March 31, 2009

Michigan re-invents the debtor's prison

The ACLU of Michigan issued an incredible press release yesterday, documenting the legal plight of Edwina Nowlin, who has been jailed for the crime of being unable to pay the court $104 per month to pay for her son's incarceration in a juvenile detention facility:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan asked for an emergency hearing today on behalf of an Escanaba woman sentenced to 30 days in jail because she is too poor to reimburse the court for her son’s stay in a juvenile detention facility.

“Like many people in these desperate economic times, Ms. Nowlin was laid off from work, lost her home and is destitute,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “Jailing her because of her poverty is not only unconstitutional, it’s unconscionable and a shameful waste of resources. It is not a crime to be poor in this country and the government must stop resurrecting debtor’s prisons from the dustbin of history.”

In December 2008, Ms. Nowlin’s 16-year-old son was sentenced to the Bay Pines Center and Ms. Nowlin was ordered to pay $104 per month for his lodging. At the time of this order, Ms. Nowlin was homeless and working part-time with a friend after being laid off from her job. She told the court that she was unable to pay the ordered amount, however the judge found her in contempt for failing to pay. In addition, Ms. Nowlin’s requests for a court appointed attorney were denied.

Frankly, if this was dated tomorrow, I'd dismiss it as an obvious over-the-top April Fool prank. I'm sure there's some toxic combination of restrictions and penalties that could be worse than this, but it'd take some deep legal scholarship to uncover it. The law really is an ass.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

Toronto soccer fans turning into British-style fans?

Toronto's soccer fans may be the most passionate in the league, but this is a very unwelcome kind of passion:

[. . .] some TFC supporters gave themselves and the club, a black eye in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday with behaviour that led to brawls, police stun guns and even condemnation from Toronto fans who were at the 1-1 game against the hometown Crew.

"My information is that as fans were leaving, several fights broke out in the parking lot and the special duty officers had to request assistance," Rich Weiner, public information officer with the Columbus Police Department, said yesterday.

"Some people were Tasered, some were arrested. I know at least a couple were taken to jail, but if (charges) were of a serious nature, I would know by now. Those involved likely would have posted a bond."

Posted by Nicholas at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Economic uncertainty

The recent forced resignation of GM's CEO may be good politically — although that's questionable — but it's terrible economically. The economic picture is unsettled, which sharply reduces the dependability of long-term and even short-term forecasting. Businesses depend on forecasting to make investments, create jobs, increase or decrease production, and pretty much every other part of their operations. Uncertainty is normal, but high levels of uncertainty act to depress all economic activity . . . and the US government playing kingmaker with the heads of major corporations is a hell of way to create more uncertainty.

The specific merits of the Richard Wagoner dismissal are unimportant compared to the extra measure of uncertainty injected into the economy as a whole. If President Obama and his team can dismiss Wagoner, why not the heads of any bank accepting government funding? Why not other corporate officers (corporate directors have already been ousted at government whim)? At what level does the government's self-created new power stop?

The direction the US federal government has set will do nothing to settle economic worries, and much to increase them. The clear belief on the part of the administration is that they are better able to pick the winners and losers of economic activity of which most of them have no practical experience. That is a modern definition of hubris.

On the specifics of GM's (and Chrysler's) plight, I've been saying that they should have gone into formal bankruptcy last year. It would have been bad, for many people (suppliers, employees, and shareholders most directly), but it would have had the merit of being the best way to legally1 and quickly2 sort out the businesses, determining whether they are still viable or whether they are best broken up and sold off to the highest bidder. This life-in-death state under close government supervision is becoming the worst of all possible worlds. Nothing can be settled, everything is subject to radical change at the drop of a political hat, and nobody can see an end to the turmoil.

1 Legally, in the sense that the laws are already on the books, tested, and workable. Not requiring additional legislation passed in the wee small hours of the morning by sleepy congressmen and senators who haven't read any of the bill being passed.

2 Quickly, of course, is a relative term. Even a best-case fast resolution of a bankruptcy this size would be years, not months in length.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

Decoding the publishing world

Tomas Christensen provides a Rosetta Stone for determining exactly what is meant by certain key terms used in the publishing world:

ANTHOLOGY: An artifact that has been superseded by stacks of velo-bound photocopied pages, usually unnumbered and with text cut off at the edges, known as CLASS READERS.

AUTHOR: A large class of individuals (approximately three times as numerous as readers) serving a promotional function in book marketing or providing make-work for editorial interns.

AUTHOR BIO: A piece of creative writing whose length varies inversely with the attractiveness of the person depicted in the AUTHOR PHOTO.

AUTHOR PHOTO: Pictorial fiction. Authors always choose photos that emphasize that quality in which they feel most deficient.

AUTHOR TOUR: A hazing ritual intended to make authors compliant to their publishers.

H/T to Lois McMaster Bujold.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

Ten years on

Hard to believe that it's been ten years since The Matrix was released:

Matrix_Poster.jpg

Filmed mostly in Sydney, Australia, and anchored by a hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves in a breakthrough role) and his battle-worn leader Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), The Matrix follows a group of intrepid rebels as they rage against their machine overlords, which farm energy from a humanity trapped in an immersive hyper-reality.

Featuring kinetic action sequences soundtracked to the industrial thump of acclaimed artists like Meat Beat Manifesto, Ministry and others, the Wachowski brothers' film attracted ecstatic praise from cinema auteurs like Darren Aronofsky, M. Night Shyamalan and Joss Whedon. The film also utterly captivated writer Gibson, who explained in the book The Art of the Matrix that "Neo is my favorite-ever science fiction hero, absolutely."

Still one of my favourite films. But there should have been only one.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:16 AM | Comments (0)

The world's worst airline?

Michael Totten is a very experienced traveller. He's been to lots of different countries, flown a lot of different airlines. When he says he's identified the worst airline company in the world, I believe him:

After spending several weeks each in Iraq and Lebanon at the end of 2008, I bought a plane ticket to the U.S. from Beirut on December 22 and figured I had plenty of time to get home for Christmas. I had no idea, though, that I had purchased my ticket from the worst airline company in the world — Italy's national carrier Alitalia — and that a two-hour layover in Rome would turn into an ordeal that lasted longer than a week. [. . .]

After I landed in Rome, the Departures board said my flight to Chicago was delayed two hours. I didn't mind. I had a 24-hour layover there, so I could wait patiently. But an angry stirring of passengers at the flight counter caught my attention.

"What’s going on?" I asked an American woman who looked concerned yet approachable.

"I'm not sure," she said. "But somebody told me the baggage handlers on are strike and that we might not be going anywhere." [. . .]

"Hey," a woman said and grabbed my arm. "Look. They've posted the European Union's Passenger Rights on the wall."

She was right. Our rights were spelled out in English just behind the foul-mouthed Alitalia employee who, instead of complying with regulations, had just threatened DJ with physical violence. The European Union required Alitalia to provide us with food, hotel accommodations, and a ticket on another airline because we had been delayed for more than five hours. We were also legally owed up to 600 Euros, around 1,000 dollars, in compensation.

I had already been delayed more than five hours. Some of us had been delayed for days. None of us had received food, hotel accommodations, or rebooked flights on a functional airline. [. . .]

Anyone could have pushed the terminal over the edge at any moment. If just one person swung a punch at an employee, it might trigger a riot. I could feel it. The Africans were ready to roll, as were DJ and several of the Italians. Most American passengers seemed a bit more restrained, but even that was beginning to change. The Alitalia staff looked terrified. Their eyes darted sideways as they scanned the terminal for threats and calculated escape routes.

Unbelievably, the experience got even worse. I think I'll avoid ever flying Alitalia, just in case. Nobody should have to put up with this sort of deliberate institutional abuse.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:03 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2009

QotD: Bailing out newspapers

I have never had anything but contempt for America's "greatest" newspapers. During my lifetime, a little over six decades, they have never been anything but contemptible. Everything that was foreseeably harmful to individual liberty — or later proven to be so — they have championed. Everything that would have been good for it, they have opposed.

Regarding a small, exceptional handful of dire matters of life and death — the ugly little war in Vietnam comes to mind — where they finally aligned themselves with the proper, decent, moral, and Constitutional side of the issue, they were opinion followers, not leaders.

Now, according to the "new media" to which I happily switched ten years ago or more, in preference to being libelled, threatened, and lied to on a continuous basis as a member of the nation's Productive Class, America's "greatest" newspapers, on the brink of financial collapse as millions of other readers and advertisers make the same change I did, are looking to be "bailed out" by the current political administration. They've agreed to stop making political endorsements, giving us to wonder what good they'll be after they seal this devil's bargain.

L. Neil Smith, "No Bailout for America's Newspapers!", Libertarian Enterprise, 2009-03-29

Posted by Nicholas at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

Do no some evil?

Some people are starting to ask if Google has gone too far in trying to adjust its way of doing business in order to get access to the Chinese market. L. Neil Smith has this to say in the current issue of Libertarian Enterprise:

GoogleCuffs.jpg

Somewhere on this page, you'll find an unusual logo for Google, created for us by the fabulous artist Scott Bieser. The pair of Os in the middle are handcuffs. This was inspired by two events.

The first, of course, is that company's continued willingness to "embed" itself with repressive governments like that of the People's Republic of China. The Chinese mistakenly believe that they can enjoy the benefits of economic freedom, while stifling personal and political freedom. Google is enabling them in this delusion by censoring what the Chinese people can connect to on the Internet. We thought it was shameful and disgusting when it first happened, a few years ago, and we still think it's shameful and disgusting.

Now we're told that Google is manufacturing "smart monitors" for the Obama regime, devices that will spy on you and your home and tattle on you when you're using more energy — energy that you paid for — than the God King and his flying monkeys think you should.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

Chapter 2 of Richard Best's The Oenophile Next Door

Richard Best, aka the Frugal Oenophile, has posted the second chapter of his novelistic version of how to impart wine knowledge.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

North Korea's next launch

DigitalGlobe, a satellite imaging firm, has released a photo of what appears to be the next North Korean rocket:

NORK_Rocket.jpg

The Register says:

The image, released by commercial satellite Earth-imaging firm DigitalGlobe, shows the North Korean launch gantry at Musudan-ri, where the country's larger missiles and rockets are test fired. In commercial satellite images produced in recent months, the gantry has stood empty: but in the DigitalGlobe image — taken yesterday — a large multistage rocket is clearly visible.

[. . .]

Both the US and Japan have deployed warships equipped with SM-3 ballistic missile interceptors to the area. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said there are no plans to interfere with a North Korean launch; this suggests that the warships will only shoot if the rocket's trajectory appears to offer a threat to Japan. North Korea has previously test-fired a shorter ranged missile across Japan into the Pacific.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2009

Expect these words and phrases to be criminalized soon

By way of Five Feet of Fury, a list of words and phrases the Christian Science Monitor would prefer we should not use with Muslims.

Short form:

  • "The Clash of Civilizations."
  • "Secular."
  • "Assimilation."
  • "Reformation."
  • "Jihadi."
  • "Moderate."
  • "Interfaith."
  • "Freedom."
  • "Religious Freedom."
  • "Tolerance."

