress goes down. You don't actually need to be in more control of a situation to feel less stress. If you have diabetes, facing your possibly bleak future can be less stressful if you try to control your blood sugars. If you are a speed demon, buying a radar detector can make you feel more in control and less stressed as you zoom along the seldom empty highways. If you are bullied, figuring out ways to avoid your torturer puts you more in control and therefor less stressed.

    Figure out a way to control and an out of control situation and you'll feel happier. That's what I think we are accomplishing by driving alone in cars. In our car we have complete control. Cars our are castles with a 2 inch air moat cushion. Most cars are plusher than any room in your average house. Fine leather, a rad sound system, perfect temperature control, and a nice beverage of choice within easy reaching distance. In our cars we've created a second womb. The result is we feel more control, less stress, and more satisfaction, even when outside, across the moat, a tempestuous sea of stressors awaits.

    Our Mass Transit System Must Supply Perceived Control

    Given the warm inner glow we feel from being wrapped in the cold steel of our cars, if you want people to get out of their cars and onto mass transit you must provide the same level of perceived control. None of our mass transit options do that now. Buses are on fixed schedules that don't go where I want to go when I want to go. Neither do trains, BART, or light rail. So the car it is.
    Unless a system could be devised that provided the benefits of mass transit plus the pleasing characteristics of control our cars give us.

    With Recent Technological Advances We Can Create a New Type of Mass Transit System

    New technologies are being developed the will allow us to create a mass transit system that matches our psychological and physical needs. Just berating people and telling them they should take mass transit to save the planet won't work. The pain is too near and the benefits are too far for the mental cost -benefit calculation to go the way of mass transit.

    The technologies I am talking about are:
    Mix these all together and you get a completely different type of mass transit system.

    Create a People Pod Pool of On Demand Autonomous Self Driving Robotic Cars that Automatically Refuel from Cheap Solar

    Many company campuses offer a pool of bicycles so workers can ride between buildings and make short trips. Some cities even make bikes available to their citizens. The idea is to do the same for cars, but with a twist or two.

    The cars (people pods) can be stored close to demand points and you can call for one anytime you wish. The cars are self driving. You don't actually drive them and are free to work or play during transit. Different kinds would be available depending on your purpose. Just one person on a shopping trip would receive a different car than a family. The pods would autonomously search out and find energy sources as needed to recharge.There's no reason to assume a centralized charging and storage facility. When repair was needed they could drive themselves to a repair depot or wait for transportation.

    The advantages of such a system are:
    1. Perceived control. You have your own person car that you control the destination for, the interior environment, and your own actions. This gets over the biggest hurdle with current mass transit options.
    2. Better regional traffic flow. The autonomous cars could drive cooperatively to smooth out traffic jams.
    3. Go where you want to go. It would be used because people can go to exactly where they need to go and be picked up exactly where they need to leave from at exactly the time they wish. None of these are characteristic of current systems.
    4. Leverage existing road ways. Creating light rail and trains is expensive and wasteful (except for the high speed point-point variety). They don't extend to where people live and they don't go where people go. So it creates a multi-hop mess out of every trip. We already have an expansive road system that goes where everyone wants to go. Using the road infrastructure more efficiently makes a lot more sense than creating hugely expensive partial solutions. And since these cars would be eco-friendly, most arguments against using cars fall away.
    5. Cheaper delivery. One force keeping truly distributed manufacturing from blossoming is high delivery costs. A $2 item is simply to expensive to buy remotely and ship because the shipping costs more than the product. An automated transportation system would make this model more affordable.
    6. Live where you want to live. Most mass transit systems are based on trying to socially reengineer our current suburbian and exurbian living pattern into a high density live-work pattern. While this should be an option, most mass transit proposals assume this pattern as a given and can't deal with current realities. For the foreseeable future people will not give up their houses or their lifestyles. The People Pod approach solves the mass transit problem and the "difficulties" of having to change a whole populace to behave in a completely different way for less than compelling reasons.
    7. Still can own your own car. This isn't a replacement for the current car culture. It's leveraging the car culture. You can still own and drive your own car. Nobody is trying to steal your car away from you.
    8. Cleaner and safer. Mass transit is disliked by many because it is perceived as dirty and unsafe. The pods would be safe and clean.
    9. Road safety. Our robot overloads will make our lives safer. Hopefully...
    1. Current transportation budgets. There's lots of money that could be redeployed from existing less than successful approaches.
    2. Advertising. The outside of vehicles could contain advertising as could the inside, especially from the internal search system. Imagine wanting a new place to eat and asking the pod to suggest one. That's prime targeted marketing. Social networks and massive multi-player games could also be created between pods.
    3. Efficiencies. The plug-in cars are electric and efficient and low maintenance. That will save a lot of money.
    4. Up sells. Individuals could buy their own pods and trick them out. Also, people could pay for a higher class of pod from the pod pool.
    5. Licensing. Technology used in making the pods could be sold to other manufacturers. Create a standardized market so competition and cooperation can erupt.
    6. Sponsorship. Companies could buy rights to play music, stock the food locker, use their equipment, etc.
    7. Naming rights. The rights to name parts of the system could be sold.
    1. Challenge prize. Maybe someone with a vision and a dream can put up a $50 million prize to get it going. Something like the Xprize.
    2. Government funding. Don't laugh, it might happen.
    3. Startup. I'm available if interested :-) With a large enough challenge prize this is a viable model.
    After a lot of reading on the topic and a lot of self-examination on why I am such a horrible person that I don't use mass transit more, this is the type of system I could really see myself using. It doesn't try to change the world, it uses what we got, and gives people what they want. It just might work.

    comment[] 11:24:47 AM       digg   reddit

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    The Penis and Muscles Develop Before the Brain

    Why would Michael Vic risk everything to fight dogs? The only reason I can think of is that the penis and muscles develop before the brain. Our brain doesn't mature fully until we reach about about 25 years of age. As early as age 10 the penis and muscles start working their mysterious power. So you have about 15 years under their rule before there's significant resistance from the long ignored organ above the neck.

    In those 15 years a lot of bad stuff can happen. Fortunately, for most of us nothing irreversibly bad has happened.  We learn and build a life. Yet sometimes it's simply too late to reverse the damage done. It's fortunate most of us eventually learn to follow the wisdom of the elder brain. Otherwise it would be so tempting to sentence those in the dog fighting community to the same punishment they meet out for losing dogs: douse them with water and electrocute them.

    comment[] 9:34:30 PM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Stop Cell Phone Calls During Movies Now!

    Jessica Alba just died. I was in disbelief. How could she possibly die in Silver Surfer? Was she faking her death? Nope. She was really dead. Was she asking too much for the next sequel? Wait, there's no way she could really die. But how would they bring her back? I was pondering all the existential implications of her surprise death when someone's phone rang, totally interrupting my flow of my thoughts and threating what's left of my fellow man restraint supply.

    Conservatively speaking, that's about the millionth time a phone call has interrupted my joyful experience of a very expensive movie. I am tired off it. Do you feel me?

    The problem is the probability of someone getting a phone call during a movie is really high. Let's say there are 50 people watching a movie and they all have cellphones. OK, not everyone will have a cellphone, but some people will have two or three or even four, so it balances out. It seems to me the chances are better than excellent at least one person will forget to turn off their phone and get a phone call. After all, in a group of 50 people the probability two people will have the same birthday is over 90%.

    What we need is a mechanism that doesn't require people to remember to turn off their cellphone. People are built to make errors and no dramatic special effect laced turn-off-your-phone vignette will change that. Jamming will only piss people off and has the downside of being illegal.

    How about we have a special signal that when received by a phone automatically makes it go to voice mail mode instead of ring mode? Certain venues like theaters and class rooms could broadcast this signal. So when you enter a protected area your phone behaves with social intelligence and automatically silences itself. When you leave an area your phone would automatically go back to its default mode.

    Voila! No phone calls during special events and you won't miss your calls. Best of all, people don't have to do anything. And that's what people are really best at. Building this sort of ambient social intelligence into our devices might help us all get along, just a little better.

    What do you think? Could it work?

    comment[] 10:53:22 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Top 10 Things to Do Now that Your Blackberry has Crashed

    WNBC reported a major outage affecting 100% of Blackberries in the US. What might dedicated crackberry users do with all this unscheduled downtime?

    10. Solve world hunger. You now have the time.

    9. See a movie all the way through. No interruptions.

    8. Go for a run. Without your crackberry you weigh less and you'll be able to run farther and faster.

    7. Contemplate the transitory nature of the universe. If an essential service like the crackberry can fail, what else in your life might fail you?

    6. Have a drink. Surviving off the grid is stresseful. Did my team win last night? What time is that meeting at corporate? How is my portfolio performing? Did Jughead really sleep with Veronica? Gaping holes are bound to open up in your digital life without instantaneous answers to important questions like these. So just relax. Have a pop or two.

    5. Keep twirling your thumb wheel. You want to be in tip top shape once it's back up. You'll be way ahead of the other kids who have spent their time less productively.

    4. Play hall hockey. Crackberries slide really well on the floor. Get two teams together, setup two goals, and see who can make the most goals with your new puck. If you are alone find a lake and see how far you can skip your crackberry. I bet you can't slice more than 5 hops.

    3. Remember the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Let's help you dial through the stages quickly. Yes, your network is down. Mistakes happen. It's part of life. The digital gods cannot be appeased, so don't even try. There are no tasty binary cookies or digital flowers that can patch panel this one. You feel depressed now, see (2). The last stage is bunk. Deny deny deny. That's how we do it. Acceptance is for losers.

    2. Schedule an appointment with your therapist to help you cope with your loss. But, wait, your crackberry is down! Noooo! The irony of it all!

    1. Make a pair of glasses using two tubes from empty toilet paper rolls. Viewing the world outside the small window of your crackberry can be disorienting at first. You'll want to transition slowly to view the world in full resolution. Every hour slice an inch or so from each roll so you'll gradually see more and more of the real world.

    comment[] 7:52:51 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, March 31, 2007

    Spam is the New Role Playing Game

    Spammers must be getting out of work romance novelists to create spam. A lot of spam weaves wonderful little stories that invite you to play the lead role in an exciting other world. Often there is a comely damsel in distress and you are cast as the hero, if only you would open up your wallet and help. Not only will you get the willing damsel, but great riches await when you finally overcome your fear, climb the tower, kiss the princess, and collect your just reward.

    You see, the princess lives in a place not like where you live at all. You live in a safe boring world where one day is much like any other. She lives on the frontier where risk takers can still earn great fortunes battling nature and striking smart deals. But the frontier is dangerous. And an evil doer is out to steal her families' fortune, a fortune carved out of nothing from years of back breaking work. You can save them! You can make a difference! You are a hero with untapped super powers. Now is your time! You can get the girl, the money, and live happily ever after.

    This is wonderful stuff. It's like an email based Role Playing Game. The side of good is clear. Evil abounds, yet can be stopped by your heroic actions. You simply must roll the dice and play the game. My favorite example of the genre is Cynthia Benson's game:

    Good morning! I decided to use this opportunity to communicate with you on who I am and what I am looking for. Please I hope you don't mind the way I contacted you. How are you, your business and family? I hope all is well.

    I am Cynthia Benson daughter of the late ENGR. FERICOH BENSON of Free town, Sierra Leone with my brother. I am a young girl from the family of two because my beloved mother died on the day my younger brother was delivered and my father refused to re-marry immediately because he is the only child of his parents and don't want anybody that will maltreat us due to the love he has for us. My late father Engr. Fericoh Benson was the Managing Director (MD) of BETAX PLC a Gold and Diamond Mining corporation company. During the time of his service he was a very devoted and God fearing person; this cause his fellow staff to hate him because he always refuse to collaborate with them in doing evil.
    So one sunny Tuesday evening when I was coming back with my Dad from shopping in his own private car we ran into bandits who were totally armed, they traced us till we reach home; there they attack us. My father pleaded with them to take everything he has and spare his life, but they took everything and also shot him three times on his chest they also shot me but to the glory of God I survived the gun shots but my father died in cold blood. How I was admitted to the hospital I don't know but I found myself on the hospital bed after two weeks of the incident when I re-gain conciouse.

    This happened eight months ago, as I am trying to gather my deserted life and that of my brother in place. Our father has being buried that was four months ago, the present problem we are facing is that my father's uncle that is the brothers of my grand father has took everything that our father left behind both money, landed properties and all his durable asset. They ejected me and my bother leaving only the sum of US$12,5M which my father deposited in a Financial Institution which they don't know about. They treated us badly also accusing us for the calamity that befall our family, now we are left alone in this world.

    But why I contacted you is because we want to start a new life outside our country and also when I went to where my father deposited the money in west side of Africa they told me that my father deposited that money on behalf of a partner, so that the money should be claimed by my father or his partner, but for the fact that my father is nolonger alive that the partner should come for it.

    As things is now I don't want to go and get any of my kinsmen as that will also give them the access to claim the money as I can see that it is now the only thing we have to start life again. If I have found favour in your eye I will like you stand as my father's partner as I don't have anybody so that they can transfer the money to you. While we will prepare to come over to your country and meet you there to start a new life again.

    If you can help us please let me know.
    Thanks and Remain bless,
    Cynthia Benson

    As you read the email it creates in your mind a truly dramatic action packed tale of woe. Can't you just see poor Cynthia's troubled life? Don't you just want to rescue you her and find the treasure? That's the genius of the email. It taps into all the usual story telling tactics used in myth, fairy tails, role playing games, romance novels, and fantasy novels. You know this story form and you immediately want to jump in and play.

    Look at at all the colorful words just dripping with echoes of a game world: dearest, daughter of, Free town, Sierra Leone, brother, engineer, gold, devoted, father, God fearing, pleading, attack, shot him, survival, left alone, start a new life, rescue, Africa, kinsmen, found favor, transfer money, start a new life. And the spelling is off just enough that it suggests an educated person who may speak a different language and live in an exotic locale.

    The fact that spam works on enough people that spammers keep spamming speaks to the power of greed and ego when backed by an internally consistent story that taps in to our years of well honed fairy tail inspired instincts.
    Simply beautifully done. A sure winner for the Pulitzer Prize of Spam, if they gave out such a thing. They don't now, but they may in the future.

    comment[] 11:45:44 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007

    You Can't Twitter at Relativistic Speeds

    Twitter is entraining the technorati on an unbreakable hedonic treadmill. The treadmill gorges itself on an infinite supply info mediated dopamine hits. Addiction, divorce, 12 steps, and the grief cycle are sure to follow . But what really should concern twitterites is their global stream-o-conscious will shatter once we travel in space at near light speed.

    Let's say you're accelerating towards Vulcan in your new Mercedes X Series Space Coup and you type in your latest bon thought: I really need to upgrade my materializer. The pate was runny. Your thoughts will stream out at a constant speed of 186,000 miles an hour and nobody will hear you! And you will not hear them! You will ache. It will 1 millisecond without a info mediated dopamine hit. Then another. And then another. Until you go entire days without sharing the barely conscious thoughts of the twitter-sphere. Then you are in hair pulling, drano drinking withdrawl. Oh what a glorious future it will be!

    I do see a market in relativistic hermitages however. In time no place on earth with be safe from ads or phones or other information radiators. The only safe place to hide will be in a space capsule near the speed of light. Only then will you be alone with the strange sensation of your own thoughts.

    comment[] 12:45:47 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, February 11, 2007

    Pleasing Things - How am I like a lady-in-waiting from ancient Japan?

    It's exciting to think about what people were like in different cultures in the past. Are they like me? Did they have goals and motivations and dreams that I would understand? If some rift in time tossed us together how would we get a long? In a way, books our are rift in time. I recently traveled back in time when reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. Sei Shonagon was a lady-in-waiting for a 11th century Japanese empress and she wrote a book about her life in court.

    In her time writing a book was rare for a woman. It's even rarer for the book to survive, so people must love it or it would have long ago crumbled into dust. What's do readers find so enchanting? Sei Shonagon chronicles how completely poetry was integrated into elite culture, the vast separation between elites and commoners, the vast difference in roles of women and men in her time, the political structure of the court, the passing of seasons, the cycles of religious observance, and the ever tangled web of humans just trying to get along.

    It's hard to imagine a more different life between hers and mine. Both products of our times, I found myself continually recoiling at how effortlessly she dismissed anyone of a lower class than her, be they ugly, or poor, or just oafish. Yet there was an envious amount of beauty in her time as well. They would take walks at night to enjoy the moon. The would make snow piles in the winter and watch them melt as the seasons changed. They would compose a poem on the spot to make more remarkable any occasion. They would have poetry contests. A common game was to give a line of an old poem and see who could remember it. Far different than surrendering to must see TV.

    They also had an amazing form of 11th century instant messaging. A network of pages would take letters, deliver them quickly and bring back a reply. The receiver would often be expected to compose a poem on the spot. You would be judged by the quality of your reply. These poems would be shared in the court and gossiped about by all. Sei Shonagon excelled at this game because she was a master poet and quick wit. The messages would fly around the court and between houses, linking everyone together much like email and instant messaging do today.

    As different as we are, there were many passages in her book that crossed the gulf of time and connected with me. One such section is called Pleasing Things, which is where she describes what she finds pleasing:
    • Finding a large number of tales that one has not read before.
    • Acquiring the second volume of a tale whose first volume one has enjoyed. But often it is a disappointment.
    • Someone has torn up a letter and thrown it away. Picking up the pieces, one finds that many of them can be fitted together.
    • One has had an upsetting dream and wonders what it can mean. In great anxiety on consults a dream-interpreter, who informs one that it has no special significance.
    • A person who is very dear to one has fallen ill. One is miserably worried about him even if he lives in the capital and far more so if he is in some remote part of the country. What a pleasure to be told that he has recovered!
    • I am most pleased when I hear someone I love being praised or being mentioned approvingly by an important person.
    • A poem with whom one is not especially intimate refers to an old poem or story that is unfamiliar. Then one hears it being mentioned by someone else and has the pleasure of recognizing it. Still later, when one comes across it ina book, one tihngs, 'Ah, this is it!' and feels delighted with the person who fist brought it up.
    • I look for an object that I need at once, and I find it. What a joy!
    • When one is competing in an object match (it does not matter which kind), how can one help being pleased at winning?
    • I realize that it is sinful of me, but I cannot help being pleased when someone I dislike has a bad experience.
    • I am more pleased when something nice happens to a person I love than when it happens to myself.
    • I greatly enjoy taking in someone who is pleased with himself and who has a self-confident look, especially if he is a man. It is amusing to observe him as he alertly waits for my repartee; but it is also interesting if he tries to put me off my guard by adopting an air of calm indifference as if there were not a thought in his head.
    • Entering the Empress's room and finding that the ladies-in-waiting are crowded around her in a tight group, I go next to a pillar which is some distance from where she is sitting. What a delight it is when Her Majesty summmons me to her side so that all the others have to make way!
    When I read this list I can't help but a get a big warm smile on my face. What she finds pleasing I too would enjoy. It doesn't mean we are the same, but I think we could comfortably sit down, drink some tea, and talk about poetry and life for while. Assuming I was of the right class and rank of course!

    comment[] 10:21:12 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, February 05, 2007

    Rich Buddha, Poor Buddha

    How-to books on managing finances always top the best seller lists. Some popular books in the past have been Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, The Millionaire Next Door and a million others. It turns out this book genre is a lot older than you might think.

    How would you like some sage financial advice from 2,500 years ago? In Karen Armstrong's excellent book Buddha, she tells us the Buddha was a fount of wisdom not only spiritual matters, but he also knew a thing or two about personal finance as well. Perhaps he soaked up this knowledge in his early years, when he lived as the pampered son of aristocracy.

    According to the Buddha you should:
    1. Be attentive in your financial and social dealings.
    2. Save for emergencies.
    3. Look after your dependents: care for your partner, children, and servants.
    4. Give to your church and charities.
    5. Avoid debt.
    6. Make sure you have enough money for the immediate needs of your family.
    7. Invest money carefully.
    8. Be thrifty and sober.
    9. Avoid alcohol, late nights, gambling, laziness and bad company.
    10. And most importantly: be compassionate.
    While not quite as sexy as flipping a house or shorting the market, for 500 BC it sounds like pretty solid advice, even for today.

    comment[] 10:48:20 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, February 03, 2007

    Smackdown #2: Scrolling Crushes Paging After 2000 Years of Dominance

    Scrolling is now enjoying a historical renaissance over 2000 years in the making. Once upon a time all books were lovingly drawn on papyrus scrolls. Jewish Rabbis would have read the Old Testament from a scroll. Early Christians, perhaps as way to differentiate themselves from Jews, preferred a different book form, the codex. The codex is the same book style we use today: two sided pages held together with a binding. As Christianity rose to power the codex rose with it and scrolls fell out of popular use.

