Browse Month: September 2007

09/30/2007

Kyra, Zack, and I played a game of Monopoly this morning. It’s so funny to watch Zack snap up properties– he’s particularly interested in the railroads, and for this picture he wanted to show off the fact that he owned three of them.

The really cool thing about our Monopoly set is that it came from my grandma’s house, and I’m pretty sure it dates back to the early 1940’s. (The game itself was first published around 1935.) So all of the pieces are wood, and the money is so old that it doesn’t even feel like paper any more– it’s has the feel of a soft (but somewhat brittle) piece of cloth. It’s pretty interesting to think that these playing pieces are almost seventy years old, and that they were used by my dad and his friends when they were kids.

09/28/2007

“As yesterday’s positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured.”

— President George W. Bush, in a speech yesterday

Not only is this a vapid and meaningless statement, he really said “childrens”. Bonehead.

09/28/2007

Welcome to the surveillance society.

Chicago just made news by hiring IBM to manage thousands of video cameras posted throughout the city with a sophisticated computer system which can automatically process the feeds and identify… well, evil stuff, I guess.

Quoting from an article in The Register:

Officials from Chicago and IBM announced the initial phase of Operation Virtual Shield, which they’re trumpeting as one of the most advanced security networks in any U.S. city. It will use IBM software to analyze in real time thousands of hours of video being recorded on more than 1,000 cameras that run continuously.

“Cities are faced with ever-increasing threats such as routine crime or terrorist activity and the only way to protect citizens is through a truly sophisticated security surveillance system,” IBM vice president Mike Daniels said.

That’s scary. The People in Charge really, truly believe that the “only way to protect citizens” is by using cameras to spy on them. And of course they bring up the specter of terrorists, as if Chicago is facing grave threats from roving gangs of them. It’s a great catch-all, though, and I’ve grown infinitely tired of hearing it pulled out to justify the latest Big Brother technology. I’m also tired of names like Operation Virtual Shield, which I suppose come as a result of a multi-million-dollar study to find a name that makes it sound like it’s just a friendly protective blanket to keep all of us safer.

Interestingly, the article also had this to say:

The project, which has the ability to read license plates and zoom in on items as small as a backpack, comes three weeks after statistics suggested that video surveillance cameras installed in London did little to solve crime in that city. Many professors also say there are no studies that show cameras reduce crime.

Hmm. If it’s unlikely (statistically, anyway) that cameras don’t help reduce crime, then it’s hard to justify this sort of intrusion into privacy.

09/25/2007

News in the tech world yesterday said that EMC bought a small Utah company called Mozy for $76 million. Mozy is owned by a guy named Josh Coates, and although I’ve never met him personally, I feel a certain kinship with him because both of us hang out in the same Linux user’s group and occasionally post messages there.

His company provides a simple data backup solution so you can take files from your Windows computer and store them online somewhere, then pull them back if something ever goes horribly wrong on your system. It’s not a complicated concept, but one that’s surprisingly hard to do well.

When I heard the news of the buyout, I thought to myself, “Hey, I could’ve done something like that!”

Then I thought, “Hey, wait a minute– I already did something like that!”

About five years ago I wrote a little software package that did exactly what Mozy does. It ran on a Windows system and you could tell it what parts of your hard drive you wanted to back up to the remote server (which happened to be my server, over at BitRelay). It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t have some of the features I’m sure Mozy has, but in the end it did basically the same thing.

Clearly I was ahead of my time. Online data storage only got “big” in the last few years, so when I wrote my little program I had a hard time convincing anyone to use it. Moreover, I wanted to charge a few bucks a month for the backups (because I’m paying for the disk space and bandwidth) and most people will only use the internet if it’s free.

In the end, this whole situation made me think. I’m not the world’s greatest entrepreneur, and most of the ideas I have for web applications or whatever aren’t earth-shatteringly original. But now I’m thinking about what I might do that could land me in the same spot as Josh.

Hmm.

09/25/2007

Now that I’ve gone “all digital” with my calendar and to-do list, I feel busier somehow. Maybe it’s because in the “old days” I just had a couple of items scribbled in my planner, and now I get the Big Picture that shows all kinds of stuff I’ve done, plan to do, should be doing, want to do, etc.

I guess it beats being bored…

09/24/2007

I just read a sobering article by Larry Beinhart of AlterNet. He says things much more colorfully than I could, so I’m just going to quote him.

The War in Iraq has cost about four hundred and fifty-three billion dollars to date. What did we get for our money?

The original deal– as presented to us– was to disarm Saddam Hussein for $50 billion. If we didn’t do it right away, the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud.

Bizarre, but true, that was actually accomplished. And for far less. It wasn’t difficult, since Saddam was already disarmed. But by massing our troops and demanding UN resolutions, Saddam was forced to let the inspectors in so that we got to see it for ourselves.

