April 17, 2009

Marriage is such a Foreign Thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 8:54 pm

Cindy and I have been thinking a lot about marriage in the recent months, and it’s good to see other people with similar thoughts.

My own parents, when I tried to spell out the thought process behind our UnWedding, were understandably confused. “Why not just get married?” my mother asked me.

I did my best to explain how foreign and austere the concept of married life felt to me, but I don’t think I succeeded in making a connection. After all, my mother’s generation didn’t grow up amongst 52 percent divorce rates. And even though I personally have a good number of friends who once lived so-called bohemian lives, and who have since gotten legally hitched, I also know a decent number of smart people with no interest whatsoever in the wedded life.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not really sure why that is. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that so many of my peers grew up in broken homes? Maybe it’s a result of the decline of family values? It’s tough to say. But one thing is for sure: Traditional American marriage in is changing fast, and in a major way.

from Marriage Without Monogamy


March 15, 2009

Using Language as a Crutch: Can’ts, Haves, and Needs.

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 7:14 pm

Consider the phrases: “I can’t do that.” or “I have to do this.”

Yes you can. No you don’t. These are nothing more than crutches of language.

What someone is saying when they claim that they can’t do something is that they won’t because the ramifications of their action would be unacceptable, like losing their job due to breaking company policy. I won’t get offended if you like your job more than you like me (that would be unreasonable, we’re strangers), just tell me that and then let me talk to your manager. Can’t is asking a quadriplegic to walk, asking a blind person to read printed text, or being asked to break the laws of science and math. Can’t is a inescapable restriction, won’t is a decision.

Likewise there is nothing you have to do. You don’t have to take that final, you’ll just fail the class if you don’t (I’ve done this, it’s not as bad as you think). You don’t have to go to work, you just might lose your job. Losing your job or failing your class will not kill you[1]. You want to work so you will have money, so you can sleep on a bed. You want to study (as hard as that is to say) so you will pass your courses, so you can get out of school (or stay in it more, I guess). You don’t have needs, what you have are wants of varying importance.

You can skip that final. You do not have to go to work. You don’t need those boots all the popular girls have. Grow up and stop lying to the world.

[1]^ In fact, even things required for life aren’t something that can be called absolute needs. You don’t need to live, you just want to (so do I!) so eating and breathing are reasonable expectations, but not actually needs. Needs are completely relative to context. There are needs that must be fulfilled to sustain life, there are criteria that need to be fulfilled to be considered fluffy. Without a context, “need” is a meaningless word.

January 11, 2009

Nuclear Power 101

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 8:57 am

So, my grandfather (stepmom’s side) was a nuclear engineer before his current job as a retiree. He earned his Ph.D in nuclear physics from MIT, got a 4.0, did a lot of work for GE — and the world.
he’s a smart fellow and he’s done things.

it’s great to ask him about how these things work, since they’re not very well understood by the public, and nuclear physics is not something I’m going to learn in my degree program to be a computer guy.

and occasionally I get an email from him that leaves me just a little smarter. like this one today:

Hi Guys:

I don’t often see an article like the following (sent to me by my friend Roger Baird). Some of you might not want to take the time to read it or to absorb the facts and information included. I suggest you save it in a folder which you can retrieve and read at your leisure because its really important stuff if you want to better understand the risks and safety of nuclear power, nuclear waste, and radiation. It busts some myths and misconceptions you may have and helps put these subjects in perspective.

So, even if your interest is lacking, maybe your kids, grandkids, or friends would really appreciate knowing some of the following information. They and you may be pleasantly shocked to learn that living with nuclear power has been and will continue to be relatively safe and easy.

Walt D’Ardenne

here’s the article he attached:

From Creating the New World: Stories & Images from the Dawn of the Atomic Age
by Theodore Rockwell

Socrates talks about Nuclear Power

The public has been told so many things about nuclear power that are confusing or just plain wrong, that some of the basic physical facts should be clarified. The best way to do this was invented over 2000 years ago by the philosopher Socrates. So I’ve put this discussion into the form of questions by Socrates, and I’ll have his questions answered by a metaphorical Dr. Proh, who sees no serious problems with nuclear technology, and Dr. Kahn, who feels the problems outweigh the advantages. [This Epilogue is based on a piece I wrote for Cosmos 2002, the Cosmos Club journal.]

