Saturday, December 29, 2007

What isn't Science?

Growing up one of my favourite books was "The Five Biggest Ideas in Science." They are: physics' model of the atom, chemistry's periodic law, the big bang, plate tectonics, and evolution. It struck me recently that only the first two of these were the result of experimentation. That is to say they are big ideas in science, though they may not be ideas of science.

Darwin had been studying plate tectonics when he took his voyage on the HMS Beagle. That helped instill the idea that things change slowly over time. As he toured the islands of South America he made meticulous observations that came to help him develop his ideas of evolution.

I would be hard pressed to call what Darwin did 'science'. Is it science because his work was meticulous? I have known meticulous biblical scholars and historians. They are not scientists. Is it science because it applies to life/biology? The bible has something to say about where life came from but is certainly not science. Is it science because he was right? I know it is creeping into our culture that science has a monopoly on truth, but we all know that isn't so. Nor do I believe that any combination of the above qualifications are sufficient for science.

There are many ways to investigate the world. Science is one of them. Dogmatism is another. But there seems to be room for yet another. I like to call it relational analysis. That method of investigation that is rooted in observation and theory, is open to revision, but lacks the experimentation, the transparency and repeatability of science. This would include that which Darwin did on the Galapagos Islands.

Perhaps he was doing philosophy. His thoughts were a delicate balance between the empiricism of science and the rationalism of philosophy. I would like to think that science is a form of relational analysis, is a form of philosophy.

I have already contrasted it with science in that it doesn't use experimentation. If you consider the experiment as the highest quality observation, you can say relational analysis makes use of quantity.

As science is one form of relational analysis, the questions of science are a subset of the questions of relational analysis. Relational analysis can also be concerned with other relationships that do not lend themselves to scientific inquiry. "How do the books I read affect how I interact with my family?" This question is important, but far too specific to qualify for laboratory time. However, casual observations over time can reveal deep insight into this question and thus how to tweak family relationships by wisely choosing literature and an appropriate amount of reading time. Questions like "What sort of citizen make for a stable society?" are far too general to get a handle on with science. Relational analysis can help give science a starting point.

It is possible for people to not do relational analysis as it is possible for people to not do science or philosophy. Some people do not trust themselves to interpret the world around them, and leave it to others to figure out what is going on. Others believe they have figured out what is going on and are no longer revising their paradigms. Still others believe the world cannot be understood and don't try.

As one can do science, philosophy and theology poorly, one can be a poor relational analyst. A trailing indicator of a good analyst would be whether they have health, happiness and influence. The leading indicators would be the types of observations they make and how they are synthesized into theories. Do they weight history to heavily, or too lightly? Do they under or over generalize? Do they focus on non-essential elements? These are all leading indicators of a quality analyst.

While it is possible to do relational analysis rigorously it is unnecessary. Narrative is a really good tool to develop analyst skills. Internalizing narratives, fantastic, absurd or true to life, help one to grow a vocabulary of natural mechanisms that can be extrapolated to the real world and help make sense of it. And in the end that is what it is really all about.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Obama’s Digital Policy

Syndicated from Freedom to Tinker

The Iowa caucuses, less than a week away, will kick off the briefest and most intense series of presidential primaries in recent history. That makes it a good time to check in on what the candidates are saying about digital technologies. Between now and February 5th (the 23-state tsunami of primaries that may well resolve the major party nominations), we’ll be taking a look.

First up: Barack Obama.
(Read More)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Trust Chaining

I might finally get a chance to use it. Trust Chaining is an idea I had a few years ago during my West Wing phase. I was big on political theory, governance and public policy.

One of the things that didn't make sense to me was why people wouldn't vote. I knew so many people who told me they didn't vote but couldn't give me a reason as to why. Out of frustration I said 'If you're not going to use your vote, do you mind if I do?' And there it was born.

The idea is to let people vote for anybody they want. When I vote for you, you then are given the power of my vote, and all others that voted for you. As each person votes for somebody they trust that is slightly more informed than they were, there is a chain created from the people to an informed decision that reflects their interests.

