Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Busy Reading and Watching
For the past week or so, a lot of my spare time has been taken up catching up some reading. I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (blame my fiance for getting me hooked on that), and now I'm deep inside of Charles Stross' Iron Sunrise, a new science fiction novel by one of the brightest new stars to come out of the sci-fi world for quite a while.
I'm not going to bother reviewing the first book mentioned, other than to say that I don't believe Snape to be evil. That's not a spoiler: I've thought that for several novels now. The second, though, is fantastic, and when I'm finished reading it, I plan to do a full review on it. He has an incredible view of the future. Not a utopian view, but definitely one that I'd like to visit. He incorporates possibilities based on current cutting edge research and futurist musings. He throws concepts out to the readers mind like most writers toss nouns, each letting (but not necessarily requiring) you ponder the future in ways you didn't before. Enough of this now, though.
Last Friday night I didn't read, though: I spent the whole evening watching most of the Firefly television series, created by Joss Whedon. If you haven't heard of it, I highly recommend buying or renting it before the spin-off movie based on it, Serenity, comes out September 30th. It's the smartest, best written and acted science fiction series to come out, ever, perhaps excepting Babylon 5 or Farscape.
You might have noticed that the Amazon.com links for the above products have (most of) my name embedded in it. I've joined their Associates Program, so every time you click on an Amazon.com link from my blog, you give me a bit of a new DVD, CD, or book. Nice.
Monday, August 29, 2005
Are You a Neocon?
People often will assume I'm fully with a particular political party, either by reading this blog, or by just knowing me and getting into conversations with me. My politics, though, like many Americans, is all over the map. When people actually do ask me, I tell them I tend to vote Republican, but not always; I tend to align myself with Neoconservatives, but not always; and there's hardly any ideological movement that has a real following in America (except, perhaps, for the hard Left) that I don't see eye-to-eye with once in a while.
So, when Father Jim Tucker over at Dappled Things linked to a survey Lew Rockwell is hosting, I decided to give it a try. Usually I don't bother with these things, but this one was interesting in that it broke down to ten ideologies, and gave the results based upon a ranking, and not just "You are a X!", which always came across to me as brain dead. So, here are my results, which is mostly as expected:
#7: Third Way
The only surprise was that Third Way wasn't higher, as I tend to agree with the New Republic quite regularly, if not as much as the Weekly Standard or National Review. So, take the quiz, if you have the time: you might be surprised by the results. If some of the terms are foreign to you, or you think that Neoconservatives are akin to modern day Nazis, take some time to read the descriptions:
Neoconservative: A "neocon" is more inclined than other conservatives toward vigorous government in the service of the goals of traditional morality and pro-business policies. Tends to favor a very strong foreign policy of America as well.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Amazon Getting Into Short Stories
I saw a few days ago over at Ars Technica a story about Amazon delving into the short story market. It's a pretty interesting idea, and the wonderful thing for me is the lack of DRM:
For only $0.49, you can order an Amazon Short and read it as an HTML Web page, a PDF file, or just have the text sent to your e-mail address. Amazon Shorts never expire, and you're welcome to print out a copy once you've bought it.
That's pretty cool, and cheap, too. Ars Technica believes the main purpose of this new initiative is to advertise for the full books they carry (and charge much more money for). If that's the case, it's kind of sad, because this could well be another badly needed channel into the publishing world for aspiring authors. Hopefully, they're just being cynical. Amazon has this to say about submitting your works for inclusion in the store:
Can anyone submit an Amazon Short?
We are accepting work from a diverse group of authors. If you are an agent, author, publisher, or editor, and you would like to be considered for inclusion in this program, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That doesn't tell me what I really want to know: what makes a short qualify for inclusion? Is there actually going to be Amazon employees reading submissions and making these decisions? It does seem to be too good to be true. As I've said before on this blog, the more power the gatekeepers lose their control, generally, the better it is for the consumer, and especially the artist.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
How Exactly Does One Become Gay?
The Boston Globe recently published an excellent article summarizing and explaining the past and current research going on asking the question, "What Makes People Gay?" I can't recommend it enough. As a heterosexual man, I've always thought that the concept that a person "chooses" to be gay was patently ridiculous. Any heterosexual man should understand what I'm saying.
