Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dear programmers

So you have a problem.  You decide to solve your problem using regular expressions.  Now you have two problems.  Rubular is the solution to one of them.

The Rubular of date-time formatting used to be running `cheat strftime`.  That was before foragoodstrftime.

If you've got any more solutions, let me know.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Go... away

Dear GoDaddy,

The only element of your entire web interface that I find remotely usable is the Danica Patrick photos.  While I appreciate your effort in that sphere, I'd appreciate it even more if every page didn't have 498746513546841 links and text tidbits on it.

Yours truly,
$sysadmin who only uses your service because his employers/clients do

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Amazon vs AWS vs me

Dear Amazon,

I think your wal-mart-in-the-sky emporium is awesome.  I think your datacenter-in-the-sky cloud service is awesome.

I understand that the IT setup you built for the first led naturally to the competencies that allow you to kick ass at the second.

I'm happy to use both, just not at once.  Pretty please, could you recognize that the account I use to purchase ec2 hours for my company and the account that I use to purchase goods for myself are not the same, even if the computer on which they originate is the same?  I'd appreciate it.  I don't want to pay for my company's servers and I don't think my company wants to pay for the tshirts that I'll later use to abuse the company dress code.

That is all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Somalia's not an argument

Dear the Internet,

Please consider the following thought experiment:

Sophistication as the opposite of Interesting

This feels like a bit of a false dichotomy but I think it's a good starting point for thought.  A lot of polite social conversation amounts to agreeing at one another.  That feels good, but the actual transfer of information can be very low.  For info-philes, that an be a negative.

Friday, December 17, 2010

On the implementation of '==' for deities

So the dude who did the documentary where he ate McDonald's every day for 30 days and ruined his body, well he got a reality TV deal for a show called 30 days.

I watched the first few episodes.  In one of them, a Christian dude spent 30 days living with a Muslim family in Detroit.  Upon visiting a mosque, he expressed the concern that the Muslims were praying to a different God than his, and he didn't want to engage in that.

How, exactly, might one evaluate that question?  If we grant:
  • Muslims pray to Allah
  • Christians pray to God
How do we know that Allah == God (or not)?

If we allowed the possibility of multi-theism, this would be simple enough.  If Apollo is the sun god and Aphrodite isn't, then we're probably talking about different deities.  There's a distinction in roles and genders.

But Allah and God pretty much have the same role: creator of heaven and earth, alpha and omega, &c.  They even have the same gender, which is either "male" or "undefined" depending on how much modernist revisionism you subscribe to.

Now, some of the things that Allah and God have said or done might contradict one another.  Like, if Allah said that there was no heaven and God said that there was, then maybe we'd be dealing with different deities.

Except: the Christian God said the thing about "eye for an eye" and then the other thing about "turning the other cheek."  Those are kinda hard to reconcile.  No easier anyway than it would be to reconcile the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and "Angels in the Outfield" also being the dude who spake to Muhammad that one time about that other thing.

Maybe this is one of those P vs NP things?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Clay Shirky has written the most sensible thing I've read yet about Wikileaks.

Even so, I think his writing fails to get all the way to the matter at hand.  His thoughts on the matter operate under the assumption that the United States should operate in a legalistic, democratic manner.

Which brings us back to our old model vs reality situation.

The model of the United States as a democratic, soveriegn Westphalian nation state, bound by a Constitution and the laws of the land doesn't tell the whole truth.

Human organizations obey social truths, not legal truths.  Social truths deal in trust, enmity, loyalty and hierarchy; legal truths deal in egalitarian rights and prohibitions.  Social truths are situational; legal truths are universal.

Consider any human organization of which you are a member.  Perhaps there is a person who on paper ought to be your manager, but whom you actually manage.  Is the nominal leader of your department, company, homeowner's association, Warcraft guild or softball team actually the leader?

Constitutions and laws are legal truths.  They guide but don't restrict.  A speed limit doesn't keep you from speeding.  It's merely one element in a long list of things that influence your driving decisions.

The United States is at or around the height of its imperial power.  There might be laws or treaties that say, on paper, that we shouldn't invade other nations, kidnap folks from Pakistan, torture prisoners of war, knowingly kill civilians or extra-judiciously harass the founder of Wikileaks.  Those are more guidelines than actual rules.

The gentleman and scholar Ron White once recounted a story of walking his dogs in front of a building.  There was a sign in the grass in front of the building that read: "no dogs."  The sign, Ron claimed, was wrong.  It should have said "two dogs."

If the rules on extradition or jurisdiction contradict what the US of A is up to, then the rules are obviously wrong.  The rules that matter are the social rules of hierarchy, power relationships and loyalty.

Will the international community allow us to go after this man?  Most likely.  Will domestic corporations respect the government's wishes and freeze assets, domains and donations?  Almost certainly.  Do whiners in the blogosphere like you me or Clay Shirky have the votes, dollars or guns to have a voice in the matter?  No they don't.

It's not that might makes right.  It's that "might" and "right" are independent matters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Close the Washington Monument

Hey all, long time no post.  Bruce Schneier is as good a reason to de-lurk as any, so here you go.

The TSA and the thinking that created and maintains it represent a real incarnation of what the philosophers call a "reductio ad absurdam."  Rock-bottom is a different place for everyone.  Taking the shoes off might do it for some, pat-downs might do it for others.

The TSA isn't the enemy of the terrorist.  It's the complement.  The terrorist sets 'em up, exposing a new potential threat.  The TSA knock's 'em down, removing freedoms in a quixotic attempt to enumerate badness.  It's a symbiotic relationship.