I know you are squeamish about the idea. So is everybody else. Until they consider themselves having to be represented by somebody they don't know, rather than somebody they have a long trusting history with.

And since you asked, no I am not so naive to think there aren't a few technical issues. I'm sure you can think of a few. I have a plan for all that I have thought of and all that have been brought to my attention. There are a lot, and I won't get into them now.

I would really like to see it put into action. Most know that there is a need for something a little more nuanced than what we currently use to make collective decisions. I would really like to see how Trust Chaining stacks up against other solutions.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Recommended Viewing - Story of Stuff

full movie link

The entire presentation is so simple it really is a testament to the power of minimalism. I wouldn't be surprised to find she was wearing homespun hemp.

It is a brilliant introduction to the vocabulary we need to talk about this sort of stuff. If you don't have to words how do you talk about fixing it?

She talks about:
]|[ Materials economy
]|[ Planned obsolescence
]|[ Perceived obsolescence
]|[ Externalized costs and more.

If you are looking for the meat of the information it is all neatly documented in the annotated script in the resources section. Also be sure to check out the blog and subscribe to the feed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I am Legend Review

Intro: A news cast explaining how cancer had been cured by re-engineering a virus. Then a flash to the post-apocalyptic New York City. From the peanut gallery a voice rang out, "Maybe they should bring back cancer!" The entire theater laughed. It was a good initiation into the humorously sincere sci-fi film. It was too bad the guy next to me took it as a license to editorialize the rest of the movie.

Writer, Mark Protosevich, made really good use of Smith. The quiet drama. The syncopated humor. Exactly what you would expect from a Smith film. What I didn't expect was the treatment of time. Protosevich interplayed the back story with the main line in a way that most wouldn't have, but it was effective.

What I really liked about the writing was the use of the volume of literature that has been generated about "I am Legend". Protosevich used it all, but he used it to tell a minimal narrative that was rich in imagery. He didn't feel the need to tell all of the stories, but rather he let a few subtle details find their way into the background. It was an excuse to really engage yourself in the environment.

There was also an unconventional depiction of the zombies. They weren't the typical mindless automatons. They were intelligent and innovative, if not resourceful. It spoke of the new world paradigm that an enemy to be defeated must be respected.

I recommend this film to those that appreciate sincere story telling. Yes, there are zombies and action sequences, but it always comes back to an honest examination of Robert Neville.

Super Mario Forever

Watch, laugh, play.

Game: Rom and JNes Emulator in WinRar Archive
WinRar: To open WinRar Archive

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Philosophical Node

It is not uncommon for anybody to be faced with the situation to want something they can't have. For whatever reason many go through life without the things they want most. When I see these things I can't have I am often tempted to wish I could step outside of the reality that is keeping us apart and take it.

I see big screen TV's, mobile electronics, clothes, books and wonder why I can't have them. Then, conversely, I sometimes wonder why I have the things I do.

A way that helps me to understand both questions is the idea of the philosophical node.

To understand the philosophical node imagine you cannot leave your house. Even more, other people cannot come into your home. Your only method of communication is the phone. Now you know what a node is. It is a communication station. You can send messages out, others can send messages in. And you can make records of all communications, in and out.

Imagine further now. You are a very rich person. You can make calls to people and get them to do anything you need. They can bring things to the house for you, they can take things away for you, they can tell you what is happening outside of the house, or anything else you tell them to do.

As you spend money you also need to earn money. If you don't you will eventually not be able to get people to bring you food. You learn to earn money over the phone too. You could do this by trading stocks. You could do this by consulting on various types of issues. There are unlimited ways you could do this.

I am getting close having you in the mindset I am hoping for. There is just one more alteration that needs to be made to the illustration. Your windows are frosted over and you cannot see outside of the house.