I'm on the fence as to if the results of all these studies will affect the political discourse going on right now concerning homosexual rights in any real way. Of course, they will be included in the conversation, but science is not politics: not everything that is important can be filtered down into a research paper.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Keep Your Mind Open
Mark the following story up to why you should keep your mind open. We keep hearing the complete obviousness of anthropogenic global warming trend, and how it's obvious that this is a horrible thing that we need to make immediate and major sacrifices for the betterment of Mother Earth. Then I read this:
Sea Ice May Be on Increase in the Antarctic A new NASA-funded study finds that predicted increases in precipitation due to warmer air temperatures from greenhouse gas emissions may actually increase sea ice volume in the AntarcticÂ?s Southern Ocean. This adds new evidence of potential asymmetry between the two poles, and may be an indication that climate change processes may have different impact on different areas of the globe.
"Most people have heard of climate change and how rising air temperatures are melting glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic," said Dylan C. Powell, co-author of the paper and a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. "However, findings from our simulations suggest a counterintuitive phenomenon. Some of the melt in the Arctic may be offset by increases in sea ice volume in the Antarctic." Read the whole thing. This is just one of those pieces that underlines that we don't really know what's happening, why it's happening, and what the positive or negative effects are going to be from said unknown. And yet, even with all these unknowns, the powers-that-be on the American Left, the U.N., and the European elite are pushing us to make drastic changes to our lifestyle.
Touching on these unknowns is the latest by Michael Crichton, State of Fear, which I've written about before here.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Another Busy Weekend
I have another busy weekend in store for me, but in a good way. Tonight Danica and I are having dinner with friends, tomorrow we're going to the company picnic at the Oregon Zoo, and on Sunday we're driving up to White Salmon to spend some time with family and friends. I do believe I've forgotten what it was like to finish work on a Friday night, go home, crack open a beer, and see nothing going on for the following 60 hours. A world of unknown paths and of countless possibilities. I'm not complaining, mind you. I despair more at the loss of opportunity to work on personal projects more than have free time. Life is an everchanging thing, and it's all good.
In other personal news, some friends of mine are finally entering the last flurry of activity before they own their first house. It's a great thing, but dear God they've turned into stress monsters with the whole experience. I honestly don't remember the process being that difficult. Find a house, make a deal, find the money, pay the money, sign your name a million times, get the keys. Not easy, but pretty simple, as long as broke it out step-by-step. I think that one reason it was so stress-free for me was the fact that it was only me making the decisions. From the sidelines, it appears that doubling the number of decision makers in buying a house quadruples the pain you suffer.
On a last note, Charles Stross, one of my current favorite authors, points to a pretty amazing recent breakthrough:
Every so often a sign that we are living in the 21st century bites me on the nose: Scientists have created the ultimate ribbon. A thousand times thinner than a human hair and a few centimetres wide, the carbon sheet is stronger than steel for its weight, and could open the door to everything from artificial muscles to a space elevator capable of sending astronauts and tourists into orbit.
He goes on to link to the Wikipedia space elevator entry, which explains how this whole idea would work, and how this would revolutionize space access, commercial or otherwise. If you want to see what the very possible future of space travel is, read the whole entry. Relatively cheap access to orbit will likely come from something like this, and not chemical rocket technology.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
We Lose a Good One
On Monday night, at around 8PM, a high school friend of mine died. In the late afternoon on Wednesday, my mother called me to tell me the news (being from a small town, news of tragedies like this circulate rather quickly). He had died in a plane crash in central Oregon. I've been kind of numb to it for the past 24 hours, but after talking to some other high school friends that I still talk to regularly, it's sinking in farther and farther. This is the second classmate that has passed behind the veil, out of about 80. While the first one was a victim of his own recklessness, this one was an unlucky passenger aboard a friend's experimental plane. This could have happened to any one of the class of 1989 of my high school -- it just happened to be him. Incredibly senseless and blind.
The last time I saw Darren was about 6 years ago, at our 10 year class reunion. We didn't stay in touch much after high school, but I have good memories of hanging out with him at school and at church. With a class the size of ours, even if you aren't the closest of friends, you inevitably manage to develop and maintain some sort of relationship over the 12 years you're in school. This was the sort of friendship we had, and I valued it.
I pray that he may find peace in heaven, and that his family will have some of their pain lifted from the shoulders, knowing that he was a good man and died a loved one. He will be missed.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
The World of Podcasts
I know this is old hat to many of the readers of this blog, but it was just a couple days ago that I got around to checking out this whole podcast thing and seeing if it's worth half of the buzz that the concept has been generating. I work in the software industry, and keeping up on my blogs is usually relegated to lunch (when I'm in), breaks, and the times where I'm doing something that allows me to multi-task. Suffice to say, I'm not able to fully absorb all the information in the 40 or so blogs that currently grace my RSS reader. Instapundit alone would take more time than I have free, if I were to actually follow each link and read the target text (how exactly does Glenn do it?).
