Monday, December 22, 2008

snopes as a Democrat affiliate

I'm sure that Spur is long-gone, since I didn't follow through on the evidence he asked for. But, for anyone who is still reading, here is a link to a good takedown of Snopes by Xrlq.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

games about being admired and loved

In the game Unreal II, there are some story elements involving a female officer on your ship. There is a place where your character asks her what she believes in. Then, near the end of the game when you are on the planet and she is in the ship, the ship is shot down. She's on the radio with you as the ship breaks up and she goes on about how it was all worth it to help you out. Her last words are, "You asked me what I believe in. I believe in you."

I remember thinking how dorky that was at the time. I mean, first of all, it would be a dorky line, even for a movie (I'm not saying a really good script and a really good actress couldn't pull it off, but it would be challenge). But more than that, this is a game. She's talking to my character. Am I supposed to feel good that an NPC says that my game character is worth dying for?

At first, I thought that this was just an aberration, some game script writer got confused about the difference between games and movies. But I've seen similar things in RPG games that I've played (Unreal II isn't an RPG, it's an FPS). Most recently I've been playing Fallout 3 which is chock full of this stuff. There is a painfully sappy sequence with the character's father, and you go around the D.C. area being loved and admired.

Do people really like this in games? I find it rather annoying. I play computer games for the excitement: the simulation of danger without significant risk of getting my head blown off, the simulation of adventure without the real risk of having to go without a hot shower. It just seems really odd to me to have a game that tries to provide other emotional hooks like the needs for love and respect.

I'm wondering if other people really do find those hooks pleasant, or are game designers just confused about what medium they are working in?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

things that make me go "hmm..."

On egg salad sandwiches, I like mayo but ketchup sounds disgusting. On fried-egg sandwiches, I like ketchup but mayo sounds disgusting. On fried eggs I like hot sauce but ketchup sounds disgusting. On hard-boiled eggs, I like salt and vinegar but hot sauce sound like it would be pretty tasty.

Deviled eggs are like half-way between egg salad and hard-boiled eggs. What would you put on a deviled-egg sandwich?

What do deviled eggs and devil's food cake have in common?

How come cheeseburgers have cheese and chiliburgers have chili but hamburgers don't have ham?

Plants such as peppers, garlics and onions have strong flavors to make them taste bad to animals. Ironically, these chemicals that are intended to keep the plants from being eaten actually encourage humans to eat them. This is a survival tactic intended to help the species flourish, but in the case of humans it fails pretty spectacularly. In fact, it failed so badly that it had an opposite result and caused humans to actually cultivate the plants. So, ironically, the fact that the survival mechanism failed so badly in the case of humans makes the plants flourish far more than if there had been no survival mechanism to fail. It's sort of a recursive irony.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

a review of two video games

It just occurred to me that I never actually wrote that comparative review of Prey and Bioshock. Also, I've been advised to avoid cliche titles, so I'm dropping the allusion to "a tale of two cities" in my title. Not that cliches are always bad. But that's for another post. This post is about two video games. I bought and played both video games at around the same time period. I played them both on the XBox360 (actually, I first bought Prey for the PC, but my home computer couldn't handle it, so I bought another copy for the Xbox).

What was interesting to me is that Bioshock seemed to be a lot more popular, and it won more awards, but it was clearly an inferior game. Bioshock had impressive production values, but poor game play. By production values, I mean the visual artwork, the voice acting, the dialog and similar sorts of things not related to game play (except for the predictable cliche of having the narrator who leads you through the early game turn on you near the end). But, as good as the production values were, Bioshock was rather unimpressive as a game. There were only four different kinds of opponents. The special abilities were cliche: you've got your fire, you've got your lightening, and you've got your ice attack. And the special abilities didn't fit the scifi explanation for them. Also, the game takes place in an underground city but one of the attacks was a swarm of bees (actually just fire with a different special effect).

There was nothing original in the game play at all, unless you count the "hacking" subgame. More on that later. There was a beautiful underwater city and you wandered around in it, killing bad guys. Stairs and elevators were about the only obstacles. You are in an underwater city, but there is no swimming except for the very beginnin where you fake-swim on the surface. There is also no climbing, no crawling, no driving ... In terms of game play, this game was less complex than Quake. And that was disappointing because once I saw the setting, I was looking forward to game element like scuba, driving submarines, and maybe a scene where you have to leave an airlock without breathing gear and make it to another airlock before you run out of air. But no. Just run and shoot, run and shoot, hide, run and shoot. That's the game.

One thing about Bioshock that seemed to impress other reviewers was the hacking feature. This is where you want to hack a computer or electronic lock or something, so they bring up an related arcade-style game. If you win the arcade-style game then you have hacked successfully. I don't care much for this game mechanic. If I wanted to play an arcade-style game then I would have bought an arcade-style game. Actually the arcade-style game was fairly entertaining, but if they had chosen a different one, I can easily see myself hating the entire Bioshock game for forcing me to waste my time playing a game that I don't like just to go on with the game that I wanted to play.

By contrast, the production values of Prey were not very good. The scenery was a bit plastic, the dialog and voice acting were cringe-inducing, and the plot was uniformly bad. But the game play was awesome. They introduced a number of new features that were really cool, and the levels made excellent use of them. They had changing gravity. There were silver pathways with their own gravity. You would walk into a room, walk up the wall, and soon you could look upside down at the door you just entered. Some of the walkways could be turned on and off, by you or by opponents. There were portals -- holes in space that connect two different game areas --step through a portal in room A and end up in room B. And there was a new kind of player ability, astral projection. You could have your spirit step out of your body. The spirit could bypass some barriers that would stop the body, but it couldn't use the artificial gravity of the silver walkways. There were lots of obstacles involving the walkways and portals, where you had to use your wits and astral projection to solve the problem. There were space vehicles to pilot. And there were some very cool effects combining portals and scaling. Prey is arguably the most interesting game in terms of in-game effects since Duke-Nukem 3D.

I'm afraid that what the game companies are going to learn from this pair and their relative success is that FPS games are just interactive action movies. Get good production values, a couple of charismatic characters, and a predictable plot, let the player pull a trigger once in a while, and you've got a prize-winner. And that would be too bad, because those games just aren't much fun. I didn't even finish Bioshock. I was bored near the end and just stopped playing.

One thing really struck me about both games --the use of violence against children. In Bioshock, you are encouraged to kill little girls and suck the life out of them to increase your own powers. If you refuse to do it, then you still get to play, but it is more difficult to win. I wouldn't do that even in a game. The whole idea of playing an evil person doesn't appeal to me at all. In Prey, there are a couple of pointless scenes where you have to fight the ghosts of murdered children. That didn't strike me as being as bad as Bioshock because, first, the ghosts were actually attacking you and would kill you eventually if you didn't fight back, and second, they were ghosts rather than real children.

Still, I wondered if this was sign of things to come. As video games compete with each other to be more violent and more objectionable to parents, we might be seeing more and more of this deliberately-shocking violence. And that's something that worries me, not only as a social event but in terms of what it means to the future of games. Shocking violence doesn't appeal to me at all. I have no interest in slasher movies, and if FPS games start to look like slasher movies I'm going to lose a form of entertainment that I used to enjoy.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

a tale of two video games

I decided to skip the pun in the title so I wouldn't get distracted like in my last post and never get around to reviewing the two video games. I've noticed a tendency to get distracted in my blog posts at times. I sit down to write a post about one topic, but then I get sidetracked and end up writing about an entirely different topic.

It's really just a matter of discipline, I suppose. I just need to discipline my writing like I need to discipline my caffeine intake. I quite caffeine some time back, but then I fell off the wagon and for the last few months, my caffeine intake has been increasing to where I'm up to three sodas a day. I'm starting to get the negative effects of acid reflux and long sleepless nights followed by lethargic days. I really need to quit caffeine again. I think I'll start tapering off tomorrow. I can't quit cold turkey from three sodas a day or I would get a horrific caffeine headache.

So, wish me luck in kicking the caffeine habit again.

a tail of two video games

Yes, I know the correct spelling is "tale". It's sort of a pun. A forced pun, but a pun nevertheless. See, I played both of these video games a relatively long time ago, so this review is sort of the tail of my interaction with them. Well, I said it was a forced pun. But I just realized that this could me the title for my next episode of "Heroes for Hire". I'm trying to make all of the titles from bad puns. The first two episodes are "A Guilding of Lillies" and "A Meating of Mines". I have to come up with a bad pun for "A Tale of to Cities". Or maybe "A tell of too Cities". You might think it impossible, but the rule with bad puns is that there are no roles. For the first episode title, I actually made up a word to make it work.

Now were was I? Oh yes, I was going to do a comparative review of two video games, Bioshock and Prey. But I think this post is already long enough so I think I'll just stop here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

why no vouchers?

This video from Head Noises betrays the real reason that the Democrats are opposed to school vouchers that would let parents chose which school to send their kids to. They say that it's the teacher's unions, but that's not the real reason. Why would the teacher's unions be afraid of losing money? Shouldn't they instead be excited by the prospect of private schools taking government money, and thereby creating leverage for the government forcing them to unionize? That sort of aggressive taking money by force is much more a typical Democrat strategy than just holding the line.