I'm sure we'll see the various provincial and federal HRC organizations codifying this list and issuing punishments on a per-use basis.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2009

Outsiders simply don't understand that "sorry" means "go screw yourself"

Stephen Marche gets to the point quickly:

It began with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, which has recently run a couple of Canadian items, some of them long. That never used to happen. 30 Rock had that great line about Toronto: "It's New York without the stuff." And on the show How I Met Your Mother, one of the central characters, Robin Scherbatsky, is a Canadian expat trying to make it in New York; Canada is a running joke of the show. Unfortunately, none of the Canadian comedy is that funny or accurate. The jokes mostly involve maple syrup, the cold and/or the pronunciation of the word "about," which 97% of us don't actually mispronounce. The Great White North casts a long, ludicrous shadow - Canada in the American comic imagination corresponds roughly (very roughly) with the region of the country that stretches from Northern Ontario to Alberta and does not include cities, or the Maritimes, or the West Coast. The only other gag Americans seem to get is how polite Canadians are. ("How do you get 10 Canadians out of a swimming pool?" "Say, ‘Hey guys, can you get out of the pool?' ") Even this joke, complimentary to us, isn't mildly true. Canadians are one of the rudest peoples on Earth. Outsiders simply don't understand that "sorry" means "go screw yourself."

What explains this resurgence of Canada jokes on U.S. television? There are two possibilities. We are the last group that can be made fun of without risk. Political correctness has made almost every other ethnicity off-limits. Americans can't even make fun of the French anymore. The "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," as The Simpsons once called them, have turned out to be right in nearly every disagreement with their American cousins. It's quite easy to make fun of Canadians because Americans can't really distinguish us from themselves. So it's innocent. They're more or less making fun of people who are like them.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:47 PM | Comments (0)

Proof that the Canadian cultural invasion plan is working

You know that the cultural invasion of the United States is going well when American hockey fans start to do things like this:

Sometime between the end of the first period and the start of the second, the Blue Jackets got a series of calls, threatening a goaltender. Using caller ID, police were led to the Dublin home of Peter Stenzel (pictured). Police describe him as "upset" and say he was wearing a Calgary Flames shirt.

Stenzel was arrested and charged with inducing panic, a misdemeanor.

610 WTVN contacted the Columbus Blue Jackets. The club says it's not commenting on the incident.

The game ended in a 5-0 win for Columbus. Obviously Stenzel's plan didn't work . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2009

Scale, or how much is a trillion, really?

Megan McArdle tries to put those mind-crogglingly large numbers into a bit of perspective:

A trillion is, in some sense, a meaningless number. Perhaps this is a problem with inflation in both our currency and the size of our government — the spending figures are now beyond any normal person's imagining. In the comments to another thread, two readers try to put some emotional weight to these hefty numbers

To many of us, there's not enough verbal distinction between a million and a billion . . . a billion is bigger, yes, but most of us don't really grasp how much bigger (especially if you're on the left side of the Atlantic, where a billion is a much smaller number than it is on the right side). A trillion? Is that really a number? To most of us, no.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)

Don't expect $8 billion to buy much high speed rail service

In Europe and in Japan, high speed rail services are often touted as part of the solution to road congestion and increasing short-range air traffic problems. In Canada and the United States, high speed rail is also frequently proposed to address the same problems. Robert Poole explains why even $8 billion isn't even close to enough money to bring high speed rail links to North America:

It's unfortunate that President Obama has made inter-city high-speed rail his "signature issue" in transportation. The $8 billion inserted into the stimulus bill at the last minute has created expectations for Japanese-style bullet trains on 11 long-planned corridors, but those hopes are likely to go unrealized. Moreover, by promoting expanded passenger rail service in these corridors, this policy may hinder many people's hope of shifting more long-haul freight from truck to rail, as an energy-saving and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction policy.

Let me explain the problem. True high speed rail (HSR) that goes 150-200 mph requires entirely separate rights of way with no grade crossings, shallow grades, very broad curves, and no 60 mph freight traffic. That's what Japan, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy are doing, and the taxpayer cost is many billions per line. Former Amtrak CEO Alex Kummant, in 2007 House testimony, estimated that an exclusive HSR corridor between New York and Washington would cost $10 billion — exclusive of new right of way (in some of the most expensive urban areas in the country). So it's laughable to think that $8 billion (even if supplemented by the $5 billion more the Administration proposes over the next five years) could provide more than a small down payment on 11 real HSR corridors, most of them far longer than the 200+ mile New York to Washington one. The proposed California HSR is estimated by its proponents to cost $50.2 billion, but a recent Reason Foundation "due diligence" report put the more likely cost at up to $81.4 billion.

So in fact, what the new federal funding will mostly be used for is upgrades to the existing shared passenger/freight tracks, aiming to get Amtrak trains up to speeds of 90 to 100 mph rather than today's 60 or 70 mph. But that raises the question of getting the best use out of America’s existing railroad infrastructure. While it's possible, with lots of passing sidings and expensive signaling systems, to operate both fast passenger trains and slower (and much longer) freight trains on the same trackage, the performance of both is hindered. U.S. freight railroads still have serious difficulties attracting time-sensitive freight, because rail freight takes so long (an intermodal trip from Tacoma to Columbus or Cincinnati takes 7 to 12 days) and is so uncertain (i.e., from 7 to 12 days!). Today's high-tech, just-in-time logistics system cannot operate with such long times or with large schedule uncertainty, which is why so much freight moves by truck instead of rail.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)

Ezra Levant on Michael Coren's TV show

In case you didn't catch in during broadcast, you can see Ezra Levant's appearance on the Michael Coren show here.


Here's part one

Posted by Nicholas at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Hard to disagree with this

Austin Modine reports on a presentation by Jeffrey Kaplan, former lead designer for World of Warcraft:

Speaking at a presentation at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Kaplan — who's now helming Blizzard's next unannounced MMO — said game makers often suffer from "medium envy", where they try to deliver a compelling story by writing reams of dialog and narrative without keeping in mind it's a video game.

"Basically — and I'm speaking to the Blizzard guys in the back — we need to stop writing a fucking book in our game because nobody wants to read it," Kaplan said, adding that he's as guilty of this fault as anyone else.

"We need to deliver our story in a way that is uniquely video game," said Kaplan. "We need to engage our players in sort of an inspiring experience, and the sooner we accept that we are not Shakespeare, Scorcerse, Tolstoy, or the Beatles, the better off we are."

Kaplan said WoW has attempted to avoid drowning the player in dialog by limiting designers to only 511 characters in their quest descriptions.

Although I don't play WoW, I find the same thing in Guild Wars: as soon as the quest description is long enough that you need to scroll the dialog box to read all of it, the chances of just clicking through go way up. I read a lot, both on- and offline, so if I'm likely to click-without-reading, how much more likely is someone who has a lower tolerance for reading in any medium?

Posted by Nicholas at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

Old news: CO2 emissions. New hotness: Dust

A report in The Register on heating trends in the Atlantic Ocean reveals that airborne dust is a much greater factor than CO2 in the atmosphere:

American scientists say that variations in atmospheric dust levels affect the temperature of the Atlantic ocean far more than global warming. Research indicates that 70 per cent of the change in Atlantic temperature over recent decades has resulted from reduced dust, rather than climate change.

The new analysis comes from scientists in the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Wisconsin. They say that the Atlantic temperature trend has been warmer by approximately a quarter of a degree each decade since 1980: but that most of this is actually because more sunlight is reaching the sea due to reducing levels of dirt in the air above it.

"A lot of this upward trend in the long-term pattern can be explained just by dust storms and volcanoes," says Amato Evan of Wisconsin uni. "About 70 percent of it is just being forced by the combination of dust and volcanoes, and about a quarter of it is just from the dust storms themselves."

Posted by Nicholas at 10:09 AM | Comments (0)

It must be true about all politics being local

I was amused to see this brief Canadian Press item, featuring both my local MPP and my federal MP in direct conflict. They're husband and wife, yet find themselves opposed on a current hot issue:

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty may have some animated conversations at his dinner table over the Ontario government's plan to merge the provincial sales tax with the GST.

Flaherty says he fully supports merging Ontario's provincial sales tax with its federal counterpart. But his wife Christine Elliott, a Progressive Conservative member of Ontario's legislature, says her party opposes the tax harmonization.

In a speech in Montreal Thursday night, Flaherty said Elliott was asked by a reporter if this will create awkward moments on the homefront.

He said Elliott replied, "I think we'll stay married, but I respectively disagree with him about this."

Flaherty, a former Ontario finance minister, joked, "I was glad to hear we're going to remain married."

Full disclosure: I've not only met both of them, but I coached two of their sons in soccer several years back.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2009

"You sound like a Breznhev-era apparatchik, giving the party line"

I'm guessing that Daniel Hannan isn't going to be on the next list of civil honours forwarded to the Queen . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 06:31 PM | Comments (0)

PowerPoint's worst presentations

I'm not generally a fan of PowerPoint, but I have to admit that I haven't seen many presentations worse than these eyesores:

Bad_PowerPoint.jpg
Sample from Alexei Kapterev's "Death by PowerPoint" presentation"

Posted by Nicholas at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

Happy birthday, Norman Borlaug

Take a moment to wish a happy 95th birthday to possibly the greatest contributor to human life and health in history, Norman Borlaug. If you haven't heard of him, it's not terribly surprising . . . his research and its application have saved the lives of possibly a billion people, but it hasn't been the sort of work that garners a lot of celebrity attention. Unlike most revolutionaries, his Green Revolution measurably added to the health, wealth, and happiness of the world.

From a Ronald Bailey interview in Reason magazine:

Reason: What do you think of organic farming? A lot of people claim it's better for human health and the environment.

Borlaug: That's ridiculous. This shouldn't even be a debate. Even if you could use all the organic material that you have — the animal manures, the human waste, the plant residues — and get them back on the soil, you couldn't feed more than 4 billion people. In addition, if all agriculture were organic, you would have to increase cropland area dramatically, spreading out into marginal areas and cutting down millions of acres of forests.

At the present time, approximately 80 million tons of nitrogen nutrients are utilized each year. If you tried to produce this nitrogen organically, you would require an additional 5 or 6 billion head of cattle to supply the manure. How much wild land would you have to sacrifice just to produce the forage for these cows? There's a lot of nonsense going on here.

If people want to believe that the organic food has better nutritive value, it's up to them to make that foolish decision. But there's absolutely no research that shows that organic foods provide better nutrition. As far as plants are concerned, they can't tell whether that nitrate ion comes from artificial chemicals or from decomposed organic matter. If some consumers believe that it's better from the point of view of their health to have organic food, God bless them. Let them buy it. Let them pay a bit more. It's a free society. But don't tell the world that we can feed the present population without chemical fertilizer. That's when this misinformation becomes destructive . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 01:52 PM | Comments (0)

Another in a series: "Having solved all other problems . . ."