Podcasts are different, though. It's essentially personalized radio, and like many people listen to the radio at work in the background without affecting their productivity, you can do the same here. Thanks to Apple iTunes, finding some podcasts that might be of interest to you is pretty easy. You simply go to the iTunes Music Store, click on the Podcasts link, and start browsing until you find something easy. Click on the podcast link, then click Subscribe. The episode (a simple MP3 file) downloads, and you can play and listen to it. It really couldn't be simpler.
I was surprised by the quality of some of the podcasts I downloaded. Here's a quick run down of some of the 'casts I would recommend:
There's really something for just about anyone. You a serious Catholic? There's many podcasts for you. Really into Harry Potter? Ditto. These are all either commercial radio quality, or specialized (like the last example in the list above) to the point where it would never get broad radio play. One of the best parts about this whole deal: they're free.
- Universe Today, a show about astronomy and general space science
- This Week in Tech, a tech talk show with top industry analyst headliners
- Ebert & Roeper, a weekly show reviewing the weekend's upcoming movie releases
- President's Weekly Radio Address, which is self-explanatory, I would think
- Battlestar Galactica, a running commentary about the best show on television today by it's creator
I'm not sure if this concept will hang on for any serious period of time, or morph into something more groundbreaking and broad-based. I'd guess it'll be the later. At the least, though, this is an important step along the way to using the Internet and modern technology to detour around the gatekeepers of the media world.
Friday, August 12, 2005
The New Fad: The McDonalds Diet
I've posted about a similar thing before, but unfortunately, I don't have the time to track the post down (and Google isn't helping). The AP has a story about a couple people showing how much nonsense the Super Size Me movie was by eating only McDonalds, every day, and losing weight by the truckload. Great story.
Almost everyone I've talked to about this realized immediately where Morgan Spurlock, filmaker of Super Size Me, went wrong. He ate almost 5000 calories a day, way, way over what a normal person needs to maintain weight (Olympic athletes not included). That massive over intake of energy needs to go somewhere, so his body created tons of fat. All the other nasty side effects were almost certainly due to his body freaking out about going from 2000-2500 calories a day to double that in no time flat. The implication, of course, was that McDonalds food was to blame, and that the composition therein was the culprit. Not true, and now demonstrably so. It also implied that McDonalds was to blame for trying to upsell add ons and upgrades to larger, more expensive meals. Again, these experiences show that people have within them the ability to say "No, thank you."
I salute Merab Morgan and Soso Whaley for showing up the farce the movie truly was. Bravo.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
And Now for Something Non-Political
Last week Glenn Reynolds pointed out this documentary-in-the-making: "documentary:BLOG". They have released a pair of trailers for it, one of which almost entirely featuring the Instapundit himself. It looks to be a very interesting -- and very professionally-made -- movie. If you guessed that the documentary has a blog itself, then you get a gold star.
The world of both desktop electronic publishing and professional-level movie making gets more and more accessible every day. The first is there already, the later is moving along quite nicely. I've seen some amateur movies that are rivaling the big money movies in polish. Really, though, it's the accessibility of the technology that makes all the difference. A vast majority of the blogs out there are painful to read, as are most digital photos and most amateur movies. That doesn't matter, though: the lower the wall you need to climb to get into the field to play, the more truly gifted individuals will show their gift and get themselves noticed. It's good for everyone, in the end.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
What Got the Ball Rolling
I've said before on this blog that I believe the root cause of 9/11 to be the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. Their desire for world domination led to the cold war, which was a main factor in causing the United States to support autocratic dictatorships in the Middle East (and around the world). The global chess game that ran all over the world for 50 years artificially kept the Islamic world from having a chance at true reform and liberalization. The Arab Street was born, as was the Islamic fighters in Afghanistan. The message of violent jihad is accepted by more and more, and Islamic terrorist attacks rise dramatically. Before you know it, you have two skyscrapers knocked down and over 3000 dead. Too late to turn back the clock without paying the piper, as it were. I know this oversimplifies things (Muslim Brotherhood and the disestablishment of the Turkish caliphate, anyone?), but I believe this to be the root, and everything else just fed into that, helping it grow in size and intensity.