The real reason that the Democrats want to keep kids in public schools is because they control the schools and it lets them indoctrinate other people's children.

Whenever the Democrats talk about divisiveness (meaning Republican policies), think about that. The Republicans, by and large, are the ones who are willing to compromise, to let people live like they want. It is the Democrats who want to indoctrinate other people's children, who want to teach evolution and sex education to the children of people who don't want that taught their kids, who want the law to legitimize a particular sexual perversion and force people to accept it, who try to pass their cultural changes through the courts when they can't do it by democratic action.

The Democrats have policy decisions that are positively calculated to anger people and cause divisiveness in the country. The Republicans by contrast are willing to look at these areas of intense disagreement and try to find a way for each side to have freedom of conscience.

Judge Judy is a bitch

I haven't watched the Judge Judy show very much, but it seems like every time I've seen it, she was an irrational bitch who arbitrarily took one side or the other before any testimony was given, and spent the entire "trial" doing nothing but browbeating the other side, calling them a liar, and mocking them.

She shows no capacity for logical reasoning. Several times I've seen the person that she decided to hate trying to explain that she was missing something, making an unwarranted conclusion, or assuming something for which there was no evidence; it was obvious to me that the person was right, or at least plausibly right, but Judge Judy just dismissed their good arguments with contempt and insults.

I shudder to think of myself coming under the power of such an irrational, hostile self-righteous harridan. If I ever get sued, I expect that will be a powerful motivation for settling out of court. Just in case Judge Judy is a typical judge.

Monday, November 03, 2008

tabula rasa, SciFi games, and zombies

Well, I finally got that PlayNC game up and running. It wasn't worth the effort. The graphics are poor, the game play is stuttery, the back story is depressing, the user interface is baroque, the powers are cliche, the equipment is algorithmic, the maps are unimaginative, the missions are poorly designed, and the game crashed on me the second time I tried to play it.

The graphics, game play and crashing may be related to my system, but I'm afraid the rest of the issues I have with the game are systemic. I may try it again since I have until Saturday on my free week, but I'd really like to find something else.

Foxfier mentioned World of Warcraft, but for some reason the fantasy scenario just doesn't appeal to me in 3D gaming. Maybe it's because I don't think it can possibly match up against Nethack. Maybe it's because the 3D games that I've enjoyed most over the years have been Sci-Fi oriented: Duke Nukem 3D, Dark Forces & sequals, Half-Life & sequels, Unreal & sequel, Prey, Halo & sequels. Other settings such as Id's horror games and the plethora of WWII games were OK, but not as good. Then there was Far Cry, which was really good but only remotely Sci Fi.

By the way, isn't it about time to drop the zombies? I mean, how cliche can you get? Other than the Dark Forces games, a couple of second-tier games whose names I don't recall, and (some of) the WWII games, I think every first-person shooter I've ever played has you fighting against some form of grotesquely modified humans who have been taken over and rebuilt into some zombie-like creature. The zombies are the easily the least attractive feature of both the Half-Life series and the Halo series. Enough with the zombies already. I'm thoroughly sick of them.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

superstition and Christianity

Once hanging out in the lunchroom at my office, the subject of fortune telling came up. I was only mildly surprised that some of the religious Hindus from India believed in fortune telling. Sure, they were highly educated, but superstition was part of their upbringing. And if their education had not prompted them to give up Hinduism, then there is no particular reason to think that it would make them give up their other supernatural beliefs. What surprised me is that even the Americans in the room mostly believed in fortune-telling, and even the hard-core atheist would not dismiss it out of hand. This was a man who dismisses the idea of God as a silly superstition, but cannot bring himself to dismiss palm-reading and astrology as silly superstitions. What's going on here?

This article by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway may provide part of the answer:
... a comprehensive new study ... shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious ..., far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.
Hemingway provides a pointed example of a man who thinks that he is too logical and grounded to believe in the superstition of Jesus:
"You can't be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you're drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god," comedian and atheist Bill Maher said ...

In fact, [Maher] is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O'Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman -- a quintuple bypass survivor -- to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn't accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: "I don't believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory." He has told CNN's Larry King that he won't take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn't even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.
And note that Maher seems to believe that Jesus was actually an alien visitor (this is a common belief of the out-there crowd), otherwise the reference to a "space god" makes no sense.

Furthermore, Maher has said that human-caused global warming is simply a fact and insulted George Bush for expressing doubts about it. Get that: he is a logical, fact-driven thinker who doubts that the Salk vaccine eradicated polio --one of the most well-documented facts of medical science-- yet anyone who expressed doubt about the most extreme interpretation of some sparse data and a few mutually contradictory climate models is an idiot.

It is pretty clear what is going on here, at least in the case of Bill Maher. His scientific views are driven by his socio/political views. He doesn't make up his mind on the basis of the evidence, but on the basis of what is most beneficial to his social and political agenda.

And I don't think this is unusual. Humans today --all humans, including hard-nosed scientists and skeptical atheists-- are no different than they were a thousand years ago when superstition was the reigning mode of thought. They like to think that the scientific revolution created a major change in human thinking, and that they, as the true children of that revolution inherited this new mode of right thinking. This justifies their sanctimonious condescension to everyone else. If you don't think like they think, then you just missed the revolution in thought; you are stuck in the old way of thinking.

What they don't know is that Christianity is the new way of thinking. It is Christianity that drove the spirits out of the trees and the demons out of the fire and made the world into a law-driven place. It is Christianity that made science possible. This idea of the battle between religion and science is a myth. It never happened. In the days of Galileo, there were Christians on both sides of the issue, so it makes no sense at all to say that it was a battle between the Christians and the scientists. This was a battle within Christianity over whether men would have the freedom of their own consciences or they would be physically forced to follow the doctrines of the Church. In reality, the trial of Galileo was a battle in the ongoing Reformation, the movement to break the chains of the Catholic church. It was in no way a battle of Christianity vs. free thought but a battle among Christians of enforced Catholic dogma vs. free thought.

Christianity has always been a force against superstition. Atheists blame the Salem witch trials on Christianity, but they neglect the fact that witch trials were an ancient custom, far predating Christianity. The Salem witch trials were not an instance of Christianity showing how superstitious it is, but rather the last gasp of an evil superstitious custom as it was stamped out by Christianity. Christianity continued to thrive long past the Salem witch trials, but witch trials died out. Why is that, if Christianity causes witch trials?

Actually, witch trials have not died out, they have just changed their superstitious grounds. Modern witch trials involve the "recovered memories" of unbalanced young women or the bizarre fantasies of young children who are kept in a room for hours and encouraged to make up sexual stories about their parents or daycare providers.

The fact is that very few people are really the hard-nosed materialists that they portray themselves as. Almost everyone has beliefs about the supernatural. Christian beliefs about the supernatural are largely centered around just what is revealed in the Bible. For non-Christians, it is whatever strikes their fancy. Fortune-telling and haunted houses and universal elixirs may be less common among scientists, but they have picked up modern superstitions in the forms of alien visitors who will one day rescue us from ourselves or who left us messages in the past, mysterious life forces that can be modified by crystals or magnets or needles, Kirlian photography, plants with emotions, pyramid effects, meditation magic, mental powers, reincarnation, recovered memories from past lives, thetans...

I've noted before how scientists are so horrified about creationism --which is about what happened in the past and doesn't effect us today-- but don't care about the real harm done by fortune tellers and superstitious medical quacks. Either they believe in these things themselves or they are not motivated to make a big deal out of it when they don't have the motivation of religious hatred. It is not science, but Christianity that preserves us from superstition.

programmer appreciation day

Programmer appreciation day is the day when we line up all programmers, and you get to slap the ones that have made your life miserable by stupid design decisions. My latest candidate is the people who do the install for PlayNC games. I recently tried to install one of their games. The first thing you download is a "downloader" program. I thought that was a great idea. The download probably takes a long time, so this program gets all of the information needed for an installation and then downloads and installs all at once while I go do something else. I'll just start it up, fill in the information, go away for an hour and then I can come back and play the game, right?

Not exactly. You start the download program and it spends the next couple of hours downloading the install program. Then it runs the install program which has you pick your folders, agree to the user agreement, and click a button, and then it starts installing. The installation takes forever. Then it asks for some more information and continues for another very long time. But it's finally done right? I can go to bed because it's late, but when I wake up in the morning I'll be able to start playing the game, right?

Not exactly. The next morning, you try to start the game and it has you agree to the terms again and then it starts downloading the update, which also takes a very long time. So far it has been running for twenty minutes and it is 1% done. In other words, all of the stuff that it spent downloading yesterday is just being thrown away and replaced with the stuff that it is downloading today. Those hours of downloading yesterday were completely useless. And it looks like my plans for the weekend --try out an online game-- are shot. It takes the whole weekend just to install the damn thing.

