31 December 2005

Poopachina redux

Best of the Web comments on ‘poopachino’, which is a coffee brewed from beans that have gone through the digestive tract of certain small mammals. I’ve actually tried it, so I will say that it does indeed have a distinctive flavor which I found interesting. However, not interesting enough to pay the going rate for. The fact that the beans have been excreted seems to be a big deal, but given many other “delicacies” people eat, I don’t see what the big deal is (like, say, mushrooms — their standard growing environment doesn’t seem to disturb people). I recommend giving it a try if you have the chance.

But that's completely different for no explicable reason

I try to understand the point of view of those who oppose our efforts in Iraq but I just can’t grasp it. A recent discussion basically devolved to the contention that since other people were willing to blow up American troops and Iraqi civilians, we should let them have their way. I just wonder where this attitude was when Timothy McVeigh was active. Shouldn’t we have surrendered Oklamhoma to him for the same reason we should surrender Iraq to the Caliphascist forces? I suspect it’s because of supreme indifference to the fate of foreigners, but of course one can’t just come out and say that.

No rush to judgement

There was a piece on NPR this morning about Cuba. The introduction referred to the “so-called Communist government” of Cuba. Yes, I guess in the NPR world, it’s still to early to tell if Castro is going to betray the revolution and turn Cuba in to a Communist regime of oppression and misery. On the other hand, what doubt can there be that America is already in the grips of a coming fascist government?

26 December 2005

Toxic waste

One of the things I ponder is how policies such as those promoted by the Progressives persist, given the detrimental effects. This is a particularly interesting question in liberal democracies, since if a policy were really much despised, it’s hard to see how it could persist for any significant amount of time.

A semi-recont post about riots in Australia pointed out one mechanism to me, which is that if the toxic results can be exported or localized, then the political will to maintain the policies can be sustained for a much longer time.

One set of policies that seems very popular with the Progressives is what is commonly known as “political correctness” with a dash of “multi-culturalism”, which means that only members of the dominant proletarian culture are held responsible for their actions. Of course, this kind of lax enforcement turns minor problems in the “under-priviledged” community in to major ones by rewarding the lawless and discouraging the law abiding people in that community. The resulting dominance of the community by the worst elements is the toxic result. This presents the problem for the Progressives that a lot of resentment is built up, in both that target community and the dominant one. It appears that the Australian Progressives maintain this state because the problems are isolated in relatively small areas of the country. So while the locals are deeply resentful of policies that prevent their local law enforcement from doing actual law enforcement, they are powerless to change those policies because most of the rest of the country gets to bask in the psychological payoff of “helping” out the downtrodden. The fact that the policies are damaging to everyone involved, except for ethnic criminals, is hidden by locality and Old Media group think. In effect, the toxic waste of these policies is dumped on a few communities.

Of course, this kind of thing isn’t limited to Australia. The Saudi Entity attempted to dump the toxic waste of its support for Wahabism on the rest of the world, although they’re now seeing what kind of back flow can result. American Progressives dumped a whole lot of toxic policy waste on Vietnam, something they’re still proud of.

Perhaps it is the rise of modern communications that makes this kind of dumping much more difficult, or maybe it’s just that eventually the poison spreads. In any case it is a hopeful sign that this kind of dumping seems to be ever more difficult, which makes the Progressive political program ever more shaky.

24 December 2005

Quantum Claus

We’ve been watching lots of Christmas presentations, performances and videos over the last few days. I’ve also been discussing the security implications of quantum computing with She Who Is Perfect In All Ways. These two things suddenly came together for me and I realized how Santa Claus gets around so fast.

Now, there have been those who dispute Santa’s existence because of the time, energy costs, and or air friction associated with visiting so many houses in a single night. But this problem disappears if Santa does his work the same way as a quantum computer. Rather than visiting each house one after another, Santa visits every house at the same time in a superposition of all possible visitation states. Effectively, then, Santa has the entire night for each house.

