Saturday, July 05, 2008

Reality Torpedoes - Updated

The Difference - Matt Yglesias

I didn't want to read another Charles Krauthammer op-ed on Sen. Obama's supposed cynicism, I really didn't. I feel quite cheated afterwards, as I've said before. And the fact that Krauthammer is shocked, shocked I tell you, at a politician repositioning themselves for an election is depressingly hilarious. John Scalzi gets it. I get it. Obviously Yglesias gets it. Why can't Krauthammer get it? Is it because Sen. Obama is black or because Sen. Obama is a Democrat? Or is it because Sen. Obama does not dogmatically follow an agenda, damn the reality torpedoes. These attempts to hang the sign of 'flipflopper' on Sen. Obama don't really work when throwing everything at him at once. You end up with a confused, contradictory attack. Krauthammer wants a continued presence in Iraq so shouldn't he hail Sen. Obama's flipflopping?

It seems Andrew Sullivan has joined the growing chorus of people tired of Krauthammer's meanderings on Sen. Obama's shifts since he became the presumptive Democratic nominee. It isn't hard to get both that Sen. Obama is a politician and a change in tactics is not a change in strategy.

The Firebadger is set to Stun

Firefox grabs bigger slice of browser pie - Egan Orion @ L'Inq

I've used Firefox for years now; since it's days in pre 1.0 release. The slow conversion of the rest of my family was successful. And I tout the benefits of Firefox whenever I can. It's simply the better browser at the moment. More to the point, the decline of IE users means websites (at least the good ones) have started using open standards in the coding of their sites. Even though I still use WindowsXP for my OS, I try to use as many open source apps as I can find. Not because I believe in the big bad of Microsoft anymore, but because keeping the code open for people to review and change at will means bugs and security problems tend to get fixed much faster than in closed source systems. Now if only game makers would recognize the need to make their games portable to Linux then I wouldn't have a need for Windows at all.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Can't Find a Better Man

Ex-Senator Jesse Helms dies at 86 - BBC News

I would say something kind about Sen. Helms and how his death represents an end of an era, but considering a better man got shot this week and lived, I'll just say I hope Helms burns in hell for a good while.
And yes, I know I used Pearl Jam for the post title. Just remember, I'll stab you if you give me shit about it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Gentleman's Attire

"Starch Makes the Gentleman...": Beau Brummell - Nadya Lev @ Coilhouse

I suppose the most accurate comparison to the dandy of the Victorian Age is the metrosexual of ours. Fashionable men dressed in elegant clothing with the occasional excess is the most common form seen. What Brummell did was take that excess to an extreme for the dandy. Lev's article points to a contemporary example of such excess of the dandy form complete with serious corset usage and high collars. It's not my taste really, but I do love seeing this kind of brilliance in men's fashion make a return. I doubt you'll see many men actually dressed like this, in the same way that you won't see many of the original dressed designed for runway models worn by everyday women. Even so, the derivatives are what's important. Elements of the dandy will find their way into men's fashion over a period of time with certain looks becoming the standard. I don't think people appreciate what a true gentleman has to do in order to maintain a well-groomed appearance without looking over the top.

Courtesy of Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Lost Footage Discovered - Zoetica Ebb @ Coilhouse

No wonder my copy of Metropolis made no sense. I thought it was just a quirk of the movie. Plus, I was too lazy to do any research on it. But now this means I get to buy a brand new edition with all the extra greatness. Tis a good day.

I'll Spit Live Rounds That'll Penetrate a Fast Nigga

Brian Beutler - Matt Yglesias
Bullets Can't Stop Me From Cracking Wise - Adele M. Stan
Brian - Ezra Klein
Crime Doesn't Pay - Megan McArdle

So apparently you haven't made it in D.C. progressive blogger circles until you've gotten shot. Fortunately, Mr. Beutler will make a full recovery as they say; i.e. live. At least this wasn't like Tupac, because somehow we'd see his writing increase. Best of wishes and all that. Oh, and Adrienne, what was that about how great D.C. is to live in?

Damn Your Eyes!

