Saturday, December 30, 2006

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night... I'm Green Lantern!

Marc Orchant just posted a link to an interesting survey. It's a little personality quiz to determine which superhero you're most like (Marc is Batman, btw).

I'm pleased to discover that I'm Green Lantern. I'm even more pleased that it's Hal Jordan, and not Kyle Raynor that they used in the graphic. And... no cape!

Fearless, highly inventive, with an indomitable will... yeah, baby, that's me. So who are you?

You are Green Lantern

Green Lantern
Iron Man
Wonder Woman
The Flash
Hot-headed. You have strong
will power and a good imagination.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It's National Games Week!

It's National Games Week, a time to promote non-computer board and card games.

So, perhaps it's appropriate that my game, Jedi Chess, was published on yesterday. I invite you to play it with your kids and have fun!

Friday, November 03, 2006

How to Vote

OK, it's election season, and past time to weigh in. Each year at this time we're treated to "get out the vote" messages ad infinitum, (as if simply getting large numbers to the polls is a good thing, which it's not). The problem is, most voters go to the polls not knowing a thing about the issues they're deciding. They're either voting blindly or they're casting a vote decided by somebody else who told them how to vote. (This is called cheating, and it's the reason children aren't allowed to vote.) Other people decide to lodge "protest" votes. Rather than voting on the candidate that best matches their interests, they vote for somebody -- anybody -- else to "send a message".

If you're in either of those categories, stay home. Democracy doesn't need you. The country doesn't need you. You shouldn't vote, because you don't know how. Fortunately, your lack of knowledge is exceedingly easy to fix.

So here's how to vote.

First, people often vote with a particular party without knowing what it even stands for, because their parents voted that way, or their friends, or their union says to. Before you say "I'm a Republican" or Democrat, or Libertarian, find out what that means. You may find yourself switching affiliations. If you're like most people you won't agree with everything any party says. Not even the candidates do. But you'll be close enough.

If you're a protest voter, do your protesting in the primaries. The general election is no time to shoot yourself in the foot. So if you feel like throwing the bum out, replace him with a member of your party... if you agree with your party's positions. When the primaries are over, put aside your "message" and vote in your best interests. Now -- days from the general election -- is not the time for your petty protests. If you voted in the primary, your message was received; if you didn't, then sending it now sends the wrong message to the wrong people at the wrong time. Above all, do not vote emotionally, ever.

If you don't know what the candidates stand for, or what the issues mean, or if you honestly do not care, then DON'T VOTE. I mean it. The world doesn't need you screwing up things blindly when the issues could be better decided by people who are informed, involved, and who care. There is no law that says you have to vote on every position on the ballot. Just vote for what you care about and leave the rest alone. You have strong feelings about your Congressman, but you don't know anything about the candidates for county Sheriff? Then vote for your Congressman and don't choose anyone in the Sheriff's race.

If you want to vote, then get informed. Go read your local newspaper, listen to talk radio, and go to Read each campaign's literature. But don't use just one source of information. If you do that, then you're just voting for somebody else. Get the balanced info so you can make a real decision, because that's what voting is.

Five days from now, when it's time to hit the polls, if you're apathetic, uninformed, confused, or plain lazy, then do the right thing. Please stay home. Don't vote.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Open Prosthetics Project

Once in a while you find something really worthwhile you just have to share. The Open Prosthetics Project takes the idea of Open Source beyond software. As stated on the website
The Open Prosthetics Project is producing useful innovations in the field of prosthetics and giving the designs away for free. By substituting public good for profits we believe that we can generate far more societal benefit than if we commercialized and sold our ideas. This project is an open source collaboration between users, designers and funders with the goal of making our creations freely available for anyone to use and build upon.
Now that says it all. To make the project as accessible as possible they've chosen Alibre Design Xpress as their 3D parametric CAD software.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Smell the Irony

In West Bank attacks on churches, Palestinians used guns, firebombs and lighter fluid, leaving church doors charred and walls scorched by flames and pocked with bullet holes. Nobody was reported injured. Two Catholic churches, an Anglican one and a Greek Orthodox one were hit. A Greek Orthodox church was also attacked in Gaza City.

ABC News: Pope Stops Short of Apology to Muslims
This was in response to the Pope having quoted a 15th-century Byzantine emperor who decried the violence of Muslims. The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said the pontiff sought in his university speech to condemn all religious motivation for violence, "from whatever side it may come."

The attacks were perpetrated by a group calling itself "Lions of Monotheism". Way to prove the Pope's point, morons.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Never Forget.

Five years ago, on September 11th, 2001, the World Trade Center towers collapsed after being impacted by two hijacked airliners. On this same date, the Pentagon building was impacted by a third airliner, and similar damage to a target in our Capitol (likely, the White House) was averted by the heroic passengers of Flight 93.