Steve Chapman doesn't like your state flag. And he thinks you should do something about it:

The Oklahoma flag is one of many that seemingly were all created by the same designer on a rush order. They bring to mind Henry Ford's line that you could get a Model T in any color you wanted, as long as it was black.

Like more than a dozen others, it's a variation on a humdrum theme: A blue background with something obscure, cluttered, and gold in the center. If you climbed up a flagpole in Lansing and replaced the Michigan ensign with that of Louisiana, New York, Virginia, or Nebraska, I promise, it would be months before anyone noticed.

Oklahoma stands out slightly more only because, like Montana, Oregon, and Kansas, it prominently features the state name. Idaho goes them one better by doing it twice.

Given that most flags fly almost exclusively in their home state, including a name disparages the mental acuity of residents. It implies that without a prompt, some people would forget where they live.

On a distinctive, well-designed flag, the name is unnecessary. Imagine Old Glory with the name of the country prancing across it. Or Canada's maple leaf. Or Israel's Star of David.

The only good thing to be said about the popular blue-bedsheet style is that it assures a state flag will be forgettable instead of just plain homely. Maryland's clashing juxtaposition of black, gold, red, and white shapes could have been used to extract information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The image of George Washington on the Washington flag brings to mind a Presidents Day sale.

Canada's selection of provincial and territorial flags are a bit better, in the sense of being distinctive and evocative:

Provincial_Flags.jpg
Original image from Craig Marlatt's website.

Ontario and Manitoba, of course, are far too similar (both being variants of the Canadian Red Ensign), and Alberta's flag isn't much of an improvement, but once you've seen the flags of B.C., N.B., N.S., Nunavut, P.E.I., or Quebec, you're not likely to mistake them again.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)

Uh-oh

How can I keep the pretense that my iPhone is primarily a business tool with things like this starting to be available?

Wolf3d_iPhone.jpg

Search levels for hidden secrets that reveal stolen Nazi treasure, health packs, ammo and weapons or even short cuts.

Choose clever new touch controls or drive with the tilt controls to halt the diabolical Nazi schemes.

Wolfenstein 3D Classic makes use of an all new control system designed for the iPhone by technical visionary and id Software founder, John Carmack.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2009

A.I.G.: Less passion, more fact

Megan McArdle sums up recent discussions on AIG, then adds some uncomfortable facts:

Of course the AIG bonuses should go back! They were paid to people in the very group that lost money! They were paid to people who have already left the firm, putting the lie to the idea of retention bonuses! Also, they couldn't get jobs anywhere else anyway, so retention bonuses are unnecessary! And it's all just unmitigated greed! They're lucky to have jobs at all! They should be volunteering to work for free, wearing sackcloth and ashes, and grovelling on the ground in front of every taxpayer they can find, begging for forgiveness!

The information now emerging from AIG tells a different story.

Of course, it's much easier for politicians and media pundits to whip up a frenzy against evil "capitalist exploiters" than it is to point out that they're actively scapegoating the innocent.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

Must be a slow news day

Whaddaya know? Cold fusion is back in the news:

Is the science community warming to cold fusion? It's been 20 years to the day since Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, electrochemists at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, announced the discovery of what they believed to be "cold fusion" (now often referred to as low-energy nuclear reactions, or LENR), a room-temperature nuclear reaction that reportedly generated an unexplained amount of heat. The pronouncement spawned a flurry of excitement about a new renewable energy source, but enthusiasm quickly waned after the result wasn't satisfactorily replicated. Today at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in the very same city, researchers are recapping recent developments in the field — including images of what some believe are telltale signs of reaction-born subatomic particles, as well as documentation of heat, helium, gamma rays and other products from possible low-energy nuclear reactions.

"We have been working for . . . years to know what kinds of questions to address," one of the presenters Antonella De Ninno, a scientist at the New Technolgies Energy and Environment in Italy, said in a statement. "After long term and intensive research, we found ourselves able to give a reasonable . . . explanation."

So far, the US Department of Energy appears unimpressed saying that the evidence "did not conclusively demonstrate the occurrence of cold fusion."

Posted by Nicholas at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2009

QotD: Falling down the wrong side of the Laffer Curve

David Cameron, Tory leader, appears determined that it will not be just the current government that comes out with serious errors on policy. This refusal to not state that a new, higher tax band of 45 per cent "on the rich" will be repealed is a serious error. The error is to ignore the history of what happens when marginal tax rates are cut — these cuts lead to more, not less, revenue. Now of course, as small-government folk, we support tax cuts because we want taxes to fall, and not because we want higher revenues. But if it is revenues you are worried about, then raising taxes is dumb.

The UK and many other economies are falling down the wrong side of the Laffer Curve. It is profoundly depressing that the lessons I thought had been learned have been so totally lost. It makes me wonder whether any senior politician has a clue about economics whatever.

Johnathan Pearce, "It is the lack of basic economic understanding that is so terrifying", Samizdata, 2009-03-23

Posted by Nicholas at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

More on those voodoo psychological tests

There's an interesting discussion over at Slashdot about those quasi-scientific psychological profile tests. It started with a discussion of a takedown request for a blogger who'd posted the first 75 of 567 questions (with answers) to one of those tests, then quickly branched out into a discussion of the tests themselves:

unlametheweak: The sad thing is that people who lie on the test (and are consistent about it) are the ones that are going to get hired.

Take for example, "It would be better if almost all laws were thrown away". Now considering that this test is for the police force, it's obvious that the Human Resource types aren't interested in hiring a civil Libertarian, however purely philosophical he is in his beliefs.

"I do not always tell the truth"

If you answer "False" to this (like I would), then you would also be weeded out as a liar. Because well, most people lie most of the time, and according to the HR types, if you don't admit to lying then you are just a dishonest liar.

Greyfox: I always lie, therefore I would have to answer "false" to "I do not always tell the truth."
Why do I get the feeling that other than that one question their test would show me to be a model employee?

Thelasko: . . . I suggest that anyone who has to work in an organization that uses these types of tests read The Organization Man by William H. Whyte. . . . I will reproduce here a couple of paragraphs from the "How to Cheat on Personality Tests" chapter:

"By and large, however, your safety lies in getting a score somewhere between the 40th and 60th percentiles, which is to say, you should try to answer as if you were like everyone else is supposed to be. This is not always too easy to figure out, of course, and this is one of the reasons why I will go into some detail in the following paragraphs on the principal types of questions. When in doubt, however, there are two general rules you can follow: (1) When asked for word associations or comments about the world, give the most convential, run-of-the-mill, pedestrian answer possible. (2) To settle the most beneficial answer to any question, repeat to yourself:

a) I loved my father and my mother, but my father a little bit more
b) I like things pretty well the way they are
c) I never worry much about anything
d) I don't care for books or music much
e) I love my wife and children
f) I don't let them get in the way of company work"

You know what is the saddest about these personality tests? This guide to cheating on them was written just a few years after the basic ones became popular (they were developed in the 20's and 30's, came into use and were standardized (and also statistically tested and proven worthless) in the bureaucracy of WWII, and The Organization Man was published in '56), but the cheat guide works perfectly well even for tests developed long after the cheat guide was written.

I posted something on this back in January.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:25 AM | Comments (0)

A better solution to power shortages?

One of the worst aspects of our current way of handling high energy demand is that once the limit is reached, unilateral decisions on the part of the energy supplier are imposed on everyone. In a mid-July heat wave, as everyone in the midwest turns on their air conditioners, the supply gets severely stressed . . . and the closer to full capacity, the more likely that everyone will be inconvenienced by brown-outs or black-outs. Spencer Reiss looks at a co-operative solution: paying major users to cut back their demand until the supply/demand stabilizes:

Many utilities already do an ad-hoc version of this, an emergency practice known as demand response that has lately been promoted by Jon Wellinghoff, acting chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now there's an alternative: Call EnerNOC, a Boston-based company that gangs commercial users who are willing, for a quarterly payment, to trim back operations on 30 minutes' notice. EnerNOC micromanages consumption at 3,400-plus locations from Maine to California. Between dimming lights, adjusting thermostats, and suspending industrial activities, the potential cuts top the output of a large nuclear reactor. And the savings can be huge.

The advantages should be clear: real-time (or almost real-time) ability to shift large blocks of energy usage out of peak demand times, benefitting both consumers and industrial energy users. The ability to co-operatively manage the overall demand rather than unilaterally cutting off users (and reducing the need for additional peak-only generation facilities) is clearly a better solution.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

Incomplete headline of the day

This headline at the BBC News website is incomplete:

Top AIG bosses 'to repay bonuses'

It should continue with the much more informative ". . . to avoid Bill of Attainder". More information (and an explanation) here. Other recent posts here and here.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

Quasi-religious enviro-weenies

James Lileks has the right attitude:

Every_drop.jpg

People who put bumper stickers like this on their car are looking for a new religion, whether they realize it or not. It's interesting that so many people today are abandoning "traditional" religions, but can't seem to get by without replacing it with some woo-woo, new age mumbo jumbo about Mother Gaia and her sweaty folds.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:56 AM | Comments (0)

Your online food and wine advisor

Natalie MacLean has posted a useful online food and drink advisor, which you can use to best complement the food you want to serve. You can work it either way: select the food and get recommended wines to match, or select the wine first and see what foods would work with it.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

World's largest model railway

This is the Miniatur Wunderland attraction in Hamburg.

H/T to Jon, my virtual landlord.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:20 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2009

Going that extra sea mile for authenticity

If I'm not drinking wine, my beer preference runs to the heavily-hopped. India Pale Ale (IPA) is traditionally one of the beers that is made with lots and lots of hops. It was also transported thousands of miles (in its most traditional form). In their quest for an authentic IPA, BrewDog is taking their brew to sea:

A Scottish brewery claims to have produced the first authentic India pale ale (IPA) in almost 200 years by ageing the beer aboard a trawler in the North Sea.

BrewDog, a Scottish micro-brewery based in Fraserburgh, has used an original recipe to produce the ale, which was traditionally matured during the 100-day sea journey from Britain to India.

While many brewers still produce IPA on land, BrewDog’s owners James Watt and Martin Dickie decided to make the beer the old-fashioned way.

The pair prepared eight oak barrels which spent seven-and-a-half weeks aboard the Ocean Quest, a mackerel trawler captained by Watt, who is also a fisherman.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

Cheesy tariff games governments play

Posted by Nicholas at 11:51 AM | Comments (0)

A.I.G. bonuses taxed

Steve Chapman points out that the spasm of anger in which congress passed a retroactive 90% tax on the A.I.G. bonuses is being directed at the wrong people:

Congress is outraged. Really, really outraged. Unbelievably, incredibly outraged. And there are certainly grounds for anger.

Not at the insurance company AIG, which paid bonuses that are seen as intolerable, but at Congress, which blithely declined to prohibit them but is now shocked to find AIG doing what it was allowed to do. The Democrats who control Capitol Hill want revenge, as do many Republicans. So the House voted by a 328-93 margin to impose a 90 percent tax on the payments.

