March 27, 2018

Mr. Uber loses his license

"I think my favorite model is an Uber with manual and automated controls. When possible, it uses automated control but in bad weather or a very complex environment it behaves just like today's vehicle." -jk, December 21, 2016.

I didn't remember that quote. I only went searching for our debates about autonomous automobiles (auto-squared?) where I predicted the problem with self-driving cars is the limitations of software. Never, however, did I imagine it would rise to this level of incompetence.

Thoma Hall's comments have been about clarifying a lidar array's role in the driving task; namely, that even when the lasers detect an object, "it is up to the rest of the system to interpret and use the data to make decisions. We do not know how the Uber system of decision-making works." If Uber's software doesn't process the data properly, then it doesn't matter what the lasers register.

When Arizona citizen Elaine Herzberg was caught jaywalking across a wide thoroughfare last week, the Uber behaved just like an ordinary vehicle when its operator is more interested in something below the windshield than in front of it. Uber struck the woman at cruising speed (44 in a 40 zone if I remember correctly the initial report) killing her.

Now the involved parties rush to deflect their own liability. And this is just the problem, isn't it? A sentient being can be held accountable. Problem is, all of the involved sentient beings have an excuse:

The software ignored our sensor.
The software I designed was controlling the car, not me.
The car was in automatic mode, so whatever happened was its fault.
As a pedestrian, I have the right-of-way and cars must yield to me.

Who will be satisfied when accidents are explained with the phrase, "The vehicle in question had not yet downloaded the latest firmware update that corrected that bug?"

Ah yes, Ms. Herzberg is statistically irrelevant. Maybe to the Governor of Arizona, but not to her two children. Consequently said governor has revoked Mr. Uber's license.

"He calls fatal crash 'an unquestionable failure' of the technology." (I think he meant unquestioned but you get the drift.)

The letter strikes a dramatically different tone from late 2016, when Ducey invited Uber to his state with celebration, saying "Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads."

Posted by JohnGalt at 2:57 PM | Comments (4)
But jk thinks:

I've been expecting this. And suppose it is deserved. It's a rare event had it waited tem more months, the cars would look good, had it happened six months sooner, vicious killers.

You know who else died that same day in car crashes? Statistically about 100 people! Statistically, I bet some of them had children as well.

You can do a little more searching and see where I said these vehicles would be flawless. But I don't think you'll find it. Over time, they will be better, en toto, than human drivers. And they will improve and be further refined.

A tragic and sad setback. Engineers will point fingers but lawyers will effectively find those to blame. But for now, you get your wish: the hundred who die every day will die at the hands of human incompetence -- huzzah!

Posted by: jk at March 28, 2018 10:10 AM
But johngalt thinks:

My intent was to be humorously ironic more than harsh. But I think we agree that the rush to market inspired by the race to be first does real harm to the movement. It has the effect not of replacing human accidents with fewer (or even far fewer) AI ones, but adding them to each other. As stated in this tech journal, "self-driving technology costs real lives while saving statistical lives."

I won't say that government should regulate this more than it already does, but I do believe the liability judgments against the makers and operators of killer robocars should be in the billions. There needs to be a real disincentive for them to use all of us as their unwitting crash test dummies.

Posted by: johngalt at March 28, 2018 2:29 PM
But jk thinks:

No doubt I deserved worse.

But the "she's not a statistic! She has children!" cri de Coeur puts me in mind of the currently ascendant wrong side of the gun debate. "Not one more Mom or Child must die!" I am told, so you must accept whatever overreaching policy prescription I'm peddling.

The other 90 (Reason corrects my math but not my philosophy) people dying without a rewrite of Arizona's traffic laws are no less real and no less loved by their families.

Ninety a day, every day. It seems short-sighted to not consider 35,000 against one whose name we know.

Posted by: jk at March 28, 2018 4:00 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Fair cop. That was an easy argument, but a specious one. Allow me to reframe:

I would like to see each robocar company CEO stand in front of every one of her cars - literally.

Posted by: johngalt at March 28, 2018 4:55 PM

November 7, 2017

A free-market detour on the electrified road to Nirvana?

When President Obama first took office and presided over the "Stimulus Bill" purportedly to kick-start economic growth and counter the nascent recession, one of the mountain of spending programs came in the form of an electric vehicle tax credit. Paid to EV buyers, it was really corporate welfare, designed to incentivize automakers into developing mainstream electric powered vehicles for a citizenry that was, at the time, yearning to be green in the face of a "looming climate change catastrophe."

Those heady days of wunderkind planet-saving schemes seem a distant memory today, as mainstream media barely mentions climate or CO2 any longer. But the EV tax credit is back in the news because, since Democrats insist that any reduction in tax rates imposed on Americans must "pay for itself" in spending reductions or tax hikes elsewhere, the draft tax plan is set to eliminate the credit altogether, in less than 2 months. (Ironically, there were no such demands for the aforementioned Stimulus Bill to be anywhere close to revenue neutral. Curious how that only applies to the bills that reduce government power.)

I'll get my Schadenfreude on with the Reason headline: Republicans' Tax Plan Crashes Jerry Brown's Electric Car Fantasies

If Republicans succeed in getting rid of the feds' $7,500 tax credit for ZEVs - which far outstrips California's additional $2,500 rebate for the same product - Brown will have to devote far more of the state's resources toward reaching 1.5 million ZEVs by 2025.

California is already spending $140 million a year on tax rebates for hybrid and electric vehicles, enough to provide 56,000 people with full-ZEV tax credits. If the federal tax credit were to go away, Brown would have to spend another $420 million to maintain the same subsidies for those 56,000 prospective buyers.

Electric car manufacturers, who sell about half of their electrical vehicle fleet in California, can see the writing on the wall, with many issuing statements urging Congress to reverse course on eliminating the tax credit.

It's hard to imagine Washington taking a principled stand on any issue, much less this popular sop to "protect the environment." But it could happen. Especially since the GOP might pass the bill with little or no Democrat support. But I'm putting down a marker that it won't be included in any final measure that might be signed into law. More likely, it will be spared in exchange for the ending of all state efforts to ban gasoline powered cars entirely.

But it is a fascinating issue to watch as it plays out.

Posted by JohnGalt at 2:54 PM | Comments (2)
But jk thinks:

Pile on the points, this game is not over.

The Republican Tax Bill Exacerbated Tesla's Drop Yesterday

As for the game's not being over, I need to change my news feed. Still plenty of CO2 & Climate in my sources.

Posted by: jk at November 8, 2017 9:45 AM
But johngalt thinks:

You're sources must be on the fringe. Here's proof of my perceived change in coverage:

Posted by: johngalt at November 8, 2017 3:01 PM

August 21, 2017

1st Ammendment under fire

Finally, the "hate speech" movement is hitting its stride. The carpet bombing of news from a paltry protest in Charlottesville has made gone viral look like a runny nose. I went looking fairly hard to see how many white reprobates were able to gather after a country-wide call. A nearly vile article in the WSJ (Mike Rosen was right *sigh*; their reporting pages are quite liberal) that had to use supremacist, racist and I think even "hate" at least once each paragraph finally mentioned the tally of good-ole boys at several hundred. My FB feed was blind with hatred and disinformation for them, and especially (Surprise!) Trump.

I think the MSM is shirking in reporting this # of the white-boys for one of two possible reasons: 1. that's just not enough to drive the outrage theater the way they want to, or 2. Antifa/BLM/Anarchists outnumbered them. Both could be the case as well.

But to the title; this new purge of "Hate" groups that FB and Google have been inching towards for quite a while now may go pandemic, as noted here at PL, and is a grave threat I believe to the 1st Amendment rights of speech and association.

Am I being as histrionic as my liberal friends (Censure Trump! Putting up statues is akin to glorifying Goebbels!), or are others having some concern?

Posted by nanobrewer at 12:14 AM | Comments (1)
But nanobrewer thinks:

Oh, and meant to work this in somehow:

Google and Apple (combined 98 percent market share in mobile-phone operating systems), have banned Gab, an upstart Twitter competitor with a free-speech policy quaintly modeled on the First Amendment itself, from their app stores. Google cited “hate speech” as its reason for exclusion

Could City Journal be next?

Posted by: nanobrewer at August 21, 2017 12:37 AM

June 21, 2017

How much safer?

I took my blog brother at face value when he reported here that the number of automotive-related deaths would "plummet" from self-driving cars, with "most analyses suggest[ing] that autonomous vehicles will eventually prevent over half of the 35,000 deaths that occur on American roads each year, and some reports are much more optimistic."

For its part, Tesla Motors has said "Brown's death is the first known fatality in over 130 million miles driven with autopilot, while there is a U.S. traffic fatality once every 94 million miles for cars not using autopilot."

So if the number of traffic fatalities was cut in half, or more, by autonomous vehicles, wouldn't autopilot have to log, on average, 188 million miles or more between individual fatalities? (Assuming just one person dies per Tesla crash, of course.) It's true that the one Tesla autopilot fatality is statistically insignificant, but if Brown had had a passenger who also died, autopilot would be demonstrably less safe than non-autopiloted vehicles.

And this simple analysis assumes that all of the vehicles on the road would be autonomous. And that all of the fatalities on the road are caused by vehicles that would be made autonomous, and not by the negligence of pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists, medium and heavy truck or light truck and van drivers, to name a few.

No, it seems like the life-saving effects of self-driving cars are only a slight improvement over the old fashioned distracted human driver, with its natural self-awareness and instinct for self-preservation, at least while sober. Although this beneficial conclusion is reached before a statistically significant number of interactions between autonomous vehicles and roadway flag men. How exactly do you make eye contact with a self-driving car anyway? Maybe the safety comparison is closer to unity after all.

Posted by JohnGalt at 7:14 PM | Comments (8)
But jk thinks:

We have a proximate technical agreement in the idea of AI-assistance in, well everything. I highly recommend Kasperov's Conversations with Tyler. Yes, man-machine partnerships will bring much of the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles.

I hate to take a side-road, but I am truly burning with the question "when will the first deaths occur from vehicles which stop themselves?" That's a popular feature, if commercials during sports are any indication. And it does not take much imagination to see its providing a bad outcome.

The answer to your "why not a driver?" is the productivity gains, not the safety gains. Y'know, cowboy, they wanted to keep elevator operators for the same reason. "What in the world is wrong with just assisting the human operator? The answer, of course, is 'nothing.'" Like the cell phone, the Luddites were beaten and we do not have to pay a union wage to a guy who punches buttons and prevents you from plummeting to your death.

True autonomy changes the landscape -- I want to reclaim commuting hours, move to a shared capital model instead of trillions sitting dormant 95% of the time, empower the disabled and blind, and turn the parking lots into wild animal refuges, where the deer and the antelope can play.

What's wrong with keeping a human behind the wheel? It precludes all those benefits I mentioned.

Posted by: jk at June 22, 2017 11:56 AM
But johngalt thinks:

How do you answer the closing question in my post: "How exactly do you make eye contact with a self-driving car anyway?"

Will flaggers ever feel safe again? Or pedestrians in general?

Posted by: johngalt at June 22, 2017 2:26 PM
But jk thinks:

I do not think that is insuperable. People did not feel safe in automated elevators for awhile, but they changed the technology to provide better indication.

Perhaps some lights on front, like the "Liddy Dole Lights" in the back window, could flashs to let you know you're "seen." I certainly think they'll be pretty effective at stopping at crosswalks and lights before they get too far.

Heck, we might automate the flaggers.

Posted by: jk at June 22, 2017 3:54 PM
But jk thinks:

Funny that I do not fear this, but I saw a "Roomba for weeds" video on Facebook and thought "Skynet. That's how it starts..."

Posted by: jk at June 22, 2017 3:56 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

I can't wait to hear cockpit recordings of the human arguing with his AI driver. :-) IMO, assistive technology will wait, b/c the market will demand auto-taxis for the busy-busy and showoffs.

Honestly, the simplest way to be safe is to go slower, so there will be classic all2human resistance to the AI's control... but also human laziness can't be understated!

Posted by: nanobrewer at June 23, 2017 1:06 AM
But dagny thinks:


Posted by: dagny at June 27, 2017 2:10 PM

July 5, 2016

Self demolishing Tesla

I can't find the thread where self-driving cars was discussed, but this article from a Tech pub is a very good summary of the FL fatal accident in early May while a man's Tesla was operating on Autopilot.

The comments are quite good as well (all geeks, no activists get this far).

Posted by nanobrewer at 11:48 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

Morbid humor being permitted in the ThreeSources Style Guide, I'll point out that you don't have to run faster than the bear -- you just have to outrun your slowest companion. Likewise, the autonomous pilot needs to be better -- I'd suggest by magnitudes -- than human drivers.

I wondered what would happen with the first fatality and this will be interesting to follow. Thanks for sharing that link, it was much more informative than most.

As an advocate of the technology, I am pleased that the occupant is the victim. Morbid again, but his is by definition a morbid topic. When one strays off the road and hits an innocent three-year -old, there will be pitchforks and a law named after the attractive youngster.

Lastly, though I crusade against Elon Musk's crony capitalism, I compartmentalize here and hope minimal blowback comes back to hit Musk and Tesla. This technology will someday save tens of thousands of lives and add $Trillions to the economy. I will not let schadenfreude get in the way.

Posted by: jk at July 6, 2016 11:06 AM

May 10, 2016


Listening to EconTalk today. I don't know that I am compelled by gust Pedro Domingo's theories on machine learning, but I enjoyed this quote Russ Roberts pulled out and the ensuing discussion:

"The problem is not that computers will get too smart and take over the world. The problem is that computers are too stupid and they have already taken over the world." (~37:00)

Posted by John Kranz at 4:10 PM | Comments (1)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at May 10, 2016 5:28 PM

February 12, 2016

Fascinating Digital Archive

Saving the world through data storage: there are some amazing things to keep.

David W. Niven (not the British actor, a High School teacher with a Jersey accent) recorded 650 Cassette tapes of great jazz artists, together with his own commentary on the history of the tracks and artist, when each was recorded, and which musicians appeared. The 1000+ hours, and scans of his setlists and notes ae available on The David W. Niven Collection of Early Jazz Legends, 1921-1991

This is an extraordinary collection. It has been Mr. Niven's life's work. It represents the very finest American music of the twentieth century, and because Mr. Niven took the time and care to record these commentaries, he has produced a library that is accessible to everyone from jazz aficionados to jazz novices. This is all made even more remarkable by the fact that, had Mr. Niven not had the foresight to contact Steve Massey in 2010, this entire collection may have disappeared. How many collections of jazz like this get junked after estate sales every year? Thank you, David--your devotion to jazz will enrich the musical education of hundreds of students!

I take the archivist's point that too many great resources are lost, yet I doubt that there are too many this large and comprehensive.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:41 AM | Comments (2)
But jk thinks:

I have been listening to these all day.

Like the truthful claim that the smartphone in your pocket includes thousands of dollars of goods for free, anyone with an internet connection has access to this guy's collection spanning thousands of LPs and rare tapes. Niven probably spent 90% of his schoolteacher's salary on records. You can just click.

Posted by: jk at February 12, 2016 5:55 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Check out Django Reinhardt's 'Exactly Like You' at 20:00-

Posted by: johngalt at February 12, 2016 6:56 PM

January 16, 2016


Okay, so autonomous cars won't be a thing after all. USA Today:

DETROIT -- The Obama administration on Thursday proposed a 10-year, $4 billion push to spark the development of self-driving cars, hoping to one day eliminate roadway deaths
Posted by John Kranz at 5:34 PM | Comments (1)
But nanobrewer thinks:

Yup, that outta kill it for the foreseeable future!

Posted by: nanobrewer at January 17, 2016 9:25 AM

December 29, 2015

Coffee Maker

Huh, this is pretty close to what I have been talking about.

Posted by John Kranz at 5:39 PM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Nice! Some genius there, like the 3-bean "flights."

And the plastic is even BPA-free.

Posted by: johngalt at December 30, 2015 6:27 PM
But jk thinks:

I'm considering a Kickstarter to make "BPA Spray." For $9.95 you get a bottle of water with microscopic traces of Bisphenol A you can spray on BPA-free surfaces.

If you order in the next ten minutes -- I'll double your order at no extra charge, just pay the extra Shipping & Handling. Not available in any stores. Cannot be shipped into Boulder County.

Posted by: jk at December 31, 2015 5:19 PM

November 30, 2015

A Discouraging Word

Fairness dictates that I -- the autonomous car fanboy -- share this week's EconTalk podcast. MIT's David Mindell, author of Our Robots, Ourselves, questions the progress of autonomous machines.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:43 PM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:
"Mindell argues that much of the optimism for autonomous robots ignores decades of experience with semi-autonomous robots in deep-sea operation, space, air, and the military."

Experience that was obtained long before many of the wunderkinds working on autonomous cars today were even born. Wunderkinds who see "old school" as restrictive, ossified, and self-defeatist. Or, maybe another word is a better fit - wise.

Posted by: johngalt at December 1, 2015 11:17 AM
But nanobrewer thinks:

Let's just always be sure that we - like the sailors on the super cool new navy ships or those with ever-listening "smart" TVs - always know where manual override and the plug are.

I'm also reminded of Hayek's quote:

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design

Posted by: nanobrewer at December 1, 2015 12:37 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Manual override (and manual controls to assume) is all I ever asked for. Yet the linked article suggests that isn't really enough, if the autopilot dumps out to manual control with no explanation whatsoever.

It reminds me of a contemporary C&W song - 'Jesus Take the Wheel.'

Posted by: johngalt at December 3, 2015 2:35 PM

October 27, 2015

"In reality, very little of this is true"

Self-driving cars, in the snow? Nope.

Parking lots also pose a problem.

It also has trouble spotting some people.

Nor can the car detect most road damage.

In summary, the MIT publication concludes that the car is barely able to do many of the things the public believes it can:

Posted by JohnGalt at 6:41 PM | Comments (6)
But jk thinks:

Huh? The technology is imperfect?

Curious if my blog brother remembers tape library demos where the robotic arm convulsed on stage in a company meeting? WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

I'm not going to shelve the whole project or my enthusiasm. I'll admit a likely disconnect between perception of progress and reality. I was rather stunned to hear that they have completed 100,000 miles in traffic. I have seen some very bad demos on TV (almost whamwhamwham) where the car is told to go park itself.

I'm not betting on dates so much as anticipating the safety, creative destruction and productivity increases it portends.

A post was going around Facebook about the ethics of software's choosing the least worst outcome in a crash: do you hit the baby, the dog, the Raiders fan, or plow into a crowd? I am going to put this in with the Policeman example. Police will need different tools to stop these cars than arm waving.

The ethical crash is pretty rich to me. Sheer stupidity kills tens of thousands every year. Now we are assuming that all these drivers are quick thinkers and beneficent philosophers with superb reflexes.

Many things to figure out and I am rather astonished that they have progressed as far as they have.

Posted by: jk at October 28, 2015 10:05 AM
But johngalt thinks:

You are a software engineer and I, a hardware engineer. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you think the software is perfectable and I think it's a fool's errand to try.

It's not the technology I'm worried about, it's the imperfect world in which the technology must coexist. It seems you're willing to accept a few dead pedestrians "for the greater good" of fewer drunk drivers. Well I can assure you the ambulance chasing lawyers are not. Those guys have even stopped tire stores from repairing tire tread punctures unless they're in the center of the tread. Perfectly good tires go in the waste bucket because one person had a blowout and was killed in the crash, and lawyers convinced a jury that a tire repair somewhere in the tire's history was to blame.

And you're going to put Siri behind the wheel? Not just policemen will need a tool to stop these cars. This may just be the justification for private ownership of bazookas. If the lawyers ever let it get that far.

Posted by: johngalt at October 28, 2015 2:18 PM
But jk thinks:

I have always thought that the tort bar threatened this dream far more than technical challenge. But we are not the only ones looking at that, and I've read a few articles written by people confident that it is superable. On a tangent, I wonder about the first death or serious injury when one of the auto-breaking Mercedes stops and creates a worse outcome -- that happened yet?

This software guy would suggest a phased release: keep them limited in geography, application and weather until they have proven safety, then gradually increase their domain.

Barring an incredible breakthrough, I see a transition first to Uber/Lyft, then autonomous cars taking over the easier routes. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Not certain I approve of the interpretation of my comment as "accepting a few dead passengers." Tens of thousands of completely innocent Americans are killed every year. This leads me to suggest that maybe these "tonomous" pilots are not really doing such a swell job. They can't handle their radio, cell phone, Starbucks and a cute member of their preferred gender on a nearby sidewalk without destruction. I rejected accepting that these same folks would make the right choice in a morally ambiguous situation and possess the skill to achieve the selected outcome ("I figured if I sped up, I could jump over the crowd of schoolchildren at the bus stop and miss the squirrel -- sorry!")

While we're pointlessly arguing .. . the tire outcome might be good. Thanks to global trade and comparative advantage, tires are becoming cheaper and cheaper while the monetary value of human life increases.