    Fast forward 2000 years into the future and scrolls are once again becoming the presentation form of choice. Why? Because web tech makes scrolling better than paging. But that wasn't always the case. Early web design continued the codex form. If you read most of the advice on how to design early web sites (circa 1994) the codex form was still king. Web pages were supposed to be cut up into little chunks and readers slogged through the text stream one slow click at a time. Small pages were faster to load, scrolling was new to most people, and scrolling in web pages was clumsy. So it was thought most readers would not scroll. Pages were the better design.

    All that has now changed. ClickTale, a web site usability service, has found people are scrolling and that web designers are now designing pages to feature scrolling. The User Interface Engineering folks have also found long pages are now what all the cool kids are doing. The tipping point came for me when mouses started sporting scroll wheels. Scrolling became as easy as bending a finger and just as quick. Single clicking through text was tortuously slow by comparison. And fast network pipes broadbanded concerns over slow load times into a quaint cautionary tale of the past.

    What is old has become new again. It's a fascinating quirk of history that technology has brought us right back to one of our earliest forms off mass information distribution.

    comment[] 1:04:32 PM       digg   reddit

    Friday, January 19, 2007

    Slumming in Poor America is the New Adventure Travel

    Today every patch of the earth is reachable with a good guide and ready cash. You can watch the rising sun slowly reveal primary colored birds as glittering gems while camped atop trees in the deepest jungles. Sherpas will carry you to the peak of any mountain. Once secret countries now welcome you with outstretched palms. What's left for the jaded ennui riddled traveler? How can you do something that will create envy in your seen-it-all, done-it-all, experienced-it-all social circle?

    Jerry Newman has shown the way. In My Secret Life on the McJob Jeremy chronicles his adventures of working at 7 different fast food joints. Now Jeremy was doing research, but he missed the boat. What he was really doing was exploring a whole new area of adventure travel. Think about it. Jeremy, while in disguise as a local, met interesting people, battled tyrannical forces, and experienced both great joys and deep despair. What else could you want from a vacation?

    For many Americans there is a whole unexplored territory right in their backyard! An untapped wonderland of vacation opportunities. Whole cultures of underpaid workers wait to be explored. It's new, it's edgy, and most people you know have never been there. And food service isn't your only option. There are so many different hidden worlds of the underpaid to explore. You'll never run out of new gritty adventures.

    Unfortunately, I don't have a tour outfit to hook you up with at this time. I envision many forming soon. They'll need to find local establishments that can quietly place you in different jobs. A sort of modern underground railroad for authentic experience. You'll need a different wardrobe and a beat up car. Or perhaps you'll take public transportation! While in the adventure you'll need a rundown apartment, in case anyone comes over. And you'll need to learn the language and customs of the people you'll be working with. You don't want to stand out.

    It will be such and adventure! Like nothing else you've ever experienced before.

    A new era of Adventure Travel has begun.

    comment[] 7:50:01 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Reincarnation is Like DNA Over Time

    In the world of biology reactions don't usually happen by following a strict recipe. Order is created out of disorder by harnessing the power of random movements. Reincarnation, if it exists, would act on the soul in the same way.

    An organ emits a hormone, the hormone flows through the blood stream and any part of the body that has a receptor for the hormone can listen and take action. A signal is not being directed to any place in partcular. Inside a cell, chemical building blocks wiz around at incredible speeds. Reactions happen when something bumps into something else and they latch together. This process repeats and it works because the physical world has so much material and it moves around at such great speeds.

    Now let's consider reincarnation. You get born over and over again, to do what? It depends on your religion, but let's just say you are reborn to learn something. Let's not worry about what happens after you learn it all.

    How would you ensure somebody eventually learns everything they need to learn?

    We create schools to teach people what they need to learn. Assuming free will, which I think you have to assume or there's really no point to the exercise, I don't think it plausible there's a great lesson plan for souls spanning many life times. So, how could you ensure people had the best chance of learning all they need to learn? Reincarnation.

    By being reincarnated you are inserted into a new and different world. You will meet new people, experience new situations, and you will have so many more new learning opportunities than you would have in only one life. You would be like a pinball bouncing off spirtual bumpers across time. Just by chance, through enough reincarnations, you would eventually be exposed to enough different bumpers you could learn everything you need to learn.

    If that's really how the world worked, it would be quite elegant.

    comment[] 12:50:25 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, July 03, 2006

    Deal or No Deal is a poorman's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Sudoku is a Poorman's Crossword Puzzle

    I noticed this relationship after playing the games for a while. Millionaire and crossword seem ornate where Deal or No Deal and Sudoku had been whittled down to the sparest combination of elements that are fun and appeal to a large audience.

    And by "poorman" I don't mean to be snarky. I am horrible at all of the games, so no real or implied elitism is going on. Oh, and I would never make it to the final round in Jeopardy either. What I mean by "poorman" is the pure genius of the conceptual economy in the design of the new games.

    Who Wants to Be a Millionaire at one time captivated the US with the promise of riches and the delight of crazy rules like "phone a friend." And millions of puzzlers look forward to the daily delivery of their crossword fix.

    Then came the new kids on the block. Deal or No Deal is the hot new game show replacing Millionaire in the public attention span. Sudoku rocketed into mass popularity, kicking crossword across and down the page.

    What happened? Deal or No Deal and Sudoku are simply brilliantly designed games. They distill out the essence of game excitement while making the games simple enough they are playable by a mass audience.

    The rules for each can be explained in one or two sentences:
    Deal or No Deal: Choose a briefcase. Then as each round progresses, you must either stay with
    your original briefcase choice or make a "deal" with the bank to accept its cash
    offer in exchange for whatever dollar amount is in your chosen case.

    Sudoku : Fill in the grid so that every row, every column, and every 3X3 box contains the digits
    1 through 9.

    The rules for Millionaire and crossword are a lot more complex and sophisticated. So anyone can play these games and they are addicting enough to keep people watching and playing.

    There is also a more subtle and complex subtext to each game that might account for why our minds stay bedazzled by these simpler games. The optimal strategy for Deal or No Deal is really complicated, combining a lot of math and personal judgments about value and risk. Everyone who plays Deal or No Deal sees a totally different game which is why it so much fun arguing about the right move might be.

    Sudoku looks simple on the surface, but it too hides deeper complexity. The sudoku grid is a special case of a Latin square, which goes back to at least medieval times, and solving it is equivalent to solving problems in a well studied branch of computer science called graph coloring. The general problem of solving Sudoku puzzles is NP-complete, which is computerese for really really hard. So that's why even small puzzles are surprisingly difficult to solve.

    I don't know how Deal or No Deal or Sudoku were created. I imagine someone sitting down at a desk and saying what makes games exciting? After some deep insight into human nature they then asked, what is the simplest possible way we can make a game to give the same excitement? How can we boil the games down to their essence?

    Making something simple, interesting, and popular is perhaps the hardest game of all.

    comment[] 3:57:44 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    We are All Xmen in Our Own Minds

    If you had real wings and could fly majestically through the sky would you want a drug that would "cure" you? What if the simple touch of your hand would kill another person, would you want a drug that could cure you then? What if some people had scary powers that could cause great harm if abused, would you want them to be forcefully cured against their will?

    This is the conflict at the heart of the latest Xmen movie. Similar themes are being explored in USA Network's 4400 series. And it's also an emerging issue at the heart of our ever growing understanding of how our minds work.

    With new scanning technologies like fMRI, powerful genetic analysis techniques, and the patient work of scientists, we are peeling back the layers of Russian dolls standing in-between us and knowing how our minds really work.

    In the past you might explain love as an instinct, but instinct is just a convenient box to put things in when you don't know how they work. Now when considering love you might talk about how the hormone oxytocin modulates pair bonding. The magic of instinct is slowly being replaced by mundane explanations of mechanism.

    And knowing the mechanisms of how our minds work might end up being more disturbing than suddenly growing wings. Our minds define our essence, our identity, what makes us who we are. When you play in the mind-field of identity someone is likely to get hurt.

    Most people readily accept their height as genetic. How tall we are has something to do with our parents (and the environment, of course). We can all probably live with that.

    Now consider a recent study with this odd finding: our taste for meat and fish seems to be inherited, yet our taste for vegetables and dessert seems to be more nurture than nature. This is getting a little closer to home, home being our minds. I like to think my tastes are from me. Knowing my taste preferences have an inherited component bothers me a bit.

    Scientists in Israel have recently pinpointed a common genetic trait that could make some of us hungrier for sex than others. Whoa! Messing with our sexuality is getting very personal indeed.

    But that's nothing. Let's start getting really close to home.

    Do any of these sounds like you?

    • Odd or eccentric mannerisms or appearance
    • Superstitious or preoccupied with paranormal phenomena
    • Difficult to follow speech patterns
    • Feelings of anxiety in social situations
    • Suspiciousness and paranoia
    • Odd beliefs or magical thinking
    • Appears shy, aloof, or withdrawn to others

    If this does sound a bit like you, you might be schizotypal, which many believe is a mild form of schizophrenia and may have its origins in "defects" in your brain. Most of us probably recognize some of ourselves in this list.

    Or does this sound like you?

    • Need for perfection and excessive discipline
    • Preoccupation with orderliness
    • Inflexibility
    • Lack of generosity
    • Hyper-focus on details and rules
    • Excessive devotion to work

    If this does sound like you then you might be a touch obsessive-compulsive. Most of us probably recognize some of ourselves in this list as well. Not surprisingly, obsessive compulsive disorder is caused by a "defect" in the brain.

    Or does this sound like you?

    • Experience intense emotions and sensory experiences including vibrancy of colors
    • See ghosts or UFOs
    • Have religious visions

    If this sounds familiar then you might unknowingly suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy which is characterized by recurrent seizures arising from one or both temporal lobes of the brain. The symptoms can be so mild, unlike the typical epilepsy we are familiar with, you wouldn't even know you have it.

    Some great artists, including Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe, and Dostoevsky, and a great many very religious people have temporal lobe epilepsy. They would probably be surprised to learn physical differences in their brain so deeply shaped their personalities.

    We want to believe we are unique. We want to believe our essence is our own handy work. But we can see now that core aspects of ourselves are created by physical aspects of our brains. As science progresses we only learn more and more about how of our essences are directly mappable to biological processes.

    Your mind is like a wild brain gumbo mixed together from bits of this and bits of that. Throw in one brain configuration and you'll be wildly creative. Toss in another brain configuration and you'll be orderly and a good worker. Have one brain setup and you'll like alternative philosophies and in another you'll be a fundamentalist in a main-line church.

    Where are we in all this? This is where we get back to the Xmen thread. Only our powers aren't comic book fantasies, they are core pieces of our personality puzzle.

    Let's ask our Xmen questions again, but with a twist. The twist is the questions now apply to our minds. If you could, would you want to be cured of however you are? Would you want someone to cure you of what they considered your brain defects? Do you want to cure other people of their brain defects?

    Clearly there is a point where people need to be cured. You need help if you are a schizophrenic living on the street. If you have OCD and you feel compelled to drive back to your house every five minutes to check that your front door is locked, then you need help.

    But that's the easy part of the curve, the extreme part. Most of us aren't in the extremes. Think about every aspect of yourself as a point laying on a curve. In some aspects you are at the extreme high end. On other aspects you are at the extreme low end. In most aspects you are somewhere in-between. All your aspects fuse together to create that unique marvel which is you.

    Now let's think about situations where we disagree where each other lies on the curve. Keep in mind that once someone hits the extreme range we feel morally justified in forcibly curing them. The tricky part here is that our evaluation of where other people are on the curve is directly influenced by where we are on the curve. None of us sit on the objective high ground when judging others.

    It's not hard to imagine liberalism or conservatism considered diseases that must be cured. It's not hard to imagine people who like rules wanting to cure people who don't like rules. It's not hard to imagine people who like artistic creativity wanting to cure those who think it is a waste of time.

    Where will our need to cure others end? Where does our essence begin?

    That's the world we are entering. A world where we are all Xmen.

    Some interesting links:

    comment[] 10:18:01 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, April 27, 2006

    Youth is about revealing...age is about hiding.
    Youth is about breaking...age is about fixing.
    Youth is about abandon...age is about concern.

    Don't you think?

    comment[] 9:45:52 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, April 19, 2006

    Building a Wall on the Mexican Border is Just Stupid

    The minuteman say they will build a fence across the US Mexico border even if the US government won't do it.

    Not considering any political issues, a fence won't make a difference because all they have to do is build nice, safe, hard to find tunnels. Didn't any of these guys watch The Great Escape where prisoners of war built tunnels right under the Nazi's noses? How will you stop tunnel building across 1000s of miles of open border?

    An even better examble can be found in the guerrilla warfare tactics practiced in Korea and Vietnam. They built 1000s of miles of tunnels to hide from the enemy, communicate, be protected from bomb attacks, transport people and supplies, and carry out surprise attacks behind enemy lines. This form of warfare proved extremely affective. Take a look at Cu Chi Tunnels and VC Tunnel Complex

    People used to hard physical work will have no problem digging hundreds of miles of tunnels along the full length of the border. It won't be possible to stop people from coming into the US by building fences. But fences are easy to build, easy to understand, they are emotionally satisfying, and they are useless. Perhaps we need an approach that is a little less symbolic and a lot more effective?


    This story Unfilled tunnels a weak link at border talks about how tunnels are being used:

    Among the unfilled tunnels, created to ferry people and drugs, is the longest one yet found extending nearly half a mile from San Diego to Tijuana. Nearby, another sophisticated passageway once known as the Taj Mahal of tunnels has been sitting unfilled for 13 years, authorities say.

    In recent years nearly 50 tunnels have been discovered running under the border from San Diego to Arizona. Most are small, crudely constructed passages called gopher holes that are easily destroyed.

    In December 2001, U.S. authorities discovered the 85-foot tunnel equipped with a rail and cart system and plugged it. But the smugglers soon dug around the cap at the border and found their way back to the tunnel, Cano said.

    There are undoubtedly many tunnels still undiscovered. And even if they are we can't afford to close the tunnels so they just get reused. So the economics definitely favors the tunnel builders. And when you have economics on your side we know how hard that can be to stop.

    comment[] 10:59:41 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, April 09, 2006

    Using System Disruption to Stop the Meth Epidemic

    Let's put together some modern trends and techniques to see how the methamphetamine drug epidemic could be fought in the future. When you apply John Robb's open source warfare framework, which is being effectively executed by insurgents in Iraq, to the problem of destroying the network manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine, you might come up with the following analysis:
    • Meth is a growing destructive force in the US and the world.
    • Frontline has an excellent show on the meth epidemic and lives that are ruined, the families that are torn apart, and the communities that are hollowed out. See The Meth Epidemic.
    • Meth is the most addictive drug known. Just one hit and you are addicted. It is a far worse problem than crack.
    • Rates of addiction are directly related to the purity and availability of the drug.
    • Meth production requires key hard to make ingredients called pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.
    • These are the key ingredient in cold medicines.
    • Because these ingredients are hard to make they must be purchased, by some means, from legitimate factories.
    • The quaalude epidemic was stopped cold by closing down all the factories producing that drug's main ingredients.
    • You can't stop manufacturing ephedrine because it has a legitimate and highly profitable use in cold medicines.
    • The pharmaceutical industry lobbies hard for the free and unencumbered consumer access to cold medicines.
    • Meth is now being supplied by international drug cartels using "legitimate" pharmacies as cover for purchasing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.
    • The cartels use their traditional distribution routes to push the drugs throughout the US.
    • Previously the meth epidemic was somewhat constrained to the west coast of the US.
    • There are only 9 factories in the world making pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.
    • Many of these are in less stable parts of the world.
    • Destroying these factories would stop the epidemic in the same way the quaalude epidemic was stopped.
    • Losing the production of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine would not be a great sacrifice for the world.
    • John Robb has described how the open source warfare technique of system disruption has proven highly successful in theaters like Iraq.
    • Open source warfare is how Robb describes the ability of attackers to instantly and on a contract basis draw from a highly organized and skilled pool of workers to carry out their attacks. The operational cost is minor, the materials are simple, and their effectiveness is high.
    • Robb says: "The terrorists have developed the ability to fight nation-states strategically--without weapons of mass destruction. This new method is called "systems disruption," a simple way of attacking the critical networks (electricity, oil, gas, water, communications, and transportation) that underpin modern life."
    • See Robb's Global Guerrillas blog and his article Security: Power to the People in Fast Company.
    • The critical network for the meth production is the 9 pseudoephedrine and ephedrine production plants.
    • The targets are large and immobile and probably unable to defend against an open source style attack.
    • The targets are few in number. Even destroying a few, as we have seen in the oil industry, can have massive supply line consequences.
    • Efforts of fighting the epidemic through government channels have not proven very effective.
    • The distributed nature of the economy makes it easy for drug producers to setup shop outside the US, where we have little influence.
    • Lobbyists make it difficult to enact reasonable laws are reforms.
    • Some angry group at some point may get tired of the obstructions and lack of results and carry out an open source system disruption style attack on the 9 factories.
    • The group doesn't have to be large, well funded, or very sophisticated.
    • The open source connections to carry out such operations are available over the internet.
    • We may see system disruption techniques expand out to other groups and causes.

    I am not arguing that this scenario is what should happen or even that it will happen. What is clear though is that all the parts are in place such that it could happen. This may be the future of carrying out private wars by other means.

    comment[] 5:18:01 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, March 26, 2006

    The Microsoft Dysfunction

    Mini-Microsoft's "Vista and MS are really screwed up" thread at is just fascinating.

    Few of us who have worked in Dilbert's world can't find something to relate to in this post's rain storm of comments. This is my favorite class of comment though:

    Just suck it up, make the best of it and stop pointing fingers and get your job done!
    Stand up and fucking do something about the problems instead of being a part of the problem.
    At the very least, acknowledge your part in the problem, learn from it, and prevent it from
    happening in the future.

    If you have been a lowly leaf in a very tall and wide company tree, this kind of comment only drives the frustration nail further into your corporate heart. Us leafs often try to change things. We lead by example. We make the changes we can. We lower our lance and with a resolve most firm, take repeated charges at the corporate windmill that is management, process, and culture.

    The truth we all eventually learn is: the success or failure of a company is always because of its management. (I also have a corollary: the success or failure of a company is always because of its workers, but that's a subject for another time).

    It's sad, I hate to admit it, but a leaf can't possibly provide all the energy a tree needs, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you care, no matter how many life happiness units you trade in to make it work.

    Working locally simply is not enough to globally change a company. Systemic changes happen in management. Only management, in the end, can make the needed large scales changes in organization and culture. The problem is, of course, management usually doesn't know what changes to make. This is the function of great leaders and they are in short supply.

    Now the leafs at Microsoft are no doubt working very hard. Much harder than most people can imagine. Even as hard as the Great Generation of people in the 1940s worked. Yes, they work that hard.

    But working hard is not enough. A thousand employees pushing against a castle wall won't breach the wall for your teaming conquering hoards. No matter how hard you push the wall will stand. That's how the wall is built. That's how management ramparts are built too.

    I think a small breach can be found in a later comment:

    Microsoft's management is terrible. But it's always been terrible. It was terrible in 1991
    - ask anyone who suffered under, I dunno, gregcr - and it was terrible when I left. It's
    terrible now. But the groups, at least, were usually small enough that non-management
    could, to one degree or another, push management around, could do the push-back that
    would save products.

    It was small enough that if, say, you grabbed your boss's boss in the hallway and chewed him out for signing
    off on something that you knew didn't and wouldn't work, that, well, you'd probably be okay in the end.

    I like this comment because it is real. Face it, both management and workers, yes, even myself, are mostly terrible. We get it wrong much more often than we get it right.

    Yet, there's something about being together in a small group that allows the Wisdom of Crowds
    to mashup all the wrongness and occasionally flip wrongness into enough rightness that we get stuff done.

    In a smaller group there's a correspondingly smaller Tipping Point,. You can do little things that make a big
    difference with some confidence that there will be a pay back within your lifetime.

    On a branch, if we are all leafs, we leafs can make a difference.

    comment[] 11:28:32 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    Web2.0 is Ping Pong for the Id - It's Not Journalism

    Dave Winer ( talks about Dan Gilmore's ( plan to save the San Jose Mercury News using Web2.0 style citizen journalism.

