28 July 2008

We're on the map!

Wow, now there’s a netsearch engine named after my home town — CUIL : Champaign-Urbana IL. Probably has HAL helping out.

27 July 2008

Mookie Victory Watch

Via Instapundit, even the NY Times thinks Sadr is fading from the political scene. When Instapundit mentioned “some diehards” I thought he was going to link to some place different than he did…

25 July 2008

We will tolerate no accidents

There’s economic illiteracy, and then there’s innumeracy as we see in this report from Joanne Jacobs about the effort to apply Title IX to the hard sciences and engineering. One struck me is that this is driven by the view that women should have a numerically equal or greater representation in all fields. That is, women’s participation should be at or above average everywhere. Evil patriarchal mathematics says “that’s not possible”, except for the case where the genders ratios match the population ratio exactly everywhere. That, however, would require absolutely control over the career and employment of every single person. I seem to remember that being tried elsewhere and not working out so well. Except for the nomenklatura who made the decisions. I don’t see, however, the rallying cry of “it’s for the busy body bureaucrats!” gaining a lot of political traction. Still, if we as a society are unwilling to accept gender imbalance, I don’t see what other solution is available.

What happens when you run out of messengers to shoot?

Extreme Wisdom reports on a letter from some airline industry group about the evils of speculation in petroleum. I found this bit to be risible —

Some market experts estimate that current prices reflect as much as $30 to $60 per barrel in unnecessary speculative costs.

If that were true, you’d think some petroleum producer would engage in direct sales to end users, avoiding the speculators and pocketing and extra $30 - $60 per barrel. Or direct consumers would buy direct and save themselves that kind of money. That could easily double or triple the profit per barrel and make it well worth the direct sales effort. Yet we don’t see that, which makes me very dubious of the claim. What I suspect is that some one has misrepresented the risk premium, which is also claimed to be roughly that same amount. But speculators don’t create risk premium, they merely reduce it to a specific monetary amount. Acting against the speculators is shooting the messenger, it does nothing to address the underlying problem. I, like EW find it interesting, but because it demonstrates the economic illiteracy that plagues even corporate America.

24 July 2008

Career problems

Here’s why I will never make it as a professional photographer.

Instapundit links to this page with a photograph and labels it a “very cool baseball photo”. The target article describes it with “the glories of the photograph are self-evident”. I, however, would have put it in the “not worth printing, but not worth deleting” pile that consumes ever larger amounts of my hard drive space. I did, however, get some very positive feedback on my aesthetic sense from the swim team parents.

Sympathy tailings

Last Tuesday was the post-season party for Boy One’s swim team. I was talking to one of the mothers and she brought up a story on NPR concerning the unpleasant fate of Chinese Olympic athletes. They are apparently simply discarded once they can no longer compete and left without education (because they spent their youth training), pension, or any way to monetize their fame. Instead they mostly live on the streets, become alcoholics, and die very young. I was apparently not sufficiently demonstrative in my sorrow at this tale, but there wasn’t enough surprise in it for me to be so. After all, that’s what Communist regimes do, the ChiComs in particular. I pointed out the death toll from the Great Leap Forward, the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, and noted that discarding Olympics athletes like broken machinery was just to be expected from a such a system. But surely all of that was better than unleashing the forces of the Free Market! I managed to get a chuckle out of her with that.

Here’s one of my better pictures from the swim season, of her eldest daughter.

21 July 2008

So many ways to the stars

cjm asks a question that I have seen asked / discussed numerous times elsewhere, which is the feasibility of interstellar travel / colonization. We take this question as a temporally global one, i.e. that such travel is feasible if any plausible descendant civilization of our own could do it.

It seems to be that anyone who is a technophile must come to the same view because to hold a different view requires disbelieving in many other technologies much beloved of the technophiles, any one of which suffices to make interstellar travel feasible. Infeasible interstellar travel requires that not one of these technologies if ever successfully developed. That may turn out to be the case, but it’s not something a technophile should admit.

I will make the assumption that we can build space ships that can go roughly 0.03c, which is achievable with current technology.

Bringing someone back from being frozen. If that’s possible, then the long travel times become surmountable.
Strong Artificial Intelligence
An AI would last long enough, or could simply be turned off, for the duration.
Mental Downloading
If human minds can be downloaded in to computational grids, then this is just the strong AI case.
If human life times become millenial or indefinite, then long travel times are just difficult, not impossible. Note that could be achieved via medical technology (e.g. organ / body creation and transplantation), nano-technology, or genetic engineering.
Self sufficient space colonies
That’s just a multi-generational starship without a motor. And we know how to build the motor.
Industrial anti-matter
This enables much higher speeds for interstellar vessels so that only moderate to no life time extensions are required.

I considered Von Neumann (self-replicating) automata, but I don’t think that’s sufficient of itself, you’d need to put a sentient in system as well which requires one of the other items.

Anything else that should be on the list? It already seems long enough that you’d have to believe in peak humanity to think not consider interstellar travel as quite feasible.