Like the mandatory left-turn-only-at-a-green-arrow lights across Boulder County. Ridiculous, but my 45 second delay to Starbucks versus a 1/10,000,000 chance of saving a life is unconvincing.

Now, if we had autonomous cars. . .

Posted by: jk at October 28, 2015 2:52 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Pedestrians. "...a few dead pedestrians."

Unless I missed something, no company has any liability for the stupidity of its product's users. But when the product itself does something stupid...

Posted by: johngalt at October 28, 2015 3:20 PM
But jk thinks:

Mea maxima culpa! I saw "pedestrians;" I mistyped.

I'd say in the "Runaway Toyota" contretemps, they were sued for owners' stupidity. All the warning labels "do not ride bike at night without light" imply stupidity is really not off-limits to the torts.

Posted by: jk at October 28, 2015 6:13 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

Fascinating discussion! I agree with JK:

Many things to figure out and I am rather astonished that they have progressed as far as they have.
As far as the "ethical crash" scenario (as only a bunch of softies could conceive!), I think there are compromises that will be worked out - partly in court, partly by committees, and partly by drivers making choices - such that this CAN happen (the technology, not the crash) at some point.

First one is probably: these cars go 5-10 mph under the speed limit and feature a flashing amber light: "under computer control! Cross at your hazard!" Police might need to have a veto, but probably not... if it follows proper rules (stay on street, under limit, fixed destination)

Does system/software design require the study of the Hippocratic oath?

Posted by: nanobrewer at October 29, 2015 1:16 PM

July 10, 2015


Ever wondered what a graphical representation of real-time cyber attacks looks like? This.

h/t: @MichaelBrownUSA

Posted by JohnGalt at 5:46 PM | Comments (2)
But nanobrewer thinks:

That is wildly cool; I'd put it up as my screensaver, but I'd never get any work done!

Posted by: nanobrewer at July 12, 2015 8:41 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

And what is with Sao Tome being such a big participant?

Posted by: nanobrewer at July 14, 2015 4:27 PM

June 7, 2015

I wanna be like Ek

Because I think he's right:

"The old-world paradigms we used to have are no longer true. When I think about music in the future, I dont make a distinction between what's radio, what used to be the music library, and so on," Ek told the Observer in a rare interview. "It's only going to be listening - and, as that goes forward, this old notion of these different industries or different competitors will collapse and merge together."

I like the idea of "Computer, play Kacey Musgraves." Or Dire Straits, or The Who, or Elvis. (Or one of these days, hopefully before I die, "Play The Beatles.")

I've fallen in love with a particular music service called "Rdio." It's got a subscription option but so far I'm listening to the free version, with occasional short commercials and songs from some artists (Jason Aldean and *ahem* Taylor Swift) limited to 30 seconds. I don't know if that changes with subscription or not. But it suggests songs based on whatever search you do, artist, song or genre, and lets different users set up their own "station" with personalized preferences.

No voice control yet but how long do you think that will be? Sooner than streaming the Beatles.

Posted by JohnGalt at 11:30 AM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

I truly enjoy The Amazon Echo. It is in Beta still and has some definite quirks, but voice control is liberating. They work to connect it to many of the popular services and yours might be available or soon.

I have a genuine sympathy for content providers of all stripes to face amorphous property rights in one's livelihood. The Luddite's response, however, has never been the best choice.

Posted by: jk at June 7, 2015 3:08 PM

March 9, 2015

I'm Decidedly Un-neutral on Net Neutrality

L. Gordon Crovitz piles on Netflix's CFO David Wells's "lobbyist's remorse only a week after the Federal Communications Commission voted to replace the open Internet with Obamanet."

Last year National Journal reported that Netflix was "relishing" its role as the lead lobbyist for net neutrality, "not only advocating a position that would protect its profits," but "also earning goodwill from web activists and liberals."

Today Netflix is a poster child for crony capitalism. When CEO Reed Hastings lobbied for Internet regulations, all he apparently really wanted was for regulators to tilt the scales in his direction with service providers. Or as Geoffrey Manne of the International Center for Law and Economics put it in Wired: "Did we really just enact 300 pages of legally questionable, enormously costly, transformative rules just to help Netflix in a trivial commercial spat?"


Posted by John Kranz at 10:18 AM | Comments (2)
But nanobrewer thinks:

This is the insidious part about crony-capitalism: a very, very few folks made out very well on this and the Netflix owner will probably finish his tenure and life not much inconvenienced by this...

It's the rest of us who are going to be holding the bag of diminished freedoms and reduced options. I'm reminded of a quote from a game designer and history expert:

if no decent men fought for the Third Reich there would be no moral lessons to learn; it is no surprise evil men can do evil things. It is in the fact that good men can help them where the real lesson is to be found.

On the upside, I hearten myself with the idea that technology will provide new openings in the attempt to make a solid bureaucratic firewall on our access to the great network of mankind's ideas. Worse comes to worse, the technophile in me knows that no firewall can hold us back.

Posted by: nanobrewer at March 9, 2015 5:38 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Well said, blog brother.

Posted by: johngalt at March 10, 2015 2:52 PM

January 6, 2015

Change Your Mind?

No, not on leadership of the 114th Congress. I'm giving up on politics anyway.

I wondered if I could entice my blog brothers into autonomous cars with this Mecedes:


German automaker Daimler on Monday showed its vision of the driverless car, a prototype vehicle that allows four passengers to face each other as the vehicle finds its way.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:04 AM | Comments (5)
But johngalt thinks:
"The futuristic designed car with a sweeping curved form factor still has a steering wheel, unlike the Google driverless vehicle..."

I'll take two!

Posted by: johngalt at January 6, 2015 4:35 PM
But jk thinks:

Excellent. You can drive. I'll be in the back swilling martinis with film stars.

Posted by: jk at January 6, 2015 5:10 PM
But johngalt thinks:

What will this do to DUI prosecutions? "Yes, I was drinking, but the car was driving!"

Posted by: johngalt at January 6, 2015 6:06 PM
But jk thinks:

Hmm. As long as there is a wheel in it, MADD Mothers (Do NOT get me started) will want a 0.0000000875% BAC enforced.

The Google ride you distain however...

Posted by: jk at January 6, 2015 6:50 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I hadda ask, didn't I? ;)

Posted by: johngalt at January 6, 2015 7:22 PM

November 4, 2014

Electronic Voting! Yaay!

Electronic cryptography has come a long way, and is being used by several companies to implement online balloting systems. One such provider, Helios Voting, has an FAQ page discussing some of the finer points of election administration. And then discusses the competitive landscape:

Is Helios the only system that provides this level of verifiability?
No, there are other systems. Scantegrity and Punchscan provide true verifiability in paper-based voting systems. We like those systems, and we like the people behind those systems. VoteHere, a company that has since folded, was a pioneer in this area, too. The Helios System packs a number of innovations focused on enabling true verifiability for online elections to help everyone get a taste if this groundbreaking technology. But we are not the only game in town.

And then, almost as if they were reading my mind, they answer the question: Should we start using Helios for public-office elections? Maybe US President 2016?

No, you should not. Online elections are appropriate when one does not expect a large attempt at defrauding or coercing voters. For some elections, notably US Federal and State elections, the stakes are too high, and we recommend against capturing votes over the Internet. This has nothing to do with Helios itself: we just dont trust that peoples home computers are secure enough to withstand significant attacks.

If youd like to use a truly verifiable voting system for your public-office election, we recommend an in-person election. Helios could be adapted to the in-person, precinct voting setting, but we have not done this work yet, and we intend to focus on online elections first.

Refreshing! So, a leading edge online voting company says that "a truly verifiable voting system" is best achieved with an "in-person election." Dang, if only!

Posted by JohnGalt at 12:05 PM | Comments (14)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

You heard it here first: "Colorado Looking Good?"

Enjoy the comments.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at November 4, 2014 3:41 PM
But johngalt thinks:

This was my favorite comment:

I won't stop worrying about the fraud from Boulder and Denver till the #s are announced. I was so hopeful in '12, I had never seen so many R signs and bumper stickers but the cheat districts cranked out so many votes that the higher GOP #s in honest counties were overwhelmed.

And as I linked in a comment yesterday, there's reason to suspect the same thing today in the CO governor's race. (Even dagny is suspicious, and she is the model of non-tin-foil-hattery.)

Posted by: johngalt at November 5, 2014 11:37 AM
But jk thinks:

When I woke up to "it's tight but they're still counting in Denver and Boulder Counties" I got a sinking feeling. I'll take Reynolds wrap, glossy-side out in a 8-1/8, but that's how LBJ did it. "His" counties counted last -- how many do you need?

If it's a five digit lead at the end, I will withdraw, but after big changes facilitating fraud, losing a close one hurts.

Posted by: jk at November 5, 2014 11:59 AM
But johngalt thinks:

On the other hand, Bob proved to be a crappy candidate. Cory was likeable and telegenic and talked about fresh ideas. Bob did none of those things. (Gessler would have, though.)

Bob earned 40-some thousand votes fewer than Cory.
Udall earne 50-some thousand votes fewer than Hick.

Even if the D's did "steal" the election with ballot stuffing, they only had the opportunity because R's gave them a weak opponent. The other races were won by R's with margins comparable to Gardner's.

Plus - I did some egghead comparisons of early vote returns to final vote totals. I'll spare the details here but I didn't find anything overtly fishy.

Posted by: johngalt at November 5, 2014 12:23 PM
But jk thinks:

Agreed an all parts. There's a 20K spread as I type -- I'd call that a real loss.

I mention in my gloating post that I received an apology from a libertario delenda est friend. I don't want to pile on but need to tell him that I need him more in the primary. Of course, he's way too cool to be a Republican... Hrrmph.

Posted by: jk at November 5, 2014 1:01 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Try to sell him on being a secret agent Libertarian, behind enemy Republican lines. Perhaps, like Susana Martinez (another big win last night) he'll find it wasn't what he thought it was.

Posted by: johngalt at November 5, 2014 1:51 PM

September 15, 2014

Self-driving Cars: Bringing Liberty!

We've some skeptics (I like to call them "deniers") around here to the proposition that self-driving cars will add liberty to our lives. I imagine my ThreeSources siblings probably fought the washing machine, ATM, and all medicine that did not involve leeches...

But let's not rehash that argument. I saw an interesting and pro-liberty application: expanding educational choice.

With commutes shorter and more productive, the distance that parents will consider logistically feasible will significantly increase. That could exponentially expand the number of educational options that parents consider within driving distance. Using Private School Review's search feature, I found 12 private schools within three miles of my Arizona home, 34 schools within five miles, 69 schools within ten miles, 234 schools within 25 miles, and 304 schools within 50 miles. Now that's choice!

Posted by John Kranz at 1:17 PM | Comments (3)
But dagny thinks:

Please do not tell my nine-year-old that the automatic car is going to take her to school without Mom or Dad. Guaranteed she will find a way to re-program it (Captain Kirk style) to take her to the mall.

Posted by: dagny at September 15, 2014 1:39 PM
But jk thinks:

That hacking skill will serve her better than anything she'll miss at school. <wink />

Posted by: jk at September 15, 2014 1:51 PM
But johngalt thinks:

LOL! That would indeed be an innovation.

I know you jest but to clarify: I'm for self-driving cars, just not the Google variety, which conspicuously lack manual override controls. I want the people version, not the sheeple model.

Posted by: johngalt at September 15, 2014 3:44 PM

August 25, 2014

David Plouffe, Rehabilitated?

I'm placing this under "internecine" because some of my blog brothers have yet to find enlightenment on the glories and intrinsic liberty of self-driving cars. That said, we'll likely all agree on the wisdom of keeping a watchful philosophical eye on key members of the President's campaign staff.

The WSJ Ed Page saluted David Plouffe for his vocationally inspired epiphany on the evils of overregulation, both in a column last week and on their weekend FOXNews show. Today, Gordon Crovitz adds "[...] who ran Barack Obama's campaign in 2008 and served as a senior presidential adviser. Too bad Mr. Plouffe didn't discover the virtues of deregulation before leaving government."

Crovitz's column is about regulation of self-driving cars. We will pay -- in tens of thousands of needless deaths -- for every year this technology is delayed by a Federal apparatus that defaults to "no."

The Obama administration's standard reaction to technological innovation has been to block change via regulation: The Federal Aviation Administration bans commercial use of drones, the Food and Drug Administration restricts gene-testing suppliers such as 23andMe, and the Federal Communications Commission is considering massive regulation of the Internet in the name of "net neutrality."

Federal regulators are also putting the brakes on self-driving cars, which are closely related to the Uber innovation--enabling riders to order a car service using their smartphone app. If fast-moving technology hadn't collided with slow-moving regulators, this might have been the last summer you'd have to drive your own car.

In fairness, the bias toward impeding innovation preceded President Obama's election by several decades. I had been concerned that the tort bar and excessive litigation would stop this technology. Perhaps I can rest easy knowing that the government would never allow it anyway.

Crovitz closes with a historical-fiction-counterfactual that Mister Plouffe returns to Washington as an advocate against over-regulation. I think it more likely he will lobby for additional impediments to self-driving cars. Why, they could affect the bottom line of his new employer...

Posted by John Kranz at 3:06 PM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2014

The Ithsmus Canal

It's almost enough to make a feller forgive President Theodore Roosevelt: today marks the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal.

The Erie Canal, which connected the Great Lakes with the Hudson River, opened in 1825, greatly shortening the distance between the burgeoning Middle West and the east coast. It quickly made New York City, "that tongue that is licking up the cream of commerce of a continent," and the greatest boom town in world history.

In the mid-19th century, the Suez Canal, originally 102 miles long, shortened the sea route between Europe and India by thousands of miles.

The Panama Canal route was much shorter than these three great canals, a mere 48 miles. But Suez was built in a level, low-lying desert. Building Suez was, therefore, essentially a matter of shoveling sand, although, to be sure, there was a lot of sand to be shoveled.

I know my adamantine recommendation of David McCullough's "Brave Companions" is tiresome, but my friends in the NSA mention that a couple of you have yet to order it. Insty asks "if we could do anything like it today" and I daresay no way in freakin' hell.

McCullough details brave adventures, but also bold projects like the canal and the Brooklyn Bridge which could not have been completed without many of the workers' dying. Nobody values human life more than me. But we cannot do a space launch that goes past 34th Street; we could not put guys under the ocean in wooden boxes to dig and pour bridge pylons; and we certainly could not dig the Panama Canal.

We could repeat these achievements safely with current technology but we'd never complete the paperwork. Yet risky pursuits like space travel are cordoned off. The paperwork jab is a joke -- but everyone knows it is not. Somebody would stop a canal, a bridge, a Dam -- yet we have prospered greatly from their completion.

UPDATE: Professor Reynolds provides the segue post as well: America's Forgotten Astronaut.

If there was a prize for the most isolated memorial to an America astronaut, the one for Maj. Michael J. Adams would win by a wide margin.

From Mojave, it's a drive of nearly 50 miles through the sagebrush and Joshua trees, around dry Koehn Lake, and through the old mining towns of Randsburg and Johannesburg before you reach the unmarked dirt road leading to the site. A half mile of bad road later, you arrive at the modest but heartfelt memorial to one of Americas forgotten space heroes.

It was on this spot where Adams and a large section of his X-15 rocket plane came to rest on Nov. 15, 1967. The vehicle had broken up in flight after Adams lost control of it while re-entering from a suborbital spaceflight.

A brave companion, indeed.

Posted by John Kranz at 2:00 PM | Comments (1)
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

The Endangered Species Act, via the UN, would halt any similar project today. In addition, the indigenous peoples would block any development on ancestral lands amid cries of "Yanqui go home!"

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at August 18, 2014 5:07 PM

July 30, 2014

Three Cheers for Redmond!

Microsoft is fighting for full Fourth Amendment protection of your email in the cloud. General counsel and executive vice president for legal and corporate affairs, Brad Smith, has a guest editorial in the WSJ today describing the principles and tactics:

Microsoft believes you own emails stored in the cloud, and that they have the same privacy protection as paper letters sent by mail. This means, in our view, that the U.S. government can obtain emails only subject to the full legal protections of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment. It means, in this case, that the U.S. government must have a warrant. But under well-established case law, a search warrant cannot reach beyond U.S. shores.

The government seeks to sidestep these rules, asserting that emails you store in the cloud cease to belong exclusively to you. In court filings, it argues that your emails become the business records of a cloud provider. Because business records have a lower level of legal protection, the government claims that it can use its broader authority to reach emails stored anywhere in the world.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2014

"Windy" the Wind Imaging Laser System

This amazing device was developed by some friends of mine. Check it out and please share it widely.

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:04 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2014

War on Reason -- a Victory!

An aside [Goldbergesque throat-clearing? -- The Couch] to begin: I'd take my lumps from the Neil deGrasse Tyson crowd for my heterodox position on the Earth's sensitivity to CO2 -- were they not coming from folks who likely don't vaccinate their kids and seek to ban fracking and GMO crops. "Oh yes, I'm anti-science."

The GMO opposition burns the lovely bride and I with exceptional pain. Her grandfather was a pioneer in the field. He held two doctorates and is famous in family lore both for giving a cow a bamboo udder and developing a small pit avocado (eaten by the Japanese in their occupation).

His great-grandchildren have made a vocation of taking to Facebook to unwind all the incredible gains for which he laid the foundation. I guess some of the Fords aren't the best advocates for automobiles, but it still saddens me and angers my lovely bride.

It seems the forces of goodness and light have won a small victory in the Aloha State.

"For the locals, the islands have always been a place of high tech agriculture," writes [Author Rachel] Laudan. "Many of them worked on the big sugar and pineapple plantations. They saved to buy small plots of land. Those who farm these plots know that the papaya growers have survived thanks to genetically modified varieties that have been safely used since the 1990s."

The South Park episode with all the very white mainlanders who bought property five years ago fighting the incursion of mainlanders and tourists (and reduction of benefits to their "Mahalo Rewards Card") is particularly beloved as two pair of the Facebook cadre also fit into this group.

Grandpa saw people starve because of the challenges of tropical agriculture and devoted his sadly short, war-abbreviated life to improving it. Let's hope Ayn Rand is right and he is not looking down on his progeny's opposition now that the science has come so far.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:36 AM | Comments (5)
But johngalt thinks:

Who complains most loudly about the evils of GMO foods? The urban micro farmers struggling to yield more than 10 bushels of produce from a season's effort tending "organic" seed plots. The mechanized farmer driving hybrid veggies to market by the truckload "isn't fair."

Posted by: johngalt at March 16, 2014 2:41 AM
But jk thinks:

Yeah but. It is a perfect storm between a general fear of modernity and a relationship to food that is emotional and easily exploited. Cf: agricultural subsidies and Willie Nelson Farm Aid concerts.

Comparative advantage would dictate that we import all our food from Africa and turn farmland into theme parks or something. The locavore and organic movements touch an atavistic chord.

Posted by: jk at March 16, 2014 12:41 PM
But johngalt thinks:

I do not purport to judge the relative merits of factory farmed fennel versus backyard broccoli, but merely suggest they be allowed to compete side-by-side in the marketplace.

The GMO-haters seek to defeat their "unfair" competitor by force, at the hands of government.

Posted by: johngalt at March 18, 2014 2:50 PM
But T. Greer thinks:

This is a hot button issue here in Hawaii right now. Some of the counties (read: Islands) have banned GMOs altogether, so even if the state level ban fails, half the state cannot have them.

From my impression, most of the opposition is not driven by the urban, micro-garden types (which we really don't have), but the (always white) hyper environmentalist transplant types who have the money to buy big houses by the beach side and like to reminisce about their past as hippies.

This New York Times article is actually a really good description of how things go down here and why. A sad read.

Posted by: T. Greer at March 20, 2014 3:31 PM
But jk thinks:

That was my "South Park" allusion. That's exactly whom I expect to oppose it.

The linked article is superb. Of course the NYTimes is surprised at to find anti-science in the left.

Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and the teaching of evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue. Some compare the hostility to G.M.O.s to the rejection of climate-change science, except with liberal opponents instead of conservative ones.

Then in two paragraphs "what about DDT?" By which, the quoted skeptic and the Times mean "they said it was safe" rather than "Rachel Carson said it wasn't."

Posted by: jk at March 20, 2014 5:48 PM

March 1, 2014

Something of worth from the DAWG Crusade?


A hybrid aircraft, this goofy looking vehicle is capable of heavy lifting and long flight times thanks to the buoyancy of helium gas. The UK Telegraph article that describes it touts its "low carbon" and "green" attributes. I call it a possibly cost-effective vehicle for heavy transport and other specialized uses - provided it is economical in its use of the non-renewable commodity, helium gas.

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:18 PM | Comments (4)
But jk thinks:

Mmmmmkay, but am I alone in thinking all the "Green" accomplishments always harken back to centuries-old technology repurposed?

All the things we gave up are suddenly brand new. My buddy, JC, gets angry every time I bring up Karl Poppers "back to the caves," but green tech always seems more "Downton Abbey" than Star Trek TNG.

