Archive for June, 2009

Posts you will never see

June 25th, 2009 — Wordman

Looking at my blog’s “drafts” section reveals a number of posts that have been languishing, half-formed, some of them since before I made this blog public. Many of these occupied my mind at the time, but since have lost their timeliness. Some needed a bit more polishing. Some didn’t have enough legs to turn into a real post. Others I just haven’t fully formed in my head. Rather than keep them in the “maybe someday” box, they will be pasted in raw form into this post for posterity, and the originals will be deleted, just to get them out of my head.

In these descriptions, text in italics represents text added today for the purpose of explaining the post’s idea. Any original text from the draft will remain un-italicized. The are presented youngest first. In some drafts, text is fairly close to final. Some are only scattered notes. Most are a mix of lucid sentences with random phrases to remind me what I was thinking.

If these scattered thoughts trigger any musings in your own brain, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.

Fighting illiteracy

Initially created April 2009

A post about how what’s really going on in the Middle East is a conflict of knowledge vs. ignorance. The main point here was to suggest a strategy in Iraq of taking over their educational system, under the assumption that educated masses are less likely to buy into fundamentalist attempts to manipulate them. Also, the point was to change the rhetoric of the United States to be more about enlightenment and opportunity, rather than the stupid “war on abstract concepts” language they use now. I never really got this working in my head.

In the modern world, intimidation and intolerance is the only is the only real path the illiterate have to power.

US pitches the war stupidly: “they hate us for our freedom” “evil-doers”, “war on terror”.

Symbol: the destruction of the Buddhist statues looked like nothing more than “boys with toys”.

Counterargument: reading doesn’t help US fundies from being idiots.

The vegetarian case for cannibalism

Initially created August 2008

In the later chapters of his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan spends a great deal of effort thinking about the morality of eating animals. In particular, he wrestles with a moral argument laid out by Peter Singer in his book Animal Liberation, claiming that it “demands you either defend the way you live, or change it.”

Aristotle. I don’t remember the point I was going for with Aristotle. Possibly something about the risk that using reasoning based on assumptions depends significantly on the bias of your assumptions. (I also have a pet theory that at least some of the dark ages was created by the seemingly complete inability of people to doubt what Aristotle said, even when it was obviously wrong, and that the Renaissance happened when people got over this. Uh, and stopped being set on fire for heresy. Anyway…)

Essentially their logic leads to “point A”, at which time they ask “given that most people object to exploiting the retarded, why is it mortal to exploit animal”.

But using the same logic, you can ask “given that most people have no problem with exploiting animals, why is it immoral to exploit the retarded”.

To be convincing, a line of reasoning needs to lead inexorably to a single conclusion. Singer’s argument doesn’t: it leads to many. Worse, most of these contradict each other. So, while there may be some logic to it, it is not a tool for reasonable conclusion of anything.

Singer says “we have a strong interest in convincing ourselves that our concern for other animals does not require us to stop eating them”. It seems to me this should be turned around. Our strong interest in continuing to eat other animals requires that our concern for them is not convincing.

All this rambling was intended to illustrate how, using the same techniques that zealot vegetarians use to “prove” that all should stop eating meat, you can just as easily “prove” that all should start eating human flesh. I pretty much just lost interest in this one, though, so it doesn’t really form any coherent point.

Wheat and chaff

Initially created July 2008. I have no idea what the point was supposed to be.

Things which let you see bias:

The “whiners” comment, exposes party parrots.

Apple’s MobileMe launch.

Atheists for Jesus

Initially created May 2008

Basic idea is that it is possible to embrace many of Jesus’ teachings even with the spiritual side of them removed. Much of the rationale for Christians following them is that “the only way to heaven is trough me”, but that is a “why should I do this”, not a “what should I do”.

There is some meat there, but seems like others have probably tread over this ground before.

The Dread Pirate Roberts

Initially created September 2007. Back when bin Laden videos would surface every once in a while, but there was question if it was really him, etc. I realized that it probably wouldn’t really matter if it was actually him or not. Just like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride, maybe he could be turned into more of an office than a person:

Well, Roberts had grown so rich, he wanted to retire. So he took me to his cabin and told me his secret. “I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts,” he said. “My name is Ryan. I inherited this ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from was not the real Dread Pirate Roberts, either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Roberts has been retired fifteen years and living like a king in Patagonia.” Then he explained the name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear. You see, no one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley. So we sailed ashore, took on an entirely new crew and he stayed aboard for awhile as first mate, all the time calling me Roberts. Once the crew believed, he left the ship and I have been Roberts ever since. Except, now that we’re together, I shall retire and hand the name over to someone else.