One last thing before I curl up with my signed copy of Heads in the Sand and my happy little Klonopin pill: if you haven't been reading my friend's blog The Dredge Report then I'm afraid I'll have to cut your Achilles tendons.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Running Up The Score Is Soooo Unfair

Reminder: There's No Actual Office for 'President of the Left" - John Scalzi @ Whatever

I have to say, Scalzi makes some great points here, but the fifth and last one is the strongest rebuttal to the far left's disdain for Sen. Obama's current centrism. I just have to directly quote Scalzi because anything less would do an injustice to Scalzi's words:

Obama’s probably also aware that he’s got the left in the tank. Some folks on the left were goofy enough in 2000 to think that voting for, say, Nader, wouldn’t make a huge difference in the end, so why not make a cute little protest vote. Here in 2008, anyone on the left who isn’t planning to pull a lever for Obama probably has congenital brain damage.
Scalzi is absolutely correct on this point. Sen. Obama is a politician and apparently knows both strategic planning and tactical maneuvering (unlike, say, President Bush). So while he does make some of the best, most inspiring political speeches of this generation, he also knows that politics is a game where bitchslapping your opponent early and often works. Taking positions on issues that appeal to a wider range of voters, tacitly supporting legislation that's unlikely to pass and appearing to cater to the expected base of your opponent when you have the chance is smart politics. No, it's not the Politics of Sen. Obama's speeches, but it is the politics that he has to engage in. Had he not, Sen. Obama wouldn't exist; not even State Sen. Obama. So, politely to the left, suck it up.

That's Right! That's Right! Oh, That Ain't Right.

And It Wouldn't Be The First Time, Either - John Scalzi @ Whatever

I get to experience the weird duality of a cat on your chest. Most nights now usually end with the last light turned out, me sliding down in the covers and my cat, Marie, hoping up on my chest to nuzzle my face. Of course, for every five units of adorable nuzzling is one unit of cat ass in the face. Why? I really don't know but remain deeply disturbed by it. Sometimes I've woken up to such nuzzling, but I fear for the morning I wake up to cat ass.

Existence as Stress

Severe Shyness? New Study Shows That Anxiety Is Likely A Long-Lasting Trait - Science Daily

Son...of...a...bitch. I hate my genes and would like to stab every strand of my DNA in the eye.

A Case of the Vapors

Democratic Ecology: Philippe Strarck's Cheap Designer Wind Turbine For Your Home - Brian Lam @ Gizmodo

I'll believe it when I see it; otherwise it's just vaporware.

Fraternity Hazing

Christopher Hitchens waterboards himself - Cory Doctorow @ BoingBoing

Well it's nice to know that there's at least one political pundit willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Horsepower = ?

Horsepower Controls - Matt Yglesias

Being something of a gearhead I've taken a long look at things like horsepower and torque while wondering how the changes I make to my car will affect my fuel economy. Then again, I have a relatively small 1.8l turbocharged engine that in stock form had an average fuel economy of 22/28 city to highway mileage on 170hp. After replacing the air intake with a cold air intake I ended up with around 180hp but a fuel economy of 25/30. This is one area where horsepower was not the point but increasing the amount of cold air entering the engine was as it dramatically improved the running of the car without making it smaller or limiting the horsepower.
Focusing purely on horsepower is fairly ridiculous if you wanted to make an argument for more efficient cars. The argument you want to make instead is to point out all of the inefficiencies that exist in stock configurations. The tuning crowd is just as obsessed about weight reduction as they are about increased horsepower. Open your hood sometime and mind the effort it takes to lift the hood even with the help of a hydraulic piston.
A more fuel efficient car comes not just from limiting horsepower but from making the car as light as possible without losing the necessary structural rigidity. Carbon fiber hoods, lightened alloy wheels, lightweight aluminum flywheels, carbon fiber drive shafts, and metal sections cut up like swiss cheese are all common things on a tuner's vehicle. It's basic physics--the lighter the car, the less energy you need to get the car moving. Shedding twenty pounds here and fifteen there seems like ridiculous obsessiveness but when the pounds add up to the weight of an average-sized person then you realize how important weight reduction is in improving the efficiency of a car.
The reason why average horsepower has gone up in the last thirty years is not solely because of American desires for speed but because the amount of power it takes to move a three or four ton SUV around. Horsepower does not directly translate into speed. The three-ton pick-up truck that passes you on the highway may have a big V-8 with 300hp but anything less and you would have a vehicle that struggles to maintain highway speeds. Meanwhile, the little Mini Cooper that zips past you has a tiny engine but it doesn't need anything more to produce that kind of speed.
The point is Yglesias is wrong to assume that limiting horsepower alone would bring about some sudden leap in fuel economy. Certainly a smaller engine would do that but put a small engine in a heavy car and you will still have terrible gas mileage. What Yglesias should really argue for is a complete rethink in car design with an emphasis on improving the efficiency of the engine while making the car as light as comfortably possible. This means using more expensive parts and removing restrictions in the air flow into the engine. Oh, and there's one more way to lighten a car that few people think of--go on a diet. Losing twenty pounds on yourself can have the same effect as losing twenty pounds on the car. That engine has to lug your ass around so why not ease it's burden?