Some moron actually decided to do things this way. This isn't an accident like when your car breaks down or a pipe leaks and gives you water damage. This is the intentional behavior of the software, implemented by someone who either was too dumb to see the consequence of his design decisions or too lazy to do it right.

Friday, October 31, 2008

more liberal hypocrisy

The sleaziness of the liberal media continues to surprise me. I don't know why, but it does. I'm watching Bill Moyers. There are two Obama partisans discussing the evil tactics of John McCain with him. Within five minutes there were two instances of unfathomable hypocrisy. It began with one of the guests talking about an ad where John McCain criticizes Obama for wanting to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens and putting up a picture of Mohamed Atta on a driver's license. The guest claimed that the only reason for the ad is to create an association in people's minds between Obama and terrorists. Of course, that's not what the ad was doing at all; it was pointing out the incredible irresponsibility of giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens. What better way to show that than to show the driver's license that a terrorist was able to pick up in a state with just such policies?

The first instance of hypocrisy was when the other guest followed up the first guest's lie by saying that the real harm of this is that after the election, if Obama wins, he is going to have to govern, and that causing Americans to distrust the president hurts all of us. Any genuine journalist would have asked whether by that logic, the last eight years of vicious attacks on George Bush, who was not just a candidate but the actual president, were harmful to all of us. Why the double standard? But Moyers, a loyal Democrat stooge, just let the comment pass, as though Republicans had invented the tactic of making people distrust presidential candidates.

The second instance was from Moyers, who had just agreed how mean it was for John McCain to try to associate Obama with terrorists. He then pulled out three or four pieces of letter-size paper that he said had been put up in train and bus stations. All of them were in poor taste and one was outright racist. Clearly, these ads were either Democrat-supplied frauds, or the work of random psychos with cheap printers at home. Moyer's asked, "do these kinds of ads work?" This is just after they have been criticizing John McCain's ads. Clearly Moyer's is trying to associate John McCain with these ads, even though clearly neither John McCain nor anyone in the Republican leadership had anything to do with them.

How more blatant can they demonstrate that their accusations against Republicans are based largely on psychological projection? Democrats have always tried to associate Republicans with racists, religious bigots, and other unsavory types, even though there is no rational reason for it. So whenever Republican say anything that brings a Democrat together with any unsavory figure, regardless of the context or the point that is being made, or the evidence behind the point, they scream that Republicans are just doing what Democrats always do.

And as long as Democrats control the media, they will continue to be able to get away with this lying and character assassination. One of the more depressing things about recent events is the evidence of growing Democrat control over the internet. I thought that the internet might be the way that America would break free of Democrat thought control. But the Democrats saw that also, and have jumped on it will all four feet. Nothing as minor as the internet is going to be between them and power.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'm a genius

OK, this doesn't prove my entire suspicion correct, but there has been at least one case where a woman is listed as giving almost $200,000 to the Obama campaign and she claims she hasn't given any. Now if you are going to funnel money to someone illegally, you try to avoid funneling it by a mechanism that is openly illegal. In particular, when the law says that one person can only give up to $2,300 to the campaign, you try to avoid using the same fake name for many times that much. So how many false names do you think they had to go through to accidentally pick the same false name at least 76 times? I suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg. But by the time it starts coming out, Democrats will have not only a stranglehold on the news media, but also on the federal government. There will never be a thorough investigation of this.

(link from Stephen Frank)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

third person omniscient-by-cheating

I don't know when, but at some point in my long career of reading fiction, I started to become annoyed at the omniscient-by-cheating narrative mode. That's a term I just made up. What it means is that the story's point of view is nominally first person or third-person subjective (meaning that the narrator only knows what one particular character knows), but they give other information by cheating. The most common form of cheating is the old "his eyes narrowed with suspicion". It tells you that the other guy is suspicious without leaving the limited knowledge of one character. In real life, you can't tell reliably when someone is suspicious by looking at their eyes. You might be suspicious that they are suspicious, but you can't really know. Similar lines: "the flat, dead eyes of a killer", "As he walked, Joe could tell from the smoothness of his movements that he was an experienced and dangerous fighter", "the bulge under his jacket showed that he carried a gun", etc. In the real world, his eyes might have been flat and dead because he was bored, he might have walked smoothly because his hemorrhoids made it painful to walk any other way, and the bulge under his jacket might be his lunch.

This narrative mode is different from the Sherlock Holmes trick. When characters do the Sherlock Holmes trick, they have some special ability to observer minute details and draw conclusions from them. There is in principle no reason that the character could not be wrong, any more than any other conclusion of the character might be wrong. By contrast, in the omniscience-by-cheating mode, the character doesn't have any special abilities and there is no chance that he is wrong, it is just the author telling you that this guy is a trained killer, that guy has a gun, etc.

You can see why authors do this. It lets them retain the intimacy and immediacy of the third-person subjective mode, while giving them the ability to reveal more information, to increase suspense, and such. I usually write in first person or third-person subjective but I don't do the point-of-view cheating because, well, I just don't think that way. If I want to reveal that this guy is suspicious then I have to come up with a way that the character could figure it out. If I really have to, and I'm in third-person subjective, I might step out of subjective mode for a bit because that seems less jarring to me than the idea that the character has sporadic god-like powers to read thoughts from facial expressions.

But even stepping outside of personal mode seems like cheating to me, so I avoid even that. And I think this explains the tunnel-vision quality of most of my fiction. What I mean by that is "tunnel vision" is that the stories seem to constrain the reader, keeping his view of events narrow, even claustrophobic. The reader feels that there are things going on that he doesn't know or doesn't understand because he just isn't getting all of the information. I've noticed this quality before, but never really understood what the source was. I've noticed it also in two authors, Jack Vance and Lawrence Watt-Evans. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a bit constraining.

Part of this tunnel-vision quality is that I tend not to dwell on what the p.o.v. character is feeling. If it is mentioned at all, it is passed over quickly. But as I've been thinking about this point-of-view cheating, I think another aspect is that a strong unwillingness to cheat on the point of view, either by stepping out of it or by inventing signs that aren't there in real life, leads to this constrained view of the world. The reader doesn't know any more in the book than he would know in real life, and this gives a slight sense of claustrophobia and tunnel vision.

Monday, October 13, 2008

the source of Obama's record-breaking funding

I've been thinking this ever since I first read about Obama's record-breaking funding efforts, but now that all of the information about ACORN is coming out, I think it might be worth asking publicly: is anyone investigating whether the funding is legitimate? How hard would it be for an organization like ACORN --which seems to be dedicated to Democrats winning by any means, legal or otherwise, to arrange lots of small contributions from one large fund? (and if so, $800,000 was then laundered by Obama and given back to ACORN).

How are these donations validated and how would one investigate them? Could you get a list of the donations with phone numbers and call some of them? It's probably too late to do anything, but I won't be surprised if a few months after the election we find out that the bulk of Obama's money we illegally funneled to him from George Soros.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

programmer appreciation day

For those of you who don't know, "programmer appreciation day" is a holiday that I once proposed where we line up all of the programmers and you get to slap the ones who have irritated you by their stupid design choices.

My nominee for today is the moron who decided it was a good idea to let your browser play sound files without asking. I recently visited a site that plays a short piece of music when you click on the site. It irritates the hell out of me. Not so much the music itself, as that I wanted to VIEW something and instead I am HEARING something. My own computer, paid for with my own money is not under my control, and this really pisses me off.

And the 'tards who added this feature to Firefox apparently thought that it was so obvious that everyone wants to listen to every damn sound file put up by any idiot with a web site that they don't even give a simple way to turn the feature off. There probably is a way to turn it off if you spend an hour figuring out how and you are a programmer. I'll probably be doing that later today.

One thing that did not work was going through the entire list of plugins and setting them all to "always ask". Apparently there is a special exception for .wav files where it doesn't have to ask even if you tell it to because some moron programmer couldn't imagine why you might not want your computer blaring forth with random music fragments as you browse the web.

And as long as I'm on a roll, I'd like to add a nomination for the idiot who first started using the "bell" (really a primitive speaker) to beep at you when you make an error. What additional information could that beep possibly add to the error message? Is the unpleasant sound and startlement supposed to train you not to commit errors? Didn't work. Or is the point to let everyone in the office know that you committed an error, in case they are keeping score? This was so bad in Linux that I used to cut the wire to the built-in speaker on my PCs.

My computer today has a mute button that I can use as a less drastic substitute for cutting the wires, but it still annoys the hell out of me that I can't control what my own computer does when it visits web sites.

UPDATE: Well, NoScript seems to have done the trick. It cancels a lot of other stuff though. I'm not sure if I prefer the security or the convenience.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

media bias

Just last Friday I overheard an argument where someone was arguing that the media is not biased. This bias has been so extensively documented that it would be astonishing to me that anyone can deny it --except for the fact that the people who deny it get all of their information from the mainstream media. Their attitude seems to be: "I get all of my information from the mainstream media, and I have seen no information about mainstream-media bias, therefore it must not exist."