But the administration was set on war! We’re not actually sure why; perhaps they aren’t either. So they told us that the inspectors were associated with the UN. They were Swiss or French or some other foreigners, and therefore, unlike Americans, they were easily conned. Their failure to find WMDs didn’t mean there weren’t any. It really meant that Saddam was super tricky as well as super evil.

So the goal slipped from disarming Saddam to removing Saddam.

Removing Saddam was going to be a magic moment. It was going to be like a Disney animated feature. When the ogre was slain, the entire kingdom would break out with flowers and the flowers would dance and sing. And welcome the Americans as liberators!

That’s not all we were going to get for our investment. We were going to get much, much more!
We would strike a blow in the war on terror! Keep (non-existent) weapons of mass destructions out of the hands of a dictator who might give them to terrorists. Establish a democracy in the Middle East. Bring stability to the region and hope to other people under evil dictators. Make Israel safer.

Most of all it would be a demonstration!

We would smite our foe like the Lord God Almighty, throwing thunderbolts and parting the very seas, so that all who saw would quake in fear and tremble before us. That’s the colorful, theological version, but it is, in fact, what the administration expected.

We were a beneficent power, too. We were going to rebuild Iraq. George Bush said it was going to be “The greatest financial commitment of it’s kind since the Marshall Plan!”

Was that going to cost us more?

No. “We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon,” said the ever astute Paul Wolfowitz, deeply knowledgeable about third world countries, war and finance.

But it wasn’t a Disney movie. The commander-in-chief and his crew were wrong in their assumptions and incompetent in execution.

If they stop, they will have to admit that we got nothing for our money. If they go forward, it’s not their money. Or their bodies. While it may not be in our interests, it’s in their interests to turn the war into the Energizer Bunny, endlessly, mindlessly, going and going and going.

One question that should be asked, but hasn’t been, is where did the money actually go? The answer is that nobody really knows. The Government Accounting Office said that because of the way the Department of Defense handles its money, “neither DOD nor the Congress reliably know how much the war is costing and how appropriated funds are being used.”

The Armed Forces have been so privatized that General Patraeus is not guarded by soldiers, but by private contractors. When we pass a bill for billions to ‘support the troops,’ we have no way of knowing how many troops we’re supporting or how much money is supporting them. It would be at least as accurate to say it’s a bill to support Halliburton, Blackwater and the General’s private security guards.

George Bush’s version of the Marshall Plan, the reconstruction, is even worse. There is less electrical service than before the war. There are fewer functioning schools, hospitals and medical facilities. There is no one to staff them if they had been built, since so many of the people with skills have been killed or driven out of the country. Water and waste treatment is so inadequate that a cholera epidemic is appearing.

A cost-benefit analysis would say that what we have achieved is in the minus column… that we spent forty billion dollars to get deconstruction.

Alright, there was waste, corruption and profiteering on a grand scale. Alright, the Iraqis didn’t get anything for money, except hundreds of murderous, petty tyrants to replace one, grand, bloody dictator. But what did we get for our money?

We didn’t get rid of the WMDs, because they weren’t there.

We got rid of Saddam Hussein. He was replaced by a nominal democracy, and an actual chaos. Murder, rape, gang violence, civil war, revenge killings, semi-tribal war, have become the norm.

Al Qaeda not only survived, it got stronger.

The Middle East is less stable.

Israel looks more vulnerable.

Iran has been strengthened.

Instead of being a demonstration of irresistible power, the war exposed the limits of American power.

Iraq has become the textbook on how an insurgency can defeat a major power.

George Bush said this was a war for civilization. In the course of it, we have rejected the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, and the rule of law. We have embraced torture, failed to protect and provide for civilians in a country under our occupation and allowed the monuments and treasures of an ancient civilization to be looted and destroyed. Who is it that’s fighting for civilization?

Has anyone benefited from this war? Yes.

Before the war Halliburton was facing bankruptcy. Now they’re doing very well, along with a host of other military contractors.

The really big winners are Iran and Al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden was a murderous madman, an outlaw hiding the caves of Tora Bora. Now Al Qaeda has a new base in Iraq and controls at least one province. His goal was to get America into a war like the one the Soviets fought, and lost, in Afghanistan. Which he did. He also wanted an actual world wide conflict between Islam and the West. He got that too.

Iran wanted Saddam Hussein gone. To have Shia’a groups, with ties to Iran, come to power afterward. For America to be weakened and to have its forces tied down so they could pursue their nuclear ambitions. They got all that.

Those are some of the costs. And now you know who benefitted.

09/21/2007

“Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience and rebellion that progress has been made.”

— Oscar Wilde

09/20/2007

For seventeen years (yes, seventeen) I’ve used a planner. It’s a rather unassuming one: small, black, and just right for taking notes in meetings, remembering birthdays, and keeping track of my daily to-do lists.

And for the last five years or so, I’ve had to endure people asking me why I use such an old-fashioned item. “Come on– paper? You actually take notes on paper?” For a guy who’s pretty tied into the technology world, and who uses a computer eight hours a day every day, it sure seemed primitive.

