…and the triple

Superstition holds that celebrity deaths come in threes, but the latest triple seems much stranger than most. Watching the coverage of the funerals of James Brown, Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein showcases how completely different these three men were. Watching these pageants, I couldn’t help but think there was some Jungian connection between it all, but can’t quite flush it out. Instead, stray observations, in no particular order:

  • While I understand the desire to represent the different branches of the armed forces at a state funeral, the mismatched uniforms of the pallbearers made the whole thing look sloppy. Maybe if there was a unified pallbearer uniform, with different insignia or something, it wouldn’t look like a bunch of guys were just picked up in a van by someone hanging out the window saying “yo! wanna carry the president?”
  • Michael Jackson may have been the only white guy invited to the James Brown funeral.
  • I’m pleased that it took very little time for the video of Saddam’s execution to hit the net. This suggests that the internet is infiltrating the Middle East more than I’d guessed. This will do more to advance freedom in the region than anything else.
  • Henry Kissinger may have finally crossed over into being a full lich.
  • It’s only a matter of time before someone suggests that Ford and Hussein coverage stealing the thunder from James Brown was a conspiracy of The Man.
  • Given that Betty Ford is rightfully praised for her public acknowledgment of her past addiction, the degree to which most of the talking heads in the press avoided mentioning “her problems” seemed somewhat insulting.
  • Americans are falling behind in the number of bullets shot into the air in celebration. (Where do these bullets go, anyway?)
  • My German father-in-law looked at the military aspect of the Ford funeral and suggested that if Germans saw a similar ceremony for a German politician, there would be an outcry that the Nazis had returned. Not sure if that’s true, but I was surprised by the comment.
  • Coloradoans give better-looking tributes than those inside the beltway.
  • The lack of former presidents at the Ford funeral surprised me. Bush, in particular, didn’t seem to care much about any of these deaths, other than as an opportunity to hint at his delusion that history will judge him well.
  • A tip to the choir: when someone in the audience passes out, just keep smiling and singing.

Upgrade

I finally upgraded this site to the latest version of WordPress. Although it was not strictly necessary, I completely recreated my theme from scratch based on the new default theme, so some parts of the site may be a little strange looking. If you see any weird problems, please post a comment here.

Update: I have also added style definitions that should make the pages more readable on mobile devices (where previously they were illegible). Unfortunately, there is not much consistency for style support in mobile devices, so it may not work for you. Leave a comment if you have an issue on a mobile.

Confession

I have a confession to make: I don’t care about the JonBenet Ramsey case. I didn’t care when it happened, and I don’t care now. I will admit to being morally outraged about the “dress up five year olds like Texan whores” thing…ok, no I wasn’t. That part was a bit creepy, but I didn’t care much about that either.

I am therefore supremely qualified to make a prediction about the case. From the handful of three-second snippets I’ve heard on it, I predict the following:

  1. The guy that confessed didn’t actually kill JonBenet.
  2. The guy is, however, a pedophile. (White guy in Bangkok == pedophile)
  3. The guy has done bad things to kids, including murder (just not of JonBenet).
  4. He feels remorse over his actions.
  5. His remorse (and wanting to be famous) has led him to confess so that he can be punished.

You heard it here first. Or, hell, maybe someone else has already made this prediction. I wouldn’t know.

My career as a fortune-teller is not off to a very good start, since I’m making a prediction that will be completely unambiguous if it comes true or not. I should have put it in a quatrain about “one with a receding hairline” or something to be more cryptic.

Not that ambiguity would really matter, since people seem to fill in the blanks even when there are none. Take this comparison of a drawing a psychic made in 1998 predicting the appearance of JonBenet’s killer with the guy that confessed:

While upwards of 20 whole seconds of Googling couldn’t find a public version of this picture posted prior to three days ago, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt on that for now, since it is not particularly relevant to my point here. Which is: many people are freaking out over the similarity of the pictures. But…what similarity?

If you think these two look the same, what about these pictures suggests that? They both show a thin white guy? Check. With a receding hairline? Check. With similar eye shape? Maybe a little. With a combover? Uh… no. With a similar nose? No. With a remotely similar jaw line or head shape? No. With ears in the same position? No. With similar lip structure? No. With similar eyebrow bushiness? No. I, too, could have drawn a skinny white guy and been just as “accurate”.

I’d like to believe in mental powers beyond those of mortals as much as anyone, but real evidence of this is…limited. Psychics continue to succeed because humans are experts at finding patterns where there are none and see things that are not there, like “similarity” in these pictures.