The documentation has been in several forms:

1. Studies showing that the media is predominantly Democrat. This does not prove that they can't be unbiased, but surely it gives weight to the charge that they are biased --especially since Republicans knew about the lopsided party affiliation of the media decades before it was documented. If this were science, we would say that the media-bias hypothesis has predictive power. And besides that, the very lopsidedness of the field is strong evidence of political bias in hiring and promotions. If they would stoop to that, why not to political bias in reporting?

2. Case studies showing a set of similar stories where some of the stories would harm Republicans and some would harm Democrats, along with some sort of measure of how much the press covered each story. They overwhelmingly concentrate on stories that are harmful to Republicans.

3. Case studies like this showing how the press responds to a story that might embarrass a Democrat by presenting only the evidence that tends to exonerate the Democrat and ignoring the rest.

The evidence is overwhelming, yet people continue to be ignorant of the evidence or are deliberately obtuse. In the argument that I overheard, the Republican asked why the press doesn't give quizzes to Democrats like they have done to Republicans (specifically George Bush, and Sarah Palin). The Democrat said that it's because Republicans claim to be the party that's "not smart but moral". When challenged on that ridiculous claim, he backed off to the claim that Republicans act like regular guys instead of like intellectuals, so that provokes reporters into trying to show that they are stupid.

Does that make sense to you? What's more entertaining, embarrassing someone who says that he's just a regular guy or embarrassing someone who thinks that he's smarter than everyone else? If it were really about the candidates self-presentation, then the press would be trying to embarrass the "really, really smart" Democrats with quizzes and they would try to catch the Republicans eating brie at the ballet. But of course, that's not what it is. Reporters think Republicans are stupid because they think anyone who doesn't agree with their political positions is stupid. And that's why they quiz Republicans.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

clearing up the issues

Man. It looks like Spur is going to keep me busy. The free comment system that I use isn't very convenient for on-going discussions, so I'm going to pull out Spur's comments that I want to respond to. If I'm careless, this will turn into a strategy to always give myself the last word, but that isn't my intention. If you want to get a Google account, Spur, I would be glad to give you co-hosting privileges so you can append to my posts rather than comment.

Here is his comment in response to this. I'm limiting the quote to parts that I want to respond to:
I would like to raise a further point from the outset. You say that the war in Iraq has been an "astonishing success" and that most Americans who do not realize this do not realize it because they have been deceived by the predominantly liberal media into thinking otherwise. But another possibility is that the war really isn't going that well and the Bush administration and die-hard conservatives want people to think it is going well, the result being that people who pay close attention to conservative commentators, writers, and other outlets are getting a distorted impression of how things are going in Iraq. So how do you know that it's not you who is being deceived about how the war in Iraq is going? In other words, we are both getting our information about the war from one kind of medium or another. So how do you know that your media sources are the trustworthy ones and mine aren't? (BTW, did you notice how McCain emphasized during the debate on Friday that the Bush administration had mismanaged the war in Iraq?)
Yes, I know that lots of conservatives and Bush supporters think that he has mismanaged the war. I am by no means a Bush supporter (I stayed home twice rather than vote for him) but I think that the war in Iraq and the War on Terror have gone remarkably well --not because of what conservative writers have said but because of what has happened and what has not happened, and because of the historical incidents that I compare it to. I hope to write a post on this soon. To be clear, though, when I say "media bias" I don't primarily mean that their facts are wrong. Media bias shows itself in emphasis (months of stories on Abu Grhaib, for example) and in attitude (treating American losses as militarily devastating and enemy losses as militarily insignificant, for example) more than in the actual facts. I doubt that you and I disagree very much on the facts of what is happening in Iraq and on what has happened --what we probably disagree on is what it was reasonable to expect.

Continuing:
I'd also like to make a preliminary comment about (2). Since you think Bush's popularity is historically low in large part because of his liberal policies, you must think that either (a) people who are dissatisfied with Bush realize that his liberal policies are one of the reasons they disapprove of him or (b) people who are dissatisfied with Bush do not realize that his liberal policies are one of the reasons they disapprove of him. If (a) is your position, then it seems the only way you could establish this would be to point to polling data which show that people who disapprove of Bush cite his liberal policies as one of their reasons for disapproving of him. As far as I can tell there is no such data. If (b) is your position, however, then it seems to me that it would be exceedingly difficult to show that Bush's "liberal policies" are one of the major reasons leading these people to disapprove of him. It seems to me, therefore, that (2) is a lost cause, unless you are going to introduce some unusually broad definition of "liberal."
My position is more complex than either (a) or (b). My position is that Bush's liberal policies have had two relevant effects: they have led to a great deal of strong, bordering on hostile, criticism of Bush from many respected conservative opinion-makers. Even if these criticisms don't come up in the polls, they have to have an effect on the way that conservatives think of Bush. Second, these acts have had an emotional effect on many conservatives, giving them the depressing feeling that even when they win the elections they continue to lose the policy battles. Since the president that they vote for makes them depressed rather than proud, they are far more likely to internalize all of the negative press about him. If they felt that Bush was one of them then they would stand up for him against the negative press.

So his liberal policies have lost him the good will of his former supporters and in that way have indirectly led to his low approval numbers. Since the effect that I postulate is indirect, you would not expect to see it in the polls. However, I will say that I am surprised that we have not seen this in the polls more strongly and my indirect theory is a way to explain the disconnect between the polls and my personal observations of Republican attitudes. It is possible that my observations on this are statistical flukes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

FactCheck.org is biased

FactCheck.org is not an impartial organization. Their posts frequently have partisan qualities, and those qualities always seem to be towards the Democrats. By partisan qualities, I don't mean lying or deliberately mis-stating anything. In fact, FactCheck.org has all the marks of a group of Democrats and left-leaning independents who are making a sincere effort to be non-partisan and are doing as well as can be expected of such a group. But they do tend to emphasize Republican problems and minimize Democrat problems. They sometimes write lines that are somewhat sneering to Republicans. And when they editorialize (as they do more often that one would want in an impartial organization) it is always in favor of the Democrats. I'm planning to do several posts on this subject. Hopefully I can do it mostly by linking to other bloggers and minimize my own work...

For my first example, FactCheck.org responds in a biased way to an NRA add. Jim Geraghety points out a few ways that they got it wrong. Snowflakes in Hell points out a few more ways that they got it wrong. Those two links are fairly polite, so I recommend them to the opposition. For more details but in a less temperate fashion see Xrlq who has an argument as well as a set of links that I got the first two from. FactCheck.org dismisses Obama's record in favor of his current campaign rhetoric. That seems to be leaving out some significant facts. Also, they replace the NRA's subjective evaluation of the evidence with their own subjective evaluation. These are not the acts of an impartial organization.

Another example is FactCheck.org's response to a McCain ad that charges that Obama has voted 94 time "for higher taxes". This one is well-handled by Albany Media Bias. The only thing I'll add is this quote from FactCheck.org: "by repeating their inflated 94-vote figure, the McCain campaign and the GOP falsely imply that Obama has pushed indiscriminately to raise taxes for nearly everybody." Of course, the proposition that this is what is implied is not a fact, it is an opinion. But most of the FactCheck.org response was effectively a response to this restating of McCain's ad. That is not the behavior of an impartial organization.

Welcome to Spur

I've been having an on-going discussion with Spur on Maverick Philosopher. In that discussion, Spur accused me of having strange ideas that could not stand up to scrutiny. That sounds more hostile than it is --on philosophy blogs you say stuff like that. It isn't an insult, it is an invitation to prove the speaker wrong. But I've been feeling uncomfortable having such a discussion on a primarily non-political blog, so I was glad to see that Spur visited here in the comments. And, in hopes that he will return, I plan to do some posts backing up a few of the particular points that he objected to. The points that Spur called strange are these:

1. Bush's handling of the Iraq War has been very good, and the impression otherwise is largely due to hostile press coverage.
2. Bush's liberal policies are a large part of why his popularity is so low.

He also questioned these points:

3. FactCheck.org is a biased organization that favors the Democrats.
4. Bush's handling of the Katrina hurricane was reasonably competent, and again, it was a hostile press that makes people think otherwise.

In addition, in a comment on this blog, he challenged this statement:

5. Obama's political campaign has repeatedly charged his critics with racism.

Over the next few days, I'll try to address all five points --as long as Spur shows up to argue with me. If he doesn't come back then I'll probably lose interest. They won't necessarily be in that order and I may use several posts on one point.

So, welcome to the blog, Spur. I no longer recall your blog address. If you will put it in a comment, I'll post it. And if you want to post replies to me on your blog, I'll link to them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the doom ticket

By the way, I've been meaning to link this. It's a photo by that photographer (a professional journalist, mind you) who bragged that she tricked John McCain into standing in a bad light so she could get some unflattering photos. Here is one unflattering photo, along with the lesson: "the best laid schemes o' mice an' liberal fembots gang aft agley".

