Browse Month: October 2005

10/31/2005

Interesting things are afoot in the far dark reaches of the solar system.

Scientists (including my friend Andrew) have announced the discovery of two more moons orbiting Pluto. They’re very small and hard to spot, but they’re real. As our ability to see things in distant space increases, so does the number of new and often amazing things we find.

I wonder what my kids will learn in school when they talk about the solar system. For all of my life, we had this comfortable notion that there are nine planets, and everything was orderly. But now we’ve learned there are other planets on the fringes: Sedna and Quaoar, to name two, and probably many more. They’re bigger than Pluto, and if we call Pluto a planet we must rightfully do the same for them. But some astronomers say Pluto isn’t really a planet– it’s a “Kuiper Belt Object”. There’s no rigid definition of what a planet really is, making the debate quite lively.

I always love seeing scientific knowledge expand, and watching as we change our view on the world to match it. My kids are definitely going to learn some new things…

10/31/2005

Ahh, Halloween… a time for some really scary costumes…

10/30/2005

I’m poking around on Amazon looking for a few new books, and saw this banner ad.

Now that’s a scary item to have to own. I wonder if I should put it on my Wish List or something? Because, as they say, “every minute counts!”

10/27/2005

“Someday we’ll look back on all this and plow into a parked car.”

— Michael Halcrow

10/23/2005

“When men are pure, laws are useless; when men are corrupt, laws are broken.”

— Benjamin Disraeli

10/22/2005

Since I had a spare LCD screen (it had been Craig’s, but now he’s working from his house instead of mine) I thought it would be super geeky– but also cool– to buy a second video card for my main development computer and set up a dual-head configuration.

The video card was a cheap $30 deal, and after a bit of twiddling I was able to get both screens working nicely. As it turns out, having that much real estate is a boon to productivity. I’m amazed at the usefulness of a setup like this… I really feel like I can do more because I can scatter windows all over the place while I’m working. Keep in mind that I also have ten different “desktops” I use within my windowing system, switching between them on a minute-by-minute basis as I hammer out software and databases.

Truly, a geek nirvana.

10/21/2005

I just skimmed a fabulously funny list at TV Cream that reminisces about the top 100 toys of yesteryear. It’s not only a trip down Memory Lane, because I remember many of these goofy toys, but also a hilarious look at some of these games.

Take, for example, the write-up about Mastermind:

It was always a slow Sunday at grandma’s if the Mastermind had to come out.

Or Sorry:

The politeness of the title is only a front, as this otherwise unremarkable plastic pawns ‘n’ Ludo-style board game holds an appeal to the nastier side of childhood nature. It’s gloriously mean-spirited, in fact. Kind of Lotto meets Russian Roulette. The magic ingredient– the ability of players to directly, deliberately and with malice aforethought, bugger up the game for their opponents by– in the words and typography of the instruction leaflet– BUMPING their pawns all the way down SLIDES back to the START– a hugely satisfying aspect which, short of kicking the table over and sodding off home, is sorely lacking from most other board games.

How about Perfection?

Where Perfection really scored was with the inclusion of a distractingly loud clockwork timer. If you hadn’t got all the shapes safely home before this thing wound down, the board would ping up, spewing plastic stars, circles, squares and pieces of cheese all over the shop. And that’s when the screaming would start.

Good times.

10/21/2005

Justin Mullins is an artist who considers mathematic equations so beautiful they can properly be called art. To this end, he’s created framed prints of famous equations. While many would consider this to be geeky beyond compare, I find it strangely fascinating.

The print shown on his home page, appropriately titled Beauty, is my favorite equation (if one can have a “favorite”). The relationship between one, zero, pi, e, and the imaginary base i is perhaps the most sublime of all equations:

10/21/2005

Back in college, my friend Andy convinced me and a roomfull of friends to watch the Adam Sandler movie Billy Madison. The entire movie was just a train wreck of stupidity, and as I recall all of us– except Andy– watched in pretty much in silence, stunned at how terrifically awful it was. Andy, on the other hand, was busting a gut. I guess it just takes a certain sense of humor to appreciate Adam Sandler.

