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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wealth Accumulation

Society is geared for wealth to accumulate.
It's almost like wealth has a certain gravity about it that pulls other wealth to it such that the lumped wealth gathers yet more wealth. The bigger the wealth gets the more quickly it gathers more wealth.

This appears to be how society has ALWAYS worked. The cycle of wealth has been repeated over and over again.

It is thus: everyone starts out equal until someone works smarter AND harder than everyone else and gets more for their efforts. That individual eventually accumulates wealth at a rate faster than they consume it. They pass the leftover wealth on to their children when they die. Those children use that wealth to leverage their work to gain more wealth at a faster pace. Eventually the most wealthy 1% have more than 99% of all the wealth in the world. Then something disrupts this and the wealth situation resets to a much more equal state only to start over again.

Here's the kicker on this: we, the poor, not only LET it happen but also HELP make it happen.

We do this in many ways that are forced upon us such as by buying food from a company with the lowest prices and clothing from larger companies whose profits line the pockets of their CEOs.
We do this in ways that are convenient to us such by buying internet service from large corporations whose profits line the pockets of their CEOs.
We do this without knowing we're doing it by having a political system where politicians can become rich through listening to lobbyists for special interest groups.
We also do this willingly through many of the luxuries that we partake in. I am a Star Trek fan. Every time I purchase anything with a Star Trek label on it I am contributing to the wealthy people behind Paramount (and it's parent company) having greater wealth while decreasing my own wealth. Any time someone purchases a ticket to a professional sporting event they, too, are doing this.

This is something to think on. The next time you purchase anything you are contributing to the inherently unbalanced system that aggregates all the wealth at the top until the top is too wealth heavy to stay where it is.

When will the next collapse be?

They do happen: that's how we ended up with the USSR. That's the root cause of the French Revolution and the seed of WWI (WWII was, really, just a continuation of WWI after recovery from the economic sanctions imposed on Germany at the end of WWI).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Future is Now. Technology Won't Wait/Stop

Instead of a post today I bring you this link:
The Pencil Integration Blog post

Take a few minutes to look at the ridiculousness of questioning whether knowing how to use current tools properly is the smart thing to do for schools.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Insert your own witty/funny/entertaining and/or insightful post here.

Then have a nice long weekend followed by another. :-)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Road Reformation

The next big revolution in industry will be the "green" revolution.

We're running out of non-sustainable energy sources so we will HAVE to make the renewable sources work for us.

The sun is the biggest source of energy we can possibly tap into.

One of the problems with harnessing the sun is the lack of efficiency in converting the EM radiation it sends our way into electricity. HUGE leaps and bounds are being made in that area.

The other is surface area. Where can we put panels that will absorbs the sun without further destroying out oxygen factories (e.g. plants)?
One answer is the roads.

I'm not the first person to think of this:

Another answer is our houses.
I'm also not the first person to think of this: (a quick google search for "photovoltaic paint") and that's a different topic to the idea of reforming the roads.....

I often wonder what the total cost of roadways are. The cost of the "game fences" that keep animals off the roads; the cost of collisions with animals and the resulting cleanup. The cost of accidents from inclement weather. The cost of dropping telephone poles in the ground to run lines along the roads, the cost of guardrails, etc. The total cost of roads is MUCH more than the actual cost of installing them. In IT we call this "total cost of ownership" or "TCO" but it applies to everything. What is the TCO of an interstate highway? Is leaving the traveling on the surface the most efficient way to accomplish the goals of having such a system?

I'm not a civil engineer who specializes in roads so I don't know for sure and never will. But I do think that the idea of creating underground conduits is a good one to explore the TCO of. If the TCOs of underground conduits are similar to that of highways I am certain a case could be made to use them instead of above ground highways.

Here's a REALLY rough drawing of what I envision:

I envision this being placed in such a way as to have the upper part of the oval enclosure being about 2 feet above the surface. We could then run solar panels down the entire length of the highway that are angled both ways for maximum collection. The solar energy collected would power the lights and ventilation system as well as dynamic signs AND reserve power would be pumped into the grid.

The benefits? No more collisions due to inclement weather or wildlife on the road.
The drawbacks? Collisions due to driver error would be harder to clean up and a power failure would make the road unusable. Combine this with automated cars and we would only need to worry about power failures, which would be VERY localized if the entire surface is a solar array and there are proper storage mechanisms (batteries) to power lighting, etc during the night.

Just a thought.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Brain is Too Busy

Several times over the last two days I've re-touched on the same idea that I wanted to post about for THIS post (which is late). Each time the idea resurfaces at a point in time where I cannot get to a place to type up the idea.

As soon as I get a chance to type the idea I can't find it. My brain has swallowed in into the sea of many ideas that is filling my brain matter.

It's times like this that I contemplate how inefficient our brains are. How I marvel at the idea that we can accomplish ANYTHING at all. How I look up to and respect those that have put a strict mental discipline into play that allows them to have far superior recall than myself.

It also makes me wonder how much more I could do/be if I had a perfectly ordered "file" system for my brain so that each and every thought, idea and memory were perfectly cataloged and easily search-able when I needed the information.

The day is coming where that will be the case, but I don't think it will be through genetics or biological enhancement (at least not at first). It will be through wireless data plans attached to an implant that feeds directly into our brains. We'll think things and have them stored directly into a perfectly storable medium on an external device.

The question is: what format will they be in? Will we have to think in clear, concise langauge? Will imagery and full-motion imagined video be captured? How realistic will it be? Who will own the copyright? What if you imagine scenes/images with people that are rendered as completely photo-realistic but they never happened? How will the legality of that play out? Will the government be allowed free access to your thought-drive?

There are lots of things to think of about this. Would the pros outweigh the cons? How long would it be before it is assumed that your child has a data jack for schooling (removing the ability to freely CHOOSE to have one installed in an informed manner)? How long before they start installing them at birth by default?

This is a very exciting and scary time for many reasons. This is just one of them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ideas are Neutral: Implementaion is Where the Evil May Lie

Ideas, like tools, are completely neutral to their surroundings.

A handgun, for instance, is born of the idea of killing someone. Killing someone, we can safely assume, is generally not a good thing. Handguns, though, are also used for defending yourself when someone else is trying to kill you. Defending oneself is generally a good thing. Handguns, obviously, are fairly neutral. On the one hand they can be used for acts of evil but they can also be used to stop acts of evil.

A pencil is generally a useful tool. They are used to jot down important notes. Write books. Write letters, etc. Pencils, however, can also be used to stab people. Does the fact that pencils COULD be used to kill someone make them evil? Nope; it shows that they are neutral.

Fire consumes all that it touches and turns it to ash. Fire can inflict HUGE amounts of pain and generates toxic gasses that kill many things silently. Fire ravages the countryside in an indiscriminate way. Fire destroys homes and lives. Fire kills. Fire also provides the heat used to generate electricity in coal plants. Fire converts gasoline into kinetic energy we use to get around in our cars and cut our lawns. Fire is used to process dirty water into water that is safe to drink. Fire cooks our food and makes it a fantastic meal rather than a disease filled raw pile of meat.

Dihydrous Monoxide is a powerful substance that can eat through metal and rock. It destroy buildings. It turns stable ground into sinkholes that devour people, cars, houses, and many other things. It is used at some stage of production in EVERY toxic chemical known to man. It's found in the lungs of everyone who has ever drown. There is a large concentration of it in the bloodstream of everyone who has died from physical injuries. EVERYONE who has ever come into contact with dihydrous monoxide has eventually died. That's right; this substance is completely and totally lethal to mankind in the right dosage and placement. But this substance goes by another name. The other name is far more commonly known. That other name is water. Without water we die in three days. Without water we are nothing more than a few pounds of minerals. Without water life would not exist. Water, therefore, is neither evil nor good. It is essential AND lethal. Water just is.

Most ideas just are as well. Many ideas have inherently good and bad properties to them. I'm sure if you think about many of the ideas that you encounter in your daily life you'll find good and bad in all of them.

One such idea that is important is the idea of Natural Selection among mankind.