This also explains why it’s so important not to peek. In a quantum computer, looking at the intermediate results destroys the conherency that enables the system to work (the computer “decoheres”). For the same reason, seeing Santa would decohere his superposition (forcing him to be present in your house _and only your house). Obviously, this would make it far more difficult for him to make all of his (simultaneous) stops.

So, kids, if you want to help out Santa and all of the other good children, go to bed early and don’t peek!. Especially, don’t wake up Daddy to look to see if Santa’s been to your house yet. Remember, a watched tree never gets presents!

21 December 2005

Perils of demonization, take left

As I watch the now standard hysteria from the Left about how President Bush is Evil and some new scandal marks the end of his regime (just like Cindy Sheehan did and I expect this one to pan out about the same), it occurs to me that the MAL is following the demonization pattern that has worked out so badly for the Right as well. The essential problem is attributing the problems to Bush personally. This doesn’t work because Bush, in terms of things drive MAL hysteria, isn’t doing things that are much out of a bi-partisan tradition. The sort of spying activity now at the center of the chattering classes chatter has roots that date back to 1972. In partcular President Clinton was very aggressive in pushing the limits of executive power in this area.

The result, then, is that whining about Bush in particular makes one look both ignorant and partisan. Yet the MAL is trapped because it lacks the ideological capability to argue against this kind of thing on basic priniciple since it has tied itself far more to personalities such as the aforementioned Clinton. That’s not to even mention the synergy of this with the general defeatism of the MAL and the problem of complaining on principle of intrusive government while excusing regimes like Ba’ath in Syria or the Palestinian Authority.

I don’t see a way out for the MAL and it makes me chuckle.

Best to get it over with quickly.

As we move on from the twentieth century, it becomes increasing difficult to deny the economic benefits to all citizens, even the poorest, from increasing globalization and reduced trade barriers. This discussion over at Harry’s Place saw the protectionists eventually arguing about resource exhaustion rather than economics.

But the problem is that such an argument is really against technological society, not trade per se. And frankly, if that argument were valid, wouldn’t it follow that we should enjoy it while we can, since the resource (oil, in this case) is guaranteed to run out? Using less oil simply means running out a little later, not avoiding the problem. So really, if that’s what you believe, you ought to encourage profligracy to bring about the end as soon as possible. This would put an end to the arguments and force humanity to move on to the non-resource consuming culture that is inevitable anyway, right? No oil based economy is “sustainable” because it relies on a non-renewable resource. So let’s move on as fast as possible.

P.S. I should note that it’s complete for renewable resources, where a sufficient reduced rate of consumption can in fact prevent resource exhaustion (e.g., fisheries).

20 December 2005

Communitizing products

As we head in to a new year, I must say I am cautiously optimistic about the state of things. One of the trends that I like is the drift away from the winner takes all economy that was considered such a threat not so many years ago. This is most evident in the music industry, which ironically was the poster child for this concern. With the rise of cheap, global, digital communications, the barriers to entry in information related industries become much lower, small enough that even very tiny groups can join in. Artists can now simply bypass the music industry and its concentration on mega-stars and platinum albums. Instead, a musical group can sell far fewer albums but with a higher net profit because in real life, the massive money flow from music sales goes mostly to the industry, not the muscians. This trend will only increase in the future, leading to a world with a far larger set of small to medium fan bases instead of the cult like national popularity that is the current model.

I see the same thing coming in the film industry. With cameras like this an amateur can produce films for a setup cost of under $10,000, including a computer and video editing software. And in today’s America, $10K for a passion is not that much money (just ask avid skiers what they spent on their ski equipment).

And for both of these, the rise of national / global distribution channels ironically helps avoid the “winner take all” structure because it becomes far easier for individuals or small groups to get access to large potential audiences. Note that I don’t expect such people to sell to that entire large audience but such exposure means the small percentage who do like that content can be large enough to sustain the provider. If you need 10K or 20K fans to support yourself, that’s hard, even in big cities. But it’s a lot easier if you’re selecting from the national population instead.

What we will see in the era past the commoditization of goods is the communitization of goods, where small, self selected communities can form around a particular content provider. I think that this will be a very healthy trend for our society.

