Thursday, December 30, 2004

Headless iMac = SOHO Server?

Think Secret - EXCLUSIVE: Apple to drop sub-$500 Mac bomb at Expo

Am I the only one thinking home/small office (OK, tiny office) server when reading about Think Secret's rumored $499 headless iMac?

Friday, December 24, 2004

Loving Austin

Texas Tea Pad: I love Austin: "One woman said to me that this is the only city she knows of where a common topic of conversation is how much people love the place."

Redistricting done right

Centrists.Org -- Iowa's Redistricting Process: An Example of the Right Way to Draw Legislative...: "How The Iowa Process Works:  Under chapter 42 of the Iowa Code, enacted in 1980, the Iowa legislature has the final responsibility for enacting both congressional and state legislative district plans.  However, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau starts the process.  The Bureau must develop up to three plans that can be accepted or rejected by the legislature.  

The four criteria for the Bureau's plans, in descending order of importance, are: 

  1. population equality,
  2. contiguity,
  3. unity of counties and cities (maintaining county lines and “nesting” house districts within senate districts and senate districts within congressional districts), and 
  4. compactness.

Chapter 42 specifically forbids the use of political affiliation, previous election results, the addresses of incumbents, or any demographic information other than population in creating the redistricting proposals."

Thursday, December 23, 2004


I wonder how common this behavior pattern is that I observe in myself: I really want/need to be doing "important but not urgent" activity A. I'd like to devote my full attention to A for the whole day, but I can't do that until I finish B, which is less important but comes with a deadline. I don't much feel like working on B, and the deadline is not terribly tight, so I end up doing C, which is some activity like reading list e-mail or blogging that is neither important nor urgent, until B becomes acutely urgent. I do almost always meet the deadline for B, but by the time I finish, another B has come along, the cycle starts anew, and I never do get around to A.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

TCS: Tech Central Station - Faculty Clubs and Church Pews

TCS: Tech Central Station - Faculty Clubs and Church Pews

Harvard law professor William Stuntz thinks evangelical Reds and university Blues should get together to form a nice shade of purple:

"Humility, love of serious ideas, commitment to helping the poor -- these are things my faculty friends and my church friends ought to be able to get together on. If they ever do, look out: American politics, and maybe American life, will be turned upside down. And all those politicians who can only speak in one color will be out of a job."

MSNBC - Mystery Martian ‘car wash’ helps rover

MSNBC - Mystery Martian ‘car wash’ helps rover: "A phenomenon akin to a space-borne car wash has boosted the performance of one of the two NASA rovers probing the surface of Mars.

Layers of dust have been swept from the solar panels of the Mars Opportunity vehicle while it was closed down during the Martian night."

Spirit and Opportunity were the first successful probes after the Martians zapped several earlier ones. Now they're obviously feeding Opportunity just exactly what they want us Earthlings to see. (What's the smiley for tongue-in-cheek?)

More on the "Death of Environmentalism"

More on the "Death of Environmentalism" from Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. I haven't read everything yet and am not sure whether and how their paper is related to Adam Werbach's speech cited here.

"Nearly every profession, from public health to business to law, has research studies, conferences and peer-review journals dedicated to evaluating what’s working and what’s not. When public health experts, advocates and scientists meet to discuss HIV/AIDS in Africa, they don’t just discuss the disease’s many mutations. They also debate strategy: how to prevent it, how to cure it, and how to cope with it.

The environmental community has nothing like this. We have no agreed upon criteria for evaluating our success. We have no peer-reviewed journal to share and evaluate our work. And we have no regular conference for advocates to come together to scrutinize and debate strategy. We strongly believe that greater discussion and dialogue within the community is imperative if we are to create a shared vision of what success on global warming and a range of other “environmental” and “non-environmental” problems looks like."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Aliens Cause Global Warming

Aliens Cause Global Warming: A lecture by Michael Crichton

He's "wrong" on several levels, but his points are made thoughtfully, and the type of reasoning they embody deserves a serious response from our side. And I can only applaud his ultimate conclusion:

"Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know their results will be checked by other groups. In many cases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the data will not analyze it. If we were to address the land temperature records with such rigor, we would be well on our way to an understanding of exactly how much faith we can place in global warming, and therefore what seriousness we must address this."

Dr. Frankenstein, I presume?

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | 'Artificial life' comes step closer: "Researchers at Rockefeller University in the US have made the first tentative steps towards creating a form of artificial life.

Their creations, small synthetic vesicles that can process (express) genes, resemble a crude kind of biological cell.