This was not the result of some US government conspiracy, as is suggested by some, including the conspiracy lunatics who supplied this photo. Should you click through to read their retarded fantasies (which I invite you to do, since this sort of idiocy needs to be exposed), kindly click through to the devastating debunking available at

This damage was done by radical Islamic fundamentalists. They are terrorists and cowards who preferred to attack unwitting civilians to choosing legitimate military targets. They hide in mosques and schools and hospitals, and cry about human rights violations if they're discovered there. They demand rights and considerations that they would never in their most compassionate lapses grant to others. They have earned their deaths. It is our duty to deliver them.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Testing Windows Live Writer Beta.

Don't expect much from this post; it's a simple test of the Windows Live Writer program. To be perfectly honest, I like the idea of it. I'm not terribly enamoured of "web apps" (what these days are called RIAs, or "Rich Internet Apps"). I'm generally much happier with desktop apps that are capable of publishing to the web, of which this is an example. I've got a minor issue with the licensing at the moment, so I'm simply uploading an innocuous post with a picture of me staring intently at the screen.   I will say this: I like the preview capability. It's faster than Blogger, and I'll know in a moment whether it uploads correctly.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Nation of Cowards

A nation of cowards. That's us -- Americans.

The more I think about it, the more I see it's true, and the more it burns me up. Though it simmers in the back of my mind, this particular rant was touched off by a conversation on George Ou's ZDNet blog. It wasn't anything George said... as a matter of fact, he's completely right on this topic, which happens to be on energy. George wrote:
Even more importantly, our country as a whole needs to rethink its energy policy and look at the energy debate with an open mind. Patrick Moore (the founder of Green Peace) along with a few other courageous environmentalists has eloquently stated his position on clean, safe, and abundant energy.
Here George is talking about nuclear power. And as usual whenever the subject of nuclear power comes up, somebody's going to complain. I won't go over the myths and the answers because they're more than adequately addressed by Patrick Moore. And -- please -- look over the Wikipedia article on pebble-bed reactors before you offer a knee-jerk argument on the subject based on obsolete technology from 30 years ago.

But the nuclear power debate is only what set me off. It's symptomatic of something larger. We've turned into a nation of irrational alarmists, fear-mongers, and superstitious cowards. And when I say irrational, I mean it. I was among the last of the Baby Boomers. When I was growing up, not just anything was possible... everything was possible. In those days people didn't just dream of things, they did them. Jack Kennedy said, "Go to the moon!" and you didn't hear a bunch of whiners wondering if it was safe enough. Instead you saw a bunch of men with the "right stuff" go to the moon!

We threw money into the sky because it was exciting and it was bold. That money fell back to Earth as advances in food preparation and storage, medicine, communications and GPS satellites, weather prediction, orbital surveys, computers, farming... the rewards for bold action are myriad.

We dreamed of space exploration and universal cooperation. The world would be like Star Trek. IDIC. I went to work in technology before it was sexy. Back then you had to be a first-class nerd. But I chose computers because I have a built-in desire to make those dreams come true. Here is a field where -- at least in my general vicinity -- I can make things better. I can help make that world happen.

And this is what bugs me: nearly everything we dreamed of, we can do, if we want to. But everytime something comes close to fruition, people get scared. They back off. They kvetch and they moan and they complain about the things they thought were really, really cool back when the work started.
  • Nuclear power, we've talked about. Clean, dirt cheap energy that leaves the environment better than you found it. Reliance on nuclear power is the single best way to slow global warming. Yet you can't say the words "nuclear power" over the sound of knocking knees. Irrational.
  • Whenever we invest in space it rains technological benefits. Space is a dangerous place: it's not really for tourists. It's the most extreme thing you can do, ever. Yet we expect a trip to Earth orbit to be safer than a ride at the county fair. Irrational.
  • On the Starship Enterprise you could just ask the computer, "Where's the captain?" and darned if the computer didn't know. That's good security; that's good safety; that's convenience by the bucketload. Wouldn't it be great if we could do the same with our kids? The technology exists. We could use it if it weren't blocked by people who think that the privacy of little children trumps their parents' and guardians' concerns for their safety. The same people who give more weight to their fear of the evil uses some third party might put it to than the good uses they themselves can certainly put it to. Irrational.
  • Genetically engineered crops and beasties could feed millions. We've been actively engineering genes since before recorded history, but we've called it "breeding" up until now. Do you think those huge ears of maize or the fluffy coats on sheep are natural? Wrong. People made them. Do you think clones are new? Wrong. All identical twins throughout history have been clones, and we've always known to treat them as individuals. Yet there are people that want to mull over the "ramifications" of this technology. Irrational.
This goes on ad infinitum. Christians who have an irrational fear of science. Athiests who have an irrational fear of true religious freedoms. New Agers who have an irrational fear of rationality! And everywhere, people who are irrationally obsessed with safety. Today, nothing is "safe enough" to satisfy alarmists. George W. Bush said, "Go to the moon!" and this time there immediately came the chorus of, "what for?" and "we've done that!" and "it's too dangerous!" Just today I watched an interview with Buzz Aldrin, who noted that the Moon landing in 1969 would have been impossible if they had the attitude prevalent today. We have no concept of acceptable risk. When they built the Space Shuttle they overbuilt due to the interference of... well... everybody. Now the pendulum is swinging predictably to an absurd extreme. The next generation of NASA spacecraft will quite likely be a re-tread of the 1970s Apollo technology. Sigh. You can bet it'll be "safer" though.

