Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wishing I Had Machine Tools

I thought of a product I'd love to see on the market, which would probably cheese off a lot of high dollar tacticool accessories makers: the bayonet light. Make a high-power tactical flashlight that can be mounted on an AR-15 or Mossberg 590 using the standard bayonet mounts. Why waste a lot of money on expensive fore-end replacements when you can just use the bayonet lug, the original accessory rail? I wish I had some simple milling equipment so I could try to whip something up.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Windows Misfeatures

I saw this piece on ways to improve the next iteration of Windows, and had to comment on it. You know, because someone is wrong on the internet and all...

One of the big issues with it is that I really don't understand where the writer is coming from. For instance:
Apple took a huge risk in releasing OS X, since doing so meant that it required nearly their entire user base to re-buy software and hardware or face immediate obsolescence.
Perhaps this is a big risk, but it is a big risk that Apple has historically taken all the time. The Mac has never had the legacy system support that PCs users take for granted. Back when I bought my first computer in the 90s, Macs were obsolete in about 3 years. Sometimes less. I don't know if has continued to be the case after they switched to Intel-based hardware and a unix-based OS. I do know that my newest PC is over 5 years old and I just put new hardware on it last week.

His suggestions for improvements are decidedly mixed as well:
  1. Boot into multiple environments, and virtualize between them. To get around legacy kernel support, you should chose which kernel to use at boot up? This is silly. Would you like to perform the equivalent of booting to safe mode in order to use your old software? No. What you want to do is write a good solid new kernel and then support the old code through a virtual machine. This has been done before with other operation systems and can be done seamlessly so the user never knows what is happening. The old code might not right quite as fast as it used to, but it will still work.
  2. Integrate Live service as a package manager and software store for Windows. I have no idea why you would need a package manager for Windows. The Linux distros use them because Unix software typically has tendrils of code dependency that reach deep into the OS through required libraries, etc. In order to make software installation simple, you need the manager to keep track of all this. Windows doesn't have this problem and should avoid introducing it. You run the installer and, the vast majority of the time, things just work.
  3. Sell one extensible version of Windows 7, not twenty "editions". Agreed. Windows needs two versions: desktop and server. That's really it. I suppose you could split desktop into variants like business and home, but you shouldn't really have to do that.
What should MS do to make their next version better? Listen to their customers. We don't want our older hardware to slow down to a crawl. We don't want intrusive and all-pervasive digital rights management. We want stability and we want security.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dishonesty in Advertising

I've seen a lot of dishonest advertising lately, especially political ads, and this piece just pisses me off whenever I see it. But it isn't a campaign ad, it's for a vacuum:

A short list of the things wrong with it:
  • People vacuum in a back and forth pattern for simple reasons. Rooms are square. Objects in the rooms are square. You don't want to miss spots so you want a regular pattern. You're vacuuming a living room, not driving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If you tried to vacuum in grand sweeping curves, you'd just miss all the little corners and wind up with the cord wrapped around the coffee table.

  • Dyson mentions that current designs don't work because they have four wheels on two shared fixed axles. Except that this isn't actually true. Look at your vacuum. You probably have four wheels on the bottom. The smaller set of two are probably rotating on fixed axles independent of each other. The other two (the bigger ones that carry most of the weight) are either also mounted on fixed independent axles or are caster wheels like on a shopping cart. No shared axles.

  • Why are upright vacuums hard to turn? They're big and heavy. If the upright is completely upright, then the handle probably has a very short torque arm and therefore is difficult to turn.
It just amazes me that people have the balls to lie to your face about things you can easy check out with a trip to your hall closet. But they say it with such conviction that they know noone will call them on it.


From RoflRazzi.


Steve Lamp criticizes those who are tithing even while the bank forecloses on their house:
First, there is no explicit New Testament command to tithe. Impossible, right? Look it up. If you can find one I have overlooked, I am open to correction. Tithing is a good idea and a commendable practice, but not a command. Jesus didn't say don't do it. He did say it's not necessarily the most important aspect of our giving (Matthew 23:23).
This is true and one of those things I rarely hear mentioned in most churches. After the return from exile, the Jews moved from the tithe system to the temple tax system. Every Jewish male was expected to pay a half-shekel per year. Jesus's attack on the moneychangers in the temple was for practices surrounding the payment of this temple tax. I'm willing to bet that the current Jewish practice of maintaining synagogue memberships is descended from this practice.

The actual New Testament practice on giving was to give what you could afford. For instance Acts 4:32-37 where Barnabas donates the profit from selling property to the church.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Tyrants Next Door

Amy and I have an HOA meeting tonight. They're bribing us to attend by raffling off one year's dues. I don't expect there to be a quorum even with that incentive though.