Socrates: Why is nuclear waste a problem?
Kahn: Because we don’t know what to do with it.

S: Why do we have to do something to it?
K: Because it’s dangerous.

S: Bicycles and stairs kill people. Does nuclear waste kill or injure people?
K: No, but it can.

S: How can nuclear waste kill?
K: If it leaks into water that may be used for drinking.

S: Is nuclear waste liquid?
K: Sure. There are those huge tanks at Hanford, Washington.

S: Does Hanford store waste from civilian facilities?
Proh: No, virtually none; just weapons wastes.

S: So if we never built any nuclear power plants, it wouldn’t change the situation at Hanford.
P: Correct.

S: What form is the waste from power plants?
P: Either spent fuel or miscellaneous waste products. We really shouldn’t call spent fuel waste. Only three percent of the fuel has been used; the rest is available for recycle. You wouldn’t call a used car waste, if it had been driven, say, 3,000 miles.

S: Are any of these materials liquid?
P: No, the fuel is hard ceramic pellets in metal tubes. The waste is consolidated into a solid—glass, concrete or bitumen. There may be some noble gases, but they are biologically inert and thus no real problem. Even if water were to wash over it, it could not leach out much from glass or metal-clad ceramic.

S: Why then is civilian nuclear waste dangerous?
K: It’s radioactive. It gives off dangerous radiation. I know it’s kept in shielded casks, but…

S: Can you get dangerous radiation from a nuclear waste cask?
P: No, you’d have to eat the waste.

S: How is that different from a non-radioactive poison?
K: Nuclear waste stays toxic for so long.

S: Doesn’t nuclear waste continually decrease in toxicity?
K: Yes

S: Stable elements maintain their toxicity undiminished forever. Why is nuclear waste more dangerous?
K: Well, if all U.S. electricity were made from nuclear, the nuclear waste could kill 10 billion people!

S: What does that really mean? Is nuclear waste actually killing 10 billion people?
P: No. It’s a hypothetical figure, meaning that the total production is 10 billion times the individual lethal dose. It’s like saying that a community swimming pool has enough water to drown a million people. It has no real meaning.

S: How does production of nuclear waste compare with the annual U.S. production of other toxic materials?
P: We produce many common substances with thousands of times greater toxicity. For example, we produce enough chlorine gas each year to kill 400,000 billion people. Then we purify drinking water with it.

S: We don’t seem threatened by these, do we?
K: But we keep increasing world’s radioactivity, no?
S: Let’s see. Where does nuclear waste originate?
P: From the fissionable isotope of uranium
S: Isn’t that naturally radioactive? What is its half-life?
P: Nearly a billion years.
S: So we take a billion-year material and convert it to fission products with mostly shorter half-lives. What’s the ultimate effect of that on the earth?
P: In the long run, we make earth less radioactive.

S: Any other problems?
K: Well, there’s so much of this waste—thousands of tons of it!

S: How does that volume of waste compare with coal-fired plants, the major competitor to nuclear?
P: A 1000 megawatt coal-fired power plant, supplying all the electricity used by a million people produces 8 million tons of carbon dioxide, which can contribute to global warming; 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, which can cause acid rain and respiratory problems; Nitrogen oxides equivalent to 200,000 automobiles; benzpyrene and other carcinogens; and a quarter million tons of ash containing enough uranium to make several a-bombs. This does not include the mountain tops pushed into valleys to get at Appalachian coal seams.

By contrast, a nuclear reactor generating the same amount of electricity produces two cubic meters of waste, which can all be sealed in containers and controlled, not dispersed into the environment. All waste from 40 years operation is stored at the plant. They could store another 40 years worth.

S: If all your electricity were produced by nuclear power, how much waste would that create?
P: You could store your life’s share in a corner of your basement.

