Monday, June 28, 2010

Depressing Realization of the Day

Planet Earth is ruled by a species of chimpanzee in possession of both nuclear weapons and Abrahamic religion.

We're doomed.

Quote of the Day

"Growing up, I was told of several key moments in British history: Trafalgar, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and the 1966 World Cup final [vs. Germany]. The tone got extra reverent when it came to 1966."

(England just lost to Germany 4-1)

Giant spider crab molting

This is a pretty cool but gross video of a giant spider crab crawling out of its shell:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Microsoft Kinect (formerly Natal)

Here's what my old co-workers at Microsoft are up to. Pretty cool. I'm glad Microsoft is doing something with a "wow" factor that really hasn't been available before.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Saving Detroit with Immigrants

Here's a good idea: save Detroit by letting people immigrate there. Detroit has a big problem: its population is declining. Lots of people in the world have a big problem: they live in areas much worse than Detroit. Solution for both: let those people come to Detroit to start an immigration-based economic revival.

This is not within the realm of possibility given our current politics, but "current politics" is hardly something I'm interested in preserving if it gets in the way of a solution to a problem.

And there's also the question: What about all those "worse places" where the immigrants come from? When the brightest/most ambitious/most well-connected in those areas leave for Detroit, what happens to those places? Do they suffer? Does net human suffering go up or down when people move to a better situation? Certainly, the people who move are probably better off, but what about those left behind? Do those places benefit from having a presumably more prosperous immigrant community in the United States?

Desktop computers are dying

This agrees with my personal experience: I haven't had a working "desktop" computer in a long time. My current "desktop" is my old laptop with the broken screen hooked up to an external monitor. I suppose if I really wanted a high-performance machine, I'd get a desktop, but I find I'm more concerned with Internet bandwidth and latency than machine performance these days. Yesterday's overclocked processor is today's fat pipe to the 'Net.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cold fusion coming?

That would be awesome:
To get that micro-blast of heat, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) uses lasers---coherent light---at a massive scale. Laser engineer Moses notes that photons are perfect for the job: "no mass, no charge, just energy."

Moses ran a dramatic video showing how a shot at the NIF works. 20-foot-long slugs of amplified coherent light (10 nanoseconds) travel 1,500 yards and converge simultaneously through 192 beams on the tiny target, compressing and heating it to fusion ignition, with a yield of energy 10 to 100 times of what goes into it. Successful early test shots suggest that the NIF will achieve the first ignition within the next few months, and that shot will be heard round the world.

[...]

There is no such thing as peak hydrogen.

Video here. (I guess on the scale of the whole universe there is such a thing as peak hydrogen, but we'll let subsequent generations worry about that.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Shortest Possible Game of Monopoly: 4 turns, 21 seconds


It requires some irrational decisions and a series of improbable events, but theoretically a 2 player game of Monopoly can be over in 4 turns. Details here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Diplomacy explained


The specifics are a little dated (from 2009), but still applicable. It was sent to me by Maestro, my super top-secret contact in the State Department, so that must mean it hits somewhere near the truth. It is highly entertaining.

And yes, Internal Monologue really does have a super top secret contact in the State Department. It's one of the few things that makes this place something more than links to things on Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'm a Certified ScrumMaster!

Took the class, aced the test with a perfect score (but since the test is currently being evaluated, you pass no matter what your score) and now I'm a Certified ScrumMaster! What's that, you ask? Scrum is a software development framework in the Agile family of methodologies. The ScrumMaster is a key role in that process. It has some of the functions of a project coordinator or project manager. Many game studios are using Scrum in their development processes. Surely gainful employment is imminent!

Quote of the Day

"[W]henever I see older people fretting over the sexual proclivities of their children, I can't tell whether I'm seeing genuine concern, or envy and regret." -Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Who will be Britain & China to the new Hong Kongs?

Paul Romer wants to set up charter cities in developing nations to accelerate growth. But it's hard: people don't like ceding their land to foreigners, and colonies can be a big pain in the ass for the foreigners to govern. And folks are rightly suspicious of anything that could lead to exploitative colonialism. But wouldn't lots of countries benefit from having a Hong Kong? Would China be the rising economic powerhouse it is today without it?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Couldn't care less": I care about this a great deal

Friday, June 04, 2010

Criminalizing video of the cops?

This seems to me like a frightening and wrong development:
In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.

Egad. Whenever people with guns and the power to arrest you want to push the cameras away, that seems bad news to me. We need armed police. But we also need them to use their power very carefully and be held accountable when they abuse it. I think these laws should be overturned.

Maybe all uses of force by the police should have to be video recorded (by built in cameras that are part of standard police gear) to ensure that violence is used properly. I think they do this with police interrogations to make sure they are following the rules.

If individuals can't use tools like video to defend themselves from abuses by the state (and by other individuals), we're entering some very creepy territory. There's too much of this going on these days.