17 July 2008

Connective imagery

I have noticed that Instapundit has started posting a lot more pictures because they’re popular with his readers. I do quite a bit of photography myself (with, it turns out, basically the same camera and lens). I rarely post any of them because I personally find other people’s pictures boring. For all of my cold, callous, border line sociopathic personality, if I don’t have a personal connection with the content of the picture it has to be really, really cool before it’s interesting to me. I notice that my online galleries get lots of views (way more than this weblog, about 750-1000 page views / day) from totally random people looking at them. I understand that it’s supposed to be that way, that it (and the other photographic hosting websites) are organized to promote community, but I rarely if ever look at anyone else’s pictures and can’t imagine why anyone looks at mine. There’s a few people whose galleries I have perused, but they’re extremely talented, way beyond my skill level or any skill level I could plausibly achieve, and the skill level of 99.99% of everyone else on the website. But apparently that makes me the odd one out as usual.

Anyway, if you guys would find it interesting, I could post my “best of” pictures, the ones I think could be interesting even if you don’t know the people involved. Or not — I’d hardly be insulted if you have the same opinion of other people’s pictures as I do.

16 July 2008

Details, people, details

Gah! In the movie Wall • E the humans didn’t flee Earth on one ship but on an entire fleet of ships. Did none of these critics actually watch the movie?

Re-stating for politeness

Linguistic puzzle time —

I posted this a while back and was pondering using it in real life, but then remembered erp’s objection to the phrasing. I was, however, unable to come up with a non-scatological version that had the same combination of resignation, despair, and disgust at the necessity of such a choice. Any suggestions?

15 July 2008

Watching the skies

The Daily Duck already mentioned this article about the dangers of broadcasting signals to possible extraterrestial intelligences (ETIs) before I had a chance at it.

I think Duck was a little harsh here —

Is it possible that they are silent because they know something we don’t know?
Notice how the fact of no discernible communication from an ET civilization is narratized into cowardice or superior knowledge on the part of said civilization.

But Brin is inside a hypothetical that presumes that ETIs exist but don’t communicate. Brin is simply suggesting that there are other possibilities that the ETIs are cowards

However, I think Brin (and Rand Simberg) are being overly excitable. What, really, is the problem?

The only significant information that a signal transmission can provide is that a technological civilization exists in a specific solar system. Brin worries about the potential consequences of an ETI obtaining that information. But what would change about the ETI’s behavior in that case? If the ETI desires the resources of our solar system and is indifferent (the scenario I consider most likely) or hostile to our existence is hardly going to make any “attack” more likely.

The other scenario is that the ETI destroys other technological civilization to avoid competition. That can’t be ruled out, but why would such an ETI wait for a signal? After all, we might not do that and so might other potential competitors not do so either. If an ETI has the will and the means to engage in such extermination, it will put sensors in every solar system, rather than waiting and hoping to catch a signal before the competitor gets too far along. In that case broadcasting isn’t going to make any difference either.

The conquest scenario makes no sense to me. We in the West have already advanced past the point where slave labor is of net benefit. ETIs capable of interstellar travel are going to have even less need of it. Perhaps they’d want Earth, but that’s just a variant of the resource scenario and again, the ETIs would take it regardless of our presence, or their knowledge of our presence, because they will be able to detect Earth’s presence without our help.

I simply don’t see any plausible scenarios where there exist ETIs who are dangerous to us where we can make a difference in their behavior that matters to us.

P.S. I think the predator analogy used by Brin and some of the commentors at TransTerrestial Musings makes no sense. Predators are a civilization, they are not intelligently coordinated, they don’t plan. The park analogy shows this most starkly — you may be able to hide from predators by keeping quiet, but not from a determined group of humans. The latter will do a planned, systematic sweep and find you, and they won’t give up because it’s day time.

14 July 2008

Doomed, doomed I say!

In another lost thread, I read somewhere of the claim that the Internet is going to collapse around 2011 due to running out of IP addresses. It’s a problem, but hardly a crisis. The root of the problem is that when IP was first designed, they figured a few thousand computers was a huge number of computers to hook together, so they created a system with 4 billion addresses to cover that.

In practice, one can’t hook any where near 4 billion computers together via IP because of certain inefficiencies in the protocol and we are approaching the point at which adding computers will become very difficult. I suspect that had the original designers known of this problem they would have figured “it’ll be decades before then, surely better solutions will arise by then”. And they would have been right, because an updated version of IP (“IP version 6, or IPv6”) is in fact available. The address space is so large that every single person on Earth could be assigned as many addresses as there are in the current version (IPv4) without significantly impacting the available addresses. There are enough addresses to assign one to every individual atom on the entire surface of the Earth. That should last a while.

So what’s the problem? Well, as with any transition, there will be quite a bit of pain and expense to transition. Part of the problem is that it’s difficult for machines running IPv4 to talk to machines running IPv6, because the latter may have an address that the IPv4 machine can’t express.