You now have four channels of interaction with the outside world: your bank account, your phone, delivery, and pick up. It may seem like a strange sort of existence, but you might be surprised to know that you are doing it now. So to speak.

This house is you.

Your bank account represents everything you own including your real bank account. Pick up and delivery represent various bodily functions. The speaker on the phone is analogous to your senses. And you in the house is similar to your mind or spirit (please ignore the recursion).

I go to my house occasionally to help me answer questions about my assumptions and prejudices. What you can do by living in this house for a while is understand your perception. Consider how while in your house you get phone calls and use them to create an image of what is happening outside of your home.

I find it interesting that a person without a phone book in their house will behave very differently than one that does. A person who knows short hand will behave differently than one that doesn't. Seemingly small things that will have very large effects on how the four channels of interaction will connect with the world outside.

To connect back to my opening point, having or not having what you want is a larger effect of these patterns of interactions. What you have access to, and what you don't, happens because of the resources in your house. Understanding what is getting in the way, what resources you lack, and how to use what you have are ways to create new ways of interacting with the world outside.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Commitment Myths

1. "Are you committed or not?"
2. "My commitments are my decisions."
3. "Fear of commitment"

1. "Are you committed or not?"

Commitment is not binary. It is not a matter of yes or no, but to what degree. It is very difficult to get all of your resources pointed toward a certain outcome. Resources include your bank account, your reputation, your friends, your family, your body, your mind and perhaps others. So to the question of are you 100% committed, the answer is unbelievably likely no.

2. "My commitments are my decisions."

Yes, many commitments start as ideas and decisions. And some even start as your ideas and decisions. But not all.

Consider the company you work for was just bought out by Big Tobacco. Your commitments have just changed. That is not to say that this would be enough to make everyone loyal to Big Tobacco but, like it or not, this would align your interests with theirs. That is to say that it would now be better for you to protect Big Tobacco than it was before you started working for them.

Consider the following value chain. Your income has value. This gives your job value. And that gives you company value. All of which gives the preservation of that company and all that it depends on a value.

An interesting note is that you don't even have to know that you have been bought out to be newly committed. That is to say the above value chain is still valid even if you are not aware of its implications. You are committed to something without knowing it.

3. "Fear of commitment"

This is a contradiction of terms. Fear *is* a commitment. It may very well be fear, but it is not of commitment. For commitments are not created but transfered. We are all committed to something. The fear would be of the implications of the potential commitment, not of commitment itself.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

FreeCell Game 4

FreeCell MetaPost

Stack kc to 9c <===== Objective
---------- <===== Hints
Bank 4s <===== End State
Cards left 50

Stack Qc -> Jh -> 10s -> 9h -> 8s -> 7d
Bank empty
Cards left 49

Clear column 7
Bank Qh

Stack Ks to 8h
Use col 3
Bank 9s 6d
Cards left 48

Stack Kc to 9s
Put Kc in col 7
Jd on Qs
Bank 8c
Cards left 47

Stack Ks to 3c
9d on 10c
Bank 4c

Stack Kd to 6s
Kh to col 4
Stack Kh to 3h
Bank 4c
Cards left 45

Clear col 5
Clear col 8

Saturday, November 3, 2007

FreeCell Game 3

FreeCell MetaPost

Clear col 5 <===== Objective
---------- <===== Hints
Bank 9h 6h Qs 6s <===== End State
Cards left: 49

Column 5 Stack Kd to 8c
4s -> 5h
Use 10s, 9h
Bank 6h 6s
Cards left: 48

Stack Qc to 9d
5s -> 6d -> 7s
9s -> 10d -> Jc -> Qh -> Ks
Bank 6d 6c 6s
Cards left: 45

Stack Kc to 2d
2d -> 3s

Clear col 8

Clean up

FreeCell Game 2

FreeCell Meta Post

Stack col 2 Kh to 9d <===== Objective
10h -> 9s -> 8d <===== Hints
10s -> 9d
Bank Jc 5s <===== End State
Cards left: 50