S: Why don’t we put the nuclear waste into the sea? Would it despoil the whole ocean?
P: No. The ocean’s natural radioactivity would completely overshadow it. You could detect it only with special instrumentation that discriminates one isotope from another. Rivers continuously dump more radioactivity into the ocean than we create with all our nuclear power plants. We could put it in drums and drop them into the deep ocean clay, where they’d be isolated for millennia. We don’t do that, but we could.

S: What if we did nothing about this problem for several years?
P: Even anti-nuclear activists agree there’s no safety problem. The few sites shutting down would need the fuel casks sent elsewhere. Some other sites might need to increase their storage capacity, but that’s not difficult. Some states have laws limiting fuel storage, but that is a man-made problem; it could be fixed. There are many government or private sites that could store the casks for a few decades. They are no more hazardous than many other materials we handle routinely.

K: But then what would we do?
P: Nuclear waste contains many valuable products. We will ultimately want to recover those, as well as the unspent fuel. If this source of energy were in the form of oil, we’d be ready to sacrifice a generation to protect it. As coal, we’d destroy pristine mountains to get it. But here we have it, already refined, within our borders, ready to use. Right now it’s cheaper to use uranium ore, but the spent fuel is there for the future.

K: But radiation is carcinogenic, right? It’s always a danger.
P: No. In fact, radiation in small doses is beneficial. It’s like selenium or other trace elements in your vitamin pills. In large doses they’re deadly poisons. In small doses they’re actually nutrients.

S: How can that be? Isn’t nutrient the exact opposite of poison? Can the same substance be both?
P: Paracelsus said in 1540 that nothing is poison, but the dose makes it so. That’s how vaccination works. Radiation acts the same way. Large amounts are poisonous, small amounts are beneficial. In fact, there are experiments demonstrating that reducing the natural radiation background causes organisms to get sick and die. And people who live where natural radiation is high generally live longer and have less cancer.

K: Why is that? Doesn’t each cell damaged by radiation create a potential cancer? Twice as much radiation causes twice as many damaged cells. That’s got to double your risk of cancer, no?

S: Doesn’t each flu germ entering your body create a potential disease?
K: Yes, but…

S: Then do you conclude that the best way to fight disease is to keep washing your hands, wipe off doorknobs, avoid shaking hands—to minimize contact with germs, as some germophobes do?
P: That’s not what doctors recommend. They say keep warm, eat nutritious food, exercise, to keep your body healthy. The number of germs in our bodies is less relevant than the state of our immune systems and other defenses. If you keep healthy, your body will take care of the germs.

S: Does radiation work that way?
K: I don’t think so. Radiation damages cells, and that’s how cancers start.

S: Are cells in your body ever damaged by events other than radiation exposure?
P: Oh, yes. Normal metabolism damages hundreds of millions of cells for each one damaged by background radiation.

S: Is it the same kind of damage?
P: Not exactly. Radiation damage is harder to repair. But we know how much harder, and the net result is that even after repair, metabolism still leaves several million more damaged cells than radiation does. The number of damaged cells is not the critical factor, despite how some people argue. High dose radiation kills, not by damaging more cells, but by degrading the defense system.

S: Let’s go over this slowly. How many DNA-damaging events occur each day by normal metabolism?
P: About one million each day in each cell of the body.

S: And how many similar events are caused by typical background radiation?
P: About one in each 200 cells, or 0.005 per cell per day.

S; And how many of these are properly repaired by the body’s natural defense systems?
P: For the metabolic damage, it’s all but about 1 in 10,000. For the radiation damage, about 1 in 500 persist. Then, in both cases, about 99% of these damaged cells are removed by “cell suicide.” This leaves about one metabolic mutation surviving per cell, but only 1 in a million of the radiation damaged cells.

S: So how does low-dose radiation affect this situation?
P: When it stimulates the defense system, it enhances repair and replacement of not only the few radiation-damaged cells, but also the very much larger number of metabolically-damaged cells.

S: One fact that complicates discussions of radioactivity is the presence of natural radioactivity. We’ve had congressmen urging that we “get it down to zero.” How do the natural radioactivities compare with some regulatory limits?

P: To answer this, I have to explain what the numbers mean. Radioactivity measures how intense a radiation source is (just as luminosity measures how bright a light source is). The amount of radiation one gets depends on the strength of the source, its distance from the receiver, and whether any shielding is present.