P.S. Note also that the problem of piracy is much less in such a situation, as the buyers and sellers will have a much stronger relationship than the current anonymous consumer buying product from the generic mega-conglomerate. I would expect lot less piracy when you know it’s taking money out of the pocket of someone you like.

18 December 2005

I'm going broke because I only got a 5% raise this year

An associate sent me “this article” with the headline “Despite what you hear, inflation is growing”. It definitely makes a nice contrast with Orrin Judd’s claim that nothing costs more than it used to.

As I expected from the start, Judd was right and the article bogus. It’s got enough errors to pick over for a long time, but I’ll just focus on the two big ones.

FIrst, it describes the impending implosion of the economy not because consumer spending is down, but because it is not growing as fast as it did the last few year. So, a realistic headline would be “Retailers see only moderate growth in sales this year” but the article tries to spin this as bad news. Note that I don’t get the data about sales increasing from other sources, but from the article itself. Normally I’d put this down to BDS but I suspect that the author seriously lacking in clue and desparate to find a contrarian angle to bring in the readers. It is also probably partially the result of the standard liberal bias, where the economy simply must be about to crash because there’s a Republican in the White House.

The other major flaw is the emphasis on inflation. In real life, the primary cause of inflation is too many dollars chasing too many goods. In other words, when sales outstrip supply. The article, of course, is playing up exactly the opposite, too few dollars chasing too many goods. This is of course the classic scenario for deflation, ala the Great Depression.

There was some more of the article after that, but I figured I would benefit more from ranting here than trying to parse the comments of somewhat that confused.

17 December 2005

So, where I can put the webcams?

Everyone is a twitter about the Patriot Act again, since it’s up for renewal. I’ve said my piece before, which is that it’s not going to make much of a difference either way. The real purpose of the Patriot Act is two fold:

  • To provide our elected representatives the opportunity to look busy instead of doing real work.
  • Empire building by federal buearuocracies.

But there’s another issue that came up for me over at the Brothers Judd. Orrin Judd asks “what have you got to hide?”. I won’t go in to why it should be the government justify why it needs information rather than the citizenry justifying why it shouldn’t. The issue I want to rant about is the extremely leaky nature of the federal government, which leaks both internally and externally.

This is primarily because there really is no downside to such leaks. A private business could easily take a big financial hit or even go bankrupt for that kind of abuse. But not the federal government. And, as far as I can tell, no employee would take a hit either. So why not? There is simply no benefit to do due diligence in either personel or information technologies1. Therefore it’s done in a haphazard, slipshod way.

Moreover, information I provide to private companies is all by choice and activies that are already in a senes public because they involve other, de facto anonymous people. Information obtained by government surveillance is a complete different sort of information.

Finally, even if the information isn’t about illegal acts, there’s still the matter of not wanting to live in a Panopticon. Some things one simply doesn’t want public knowledge, i order to keep a core of self. It’s odd that some who agitate against collectivism don’t see any need for such a final bastion of individuality.

P.S. As noted, I don’t see this as “what will happen if the Patriot Act is passed!!!”. I am objecting in a far more general way to the casual “why the heck not?” attitude of increasing government surveillance of the citizenry.

1 I work with network security and have been involved in that area with some of the big financial companies, so I’ve seen what real due diligence looks like. And not to be cynical, but I don’t think they take security so seriously because they’re just naturally good guys.

15 December 2005

How sweet it is

While writing my earlier post, it occurred to me that contra the standard Leftist trope of increased communications improving relationships among different nationalities, the opposite is occurring, at least with respect to American / European relationships. The claims to moral and cultural superiority by the Europeans (which, to a large extent, form the basis of the relationship) are becoming increasing hard to sustain as more detailed and immediate information is available to the American Street about what, exactly, goes on in Europe. The Euro-sceptics, such as myself, in years past would have just a general animus, an inchoate sense that not all was right in Europe. But now, thanks to modern communications, that inchoate sense can be refined in to very specific and documented examples of European perfidity, such as those referenced in the earlier post.