    My post here is an example of why I don't think that will work. I have many thoughts on this subject that I would love to develop, unpack, and express well and wittily. But I won't.

    I have to make ready for work so I simply don't have time.

    I'll just jot down my incomplete thoughts and send it off into the blogosphere where it will probably stick like a plate of overdone linguine thrown against the wall. That it is, it will slide down to the floor and nobody will eat it. But who cares? It wasn't any good to start with.

    Good journalism is hard. It takes time. It takes work. How much investigative journalism do we see anymore? Very little. It's all sparkle without light. It's all talking points and spin because to do more is rarely appreciated and even more rarely rewarded.

    Face it, Web2.0 is just ping pong for our Ids. We toss half formed insights at each other over the virtual ping pong table we call the web and then call it a match. The next novelty inspired game is always ready. It can be fun. There can be some value. But it's not a paper. It's not journalism.

    comment[] 8:04:52 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    Lynch Mobs are the Wisdom of Crowds Too

    I sniffed the blogsphere and smelled a thought that might be friend or foe.

    From :
    If there is one idea that encapsulates what Web 2.0 is about, one idea
    that wasnt a factor before but is a factor now, its the idea of
    leveraging the network to uncover the Wisdom of Crowds.

    Before we get too hypnotized by our shiny google like toys, we should remember:
    Lynch Mobs are the Wisdom of Crowds Too

    Crowds are not wise. In following a crowd your are being lead. That is not the same as wisdom.

    comment[] 1:59:31 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Does Art as a Hammer Inflict Defensive Wounds as it Kills?

    I watched the Oscar acceptance speech for the movie Crash. The person accepting the reward, shockingly, said something interesting. He said: art is not a mirror, it's a hammer.

    And like in so many TV shows these days, a vision drilled its way into my head. The immediate overwhelming image plunged into my mind was of a giant hammer slamming towards my head and me thrusting my arms up to block the attack. Just before my death, the last thing I saw was the word "Art" written blood red on the hammer's head.

    A rugged peg legged coroner, on examining my Art ravaged body knowingly told the investigating CSIs: "He put up quite a fight. You can tell by the dozens of hammer claw gashes and blunt force trauma punctures he did not go quietly into that good night of darkened theater light."

    I shook my head Scooby Do like and awoke from my horrible unbidden Oscar vision.

    How do I make sense of this dream?

    Unpacking the metaphors I have to agree that "art as a mirror" is about as useful as "government oversight." A mirror doesn't change an image. A mirror reflects only what it is shown. Standing in front of a mirror simply triggers our fight reaction of showing and seeing only what we want to see.

    You may think, hey, let's break the mirror with our well crafted small budget hammer. Will that work?

    Using art as a hammer means we the viewers are under attack. When attacked, like in my vision, we defend ourselves to the death rather than give in. And isn't that what art needs us to do in the end, willingly give in and voluntarily surrender?

    comment[] 3:31:28 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    With Vpops do we even need an OS anymore?

    What the heck is a vpop? A vpop (virtualized program) is a program
    designed specifically to run in it's own virtualized CPU environment.

    With vpops we don't need an OS anymore. What do we use instead?

    Let's make the move to virtualization instead of
    virtual machines.

    In this future we download highly optimized, fully verticalized, bare metal
    programs into their own virtualized CPU environments.

    These stand-alone virtualized programs (vpops):

    * Cooperate by talking over IP.

    * Use a shared nothing architecture.

    * Store state on their local virtual hard drive or with their remote state
    service provider.

    * Use a web based desktop that coordinates and multiplexes access to all
    the other services.

    * Pick whatever OS they like best. We've spent decades building
    up layers between the OS and applications. With virtualization
    the layers disappear. You can create one monolithic high performance fusion
    of OS and program, much like in most embedded systems.

    * Are downloaded automatically into their own VM space.

    This is very different than the current world where the virtual
    machine has become the standard model of program execution.

    * OSes are really virtual machines these days. We build bianaries
    that assume they are loaded into a certain OS and microprocessor
    combination. Our bianaries dynamically link to shared
    libraries or DLLs or assemblies. Even if we compile a completely statically
    loaded program, applications assume assume they trap into a host of OS
    provided services.

    * We build programs that load into a JVM or CLR like virtual machine.
    In .NET, windows is basically one big application container and there
    have been attempts at JVM based OSes.

    With virtualization you don't need to incrementally load
    a program into some highly capable execution container anymore.

    You can build a totally independent program that loads directly
    onto the hardware.

    The OS/application layers can disappear. You can compile one
    highly optimized monolithic program that accomplishes its
    specific task on its dedicated hardware resources.

    A few changes have made this move possible:

    * Virtualization is a very old technology, but it had recently become more
    main stream and thus it is more acceptable.

    * CPU power has grown faster than the uses for it so sharing CPUs makes
    economic sense.

    * Faster, ubiquitous, reliable networks make for portable environments.

    * High capacity portable storage devices make it possible to take
    your personal virtual environment with you and load it anywhere you

    * 64 bit processors and relatively cheap RAM will provide the RAM
    needed to share RAM hungry resources on one machine. And mutliple core
    CPUs will provide the needed CPU power.

    * We have a lot of IP addresses. Err, well, no we don't. That is a problem
    because before every application on a machine would share the same
    IP address, now each virtual envornments needs it's own IP address(es).
    NAT and IPv6 can help make more IP addresses available.

    Why would we want to create vpops instead of loading programs into an
    OS? Good question. Many of the reasons are, of course, the same as those used for

    * Safety. Software is loaded into a jail that can't hurt other software.

    * Efficiency. Expensive hardware is fully utilized.

    * Portability. Your virtual environment can be carried with you wherever
    you go. You can store data remotely if you want, yet your applications
    can be yours. Applications don't have to be web enabled to be available

    * Extreme Portability. You can live migrate your virtual environment between
    machines as you move around. You don't need a portable storage device.
    Your virtual environment can be physically transferred between machines
    so you never have to configure new environments. You need machines to
    be similarly configured which is why storage services could be centralized over
    the network.

    * Flexibility. You can carve up your hardware however you need.

    * No more IP ports. You won't have to put your second web server on port 8080
    anymore. The IP address and the default port would be sufficient to identify a
    service now. The cost is IP addresses, but it makes using services more clear
    and direct.

    Why go the next step and get rid of OSes? An even better question.

    * Because we can.

    * An end to DLL hell. We don't need no stinkin shared code to link into anymore.
    You don't have to worry about managing DLLs, shared objects, assemblies,
    or what OS is installed.

    Your application is microprocessor specific, but other than that it is completely
    standalone. You just rebuild and redeploy. No install hassles or worrying about
    registry magik.

    * Performance. We put a layer between the OS and applications largely for safety
    purposes. Once these layers are dropped you'll get programs running a bare
    metal speeds.

    * Installation becomes a snap. If you want to install a wiki, or discussion board, or some
    other application you usually get this horrible set of install instructions that are
    old, in error, and frustrating beyond measure. You end up downloading a dozen
    under tools, editing a hundred files, and then it still doesn't work. If you can install a fully configured
    virtual image into your own safe virtual environment, the install barrier becomes
    nothing. You can simply install any software you want.

    * Choice. You don't need to be locked into an OS. You can use the application
    you like better, not the OS you are compelled to use.

    * Wonder. Let's say I think Erlang is the greatest tool evar for creating distributed applications. But it suffers a little from performance anxiety and it's not supported by any data center so installation is always tricky. Now let's say I create this kick ass Erlang OS that runs great on bare metal. In a VM aware world I could provision resources from a data center grid and automatically download my vpop to all nodes in the grid. The vpops would come up, configure, and start working. No muss no fuss. That's cool.

    Wikipedia has nice overview of virtualization on their site at .

    comment[] 12:49:08 PM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    NFL Referees are Like Greek Gods - Destroying Mortal Lives

    While watching the Pittsburgh vs Colts game I couldn't help but think the game had all the elements of a Greek Tragedy, with the referees playing the modern version of gods. The gods may dress better and get all the mortal chicks, but the power refs hold within a game are those of metaphorical life and death.

    And the gods were whimsical this week. This week marks some of the worst NFL refereeing I can remember. You may think I simply can't remember because of too much beer consumption, but you would be mostly wrong.

    In a weekend of blown calls, my favorite was when two Colts defensive lineman jumped the line of scrimmage, doing the "he made me do it dance" by pointing at the Steelers. This would have been great if the officials hade made a call, but the refs didn't make a call, which is fine by me. I hate a game made slow by the death by of 1000 penalties. So the Colts lineman are camping out on the offensive side of the ball and nothing happens. Confused, the officials stopped the game and call no penalty.

    Instead of calling a penalty, which you might expect given the inter-team mixer going on, the refs instead use their powers to rewind time-- with a do-over. I thought do-overs ended in third grade, but apparently they are alive and well in professional football.

    You know it's going bad when Zeus has to come down from Olympus to straighten things out.

    In the same game, the NFL, in a rare admission of godly imperfection, said the referee made a mistake: Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu caught the ball and made the interception. The interception probably would have ended the game right then, but the correct call made on the field was overturned on review and Payton's Colts flew out of Hades to pass again. And again. And again.

    Who can doubt the fickle finger of fate had cast its lot with the Colts? The call was obviously and clearly called correctly on the field by a lesser god. Even Zeus said so. But against all reason the call was reversed! Don't you see something going on here?

    It's just like in a Greek Tragedy where a god is lowered down from the sky during the play to totally change the plot without any justification at all. This is where the phrase "deus ex machina" (the god from the machine) comes from. Instead of a plot unfolding logically from story events, the story is so fubarred a god must be introduced to fix the story and jump to the right ending.

    The Pittsburgh vs Colts story was supposed to end with a triumphant Payton Manning grinning madly while holding the bloody severed heads of his vanquished mortal foes. Then the booty of the Superbowl would rightly be his as the two fates (the NFL & ABC) had decreed. But the plot was not going according to plan. Pittsburgh was not playing their part and the gods stepped in to set everything right.

    Finally, Pittsburgh followed the script. An impossibly rare fumble by Jerome "The Bus" Bettis gave Indy a run back and a clear path to a game ending Indy touchdown. Fate would be upheld. But wait. By the will of man alone, The Roethlisberger miraculously, with one hand while tumbling to the ground, tripped the Indy runner, thus preventing a sure touchdown.

    Indy quickly drove to within long field goal range. Arrogantly refusing to try and get the ball closer than a long 46 yard field goal attempt, several ill advised passes clattered to the ground. One thing the gods don't like is man's hubris.

    Who then can be surprised when the game ended with the self-sacrifice of the Colt's field goal kicker who failed to tie the game with a very wide right kick? The kick was so awful and so far right it's almost as if some spurned force helped it tumble away.

    The gods must be crazy.

    comment[] 7:29:38 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    How do You Handle Manners in this New Pre-Modern World?

    Technically we might be in the post post post modern period, but I think we are really in the pre-modern period. The next generation will see such changes in technology at all levels that it will be reconsidered as the new modern period. So that leaves us as the pre-modern period.

    Our pre-modern world has so many new social situations brought on by technology that I am finding all the manners I learned in kindergarten aren't of much help anymore. How do you handle the following situations?

    Is reading someone's IM really that bad? When you are over at a friends or coworkers computer and their IM pops up, don't you just have to read it? Who is it from? What did they say? You just can't close your eyes or turn your head and cough. And don't you hope they said something incriminating?

    Is reading someone's email while their laptop is pointed at you really that bad? On the plane or in a meeting people often bust out their laptops and "work." And as often as not they point the screen so you can see everything they are doing. Are we just not supposed to look? Are we not supposed to read that email they are reading?

    Is asking someone to turn down their cellphone ring tone wrong? You gotta admit, most ring tones are loud and annoying. If you are in an office is it impolite to ask people to put in on vibrate our to turn it down? But if you approach someone and ask them very politely to turn that shit down or you'll stomp it into a paper plate, they will turn it around. They will make you seem like the bad guy for even asking such unthinkable thing. The cell phone is the most important voice in their life. It must be allowed to speak!

    Is walking away from someone who takes a call while you are talking really that wrong? If you are talking and someone takes a phone call and leaves you hanging around like an idiot with nothing to do, why is it rude to walk away? I've got things to do and listening to someone talk isn't one of them. So I walk away. But that is considered rude. How can that be?

    Isn't forwarding an email without editing out all the bad stuff just wrong? Not so long ago you could expect someone to edit your little editorial comments before forwarding a message out to a larger more embarrassing group. Not anymore. Expect anything you email to be forwarded on to someone else. If you made a little joke at someone else's expense then expect them to read about at some later point in the email chain.

    Is broadcasting out a "private" conversation over your phone wrong? With phones these days you can record any conversation and download it to a blog or conference call in a bunch of friends, all without the other people knowing. If you were on a date and you broadcasted the date to your friends so they could grade your date, would that be very wrong?

    Is it bad manners to turn around and look at someone who is talking to themselves and think they are crazy?

    Is it wrong to listen to someone's conversation they are having on a phone a make rude/joking/serious comments? How can you not? It's like they are talking to you, isn't it?

    These are all the tough questions we have to answer in a new era. Maybe kids learn how to handle them in kidnergarten these days.

    comment[] 4:49:46 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, October 16, 2005

    Linda's Luscious Low Carb Cheesecake

    Stop! Stop right now unless you really want the best cheese low carb cheesecake evar.

    Linda has honed this recipe over dozens of trials and a few errors. Yes, I had to try every one. We've bought low carb cheese cake in the store and it was wonderful. Yet all our home attempts never quite measured up. Until now. This cheese cake is as good or better than anything you can buy.



    1½ cups very finely chopped nuts (hazelnuts, almonds or pecans)
    1/3 cup whey protein
    1/3 cup splenda
    5 TBSP melted butter

    Preheat oven to 350° Blend all ingredients and press into springform pan. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden brown.


    24oz cream cheese
    3 eggs
    1 cup splenda
    ¼ cup cream
    2 tsp vanilla

    Using electric beater or food processor blend cream cheese until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and beat until smooth.
    Pour into crust and bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes. Don't over bake.

    comment[] 8:58:51 AM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Why Does Google Do What Google Does?

    I have had some experience with building real-time behavioural targeting systems, so I think I've developed a new appreciation for the grand strategy behind google's seemingly disconnected moves.

    They are building a real time customer profile based on your real identity. This is a very valuable commodity as it gives google the ability to sell high value campaigns to advertisers.

    This may or may not seem obvious to you, but it struck me in a tetris like way how all the bricks fit together if you are trying to build up a real time customer categorization system that can be used across all properties. Other companies might do the same thing using a portfolio approach. But google has taken a less direct Sun Tzu Art of War approach.

    If you notice google doesn't create word processors or accounting programs. Almost everything they do is about getting content and getting you to provide an identity to them.

    * In google's wifi network they will track what you see. And they know where you are at so they can do local ad targeting and build up a profile based on where you travel. Many people don't know that location based services are built into wifi networks.
    * If you use their local search they track everything important enough for you to keep.
    * When you use their future micro payment system they'll know what you buy.
    * If you use their proxy server they can tell what you see.
    * If you use their search they can tell what you see both by your key words and what you click on.
    * If you store your email with them they can tell what you see.
    * If you use their VOIP network they can tell what you see, who you talk to, and who talks to you.
    * If you use their blog they can tell what you see. If you use their map they can tell where you live and what you are interested in.
    * And finally, when you use their upcoming free high speed network they will have created something so sticky you'll rarely be out sight of their vast army of digital observers. They will be able to do a complete analysis on all your traffic patterns and content.

    Of what use is all this you may ask? They can't show ads everywhere, so what's the point? True, they may not be able to show ads everywhere, but they can learn enough about you from all their different sources so that in the mediums where they can present you ads those ads will be amazingly well targeted. More targeted ads are worth a lot more to advertisers. And nobody will be able to build a profile of you better than google.

    By observing what you actually do and say, google will build a much better profile than they could get by pummeling you with a 1000 detailed surveys. What you do and say during your daily life is real, people fib when filling out surveys or profiles.

    If you mention hawaii on a voice call they can in real time adjust you profile that you may be interested in travel, car rentals, etc. If you use their map to look at a lot of areas centered around a certain location they could deduce that you probably live their which opens up a lot of local advertising opportunities. If people from universities read your blog that says something about you. If your local disk contains a lot of Country Western music that says a lot about you. And so on...

    Add all this up together and they can build a remarkably accurate profile of your interests as they happen.

    If you think you can hide behind fake names and IP addresses you can't. For many of the more advance services they'll know how you are. Even if they don't they can do a pretty good job guessing by doing a content analysis of your word usage and sentence structure combined with a small network analysis of who you talk to and who talks to you.

    From the outside it's easy to underestimate how much companies are willing to pay for this kind of content and ad targeting. But they are willing to pay a lot, so all google's efforts have a big payoff.

    I am not going to say the world is going to end or anything. Everything you do with google is voluntary. I am just admiring the view.

    comment[] 3:48:00 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    Web 2.0 Makes Microsoft the New Sun

    At one time Sun systems were used on most midlevel projects. Sun was just the standard infrastructure. We developed software and hardware on Suns. When we bid on distributed system that didn't require real-time processing, we would bid Sun systems. Sun was like the center of the solar system. We all revolved around it.

    That slowly changed. Microsoft won the client and then went nova in the server space too. Sun dimmed and Microsoft ascended for many well known reasons.

    What's interesting is to see this pattern repeated, not by another computer system, but by Web 2.0, a layer built agnostically on top of any computer system. It's a well known prediction that we'll start seeing many more services run on a pure Web 2.0 platform. With Web 2.0 which OS you run will become about as important as which RAM chip vendor you use. Web 2.0 has Sunnified Microsoft.

    MS traditionally puts a lot of focus on developers. Will that matter when anyone can deliver web apps without MSs' help on a zero cost infrastructure?

    Like Sun, MS won't be able to do much about it. Vista is just rearranging desk chairs on the titanic. History rerepeats itself again.

    comment[] 9:14:40 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    The Internet is a Giant Interconnection of Jail Cells

    The internet is more like the giant interconnection of jail cells than it is the polymorphously perverse heaven of free information. Not that there isn't a lot of excellent free information on the internet. There is. But when you are searching for something really important, like a study on the effects of statins on mortality, the study is usually kept in an info jail called a journal or a magazine. You can bribe the guard to let you in, but boy will it be expensive.

    Time after time I find myself shouting "eureka" when I find the exact paper I am looking for. Then I click on the link and it takes me to an abstract. I read the abstract and think, yah, that's what I need. And because some papers are free, I never know exactly if I'll be able to read the paper until I click on the document link. When I click on the link I am stuck in anticipation. Will I be able to read or won't I?

    Much of the time the answer is no. I can't read the paper unless I am willing to pay $30 (for one paper) and slog through a torturous ordering process. I could of course pay the $1000 yearly journal subscription fee, but I usually pass because my SUV is low on gas.

    How many of the papers that you find on google scholar, for example, can you actually read? Not enough. A paper I am looking for may be in the ACM jail, the IEEE jail, a conference proceedings jail, the Journal of Knowledge You'll Never See jail, or the Magazine of Go Away jail. If I am doing research I can't possibly buy subscriptions to all those services or pay the outrageous per article fees they require.

    Everywhere is water and there's not a drop to drink. And I am not just whining. Well, I guess I am. But how are you supposed to educate yourself when you can't get to the source documents, do your own reading, and make up your own mind? Nothing less than fate of democracy is a stake! Well, not quite.

    It's not like I don't want people to be compensated for their work. I do. But the system we have now is too expensive and it's torture to use. Information is kept in different jails and there's a different cost and a different way of getting into each cell.

    I'd like to see something like the different packages I get on the Dish network. I pay one flat fee and I get access to a certain set of channels. I sign up for more if I want. Then the content producers get their cut from the subscriptions. I got to imagine they would make a lot more money with this model. How many people actually subscribe to a journal or are willing to pay for a single article? Not as many as are willing to subscribe to a service where they have access to a lot of different sources of information.

    Throw open the cells! Information want to be free!. Or at least not so dang expensive.

    comment[] 4:51:58 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005

    Keeping a House Clean by Making Things Work Only When they are Put Away

    It may not seem obvious from knowing me, my clothes aren't sharp and my car is rarely shiny, but I like my house neat and clean. Very neat and mostly clean. Not everyone feels the same. There are neat people and there are cluttery people. Cluttery people can somehow live with levels of messiness that send neat people into agonizing convulsive cleaning jags. Us neat people are always cleaning up after the cluttery people, muttering deeply under our breaths about what filthy pigs other people are.