Obama and terrorists

From Instapundit, here is an interesting link to a post with an interesting link to an article with new information about Obama's ties to unrepentant communist terrorist Richard Ayers:
It appears that Ayers took a keen interest in Obama at a time when Obama was nothing more than, as Stanley puts it, "a young and inexperienced lawyer." Why? There are tens of thousands of young and inexperienced lawyers in Chicago. What did Ayers see in (or hear from) Obama that caused the former to take such an interest in him?
But just because Obama was the protoge of a communist terrorist, that's no reason to question his patriotism.

So here's a thought experiment for you. Suppose that the national news industry got wind of a story about how Sarah Palin was mentored by a former domestic terrorist or someone equally controversial. How many TV networks and major papers and news magazines do you think would be dedicating teams to research the story?

My answer: pretty much all of them. And how many of these groups do you think have dedicated teams to investigating Obama's times to a former terrorist? My guess: pretty much none of them. But that doesn't mean the press is in the tank for Obama.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the paradox of Obama

Xrlq (rhymes with "Jeff") links to this CNN editorial about how the only possible explanation of why Obama isn't way ahead in the polls is racism. Maverick Philosopher has a couple of more examples, and they could be multiplied futher.

I think that the charge is a bit simplistic, but I have to admit that racism plays a big part in Obama's troubles. And it is a big part of why I'm so opposed to him. I was fairly neutral on Obama until found out about his racist church. And since then, his tendency to let his campaign and his supporters repeatedly accuse his opponents of racism. And finally there was the article by Ann Coulter showing from Obama's own autobiography how quick Obama is to distrust and despise white people --including his own grandmother. All of that makes me realize that Obama is a pretty hard-core racist.

Given this, I don't think any anti-racist American can ethically support Obama for president --or any other public trust. I'd go further and say that by this point, the majority of Obama's support comes from racists or at least those tolerant of racists.

But what I really wanted to write about was this quote by Xrlq: "I guess we have to look forward to four years of President Obama or four more years of liberals whining about how everyone but them is a racist." Many Americans seem to be under the impression that if we elect a black president, then this will somehow lessen racial tensions in the country by showing that the country is non-racist enough to elect a black president. In other words, many Americans are hopelessly naive. If Obama is defeated in this election, there will be the usual condemnation of the Great Racist Satan, America, and we can look forward to at least a decade where liberals toss out allusions to this election whenever they are losing the argument in order to distract us and make us once again defend how the elections was not about racism.

But if Obama is elected, we can look forward to four years of intensely racial politics that will change the political landscape very much for the worse. Race will become an Obama administration's goto charge for anyone they are angry at, anyone who opposed a substantive policy initiative. And that's just policy initiatives; imagine if Obama or any of his Chicago cronies are caught in corruption or other misbehavior in office. Racism will be their armor against all criticism.

I'm persuaded that for intelligent liberals, one of the primary reasons they are so excited by the idea of a black president, is because they know that it will give them leverage for four years and create an environment where the charge of racism can be used more freely beyond that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

just hit the shift key

When your screen saver kicks in because you haven't done anything on the computer for too long, the following behaviors are non-optimal:

1. Hit the space bar -- since you probably don't know where the focus is, you don't know what this is going to do.

2. Hit the Enter/Return key -- this is even more dangerous than the space bar.

3. Tap the mouse -- this is safe and it works most of the time, but it sometimes doesn't work because you don't move the mouse enough, so you might have to do it two or three times. Not efficient.

4. Put your hand on the mouse and shake it -- this is safe and it works all the time, but it's highly wasteful of time and energy.

Just hit the shift key (or Alt key or Ctrl key). Those are always safe (well, unless you are using an application written by an idiot) and they are highly time- and energy-efficient actions.

This useful computer tip has been brought to you by someone who gets irrationally annoyed at other people's non-optimal behavior.

Thank you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Staal v. Scalia

Leslie Stahl made me laugh out loud during her 60-minutes interview of Justice Scalia. First she said that Bush v. Gore is (I quote from memory) "possibly the most controversial Supreme-Court decision in recent history". This seems to be a common opinion among the Democrats, who are more impressed by the case that really made them angry than by the case (Roe v Wade) that caused a major realignment of American politics and has been one of the top voting issues in national elections for decades.

Then the reporter started arguing with the Supreme-Court Justice about the Constitution. Stahl was talking about the practice of torturing suspects for information and she brought up the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause. Scalia pointed out that torture used for interrogation is not punishment. He tried three times to get this simple point across but Stahl just didn't get it. Scalia said "What is he [the terrorist] being punished for?" and Stahl answered "for being a terrorist". She just doesn't get the difference between punishment and interrogation. Apparently everything you do to a prisoner that the prisoner doesn't like just fits into one big conceptual box for her. If she had said "for not answering questions", she would at least have furthered the debate, but she clearly didn't comprehend the point at all. So Scalia got impatient with her stupidity and finally said, "Well, that's my opinion and I'm right."

Shortly after that line, 60-Minutes broke out of the interview and Stahl said something like "Well, Justice Scalia is never unsure or uncertain, and next we are going to look at his childhood to see what made him that way". That's when I laughed out loud.

This is one of the most ridiculous and pathetically self-unaware fantasies of the Left --that conservatives are somehow peculiarly, even pathologically certain and inflexible (as opposed to themselves, of course). Stahl is so confident, so certain about her own untutored opinion of the Constitution that she is willing to argue on national television with one of the world's foremost constitutional scholars. But it's not her certainty that needs to be explained. It's not the certainty of the amateur arguing with a Supreme-Court justice that is so odd or reckless that it needs to be explained. What is odd and reckless and in need of psychological explanation in terms of irrational impulses is the fact that someone who has spent decades studying the Constitution isn't interested in the opinions of a rank amateur.

And what is the source of Stahl's certainty? I guarantee you that it isn't years of scholarship. What makes her so certain, I expect, is her faith in the truth of her leftist world view --a faith based on no evidence, with no plausible ontological basis but entirely certain and unshakable for her anyway. And I'll also bet you that she gets frustrated with religious conservatives and how they are willing to take things on faith.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

death of a great site

How Stuff Works used to be a cool site. There were all kinds of interesting articles about cars and electronics and other stuff. But it has gone way down-hill since then. Many articles now seem to be product-driven rather than technology driven. And some of the articles are now written by idiots.

In particular there was one article where they discussed the old scam of using water as a fuel source. These scams work by separating the water into oxygen and hydrogen and then burning the hydrogen. The article in How Stuff Works implied that, although the technology does now work now, maybe it can be made to work in the future. Un-freaking-believable. How can someone writing on science and engineering topics not know about the First Law of Thermodynamics? There can't possibly be a way to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen and then combine the hydrogen and oxygen back into water and get net energy output. It would be perpetual motion machine.

However, even worse than such pathetic ignorance in a site that presumes to teach people, is the fact that now when you do searches, the search results include advertisements. And the search result page is laid out to make you think the ads are information articles, to trick you into clicking on them. So someone like me who goes to How Stuff Works specifically to get some technical information and avoid all of the ads and other junk we would get in a Google search end up looking at junk anyway. So what purpose is there for going to How Things Work any more?

I'm a strong free-market proponent, but I've got to say: the desire for increased profits combined with a complete lack of class or respect for your readers has ruined lots of good web sites.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Law and Order complaints

Well, as long as I'm complaining about Law and Order, I thought I'd complain about the legal stuff in another one. Here's the plot: Famous Baseball Player kills Limo Driver. Famous Baseball Player is taking steroids. Prosecutor thinks the motive is that Limo Driver was blackmailing Famous Baseball Player about steroid use. Prosecutor gets some sort of package from Defense and finds a memo that was put in the mail by accident. This memo mentions that Mystery Witness will not testify (doesn't say what this has to do with case). Prosecutor interviews Mystery Witness and finds out that Mystery Witness is Famous Baseball Player's gay lover and that this was what the blackmail was about --not about steroids. Judge rules that Prosecutor cannot use this information about mystery witness because they got it from Defense work product.

So far, I'm following. Now comes the strange stuff: Prosecutor tries to call Steroid Witness to show that Famous Baseball Player was being blackmailed for steroid use. Defense objects that Prosecutor is arguing a false theory. Prosecutor argues that he is only going to present evidence and let the jury draw its own conclusions. Judge rules in favor of Defense and Prosecutor's Annoying Assistant gets all indignant that Prosecutor would even try such a thing. Since Prosecutor cannot offer either theory of a motive now, Defense tries to convince the jury that there was no motive; Famous Baseball Player just went into steroid-induced rage for no reason, so he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Questions:

1. How did it become undisputed fact that the motive for the crime was the gay-lover blackmail? Why can't the Prosecutor say that the gay-lover motive is open to question and go ahead with the steroid motive?

2. If it is undisputed fact that the motive for the crime was gay-lover blackmail, then why is it OK for the Defense to argue a false theory (that the murder had no motive) but not OK for the Prosecutor to argue a false theory?