Still, it’s just painful, not insurmountable. I remember having a conversation about this 5 years or so ago with my grand boss. He thought the ISPs would switch first. I told him no, because (at the time) the customers of the ISP would no longer able to be addressed by anyone else, and while that wouldn’t be a problem for most, it would be for enough that it wasn’t realistic. Instead, I expected it to show up in the ISP core first. It turns out that to make a connection between two routers, you need 4 IP addresses1. But those addresses are only used by the two routers involved, and nothing else on the planet. So converting such connections to IPv6 has zero impact on customers, meaning no nasty calls to tech support. My view was that the supply of addresses became tight, their value would increase, and ISPs would do such conversions in the core so they could re-sell the addresses to customers. And lo, that’s how it played out over the last few years (yes, I gloated terribly). The next step, IMHO, is the conversion of corporate campuses. If a company converts its entire physically adjacent network to IPv6, everything still works internally and the company can then either re-sell the addresses or stop paying for them. Externally connectivity can be handled via NAT2. Corporate conversions will likely carry us for a number of years beyond the 2011 deadline.

Beyond that, Vista is IPv6 ready, and so is the current version of Linux. In 5 or 10 years, when the corporate conversion well starts running dry, ISPs will start charging customers more for keeping an old style IPv4 address because 80+% of their customers will be able to switch over to IPv6. After that, webhosting companies (which will have long previously allocated IPv6 addresses in parallel to the IPv4 ones) will start charging, gradually forcing out IPv4. The tipping point will be reached somewhere in there and IPv4 will pass the way of Netscape 4.3 and dialup.

The only possible failure mode is heavy government intervention, which I certainly wouldn’t rule out.

1 If you don’t already know, you don’t want to.

2 NAT is the network equivalent of a forwarding address. Think of a corporate office that shares a single street address. The mail boy keeps track of which employee sent mail where so when a reply comes back he knows who it is for, even though the employee’s name isn’t on the envelope. The cost is that outsiders can’t initiate exchanges with employees, but a corporation is likely to see that as a feature, not a bug.

Maybe it's an interplanetary conspiracy!

Turbulent Storms May Be Sign Of Global Climate Change

On Jupiter. I heard a brief mention of this elsewhere and thought “more fodder for my climate change denialism!” but it turns out to be most likely a cyclic effect rather than something related to changes in insolation. It does show, at least, that global climates can change very signficantly without much in the way of human intervention.

Storing up trouble for the future

Treasury acts to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

That’s in interesting example of how government intervention in a market creates stability, eh? Or can we put down the problems to wreckers neocons free market torpedoers1?

1 I could have sworn I had an exchange with Mr. Eagar in which, along with stating he saw no difference between current economic conditions and those of the early 1970s, that any problems with the New Deal was due to sabotage by free market types. But now I can’t find it.

13 July 2008

Bulk purchases

Here’s a psychological puzzle for you —

I have been looking at Kapla blocks to extend our current collection because the kids have been enjoying them a lot the last couple of weeks. They’re a bit pricey, roughly 30¢ per block (not that Lego™ is much cheaper). The odd thing is that I will probably buy a bulk set at that price but if I saw a vending machine that wanted 25¢ per block, I’d probably laugh at the idea. Is it just that the larger amount is enough beyond an intuitive feel that it doesn’t seem so much? Or that it’s elevated to a different class of purchase (e.g., serious vs. disposable)? Is it the conceptual repetition (i.e., I would have to put in a lot of quarters to get a useful number of planks)? Is it odd to have this irrationality, or am I odd for thinking it’s odd?

Just another form of survey research

So people are mocking Maureen Dowd’s column on marital advice, some because hey — it’s Dowd! — and others because the actual source of the advice is a 79 year old priest. But I wonder at the automatic presumption that a priest would have no detailed understanding of marital relations because he’s celibate. Wouldn’t a good priest have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of marital stories by the time he’s 79? If people are willing to trust scientific researchers who claim a deep understanding based on surveys and other observations of human interactions, why not a priest?

10 July 2008

Rather, clearing the deadwood

Orrin Judd launches on one of his tropes about the stimulative effects of disaster with a cite of this article about how an earthquake in China appears to have increased its economic growth.

I suspect that the article is right, but only because this was in Communist China which normally has a dysfunctional economy. It’s not the replacement of physical goods that matters, but the relaxation of stifling regulations. A good analogy would be the private land plots in the USSR, which because they were free of collectivization were enormously more productive. The more efficient the economy, however, the less beneficial are external disasters.

01 July 2008

Don't pluck the salt from your enemy's wounds

So Senator McCain is asking Senator Obama to dump Wesley Clark over Clark’s disparaging remarks. Obviously, given the timing, this is just McCain playing the game. But, if that’s so, wouldn’t McCain do better to just disparage Obama pretextually via Clark rather than try to get such a self wound inflicting loose cannon off the stage? It would be a good play against someone like President Bush, who is too loyal to his people, but Obama tosses people under the bus just to keep his abs in shape. Best not to give Obama any cover.