The same thing is happening with the relationship of Old Media to the American Street. Now it’s easy to accumulate very specific,detailed examples of the bias of Old Media. There are in fact weblogs devotedto just that kind of thing. The more the American Street learns, the more it doesn’t like the people it is learning about.

The deep irony of this is that the EuroLeft and Old Media had the “ignorant American” as a standard trope, yet it was precisely the ignorance of the American Street that kept them in their priviliedged positions. The fall from grace that is going on is a direct result of the American Street is becoming ever more knowledgeable. Welcome to the future…

Knowing where the barn door is

Via Natalie Solent is this post about the moral bankruptcy of the Euro-Left. It’s a post worth reading by itself, but one of the early commentors backhandedly hit on a key point

The Left in Europe is committed to human rights, which is why they are against the slaughter of people.

There is the bifurcation point. It seem blindingly obvious to me that the EuroLeft is not committed to human rights, that they care nothing about the slaughter of people. At least, as long as those human rights are violated and the people slaughtered by non-Americans. The original post hits on exactly this point, that political factions that support regimes like Castro’s, the ChiCom’s and the Palestinian Authority can not possibly object to massive human rights abuses and slaughter. Sadly, it’s generally not possible to argue on this point with a EuroLefty or one of their fellow travelers in the USA because they will go in do denial mode about the actual behavior of these regimes.

This denial is necessary not only to sustain the internal doublethink required, but because establishing the axiom quoted above lays the ground work for a later rhetorical victory. If accepted, then the rest of the EuroLeft argument does, in fact, follow. Just like dividing by zero is forbidden in mathematics because once accepted it leads to to all sorts of “2 = 1” results, this rhetorical battle is lost if the quoted claim is allowed to stand. On the other hand, if one can set up the argument to be about the actual committment of the EuroLeft to human rights and peace, then the facts will work against the EuroLeft.

14 December 2005

WRT54GX2 reivew

A couple of weeks back our old Linksys wireless router / access point died, some sort of permanent internal failure. I had been bugging She Who Is Perfect In All Ways about upgrading out wireless layout but she had resisted. Now fates had delivered her in to my hands. Bwahaha.

In any case, I had mentioned the new MIMO wireless routers, so have prepared the ground I was able to convince her to replace the old router with a cool new MIMO one. We went with the Linksys WRT54GX2. As noted in the reviews I had read, it was a major effort to get it correctly configured and operational (apparently, internet access is required in order to set it up, even if you don’t want to use the WAN or router features of the device — that’s broken). However, as advertised, once it was working it’s worked wonderfully. It hasn’t gone down once since we get it on line. And without a doubt it has much better range. We keep it in SWIPIAW’s office, which is upstairs. My office seems to have been built with a Faraday cage around it, so we had to have a second wireless access point in there to cover the house. Not any more - I now get “Good” reception there from the MIMO wireless (where before I was lucky if the access point was even detected). We also used to have problem if we went too far out in the yard, but now we get reception almost to the next street. And note, this is without upgrading any of the wireless clients at all. Definitely worth the money and effort.

Truly petty scams

Like most people, I get lots of bogus email, much of it trolling for passwords and access to my online identity. Most of these have obvious targets — bank accounts, E-Bay, Paypal, etc. Lately, however, I’ve getting hit with that sort of e-mail trying to steal my password to an online postcard service. Why in the world someone would want to steal my identity there escapes me. I certainly wouldn’t be using one of my high security passwords there1.