In doing so, members resolutely avoided a couple of inconvenient realities. The first is that the fault, if any, lies with the same people who are now angry. The second is that the tax conflicts with the clear intent of the Constitution.

The whole bonus scheme is intended to retain key personnel, and it makes perfect sense. In good times, high-performing executives can always try to move on to other firms who (in theory) offer more money, more opportunities for advancement, or both. The bonus payment is to try to keep those executives where they can do the most good for the corporation paying the bonus.

In these trying economic times, the bonuses actually make even more sense for the rest of the economy. They function to keep those same executives who made a total balls-up of A.I.G. from moving to other companies to do the same pillage-and-burn-and-sow-the-fields-with-salt to them. It's cheap, from the larger economy's point of view, to pay relative peanuts to keep all these folks from moving on and infecting other companies.

Update: Mark Steyn speaks for the outraged:

Are you outraged by these AIG bonuses?

No, no. For Pete's sake, you're an A-list congressional big shot. Try to get a bit of feeling into "outraged." The president's teleprompter puts it in italics, bold, capitalized and underlined: OUTRAGED !

That's better. Don't forget to furrow your brow and fume. No, not like a camp waiter when you send back the arugula salad drizzled in an aubergine coulis. We're looking for primal, righteous anger: You're outraged, OUTRAGED that bonuses are being handed out at companies the American taxpayer is bailing out. Yes, to be sure, the bonuses were specifically provided for in the legislation, but, like all busy senators and congressmen, you don't have time to read every footling trillion-dollar bill before you vote in favor of it. And yes, true, the specific passage addressing these particular bonuses was, in fact, added to the bill in your name, but that was nothing to do with you — you just did that because the White House asked you to, and just because their people called your people and some intern in your office drafted some boilerplate with your name on it is no reason for you to be denied 10 minutes of grandstanding on MSNBC. It's an outrage to suggest you're anything other than outrageously outraged!

Posted by Nicholas at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Coping

Rachel Manteuffel recounts her unsettling discovery that, even at 21, she still hadn't quite finished growing:

Puberty is such a strange thing to happen to people. Up to that point, you've been growing your whole life, but in a reasonable, measured way — you can do more things each year, but you're still the kid with the high voice. You're figuring out what books and TV shows you like, what makes you laugh that doesn't make your mom or your best friend laugh. And then your body changes completely. It's not what you remember, and it has nothing to do with you, really. It's like meeting your roommate on the first day of summer camp: Aaand this will be your body! You guys are going to have so much fun together!

And mostly, you do. But meanwhile, you're an introspective kid whose body suddenly starts screaming SEX at innocent passersby. You conceal your agents of fascination in any way you can — or you get tired of hiding and flaunt. And you start noticing that the guys you know are suddenly smelling really good. The breasts, though, get involved physically around Step 28 in the mating dance. Because at this tenuous moment in your development, Step 4 makes you blush uncontrollably, and you aren't likely to need your breasts in that capacity for quite some time, but there they are, waving like a red cape in a pasture full of bulls. They're your trump card but hardly a secret.

Meanwhile, they're still there, attached to you, as you go about your mundane life. Exercise affects them the way the tyrannosaurus affected the glass of water in "Jurassic Park." Sports bras are a maddening false promise: Above a cup size B, they are all marked for "low-impact" exercise, as if, for a woman above a B, there were any such thing. Breasts move if they want. They are extravagant, unserious things, largely parasitic, except for their application to certain steps of the survival of the human race. Otherwise, their main activity is to florp.

However, Rachel managed to cope:

Adolescence requires rebellion, and, if you happen to have large breasts, you might as well rebel against the Hooters-waitress cliche you are apparently destined to become. So I did, vowing that what's going on above my shoulders would forever and always be just as interesting as those things below. I would take intellectual charge of them — observe them anthropologically. Make up witty comebacks to "Are those real?" (I have never been asked, but if I am, I am ready. I will say, "No, you made them up.") Sure, some people will still call you "The Man Show" behind your back, and occasionally a guy will rollerblade into a tree in your presence. That could be coincidental.

But what I realized is that my reaction to puberty — fury — drove me further inside my head, which subsequently became a wild place, headquarters for my internal resistance movement.

I would dress strategically, which is to say, demurely, except at those times when I would not. In other words, I would always be in charge. I would not be soft. I would not bounce. I wouldn't lean an inch forward to get what I wanted. My lack of physical subtlety would be balanced by thoughts I determined to make impenetrable. I am not easy, in any sense.

Stare all you want; you'll have no idea what's going on in my head. Because if you're staring, I am probably thinking that I could smother you and make it look like an accident.

Harsh? I know. But with a rack like this, you can't be a doormat.

H/T to John Scalzi for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

iPhone app pricing

There's been an ongoing discussion on the Apple-iPhone mailing list for a while. The two "sides" are, speaking very generally, debating these two simplified points:

  • High prices are only good for the developer (i.e., the user gets screwed)
  • Low prices are only good for the user (i.e., the developer gets nothing but ego-boo)

Of course, any debate sounds simplistic when you try to boil it down too much. Marc Tassin, of Ilium Software, posted a full blog response to the discussion, which nicely rounds out the arguments:

$.99 Apps Make $500K!!!!!
Yep, and a kid playing guitar at his high school can become a rock star. These stories (like the Trism Tale) make fantastic press, but just like the music industry, professional sports, and Hollywood, those are the exceptions, not the rules. The majority of folks will never sell enough of their 99 cent app to even turn a profit, much less make it to the "big time."

Unfortunately, people start to think that these big money makers are how the store works, since these stories make better news for Wired and better commercials for Apple. There are tons of amazing apps that never sell well because they just didn’t have that lucky combo of good app/good timing/lucky placement in an Apple ad/etc. etc. So, yes. Some applications get lucky, but for the rest of them, a 99 cent price tag will put them out of business.

Lower Prices = More Profit
This just isn't true. Lower prices typically DO mean more sales, but it doesn't necessarily mean more profit. The math is pretty simple. You need to sell enough additional copies to make up for the lost revenue of the lower price. Sometimes this works — usually it doesn't. Often you make less than you did before, even though you are making a lot more sales. And this cost is multiplied by the fact that more customers = more overhead (support/sales database work/etc.), so now you’re making the same amount of money and have twice as many customers! When the final tally comes in, you've actually lost money! There is always a sweet spot but finding it is tough. Just going cheaper isn't the answer.

That last point is best summed up by the GM business model of recent years: "Sure, we lose $2,500 per car, but we make it up in volume!"

Posted by Nicholas at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2009

QotD: The 60's Generation

Don't moan. I'm not going to "pass the wisdom of one generation down to the next." I'm a member of the 1960s generation. We didn't have any wisdom.

We were the moron generation. We were the generation that believed we could stop the Vietnam War by growing our hair long and dressing like circus clowns. We believed drugs would change everything — which they did, for John Belushi. We believed in free love. Yes, the love was free, but we paid a high price for the sex.

My generation spoiled everything for you. It has always been the special prerogative of young people to look and act weird and shock grown-ups. But my generation exhausted the Earth's resources of the weird. Weird clothes — we wore them. Weird beards — we grew them. Weird words and phrases — we said them. So, when it came your turn to be original and look and act weird, all you had left was to tattoo your faces and pierce your tongues. Ouch. That must have hurt. I apologize.

P.J. O'Rourke, "Fairness, Idealism and other atrocities: Commencement advice you're unlikely to hear elsewhere", L.A. Times, 2008-05-04

Posted by Nicholas at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2009

3D scanning and "printing"

H/T to Jeff Scarborough.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Jimmy Carter legacy

The current depression was born when the administration of Jimmy Carter, and a Democratic Congress, irrationally demanded that lenders approve mortgages for individuals who really couldn't afford them and would almost certainly never be able to pay them back. The political strategy of giving goodies away like this, in exchange for votes and other kinds of popular support, was probably old hat by the time the Romans got around to plying urban tenement dwellers with bread and circuses.

At the same time, housing for the poor appears to be some kind of bizarre obsessive-compulsive fetish for President Peanut. He's spent decades since his deeply flawed and humiliatingly failed presidency, hammering nails into future residences under the Habitat for Humanity program. How ironic it is that, just as the economy begins collapsing, so are the former president's shoddily-constructed houses across the country.

L. Neil Smith, "Cambodian Road Trip", Libertarian Enterprise, 2009-03-15

Posted by Nicholas at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2009

Headline of the day

Winner of today's headline of the day award:

Florida Marlins Hope to Stimulate South Florida By Sucking $634 Million Out of Miami's Economy
Nick Gillespie

Whole thing here.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

Pat Condell: Free Speech is Sacred

Posted by Nicholas at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

Gotta find some wall space

Victor bought a small souvenir for us during his couple of days in Egypt:

Papyrus_painting.jpg

Definitely something to frame and find an appropriate location for!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

Funny Baa-studs

H/T to "Deep Freeze" Dave Slater.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:08 AM | Comments (0)

Last of the Athenian trireme Admirals?

There's an obituary in the Times for Sir Charles Willink, one of the group that accurately reconstructed a classic Athenian trireme:

The trireme (in Greek trieres) was the ship that built the Athenian Empire. It is the heart of pine in the histories of Thucydides and Herodotus. With it the small Athenian fleet drove the great Persian armada of Xerxes from the Mediterranean at the Battle of Salamis in 480BC. But how the trireme worked was a mystery.

It was a long rowing-ship with a square sail. Its principal weapon was a bronze ram, fixed on the prow at the waterline. The heyday of the trireme was the 5th century BC, when the finest practitioners of trireme warfare were the Athenians, who perfected the art of turning at speed to ram and disable enemy ships, and the maneouvre of diekplous to break the enemy line.

But apart from conflicting descriptions, vase paintings, sculptures and coins, no one knew how the trireme worked, or believed that it could have been rowed as fast as its ancient spinners alleged. The scholars calculated 7 knots maximum.

The Great Times Trireme Controversy was initiated by a feature article by Eric Leach in The Times on August 30, 1975. Instead of taking the trireme as ancient literature, it asked practical questions. Where did the oarsmen sit? How was the trireme built? How fast did it move? How long was a long day’s sailing?

Athenian_Trireme.jpg

H/T to Eric Kirkland for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

A.I.G.: a lightning rod for discontent?

It's apparently not just the top executives who're feeling the backlash over AIG putting some of its government rescue money toward bonuses for executives:

Now these executives are toxic, and those communities are rattled and divided. Private security guards have been stationed outside their houses, and sometimes the local police drive by. A.I.G. employees at the company’s office tower in Lower Manhattan were told to avoid leaving the building while a demonstration was going on outside. The memo also advised them to avoid displaying company-issued ID cards when they left the office and to abandon tote bags or other items with the A.I.G. logo.

One A.I.G. executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared the consequences of identifying himself, said many workers felt demonized and betrayed. “It is as bad if not worse than McCarthyism,” he said. Everyone has sacrificed the employees of A.I.G.’s financial products division, he said, “for their own political agenda.”