I’d hoped to get excerpts from these videos and show the different people that were carrying the “office” of Osama bin Laden, but it was sort of hard to find decent clips, and by the time I gathered some, the videos appeared with decreasing frequency. Still, I gathered a bunch of links.

Juries are stupid

Initially created May 2006. Post intended to vent about the reality reported by two articles; however, I’ve yet to find even a half-baked solution to this problem, so I never turned it into a real article (as per the rules).

Take heed the court stenographer

The second link used to point somewhere interesting, but now is just a place to buy drugs, which pisses me off all over again.

Making sausage

Initially created May 2006

A memo to my employees, the members if the United States Government:

I approach politics the way most Americans do, with lots of opinionated complaining a no real action. Sure, I’ll talk by the water cooler about which intern blew you when and where, or how much coke you did while attending an Ivy League school you weren’t really qualified to attend, or how they finally fished your girlfriend out of the river, or how old your former slave employee was when she bore your bastard child, or what contributor got which favor, or which particular lie you got busted for this time, but I don’t really care.

Most of my fellow Americans and I seem perfectly content to sit back and mostly ignore you, content in the knowledge that you are out there extending American hegemony.

The problem is: you suck at it now.

Sure, you’ve stumbled before….

Don’t make me get off the couch and overthrow your ass.

In darkest Mordor

Initially entered April 2006. This was meant to be the expansion of an offhand comment I made in an IM conversation about the “cartoon controversy”. The post has a central idea, but I could never make anything intelligent out of it.

How the Cartoon Protests Harm Muslims

If the Muslim world really desires the severing of all ties, maybe we should just surrender and put a wall up. Within 500 years, either they would have a renaissance of their own (see “Breeding the white out”) or they’d basically become orcs.

What do they import?

When the Sizzle is better than the Sausage

No relation to reality, indeed

Breeding the white out

Initially entered February 2006. I never turned this into anything more than an observation about the inevitable elimination of the palefaces.

A solution for Iraq

Initially entered February 2006

Get the “shadow government” to convince big wigs in Iraq that they should not fear democracy, because they’ll be able to manipulate it.

Another solution: leak a memo stating how glad we are that the sects are killing each other.

Things noticed from Fahrenheit 9/11:

  1. There is a scene showing a group of soldiers knocking on the door of a house and eventually detaining a guy living within, in view of his crying family. I think Moore intended for this scene to show how the “brutal fist of the evil U.S. Army” was smacking down the poor innocent civilians of Iraq. I took away something different from it. What struck me was, to my eyes, the complete overreaction of the crying civilians. Basically the soldiers knocked on the door and said “we’d like to talk to you” and the immediate civilian reaction was seemingly genuine terror, as if they were positive they were all going to get hacked into pieces and eaten within seconds. (What that means is that we are getting completely crushed in the propaganda war.)

    The Bush administration clearly thought (if they thought at all, which seems increasingly unlikely) that the reaction of most thinking Iraqi civilians would be something like “look at what the Americans did in Germany and Japan after World War II, maybe they’ll do the same here”. Instead, what reasonable Iraqis seemed to think was “here comes another bunch of white people to ‘colonize’ and oppress us.” Given Iraq’s history, this is a completely rational assumption.

  2. Compare the scene where a distraught Iraqi woman is crying hysterically and saying “please, God, kill them” with the crying of the American who lost her son.

Suggestions for virtual gesture standards

Initially entered January 2006

Eventually, and probably within the next few decades, a growing body of computer users will have reason to interact with 3D environments in a way that feels like manipulating actual objects in space, rather than clicking on a 2D screen. While the virtual reality concept of Neuromancer, Snow Crash and The Matrix seems to occupy the attention of pop culture, it’s probable that ‘immersive reality’, where computer generated objects are displayed overlaying real life, will become popular first. The most accessible demonstration of this idea takes place in the early portions of the film Minority Report, where the lead character uses ‘light gloves’ to interact objects he perceived to be floating in front of him (thanks to holographic screens). While holograms are a ways off, systems based on this idea (originally suggested by John Underkoffler) are already being built. I’m not sure what gesture interface these systems use, and I’ve remaining deliberately ignorant of it while writing this post.