If a terrorist does something bad and no one runs around acting terrified, was he really a terrorist?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My journey through the Koprulu Sector

So, I'm updating my Starcraft II (not like they give you a choice in the matter), and the kind little update window wishes me all the best on my journeys through the "Koprulu Sector."

Now, I know a LOT about Starcraft II.  If I were the sort of dude that worried about his image, I'd definitely avoid admitting how much I know about Starcraft II.  I know the names of professional players, the teams they play for, what they look like, what sorts of builds they favor.  And this was the first I've heard of the Koprulu Sector.

The reason of course is that I've not played the campaign.  The reason for me not playing the campaign is that I attempted a single mission and gagged over the dialog and voice acting.  The idea is that the rough-and-tumble independent space-cowboy adventurers are taking on the fascist dictator, deploying their plucky attitudes and checkered pasts in the service of that goal.  Or something like that.  I honestly wasn't paying attention.  The lines were terrible, the delivery wasn't over-the-top enough to be campy, but it wasn't nearly good enough to be... good.  Think of the worst line you remember from Top Gun, being delivered in the manner of the worst moment of acting in the Star Wars prequels.  It's kinda like that, but worse.

The matter of the campaign and the story though got me to thinking.  Perhaps the reason why games like Halo and Starcraft are so popular is the rich backstory.

Take an unpopular game like chess as a counter example.  Where's the story?  Where's the single player?  Yeah, so it's black vs white, but... WHY?  Was there some ancient wrong that demands remedy on the battlefield?  This 8x8 checkered realm surely has a fancy alien-sounding name, doesn't it?  We know the pawns can move 1 space or sometimes two and sometimes diagonal and such, but what's their motivation? Do they have bad-ass, anti-authoritarian attitudes that the teenage male demo can relate to?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Clearly chess doesn't get it.  There's just no DEPTH there, you know?  It's like all that happens is you have two people trying to outwit each other using a commonly known abstract ruleset as the means for their battle.  Who'd be interested in that?

There are likely a few chess tournament trophies in my parents' attic that answer that question solidly, but I haven't the time to check - I'm off to the Koprulu Sector!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

This should be obvious

You know all those camps and bases that the logistical arm of the US military has established in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Those guys should be employed creating a safe and sanitary camp for the Hatians that currently really need one.

Just another one of those things our nation could do if it ever wanted to shift resource allocation from destruction to creation.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trolling the Selfish Elite

So there's these dudes ran some poll on Facebook and Wired thinks it means that iPad users are educated, sophisticated, selfish elites.

Dude, you can say what you want about my gadgets, but calling me sophisticated is over the line.

Anyway, let's say this about that.  This study is obviously trash science at its worst.  You start with sample bias and poor question design, make some sloppy inferences and then wrap it up with some sweeping generalizations guided more by the story you want to tell than the data.  Like most magazines, Wired fails hard when it comes time to decide between sensationalism and critical review.  Still, it's an interesting thought vector.

Some times one thing will predict another thing.  In my language, I call the measured entity a "proxy" for the predicted entity.  If you give me data on whether a group of folks are fundamentalist Christians, I can make predictions about their party affiliation.  This isn't a "correlation implies causation" kind of thing, it's a "reliable correlation is handy because sometimes a hard-to-measure thing is correlated with an easier-to-measure thing."  Political scientists occasionally call these sorts of shenanigans "Alford Indeces," after this guy.

Still, we love to find some causation.  WHY would educated elites purchase an iPad?  Well, that's a silly question.  iPads are expensive and unessential.  Pretty much the only sorts of folks who purchase that sort of thing are educated elites.  I have no idea from what data they draw their conclusion of selfishness, but that label is leveled with regularity upon businessmen in our age, so it's not so surprising.

No, it's no surprise at all that folks with the means to purchase a new toy will purchase a new toy.  The same trend could be found if we "studied" luxury automobile owners, folks with pilot's licenses or ran a poll down at the local $40/plate restaurant.

The surprise is how important NOT liking the iPad is to the self-image of those geeks who don't have one.  The younger, poorer drivers of tuned EVOs and Civics don't hate on the drivers of M3s and Porsches.  They aspire to join their ranks. 

That's not so in computer-land though.  For these sorts of gadget-geeks, buying an Apple product would be like that feeling you get when your favorite indy band signs with the RIAA.  The "joy of tinkering" as a euphemism for braving bad UI is like the joy of drinking PBR in a hole-in-the-wall.  With a self-image like that, purchasing an Apple product is almost emasculating.

Time changes things though.  Young students pirate songs because they have lots of time and no money.  Middle-aged professionals buy songs from iTunes because they have money and no time.  Sticking it to the RIAA is just a time-consuming drag.

Take one of those "independent geeks" and give him a 90K a year salary at a tech company, a wife and two kids.  Maybe he'll get an EEEPC, set it up to ssh over to his server that he built from parts purchased on NewEgg running a bleeding-edge build of MythTV and an open-source newsreader that he on-again-off-again contributes to.

Or... he'll get the iPad and use it to read shitty sites like TechCrunch in hopes of learning from their hype what the competition is doing.  He'll download casual games because he doesn't have the time to sit down and get involved in anything that can't be measured in 15 minute increments.  He'll give it to the kids to amuse themselves so that he can talk with his wife. 

Where did all the independent geeks go?  They all became iPad driving businessmen.

Monday, July 26, 2010

How much do you like freedom?

So, say you have some money.  All things being equal, you'd like to keep it.  There are some other things that you like.  Food and shelter and video games and such.  They cost money.  So you have a trade-off.  You like milk and you like $1.99, but you'd rather have the $1.99, so you buy the milk.  Your preference for $100 probably exceeds your preference for a jug of milk, so you probably won't purchase.  You also probably won't purchase sour milk, even at $1.99.