Ending Cute Naiveté

There's a young lady whose father has been a customer of ours for some years now. She apparently has taken several courses in jewelry design and such, and now it seems that her dad would like to see some payoff of the money spent on said courses. She's coming to my dad's workshop at home to spend some time casting and making molds--general parts of jewelry design naturally. I, on the other hand, want her to come work at the store for a couple of days a week. The reason is simple; I want her to understand what conditions jewelry is placed under in everyday circumstances. More to the point, I want her to know the stresses certain metals and stones can take before breaking and then what to do to repair the items. I want her to know what frosting a diamond is like, what happens when you heat an opal too much and what a diamond magnet does (key tip here, diamond magnets don't exist). She needs to know these things if she is going to go off and become some great name in jewelry design because she becomes responsible for the piece from the time she makes it to the time it comes back with a broken prong, a missing stone or a cracked shank. It's time for her to have a jewelry drill sergeant and my grandfather and I are perfect for the job. We don't half-ass our way through a custom piece or a simple repair. And that's what I want to teach her.

Become Your Own Electric God

Power Awareness Quiz - Kevin Kelly @ The Technium

This is actually a timely piece for me as I was looking up different residential energy generators last night. While a lot of solar power is still prohibitively expensive (particularly solar shingles resistant to hail damage) there are other products out there that could make an impact on your monthly power bill if managed properly. Vertical wind turbines are of keen interest for me since their design gives them a low profile while maintaining the energy generating power of much larger propeller designs. The key thing is not necessarily to convert your entire house into an electrically self-sustaining abode but merely knocking away a lot of the regular power usage so when you reach a peak usage it is barely reflected in your monthly utilities statement. A mix of solar cells and wind turbines, which produce little power but do so in a nearly continuous way, could easily handle the lighting in your house. It's just a matter of finding out what you can afford and what permits and instillations costs are. After that, you can just keep adding on new panels or turbines as you like. While the initial investment is large, the return on that investment is actually relatively short--anywhere from six to fifteen years so I've read. My parents have lived in the same house for over twenty years and my grandparents for more than fifty. So it is feasible, but figuring it out is a touch difficult.

Cracks in the Fourth Wall

Gadget Lab's DIY Superhero Suit Contest: We Have a W1NN3R - Danny Dumas @ Gadget Lab

And a little more of our world is taken over by Morrison and Ellis.

Sticks and Stones v. Sharp Darts and Razor-Blade Tongues

A friend of mine asked why I closed the comments section on my blog (particularly since I get so low traffic that it's really unnecessary) and my only response was once there were enough people wanting to comment then I would reopen the comment section. Now I've argued before about the dangers of reading message boards and some of the insanely stupid things said there. I've also argued that it's the right of whoever run the board or blog to moderate comments however they wish. I like as much transparency as possible as it tends to engender better discussions. Yet, in the same day I've read two posts from mid-level to major blogs that tackle their own problems with comments and perceived censorship.
The first came from BoingBoing concerning their removal of several post related to a particular blogger. As they rightfully argued, it is their site to run and they hold the ultimate decision over what content appears on their site, particularly when that content derives from outside sources they have no control over. To remove a selection of posts, for whatever reason, that were not original works by the people at BoingBoing is not an attempt to silence or censor the original creator. The fact is, those posts still exist, whether on the original author's site or in places like Google Cache. It's not an act of censorship to remove posts that run contrary to the ethos of a blog, particularly one as well-read as BoingBoing. If they no longer want their name, and the legitimacy it brings, associated with a certain blogger then that is entirely within their rights.
The next post comes from Obsidian Wings and their reworked posting policy. To quote from part of the new rules:

We have no desire to censor people whose views we disagree with. However, there is a difference between stating and defending an unpopular position on the one hand, and repeated drive-by insults on the other, and the fact that we welcome the first does not mean that we must accept the second.
In other words, the people at Obsidian Wings have staked out a position against trolls and other types of commentators who offer nothing to the discussion but persist in attempting to derail the conversation. Simple name calling does not count as honest participation in my opinion and is the primary reason why I avoid message boards and comment sections. I can get enough of that in the letters to the editor section of my morning paper.
The idea, as hilzoy from Obsidian Wings states, is not to prevent people from saying what is on their minds but to end nonsense postings that lack an argument or point. Most well run message boards and comment sections have similar policies because, well, there are just some stupid people out there who thoughtlessly spout off.
It's a balancing act really between maintaining the ideal of free speech and the ideal of civil conversation. Civil discourse cannot exist without free speech but free speech does not mean an anarchy of speech. Honest moderators will rarely pull the plug on someone, but as with the Violet Blue problem on BoingBoing, the ability to do so is necessary to maintain the point of free and civil speech. It's not an easy problem and is one that should remain on the forefront of any moderator, poster or even mere reader of a message board or blog.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Cloud Theory