Clear col 6
Bank 5s Jc 4h 6c
Cards left: 50

Stack col 6 6d to 3s
Bank Jc
Cards left: 50

Stack Col 2
Kh to 2c
Use 8s
Bank Jc
Cards left: 48

Stack col 1 Qd to 3s
Use 10d not 10h
Use 8d not 8h
Bank 4d
Cards left:48

Stack col 6 Ks to 8h
Bank Kc
Cards left: 48

Stack col 7 Kd to 7h
Bank Ks 5d
Cards left: 45

Clear col 4

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Video Links

I have talked about them to enough people so I figure I might as well post them. Enjoy.


]|[ ArsDigita
This was an MIT program to offer free IT education to deserving students. It lasted one year. The lectures and course material are very good. Use this link to navigate the lectures and use this link to stream them. Not all courses are available for streaming.

]|[ MIT Course Lectures
Look for for complete video courses and for selected videos from the course.

]|[ Berkley Course Lectures
Note the drop down in the top right to switch between semesters going back to 2001, and the column on the right indicating video or audio.

]|[ WGBH Forums
Lecturers invited to speak to small classes around Boston. (The videos will load with a little persistence.)

]|[ TED Technology, Entertainment Design
Very slick site. The presentations are minimal but very sophisticated. Highly recommended.

]|[ MIT World
Presentations and forums on MIT. There is a lot of stuff here you won't want, but there is a lot of good stuff here too. Use the navigation drop downs, top right.


]|[ Fifth Estate
CBC => Click on "Web Feature", then the picture on the right to stream. Not all stories are available for stream.

]|[ Frontline
PBS => Slick site. Slick documentaries. American politics and economics.

]|[ Frontline World
PBS => Not as slick as the above. Use the drop down menu.

]|[ Nova
PBS => Science. Looks good, but navigation is not great.

]|[ EXPOSÉ America's Investigative Reports
PBS => Documentaries cataloging how big newspapers stories were cracked.


]|[ The CTV Broadband Network
This site has shows from CTV, MTV, CTV News, The Comedy Network, TSN and the Discovery Channel.

]|[ The Big Picture
CBC => Town hall discussions about documentaries.

]|[ The Hour
CBC => Culture and politics. Not slick, but earnest.


]|[ The National
CBC National News

]|[ CTV National News

]|[ Compass
CBC => PEI local news.

]|[ PEI Legislative Assembly Stream


]|[ Pause Music Videos
A bunch of music videos with a flash interface.

]|[ Smashing Telly
The best of full length features on the web. You can also get feeds for each category by typing 'feed' at the end of any category url.

]|[ Exposure
CBC => Independent short films and videos. There is no global feed but there is a feed for each tag. If you want to find them I suggest you use FireFox and click the RSS button in the address bar.

]|[ Zed
CBC => Independent short films and videos. This show is now discontinued, but the content is still very good.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Google, Mail Bucket, et al.

My Email Management System uses the following services and a few more. This is how I have these services work together.

Google Customized Home Page
Google Reader
Google Reader Widget

Many of my feeds start as emails in my inbox that I find don't need a response. There were a lot of them. I had several hundered unread email in my inbox when I started doing this.

Identify a group of emails that are not spam but you don't want in your inbox. Use gmail's filter to forward the email to I typically archive the email and give it some label so that it remains searchable in gmail, but you can simply delete it if you wish.

All email that get sent to are now part of a (public) feed at I now import this feed into google's feed reader. Most of these feeds go to my info label in the reader.

Please note the MailBucket Feeds are updated every hour and will not appear in the feed right away. A list of the last ten emails are available at

On my google/ig home page (and it really is a page that feels like home) I add the google reader widget and set the label to info.

Now to trace this back:

The email is sent
It arrives at my gmail account
It gets forwarded to a mailbucket account
It gets converted to an RSS feed
The feed is picked up my google reader
The reader files the item under info
The info label is read by my google/ig widget

Among my feeds are


Volume Tracker helps with distortion

Volume Tracker:

The XP Volume Control (sndvol32.exe) has two bars that affect most of the sound that comes from my computer, the Main volume control and the Wave volume control.