UPDATE: Obsidian Wings has a similar reaction:

To be blunt, our politicians and policymakers are overly deferential to police officers and overly concerned with establishing "tough on crime" credentials. As a result, they are far too often hesistant to establish common sense regulations and checks on abuses of power, not to mention being unduly wedded to harsh sentences for non-violent offenses (see, ie, the disastrous "War on Drugs").

But the above cited abuse of power is unjust, undemocratic and fails the standards of any proper liberal society. It would be nice if our leaders had the courage to actually do something about it.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Graphic of the Day

Free advice for the IDF:
From here.

"Agent Zigzag" and "I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced"

I recommend both these books. Agent Zigzag is a true WWII story of an English crook who is captured by the the Germans, volunteers to spy for them, is trained in sabotage and parachuted into England, betrays the Germans to the British, is sent back as a double agent, and then ends up in Norway where he falls in love...it just goes on and on like that. If you liked the WWII parts of Cryptonomicon, you'll love this book. The characters seem like they're right out of the movies. (Indeed, many of the people involved in were spy novelists, including the creator of James Bond.)

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is what it proclaims to be: the story of a young Yemeni girl married off in a cruel and horrible way. She manages to get to a courthouse and ask for a divorce and gets it. A truly harrowing depiction of the awful reality behind the phrase "child bride." It's the sort of tale that makes me want to impose my culture on other people. As always with these stories, for me the heartbreaking thing is how her own family put her into this hell, and how they refuse/are unable to help her when she begs them to take her back. How can her father and ex-husband not see the awful suffering they inflicted upon her?

I guess I can understand how one can be cruel to threatening outsiders, or to people distant from us, or to people who have hurt us. But a little girl in your own house? Is human empathy so easy to dispose of? What does that say about us as human beings?

Careful what you name your website

Ah, the joys of unintended parsing:
Five of the funniest web URLs

  1. Experts Exchange – a site where programmers can trade advice – is found at www.expertsexchange.com
  2. La Drape – a British company selling high-end quilted bedspreads – is listed at www.ladrape.co.uk
  3. American Scrap Metal – a scrap metal recycling firm – has its website at www.angelfire.com/alt/americanscrapmetal
  4. Speed of Art – a collective or art designers – are online at www.speedofart.com
  5. Therapist Finder – a directory for therapy services – can be located at www.therapistfinder.com

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

He's coming back!


Acererak, that is, my favorite D&D villain of all time. A new Tomb of Horrors is coming out in July. The image above is not of Acererak, but rather of The Devourer, an idol associated with him. The Devourer is one of the deadliest traps in all of Dungeons & Dragons, probably responsible for more characters destroyed than any other single thing in the entire history of Dungeons & Dragons.

The US Israeli Alliance: time to evaluate

Some random thoughts and questions on the IDF attack on the flotilla attempting to run the Gaza blockade:
  • "Hey, I have a great idea! Let's send our commandos aboard the ship one at a time, so that they can be jumped and easily separated from each other!" Seriously, who planned that boarding operation? I am not a professional military tactician, but sending your soldiers into a potentially violent situation one at a time strikes me as the height of bone-headedness. (UPDATE: I'm not the only one who thought this.)
  • Is this blockade legal, according to international law? Israel thinks it's legal, but what do other nations think? The UN? The US? If it wasn't legal, then wasn't this attack an act of piracy? If the blockade is legal, then doesn't Israel have a responsibility to maintain the well-being of civilians under that blockade?
  • Why does Egypt help Israel enforce the blockade on Gaza? What does Egypt get out of this? Are they trying to cozy up to the United States? Make nice with Israel? Do they have their own beef with Gazans? Is it because they fear Islamist movements are a threat to their own government?
  • Israel is a lousy client state. We give them military aid, a security guarantee, vetoes in the UN Security Council, and diplomatic cover. What do we get? Headaches, ill-will in a strategically important part of the world, and diplomatic snubs like the one suffered recently during Biden's visit. Really, all moral questions aside, what are we getting out of this alliance? Didley squat as far as I can tell.
  • Israel is the new Cuba. By "Cuba" I mean a small country which receives a disproportionate amount of our attention and towards which we have a warped foreign policy due to entrenched domestic political considerations? Shouldn't we "normalize" our relationship with Israel, just as we should normalize our relationship with Cuba? (Dan Drenzer compares the US-Israel relationship to the China-North Korea relationship.)
  • If the US really did try to influence Israel's behavior re: the Gaza blockade, settlement construction, invading Lebanon, etc., how much leverage does the United States really have? Maybe all that aid and diplomatic cover isn't actually buying us the influence we think it is. Of course, we'll never find out if we have any leverage if we never try to use it.
  • Will US domestic attitudes towards Israel change in light of the recent flotilla attack? This is probably the biggest question as far as US policy towards Israel goes. I've noticed a swing in the blogosphere to a more critical stance towards Israel, and Beinart's recent New York Review of Books article on the divergence of liberalism and Zionism has provoked a big discussion.
  • What are the ties that bind Israel and the United States? How strong are they compared to the forces that are pushing Israel and the US apart?