Posted by: jk at March 2, 2014 1:56 PM
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

If the whole heavy-haul thing doesn't pan out, they can always use it to drop promo coupons over arenas.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at March 3, 2014 10:22 AM
But AndyN thinks:

You have a point, JK, but it's also true that there are perfectly good uses for old technology that were set aside in favor of something more flashy but no more effective.

When I saw someone trying to push renewed use of lighter than air craft it reminded me that at least as recently as the mid-80s the British Army was teaching young paratroopers to fall out of the sky by putting them in a balloon tethered to a winch, unwinding a few hundred feet of cable, and ushering them out the door. At the same point in the training cycle, the US Army was fueling up a C-130 and flying new paratroopers from Georgia to Alabama, then loading them in deuce and a halfs and driving them back.

I don't think markets necessarily have the patience to wait for that new hybrid aircraft to make deliveries, but I'd be surprised if there weren't commercial uses for something that just needs to go more-or-less straight up and come straight back down. Does a local traffic reporter really need to burn helicopter fuel, or would sitting in a balloon with a big lens work? How close together would the border patrol have to put balloons to monitor the entire US/Mexico border (assuming an alternate universe where the US border patrol actually wanted to monitor the border)?

And of course, let's not forget that while they're pushing all sorts of centuries-old technology that doesn't really work all that well, but from which political contributions can be wrung, they're banning the centuries-old use of wood, coal and tungsten to effectively create heat, electricity and light.

Posted by: AndyN at March 3, 2014 11:03 AM
But johngalt thinks:

Good commentary all around. I liked it mostly as an engineering achievement. The application of hauling goods into Canada's Northern Territories and taking away some Ice Road Trucker business, I thought was a good one.

As long as its development is privately funded it is likely to meet market needs. To the extent it is government funded, it is doomed to be an expensive failure.

Posted by: johngalt at March 3, 2014 2:56 PM

January 14, 2014


I love progress: the integral of marginal improvements. I bore my lovely bride with disquisitions on cheese and tortilla containers with a Zip-Loc™ closure device built in. The only reason to provide this is to sell more -- it's a huge pain in the ass to convert your factories and equipment and purchasing. Yet, to sell more, somebody does it and pretty soon everybody else has to. Laugh at #firstworldproblems all you wish, but life gets a little better on a million different frontiers.

Between our engineers and musicians -- and folks who are just plain weird -- I think this will be of interest. The part of an electric guitar or bass that actually makes the noise is the pickup: a magnet wrapped in wire.

A bit of pickup history: In the early 1930s, George Beauchamp applied for a patent on an odd looking guitar-like instrument that included a "pickup." (The patent uses the variations "pickup," "pickup" and "pick up" interchangeably.) His invention was the now-famous Rickenbacker Frying Pan, which hosted the first guitar pickup. (To acquire the patent, Adolph Rickenbacker had to send Hawaiian guitarist Sol Hoopii to Washington to demonstrate Beauchamp's invention, proving to U.S. Patent Office examiners that it worked.)

The winding and materials are a black art. Like "good" amplifier design, what guitar players dig has nothing to do with engineering best practices -- a perfect reproduction amplifier doesn't sound good.

On a recent custom purchase, I paid almost as much for boutique pickups as for the rest of the guitar. Just a guy in Oregon (Jason Lollar) who is a savant with this primitive technology. As hard as writing the check, the decisions among his many offerings were worse. Do I want a vintage or a crisper sound &c.?

Fishman is well known for making piezo pickups for acoustic guitars. I'm sure they posess their own voodoo but they represent the more classical engineering problem of reproducing tone faithfully. They admit in this article they have steered clear of the other market, where you are creating the tone for fear of not having something new to offer.

Ahem. They've found something. Instead of expensive and temperamental hand-winding, they are printing the coils on PC boards and positioning them precisely on the magnets. This technique has a bunch of advantages. The precision allows a hum free single coil (put one "virtual coil" out of phase with the other to cancel any external RF), the manufacturing tolerances are reduced by magnitudes, and the costs can certainly be lowered.

The other advantage is a real tabula rasa to reproduce tones and change them on the fly. Digital Signal Processing has brought this exact benefit to amplifiers -- you can "model" a 1960's Vox amplifier, or a Marshall Stack. I stole an effects pedal from blog friend sc that spoofs a 1965 Fender Super Reverb (shh, he thinks he lost it ...)

The DSP models are not perfect and I am sure this is not either. But they are progressing to make it so that a player can choose a vintage '54 strat pickup with a Fender twin amp and a Celestion speaker all on the spur of the moment, without buying a 1%ers batch of vintage gear.

Cool world.

UPDATE: Greg Koch takes the new system out for a spin...

Posted by John Kranz at 3:21 PM | Comments (7)
But jk thinks:

I wish you'd share a video of your Eagles medley. Srsly.

Right after I posted this I happened to visit that better blogger. He had a post about "Printed Eye Cells Could Help Treat Blindness." It is really all the same on some level.

Big fan of Tyler Cowen, but I have to call shenanigans on "the new normal." If the blind can see and a $200 guitar can have a vintage strat '54 that by the way doesn't hum we are talking brave new worlds.

Posted by: jk at January 14, 2014 8:01 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

Brave new worlds, indeed! Add to that a robot that replaces burger-flipping fast-food jockeys, and we've suddenly null-and-voided the federal minimum wage law:

Let me ask you a loaded question: where does this all lead? When you have technology that can inexpensively make the blind see, give everyone a Les Paul on the cheap, and obsolete the entry-level labor sector, what does the future realistically look like? The cashless, statist Star Trek of Gene Roddenberry, or the dark and ominous Blade Runner? The crony corporatist world of Robocop? I ask you: realistically, starting from where we are now (technologically, socially, governmentally), where do you realistically and foreseeably think it's all going?

Posted by: Keith Arnold at January 14, 2014 10:14 PM
But Jk thinks:

Wildly optimistic. As mopey as I get about freedom and government, the innovation economy recharges me a'la David Deutch. The burger machine needs a salesperson, delivery, maintenance --and it opens untold opportunities for new restaraunts which need accountants and graphic artists.

The 3D printer opens opportunities for design and increased wealth will support more custom and artesianal work. Roses , rises, everywhere!

Posted by: Jk at January 14, 2014 10:51 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

Allow me to applaud your enthusiasm and propose, perhaps, a credible alternative.

Let's presume, ab arguendo, that the innovation that excites you becomes subdued over the course of the next ten to fifteen years - perhaps, say, as a result of a gigantic tax levied on innovative medical devices like your printed eye cell therapy. Government and its appetite, ever increasing (like the temperature of the frog's pot), slowly increases its economic demand over private citizens. A vocal minority continues to long for individual liberty and economic freedom, but the complacent majority continues to grow further and further addicted to panem et circenses, gradually surrendering liberties in return for the care of the nanny state and its safety nets. There is never a crisis point - just gradual worsening.

The major nations grow ever deepen in debt, spending money they don't have, until they are more awash in red ink that we could possibly imagine today. Eventually, the cold, hard bitch we call math comes to her final result: that which can't continue, doesn't. Bankrupt of resources, national governments begin to collapse under their own weight. The dependent classes demand to be fed, clothed, and housed; the gulf between them and the producers, the individualists, and those like them has grown wide.

Worldwide economic stagnation. Not just in America, but in China, Japan, and throughout Europe.

Sure, computers have grown faster, and some consumer goods have improved in keeping with limited demand. But too many people have discovered that they had the power to vote themselves the government's wallet, and those who govern enjoy being the ruling elite class more than they should.

Some say we're already a good ways down that road.

There are no more national space programs; the private and corporate space program we see today have long since become the only resource left for venturing across the black. Sixteen million people live on the Moon, in habitats where mining and metal manufacturing go on. Thirty million people live on a terraformed Mars. This is not a vast population compared to the four and a half billion still living on Earth, but it represents a significant number of the producers, many of them economic refugees willing to work and invent.

Not suprisingly, a disproportionate segment of the Earth's wealth has relocated off-world. Not a whole lot of people have noticed this, but those holding it have decided it's not a bad idea to move it outside of the reach of the power of nations to tax and regulate. You may be right about the roses, but not everywhere. Think of it as free-market economics on an interplanetary scale, and put it about a hundred and sixty years into our future, following the path we're on right now.

Is that a realistic possibility? Would you find that a credible possible future, perhaps in the realm of speculative fiction?

Posted by: Keith Arnold at January 15, 2014 1:48 AM
But jk thinks:

The 40th Anniversary of Reason Magazine a few years ago (I know, libertario delenda est) documented the huge encroachment of government and yet, in broad strokes, the great advancement of liberty with the Internet, fall of the USSR, advancing ideals on race and gender.

You can call them all anecdotal and note that none are irreversible, but I posit an increase in personal liberty pari passu with an increase in global wealth and innovation. As billions emerge from poverty and access technology, I think true Mugabe or North Korea style despotism becomes more difficult to manage.

I'll agree that there is a concomitant risk-aversion that makes a California or France style mini-bread-and-circuses despotism more likely.

But in broad strokes, I hold that wealth good, innovation good. Ultimately the ideas underpinning liberty are so strong that they will find purchase somewhere. I was sorely tempted to respond with a Libertarian Detroit Utopian Counterfactual.

As the US tumbles ass-first down the rankings in the Heritage-WSJ Liberty Index, the torch lights in Eastern Europe. My dreams are far from guaranteed, but I don't underestimate the power of wealth and innovation.

Posted by: jk at January 15, 2014 11:44 AM
But johngalt thinks:
When you have technology that can inexpensively make the blind see, give everyone a Les Paul on the cheap, and obsolete the entry-level labor sector, what does the future realistically look like?

It leads to more prosperity with less work. But what is done with that prosperity is the wild card in the prediction formula.

We've seen the two competing approaches on display since the dawn of the industrial age. One is self-sustaining, the other is cannibalistic. And thus it is inhumanly ironic that they who advocate for the cannibalistic approach, do so with rhetoric that claims it is "sustainable."

Posted by: johngalt at January 15, 2014 12:04 PM

December 16, 2013

You Can't Hug a Child with Wireless Arms

I have to post this here so I can laugh! It is posted on Facebook from some believers and I am not going there. But:

9th Grade Science Project Finds Plants Don't Grow Near Wi-Fi


Posted by John Kranz at 4:53 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

If I had courage, I'd comment:

"But surely we can make some GMO seeds that are WiFi resistant!"

Posted by: jk at December 16, 2013 5:07 PM

November 25, 2013

The New Normal -- 1930s Edition

[Photographer Lewis Hine (1874-1940)]'s glimpses of the future -- and those scenes he missed -- remind us to be skeptical of technological pessimism. As the historian and economist Joel Mokyr (Robert Gordon's colleague at Northwestern) has reminded us, the idea that we have picked the low-hanging fruit of technology calls for a counter-metaphor that bring to mind Hine's photo of the toolmaker's microscope: "Technology creates taller and taller ladders, and the higher-hanging fruits are within reach and may be just as juicy."
Amen. I am disturbed, less by the Krugmans and Brad DeLongs of the world, than Tyler Cowen and to some extent James Pethokoukis (to be fair to JimiP, I cannot Google up a good inculpatory quote).

The supporting concepts, like in the 1930s, are compelling: we do not have another low hanging economic nuke to compare with including African Americans, or women, or educating the intelligent but indigent. Fair enough.

But I do not see that VP Gore could not invent another thing as cool and productive as the Internet. Nanotech, asteroid mining, gene therapies? GMO crops? The increased productivity of using Facebook working in your Google-driven vehicle during your commute?

I think the world of Cowen. And, despite some partisan hackery, I must admit that Krugman and DeLong have their occasional insights. Yet it is difficult to disprove this theory without quantifying the future value of spontaneous order, which is tautologically impossible. I'd recommend David Deutsch's "The Beginning of Infinity" to open the vision. But Edward Tenner's AEI Piece, from which the opening quote was taken, shows how compelling were these same claims in The Great Depression, when the country was laying the technological foundation for a century of rapid expansion.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:40 PM | Comments (1)
But T. Greer thinks:

I am generally impressed with your ability to separate the AEI wheat from the AEI chaff. Never follow it b/c I know if anything good is written there then you will probably post it here.

Posted by: T. Greer at December 1, 2013 5:32 AM

November 22, 2013

'Papas, Don't Let Yer Babies Grow Up to be Princesses'

Lifted directly from a Slate article: This Awesome Ad, Set to the Beastie Boys, Is How to Get Girls to Become Engineers

This is a stupendously awesome commercial from a toy company called GoldieBlox, which has developed a set of interactive books and games to "disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers." The CEO, Debbie Sterling, studied engineering at Stanford, where she was dismayed by the lack of women in her program. (...) As the GoldieBlox website attests, only 11 percent of the world's engineers are female. Sterling wants to light girls' inventive spark early, supplementing the usual diet of glittery princess products with construction toys "from a female perspective."

I'll let readers know my daughters' reaction to it.

Posted by JohnGalt at 2:34 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:


Posted by: jk at November 23, 2013 2:16 PM

October 31, 2013

Google is Evil

For those who didn't already believe it, consider this: Google, Oracle Workers Enlisted for Obamacare 'Tech Surge'

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:52 PM | Comments (0)

July 29, 2013

Matt Ridley, Call your Office!

In his superb "The Rational Optimist" [Review Corner], Matt Ridley describes an optimistic and rational view of feeding the planet well and returning agricultural acres to wilderness. One might think the environmental crowd would be onboard. But, alas and alack, it uses technology.

Missouri farmers Blake and Julie Hurst take to the pages of AEI to have sport with a snooty locavorist column in The Smithsonian. The whole thing is great, but this section caught my eye:

We just bought a new planter here on our corn and soybean farm in Missouri. It will allow us to move a bit further toward adopting "precision farming." The planter communicates directly with global positioning satellites and will, using yield maps developed over several years, allow us to vary seed population rates over the field. We will plant more seeds in places where yields are typically high, and sow fewer seeds where yields have been lower. The machines that fertilize the farm will have access to the same information and satellites, allowing us to apply the optimal amount of nutrients precisely on each fractional acre in the field. We will be farming with a level of precision, economy, and individuality that has never before been possible. We will be spoon feeding our crops in a way that means each corn field might as well have been grown by, well, an artisan. We'll have that local knowledge that Wendell Berry so eloquently wrote about in the books and essays that were the founding documents of what is now the "food movement."

I cannot imagine any of my lefty pals enjoying that paragraph like I do. It encompasses capital, innovation and making life better. It describes truly sustainable agriculture Yet little of it would be popular in Boulder or on my Facebook feed.


What is "the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history" Hint: It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on.

Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1. Presenting one of the unsung wonders of modern life, the McDonald's McDouble cheeseburger.

Posted by John Kranz at 1:10 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2013

Project for Awesome

Segue machine, Engage! The previous post lamented that cheap money could not "create new technologies. It can't make older people younger."

Project for Awesome, originating in the Colorado Springs area as far as I can tell, shows us what can do - both of those.

P4A 2012 - SENS Foundation

[Wanted to embed but seems to be broken, or disabled.]

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:51 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2013

Driverless Cars

Fun discussing the privacy considerations of self-driving automobiles yesterday, but the tech side is better:

When self-driving cars reach the masses, thanks may be due to a 19-year-old high-school student from Romania who developed an artificial intelligence that slashes the cost of the technology. He took top prize -- a $75,000 scholarship -- Friday at an international science and engineering fair.

Self-driving cars are nothing new. Tech giant Google, for example, has been working on one since 2010. But Google's uses technology that was developed without thinking about cost, prize winner Ionut Budisteanu explained.

"The most expensive thing from the Google self-driving car is the high resolution 3-D radar, so I was thinking how I could remove it," he told NBC News.

His solution relies on processing webcam imagery with artificial intelligence technology to pick out the curbs, lane markers, and even soccer balls that roll onto the road. This is coupled with data from a low-resolution 3-D radar that recognizes "big" objects such as other cars, houses, and trees.

Now, I'm just a software guy, but would not optical solutions be less tolerant of weather conditions than radar? All the same, assessing my technical/engineering achievements when I was 19 and -- I think I'll give it to Ionut Budisteanu.

Hat-tip: @tylercowen

Posted by John Kranz at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2013

Happy New Year

When all else fails, go with storage. Here's a 5MB disk drive being loaded onto a plane, circa 1956.


Eagerly awaiting the trail of "I had one of those" comments. (But mine was 512K -- and it was twice that size!) Hat-tip: VA Viper

Posted by John Kranz at 9:56 AM | Comments (1)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

Okay, I'll byte. ("Oh gawd, not that joke...")

5 meg. I've got a nine-year-old PDA with a 4 GIG SD memory card. That's on the order of a thousand times the capacity of that behemoth. The difference? The 1956 IBM storage device could be taken on a plane (obviously, from the picture) without earning you a body-cavity search from the TSA.

("You just had to go there, Arnold, dincha?")

I remember my first computer, with its ginormous 40-Meg hard drive, and I wondered how I'd ever fill it. Now that 40-Meg is a third of the Windows operating system's footprint.

Think of this: the capacity of an audio CD is about 700 Meg. It would take over a hundred of those IBM storage units to hold the first disk of the "Berkeley Square's Greatest Hits" compilation. That's a sobering thought.

Here's another: the capacity of a DVD is about 4.5 Gig - a thousand times the capacity of that unit. If you stop at the video rental store on the way home from work, spend five minutes picking out a movie, and ten minutes driving the rest of the way home, your effective "download speed" is 300 Meg/minute (4.5 Gig/15 minutes) or 5 Meg/second. Until the advent of fast Internet connections, your computer couldn't compete with the video store.

And the times, they are a-changin'.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at January 7, 2013 4:45 PM

December 4, 2012

Storage Technology meets Shameless Self Promotion

Thankfully, both are ThreeSources categories.

The bulk of my growed-up professional career has been in data storage. Our company built products around Exabyte's 8mm tape drives. Your grandpa perhaps recorded movies on those tapes in his Sony Camcorder. I wrote brochures extolling the wonder of "tapes that fit in your shirt pocket." They replaced washing-machine-sized disks and the Kubrick-2001-style reels of 9-track tapes.

Ahh, storage nostalgia, I know many eyes are getting misty (we have a preponderance of storage folk 'round these parts). But improvements in storage quickly leave your backups worthless for any kind of long term access.

Today Runté, a professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, backs up to multiple devices and advises grad students to send a hard copy of every new chapter of their all-important theses to the most reliable of off-site backups: Mom.

Runté's experience points to the ultimate, inevitable problem with data storage: All interfaces and formats eventually die. Data storage consultant Tom Coughlin, founder of Coughlin Associates, calls it a fight against nature, saying, "the laws of thermodynamics are against you."

I just started a long procrastinated project to digitize a storage tub full of my old recordings. I want to put some of the best up as The JK Boxed Set. Has-been artists collect a lot of their old crap to release and I thought it time I get on it.

I am glad I am doing it, because I am encountering several missing formats and some that will certainly be tough in a few years. There were a few formats that I did not have, but most of that was raw tracks and I assumed I had the final mixes on something that I could read. Some formats are missing and some of the media is failing.

I know everybody wants a backup they can put their hand on, and I will toss this on an external hard disk, but barring a Mad Max Ayn Rand societal collapse, I think the answer is cloud storage. This will live on my hosting site, I could create a Gmail account, plus these live on YouTube and Vimeo. With the growth of data, a measly 10s of Gigs is not going to be anything anybody worries about., Right?

Posted by John Kranz at 6:02 PM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

Is there a downside to cheap, reliable terabyte scale data storage? Only insofar as government is involved. But these days, what isn't government involved in?

The FBI records the emails of nearly all US citizens, including members of congress, according to NSA whistleblower William Binney. In an interview with RT, he warned that the government can use this information against anyone.


RT: You say they sift through billions of e-mails. I wonder how do they prioritize? How do they filter it?

WB: I don’t think they are filtering it. They are just storing it. I think it’s just a matter of selecting when they want it. So, if they want to target you, they would take your attributes, go into that database and pull out all your data.


RT: What are they going to do with all of that? Ok, they are storing something. Why should anybody be concerned?
WB: If you ever get on the enemies list, like Petraeus did or… for whatever reason, than you can be drained into that surveillance.

Probably deserves its own post, but the tie-in was too ironic to pass up. Worth at least a brief click through.

Posted by: johngalt at December 5, 2012 2:58 PM
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

The Refugee is considering a business model that will make him the Bernie Madoff of Cloud storage. That is, create a website that advertises to backup your data for just $.05 per GB per month. Then, when the user backs up their data, every last byte goes straight into the ol' bit bucket. No backend storage whatsoever. Users can't find their data? They musta screwed something up. Then just as the Feds come sniffing around, sell all credit card numbers to the Russian mafia on the way to the airport.

