Archive for June, 2008

My New Favorite Show

June 26, 2008

I got home late on Tuesday, so I didn’t have a chance to see Wipeout live. I just finished watching it online and my earlier anticipation was well-rewarded.

It is simply amazing. John Henson, who I loved on Talk Soup back in the day, offers excellent commentary—lapsing into puns facilely but without MXC‘s innuendo-laced vulgarity. The obstacles are outstanding and punishing, which makes for great TV. And the final challenge is definitely an homage to Ninja Warrior, though less strenuous to be sure.

My Tuesdays evenings are now blocked out. (I Survived a Japanese Game Show was passable, but decidedly a little more focused on the personalities involved than the ludicrous challenges. It’s a lot more Big Brother than MXC.)

I’m Expecting It

June 23, 2008

As an atheist, I’m very conscious of the need for the separation of church and state. It’s not just because it’s enshrined in the Constitution, though that is true. We must separate the two spheres because of the coercive power of the government: a state church inevitably devolves into some form of theocracy and people like me start getting jailed or worse. I think religion is profoundly misguided (and even downright mentally damaging), but everyone’s entitled to their own folly so long as they don’t try to force it on me.

So my hackles have been raised and my antennae are up at a recent spate of persecution relating to doubts about anthropogenic global warming. When some meterologists were fired or censured for their beliefs, I started looking into the matter. When freedom of speech starts eroding, then we’re in for serious trouble. Even a cursory survey of how skeptics of anthropogenic global warming (AGW hereafter) are treated would reveal that things are bleak and getting worse.

It used to be that people of my ilk were called skeptics. I wasn’t a big fan of the term because “skeptic” has a philosophic meaning that is the exact opposite of my own, but it was innocuous enough since most people wouldn’t be familiar with the Pyrrhonic sense of the term. And I was skeptical of the basic science at the time—with good reason since it was replete with wide gaps and sketchy assumptions. Nowadays, I think the basic mechanism has been demonstrated but the conclusions are unfounded. For this, I am called a “denier.”

I am a denier in a sense. I deny the alarmism and complacency of those who subscribe to AGW. But now we’re dealing with a very loaded term: “denier” in modern times has only been trotted out for those who would whitewash the Nazi horror by contesting the Holocaust. I refuse to be lumped in with such trash and I find it utterly repellent that people would stoop to such underhanded smears to dismiss out of hand a dissenting opinion.

Now the gloves are starting to come off. Dissent about AGW is “not morally defensible” {via} and the “debate is over” (a Google search for same indicates that this phrase is a frequently-employed tool in squelching opposing viewpoints). This constant shutting down and stifling disagreement illustrates precisely that this issue has veered from science into politics.

Science does not squelch. Science does not consider any idea or thought unworthy of pursuit. Science would never declare a debate over. But politics does. Politics is about winning. Politics is about expansion of power. Politics is about punishment. (I mean modern-day politics—not politics in the philosophic sense.) Politics wants reduction, science wants conversion.

And the payoff of all this is enforcing the dominant viewpoint {via}. It is simply astounding to me that anyone would call for the criminalization of speech, yet that is precisely what is at work here. But it’s the ultimate end of quashing dissent: the Global Warming Gulag. You might think that it’ll never come to that, but the seeds have been sown and they will grow in time unless we do something about it. I’m not sure the children are our future {via} in this matter, unfortunately.

There are scattered voices in the wilderness, people willing to fight for what they believe. I’m done keeping quiet. I’m tired of the hysterics, the demagoguery, and the naked desire to wreck our economy. It’s time to fight hyperbole with hyperbole.

It’s time to put a stop to this before we have another Inquisition or more witch trials.

Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater

June 22, 2008

At a recent Goldwater Institute event centered around the recently-released Pure Goldwater, Mike Renzulli asked Barry Goldwater Jr. and John Dean whether they had found anything in Barry Goldwater’s correspondence about Ayn Rand—mispronouncing her name no less. Both tenatively answered (question and answer starting at 9’40”) that they hadn’t and that they didn’t think he was aware of her.

That’s been stewing in the back of my mind for awhile. Ayn Rand explicitly supported Goldwater in 1964 (The Objectivist Newsletter, vol. 3, no. 3, March 1964 and a wrap-up in vol. 3, no. 12, December 1964). Her marginalia, letters, journals, and Q&A sessions have all been made available so I decided to find out for myself.

It turns out that there was quite a bit of material on Goldwater by Ayn Rand. It started with a letter from him to her dated May 11, 1960: “I am particularly proud of the fact that you were the one to [defend my conservative position on Mike Wallace’s show], because I have enjoyed very few books in my life as much as I have yours, Atlas Shrugged.” She responded to him at considerable length on June 4, 1960 (Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 565-72), taking him to task about Conscience of a Conservative, which he had sent her. In the margins of that book, she wrote three pages worth of notes along the same lines of her letter. (Ayn Rand’s Marginalia, pp. 183-8) She also answered three questions about him at a lecture. (Ayn Rand Answers, pp. 58-9)

There was clearly a mutual regard between the two, but their philosophies couldn’t have been more different and they weren’t the fellow travelers one would have hoped.