Your response to these trade-offs is to set some guidelines.  When spending money on a thing, you want to spend the smallest amount possible.  When evaluating a thing for possible purchase, you want it to be the best thing possible.  If the thing is expensive enough or low enough in quality, you don't make the trade.

Now imagine that you were a legislator who liked freedom.  All things being equal, you'd want more freedom rather than less.  When crafting a law, you'd want to make sure that law restricted freedom as little as possible while providing the most benefit possible.  If it later turned out that the benefit didn't match the cost, you'd repeal the law.

I was just thinking about the semi-prohibition of pseudophedrine, one of the few drugs that I might hope could address a persistent congestion problem of mine. 

I can purchase the stuff, but only at a few places in my area, only by giving up my name and address, and only in small quantities.  Alternatives are poor substitutes.  Many companies don't want the hassle of selling it, so competition is lower.  Combine that with the lower counts and it's relatively more expensive then it was before the ban.  That's the restriction-of-freedom side.  I can't get it as easily, in as high a quantity, or as cheaply as before.  Likewise, stores are less able to profit from selling it.

The reason for the restriction of course was the prevention of its use in the production of meth.  The disadvantage of meth is that people use it and then get addicted and then get unhealthy and jobless and steal shit to buy meth (of course some of the worst externalities come from the fact that it's illegal - the cost is higher so more things must be stolen, and those producing, selling and consuming must engage in naturally dangerous black market activity).  Anyway, the idea is that we trade some freedom in return for less meth.

Well, that's the theory, but have the legislators shown their work?  Has anybody studied pseudofed restrictions to confirm or deny that they have a significant affect on meth production?  What were the results of those studies?

The same question could be asked anywhere...  How much safer are we now that the TSA has banned water?  How much healthier are residents of cities that have banned trans-fats?

Are we buying sour milk?  If we knew we were intentionally buying sour milk, it would show that our legislators don't care about freedom at all.  If we buying sour milk unintentionally because we weren't checking before or after buying, well that at least suggests that they don't care that much, do they?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gates's successor doesn't get it

If even half of this is true, my theory that MS reached apex at the departure of Gates remains sound.

Market competition is good.  Political competition generally is not.  Android vs iOS is good.  Kin vs WinMobile7 is not.

Naturally, MS makes enough from Windows and Office that they can continue to lose hundreds of millions on things they don't and probably won't ever understand like gaming, the web and mobile.  Windows and Office are so entrenched that even epic disfunction on the part of their parent company can't dislodge them overnight.

Still, this is the world of Google, Apple and Amazon.  MS and Yahoo just think they live in it.

What's your point, Walter?

Apple has some very nice testing labs.

That would be great if their users wanted to buy things from a company that had nice testing labs.

What the customers want though... is phones that work.

I don't have an iPhone 4, but if I did, here's what I'd want to hear:

"Well, we messed up.  We've got some super-awesome and super-expensive test facilities, but it looks like we need to make our process even better still.  We know it's not an ideal solution, but you can have a free bumper case on us.  If you've already bought one, we'll refund it.  If you want to return your phone, we've extended the return period.  We appreciate your business and we'll take the necessary steps to learn from this issue and continue to produce the high quality, easy to use products that you know and love"

I don't like that their official press conference addressed the competition by name either.  Sell and defend YOUR product, let the competition worry about their products.  If you need to get it out there that other phones have similar problems, leak it into the blogosphere and let the Engadgeters do your dirty work for you.

Imagine a kid in his most whiny voice attempting to excuse himself from a cookie jar heist by ratting out his sister for her co-involvement.  Yeah, that's what the "our competition sucks too" sounds like.

Dude.  We're Apple fanboys.  We EXPECT the competition to suck.  We expect, even to the point of complete irrationality, Apple to be better.  Apple profits from those expectations, and as such ought to do what it can to maintain that allure of being above the competition, not in their class.  Whether that's true at any given point or not.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gates gets one right

Quoth Hans Rosling: "child survival is the new green."

The idea is that once folks learn that their kids will make it, they quit having 6 of them just to be sure. Therefore lower population growth.

Either that or the kinds of societies that have their shit together well enough to distribute condoms and the pill reliably also happen to be capable of providing offspring with a healthy environment and medical care.

Either way, Bill Gates's fight against malaria seems well justified from a long-term perspective.

The fact that kids aren't dying of a terrible disease in the short term is probably a decent thing too. That way they can grow up to buy Windows7 phones.

As if.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Putting your best foot forward

The Coke can on my desk contains 140 calories, all of them coming from the 39g of high-fructose corn syrup.  HFCS is linked to obesity.  It also contains phosphoric acid (linked to tooth problems) and caffeine (the cause of, and solution to, many of my problems).

I suppose it is with this in mind that the can proudly claims "VERY LOW SODIUM."

Way to frame it, guys.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Groucho or Karl?

This is a fun video and you should watch it.