We measure radioactivity in curies (named after Marie Curie, the discoverer of radium). One curie is the amount of radioactivity possessed by one gram of pure radium (1/28 of an ounce). We usually encounter much less than one curie, so we measure lesser amounts in picocuries (millionths of a millionth of a curie). In one picocurie, only about 2 atoms per minute are decaying and giving off radiation. The radioactivity of a liquid is measured in picocuries per liter (a liter is a little more than a quart). (Some years ago, equivalent metric units were defined, but U.S. regulations are still set in curies.)

So let me give you some examples in picocuries per liter. The proposed EPA radium limit on tap water is 5. The natural level of river water is from 10 to 100. Natural seawater is 300. Whiskey is 1,200, milk is 1,400 and salad oil is 5,000. And natural radon in much of the world’s drinking water is 30,000, and some health spa waters are as high as 300,000. There is considerable evidence that these natural levels of radioactivity are not harmful and are probably beneficial.

S: So it appears we are protecting people against a truly non-existent hazard! How about terrorism? We read some really frightening possibilities. Plutonium, we’re told, is the deadliest poison known? Is this true?
P: No. You can hold it in your bare hands. Spoonful for spoonful, it is about as toxic as caffeine. When physicist Bernard Cohen was told that he and other scientists were not interesting interview subjects, he offered to eat on-camera as much plutonium as Ralph Nader would eat caffeine. But the interviewer said that would be cheap exhibitionism.

S: So where does plutonium get this reputation?
K: It is considerably more lethal if inhaled.

S: Then the scenario of putting plutonium into a public ventilator would create a real disaster?
P: No, plutonium is very heavy and is extremely hard to keep suspended in air. It wouldn’t work well. During all the decades we have been handling plutonium in tonnage lots there has never been a death from plutonium toxicity. Even after dispersing some 5 to 7 tons of it into the air during 1,000 weapons tests.

S: What about terrorist airplanes? Can an airliner fly through several feet of steel-lined reinforced concrete?

P: No. The plane would either slide off the curved surface or crush like an egg-shell outside. Any jet fuel would burn harmlessly outside. The size of the plane is relatively unimportant, since the plane structure collapses on itself, absorbing most of the impact energy, and only the engines pose a penetration potential. In 1988, a full-sized (unmanned) Phantom F-4 fighter plane was driven by rockets at 480 miles per hour into a simulated containment wall section. These instrumented tests confirmed analysis: the body of the plane crushed against the outside, penetrating less than an inch. The engine shaft penetrated less than two inches. It is clear that an airplane cannot fly through such a wall. It is true but largely irrelevant that the idea that a suicide pilot might undertake such an attack was not considered prior to September 11.

K: But if terrorists got inside the plant with explosives, couldn’t they, as speculated in the papers, create a disaster like that burning reactor accident in Chernobyl in 1986, with tens of thousands of deaths?

S: What is the worst that could happen?

P: No credible sequence of events involving a U.S. reactor could lead to tens of thousands of deaths. Even Chernobyl caused no deaths to the public, even without containment and without evacuation for the critical first days. The U.N. scientific report (UNSCEAR 2000) reports no other deaths than the 30 workers and firefighters in the plant. The 2,000 thyroid cancers were said to be 97% curable and probably due to intensive screening, since they do not correlate with radiation dose. An American reactor meltdown, at worst, would be more like Three Mile Island where there were no significant health or environmental effects whatsoever, even to plant workers.

K: But wasn’t that due primarily to the intact containment structure that held in the fission products? What if the containment was breached?

P: Studies after the accident showed that nearly all of the harmful fission products dissolved in the water and condensed out on the inside containment surfaces. Even if containment had been severely breached, little radioactivity would have escaped. Few, if any, persons would have been harmed. Tons of molten reactor sitting on the 5-inch-thick reactor vessel bottom did not even penetrate the 5/16-inch cladding. So much for the dreaded China Syndrome!

K: What if terrorists got hold of a spent-fuel shipping cask?
S: What is the worst that could lead to?