The parts for their 'vesicle bioreactors', as they call them, all come from diverse realms of life."

Monday, December 20, 2004

More from P.L. Wilson a.k.a. Hakim Bey

THE BROOKLYN RAIL - STREETS: "I think that a radical life is not something that depends on Internet connections or websites or demos or even on politics, like having Green mayors. This may sound dull to people who think that having a really hot website is a revolutionary act. Or that getting a million people to come out and wave symbolic signs at a symbolic march is a political act. If it doesn’t involve alternative economic institution building, it’s not."

Temporary Autonomous Zone

The Temporary Autonomous Zone: "T. A. Z.

The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism"

Here's the original.

The TAZ lives!

Global Guerrillas: GLOBAL GUERRILLAS AND TEMPORARY AUTONOMOUS ZONES: "Like pirates of the past (particularly those of the 1st century BC and 18th century), global guerrillas operate from geographically dispersed locations."

Hakim Bey made it sound more fun, but I guess the original pirate islands he wrote about were pretty stressful places too in real life....

Educated people don't vote Republican

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Weblog: Jon Chait on the Political Composition of Academia: "But the rise of fashionable left-wing scholarship can be blamed for only a tiny part of the GOP's problem. The studies showing that academics prefer Democrats to Republicans also show that this preference holds in hard sciences as well as social sciences. Are we to believe that higher education has fallen prey to trendy multiculturalist engineering, or that physics departments everywhere suppress conservative quantum theorists?"
No direct link to Chait, unfortunately, but he's quoted extensively.

Death of environmentalism?

Joel Makower: Two Steps Forward: Adam Werbach’s 'Autopsy' on Environmentalism's 'Death'

"The argument I will make tonight is that every time environmentalists step outside the confines of the environmental discourse to articulate a more expansive, more inclusive and more compelling vision for the future, they cease being environmentalists and start becoming American progressives."

Data Nirvana

This is a post I'll probably continue to edit and work on over time. I want to start brainstorming a Universal Data Storage and Retrieval System (UDSRS) that will enable me to structure and process information more effectively. The idea is to accumulate a set of tools that are capable of passing off to each other whatever arbitrary forms of data I might have saved or run across, each one processing a given type of data in a specific way without locking it up into a proprietary data silo where it's not available to other tools for other purposes. At the same time, I want to have one (but not necessarily only one) easy access point for any and all types of data in the system.

  • Avoid proprietary formats where possible - but it won't always be possible. For example, as long as I have clients who send me (sometimes quite complex) Word documents, and given that tools like Wordfast do exist that enable me to work with reasonable efficiency within Word, it'll probably never be worth the effort to try to create XSLT transforms or something to round-trip documents between Word and some "open" format.
  • That said, just about all data can be represented as text. Either the content itself can be boiled down to a string (including HTML, XML, e-mail, .ics, etc., etc.), or at the very least a network or local URL (i.e. a string) can be created to point to the file holding the binary data, e.g. a graphic, application, or proprietary-format data file.
  • Thus the fundamental unit in the UDSRS is an "item" consisting of a text string. It may or may not contain various types of metadata and/or its own subordinate elements.
  • Within the UDSRS, an "item" may be stored either as a separate file (e.g. a .webloc file) or as a string (e.g. a URL) within a longer text file. Items can be seamlessly interconverted between autonomous files and intra-file text strings.
  • The native object represented by an "item" may or may not be a separate file. In most cases, such as individual e-mail messages, address book entries, calendar items, etc. they will exist natively as sub-file-level objects.
  • Those native objects that do exist as separate files can easily be incorporated into the UDSRS in the form of file:// URIs.
  • For other kinds of objects, it will be worth considering switching to tools that do in fact store each object as a separate file, but in most cases this will probably remain impossible or impractical.
  • Each tool that represents objects on a sub-file level must provide a storage/retrieval mechanism capable of creating a link in text format, such as a script, to any item. At a minimum, we should be able to automatically generate an AppleScript to "look up" the object (such as a contact record in Address Book), then run that script via Services when we want to retrieve the item. Anything clumsier than that would probably be unusable, and simpler solutions should be sought whenever possible. These storage/retrieval mechanisms for each tool may be regarded as "plugins" to the UDSRS.
  • The UDSRS itself will offer various ways to sort, tag/label, organize and manipulate the items (strings) it contains. For the most part, more specialized tools will be used to read and work with the actual content of the items. For certain item types, it may make sense to use more than one tool to work with them for different purposes - for example, I may want to incorporate the same text into both an e-mail message and a blog post.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Ukraine Photo Gallery

Ukraine Photo Gallery
Photos from Ukraine by amateur photographer Helen Salamakha. Not only from the election and subsequent demonstrations.