Death and...

From a recent Instapundit post on taxation:
Personally, I'd like to see everyone pay at least some income tax, and I'd like to see the amount of tax paid, by everyone, go up or down every year in tandem with federal spending. That would encourage fiscal discipline directly. It would also make it harder for politicians to promise everybody a free lunch, but hey -- why shouldn't they sacrifice something, too?
I don't know that everyone should be paying taxes. But I do think the tax-free break point should be indexed to something significant like the poverty line. I'm not against people barely getting by, getting tax relief and at least then it isn't completely arbitrary.

Unfortunately with what little reading I've done on the derivation of poverty line incomes, they seem to be developed somewhat arbitrarily and tying those values to taxation would almost certainly politicize the system even more. There is pretty good evidence that poverty line incomes have grown faster than inflation for instance.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News of My Demise...

I spent all last week on a testing range in Alabama. No internet. I considered myself lucky to have indoor plumbing. I spent a large part of the time huddled into a shady equipment shed reading paperbacks to avoid the burning gaze of the Daystar. The verdict?

Charles Stross's Atrocity Archives is good read. I didn't buy the whole IT support by day, field operative by night approach to the book. Nobody would organize their organization that way unless they were ridiculously understaffed. The book explicitly states that the Laundry is in fact ridiculously overstaffed because many of the employees are too dangerous to be employed in mundane society. But it made for a fun contrast anyway. It also handled magic in a much better way than the language hacking of, say, Snow Crash.

John Scalzi's Ghost Brigades is as good as Old Man's War. The plot is good, characterization is solid, and things move well. It gets into some of the moral concerns touched on in Old Man's War like the Colonial Union keeping Earth in the interstellar dark ages.

Isaac Asimov's Foundation is a bit dated though and his technology tree and timeline don't work. You're not going to have a non-nuclear star-faring society. What are they going to run their starships on? Coal? He also seems to base a large part of his ideas on the fall of the Roman Empire, but the reason a lot of technologies disappeared with the fall of Rome is not because people forgot the technology (at least not at first). The reason they regressed is because they could no longer afford to pursue or maintain certain technologies with the economic collapse of the empire. You don't discard plate armor for maille because you forgot how to make plate. Making plate is easy if you have the metal. You discard it because metal is hard to come by and the labor is cheap. Actually losing technologies requires generations of economic decline not singular generations.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Joining the Crowd

Amy and I bought his and hers iPods yesterday. Or should I say ordered since we did it online. With the latest announcement from Apple, the price of refurbished 80 gig models has fallen to about $170 each. That's a price we couldn't pass up. Since the 120 gig classic is just the 80 with a larger hard drive, hopefully we won't lose third party support for a while.

UPDATE: Thanks to FedEx, we received our iPods on Saturday instead of Friday. Oh well. They work and we're currently ripping our entire combined CD collection into our iTunes Library.

One wrinkle, my five year-old desktop only has a 60GB hard drive and each of our iPods can pack in 80 GBs. Even with the data I already have on the desktop, I really needed more space. After a trip to Circuit City, my desktop now has a new 160 GB data drive to house all our music files and sundries. It cost me a whopping $80. By the time we max that out we'll probably need to upgrade our entire household PC infrastructure.

UPDATE2: A friend at work asked my what kind of iPod skin I was using. We bought a two pack of Init iPod skins at Best Buy. I like mine a lot.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Palin Interview

Physics Geek is covering part of the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson that aired on ABC yesterday. I should expect this by now, but the partisanship of the ABC news staff really shocked me. One of the things the Good Morning America anchor desk focused in on was a wishy-washy answer about whether it would acceptable to cross an allied country's border without their permission in order to fight terrorists. Palin's answer was that in some cases (nuance, weasel, prevaricate), yes it would be.

At which point they cut back to the anchor desk who jumped down her throat. Cut to talking heads. The first talking head is a young blond I didn't recognize. She indicates that Palin's definite maybe is effectively the same as every other candidates on either ticket. Anchor desk rants about how that isn't true and Obama would never undermine an allies sovereignty. Cut to the second talking head, who is well known Democrat strategist and Friend-of-Bill James Carville. Carville points out that Obama actually did give that answer before and cited them chapter and verse. He takes the previous head's stance that we haven't seen anything surprising or newsworthy yet.

Now how far the left do you have to drift as a news organization when Democratic analysts are having to defend Republican candidates? It's sad that MSNBC has become the whipping boy for biased journalism, because there is a lot of blame to go around these days.