Natural Selection is a powerful "law" of nature. It is the engine that powers evolution. It is what allows the strong and the successful to thrive and survive while eliminating the weak and those who fail. Natural Selection is a force for optimization and efficiency.

We've reached a point in our development as a species where we have leveraged the natural world enough to not only counter the force of Natural Selection but move beyond it. We're working counter to the "law" of nature that allowed for all optimized life to evolve to the point that it is at now.

The idea of preserving the efficiency and optimization of life is not a bad idea. I, personally, think it is a GREAT idea. The problem is not in the core idea; it's in the execution of that idea.

The movie Serenity deals with this idea. (SPOILER ALERT) It deals with it by exposing 30 million people to a chemical to "make them better." It fails. They create a HUGE population of monsters.

History has shown multiple instances of this. The ancient Spartans did this by examining EVERY baby and leaving those they deemed inferior out to die from exposure. Is the core idea of trying to be the strongest, fastest, smartest, most well trained warriors ever a bad idea? No. Was their execution of that idea evil? YES.

Hitler was on a quest for the "super man" and he went about it by actively killing any and all who did not meet his image of that (ironically, he did not fit the mold, but he allowed himself to live through much of the war). Is the idea of killing MILLIONS of people who you deem inferior evil? Yes.

Is there a way to counteract the idea of counteracting Natural Selection without being evil? That is debatable. I think there is, but that would be a longer post that often enrages many people on either side of the debate.

The important thing here is that ideas are neither good nor evil. It is ALWAYS the execution of the ideas that is either good or evil. That includes the idea of this idea.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Everything We KNOW is Wrong

Our knowledge of how the Universe works is VERY limited and it is all wrong.
We have equations, LOTS of equations, LOTS of VERY complicated equations that model and explain how the universe MUST work. But they are all wrong.

Why are they wrong? Because they don't explain everything.

Our current understanding of the Universe fails to explain what gravity is (see my earlier post).
Our current understanding fails to explain what "Dark Matter" is and why we can't detect it.
Our current understanding fails to explain what "Dark Energy" is.

Our current understanding has upper and lower bounds of mass density. The upper bound is the just shy of the smallest mass that it takes to create a sustainable singularity (in the form of a sustainable singularity); the lower bound is the Hydrogen atom as a whole entity. Everything outside those masses (ALL sustainable singularities AND all sub-atomic particles) don't follow the laws of physics that we have worked out. The equations and mathematics break down. We have other models that seem to work in the sub-atomic space and, sometimes, in the singularity space but there is no way to bridge moving from one model to the other.

A quick explanation of the terms that currently make no sense to me and why I think so (skipping gravity because of the earlier post):
Dark Energy is the name for the mysterious force that shows NO evidence for existence other than the "Red Shift" of the stars that are very far away. The "Red Shift" is the effect that we observe for objects that are moving AWAY from us at incredible speeds. Different light colors have different wavelengths. Over millenia of traversing space the light seems to separate out into its different energy levels. The red arrives first and the other colors follow. This results in everything that is moving away from us to appear slightly more red than it should.
I find a problem with this because the other light would have to catch up with us eventually making a fuzzy (but color-wise complete) image. Only the FIRST light that reaches us should be clear and red-shifted; the rest should be slightly fuzzy (as the various colors will show a slightly different image) but all showing all the colors. The LAST image should show us only the lowest-energy color before no more imagery from that location arrives. When something is consistently red-shifted there is a problem: what happened to the other light? What if the universal expansion that red shift implies is NOT what is the reality of what is going on. What if there is something ELSE happening that generates the same apparent effect on the light?
Dark Matter is the term for the invisible, undetectable matter that we only believe to exist because we witness unexplainable things that can ONLY be explained by VAST clouds of matter that we cannot see exerting gravity on the surrounding space. The longer we go without any actual evidence for this Dark Matter (and there are experiments trying to locate it) the less likely it is that this mysterious substance actually exists. Right now it is the ONLY explanation that we can come up with. Until experimentation proves the existence of it I will remain skeptical of it being the actual explanation for the effects we see.

Because our models cannot account for everything all at once they are wrong. There may be parts of them that are accurate, but as a whole they are wrong.

I wonder what the reality of our universe is. Perhaps it's a giant simulation and when Voyager smashes into the outer wall of out we'll wonder what happened.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Glimpse into My Work World

This is a summary of ONE help ticket I had to work on this week.

Teacher: "I have a bunch of students who can't use their email"
Me: "Which students"
Teacher: < sends list, 5 of which include nicknames instead of real names >
Me: "for < list of kids with nicknames > what are their real names?"
Teacher: < sends list >
Me: "What does "can't use their email" mean?"
Teacher: "They can't login"
Me: "I've reset their passwords. Here's the list of proper usernames and corresponding passwords. < includes list >"
Teacher: "It still doesn't work"
Me: "I just tested it, it works on all of them."
Teacher: "It still doesn't work."
Me: "Are They using the passwords I just sent you?"
Teacher: "They have to use THAT password?"
Me: "Yes. Capitalization matters. Then they can pick their own. "
Teacher: "OH."
Teacher: "Works now. Thanks"

This is a summary of another:

Teacher: "< Student Name > can't use email."
Me: "OK. Can you explain what that means?"
Teacher: "No."
Me: "I need more to go on to know what I need to fix for the student."
Teacher: "OK. < Student Name > can't use email."
Me: "Can you just have the student come to the tech office?"
Teacher: "Why?"
Me: "So I can see what is not working with the email so I know what to fix."
Teacher: "Can't you just fix it?"
Me: "Not until I know what's wrong."
Teacher: "I'll send < the student > down at the end of the period."
Editorial Note: "end of the period" means the that the student will lose time from the NEXT class instead of that class.
< Student arrives in Tech office >
Me: "Hello. How can I help you?"
Student: "< Teacher Name > Sent me down."
Me: "OK. For your email problem?"
Student: "Yes."
Me: "How is it not working?"
Student: < Shrug >
Me: "May I look at it, please?"
Student: < Hands over laptop >
Me: "Can you show me what you are trying to do?"
Student: < Demonstrates >
Me: < Resets password; sets mail client up CORRECTLY; mail works > "There you go. Have a nice afternoon.
Student: < Leaves without even a "thank you" >

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dangerous Social Experiments

Recently there was a show on TV titled "The Colony."

It set a premise of a catastrophic viral outbreak having ravaged the planet. The show followed one colony of people who survived the outbreak as they tried to survive.

This was NOT a fiction show. This was a social experiment. The people on the show were REAL people. The lack of food was a REAL lack of food.

Did they KNOW it was fake? Yes. But when you're starving that doesn't matter.

As part of the show the production staff routinely had other people raid the colony to steal supplies (and people). One thing I noticed was that the colonists never built and made lethal-grade weaponry to defend themselves with. Obviously this MUST be a part of the rules of the show, but what would happen if they got SO defensive and desperate that they did actually harm or kill one of the paid extras who was playing the roll of a marauder?

The show in an interesting social experiment but past social experiments (see the Stanford Prisoner Experiment) have proven that people step outside the context of their normal behavior when put in abnormal situations. I am smart enough to know that if I were miserable AND starving AND sleep deprived AND cold AND wet AND under attack I might run the risk of defending back with a level of vengeance that would result in serious harm.

If that happened who is to blame?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Public Funding

One thing I think about a lot is the best way to accomplish revenue generation for public services and assets.