Seriously, everyone assumes that Cloud hosters are both here forever and best-practice organizations. It's a matter of time before one of them blows up petabytes of data, never to be recovered.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at December 5, 2012 3:27 PM
But jk thinks:

Observation the one: You never know if your immigration, abortion, gun rights, or football post will draw comments on ThreeSources. But storage brings out the loquacious around here like $1 margarita night.

Observation the two: good point br. The accumulated wisdom of ten blogging years is subject to single point of failure from But an odd old guitar solo on a demo of mine from 1990, living on Vimeo, YouTube, and Lunarpages seems awfully stable -- especially compared to the single Sony minidisk in a Rubbermaid tub in the garage where it lived last week.

Observation the three: Dr. Yaron Brook and BB&T Hoss John Allison both assure that Bernie Madoff was miserable. A better model might be to charge customers and store it on free sites in the cloud. I pay you, you send it from one Gmail account to another...

Posted by: jk at December 5, 2012 3:50 PM

November 9, 2012

All Hail Ricardo!

I am beginning a new project of stunningly shameless self-promotion. Even by my standards, boy... I'm assembling a compilation of recordings from the past 30 years or so, some released and some not, creating The JK Boxed Set (not much happenin' now, click if you want).

I moved a huge tub of old tapes and discs of peculiar formats and the machines to play them. I have hours of ADAT (8 tracks on digital S-VHS), both 4 and 2-track Sony Minidiscs, my first album was released on vinyl, bla, bla, bla.

What I did NOT have was a plain old vanilla cassette deck. (No, there's no me on 8-Track that I am aware of...) I went to Amazon, thinking I'd need to spend $100 and have some bulky old piece of stereo hardware that I'd give away when my project was done.

I, instead, found this:

It showed up today, and yes you may say it lacks style. But for $15 it does just what I want, outputs to USB (and powers itself off the USB bus) and I can toss it in a drawer for the next cave-man emergency.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:06 PM | Comments (0)

August 7, 2012

We Are Now in "The Diamond Age"

You may have noted in a reading of my biography over there to the left that I am a fan and admirer of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. I mentioned the "NeoVictorians" (in your heart, you know they're right!) and another aspect of the book that expanded my mind was the notion of computer-controlled manufacture, molecule-by-molecule, of practically anything.

Well, this ain't that but it's close enough to be a complete game changer:

A Working Assault Rifle made With a 3-D Printer:

An amateur gunsmith, operating under the handle of "HaveBlue" (incidentally, "Have Blue" is the codename that was used for the prototype stealth fighter that became the Lockheed F-117), announced recently in online forums that he had successfully printed a serviceable .22 caliber pistol.

Despite predictions of disaster, the pistol worked. It successfully fired 200 rounds in testing.

HaveBlue then decided to push the limits of what was possible and use his printer to make an AR-15 rifle. To do this, he downloaded plans for an AR-15 receiver in the Solidworks file format from a site called After some small modifications to the design, he fed about $30 of ABS plastic feedstock into his late-model Stratasys printer. The result was a functional AR-15 rifle. Early testing shows that it works, although it still has some minor feed and extraction problems to be worked out.

(Note, it is not a sturmwehr, you dopes!)

Okay, this tech has already been around for a little while, but this brought it into focus for me; think about the possibilities. What is going to happen when you can print household appliances, kitchen knives, shovels, coffee cups , WHATEVER, at home for 10-50% of the cost of buying crap at the Big Box? Much less guns.

I want to print a lot of things. I suppose the tech will just get better and it'll be Stat Trek-lite soon.

That will be an economic game changer, and in a short time. I am sure someone in the Gummint will try and ban it to protect the rent-seekers, but you might as well try and ban lathes, saws and chisels.

What would you like to print?

Posted by Ellis Wyatt at 7:03 PM | Comments (4)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

"Computer: print - tea, Earl Grey, hot."

Kidding aside, there's one flaw here: according to the fine details, he fabricated a plastic lower receiver for an AR-15. That's not the whole weapon, not by a long shot, and includes no metal parts. He gets points for making a working part to excellent tolerances, but - NOT a complete worknig firearm.

That doesn't mean I'm averse to the technology; it may be the only way I'll ever have a Shelby Cobra or a midbulk transport. We're not there yet, but to quote someone greater than myself: faster, please.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at August 7, 2012 7:42 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

On the other hand, when it can be used to manufacture me a Mark VII Iron Man suit, call me.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at August 7, 2012 7:49 PM
But Ellis Wyatt thinks:

Behold: Metal!

Posted by: Ellis Wyatt at August 7, 2012 8:09 PM
But jk thinks:

My inner software guy wants to print money.

Not currency, but this technology will free a lot of smart people to make money selling designs without a lot of infrastructure. iPhone App guys of today will be selling guitar designs tomorrow.

And that gun is the calendar out of the dot matrix printer. Materials and resolution will explode.

But, yeah, I'm with Brother Keith. Print me a Breve Cappuccino, super dry -- and I will stock up on cartridges.

Posted by: jk at August 7, 2012 8:16 PM

August 5, 2012

Review Corner: Cloud Storage

TRAGEDY! I take my Kindle in my very small car because I know I will have to kill some time. I put it on the console knowing someday I am going to lean on it too hard and. Oh. Crap.

It is my negligence and I won't whine -- I might take one star off my review of the case, but c'est la guerre.

Got the new one (thanks, lovely bride!) and have to wonder at how painless it was to set it up. Get on Amazon, choose the books I want, and click "Send to device" and I am back to Justice Scalia's world in less than a minute.

Now I know Apple is moving to iCloud but it is not the default. When I have broken an iPod or had a computer crash, it is a huge all-day hassle to recover -- and some things are always lost. Again, iCloud might have brought Apple to this level, but Amazon built its hardware around its cloud, so this has always been available, and everything I have EVER bought from them is there to load onto any of my devices.

Five stars for the platform.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2012

He Built That.

Fifteen-year-old Jack Andraka took government nanotubes, cool stuff a great teacher had shared with him, and a few things that the US Postal Service delivered over some public bridges to create "a new, improved test for diagnosing pancreatic cancer that is 90% more accurate, 400 times more sensitive, and 26,000 times less expensive than existing methods."

See what happens when we all work together?

Hat-tip: Mark J. Perry's Carpe Diem blog.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:01 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Just think what a hellhole America would be without the US Mail!

Posted by: johngalt at July 20, 2012 4:21 PM

June 14, 2012

I am NOT a Geek!

It comes as quite a shock. I work as a software developer. I watch Buffy. My eyesight is bad.

But a Facebook friend is at some computer conference in Orlando and posts this:

No. That's just too far. I posted that I'd use the cupholder to hold USB drives and a laser pointer.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:09 PM | Comments (5)
But Bryan thinks:

I want one!

Posted by: Bryan at June 14, 2012 3:30 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Ditto. Baseball game on left screen, home designer software on middle and right screens, noise cancelling headphones on my head!

(On first reading I thought you wrote, "I'd use the CD drive as a cupholder...")

It could be improved, however. Motorized rotation about the Y-axis anyone?

Posted by: johngalt at June 14, 2012 3:47 PM
But jk thinks:


Posted by: jk at June 14, 2012 5:40 PM
But johngalt thinks:


Posted by: johngalt at June 15, 2012 12:05 PM
But dagny thinks:

You can't spell geek without a Double E.

Posted by: dagny at June 15, 2012 1:03 PM

June 5, 2012

Million Dollar Idea

And I will let you all in on the ground floor.

Insty links to this Popular Mechanics post

Where has all the darkness gone? Appliances, toys, and gadgets fill our nighttime hours with an ever-present glow. In this edition of "Don't Ask Glenn," PM Tech Editor Glenn Derene says it's time to turn off the extraneous illumination.

The chances that designers will listen to either Glenn is low. I think constant LEDs are here to stay.

I was thinking of buying LetraSet® ScreenTone to tone down LEDs in le condo d'Amour. That would allow you to see if it were on but not light the world like the 1000W Ellipsoidal Green LED on front of my TiVo.

Would people buy this? No. I want to sell it as an advertising specialty. Give away a sheet at a trade show with 20 little 3/4" self adhesive dots and room to print the company's logo and URL. You could provide different screen percentages or just expect people to use two on a harsh one.

Posted by John Kranz at 5:38 PM | Comments (3)
But Terri thinks:

I'm thinking more of another switch that says "turn off/on indicators".

Modem and router lights that blink, outlet strips that shine, even the breathing of the macbook pro.

I want to choose to have them off please without actually turning them off.

Posted by: Terri at June 6, 2012 8:43 AM
But jk thinks:

Dang Libertarians! Making perfect the enemy of the good again!

Well, yeah, but you are not going to redesign every piece of gear you buy. But you can put a sticker that blocks 50% of it, or two on a particularly offensive one.

Posted by: jk at June 6, 2012 9:43 AM
But johngalt thinks:

The last LED alarm clock I bought had a "bright/dim" switch. The dim setting was distracting to aircraft in the nearby DIA landing approach so I had to disassemble the darn thing and apply translucent red tape across the face of the amber (as I recall) display to attenuate it. It still wasn't enough so I applied a second layer of tape. Now I can sleep (and aircraft don't buzz the bungalow.)

Sounds like a winning idea to me, man.

Posted by: johngalt at June 6, 2012 2:57 PM

April 11, 2012

'Lectric Car Battery Explodes in Lab

Government General Motors researches new battery technology at its Alternative Energy Center in Warren, Michigan. They had a bit of an accident there last Wednesday.

Warren Mayor James Fouts described the injury to the hospitalized worker as being serious. Fouts was in his office when he received a call about the explosion.

"I just want to say how very fortunate we are that only one person was seriously injured," said Fouts, who toured the site after the fire was extinguished. "There were 80 people in that building, but only one person received a possible concussion and some chemical burns, from what I've been told."

According to Fouts, the building housing the research lab received considerable damage.

"It was significant structural damage. Three very large windows were blown out and thick, fortified doors were forced open by the blast," Fouts said. "Our fire commissioner said the blast went straight up in the area where they test lithium batteries. The building was stuffed with personnel and equipment, but it was designed very well."

Fouts said he noticed a chemical taste in his mouth when he was at the blast site.



Posted by JohnGalt at 3:08 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

Clearly, this shows the effectiveness of the powerful Oil and Gas lobby using its leverage to expunge bad press. Cinch up the foil a little above the ears -- you'll get it.

Posted by: jk at April 11, 2012 3:26 PM

March 15, 2012

David Deutsch, Call Your Office

Somebody asked why we rely on submerged cables for inter-continental communication. I'm thinking of a serious new WiFi! -- A group of scientists led by researchers from the University of Rochester and North Carolina State University have for the first time sent a message using a beam of neutrinos -- nearly massless particles that travel at almost the speed of light. The message was sent through 240 meters of stone and said simply, "Neutrino."

Hat-tip: Instapundit. Though why it did not warrant a "faster please" escapes me.

Posted by John Kranz at 1:23 PM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

"Watson, come in here."

Posted by: johngalt at March 15, 2012 2:37 PM
But jk thinks:


Posted by: jk at March 15, 2012 4:09 PM

February 16, 2012


Youngest kid to achieve nuclear fusion.

As the guide runs off to fetch the center's director--You gotta see this kid!--Kenneth feels the weight coming down on him again. What he doesn't understand just yet is that he will come to look back on these days as the uncomplicated ones, when his scary-smart son was into simple things, like rocket science.

This is before Taylor would transform the family's garage into a mysterious, glow-in-the-dark cache of rocks and metals and liquids with unimaginable powers. Before he would conceive, in a series of unlikely epiphanies, new ways to use neutrons to confront some of the biggest challenges of our time: cancer and nuclear terrorism. Before he would build a reactor that could hurl atoms together in a 500-million-degree plasma core--becoming, at 14, the youngest individual on Earth to achieve nuclear fusion.

Hat-tip: @ariarmstrong

David Deutsch, call your office!

Posted by John Kranz at 2:10 PM | Comments (5)
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

One can only hope to live long enough to see what this kid creates.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at February 17, 2012 12:09 AM
But jk thinks:

Hope he meets up with a good future lobbyist in Junior High who can get him funding and protection from regulators.

Posted by: jk at February 17, 2012 11:06 AM
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

Yeah... about those regulators...

Anyone else watch Gold Rush on Discovery? The Refugee is addicted to it like JK is to Buffy. Anyhow, during Season One no gub'mint inspectors, er, "helpers", showed up at all. In Season Two, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (M-shaw)"coincidentally" showed up at each of the mines on the show to do a safety audit (and of course shut 'em down for egregious violations.)

After this article, young Taylor can expect the NRC and about 50 other government agencies on his doorstep within two weeks. Once he gets to meet those guys, he will fully learn the meaning of "can't." (If you read the article, you'll get the reference.)

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at February 17, 2012 5:18 PM
But jk thinks:

I am NOT addicted to Buffy. I could quit anytime...

Posted by: jk at February 17, 2012 5:36 PM
But johngalt thinks:

"1. We admitted we were powerless over Buffy -- that our lives had become unmanageable."

Posted by: johngalt at February 20, 2012 5:39 PM

February 3, 2012

Ten Thousand Year Clock

Okay, get your geek on -- it's Engineer's Corner Time!

Everything I create has a useful life of 3-5 years, possibly living on in a fossilized state for ten years or at best revised to include recognizable elements. Let's say I ain't exactly Milton.

Some clever guys -- sick of this -- are creating a clock to last 10,000 years, which they suspect to be about the history of human engineering.

It sounds like science fiction, but this is the real vision for the 10 000-Year Clock, a monument-size mechanical clock designed to measure time for 10 millennia. Danny Hillis, an electrical engineer with three degrees from MIT who pioneered parallel supercomputers at Thinking Machines Corp., worked for Walt Disney Imagineering, and then cofounded the consultancy Applied Minds, dreamed up the project in 1995 to get people thinking more about the distant future. But the clock is no longer just a thought experiment. In a cluttered machine shop near a Starbucks in San Rafael, Calif., it's finally ticking to life.

Duracell product manager: "We just got an order from Jeff Bezos for six million AAAs!!!"

Posted by John Kranz at 11:50 AM | Comments (2)
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

What a country!

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at February 3, 2012 2:29 PM
But nanobrewer thinks:

Holy high-tech glockenspiel blogbrothers (and any lurking sisters): I've seen this, and had no idea what it was...

Posted by: nanobrewer at February 4, 2012 4:56 PM

January 13, 2012

Gordon Moore, call your office!

IBM has reduced -- from ~1,000,000 to 12 the number of atoms to store a bit of information on a disk.

Twelve. Atoms.

Six years ago, I was impressed by a 1GB USB drive -- what a dork! But I also referenced paper tape, which used a 1.83 mm hole in a 0.10 mm paper to store a bit. Being generous and ignoring the space around, drive requirements, and parity bit, I figure the punch to be 0.263 mm3.

How many atoms in that? A goddam lot more than 12. Well done, IBM-ers!

Posted by John Kranz at 4:09 PM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2011

Joyeaux Noel

NED bless America, girls in pink dresses, and free market capitalism. T-Mobile produces a flash mob production of a Robert Allen / Al Stillman favorite. Go fullscreen and crank it up.

Posted by JohnGalt at 1:38 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

Awesome. I liked it okay on TV (maybe I was distracted as my beloved donkeys were getting spanked) but I really enjoyed taking a second look here.

And yaay for the free market capitalism reference. I'll go one more if I may. In another fruitless Facebook discussion, I was extolling the virtues of division of labor -- not just for prosperity but for freedom. I don't want to farm or fish or hunt for my food and suspect I would be very very thin were I forced to.

I looked for the "how this came together" video, clicked the wrong one and watched Carly, her dresses and the dress designer, Debra LeClair. Ms. LeClair detailed the time she spent designing each dress, and Ms. Foulkes spoke to the selection process.

Hate to go all "Devil Wears Prada" on you, but thinking of the (well spent if you ask me) millions of dollars to put that pink dress on that young lady makes me appreciate an economy that creates creative jobs. Lotsa dress designers in North Korea? I'm guessin' not.

Posted by: jk at December 24, 2011 8:27 PM

November 29, 2011

Fire Re-Kindled?

I trust I'm not the first to use the fire kindling analogy. If I were better read on the subject I'd probably already know it's part of the naming strategy. But knowing far less about e-readers than, well, just about anybody, I'm quite interested to know if br'er JK's jilted love has been requited.

To accompany the time that has lapsed since his misunderstanding with the device I'll add this head-to-head techie review of Kindle Fire vs. iPad. Fire leads in reader polling almost two to one, but the Pauliacs probably haven't weighed in yet.

Posted by JohnGalt at 2:43 PM | Comments (4)
But jk thinks:

Consider it a good romance novel. The meet-cute went poorly, but the super-hunky guy (umm, that would be me) comes around in the end. And they all live happily ever after.

I like the Fire and mine is working perfectly. A backlit reader is cool to have at night, the browser is much better than the phone to check ThreeSources real quick. The hardware is elegant with a super nice screen. In comparison to an iPad, I’d certainly go with the Fire.

If I have reservations, it is the function of a tablet. At the end of the day, it browses less coolly than a laptop, shows movies less comfortably than a TV, is larger for music than an iPod, and compares poorly to a regular Kindle as an eReader. The Fire does all of them well enough for one small device and I am quite glad I bought it. But if I had to give up a gadget, it would be first out the door because everything it does, I have something that does it better.

Posted by: jk at November 29, 2011 4:05 PM
But jk thinks:

Reading the full head-to-head, I'd say they nail it. The lovely bride has an iPad, and the Apple advocate is correct that it is "closer" in productivity to a laptop. If that's on your list, I can sure see the iPad, catching up on work in a hotel room. But the Fire fits (clunckily )in a jacket or big cargo pants pocket.

Can we end with a call for the dirty hippies to shut up about the evils of profit? Apple and Amazon created a range from a $79 Kindle (if you're really shopping for an eReader, that may be the one you want) to a 64GB iPad tablet with 3G. Each of us can grab the one he or she wants (or, if married to me, a few...)

Posted by: jk at November 29, 2011 5:11 PM
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

Count The Refugee as stickin' with the iPad. Apps for about everything. Works, looks and behaves great.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at November 29, 2011 5:14 PM
But jk thinks:

Can the tenuous bonds of ThreeSources possibly survive yet another internecine combat? Knuckledragger!

Posted by: jk at November 29, 2011 5:35 PM

November 22, 2011

Meanwhile, in Buffy News

Geeks at HTC have code-named the new "Facebook Phone" Buffy.

After years of considering how to best get into the phone business, Facebook has tapped Taiwanese cellphone maker HTC to build a smartphone that has the social network integrated at the core of its being.

Code-named "Buffy," after the television vampire slayer, the phone is planned to run on a modified version of Android that Facebook has tweaked heavily to deeply integrate its services, as well as to support HTML5 as a platform for applications, according to sources familiar with the project.

My HTC Windows Phone seems far more integrated to Facebook than to Windows. Maybe this one will have "Farmville."

Posted by John Kranz at 8:39 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2011

Kindle Fire® Sucks! [See UPDATE]

Fire® bad!

I have become old or jaundiced or something and no longer tend to get wild with excitement over new technology. But...I was pretty pumped for my Kindle Fire. The lovely bride and I pre-ordered and our fifth & sixth Kindles showed up yesterday. (Step one is admitting a problem...)

The hardware seems cool and -- to be fair -- when the glitches are resolved, I might find love. Yet this is not a petulant rant, this baby has serious defects. All the Fire really does is deliver content from the Internet, and mine won't connect. This makes them two very lovely, well thought out, expensive bricks with bright screens. One of them connects sporadically but rarely, the other is a DHCP virgin.

Nobody understands bad software more than me -- I've written my share of it. But, whiskey tango foxtrot, Amazon, this is an epic fail and I understand from the forums it is not limited to le condo d'amour. I am more concerned that a) it fails silently, collecting your information then just sitting there, not displaying whether it is connected or not or whether there is a problem; and, b) the stupidity of including the owners manual -- it is an eReader -- but not letting you read it until you have registered. I suspect the manual will be read by 0.0004% of the readers after they have connected and registered, but as high as 4% before.

I've no doubt it will get fixed. But I have spent hours on it and developed a dislike. I imagine the lovely bride will keep hers but mine will be going back.

The regular Kindles, however, remain very cool.

UPDATE: A little petulant, perhaps. The trouble was on my end (exceeded the number of DHCP devices I had defined). Lack of feedback and bassackwards access to manual are still lame. But the picture is beguiling...I'll likely be won back.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:36 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

CDNet compares Fire side-by-side with iPad. Fire leads reader poll, 2:1.

Posted by: johngalt at November 29, 2011 12:14 AM

October 26, 2011

Wrong -- Netflix is indeed doomed

Holman Jenkins, whom I admire greatly, spends a little of Rupert's ink money today declaring that Netflix Isn't Doomed. No, that 70% drop in Market Cap is just a blip, and the offerings that people want are not on the way:

Forget about it. That world isn't coming. The hidden lesson of Netflix's fall from grace is that content markets will remain fragmented. In the future, you'll still need a search engine and a credit card, and you still won't find what you're looking for. In such a world, there's no reason Netflix can't survive and prosper with a streaming proposition that amounts to "all the content that $8 per month will get you."