Now, somewhere in the middle he has a theory where there's no bakery, and then someone starts a bakery and then someone finances the expansion of the bakery and then there's a big bakery and everyone gets bread, but that's terrible because the guys who financed the bakery got rich, and I'm like, "well, yeah, but everyone gets bread," but he's all like "but wages are all like stagnant and shit," and I'm like "well, I lost my job in the downturn and then took another one for less money and I live in a smaller place with roommates now but I'm still able to eat bread and I can buy manufactured goods like iPads and shit that two years ago couldn't be purchased by me at my previous nominal income nor by anyone else at any income whatsoever and that's like progress and stuff and the CPI misses out on that because it thinks that a car is a car even if it's safer and more efficient and a burrito is a burrito even if Chipotle tastes better than Taco Bell and a doctor is a doctor even though this one can perform surgery on a tumor with fuckin' lasers and shit and a 'consumer electronic device' is a 'consumer electronic device' even if it's the fucking computer that fucking Picard had on the fucking Enterprise and it's got the fucking internet so I can see a video of my family 3000 fucking miles away or locate my lost ass down to 10 fucking yards anywhere on the fucking planet or hold more information than the fucking library of fucking Alexandria all in the palm of my bourgeois yuppy hands and that's progress too," and he's all like "but people lost their houses," and I'm all like "yeah, but you were just complaining about how too many of us owned houses anyway, and it's greedy to buy a house that you can't afford and you're anti-greed, aren't you," and he's all like  "well, yeah, but I'm an academic and you're just a dilettante," and I'm all like "well Mr. Marxist, what are you doing here when you could be in like Venezuela or something," and he's all like "that's a cheap shot and besides I draw way better than you," and I'm like "well, you've got me there but then Iwaslikeweeeee.

And then it dawned on me: how much should the entertainment value of free YouTube videos be factored into the real dollar value of my present consumption relative to the consumption rate attainable by a comparably employed web developer in 1970, you know, before there were any internets for me to develop and then I wondered how a professor like him would send his cool video to the masses without YouTube either and then I wondered how there'd be a YouTube if they hadn't been bought by Google and how there'd be a Google if they hadn't taken venture capital and how there would be venture capital if not for capitalism but then I realized that going to bed right now would be a capital idea.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Don't Want to be Friends

(links are NSFW, but so is this entire blog).

So, they say that there are no atheists in foxholes.

The atheists say that this is an argument against foxholes.

Then, there's the argument that sex is violence.

Lady GaGa says that this is an argument in favor of violence.

To be fair, hers is not an original argument.  If I'm not mistaken though, it is the first time that the argument has been made with such props as yellow bespangled 12" platform shoes.

So there's something to be said for that.

Like most things that attain popularity in our culture, this song and its video have a veneer of nonsense and banality while at the same time stemming from a reality that we all know but don't often acknowledge at a conscious level.

Tomorrow, a look at what Hanson has to say about the similarities between social networking and botany.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Never get involved in a trade war in Asia and never go in against a CEO when money is on the line

So this guy thinks that we should tax offshore labor.  Because "we" aren't getting the experience that we need to... build stuff or something.  Trade war brinkmanship?  No problem, "we" can "treat it like other wars - fight to win."

Let's just say this about that:
  • The wars on Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afganistan, Drugs and Terror are more than sufficient evidence that "we" don't fight to win.  We start fights because we think we can do things that we can't.  Then we keep fighting because we're too wussy to admit that we were wrong.
  • War is zero sum.  Trade is not.  Trading trade for war, even for a "trade" war and not a "war" war,  is a bad trade. 
  • "We" is the United States, which means that the rest of the argument only makes sense if one buys in to the social fiction of the US actually being a thing.  If "we" were "mankind," the argument is silly, isn't it?  "We need to stop sending jobs to ourselves, because we're losing the experience that we'll need to compete with ourselves in order to avoid locking ourselves out of our future successes."  It's like isometric exercise or something.
  • You tax something because you want less of it.  How is it not incredibly immoral to want less offshore labor?  Does offshore-ness make someone undeserving of a job?  When there's a drought, "we" in the US don't go hungry much less starve.  Many in this world can't say that, and until they can, "they" deserve the labor before "we" do.  
"We" need to quit whining and start thinking about how cool it is that our economy is the greatest value creation engine ever to exist on the planet.  That's a pretty cool thing to have.  All we have to do is avoid fucking things up by wasting our engine's product on phony wars, paranoid taxes and other petty bullshit.  Then maybe we can use what we've made to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants.  Not just the ones lucky enough to have been born within some imaginary lines on a fucking map.

In other news, it's apparently 4th of July weekend.  I'm going to spend mine watching the Germans and the Argentinians play a game invented in England on a field in Africa.  I'll probably be watching on a device designed by Apple in Cupertino, with an Israeli CPU that was put into it by a worker in China.   If there's time, maybe I'll thank the French for helping us win that battle in Yorktown that one time and being right about that Iraq thing that other time.

Man, globalization has really made life terrible.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oh, Flash...

Dear Adobe,

It totally sucks that Steve Jobs called you out in his public letter, especially after all you and Apple have been through together as companies.

Still, I'm running the most recent MacBook Pro produced by Apple, watching the World Cup.  My little activity monitor shows both processors pegged.

Seriously, it must be terrible for you that the ads and games built for your platform aren't a part of the iPad experience.

Is that the world's tiniest violin that I hear or is it just my processor fans?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Concentrating on a Concentration Camp

So... what do 9/11, the nuking of Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and the once or current blockades of, e.g., Gaza, Iraq, Cuba and North Korea have in common?

They're all forms of collective punishment.  In some cases, the collective punishment has weak defense as the leaders whose actions are punished were elected by the populace that was punished.  9/11 and Gaza fit that mold.  I naturally reject that defense, but I do note that there's a difference.  The Japanese didn't exactly elect their emperor.

That said, if you're like many Americans, you probably have a very different moral judgment for 9/11 vs Nagasaki.  Why?

Because the Japanese started it?  The Japanese in Hiroshima share a language and an ethnicity with the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor, but that's about it.  Those civilians didn't start a damned thing.  How is a Japanese fisherman in Nagasaki more responsible for the actions of his country's navy than a stock broker in the World Trade is responsible for the behavior of the American military in the Middle East?

It's about time for us to grow up and quit it with this collective punishment bullshit.  No amount of rockets from Gaza justify turning it into a concentration camp.  Concentration camps are always and everywhere wrong.  The fact that some of the Gaza residents voted for Hamas doesn't change the moral calculus at all.  This will not end well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Helping Others

Tyler Cowen asks a mostly stupid question and gets mostly stupid answers: What career helps other people the most?