What do people dream of today? Grunge, cell phone ringtones, MySpace, and video games? They want to be non-conformists, just like all their friends. They risk their lives in extreme sports because they're not allowed to risk their lives for the growth of humanity. Today's movies are full of cynical anti-heroes. What interest could I have in anti-heroes when I've met real ones?

Yet there are a handful of people out there who still have the right stuff. When SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-prize and Richard Branson immediately announced Virgin Galactic, that was lump-in-the-throat time. Not because of the achievement. Remember, anything is possible to those who want to achieve. Not because Burt Rutan and Paul Allen trumped NASA. It was because that flight was proof that there are a few people left who understand what it is to make big dreams happen. People who aren't afraid.

Rant's over. Go dream something.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

New Download: Jedi Chess

In keeping with my latest post about empowerment, here's a little bit of empowering fun. While driving home with my kids the other day, we thought it would be a good idea to write a Jedi Chess program. Since I don't like to duplicate effort, I first Googled the web to see what others had done. What I found was horribly disappointing.

I found that a little hard to believe... here it is, 30 years since filming began on Star Wars, and there's not a single "Jedi Chess" game out there? There's no "Sith Chess" either, and the only "Star Wars Chess" was a knock-off of battle chess that played under standard rules. Obviously this has to be rectified immediately! So, after 30 years of waiting in darkness, you can finally download and play Jedi Chess! (cue the appropriate fanfare, preferably written by Johnny Williams).

Since I have Zillions of Games I didn't have to do the bulk of the programming. Instead, I provided Zillions with the rules and it grokked what I wanted and plays a really good game. Actually, I've recommended Zillions of Games before, but I can't say enough good things about it. Here are the rules:
  1. The game pits a standard chess army (the Jedi) against one Sith Lord and his Apprentice (the Sith). Of course the Sith take their places at the Dark Side of the board.
  2. You can play as either the Jedi or the Sith.
  3. The Sith Apprentice moves the same as a chess queen.
  4. The Sith Lord has the moves of a chess queen PLUS a chess knight. (This is commonly called an "Amazon" among chess variants). Needless to say, he is powerful in the ways of the Force.
  5. The Jedi win when both Sith are destroyed.
  6. The Sith win when the Jedi Grand Master (a King) is checkmated.
For fun, and as an homage to the game's inspiration, the game uses images of the characters from Star Wars: Episode II. Of course there is the Sith Master (Darth Sidious) and his Apprentice (Count Dooku). The Jedi are as follows: Yoda as the Grand Master (King); Mace Windu as the Master (Queen); Obi-Wan Kenobi as the Adept (Bishop); Ki-Adi-Mundi as the Knight (Knight); Annikin Skywalker as the Padawan (Rook); and Clone Troopers as pawns.

The game includes an "Episode IV" variant that pits Rebels against a less powerful Sith Master who combines the moves of a chess King with a Knight. The Sith Master is Emperor Palpatine and his Apprentice is Darth Vader. The Rebels are Luke Skywalker (King); Princess Leia Organa (Queen); Han Solo (Bishop); Obi-Wan Kenobi (Knight); and Chewbacca (Rook). Rounding out the Rebel side are Droids as pawns.

Overall, the game is similar to Maharajah and the Sepoys, except that there the death of the Maharajah is a foregone conclusion, assuming that the Sepoys play carefully. The addition of an Apprentice (Queen) in Jedi Chess makes the Dark Side formidible indeed.

(Shhh...Kaaah...Shhh...Kaaah...) Now, my description is complete.

Well, the description is, but this post isn't. This is one of the examples of what you can do when you aren't constricted by your software choices. You have a need, can't find an existing solution, and with a little empowerment you have a solution in an hour or so.