One other thing bugged me though. The interview format. Instead of airing the whole interview, it was aired in pieces. Gibson and Palin talking for a few minutes, followed by anchor desk coverage and "fact checking" about what she had said. Commercial, plug the section of interview to air in the next half hour, rinse, repeat.

I can understand why they aired the interview this way. They're breaking it up into bite-sized pieces for broadcast as part of a morning news program. They're also spacing it out to maximize ratings. But executed poorly, this format always strikes me as rhetorical ambushes. Palin is with the interviewer and on tape. However, because they're breaking the interview up and running commentary on each piece, the studio staff is essentially injecting itself into the interview as a third party. Palin (or whomever the interviewee is) can't rebut the studio comments and won't even know what they say about her until well after the fact. It can be an incredibly dishonest way to conduct an interview.

I remember a Howard Stern show back when he was still on E! and normal radio. He had a staffer interview Steven Curtis Chapman with a video crew outside of a concert, an awards show, or a charity event. I don't know which, but everyone was standing in a hallway. The interviewer would ask a question, Steven would give an answer, and then Howard would skewer him from the safety of his recording studio. It was incredibly cowardly. Not only couldn't Steven respond to Howard because he was on tape, but Howard had already seen the tape, so he could cook up his "on the spot" cutting remarks in advance.

ABC wasn't that bad. But good Lord they weren't that good either. If you're going to call yourself a news organization, you should have ethical standards that are clearly set apart from Howard Stern.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Operation Welcome Home

My morning radio program has an organizer for Operation Welcome Home Maryland. Because most of returning US soldiers from abroad travel through BWI, these volunteers decorate the international terminal appropriately for returning soldiers and offer them care packages. They assemble welcome groups about twice a week to greet people in person.

It's a group dedicated to making sure the shunning that occurred to Vietname Vets does not happen again to this next generation of soldiers. It's a good thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Constitutional Law Professors

Jeffrey Rosen notes that Obama/Biden is the first time two constitutional law professors have shared a presidential ticket. He predicts great things to come for civil liberties.

My question is this: Why is it that with two constitutional law professors on the ticket, neither one can get the 2nd amendment right? Biden's much touted 1994 Crime Bill gave us the ten-year assault weapons ban. Obama was on the board of the Joyce Foundation, the bank account for a range of gun-banning groups. He also promotes various new restrictions if elected.

So much for expansive civil liberties.

Republican Women

Here's an odd fact, Cindy McCain is a drifter. No, not one of those dirty, smelly greaser types from 1950s motorcycle movies. She makes regular trips to Japan to compete in amateur racing competitions that involve breaking traction with rear-wheel drive cars. She's evidently quite the gearhead.

McCain had a stroke in 2004. Her oldest son Jack bought her a four-day course to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler, Arizona as a get well present. The course was their "executive protection" program that involved serious defensive driving like hijackings and ambushes.

She's also received her pilot's license in 1986.

Man, a lot of Heinlein-esque Republican women out there these days.

Primary Results

Well things are shaping up well in the Diamond state. In the governors race Markell pulled out a close win over Carney. Grandma Ruth had this to say:
Markell often criticized the "Minner-Carney" administration for problems facing the state, but Minner said she did not view the defeat of Carney as a negative response to her eight years as governor.
Once again proving that she isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. Were I a registered Democrat, I would have voted Markell for just that reason. The NRA hates Markell and Sarah Brady loves him though. He's been calling for a state assault weapons ban and an end to state-wide preemption. I guess I know who I'm voting for in the general election.

Lee crushed Protack 70/30. Good, but Lee should have won by more. Who keeps voting for Protack anyway? His supporters on the internet always seem to turn out to be, well, Mike Protack.

In my very local results, Weldin edged out Daley in the 10th state senate district. I'm guessing it was based on Weldin's endorsement by outgoing Senator Steve Amick and because of allegations that Daley is a registered Democrat. I wish I'd had more time to check those out. Weldin outspent Daley, but that always makes me suspicious when we're looking at smaller state elections. I always want to know where that money is coming from although I suppose a few big dollar supporters could really effect this sort of election.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Police Militarization

This picture via Kim du Toit and Radley Balko shows it pretty well:

That's a South Carolina sheriffs department. I'm assuming the guy in the shirt and tie is the Sheriff. Those guys breaking multiple firearm safety rules by pointing their rifles at the camera? The deputies. Kim had this to say:
You know, this kind of militaristic bullshit overreach is one day going to call for a law which would require that any such equipment requests should be accompanied by a “clear and present danger” justification from the LEO in charge.
I have a better idea. We should pass a law that states that any equipment the police have access to should be accessible to the public through, at most, a simple licensing system to weed out the criminals and crazies. That means the more you militarize the cops, the more the populace can militarize itself in response to these newly shod jackbooted thugs.