Wishing We Could Be California

June 19, 2008

Right now, there are three amusement park projects going on around Arizona: a Wild West-themed one in Williams, a rock and roll-themed one in Eloy, and an environmentalist one in Florence. One of these projects, however, is not like the others.

The Williams theme park is seeking $500 million in tax-free bonds from Coconino County and the Eloy project is after $750 million. Both are being very secretive about their plans and both are making big promises about the return to their respective regions.

The Florence effort, on the other hand, is taking an unusual route: private funding. According to their site, “the group isn’t asking for the government’s help in the form of tax dollars, but hopes to build the park from private fund raising, investments and sponsorships.” It’s truly a sad state of affairs when raising money yourself in abnormal and seeking a government handout for your pet project is acceptable.

Amusement parks in Arizona are generally a bad idea. The population best able to support a theme park is metropolitan Phoenix and the season when business booms for a theme park is the summer when kids are out of school. But Phoenix in the summer is brutal: imagine waiting in line for a ride outside when the temperature is 117°! And the two-hour drive from Phoenix or Tucson is just long enough to make it not worthwhile except for an occasional treat. (There once was an amusement park inside Phoenix called Legend City and it was just proximate enough to cling desperately to life for nearly 30 years. I went there as a child and the heat was unbearable, so we’d always go at night—further reducing the viability.)

If the backers of these projects want to test out their ideas, they should do it with their own investors. While seeking government security mitigates the risk of the venture, it trounces on the idea that government exists to protect individual rights. Government has no business getting involved in business—the taxpayer’s wallet is not the ultimate venture capital fund.

A Glimmer of Hope

June 16, 2008

My ambivalence towards John McCain as president is well-documented. But a thought just hit me that makes me think his presidency might be a net good (but barely): he’s opposed by the religious right. As many have noted, the religious right’s rise in importance within the Republican Party is worrying and could have positively dreadful effects in the long-term. Anything that serves to limit their influence is promising, no matter how otherwise unpalatable it might be. If he would host Giuliani as his vice-president, then I’ll be more optimistic about the return of the GOP to its Goldwater days than I’ve ever been in my life.

Gas Gougers and Gas Thwarters

June 13, 2008

With prices going over $4 per gallon for the first time ever (in America), the hue and cry has become deafening. But the ignorance surrounding the economics of oil has enabled politicians to co-opt the problem as a vehicle for government expansion: the problem is at root a technical one but this commandeering has clouded the issue. With the price of oil skyrocketing, there are really only two ways to lower it (given that OPEC is effectively beyond our control, no matter how much Congress might wish differently): lower demand through conservation and technological advances or increase supply by tapping domestic resources and expanding refinery capacity.

The former method has been taking place for at least a decade or two and conservation naturally occurs as the price increases, so I’m most interested in the latter means. Increasing the supply is pretty much off the table for political reasons since Congress has prohibited exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in American coastal waters. There’s absolutely no technical reason why we couldn’t do both and increase our oil supply considerably; thus the technical problem of increasing our oil supply, which wouldn’t exist in a free market, is a political one, which serves to demonstrate just how unfree our market really is.

I was familiar with the ANWR and offshore drilling bans as well as the inability to site new refineries, but I was not aware that oil shale exploration and development was similarly prohibited. I am flabbergasted at, and absolutely bewildered by, these actions. Taken collectively, they serve as an impressive intrusion into the energy market by the government. Politicians in this same government simultaneously attack the oil companies for not doing more to reduce gas prices, rail at foreign nations for restricting supply, and suggest massive tax increases for oil companies to “re-capture windfall profits.” The answer is clearly to stop interfering and let the oil companies do what they need to do—and what they would be glad to do.

The oil companies aren’t the “gougers” in this scenario. Margins on oil are pretty slim and the profits come from the incredible volume. If you look at the breakdown of oil pricing, governments take the largest piece of the pie. But they always want to increase their share but even that comes with a hidden cost: they want to dictate how the pie is made in the first place.

Oil companies, like every other business in America, makes money by serving its customers. It has to carefully price its product to maximize revenue and profits, just like every other business in America. And like every other business in America, any restrictions on how it does that—beyond that of fraud and infringing on people’s rights—distort and hamper its ability to do both. It is high time that we treat oil companies like every other business in America.

The End is Nigh?

June 12, 2008

ABC is thinking that we’re starting the last century of civilization {via}, which coincidentally is the subject of their upcoming special entitled Earth 2100. Sadly, this time around we’re minus one Julian Simon to counter this silliness. It is absurd to me that anyone could seriously believe that we will turn from the rapid march of progress to the descent into ruin in seven years. Actually, that is a possibility if Al Gore gets his wish and we start down the path to a 90% reduction in carbon dioxide generation.