P: There is nothing one can do to a spent fuel shipping cask that could lead to a significant public hazard. Despite frightening claims about the hazards of what fear-mongers call “Mobile Chernobyls,” spent fuel casks pose no significant public hazard. They cannot “go critical” like a reactor or detonate like a bomb. None of the radioactivity is in liquid form. It is solid ceramic pellets, metal clad. For more than 30 years over 5,000 fuel assemblies have already been shipped. Despite a few serious traffic accidents, not a single radiation release has occurred. The fuel in these casks is always cooled for several years prior to shipment, so the short-lived activity and the decay heat production have died down. The shipping casks themselves are virtually indestructible. To be certified for shipping, a cask must be able to withstand a 30-foot drop onto its edge, a 40-inch drop onto a puncture bar, a 1475oF fire for 30 minutes, immersion under 50 feet of water for 8 hours. Further crash tests have involved a tractor trailer carrying the cask hitting a concrete wall at 84mph, a locomotive hitting the cask broadside at 80mph, crash at 80mph followed by 125 minutes completely engulfing jet fuel fire, and a drop test from a helicopter so that the cask buried itself more than 4 feet in the hard-packed ground. In addition, casks have been tested with high-tech anti-tank explosive charges. Only in this last case was the cask breached, but even then the result of scattering a few chunks of spent fuel on the ground could not create a serious public hazard. There is no mechanism to disperse the radioactivity in an ingestible or respirable form, over a significant distance. At the worst, only a very few people would get some radiation doses and these would not be life-threatening.

K: But there’s still the “dirty bomb.” A terrorist wraps radioactive material around an ordinary explosive and supposedly spreads death and destruction.

S: Is this a real threat?
P: No. It is completely ineffective. Many tons of shielding would be required to permit handling by deliverers. The radioactive ceramic scatters only a short distance. The noble gases are biologically inert. Little air, water or land contamination results. There would be few if any casualties beyond the reach of the explosion. This is not a credible weapon.

S: So are you saying we need not be careful in dealing with nuclear technologies?
P: No, of course not. We have taken extraordinary precautions, and consequently no one has been killed or even seriously injured by American-type nuclear power plants or their waste products. But this has had the perverse effect of scaring people into thinking we must have an unimaginably dangerous beast, to justify such extreme precautions. That’s why it is good we talked about how the laws of nature and the physical properties of materials prevent any major public hazard, in any credible circumstance we can think of.

K: Wait a minute! I’ve read many times about some guy, usually a kid, getting burned by some radiation source. What about that?
P: Radiation now has thousands of industrial and commercial uses, some of which used to be done by x-ray tubes. Just as people are occasionally hurt by inexcusably careless use of x-ray tubes, so one can steal a radiographic source, take it out of its shield and carry it in his pocket, or play unknowingly with radioactive power and make a mess. But these injuries result from illicit use of industrial equipment and generally affect only the miscreants and sometimes their families or associates. While unfortunate, they are in the same category as accidents involving stolen tractors, police cars, or medicinal narcotics. We don’t condemn the legitimate use of such things; we just tighten up on security. Such incidents are no more frequent or more damaging with radiation devices than with many other types of equipment.

S: Well, I think we’ve covered about as much information as one can comfortably absorb in one session. Let’s get together again soon, shall we?

Spread the word. Nuclear power is a lot more practical than our other options for generating electricity, and reports of it’s (un)safety have been wildly exaggerated.

December 14, 2008

After Reading Articles Complaining About Online Advertising…

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 9:04 am

I’ve decided that I’ll only ever sell ads on any of my webspaces if I have already bought the product/service myself, with my own money, and have no regrets.

I think the only currently-available match to this criteria is a cut and shave at Lefty’s from Mitchell.

Edit: Joe reminds me in the comments of my most egregious error, which I would like to correct. I have no regrets over buying my squeezebox. It does everything I expect, and a few things I didn’t know I wanted. It is in every way an excellent piece of hardware.

I should also mention that I’m working on buying a Canon 350D from Rushi and that it is also, in every way I can think of, exactly what I want and expect from a camera. The recent gift of a 50mm f/1.8 from Vinay (thanks!) has only made me love it more.