So far I can think of no ideal solution.
Currently the USA employs a mixture of taxation techniques to raise revenue.
The one that most people readily think of is the income tax. Our income tax is a graduated tax system that taxes people a greater percentage depending on the amount they make. This is, of course, completely unfair and it penalizes people for working hard to improve their own lives. In an effort to counter that unfairness we have many income tax deductions that allow people to deduct things that are costs of living for them to decrease their income tax burden. This, too, is completely unfair as it rewards people for having families and, indirectly, penalizes people who choose to have smaller (or no) families. Plus the deductions have a rule structure that is so absurd that people can spend thousands of dollars to private accountants to circumvent the taxation system with a net result of saving money.
Any system that is inherently unfair to start with that adds layers of complexity which create additional unfairness is a poor system that should be abandoned. If there MUST be an income tax it should be a flat percentage regardless of how much you make with no deductions. Unfortunately, there is a problem with this model, too. If your income is at the poverty level you end up requiring a greater percentage of your income to merely survive than those who earn significantly more than the poverty level. In addition, managing all of the income tax collection and processing requires a huge fleet of agents who are employed by the government. Their salaries and benefits and office space, etc all detract from the value of EACH AND EVERY tax dollar collected.
The income tax is, therefore, a conundrum that is a lose-lose situation for everyone.

The next most common taxation method is the sales tax. EVERYONE buys things. Rich people tend to spend significantly more than poor people because they have more money to spend. If there were a flat percentage sales tax then EVERYONE could control their level of taxation by choosing how much they spend. Of course, there is a minimum level of spending that anyone can accomplish because there is a minimal set of necessities for basic survival. This means that the poor would be taxed a higher percentage of their income than the rich in a minimalistic situation. Compounding this issue is the reality that the less the rich are spending the more they are saving or investing. The more they invest the more wealth they will accumulate, thus making the poor even poorer.

The third taxation method that affects people on a regular basis is the property tax. I, personally, find the property tax to be the least fair of the current taxation methods because it forces those who own property to pay for all of the local public services that are consumed by everyone. Renters don't (directly) pay for the schools their children attend: the landlords do.

I've thought about this a lot and the possible outcomes of changing the system. The conclusion I've come to is that a combined taxation system is necessary, but not one as convoluted and corrupted as the one we have now.

Here's the thought I have:

1. Eliminate the personal income tax and replace it with a 15% federal income tax. My paycheck currently sees more than 15% deducted for the variety of federal income-related taxes. If all of those went away and were replaced with a 15% income tax on everything the ultra-rich who avoid their income taxes would cease to be able to circumvent the taxation system so revenues would go up. In addition 85% (a complete guess that is unsubstantiated by any research) of the IRS would be able to be laid off (a one-time economic disruption) creating a large savings in cost. More revenue and lower cost means an improvement in the efficiency of the funds collected AND an expansion of the services that our tax revenues are able to provide. The majorirty of people for whom this additional taxation would become an overly large burden are probably already on some sort of assistance service. Their "benefit" could be adjusted upward to compensate for this and the difference in benefit would, essentially, be a neutralizing agent on the increased revenue for that segment of the population.
2. An investment / capital gains tax to prevent an increasingly larger and larger accumulation of wealth by the top 1% of the population. If we start with a fixed number for raw investment value (I will use $100,000 because it makes the math easy) as the baseline starting point we could apply an investment tax on the earnings that the investment makes. If your investment generates 10% return in cash each year ($10,000) then you pay the investment tax on the $10,000. The more cash dividends you earn on you investments the more raw volume of taxation you receive. Capital gains taxes work in a similar manner, but they are the value of the investment itself. Stocks and real estate are common examples of items that experience capital gains taxes. If you purchase an item for $100,000 but sell it for $1,000,000 then you have earned $900,000 on that investment. Capital gains taxes you on that earning. Because of the inherent inequality between being rich and being poor I think it is important to create taxation levels that help slow the general accumulation of wealth by the rich, but only to a point that is fair and equally applied to EVERYONE.

So, in short:
No income tax + 15% federal sales tax = more money in my wallet each week, more money for the government AND less cost.
Investment and Capital Gains task = limited wealth accumulation by the rich and a second taxation base to level the percentage of "surplus" income that is taken by the government.

Anyone have any additional thoughts on this?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On WikiLeaks

I am trying to be more positive so I am choosing to be amused rather than annoyed with the WikiLeaks controversy.

Why would I be annoyed? Because of the USA government's hypocrisy.
Why am I amused? Because things the USA government representatives said have, essentially, been turned back on the government.

Basically, when the USA passed The Patriot Act and put many (illegal) domestic surveillance and spying regulations and rules into effect there were many organizations that opposed the action as "draconian" and "going too far" and "an invasion of privacy." The government's response to this was, essentially, summarized as "if you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear."

WikiLeaks has done the same thing to the government. If the government could be fully trusted and was fully transparent about EVERYTHING that did not relate directly to national defense then they would have NOTHING TO FEAR by WikiLeaks. Instead, we find that leaks of government documents are finding their way onto the internet and causing great embarrassment of government officials. That's right, EMBARRASSMENT. People are not dying (yet). Military operations haven't (yet) been compromised. Politicians are being embarrassed by the posted material.

Politicians need to grow up and realize that the things they say to the people about not doing things wrong apply to them, too. If they weren't doing and saying things that were wrong they would have nothing to fear about living in the public eye.

If you don't want public scrutiny don't choose a profession that requires it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

DNA is a Programming Language

We are on the edge of a fantastic technological break-through.
I am certain it will happen in my lifetime, but I'm not exactly sure when.
It could be VERY near or it could happen when I'm in my 90s but I am certain it WILL happen.

Whenever it happens it will be both AWESOME AND TERRIFYING.

This break-through is cracking DNA in such a way that we see it for what it really is: a programming language.

ALL computer operations are reduced to a binary instruction set. EVERYTHING on a computer is reduced to a string of digits that are all either a 1 or a 0.
DNA is the same, yet VERY different. It is the same in that it is a VERY long program that instructs our cells how to form, build, maintain, etc US. We, in essence, are the manifestation of that program. That is how DNA is the same as binary. Here's how it's different: is exponentially more complicated.

A string of two binary digits has four possible outcomes: 00, 01, 10, and 11.
A string of three binary digits has eight outcomes: 000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110, 111.
The pattern is the base (2) to the power of the number of digits (3).

DNA is, essentially, a base four system. A T C G are the four "numbers" that exist.
A string of two digits, therefore, has 16 combinations instead of 4.
A string of four digits will yield 64 combinations instead of 8.

So what does this MEAN?

It means that DNA is exponentially more complicated a base-language than binary. That is how it can do all of the things it does for biological beings.

How is this AWESOME?
This is awesome because when the code is cracked we will be able to program LIFE from scratch. We'll be able to make robots that are biological in nature (Arthur C. Clarke coined the term "Biots" with respect to this). We'll be able to cure diseases. We'll be able to get ANYTHING we need to be grown directly. Trees that grow in the shapes of chairs; algae that spews out oil as a waste product; flowers that compute, pretty much anything you can think of that we can BUILD we could grow.

How is that TERRIFYING?
For starters: watch the movie GATTACA.
But also look at all of the junk available for your computer. Look at all of the malicious code that exists to make pornographic pop-up windows on laptops, that fill your email box with spam, that hijack your search result links, etc. Look at all of the things that require computers to have security software and imagine having to have that type of software running IN YOU.

I am excited by the ideas that what good this type of development could bring the world, but I really fear the idea of having to purchase Norton Anti-Virus for my brain and body.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Automation is a Good Idea

There is a lot of debate about automation in society.
In fact I posted earlier about how it is training us to be helpless.
I believe this is true, but at the same time I find that there is still a HUGE volume of good to be done by automating dangerous things.

We've increased productivity and decreased costs by automating assembly lines and, while we've done that, we've decreased the volume of harm done to people through accidents caused by human error.

I work on trying to automate a great deal of things in my job because of the limited financial resources for person-power to do routine tasks.

If there is anything that computers (and thus robots) are REALLY good at it is repetitive and predictable tasks. They perform their tasks WITHOUT error. Robots and computers don't make mistakes; people do. The mistakes that appear to be made by robots and/or computers are actually mistakes made by people FAR upstream from the robot / computer. The programmers made the mistake. The people assembling the robot made the mistake. The operator of the robot made the mistake. A computer or robot is ONLY capable of doing what it is programmed to do BY A PERSON.