Update: The Economist suggests a new pain indicator:

This crisis has brought a burst of creativity in the development of indicators of pain, from the subprime implode-o-meter to the downgrade-o-meter for structured securities. Perhaps it is time for the outrage-o-meter. Its needle would have jumped off the scale this week as America’s public, politicians and media huffed and puffed over the $165m in bonuses paid to members of the financial-products division that brought down American International Group (AIG). Troubles in that unit have forced the government to bail out the giant insurer, so far to the tune of $173 billion.

AIG’s wayward eggheads are not the only ones squirming. The affair is a test of the Obama administration’s handling of financial excess — and so far it has been ham-fisted. After flip-flopping over whether it had the authority to meddle with employment contracts, the Treasury eventually seized on a clause in the recently passed stimulus bill that may allow it to retrieve payments deemed contrary to the public interest. Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary, promised to recoup the money by deducting some of it from the next $30 billion tranche of aid for the company.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2009

Ontario Pinot Noir

In the current issue of OntarioWineReview, Michael Pinkus reports on the Pinot Noir Challenge, a blind tasting of Ontario Pinot Noir conducted over four evenings.

Judging was done on a simple ten-point scale: one being worst, ten being best. Because these tastings were done blind, nobody knew the wines or the prices — all they knew was they were tasting Pinot Noir. Our panels judged the wines based on four criteria: nose and taste — combining these two numbers made up their "do you like it" score; likelihood to buy — this score was based on the question, "if the wine was in your usual price range or budget 'would you buy it'?". The final criterion was based on value. After scoring the first three it was time to reveal the price of the bottle. People would once again go back to their ten-point scale and determine whether that wine delivered for its price. This is the category that can make or break a wine . . . good value wines rose, and perceived a overpriced bottles fell, down the ladder. In the end, it was those wines that delivered right now that took the crown. Some of our more serious judges took age-ability into consideration, but most were looking for immediate satisfaction in their wine; after all 90% of all bottles purchased are consumed within 24 hours and 95% within 48 hours — the shelf life of a bottle of wine, after it leaves the winery or store, is very short.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2009

New iPhone features in 3.0

For those of you who don't care about the iPhone, you can skip reading this item. For those who do, here's an as-it-happened report from Jason Snell and Dan Moren:

10:15 PT - DM: Peer to Peer connectivity — especially good for peer-to-peer games. Now an API lets you find all the other iPhones/iPod touches in the area playing the same game, so now you can play games with your friends over the network locally. Automatic discovery, all over Bluetooth (not via Wi-Fi), and there's no pairing — completely seamless. It also uses Bonjour. Plus, it's not just for games — works for any peer-to-peer application.

10:16 PT - JS: Using Bluetooth is really smart, since it means you can play games or share information with anyone, regardless of whether or not there's a wi-fi network around. Makes it much easier. (But what does that mean about iPod touch?)

[. . .]

10:17 PT - DM: Next up, accessories. Thousands of developers are building thousands of accessories that work with iPods and iPhones. Here's a speaker, for example: plug your iPhone in and listen to your music. With iPhone 3.0 support is going to the next level: enable accessory developers to build custom applications that talk right to the accessories. Speaker manufacturer can build an equalizer app that can adjust settings of the speaker. Or an FM Transmitter; you can build an app to help find the optimal frequency and tunes it automatically.

[. . .]

10:20 PT - DM: Next up is Maps. Worked with Google to build incredible Maps application. Developers would like to embed map into application, but would like a CocoaTouch control that can wrap Maps and insert into applications, and that's what they're offering in iPhone 3.0. The heart of the Maps application is now an API that allows you to embed a map directly in your app. As an example, here's a Concierge application that embeds a map — supports satellite, hybrid, map views, adding own locations, pinch-and-zoom, GPS, and Wi-Fi/cell location. Can even reverse geocode your location.

[. . .]

10:57 PT - JS: It's rare that you get fluffy puppies and demos from Oracle within the same 15-minute span at any event.

[. . .]

11:03 PT - DM: But iPhone 3.0 isn't just new for developers; it's new for customers too. More than 100 new features, and let's take a walk through: CUT COPY and PASTE. There's a round of applause at the appearance of a scissors icon. They think they've nailed it and Scott's going to demo for us now.

11:04 PT - DM: Scott launches Mail, and here's a message from a colleague about a flight to Hawaii (Oceanic 815? Don't get on that plane Scott!). Double-tap onto text and it automatically selects text. Pops up a cut, copy, paste bubble above the selection, and little tiny bubbles on both sides of the text, indicating the selection points. Double tap to bring up paste bubble (there's also select and select all). Want to select block? Drag the second selection point, it pops up a magnifyer, and you can adjust the end-point. That's it. I'm going to copy and paste like a fool when I get 3.0. Just because I can.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Partisan view of the presidency

When a Democratic president goes from being wrong to being damn wrong is always an interesting moment: Bay of Pigs, Great Society, Jimmy Carter waking up on the morning after his inauguration, HillaryCare.

P.J. O'Rourke, "Stem Cell Sham: The president as sophist", Weekly Standard, 2009-03-23

Posted by Nicholas at 12:50 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2009

DMZ secured, for now

Just finished a gruelling game of DMZ (from the dark ages of 1977, by SPI). The combined Republic of Korea corps/US Army 2nd Division threw back an incursion from the north after heavy losses. A critical B-52 strike combined with a pincer attack against the two strongest formations was the key to eventual victory. Liam Il Mack conceded that the invasion was halted after a reinforced ROK brigade broke through on the right flank, threatening to envelop the bulk of the DPRK forces.

It's been a long time since I played a map-and-counters wargame . . . I've missed it.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2009

QotD: Inherited debt

Just between you, me, and the old, the late middle-aged and the early middle-aged: Isn't it terrific to be able to stick it to the young? I mean, imagine how bad all this economic-type stuff would be if our kids and grandkids hadn't offered to pick up the tab.

Well, OK, they didn't exactly "offer" but they did stand around behind Barack Obama at all those campaign rallies helping him look dynamic and telegenic and earnestly chanting hopey-hopey-changey-changey. And "Yes, we can!"

Which is a pretty open-ended commitment.

Are you sure you young folks will be able to pay off this massive Mount Spendmore of multitrillion-dollar debts we've piled up on you?

"Yes, we can!"

We thought you'd say that! God bless the youth of America! We of the Greatest Generation, the Boomers and Generation X salute you, the plucky members of the Brokest Generation, the Gloomers and Generation Y, as in "Why the hell did you old coots do this to us?"

Mark Steyn, "Welcome, kids, to the Brokest Generation: The young aren't to blame for this mess, but they'll be paying for it", Orange County Register, 2009-03-13

Posted by Nicholas at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

Harper distances himself from libertarians

The prime minister has decided that the "libertarian" tag is a disadvantage, so he's made some explicit remarks to distance himself from the philosophy:

Harper vigorously defended his policies, arguing that compromises had to be made to face the economic reality.

"I'm talking about compromises that address the reality of the lives of real people."

He went on to deride the spendthrift culture in the United States and the recklessness of Wall Street. Harper, who has been described as a libertarian in the past, surprised some in the audience by critiquing those same ideals.

"The libertarian says, 'Let individuals exercise full freedom and take full responsibility for their actions.' The problem with this notion is that people who act irresponsibly in the name of freedom are almost never willing to take responsibility for their actions."

Mike Brock, a Conservative blogger who attended the conference, called the speech bewildering.

"The treatment to classical liberals and libertarians — of which I consider myself — was nothing short of stunning," he wrote.

"The condescension was literally dripping from his mouth. Was this his response to the disillusionment that libertarians across the country have had to his government and its policies of late?

"If it was, it did not build any bridges. Rather, it burnt them right down."

Of course, there have been so few libertarian moves on the part of the federal government that this isn't really that much of a surprise.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2009

One quick link

James Lileks gets all screedy:

This was sent to me by Amitai Etzioni, for reasons I cannot imagine. A big broadcast of a paradigm-altering manifesto, perhaps. For some reason the opening line caught my eye:

President Obama has a unique talent: He is able to inspire people all over the world to deliberate and dialogue about burning issues.

As well as consider the impact on the environment caused by reckless issue-burning, as well as the clear-cutting of old growth issue-thickets. But is it true? As far as I can tell we're not having a debate at all. He won; spending is good; Debt will save us from the terrible secret of space, which is Debt. We have concluded our debate about Federal funding of stem-cell research, and now the magic Government dollars, imbued with a power no private sector dollars contain, will help us cure all those diseases that are very important despite the lack of support from prominent actors.

At the top of the agenda for such a global give and take is what makes for a good life.

The moment the "good life" is put in global terms, I know I'm going to have to give up something. It's just a question of what, to whom, and in which quantities.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:27 PM | Comments (0)

The sun is shining, the weather's warm . . . I'm outta here

Sorry for the dearth of posts over this weekend, but it's the first good weather we've seen for far too long. Elizabeth and I headed out for a drive along the lake and ended up having dinner in Kingston.

Did you know that between Kingston and Bowmanville, there's almost no 3G connectivity? I do now.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2009

What's The Onion been up to lately?

Jon, my virtual landlord, clearly has been spending a lot of time over at The Onion, from which he recommended the following items:


Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

Jon said "Hey, I have one of these!"

Jon also said "I am pertty sure that [this is a] Section 13 violation in Canada:"


In The Know: Are Reality Shows Setting Unrealistic Standards For Skanks?

Posted by Nicholas at 08:47 PM | Comments (0)

Pat Condell on the anti-Anglian Regiment protest

Posted by Nicholas at 04:34 PM | Comments (0)

Truth no defence against libel action?

A disturbing case in Boston implies that you may not be able to claim that what you published was the truth to ward off a libel case:

Journalists who believe truth is the ultimate defense against libel suits fear that a federal appeals court has created a dangerous exception that could chill news reporting.

The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled recently that a former salesman at Staples can sue the company for libel after a vice president sent an e-mail to about 1,500 employees saying the salesman had been fired for violations of company procedures regarding expenses reimbursements.

Although the decision did not involve a news outlet, it has alarmed journalists, bloggers, and media law specialists, who worry that it could discourage news organizations from pursuing true stories that might cast subjects in a bad light.

Whole thing here.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

Chinese censors ban "World of Warcraft" expansion

Apparently, it's not just because it's a World of Warcraft expansion, but because it shows too much bone:

Stupendously popular online game World of Warcraft's second expansion, "Wrath of the Lich King" is being blocked by Chinese censors for showing too much bone.

According [to] JLM Pacific Epoch, China's General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) has twice rejected applications from Blizzard Entertainment and its domestic operator, The9, because of the game's all-too-frequent depiction of skeletons.

The original release of WoW had required Blizzard to modify undead characters and enemies in the game to pass Chinese regulator muster. Among the changes were giving the walking dead extra meat and using graves to show where players have died rather than skeletons.