Ukraine Photo Gallery

Textbook disclaimer stickers

Textbook disclaimer stickers

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


LazyWeb: "Do you have an idea that you think others might be able to solve?
Make a LazyWeb request by writing it on your own blog, and then sending a Trackback ping to the new url: Just linking to this page usually works. The LazyWeb links back to you, so make sure you have somewhere for people to leave comments."

Truth is, I haven't quite figgered out trackback yet. Gimme a break, I've only been blogging for a couple weeks.

Wired News: Sunlight to Fuel Hydrogen Future

Wired News: Sunlight to Fuel Hydrogen Future: "The photovoltaic cell is old news. The latest way to exploit the sun is through tiny materials that can directly convert sunlight into large amounts of hydrogen."

Monday, December 06, 2004

Project Ornithopter

Project Ornithopter: "An aircraft that derives all of its thrust and nearly all of its lift from flapping wings."

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Blogs are evil. Really evil. Really, really evil.: Corante > Strange Attractor > : "“Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, Remote Access Trojans, hackers, organized crime, terrorists, and others continue to make the Internet a dangerous place due to fraud, extortion, denials of service, identity theft, espionage, and other crimes. Now, blogging is emerging as a threat to the Internet user community.”"


Saw Kinsey last night. My wife and I agreed that it was oddly short of eros for a flick about a sex researcher. (Not that I'd want our nine-year-old to see it.) Maybe we're just jaded by the past half-century of on-screen prurience.

One tangential aspect that struck me was the faith of Liam Neeson's title character in the power of Science to change attitudes and drive social reform. I suppose scientists in his day really did enjoy a level of prestige and influence that they've mostly lost in our "post-modern" age. Science seems to have taken the blame, not altogether undeservedly, for the atomic bomb, environmental devastation, and a host of other 20th century ills. Meanwhile the real masters, Politics and Business, march on with influence intact.

And now that Science no longer commands allegiance, that old-time Religion has re-emerged from the wings to drive Darwin out of the classroom and the sex out of sex education. A couple more generations and we may need a new Alfred Kinsey to start the cycle all over again.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

White People's Feelings (The Guardian)

No offence, but why are all white men so aggressive?

"Don't you feel that this politically correct belief that we have to respect white people's feelings has stifled honest discussion and debate?"

(Uh, yeah, I'm white. In case you were wondering.)

Or just throw a dart at 'em

So am I just weird, or are there other people who also come up with incredibly intricate and anal ways of making decisions?

There's a software product called Life Balance that I find intriguing and have considered using for time management and task planning. I've played with the demo a little, but I'm reluctant to add yet another digital tool to my routine because I already spend so much of my time at the computer. (Please don't ask why I decided to start a blog now....) I often find my lo-tech organizing tools to be more effective, not necessarily because of their intrinsic capabilities compared to software, but because psychologically I feel a certain relief when I can get away from the computer to use them. I'm not sure how much of this relates to the computer per se and how much to the office and desk environment, since I don't own a laptop. For now it comes down to the same thing, and I'm afraid if I put more of my planning and weekly review on the computer I'd be more resistant to doing it.

Let me share a lo-tech technique I often use to prioritize tasks, purchases, or just about anything that can be written down in a line or two. I find it useful any time the list of items to be prioritized gets too long to pick out the top item at a glance. I like it because it enables me to harness intuitive judgment in a systematic way. It works very well for isolating the one or two most important items from the collection. It bogs down if the goal is actually to put the entire list in order of priority, but since the whole point of prioritizing is usually that I can only deal with a small fraction of the list right now, that's usually not an issue.

So this is how it works: first, write each item on an index card and put the cards in a stack (in any order). Now pick up the first two cards and decide which of those two items is more important (or urgent or whatever criterion we're prioritizing by). Place the "winner" and "loser" on opposite sides to start new stacks. Then pick up the next two cards from the main stack and decide which of those goes in the winner stack and which goes in the loser stack. Repeat until you've gone through all the cards in the initial stack. If there's an odd number of cards, place the last one in the winner stack by default. Next, pick up the winner stack and put it back in the middle, then go through it the same way you did with the original full stack. Repeat until you get down to one card, and that's your top item. If you need to identify number two as well, just repeat the process with the remaining cards.