In the comments attached to this article, there’s a great question:

When we remove natural resources from the earth, what impact does this have on the insulation between the raging heat of the core and the surface of our planet? I would love have [sic] a scientist’s answer to this question.

That, in a nutshell, is why I think people will believe anything in this climate change debate. (Oh yes, I said “debate.” I know in the current climate—pun intended—it is positively unfashionable to think the matter is anything less than absolutely settled and beyond doubt, but absent a Global Warming Inquisition I’m sticking to some skepticism. That’s the subject for another post.) “crocketteer” asks an ignorant question in an online forum and gladly welcomes a “scientist’s answer,” presumably in the same forum.

We have here a nexus of ignorance and gullibility at work. People, seemingly, will believe anything if it has the aura of authority and the imprimatur of science. How else can you explain the claim that “Experts say that extreme changes in climate, combined with dwindling resources, famine, war and disease have the potential to create a post-apocalyptic world in less than a hundred years?”

Go Go Daddy Dashboard!

June 10, 2008

Screenshot of the widget

I just deployed my latest effort: the Official Domain Search Dashboard Widget. I know, it’s not a terribly catchy name but it’s quite descriptive. It’s a Dashboard widget for Mac OS X that enables you to check domain name availability. It’s certainly a variation on a common theme but what can I say? Domain registration is bread and butter.

This widget was a little different than the other ones I’ve done, however. It’s got all the visual flair attendant with Mac OS X, to be sure. The animation took forever to get just right and smooth. It also had to have an update mechanism since it doesn’t reside anywhere that we can control. The update process is fairly simple but so is the app itself.

It consumed a lot more time than you’d expect, but I enjoyed it. Well, except for some of the fighting with Dashcode. Oh and that issue I had all yesterday with the little loading spinner: that drove me nuts trying to pin down the cause. (Incidentally, in the open method of the XmlHttpRequest object, if you specify false for the asynchronous parameter, it will not run any code that updates the widget until the response comes back. But only in the Dashboard version of WebKit. Safari works just fine. It was a pain to track down.)

[The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Go Daddy Software, Inc.]

Let’s See the Polished Draft Now

June 10, 2008

After reading Andy Ihnatko’s tweet about Apple’s announced solution to the lack of background processing on the iPhone, I realized that I had been taken in by Steve Job’s famous RDF. It sounded good to me while I was listening to it—I mean, except for the September release. But I didn’t think much about how little the single-source notifications addressed the problem it ostensibly solved until I read Hank Williams’ excellent analysis.

Basically, the single-source notification is good for handling incoming alerts that need to be displayed to the user in any application but doesn’t address the other two compelling cases for background processing: a) notifications like an alarm clock or countdown timer and b) broadcast messaging for status updates or location notification. Updating a badge with a new count of incoming messages is nice but it really limits the sort of application possible using the new features and API.

Can you imagine the extra work a developer of a countdown timer app would have to do to tell the user that the timer has reached zero? When the countdown timer app is exited due to a call or another reason and the timer hadn’t elapsed, he would have to send a final message out to his server on the Internet indicating the remaining time and the iPhone in use. Then the server would notify Apple when the timer elapsed and Apple would alert the user. But the application would spawn this process even if the user intended to quit the timer app or even if there was two seconds left. Further, it seems like Apple’s server would queue update requests so it’s entirely possible that the user would be alerted long after the timer had actually elapsed.

For status broadcasting, there’s just not going to be a way to handle it in the single-source scenario as it appears to be a one-way process. Sites like Brightkite or Fire Eagle couldn’t get the particular iPhone to respond to a pull request because I’m sure that Apple would not allow a notification to quit the running application to open a different one. That would make for a jarring user experience and I just don’t see Apple going that route.

Obviously, details about this September service are sketchy at this point so all of these considerations could prove moot when it is released. But Apple had better address them because no countdown timer app maker would provide a server to accommodate Apple’s unwillingness to allow background processing and location-based social networking seems to be a compelling use of the new GPS capability.

Microsoft Distributed Cache Services née Velocity

June 8, 2008

Microsoft has unveiled its new project code-named Velocity {via}, which is a .NET version of memcached for the Microsoft orbit. It’s not at this point baked into the OS or IIS, but it’s a start.

It’s got some additional features that go beyond memcached. One of the great things about memcached is its simplicity and limited feature set. It doesn’t worry about security and it’s essentially a glorified hashtable. For example, it offers named cache stores, regions within those caches, object searching, and different concurrency models. I can envision a lot that such functionality would get me if I were to replace memcached with it.

But I’m most curious as to the future of this project and its official position. If it’s going to become a supported technology and/or officially bundled, then I’d be willing to invest the effort in switching. But if it’s a one-off and never gets much attention, then I’d rather stick with the power horse that is memcached. There’s plenty of hope listed in their future feature list. I’m subscribed to the blog and I will be following this project closely.