I feel that many people ask this question and settle on a field with linear benefit.  I hesitate to make such a sweeping generalization... but in my experience, women have been more likely to take such questions seriously, and more likely to end come up with the wrong (aka "linear") answer.

By "linear" here, I mean a job where productivity is nearly linearly associated with effort.  A nurse can handle X patients per hour, after that you need another nurse.  Basically, if the job can fit the starfish parable, it's linear.  If the job is more like "guy who designed the circuit board that improved the efficiency of the starfish saving machine  by 40%," it's not linear.

Possibly the best  non-linear suggestion among the comments at MR was "CEO who sends jobs to developing countries."  Such CEOs construct physical infrastructure in developing countries.  They pressure local governments into good long-term policies like avoiding inflation, respecting private property, maintaining order and the like.  Most of all, they contribute to the development of human capital in the developing nation.

It's worth noting that this applies mostly to manufacturing and design jobs such as those done in India  and China rather than resource extraction jobs such as those done in Africa.  See resource curses.

It's also worth noting that India and, yes, China, have governments that permit this sort of investment, whereas many South American and African nations do not.  The differences in outcomes for those countries suggest that politicians also have a tremendous multiplying effect.  Consider Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

No fortune 500 CEO is in the 90th percentile for businessmen, and no president or cabinet minister is in the 90th percentile for politicians.  Still, even at a lower level of success, the amount of good that one could do vastly dwarfs any of the linear responses from the article.

For those who don't dig business or law, it's probably best to find any sort of work that will increase the efficiency of those who gallantly take on the linear jobs, one starfish at a time.

Failing that... quit asking stupid questions, get the highest-paying job you can find, live on as little as you can afford, and donate the rest to the starfish-saver of your choice.

Failing that, admit to yourself that "maximizing the help you do for others" isn't the most important guiding principle for you.  =)

As a side note, I'd love to sit down for a chat with the fellow who suggested "US Marine."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On current events

Quoth Conan:

Pac-Man’s 30th birthday was marred by the sudden deportation of the Super Mario Bros. What were those fools doing in Arizona?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Prisoners of our own device

Xkcd offers some perspective on platforms. 

Good to keep in mind next time we discuss H.264 vs Ogg, MS vs... anything, or whathaveyou.

We don't need no stinkin' flash!

You can play Pacman on google right now.  Yeah, it works on the iPad. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anything you can do I can do better

Apple's been pretty evil lately, going after the dude who lost his prototype iPhone, picking fights with Adobe, sticking with AT&T despite overwhelming evidence that AT&T sucks.

Now say what you want about Microsoft.  They'll let Google win search and Apple win mobile, tablet, and MP3 players.  But they will not be out-eviled.

So, I guess that means it's time to patent-troll SalesForce.  This news popped up in my feeder from about 80 different places, but 37signals gets the nod here because they're a company with the guts to put this text in an official communication on their website:

Fucking patent trolls. Fucking Microsoft. What a sad day.

No matter what company it is that signs your checks right now, chances are they aren't that ballsy.

Now, I can't think that I've ever met a developer who would rather work for a patent troll than a ballsy outfit like 37signals.  Good devs make good tech, which makes this a bad move for MS.  Maybe they have a hole card.


Quoth Paul Graham, HT Giles:
Don't be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that's a good sign. That's probably why everyone else has been overlooking the idea. The first microcomputers were dismissed as toys. And the first planes, and the first cars. At this point, when someone comes to us with something that users like but that we could envision forum trolls dismissing as a toy, it makes us especially likely to invest.
I wonder if he bought Apple on news of the iPad.  My iPad is a pretty fun toy, I think.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Costs of doing business

Tech companies spent 111 million on lobbying last year, with MSFT naturally leading the pack.

Some of the money was probably to encourage government adoption of their services.  The rest was probably regulation repellant.  Does anyone have a model for this sort of thing that explains 111 million in terms that aren't largely dead-weight loss?

Corporations have countervailing forces pushing them to be bigger (economies of scale) and pushing them to be smaller (see my too big not to fail).  Lobbying costs push companies to be larger than they'd otherwise have to be.

Contrary to the common leftward model of government regulating megacorps, government regulation benefits the megacorps by increasing the amount of money and pull that is required to operate in our marketplace.  The reason why Microsoft can afford a few million in bribery is that it's potential competitors cannot.

In the meantime, let's punish Goldman Sachs by introducing new compliance guidelines the adoption of which will only be affordable if you're... Goldman Sachs.  We'll have mostly current and former GS management take care of writing the regs.  Can't fail.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

SC2B Bleg

Hey, so I was kinda ignoring StarCraft 2 Beta since they didn't have a Mac client yet... but now they do.

So, anybody know anybody who's got a key?  If you give me one, I'll name my first Zergling after you.

Tell-tale signs

So how do you know if you're reading a publication that came from print and is now trying the interwebs?  The editors make everyone capitalize "Web."

Other news at that link: It looks like the Feds are going to form a committee to see who's in charge of determining whether or not Apple's no-code-generator policy is "anti-competitive."  Whatever that means.

So the editors still think that the dictionary-makes-right rules of yesteryear apply to neologisms describing the very medium that they are attempting to conquer without understanding.

Meanwhile, the regulators still think that the monopoly laws of yesteryear apply to the world of licensed SDKs and development platforms.  A world which, if the Microsoft proceedings of last decade are any indication, the feds have yet to conquer or understand.

If your faith lies in Oxford's Unabridged, or Sherman's anti-trust, you are a modern day Horatio.  There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why should I change? Adobe's the one that sucks.