China had issued the usual People's Republic governmentspeak, stating this is it's way of promoting a healthy and harmonious online environment.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:05 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Motivation

It is a deformity in some 'radicals' to imagine that, once they have found the lowest or meanest motive for an action or for a person, they have correctly identified the 'authentic' or 'real' one. Many a purge or show trial has got merrily under way in this manner.

Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, 2006

Posted by Nicholas at 02:18 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2009

John Stossel interviewed by Reason.tv

Posted by Nicholas at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

Twittering? Twitterating? Twitting?

I'm probably the very last "early adopter" as far as Twitter is concerned:

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter
    Posted by Nicholas at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

    Ultracapacitors to the rescue?

    One of the biggest needs across a vast range of technological niches these days is better energy storage options — better batteries. Some recent work at MIT may provide a major step toward meeting that need:

    A new battery material that recharges 100 times faster than the lithium-ion in your laptop has been revealed by researchers at MIT.

    The discovery could lead to cellphone-sized batteries that could be charged in 10 seconds.

    "The ability to charge and discharge batteries in a matter of seconds rather than hours may open up new technological applications and induce lifestyle changes," wrote materials scientists Gerbrand Ceder and Byoungwoo Kang Wednesday in the journal Nature.

    In energy storage, there has always been a trade-off between the amount of energy a material could store and how quickly you could discharge it. Batteries were pretty good at storing energy (although not nearly as good as oil), but getting energy into and out of them was tough. Ultracapacitors, and their cousins, supercapacitors, can deliver a lot of charge really quickly, but it takes 20 times more of their materials to store the same energy as a comparable battery.

    As with any such early announcement, it doesn't mean the technology will be available immediately: this is still the research phase of R&D. The information published in Nature only shows 50 charge/discharge/recharge cycles — although with little loss of capacity — and until it has been tested to many times that rate, it can't be said to be commercially viable yet.

    H/T to John Scalzi.

    Update: Of course, any time something sounds too good to be true, it's worth keeping your enthusiasm in check:

    Still, fast-charging electric cars is big news, right?

    Well, no actually — li-titanate batteries, offering electrocars which can top off in a few minutes, have been around for a while and such vehicles are nearing the market.

    In any case, Ceder and Kang — while apparently happy to speak to journalists of fast-charging, unless that was made up by the scribes — don't yet claim fast charging for their kit among their scientific peers. They have only proven fast discharging, as one finds when looking at their actual letter [. . .] MIT Tech Review, one of the few publications to bother looking properly, merely says "the fast-discharging materials may also recharge quickly".

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

    Google's latest move

    Google is branching out further, with today's introduction of Google Voice, which provides rough transcription of voicemail messages:

    The new service is available as of today to customers of Grand Central (a company aquired by Google a couple of years ago) and will be rolled out to the general public later this month. More information here.

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

    March 11, 2009

    QotD: Newspapers versus News Magazines

    Time magazine has a list of the ten most endangered newspapers.

    That's interesting, because our paper had a list of the ten most endangered magazines named Time. Seems like a duel on a Titanic lifeboat before it's winched down the side, no?

    Or not. I remain enthusiastic about the paper's survival, for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the pleasant sound my whistling makes as it echoes off the tombstones. I do think we'll survive. Newsmagazines, less so. I can't remember the last time I bought one. Not even after 9/1l1 — even by then the desire to remember an event with a glossy print recap had vanished [. . .]

    I think the last time I looked at a newsmagazine, it was full of things that were Generally Wrong or Growing Concerns or Worrisome Trends, with lots of ads for acid-reflux pills. The default mode of these magazines a long time ago seemed to be banging the tocsin with a bloody shirt, to horribly mix metaphors, and it's not surprising; the default position of journalism is reminding us how far we live from the fabled borders of Utopia, and how we might speed the journey through the magic accelerating powers of wise, targeted legislation.

    James Lileks, Bleat, 2009-03-11

    Posted by Nicholas at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

    More colour photos from the FSA

    Whether we realize it or not, our mental images of the 1930s and 1940s are highly influenced by the fact that most photos from that time period are in black and white. Given the economic conditions at the time, there's a self-reinforcing image of bleakness. Not everything looked gray, even if it was a desperate time for many:

    Whinery_Family_NM_1940.jpg
    "Photo by Russell Lee. Jack Whinery and his family, homesteaders, Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940"

    TVA_Crane_Operator_1942.jpg
    "Photo by Alfred T. Palmer. Crane operator at the TVA’s Douglas Dam, Tennessee, 1942."

    Here's an earlier post on the same topic. H/T to Ben Barby for the link.

    Posted by Nicholas at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

    March 10, 2009

    Day 2 of the ICCC

    Ronald Bailey reports on day 2 of the International Conference on Climate Change shindig:

    From the Stern Review, Goklany took the worst case scenario, where man-made global warming produces market and non-market losses equal to 35 percent of the benefits that are projected to exist in the absence of climate change by 2200. What did he find? Even assuming the worst emissions scenario, incomes for both developed and developing countries still rise spectacularly. In 1990, average incomes in developing countries stood around $1,000 per capita and at aroud $14,000 in developed countries. Assuming the worst means that average incomes in developing countries would rise in 2100 to $62,000 and in developed countries to $99,000. By 2200, average incomes would rise to $86,000 and $139,000 in developing and developed countries, respectively. In other words, the warmest world turns out to be the richest world.

    Looking at WHO numbers, one finds that the percentage of deaths attributed to climate change now is 13th on the list of causes of mortality, standing at about 200,000 per year, or 0.3 percent of all deaths. High blood pressure is first on the list, accounting for 7 million (12 percent) of deaths; high cholesterol is second at 4.4 million; and hunger is third. Clearly, climate change is not the most important public health problem today. But what about the future? Again looking at just the worst case of warming, climate change would boost the number of deaths in 2085 by 237,000 above what they would otherwise be according to the fast track analyses. Many of the authors of the fast track analyses also co-authored the IPCC's socioeconomic impact assessments.

    Various environmental indicators would also improve. For example, 11.6 percent of the world's land was used for growing crops in 1990. In the warmest world, agricultural productivity is projected to increase so much that the amount of land used for crops would drop to just 5 percent by 2100, leaving more land for nature. In other words, if these official projections are correct, man-made global warming is by no means the most important problem faced by humanity.

    Posted by Nicholas at 07:51 PM | Comments (0)

    March 09, 2009

    American Beer

    Posted by Nicholas at 04:15 PM | Comments (0)

    Britain's economic failure

    I knew that parts of Britain were in less-than-great economic condition, but I had no idea that things were this bad:

    Parts of the United Kingdom have become so heavily dependent on government spending that the private sector is generating less than a third of the regional economy, a new analysis has found.

    The study of "Soviet Britain" has found the government’s share of output and expenditure has now surged to more than 60% in some areas of England and over 70% elsewhere.

    Experts believe the recession will tighten the state's grip still further as benefit handouts soar and Labour directs public sector organisations to create jobs to soak up unemployment.

    In the northeast of England the state is expected to be responsible for 66.4% of the economy this year, up from 58.7% when a similar study was carried out four years ago. When Labour came to power, the figure was 53.8%.

    Astonishingly, those aren't even the worst: in Wales it's 71.6%, while in Northern Ireland 77.6% of the economy is government spending of one form or another. It's a very bad sign when government spending becomes a majority of all economic activity in a region or country (because the government doesn't actually create wealth: it just collects it from those who do).

    H/T to Perry de Havilland. for the link.

    Posted by Nicholas at 04:05 PM | Comments (0)

    PLAN plays silly buggers at sea

    The Chinese navy (formally called the People’s Liberation Army Navy) appears to be stepping up their program of harassment:

    The incident happened on Sunday as the USNS Impeccable was on routine operations in international waters 75 miles (120km) south of Hainan island, a US statement said.

    The ships had "aggressively manoeuvred" around the Impeccable "in an apparent co-ordinated effort to harass the US ocean surveillance ship while it was conducting routine operations in international waters", according to the Pentagon.

    [. . .]

    When the Impeccable radioed requesting a safe path to leave the area, two Chinese vessels dropped pieces of wood in its path, forcing the US ship to make an emergency stop, the Pentagon said.

    "The unprofessional manoeuvres by Chinese vessels violated the requirement under international law to operate with due regard for the rights and safety of other lawful users of the ocean," said Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj Stewart Upton.

    Whole thing here.

    Update: Longer CNN version of the incident here.

    The 281.5-foot Impeccable is one of six surveillance ships that perform military survey operations, according to the Navy. It is an oceanographic ship that gathers underwater acoustic data, using sonar.

    It has a maximum speed of 13 knots — or about 15 mph — but it travels 3 knots, or 3.5 mph, when towing its array of monitoring equipment. It carries a crew of 20 mariners, five technicians and as many as 20 Navy personnel.

    The Chinese ships involved were a Navy intelligence collection ship, a Bureau of Maritime Fisheries Patrol Vessel, a State Oceanographic Administration patrol vessel and two small Chinese-flagged trawlers, the statement said.

    Posted by Nicholas at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

    Guns, safe handling of

    It's been an interesting footnote in the news for the last few months, but American gun sales have been up significantly in 2008 and into 2009. That may make the firearms industry the only one seeing double-digit increases across the entire U.S. economy.

    In an article of more immediate use to my American readers than to my fellow Canadians, Ron Beatty offers some useful pointers to first-time buyers of automatic pistols:

    So, you've finally chosen your weapon, bought it home, and taken it out of the box. Good for you!

    Now, first and foremost, READ THE MANUAL!!!! I don't care how much experience you have, or that you might even have other pistols of the same basic model, READ THE DAMNED MANUAL! There is no way of telling what new "safety" features the pinheads in congress might have mandated, or that the gun manufacturer might have included in an effort to appease them before some new "feature" was legislated into existence. As an example, the Springfield XD45 has a new thumb safety. If you have older models of the same gun, you will need to train yourself to release that safety. Also, many manufacturers have included passive "safeties" which totally lock up the weapon until you use a key to release them. You need to know about these to be able to able to use the weapon.

    READ THE DAMNED MANUAL!!!

    He also addresses the tendency on the part of some folks who've grown up watching TV and movie gunfights, where incredibly dangerous "techniques" may appear to be normal:

    You might think that now you're ready to head to the range, but there is one thing to consider first. If you are new to shooting, I would strongly recommend that you seek professional instruction. This is only your life we're talking about here!

    What looks cool and effective on screen may get you and/or innocent bystanders wounded or killed: get some instruction from a real expert, not from TV or from some self-taught yahoo. Guns are dangerous — they're intended to be dangerous — but they should only be dangerous when you need them to be so. Even professionals who handle firearms daily sometimes have accidents . . . inexperienced newcomers who think they know what they're doing are far more likely to have accidents. Get properly trained!

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

    American responsibility for Mexico's drug war

    L. Neil Smith summarizes the reported reasons America is said to be to blame for the current shooting war along Mexico's northern border:

    Reportedly, this third war, although it is said to have begun as a struggle over turf between Mexican drug gangs, is being waged between those gangs and the Mexican government, which stupidly stuck its nose in when the intelligent strategy would have been to simply police the sidelines, in order to minimize potential casualties among uninvolved non-combatants, and let as many violent gangsters kill each other as possible.