With casual use I found that the highest distortion happened with Main low and Wave at max. And the least distortion when Main is at max regardless of where Wave stands. Unfortunately the main methods for accessing volume, buttons on laptops and convenient software controls, control Main.

There is a long term solution with:

Volume Tracker

Volume Tracker maps the Main setting to the Wave setting so they are always equal. (It can really be set to mirror any of the settings on your mixer if you wish.) This avoids the situation of having Wave very high, and Main very low, and limiting the amount of distortion you have to deal with.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


You: IQ tests are flawed.
Me: Why would you say that?
You:They only measure a thin slice of what intelligence is.
Me:You think they do mearsure that part reliably though?
Me:I would say IQ tests are good for something as long as you know its limits. You can't do your taxes with a hammer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Acquiring proficiencies by oscilating centralization

I still have to work on the title but it goes something like that. It is about the way I learn, and probably most other too. It applies to getting good at complex tasks. Say driving, relationships, or brushing your teeth. Any task could be seen as complex, I guess. It doesn't work much for achiving perfection, but rather proficency (or the hyperbole of proficency).

Oscilationg centralization means to swing back and forth between centralization and decentralization. How does that apply to learning.. Ummm.

Say the first part to getting good at something is to do it the first time, by any means necessary. If you need to get from A to Z, at this point the important part is getting to Z, not that it took you 56 steps or that you happened to pass by R eight times.

Now consider that you have just done this for the first time and it took you 56 steps. Now you are asked to race against others to get from A to Z. What are you going to do? Probably the same 56 steps, only faster. That is the centralized effort. Centralized in the sense that all of you is centered on this one problem.

If you only attack this problem with a centralized effort the algorithm probably won't get much below 56 steps, which is why you need the decentralized effort.

The decentralized effort is not simply to be dealing with more than one problem, but when different parts of you are dealing with their own problems. Sleep is the ultimate in personal decentralization which is why we get tripped out imagery and thoughts we normally don't. As the different centers do their own thing and communicate casually with each other new elements connect that perhaps never have before. Like, say, microwaves and cooking.

So as part of you is working on this problem you have solved before, though crudely, parts of you are solving other problems and your mind may wander. As this happens interconnections do their thing and you get ideas about how to go about the problem differently. You will get lots of ideas, some bad ones, but some fraction greater than zero will help make the solution easier.

So then perhaps you ween your A to Z task down to 40 steps. Sounds good. Time to test it. How? Centralized effort. You do the same 40 steps faster. The new algorithm may have fewer steps, but some or all of the steps may be harder or cause unanticipated bottle necks and such. Good thing you tested it.

Now you will have new information to use when you return to your decentralized effort. But what if you stay decentralized? Wouldn't you get more and more ideas? Yes, but.

Decentralization is a safehouse free of judgement so that ideas can be generated. Centralization is the reality check so that you know which ideas are worth keeping. It is important to do this periodically so that you know what you need ideas about, ie which parts of the algorithm are tripping you up.

Visualization can play a big role in both identifying problem areas and dismissing bad ideas, thus eliminating a lot of testing, but not all of it. Reality always has surprises for us.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

In love with my potential

I've put a fair bit of attention lately into blogging. Researching hacks and fixes; cutting, pasting, writing code; planning, preparing, writing material.

In my labours I found out something. Not something shocking. Or even counter-intuitive for that matter. (But it is always good to work with empirical data.) I found that the successful blogs, those that were consumed and internalized, offered a service and were usually part of a community. I know, shocking, eh?

But slightly, only slightly, more shocking was that I found I had not raised myself to be someone who could offer a service in a community. And I think I would like to be such a person.

To offer a service you need to merge your identity and your work. I've never done this. To date asking me what I did for work was always a bad way to get to know me. It's been difficult to commit to a field, or a line, or even a job.