3. If the gay-lover-blackmail motive is undisputed fact and there is a double standard about who can argue false theories, then why didn't it occur to Prosecutor (or Prosecutor's Annoying Assistant) that the defense memo that eventually got both blackmail theories thrown out was put in there intentionally for just that purpose? Why not ask Defense under oath if the letter was put in accidentally? If it was deliberate and if Defense is unwilling to commit perjury, then surely this would reverse the previous decision about Mystery Witness because then the memo becomes a deliberate disclosure to Prosecutor.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

the Christian right as terrorists

Last night I saw about three episodes of Law and Order. It's one of my favorite shows, but it isn't unusual to see the warped left-wing ideology of the shows creaters in the script. There are have been two major groups of terrorists in the world over the last hundred years: the Left and the Muslims. The Christian right was largely organized to oppose the Left, and since then has been about the only group criticizing Muslims. And in both cases, their primary, most universal complaint against both the Left and the Muslims is the violence that these groups inspire and endorse. Not only do Muslims and the Left together contribute the vast majority of terrorists in the modern world, there is a long record of the non-terrorists in both groups excusing and even supporting the terrorists.

By contrast, when people try to name terrorists of the Christian right, they usually end up naming people who aren't even Christians. I doubt there has even been a political group in history with tens of millions of members and so few violent acts on behalf of the group. And the Christian right has never, in any form, ever excused or supported the tiny, insignificant amount of violence that has come out of their ranks.

Furthermore, the Christian right has been one of the most reliable supporter of Israel over the last half century, while Muslims have been wanting to kill all the Jews and the Left has been wanting the US to stand aside and let it happen. Although there have sometimes been harsh words between Jews and Christians, no one on the Christian right has ever proposed, endorsed, or even stood silently aside during violence against Jews. If you take violence as your measure rather than political and religious opposition, then the Christian right has probably been the least anti-Semitic collection of tens of millions of people in the history of the Jews.

So when Law and Order needs an anti-semitic terrorist villain, who do they make him? Well, "a combination of the christian right and the militia movement". Of course.

This is why there are millions of people in the US (and in the world, for that matter) who think that the christian right is mean and bigoted and violent and wants to enslave women. These people have never actually listened to what the christian right is really about and all they know is the ugly stereotype of popular entertainment.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

common misconceptions about common misconceptions

If you have read more than two or three things about Javascript, you have probably noticed that they almost all, without fail take pains to inform you that there is a common misconception that it Javascript is somehow related to Java, but that this is false. There is no relationship other than some syntax and the fact that they are both intended to run in web browsers. I have encountered that warning at least two dozen times in books, manuals, magazine articles, blog entries, and on-line articles. What I have never encountered is anyone who seems to suffer under this misconception.

I suspect that the existence of this common misconception is an urban myth fostered by all of the sources that warn about the misconception. Someone writing about Javascript first reads about Javascript and sees that everyone else who writes about Javascript seems to have encountered this wide-spread misconception. So even though he has never encountered the misconception himself, he assumes that it is, in fact, widespread and so he warns about it, thereby perpetuating this common misconception about the existence of a common misconception.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

poor John Edwards

Seriously, I feel sorry for the guy. As someone who has had plenty of my own moral failings, I can't help but wince in sympathetic pain for the terrible consequences that have fallen on him for his moral lapses. And partly I feel sorry for him because I think that he really does love his wife and that the primary pain that this episode is causing him is that his wife has found out that he continued cheating on her after she caught him and he promised to stop.

I caused pain once to a woman that I cared for very much and I still remember how her pain stabbed at my heart and how it continued to afflict me for years afterward, even after we were no longer together. I imagine that John Edwards went through this the first time his wife caught him cheating and that he is going through it all over now, ten times worse after he swore over and over to her that he would never do it again. But a dog returns to its vomit and John Edwards returned to his mistress. Not that I don't also feel sorry for his wife, but everyone feels sorry for his wife --that's not blog-worthy. On the other hand, I don't feel sorry for his mistress.

Why do I feel sympathy for the dog and not the vomit mistress? Maybe it's just that, being a man, I identify with the man. Maybe it's that I've never been on the mistress side of the equation so I don't know what she's going through. Or maybe it's because her actions seem to be cold, calculating, and uncaring of the feelings of others and that she is enjoying this whole episode. I guess I don't really know, but I believe that she is the one who seduced John Edwards in the first place, who seduced him back after he broke up with her, and who tricked him into giving her a baby. Why do I think so? Because apparently Edwards hasn't had a pile of mistresses like, say Bill Clinton, which suggests that he doesn't go out looking to cheat on his wife. Anyone with his power and wealth has far more opportunities than he could ever take advantage of. The fact that he has (apparently) resisted temptation in the other cases suggests that Rielle Hunter took very active steps to ensnare him.

But I could be wrong.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

google and privacy

A few weeks ago I found out that my google login has morphed into some kind of global login that can be accessed by sites all over the internet. Apparently, as long as I'm logged into blogger or gmail, any site that I visit can get my google profile information.

And it turns out that Google keeps a list of all google searches ever done, along with the IP address of the computer that did the search. And since they also know your IP address when you log in, if you have any kind of google account, they can easily make a list of every google search that you have ever done.

And, I just found out that Google is sending presence information to people that I have corresponded with a few times via gmail. In other words, if I've sent you a few email messages then you have a way to know when I'm on-line or not and when I'm active or not. They did this without asking me for permission.

I can only conclude from all this that Google has absolutely no interest in protecting the privacy of their users. I'm still trying to decide what to do about this. I don't want to move my blog at this point and I don't want to look for another email provider. I'll probably just drop the blog and start accessing email only through POP.

I've been thinking of switching to a purely technical blog anyway. This might be the time to do it.

But not on Google.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

political ignorance

Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy is arguing that political ignorance is rational. This reminds me of a previous post of mine: Interest Universalism (that term is a regretful coinage, but I couldn't come up with anything better).

We all have to chose what to spend our energy on, and it appears that there is a special name for those who chose to spend almost no energy at all on politics: "swing voter". According to a study that he kind of waves his hand at (I spent about twenty minutes trying to tack it down through his links and failed), swing voters have far less political knowledge on average than partisan voters. Since swing voters are pretty much the ones who decide elections, this implies that our elections are decided by the most ignorant.

So regardless of what is rational for the individual, this tendency for many people to ignore politics arguably has a very bad effect on the general welfare. I would tend to make that argument on the grounds that people who know more about politics would tend to vote more like me. I may be wrong about that, but I can't believe that if Republicans during the primaries had known about McCain's policies on illegal immigration, on taxes, on free speech during political campaigns, and on harsh interrogation for terrorists that they would have voted for him. Similarly, I can't believe that if most people really understood the the corrupting effects of earmarks, or the horrors of partial-birth abortion, that they would vote for politicians who support those things.

The behavior of the politicians who support all of those things I named suggests that they agree with me. That's why, for example, McCain avoided talk of illegal immigration during the primaries and became so hostile when others brought up his record on the issue. That's why Democrats get so hostile at groups who want to show pictures of partial-birth abortions. McCain and the pro-abortion crowd agree with me that more knowledge would mean less support for them.

Friday, August 01, 2008

the crushing disapointment of Hoosiers

OK, I can't say I really loved Hoosiers in the first place --I thought the drama was too thick-- but the fact that it was a true story gave it a big boost in my opinion. No more. According to this web site (link from Randy Barnett) the entire movie is made up. The history and personality of the coach, the difficulties in getting the town and players to go along, the stories of the players, the alcoholic assistant coach, the love story subplot, the many clutch games --all fiction. The only thing in the movie that was true is that a small Indiana high school won the state championship.

I'm sorry but once you use that level of revision, calling the movie "based on a true story" is just a lie.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

loving kids

Since my previous post was on mean old men who hate kids, here is a nice you woman seems to like kids.

Baldilocks is a blogger who is starting up a charity organization to support a school in Kenya. I don't very often give to secular charities, but I trust Baldilocks, so if she is going to take personal charge to make sure the money is well spent then that's good enough for me.

The kids in the school come from the same tribe as both Baldilocks and Barak Obama. In fact the school is named after Obama. This is a great opportunity for charity to extend beyond political boundaries.

UPDATE: Oops. Forgot the link...

hating kids

Professor Bainbridge doesn't like kids (link from Xrlq). He especially doesn't like kids on airplanes. As single guy in my forties who will probably never have kids, and who doesn't like noise or chaos, I could sympathize. I could sympathize, but I don't. I made a choice some time back --probably around when my brothers started spawning-- that I wasn't going to be one of those guys. You know who I mean: the mean-spirited old men (and sometimes women) who get so irritated and condescending whenever kids start acting like kids.