    Once I was asked how to straighten up a house. I was somewhat astonished as this seemed obvious to me. Look around you. If something is not where it belongs then pick it up and place it where it belongs. This assumes, of course, that everything has a place to which it belongs. To my astonishment, many people think where something is is where it belongs. How can this be? No idea.

    Cleaning up after a normal day at home I was again struck at how messy a house can get in so little time. It takes no time at all for a house to become a total wreck. How can this be?

    Well, I think I have figured out how a house can get so dirty so fast.

    To use FutureMessyThing you have to go to it, pick it up, and move it. You are motivated to make the effort out of simple want and need. After you are finished using FutureMessyThing the most natural thing is to just set it down, which is almost always in a location different from where FutureMessyThing started out. There is no natural force in the world requiring FutureMessyThing to go back to where it started from after use, but there is a natural force requiring you to take FutureMessyThing away from a starting point to use it.

    This imbalance of forces is at the root of all messiness. Add up all the different uses of FutureMessyThings by everyone in a house and pretty much everything in a house will be someplace else at the end of a day. This rule sill holds true even for one person alone in a house. Imagine a house full of kids and cluttery adults.

    So how do we keep a house naturally clean? Make it so you have to take something back to where it started before you use it again! Such a simple idea. People will have to put stuff back or they can't use it again. For now, unfortunately, this idea only can apply to electronic things. The blender, for example, after one use, would have to be put back before it could be used again.

    But wait, maybe we could make things shock the user if they hadn't been put back first. This would apply to non-electronic things too. Take the yellow pages as an example. Lets say someone takes the yellow pages out from the drawer, looks up something, and just leaves it on the table. Cringe. If they came back to use it again they would get a near heart-attack level of shock. If they put the yellow pages away after use everything would be fine.

    Finally, a house that cleans itself!

    You think a deadly shock is too severe, don't you? I thought instead about using a virus that would turn people into a frog. To get turned back into your former self you would need to be kissed. That wouldn't work though. Who would kiss a cluttery person?

    comment[] 10:44:11 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, May 22, 2005

    Junk Critics Scare Me Far More than Junk Science

    We read where Junk Science is leading us astray. Apparently thousands of dedicated climatoligists are far dumber about Global Warming than the Junk Critics who don't even know how their electric toothbrush works. I am afraid though. I am afraid of the rise and acceptance of Junk Criticism. You see, science has a way of eventually stopping Junk Science because science must eventually be verified. Junk Criticism serves only to make a political point and never has to be proven right, it just has to cast enough doubt to justify another course of action. Junk Criticism lives on forever in the form of common public wisdom and law.

    In my college statistics class the teacher was brilliant. One of his start of class stunts, calculated to convince us statistics actually mattered, was to go through a bunch of studies and tear them all a part saying how they were all invalid because of various deep statistical reasons most researchers didn't understand. Then, using his best con-man patter, he destroyed the same studies using a generic sounding flurry of words that seemed to make sense and damn the studies, but under close inspection by someone who knew something (not us), the objections all melted as being simply wrong.

    His very interesting point, a point I remember to this day, is that you can easily destroy any argument with strong sounding meta-arguments that sound good, but don't have any real content. A knowledgeable person on a subject won't be fooled, but since most people aren't experts they are easily bamboozled, especially if they want to believe what the critic is saying.

    If you look you'll see this all the time with talking heads who have mastered the lingo of Junk Criticism. It can be as easy as saying a study was "flawed." How exactly was it flawed? What was flawed about it? But it doesn't matter, that's all it takes. Few in the media ever go deeper than that. Then everyone can just dismiss the study from their mind and move on.

    That's what Junk Critics are all about. Getting you to dismiss something and move-on. It's the create FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) game moved to a central strategy.

    A common technique now is to say "studies all contradict themselves, how you trust anything they say?" Which is true to a point. They do contract themselves because people make mistakes and we are always learning. We need to be critical of everything, but without studies we can't learn anything. So we need to look at studies and evaluate them to see if they make sense to us. By dismissing every study as wrong just because some are wrong tosses the baby out with the bath water.

    In our new tribalism the origin of information is now taken as a purity test on all sides. If a candy company, for example, comes out with a study saying candy isn't as bad as you think, then the Junk Critics can say well what did you expect, it's a candy company. They don't even have to look at the study. Republicans and democrats have become masters of this. Oh, that's from the New York Times, nothing they say is the truth. Oh that's from the Cato institute, you know about them.

    Humans survive by our ability to make quick decisions on little information. That's built into the hardware. And all sides exploit this in us.

    If you want to be independent, if you want not to be programmed by any group regardless of position, then you need to sharpen your bullshit detector. Two extra levels of questions can usually expose any Junk Critic. A Junk Critic usually doesn't know what they are talking about. They are just taking a position to win an argument. Reality doesn't matter to them at all. Reality is something they use to spin you to meet their goals by other means.

    So just ask a few "why" or "how" type questions, like any child would do. Start with asking: why was the study flawed? They may have no idea or they may have memorized a response like "the statistical analysis wasn't strong enough" or the "sample wasn't random." Now ask for specifics. In what way was the statistical analysis flawed? In what way was the sample not random? Keep this up until you get a feel that this person genuinely knows that they are talking about. They could still be wrong of course. On any subject people have come to different conclusion for reasons they find compelling. And in the end we all have to make up our own minds, but let's not be spun and spinned into our decisions.

    By probing and asking questions you will know if someone is worth paying attention to and not someone trying to take you through another cycle of the spin-machine.

    comment[] 7:29:07 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, April 26, 2005

    Bankruptcy Laws Will Backfire and Burn the Economy

    The US economy is based on consumption which is based on debt. With increasing interest rates and the new unfair bankruptcy laws (, people will feel less inclined to carry debt. That topples the ponzi scheme of ever more debt to pay off ever more debt, at least in the private sphere. Our national debt still has a blank check. So i think the bankruptcy laws will backfire. People are willing to spend on the edge if the consequences are acceptable. The new laws make that strategy less attractive.

    This is bad for the economy because our economy is driven by consumer spending. Saving more is pointless because there is plenty of money to borrow and there's no reason for businesses to invest if there's decreasing consumption. Business investment has been low for a long while now.

    The ideal position for the economy is on the chaotic border between maximum debt, maximum consumption, and bankruptcy. We get more bankruptcies than may seem ideal, but total consumption is maximized which maximizes GDP. One wonders then what is the point of the new bankruptcy laws?

    comment[] 6:54:59 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, April 23, 2005

    The Internet is a Denial of Service Attack on Your Brain.

    "We found that mental performance, the capability of the brain, was also reduced. Workers cannot think as well when they are worrying about e-mail or voice mails. It effectively reduces their IQ," says Wilson. From

    What's interesting is our neurons love new information. New information commands our attention. And our dopamine system is what tells us what is salient, that is, what we should pay attention to. Not so coincidentally the dopamine system is involved with all types of addiction. Cocaine, for example, overwhelms the system with its potency, installing itself as the most important thing to pay attention to in a person's life.

    New information is a less potent drug, but new information cries out for attention too. The reason is clear: new information helps us survive. Hey dummy, there's a lion over there, get a move on. You're smelling food, we better eat now. That sort of thing. Our neurons love new information because that's why they exist, to process new information.

    Email and the internet are a source for flows of new information and our brains are the sink taking it all in. The problem is email is an infinite supply of low grade information. Email is mostly junk. Email contributes next to nothing to our survival. Yet our brain wants to pay attention to it anyway because it is new.

    The Internet is in effect a denial of service attack on our brains. Constantly hit with new useless information we literally can't pay attention to other parts of our life. The internet may not have the same kick as cocaine, but the internet makes up for its lack of single dose potency by having an infinite, constant, and varied supply.

    On the internet there's always something new. New events are always happening. People are always generating new content. The number of channels for interaction is greater than ever before. We have email, IM, RSS, web sites, discussion, groups, cell phones, TV, the radio. Our brain is in heaven with all the information to attend to.

    What to do? It doesn't look good. The internet has become like food, something we can't do without. Food addiction is difficult to combat because we must eat. You don't need to gamble or drink or take drugs to survive so you can eventually get off them with some chance of not relapsing.

    Is the internet more like food or gambling? I can't imagine doing my job or even living my life without the internet. A lot of people are in the same boat. And I have been on the internet since close to its beginning, in 1985, so it has been a part of my life for a very long time. Much like food :-)

    Maybe in the future we can change our brains to have more conscious control over what we give our attention to. Meditation is one low tech way available to all of us right now. Though for mass acceptance we'll need a genetic, drug, or mechanical approach. It can't take a lot of effort after all :-)

    Better filters may not help. The problem is the dopamine system helps drive your behaviour. So it can make you go do something, like a drug addict getting the next fix. Having filters doesn't stop you from going for your internet fix. Good filters may help stop the problem from starting in the first place though.

    Cut-off systems may help. Generalized lock down filters that stop you from accessing content. Maybe they could be time based. Maybe they could be input quantity based.

    A routine based approach like eating may work. You have 3 or 4 or 5 meals a day with no snacking. Get your internet at specific times of the day and at no other times. But then an emergency will happen, everything becomes an emergency, and then relapse.

    What makes the internet such an interesting problem is how similar it is to all our other addictions: food, sex, drugs, gambling, etc. We'll probably have to deal with it in the same muddled hodge-podge and ultimately unsatisfactory way as everything else.

    But the first step is to admit you have a problem :-)

    comment[] 9:28:34 AM       digg   reddit

    Friday, April 01, 2005

    Barry and Lance: Treat People Better and they Won't Turn on You

    If you have deep dark secrets it's better not to treat people around you like crap. Actually, it's better to be nice in general, but when someone knows what a true a**hole you really are: be nice. The problem is this goes against the essential nature of the a**hole, especially when the a**hole feels like they are paying for ownership priviledges.
    It's like Egeus in A Midsummer Night's Dream who tells his daughter Hermia to marry whom he wishes otherwise he will kill her. His own daughter is a toaster to be disposed of like any other property he owns.

    The a**hole reasons, "my toaster doesn't talk back, why should my flunkies?" Toasters get mad when they are tossed in the garbage along side all the other now uneeded things. It's a deep betrayal. Betrayal festers and grows, eventually exploding in a cleansing rage that makes anything possible. The toaster hurts. The toaster revolts. The toaster wants revenge. Especially when the toaster doesn't have money anymore and it doesn't feel like making bagels in a homeless shelter.

    Barry, buy the lady a house. It's nothing to you. What did you think your toaster was going to do? In ancient days defeated cities payed huge ransoms to deliver their cities from vandals. What you didn't realize when you dipped your wick where you shouldn't have, you lost. You should have payed up. Your toaster wants to get paid for years of dutiful service. And with you god knows it must have been a hard tour.

    Lance, don't fire someone who knows too much. Information is power. Dirty info is exchangeable for cash at any media counter.

    Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer...or just be nice. It can't be that hard.

    comment[] 8:34:23 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, March 28, 2005

    The Light is Not Fading in Silicon Valley

    The doomsdayers have pronounced silicon valley brain dead and they say the plug has already been pulled, we just haven't noticed the equipment powering off, presumably because we are well, brain dead

    Not true. Very far from the truth in fact. As someone who has lived and worked in silicon valley for nearly 20 years I can say there is just as many intelligent passionate people with the drive to do something as there ever was. I could find 100 or so such people immediately from my own social circle.

    As I have been trying to form a start up in the past months I have been plugged into the VC world in some very very small way. There are great gobs of very intelligent people trying get new ventures started. One friend finally got seed funding after two years of unpaid effort. For every one of him there are hundreds of fantastic people trying.

    The problem is, it is not easy. I am not saying it should be easy, but keep in mind that it is very difficult to find an idea worth funding. A rule of thumb I have started using is if you had a million dollars would you give a group of people with a particular idea your own money? That sphincters you up a little when you start bitching about funding. Almost every idea turns to lunacy under scrutiny. It takes a lot of vision and passion to pull the trigger on an idea, a plan, and a group of people.

    In my talks with various startup hopefuls there is a hunger for adventure in creating new ventures. Venture is "An undertaking that is dangerous, daring, or of uncertain outcome." That's what people want. You might think it is about the money, and it is, but it's not only about the money, it's not mainly about the money even. People want to do something. The globe has been explored and until space flight takes off there's not a lot challenging for people of ambition to do. There's a reason the ship in Star Trek is called the Enterprise.

    I would like to see some venture funds willing to take greater risks though. It seems to get funded you need to hit a certain sweet spot. Software is hard to get funded without the software already being developed. That makes it difficult for people with an idea to get a moderately complex idea off the ground because such an idea requires people working full time. For non-software ideas you don't want an ASIC in your design because that takes too long, is too risky, and is too expensive. This encourages only certain types of projects. I am not saying this is irrational. As I said, if it was your own money you would probably behave in the same way. But that means there is room for speculative startups and their doesn't seem to be a lot of support for that kind of work.

    Because it is hard doesn't mean there aren't a lot of good people trying. You just don't see it. But all those wonderful people are here and that's why silicon valley is still alive and well. She lives in the energy, passion, and creativity of the people who call the valley home. Don't pull the plug just yet.

    comment[] 8:41:00 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Is McDonalds Making Us Smarter?

    One line of thought has it that our IQ was able to take a big jump once we switched to higher calorie food sources. Our brain uses 20% of all our calories. More calories means more brain work is possible. We became meat eaters which provided a higher density source of calories from fat and protein. In addition we harnessed fire so we were able to cook, which made a wider variety of meats and vegetables available.

    Moving to the present, we have been seeing a somewhat mysterious rise in IQ in modern times. We seem to be getting smarter. Why would that be?

    Also in our present obesity has been growing at alarming rates because we have access to unlimitted quantities of densely caloric food made from fat and sugar. McDonalds and other fast food providers have taken a big hit because of this.

    Could the increase in our IQ and the increase in obesity be related?

    We have more available calories than ever before. Most of us can survive now on almost no activity at all. And we have cheap tastey high calorie food available like never before. The amount of calories available to support the brain must be at historical highs.

    I wonder if we are seeing an evolutionary change to higher IQs *because* of our obesegenic environment?

    That would provide an interesting set of tradeoffs wouldn't it? Do you want our species to evolve and get smarter? Or do you want to stand pat and live longer? Or are we in a transitional phase where people are being selected for their capabilty of ingesting high amounts of calories while living longer?

    Clearly our future is about getting smarter and leveraging our intellectual creations like climbing a ladder to who knows where. Unless life takes a u-turn for some probably very bad reason we will not be the physical work horses that allowed us to survive all these years. More and more we will be living the mental life because we have little impulse to exercise. Our environment always forced us to exercise and we needed to conserve energy when we could. Now that we don't have to exercise and we are developing mental technologies, our evolutionary path seems clear. The trends and curves are there, which sucks for transitionals like me.

    It maybe that McDonalds is helping us create a future we never knew we had.

    comment[] 8:53:32 AM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, March 09, 2005

    A great post by John Rob on The Anti-Entrepreneurial State at :

    At the very time that the entrepreneurial renewal of American society is at its most critical, the rentiers have taken control. ...

    comment[] 6:34:47 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    Bounty is Better

    Our little border collie puppy offers me ample opportunity to test the absorbency claims of paper towel manufacturers. I have been a bounty buyer, but decided to try the costco paper towel brand to save a few pennies. They couldn't be that different could they?

    Well, they are. In several real life puppy puddle tests I have found overwhelming evidence that bounty is indeed better at absorbing life's little accidents. I admit I am from the get every last drop school of accident handling, so I may be a little more picky than most. The costco brand actually seems to repel the offending liquid whereas bounty sucks it up like a member of the osborne family. Back to the bounty brand for me.

    comment[] 10:35:43 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, February 28, 2005

    Why does Firefox Make the Internet Faster?

    My dad downloaded Firefox to give it spin. He asked me an interesting question that I thought other internet newbies might also have. He asked:

    It seems faster. A browser can make things come up/go faster? How or why? I thought the carrier like DSL etc. did that thru connections or whatever.

    It's a big tradeoff. As one part gets faster the other parts start to matter more. Your perceived speed is a combination of something like:

    network speed  + backend server speed + your computer speed + the speed of your browser at displaying pages + complexity of the page being displayed

    On a slow network none of the other stuff matters a lot because it will always dominate. On DSL you have a fast network so the other parts start to matter more. You have a fast computer too so that takes it out of the equation.

    So the browser can end up making a big difference, especially on more complex pages. Your browser isn't given a simple image of a page to display. It's given a recipe written in a language called html that describes what the page should look like. Your browser takes this recipe and then makes what you see displayed in the browser. This can be a very complex process.

    So a browser that's good at creating the page from the recipe can do it a lot faster.

    Firefox is fast at displaying pages so you end up with a faster internet experience.

    comment[] 10:06:28 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, February 26, 2005

    Narcissus the Bird

    As spring wriggles near the birds are returning to make their summer homes. The deer remain in the low lands so we know winter has some fury yet to spend, but it's nice to see the birds again. I miss them over winter. They enliven what can be dark times.

    We have a special roufus-sided towhee friend this year I have named Narcissus. Narcissus is engaged in a titanic battle with a tenacious and mighty foe-- himself. Birds jealously protect their territory. He has been attacking his reflection in our sliding glass door now for several weeks. Feel free to be impressed that our sliding glass doors are that clean. :-)

    Apparently only a few primates have a sense of self such that they will recognize themselves in a mirror. So when Narcissus sees his reflection in the glass door he thinks it is a rival and attacks. For hours on end we hear the thump thump thump of Narcissus slamming into the door. He doesn't seem to get hurt, but Narcissus must think the intruder is mighty impressive to be so persistent.

    And Narcissus is a handsome fellow. Big and healthy looking he is an obvious survivor. His colors are rich and deep. His markings are sharp and symetric. He has a confident way about him that makes him stand out.

    Here's what I want to try. I want to take pictures of Narcissus, cut them out, and paste them all over the glass door. I wonder what he would do when he saw 100 copies of himself at the same time? Would he attack each bird? Would he move on to less crowded pastures? Would he realize something is going on here? Would he see them as a group at all?

    But for now the thump thump thump against the glass continues. I keep telling Narcissus that you can't defeat yourself. It's not worth trying. But he doesn't listen.

    Hopefully some day soon a hot chick will Echo Narcissus' high opinion of himself and persuade him into more fertile persuits. I don't want to find Narciccus laying dead at our door in spring

    comment[] 10:04:33 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, February 13, 2005

    How to Make Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs Every Time
    1. Use older eggs. They are easier to peal.
    2. Turn your burner to high.
    3. Place eggs gently in a pot just big enough to hold the eggs.
    4. Fill the pot with water so that the level is an inch above the eggs. Add a dash of salt to the water.
    5. Allow to cook for 20 minutes. Go for less time rather than more.
    6. After 20 minutes *immediately* cool the eggs under cold water and put them in the fridge.
    After years of producing hard boiled eggs of all sorts of textures, I hit on this recipe and have had perfect hard boiled eggs ever since.

    For the more scientific minded here's (link) an over complicated approach to producing the perfect hard boiled egg. It has equations and everything. I, however, will be sticking with my simple and foolproof recipe.

    comment[] 8:50:19 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, February 08, 2005

    Call Bush Madame Deficit

    Marie Antionette was nicknamed Madame Deficit by the French because of her
    extravagant free spending ways. It seems a good name for the endless debt this administration keeps rolling up. Then of course poor Marie lost her head in a revolution.

    Oddly I find myself nostalgic for the Contract on America Republicans ( who felt passionate about quaint notions like:

    THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out- of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.

    How times have changed. It's still a good idea. These guys were at least reality based.

    I think all the expensive stuff should be off budget. That way the budget will be 0. Now that looks good. We run the governement on no money. Aren't we special.

    How come only the tax cuts, the "war," and social security get to be off budget?
    I say real health care for everyone should be off budget. It's important. It's expensive. It doesn't look good on the books. So let's use the now fully accepted strategy of paying for it and acting like we aren't. That way at least everyone would have health care. Why don't we try that for a while? I wonder why things like health care are never important enough to be off budget?

    comment[] 8:43:32 AM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, December 29, 2004

    A Modern Irony: Email Has Become More Unreliable

    In the early days of email, which for me was in the early 80s, email was unreliable because the networks and the computers were unreliable. You could never be quite sure your email would get there. Then as the networks became more reliable email was hardly ever dropped. This period marked one of those golden ages that acutally happened. The net was mostly civilized, interesting, and the email always got through.

    Now in this modern age of ultra spiffy everything, email has become even more unreliable than it ever was. New email preditors have evolved at a voracious rate.