Jedi Chess is free to download and use. Obviously, all images are the property of LucasFilm, but I'm calling dibs on the game rules. They're mine, and I'm granting you a non-exclusive free license for non-commercial use.

Download Jedi Chess here. It requires a licensed copy of Zillions of Games, but don't bust a gut... Zillions only costs about $25, and you get... well... zillions of games (and you can also play my implementation of Qui-Vive). It's a bargain.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Want to Get Rich? Sell to the Poor.

In today's ComputerWorld, we see this article: WinHEC: Microsoft to test pay-as-you-go PCs.

The upshot of it is that Microsoft is testing pay-as-you-go PCs for sale in underdeveloped countries. You'd buy the PC for about half price, then buy time on it using the Internet or prepaid cards, much as you do with cell phones today. The theory is that with the lower cost of entry, more poor people will have access to computing, and Microsoft will open a brand new market for expansion of their software and services.

It's a valid theory, and it may actually work. I hope it doesn't, because there are better options for the poor than to purchase their computing at a much higher cost than the rich spend.

I know. You're thinking, "How can it be a higher cost when they're charging half?" Simple. Microsoft loves to tout "Total Cost of Ownership" (TCO) and here's a place where it most certainly applies. By selling the hardware cheap, then eeking out the use of that same hardware as a pay-as-you-go service, Microsoft stands to make many times more on each computer than they would if it were sold outright. It's the same theory that allows them to sell each and every Xbox at a loss, hoping to make up the loss with the sale of games. It's a common tactic when dealing with the poor. You use a low cost of entry to slowly bleed a huge sum of money.

The vast middle class may not realize exactly how much money can be extracted from seemingly broke people, but it's lucrative to the max. Take, for example, payday advances: You're poor, you're a couple of bucks short on your electricity bill, and your power's about to be shut off. So you run down to your local paycheck advance store and you can borrow up to $300 until your next paycheck, at which point you pay back the $300, plus $45 interest. These places can legally get an APR of 1200% or more on these short-term loans. A rich person, charged similar rates by his bank, would sue for usury and win. The sad part is that, once locked into an off-sync cycle between bills and paycheck, the poor client is back for more next paycheck, and then again, and again... dumping $90 or more a month on finance charges he can't afford -- and ironically he's paying the charges because he can't afford it.

Other "low ticket" finance companies wind up with similar windfalls. Someone with money will just go out and buy a lawnmower at list price... let's call it $600. Someone without money will hop down to a finance company, pay $50/month until he's plopped down a couple of grand for the same model. Even high-ticket items. If you don't have money for a down payment, you rent a house for $1100/month and never, ever build equity. If you do have money you cough up a couple of grand, finance the rest at $700/month, and wind up owning it.

This is the way things are. The most lucrative markets cater to the poor. Do you think Wal-Mart got to be the largest company in this star system because they're servicing the Fifth Avenue crowd? Hardly. They're the richest because they sell to the poorest.

Lest you think I'm engaging in some class warfare here, I'm not. The poor need affordable products, and there are more poor than rich. No one would argue that you shouldn't sell to the poor, for cryin' out loud. But here's the part where we as a society do ourselves a disservice. The poor have been brainwashed to act on class envy... they see themselves as being entitled to those things that the rich can afford. Note that it's not that these things are attainable... it's an entitlement. Thus, every child needs a laptop, or an iPod, or a new pair of Nikes. People have been trained to not have the patience to save and "make do." They've been trained to be ashamed of anything not new. In this country people do not limit themselves to what they can afford, and they enslave themselves for life.

Is it the fault of the vendors? Not entirely, no. They saw a need and filled it. And often they look at the lowered cost of entry to justify their feelings that they have done something good for the underprivileged... that they're "giving something back," without ever stopping to consider that the long term burden on their customers is onerous. Others are just rip-offs. "Blue Hippo Funding" comes to mind. (and no, the link isn't to them, but to a story about them).

Obviously the moral of this story is that if you're poor you can't afford credit, so don't use it. But if you save and make do, you'll advance to the point where you can easily afford the credit you won't need. There are only two things that most people in the U.S. need to buy on credit... a house and a car. For everything else, there's green paper. But that's enough social ranting... let's go back and look at the Microsoft story.

Are they evil for offering the pre-paid plan? No, they're just trying to fill a need and open a market; albeit presumably without the indignity of lowering their prices in accordance with the normal laws of supply and demand. They see something that works for the telecom industry and in true Microsoft fashion, they're going to copy it and see if it works for them.

The pre-paid model works well for cell phones because the service is required for the operation of the phone, and because you can choose to moderate your use of the phone. Limit it to emergency calls and it can be an excellent deal. Let's face it, you have to buy service to use the phone. If pre-paid service lowers your cost of obtaining the phone (because the costs are absorbed by the vast majority of callers who don't limit their use) then you benefit.