As we refine our programming we are also making systems that are FAR more capable. They are more capable of analyzing input and providing an appropriate output. They are more capable of handling error correction (e.g. conflicting input and/or part failure and/or programming errors in one section of their instructions) to provide the best output.

You might ask what prompts this post and I can quickly and surely answer that it is Google's automobile project. I mean "automobile" in the truest sense of the word: an automated mobile. That's right, Google has automated cars. They've run them on public roads without any accidents (except one, where someone else rear-ended the automated car) and with user intervention only a handful of times (like when cyclists and/or pedestrians walked out in front of the car against the light).

I have faith in the technology to be less dangerous than humans. I believe that computers could drive at faster speeds, in closer range to each other and for longer durations than people with fewer collisions. I believe that the automated cars are a good thing.

I especially believe that they would make my commute a heck of a lot more pleasant (nap, anyone?).

On the flip-side: I like driving. I imagine that once the majority of the cars on the road are automated I would have to go to a driving resort to be able to drive my own vehicle.


Network Neutrality is important

A lot of people don't know what Net Neutrality is and a lot more have heard the term but don't understand what it means.

If you have no idea what it is or what it means then you don't know how important it is to you.

"The Internet" is not a single thing. The internet is really an interconnected network of computer networks. It's MANY things. It's MANY things that all talk to each other and generally play nice together. Or, at least, that's what it USED to be.

Net neutrality is the concept that having all of the networks play nice to each other is the way it SHOULD be and that it is the way it should STAY.

If you enjoy being able to get on your computer and go to or or stream a NetFlix movie then you enjoy the benfits of Net Neutrality.

ComCast is trying to change all of this.

ComCast is trying to change a "peering agreement" with another of the networks that makes up the internet. The other network, Level3, is the network that is set to service connectivity to NetFlix. ComCast fears the overwhelming level of material that will, therefore, come FROM the Level3 network back into the ComCast network (at ComCast user request). ComCast is threatening to terminate their peering arrangement with Level3 unless Level3 pays ComCast considerably more money for this traffic.

If Comcast gets their way in this EVERYONE loses.
ComCast subscribers lose because they will no longer be able to reliably access traffic that is on the Level3 network instead of the ComCast network.
Level3's customers lose because they can no longer reliably provide services to customers of ComCast.
ComCast thinks they will have won, but they will have drawn the ire of EVERYONE in the world dropping their already terrible reputation even further.

And that's just the FIRST step.

This will open the door for EVERY network that is a part of the internet to re-evaluate how they want to manage the network traffic that YOU, the consumer, are paying to have access to. Contrary to the belief of the opponents of Net Neutrality the larger sites are NOT getting a "free ride." Every time you request information from Google you're using the connection that YOU pay for and Google is using the connection that THEY pay for on their end. Each bit of data being passed is paid for TWICE as it is now. ComCast wants Level3 to pay more for the traffic going into ComCast.

This might not SEEM like a big deal. But if the underlying structure of "playing nice" goes away we could ALL have internet service provider plans that look the like satirical graphic created and posted here.

I'd be fully in support of this if I actually had a CHOICE on who provided my internet. But very few people do. You have your cable company for fast internet and you have the phone company for slower broadband access. If you want selection I guess you could revert to a dial-up provider if you can find one.

(Note: this post was edited to change the abbreviation of Level3 that I used, L3 back into the proper name as there is a different company named L3)

Monday, November 29, 2010


Gravity is an interesting thing and it is something I think about often.

The truth is simple: we have NO IDEA how gravity works.
We don't even know WHAT gravity IS.

Gravity appears to be a force generated by all matter, but WHY?
We understand magnetism.
We understand electricity.
We have NO IDEA on gravity (we also know nothing about the weak and strong nuclear forces).

Gravity is also anomalous in that it affects light the same way a glass lens does.... or does it?
We SEE that it does, but maybe the light doesn't experience any effect at all. Perhaps the space that light is traveling through is what it affected, making it LOOK like light is affected.

Then there's the question of Dark Matter.

80+% of the universe HAS to be some mysterious, non-interacting material that we refer to as "Dark Matter" for our current (very limited) understanding of the universe to work. This mysterious dark matter material is required to provide the gravitational force that allows for everything to form the way it has.... or does it? Is dark matter, perhaps, the force of gravity of parallel universes leaking into our universe? If so, does that mean that gravity is really a strong force but that is bleeds through universal barriers and, thus, is spread thin?

There are so many questions about this and the answers will amaze all of humankind when we figure them out.

I hope I can see what technological marvels these answers bring about.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Being a "Grown Up"

There are lots of things that we ALL have to do to function properly in society. All of those things are part of what it means to be an adult.

Some of things are easier for some than for others; but they ALL have to be done.

Things like cleaning up after yourself on a regular basis instead of leaving messes for others to deal with.
Things like getting a job and going to it.
Things like paying bills.
Things like dealing with emotional pain instead of dwelling on it.
Things like moving past it when a friend makes a mistake.
Things like seeing how your actions are causing others to hurt and stopping those actions.

Basically, not being a child about things.

These are all NORMAL parts of life.

I am tired of the people I know who can't handle their NORMAL adult responsibilities:

People who can't clean up after themselves when they have NOTHING better to do with their lives because they are completely and totally unWILLING to confront their psychological issues and go about a NORMAL daily adult routine.

People who lost their new "toy" to a friend and feel like their world is so completely shattered over the situation that they are destroying relationships and friendships to wallow in their despair and NOT REALIZING IT.

People who are lashing out over a hurt in their life and hurting others.

People who ignore their partners and don't realize how much those partners do for them.

People who bleed their spouse dry of all finances and career options and then leave them.

People who randomly sleep with anyone they feel like regardless of the consequences.

People who let rumors forge a perception of another person.

People who let new knowledge of past behaviors change your opinion of someone when it doesn't change anything they did in any way. Related to this one are people who let knowledge of current actions change your perception and/or respect of a person change when the actions do not affect you in ANY way.

All of this drama is incredibly childish and everyone doing ANYTHING on this list really needs to re-evaluate their actions and lives and learn about growing up. They need to learn how to not be so selfish. They need to learn how to function in society.

And yes, I am guilty of at least one of the items on the list. I, unlike many of the people who prompted this post, am fully aware of the one I am mentally tagging myself with. This post is part of my attempt to NOT let it affect me now that I have identified that I am falling prey to the childish behavior.

I recommend anyone with drama in their life look at the drama and see if they are the cause of any of it. You might be surprised at your own level of childish behavior.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Welcome to the Season of Greed and Commericalism

Today is a holiday. It's not your conventional holiday that has roots in something religious and/or related to a significant governmental day; it's the national holiday to celebrate greed and commercialism.
It also kicks off the season of greed and commercialism.

It's really a sad commentary on our culture.

I'm glad that the one item that was on Black Friday sale that I was tempted by was not as good of a deal as it first appeared because it means my record of not shopping on this day still holds.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Security Theatre

I have been saying for YEARS that I am more afraid of my government than I am of a terrorist attack.

I am not a criminal.
I am not a terrorist.

By rights I should have NO reason to fear and/or mistrust my government those that represent it. Yet I do. I should have NEVER had a bad experience with anyone who represents the government in any way, yet I have had bad experiences.

My experience with people who work for the government in any enforcing capacity has, almost unanimously, been bad. I feel like I have been a part of an ongoing Stanford Prisoner research project; only with regards to government vs citizen. Some of the people in my life say that it is because I dislike the government that I act "funny" and, thus, draw attention to myself from those in a government enforcement position. I disagree as the experiences I have had are what shaped my mistrust. Perhaps I do act "funny" now and that is what CONTINUES to draw their attention, but what started it? It certainly wasn't me. I was taught throughout my childhood that the police and the government are my friends and that I should trust them. It has been my direct experience that has changed my mind.

The recent on-goings with the TSA; bring proof (to my mind, at least) that my distrust of the government is completely founded and fully reasonable.

The highest priority legal document in this country is the Constitution. That document has many amendments that alter it. The first ten of which are named The Bill of Rights. The fourth item in the Bill of Rights is the protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
I hold the belief that the TSA is blatantly violating the 4th Amendment with each and every person it forces through the new security screening process and it is dong so FOR NO GOOD REASON.