In such a world, it will become clear that Netflix's great innovation was not the discovery that there's a market for streamed content (which surprised nobody). Netflix's great innovation was a price point--a bunch of choices for less than the price of a movie ticket. One strength of this business model is that others with TV ambitions (Apple, Amazon, Google, HBO, the cablers) won't feel a need to challenge it directly. They'll do better to make their own niches and charge a price that rewards them for being different.

It pains me to admit my disloyalty in a public forum, but Jenkins is wrong. They might limp along at 30% of market cap, but this soon-to-be-former customer suggests that the business model is broken.

I have scaled down my plans in the face of their price increases. I had 3-DVDs at a time for about $18. They included unlimited streaming. I was like Scrooge McDuck, wallowing in entertainment. Never enough time to watch all the great stuff lying around. The first increase sent me from three at a time to two. No big. The current increase that cheesed everybody caused a drop to one. Now, about the same price as I was paying is buying me much less. Not the price curve I expect in this sector.

Amazon offers a similar unlimited streaming for free with a Prime® membership, which includes free shipping. And that $16 bucks would rent me four movies a month or buy me one. Who is ascendant? Who has purchasing power?

Netflix built a loyal customer base of cheapskates on incredible value. I used to marvel at the great deal. Jenkins is correct that they still offer a good value. But good is down from great and they now face competition both for customers and suppliers. Their monopoly and monopsony powers are disappearing. That is not always surmountable.


Posted by John Kranz at 4:55 PM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2011

Nowhere to go but up!

I have talked up on a couple of occasions.

It has a clunky GUI and fails at its main mission of being the social media site for booklovers. But, as a personal or sharable database of books, it is extremely useful. This eBook reader and condo dweller finds a virtual bookshelf a superb solution.

For my whining, it appears that I am perhaps, not holding up my end of the bargain:

Posted by John Kranz at 6:54 PM | Comments (0)

September 2, 2011

Verbum Diem

Or did I mean "Soup du Jour?" I really should have paid more attention in school.

The motto for Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin private spacecraft project is "Gradatim Ferociter" (step by step with ferocity): working, or making progress, patiently by frequent and small steps ALL with a steely determination.

I'm thinking that liberty lovers could find a lesson in there.

Thanks for translation help. Glad those guys were paying attention.

UPDATE: A good friend emails: "How many Romans????"

Posted by John Kranz at 6:13 PM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

Always love the Latin stuff. Gradatim ferociter is also a good description of life on a farm, but for a TEA Party or Liberty Movement motto I prefer the well known Patrick Henry translation,

Tribuo mihi licentia vel tribuo mihi nex.

But we can still pursue that motto with a gradatim ferociter strategy. A hockey defenseman knows he's more likely to succeed by staying on his feet and battling the puck handler all the way to the net than by diving for a miracle poke-check, and possibly missing. For our posterity, gradatim ferociter.

Posted by: johngalt at September 5, 2011 1:33 PM
But jk thinks:

Hmmm. Did I mention I was not paying attention?

Your phrase stumps me and three web-based translators. How many Romans????

Posted by: jk at September 6, 2011 11:22 AM
But johngalt thinks:

I didn't take the time to reverse translate. Here's a slightly better formulation:

Adfero mihi libertas, vel adfero mihi nex.
Posted by: johngalt at September 6, 2011 2:45 PM

August 30, 2011

Ninety-Nine Buck Kindle

Buy it through Glenn (He might be buying a private island thanks to my guitar purchase.)

Posted by John Kranz at 4:13 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2011

Virginia Postrel Call Your Office

Gettin' better all the time! Is the Internet worth a million dollars? It is if you won't give it up for that. And I know I would not.

Awesome -- Hat-tip: John Stossel, who points out that record heat isn't causing the suffering it once was as most people have access to air conditioning.

Posted by John Kranz at 2:36 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2011


I can appreciate appreciation of corporeal books and happy associations with sight, smell, touch, sound, and perhaps taste for tomes such as "Pat the Bunny."

Sara Barbour pens another entry into the "real books are so swell" corpus. Like most, she makes some good points. But she gives herself away with a little honest Ludditism:

I've never used a Kindle. I've seen them in an over-the-shoulder sort of way -- the sleek tablet design, the portraits of Mark Twain and Virginia Woolf that materialize on the screen like the work of a divinely inspired Etch A Sketch. Part of the reason I'm wary of picking one up is that I don't want to experience the inevitable lure, the wavering that might begin as I imagine myself pulling a Kindle out of my significantly lighter bag on the airplane, or in a coffee shop. Like the dieter who drives the long route home to avoid passing the Dairy Queen, I just don't want to be tempted.

I suggest honest asceticism requires a bit more appreciation of the choices you're making than this.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

May 9, 2011

Moore's Law Extended

Michael Malone sees Intel's anouncement of tri-gate transistors as an extension of Moore's Law. And, as long as it holds, the Paul Erlichs of the world will always be losing their bets.

But the great lesson of Moore's Law is not just that we can find a way to continuously better our lives -- but that human ingenuity knows no bounds, nor can ever really be stopped. You probably haven't noticed over the last decade the occasional brief scientific article about some lab at a university, or at IBM, Intel, or HP, coming up with a new way to produce a transistor or electronic gate out of just two or three atoms. Those stories are about saving Moore's Law for yet another generation. But that's the next chapter. Right here and now, the folks at Intel were almost giddy in announcing that what had been one of those little stories a decade ago -- tri-gate transistors -- would now be the technology in all new Intel chips.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:57 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2011

Three Cheers for Watson

For a bunch of philosophical geeks, we sure gave short shrift (interesting digression on what the hell a shrift is and how long it should be) to a rather important milestone, namely a computer's kicking men's assess in their own game of Jeopardy. (Duuh, duh duh, d-d-duh duh duhnt...)

U Cal Berkeley Philosophy Professor John Searle has a guest editorial today in the WSJ, that claims no big. I'll credit his observation that Watson doesn't "know" he's won. And I'll avoid the Kurzweilian rush that we have seen the singularity. I'll nod to Brother AlexC's Facebook allusions to "SkyNet."

But at the end we saw a fantastic display of technology that holds incredible promise. I'll even accept a little Ludditism from the concerned wing. It is not the end of the world but it is a big deal.

I worked four years on a startup that dreamed of being Watson someday. We selected cutting edge AI and Natural Language Processing technologies from research organizations. The hope was to combine them into a useable and saleable toolkit to perform training and tech support. Even an incredibly stupid Watson, limited to a certain domain of material, with a good portion of the questions and answers available ahead of time was a huge challenge.

We ran out of investor patience just as we were starting to exploit synergies between different approaches. I don't have a ton of regrets in life, but I wish we would have had another year to play -- the system was just assembled as we closed shop.

Searle provides a philosophy professor's analogy.

Imagine that a personme, for exampleknows no Chinese and is locked in a room with boxes full of Chinese symbols and an instruction book written in English for manipulating the symbols. Unknown to me, the boxes are called "the database" and the instruction book is called "the program." I am called "the computer."

People outside the room pass in bunches of Chinese symbols that, unknown to me, are questions. I look up in the instruction book what I am supposed to do and I give back answers in Chinese symbols.

Suppose I get so good at shuffling the symbols and passing out the answers that my answers are indistinguishable from a native Chinese speaker's. I give every indication of understanding the language despite the fact that I actually don't understand a word of Chinese.

I think he badly misses the mark here. Watson provided answers that were not in "the database" and missed some that were. A pretty famous clip reveals that the programmers were often surprised.

Chess skills capitalize on the machine's ability to play out billions of scenarios and statistically score them. Impressive, but not Jeopardy.

Moore's Law has come back into currency, and reporters are dutifully noting that the massive server farm that was Watson will be small and cheap in the future. With the rush to the cloud, I think people are overestimating the time it will take by looking at 1990s mantissas.

I don't know that it's SkyNet, but it could well be the next Internet. The scene of an experienced Nurse or medical technician with a Watson-House-Doctor at her side is intriguing and game changing. Place that pattern across multiple industries and Misters Huxley and Shakespeare, our "Brave New World" is here.

UPDATE: Human contestant Ken Jennings has an interesting piece in Slate (HT: Jonathan Last) about the match:

In the final round, I made up ground against Watson by finding the first "Daily Double" clue, and all three of us began furiously hunting for the second one, which we knew was my only hope for catching Watson. (Daily Doubles aren't distributed randomly across the board; as Watson well knows, they're more likely to be in some places than others.) By process of elimination, I became convinced it was hiding in the "Legal E's" category, and, given a 50-50 chance between two clues, chose the $1200 one. No dice. Watson took control of the board and chose "Legal E's" for $1600. There was the Daily Double. Game over for humanity.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:35 AM | Comments (2)
But AlexC thinks:

My allusions to SkyNet on Facebook were 98% tongue in cheek, but it doesn't take a Comp Sci PhD to admit that it would not need a "sentient" computer to unleash unstoppable autonomous digital assassins on the world.

Just a human mind and a willingness to give it directions and push the green button marked "go."

I couch that in hyperbole, of course, and perhaps over thinking it, but we're approaching a time where regular human tools of diplomacy and "human" reason might not be enough to stop a real problem.

All of our prior tools of war have always been human controlled. Whether it's an army marching across Europe, ships in the Pacific, a nuclear arsenal pointing at the bad guy or even drones flying in circles around the desert. Men have always had to say "do" before the wrath was unleashed.

See also: "Colossus: The Forbin Project", "Dr Strangelove", "Wargames" and "The Three Laws of Robotics" and probably the Matrix series.

... and no, I'm not a luddite. Just a computer nerd who has written buggy code I'm embarrassed of. :)

Posted by: AlexC at February 24, 2011 12:02 PM
But jk thinks:

Actually, I was giving you props for being the first to reference it.

Think of how many bugs are certainly there in Watson's code -- eeeeyikes!

Posted by: jk at February 24, 2011 1:01 PM

February 16, 2011

You Know You Want One!

Conversion kits and complete units for sale.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:20 AM | Comments (2)
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

Somewhere in America there is a newspaper inquiring about quantity discounts.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at February 16, 2011 12:58 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks: has enough left after buying HuffPo that they can afford six of them. They will be distributed on the basis of seniority.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at February 16, 2011 2:08 PM

February 7, 2011

This Story Never Gets Old

That is, to journalists, this story never gets old. "Oh, our BlackBerrys and Laptops mean that we never leave work and why can't it be 1802 again?"

In "Who's the Boss, You or Your Gadget?" the NYTimes opens the story with three great examples of people using technology to be able to participate in important personal activities without missing important work activities. You'd think Andy Riley-Grant, Karen Riley-Grant and their fetching baby daughter Margot would be thrilled to be connected to the grid. As soon as they are voted the "Stuff White People Like Family of the Year" they will be able to immediately update their Facebook status. And yet, it seems there is some discontent in Arugulaville:

But all of this amped-up productivity comes with a growing sense of unease. Too often, people find themselves with little time to concentrate and reflect on their work. Or to be truly present with their friends and family.

There's a palpable sense "that home has invaded work and work has invaded home and the boundary is likely never to be restored," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. "The new gadgetry," he adds, "has really put this issue into much clearer focus."

Palpable, huh. That sounds bad.

People now have choices. That's good. Some people will make bad choices, that's too bad. But these constant cries to go back to the caves annoy me to no end. I just went from a touchscreen almost-a-smartphone to a Windows 7 HTC-Surround (sorry, AlexC!) Working from home, I love being able to go somewhere and know that I can be found if needed. That lets me go (like the first four paragraphs), more than it ties me down (the rest of the article).

Hat-tip: Instapundit

Posted by John Kranz at 3:54 PM | Comments (2)
But Terri thinks:

I'll second that. And frankly I'm constantly making the choice. Yes, I want to/need to slip out of the home office and yes I still want to be connected or no, I need to concentrate on what I'm doing.
The choice allows the freedom. If you're going to become a crackberry addict that's your problem, not mine.

Posted by: Terri at February 7, 2011 4:39 PM
But Boulder Refugee thinks:

He seems to make these poor, woebegone workers into victims. Hit the damn off switch, idiots.

Posted by: Boulder Refugee at February 8, 2011 12:05 PM

February 1, 2011

Rearden Metal

Don't tell me you haven't thought it.

UPDATE: UPDATE: Several readers suggest the name "Rearden Metal."

(Several Instapundit readers spell better than me -- title corrected from "Reardon.")

Posted by John Kranz at 2:04 PM | Comments (4)
But AlexC thinks:


Let's make bracelets out of it.

Posted by: AlexC at February 1, 2011 2:35 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

I'm going to double down and comment on BOTH of your posts - this one and the one on the Volt review.

Build me a car made out of Reardon Metal, and powered by an all-electric motor that I recharge from a clean, safe, nuclear reactor. That reactor can be in my backyard, or if it's more convenient, onboard.

THEN ask K.C. Hernandez that question again.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at February 1, 2011 2:58 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Outrageous! It will endanger the public! It will put other steel companies out of business! It must be STOPPED!!!

[Anyone illiterate enough so as not to recognize this as sarcasm, coming from a commenter named 'JohnGalt,' is already running around slandering the stuff anyway.]

Posted by: johngalt at February 1, 2011 3:30 PM
But jk thinks:

I'm thinkin' about four-and-three-quarters, Brother Keith, but I wish you the best of luck.

Posted by: jk at February 1, 2011 6:40 PM

December 11, 2010

Google Catches Up to jk

No, not in market capitalization -- they passed by many magnitudes long ago.

But as a netbook aficionado, I have been interested in the Google Chrome Operating System. The Chrome browser is lightning fast, even on my underpowered Acer Aspire (it aspires to be a real computer someday!)

It's a return to the Scott McNealy-Larry Ellison idea of putting all the power on the network. Bill Gates won that war in the 90s because there was no network. Now even Windows commercials are touting The Cloud.

I'm just an interested observer -- we lost a lot of good men in the OS wars and I'm not prepared to go back. But one feature of the new built-for-Chrome laptops makes me want to cheer. NO CAPS LOCK KEY!! I MEAN REALLY!!! IT IS SOOOOOO STUPID, WHY DIDN'T THEY REMOVE THIS USELESS APPENDAGE YEARS AGO?????

My first act after bringing up a new computer is to pop off the Caps Lock and Insert keys. I used to remove more but I have learned to live with all the rest.


Good for Google, daring to rethink the legacy of the manual typewriter.

Posted by John Kranz at 12:31 PM | Comments (2)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

My gosh, jk, the horror! What blasphemy will you dare next? Sacrificing the Pause/Break key? The Scroll Lock? Have you no respect for history?

Posted by: Keith Arnold at December 11, 2010 3:18 PM
But jk thinks:

I must fess up. I have a KVM to switch between my development machine and test server. It uses the scroll lock to change: Scroll-Scroll-UpArrow. So, no, I'm usin' that.

Posted by: jk at December 12, 2010 11:28 AM

November 22, 2010

The Saddest -- and Truest -- Thing You'll Read All Day

Bill Gates, may God's mercy shine always upon the holy prophet, was pretty famous for not spending a lot of dough on lobbying. I paraphrase but "Let them run their business and I'll run mine" is pretty close to an actual quote. Then he met a fellow named Joel Klein who worked for a fellow named Clinton...

Both men are wiser now. Klein has stood up courageously to the Teachers' Unions in a bid to free NYC schools from their evil aegis. Sadly, Gates and his successors learned their lesson as well. Nobody escapes Washington for long. All of Silicon Valley has lawyered up and lobbied out. Adam Thierer at CATO is rightfully disappointed:

I don't know if it would make him smile or grimace, but someone should give T. J. Rodgers a prize for his predictive powers. Back in 2000, Rodgers, the president and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, penned a prescient manifesto for the Cato Institute with a provocative title: "Why Silicon Valley Should Not Normalize Relations with Washington, D.C."

"The political scene in Washington is antithetical to the core values that drive our success in the international marketplace and risks converting entrepreneurs into statist businessmen," he warned. "The collectivist notion that drives policymaking in Washington is the irrevocable enemy of high-technology capitalism and the wealth creation process."

Alas, no one listened. Indeed, Rodgers's dystopian vision of a highly politicized digital future has taken just a decade to become reality. The high-tech policy scene within the Beltway has become a cesspool of backstabbing politics, hypocritical policy positions, shameful PR tactics, and bloated lobbying budgets.

Perhaps we shouldn't find it surprising that so many players in the tech policy arena now look to throw each other under the Big Government bus to gain marketplace advantages.

After all, that's the story of many other industries that got under the covers with Washington. But the sheer rapidity with which this sorry state of affairs has unfolded in the tech policy world is shocking, even to the most jaded among us.

Hat-tip: Insty, who suggests you read the whole thing. I'm going to demand it and there will be a quiz in our next session. It's everything that is wrong: our most innovative companies find a better return on legislative investments than R&D.

Posted by John Kranz at 11:06 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

It seems that Moore's Law applies to federal regulatory lobbying just as effectively as it does to CPU speed.

Wesley Mouch, call your office.

Posted by: johngalt at November 22, 2010 2:47 PM

November 15, 2010

The Three Worst Words in Computing

1990: Abort, Retry Fail? 2000: Blue Screen Death 2010: Java Update Available
Posted by John Kranz at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

November 8, 2010


Somewhere in some computer migration, I mislaid the files to Renee Olstead's brilliant sophomore album, Skylark.

I was afraid I had bought it on iTunes, but no -- I purchased if from AmazonMP3. So, I go to my library and download another copy of DRM-free MP3s that play anywhere.

They lack the selection of el Diablo del Cupertino, but it is worth checking there first. (BTW, The Renee Olstead album gets five stars)

Posted by John Kranz at 7:02 PM | Comments (0)

November 6, 2010

Error Message of the Year

YouTube stumbles a bit on the last edition of the Halloween Medley, yet who could complain?


Posted by John Kranz at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2010

Another Boulder Power Boondoggle

Perhaps you've heard about the "green" power initiative called "smart grid." According to Wikipedia, "A smart grid, is, in essence, an attempt to require consumers to change their behavior around variable electric rates or to pay vastly increased rates for the privilege of reliable electrical service during high-demand conditions." Well, who in their right mind wouldn't want THAT in their home?!

As it is often eager to do, the city of Boulder, Colorado wanted to be a pioneer in transforming the smart grid into reality so they colluded with utility company Xcel Energy to wire up 23,000 homes at a projected cost in the neighborhood of $20 million. Now that the experiment is over and the final price was $45 million Xcel says, "We would not do that again over the whole service area," But in bailing out on the added cost Boulder says, "There is not a clear consensus among the members of the Boulder City Council with regard to the value of SmartGridCity in its present state or the prudence of this investment."

What? Boulder City Council considering the "prudence" of "investing" residents' money based upon "value?" Pinch me!

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:20 PM | Comments (3)
But Keith Arnold thinks:

I've spotted the fallacy in your text. You have the phrase "... who in their right mind..." in a discussion of Boulder politics. That's like saying "... what thinking voter..." in a discussion of California politics. Sort of a sociological division by zero; logic fails, the fabric of the universe is rent asunder, Cthulhu awakens, and in the end, chaos.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at August 24, 2010 4:07 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Not exactly a fallacy, merely sarcasm. For anyone who jumps up and says, "OOOh, pick me, pick me" to have his behavior dictated by the capricious pricing schemes of do-gooder utility bureaucrats (who couldn't explain a BTU with both hands) is most certainly not in his right mind.

Posted by: johngalt at August 25, 2010 3:02 PM
But jk thinks:

I'm just glad I saw "couldn't explain a BTU with both hands" before I drank my coffee, Five stars for that'n.

Posted by: jk at August 25, 2010 3:13 PM

August 20, 2010

Media: Getting it right, every time.

The Tragic Death of Practically Everyting.

Hat-tip: Jonathan V Last

Posted by John Kranz at 7:15 AM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2010

This Freedom Thing Might Catch On

We love our phones like we love our cars. The Washington Examiner's Mark Tapscott connects the dots.

I can pick up a prescription at the CVS drive-through, visit a sick friend in the hospital, attend church, escort our family's two Labs, Abby and Okie, on a walk around the lake, take in a local strawberry festival, drive over to Summit Point Motorsports Park for a regional road race, and so on and so on.

See the connection? We love our mobile phones and our cars because they enable us to do so much more. That's why we can't get enough of them, making and improving them creates jobs for thousands of people and economic opportunities for millions, the world is made smaller through them, and our lives are richer and more rewarding because of them.

But some folks want to limit or even take away our mobility and convenience. Advocates of "net neutrality" and mass transit, for instance, share an obsession with using government power to force the rest of us to accept less mobility and convenience

Besides budgets and ridership stats, the car is symbolic of American individuality. Call me a Nascar Retard but Europeans just seem to belong on trains. Tolstoy has trains; Kerouac and Pirsig have motorcycles.