Will it work as well with computers? I'm not so sure. Unlike a cell phone, a computer is normally useful even if it's not connected to the 'Net. Microsoft's plan would change that: these machines would disable themselves if the computing time is not paid for. I tend to think a user would have to be crazy to take them up on the offer when he could pop on over to the Salvation Army, get a decent used machine with Linux and (Mandriva's very good for the purpose!) for a $150 or so, and use it until it falls apart. If he wants Internet access, then it's available for less than $10/month. Together, owning a used machine and cut-rate Internet service is much, much more affordable than this open-ended rental agreement. But are people smart enough to make the comparison? Not all of them, I'm sure (just look at the folks suckered by Blue Hippo!)

I'm interested to see how this plays out.

In the meantime, if you're one of the "haves" you can feel good about being able to help someone in an underdeveloped country more effectively than Bill Gates. Just donate your obsolete computer to a non-profit organization that reconditions and recyles this equipment, such as Youth for Technology.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Earth Day: A Plan that Works. No, REALLY.

OK, in honor of Earth Day I'll comment on the (many copies of the) email I've now received entitled "Gas War - Lower Prices...This Will Work!"

It's a lengthy explanation of how to stick it to the oil companies and get them to lower their prices. Often it's preceded by the assurance that this was originally sent by a retired Coca Cola executive who got it from a retired Halliburton engineer. Here's the gist of the thing:
Here's the idea: For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL. If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices.
If this scheme actually came from the retired executives as claimed, then these companies are well rid of the doddering has-beens that blocked the promotion of fresh talent. The plan won't work, for sound economic reasons I'll explain below. Just so you don't die from suspense, it's primarily because the plan assumes that the economy of the United States is a closed system. And it's not.

Is oil really too expensive?

But before we go there, I'll tell you that the price of oil is not nearly as high as it's made out to be. Yes, I feel pain in the wallet, too, but in adjusted dollars we'd have to exceed $80 per barrel to match the real prices that we experienced in the late seventies during Jimmy Carter's presidency. Gas here is about the price I had to pay for it in England 20 years ago. Here's what it costs in Europe now:
To save wear and tear on the buttons on your calculator, I'll do it for you. At the time of this writing, in the UK gasoline costs about $6.51 per gallon.

It cost me $50 yesterday to fill my tank. That same tank in London would have cost me over $113.

The price of oil has been artificially low in the United States for years, and sad as it is to say, we made the prices go up. The problem's not with the supply, and the high prices aren't from being gouged by some mean ol' "Big Oil" companies. We've got as much annual supply as ever. But only that much. We haven't increased our refining capacity in decades. The last refinery in the US was built in 1976 in Garyville, Louisiana. One was proposed for Portsmouth, Virginia, but the project was canceled in 1984 after nine years of haggling, wrangling, red tape, court battles and resistance from local residents and environmentalists. Like many public infrastructure projects (landfills and sewage treatment plants), everybody knows we need it, but nobody wants it in their own back yard.

Sure, it's not all the doing of environmentalists. The oil companies simply haven't had much incentive to build refineries. Each one costs roughly $4 billion to build, and you can't make that sort of investment lightly. Up to now there's been a real risk that the building of new refineries would result in over-capacity. At capacity, the return on the investment is only about 5%. There's no economic incentive for the industry to make that investment, since they can get a comparable rate of return without the headaches, court battles, construction and risks by simply buying US treasury bonds. We complain that the Big Oil companies haven't built the refineries, but we haven't made it worth their while. These are businesses, not slaves, and we've done everything in our power to impede them. Our Congress could have passed legislative incentives, but they haven't.

So why's the price going up?

So we haven't built refineries, and what we have is running at capacity, and Hurricane Katrina showed us the effect of even a small interruption in production. The point is, dumping millions of more gallons of crude on us still wouldn't lower the price. We're at capacity.

So what's caused the increase in price? Simple! We're using more oil! Not just us in the US, but worldwide! Remember I said this isn't a closed economy?

While we haven't been building refineries, and we haven't been exploiting new oil reservoirs, what we have been doing is working our asses off to industrialize the third world nations, and now we're outsourcing major industry (along with nearly everything else) to them. So the oil that would have been running our factories is now running theirs. We've doubled the demand. Ain't much math here to do... Demand goes up, Supply's the same. Prices go up. Economics 101.
( And while we're at it,

This simplistic "gas war" idea assumes we can reduce demand enough to affect the price. Wrong answer. Since Exxon and Mobil will have no lack of customers in China and India, etc., reducing demand here means that the supply will shift to other customers there. Do that long enough for service levels to be established there and you've permanently raised the prices here (you've made the local supply that much smaller). So the "gas war" not only doesn't do what it's intended... it does the exact opposite.