Jobs on flash in iDevices

Can't think that he's saying anything in there that I disagree with.  Maybe it's the fan boy in me, but I respect that he has the balls to call out a company as big as Adobe.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


So I always thought it'd be a good idea to combine the overbearing melodrama of a soap opera with the overbearing cutesie-ness of a musical.. but only on condition that the plot and setting were well-tread and vapid enough for mass prime-time appeal.

Looks like Fox beat me to it.

All that said, it was pretty good. I'd watch it again if I walk into a room and it's on. Wasn't surprised by the number of tampon ads though.

And So It Begins

So there I am at work, using Firefox on the MBP to track down a technical issue.  I'm reading some blog with a crappy fixed-width Wordpress theme.  The kind that spits in the face of your 24" monitor with large swaths of "blog rolls," and even larger swaths of unused gray, just cuz.

"Naturally," my first instinct was to double tap the only div on the page that contained actual content that I cared about.  Aardvark to the rescue, I guess, like a glass of flat Bud Light when you ordered a micro IPA.

At least I have flash.

Steer Markets, or Set Them Free?

Pretty good summary.  My favorite part is when she recognizes Keynes immediately but hasn't ever heard of Hayek.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thursday, April 8, 2010

First impressions...

Yes, I got it. Yes, I'm using it to write this review.

The keyboard is alright. My biggest gripe about that is the lack of dvorak, which is apparently coming.

Lack of multi-tasking is not much of an issue so far, though I am enjoying the push notification of my IM client and will probably enjoy the further developments when they come out with OS4

Full keyboard > touch > tiny keyboard > mouse. Thus I prefer the virtual setup to the scrunched confines of a net book.

I'm using it more than makes sense due to novelty, but it'll be pretty useful anyway. It delivers on the promise of the couch laptop. Good on the couch, in bed, in a car, on the john. I'm not a regular flyer, but it'd be perfect for that too. None of the heat of the MBP, and it fits where that won't.

Fit and finish are good for first gen. No major issues there.

Battery is far better than my phone. Charges slower though.

No flash is a bummer for soccer highlights, but it's really a feature not a bug. I'm okay suffering for a bit in order to push the Internet away from Adobe's grasp. HTML 5 ftw. If YouTube didn't already support it, I'd be more bummed.

As I suggested earlier, the platform is open if you're a web dev, as I am. I've already made modifications to some of my apps. I might end writing a native app for work at some point... Time will tell.

In the end, the thing I'd just plain cool. It's worth a few days' pay. If you'd need to work longer than that to afford it, spend your time investing in your human capital, not playing with new gadgets... =)

Things that would make this better: tethering off the 3GS. Dvorak keyboard. iTunes UEFA and EPL season passes. More iBooks (Or at least the few obscure ones I want). Don't care much about camera or multi tasking. More HD app ports...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Collateral what?

Someboday wanna debunk this for me?

The video is here.

Wikipedia is here, and seems to be pretty straight-forward.

Anyway, this sort of thing is pretty easy.  You just don't lead 'em as much.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Use the targetting computer... that's what it's there for

Allow me to begin with an anecdote.

I own a fancy blender.  The kind with demo videos on Youtube.  The kind whose commercial line can be found in your local smoothie shop.  The kind with a warranty.  Like Walter's dog in Big Lebowski, this blender has fucking papers, Dude.

So the blender breaks.  The digital readout (yes, it has one) suggests that the motor is "overloaded."  My wife reports that she wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary at the time.  We try the easy stuff.  Turn it on and off.  Unplug it and plug it in at another outlet.  No love.

After some sad and smoothie-less days, we obtain permission from our housemate to use his blender while I go through the process of finding my paperwork and putting a request in to support.  We get by on his (inferior) machine for a few weeks. 

A few weeks later, I call support, running a few simple diagnostics, and the nice lady decides that I should ship my unit in for repair or replacement.  I recount the discussion for my wife and I pick up the base unit during that discussion.  

It rattles.  The sort of rattle you get when loose metal bangs upon loose metal.  We investigate.  A screwdriver removes the bottom of the unit, revealing to us four easily understood parts: a threaded mounting, a fan, a washer, and a nut.  This isn't rocket science.  The fan goes on the mounting, and is secured by the washer and nut.  After a few weeks out of commission, our blender is returned to service following less than 5 minutes of diagnosis and repair.

The Problem of the Broken Blender wasn't a technical issue.  My wife and I were both technically capable of resolving the matter in minutes.  The issue was one of attention.  Neither of us had taken it upon ourselves to go beyond the level of cycling power to the next logical step: examining the unit.

Now for some folks, examination wouldn't have been enough.  If one had never seen a nut or heard of a screw driver, the cues we used wouldn't work.  For most of us though, the thing that keeps the problems in our lives around isn't a scarcity of ability or aptitude.  It's a scarcity of attention or agency.

One way to think of the relationship between ability and agency is that the multiply.  Say that fixing the blender required a technical capability of 2 out of 10, where 1 is "never seen a man-made device" and 10 is "building a working C3PO in your basement."  My wife and I are probably up in the 3-5 range technically, but our lack of attention to the problem was making the applied "problem solving force" nearly zero (not exactly zero - we did at least make sure that the thing was plugged in).

A metaphor that I'm beginning to prefer is a vector.  Ability is the scale of the vector, but attention is the direction.  When your vector is pointed at a problem, the likelihood of the problem being resolved increases.  The probability of solving the problem and the relative speed with which the problem is solved depends on ability.  If you're really capable, paying any attention at all to a problem is likely to solve it.  Your vector is big enough.  You might solve it faster.  Your vector doesn't need to be pointed in that direction as long.  You might even have enough ability that you can guess the issue without thorough examination.  Your vector might not even have to be pointed in exactly the right direction - even a small component might be enough.