November 23, 2008

The World, It Is A-Changin’

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 9:26 am

I’m very independant. One of the most disastrous relationships of my life was with my mother before my parents’ divorce, and to a lesser extent for some time after (doped by a continent of distance). When I was a kid I wouldn’t accept the rules (what I saw as an invasive program to control my life), and would rebel. Since I’m also stupidly stubborn, even though I knew I would never win against a parent, I refused to accept defeat. All sorts of screaming resulted almost every day.

As with most things, neither of us were really in the right, and we both admit that today. For my part (in hindsight) I was a little shit and would go above and beyond the call of my character flaws to just cause trouble in protest.

This reconciliation has happened recently, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know my mom as a person and not as “the oppressor”. It’s got me thinking though.

There’s a sort of self-feeding loop with your opinions of people — after a while you mostly see what you want to see, which makes it hard to see subtle changes, which could add up to large changes. The most common one I can think of is when you find someone annoying.

The problem with thinking someone is annoying is that it will be the in forefront of your mind anytime they speak. Whether or not they are still annoying by your most impersonal standards, you have developed a much lower tolerance for them. You associate the sound of their voice with annoyance. Whenever they talk about a topic, you find yourself unable to care about it, dismissive, even if it’s something that usually interests you. It’s a defence mechanism designed to repel people you dislike. In groups this gets more complicated, especially if your other friends don’t also find this person annoying.

But people do change over time. The changes we notice most are when someone suddenly betrays or reconciles, which is easy to spot and react/adapt to, but what about when someone changes gradually? If someone once was annoying or stupid or any number of other negatives, how do you recognize when they’ve incrementally changed to a point where if you had just met them, you would accept them? How much does someone you know have to change beyond that point to get over your bias?

Is this why people “grow apart”? Is growing apart just something that happens when you can’t spot gradual changes over time, so you become out of touch with who the person really has become?


A Thought About Economic Endgames

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 3:19 am

As you all know, dear readers, the conservative ideal of a free market is where companies all compete, and the market chooses the fittest and best to be the market’s victor. But then what? Whether or not you believe time to be infinite it certainly lasts a good long while, and once you have a market victor, you don’t have any guarantee that the merits that brought them there will continue ad infinitum.[1] Surely they must fall from power when they are no longer the best for the people. At such a large scale as a monopoly, there are all sorts of practices that do not benefit the consumer that help maintain market position. This is why we have antitrust law. To make sure that the market maintains competition.

For example, Bell System won their corner of the market and were divested starting in 1974 by the government after a successful antitrust suit. Of course, one company winning the market is what every company leader wants, but there are a lot of other possible cases where you can’t use antitrust law to make the market healthy again when it’s become stagnant and even abusive.

For example, sometimes you have to share the market. A market can also reach a maximal point when the companies competing all have comparable market shares that vary very little, without trends of significant gains or losses in market share between companies. An example of this is American automakers and the Canadian banking market.[2] Now, there are channels to attack an abusive “multopoly” such as if you can prosecute them for price fixing, or a number of other things that violate consumer protection laws, but there’s no real way to peacefully orchestrate a return to a good, heavily competitive market.[3]

There’s a lot of talk about a bailout for the American automotive industry. GM indicated in their financial report last quarter that given the current market (which shows no indication of improving), they could afford to continue operation through December. All the American automakers are in similarly bad financial states. The market reached it’s stable endgame, and they got comfortable. It’s why they were taken flat-footed when cars from Japan arrived on our shores. It’s why they’re failing now, this time crushed under their own weight.

This stuff is all pretty obvious. Why did I make this post? Well, I’d never considered that we’re seeing the dissolution of a market endgame right now. We’ve never actually seen a return to a competitive market without a lot of regulation and care (see again: Bell Systems, perhaps see also: Microsoft with regards to Internet Explorer[4]).

If there is no bailout, this will be a very interesting time to study.[5]

[1](ref) Don’t get me wrong, I like the conservative ideology for the same reason I like communism and “pure democracy”: they’re really neat ideas, and if we could make them work, we’d all be pretty well-off. The problem with both of them is that we’re talking about people here. No one can actually live strictly enough to such an idealistic philosophy to make it work.