Every year I have to buy refill pages, and these days Franklin sells those things for about forty bucks apiece. That adds up to a pretty hefty sum over the years, and I was thinking the other day that for the price of a couple of refills I could probably pick up a used PDA on eBay or something. So I started poking around, reading reviews, checking compatibility with Linux (of course!), and generally giving some serious thought to whether I should take the plunge and join the twenty-first century.

I found a nice little Sony Clie on eBay and managed to snag it for $80 (two years of refills, hey) and just received it yesterday. Of course I had to play around and figure out all of the little spiffy things it can do, and then I had to figure out how to link it to my Linux system and synchronize my calendar, to-do list, address book, and whatever else came to mind. It turned out to be pretty easy, and now I’ve got a cool little glowing screen to take everywhere with me. It’s a fraction of the size of my old planner, and of course can store a gazillion little tidbits of information.

Of course I’m going to have to unlearn (as Yoda would say) seventeen years of habits, but I can already see ways I can be more efficient with this little guy. So it should be an interesting journey but one worth the trouble.

Sadly, I’m not quite hip enough to have an iPhone yet.

09/19/2007

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Ahoy matey, today’s Talk Like a Pirate Day. Be sure to roll your R’s and use words like “ahoy”, “matey”, and “wench” in your conversations.

09/18/2007

“Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.”

— Edward R. Murrow

09/16/2007

Here are some numbers from the U.S. Treasury Department:

09/2001 $5,807,463,412,200.06
09/2002 $6,228,235,965,597.16
09/2003 $6,783,231,062,743.62
09/2004 $7,379,052,696,330.32
09/2005 $7,932,709,661,723.50
09/2006 $8,506,973,899,215.23
09/2007 $9,016,288,006,279.21

That’s the total outstanding debt of the United States over the past six years. Note how it’s gone up more than 50% in that time… the causes are varied, but I think even Bush apologists would admit that the Iraq war, the War on Terror, the crumbling economy, and the poorly-planned tax changes have all contributed to this economic nightmare.

Who’s going to pay for all of this?

09/16/2007

Today I made some cinnamon rolls, layered with a quarter-inch of frosting apiece. Awesome.

Every now and then I get the urge to make some, but they’re a bit of work and involve the bread machine– the one piece of technology in our house that I don’t understand– which means I more or less have to convince Laralee to fire it up and make the dough for me. And she always refuses because they’re so incredibly delic– err, unhealthy.

But today I broke her iron will, mostly by rubbing her shoulder. Go figure.

(Her shoulder was sore because we spent yesterday afternoon tossing a frisbee and a baseball around, and apparently her arm wasn’t up to the task. So a bit of massage felt heavenly and after a bit of negotiation she agreed that in exchange for a good shoulder rub she’d make the cinnamon roll dough.)

09/14/2007

“If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?”

— Scott Adams

09/11/2007

There’s exciting news in the entertainment world today: Disney is working on a sequel to the 1982 classic Tron. Sweet. I remember watching that as a kid– I would’ve been ten at the time– and being astounded by the amazing computer graphics. We might laugh at that kind of stuff now, but it was landmark work back then.

And a factoid that I learned: the video game was so popular it actually earned more than the movie. Speaking as a guy who plays Armagetron (shown below) every now and then with the kids, it’s a simple but strangely addictive thing.

09/11/2007

In a shocking survey, 59% of Americans think our country is “worse off” than it was prior to September 11, 2001.

I think the reaction of jsager on Digg sums it up nicely:

Remember guys, by definition 50% of all people are of below average intelligence. So that means even the stupid people are starting to get it.

09/10/2007

Now that’s a funny ad.

09/09/2007

Fall doesn’t officially start for two more weeks, but I think today heralded the first day of it. The weather is grey and overcast, and only about 60 degrees. Compared with the 90-degree sun two days ago, it feels downright cold.

Even Zack thought a jacket was needed to bounce on the trampoline.

09/08/2007

The Xbox Media Center is soooo sweet. I’ve had mine for about six months now, and I absolutely love it. I use it mainly to stream music from my computer– we never drop CD’s into our stereo any more because we have our entire 9,000+ song library right there on the XBMC and can pick any song we want with a few clicks of the remote control.

Of course it also has a ton of other spiffy features, like showing lyrics for any song, downloading album information from the internet, streaming video and TV shows, playing hundreds of old (think 1980’s) video games, displaying the weather forecast, and on and on. The Xbox itself cost me around $60 on eBay, and all of the software is completely free (with many thanks to Chancellor for letting me borrow a few hacker parts). I imagine you can get something equivalent with the Apple TV or some other media center, but those things cost a few hundred bucks.

It also helps to have a 62-inch TV.

09/05/2007

Everyone’s familiar with M.C. Escher’s woodcut Relativity:

But check out this awesome Lego version of it:

  • 1
  • 2