Even a broken watch is right twice a day

Gaming guru Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British) gave an interview about his new on-line game recently, and one quote leapt at me:

Even though we chow on lots of bandwidth…the cost of bandwidth has come down so low. Now the biggest expense to us is electricity. On one server set we pay more money on electricity than on bandwidth. Bandwidth is really no longer the dominant factor to push value to our customers.

Back while Wired was jumping the shark (a process unquestionably completed by issue 5.03 and started much earlier), it published an article by George Gilder predicting essentially this, that an era would come where people would “waste bandwidth and save watts.”

My instinct usually led me to distrust Gilder, a feeling that was confirmed by his later founding of the Discovery Institute; however, in spite of using the word “paradigm” far to often (i.e. more than zero times), at the time I thought this Wired article prediction was correct. I remember getting into an argument about it not long after the article was published with a gamer buddy of mine. I felt that companies who built technology assuming they had infinite bandwidth would eventually crush those who invested energies into technology that assumed bandwidth was scarce. My buddy disagreed. The argument petered out when we realized that we were thinking about very different time scales. My buddy was thinking about the next five years. I was thinking about the next 50. Looks like I only needed to wait 10.

Actually, I was probably wrong back then, because I ignored the other half of Gilder’s point: that electricity would become scarce. While most of the first world is worried about terrorism, immigration, global environmental problems and which celebrities are breeding, power generation is more likely than all of them combined to bring down the first world. Imagine that you knew that world electricity consumption (around 12.8 TW now) was going to more than double by 2050 (to 28-35 TW) and were given the task to figure out where this power would come from. To get this power, would you:

  1. Burn every plant, even food, growing over the entire agricultural landmass of the planet.
  2. Build one new nuclear fission (or, conceivably, fusion) reactor every three days, starting now, until 2050.
  3. Saturate every spot of land traversed by winds strong enough to produce electricity with windmills.
  4. Dam every remaining undammed river on earth.
  5. Continue to suck every possible source of petroleum for all it’s worth, and find as much more as you can.
  6. Improve efficiency in existing power generation
  7. Somehow harness the power of the sun

It turns out that even if you did all of the first four, none of which are actually practical, you’d only barely be able to meet your target. Option 5 is the likely reality and, while opinions vary on exactly how much petroleum-based fuel remains, all agree that whatever the quantity is, it is both finite and non-renewable. It’s also fairly certain that the geopolitics surrounding oil that have been such a source of joy over the last few decades will only get more ugly. Eventually, this will probably get bad enough that option six will become economical. Chances are, this will improve things; however, it is most likely that any efficiencies will be in the area of petroleum-based power and, since this is non-renewable, such a solution ultimately becomes useless.

One thing we have a lot of, however, is sunlight and water. We can build fuel cells that combine hydrogen with air to produce water and energy. If sunlight could be harnessed to convert water to hydrogen, very large quantities of power could be generated in a renewable way. Barring something like antimatter reactors, only the sun contains the energy potential we’re likely to need. Unfortunately, we don’t actually know enough fundamental chemistry to solve this problem yet. One of my rules is to suggest solutions, and to this problem, I have none. I know of those who are working on one, though.

The Nocera Lab at MIT (the source I’ve used for the numbers and information above) is working on this exact problem. I’d trust their ability to hit on a solution over mine. An interesting prediction of the leader of this lab (mentioned in a lecture at a private company) is that every key advance in chemistry in the next few decades is likely to have something to do with power.

Another potential solution comes from the much less prestigious (bordering on flaky) Living Universe Foundation. While this group has grand plans for space colonization, the early stage of their plan is more grounded, involving building platform “cities” on the oceans. Whether of not these will be true cities, these platforms would be built around a large Stirling engine that would use the temperature differential between the surface and several dozen feet under water to generate electricity, which would then be used to extract hydrogen from water. Essentially, the power input into these systems is also the sun, as it is what heats the surface water.

Whatever occurs, if Gilder’s contention that “every economic era is based on a key abundance and a key scarcity” is true, the scarcity over my lifetime is likely to be electricity until someone ushers in the hydrogen age. Whether the “key abundance” will turn out to be bandwidth or not remains to be seen, but it’s as good a guess as any.

“On the other hand, what if we threw a war and everybody showed up?”