    Now I suppose you will anticipate who, according to politicians and the press, the great villain is, in all of this. That's correct, the good old U.S.A. Two reasons are offered for this. (There may be others, but although I fancy myself as sort of a political profiler, I get headaches trying to "think" like a socialist for too long at a time.)

    The first reason is that, supposedly, Americans are the biggest drug consumers on the planet. There may be some truth in this: it becomes more and more difficult, every day, to live inside the mess that the Democrats and Republicans have fashioned for us. Chemicals do help, indeed; I prefer tequila, another run-for-the-border import. The Ragnorak del Sud is over territory in Mexican states that butt up directly against California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, making it relatively easy to smuggle drugs into this country over (or under) the border.

    More recently, it develops that the second reason that the United States is to blame for this war in Mexico between uniformed thugs and non-uniformed thugs, is that we Americans have all these guns, see? And left to themselves, whenever the damned evil contrivances aren't spontaneously murdering family members up here, they take it in mind to crawl over the border all by themselves and wind up in the vile hands of poor, innocent gangsters whom they seduce into pulling their triggers.

    Never mind that there are no respectable facts that support this contention or anything even remotely like it. Mexican authorities support it because it makes them look minutely less incompetent and corrupt than everybody on the planet knows they are. To American politicians it's nothing more than another socialist lie constructed to justify the eventual seizure of every semiautomatic across the country — the very weapons best suited to fulfill the role intended by the authors of the Second Amendment: keeping the government in line.

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

    March 08, 2009

    Shorpy: a seductive time-waster

    I'm probably not alone in this: every time I get a link to Shorpy, I lose an hour of time looking at old photos like this one:

    Buffalo_Main_St_1900.gif

    This is only a part of a much larger image of a Buffalo street in 1900. Click the image to see the full-size version.

    Posted by Nicholas at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

    March 07, 2009

    QotD: Cereal-ity

    No wonder this Irish trickster-spirit always reacted to the sight of children by saying "they're after me Lucky Charms." They had a history, going back to the very first encounter [. . .] I always sided with the Trix rabbit, too. It made no sense that he was denied Trix. Why? Some international convention, perhaps? Interpol has expressed its concern that the rabbit might have Trix. Great lesson for kids: you may be small, weak beings with few legal rights, but at least you’re not the rabbit. Laugh at him! Smack the bowl from his paws! It’s okay.

    Lucky Charms was, and is, my favorite non-grown-up cereal. I don’t care if it’s compacted grain nodules studded with sucrose-dusted styrofoam; I love it. Whenever my parents knew I was coming home for the weekend, my Mom would always have a box of Lucky Charms in the cupboard. I still buy it when it’s on sale. The rest of the childhood cereals I’ve left behind, including King Vitamin — that stuff was like eating a mouthful of jagged metal. You brushed your teeth after that, and when you spat it was like a a boxer gobbing in the bucket after six haymakers to the jaw.

    James Lileks, "Evening Commercial Break: Yellow Moons", Bleat, 2009-03-06

    Posted by Nicholas at 02:10 PM | Comments (0)

    How do you say "gaffe" in Russian?

    Tom Kelley sent me this link on an unfortunate translation error which may further degrade US/Russian relations:

    After promising to "push the reset button" on relations with Moscow, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton planned to present Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a light-hearted gift at their talks here Friday night to symbolize the Obama administration’s desire for a new beginning in the relationship.

    It didn’t quite work out as she planned.

    She handed him a palm-sized box wrapped with a bow. Lavrov opened it and pulled out the gift — a red plastic button on a black base with a Russian word "peregruzka" printed on top.

    "We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?" Clinton said as reporters, allowed in to observe the first few minutes of the meeting, watched.

    "You got it wrong," Lavrov said, to Clinton's clear surprise. Instead of "reset," he said the word on the box meant "overcharge."

    I'm guessing that there'll be a vacancy in the State Department's translation bureau by Monday morning.

    Whole thing here.

    Posted by Nicholas at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

    Brilliant inventions before their time

    Roger Henry sent a link to this historical footage of the Fordson Snow Crawler, asking "If it was as good as it appears to be why did it not thrive?"

    Fordson_Snow_Crawler.gif
    Click the image to view

    A quick Google search doesn't turn up much about this machine . . . perhaps it was just a bit too specialized and a bit ahead of its time.

    Dave Slater responded to Roger's post with a link to this:

    Obviously there are still would-be inventors eager to break the land-water barrier . . . at a price.

    Posted by Nicholas at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

    March 06, 2009

    Fearmongering

    Anthony Randazzo points out that most of the government's intervention in the market has served to prolong the misery, yet not to actually improve the situation:

    At this point, the depth of the recession has largely been created by the panic started by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and President George W. Bush. "If money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down," President Bush said about the economy as he urged for bailouts last September.

    Dire warnings of "catastrophe" or "before its too late" without any clear definition of what those concepts really mean are similar to, and no less troubling than, Mafioso scare tactics. It is this fear that has been driving the government to quick, impulsive action that is only worsening the problem.

    Clearly fear and panic didn't start the recession. There were system-wide failures due to a toxic combination of excessive growth optimism, a belief the boom would go on forever, a lack of healthy fear of losses, incompetency, and coercive regulations. But as Fidelity Investments executive Edward Johnson said this week, "We can only hope that the government's cure doesn't further sicken the patient."

    Looking back, most legislators regret passing their first cure — the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bill — as fast as they did. There wasn't a clear and present danger at the time — just Secretary Paulson saying if we didn't give him unlimited powers the sky would fall in and economy would collapse. No one understood what Paulson's forecasts of catastrophe would result in, but they didn't want to find out. Terrified, 'doing nothing' was not presented as an option and $700 billion was approved to buy up toxic debt.

    Ironically, after a month of discussion the Treasury decided that buying troubled assets wouldn't work after all and decided to go with capital injections instead. But this all took place many weeks after TARP was passed, and the world hadn't ended. So much for the need for speed that was used to push the bailout through.

    It's gotten so bad lately that it seems as though every time the markets finish a day in the black, someone from the government has to get up on his hind legs and proclaim another impending disaster (or worse, further government intervention) . . . and the market goes down again the following day.

    The economy won't recover until all the malinvestment has been worked out of the system; much of that mistaken spending was as a result of governments trying to prolong "the good times". Stability is essential to long-term planning for any business . . . and in today's climate only a fool would assume that the current situation will stabilize in a hurry. No stability means that no sensible business is going to take any risks they don't absolutely have to take — and building new facilities and hiring new staff count as risks in this market.

    Of course, the cycle isn't complete without mention of the news media: they're geared to report bad news, and there's a plethora of bad news to report at the moment. In an ironic twist, this is the first time that economic turmoil has seriously threatened the jobs of newsmedia workers in all areas: at least in the living memory of most current reporters and editors. This only encourages further negative connotations to every piece of economic news they report.

    It's like a reworked version of the old joke about a recession is where your neighbours lose their jobs and a depression is when economists lose their jobs. From the media point of view, this is an economic apocalypse because it's directly affecting them and their fellow media types.

    Posted by Nicholas at 03:00 PM | Comments (0)

    USMC expands recruiting guidelines

    The United States Marine Corps may have quietly changed their guidelines for recruiting to allow older recruits to join . . . or they've had some database normalization issues lately:

    Still a couple of weeks away from retirement, Opal Blackwell Walker already has received another job offer.

    The 79-year-old Crestview woman says the Marines has expressed interest.

    Last Monday, recruiters from New Jersey sent a letter to Walker by Federal Express.

    "I had to sign for it. It was sent priority overnight," she said.

    The letter from the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command asked Walker if she thought she had the stuff to be a Marine.

    "It says 'Dear Opal, Do you think you have what it takes to be a Marine? Are you prepared for one of the most demanding challenges you will ever face?' " said Walker.

    "The fact is, if you have the fortitude, confidence and will to improve yourself, then the Marine Corps may be right for you," she continued.

    "This just floored me," Walker said. "I thought, ‘well it's some kind of joke. Somebody's trying to play a joke on me.' "

    The Crestview resident hasn't contacted local recruiters yet.

    Posted by Nicholas at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

    March 05, 2009

    The end of Thomas & Vaughan?

    Back when I started being serious about Ontario wine, Thomas & Vaughan was one of my favourite wineries. Michael Pinkus reports that things went from bad to worse to disastrous:

    [T]he most recent chapter in the Thomas and Vaughan story is a long complicated one, full of missteps, misjudging and missed opportunity. Suffice it to say that the new owners had no idea about being in the wine business here in Ontario. They screwed over many growers and suppliers, delayed payments, ordered too much Icewine, and (gasp) pulled out the almost twenty year old Cabernet Franc vines from the estate vineyard, claiming that nobody knows or buys that stuff. I met the now (or soon to be) former owner once, at the Ontario Wine Awards, and it was my impression that he was as arrogant as he was clueless about the wine industry: my brief discussion about his pricing policy fell on deaf ears. Recently, the winery has fallen into receivership by decreed of BDO (according to the note on the now shuttered doors) — there are also rumours about wine being secreted out of cellar just days before the bank came by with their padlocks . . . true or not there seems to be little question as to the fate of the winery. There is a bright spot in all of this. Some of those who were negatively affected by the shenanigans of the owner might have found a way to bring some of the “spectacular” 2007 vintage wines to market; we'll have to all wait and see. As for Thomas & Vaughan, some believe this is the end of the road for this once illustrious winery; others are wondering if financing can be secured so that the winery can resume regular operations. In either case, things look grim at T&V.

    One of my earliest blog posts was about Thomas & Vaughan:

    Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that the winery has been taken over by EastDell, and that therefore the prices on the website are out of date. The Cabernet 2001 blend is now $14.95 per bottle, which makes it rather less of a deal than it used to be. Expect things to be up in the air while the new owners decide what to do with their acquisition.

    There was also a post from later in 2004 which included an interesting detail which seems to coroborate what Michael refers to in his article:

    Thomas & Vaughan was purchased earlier this year by neighbouring EastDell Estates, so the staff has completely changed over from our last visit. The new owners are running T&V as a separate operation, so the name and brand will continue to be used.

    Visiting the winery was rather sad, however, because during the time we were there, a local artist came in and took down all of the art that he'd had hanging on the walls of the tasting room. I didn't get the details, but it sure left the place looking half-abandoned.

    Posted by Nicholas at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

    QotD: Inherently unpatriotic thoughts

    Is it inherently unpatriotic or immoral to want to see a president fail? After chewing over the larger implications of that vital question, I've come to a conclusion: I am a twisted human being. Thankfully, I'm not alone.

    You see, when I'm not wasting time greedily praying to be rich, I plead with some higher power to sentence my middling local representatives to painful obscurity and professional failure. My congresswoman, for instance, carries an intellectual confidence so severely out of step with her skill set that the promise of disappointment, I trust, one day will bring me great joy.