Police officers are not some sort of super citizen. They're civilians just like us. They ought not have more rights than you or I except those ceded to them while on duty enforcing the law and the courts for the public's benefit. As Sir Robert Peel stated when he founded the first modern police force:
Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
That is the seven of Peel's nine principles.

UPDATE: As I said, I agree with dropping immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for botched raids. More importantly, I think self defense should be a positive defense if police are shot in no-knock raids. If you don't let people know you're cops before you break in, then you should not be able to charge them with shooting a cop after they defend themselves accordingly.

I also think technology has reached the point that we can start recording cops on the job a lot more than we do. Interrogation rooms ought to be video and audio taped at all times with the tape accessible to prosecution and defense. SWAT officers (at least) should be required to wear audio recording equipment, if not compact audio-video recorders. In college a friend put together a wearable audio recording system using binaural mics and a Sony minidisk player. She used it to bootleg Broadway shows 10 years ago, but I'm sure you could put together something similar today (probably even more cheaply with mp3 player parts) to record evidence for or against an officer. You could even build them into the next gen communications gear for beat cops.

Simple and Effective.

When I saw this video on Lawdog's blog, I thought it was yet another mediocre political ad by some Joe Crewcut. Then at about 1:15 you realize the video isn't just about what Joe is saying.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Getting Dirty But Feeling Good

I spent some time Saturday volunteering with my church's singles group at Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County's Millers Row work site in Wilmington. I nailing up fireproofed plywood and oriented-strand board to the lower sections of the townhomes. Hard work, but we accomplished a lot before Hanna forced us to call it quits after our lunch break. When I got home I was drenched, but happy. I need to get out of the house and volunteer more.

One funny thing, my knees have been giving me trouble lately. They're just generally sore and achy right now. But they didn't give me any trouble when I was working on the houses, even with the broken ground on the job site. Maybe it was because I was wearing good supportive boots for once. Maybe it was because I morning on my feet and moving instead of sitting in an office chair. Maybe it was because I had something to do other than complain about my knees hurting. I don't know, but it was certainly a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

In Local Immigration News

Several Delaware Burger Kings are having trouble running full schedules after Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids netted 30 illegal immigrants from 7 BK locations across Newcastle County late last week.

Unfortunately the 896 Burger King isn't on the list because it has some of the worst service I've ever had in a fast food joint.

In a World... In a City... In a Cliche...

The reason for that cliche is voice over artist Don LaFontaine, who died on Monday after a blood clot in his lungs developed complications. You probably don't know him by name or face, but you've almost certainly heard his work:

LaFontaine had a pretty good sense of humor about himself like in this awards show opener:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sarah Palin

McCain done good. Palin is, by all accounts, an excellent governor. She took on a corrupt Alaskan Republican party and won. This is exactly what needs to happen at the national level. Everybody is reacting to it, but Geek seems to sum it up well:
The smart Lefties just shat a brick. (And those who aren't think they've just won.)

I didn't think McCain had the balls to pick her, the closest thing to a libertarian candidate you're going to see in mainstream politics...and he did.

That was a brilliant move, in more dimensions than I have time to enumerate. The Lefties aren't going to know or understand what hit them in November.
Exactly. Palin might woo some identity voters from Hillary's old camp. But that's a side benefit, compared to the shot in the arm she just gave Conservative Republicans. As for her daughter, John the Methodist is addressing it via an extended quote from atheist Steven Den Beste:
Christians know that people make mistakes, and that people sin. From their point of view, the only man who never sinned was Jesus. They don't cast out sinners, because they believe that everyone is a sinner. What they look for is people trying to do right as well as they can, to live as good a life as they can, and to try to make up for their mistakes and sins. And from their point of view both McCain and the Palin family are doing so. And as long as they continue doing so, Christian voters won't turn away from them.
Other than some moralizing Christian malcontents, that right. Neither will I condemn you, go and sin no longer. My church has dealt with several pregnancies in our youth and singles ministries. There is some friction about it within our church, but what Steven describes is what happens.

Just as important to the theology and philosophy is this: look at who is running with the story. The lefties and the media (somewhat redundant) are running with it. The Christian social activists and press are giving it a pass. Given Palin's Christian street cred, this will become an us-vs-them issue. As such, the media is already switching to educating independent voters about Palin's "dangerous" sex education beliefs.

UPDATE: Let it not be said that I can't join the Palin bashing bandwagon. I mean come on Sarah, you call that a cheek weld?

I know, I know, judging from the pictures of Palin moose and elk hunting, she wouldn't even call that AR-15 a rifle (even if it wasn't a shooting simulator).