Quick Review Corner: Dig up John Stossel's show on transportation on Hulu if you don't get FOXBiz. Great from coast to coast, but the coolest is a Hayekian riff on traffic signals: a small town in the UJ spends £850,000 on a computerized control system. Then they notice traffic moves better during power outages. They turn the damn thing off and traffic improves. People just figure out when to go.

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

June 21, 2010

eReader Price War

Inter'stin. WSJ:

Barnes & Noble Inc. cut the price of its Nook e-reader to $199 on Monday. Hours later, Inc. responded by slashing the price of its standard Kindle e-reader to $189. Both models had been $259.

Barnes & Noble also unveiled a new Wi-Fi-only model of the Nook, lacking a connection to cellular networks, that costs $149. All three moves show that competition over electronic-book readers is turning to a new battlefront: price.

I have not seen the Nook yet but I tell every new entrant to check it out. I have a Kindle and a SONY eReader. I like them both as the Kindle accesses Amazon's considerable book offerings and connects directly to the store through their Whispernet™ wireless.

The SONY is slick hardware and provides access to Google Books: tons of free public domain content.

The Nook displays Google Books and connects to the Barnes & Noble catalog. It is sadly the largest of the three but we're talking ounces and fractions of inches. A WiFi one for $149 sounds pretty tempting. Less cool in an airport, but for most people a good deal.

Posted by John Kranz at 3:46 PM | Comments (0)

Today's ThreeSources Storage News

David Ricardo, call your office.

A few of us are vets or current participants in the computer storage industry. Sorry to bore the rest, but Amazon has a sale today on a 1.5 TG disk drive: $75.99. A hair under a nickel a megabyte.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:31 AM | Comments (6)
But AlexC thinks:

I distinctly recall being the first in HS to get a 386DX40. WIth 20 MB ram and a 120mb hard drive.

"Wow, you'll never fill that!"

Posted by: AlexC at June 21, 2010 1:34 PM
But Perry Eidelbus thinks:

Ah yes, and in the summer of 1995, $300 for a 1-gig drive was a great price.

What command do you type to turn a 386 into a 286?


Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at June 21, 2010 1:53 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

"My god, it's full of data..."

My first: a 386SX-16, maxxed out with 4MB (that's not a typo, and I paid extra to get all the way up to 4MB) and a 40MB hard drive - running a copy of SuperStor that had shipped with DR-DOS 6.0, giving me a whopping 80MB to play with.

My reaction mirrored Alex', right up to the day I loaded Borland Quattro Pro and Borland Paradox from diskettes. Installing Quattro Pro went fine, but I ran out of hard drive space about halfway through the Paradox diskettes.

Posted by: Keith Arnold at June 21, 2010 2:01 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Not bad, not bad. But an Exabyte still costs, $33,333 at that rate. Still some room for improvement. :)

Posted by: johngalt at June 21, 2010 2:54 PM
But jk thinks:

Nothing like a tech post to turn ThreeSources into the Four Yorkshiremen "When I was a lad, we did data processing with a stick." "We dreamed of having a stick..."

My turn and this is all Gospel truth: My high school had a teletype with an acoustic 300 baud modem. We called into the DEC PDP-8 at the Colorado School of Mines, stuffed the phone into the modem cradle, and logged on. I stored my programs on paper tape.

But you tell kids today...

Posted by: jk at June 21, 2010 3:11 PM
But Keith Arnold thinks:

"You had ones and zeroes? Ha - count yourself lucky; when I started, the zero hadn't been invented yet, and we had to improvise..."

I think it was Penn Jillette who said "all I ask for is a tower case the size of a Datsun pickup truck, a hard drive big enough to stuff a small poodle into, and one of those big 19" monitors that, when you stay up late at night, you can see all the way into the Twilight Zone with." Of course, we can watch that show and his on Hulu now. Whoda thunk it?

Posted by: Keith Arnold at June 21, 2010 3:52 PM

May 24, 2010

Caveat Browsor

L Gordon Crovitz gets it. This is important because -- dearly as I love the WSJ Ed Page for Philosophy, Policy and Style -- they can be a bit Grandpa Simpsony on technology.

But Crovitz nails the Facebook-privacy imbroglio today:

The latest push to regulate the Internet wants to save people from what they say about themselves on social media sites. But with Facebook approaching 500 million users, the people have spoken. Whatever our views about privacy used to be, social media sites have radically changed our expectations.

Privacy advocates this month filed a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission, but would-be regulators need to recognize something unusual about privacy expectations on social media sites: The entire reason to use these sites is to trade privacy for other benefits.

It's a constant push against the rounded-scissors brigades, but I always try. You can look at Facebook for 40 seconds and accurately surmise the level of privacy it offers. If you don't want it, don't sign up. When a friend invites to compete in an IQ test and the first page asks for your cell phone number, consider yourself Passed if you clicked "No Thanks."

I know a couple of grownups and a few minors who operate under a nom-de-fasbooke, several who will not touch it. It's all a fair trade, nobody's forcing you. And I'll concede that founder Mark Zuckerberg does not come off as the most wholesome cat who ever started a dot-com. But, let's not regulate it -- it is voluntary.

I'll repeat that, skeptical at first, I've come to like it a lot. It's the USA Today of your friends: a mile wide and an inch deep. Yet it is a way to keep up with a lot of people at your own level of intimacy and time. I'd as soon they did not blast my email address or cell phone number across the Internet, but there is nothing vitally private of mine up there.

Posted by John Kranz at 1:12 PM | Comments (1)
But Terri thinks:


Posted by: Terri at May 24, 2010 4:27 PM

May 23, 2010

Miserable F-ing Lead-Free Solder!

Some years ago I wrote at some length about an EU regulation that was infecting the electronics industry worldwide, causing higher costs, greater ecological damage and more importantly, less reliable electronics.

Fast forward to last Friday, where my blogging from a Colorado political event was hamstrung by battery charging difficulties. (I did have an extra battery, I just couldn't charge either of them!) We've been struggling with the charging plug on this laptop for months if not years. This morning I finally concluded that the issue was inside the computer and not the charging adapter. I removed about a million dinky screws and opened roughly half a million teensy snaps to gain access to the main board. The solder joints on the charging socket did appear suspect. Under magnified inspection I deduced that repeated mechanical flexing stress had cold-worked the terminals where they passed through the solder barrels in the PCB. The solder, with the tell-tale dull satin finish of lead-free, had opened up into little funnel shapes around each of the 5 pins on the connector. The electrical connections were reliant upon faith and good fortune (and you probably know how much of both we have around here.) I reflowed all 5 connections with good old tin-lead solder (like our grandpappys used to use) and put the well used laptop back into service.

I can't help but wonder how many fewer electronic devices would be clogging our landfills if this idiotic enviro-nonsense had not been foisted upon mankind in the name of keeping hazardous materials out of landfills.

Posted by JohnGalt at 5:00 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

Heh. I think every laptop I've tossed has been that socket breaking or disconnecting. My soldering skills are limited to patch cords and the occasional tube socket. PC boards are replacement parts to this cowboy,

Posted by: jk at May 23, 2010 5:54 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Exactly right. Only the most fortunate laptops end up in the homes of electrical engineers with NASA soldering training. (I guess one might call them the Dalai Lama laptops. Reincarnation anyone?)

Posted by: johngalt at May 23, 2010 6:15 PM
But johngalt thinks:

And I also sought to take some of the heat off of you for your nautical language, though I couldn't bring myself to type the complete f-word.

Posted by: johngalt at May 24, 2010 8:15 PM

March 28, 2010

I Think the 21st Century is Here

You used to hear serious people say "all the cool stuff has been invented." Thankfully, that statement has lost currency. All the same, I have to call "whoa! cool!" on this. Jeepers.

At the DEMO conference in Palm Springs, CA, today, the company's executives announced a new technology called QuantumFilm that lets small camera sensors, like those in cell phones, capture more light than ever before. QuantumFilm is simply a layer of quantum dots--tiny crystals that efficiently absorb light and emit either photons or electrons--in a top layer of the sensor. The electrons emitted by QuantumFilm are collected and sorted the chip's circuitry.

The result is a sensor that collects twice the light of the standard chip, converts it to electricity twice as efficiently, and is just as cheap to make, says Ted Sargent, chief technology officer of InVisage and professor of electrical and computer engineering and the University of Toronto, where the early research for QuantumFilm began. "Silicon image sensors have a really severe problem in that they just throw away photons left right and center," says Sargent. Quantum dots, he says, provide a "fundamental solution to the problem."

Posted by John Kranz at 3:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2010

Government Motives

Brother jg gets the comment of the week for suggesting -- at the end of "Cousin Milton's" devastating takedown of ObamaCare:

Analysis above is, of course, predicated on the notion that extending longevity and quality of life are the intended goal of the health care system.

Thanks to government, they can actually claim a "crisis" in health care. And yet health insurance has similar saturation rates as broadband Internet. Ergo, Crisis! Ergo, government needed!
Last year, Congress directed the FCC to develop a plan to make high-speed Internet available to more people. But given that 95% of Americans already have access to some form of broadbandand 94% can choose from at least four wireless carriersrapid broadband deployment is already occurring without new government mandates.
In 2009 alone, broadband providers spent nearly $60 billion on their networks. Absent any evidence of market failure, the best course for the FCC is to report back to Congress that a broadband industrial policy is unnecessary. Instead, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is moving to increase the reach of his agency and expand government control of the Web.

I just dropped my 7Mb DSL for a screamin' 16Mb pipe. The good folks at Comcast run as high as 50 Mb out to my condo, which is not in the sticks but is isolated from other dense development.

So, government has a chance to declare victory and go home. But, to coin a phrase, analysis above is, of course, predicated on the notion that extending access to broadband is the intended goal of the system.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:33 PM | Comments (0)

February 8, 2010

Things that make us richer

I love this. Insty links to video of a new Ketchup package.

I bore everybody with this all the time. Small innovations in packaging never show up in GDP numbers but millions of small innovations provide us with a richer environment. The zip-lock® feature built into cheese and tortilla bags generally elicit a dull disquisition from me. But over time, this matters. Just like getting more memory in your laptop.

And yet, Paul Krugman, should there be a Republican in the White House, will tell us that we are poorer than we were in 1973.

Posted by John Kranz at 1:48 PM | Comments (2)
But johngalt thinks:

Oh sure, you like it, but have the Green Police seen it yet?

Posted by: johngalt at February 8, 2010 2:26 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Oops. Wrong link. I meant to use this one.

Posted by: johngalt at February 9, 2010 3:00 AM

October 28, 2009

Government leads the way

This is a big deal:

L.A. votes to "Go Google"; pressure shifts to Google and the cloud

The Los Angeles City Council today voted unanimously to Go Google, approving a $7.25 million contract to outsource the citys e-mail system to Googles cloud and transition some 30,000 city employees to the cloud over the coming year, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Clearly, this is a big deal for the city of Los Angeles. But this vote is also monumental for cloud computing as a whole, which has gained popularity and widespread interest but still relatively little adoption as companies - and municipalities, apparently - weigh the anticipated cost benefits over the unknown risks that might come with system failures or data breaches.

It interests me first on a tech level. Cloud computing makes a lot of sense to me, and an adopter of this size will be a huge uplift. I'm more interested in cloud back-end than the Google front-end, but this is pretty ballsy of them to do both.

On the political side, it's probably not ballsy. Have the unions made it to IT yet? (That AFSCME video runs through my head every day.) I am guessing this is a "safe" place for governments to try to save money without disrupting the unionized workforce.

If you're down at city hall, Brother Keith, paying some speeding tickets or something, be sure to tell them that jk says "well done!"

Posted by John Kranz at 11:55 AM | Comments (7)
But jk thinks:

Somebody hit a nerve with speeding tickets???????

I'll do the cloud defense. I am guessing the seven million and change was deemed a lot less expensive than paying your super-productive municipal worker to manage physical hardware and Microsoft applications. Were it close, they'd certainly keep the drones for patronage positions. So I say it is a cost cutting move and potentially smart.

On the security, that will be up to Google and again, I am comparing your average Google tech with the guys at the DMV and I don't think you're stepping down. For Google <charliechanvoice>with great opportunity come great danger</charliechanvoice> if their security is not up to snuff, they have lost the ability to sell cloud computing.

Posted by: jk at October 28, 2009 4:09 PM
But Keith thinks:

Heh - no, I've managed to avoid enriching the LAPD on the speeding ticket issue...

You don't have to defend cloud to me, I'm a supporter; in fact, because the LA City government manages to have everything it touches turn to Mazola and messily run through their fingers, I'm merely stunned to see them make a RIGHT decision. Stopped clock and all that, I suppose, plus I never miss an opportunity to take a poke at Mayor Villadivorsa.

Posted by: Keith at October 28, 2009 4:31 PM
But jk thinks:

A hot Mustang and no tickets -- you are truly a man of discipline and control!

No doubt I'm being too anguine, governmnet will screw it up somehow, but I think this might be a really good move.

Posted by: jk at October 28, 2009 5:38 PM
But Keith thinks:

Full disclosure: I didn't say no tickets. Just none by the LAPD.

Carry on...

Posted by: Keith at October 28, 2009 6:22 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Once I'd been married to his sister for long enough that I thought he considered me "family" I asked my brother-in-law, an LAPD sargeant, how to get out of speeding tickets. He said, "Drive the speed limit."

Yeah, like anyone's gonna do that.

Posted by: johngalt at October 29, 2009 3:53 PM
But jk thinks:

I've had many disagreements with Speaker Gingrich o'er the years, but there's a bon mot of his that describes American culture very well. He claims that speed limits are "benchmarks of opportunity." A quote for the ages.

Posted by: jk at October 29, 2009 5:09 PM

September 17, 2009

Audi Preaches JG's Gospel of Petroleum

You may have seen the new Audi commercial with barrels of oil rolling through the streets and back onto the tankers that brought them here from overseas producers. "If 1/3 of us drove a TDI clean diesel vehicle, we could send back 1.5 million barrels of foreign oil every day."

Well, since I love oil, I went to Audi's website looking for a copy of the commercial and found their "Diesel - it's no longer a dirty word" flash presentation.

Some highlights:

A TDI engine is revved several times while a white hanky is held near the exhaust pipe. Spotless.

"One drop of diesel fuel has 12% more power than one drop of gasoline."

I'm ready to do my part to reduce global warming-
"If 1/3 of Americans switched from gasoline to diesel, it would be the equivalent of planting 2.2 billion trees."

"so if you take the combination of phenomenal performance with reduced emissions and the positive impact that has on the environment there can truly be no compelling argument against the adoption of clean diesel technology for use on the roads in the United States."

Well, except for the fact that it would obliterate all of the "crises" that environmentalists have concocted to take us back to the caves.

Hey Obama, stimulate THIS!

[UPDATED to add video of the commercial from YouTube.]

Also of interest, a history of diesel cars in America since 1979. Via AudiofAmerica on YouTube. They call it Audi TDI: TRUTH IN DIESEL

By the way, did I mention that I love oil?

Posted by JohnGalt at 12:33 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

Our German bruderin who expected that? I would add the VW Commercial: How does your hybrid sound? Makes me laugh every time.

Posted by: jk at September 17, 2009 12:58 PM
But Keith thinks:

What time is it? It's time to unpimp your Prius...

Posted by: Keith at September 17, 2009 2:23 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Okay, now I'm really, really, ROFLMAO.

Posted by: johngalt at September 17, 2009 3:44 PM

July 15, 2009

Quote of the Day

Then again, it's one thing to be a bumbling soothsayer but quite another to underestimate the resourcefulness of mankind enough to ponder how "population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution," as ["Science Czar" Dr. John] Holdren did in Ecoscience in 1977.-- David Harsanyi
Glad to see my man, Harsayi, writing in Reason. He could teach those folk a few things. Starting with Steve Chapman and Governor Sarah Palin...
Posted by John Kranz at 2:02 PM | Comments (0)

April 30, 2009

Government Designed PDA

My greatest argument for freedom with young people is to talk about cell phones and iPods as products of the free market, then compare them to some devices and services that are more heavily regulated.

What if the government designed cellphones? Wonder no more. BoingBoing has the goods on the "craptastik" 2010 Census device.


The device she had strapped to her hand was a Harris HTC, which looks either like the ugliest cellphone you've ever seen, or a Palm Pilot designed by the US government. We scrolled through bad, inaccurate maps of the area, which looked like they'd been dumped from an early version of MapQuest, wondering how the ridgeline behind my house had magically been transformed into a navigable road, and talked about the device...
But their health care will absolutely rock! Hat-tip: Insty
Posted by John Kranz at 6:00 PM | Comments (4)
But Keith thinks:

The remote for my portable fan has more useful functions, and probably better encryption. But the fingerprint recognition wasn't an option.

I'm betting this kludge also has all of Obama's speeches in MP3 format, pre-loaded, just like the iPod he gave the Queen.

Posted by: Keith at April 30, 2009 7:02 PM
But AlexC thinks:

I can't believe that's real.

It looks so shitty.

It's like something 1974 would come up with.

Posted by: AlexC at May 1, 2009 12:53 AM
But jk thinks:

Four 'C' cells required (not included).

Posted by: jk at May 1, 2009 5:53 PM
But Keith thinks:

Q: What's the range on that thing?

A: Depends. How good an arm do you have?

Posted by: Keith at May 1, 2009 9:40 PM

January 5, 2009

Soon As You Get a 9" Laptop

Some blogger will say he has a 10".

I hate to miss a chance for a bad joke and have been wanting to mention my christmas present: an Acer Aspire One, in Sapphire Blue. Somebody mentioned feline sleepware -- I really like this thing. I have not seen the Asus machines that started the genre but this one has a very substantive, quality feel. I had to get the XP one for work purposes but I would have opted for Linux otherwise, which gives you a really cool laptop for $350.

I cannot carry a conventional laptop but this one is easy for trips to the coffee shop (mmm coffee...) or just catching up on work or blogs from another room.

Thanks, honey!

Posted by John Kranz at 7:45 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2008


(I think that's the last line of Slaughterhouse 5 but I'm quoting from memory.)

I'm not sure I grab Twitter (the WSJ Ed Page says it's for those who don't feel they can fill a whole blog post) but I am 'berkeleysquare' if anybody is inclined to follow or be stalked.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:47 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2008

Gotta Have This

Internet Connected Programmable Thermostat. It's free for TXU customers. I love the great State of Texas, but have just bought new property in Colorado and don't think I'll move soon. But I will buy one of these sometime. I can see this saving a lot of money.

Posted by John Kranz at 6:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, x86!


June 5, 2008 (Computerworld) Thirty years ago, on June 8, 1978, Intel Corp. introduced its first 16-bit microprocessor, the 8086, with a splashy ad heralding "the dawn of a new era." Overblown? Sure, but also prophetic. While the 8086 was slow to take off, its underlying architecture -- later referred to as x86 -- would become one of technology's most impressive success stories.

Perhaps it's my geeky occupation but I don't consider it overblown. Microsoft and Intel changed the world, and I would put the 8086 right in there with the printing press, steam engine, wheel, and fire.

Harp -- one more time, if I may -- on T.J. Rodgers. Look at Moore's Law. Look at what happened in 30 years. If we get the same curve from photovoltaics, energy will be virtually free in 2030.

UPDATE: Some birthday present

The Federal Trade Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation on Intel Corp.'s business practices in the microprocessor market, a move long sought by smaller rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

I'd say some rent-seeking by AMD, but I am not a big antitrust guy.

Posted by John Kranz at 10:40 AM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Yep. Which means we can afford higher taxes! YAAY.

Posted by: johngalt at June 5, 2008 3:09 PM

May 27, 2008

Wi-Fi Allergy

Stop the earth - I want off.

Seriously, didn't most people have that same reaction to the 1970's nutjobs who wanted to outlaw drilling for oil in this country because it was "dirty?" Leave the idiots alone and look what it gets you - politicians who say things like "gasoline prices are not based on supply and demand, they're being driven up by reckless speculators and obscene oil company profits" and "we can't drill our way out of this problem" when, in fact, that is the ONLY way to bring gasoline prices down. And it makes us "less dependent on foreign oil" at the same time.

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:33 PM

December 8, 2007

Paradise Lost

It's Milton Month at ThreeSources.

-- I applauded Perry's allusion in a comment a few weeks ago;

-- I then used that same stanza to respond to a bit of collectivist nonsense from my normally non-collectivist brother. (I'll reproduce it under "Continue Reading);

-- Brad DeLong celebrates a 1964 digitization as possibly the first EBook. Not only was it all caps, but we've made some progress in storage since then:

To give you an estimation of the difference in the original and what we have today: the original was probably entered on cards commonly known at the time as "IBM cards" (Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate) and probably took in excess of 100,000 of them. A single card could hold 80 characters (hence 80 characters is an accepted standard for so many computer margins), and the entire original edition we received in all caps was over 800,000 chars in length, including line enumeration, symbols for caps and the punctuation marks, etc., since they were not available keyboard characters at the time (probably the keyboards operated at baud rates of around 113, meaning the typists had to type slowly for the keyboard to keep up).