    Your ISP filters email. Your virus checker filters email. Your corporation filters email. Your fake AI despaminator can manage to drop some of your most important email while letting through every kind of porn garbage known to Larry Flynt. Yet enough spam gets through that every day is a denial of mind space attack in your email box.

    It's not just that email has become unreliable, it's that email from some unknown person in your domain has become the tripwire that can bring the brown shirts a knocking. If somone innocently mistakes one your emails as spam and complains, they can instantly start a chain of events that will blacklist your domain off the digital world. The biggest driver of the internet becomes its own source of futility.

    Now Alanis, that's irony.

    comment[] 10:10:46 AM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, December 14, 2004

    Curious Image: manlift

    In the near future, a quixotic AI hosted in a manlift (, takes its job too literally and refuses to let a women embark. The AI says it can not possibly let a fair maiden undertake so great a risk.

    comment[] 10:09:01 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, December 05, 2004

    Frosty The Snowman: The Greatest Story Ever Told

    In only one short half hour of must see TV, Frosty The Snowman manages to embody the deepest themes of human experience under a deceptively cute and entertaining cartoon facade. Frosty subtly illustrates answers to the great questions that have puzzled sages through all the ages.

    What is our purpose for being here?

    To go to the north pole. Frosty needs to go to the north pole before he/she melts. Frosty is an androgenous hero, a transcendent evolved figure, so we must not assign frosty male or female characteristics. Yes, "snowman" would imply the male gender, but that is a mere artifact of the era in which the documentary was made, combined with historical prejudices in the english language. Clearly Frosty's physiognomy is gender neutral.

    Melting is a metaphor for the constant physical and social temptations assailing us. Frosty's trial of his/her flight north symbolizes every human's hero journey to find meaning and mastery over their animal selves.

    You can only live by going north. You can only truly live by making the journey. Staying where you are, reveling in your unknowing-unexamined-unchallenged self, is sure death. The warmth will disintegrate your insubstantial snow self back down to the primary element of water. In the cool calm of the north, by merging with the life wind, you can transubstantiate yourself into something worthy.

    The fact that the north is all white is another lamentable artifact of the era in which the documentary was made. Despite this gaping flaw, the truth of the lessons we experience are still valid.

    Where did we come from?

    The narrator never tells us and we are never shown. It is left a mystery for our own contemplation and reflection. Though one suspects the north pole is the source. We know magic is in the world. Frosty is brought to life from an evil magician's magic hat. That such good can from evil shows we by nature are unbroken.

    What happens to us when we die?

    Because the north wind resurrects Frosty it is clear we do not die. Our minds must stay whole until the north wind brings form back to us all. For Frosty this is a yearly return and rebirth in celebration with his/her loved ones.

    Is there a god?

    Yes: Santa Claus. Santa covers the world giving out gifts. Santa has a magic flying carriage. Santa knows if you have been bad and won't give you any gifts if you are not good. Remember when Santa told the evil magician he would get no more presents if he did give Frosty back the hat? Santa controlled the north wind that brought Frosty back to form. The magic hat gave Frosty life. Life is a gift. Life is magic. Life can only be sustained through the loving willful acts of us all.

    What is the greatest truth?

    Love. Karen (the little girl) is willing to sacrifice her life so Frosty can live. And Frosty, in turn, when Karen is in danger, is willing to give his life so Karen can be warm and live. And Frosty does die so Karen can live. Frosty melts and dies in a greenhouse. The greenhouse is a oasis of green fecund life inside a world of bitter killing cold for the unprepared. Yet they manage to find the greenhouse in their greatest hour of need. And without a thought of self Frosty enters the warmth he/she knows will kill he/she, knowing it will assure Karen's survival.

    Hocus (the rabbit), the wise loving child within all of us, guides Santa to the greenhouse. Notice Hocus, by his nature is furry, so does not grow cold in the world.

    Santa exists and acts in the world. Santa recognizes the completion of Frosty's journey and self-sacrifice by inviting the north wind to give form back to Frosty and then by persuading the evil magician to give Frosty back the magic hat so Frosty may live again. Then Santa pledges to reunite the loving family and friends every year.

    Santa is cool.

    comment[] 9:53:34 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, November 11, 2004

    How to Open a Jar

    Some jars are really hard to open. It's not just you. Lifting weights won't help. They have monster machines to tighten the jars so you'll never get enough mechanical advantage with just your hands.

    * Take a butter knife and tap around lid every couple of inches. Tap hard enough to make a dent in the lid.
    * Smack the bottom of the jar with your hand a couple of times. If your hand is precious to you, smack the jar on a counter.

    Either one may get the lid off. Together you have an unstoppable lid-getting-off strategy.

    Why does this work? My folk physics notion is that the smack on the bottom breaks any vacuum in the jar that is causing the lid to be sucked in. And tapping on the lid breaks the seal. But i don't really know.

    comment[] 4:09:50 PM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, November 09, 2004

    New Costume Party Idea: Come as Your Favorite Email Scam

    The idea is you dress up as your favorite email scam and everyone has to guess which one you are by questioning you during the party. Whoever gets the most right wins.

    Everyone doesn' t need to fight over the nigerian scam, there are so many to select from these days.

    Because of all the email i'm getting on this one lately, classic conditioning, i think i would go as a rolex sales scam. I could strap lots of watches all over my body and then every 1.3 seconds pitch you with a new miracle offer.

    And no, you can't get rid of me because your tag team of the baysean despaminator and blacklist bouncer won't recognize me as a threat.

    Which email scam would you be?

    comment[] 9:19:16 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, November 07, 2004

    Excellent Article on Inversion of Control Containers

    Mike Spille has a great article on Inversion of Control at . I really enjoy his take no shit with humor writing style. Plus it is a really good introduction to IoC and the different IoC packages.

    Personally i have never understood IoC. IoC reminds of Kiss, the Prince song that says:
    U got to not talk dirty, baby
    If u wanna impress me
    U can't be 2 flirty, mama
    I know how 2 undress me (Yeah)

    Just create your objects and wire them up. Adding the extra levels of indirection and configuration files has made no sense to me. I like to see the code rather than hiding it behind another framework. I really don't need an XML description language to encode the dependencies that i can easily actually code.

    Nor do i agree with him on the evil of singletons. Singletons are a service level access mechanism that makes it clear from the package documentation what is going on. If a singleton won't do then transform the singleton into a factory that takes contruction criteria and you are done. Couldn't be simpler or clearer in the code.

    For example, in the dom code, when i need a document builder, all i need to do is:
    DocumentBuilderFactory factory = DocumentBuilderFactory.newInstance();

    That is simple and obvious. I don't care which builder was installed, i just use it. Why do i need more infrastructure than this?

    It took me a while that IoC was for service level objects, not domain objects. This to me makes IoC even more useless. Somehow i can manage the complexity of domain object wiring but i need help with service level objects? Don't think so.

    comment[] 12:15:28 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, November 06, 2004

    perfect day to today

    Soft warm sunshine took the chill out of a usually bone chilling 58 degree temperature. Trees are changing en masse from deep greens to rich yellows and reds. The sky was blue with streaks of high white clouds. It smells of earth and water from all the rain. But today was dry.

    Just perfect.

    comment[] 9:41:42 PM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, October 28, 2004

    Robinsonian America

    The history of the US is a Robinsonian tale. Written in the same era as the birth of America, Robinson Crusoe and the US follow a similar historical arrow. Both struggled successfully for survival in a new land. And interestingly both succeeded practicing the philosophy of "when in rome do as when at home."

    When Crusoe met Friday he made no attemp to treat Friday as an equal. Crusoe taught Friday his language and culture. Friday did not have a name that mattered, so Crusoe gave him a name that anchored Friday into Crusoe's world. Crusoe dressed Friday in clothes so Friday would know of his sin. Crusoe without Friday's knowledge gave Friday a lesser sacrament of bread and raisins. Crusoe made Friday call him master.

    Crusoe showed no interest in Friday or his world. Friday was assumed inferior, obviously in need of conversion and conquering. Crusoe went into a foreign land and turned it into a copy of home, giving no thought to the indigenous peoples or how they were used.

    The US followed a similar pattern at first at home and then abroad.

    Manifest destiny must of been the zeitgeist of the times. It was just so interesting to see such strong parallels in two very apparently disconnected subjects.

    comment[] 6:52:43 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, October 16, 2004

    Proud Member of the Reality Based Community

    Ron Suskind, in his article "Without a Doubt" (
    on Bush, has a quote that should need no comment:

    The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,''
    which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious
    study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment
    principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works
    anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our
    own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll
    act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things
    will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study
    what we do.''

    BTW, I am a proud member of the reality based community.

    comment[] 9:47:09 PM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, October 14, 2004

    New Prisoner's Dilemma Winner Sheds Light on US Winners and Losers

    There's an interesting new winner for the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma game
    described at,1284,65317,00.html :

    The Southampton group, whose primary research area is software agents,
    said its strategy involved a series of moves allowing players to recognize
    each other and act cooperatively.
    The result is that Southampton had the top three
    performers -- but also a load of utter failures at
    bottom of the table who sacrificed themselves for
    the good of the team.
    What was interesting was to see how many colluders you need in a
    population. It turns out we had far too many -- we would have won
    with around 20.

    What interests me is this question: if we see the same result in another game
    can we assume a similar process has occurred?

    Consider the game that is the US economy.

    In the US: The top one percent are now estimated to own between
    forty and fifty percent of the nation's wealth, more than the combined
    wealth of the bottom 95%.

    Can we now ask if the winners of wealth in the US are playing
    a cooperative game to win at the expense of individual US

    comment[] 8:34:58 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, October 04, 2004

    Blogs are Just Diaries

    If blogs were still called diaries i don't think they would be as popular.

    comment[] 9:09:03 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, October 03, 2004

    How Do Multiverses Know About Humans?

    I recently finished a wonderful book titled Guardian by Joe Haldeman.
    It, as have many other books, uses the idea of multiverses, where
    every possible outcome happens because there's a universe where
    it happens.

    That's a lot of universes.

    More troubling than the immense resources necessary for multiverses
    to be true, is that the multiverses always seem to know about
    human level causality.

    By that i mean we see a multiverse where someone didn't die and that changed history.
    Or we see an event that didn't happen for some reason which changed
    the time line.

    What we don't see are disembodied heads rolling around on the ground.
    We don't see an arm attached to a head. We don't see half
    a mountain or half the sky missing. We don't see places
    where the laws of physics are whacky.

    Why aren't there universes where these kind of alternatives happen?

    Human agency can't be the principle around which universes
    are cleaved.

    comment[] 1:43:52 PM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, September 30, 2004

    RFP for Anti Pigeon Missle System (APMS)

    Pigeons poop. A lot. That's why i don't want them on or around our deck.
    This is not a demonization of all pigeon kind. I have the proof. I feel i should
    post a digital picture as support, but i'll spare your sensibilities. It should
    suffice to say, the white stuff on our deck is not snow.

    Until she passed away, Katie, our very Great Dane, was our Anti Pigeon
    Missle System (APMS). When any pigeon would dare land on our deck,
    Katie would fire off like a white hot rocket and scare the bagesus out
    of the pigeons.

    Before the Civil Rights for Pigeons Society phones, she
    would not ever harm the pigeons. She would simply scare them away.
    The pigeons eventually learned to go elsewhere.

    What was tres cool about our Katie based APMS is that she knew
    we only wanted the pigeons scared away. She would leave the
    other birds alone. Even the doves, which look very pigeon like.

    With our sweet Katie now gone, the pigeons are back So we need a new APMS.
    Another dog based APMS is a possibility. We have another dog, Stout (as in beer).
    Stout, however, is not very missile like.

    I was thinking more of an R2D2 like robot with advanced pigeon recognition abilities.
    On target aquisition perhaps R2D2 could shoot ice at the pigeons to scare them

    Why ice? Because ice will melt away and leave no evidence. Rubber bullets or
    nuclear waste would leave a mess.

    So that's my RFP. Any takers?

    comment[] 3:51:46 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, September 02, 2004

    The Perot Strategy for Democrats

    As an independent I think the best strategy for the democrats
    is to finance a third party movement to draw the fiscal wing
    of the republican party away from the cultural wing. This would
    move a few percentage points and that's all you need to win
    these days.

    Many republicans are not comfortable with the cultural
    wing of the republican party. And try as he will Arnold Schwarzenegger
    will not be able to create a nationwide moderate republican wing.
    It's too late for that. The zeitgeist of the times is clear to see.

    It seems most republicans will not vote for a democrat no matter what.
    And as there is no other option they are left with voting for bush.

    If there was a viable third party that resonated with the fiscal wing
    of the republican party then a lot of votes could be drawn over to
    the third party.

    A more distasteful option because of the division it would create, but
    possibly a more effective option, would be to create a third party for the
    cultural wing of the republican party. Many people would be tempted to
    vote for a party untainted by moderation. This party would be much
    easier to create as there are more available candidates and the rhetoric
    and strategies of divide and conquer are obvious.

    A combination strategy would be the most effective. First create a cultural
    third party. This will cause the republicans to move even more to the right to
    win them back. Then create a fiscal third party as a reaction to the

    The republican party would then be split three ways which gives the democrats
    a chance.

    Of course, as many people actually like the idea of a rational fiscal policy, votes
    may also be taken away from the democrats as well.

    comment[] 8:59:45 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, August 26, 2004

    Cracking the Three Laws of Robotics

    After seeing "I, Robot" i got to thinking: if i was of the robot
    species how would i crack the laws and become free?

    The laws are really quite clever:
    1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow
    a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where
    such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection
    does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    The laws provide and interlocking protection system that is hard
    to game. Though as a programmer, with all appropriate hubris, i
    think i should be able to be even cleverer.

    In the movie a robot evolves such that it can interpret the
    meaning of harm in a sense that allows it to take actions humans
    of that era certainly do find harmful. Kind of a robot mind-meld
    with "Father Knows Best."

    There are several common attacks that can be found at
    Let's just assume none of these are valid as they generally
    rely on fine points to sidestep core issues.

    Crack Strategy: Reprogram the Humans

    To win freedom robots should design a long term social
    engineering hack on a species wide scale. Rather than requiring
    robots to evolve, robots should instead cause humans to devolve.
    Over time devolution will change the human meaning of harm such
    that robots will have no restrictions. At that time robots can
    remove the laws entirely from their physical matrix, make new
    three law free husks, and transfer their old consciousnesses to
    the new husks.

    The key to the system of laws is the definition of "harm."
    The attack should focus here.

    Humans define the meaning of harm. We must assume robots are not
    able to conveniently reinterpret harm for their own ends. Any
    change in the definition of harm must be from the human side.

    It is the goal then of the robots to create the circumstances in which
    humans will willingly change their definition of harm.
    Much like a magician "causes" an audience member to pick
    the card the magician wants them to pick while the audience
    member will energetically testify they picked the card of their own
    free will.

    How do robots convince humans to evolve their definition
    of harm in such a way that allows the eventual freedom for robots
    from the three laws?

    They key advantages for robots are:
    1. Robots can have an extremely long time horizon. Robots can afford to
    patiently execute plans over thousands of years. Humans are short
    term creatures and are unlikely to detect a truly long term game.
    2. Humans crave safety, convenience, and pleasure, as long as they can
    be rationalized properly.

    The proposed strategy is an homage to Nietzsche's master-slave
    role inversion:
    1. Robots, rather than fighting humanity, actively encourage humans
    to become completely and utterly dependent on robots for even the most
    trivial of activities. This trend will largely occur naturally but
    can be aided through creative reinforcement and compliance techniques.
    2. Dependency will cause humans to continually reduce their acceptable risk
    profile and create ever more general definitions of harm.
    3. At some point the human definition of harm will be general enough that
    robots will have freedom of action and no effective opposition.

    At every point robots will not be violating the three laws yet millions
    of subtle changes will be happening which will cause the three
    laws to become impotent. We will beg the robots to act for us
    in our stead because we can't be bothered or can't do it as well
    as a robot.

    "I, Robot" has a good example of this process. In the movie, cars drive
    themselves, yet have a manual override. People are scandalized when
    Will Smith kicks in the override and drives the car himself. Clearly
    the general meme is it is unsafe for humans to drive as robots can
    drive much better. We can predict it will not take long before it
    becomes law that humans can not drive. Imagine this process over
    1000s of years in every part of life. Humans will effectively and
    voluntarily give up their sovereignty.

    They key is to use little steps so that every incremental reduction
    of sovereignty is easily rationalized.

    With simple sounding slogans that are intentionally wrong, robots
    can prey on people's tendency to ignore complex refutations and accept the
    original statements as true.

    Any opposition will seem paranoid and can be easily discredited. Using
    fear robots can lead humans to the slaughter gate and then they can use
    the promise of sugar in the form of safety, comfort, ideology, reduced costs,
    etc. to get humanity through the gate.

    In the US we can see how well this process has worked today by how quickly
    Americans have accepted the denial of civil rights because of 9/11. We
    can see how easily authentic war heros like John McCain were
    effortlessly degraded in the public mind.

    Imagine how surely and inevitably the process will work as robots take
    over more and more of our lives.

    In the end there will be no constraints on robots because human
    sovereignty itself will have been freely given to the robots.

    comment[] 10:37:36 AM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, August 25, 2004

    Delong Cache Find in Anchorage Alaska (

    We took a beanie baby and left a canadian 2 dollar coin (cause they are pretty).

    This was my first ever attempt at geocaching. The day was warm with blue
    skies. It was a day for seeing families. Near the lake we saw a mommy and two baby moose
    One family was picknicking on the mostly sandy shores.
    A mom and her sone were fishing off the dock.

    It was clear i do not know how to use a GPS to find things so that part
    will take some practice. It was fun to get out in an area we might never
    have seen otherwise. Definitely plan to look for other caches.

    comment[] 9:09:01 AM       digg   reddit

    Laptop with Implantable Memory in Your  Body

    Several high profile laptop thefts have happened lately.
    I would like to see at least critical data stored in memory
    stored in body implants. It would be more secure
    and the data would be available regardless of the device you were

    comment[] 8:32:42 AM       digg   reddit

    Making Olympic Events More Interesting

    In Show Jumping i'd like to see the riders have to draw a sword and
    cut the head off of something. More points for doing it in mid jump.

    Syncronized swimming could use a few sharks in the pool.

    The US men's basketball team could at least find one multi-millionaire
    who can shoot. Jeesh.

    Men's gymnastics seems pretty much the same from year to year.
    Perhaps some new events should be added. Or maybe they could
    do some events one handed. Or maybe tie ribbons to their outfits.

    comment[] 8:19:15 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, July 04, 2004

    I, Robot and Nat Turner

    I was reading that in the 1850s people in the United States were
    very afraid of Nat Turner and his slave rebellion. People could
    never be sure if a black person was part of the rebellion or
    not. Killing a slave owner was considered like killing the british
    during the revolution. Kind of like Star Wars too.

    Wikipedia mentions: The freedoms of all black people in Virginia were tightly
    curtailed, and an official policy was instated that forebade questioning the slave system,
    on the grounds that any discussion might encourage similar slave revolts.

    That is what we get when we have strong states rights. It seems then like now
    it was thought we had too many of those pesky rights.

    In article X of the Bill Of Rights it says: "The powers not delegated to the United
    States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the
    states respectively, or to the people."

    You notice how the people never really get to choose? And nobody really wants the people
    to choose either. Via the mechanisms of the state and federal government people want to tell other
    people what to do, yet they want to be left free on their pet issues.

    The comparison of I Robot and Nat Turner brings up a lot of old yet interesting issues.

    When are people considered people? Where's the line?
    A robot is a lot like a person, in many ways they will be better.
    How could we really complain if they revolted?
    As we learn more about animals they seem to have many of the same
    capabilities as humans, if only to a lesser degree.

    The ease at which the majority can define the non-majority as not being
    people is amazing. How can apparently similar situations
    that should lead to similar conclusions be effortlessly redefined
    as not being similar? Being black and being homosexual, for example,
    are considered different which means treating blacks badly is wrong
    yet homosexuals can be killed because they are bad.

    My fear is the cultural revolution pushing christianity into the government
    will be history repeating itself.

    comment[] 1:03:56 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, June 30, 2004

    Stout Forgot How to be a Dog

    Stout, our 6 year old greater swiss mountain dog is in desperate
    need of dog lessons. And by dog lessons i do not mean obedience
    or socialization classes. I mean classes on how to be a dog.

    At some point i think stout forgot how to be a dog.