Which of the following is an impeachable offense for a United States President?:

  1. Spending most of your presidency under the influence of mind-altering chemicals.
  2. Using various government agencies to eavesdrop/investigate political enemies (take your pick).
  3. Privately negotiating with an enemy nation to keep American hostages in captivity until after you are elected.
  4. Selling weapons to an enemy nation and using the proceeds to fund the former forces of a dictator to oppose the elected government that deposed him.
  5. Being unable to remember that you sold weapons to an enemy nation and used the proceeds to fund the former forces of a dictator to oppose the elected government that deposed him.
  6. Abandoning allies after they defeated your sworn enemy, then ignoring them as they build a regime that ultimately attacks the US.
  7. Allowing a satellite owned by a political contributer to be launched by a foreign power.
  8. Lying to congress about an extramarital blowjob.
  9. Lying to congress about the reasons for taking the country to war.

(Extra credit for Ann Coulter: which of the above are treasonous?)

Clearly #8 is the correct answer, as it actually happened. I think everything else on the list is monumentally more severe, however. Item #9 became more topical a few weeks ago, when Bush held an interview that gave the distinct impression that a) he would have invaded Iraq anyway and b) he was not interested in invading Iran, a country that arguably is trying to develop WMDs. Some have taken this as a concrete admission that he lied about why we are at war, though it’s pretty clear the administration has been backpedaling on the reasons for war for some time.

While there will be some easily forgotten furor from the left about this, it won’t turn out to be nearly the uprising that it probably should be and some really foaming voices on the left will wonder why, genuinely baffled that the public isn’t furious for being duped.

I think the reason the public won’t be furious is that none of them were really that misled. Take you, for example: did you honestly, truly, deep-down believe that Saddam Hussein was rapidly preparing nukes, chemical and germ weapons to the extent that attacks with them against the US were a imminent threat clear and present danger? I didn’t. I don’t know anyone who did. I don’t know anyone who thought that the “WMD rationale” was anything other than a pretext.

Basically, the public gave Bush a pass on lying to us, just like we seem to always do with our leaders. I suspect we won’t be so forgiving about the lie that more executive power is needed to make us safe, but more on that later.

Out Classed

After screwing up yesterday’s post about a class action suit, I spent a while prowling the net for photos of the actual class council (rather than the defendant’s lawyers). In looking for information on Seth A. Safier, Esq., came across another class action lawsuit he settled. This one accused a software store of selling used CDs as new.

Two things jump out at me:

  1. The settlement is much the same as the Netflix settlement: a piddling award for the “victims”, no admission of guilt or permanent change to the business and a sizable paycheck for the attorneys.
  2. The class representative is also named Chavez.

Draw your own conclusions.

Classless

I’m not the only blogger to mention this, but in this case the wider the message gets the better. My e-mail queue tells me that, though I no longer use Netflix

You are receiving this notice because you were a paid Netflix member before January 15, 2005. Under a proposed class action settlement, you may be eligible to receive a free benefit from Netflix.

A class action lawsuit entitled Chavez v. Netflix, Inc. was filed in San Francisco Superior Court (case number CGC-04-434884) on September 23, 2004. The lawsuit alleges that Netflix failed to provide “unlimited” DVD rentals and “one day delivery” as promised in its marketing materials. Netflix has denied any wrongdoing or liability. The parties have reached a settlement that they believe is in the best interests of the company and its subscribers.

The “free benefit” would be “a free one-month Netflix membership on your choice of the 1, 2 or 3 DVDs at-a-time unlimited program”. Yee haw. I’ve not been this excited since those bastards at Apple had to pay me $0.35 because they sold me a “17-inch monitor” that really only had 16.8-inches of viewable image on it. I am now served so much better as a consumer since the ads started saying “16.8-inches viewable monitor”.

On the settlement web site, buried in the full text of the settlement, is the following:

8.1 Subject to Court approval, Netflix shall pay $2,000 to the Class Representative.
8.2 Subject to Court approval, Netflix agrees to pay Class Counsel up to, and will not contest the reasonableness of, $2,528,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

The Class Counsel in this case is:

Adam Gutride, Esq.
835 Douglass Street
San Francisco, California 94114
Seth A. Safier, Esq.
6467 California
San Francisco, California 94121

Fortunately, buried even further into the settlement is this line:

11.1 Netflix shall have the right to terminate this Agreement and the settlement in the event that greater than 5% of the eligible Class Members opt-out of the settlement.

That makes it pretty clear what I’m going to do. Opting out is fairly easy and one Class Member has put together a form letter you can use. It’ll cost you a stamp, though. Fortunately for me, the check I got from Apple (plus interest) should cover my stamp.

Thanks to AS for providing advice and additional links and RS for the firm links.

Update: Initial post listed Netflix’s lawyers as the class counsel. D’oh! Sorry all. Corrected above.