My Brother's Email

A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said.

'Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.

The Lord led the holy man to two doors.

He opened one of the doors and the holy man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of stew, which smelled delicious and made the holy man's mouth water.
The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles that were strapped to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful.

But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering.

The Lord said, 'You have seen Hell.

They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man's mouth
water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here
the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, 'I don't understand.

It is simple,' said the Lord. 'It requires but one skill. You see they have learned to feed each other, while the greedy think only of themselves.'

Posted by John Kranz at 4:05 PM | Comments (1)
But Perry Eidelbus thinks:

No, this is the accurate depiction of hell:

Ten percent of the people work for 90% of the stew. Without so much as asking, the other 90% take turns holding back the 10% and supping from the pot that the 10% labored far more to create.

Theologically it doesn't quite fit, since there's no punishment for the 90% who steal, but *that* is a more accurate depiction of wealth redistribution in this country.

Here's a flashback:

Posted by: Perry Eidelbus at December 10, 2007 2:46 PM

November 27, 2007

A Really Inconvenient Truth

You would think the inventor of the internet would keep on up security.

A blog set up to promote former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," has been hacked and is hosting links to Web sites hawking online pharmaceuticals.

The links appear to have been created as part of a scheme to boost the Web traffic for sites that promote the drugs, security experts said Monday. They contain titles such as "Xanax On Line," "Viagra," and "Buy Valium Online."

Cyber scammers have been using this technique for months now, packing hacked Web sites with links to their products in hopes of bumping up their rankings on search engines such as Google and Another similar tactic, known as "comment spam," involves flooding the comment sections of Web sites with these types of links.

Posted by AlexC at 5:25 PM | Comments (2)
But jk thinks:

Cursed Comment Spammers! Even VP Gore does not deserve those slime!

People often ask why they have to type in the stupid password to post comments, it is to beat those execrable cretins. "Months," PCWorld? It has sadly been around a lot longer that that.

Posted by: jk at November 27, 2007 6:50 PM
But TrekMedic251 thinks:

It would REALLY be funny if they ran the old "Bob Dole knows about ED" ads for Viagra on the site!

Posted by: TrekMedic251 at November 27, 2007 10:43 PM

August 30, 2007

Now, this is cool. The ThreeSources readership includes veterans of the Storage Industry, and predictive markets players and workers, (plus a couple other guys...)

I ran into an old friend and fellow storage warrior last weekend. He is involved with several projects, but one that really caught my fancy was, a predictive market for the storage industry. Industry folk can wager virtual dollars on questions like "When the first 2TB 3.5 hard disk drive will be publicly announced" or "Which hardware implementation of encryption will have the highest market share by the end of 2008?" or "When will a majority of customers require storage systems that support both block and file I/O in the same system as evidenced by sales?"

Hey, there's a switch: the economists' eyes are glazing over!

It is a cool site and I am told that my (work) email address will get me a membership. I can beg for anybody else that is interested. Here is the site, or here is a blog that provides summaries and news items.

Posted by John Kranz at 7:16 PM

Regulate Telecom!

To show the superiority of free markets, I frequently cite telecom (and, of course, the iPod) as examples. So does Mayor Giuliani. When Larry Kudlow asked him about health care he said "How did we make cell phones affordable? We let the market work."

I have to compliment my collectivist foes on strategy. If they can ruin the markets where the markets work, Classical Liberals will no longer have any examples. So, the FCC and a consumer group have decided it's time to regulate the most successful free market in my lifetime.

WSJ Ed Page (paid link):
In a hearing last month, the Consumers Union told Congress that "in Europe and Asia, wireless consumers have better choices" and that "instead of innovating, the wireless community has become a cozy cartel of a few dominant providers with limited device offerings." More recently, the FCC slapped "open access" requirements on a valuable block of spectrum to be auctioned off early next year. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin justified the move to "ensure that consumers benefit from innovation and technological advancements."

But consumers are doing just fine, according to an American Consumer Institute study released last week. Comparing U.S. and foreign telecom markets, it concluded that the U.S. market "offers more choice and is less concentrated than any Western country's wireless market." U.S. consumers have access to more wireless operators and more devices than consumers anywhere else in the world. And the top three wireless providers in the U.S. comprise a smaller share of the market than their counterparts in Europe and Asia.

Americans on average use more than four times as many wireless minutes per month as Europeans, according to the study, reflecting the fact that "U.S. wireless prices are the lowest in the world, with the exception of Hong Kong." This combination of higher usage at lower prices, it says, "presents compelling evidence that the overall consumer welfare derived from wireless service is higher in the U.S. than internationally." In short, calls for more telecom rules and regulations are a solution in search of a problem.

Now, if the Senate could dictate the size and cost of MP3 players...

Posted by John Kranz at 11:15 AM

June 21, 2007

American I.T. Advantage

Austan Goolsbee has a great piece in the New York Times which investigates why the United States was able to produce such productivity gains from technology. A new study from the London School of Economics notes that technology prices dropped worldwide, yet America was better able to leverage computing power. The study goes further to show that when American firms took over UK firms, the utilization of IT improved. (My associate from my start-up ended up heading a large IT department in London -- I can't wait to share this!)

Our comparative advantage is hard to quantify, but don't forget Mr. Schumpeter: flexibility is a huge factor in exploiting technology (ask Hank Reardon).

But that is, of course, the paradox of the American position. We hate experiencing major adjustments and industry transformations that force people to look for new jobs. That experience has made many skeptical about the future of the United States in the world economy. Yet the evidence seems to show that for all our dissatisfaction, we are the most flexible economy around and may be best poised to take advantage of the coming changes on a global scale precisely because we are so good at adjusting.

Perhaps the lesson from the research can be boiled down to something most Americans clearly understand: The world economy may be tough on your industry but look on the bright side: you could be French.

Hat-tip: Everyday Economist

Posted by John Kranz at 11:13 AM

May 23, 2007

Municipal Wireless

Philly's wireless plan is coming close... to what I'm not exactly sure.

As municipalities across the country join the Wi-Fi race, the City of Philadelphia is entering the home stretch.

Wireless Philadelphia, the non-profit created by the City to transform Philadelphia's neighborhoods by making high-speed Internet access more available and affordable, is expected later today to approve EarthLink's 15-square-mile Wi-Fi Proof of Concept (POC) area or test zone.

In turn, EarthLink will continue building the 135-square-mile Wi-Fi mesh network, slated for citywide completion in the third quarter of 2007. Mayor John F. Street will announce this development tomorrow in a ceremony at William Penn High School, which is located in the Proof of Concept Zone.

I remember railing on about this at one of my old blogs (unfortunately deleted). The wireless implimentation goals were wildly optimistic. Announce the plan in April, choose vendor by end of June, subscribers by the end of the year. At the time I wondered about the timeline and which cronies were going to get rich off the deal. The former is in the "home stretch," despite having only 10% started. The latter has yet to resolve itself...

The question of why cities should be in the broadband business, was never answered.

In entirely unrelated news, technology analysts doubt municipal networks efficacy.

Because systems are just coming online, it's premature to say how many or which ones will fail under current operating plans, but the early signs are troubling.

"I will be surprised if the majority of these are successful and they do not prove to be drains on taxpayers' money," said Michael Balhoff, former telecom equity analyst with Legg Mason Inc. "The government is getting into hotly contested services."

Most communities, including Lompoc [California], paid for their projects. Elsewhere, private companies agreed to absorb costs for the chance to sell services or ads.

The vendors remain confident despite technical and other problems. Chuck Haas, MetroFi Inc.'s chief executive, said Wi-Fi networks are far cheaper to build than cable or DSL, which provides broadband over phone lines.

Demand could grow once more cell phones can make Wi-Fi calls and as city workers improve productivity by reading electric meters remotely, for instance.

Balhoff, however, believes the successful projects are most likely to be in remote places that traditional service providers skip and fewer and fewer of those areas exist. Cities, he said, should focus on incentives to draw providers.


Posted by AlexC at 10:47 PM

April 24, 2007


This is one sexy toy: USB.

Hungry? Want some quail stuffed with jalepeno? Check out this sexy toy: Automatic.

HT: Never Yet Melted Blog

Posted by Cyrano at 11:14 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

When fully automatic USBBB remote weapons are outlawed....

Posted by: jk at April 25, 2007 12:51 PM

April 15, 2007

Geek Review Corner

I shill for big oil and big Pharma, here's one for the wicked folks in Redmond: Windows Vista(r) is pretty dang cool. I bought a new box that came with Vista, and my first impressions are pretty positive.

Sorry, AlexC, a comparable Mac was too much money (you can still be the "cool guy" in the ThreeSources commercial), sorry Ian, I spent a couple days fussing with a Solaris installation and it screamed "your UNIX days are over." Yeah, I'm sure some Linux distributions are better, but I can go to my grave without editing st.conf again.

Posted by John Kranz at 2:15 PM | Comments (2)
But AlexC thinks:

The snarky Mac guy in me says, "welcome to the Mac OS X experience, circa 2002"... but I'm all for progress. :)

Posted by: AlexC at April 15, 2007 7:48 PM
But jk thinks:

And the forthright PC guy in me admits that they have indeed lifted some of the cool features from OS X.

Microsoft has always been more derivative than innovative. In the end, they end up, however, with the most useful and cost-effective solutions. It's maddening to those who value cutting edge innovation, but it is a certain business innovation.

Yeah, you had it in ought-two, but I got it for $900...

Posted by: jk at April 16, 2007 11:20 AM

December 27, 2006

48 Hours of Wii

It's been, well more than two days, since Christmas morning, and Santa brought us a Nintendo Wii, Rayman Raving Rabbids and an extra controller. (I picked up Madden 07 and another nunchuck controller yesterday).

My wife and I have discovered that we are sadly out of shape as our arms are burning with soreness.

But it's fun.

Easily the best game system I've ever purchased.

Swinging the controller like a tennis racket, baseball bat, bowling ball or boxing gloves adds a dimension to gaming heretofore unexplored. My soon-to-be four year old daughter can really box well.

Rayman makes use of the motion detecting sensors in pretty clever ways. Milking cows, those old-fashioned tilting marble games, shooting plungers, whack-a-mole etc.

Madden Football '07 is pretty sweet. Throwing touchdown passes or kicking fieldgoals is pretty straightforward, though the tackling is a bit more complicated.


Posted by AlexC at 3:03 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

Surely there will be some new, named malady for overuse of the controller. Maybe John Edwards will have a class action suit -- keep your receipts.

Posted by: jk at December 27, 2006 4:11 PM
But AlexC thinks:

Well, Breckboy is busy running for President and making the lame walk again.

Speaking of which, an overzealous at-bat in a home run contest caused me to kick the coffeetable.

With only a sock protecting my toes from the wood.

Posted by: AlexC at December 27, 2006 6:06 PM
But jk thinks:


Posted by: jk at December 27, 2006 6:46 PM

December 8, 2006

More Apple Woes

I whined about Apple's iTunes Software a few weeks ago. Suddenly, I have a problem that seems sw/firmware to me, but Apple is trying to tell its users that the problem is hardware, and that the best solution is to go buy a new one.

Yup, the little shuffle flashed amber/green this morning after charging all night. I connected it and was told to restore. "Wow, it's really scrambled," thinks I. Then it would not restore. Error 1418.

Do a quick search for iPod Unknown Error 1418. Uh-oh.

iPodNN | Shuffle owners protest "1418 hell"

Hundreds of first-generation iPod shuffle owners are crying out to Apple for resolution after upgrading to iTunes 7 and trying to update their iPods. Many of these users report that updating the iPod renders it unusable with an "Unknown Error (1418)," effectively corrupting the iPods with no way to restore them. Some posts on Apple's own support forum suggest that owners of newly-replaced iPod shuffles are also experiencing the issue, and Apple has yet to respond. Users have already posted at least three Web pages to protest the problem, petitioning Apple to remedy the situation and demanding a fix. Such sites already include "shuf2006 Petition online," "Error 1418 - Fix Our iPods!," and "Shufflers Unite."

I've gotten a good year and a half of unconditional love from this device. If it is toast I cannot complain. But two things cause me to force the issue. One, it is a gift of sentimental value. My wife bought it for me before her stroke and it arrived as a surprise after. I blogged about it in May 2005.

Secondly, the current Mac advertising blitz has a smarmy smug side. You can highlight the legitimate differences in the Apple approach vs. PC. But the implication that Macs don't break, or that you'll have no problems if you buy one are well belied by web forums and pages. Technology will fail. The Apple/Linux/Mozilla claims that they are not the target of viruses points more to market failure on their part than technological success.

I'm no Apple hater by any means, I just haven't completely drunk the Kool-Aid(r).

UPDATE: It's fixed! The Apple Restore Utility to the rescue!

Posted by John Kranz at 11:58 AM | Comments (5)
But AlexC thinks:

I've been meaning to blog about my new MacBook Pro laptop. It's a work of art. ;)

Posted by: AlexC at December 8, 2006 12:35 PM
But jk thinks:

Yup, they are. I'm a Virginia Postrel guy and Apple has every right to highlight its superior aesthetics, inviting design, and its long held ties with creative communities and workers.

I was out to dinner with some relatives and they were all looking to buy pre-Intel Macs because "they didn't break." I sat quietly as they talked another family member into this belief. I think that this is a step too far.

Full disclosure: I have actually purchased C++ GUI Programming Guides.

Posted by: jk at December 8, 2006 12:46 PM
But johngalt thinks:

"All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do [or say] nothing." :)

These family members clearly never heard of the "Apple drop." That was the official factory fix for memory socket problems in the old Apple IIe. "Pick it up off the table about 6 inches, and drop it." It did the trick but ... really.

Posted by: johngalt at December 8, 2006 3:07 PM
But jk thinks:

This is the Socialist wing of the family and one has to pick one's battles.

Dell should do some commercials "I'm a PC and I'm a Mac" The Mac could be played by George Carlin and they could drop him on the table to fix his memory. Might be a fun series...

Posted by: jk at December 8, 2006 3:59 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Dell's answer to the smarmy Mac commercials was a spot where a voiceover guy orders his customized PC over the phone, talking to a nice young voiceover woman who suggested options, and then "my" PC arrived and "I" opened it. When we see the buyer he is at least as "hip" looking as our buddy "Mac."

Smarmy quotient: zero.

Posted by: johngalt at December 8, 2006 7:21 PM

November 26, 2006


JK wonders where I've been.

I'll tell you.

Watching the entire set of Star Wars movies, beginning to end.

It was an epic adventure, and a real family values thing. I must say.

My daughter can quote Yoda's best line ("Do or do not, there is no try."), but cannot pronounce R2-D2. "Artie Doo Too," or some such. "Dark Vader" is apparently her favorite. (I need to keep my eye on her.)

But seriously, the empire's best engineers suck. Why in the world would anyone include tubes to the heart of the Death Star, not once, but TWICE? The first I could maybe understand. It was a vent.... at the end of a well defended trench. (wtf?)

The second time around, these tubes were big enough for the Millenium Falcon AND chasing X-Wing and Tie-Fighters to fly around in and fight in. Jeez. Talk about not learning your lesson. Don't tell me that the Death Star was under construction.

Indeed, it was, but the targeted generator at the core of the Death Star was in a fully enclosed hollow chamber hanging from some sort of a gigantic metal stalactite.

Why? Yes, it looks good.

It goes without saying that if it wasn't for superfluous tube technology, Emporer Palpataine would not have fallen to his death.

Like any construction site, the second Death Star must have been teeming with designers and engineers. My heart goes out to the regular construction crews and their families (nod to Clerks), but the D&E group got what they deserved.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Watching them all in order and within two days leaves me with the sense that the newer movies over did the special effects. Episodes IV, V and VI (1977 through 1985) used advanced special effects (for the time), but not at the expense of the story. I think the effects in the first three episodes were done just for their own sake. Overdone, much like the dialog; and Yoda was too silly to be a Jedi. Nevermind the entire character of Jar Jar.

Early stuff, embarassing. Later stuff, quality pulp.

Posted by AlexC at 11:11 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

Always curious: when you say "in order," do you mean I, II, III... or the order they were made? IV, V, and VI were among my favorite movies of all time, I found I and II to be tedious and still haven't seen III.

Posted by: jk at November 27, 2006 10:55 AM
But AlexC thinks:

Yes, I, II -> V, VI.

Watching Anakin morph into Darth and regain his humanity at the end.

III was better than I, II. Plus you get to see Darth Vader for the first time.

Posted by: AlexC at November 27, 2006 11:16 AM
But jk thinks:

I'll certainly catch it in DVD.

I'd refer you to my post on free market health care, ac. The empire engineers were no doubt working in a top-down bureaucracy and were unable to pursue radical ideas like not having an enemy-fighter-sized vent leading to the most vulnerable area of the ship.

Posted by: jk at November 27, 2006 11:23 AM

November 17, 2006

Big Advertising

KFC has a new logo, and you can see it from space.

    The company unveiled a new brand logo Tuesday that includes bolder colors and a more well-defined visage of the late Kentucky Fried Chicken founder, who will keep his classic black bow tie, glasses and goatee.

    As part of publicity for the new logo, KFC commissioned a giant, 87,000-square foot version of it that can be seen from space. The massive logo consists of 65,000 1-foot square painted tiles that were laid out in the Nevada desert over 24 days.


I was never one for the Colonel, but that's pretty damned cool.

I can't wait for the day when someone gets a) the money b) the guts to project an ad onto the full moon.

With a sufficiently strong laser beam (or multiples) I bet you could do it.

Imagine the round red Coke Classic logo or the old fashioned blue AT&T logo up there. Everyone would see it. It'd be a sensation.

(tip to HotAir)

Posted by AlexC at 4:37 PM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

Please don't let them blast the Barry Manilow KFC jingle loud enough to be heard in space.

Yes, itchy-fingered engineers, I know, no air no sound, but the idea of trying is too horrible to contemplate.

"Get a bucket of Chicken, finger lickin' good Goodbye ho-hums..."

Posted by: jk at November 17, 2006 5:13 PM

November 4, 2006


What is it with those damned bluetooth cellphone earpieces?

No one is that important.

I watched an episode of "Flip This House", where a woman was remodeling her house and having interviews with the hosts with one of those things in her ear.

She can't be that important, and she looked like an idiot.

If I remembered her name, I'd put it here just she could google herself and see that I called her a knucklehead.

You are not Lt Uhura from Star Trek. Get over yourself.

Posted by AlexC at 10:08 PM | Comments (1)
But johngalt thinks:

Could be she has an endorsement contract.

Posted by: johngalt at November 6, 2006 2:59 PM

November 1, 2006

Revenge of Guys in Tweed

Business Week

    The radio wars are escalating. In a one-two punch aimed at enlisting regulators to their cause, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and National Public Radio want the Federal Communications Commission to investigate alleged misdeeds by satellite radio companies XM (XMSR) and Sirius (SIRI).

    On Oct. 12, National Public Radio CEO Ken Stern wrote to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin alleging that the satellite broadcasters' devices interfere with NPR broadcasts. And last week, David Rehr, president and CEO of the powerful NAB, fired off two letters to Martin alleging several regulatory violations.

Posted by AlexC at 11:55 PM

October 20, 2006

Internet Addiction

Saw this at Protein Wisdom.

    More than one in eight adults in the US show signs of being addicted to the internet, a study has shown.

    "Addicts" showed signs of compulsive internet use, habitually checking e-mail, websites and chat rooms.

    More than 8% of the 2,513 respondents to the Stanford University phone survey said they hid their use from partners.

    A typical addict is a single, white college-educated male in his 30s, who spends more than 30 hours a week on "non-essential" computer use, it found.

I'm only 28, and a college dropout.... besides I can quit at anytime.

Except when i'm on vacation... and the hotel just happened to have internet.

Posted by AlexC at 11:07 AM | Comments (1)
But jk thinks:

They have a rehab center in South Park. I'll check in if I get any worse.

Posted by: jk at October 20, 2006 1:08 PM

October 18, 2006

Land of the Rising Sun

The Japanese must have a different tort system than we do.

Watch the whole thing.

Posted by AlexC at 12:37 PM | Comments (2)
But mdmhvonpa thinks:

I would like to see this implemented in the House and the Senate.

Posted by: mdmhvonpa at October 18, 2006 1:06 PM
But jk thinks:

Did you see the Japanese show where the contestants recited a tongue-twister? If they slipped, a machine delivered a significant punch to the man's crotch. That's running around YouTube as well.

Funny that you thought of tort reform, there is a hidden camera show in Britain on BBCAmerica. Every time I have seen I have thought "you'd get sued here." Making people think they've hit a child in their car, pretty wild stuff.

Maybe it's good we have John Edwards protecting us...