I’ve been thinking about how you might use such as system (perhaps with glasses to give the illusion of objects floating in space) to sculpt three-dimensional objects. It seems to me that the gestures detailed below are the most natural for such a task. Most modelling systems can create basic shapes (cubes, spheres, etc.) but build a lot of complex interface to handle three basic properties of these primitives once created:

  • position: exact placement of the object in 3D-space
  • orientation: how the object is rotated relative to the xyz axes.
  • distortion: how the object deviates from its initial shape relative to other shapes (for example, being scaled larger) or within itself (for example, if part of the object is stretched from its initial position)

One of the less obvious problems in 3D modeling is that when altering one property, it is often difficult to control, or even identify, how your action might change the other properties. For example, if you click on a point on an object, then drag in some direction, will the object shift its position, keeping its orientation? Will it rotate around a central point? Will the part that you clicked pull away from the rest of the object?

The answer to this is usually that it depends on what tool is selected. I think a gesture system could make this much easier, by having the gesture being used imply the operation you want. As someone who “draws pictures in the air” during conversations, I think the following gestures are fairly intuitive (bear in mind these are specifically for manipulating 3D models, not a generic 3D interface):

Never got around to sussing these out. I now lack the desire. For some reason this link was at the end of this draft.

Poser data for RPS-25

Initially entered January 2006. It would have been world-shattering. For free, the world would have Poser data for all the hand positions of RPS-25, to render the epic battles in high definition, 3D goodness. Unfortunately, even I apparently don’t have that much time to waste. I’m too busy playing RPS-101.


Initially entered September 2005

I am a dangerous man. In my Home Depot bag, I hold a substance so devastating it is kept under lock and key, only sold to those the government has deemed worthy of it.

This article was supposed to be an attempt to paint me as an Orginal Gangster for the “edgy, high-crime” lifestyle of buying goddamn spraypaint, which was kept in locked cages in my county, requiring a manager to open, due to a dumb local law. It was actually supposed to be a sort of investigative journalism type piece, doing interviews with both the managers of the stores affected as well as the idiots who signed it into law. I never did figure out what the reason was, though graffiti and huffing seemed like popular bugbears. In any case, it looks like this law got either overturned or exempted to the point that Home Depot no longer has the cages. So my wrath as been quelled, for the moment.

Billions shift from side to side

Initially entered July 2005. As you will be able to tell, I never really figured out what I was saying here.

Sometimes I get images in my head that make perfect sense to me, but have difficulty explaining them.

People are sheep.

If you modeled advances of the human population as a flow of particles that gathered around specific memes, the result would look fluid, but unlike a fluid, all the advances come from those who do not follow the herd, pulling the collective in a different direction. Could this idea be used to predict things? In other words, model as a fluid that has these attractors on the fringes.

[Liberal graph that Rob mentioned, Economic and some other axis as example]. Now imagine there were more than two axes. Things like “degree of religious observance” and “feelings about self-image”.

I hate the word meme, because it seems like you only ever hear it from the same people that say stuff like “if hierarchy presupposes sameness…”.

When whoever it is decides that “pink is the new black”, the masses shift toward a point in the space representing this idea. I’m not sure what the flow would look like, but instinctively it seems to me that it would have some characteristics of a fluid. Thinking about it now, the picture in my head sort of looks like Galactica.

There would be an unfluid characteristic though: innovators.

O’Reilly’s alpha geek strategy. Fashion industry tracking “cool people”. But that’s social. What about using math?

Visual debugging

Initially entered July 2005. This is another picture in my head that I cannot quite articulate.

Existing debuggers seem to think that what people need is more and more features. Wrong. What they need is vision, the ability to see what is going on in a malfunctioning process.

Shows a time line of a value weaving through the code. Blocks of data that expand when you look at them. Lines indicating a path through the code (would remember even if you didn’t step). Threads as threads of code on the screen, controlling them visually.

No little panes.

Order vs. Chaos

Initially entered May 2005

Reading Swarm Intelligence recently, I was struck by a comment that nature tends to organize. While this seems true to me, it flies in the face of the second law of thermodynamics, which holds that everything moves toward disorder. These two concepts can easily be combined into a flaky pop philosophy, which I will spell out now.