For those who might read this who are not familiar with what is going on:
The TSA recently enacted new screening procedures. The procedures are designed to force people into new scanning machines that use X-Ray back-scatter scanning to take an image through all of the scanee's clothing. In short, they expose you to X-Rays so that they can take a nude image of you. The TSA has promised that these images are NOT stored and that they are NOT able to be taken out of the machines. They lie. The same machines have leaked images in the U.K. Similar machines that use a less potentially harmful (the effect of a single scan is so negligible as to be non-existent; it's the cumulative radiation exposure that is the concern) scanning technology (it uses high-frequency radio waves instead of X-rays for a less-clear image) but which have provided the same promise of no image retention were recently shown to NOT automatically delete the images. Gizmodo recently broke a story where they obtained many of the scanned images via a Freedom of Information request (they also have a post about the scanners I am talking about in this post). The alternative to being exposed to radiation is a fully-invasive (but still external) body search. The TSA agents MUST pat anyone declining the radiation scanner down UNDER their clothing. This means they will, essentially, be groping every passenger that does not want to be irradiated. Since the policy was first released the TSA has lightened up slightly; they're stating they will have decreased intensity searches for those 12 and under.

Here's why I think this is a BAD idea.

1. The security system in the USA is based entirely on retro-active security measures. A terrorist tries something and the TSA responds to make that approach impossible in the future. This does NOTHING to stop someone who is creative and determined. If you're only looking where someone else has already walked you will miss the newly-created trail. Basically, the way the TSA does things leaves them COMPLETELY vulnerable to anyone trying to "think outside the box" and do something new while severely inconveniencing (possibly traumatizing) MILLIONS of people.
2. Children and young adults prove to be a problem with the TSA's way of doing things. Are they going to insist of the fully-invasive groping of children and young adults? If so, how long will that go on before there are significant lawsuits for sexual abuse and long-lasting adult-life issues that are generated by any children who are traumatized by the experience? If they decide to forgo the invasive search on children then it defeats the purpose as willing and determined adults will use the children to smuggle the contraband items onto the plane. Children turn the TSA's new policy into a Kobayashi Maru scenario: they CANNOT win.
3. The level of discomfort / hassle / inconvenience / etc that this new policy generates will hurt the economy. It will damage the profitability to commercial airliners which, in turn, will make fewer commercial airline companies which, in turn, will cascade into higher costs to consumers and, thus, make fewer people able to afford commercial airfare. This overly-aggressive and USELESS new security regime will pave the way to a crumbled infrastructure where no one can move around anywhere (perhaps that's what the TSA really wants).  The USA does not have a viable alternative to airfare for rapid, cheap transit. The closest we have here are the commercial bus lines and, as someone who has traveled in a commercial bus, they are NOT an acceptable alternative to flight for long distance runs. Two to four hours in a bus is acceptable; twenty-four is not. If we destroy the ability for people to move around our country in a cost-effective manner we will shrink the economy in ways that we probably cannot even imaging right now let alone destroy the week-long vacation industry to far-away places (Seattle to Florida to do DisneyWorld during a school vacation: not anymore!).
4. The entire goal of the terrorists is to destroy our way of life. The TSA is dong that in a FAR more effective way that any terrorist attack ever has in this country. In short, we're letting our government do the work that the terrorists wanted done and we're the ones paying for it.
5. Air travel is still the safest form of travel. The BBC ran an article on this that stated that last year air travel experienced one death-causing flight accident per two million flights (granted each death-causing accident kills far more than a single individual - for easy math let's be generous and say 200 people die in each incident for a 1 in 10,000 chance that that someone will be you).  Some quick research shows that there were fewer than 40,000 fatalities from automobile accidents in 2009. There are approximately 300,000,000 people in the USA. Assuming that each and everyone one of them rode in a motorized vehicle once and only once in 2009 we have a 1 on 7,500 chance of dying. That number, of course, is artificially low. I ride in my car at least twice a day, 5 days a week. Unemployment is currently around 10%. If we assume, therefore, that 90% of the people either ride to school or work and home again and that they do so 5 times a week we end up with a figure of 2,700,000,000 car rides meaning the chances of dying in one are 1 in 67,500. More than six times higher than air travel. Yes, the figures are rounded for easy math. Yes that means there is some level of inaccuracy in the my results. It's hard to fight the raw numbers, though: car travel is more dangerous than air travel.

People worry about large-scale events because of the media and the TSA is doing something to make people FEEL better about air travel but their recent step has gone one step too far. It will make people FEAR air travel not for the possibility of an attack on a plane but because of the hassle that getting on that plane will cause. This is a clear case of the government trying to govern too much. TSA, it's time to reel it back in and be reasonable. Try different security tactics that require more training and intelligence rather than brute force, coercion and the fear of embarrassment. The people you are subjugating are NOT the people that you should be paying attention to.

Given how much hassle the TSA causes I think it's time someone makes NinjaAir* a reality. It would let you avoid being groped and avoid being irradiated (at least as far as you know).

So, the next time you fly which will it be? Groped, irradiated or ninja blow-dart?

*the link is to another blog's post that has a transcript of something Corey Doctorow said during an episode of This Week in Tech.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


This morning I turned on the TV do have a Christian church program running. The person talking was decrying how there are countries where people are killed for being Christian and denied access to Christian literature.

Once again, I feel I must say that I am not religious so I can't fully comprehend how people react to the type of situation that the man talking was talking about BUT...

If people are really concerned for the welfare of others perhaps they should examine all of the terrible things happening in their own neighborhoods before trying to fix the problems of the world far away.

There are TERRIBLE things happening around the world. There are terrible things happening in the USA. Perhaps it is easy to overlook the terrible things happening near our homes when there are TERRIBLE things happening far away because the things near us are so commonplace and average. Perhaps it takes something truly abominable to peak our interest.

What does that say about those who choose to ignore the local problems in favor of the far away problems? I think it says that they are, at best, misguided. I think it says that they are afraid of the local problems because they may know some of the people causing the problems and/or some of the people suffering. I think it means that people are too afraid of the average, mundane terrible things that are happening near them because they know that those things could happen TO them. The TERRIBLE things that happen far away are abstract and "couldn't happen here."

I think EVERYONE would be better off if EVERYONE focused on the issues affecting their local communities more.

Let's work on eliminating gang violence here in the USA rather than jihadist activities where one religion is fighting another in a far-off land. Let's work on ending homelessness and hunger here rather than sending BILLIONS of dollars of aid to other countries to feed their poor (and have them hate us for it). Let's focus on bringing equality to all parts of our country rather than trying to stop genocide and gender oppression elsewhere.

Do the other places need help? Yes. But so do we. I'd rather focus on making the lives of people near me better each day before we send huge amounts of help to places far away.

Maybe I'm selfish for wanting to keep the aid here. To fix HERE before we try to fix other places. To make HERE a more desirable place to be. To make HERE a place that will continue to grow and thrive rather than degrade and fall apart.
Some of the people we are ignoring who need our help pay into the system that sends their money away. Think of how much more help they could get if they could keep the resources that are taken from them (by the government) instead of having those resources go to a foreign country.

Maybe I'm selfish. Maybe not.
Maybe I just see that the world has LOTS of problems and trying to fix them all at once will see none of them fixed. Maybe focusing on a manageable problem set means that that problem set CAN be fixed. When it is we can move onto another one.

When one spreads their resources too thin NOTHING gets accomplished; like the highway construction near my house. The Southbound off-ramp to my house closed in August for a one-week re-paving. It's STILL closed. They just changed the sign (again) to say it will be closed until 12/3/10. Mid-August to 12/3 is a REALLY LONG week.

We're doing the same thing with the world's problems: trying to fix too many at once and not getting anywhere with any of them. We should change that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


There's are interesting things about average.
It's ALWAYS mathematically near the middle.
It's ALWAYS worse than the best.
It's ALWAYS better than the worst.
It's ALWAYS common.
And it's always boring and in need of improvement.