[2](ref) although, the Canadian banking market is built with this endgame on purpose, and the market is highly regulated, something that American automakers can’t take advantage of (if you want to call it that) in a free market.

[3](ref) Another interesting new possible market topology involves the interaction of open source software and traditional commercial software. As example, VMware is the corporate leader in the virtualization space, but there is also a very strong open source showing in the market as well. It’s not hard to envision a market where a company and an open source project can share a market (as far as proliferation) as a multopoly, by competing on features and (the part that really justifies charging money) support and documentation. VMware has an enormous investment in support, and works very hard to address it’s customers’ issues. This has value that people are willing to spend money on. Old World economists are going to have the same trouble understanding this new market endgame as Old World software companies are having now, having to compete on merit with a product that’s given away for free.

[4](ref) It’s worth noting that the antitrust litigation against Microsoft with regards to Internet Explorer did not cause the return to a competitive market, but rather it was one of the stars that aligned at the right moment in time, the other main player being the creation and success of the Mozilla Project.

[5](ref) This statement does not indicate my support or opposition to a bailout of the automotive industry. I do support waiting until the companies actually declare bankruptcy though. Until then it doesn’t really feel like they’re serious, rather than just demanding a handout.

November 21, 2008

More Support for the Correlation Between Wisdom and Age

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 9:42 am

When I was 10, it was very easy to shop for gifts for me. Clothes and LEGO.

Clothes are always a good gift for a growing kid. They’re going to need them anyways, and you might even manage to appear “cool”, or at least not “lame” if you pick something that resonates with them.

LEGO was also great. Even if I already had the set it would still make a great gift. The influx of different amounts of different bricks would set me off coming up with new designs to build with these new parts that were not previously possible.

But as I’ve grown up, my tastes have grown more expensive, and more precise. Now, instead of wanting a computer, I want a MacBook configured in some specific way. Instead of wanting a helmet, I want a medium Shoei RF-1000 (mainly because it’s the only one I could find that fit). As I’ve aged I’ve become more focused in what I want, and adult toys are more expensive than kid toys. These are things I would buy anyway, they’re hobby-related.

As for things that are inexpensive, but that I need, I’ve either already got them, or I will buy them soon. They’re not really great as gifts – I need them.

Buying good gifts for an adult (especially a geek) is hard.

Somehow though, my parents have managed to show a lot of foresight in their gift-giving. A few years ago, they gave me a set of silverware. Not the cheap stamped sheet metal stuff you steal from the dining halls, but good heavy forks, knives and spoons. The value of this stuff is not immediately clear until you use them. They’re unbendable, unbreakable. When I moved I left behind or tossed the mishmash of collected silverware from previous years. Cheap, broken, bent, awful. The gift of good silverware managed to improve my quality of life in a substantial way that you wouldn’t immediately expect.

On my birthday this year, my parents gave me two pairs of new Birkenstocks. My old ones are worn past the sole, and the insole is trashed, but I hadn’t thought of replacing them. The value here is immediately obvious in hindsight, but it’s a non-obvious gift to me. Why two pairs? Because my feet sweat. Two pairs last more than twice as long. These people are thinkers.

I don’t mean to say that someone buying me something I want makes it a bad gift (not at all, go ahead and buy me that stuff, I want it because I’ll use it), but that a truly great gift is something you never expected that managed to improve your life in a way that makes that list of crap you want look insignificant in the long term.

November 18, 2008

Old-Fashioned Fool

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 12:28 pm

Around 2004 I bought my first car while I was working for Treyarch. It was a 1994 Honda Accord, and I used it almost exclusively for visiting my then-girlfriend in Marin County, in the northern part of the San Francisco Bay area while I was living in Santa Monica (LA area) that summer, and San Diego the rest of the time. I put around 44,000 miles on that car in the year I owned it. The mileage was almost exclusively made up of these trips.

I always did them at night (for various reasons, especially traffic), and I always got very tired during the drive. After a few different flight plans, I managed to pick out the Lost Hills exit of I-5 as my one pit stop. It was in the very middle of the San Diego – Marin route (to less than a mile), and it had many gas stations and food choices to refuel myself and the car.