If you don't like the vector model, consider the pinball model.

A recurring pattern in my life is the degree to which folks (myself included) continue to by stymied by problems that they have the ability to solve.  I "tried" to lose weight for years with little success.  Then I sat down, read some books, focused on selecting a possible solution, implemented my selection, and lost 30 pounds.  Then I ran a half marathon.  Then I ran a marathon.  Agency is a powerful drug.  I went from "trying" to trying.  There's a difference.

As a developer, I see the affects of inattention all the time.  It's a well known fact that users read almost nothing that is presented to them when using software.  They don't read error messages.  They don't check the preferences.  Even when you watch a user getting visibly frustrated at the inability to do something that they want to do, they won't resort to actually looking around the menus for a solution.  They won't pick up the unit and find the rattle.

We might implicate multi-tasking or over-booking, but I think this problem is more fundamental than that.  Problem solving, when approached as a serious pursuit, depends upon a leap of faith on the part of the problem solver.  Namely, if
  1. I quit flailing about in an unfocused manner,
  2. I calm down,
  3. I think for a second about what, exactly, I'm trying to accomplish, and
  4. I focus on accomplishing that thing,
  5. I will have the ability to find and execute a solution.
Most of the problems confronting most of us are because we haven't gotten to (1) yet.  We're just randomly flailing. 

Reboot the unit then call support.  Buy a few low-cal snacks at the store and hope that will cause weight loss.  Click on a bunch of things for a bit without focused search or actually reading dialog boxes and hope that we'll stumble upon a solution.  A prominent UI researcher wrote a book called "Don't Make Me Think."  It's like that.

It's pretty easy to spot this behavior in others.  I think it's much harder to spot it in ourselves.


Overheard on the internets:
Cultures and subcultures which do not place value on education all have serious problems now, regardless of whether they are 'native' or 'recently immigrant' - Marian Kechlibar on Marginal Revolution

iPad, do you?

Dear internets,

     I am a web developer.  As far as I'm concerned, the iPad IS an open platform.  Also, lack of flash is a feature, not a bug.  If IE didn't support flash starting next week, it wouldn't take long for the internet to become a better place.

     That said, multi-tasking would be nice.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Speaking of Brave New Worlds

Huxley vs Orwell: cartoon version.  Pass the soma please.

Call him the Knave, if you're into the whole "brevity is the soul of wit" thing.

Shakespearean Lebowski.   O brave new world that hath such mash-ups in it.


Jimmy Page, Edge and Jack White.  It might get loud.

For your next party

Consider c-jump.  Then consider something else.

If you do play, here's a pro-tip: don't play with Rubyists or Lispers because they cheat.  Worse, when you call them on it, they call it "meta-programming" and pretend like it's not a problem.

Now for something everyone can enjoy

Breakdancing fingers.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Blogs you should be reading

Since I'm on a posting spree anyway, here's ye old blog roll.  Opinions linked herein aren't necessarily endorsed.  The necessary qualifications are that the material be interesting, original, thought-provoking and/or well-written.


I read about 70 more, but these are the best.  Anything I should add?

Quality over quantity

Dear internet, life expectancy is not by itself a sufficient metric for the performance of a health care system.

It's a nice proxy for "are people dying of preventable crap that most Americans associate with the Civil War era," but we can and should expect more.

Which means we need better metrics.  Ideas?

Role Reversal

One of the smarter things that I've read in a while:
I had a fantasy in which the Fed and the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) switched roles.
If a bank failed at 9 a.m. one morning and shut its doors, the TSA would announce that all banks henceforth begin their business day at 10 a.m.
And, if a terrorist managed to get on board a plane between Stockholm and Washington, the Fed would increase the number of flights between the cities.

Speaking of Avatar...

“Sometime in the next twenty years or so, the technology that enabled Avatar will become cheap enough to risk employing alongside a moderately intelligent script.”

Resource Curse

So a while back, I posted this.  I titled the post "connecting the dots" and connected them to a Slashdot post about feminism and agency.  What I should have done was connect a bit further to that nagging feeling I get whenever I experience how run down the native areas of Hawaii are.

The problem with living in paradise or having bribe-worthy boobs is the same: resource curse.  

Heck, this was my problem with Avatar as well.  The blue people weren't striving to build capital or learn more than their parents.  Their parents had come up with a functioning system and they were trying to conserve it, not build upon it.  Maintain a cultural and technological velocity of zero.

When you've got a culture living in harmony with it's environment and simply iterating the generations without significant development or expansion, you've got the ideal environment for a story.  Dances with Wolves, Avatar, Fiddler on the Roof, Tolkien's Shire.

What you also have is a recipe for getting flat out owned by the folks who aren't in harmony.  Dances with Wolves got it right and Avatar got it wrong.  Brother Iz and the Hawaiian independence folks need to heed the advice from Marlo in The Wire: "you want it to be one way.  But it's the other way."

In real life, the best case for the blue people would be leading tourist expeditions to the minor cultural sites that remained after the marines wiped out home tree and the surrounding environs.  Perhaps they might find decent pay working in resorts in the floating mountains.

It's easy to subscribe to the romantic vibe of knowing when you have enough, living in harmony, and simply coasting on the bounty that the universe has provided.  But the girl getting her papers written for boob pics is going to be another data point in the salary deficit between men and women.  The Hawaiian fantasizing about living off the land and the sea is going to be as screwed as the South East Asians were when the tsunami hit.  His great grandparents were as screwed as the Cherokee when the US decided that we wanted Hawaii to be ours instead of theirs.