The Google Way of Science - Kevin Kelly @ The Technium

This is a wildly interesting article on the rise of petabyte levels of data can lead to a way of making predicable observations without an overarching theory or model. Kelly argues that such methods already exist and are employed by search engines like Google or the mass of data coming from radio telescope observations. What Kelly argues is that with a large enough data set one can develop a method of determining the probable outcome of an event as gathered from certain consistencies within the mass data. Pivoting off another article by Chris Anderson at Wired, Kelly points to the use of correlative data as the means by which Google is able to create highly competent translations of works written in different languages without the need for human translators or a model of translation. Simply gather enough data points and you can write an algorithm that produces such roughly accurate translations.
What both Kelly and Anderson argue is with enough data, an a priori hypothesis or a postiori theory is not necessary to make accurate predictions. And as both point out, such an argument radically changes the way we can learn in nearly any field. Where Kelly and Anderson diverge is over whether this argument means the end of theory or simply a change in how theories and models are created.
One point against this argument is W.V.O. Quine's indeterminacy of translation argument. In essence, Quine argues that the range of meaning in an unknown language is large enough that errors in translation are a given. Within a set of data points there might exist certain points of data that when added to the set break the existing model of explanation. We've already seen such a break occur between Newtonian physics and Einsteinian physics. Newton's theory of motion, while still useful in the everyday sense, cannot explain the new data points added since the development of his theory. Einstein was able to offer a new model that did explain both the old data set as well as the new data points.
Quine's indeterminacy theory, much like Heidegger's argument against the 'clearing of all clearings' means that no matter how good a model we construct new data points that the model cannot explain are always possible.
I have to say I have mixed feelings on the idea of predictable observations without an explanatory model. Certainly no model is perfect and one should always place primacy on evidence over theory. Yet, I agree with Kelly that Anderson goes too far with his thesis that cloud data is enough to end the need for theory. Kelly believes that we simply are reaching the limits of human logic and conception. I believe that we are finally reaching the end of our mental childhood. It's only been a little over eighty-years since Heisenberg introduced the uncertainty principle into quantum mechanics. Add to this the wave/particle duality of light, quantum superpositions, and the infinitely brief existence of virtual particles and you have a collection of ideas, thought experiments and theories that are highly difficult to understand but are understandable. So Kelly's assertion that we've arrivied at the end of human conception means, I believe, that we simply have to stretch human conception further.

Just You Wait, Mr. Boomer, Just You Wait

What Did Vietnam Teach John McCain? - TNR Staff @ The Plank

And thusly is Rogers point proven.

Qualifying Shrapnel

Last Dance, Last Chance for Loooove - John Rogers

I hadn't wanted to wade into the waters of the Wes Clark non-story but Rogers take regularly tacks differently than others; mostly to his advantage but not always. After quickly running through the general truth of Clark's dumb remark (military service isn't a sufficient quality on its own to make oneself proficient in foreign and military affairs. I think FDR pretty much nailed that one), Rogers then puts forth the interesting, yet obvious now that you see it, idea that the uproar over Clark's remark isn't about its truthfulness but about the continuing psychodrama Vietnam plays in the minds of baby boomers. I truly do believe that this presidential election is the last one that will depend heavily on boomer issues and perspectives. And not a moment too soon in my mind.
The new century has a new electorate as well, one with a distinctly different set of issues facing it and a different perspective on how to deal with those issues. The baby boomers will still play a role, but they will not hold the levers of power for much longer. Whether this shift will benefit the nation or not is too early to tell. It will differ from the past though, and not always to the boomers liking. Once Vietnam and the 60s leave the collective consciousness of the electorate I think we will see a serious change in priorities and how we faces those challenges. But statements like Clark's will become nothing more than dusty reminders of a past mindset we don't want to go back to. That's Rogers' point and where he gets it while others don't.

30 Seconds to Funny

Google, Family Guy creator to shake up video distribution - David Chartier @ Ars Technica

This is either potential genius or disaster. Even so, it's gutsy and I'm eager to see if and how it works.