1 I keep three types of passwords:

  • Who cares? security, which are easy to type and remember (like “aog”) for things I could care less about someone hacking in to, like free registrations to online content. Anyone who wants to take advantage of my ??NY Times registration, feel free.
  • Moderate security, where I’d like to avoid having people break in but it’s not a big deal if they do. For instance, places that I have online accounts with that don’t store any financial information, just order histories and the like. These are words that are easy for me to remember but unguessable to anyone but very close personal friends.
  • High security, for online financial data. For these I like to use two words, but mispelled with a punctuation mark or two tossed in. When I was younger, I used to just let my hands twitch on the keyboard until I got a smooth feeling motion, then I’d see what I had actually typed and use that as a password. Some of those I can still type 30 years later, even if I can’t remember what the sequence is until I let my fingers do it for me. Back then, I computed in a common lab so your password had to not only be unguessable but very fast to type so I’d aim for under a second to type.
Dead keys

Since I’m getting older, I’ve been thinking about getting my affairs in order. At the same time, She Who Is Perfect In All Ways has been talking to me about biometric security systems. These are systems that use physical properties of a person to determine identity (what the security geeks call “authentication”). But that presents an interesting problem for inheritance. Before, you could leave keys or other physical keys behind. Even now you can leave passwords. But what happens when much of your assets are accessible via biometrics? That’s a key that you take with you when you go.Of course, it will be possible to set up other authentication procedures but it will require a higher degree of pre-planning. Physical possession will no longer be enough for heirs to enjoy their inheritance.

Joel vs. Benedict

Peter Burnet over at the Brothers Judd has a post about a speech by Pope Benedict XVI, the gist of which is

Being good does not mean missing out on a good time or that you are boring, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday insisted.

That’s a sentiment I can agree with (even as an atheist I’m warming to this Pope). It has always seemed to be a major contradiction of our age that as the space of possible amusements and activities has grown, the culture has increasingly emphasized a narrowing range of physical pleasures, particularly sex, as the primary if not only source of real fun. Is it a retreat from overwhelming choice or just toxic waste from the attack on civilization from the MAL?

In any case, the post reminded me of the BIlly Joel song Only the good die young and how much I’ve always hated that song. It had been latched in to my brain recently for other reasons and Benedict’s speech really crystalized why I despised it. The key phrase was

That stained glass curtain you’re hiding behind, never lets in the sun

This is, of course, precisely the monomaniacal viewpoint Benedict was speaking too, as if having sex is the only possible source of fun or lightness in life. Nowadays I just feel sorry for people with such a cramped outlook. Not for them are the profound joys to be found in so many other places and ways. The song really epitomizes a common puerile attitude that signals a personality I will inevitably find very annoying.

This of course ties in to the thesis that it was the suppression of the sexualization of human culture that permits the emergence of technological civilization, that cultures where rutting is truly the primary source of fun can’t form the more complex social arrangements and sublimations that form the social infrastructure required. Could the story of the Garden of Eden be a metaphor for the emergence of such a culture among the tribes that would become the Jews?

13 December 2005

Why go with success?

Raoul Ortega asks

why when we clean up a country and help it establish a democratic system, be it Germany, Japan or Iraq, why do we use the parliamentary model? Why do we inflict a system which is ultimately going to fail them.

I often wonder that myself. The flip answer is that parlimentary systems allow a certain type of ruling class to run the country and the people in our government who make these decisions are members of that ruling class and don’t want to burden their fellows with the handicaps the American system creates for a self perpetuating ruling class.

Or, alternatively, we’re actually fiendishly clever and long thinking, and saddle these former enemies with broken governments in order to keep them down in the future and preserve the American Hegemony.

But one is left wondering if it’s because, at a fundamental level, the type of people who inhabit the State Department do not view the USA as a successful country. In many other ways, the State Department crew act as if they view Old Europe as far more successful in the things that matter than the USA and may well make their decisions based on that viewpoint. While it would be nice to have a State Department staffed with people who think their own nation is the best in the world, I don’t see much prospect of that any time soon.

Taking a political Ba'ath

Via Brothers Judd comes this report that the Ba’ath remants in the ANbar province of Iraq are now openly supporting the elections and offering to protect voting areas from Al Qaeda.