I hated specialization. Still do to some degree, but that is the transition. I've been in love with my potential like the miser who hoards his money dreaming of what he could do with it though never spending a penny.

In the reserves most most of the members at my level have pictures of them in uniform floating about. They post their rank tell the stories. I tend not to do that. To know I am in the reserves you would have to see the pile of gear in my basement or follow me around on a Thurday night. It feels like a small part of who I am. It's going to stay that way.

The other project I am working on could very well define me. I'm due to graduate from college in a few months. I can see myself being an administrative assistant, as opposed to doing the job of an administrative assistant. I can even thing of a few things I would like to do to encourage it. Maybe there is some work to be done before that happens...

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Raven

The Raven
By Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'T is some visiter," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door--
                               Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow:--vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow--sorrow for the lost Lenore--
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
                               Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
"'T is some visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door
Some late visiter entreating entrance at my chamber door;--
                               This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"--here I opened wide the door;--
                               Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore!"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore!"
                               Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore--
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;--
                               'T is the wind and nothing more!"

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door--
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door--
                               Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore,--
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
                               Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning--little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door--
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
                               With such name as "Nevermore."

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered--not a feather then he fluttered--
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "Other friends have flown before--
On the morrow _he_ will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
                               Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore--
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
                               Of 'Never--nevermore.'"

But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore--
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
                               Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er
                               _She_ shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee--by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite--respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!"
                               Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!--
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted--
On this home by Horror haunted--tell me truly, I implore--
Is there--_is_ there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me, I implore!"
                               Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil--prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above, us--by that God we both adore--
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore--
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore."
                               Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting--
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!--quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
                               Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
                               Shall be lifted--nevermore!

Project Gutenberg

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

One Laptop per Child Foundation hands out first laptops

This week the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) realized its mission. The foundation handed out about one hundred laptops to the children of Nigeria.

To put this milestone into perspective those are one hundred out of several million that will be delivered over the life of the project. Amazing though it may be it still taps only a small fraction of the awe-factor of the project.

These are no ordinary laptops. They are engineered to a staggering sophistication with the soul mission of educating the world's poorest children.

How do they do that? Every laptop is a terminal and a router. This allows for adhoc mesh networks to allow for interactivity between users and to relay a single Internet connection to an entire community. How cool is that?

The screen can fold like a normal laptop but it can also swivel so that it can be better used for gaming and reading. It has two lighting modes-one for indoors and one for out doors-so it can be used in the sunlight. The keyboard is rubberized and sealed. All of the memory is flash so there is no hard drive to crash. The antennae double as covers for the USB ports. They use about one-tenth the power of regular laptops and can be recharged by hand. They have a built-in directional pad, camera, speakers, microphone. And the kicker... they cost just over $100!

I want one too, but too bad for us. They are being distributed exclusively through national governments and education ministries millions at a time. Fortunately all of the technology is open source so it is possible (and even encouraged by OLPC) that some company may market a commercial version. Until then we will simply have to cheer the OLPC on.

OLPC homepage
OLPC chairman Nicholas Negroponte discussing OLPC at TED
Children's Machine - Wikipedia

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Laptop NumPad

I don't think I know anybody who can use the numpad on their laptop any more effectively than they can the top key row. If you have to do number crunching it is useful to be able to do all you input with one hand but you quickly find it is either not very fast, or if you do it fast it becomes quite painful.

Enter the USB calculator/numpad. This (Canon DK-100i CP Mini Handheld Laptop Calculator) is the one I got and it has paid for itself a few times over. I would recommend this model only for casual use. It is lacking a few things that would make it more useful. Namely a tab key. Also the keys are a little too soft to press and the reference nub on the '5' is a little elusive.

Anything more intense than casual use and you should look to something a little more expensive.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Bookmark management

Tidy your toolbar .