There are only two choices here: either make more gasoline or permanently use less.

We can make more fuel in another five years or so if we start building refineries now. But it's neither a short-term nor a permanent solution and the cost of the refineries will have to be paid off. Peak oil production is expected in only a few years. IOW, it won't do much about the price of gas this summer, and won't do much for the long-term price of gas.

Why bother with a long-term route to a temporary solution? Instead, fix the frackin' problem! I personally don't think we could hold back the rest of the world, or even that we should try to -- they've got as much right to iPods, MTV, and air conditioning as we have -- but if we want to keep praising ourselves for our superiority, we've got to move on.

We've got nuclear power technology, and it's NOT the same technology as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Those problems were fixed decades ago. Nevertheless, we're too frackin' cowardly to use it, even though it's clean, cheap, safe, and that stuff coming out of the cooling tower is nothing but steam. People get spinal shivers because nuclear fuel is "radiating". Well what the hell do they think it was doing before it was dug out of the cold, hard ground? Do people even know how hard that stuff is to blow up? We've had nuclear bombs since the 1950s and not once, ever, has one blown up by accident. And that's the stuff that's designed to blow up! OTOH, we see gas and oil and coal fires regularly. For power plants, I say switch to nuclear and hydrodynamics now and when the oil runs out watch the cost of goods coming from China soar. (though I'd honestly hope they transition to alternate fuels as well).

For mobility we need to buy more clean cars, but until they're on the market, we can at least burn more corn juice (ethanol). You cut it down the corn crop and guess what? It grows back! You can make plastics out of it. You can make fabric out of it. And it goes great with BBQ pork ribs.

As for me, I already don't buy gas from Exxon or Mobil. I'm still not buying from them as a result of all the other times this stunt has been pulled over the decades the same plan has been periodically circulating. Surely I'm not the only person in the USofA that actually stuck with the program? If nobody else can follow my stellar example then this won't be any more effective this time 'round.

Using hydrogen as a fuel not such a bad idea, either. It can be pulled from the atmosphere or made from water. And it's perfectly pollution-free: burning it yields water as a waste product. You can even bottle the exhaust and drink it. And hell, you can use fresh, clean, nuclear energy to make the fuel. But we're not making affordable hydrogen-burners... yet.

Until then, I do buy 10% Ethanol gas... it's about a dime cheaper at the local Enmark than at the other stations in my town, and hell, it's a 10% reduction in gas for the same # of road miles (close enough). If my car would take 100% then I'd burn pure corn squeezin's. Hell, my step-grandpappy drank the shit and it kept him going until he was 92 years old. That's damned good mileage!

Also, we can encourage companies to encourage teleworking as much as possible. I work mostly at home, and it saves hundreds of dollars a month compared to my previous commute.

A plan that works

So here's the plan that works. In order of immediacy of return on the investment:

  1. Cut back on the use of gasoline across the board. Don't target one or two companies, that's futile. Just start using less. Plan your trips, and travel less. Do it now.
  2. Improve your mileage. Turn off the A/C, do what you can. (For that matter, turn off the A/C in your house.)
  3. Buy ethanol, as much as your car can take. When it's time to buy a new car, buy a FlexFuel vehicle:
  4. Encourage telecommuting. Not everyone can do it, but support those that do.
  5. Tell your Senators and Representatives that you want clean power, and that includes nuclear power plants, and that you don't care if they put it in your backyard. Every watt that's pulled from nuclear and hydroelectric power means that much oil that's saved for other purposes.
  6. Tell your congressmen to provide incentives for new refineries and to to support new drilling in known reserves. Yeah, it's not a lot of help right now, but the long term is important. This is to maintain the economy as we transistion to other primary sources of energy.

That's pretty much my contribution.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Stupid Tech

I'm a technologist by trade. That doesn't mean I believe that high-tech is appropriate in all circumstances. Sometimes, tech is just stupid. For example:

Dada Footware is offering $200 pair of sneakers that play MP3s. Now that's just plain stupid.

White Lake is offering a 14-carat gold memory stick. It costs €2,950.00 (with five diamonds) or €2,400.00 (without the diamonds). This thing is very poorly designed: it's way too wide for direct use on many laptops or ATX boards... you'd have to use a USB extension cable (which is what they get for having a jeweler rather than an engineer design it). Not only does memory capacity change too rapidly to justify such an ephemeral purchase, but it's just plain stupid.