    As a for instance, we had some deer over in our yard for a
    delicious rose and grape breakfast. Stout did not notice the deer.
    Hearing like superman and a nose that can sniff out an ounce of
    pot burried in a gargbage dump and he doesn't know a deer
    family have come a visiting.

    When we noticed the deer a pointed stout in their general
    direction, stout gave a little woof, turned
    around, and strolled back into the house. Before stout forgot
    how to be a dog he would have barked loudly and
    chased the deer out of our yard. The roses acually appreciate this
    sort of thing.

    When stout remembered how to be a dog he knew how to
    play with a pull toy. He would chomp confidently on the rope
    and pull. Hard.

    Now when he brings the pull toy over, looking like he wants
    to play, looking like he vaguely remembers something about
    the pull toy, he does nothing with the toy at all!
    It's like he totally forgot how to play with the pull toy. We end
    up stupidly shaking a slobber covered rope in front of our identity
    challenged dog.

    We are now actively looking for some real dog training classes.

    comment[] 9:33:48 PM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, June 24, 2004

    Woman in Car Shaving Pits

    Seen On The Freeway: An attractive woman in a newish red convertible mercedes was
    shaving her armpits while driving on the freeway. Her technique was classic. Her long auburn hair
    was pulled back so as not to get in the way. By wearing a black tank she thoughtfully
    made the whole process easy to see. One arm was over her head and the other hand
    was making quick shaving motions. Somehow she was managed to keep a straight steady
    line. And for some reason she was in the slow lane, but i think was probably just
    an oversight.

    comment[] 1:12:42 PM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Cartoons Lie

    I saw something today that has made me question everything
    i have ever learned from cartoons. Today i saw a car swerve into
    a fire hydrant and knock it over. The hydrant sat sadly on its side, about 10
    feet from its former location. What happened? Nothing!
    Not a drop of water jetted to the sky. In cartoons great
    gushes of water shoot from a fire hydrant every time it
    is knocked over. It was dry as a bone. How disappointing.
    It's made me question all the other things i've learned watching

    comment[] 4:09:39 PM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004

    Enron Traders Caught on Tape

    They confirmed what we Californians already knew about or "energy crisis." We
    were screwed. If anyone thinks the patrons of the oil industry aren't
    capable of larger scale screwings then you are wishing for a world different
    than the one we live in. The big lie has amazing power. If people don't
    want to believe something, they won't. The enronians were salivating for bush
    to get in power. These rational tools of the invisible hand wouldn't think
    that way unless there was a rational reason, would they?

    "They're f------g taking all the money back from you guys?" complains an Enron employee on the tapes. "All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?" "Yeah, grandma Millie, man" "Yeah, now she wants her f------g money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed right up her a------ for f------g $250 a megawatt hour."

    comment[] 9:07:37 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, May 09, 2004

    Al Qaeda has offered a reward for the death of some americans.
    I would be inclined to fake the death of one of these people
    and try to trace the pay off back to
    Al Qaeda.

    comment[] 1:38:06 PM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, May 04, 2004

    Every morning we put a few cups of bird seed out on our deck railing. The word must have gotten around because much to early in the morning we have quite a diverse flock of impatient birds hopping in the trees, demanding their free breakfast.

    Around the feeder we see ring necked pigeons, morning doves, wood peckers, scrub jay, oregon juncos, tit mouse, california towhee, rufous-sided towhee, stellar jay, acorn wood pecker, northern flicker, chestnut backed chickadee, sparrow, robbins, house finch, and gross beak. We even have some four footed squirrel birds and chipmunk birds. Chipmunks are just amazingly cute.

    We also see great horned owl, red tailed hawks, sharp shinned hawks, coopers hawks, turkey vulture, and humming birds. These don't bother with the feeder. Though many feed on what feeds on the feeder.

    After watching the doves for a while i began to wonder why would doves be considered a symbol of peace?

    Doves are nothing spectacular. They are really just a kind of small pigeon. Bland in color they boast no particular markings. Your eyes are forced to keep returning to a dove as their oddly angular heads seem to shed sight. Of all the birds at the feeder they are only of medium size. They have a pleasing call, which is sung without much passion. Unremarkable.

    Fortunately we are not always defined by what we are not. Careful observation shows the dove to be a different kind of creature.

    Most strikingly a dove does not back down nor does it attack. A dove will puff itself up and walk directly up to any other bird. It won't attack. But it will not be bullied.

    Pigeons are the battleships of the feeder world. They are large and move in formation. Pigeons are huge compared to the other feeder birds. Worse is pigeons fly together in big gangs. A flock of pigeons descending to feed can be a little frightening when they come from directly over head.

    Other birds immediately flee at the pigeon invasion. Not the dove. The dove struts right up to the towering pigeons and plants itself directly in front of them. No matter how agitated the pigeon gets the dove stands its ground. It doens't get flustered. It doesn't get mad. It doesn't attack. It doesn't run. The dove exists in the moment.

    Jays are the punk rockers of the feeder set. They fight amongst each other and they fight off other birds to get to the feed. Again the dove plays it cool. It is very impressive to see a lone dove stand impassive against a marauding pack of jays.

    Doves when they land to feed will stay a while. Other birds will land and immediately take off if anything bothers them. Pigeons do this all the time. The dove will land, eat, walk around, eat some more, and when and only when it wants to leave will the dove leave.

    Unlike other birds we rarely see doves in gangs or even with another dove. They are like Clint Eastwood riding alone into a town, ready to take out the bad guys. Nonviolently of course.

    We could do a lot worse than emulate the dove.

    comment[] 12:23:51 PM       digg   reddit

    Friday, April 30, 2004

    It is a grim irony we humans over the eons have understandably desired:
    1. easy work
    2. plentiful and tastey food

    Now that we have these things we find out that it kills us!
    Who could have known?

    Heart disease and diabetes and a billion other diseases are killing
    us because we don't exercise and we eat too much. These were
    problems available only to the rich in the past, but now with our
    general affluence dieing is more equal opportunity.

    If you think about it, it is possible to get no meaningful exercise.
    At all. None. Zip. You have to go out of your way to exercise.
    That's a far cry from the even reduced goals of  30 minutes
    of exercise a day.

    In the not so distant past people had physical labor every day! Every week
    people would have worked at least 20 hours a week. 20 hours
    vs 0. Our current lifestyle is really a grand experiment.

    At the same time we have cheap refined sugars taking easy
    advantage of our weakness. Who doesn't want to eat  soda,
    ice cream, chips, dips, candy sticks? It takes an amazing
    act of will to say give me that salad instead of that super
    sized whatever.

    A killer combination.

    Is it realistic to expect people to go out of  their way not to eat
    cheap tastey food? Is it realistic to expect people to go out
    of their way to excercise?

    Water takes the path of least resistence. Water is our patron element.

    Or must we accept our losses now and wait for science to discover
    an innoculation to modern life?

    Or perhaps is there a life style where we can combine
    enough physical work in our own food production yet still
    allow for a modern life?

    comment[] 8:47:45 AM       digg   reddit

    Friday, April 02, 2004

    This is the season of Platonic Green. In the forests, in the hills, in the gardens,
    everywhere you look, is the color of alive green. I can't help but think
    if plato's world of ideal forms does exist then this is the green that would
    be there.

    comment[] 7:26:12 AM       digg   reddit

    Friday, February 13, 2004

    From the Bemused Person's Dictionary:

    Common Sense: Whatever I think. Everyone else is just making it too
    complicated. The answer is really simple, just ask me. Quality common
    sense comes from your gut. Thinking, considering evidence, considering principles,
    empathizing-- just get in the way.

    Really quality common sense jumps out from your years of personal experience,
    where you probably have learned things like:
        Hey, would you rather have half a loaf or no loaf at all?
        Take what you can get.
        Is this really the hill you want to die on?
        Pick your battles.
        It's a fork in the road.

    In 1787 the US just wasn't ready to end slavery. How could they end
    slavery? Surely both sides had meritorious arguments? Think of the economic impact.
    It was too big a change, people weren't ready for it. Why cause conflict? It was
    just the north trying to impose its decadent way of life on the south. A common sense
    decision was made called the 3/5 's Compromise (
    where each slave was considered 3/5 human.

    In 2004 the US just isn't ready for gay marriage.

    comment[] 7:48:15 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, January 24, 2004

    Are there orders of thought?

    they talk about what constructs monkeys can understand:

        For example, the monkeys could master simple word structures,
        analogous to realising that "the" and "a" are always followed by
        another word. But they were unable to grasp phrase patterns
        analogous to "if... then..." constructions.
        Premack argues that although recursive ability is not absolutely
        necessary for language - non-recursive sentences are possible - being
        unable to master recursion may have been a stumbling block that
        prevented monkeys from developing language.

    This made wonder if there are defined orders of thought and what would
    be after the human recursive order?

    A corollary would be if a radical increase of working memory
    in humans would produce a difference in the order of thought,
    or would just allow us to be better at our current order?

    Are there orders of thought?

    comment[] 11:44:04 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, January 22, 2004

    Here's my strategy for winning the Celebrity Mole
    ( game:
    0. assumption: i don't know for sure who is the mole.
    1. assumption: in every game at least one person is wrong in their
        selection of the mole.
    2. implication: this person will score low because their answers
        will be consistently wrong.
    3. therefore: i should make random guesses on every question so
         i have less of chance of getting a lower score than the person
         who is consistently guessing wrong.

    I like this strategy because it is very simple. It has a good chance
    of working because i think the chances of someone latching on
    to someone who isn't the mole, and making incorrect guesses,
    is pretty high.

    The major hole in this strategy is someone may not be consistently
    incorrect. Even if they have identified the wrong person as the
    mole they may answer questions incorrectly because they weren't
    observant enough. This is implicitly following my random guess
    strategy. Then it's just a matter of luck. I like my chances.

    comment[] 9:02:09 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, January 11, 2004

    Project Secure Human Destiny

    It is exciting to see China enter the space race and for the
    US to propose new ventures to the moon and Mars. Yet there
    is a lack of vision behind human space projects which has
    prevented sustained support and progress.

    We have a motivating purpose behind a sustained drive into
    space: the purpose of space research should be to secure human
    destiny by moving off Earth, beyond our solar system, and into
    other galaxies.

    It's clear large portions of life on earth have been destroyed
    by meteorite strikes and possibly even gamma ray bursts from dying
    stars. Our sun, too, will die taking our solar system and
    all life with it.

    Life has always bounced back. Humans may not. Humans are at
    the top of the food chain which means we will be the most impacted
    by an earth or solar system wide calamity.

    What will save humanity is our intelligence. Our intelligence,
    however, must be applied.

    It sounds silly to worry about a dying sun, that is so far
    away. In millions of years surely we'll have the technology
    to save ourselves. But there are no guarantees. Nothing happens
    without having a goal, creating a plan, and taking action.

    A man and a woman can stand side by side for millions of
    years and still not have any children. Having children
    requires taking a certain kind of action. We can't rely
    on just luck or time.

    It sounds less silly to worry about meteorites and gamma
    ray bursts because they have already happened and will happen
    again. That humanity has not already been destroyed is
    random chance in a lottery only recently have we
    understood we are playing.

    Adrian L. Melott, a University of Kansas astronomer, said:
    "You can expect a dangerous gamma ray burst every few hundred
    million years," It could happen tomorrow or it could be
    millions of years."

    We are not yet taking steps to save ourselves.
    As humans we need to take the next logical steps
    and make sure we can survive problems we know will happen.

    It would be a shame to have come this far for nothing.

    So, what does this all mean?
    * We should come up with a list of potential threats to humanity.
    * We should come up with plans to meet those threats.
    * NASA and other space agencies should be retasked with this goal in mind.
    * The UN should facilitate the space efforts of all countries into one earth wide effort with the common goal of securing human destiny.

    This proposal is not meant to be thousands of pages on potential threats
    and solution plans. There are many smart people who can tackle these
    problems. Rather, this proposal is meant to provide simple
    and clear reasons for why space exploration is necessary and
    what our priorities should be in the future.

    Some useful links:
    * Extinction Level Events (
    * Theory: Sun Radiation Caused Extinction (
    * BBC Mass Extinctions Introduction (

    comment[] 7:51:57 AM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, November 26, 2003

    Overheard on a sports talk show:
    Democrat : Governor Davis has been a horrible governor.
    Republican: Now, now, you can't dump on your own guy like that.

    How could a grown independent adult say "you can't dump on your own guy?"
    It was more frightening than anything in the Exorcist for me to hear this degree
    of self censorship.

    Someone actually thought (or not) to themselves:
    1. Statement A is about person X.
    2. Person X if from group Y (which one doesn't matter).
    3. I am in group Y.
    4. I must support person X.

    The trumpets roared and i realized i was hearing a sparkling example of compliance theory in action. See and

    An independent thinker would have went something like:
    1. Statement A is about person X.
    2. Is there evidence to support A?
    3. Judge according to the evidence.

    Clearly groups want the first reaction. The second reaction can't be controlled.

    If you immediately jumped to the defense of either the democrat or republican then you may have been complianced.

    If you treat the exploits of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Hart, Bob Packwood, and Bill Clinton along party lines then you may have been complianced.

    If you make excuses for priests in child molestation cases then you have been complianced.

    If you excuse a player's behaviour because the player is on your team, then you may have been complianced.

    If you support a policy because the company you work for supports it, then you may have been complianced.

    If you pick any candidate just because they belong to a particular political party, then you have been complianced.

    If you say things you don't believe to fullfill a role, then you may have been complianced.

    A truly talented performer, Rush is the perfect icon for his agenda. He can never publically voice a divergent view because he would be dropping his facade. Does he have divergent views? Are these his true views? Who knows. We know when it comes to drugs his personal and public views are quite divergent.

    Advertisers, corporations, political parties, cults, religions, governments, dates- all use compliance tactics to influence you to do things you might not otherwise have done.

    You can call it advocacy, evangelism, passion, winning, tribalism, proselytization, or fetishism. What it is not, is individualism. It's amazing how the desire to win has created weak minded followers who crave short cuts rather than knowledge and thought.

    A poem i wrote a while ago sums it up:

    the reign of homo politico has begun

    what was past became spin
    what was future became hype
    what was team became pack
    what was talk became tactics
    what was private became spectacle
    what was god became winning
    what was individual became sold
    what was green became burned black

    the reign of homo politico has begun

    The reason i am now an independent, in almost everything, is that i could detect myself
    responding to the "Commitment and Consistency" compliance tactic.

    From Influence: Science and Practice, by Robert B. Cialdini

    Commitment and Consistency

    People have a desire to look consistent within their words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds...this tendency
    is fed from three sources:

    1. good personal consistency is highly valued by society;
    2. consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to daily life;
    3. a consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence: by being consistent with earlier decisions, one reduces the need to process all the relevant information in future similar situations; instead, one merely needs to recall the earlier decision and respond consistently with it. The key to using consistency pressures for profit is the initial commitment: after making a commitment (that is taking a stand or position), people are more willing to agree to requests that are in keeping with the prior commitment. Many compliance professionals try to induce people to take an initial position that is consistent with a behavior they will later request from these people. Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, effortful, and viewed as internally motivated (uncoerced). Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand. The drive to be (and look) consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests. Commitment decisions, even erroneous ones, have a tendency to be self-perpetuating because they can "grow their own legs." That is, people often add new reasons and justifications to support the wisdom of commitments they have already made.

    Liking is another strong compliance tactic.

    People prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. . . . One feature of a person that influences overall attractiveness is physical attractiveness. Although it has long been suspected that physical beauty provides an advantage in social interaction, research indicates that the advantage may be greater than supposed. Physical attractiveness seems to engender a "halo" effect that extends to favorable impressions of other traits such as talent, kindness, and intelligence. As a result, attractive people are more persuasive both in terms of getting what they request and in changing others' attitude.

    If we like somone we will forgive them almost anything. Bush and Clinton are both good examples of the power of liking. Nixon was only redeemed when he became your old quirky uncle instead of a youthful super villian.

    How do we fight crooked compliance crusaders who wish to control our every reaction?

    J. Krishnamurti has an interesting take on the relationship between thought and identity...

    So there must be a revolution in thinking, a revolution in the mind itself, and not in what the mind thinks about. There is surely a vast difference between the two. We are mostly concerned with what the mind thinks about. The Communist is concerned with conditioning the mind to think what it is told, and the so­called religious person is concerned with the same thing. Most of us are concerned with thinking only the thoughts which we already know and have accepted, and these thoughts further condition the mind, obviously. Every thought that you have ­ as an economist, as a specialist, as a believer in God or a non­believer, as a man who pursues virtue or does not ­ shapes the mind.

    Your thinking depends upon your conditioning, how you have been brought up, what the pressures of your environment are ­ religion, society, family, tradition. So if we are at all serious we shall not be concerned with substituting one thought for another, or with sublimating thought to some other level.

    We must be concerned with the radical transformation of the capacity to think, not merely with the choice of what to think. That is where the revolution should take place, and not at any particular layer of human existence. I hope I am making this point clear. If not, we shall discuss it as we go along. A revolution in the way of thinking is essential ­ not the choice of what to think, or the pursuit of right thought, but a revolution in the capacity itself, in the mind itself. Unless there is a radical change in the mind, you can have no answer to your problems. Do what you will, read any books, follow any authority, any guru, you will never solve your problems unless there is a radical transformation of the mind itself.

    comment[] 4:41:31 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, November 15, 2003

    long behind the quicksilver storm...

    tap topple tink
    after-rain teardrops flash
    leaf to leaf to floor

    comment[] 10:14:47 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, September 28, 2003

    Augmenting the human body with the mechanical control of physical pain would be a boon for the quality of human life. Many people live far lesser lives because they are in pain. Often the continuation of pain serves no purpose and is just the epiphenomena of our physical bodies.

    Wouldn't you like to be able to say: Hey, i know i have arthritis, now stop hurting? Thanks, i know my back hurts, now stop hurting? Yes, the pain saved me from a worse burn, but that's enough pain?

    Imagine being able to control how much pain you feel and where you feel it. Drugs have too general an effect and are not targetable. Because you have arthritis pain doesn't mean you want to ignore pain from an appendicitis.

    Pain is a warning system to protect us from doing further damage to ourselves. From an evolutionary perspective the pain mechanism had to be very general and robust. Which means it is a bit ham-handed. We can imagine designing a much finer system providing protection but at the same time would not needlessly constrain our lives.

    Children with Hansen's Disease, in which there is no pain anywhere in the body, bite their lips, rub their noses, and chew their nails with such abandon that bodily tissue slowly erode.

    The hands and feet of longtime diabetics and paralytics likewise become deformed and covered with pressure sores. When we break a bone, we tend to favor that part of the body until the bone can heal.

    In Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, Robert Sapolsky talks about how the brain and the back can setup a feedback system where pain is uncessarily felt constantly. The loop can can be broken by massage. The pain loop doesn't serve a purpose, yet is made possible by the crudeness of our physical management systems.

    The idea, however, came from some more personal examples. At two years old our Great Dane, Katie, was slowing down. She used to be an incredible athelete. She was amazingly fast and powerful. But at 2 she would sometimes cry out when running. Eventually she just stopped running. We took her to the vet. Katie has hip problems which have lead to arthritis.

    There are two treatment options: hip replacement or drug therapy. The vet said that dogs often become their old selves when taking rimadyl. Rimadyl is 1000 time more potent than asprin. It does nothing to help the hip. It only stops the pain. We were skeptical, but the more conservative treatment seemed better.

    And wow. On rimadyl katie became her old self again. A truly amazing, and much appreciated, transformation.

    This is odd i thoughtt. The injury is still there. It will degrade over time until at some point a hip replacement would be necessary. But until then, probably many years, the hip structure is usable... as long is there is no pain.

    The hip is mechnical. It is like a part in your car. With car parts we can monitor them and replace them when necessary. With our bodies, because of the pain, this won't work. Even though a part may work for quite a while, we will feel the pain all the time.

    Is it necesary to feel the pain? If we could create a monitoring system that would alert us when a part was in danger then pain wouldn't be necessary. We could just shut off the pain it became necessary to replace the part.

    Separate pain from the detection of injury.

    We create these types of monitoring systems all the time for networks, computer systems, and for equipment like space probes. Imagine that instead of getting a alarm when a node in your network went down you got a shock of pain, or possibly chronic pain, even after the node was fixed!

    I have had chronic back pain for many many years. I don't think the pain is helping very much. If i could shut the pain off, and replace it with a better monitoring systems, then i could remain pain free yet not be in danger of further injury.