Posted by: jk at October 18, 2006 1:56 PM

September 18, 2006

Awesome Photograph


Look closely and see if you can figure out what it is. When you give up, follow this link to see the full sized image. If you still can't figure it out, go here for the answer. (It's the September 18, 2006 issue.)

Hat tip: Dad

(Here's some other nice work by the same 'artist.')

Posted by JohnGalt at 3:15 PM | Comments (7)
But johngalt thinks:

Good, good, but what's that other thing, and what's it doin'?

Posted by: johngalt at September 19, 2006 11:53 AM
But jk thinks:

Teletubbies! I saw this episode! Winky is convincing the nice man that he deserves disability payments for being "a gay color." A classic.

Posted by: jk at September 19, 2006 4:35 PM
But TrekMedic251 thinks:

Oh,.that little speck shaped like Delaware? That's the shuttle floating back to Earth.

Posted by: TrekMedic251 at September 19, 2006 8:44 PM
But jk thinks:

Senator Biden really pulled some strings to make the shuttle shaped like Delaware. Thnkfully, Senator Allard didn't have as much clout.

Posted by: jk at September 20, 2006 10:26 AM
But johngalt thinks:

OK, I'm getting what I deserve by trying to be serious around here. Good work JK. What really fascinates me about this, however, is that these images of objects in space were photographed... from EARTH. Stunning.

Excellent recognition skills TrekMedic (like I should be surprised from a guy with Trek in his handle). You got the obvious stuff right but the full sized image will show you that the backdrop is the sun, and the story explains the shuttle is making a 360 survey of the outside of the station.

Posted by: johngalt at September 20, 2006 3:58 PM
But jk thinks:

I'll be serial.

The excitement of space exploration and technology that so excited me as a youth has faded pari passu with NASA's becoming yet another bloated bureaucracy. The International Space Station? U.N. in space? I've completely lost interest.

Now the first female Muslim's buying her own ticket to space with her entrepreneurial fortune. Thats cool.

Posted by: jk at September 20, 2006 6:42 PM

September 15, 2006

Rotary Phones


    A widow rented a rotary dial telephone for 42 years, paying what her family calculates as more than $14,000 for a now outdated phone.

    Ester Strogen, 82, of Canton, first leased two black rotary phones the kind whose round dial is moved manually with your finger in the 1960s. Back then, the technology was new and owning telephones was unaffordable for most people.

New technology? The 1960s?

or the 1860s?

It's $29.10 / month to have one of their phones. But there are benefits.

    New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies, a spinoff of AT&T that manages the residential leasing service, said customers were given the choice option to opt out of renting in 1985. The number of customers leasing phones dropped from 40 million nationwide to about 750,000 today, he said.

    "We will continue to lease sets as long as there is a demand for them," Skalko said.

    Benefits of leasing include free replacements and the option of switching to newer models, he said.

Posted by AlexC at 5:46 PM

September 14, 2006

"Lead-Free" - The International Environmental Boondoggle

In honor of today being the unofficial "L day" I'm posting this item that came to my attention last Monday.

In case you wonder what might have happened if the Kyoto Protocol had been adopted and implemented world wide, consider what happened when the EU unilaterally determined that the lead in solder used to produce electronic devices is a "hazardous substance" and mandated its elimination from all products marketed in Europe by the July 1, 2006.

On Monday a colleague emailed several of us a list of issues related to lead-free electronics manufacturing that was provided to him by our assembly vendor. Before reading the attachment I had no idea just how disruptive this lead-free process business is. Why would we voluntarily evolve into a process that is less reliable, more expensive, fraught with extra hoops to jump through and, by the way, is WORSE for the environment?

This all stems from an EU directive called the "Reduction of Hazardous Substances" directive, or "RoHS" adopted January 27, 2003. Here's what I found when I investigated.

From The ultimate in fatuity on EU Referendum blog (based in UK):

According to the authors, "The study presents extensive data that show that heavy metal concentrations in leachate and landfill gas are generally far below the limits that have been established to protect human health and the environment."

By then, it was too late the "train had left the station" and the momentum for new legislation was too great. But, by 2005, the US Environmental Protection Agency had got its act together and produced a 472-page report, assessing the full, life-cycle environmental impact of banning lead solder.

From this work, it emerged that when the impact of mining and refining substitutes was taken in to account, the higher energy consumption in using the lead-free solders, which require higher temperatures, and all the other issues were factored in, the banning of lead far from having a positive impact on the environment (and worker health) actually had a significant negative impact. Amazingly, though, this work had never been done by the EU and the legislation was, by then, already in place.

And then there are the long-term reliability concerns. Also from the EU Referendum blog:

On the basis of this charade, proprietors of firms not obeying this cretinous law can face unlimited fines and imprisonment yet, worryingly, there are still many serious doubts about the reliability and suitability of lead solder substitutes, so much so that military equipment has been exempted.

And this isnt just some mad right-wing anti-environment rant. In the comments on the blog is a reference to this article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoting a Canadian environmental scientist who doesnt support lead-free:

But not all lead is the same. Lead in paint and gasoline is easily absorbed into human cells. Lead in metallic forms such as solder is not.

In addition, evidence indicates that soldered lead, once inside landfills, does not leach out into drinking water, said Laura Turbini, a materials science faculty member at the University of Toronto.

Turbini has studied and tried to help diminish the impact of industry on the environment since the days of CFCs in refrigerators. Her presentations declare "humanity is off course" environmentally. She also strongly advocates recycling electronics. But she does not support lead-free.

"From cradle to grave," Turbini said, "lead-free soldering is not better for the environment." Replacements for lead solder cost more to mine and require more energy to use and produce.

As for state mandated deadlines for compliance are we sure there are, or will be, any? Consider this, also from the news article:

No U.S. firm is legally bound to use lead-free solder. Only California has any restrictions on lead, and no federal laws are pending. But not conforming to European standards means giving up a lucrative market, and potentially that of China and Japan. China is expected to announce a restriction policy soon.

But since our market is exclusively the U.S. and not even Canada, much less Europe or East Asia, it appears that we should do everything possible to avoid lead-free like the plague. The problem with this strategy is that component manufacturers, forced to comply with RoHS by customers who market products in Europe and eager to avoid the added cost of parallel leaded and lead-free product lines, are gradually discontinuing the leaded components.

And so we have a world-wide economic and environmental travesty all because one man, the EU minister of state for energy, Malcolm Wicks, signed the final RoHS document declaring, "I have read the regulatory impact assessment and am satisfied the benefits justify the costs."

And angry-left nutjobs worry that we are sliding into a monarchy!

Take the disruptions, cost increases and environmental unintended consequences of this and multiply them by ten, or even a hundred, and you'll have an idea of what Kyoto could have wrought.

(Click "Continue Reading" to see the list of issues related to lead-free soldering processes.)

Company xs Lead Free Process Issues
1. Lead-Free assemblies are less reliable: Company x says we should expect 30% more solder joint failures in a lead-free process.
a. Through-hole joints will not be filled up to IPC-Level 1, but should conform to the IPC Level-2 soldering standard.
b. Our QA group should expect to see less flow and poorer overall solder joints. These joints are more susceptible to mechanical stress and vibration.
c. Tin solder will grow thin shards (whiskers) over time. These whiskers can eventually short higher density designs
2. Lead-Free assembly processes cost more: You will see why as you read the issues here.
3. Gold PCBs: Company x prefers Immersion Gold on top of Nickel. Company x is having issues soldering to our Immersion Silver boards:
a. The silver oxidizes fairly quickly, so the PCB shelf life isnt very long with silver
b. Company x uses a lot of cardboard, which is one of silvers worst enemies. They try to be careful, but find they still set a lot of bare boards directly on cardboard.
c. The flux isnt powerful enough to break down the silver oxide when soldered
d. The lead-free solder doesnt adhere well to silver even when it is not oxidized
Company x prefers 180-200 micro-inches of Nickel over the copper and 3-8 micro-inches of Gold over the Nickel. This finish has a good shelf life, doesnt react with materials used in handling and storage, and readily adheres to the tin solder.
It may cost us more per board up-front, but Company x is saying due to the soldering issues, it saves us money on the overall assembly.
4. High-Temp FR-4: Most assembly houses request a higher temperature rated FR-4 material for lead-free processing. Company x hasnt seen any PCB issues due to the higher oven temperatures yet. However, de-laminating and warping may occur, especially on PCB areas with few parts. Data Circuits/Merix hasnt charged us more for this material in the past, so I suggest we start using it on all of our PCBs.
5. High-Temp Parts: Company x has settled on 245 C as their lead-free oven temperature. Many aluminum electrolytic capacitors and connectors will be destroyed at these temperatures. I have found that many ROHS rated aluminum electrolytic capacitors arent specified to handle this temperature and are rated to only 235-240 C, especially the larger caps. All of the parts we want to run through a lead-free reflow process must handle at least 245 C, although 260 C is preferable, but hard to obtain in the larger caps. Due to the higher oven temperatures required for lead-free reflow, we must re-evaluate each part in the assemblies we want to become lead-free.
6. Hand soldering is difficult: Lead-free solder not only requires a higher temperature to flow properly, but it doesnt wet, flow, or adhere as well as lead based solder. Interestingly, soldering iron tips only last 8-10 hours due to the aggressive tin reaction to the tips themselves. To increase the soldering temperature, the soldering iron tips are larger which makes it more difficult to solder small parts. Company x has asked us to change the following in our designs:
a. Increase annular rings around hand-soldered holes or anything we will want to ever be re-worked. 15-20 mil per side is desirable. Use elliptical holes for finer-pitch parts.
b. Try to always use thermal rings to connect pads (SMT and thru-hole) to ground planes and copper pours. The pads must get hotter for good reflow and direct plane/copper connections pull that heat away.
7. Wave Soldering:
a. Only boards stuffed completely with lead-free parts can run through a lead-free wave soldering process. Otherwise the lead will contaminate the solder, costing upwards of $50K to empty, clean, and refill the wave soldering pot. So we must be absolutely certain all of our parts are lead-free before we request a lead-free wave process. Lead-free wave soldering requires a higher temperature pre-heater for the board, which is not desirable.
b. Due to higher reflow temperatures, Company x does not want to run parts through the wave soldering process for a second reheating. Many parts wont survive a second re-heating, which is 500C. To prevent damage to SMT parts on the bottom side of the PCBs, they are using selective wave fixtures that attach to the boards and only exposes the parts needing wave soldered. These fixtures costs $300-$400 although they may need several to allow them to continue running boards as other fixtures cool enough to be handled. The fixture rules are:
i. No SMT component on the bottom side of the PCB can extend more than 0.125" from the PCB surface. If they are taller, then a more expensive fixture can be built (double layer) or they will have to hand solder the parts. Either way costs us more for assembly.
ii. All SMT parts should be at least 0.100" away from the parts to be wave soldered. This leaves room for the fixture to fit tightly to the PCB. Obviously all of the parts cant adhere to this rule. In these cases, we should provide build instructions to specify to either glue the intruding part to the PCB and wave solder it (indicating it can handle the heat for a second pass) or to have them hand solder the part to the PCB after the wave process.
8. Pre-Fabrication DFM Review: Company x wants 24 hours to review our PCB artwork before fabrication. This allows them time to review the board and suggest changes for better manufacturability. This also gives them time to look at some of the parts to see if they can handle the lead-free processes and high-pressure post-washing.

Posted by JohnGalt at 6:46 PM | Comments (3)
But mdmhvonpa thinks:

I'm fighting with the whole R22 vs R410A refrigerant issue right now with regards to getting a new AC unit. A lot of the seasoned HVAC guys want to eat their eyes over this knowing damn well that the replacement is so much less effective that it takes a lot more energy to gain the same benefits. This creates more damage than it avoids. DDT v2.0

Posted by: mdmhvonpa at September 14, 2006 11:19 PM
But jk thinks:

...and I got one of those 1.75 gallon Al Gore Toilets. My contractor begged me not to replace the old contraband 3 gal unit but I wanted colored fixtures.

They should put the (then) Senator's picture on a plunger -- it's his fault you have to use it so often.

(Andrew Sullivan blazed the trail in bathroom plumbing blogging, I'm just a copycat.)

Posted by: jk at September 15, 2006 11:30 AM
But AlexC thinks:

JK, you might want to add a little fiber to your diet. ;)

But the Al Gore plunger is a great idea!

Posted by: AlexC at September 15, 2006 11:34 AM

September 11, 2006

ADA Madness

Perry at Eidelblog wonders why blogs aren't discussing an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit. He even does ThreeSources the honor of calling us out. We have been silent, friend, because I hadn't heard of it until I read about it on your blog.

Few rulings have angered me, and I mean really made my blood boil, as the abominable "eminent domain" ruling against Susette Kelo and other New London residents. Well, this recent ruling has inflamed me just as much. Last Thursday, a dipshit judge in California made a dipshit ruling that some dipshits' lawsuit against Target could go forward (Target hasn't lost, but the lawsuit can proceed). The lawsuit's entire basis is that Target's website isn't very "accommodating" to blind people under the Americans With Disabilities Act and a couple of similar California statutes. That's it.

As an official, state-licensed, handicapped person, I will toss my full moral authority against the ADA. It is as certain an imposition on property rights as Kelo. A good friend had her boutique apparel store shut down because she would not make $25,000 improvements to the small storefront she and her husband were leasing!

I have had Kelo on my mind. Last week's Weekly Standard gave a story on Human Rights Watch the cover, but included a much longer piece on eminent domain abuse in The Garden State. A family in Piscataway, NJ is losing its farm in the middle of town for "Open Space."

I have to admit this case is just as insane, but Kelo v. New London was a SCOTUS decision, this one hopes still has a few chances to be derailed.

Accommodating blind web-surfers, indeed.

Posted by John Kranz at 4:09 PM | Comments (1)
But mdmhvonpa thinks:

Heh ... wouldnt that be a problem with the monitor not producing braile? I'm still upset that the RIAA has not done something to help the deaf consume downloaded music!

Posted by: mdmhvonpa at September 12, 2006 8:55 AM

August 16, 2006

XM vs Sirius

The Washington Post weighs in.

And the answer?

"Depends what you're looking for."

Myself, I got Sirius with a car I bought in 2004. Never really planned on getting either, since most of my (admittedly little) car time was spent listening to CDs or talk radio. But I gave it a shot and quickly discovered "First Wave" ... a station which plays New Wave bands of the late 70s and 80s. Perfect.

And "Hairnation"... 80's hair bands..... but my latest love. "Super Shuffle"

It plays random music from a variety of genres.... Hank Williams to Weezer and everything in between.

I thought I'd be listening to Howard Stern more, but I'm not exactly a morning person, either.

JK, your thoughts on XM?

Posted by AlexC at 6:12 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

I cancelled XM after they removed my favorite station. "Luna." The article mentions both have cut eclectic stations to make room for other fare. Luna played latin jazz, and they had a few other jazz stations if I wanted variety.

I miss it a lot, but without Luna, there just wasn't enough I could count on.

Lesson one: The Long Tail has to be really long to work. 150 radio channels are not enough. Luna still broadcasts online and on DirecTV (I have DISHNetwork, which has Sirius). They spent all this money and they made the pipe too small. Sad.

Posted by: jk at August 17, 2006 11:26 AM
But AlexC thinks:

I'm not sure the long tail can work on a radio like it can on the internet. The bandwidth that a satellite has is much more limited than the tubes here on earth.

Part of the allure of satellite is the high quality sound. (I never knew FM was so lousy sounding)

In the end, we're all limited to about 12 presets... and I'm damned sure they know what we listen to. That's how they tune their programming.

Posted by: AlexC at August 17, 2006 3:22 PM
But jk thinks:

It seems cable started out with around 100 channels and really took off when they went digital and put it closer to 500.

Your right that they know "The short Head" what most people will listen to, but without selection, they are missing a market.

The solution is easy. Merge Sirius and XM, offer 250 channels.

Posted by: jk at August 17, 2006 3:36 PM

August 14, 2006

Good Software

What makes good software?

Click Here

Posted by AlexC at 10:05 PM

July 28, 2006

Top 25 of the Last 25

How about another blast from the past?

eWeek picks the top 25 products of the last 25 years.

See the list here.

Posted by AlexC at 11:29 PM | Comments (3)
But jk thinks:

***Geek interruption***Geek interruption***Geek interruption***Geek interruption***Geek interruption***********************

Microsoft Visual Basic makes the list and Java does not? Did Katherine Harris count the votes? I demand a recount! African American OOP programmers have been disenfranchised!!!!

Posted by: jk at July 29, 2006 12:51 PM
But AlexC thinks:

Anyone can write a VB app... Java, not so.

Posted by: AlexC at July 29, 2006 10:14 PM
But jk thinks:

Fair point. I just think Java was transformative. Firstly, in abstracting the OS to a JVM so Java apps could run on multiple platforms. Secondly, by providing an elegant OOP language with free tools, Sun pushed OOP into the mainstream.

The VB attack was somewhat tounge in cheek but Java struck me as a serious omission. That and Doom.

****** Geek out***Geek out***
*** End of Geek Transmission ***

Posted by: jk at July 30, 2006 12:24 PM

June 30, 2006

French Apple Pie


    French lawmakers gave final approval Friday to legislation that could force Apple Computer Inc. to make its iPod and iTunes Music Store compatible with rivals' music players and online services.

    Both the Senate and the National Assembly, France's lower house, voted in favor of the copyright bill, which some analysts said could cause Apple Computer Inc. and others to pull their music players and online download stores from France.

    The vote was the final legislative step before the bill becomes law barring the success of a last-ditch constitutional challenge filed last week by the opposition Socialists.

    Currently, songs bought on iTunes can be played only on iPods, and an iPod can't play downloads from other stores that rival the extensive iTunes music catalog from major artists and labels like Sony's Connect and Napster.

In a just world, Apple would stop selling iPods in France out of spite.

But alas, I predict capitulation.

Posted by AlexC at 4:40 PM

June 2, 2006

Libertarians and Uranium


    If you let ordinary law-abiding folk have it, they'll find much better uses for it. Especially after a few of them have experimented with it for a while. Some of those uses will end up making it much easier to survive the inevitable advent of nutcases with nuclear weapons. (Not to mention plagues, natural disasters, and global climate change). And, of course, all of them will add up to lots more liberty and wealth for everyone, which is always worth a certain amount of risk.

Posted by AlexC at 12:26 AM | Comments (2)
But jk thinks:

Prohibition certainly didn't work in the 1920s/30s. Legalization would remove economic incentives from the dealers. Legalize and tax it!

Am I serious? Is he? I really can't tell.

Posted by: jk at June 2, 2006 11:35 AM
But johngalt thinks:

The problem with this idea is that most (or many, or at least some) people don't know how to or just won't handle it properly to avoid causing harm to others by mere proximity.

A commenter on the original site writes, "There really isn't anyway (sic) to use them [nuclear weapons] that won't cause more problems than it (sic) solves." Excuse me, does this person not understand the very nature of terrorism?

Posted by: johngalt at June 2, 2006 2:36 PM

March 14, 2006

iTunes Music Store

Few things are more annoying than government regulation the operation of a company.


    France is pushing through a law that would force Apple Computer Inc to open its iTunes online music store and enable consumers to download songs onto devices other than the computer maker's popular iPod player.

    Under a draft law expected to be voted in parliament on Thursday, consumers would be able to legally use software that converts digital content into any format.

    It would no longer be illegal to crack digital rights management -- the codes that protect music, films and other content -- if it is to enable to the conversion from one format to another, said Christian Vanneste, Rapporteur, a senior parliamentarian who helps guide law in France.

    "It will force some proprietary systems to be opened up ... You have to be able to download content and play it on any device," Vanneste told Reuters in a telephone interview on Monday.

It's too bad most companies don't have the guts to say, "F-you France. No iTunes for you!"

If this passes, expect the unexpected.

Posted by AlexC at 11:51 AM | Comments (3)
But johngalt thinks:

I'm glad to see France is taking care of the important s*#^ first. Hey France, you're all about to become muslims! 'Zat cool with you?

The precedent of Google China rears its ugly head again.

Posted by: johngalt at March 14, 2006 3:24 PM
But jk thinks:

The illusion of Gallic greatness can no longer be sustained by France's military power, so they attempt to be diplomatically powerful in messing with the US in the UN security Council or asserting power through EU regulations.

I was rooting for Microsoft to tell them to jump in a lake. Maybe Jobs will. I doubt it, but apple obviously does not want to open iTunes to other hardware vendors, maybe they will.

Posted by: jk at March 14, 2006 5:29 PM
But johngalt thinks:

Don't hold your breath. There's no immediate benefit to shareholders from championing a principle. Jobs will simply comply with France's demands and instruct his lawyers to make sure none of it applies in the US.

Shortsighted CEOs would rather have ten percent of the pie, any pie, every pie, they can get, than to take a stand and let that ten percent (or less) get away.

Posted by: johngalt at March 15, 2006 1:06 AM