Part of this philosophy was to involve the weird kind of numerology that nature seems to use, where it tends to spontaneously organize things in particular ways, with certain units clustering in certain numbers. Those numbers are “two” (e.g. quarks in a meson, parents in sexual reproduction), “three” (e.g. quarks in a proton, licks to the center of a Tootsie-pop), “a few” (e.g. atoms in a molecule, wolves in a pack) and “a hundred billion or so” (e.g. atoms in a DNA molecule, stars in a galaxy, cells in an organ). That is, when natural parts gather in certain numbers, they become something greater. The pop-philosophy would fixate on what sort of ascension happens when 100 billion human brains come together.

Other parts of the idea were to focus on the natural tension between emergent order and entropy, but I couldn’t make it sound like anything other than the metaplot of season four of Babylon 5.

Computers in role-playing

Initially entered May 2005. I think laptops at a gaming table have still not really reached their potential. Seeing this projection system made me want to gather a bunch of ideas about using computers in tabletop role-playing together, but it never happened. Maybe someday.

Things I will never see

Initially entered August 2004.

  • A reenactment of the Nazis marching into Paris, but using the music and choreography of Michael Jackson’s Thriller instead of goose-stepping.

Months with a Mini 9

June 3rd, 2009 — Wordman

Since Dell has discontinued the Mini 9, now seems like a good to to share some observations on two months of living with Mac OS X running on Mini 9 hardware. My friend’s living with it, I mean. In no particular order:

  • Dell’s suggested replacement for the Mini 9, the Mini 10v, has a screen that, in spite of being physically larger, contains fewer pixels. The Mini 9’s screen is 1024×600, while the Mini 10v’s is 1024×576.
  • I’d guess that those who were thinking about getting a Mini 9 will now buy the just announced EeePC 1008HA (Seashell), which looks a lot like a smaller version of the MacBook Air, done in plastic. It haven’t seen a post of anyone installing OS X on it, but it’s just a matter of time.
  • The battery on the Mini 9 can handle playing about three hours of DVD quality video ripped into MP4 or AVI or what have you. Supposedly the latest OS release (10.5.7) improves this by an hour or so.
  • Being only 600 pixels high, the screen of the Mini 9 isn’t large enough to handle HD video. If you rip video at it’s native resolution, though, it looks pretty dang good.
  • The OS X 10.5.7 update is tricky to install. Likely all such OS updates are. My friend has yet to do this successfully. When he, not thinking about it that clearly, ran the standard updater, all seemed to go well, but once completed, when the boot process should have drawn the menubar and the desktop, the video went wiggy.
  • It is possible to do a full Time Machine restore on an Mini 9. This starts off like installing OS X the first time, where you boot from a bootloader CD, then throw in a Leopard install disk. Instead of doing the install, though, one of the menu choices allows you to restore from Time Machine. This largely works, with two caveats. First, even if you are connected with Ethernet, you need to connect to a wireless network before starting the restore. Seems like this is the only way to get the networking to set up properly. Secondly, once the restore is done, the machine may not boot until you reinstall the DellEFI, similar to as described here.
  • Consequently, the mydellmini project is your friend.
  • The keyboard layout on the Mini 9 is insane. So much so, that some kibosh the whole idea just because of the keyboard. Swapping the Alt and Cmnd keys (taking off the chicklets and moving them) is a necessity, and most will probably want to swap the semicolon and quotation keys as well.
  • The lack of scrolling on the trackpad remains a problem. All posts on the topic seem to be obsessed with two-finger scrolling, but even something like what SideTrack does would be useful. Update: done!.
  • You can apparently buy clunky multi-cell batteries that would probably allow watching video the whole way across the Atlantic. These don’t fit inside the case entirely, so act a bit like a riser.
  • The Mini 9 apparently fits in the back pocket of 511 Tactical Pants.
  • The built-in Secure Digital card reader is more useful than expected, particularly on trips, where it allows you to access your pictures without a bunch of extra crap.
  • As mentioned in the previous post, Spaces adds more to a machine like this that it does to others. The free iTerm makes this even better, because it offers a full screen mode for terminals.
  • The AC adaptor that comes with the Mini 9 can handle European current, so all you need is a little adapter, rather than a voltage converter.
  • The machine works really well for tabletop RPGs, particularly if you get used to using PDFs in full page mode (which requires remembering some keyboard shortcuts, particularly for searching and switching display modes). Software like Yep can also help in finding what you need quickly.
  • Still haven’t tried Warcraft on the thing.