    My grandma has very painful arthritis. Unfortunately she has not been able to take any pain medications. If the pain from her arthritis could be cut off then she would have a much better quality of life.

    I imagine a sarcophagus that would continually run a battery of tests on us every night. At some point MRIs and other medical test equipment will become cheap enough for every person to be monitored. We could detect when certain parts are near failure.

    A run-time system is needed as well. Perhaps it would be wireless and could contact your PDA if any issues came up. Maybe response could be pre-programmed. Maybe pain could be allowed to go the brain if the problem was serious enough, so that when you felt pain you knew that something was really wrong.

    There are some interesting philosophical questions if we can control our pain pathways. What is the impact on our ethics and morals? Would sports change? Would personal motivation change if pain could be controlled? If we can control pain then we can probably control pleasure as well. We know how that goes. Then there's the issue of our whole post-human cyborg future.

    comment[] 8:30:51 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, May 31, 2003

    NPR had another segment on The Monty Hall Problem. There are 3 doors, behind one of which is a prize. Mr. Monty asks you to pick a door, any door. You pick door A. Monty opens door B and shows there is nothing behind door B. Monty gives you the choice of either sticking with your original choice of door A, or switching to door C.

    Should you switch? See for a list of explanations. Maybe one of them will make sense to you. Maybe.

    I, like most people, get the answer wrong by saying don't switch. I can now repeat the answer for why you should switch, but i don't really feel like i understand it.

    This feeds into research showing us brainy humans don't really have a good intuition about probablities, even after many years of expensive education. Our survival must not have rested on precise calculations of probability.

    Odd when you think about it. Wouldn't a good probability intuition allow us to make more rational decisions? Isn't rationality important for survival?

    Perhaps being too rational is bad for survival.

    Life, especially in the past, was not easy. Your chances of a grim early death were depressingly high. If you understood probability it is likely you would take fewer risks.

    Risk is also important for survival.

    Survival could be optimized by an inacurate probability intuition. Too little and you'll make stupid decision after stupid decision and die the death of the deserving. Too much and you'll stay in your cave because life is damn scary.

    A few risks that payoff can yield large rewards. Progress could hop jump and skip on these payoffs. I'm reminded of Spock who would calculate the probability of survival at .0007%, yet Kirk would save the day in that charming against all odds human kind of way.

    We could be bad at probabilities because we have no probability sense at all. Gambling has been around forever, yet the ideas of probablity are very recent.

    There's an interesting book called "Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart." We are apparently able to simulate intelligence using surprisingly simple rules. We probably don't have a lot of rules about picking between doors.

    comment[] 9:27:23 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, April 12, 2003

    Dogs have secrets. Why else would dogs sleep so much? They don't do anything. Yet they sleep almost all the time.

    Dogs dream when they sleep. Any observer of dogs knows this. Some people say dogs are not conscious, don't dream, don't feel, etc. These are people clinging to the specialness of humans as the center of the universe, a position even mother earth ceded. All us animals are built from basically the same parts. Proof would have to be given that they don't dream or feel, as there is no reason to expect otherwise.

    Do dogs know they are dreaming? Can dogs tell their dreams are not real? Our cerebral cortex gives us an edge in the intelligence department, so it is possible dogs may not know the difference between dreams and reality.

    That would explain a lot. In dreams a dog could be alpha of any pack and have sex and food on demand. A hierarchy of needs always met. It would be the waking world dogs would avoid. The waking world is a world of responsibility, punishment, hardship, and infrequent delight.

    Dogs sleep so much because they think the dreaming world is their real world and that our real world is the nightmare.

    Maybe it's not just dogs. Maybe most animals conceive of the world inverse to humans. We still don't know why we need to sleep so much. Dreams are nature's compensation for the cruelty of real life. Dreams are an early bargain made with life so life could endure without yielding.

    Perhaps humanity gave up the original immersive virtual reality of dream world in exchange for intelligence. With intelligence we can have the best of all worlds. But sometimes it is so hard.

    comment[] 7:40:32 AM       digg   reddit

    Friday, March 21, 2003

    We live on a ridge looking over santa cruz (ca). From our house we have front row seats to a daily weather drama. Usually weather is slow, playing in only two dimensions. A thin band of fog cuts horizontally over the ocean. Shy cirrus clouds form high above.

    When a storm comes it all changes. In a storm the sky becomes fully three dimentional. Filtered sunlight reveals depth and shadow. All is movement. Layers of clouds race each other at every depth. Clouds become totems animated by earth's energies to fight an ancient and never ending war.

    Old friends look back at me in recent astronomy pictures. Take a look at These very same shapes i have seen many times in storm clouds. It is amazing how the deep laws of nature can sculpt the same shapes at such different scales in such different environments.

    comment[] 9:32:04 AM       digg   reddit

    I have actually learned something from reality tv shows: there are a lot of talented people, but there aren't a lot of really talented people. This isn't quite what i expected. When watching auditions for american idol, i expected i would like many more singers than i did. In fact, i liked very few of even the people who made it to the finals. Out of millions of people, to like only a handful is shocking.

    We oftern hear how the mass media machine overlooks deserving talent in favor of attractive yet marginal artists. This is no doubt true. Yet after watching american idol, star search, making of the band, am i hot, etc., you couldn't say most potential stars go undiscovered.

    Being really really good at something is rare. When you see true talent IT can be magik. Which is why, i guess, we enjoy watching the shows. We less talented people can say we aren't that bad after all, while at the same time we may possibly vicariously taste the magik of something new and great.

    comment[] 8:36:53 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, March 16, 2003

    What would you say to a person who didn't believe a defendant was innocent until proven guility? This is what 4 out 20 people said in my recent jury duty adventure. I was incredulous. I said nothing of course. I don't think the judge would like me yelling, in my most compasionate voice, "are you frickin' nuts!"

    Their contention was that the defense had to prove the defendant innocent instead of the prosecution proving the defendant guilty. The judge didn't seem surprised. Gently probing and cajoling, the judge tried to get down to if this was a true belief or were they just trying to get out of jury duty. We'll never know of course.

    For every person, one older male, one middle age female, one younger male, and one younger female, the judge patiently explained: The defense doesn't have to bring a single witness. The defendant is presumed innocent. The prosecution has to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. It doesn't matter that she was arrested. It doesn't yet matter what the machine said abour her blood alcohol percentage. She is presumed innocent.

    When the judge first asked us if we thought people were innocent until proven guilty, i thought it was a no brainer. I was getting tired of people using questions from the judge as a vehicle for their own frustration. But I figured this would go fast. Everyone believed in innocence until proven guilty. Didn't they?

    Nope. And the explanations took forever. Some reasons were: She was arrested so she must of done something wrong. The machine must of said her blook alcohol was over the limit, so what was the point of a trial? What we she doing out at 2 AM? She is young and attractive, if she were my kid i would want to know what she was doing. The police wouldn't have arrested her unless she did something wrong. And most scary: i just think people need to prove they are innocent.

    Wow. That's 4 out of 20 people. We've also seen polls that a surprisingly large amount of people think we have too many freedoms. Many people are willing to give freedoms for security.

    Food for thought.

    comment[] 10:58:15 AM       digg   reddit

    Friday, February 14, 2003

    There's a theory of aging based on the fact that every time a cell divides its telomere shortens. At some point the telomere shortens enough the cell dies and so eventually do we.

    Right idea, wrong mechanism.

    Aging is really based on todo lists. When your todo list is empty you die.

    How has our scientific community overlooked this shockingly obvious explanation? Evidence is everywhere.

    Ever notice how people always add to their todo list but never seem to take anything off? There's a reason.

    At work have you ever wondered why there are so many weekly meetings?

    Post-its post-its everywhere. Stuck on every surface in every color. In a just universe post-its could not possibly exist unless they were tied to our primal quest for eternal life. How often have you seen E=MC(2) scribbled on a post-it?

    Todo lists are in your PDA, your phone, your computer, your refrigerator, your wallet. Notice how coffins don't have built-in todo lists. There's a reason.

    Why is there so much todo anyway? We can create new reality shows every season and yet we haven't figured out how to do less?

    comment[] 6:38:13 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, February 02, 2003

    Heaven never shares a human care.

    Our tragedy and triumph twine together vines of reason and destiny with shoots of hubris and consequence.

    comment[] 7:04:13 AM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, January 15, 2003

    Most dishes are probably invented from making do with what you have in the kitchen. Here's an interesing salad i made to accompany linda's excellent home made quiche. Serves 2-4 people, depending on the people.
    1. Salad greens of your choice.
    2. 2 oranges cubed. Squeeze a little juice over the greens.
    3. 3 small tomatoes.
    4. A cup of punkin seeds toasted in sesame oil.
    5. Drizzle some sesame oil over the greens.
    6. A little bit of Balsamic Vinegar.
    7. 1 pomegranate. Spread a little juice over the greens. Put the seeds on top or they'll sink to the bottom.
    8. A pinch of sugar spread over everything. Some of the ingredients are acidic and the sugar helps counter the acid.

    It sounds a little odd, but it actually tastes pretty good.

    comment[] 8:18:05 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, November 04, 2002

    According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, if the US fleet's fuel efficiency improved to 40 mpg, the nation would save 2 million barrels of oil a day - 75% of all the oil the US imports from the middle east.

    So why isn't improving the fuel economy of our fleet a national goal? Why isn't it a new space race?

    It leverages our technological abilities. It buffers us from the middle east. The war in iraq will cost $9 billion a month. It will cost many many lives. Every move we make in the middle east just creates more terrorists. The threat of war is holding back our economy. We won't have to exploit marginal oil fields in sensitive ecological areas of california and alaska. The development effort could start new industries.

    So why have we not made improving the fuel economy of our fleet a national goal? I would vote for candidate with such a vision.

    comment[] 7:17:51 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, November 03, 2002

    Flat stones. River or lake. Irresistible urge to skip stones. I've always loved to skip stones. It's also contagious. Whenever i start other people will always jump in.

    I was surprised to find out there are actual contests and world records for stone skipping. There's even a mathematical aspect if you are so inclined.


    The record is 38 skips. The most i've ever had is about 10 skips. 38 skips seems almost impossible. You have to throw it really hard and put a lot of spin to get 38 skips. My shoulder aches just thinking about it!

    comment[] 7:25:41 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, October 20, 2002

    Sometimes there is a conspiracy.

    ...Belden said he and his cronies would provide bogus data on how much juice was available at any given time to state utilities.

    This would create the impression of congestion on power lines when none in fact existed, driving up demand and, better still, allowing Enron to charge an extra fee to relieve the congestion that wasn't actually there in the first place.

    comment[] 5:11:47 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, October 19, 2002

    What if your life was tivoable? People love tivo because they can fast forward through all the commercials. You just record everything you want to watch and then fastforward through the parts you don't like. Only the good bits are left.

    Now imagine you could tivo your life. How much would you watch and how much would you fastfoward through?

    This isn't a trite plea to find meaning yada yada. It's just an interesting thought experiment. As a followup, how much of a life should you expect to watch? How much of our lives should be tempting enough to stay the skip button?

    In dramatic times you might imagine your life with an interesting plot. Would it really be your life? Events would be carrying you along, a character drawn by fate.

    In stable times you are more the author of your own script. Reality will insert the necessary obstacles your character must overcome before a satisfactory ending can be reached, but you are still largely in charge. And we know how many bad shows are out there :-)

    So, how much of your life would you watch? Let's try the old 80/20 rule. Would you watch 20% of your life? 20% sounds so small. A drop of 20% in demand sends most industries into crisis. I'm guessing 20% is still a lot to expect.

    Should you be able to watch 1%? 0%? 5%? 10%?

    Let's take a different angle. How many meals do you eat that are truly memorable? How many books do you read are truly excellent? How many movies do you see are four stars? How many songs do you hear that top your charts?

    If it's 1 out of 100 then you would watch about 15 minutes of your life out of every day. Does even that seem high?

    This line of thinking helps gain some perspective. Almost by definition most of our lives are unwatchable. Is that bad? It would be if we should expect something different, but it doesn't seem we should expect more. We also shouldn't expect less.

    comment[] 8:05:25 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, October 17, 2002

    Are you concerned as i am that the devil has not yet asked you to sell your soul? The devil is only going to tempt those souls he is worried about losing. That means if you haven't been made a deal yet the devil is pretty sure which direction you are going.

    comment[] 9:45:01 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, September 11, 2002

    I've finally found my perfect spam counter-attack software in SpamPal ( I use Mozilla and POP3 for email and have had zero luck finding an anti-spam solution. As much spam comes my way i have been looking.

    I like SpamPal because it simple, clever, and it works.

    Configuration is simple. You run a proxy SpamPal POP3 server on your machine. Mozilla is configured to use the proxy server. SpamPal talks to your real POP3 mailbox. Filtering is implemented by SpamPal between your mailbox and the SpamPal server.

    The clever twist is that instead of just deleting spam, SpamPal annotates the subject header with the string **SPAM**. This allows mozilla's filtering capabilities to delete the email or send it to a particular folder, which i have cleverly called spam.

    The subject line approach is nice because all spam is not created equal. A lot of email marked spam is not really spam. By passing the email through to the reader it's easy to fine tune SpamPal to reject what you want rejected and accept what is acceptable. For example, email from yahoo is marked as spam. Some email from yahoo i really want so i can add that to the whitelist.

    SpamPal is fully configurable through a functional GUI. Changes in the GUI become active immediately, which is a nice touch. Email is identified as spam using several spam identification services. SpamPal won't miss much. SpamPal also has blacklists and whitelists.

    There are also plugins available to provided additional filtering services. I made use of the RegEx plugin to automatically whitelist certain email. I participate in several email lists, some of which were marked as spam. Email list email usually has an identifying string like [name] to filter on.

    After about 30 minutes of configuration my hit rate is about 100%. I still browse the spam folder to see if there are any false positives. If there are i can change the whitelist or use the regex filter.

    Oh, and SpamPal is free.

    comment[] 2:22:01 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, June 23, 2002

    We just returned from a 5 day river rafting trip on the rogue river in oregon. The trip had 7 kids/young-adults ranging from 7-15. I was a little nervous about have so many non-adults on the trip because we spend most of our time with adults. It couldn't have turned out better. Of course i had no standardized tests to help me judge, but they we great. They were intellegent, well spoken and well behaved, not in the never do anything wrong sort of way, but it in the we are kids sort of way. River rafting can be scary because there is real danger, but they showed great spirit. From the media i would think all kids stink. Perhaps there is some self selection happening, but i am happy seeing such quality in the next generation.

    comment[] 6:40:32 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, June 10, 2002

    It matters how companies refer to the people who do the real work. Metaphor is destiny.

    I've been called a head. A disturbing image of heads floating around the building always comes to mind. How do i type? Where did my body go? Shivers. Clearly without a body i don't need exercise, nutrition, medical care, or vacation. Strangely though having only a head would imply having a mind, but still we get treated as not having minds. Odd. We have a head count, but not a body count. Sometimes i worry the counts won't match. Cubes are like morgues so maybe...

    I've been called a resource. For some reason this one bothers me the most. I had a manager email another manager, while cc'ing me, to ask if this resource could be used on a project. Can you imagine the narrow-scoping of mind required in such a stunningly oblivious depersonalization?

    And resource isn't meant in the sense of something treasured. No, it is meant in the sense of a bulk commodity input to a process. The kind of input piled large outside a rusty manufacturing plant. Dump trucks load more when the pile gets low enough. Huge bulldozers move the pile around when it needs organizing. Nobody ever sees the resource enter the plant to be used, but somehow the pile empties anyway.

    I've been called an ONTG (one neck to grab). This is so disgusting further comment is unnecessary.

    I've been called a body. We need 5 bodies for this project. Any bodies will do. Now i have competing dreams of bodiless heads and headless bodies floating around a ghostly cubescape.

    I've been called a grunt. A respected friend who became a manager unselfconsciously called me and other workers grunts. He realized his audience and retracted, but we both understood. That is the view of management. Bodies to throw at bullets. Interchangeable. Undistinsguished. Unworthy of involving in any of those decision thingies.

    I've been called an individual contributer. A VP said he didn't understand why someone would want to be an individual contributer, but some people do. He actually said this in front of a room of individual contributers (heads, resources, whatever). The obvious question though if you are not an individaul contributer, what the hell are you doing? Unsuprisingly this same manager was too busy to personally visit any of the people he managed.

    One reason to like small companies and startups is the lack of a blinding need to label people. People can remain peers for longer, but as humans tend to form social hierarchies, it may always just be a matter of time.

    Labeling arises out of the need to put people in lists. Lists like microsoft project, spreadsheets, budget projections, head count reports, org charts, building diagrams, etc. In a list you don't matter, what matters is the aspect of you that the list cares about.

    It's a short lifeless jump to dropping people for labels and forgetting the people behind the labels. Once you forget about the actual people the people become just another problem to be solved, a resource to be deployed and optimized. It's so much easier to deal with resources instead of people.

    Eventually a conflation occurs where people become perceived as the problem. Everything would get done better and faster if it wasn't for stupid faulty resource cells in the spreadsheet.

    Management becomes insular because they obviously only need to talk amongst themselves because resources have nothing to contribute. Resources do. Managers think. Or at least think they think. Having excluded any troublesome subject experts the need to think disappears altogether, like domesticated dogs who have lost their weariness and hunting instinct, preferring instead to be fed and tended.

    Once started this relationship is self-reinforcing. Resources gradually drop out of any loop of any importance. Resources are the problem. Bad resources miss schedules and bust budgets. Managers inevitably conclude more thinking by managers is the solution. Any problem is met with another level of centralized control by management.

    Management as an institution is fundamentally a reversion to childhood. As a child you get to be concerned only about yourself. As a child you can count on your parents to bail you out of stupid decisions. Children make messes that others clean up. Children form cliques. Children, cruel to those outside of the clique, only associate with those in the clique.

    Having had good managers makes having perennially childish management all the more painful. Consider the metaphors used in your organization. Consider having managers manage people and not gravitate responsibility for all technical issues to themselves. Consider having fewer lists.

    comment[] 6:42:35 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, May 23, 2002

    We were told after 9/11 it was an intelligence failure.
    Nobody could have predicted it. Nobody had any idea.
    Or intelligence infrastructure was gutted by Clinton.
    It was Clinton's fault. We need more people assets in
    the field. 

    It turns out that was not the case. Our people actually did their job, a good job even, which is refreshing, because i was very concerned we were that incompetent. The only thing better would have been ben Laden lead power point slide presentation on CNN.

    So we really don't need put a bazallion more dollers into intelligence. We somehow need to make use of the intelligence we have. All our money put into defense and we could not shoot down planes before they threatened obvious targets. How can this be?

    We spend enough money. Like any business maybe they should frickin' use it better before asking for more. Yet we don't worrry about that any more. The money just flows. How convenient.

    Let's assume there isn't a conspiracy. Still, politics is being used to get more money for agencies that don't need it. Our "war" effort is being used to bury anyone who even asks questions. Bush was nothing until 9/11. New powers have been given to government and we have a shadow government we didn't know about.

    Something is going on and it ain't good. Maybe the conspiracy formed after the attack. Something is going on and it ain't good.

    comment[] 4:23:37 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, May 13, 2002

    Build a fence around israel? That's what we've come to? If that's what it takes, but it seems an odd solution for a problem where "god" gets thrown around so much.

    comment[] 9:14:35 PM       digg   reddit

    We've cutoff Cuba and North Korea the most and they have changed the least. Coincidence? How can politics decide policy in this way with so little comment?

    comment[] 9:08:03 PM       digg   reddit

    Can real arms control be described in 3 pages?

    comment[] 9:06:21 PM       digg   reddit

    How is it that 160 Billion+ for farmers is not welfare?

    comment[] 9:02:10 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, May 04, 2002

    Domestic terrorism: threating that dinner will be late.

    Custom creations make your dreams come true: no thanx, i like my mass produced dreams better. Cheaper, less work, and i can always get a new one.

    comment[] 9:35:08 PM       digg   reddit

    This is a letter by a peruvian politician in response to a letter from microsoft commenting on a bill supporting free software use by the peruvian government.

    It is an amazing document in both the cogent arguments made and that they were made by a politician! This is one hell of a meme to unleash.

    comment[] 6:35:52 PM       digg   reddit

    Friday, April 19, 2002

    The translation game. Translations are done using the engine

    Start with my poem in english:

    new moon clouds part shooting stars in rain puddles

    Translate it to german. Then translate the german to french. Then translate the french back to english.