When you have a misbehaving child on an airplane, how does it improve the situation for the adults around to start muttering obscenities and glaring at the parents? I recall once sitting down in a plane and then having a woman sit next to me with an infant. I started to get annoyed, but then I remembered that I don't want to be one of those guys, so when she apologized for the baby's crying, I smiled and told her not to be silly --that's what babies do. It made the flight better for both of us. Yeah, the crying was a bit annoying. But my decision not to get angry or to dwell on the discomfort made it more bearable. But the mean old woman on the other side didn't take my lead. She insisted on being as miserable as possible and letting the poor mother know how miserable she was. I'm not sure the mean old woman really thought through the logic of making yourself miserable to punish someone who can't help whatever is troubling you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

songs that made me buy albums

Looking for blues songs on Youtube I ran across some songs from the old days. I was never a huge music fan. In my whole life I've bought maybe maybe ten record albums, thirty cassettes, and fifteen CDs. A lot of people buy that much in a single year. But I ran across Black Velvet by Alannah Myles and it reminded me that I bought the cassette just for that song. There were quite a few albums that I bought mostly on the strength of a single song that I heard on the radio or from someone else's copy of the album.
So I thought I'd try to find some other songs that I liked well-enough for fork out money for the album, cassette, or CD (I never bought a single).

The Gambler - Kenny Rogers

Sail On - Commodores

You're No Good - Linda Ronstadt

Boulder to Birmingham - Emmylou Harris (I had heard the album before and liked other songs on it, but mainly this one)

Proud Mary - Creedence Clearwater Revival (there were several songs on this one that I knew also)

Let Her Cry - Hootie and the Blowfish

Man, I've got to get my cassettes and records transferred to mp3 while I can still find devices to read them...

Monday, July 28, 2008

true blue

I was just mentioning to a friend the tremendous version of Give Me One Reason by Tracy Chapman (I also like the version by Kandee). The woman I was talking to didn't know what I mean when I said that it was real blues. She didn't know there was a difference between real blues and R&B or bluesy rock. The difference is that real blues has a specific harmonic and lyrical structure to it. She didn't know what I was talking about until I said, "It's like haiku; you have to follow a particular pattern." (of course that's only the word structure, there is also a chord structure). She knew what haiku is but not blues. Why do schools teach haiku but not blues? Haiku is stupid. Blues is some of the best entertainment ever invented.

Here are some true blue songs that you may not have known are blues. Mustang Sally is often played by R&B bands, but it's true blues. Elvis doesn't do a great job of bring out the blues sound in Hound Dog, but the chord and lyrical structure fit. Stormy Monday has been covered by a lot of artists who don't do strictly blues. Santana and Fleetwood Mac both did versions of the blues song, Black Magic Woman.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

airport abuse

CBS 2 has an article about complaints about airport screeners (link from Instapundit). They describe what sound like some pretty abusive incidents. However, the TSA only answers with this:
A spokesman said that out of 2 billion passengers screened nationwide since 9-11, there have been only 110,000 abuse complaints.
What does that mean? 110,000 complaints sounds like a hell of a lot of complaints. Sure, it's a small fraction of the total screened, but what is a reasonable number for things like this? Keep in mind that most of those screened just take off their shoes and belt and walk though the metal detector. What percent of those taken aside for special attention complain? What percentage of complaints do police from interactions with the public? What percentage do private security guards get? Is the TSA number high or low with respect to these similar professions? And are there certain screeners who get a lot more complaints than others?

And of course those who face only minor abuse won't bother to complain because we all know that such complaints will be ignored. I once had a Swiss Army knife taken from me. The knife blade was only an inch long and it was utterly useless as a weapon. And it had some sentimental value to me --but that didn't matter, I was forced to give it up anyway. But I didn't fill out a complaint form because I knew that it would do no good whatsoever. It can be assumed that most of these complaints were by people who felt that their own experiences were unusually abusive --bad enough to be worth trying to do something about.

And of these complaints, what percentage of them were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainers? If it's 0, and I suspect it is, then this would mean that all 110,000 complainers have been lying or over-reacting. So, what's more probable: that there are 110,000 people who falsely claimed to have suffered unusual levels of abuse from airport screeners, or that some airport screeners are abusing people?

Let me try to imagine myself as the sort of pervert who would get a thrill out of feeling up random women (this requires less imagination than you might think). Let me imagine further that I'm poorly educated, so that I can't get a good-enough job to pay strippers to let me feel them up. Then what kind of job might I look for? Obviously, I would want to be a male cheerleader (and people think George Bush is dumb). But let us suppose also that I'm too masculine to wear tights (another one I can easily imagine) and that I'm not particularly concerned whether these random women are amenable to the feeling up. Then what job should I go for? I'd say a TSA screener is just the job I want.

Now, I've probably just described a couple of million American men. What are the odds that none of them have managed to get jobs as TSA screeners? My concern is that the TSA does not take this possibility seriously, and that they don't take seriously the other character flaws that may lead people to want to be screeners, or that screeners just might randomly have: irrational hostility to certain people, a Napoleon complex, vindictiveness --there are a lot of flawed people who would be abusive in a roll like that of a TSA screener but I get the impression that the TSA is far more concerned with suppressing any uprising of sentiment against them and their jobs than they are at protecting the passengers from abuse. And so far, the TSA has done nothing --nothing at all-- to relieve this fear.

This attitude of the TSA has cost the airlines several thousand dollars of my money over the last few years. I've skipped trips that I normally would have taken, and driven when I normally would have flown, just because airport security has become so obnoxious. And I can't be that unusual. Why isn't the air industry concerned about this?

children of the Enlightenment

Although I loved John C Wright's essay, I do have to take exception with one thing: his implication that his views of equality and freedom are essentially the ideal of the enlightenment and that Nazism and Communism are opposed to the Enlightenment. But in fact, Nazism and Communism are both true children of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, after all, was not just about dethroning kings, but also about dethroning God. And if God is not the ruler, why not the State? Read this essay for some interesting notes on historical Enlightenment thought.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

coldblooded legless creatures with poisonous fangs who eat their mates and do not care for their young

Here is a great essay by John C. Wright. It explains why people like me have such a hard time coming up with descriptions of ourselves. I sometimes call myself a conservative, or sometimes I say that I'm on the right, but neither description really seems accurate. Wright explains that these terms were constructed by our political opponents in order to invalidate our views. Here is a short section:
‘Right’, as it is used these days, means classical liberalism plus Nazism. It means all those things I listed (Bill-of-Rights type thinking: individualism, rule of law, separation of powers, free trade, free market, Rights-of-Man, limited government) In other words, it is a meaningless definition.

Now, why should anyone define a term to include classical liberal ideals (individual liberty, limited government, rule of law, separation of powers, etc.) with Nazism? Answer: to denigrate classical liberal ideals. ...

It would be like defining ‘mammals’ to mean ‘warmblooded organisms with hairy skin who give birth live to their young PLUS snakes and black widow spiders.’ That way, if you cannot criticize mammals for anything, you can always claim that they are coldblooded legless creatures with poisonous fangs who eat their mates and do not care for their young.


(link from Foxfier)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

holy kitchen sink, Batman!

I really wanted to be a programming-language researcher. Actually, that's what I was for several years of my extended Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona, where I worked for the late Ralph Grizwold who was quite famous in that field. However, Ralph and I had a falling out, or rather Ralph took a dislike to me for reasons that I never understood (and now, I suppose, never will), and so I moved on to language implementation, working for Saumya Debray. Language implementation was very cool also, but my first love was always language theory and design. After I got my Ph.D., I decided not to pursue an academic position for several reasons: first I was a poor teacher (which would have been a minor nit at a good research department). Second, I'd heard that Ralph was saying uncomplimentary things about me to others in the field and since he was well-respected and I was unknown, I knew that was a fight that I couldn't win. And third, it took me ten years to get my degree, which doesn't look good on a CV.

I've been keeping up, more or less, with language research but not with actual production languages. Then I chance to read a paper on ES4 --the latest design for Javascript (aka ECMASCRIPT, aka Jscript), and ... holy cow. They have included every cool and/or useful language concept of the last forty years except for the kitchen sink. By kitchen sink, I mean continuations --and they felt like they had to explain why they didn't include continuations. If I were to design my dream language, it would look a lot like the latest Javascript, only more elegant. That's part of the problem with languages designed by committee, of course --they all have cool ideas that they want to include and there isn't time and motivation to come up with simpler abstractions to subsume the collection.

Also, of course, there is a trade-off between the elegance of your abstractions and the useability of the language. As abstractions get more concise and powerful, they get harder to use by average programmers.

Anyway, if you last programmed in Javascript ten years ago like I did, there is a lot of new stuff in the language. I'm not even sure it is properly still a scripting language since it has static typing and other sorts of compile-time checks that are not typical of scripting languages. But it's cool.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

bo-o-o-oring

I just took Gizmodo off of my list of links. It used to be a good gadget site, but lately has turned into an Apple marketing site. I don't particularly have anything against Apple, I just don't have any interest in reading twenty freaking posts a day about the iphone.

Of course, that in itself wouldn't have prompted me to remove it from my list. The reason that I went to the trouble of removing it is because I suspect that they are taking money from Apple to push Apple products. I won't link to a site that disguises advertisements as news items.

Another meaningless micro boycott, but if everyone did it, then we wouldn't have this sort of subterfuge.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

search annoyances

Google was better before they had patents on-line. Sure, those patents are useful if you are doing patent searches, but for almost any other reason you are doing a search, the patents that come up are useless --just one more thing you have to evaluate and reject as something not worth looking at.