EVERYONE should ALWAYS be seeking to improve themselves. If we all did this we would be pushing the quality of "average" upward in every field. Sadly, we don't all try to improve ourselves all the time. My observation is that "average" seems to be declining in quality (this is backed up by the fact that the SAT has re-centered their test scoring charts several times so that their 1000 mark is, by definition, "average" - they've made it easier each time).

If everyone who were truly average were to work to improve themselves then the bar of average would HAVE to rise. Would there still be under-achievers? Sure. Would there still be a few people who NEVER amounted to anything? Sure. Would there still be gifted people and over-achievers? Sure. Would the average score ever reach that of the best? No. Does that mean it is not worth trying to be better? No.

Related to this little commentary is No Child Left Behind. NCLB is a poorly written act that the federal government put into play a few years ago. There are two major components to it. It's related to this commentary because it involves the concept of "average" with respect to students. I'll not get into the specific text of the law, but I will summarize it to the extent that I understand it. The ultimate goal of NCLB was to have the average students performing at the same level as the best students in every school.

Think about this for a moment. The federal government wanted to make sure that the AVERAGE students performed at the same level as the BEST students. There is only ONE way to do this: squash EVERYONE down to the level of the least-performing student and penalize everyone who does better than the norm.

It seems to me that the average person in the federal government responsible for developing and enacting such a plan must be well below average on the mathematical comprehension scale. If they are not I fear for the future advancement of our species.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Jailbreak or Not to Jailbreak

I have an iPhone.
I think it is some of the best money I ever spent.
Ironically, I didn't actually buy THIS iPhone.
My iPhone is an iPhone 3G. The phone I bought is the iPhone 3GS that my girlfriend carries. I wanted a better phone than my old piece of crap, she wanted the next iPhone up. We both walked out of AT&T happy.

The software I am trying to run has moved beyond the capacity of the iPhone I currently have. It is bogged down on occasion and causes issues once in awhile.
Therefore I am contemplating upgrading to an iPhone 4 but I cannot really justify the expenditure.
In the meantime, I am also contemplating jailbreaking my iPhone to see what additional power and capabilities I can unlock by doing so.
I know it MAY void my warranty but if I replace the phone anyway what does that matter?

I'm curious about experiences other people have had with this process; positive and negative.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Idea Alone....

An idea alone is worthless.
I have LOTS of ideas.
Some of them could make me LOTS of money.

The problem is that the idea, alone, is worthless. One either needs the knowledge AND skills to make the idea a reality OR know the people who can help you make the idea a reality.

For several years I have been harboring an idea. This idea could make MILLIONS if its price point were inexpensive enough to be available to the average consumer.
My step-father and mother could use at least five of the devices AND the corresponding service in their business (if it were inexpensive enough) and they are just one tiny convenience store.

The idea is for a small, cellular-enabled device that has a temperature sensor in it. When a certain temperature threshold is reached it sends an alert. Very simple. A wide-range of uses. Recurring income (the ongoing alert service).

My problem is that I had/have NO IDEA who to talk to about making a prototype. I do not know who to speak with to get a prototype that can be mass-produced in the cost-effective range.

I know who to market the device to (and there are MANY markets) should I have one that is working AND affordable to purchase... but I can't get that far because I can't get the device made.

Why I am talking about this great idea? Why am I risking letting someone else know about it and implementing it first? Because someone already has.

Notice I haven't given away all of the markets that I know I could market this product to... because I know that those markets could be worth something. I could still develop a competing product... but not unless I know WHERE to go to to get it made. I either need contacts or cash or a completely different education to make this a reality.

Sigh. So many other ideas in my head. I've seen several come to light already, often in implementations that are not as good as the one in my head.

I wish I knew all of the right people.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Eternal Toy

When I was a kid I had LOTS of legos.
I actually still have nearly all of them but instead of being spread out over my bedroom floor they are in a trunk in the basement.

I went through phases where I preferred other toys, but I always went back to Legos.

There were many years that the Legos slept, quietly, waiting for my return but I always returned.

(This is NOT a non-sequitur, I promise) Another item that has influence my life greatly is the Star Wars world of science fantasy.

Things like this: bring out my inner child. I want to spend money on this, and all of the other Lego sets that blend my love of Legos with my loves of other things from my childhood.

One a tangential note: I think that my love of Legos is derived from the same part of me that forces me to do what I do for work. I figure out solutions to problems all day long. Some days those solutions are looking to ensure that a computer is plugged in and other days those solutions fill a 4'x8' whiteboard in my office with theoretical infrastructure models that I want to make a reality. But the one underlying piece is the need to imagine something and then work through the problems to make it a reality. I think that is why Legos are the eternal toy for any engineer and why engineers do what they do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans' Day

Today is one of those days that I resent.
I resent it because it reminds people to respect those who have served our country to protect our freedom and our way of life.

Why do I resent this? Because it should not take a day to make people think of it. People should respect those who served to protect our freedoms EVERY day. Do I believe that veterans deserve extra rights and privileges? No, but they deserve our respect for doing what they do just as everyone deserves respect for doing their jobs. Veterans, however, deserve our appreciation for their work for they are laying their lives on the line to allow us to live ours.

This is true EVERY day.

So, on this Veterans' Day I ask this of anyone reading this post: in four months, or sixth months or 8 months thank a veteran for their efforts. Don't make today the only day you respect and appreciate their work to keep your way of life intact.

This also goes for Christmas: if you are a Christian (I am not) then the "Christmas season" isn't the only time you should express peace and good will to all: express peace and good will to all ALL THE TIME.

When we have to have a single day to emphasize something then we are letting ourselves ignore that thing the rest of the year. If it's important enough to pay attention to we should do so ALL THE TIME.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I saw this the other day and it's REALLY weird.

It also makes this comic make sense:

It also makes me wonder if time travel is possible and, if so, where are all of the time travelers (or the evidence of them having been here)?

System Administrators

On my way home from work the System Administrator Song came up on my iPod.

It's a great song for anyone who does tech support.

It caps off a day where I had to go to a room with 5 desktop computers. #1 was being re-placed in the room after being repaired. The user in that room stated that #4 just did not work and that #5 logged anyone off as soon as they logged on.

I restarted #5 and logged in without an issue.
I tried #4 and, sure enough it wouldn't boot. I took one look and found that it was unplugged.
I went to hook up #1 and found that someone had pushed a crumpled up piece of paper into the USB plug for the keyboard. I have to fish it out with a unbent paperclip.

In 10 minutes I had the two new "problems" resolved simply by trying the MOST BASIC of trouble shooting ideas.

It never ceases to amaze me that people won't try looking at the power cord to see if it is plugged in.

Monday, November 8, 2010


So this is National Novel Writing Month.

I wonder why the prejudice toward novels?
Why not other books?

I may have to pound out some work this week to get caught up on NaBoWriMo and write the book I mentioned a couple posts ago.

I have tried to develop stories for a novel, but I have discovered that I am a world-builder and NOT a story writer. I am certain I can write stories, but they will be MUCH more work for me than creating settings.

I think I need a job at a role-playing game company building worlds for new game systems.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Here are some pictures of my costume from this year's Halloween.

Most people incorrectly guessed that I was a sand-person (aka Tuscan Raider) from Star Wars. They were close in that I was dressed as a dessert dweller, but they were in the wrong fictional series.

The costume was of a Fremen, which is an entire culture of people found in the DUNE books by Frank Herbert.

Here are links to the works chronological order:

The original "trilogy" by Frank Herbert:

The expanded DUNE universe books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson:

Starting approximately 10,000 years before the events in DUNE.

Leading up to the events in DUNE:

Interspersed within the original DUNE "trilogy"

Between DUNE and DUNE Messiah:

Between DUNE Messiah and Children of DUNE:

Brian and Kevin's work to finish the original "trilogy" based on notes and passages left by Frank.