Don't get me wrong... USB sticks in themselves are damned useful. I love mine. But they've got to be actually useful. Here's one idea that zips right past usefulness and back into nutville: the Swiss Army memory stick. Yep. You, too can have a Swiss army knife jammed into your computer. I actually use my tools, so I couldn't buy this: it's stupid.

The Sony VN-CX1 is a computer mouse that doubles as a Skype phone. Cool, huh? Not really. Remember, you just picked up the mouse to talk on it, so you can't use the phone and your computer at the same time. That's just plain stupid.

The advent of the USB port has given us more stupid tech devices than anything else. Take this for example: USB gloves. You're supposed to plug them into your USB port so they can keep your hands warm. As if gloves didn't do that anyway. Much better is the expediency we used in the USAF: you take a pair of knit gloves and cut off the fingertips for dexterity. They work wonderfully, and aren't bulky with a USB cord. (imagine, if you will, having to get up and answer the door quickly, and dragging your frackin' laptop off the desk because you're tethered to it by the USB gloves. Yeah, now that's a smart buy.) Like the USB coffee warmers, USB fans, USB lava-lamp, and innumerable similar examples of engineering by retardation, these gloves are just plain stupid.

Cellphone Ringtones. I know they're astoundingly popular. I know they're a billion-dollar business. If you're dumb enough to be a fan of them, please don't embarrass yourself by commenting on this. They're just plain stupid.

There are plenty more. I haven't listed things that are obviously toys (toys are exempt from stupidity). But when an item pretends to fill a need it's fair game, and often as not it's stupid.

Friday, April 14, 2006

ZDNet: IT Commandments

The following is worth a read:

» IT Commandments: Ignore them at your own risk | Between the Lines |

I was a little surprised at the heavy Open Source leaning. The rest of the IT industry is catching up to us. (Well, the punditry has, anyway.)

And, I'd re-draft Commandment 3 as "Thou shalt not allow bean counters to stand in the way of customer service."

More later.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

China mandates preloading software on PCs - Computerworld

This just in from Computerworld:
China mandates preloading software on PCs - Computerworld

Now that there will be "official" installations in China, it will be possible to measure OS usage there. I'm interested to see how Windows fares next to Linux.

Keep in mind that pre-loading an OS doesn't actually prevent piracy (you can always install over it), but a significant number of people will keep the pre-installed OS.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Windows Vista Slips. What Microsoft REALLY Thinks

Sometime when you've got a few minutes for some light reading, take a look at this:

"Mini-Microsoft" is an anonymous gripe blog (hosted on Blogger, a Google product) for Microsoft employees. The entry in question deals with the delays associated with Vista. But it's the COMMENTS (not the original post) that are worth reading. Gives you a lot of insight into what's going on inside the company and what the people working on the product think of it.

A sample:
Basically we do not believe Vista will make January 2007 or even March 2007. Anyone with any access knows what a frankenstein's monster NT is on the inside. At some point there is a law of diminishing returns trying to do anything to it at all, it seems like that limit is being reached today. The release is pushed back because of bugs but fixing those bugs will create more bugs. It is just godawful to be honest. And the process gets in the way at every step.

At some point we will have to do something and i know at least some in my team privately agree with me. We will have to throw out everything and start again. This is what Apple did with OSX, and sure it was painful, but it worked and now they're kicking our asses. We should have done that in 2000. Now it is even more obvious we should do it. Start again and just run a compatibility layer on top. Apple did it with classic why can't we???

IF we manage to ship vista at ALL then it is a miracle and the absolute last rev we can possible do working like this. It is insane the manhours wasted rearranging a house of cards. We need to START AGAIN PEOPLE.
Is anybody still looking forward to this mishegoss?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Constructive Criticism

It's been pointed out to me that I've posted twice now denouncing retards with doctorates, this last time in a rant about "Little Einsteins". This is a show that's intended to teach music to preschoolers. Rather than presenting the subject, the producers try to hide it within something "entertaining" in the guise of science, a subject for which they have no respect.

And that's part of the problem... when experts talk outside of their expertise they're not experts at all. If they're going to play in another educator's sandbox, they'd better be prepared to be respectful of the peripheral subject they're presenting, or be prepared to "face the music." In the case of "Little Einsteins" it's a music appreciation show couched in science fiction, with damned near no respect for the science. They should have brought in science educators to assist with the scripts.

It's not just these people, but many, many, many others. Television shows that have been pitched as "educational" include such abominable crap as "Jimmy Neutron", "Tutenstein". The best educational animation to date was "Schoolhouse Rock", and the best recent example is (embarassingly) the historical and geographical songs on "Animaniacs" done in the style of Tom Leherer. I'll give some other positive examples below.