If we're ever going to get off of oil, cure cancer (or mortality itself), or fight off the next meteor/ice age/whatever, we're going to need to strive, not stand still. 

The winning answer is education, creation, organization, engineering.  Cultures and individuals that don't value those things will fall at the hands of cultures that do, to natural disasters, or changing environments.  When a living can be had without those values, the stage is set for trouble.

Yes this is a Randian notion.  What do you want to do?  Fight about it?  We might want it to be one way, but it's the other way.

If it weren't for the internet,

we would never have known about this.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Timely Tardiness

So I just watched Avatar* a few weeks back, a bit behind the curve I know.

Then today I'm going through my RSS reader and I start seeing Avatar review posts.  I'm about 3.5 months behind on RSS as well, so it all worked out.  Time machine FTW.

*Slipshod assortment of various noble savage themes with a host of super-cliché moments barely excused by kick-ass visuals.  Would have been immeasurably better if it had ended as a tragedy rather than continuing on for the inevitable final battle.  Cameron tried to be Spielberg because he lacked the guts to be a Kubrick.  The result reminded me of the recent efforts of Lucas, and that's not a compliment.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Connecting the Dots

So... a while back I ran into this.  Then today I ran into this.  All of it's quite interesting, though we have to remember that the plural of anecdote is... bullshit.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I've got a bad feeling about this...

I remember when Internet Explorer (4?) was released and I was downloading it and trying to decide to switch from Netscape.  I had this unsettling feeling about MS, but IE was... faster.  And looked nicer.  I went with IE for a bit before switching to Firefox (way back in the day, when it was still called Phoenix).

Anyway, Google Buzz just came out.  I've played with it a bit but don't have anything useful to say about it's features or capabilities.  What interests me is that I am now starting to feel the same way about Google as I did about Microsoft.

It's hard to describe the feeling, but I think it has something to do with unease over having a single point of failure in one's digital life.  At this point, Google does my email, my office suite, my search, my financial portfolio, my blog, a decent portion of my online chat and my calendar.  If they went out of business tomorrow I'd have halfway decent backups of two out of my four gmail accounts, and about half of my Google calendars.  That's it.

It's starting to feel unlikely that Google will be consistently equal to the task of "don't be evil" while managing this degree of power and responsibility.  They are clearly more well-intentioned than Microsoft, but that just means they'll be even more powerful before they implode under the force of their own power.  MS imploded with just an OS and productivity suite monopoly.  If Google ever throws in the towel like MS has, they'll probably own far more than that. 

I don't know if there was ever a point where we could have saved ourselves from the fail that MS would become.  If there was, I feel like that moment when I ignored my feelings and switched to IE4 might have been it.

I'm not going to go Google-free just yet, but I have to admit that I'm getting worried.

Hi, Devin. 

Sunday, January 31, 2010

If you're not a Manc...

So it would appear that Wayne Rooney has single-footedly made me a Manchester United fan.  I feel a bit dirty about that.

Speaking of dirty, Alicia Keys was good on Colbert's show and funny with Andy on SNL.  I fear however that the mere act of listening to her voice might expose one to enough sexy that it could constitute adultery.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Next Next Generation

Dude from 2010: Hey, you know those hand-held computers that they use in TNG?
1980's TNG Fan: Yeah, what about them?
DF2: In 2010, you'll be able to buy one for a week's wages.
TNGF: Really?  Fuckin' sweet!
DF2: Not really.  Everyone will bitch because they don't multi-task.
TNGF: Wait, what?
Dude from 2040: You think that's bad, wait until you hear the bitching about the new flying car models.  The fusion reactors need to be replaced every 20 years, and you can't even do it yourself!  You have to have to tell it fly itself over to the shop!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What we have here, is a failure to governate.

So, Haiti's in crisis, which means that a bunch of folks are paying attention to the important question of the hour: "Why is Haiti so poor?"

A re-phrasing, I think, is in order.  Poor is the default.  It's what happens when nothing else happens.  Infants aren't born able to feed themselves, and nations aren't born with plumbing, roads, and a functional stock exchange.  The question that matters is: "Why isn't Haiti rich?"

There are a few primary things that a country needs to be wealthy:  Rule of law, property rights, and education.  Democracy isn't strictly necessary, but it can help by removing the tendency of government to infringe upon rule of law and property rights.

Haiti has had a series of kleptocratic, terrorising, corrupt, semi-US-backed regimes.  So there goes your rule of law and your property rights.  Elites speak French following the colonial tradition, but the masses (most of them descendants from slavery) speak creole.  Illiteracy is by far the norm.  There goes you education.

Those factors alone are enough to keep a country from being rich.  Deforestation?  Definitely a problem.  Setting a minimum wage in a country with rampant unemployment?  Lunacy.  Resource curse?  Check.  Overpopulation?  Not helping.  Indeed, but these are all secondary concerns.

If the masses can be secure in the faith that the physical capital they produce will be theirs, and if they can be enabled in any efforts to increase their human capital, the rest will work itself out.  If not, then... not.

Can this be brought to pass without foreign intervention to an extent that might only be described as neo-colonialism?  That's difficult to say.  Surely Obama and his paternalistic constituency will have their theory...  What's yours?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Gather the Council

It came to pass that the Christians believed a whole bunch of relatively contradictory things, so they held the Council of Nicaea, after which they still believed relatively contradictory things, but it the list of those things was smaller, and in writing.

I propose that we gather the fathers of the house of hax0r, for the discussion of these matters.

As a first topic, I propose: "filename: one word or two?"

And we shall call our gathering: c3.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Are you employed, sir?

Unintended consequences, nanny-statism, colliding regulations, signaling, sex,  this story has it all

You don't go out looking for a job dressed like that? On a weekday?