You really don't need any text to identify your links. You have two other tools that should do just fine, the tool tip (box that appears when you hover) and the icon. And really, once you learn a little trick all you need is the icon.

The icon for just won't load in the bookmarks bar. What can you do? Steal somebody else's. Find a site that has an icon you like and dragged the icon from the address bar to your bookmark bar. The icon won't manifest until you reload the page. Then copy the url from Right click the other bookmark and go to properties. Delete the name and the location, then paste the partypoker url into location.

Now you have an icon for your poker bookmark with no need for text taking up precious space.

Embrace the search bar

Eventually I will write an ode to the search bar, but until then I will suggest how it relates to bookmarks.

Firstly you get a web bookmarking account. The most acclaimed are delicious and google bookmarks. Then you add the related search plug-in to your search bar.
Now you have your very own personal customized search engine accessible where ever you go.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Great things (or: This isn't a post about video games)

Dave just got a Wii. But this isn't a post about video games. He has a few standard games for it, and though I am not a video game person I faired pretty well. So well that Dave felt the need to practice so that he could beat me. I don't quite understand that, but the thing is that has happened before. An entire group got together to practice to beat me in Tetris.

I told them both the same thing: "I'm glad I inspired you to excel at something, too bad it was gaming." The question that lingers in my head is why is it that console gaming is the place where people step up.

I excel at a certain types of challenges. A challenge where I can see the ideal and only have to consider a limited number of variables is a challenge I can usually meet. Like tetris. And yes, I suck at some of the more organic problems that are not so easily abstracted.

Of all the things both of these groups saw me excel at -math, tech, finance- why was video gaming the call to arms? How can I encourage people to do great things?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Web 2.0 Wish List

This might be updated occasionally.

- My Delicious Lucky search plugin. Like google lucky but for searching my delicious bookmarks.

- A speed reader that breaks chunks based on characters or string length.

- Google Reader email subscriptions. It seems so simple. Bloglines has it, but Google has many other things I like. Or equally, if I could get an rss feed for Gmail searches.

- FireFox copy url Extension. Right click a tab and an option to copy the url. Tab to Window is a good step forward. (Why use an address bar when you can have the google lucky search plugin)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Thoughts on biology - We aren't the first

Western civilization is not the first to alter a bioscape. Though we are the latest.

American Indian -
Though we like to romanticize the American Indian, their migration to North America had a big effect on the wild life. Shortly after they arrived the population of large mammals in the continent dropped steadily and caused the extinction of many species.

Of course, Indians didn't affect the whole planet. This is true, but western civilization isn't the first in even that respect. When plants first came about there were many different kinds of microbes floating around in the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere. When the plants started pumping out oxygen many of them couldn't cope and left us forever extinct.

This is what I have gathered from the scientific community. My suspicion is that every time a new species climbs to the top of the food chain there is a shift in the network beneath it. Like the sand on a dune as you climb.

There is a moral in noting that not all kings of the hill firmly established their presence on the planet. Most notably the dinosaurs. Another suspicion tells me there are still others who left us due to their own vices. Sometimes standing on top of the dune changes it in such a way that you can no longer stand on top of it.


As it has been often noted in a geological frame humans haven't been on Earth very long. This seems to raise great pride that we managed to rise to such esteem so quickly.

I'm not so sure there was another choice. Well, other than extinction.

There was some novelty, perhaps the opposable thumb, perhaps a neurological reconfiguration, that caused us to outgrow our biological niche. From there we would have been looking for another niche; another place to secure a livelihood and with it our presence. But we didn't find it. We kept innovating and looking, and innovating and looking but eventually we ran out of places to look and we had to make our home at the top of the food chain.

As we are finding this can be a very tenuous place to hang your hat. The sand is shifting beneath our feet and we don't know what it will look like when it stops. Equilibrium will be restored. That is what nature does. It will stop eventually, perhaps with us still on top and perhaps not.