(BTW, "Fat Albert" aspired to be educational, but it was really social engineering although most educators are too indoctrinated to recognize the difference. There's nothing wrong with the proper social engineering, mind you; but there is a distinction between that and education. If you don't think so, contemplate the distaste you feel for the phrase "re-education camp". Get it now?).

Me, I'm a parent of three children, and I've been a trainer in both electronics and IT for over 20 years. I don't at all pretend to be an "expert" in education, but damn it, for some things you just don't have to be. For example:

You do not have to make an effort to engage and entertain children... if you've properly presented the subject matter, then the material itself will engage and entertain them.

A beautiful example here is Carl Sagan's "Cosmos". It needed no artificially forced "excitement". Because of the focused presentation of the subject matter it was engaging and entertaining for all age groups. It's seeing a revival on cable. See it on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on the Science Channel.

As much as I like Bill Nye, the silliness didn't add to his show, and neither did the guy in the rat suit. The best part about Mr. Wizard was it was just really cool science, with experiments you could do yourself.

You do not always have to come up with something new. Everything is new to preschool children. You should never make the mistake of thinking that because you've seen something before, the kids will respond with "been there, done that."

In other words, Mr. Wizard's still cool. My kids say so.

You do not ever have to "dumb down" your explanations: the point of early education is not to have the children retain everything they're exposed to; it to expose the children to the subject in the first place so they'll be on familiar ground when when it's repeated later. Dumbing down the explanations increases the likelihood that you'll have to re-teach the stuff you got wrong in the first place.

This last item brings to the fore the very important point that you always move from the known to the unknown. It's perfectly possible and OK to simplify an explanation without dumbing it down. For example, you can tell a preschool music student that the composer Antonín Dvorák lived over 100 years ago without expecting him to know any exact dates or the names of his works. You can tell grade school kids that 'enzymes' assist in the replication of DNA without going into detail about what enzymes are or how they work. If students express a desire to know more then you're doing somethign right. Encourage them to study on their own. Point out some good age-appropriate references.

Another thing is to use the Socratic method. That was where a show like Mr. Wizard's World shined. Every episode he had a guest child. He could lead the child through a series of questions, and when all was said and done the child worked out the problems for himself. By asking the questions of the guest, Don Herbert was by extension asking the audience and promoting independent thought.

It's a shame that the educators of today haven't learned from these examples.

Monday, February 20, 2006

There's "free" and then there's Free.

I got my MSDN Flash email today, describing thoroughly Microsoft's idea of "free"... Basically they say, "We've got all kinds of free stuff for you today, like:
  • A second shot at at taking and incredibly overpriced exam you've been studying for at great expense all last year. All you have to do is fail it the first time.
  • 21 hours of training. Oh, wait, it's not free at all... we only put it in this list because we're idiots.
  • Some more exams, but these are beta exams, so you don't get any certification. You just get to spend a lovely afternoon taking the exam and giving us free feedback. That makes it doubly free!.
  • And to cap things off we decided to throw in something really free: the Composite UI Application Block. This application block is a reusable, source code–based component based on the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0. That's as opposed to all the NON-source code-based components you have clogging up your compiler.
Ain't we great?"

There. That was a lot shorter and easier to read than the actual mail.

On the other hand, there are really free things out there... I keep a list of the ones I use the most. Here's a few new ones:
  • Stellarium Stellarium is free GPL software which renders realistic skies in real time with openGL. With Stellarium, you really see what you can see with your eyes, binoculars or a small telescope. So says the website. And guess what? They're not lying. It's an absolutely beautiful piece of software. If you've got any interest at all in the heavens you should most certainly check this out.
  • DominoWiki is a fine little wiki I found on Best of all, it runs on a Domino server and is distributed in a single Lotus Notes database. I happen to like it a lot... it's easy to install, easy to configure, and easy to maintain. Like any good wiki, it's easy to use.
  • And, of course, there's the new release of VIC CRM. It's free and useful.
Have fun!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas and Mideast Peace

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Hamas 'secures' stunning victory

I see that Hamas has won control of the Palestinian government in the recent election. While some may see this as a problem, I think it's possibly not a bad thing.

Granted, Hamas has not revised their official policy of calling for the destruction of Israel. On the other hand, repressing a large portion of the Palestinian populace is no way to win a lasting peace. Instead, Hamas has to come to the realization that sponsoring terror is no way to achieve their goals.

Look at it... terrorism did not place Hamas in charge of the Palestinian government: elections did. If the elected leaders realize this fact and are successful in maintaining a stable political government then perhaps they will make the small leap toward the realization that similar peaceful strategies will garner the political independence that decades of terrorism have failed to deliver.

It is our diplomats' job to help Hamas come to this realization if they don't on their own.