A book on the process of creating DUNE

Frank Herbert's biography

An unauthorized look into the science of DUNE:

The DUNE Movies

The 1984 version directed by David Lynch:

The SciFi Channel's miniseries:

Note: I have read all of the original "trilogy" by Frank Herbert. God Emperor of Dune is bad and it gets much worse. But the middle of that book is the worst part of the entire series. Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune both get MUCH better.

I have also read the Butlerian Jihad books and the three "House" books.

I have not yet read Paul of Dune, Winds of Dune, Hunters of Dune or Sandworms of Dune.

There is also an Encyclopedia of Dune that was published in the 1980s, but it is currently out of print.

I was not provided any copies of anything listed here for review purposes.


I have been compiling some posts to post in a series.
They are comments on how society/civilization/government could be run better.
I've known for a LONG time that these problems are not able to be put into self-contained silos. All of the problems are interlinked. They are, therefore, not linear.
I've also known for a long time that books ARE linear.
My ideas, therefore, are like trying to push a square peg into a round hole (or vice-versa).

Thursday I realized that the postings that I have written are beginning to make linear sense out of the problem. I will NEVER succeed in making complete linear sense of the issue, but I am working on a way to do that as much as I can.

I also realized that these posts would make a good book. Of course, there is no plot, but the ideas could be packaged as a book.

I'm now toying with the idea of actually re-compiling them as a book and finishing it out to see if I can get it published. If not, I can always self-publish if a few people think it is worth doing that. It would be nice to have some (probably meager) revenue out of all of the crazy thoughts that plague my brain.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


It's not unheard of that an independent candidate will split the vote of the non-Republicans causing the Republican candidate to win.

It is VERY odd when the Democratic candidate splits the vote that was going to the independent candidate allowing the Republican to win.

That's what's happening in Maine today (or has already happened). Elliot Cutler has the least-bad (and in some ways good) campaign. Mitchell, the Democratic candidate, got votes from people who were terrified of the Republican candidate (Paul LePage); people who might otherwise have voted for Cutler. The end result is that it looks like Cutler will lose (or has already - he has announced he concedes, but I suspect a re-count will happen to make sure).

It's a terrible, yet interesting, statement of the times that the independent candidate would have won except for fear of the republican candidate and that fear split the vote allowing the republican to win.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Balance (or, There is No Free Lunch)

There must ALWAYS be balance.
There is ALWAYS a trade.
There is no free lunch.

Sometimes the trade is a good one, other times it is a bad one, sometimes it's even hard to identify the trade; but a trade ALWAYS exists.

There are multiple buildings where I work.
Each building has certain I.T. equipment distributed to the users within that building.
Each building has a different set of needs and a different set of rules about use.

One thing that is common among ALL the buildings is that the equipment issued to you for the purposes of your WORK is not a toy; it's a tool for accomplishing your assigned work.

TANGENT WARNING: Assigned work has three vectors of evaluation.
    1. Quality of the work.
    2. Timeliness of the work.
    3. Appropriateness of the work.

I, personally, don't care what people do with the equipment once their work is completed. The caveat to that is that  the rating of the work on each vector is at or above acceptable.

The problem with where I work is that the VAST majority of users prefer to goof off instead of doing their assigned work. They would rather harass each other on Facebook or play Mafia Wars or search for porn than do the work they SHOULD be doing.
So we have filters.
The filters have not been overly successful in reducing many of the behaviors that distract from the completion of work.
So, in one of the buildings, we're implementing filters at home, too. Those filters ONLY apply to the equipment handed out BY US. Those filters apply at the same level as they do within the building.
Part of me SCREAMS out against this concept. I HATE the idea of locking down the equipment and making it less useful. I HATE the idea of inhibiting the use of the equipment is such a way as to penalize those who have no reason to be penalized.  I HATE the extra work that this will generate for ME. I abhor the fact that my EXTRA work will serve to make the jobs of other people easier. My additional work will allow others to be more lazy and less vigilant. My extra work will vilify ME to the users whom resent being overly managed even though I am not the one who made the decision to implement this at-home filtering.

On the other side of the coin I see encourage this type of lock-down. The VAST majority of our users need to learn how to function in a responsible way and keeping them on task is part of that. Taking away distractions is another part. Learning that their actions (collectively) up to this point are the reason that they are ALL encountering the new restrictions is a good lesson in how the world works and how they will have to manage in the future when they do their assigned work for other organizations.
I also fail to have a lot of sympathy for people who will whine about the newly imposed limitation. If they want an unlocked internet they need to BUY THEIR OWN EQUIPMENT. It's quite simple: free equipment is NOT free; it has a catch. In this case the catch is that the users are subjected to the rules and regulations of the entity providing the equipment.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Learned Helplessness

I'm just now getting to write about something I experienced a few weeks ago that caught my attention.

It was something about ME that startled me and made me realize exactly how significant simple, tiny, insignificant, helpful technologies are teaching us to be helpless.

We all use technologies that make our lives easier and simpler. Sometimes those technologies are the phonebooks in our cellphones. Sometimes they're the automatic door openers at the grocery store. Sometimes they're the automatic transmission in our car or the auto-dimmer or the intermittent windshield wiper settings or cruise control or.. or… or.

You get the picture. I use most of these technologies quite frequently. Most of the time I don't even notice that I use them.

What I did notice, though, was not one of these technologies but the absence of one.

A few weeks ago I was attending a meeting in a large public building.
During a break in the meeting I used the rest room.
What caught my attention was that I paused for a fraction of a second wondering why the faucets did not turn on when I put my hand under them. Yes, really. I hand't even looked down at the sink, I just placed my hands under the faucet and expected the faucet to turn on.
The fact that I had to wonder, even if for less than a second, why the water hand;t turned on made me realize that I am being conditioned to be helpless.

This will never happen to me; I think too much. I look around too much. I want to know how EVERYTHING works…. but it could happen (and I am sure it already is) to others.

I am frightened by a world where there are people who are so helpless that they wouldn't know HOW to turn on the water in the public restroom if it didn't have automatic faucets.

You may laugh but I ask you this: how many of the people you contact daily/weekly/monthly/annually could you call if you didn't have the phone book in your cellphone? How many could you email if you lost your PDA (or other contacts list)?

Think back to ten years ago - how different was your list of people you could contact without assistance then?

Now imagine a world 15 years from now when the people who are 15 have NEVER known a time where there were no cell phones…. NEVER known a time where there was no internet…. NEVER known a time with no automatic faucets and toilet flushers…
This will be the time when automatic faucets and toilet flushers are as inexpensive as the manual ones; what will be put into houses automatically?

Now think of a world 30 years from now when the kids born 15 years from now have NEVER known a world where you had to flush the toilet or turn on the faucet yourself.

What will people be able to do for themselves in that world that lies 30 years in our future?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Media Companies are WRONG

I frequently hear discussion about the media creation/consumption business model.
I, even more frequently. see news articles on the rise of piracy, etc and how that is costing the media companies billions of dollars a year.

My response to all of this is that the media companies are wrong in nearly every important way.

First: the concept of a "channel" is obsolete.
I don't care about channels. I don't care about the network brand. I care about the specific shows. I may not be the average media consumer but, in this, I think I am well matched with the average consumer. Consumers want the content; they do not care about the network it is on.
One of the reasons that DVD sales of TV shows are so popular is that people want to purchase THAT show. They do not care when/where it airs. They want the show.

Second: the idea of a programming grid is obsolete.
I don't care when a show airs anymore. I have not watched live TV in YEARS. I don;t know what channel (see point one) or what time any of my favorite shows air. I have a TiVo. I LOVE my TiVo because it makes TV watchable again. I don't LOVE my TiVo because I can skip commercials (skipping commercials, ESPECIALLY terrible ones is an added bonus - but NOT the primary reason for having a TiVo). My TiVo (and other DVRs) free us, the consumer, from the oppression of the programming grid. That is why they (and VCRs before them) are so popular. People just do not want to re-adjust their schedule to align with what's airing on TV. They want TV to fill the gaps in.