    If we can't look to our politicians to fulfill our yearly schadenfreude quota, whom can we trust?

    David Harsanyi, "Nothing Personal, But I Hope You All Fail: What's wrong with rooting against our elected officials?", Reason Online, 2009-03-04

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

    March 04, 2009

    Metrolink's texting engineer

    A report in the LA Times has some disturbing revelations:

    The engineer suspected of causing the Sept. 12 Metrolink catastrophe in Chatsworth not only allowed rail enthusiasts into the cab of moving trains but also let them sit at the controls, according to text messages released today at a hearing by federal investigators.

    Two days before the crash, Metrolink engineer Robert M. Sanchez sent a cellphone text message arranging another ride-along and said, "this time I'm taking a picture of you @ da throttle!!!"

    Planning for the evening ride-along on the day of the crash, Sanchez texted one of the rail enthusiasts: "yea . . . but I'm REALLY looking forward to getting you in the cab and showing you how to run a locomotive."

    The recipient, identified as "Person A," responded: "Omg [oh, my God] dude me too. Running a locomotive. Having all of that in the palms of my hands. Its a great feeling. And ill do it so good from all my practice on the simulator."

    Sanchez answered: "I'm gonna do all the radio talkin' . . . ur gonna run the locomotive & I'm gonna tell u how to do it."

    Expect even more regulations banning non-authorized personnel from even being near locomotives in future . . . we all know railfans who shouldn't be allowed out without a keeper. That'll be how the legal system will view all railfans if this continues.

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

    Loram's rail grinding train

    I saw one of these trains going by late one evening, and they're quite a sight . . . until I got close enough, I thought it was some sort of brush fire along the rails. H/T to Dave Slater for the link.

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

    More panic-mongering over IVF birth certificates

    The headline writer carefully chose the most inflammatory notion for the headline "Another blow to fatherhood: IVF mothers can name ANYONE as 'father' on birth certificate":

    Family values were under attack again last night with the news that single women having IVF will be able to name anyone they like as their baby's father on the birth certificate.

    New regulations mean that a mother could nominate another woman to be her child's 'father'.

    The 'father' does not need to be genetically related to the baby, nor be in any sort of romantic relationship with the mother.

    The Daily Mail clearly is trying to find the most alarming aspects to highlight in this issue . . . and the key information is hidden a few paragraphs below:

    The second parent, who will have to consent to being named, will take on the legal and moral responsibilities of parenthood.

    In other words, no matter what the mother claims on the birth certificate, the nominated father (or "second parent") has to agree that they are taking on the legal responsibility of parenthood for that child or children. That's actually a more sensible arrangement than in many jurisdictions where the named father may not even be aware that they're now legally required to support a child until the child welfare authorities descend with court-ordered support demands.

    Of course, another part of the agenda might be to pump up anti-homosexual agendas:

    Critics said a woman could list her best friend on the birth certificate. The word 'father' may even be replaced with the phrase 'second parent'.

    [. . .]

    This raises the spectre of a legal minefield in which female 'fathers' will fight for visitation rights and be chased for child support payments if their fragile relationship with the mother breaks down.

    Because, of course, everyone knows that gays and lesbians don't have strong relationships with their partners, right? Unlike heterosexual relationships which, as we all know, never break down and leave children with only one parent in their daily lives, right?

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

    March 03, 2009

    Yet another bullshit IP ruling?

    I don't watch a lot of rugby, but it's always entertaining watching a game involving the New Zealand rugby team, especially when they open the match with their version of the Ke Mate haka:

    That being said, I think this is a bad idea:

    . . . don't even think about performing it publicly any time soon, lest you receive a friendly visit from the Maori Ngati Toa iwi or an all-expenses paid trip to the New Zealand courts. In the first ruling of it's kind, the New Zealand Government gave the iwi, or tribe, intellectual property rights to the haka as part of a multi-million dollar land claim settlement on February 11. The Ngati Toa ruling declares the Ka Mate the brainchild of Maori chief Te Rauparaha, after his narrow escape from enemies in the 1820s.

    It's probably for the best that the Ngati Toa are preventing the world from repeating the haka's story. The first section of the haka — curiously omitted at family events — describes Re Rauparaha hiding under a woman's skirt and sitting mesmerized at her "pulsating cavern."

    Maoris said they were tired of companies profiting from the Ka Mate, and the deal was meant to "protect the haka from inappropriate use" said Ngati Toa chief negotiator, Matiu Rei. Prime Minister John Keys said the agreement was about "cultural redress . . . not about a financial issue or an attempt to restrict New Zealanders."

    Intellectual property rulings are at the bleeding edge of modern jurisprudence, largely because there isn't universal understanding or agreement about just what the full range of "properties" might be that fall into this category.

    Posted by Nicholas at 02:31 PM | Comments (0)

    What happens to shipping during a global recession?

    Roger Henry sent some interesting images (either originally from Rick Udris, or forwarded to Rick from someone else):

    Guess which one has your stuff still on it. During the Iraqi/Iran war it was all oil-tankers parked there and also off Brunei. The area is out of the hurricane belt and security is pretty good.

    Singapore_Harbour_Map.jpg

    A couple of very large images after the jump.

    Ships being stored in Singapore.

    Singapore_Harbour_1.jpg

    Looking like a modern recreation of the WWII invasion fleet, hundreds of merchant ships wait for better economic times.

    Singapore_Harbour_2.jpg

    Another view of some of the vast fleet of idle merchant vessels.

    Posted by Nicholas at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

    Feeling my age

    I got out to play badminton last night . . . for the first time since May of last year. I was heartened that I could still play — somewhat — but clearly I'm still not fully recovered from my shoulder injury from August.

    I only played two full games, plus warm-ups, and I'm certainly feeling the results of too-long-delayed exercise this morning. My elbows and knees are creaking like haunted house door hinges, and I'm moving at about 2/3rds normal speed.

    The first game went exactly as I feared it would: final score 15-1, and the "1" flattered us. I was terrible, and my partner had everything he could do to try to keep us in the game. I found, as the game went on, that I couldn't extend my left arm out quickly without pain, so I started holding it closer and closer to my body. By the time we were down 5 points, I was doing a creditable ham-actor Richard III imitation. This severely limited my ability to serve, as I couldn't put the shuttle out far enough from my body to get a clean serving swing . . . and I kept putting it directly into the net. I also had a spectacular pratfall, as I tried to regain my balance after swinging too hard at a fast return, and sprawled on the ground at mid-court.

    The second game went much better, as I'd started to figure out the mechanics for serving so that at least I could put the bird into play (even if we weren't scoring points off my serves). We were down 8-3 when we started to recover — my second partner was doing an excellent job of covering the parts of the court I couldn't reach — and we got the score level, then moved ahead 9-8 before losing the serve. We swapped serves a couple of times before either team was able to score, but at the end, we'd won 15-12.

    After that, of course, I was pretty much wrung out and decided that two games was more than enough to start my season off.

    I'm glad I get a couple of days to recover before the next playing night. I need 'em.

    Posted by Nicholas at 10:32 AM | Comments (2)

    March 02, 2009

    Dual-purpose advertising

    Lois McMaster Bujold sent this to her mailing list. I concur:

    Found through a link in this also-good article — having spent time in Catalonia, central Spain, and Asturias, I found it generally interesting as well. But the prize is the Spanish TV condom ad. Why can't we have things like this on American TV, where it is so desperately needed?

    http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/comments/kissing-with-tongues/

    I also liked the other lesson the ad taught, about how one stands up to toxic authority.


    Posted by Nicholas at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

    iPhone dominates mobile web surfing stats

    The Register reports on mobile web access statistics:

    The iPhone dominated the market for mobile web surfing last month, and there were relatively healthy showings from Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

    Net Applications found Apple's handheld status symbol accounted for 66.61 per cent of mobile traffic browsing the web during February.

    The phone's nearest competitor was Microsoft's Windows Mobile, with 6.91 per cent of traffic.

    Making a strong play was Google's Android, which tied with Symbian for third place with 6.15 per cent of traffic. While that's a long way behind the iPhone, it's not bad considering Android is just over a year old and Symbian has been in the market for longer.

    I have found myself using my iPhone to access web sites frequently, although it certainly hasn't replaced my desktop computer . . . but it came in extremely handy during the period between my old computer going black and the new one becoming available.

    Even though I have a data plan (which I didn't have on my old Treo), I still do most of my iPhone web surfing on wifi, not on 3G . . . old habits die hard, I guess. I don't want to receive one of those astronomical cell phone bills for going over my data limit.

    Posted by Nicholas at 03:16 PM | Comments (0)

    Social networking sites

    A Completely Unscientific (Yet Accurate) Look at Social Sites:

    Social_Site_Users.gif

    Yep. Seems pretty accurate to me. H/T to John Scalzi.

    Posted by Nicholas at 03:06 PM | Comments (0)

    QotD: Newspapers

    See enough movies and you'll quickly discover that nobody likes the news media. No matter the political viewpoint of the director, the writers, or the actors — from socialist Nick Nolte, to conservative Bruce Willis, to libertarians Clint Eastwood and Curt Russell — TV and newspaper people are invariably portrayed in movies as dimbulbs and dillholes. Media people invariably take this as praise (they actually think they're in the middle of the conventional political spectrum), a sign that they're doing their job right. Their utter inability to see it for what it really is, the lowest rate of customer satisfaction in Western civilization, is another reason they're going under.

    L. Neil Smith, "Rocky Mountain News: Not R.I.P., Good Riddance", Libertarian Enterprise, 2009-03-01

    Posted by Nicholas at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

    Belated welcome to my 200,000th visitor

    I guess I've stopped paying much attention to blog stats: the 200,000th visitor to Quotulatiousness stopped by sometime in the last 48 hours, and I didn't even notice. Mea culpa.

    Posted by Nicholas at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

    Christopher Schwarz: not a fancy footwork kind of guy

    Christopher Schwarz tries his "hand" at foot-powered tools:

    For all the girls I've maimed before: I'm sorry.

    Though I have fairly good hand skills, my feet skills on the dance floor are murderous. When I dance, most people look for a wooden spoon in order to help me through my grand mal seizure.

    So it should come as no surprise that woodworking machines powered by feet should be a challenge for me. I first started working on treadle machines when I took a chairmaking class in Canada. We turned all the spindles on a springpole lathe. And it took me an entire day to get the rhythm to actually work a chunk of ash into something round.

    [. . .]

    Roy Underhill had no problem crosscutting stuff time after time. The blade never slowed. The cuts were clean. His rhythm was slow and steady.

    For me, it was like a spastic weasel pumping a Nordic Trac. Too fast. And then the thing stalled. After a few tries . . . it got worse.

    He has my sympathy . . . I'm not the most co-ordinated woodworker, so I easily recognize myself in this little story.

    Posted by Nicholas at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

    Another away-from-keyboard day

    I may have a chance to get back online later this afternoon. For now, I'm sure you can find interesting sites to visit over on the blogroll to your left.

    Posted by Nicholas at 07:37 AM | Comments (0)


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