After a trip or few, I stopped in at the Denny’s, which was more appealing than the fast food joints in that I could sit down in a fairly nice area and eat, and it had a bar so I could chat with the staff, waking up my brain for the next leg. I ordered a Meat Lover’s Skillet. Eggs easy over, sourdough toast. As long as my water glass stayed full, I tipped handsomely.

And I repeated this a few times over the next month.

The waitstaff eventually got to recognize me, but they had a very high turnover, I don’t think I’ve ever been served by the same person more than 4 times there. The only constant seemed to be the cook that worked from 10pm – 6am on every day except days I didn’t drive (or so it seemed). She was thorough and always seemed to enjoy what she was doing, an instantly likeable sort of character. One day she came out from behind the kitchen window and had coffee at the bar, and we chatted.

She’d been recognizing me as well, and from then on, my food (Meat Lover’s Skillet, eggs easy over, sourdough toast) would be cooking before I’d finished parking, and we’d have a good chat while I ate.

A few years have happened since. I went through the Accord and a del Sol, long hair, short hair, and a mohawk, as well as the relationship that was the cause of my very frequent journeys. I went from making the trip almost every week, to only once every month or few. The food I ate eventually came off the menu, but I still got a Meat Lover’s Skillet, eggs easy over, sourdough toast every time, and whoever was waiting the bar that night would try to figure out some way to ring it up.

Of all the acquaintances I have, I think I’ve valued Chila (pronouced like Sheila) the most. There’s something fulfilling if not old fashioned about using business as a means to fill social needs rather than the other way around. I guess I’m just an old fashioned fool.

Tonight I showed up at the Denny’s, and I hadn’t been there in a spell. At least 5 months. Walking in, everything was wrong. The bar was gone, the brushed stainless wall behind the bar was replaced with trendy tile. The food surfaces and prep areas were unchanged, but partially hidden behind a wall of booths that had replaced my precious counter.

Chila was there though, and again somehow managed to immediately recognize me despite my new beard, glasses, and hair. I sat at the only table with a view of the kitchen window, and she took a break to chat, her over coffee, me with my water. They’d been closed for a week for the remodel a few months ago, and we agreed it wasn’t really an improvement at all. The Lost Hills exit is a truck stop sort of area, and bar seating made a ton of sense for hungry, lone travellers. It just wasn’t the same.

In some way, the spell was broken. I’ll be back again, but it really feels like an important chapter in my life has ended with the remodel of a Denny’s out in the middle of nowhere.

I ordered a sandwich. To go.

November 10, 2008

Quick Story: How The Past Can Haunt You

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 7:18 pm

Sometime last year I was at Lolita’s, alone, eating Carne Asada fries. For those of you not in the San Diego crew, this means that I was really hung over, I’d been awake for no more than an hour, and it was around 1:30 in the afternoon. You know, early.

As I’m eating, this huge black man walks toward my table. After a few steps, it’s pretty clear that I’m his target, so I look up from my engrossing task and see the world’s biggest smile…


So let’s not forget how hung over I am. I have no idea what he’s talking about. I totally forgot that I was wearing an Ultimate Spidey shirt from when I worked at Treyarch — it was just the top garment on my clean pile when I rolled out of bed. So naturally there were a few moments of confusion. “Pardon? Do I know you? Game?”

Once it became clear that he was talking about my shirt (“oh! of course! silly me.”), I found out that it was his favourite game on the planet, saved his marriage, all that stuff. My brain was not really ready for this so early in the morning, but I did my best to be pleasant and nod a lot.

It was totally surreal. Kinda neat though. Huge bear of a man. Gave me a hug. Very strange.

Not sure what the moral of the story is, but if he’d been closer to my size I would have given him my shirt. He was pretty cool.

Rock on, man. Now that I think about it, it was a good game. Glad it did some good out there.

November 8, 2008

Why You Should Minimize Your Program’s Memory Usage

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 7:42 pm

Because one day, one of your users will have a problem where their motherboard’s memory controller quietly corrupts their memory, but only for certain addresses.

I’m not going to be very active online for a while.

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