Perhaps unfortunately that is not the end of the story. Assuming we are still on the dune when it stops moving we will be but another grain of sand. We will have established practices, cultures, relationships with places, things and other species. We will eventually stop innovating. There will be no more reason to, and we will be another grain of sand on the dune.

There will be another late comer to the planet, probably terrestrial, perhaps extra-. They will try to position themselves on top of the dune and find it shift beneath their feet. Our established relationships will be stressed, our innovative muscle will be weak, and we may be fed upon.

We may then, for the first time, be depended upon on this planet.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Tony Robbins Curve

I was reintroduced to Tony Robbins recently. I caught his presentation on TED and found some of the ideas interesting, and even useful. I did some more poking around on him and found his site. Not being one to pass up a freebie I put my specs in for the free coaching session.

A few days later I got a phone call from Steve Becker. He's one of Tony Robbins' life coaches. Firstly, I was a little taken aback since I wasn't expecting anything at all to happen; well, maybe a few extra emails a month. I wasn't expecting a phone call. But Steve seemed like he was mostly with it and explained the process to me.

The theory seems sound. Under pressure people are capable of some pretty great things. I know I can surprise myself under the right conditions. So one thing the life coach does is keep some pressure on you. Another way of looking at it is that everybody likes to have a good answer to whatever question might be asked. What I do is tell Steve the questions to ask, and knowing that he is going to ask them I am going to work to have a good answer for them.

After our last conversation he left me with the homework of figuring 3 falsifiable goals. I chose to make them about my social life, Academy of Learning and the Reserves. Steve is going to call again tomorrow to discuss them with me. I'll tell you how it goes.


Even with the bit of information and contact I have had with the organization and the ideas I have started to think about a few things differently. I have been considering how as we gain resources the marginal effectiveness seems to drop steadily.

Consider our income. The first few dollars we all probably spend pretty productively on things like food, shelter, clothing and such. After that things start to get less economical. We start eating out more; we buy cigarettes and alcohol; we order cable and start paying 18% on our credit cards. Things seem to go down hill very quickly. When you put it on a graph, income v. marginal effect, I am coming to call this the Tony Robbins Curve.

This curve seems to matter. It is changing the way I look at a lot of things. Apply it to the graduated tax system... and the different strata on the food chain. I'm going to have fun with it.

Friday, February 9, 2007

First Time for Everything

Most times I have a pretty good idea of what I am doing with respect to very large scopes and very small scopes. I've usually considered the costs and benefits, local effects and long term ramifications. As far back as I can remember whenever I left this road something happened that was unpleasant in one way or another. With women it was dispair, jobs it was money, society it was outcast.

Of course I made some thought-out decisions that hadn't worked out, but that meant I had to tweak my model. Give more consideration to this, reprioritize that, recognize that pattern.. you'll see that one again. And to date my models are pretty well honed. Since all the work has gone into the policy less work has to go into the decisions. And so things have gone.

And then today. Today I lost it. A bit. But it seems to have been a good thing. I go to the Academy of Learning and as with most places I tend to keep to myself. There are no classes or group homework so it is easy to keep to yourself. I'm finding that a relationship can be built entirely on nods, smiles and 'Hey's.

As I am nearing the end of a major project and I am trying to lunge toward the finish. Only it isn't coming out so much as a lunge. It is more of a scamper up a mud slide against gale force head winds. It's hard. But it's retardedly hard. Unnecessarily hard. Wasting my time hard. Previously I took the conversation into private before I started critiquing the courses but this time I didn't have the wherewithall. I made a few articulate points and a few less articulate. Eventually I got the information and latittued I needed to lunge to the finish without going crazy.

Turns out that I did something else. I seem to have articulated some of the frustrations others were having too. I got a distinct feeling of acknowledgement and gratitude from the other students for the rest of the day.

So the amazing thing here is that had I put any thought into what I was about to do I would never have done it. And yet it seemed to work out well. I'm not going to try to make a habbit out of thoughtlessness but I am going to keep this in the back of my head if something similar happens again. A few more times and I may try to work it into my considerations.