Third: bundled packages are obsolete.
One of the reasons the iTunes store is so successful is that people can buy ONE song on an album. The day of an artist producing an album with 3 good songs and ten or twelve garbage songs is over. People only purchase the GOOD songs now.
One of the reasons that DVD sales of TV shows are so popular is that people want to purchase THAT show.
The comment above about DVD sales also applies here for the same reason.

This means that media companies that believe they need to provide entertainment to us using a programming grid where programs are delivered serially on channels where we can only purchase channels in bundles are not simply obsolete: they are obsolete to the third power. These companies are the most wrong because each fundamental pillar of their business is based on forcing their customers to use a delivery method that they do not want to be locked into.

Media piracy is NOT a business killer; it's a byproduct of doing the business badly.
Content consumers are not asking for much. They simply want the entertainment they want WHEN they want it  at a reasonable price. Again, I come back to the success of the iTunes store as an example of providing content at reasonable prices to consumers when they want it and with a selection that provides them most of what they want.
Piracy became rampant when technologies were created by people who wanted content that they were unable to acquire through legitimate means. Piracy grew rampant among the average person when those technologies became easy to acquire and use.
Piracy has declined in its rise and in its general use since the advent of technologies that make it easier and reasonably priced to acquire the desired content (again, back to the iTunes store as an example).

The old model of media business is also the new model. They are not different. They are not in conflict. They are not in opposition.
First: People are used to free TV programming that is paid for by advertisements.
Second: Media companies are used to having their content paid for by advertisers who advertise during the commercial breaks.
Third: Advertisers are used to paying to have their products shown to audiences that meet their general demographics.


The specific execution MUST change, but not the model itself.

Working backwards:
Advertisers LOVE having better data on their targets.
Advertisers LOVE greater granularity in their target audiences. It generates higher value per ad placed.
The proof in these statements lies in the success of Facebook and Google. Both of these companies tailor their advertising at such a granular level that they target individuals instead of groups.
Advertisers LOVE data on who is seeing their ads and when.
With the model I will outline below you will see how the new technologies facilitate ALL of the advertisers' needs.
Media companies are used to two revenue models: advertising and direct sale of the content.
Currently media companies sell access to HUGE blocks of consumers with mostly generalized demographics.
With the model I will outline below you will see how the new technologies facilitate ALL of the media companies' needs.
I am used to ads. You are used to ads. We both hate the ads, but we are used to them. We may skip them from time to time, but we're used to them. I am often multitasking while watching TV (Tetris) so I let the ads play unless they annoy me; then I bother to pause my game and fast forward through ALL the ads in that block. One annoying ad punishes ALL of the ads in the block with it.
With the model I will outline below you will see how the new technologies facilitate ALL of the MY needs for a wide selection of inexpensive content on MY schedule.

The model is VERY simple.

Abolish ALL channels. Abolish the programming grid.
Replace all channel-based, serialized technology with a single interface that is easy to use (I suggest the interface developed by TiVo) where users can search for content by name, actors in the content, directors, etc.
Allow users to "subscribe" to new episodes of their favorite content so that it appears in their inbox/queue/"Now Playing" list automatically when it is available.
Have THREE methods of paying for the programming you are watching:
    1. Ads that interrupt the program (like what we have now).
    2. Direct payment (like the iTunes store, Amazon store, NetFlix, etc) per view.
    3. Ads that frame the program (e.g. the program is shrunk and silent ads are displayed AROUND the program while you watch it.

Make sure that ALL ads are clickable (e.g. you can pause the program and click on the ad to learn more and then return to exactly where you left off in your program).

Users would pay a base subscription rate for their raw bandwidth (like the internet and cable bills now).
Users would have access to ALL content EVER produced at ALL times.
Advertisements would be embedded by user/family NOT by programming type.
Payments for the advertising would go to the media producer and media delivery company (I suggest 85% / 15% split). In the event that the content is in the public domain then the payments would differ by type as follows:
    1. fewer ads to interrupt the program.
    2. smaller payment
    3. smaller reduction in the size of the screen used for the content / smaller volume of ad space around the programming.

Furthermore, it would be possible for users to cache programming "credits." If I watched a "block" of programming with both the embedded ads AND framed ads then I would, essentially, have a credit with the media delivery company. I could apply this credit to have an uninterrupted, non-framed "block" of programming in the future. (Some additional work on this is required to determine which content provider gets the payment for the "blocks" consumed).

What are the major benefits for media companies?
    Media production companies continue to gain revenue from EVERYTHING they have ever produced every time it is watched. This is true until the copyright on it expires.
    ANY media production company can get their content in the available content: not just large production houses.
    Media delivery companies cease to have to build programming guides that make no one happy.
    Media delivery companies get their base rate PLUS some cash for EVERY program watched.
    Media companies will have EXACT "ratings" numbers on their content instead of estimated numbers based on sample audiences.
    Media production and delivery companies could state that "credits" are ONLY good on future media consumption and only valid within a certain time frame from when they are earned. This means that unused "credits" would turn into permanent additional revenue for them.

What are the major benefits for advertisers?
    EVERY ad is targeted specifically for the audience.
    Advertisers will be able to know exactly which demographics are viewing their ads.
    Advertisers will have EXACT "ratings" numbers on their content instead of estimated numbers based on sample audiences.
    EVERY ad is clickable and leads to more information on the product. This makes the customers of the advertising agencies VERY happy.

What are the major benefits for me?
    ANY content I want whenever I want it.
    Cheap, reliable content access.

The media companies are wrong in their stubbornness. The specific model they are desperately clinging to is obsolete and leads to us, the consumers, filling our needs elsewhere.
The new model works the same way ONLY BETTER. Better for us, better for them. Better for everyone.

Why is it that this seems so simple to me, yet the major media companies can't see it?

Note: yes, I am fully aware that YouTube meets many of the criteria for functionality of my model. I had this idea many years ago, when YouTube was online, but it holds true still. Sadly, major media companies are fighting the idea of their content ending up there rather than embracing it and monetizing it. If YouTube were attached to a TiVo front end AND it had ALL content ever produced it would be the perfect model for the technology levels we have available right now.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Perception of Value

I like Halloween.
I like Halloween because, even as an adult, I like to play "let's pretend" in my own mind.
I'm not much of an actor, but I enjoy the process of theatre.
Because of that I enjoy costuming.
Halloween is the one time of year that I can wear costumes out and about without anyone thinking it odd.

$100 is a lot to spend on a costume. Even if it were a costume I REALLY wanted I probably wouldn;t spend $100 on it at the Halloween store.

But I am CERTAIN I have spent more than that on all of the components that are making the costume I am going to wear this year.
One piece alone (not quite finished yet) has a $5 piece of PVC tube, 1 $10 piece of PVC tubing, a $5 PVC tube cap and a few PVC couplers ranging in price from $.90 to $2. There is, in this piece, a motor, some lights and a couple of switches. All in all, this one piece will probably have cost me $50 when I am done with it. Does this bother me? A little. A VERY small amount. Why? Because of perception.

By buying the pieces one at a time and assembling them I FEEL like I am saving money. I FEEL like each expenditure is insignificant (and, really, each ONE is; it's the summation that isn't).

I find it interesting that, even knowing that perception is the key to value, that I am still perceiving something that is A LOT of work AND costs more as being less wasteful than spending $100 on a costume at the Halloween store. Granted, this costume is not available in any store so I CAN'T just purchase it, but if it were I would have to examine the cost versus the amount of work.... and I would probably still choose the harder and more expensive route. Sigh.... at least I'm consistent in my behavior.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Good Audio Fiction

Below are some links to episode pages from some podcasts I listen to.

If you wonder about what, if anything, is after death and/or what does life mean just download and listen to these stories to feed your frustration about never being able to know.
Article of Faith
Unexpected Outcomes
Hell is the Absence of God

And, for good measure here's one that shows what can happen if we let media companies become too powerful:
Herding Vegetable Sheep

And these are are a funny, but frightening look at marketing and products:
The Love Quest of Smidgen the Snack Cake
Conversations With and About My Electric Toothbrush