I'd like a search engine that lets me categorize what kinds of things I'm looking for. At least four categories would be useful:

patents -- just patents
products -- reviews, comparisons and product information without marketing junk
purchases -- now you actually want to buy something and you are looking at prices and availability
information -- none of the above

And every search engine should have a way to rule out restricted-access sites. I am not going to bother registering on random sites when I'm on the web looking for information. If "bug-me-not" worked better, I might think of using that, but in general I'd rather not even give the traffic to one of those annoying "we're so special that we won't even talk to you until we get your name, social security number and underwear size" sites. I don't even want to see those results when I do a search.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

dietary choices

Klaxophone's comment on my last post deserves to be promoted to post level:
This inspires me to re-imagine a tv commercial from the sixties, maybe for Pepto-Bismol. Some guy and his stomach talk about his dining choices:

Man: I was just chowing down on a 7-eleven steak-and-jack-cheese taquito when I tasted something kind of funky.

Gut: That would be the 7-eleven steak-and-jack-cheese taquito.

Man: I spit out the food in my mouth...spent the next five very unpleasant minutes...

Gut: In most cases you could avoid this unpleasantness by not eating taquitos from 7-eleven.

Man: You've always hated 7-eleven.
I'd like to thank Tim and Klax for their concern over my health. And don't think their wise words have not made a difference in my life. Oh, no. Tonight I am turning over a new rock. Making a fresh soap. I just ordered Dominos pizza and hot wings. If I taste anything funky, I'll just pretend it's a new sauce.

health update

In case I had anyone worried by by last post --I didn't wake up dead this morning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

am I paranoid?

I was just chowing down on a 7-eleven steak-and-jack-cheese taquito when I tasted something kind of funky. I was about to swallow to get the taste out of my mouth but then somewhere deep in the back of my mind, registered the fact that this strange taste was not food. It was a sort of chemical taste familiar yet unfamiliar, as though I had smelled it before but never tasted it before. I spit out the food in my mouth but still tasted the stuff, so I went to the sink and washed out the taste.

Then --this is where I think I might be a little paranoid-- I started thinking about people who had been poisoned by store-bought food, I spent the next five very unpleasant minutes trying to thoroughly empty my stomach contents.

The portion that I spit out of my mouth is now sitting on my kitchen counter instead of in the trash. If I wake up dead in the morning, the forensic geniuses will find the taquito and identify the poison and use some fantastic new method for raising fingerprints from chewed food and catch the bastard.

So, what should I do? Call the cops and turn in the half-chewed taquito or just admit that I'm being paranoid and let it go?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

movies written by 10 year olds shouldn't be on TV

Unfreaking believable. I'm watching "100 Million BC" on the SciFi channel and I'm convinced the movie was written by a 10 year old. It starts with a Navy search-and-rescue team that goes time traveling back to the time of the dinosaurs with no training or preparation at all. They take no special equipment --just their normal gear. This team is supposed to be the Navy's best search and rescue team, but it is populated by a bunch of undisciplined, panicky idiots.

They have to take an old guy along because he's the only one who knows how to push the button that opens the portal that sends them back. And then the old guy --a genius who was working on secret military projects at the age of twelve-- has to stay behind because he couldn't figure out how make a device that would close the portal without someone pushing a button. Then it shows him being attacked by a dinosaur as he is closing the portal but doesn't show him actually killed. So, following the rule that bad movies always have the most tired plot twists they can think of, you know that the old guy is going to show up again to save the day. And he does. Wow. Could have knocked me over with a feather.

There are dinosaurs that are a cross between Alien and Jurassic-Park raptors. They move almost too fast too see when facing automatic weapons, but slow down to normal dinosaur speed when facing spears. Then there is the fifty-foot tall dinosaur with skin too tough for an M-60 --the machine gun that can penetrate a couple of inches of armor steel. These big boys can also jump hundreds of feet in the air which you learn when it catches the helicopter with the smart-guy who didn't believe there was a dinosaur, another predictable plot element. Oh, and the big dinosaur once waited eight days outside a cave to get one human who probably didn't have enough calories to keep the thing going for one day. That shows how smart the dinosaur is.

Of course, there are lots of good, exciting moments too, unless you've seen the Alien movies and the Jurassic Park movies and any time-travel movie, in which case you've seen all of the moments before.

I've come to not expect much from made-for-SciFi-channel movies, but this one is even worse than usual. Why can't the Sci-Fi channel get decent scripts when there are thousands who could do better than this and would do it for damn-near free if they could get their script made into a real movie.

On the plus side, though, the acting and directing in this movie were better than in a lot of made-for-SciFi movies.

new storyblogging carnival

I haven't been writing many stories lately, but if you have one on your blog, be sure to enter.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nokia N95 8GB Pocket Computer (and mobile phone)

I just bought an N95 over the weekend. My previous phone, an AT&T 8525 Windows Mobile, was so bug-ridden that I finally had to dump it. I've got to say that I wasn't expecting to get this excited, but I haven't been this hyped since I bought my first laptop computer with an 8086c CPU, 256K of ram and a 20 MB hard drive. This phone is a lot more powerful than that laptop was.

It is an expensive phone, but I got an unbelievable deal on it and I'm using the excuse that I need it for work. There are two things that really attracted me to this phone:

1. it has a boatload of features and,
2. it is mine.

You probably think your mobile phone is yours too, you poor ignorant sap. If you bought that phone from your service provider, you don't own it; you are just borrowing it in order to use their wireless service. They put restrictions in the firmware to limit your options and force you to use their services. If you own an iphone, you not only are under the thumb of the service provider but you are Apple's bitch too. With an iphone you can't even install software without Apple's permission. The N95, by contrast, is completely unlocked. I can use it however I want.

As to features, the N95 has over 8GB of storage, a screen with 16 million colors and 240x320 pixels, 3D accelerator, music and video playback, stereo speakers, an ipod-style jack to output video and music, a 5 megapixel camera with Zeiss optics and flash, a second camera on the front for video calling, video recording, GPS, a motion sensor, infrared, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB, FM radio receiver, alarm that works even with the phone off, email, web browser, and an unbelievable battery life.

So what's the catch? There's always a catch. In this case the catch is: no alphabetic keyboard and no touch screen --my previous phone had both. I haven't missed the touch screen at all but it's going to be painful writing emails without a keyboard, and even typing in search terms is unpleasant. Still, I'm willing to trade the keyboard for the reduced size. I can carry the N95 in my pocket whereas I had to wear the other phone on my belt.

There's an unbelievable amount of software available for the N95 and I've wasted a huge amount of time this week searching, downloading and trying software. I'm exhausted.

The phone response is surprisingly snappy most of the time. It works well at just about everything I've tried although I'm never happy with someone else's idea of a menu structure.

The camera works well and is much more intuitive than the one on my Windows Mobile phone. My one complaint is that the zoom button must be pressed very hard and that makes it hard to hold the phone steady while zooming. I haven't tried video yet.

I've used the GPS in a real-world situation. My boss and I had a meeting and neither of us knew how to get there (he assumed I would know because I'm from this area and he is out-of-town; I assumed he would know because it was his meeting...) So as we were in the car, I pulled out my new phone, searched for the company we wanted to find, and started it up. I had to sign up for a free 183-day trial period on Nokia's Map service and after that it took us right where we wanted to go. The phone was working at navigation for a total of about 60 minutes, yet at the end of the day the battery was still almost full.

The Wi-Fi setup is simple and it seems to use much less power than the Wi-Fi on my Windows Mobile did.

I don't have a good cell connection where I live. The four other phones I've tried to use have given me problems, but this one works perfectly.

The GPS service isn't perfect. The voice that guides you doesn't give street names so occasionally you aren't sure what to do. But you can see street names on the screen, and anyway, I can always switch services if I don't like it. You don't have that choice with a normal locked phone.

Another thing I like is that you can turn off the fancy Icon-ridden interface. I don't like fancy interfaces. They annoy me with thoughts of all that wasted computing power. And besides, I already know what the phrase "web browser" means but I don't know what a picture of a globe means. Web browser? Maps? World clock? With a simple interface in words there is no need to learn yet another pictographic alphabet. Seriously, someone tell the marketing weenies at Microsoft and Apple that some Phoenician merchant has invented a superior form of writing called an alphabet. You don't have to memorize thousands of symbols; with just twenty-six symbols and a clever phonetic encoding system you can express all English words. I'm not asking for the 21st Century, guys, but how about moving at least to the Bronze Age?

So far, I highly recommend this phone to anyone who is willing to spend the money. It works well and it's a lot of fun. And the battery life is freaking amazing.

UPDATE: Further experimentation shows that they fooled me a little on battery life. I was going by the number of bars on the battery meter and was so impressed because it always showed full. But now it looks like the batter meter continues to show full until you have used a third or so of the battery. It's still good battery performance, but not as impressive as I thought.