Nonetheless, here’s a great quote from the movie that I just stumbled across:

“Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

10/19/2005

Craig and I were lamenting today about how our clients tend to send screenshots and other images in one of two ways: either a gigantic (3 MB) Windows bitmap file, or pasted into a bloated Word document. Either way it’s a real pain to download and read the e-mail.

His comment:

I just saw some one came out with a “how to” book for becoming microsoft free.  I imagine it’s very similar to getting rid of warts or jock itch.

Amen, brother!

10/19/2005

“A true scientist, when presented with undeniable evidence of God staring right in His face, would ask, ‘Where did You come from?'”

— Anonymous

10/19/2005

“It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars.”

— Arthur C. Clarke

10/19/2005

My geekiness factor increased slightly last week as I configured the Linux system in my office to use two flatscreen monitors. Sweet!

Of course, no matter how much more productive a dual-head display makes me, there’s always something just a little better…

10/18/2005

Tom and I went on a 1,300-mile road trip a week ago and got some fantastic photos of the fall colors in Colorado and the high desert in Utah. A few days ago I poked around for about an hour and built a fairly nifty web page to display all the pictures. It’s no Flickr, but it’s not too bad. I’m thinking of adding some more functionality and replacing the photo album I have on this site, which quite honestly sucks donkey.

See the pictures here.

10/18/2005

Bad idea: creating a counterfeit $1,000,000 bill.
Worse idea: attempting to deposit 999 of them at a bank.

It’s true– a guy in Twin Falls, Idaho printed million-dollar bills and then apparently figured he could secure a billion-dollar account at the local bank by depositing them. Nice try.

10/13/2005

Straight from MSNBC:

A Wall Street Journal poll shows that Bush’s approval rating stands at 39 percent, a new low for the president. In the last survey, which was released in mid-September, 40 percent approved of Bush’s job performance while 55 percent disapproved. In addition, just 28 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, another all-time low in Bush’s presidency.

In a way, it’s refreshing to see people starting to realize what a terrible president Bush is, and more importantly to recognize that his leadership, and that of Congress, is taking our country on that proverbial road with a handbasket. Too bad people didn’t see it last November…

10/11/2005

I’ve been reading a bit about the “virtual economies” inside online role-playing games. Very interesting stuff, not just because of what’s happening in these games, but because of the far-reaching philosophic questions raised by it.

I’ll quote directly from an article on Freedom to Tinker:

Something remarkable is happening in virtual worlds. These are online virtual “spaces” where you can play a virtual character, and interact with countless other characters in a rich environment. It sounds like a harmless game, but there’s more to it than that. Much more.

When you put so many people into a place where they can talk to each other, where there are scarce but desirable objects, where they can create new “things” and share them, civilization grows. Complex social structures appear. Governance emerges. A sophisticated economy blooms. All of these things are happening in virtual worlds.

Consider the economy of Norrath, the virtual world of Sony Online Entertainment’s EverQuest service. Norrath has a currency, which trades on exchange markets against the U.S. dollar. So if you run a profitable business in Norrath, you can trade your Norrath profits for real dollars, and then use the dollars to pay your rent here in the terrestrial world. Indeed, a growing number of people are making their livings in virtual worlds. Some are barely paying their earth rent; but some are doing very well indeed. In 2003, Norrath was reportedly the 79th richest country in the world, as measured by GDP. Richer than Bulgaria.

Virtual worlds have businesses. They have stock markets where you can buy stock in virtual corporations. They have banks. People have jobs. And none of this is regulated by any terrestrial government.

This can’t last.

Last weekend at the State of Play conference, the “great debate” was over whether virtual worlds should be subject to terrestrial laws, or whether they are private domains that should determine their own laws. But regardless of whether terrestrial regulators should step in, they certainly will. Stock market regulators will object to the trading of virtual stocks worth real money. Employment regulators will object to the unconstrained labor markets, where people are paid virtual currency redeemable for dollars, in exchange for doing tasks specified by an employer. Banking regulators will object to unlicensed virtual banks that hold currency of significant value. Law enforcement will discover or suspect that virtual worlds are being used to launder money. And tax authorities will discover that things are being bought and sold, income is being earned, and wealth is being accumulated, all without taxation.