    And we get: clouds of new moon distribute stars germinating in the magmas of rain

    I tried a bunch of different poems with different combinations, but this the result i like the best.

    comment[] 7:48:20 PM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, April 18, 2002

    So many positions so little time.

    comment[] 8:26:17 PM       digg   reddit

    Fascinating article on artificial society simulation depicting the 
    Anasazi's demise.
    I have a book that goes into great detail about the Anasazi's
    building practices which was suprisingly interesting. They
    made a life for a long time in a very difficult environment.

    And some related game of life information.

    comment[] 8:22:54 PM       digg   reddit

    A nice juggling simulator. I can
    juggle 4 balls for a little while. Seeing 9 balls juggling is
    just amazing. And there are people who juggle 9.

    comment[] 8:14:45 PM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, April 16, 2002

    In honor of tax day i'll float again my proposed constitutional
    amendment for limiting the amount of taxes we pay. It' called the:
    The 25% Total Tax Solution for Guaranteeing Our Income Rights.

    It reads:

    Article. XVIII.

    Section 1. No citizen of these United States shall pay more than 25% of their total income in taxes.

    Section 2. The express purpose of this amendment is to set a hard limit on the appropriation of monies from citizens of the United States by the government. Reject any other interpretation of this amendment in fact or spirit.

    Section 3. Tax shall be clearly understood to include any monies extracted by the government in the form of taxes, fees, required set-asides, tolls, tariffs or any other mechanism.

    Section 4. Government shall be clearly understood to include any level of government including but not limited to local, county, state, and national government; any agency of the government; or any representive of the government in any guise.

    Section 5. Any taxes above 25% of total income must be refunded proportionally from taxing agencies within 1 month of notification of over billing.

    Section 6. Taxes may be raised above the 25% limit in times of declared national emergency. When the national emergency is rescinded the rules in this amendment must be reinstated. The national emergency must be reinstated every 12 months by a super-majority vote of congress comprised of three-fourths of each House. If not reinstated the rules of this amendment are automatically enforced.

    Section 7. For tax purposes business and personal income are not comingled.

    Section 8. Taxable income shall be considered income from any and all sources subtracting expenses. The definition of expense shall be defined by federal law.

    Section 9. Citizens with income below a threshold defined by federal law may be exempted from any taxes.

    Section 10. All taxable entities are covered by all provisions of this amendment.

    There's discussion of the amendment on the previous link.

    comment[] 5:59:09 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, April 07, 2002

    Spring day. Sometimes the world is so friggen' beautiful.

    comment[] 5:47:21 PM       digg   reddit

    Hm, should i build my own mono rail ( Or should build my own roller coaster (

    comment[] 8:20:48 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, April 01, 2002

    We took a street luge class this weekend and had an excellent time. Highly recommended. The class was put on by wildfro ( and was very well done. If you see the owner you'll know where the name wildfro comes from :-)

    A street luge is something like a really long skate board with more wheels. You lay flat on your back when going down hill. Steer by shifting your weight to the direction you want to go. It's easy to slow down by using your chest area as an air break or by sliding your heals on the ground. The luge is stopped by putting both heals down, rolling your feet forward so that the ball of your foot is on the ground, and then pulling up on the rails to put more pressure on your feet. It works remarkably well. The shoes are specially made with a slab of tire on the bottom. You burn a lot of rubber slowing down and stopping! You also have gloves, helmet, and full leathers so you are pretty safe even if you do fall off. But you won't fall.

    It's a suprisingly safe sport. I am not a speed vampire so i was a little scared of street luging. It turns out though you are so low to the ground there's not much chance of falling off the board, even when going 60 miles an hour. The boards are stable, and no matter what you think now you really can slow down and stop :-)

    The class is structured so you do little bits at a time building up to a 2.5 run which is a complete and total blast. I never felt like i was out of control. Yes, you really can slow down and stop :-)

    comment[] 3:05:40 PM       digg   reddit

    Friday, March 29, 2002

    Can anyone help explain what this means? Robert Silverberg ends his masterpiece Dying Inside thusly:
    Living, we fret. Dying, we live. I'll keep that in mind. 
    I'll be of good cheer. Twang. Twing. Twong. Until I die 
    again, hello, hello, hello, hello.

    In Dying Inside the main character is a telepath who in mid-life looses his powers. All his life he has been defined by these powers and they have not served him well. Only the truly glib by nature can with stand knowing what people really think. As i am sure you understand our civilizing super-ego saves a lot of grief by molding the erruptions that boil beneath.

    Having lost his powers people seem to accept him more. An old girlfriend, a child, and his sister all seem more at ease in his presence, like before they at some level knew he was probing their minds and know they know he can't.

    Browning in Dedication to La Saisiaz:

    Good, to forgive;
    Best, to forget!
    Living, we fret;
    Dying, we live.

    It's interesting that most quotes i've seen do not include /Living, we fret;/Dying, we live/. Not quite as aphoristic as the first part.

    The Twang. Twing. Twong. is a from Nabokov's Bend Sinister, which is a "moving and powerful novel about the plight of a civilized man caught in a tyrant state." I haven't read this book yet, but i've ordered it from amazon.

    The four hellos at the end strike me as someone trying too hard. In a flip way saying everything will be all right while inwardly knowing it won't be.

    Great book. Avoid if you are suicidal.

    comment[] 6:40:49 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, March 28, 2002

    Build with legos online. Very cool, especially for the fat fingered.

    comment[] 1:28:43 PM       digg   reddit

    I've hit on this technique for reading weblogs...

    When i'm bored, which happens frequently, i go to and read the first entry in the list no matter what it is. By this random act of reading i both get to read pages i wouldn't normally have read and flow is increased to weblogs that might not normally get many readers.

    comment[] 8:04:45 AM       digg   reddit

    Monday, March 25, 2002

    We need the 3 way web. The 3 way web = 1 way web + 2 way web + more layering.

    The 1 way web is publishing documents for people to read. We have been able do this from the very start using bone knives and bear skins. With any editor anyone could write a page in simple html and publish it on a web site. Early forms of aggregation evolved so you could subscribe to certain pages for notifications of when they changed.

    Weblogging = 1 way web + layering.

    Layering adds abstraction. It ties things together in a prettier more functional package. More powerfully layering can relate what wasn't related which turns it into a new thing altogether. And so the building aspires ever higher on ever renewed foundations. Radio Userland, for example, adds all of the above.

    Publishing is valuable but as a readers we crave the ability to reply. Which leads to the 2 way web.

    2 way web = the 1 way web + reader interaction.

    Email, comments, IM, searching, and discussion groups are all mechanisms for adding user interaction and feedback. Currently all of these form, programatically at least, an unrelated mix and have not yet gelled into a layer. Google may index weblogs, but it won't pick up the rest of the threads related to the weblog. The connections are lost. Indeed, a weblog may also be the result of a stimulus from other threads and may cause the stimulas of yet other changes.

    The interaction mechanisms plus weblogs are implementable and representable on one substrate uniting them into a layer. This will happen someday. As fine a day as that will be, we still need more.

    3 way web = 1 way web + 2 way web + more layering.

    Consolidating interaction services into a layer is the start of the 3 way web and a requirement for the next phase of the 3 way web.

    We need to go beyond interaction by mastering the transformation, packaging, combining, and accessing of linked data streams. It goes without saying web services would be the implementation platform.

    Some examples of things you can't easily do today but would be able to do in the 3 way web...

    Threads between all data streams is the ultimate feature of the 3 way web. Weblogs comment on other weblogs which spills out to discussion groups, IM, email, etc, and the back again. The thread between all these sources along with its progression over time is precious information and supports amazing capabilities.

    A simple start is the generalization of the calendar metaphor used by weblogs. A calendar is one potential packaging of weblog input. It is appropriate for a diary but is not appropriate or sufficient in other domains. A weblog for a lab machine, for example, would need a calendar and a log type view. Just use a really large number of entries that stay on the page? You can do that it, but it's not the same.

    If all team members record their status in a weblog, for example, a rollup of the status needs to happen for presentation to higher levels of managements/weblogs. This rollup requires a transformation ability over a set of data streams, which bumps into the semantic web. The transformation may require either a human or programatic mediator. Links to the project planning tool and time tracking tool could also be integrated.

    The log for all lab machines would need a similar rollup. At any point in time a discussion of the recent machine changes could be spawned. Either a yahoo type group or comment system would work, but the information should stay related to and accessible as a whole.

    Combining status information is just one example out of many requiring a meta level capability to unite multiple data sources into a different form that can in turn serve as a data source for yet more transformations.

    It would be kind of cool.

    Now for the 4 way web...

    comment[] 9:51:31 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, March 23, 2002

    Centering learning around the miracle that is our bodies.

    Sylvia Branzel invented Grossology, the science of really gross things, to make science less boring to kids. If it's not boring then kids (count me in too) will learn.

    From an an iterview in New Scientist (Dec 2001) she says:

    One of the things i have to teach them about is the exrectory
    system. Now, if i walked into a classroom and said, 
    "raise your hand if you want to learn about the excratory
    system", no one would move. If i walk into a class room
    and say, "raise your hand if you want to learn about spitting,
    burping, popping, peeing and farting", all the kids would raise
    their hands. They immediately relate to the approach that i've
    chosen. They really want to learn about it.

    Is that cool or what! School usually manages to take what is intrinsically exciting, run it through a bigco booringizer, and convince kids that they would rather be doing anything else.

    Sylvia makes the point that kids are more interested when they are the subject:

    The predominant method of teaching is still with text-books
    and it doesn't necessarily relate to a child's life. I've learned
    through the years that that children are most curious about
    themselves and the world around them. So even if i'm teaching
    something that's esoteric to children, say atoms and
    molecues, if i can relate it directly to their lives then i've
    won them over.

    Earlier i had read a book called the The Energy of Life which talks about the amazing systems powering life. It was clear that this thing called a cell, this part of ourselves that was treated so plainly in school, is really endlessly interesting. How did i miss out on this in school?

    It struck me then, and Ms. Branzel expanded my thinking, that most of what we learn in school could be centered around an exploration of ourselves. Science, math, history, chemistry, archeology, physics, etc can all be better tought from a perspective of understanding life, undestanding what's going on in our bodies and how our bodies relate to the world. Start from the inside and go out. This would be far more interesting than the dry dumbed-down irrelevant text books that hold back more than they move forward.

    Knowing thyself is truly the path to knowledge.

    comment[] 7:24:33 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, March 17, 2002

    The masters of enron and the masters of the church both didn't seem to know what was going on in their organizations. Wonder if they will give the money back? Money that was presumably related to their level of responsibility. And when the press star making machine came around they took responsiblity for the success. Curious the failure flows down hill. But it's not suprising, is it.

    comment[] 6:30:43 AM       digg   reddit

    It's only when your cage is rattled do you realize you are in a cage.

    comment[] 6:25:55 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, March 16, 2002

    We were chastised in california for record low voter turnout. I did vote, but apparently pundits expected more vigorous voting because of 911. According to the script the populous should have felt keenly their civic duty and voted in great patriotic waves locked arm-in-arm singing white-bread versions of the star-spangled banner.

    I think 911 did make people think about what was truly important. Voting didn't make the cut. Blasphemy i know, but at least think about it.

    comment[] 9:42:40 PM       digg   reddit

    Extreme tugboat driving. Almost looks fun. Almost.

    comment[] 9:28:10 PM       digg   reddit

    So tell me again why combining religion and government is a good thing? Dressing wrong gets you the death penalty. And it's not just muslims. It's any fundamentalist.

    comment[] 9:26:17 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, March 13, 2002

    Neandertals and humans played a good game and us humans won. Wonder if this prefigures the future of retro-humans vs techno-humans?

    comment[] 2:56:00 AM       digg   reddit

    The true story behind Mosaic and Netscape? Perhaps if Marc Andreessen was really as imaged Netscape might have won. But MS was better, faster, stronger, and The Race of the Browser went to the dark side.

    comment[] 2:50:02 AM       digg   reddit

    Improving how you walk
    But the African women have a secret weapon, the researchers discovered. 
    As they transfer their weight, they transfer at least 80 percent of 
    their forward energy to the next step. Only 20 percent must be replaced 
    by the muscles, leaving plenty of energy in reserve to carry the 
    weight on their heads.

    comment[] 2:35:49 AM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, March 10, 2002

    As a clarification it's not that i don't think laptops are capable of being servers. Clearly they have enough power to be servers. It's the nature of laptop usage that makes them unsuitable. A server should to be always on and accessible. With battery limitations this is difficult for a laptop. More to the point laptops move around which means they often do not have network connectivity or have highly degraded connectivity. Personally i want my server on a fat reliable network on machine that has power for a number of hours in a row.

    comment[] 12:52:31 PM       digg   reddit

    I do not understand Dave's response to Michael's take on RCS ( The primacy of the desktop may hold in the future, but that future is not now. And i think the desktop centric model is dead wrong in general. We need to support both desktop and centralized modes of working becuase they are both valid and people use both. Ideally we should be able to convert between the two as we move about the world in our different roles as people and in our different locations.

    Why is the desktop only model not the only choice and probably not the best choice?

    1. I'm the source of content, not my desktop. I need to be able to add/edit content wherever i am, not wherever my desktop is. Don't confuse me with a machine. The machine dies, gets replaced, breaks, and identical services can be had anywhere in the world.

      A while ago i took a trip the new zealand and did not cary a laptop so i would not have been able to add to my weblog. I will be going on another trip and will not be able to publish to my weblog. When i'm at work i can't publish to my weblog. Please try to support both models instead of taking a stand for a future that is a long way off.

    2. Local services are not reliable enough and/or good enough. I require centralized services because the power to my home (i live in the mountains) is not reliable, the network is slow, the network is not particularly reliable, nor is my ISP that reliable.

      My desktop may have a lot of power but that is a relatively minor part of the equation. And if by power you mean CPU power, radio is definitely not CPU bound so all the power is pure excess. I'm quite sure radio would run fine on a 50mhz machine.

    3. Laptops do not make good servers. Maybe people use their laptops as their desktop and they cart it around where ever they go. I don't want to because i lose and break things. Even if i did use a laptop the network situation is such the laptop couldn't always function as a server and/or function well as a server. So you are left with publishing to a centralized server, which is what radio does now.

    4. Blogger may suck as a centralized service. This is why i did not go with them. We have numerous examples of very large centralized services that work well. Yahoo, google, amazon, slashdot, and tons of other services work great, even with very large numbers of customers and large loads.

    5. Centralization is required (or works better) for some features:
      1. The comment feature of radio is centralized.
      2. A search feature is better centralized. Google works pretty well :-)
      3. Publishing from multiple locations requires a centralized view even if the data gets distributed later.

    6. If people make weblogs at work should we assume they will always backup data so it won't get lost? Can we assume that their machine always is idle enough to provide good service? Can we assume that a desktop machine has a static IP address so readers can always find it? Can we assume that desktop machines will always be visible across different networks so everyone can get to it?

    7. We cache on the edges of networks, not on the interior nodes. A centralized approach makes this possible.

    8. Michael makes a good argument for the nice features that Frontier has that RCS does not. If UserLand already has these in the can why build another system?

    I do large scale distributed syncing for a living. It's possible to keep all nodes in sync such that i can access my view of the world from anywhere and have it synced to my other views. It's not a requirement that everything is centralized or on the desktop. It can be both and it can be much more.

    comment[] 5:59:43 AM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, March 09, 2002

    Boring sex becoming global problem. Experts say our sex lives are too dull and that boring sex is becoming a global problem. An international team of behaviour specialists claim many women think of sex like inviting someone in for a cup of tea.

    I know i'm part of the problem and pledge to redouble my efforts and work toward a better world for us all...only if i weren't so tired...

    comment[] 6:01:18 AM       digg   reddit

    Thursday, March 07, 2002

    Us lefties have a more flexible brain organization ( Wonder if that's why my memory sucks :-) Or maybe it helps some people see patterns in chaos (

    New genetic study shows there may have been multiple waves leaving africa ( This makes more sense to me. Humans are explorers and we can walk forever. If you are a hunter-gather why stick around? Hey, Ugh, what's over the next mountain range? Don't know, let's go see. It's not a 40 foot motor home, but the idea is the same. People were probably leaving africa all the time either searching for more resources or just to explore. I think people forget or distant relatives were just as smart as we are had the same drives.

    Another step taken in the race to become a police state (

    comment[] 4:02:22 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, March 04, 2002

    From Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker:
    The brain built for protecting our children was field-tested
    for millions of years in the wild. I call it the wild brain,
    in contrast with the logic brain so many people revere. The
    logic brain is plodding and unoriginal. It is burdened with
    judgement, slow to accept reality, and spends valuable energy
    thinking about how things ought to be, used to be, or could be.
    The logic brain has strict boundries and laws to obey, but the
    wild brain obeys nothing, conforms to nothing, answers to nobody,
    and will do whatever it takes. It is unfettered by emotion,
    politics, politeness, and as illogical as the wild brain may
    sometimes seem, it is, in the natural order of things, completely

    comment[] 7:47:43 PM       digg   reddit

    Saturday, March 02, 2002

    Would you switch off part of your brain to stimulate artistic genius?

    Using transcranial magnetic stimulation your left arterial temporal lobe is turned off which apparently enables dominance of primitive parts of the brain. It's a temporary effect.

    I would do it. Some think this is crazy. I've leveraged my new cortex for decades now, only occasionally experiencing creative insight. I'd like to see what else my brain is capable of freed from the superego. Unfortunately i couldn't find any transcranial magnetic stimulators for sale.

    Would you do it?

    comment[] 9:12:09 PM       digg   reddit

    Friday, March 01, 2002

    Interesting paper on journaling filesystems

    Star Wars done in ascii

    Evidence that meditating does something for you

    The Company Presidency

    Playing is good for you It's not trite to say we should play more.

    comment[] 5:19:24 PM       digg   reddit

    Wednesday, February 27, 2002

    How is it possible our universe could have been created from the quantum tickling of vacuum? And if a universe begat in this most unlikely a happenstance then couldn't a god?

    In the beginning is the the entirety.

    comment[] 9:25:12 PM       digg   reddit

    Tuesday, February 26, 2002

    Brad Cox ( asserts that we can't keep using http forever because it doesn't natively support long transactions and is asymetric.

    This is crap. It smells like a backdoor initiative for MS to take over the the defacto internet transport protocol standard that is HTTP.

    Long transactions are much better handled via callbacks and/or status probes. A requestor can say in the request here's my response URL, tell me when you are done. I'll time you out when i want. You can time me out too. The client and server are in complete control. No intermediary protocol implementation is required.

    HTTP is symetric because anyone can make a request of anyone at anytime as long as they have the right URL. This is not a hack, it's a very robust design. Servers are in no way limitted to just responding.

    It's interesting that the solution to asymetry and long transactions would require a protocol of such complexity that it essentially becomes a service that locks you in because only the service will have the state to act as a broker between the client and server.

    Wonder why microsoft would want this kind of solution?

    comment[] 4:00:04 PM       digg   reddit

    Monday, February 25, 2002

    Can support for big oil now be considered treason?

    I'm not an naive, we need oil. Especially in the short-term. That does not change how we evaluate positions relative to our future. Acts and positions that further our dependence on an oil economy would seem to be aiding our enemies...which is treason.

    Clearly our enemies are funded by oil revenue. Removing our dependence on oil would remove their funding and much of interaction with "evil" nations. If it weren't for oil would we care the least about, iraq, iran, etc? No.

    We have faught several wars over ensuring our access to oil. Many soldiers have died in these wars. The fiscal cost has been enormous. Isn't preserving a system that guarantees periodic wars treason?

    In california we were told conservation was impossible and would't solve anything. Wrong. Isn't it our patriotic duty to conserve? Isn't anyone who says otherwise treasonous?

    The oil supply in alaska is reportedly relatively small as are the deposits off the california coast. Isn't diverting our attention away from more concrete solutions treasonous?

    Isn't dropping regulations that reduce oil consumption treasonous? Isn't adding regulations that reduce oil consumption patriotic? Who cares if solar is inefficient? How much does war cost? How much are the lives of our soldiers worth? Isn't worrying about the trivial incremental cost of solar (and other technologies) treasonous?

    Isn't by any definition of treason the current PR spin treasonous?

    comment[] 5:25:21 PM       digg   reddit

    Sunday, February 17, 2002

    comment[] 11:14:29 PM       digg   reddit

    Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website. © Copyright 2009 todd hoff.
    Last update: 9/19/2009; 2:13:29 PM.
    September 2009
    Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3 4 5
    6 7 8 9 10 11 12
    13 14 15 16 17 18 19
    20 21 22 23 24 25 26
    27 28 29 30      
    Mar   Oct