This doesn’t surprise me very much. As I’ve argued in the past, the Ba’ath are about power and money. In contrast, Al Qaeda works on a fantasy ideology that has far more to do with their internal psychological state than anything we would think of as strategy. This is one of the real points of the much mocked by the MAL of staying in Iraq because we’re committed there. Convincing the Ba’athists of our will in this matter is the primary driver of their change of attitude, as if the USA is committed, their best option is to cooperate. The soft bigotry of low expectations of the MAL with regard to Iraqis prevents them from realizing this. Sadly, I think it unlikely that the MAL will ever realize how much they have retarded this situation by their efforts in Old Media to portray the USA as wanting to surrender and making the Ba’athists appear much stronger than they really are.

One is left wondering whether the Ba’athists are trying to grab what little political power remains available to them, or working on a longer term plan. This would be to get in to the government, wait till the Americans leave, then follow in the footsteps of Allende and Chavez. Obviously, such a plan would fail as long as Iraq is American occupied, so both plans will lead to the same short term behavior we are seeing. It’s even possible that, like the Sandanistas, the Ba’athists are so convinced of their natural leadership abilities that they believe they will inevitably come to dominate the emerging political system. Regardless, such support for the electoral process is a definitely positive.

12 December 2005

Digital cells

I see things like this replica Snowspeeder filiming model and wonder, what will happen when it’s all computer graphics? There won’t be any physical models to sell at all, not even replicas (although I presume that one could manufacture pseudo-replicas from the digital model). The same kind of issue comes up for animation cells, which are a big market for collectibles. How will the market change when sauch cells are just prints and not the “originals” used in the actual film?

Of course, I suspect that someone will find a way to make the digital models themselves worth buying to the fans. Will people be able appreciate that more abstract concept of “original” involved possessing the exact dataset that created the imagery for a computer generated film? These data artifacts are sufficiently complex that realistically they can’t be duplicated externally, so an “orginal” can trace its bit ancestry directly back to the data used for the production imagery. Will that be enough, even though the concept of an “limited edition” will be untenable? I’m not much of a collector myself, being quite happy with accurate reproductions, so it wouldn’t matter much to me. But I wonder how the real collectors will feel about it.

06 December 2005

Everybody falls down

A good post at Austin Bay’s about the Caliphascists getting smoe blowback for their tactics of murder and assassination. What struck me is how this illustrates the bizarre stance of most of the Caliphascist’s useful idiots blather on about blowback from anything the USA does but never seem to consider the possibility that blowback applies to everyone. The [CaliPhasist]s are presumed somehow to be able to act with impunity in terms of public relations and reputation (one is left wondering if this is simply projection, as certainly the [CaliPhasist]s can act with impunity in that regard with those same useful idiots). But back in the real world, actions have consequences and not just for the Evil Americans.

P.S. There is a great comment over at Bay’s, which is worth repeating. In response to Bay’s noting that while tribal relationships are a key component of Iraqi society, they are poorly understood in the West. Doug Collins responds

Perhaps, surprisingly, they are not well enough understood by the insurgents either. Could this be the muslim equivalent of a New York mafiosi going to a rural Texas town and trying to intimidate the locals?

I think that may not be far from the truth. One is still tempted, though, by the Big Art theory in which the entire effort is really an internal psycho-drama play with the purpose of subjective self gratification, with no regard to its effects on objective reality.

03 December 2005

How to ship quality product

Over at Junkyard Blog someone asked what the real difference is between President Bush’s plans for Iraq and what the Congressional Democratic Party is calling for. I realized that I have lived the difference myself.

The best analogy is that you’re working on a product that’s very important for the company, but it’s been a very difficult effort, with lots of time and expense overruns and some management irregularities. But, strategically, a successful launch (or even a semi-successful one) would mean big benefits to the corporate bottom line with lots of other beneficial follow on products.

The Bush plan is “ship it when it works”. Even if this means missing deadlines and large additional expenses, the product is too important to not get right.

The Pelosi plan is “ship it in time for the tradeshow”. Even if this means pushing out a buggy pile of garbage, being able to declare “success” by getting something, anything, out the door to impress the stockholders is the primary, if not only, concern.

Now, if you’ve ever been in a situation like that, you know exactly what the results of these two different styles are. Which management would you want running a company you had stock in?