When terrestrial governments notice this, and decide to step in, things will get mighty interesting. If I ran a virtual world, or if I were a rich or powerful resident of one, I would start planning for this eventuality, right away.

10/11/2005

“Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”

— Susan Ertz

10/05/2005

The sheer unrelenting stupidity of the entertainment industry, coupled with the frighteningly unimaginative “innovation” at Microsoft, has given birth to something I would place at the top of my List of Dumbest Inventions of 2005. Quoting from a news article:

Microsoft has developed a cheap, disposable pre-recorded DVD disc that consumers can play only once. The discs would give Hollywood increased control over the release of new films and allow consumers the chance to watch a film at the fraction of the price of an ordinary pre-recorded DVD. More important, the discs would prevent copying and digital piracy, which is costing the film and music industry billions in lost revenues.

Notice the sentence at the end… the most important thing for the industry is to prevent copying. It’s not about entertaining people; it’s about making sure they don’t rip you off. Continuing:

The revolutionary product could be on the market as early as next year, with the new DVD players needed to view them.

Sweet! So if I want to use these crappy new DVD’s, I actually have to purchase a new DVD player! I’m sure it’ll be worth the cost… doesn’t everyone want a DVD player that’s crippled? What a fantastic marketing idea! Finally:

Buying an ordinary DVD of a new film costs about $20. Microsoft’s new disc will enable the studios to release a “play-once, then throw away” copy for as little as $5, much the same as renting a video or DVD. But unlike a rented DVD, the new disc allows consumers to decide when they watch films and there is no need to return it.

I honestly don’t know what demographic they’re catering to with this insane plan. If I’m in the mood to watch a movie, I bike over to Blockbuster, pick one out, and pop it in the DVD player. If I don’t have time today, I don’t rent a movie. Duh. For those people who don’t want to bike to Blockbuster, there’s Netflix– they can rent whatever they want, whenever they want, and return it at their leisure. Why on earth would I buy a DVD for the same cost as a rental, when it gives me absolutely no more convenience… and requires me to purchase a new DVD player and (probably) have some kind of connection to the internet so Microsoft can deactivate the DVD after I’ve watched it?

The mind boggles. Methinks this is even more idiotic (and even more doomed) than the plan to develop DVD’s that self-destruct 24 hours after opening them. Chalk it up as just another poorly-thought-out attempt by the entertainment industry to wrangle more money from their customers…

10/03/2005

Today on Slashdot there’s a rousing discussion about the Singularity– the point where advances in technology happen so quickly it’s impossible predict what will be next. While many people whined about not having the flying cars they’ve been promised for fifty years, others observed how even today’s world would seem unbelievably complex to people from a century ago.

A great thought:

Rewind your brain fifteen years and imagine what you’d think if I told you:

Your computer will be roughly 1,000 faster than what you’re using today. You will probably have more than 4,000 times the memory, and a fast hard drive that stores over 100,000 times as much as that floppy you’re using. You can buy these supercomputers for less than $500 at Wal-Mart.

That computer will be hooked into a self-directed network that was designed by the Department of Defense and various universities – along with nearly 400,000,000 other machines. Your connection to this network will be 10,000 times faster than the 300 baud modem you’re using. In fact, it will be fast enough to download high-quality sound and video files in better than realtime.

There will be a good chance that your computer’s operating system will have been written by a global team of volunteers, some of them paid by their employers to implement specific parts. Free copies of this system will be available for download over the hyperfast network. You will have free access to the tools required to make your own changes, should you want to.

You will use this mind-bendingly powerful system to view corporate sponsored, community driven messages boards where people will whine about having to drive cars that are almost unimaginably luxurious compared to what you have today.

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