Last week, Donald Sensing wrote an interesting post on WindsOfChange.NET, noting the anniversary of the beginning of the Great War -- World War I. He linked to a post he made back in 2003 on his own blog that I'd never seen before. It was a thought experiment about what might have happened if Germany would have won WWI instead of the Allies. He points to one fateful decision by the German chief of staff Helmuth von Moltke, that made differently, might have changed the outcome of the war dramatically. He then goes on to look at the aftermath of the war, and then how differently the world might've looked if Herr von Moltke made a different decision.
His conclusion, obviously up to much dissection and disagreement, is that the 9/11 attacks would never have happened:
- The rise fascism in Italy and of Nazism in Germany,
- The rise of a communist Soviet Union, although the Czar would likely have been deposed eventually (more likely, would have become a figurehead monarch along the lines of Britain's)
- World War II in Europe, and probably not in Asia. Japan would still have had imperial ambitions, but they would not have brought the world into conflict, and perhaps not the US.
- Hence, no Cold War and none of its attendant ravages
- A much less powerful United States, but one still secure and free
- No communist China
- No Vietnam War
- No Korean War
- No free and democratic Japan
- No Holocaust
- Hence, no establishment of the state of Israel
- Hence, no history of war, conflict and terrorism in the Middle East
- No Iranian Islamic revolution,
- Hence, no rise of modern radical Islamism
- Hence no 9/11/01 attacks.
Interesting. I do think that the series of changes he lists plays up the existance of Israel too much, and downplays the role of the cold war in the creation of the current Middle East character too much. Still, it's a mighty provocativee thought experiment.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
More Nanotechology Goodies from Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has done a great job of staying up-to-date with the latest nanotech news. Given his high readership, he's probably done more to educate people about its promises than most of the mainstream media put together. For those of you that might want to learn more about nanotech and what it all means, he's put together a series of links and suggested books that would serve as a good primer.
Nanotechnology and Cancer
My friends (and especially my fiance) get really sick of hearing me drone on about nanotechnology. They are kind enough not to shut me up too often, but I know I can get, perhaps, a bit too excited about the field and what it means to the future of the treatment of disease. Well, here's something concrete to sink your teeth into (hat tip to Instapundit):
MIT engineers an anti-cancer smart bomb
Imagine a cancer drug that can burrow into a tumor, seal the exits and detonate a lethal dose of anti-cancer toxins, all while leaving healthy cells unscathed.
MIT researchers have designed a nanoparticle to do just that.
The dual-chamber, double-acting, drug-packing "nanocell" proved effective and safe, with prolonged survival, against two distinct forms of cancers-melanoma and Lewis lung cancer-in mice.
Read the whole thing, and you'll begin to understand how incredibly paradigm-shattering nanotech will be in the field of medicine. I've been saying for a while that all indications are that cancer will be effectively cured within 20 years. It will be through a combination of better anti-cancer drugs and a nanotech delivery system, and the above story shows that trajectory quite clearly. Actually, I think I may be a bit pessimistic with that guess, and we might hit it much sooner than that.
Looking past using nanotechnology as a mere delivery system, you can see larger, more far-reaching possibilities. Actual cell repair would be the next big milestone, giving doctors the ability to inject nanobots into your body that would actually repair old, injured, or defective cells. It's going to be an amazing future.
Monday, August 08, 2005
Camping and Bocci
You know, it's difficult to get into the habit of blogging something substantial and interesting every single day -- even if you take the weekends off. I do have a good excuse for this past weekend though: I was outside even cell range, camping in the middle of nowhere. Yes, it was nice and relaxing, even if I did drink probably a bit too much beer. I lost at cribbage, dominos, and six-dice, but that's OK: I won both games of bocci. Those old Italian men are definitely good for something, like inventing perfect games to compliment micro brew drinking.
I have several great topics and links saved at work ready to go, assuming I can find a lunch hour to sit and write them. In the meantime, for some great linkage, I recommend Instapundit this week. For the second time, Glenn Reynolds has given the reins over to three very capable bloggers: Michael Totten, Ann Althouse, and Megan McArdle. Believe me, they are worth reading. It's a great thing to have them all in one place.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Catching Up Movies
This week, the fiance and I are trying to catch up on the summer movies we think we should watch in an actual theater. Last night we watched Batman Begins, and I was blown away. Great movie. Bruce Wayne's childhood friend making the observation that the Batman costume wasn't the mask, but the Bruce Wayne persona was the mask. Perfect. Tonight is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which is just about out of the theater (only 8 showings a day in 4 theaters throughout the metro area). So, blogging will be light in the meantime, unless I can find time at lunch to do some writing.