November 2007 Archives

Got my CycloDS Evolution last night and it's awesome. Now I can watch movies, listen to music, and browse the web from my Nintendo DS. Sweet.

My friends are getting sick of hearing me talk about laser televisions, and now that their release has been delayed until at least January they're going to keep thinking I'm making the whole thing up!

Mitsubishi Digital Electronics, has told the television industry to expect a major laser TV announcement at a US trade show in January. However it will not say how long it will take before the technology goes on sale afterwards.

Either way the first laser TV was supposed to be in the shops in time for this Christmas. ...

The delay appears to be at the production side of the release rather than anything to do with the television technology.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a couple of other key component manufacturers haven't quite ramped up as fast as was expected," Wilkie said.

I'm still waiting and crossing my fingers.

BAE has developed a 32 megajoule railgun and is promising bigger and better:

The device operates similarly to previous railguns, using electric force to propel a nonexplosive solid projectile along a series of magnetic rails. The device requires a staggering 3 million amps of power to fire.

Incredibly, the device is only the initial offering from BAE. It hopes to soon meet the Navy's goal of a 64-megajoule weapon capable of being mounted on a warship. Such a weapon would draw a current of approximately 6 million amps.

With such high power requirements, such a design is technically feasible when placed on a nuclear-powered vessel. Dr. Amir Chaboki, program manager for Electro-Magnetic Rail Guns at BAE Systems, states, "The power is available. The challenge is how you use it."

Chaboki believes the ideal ship platform would be the Navy's electrically propelled DDG 100 Destroyer, which has an operating power of 72 MW, approximately.

Just mount mine on my flying car.

My brother Nick wonders how long it will be before we see Arnold wielding this in Terminator 4.

It looks like non-"traditional" Christian churches are making an impact in Europe where state-sponsored Christianity is waning.

The Well doesn't gather as one large group in a church building but rather as a few smaller groups in cafés and restaurants. That's in part because we don't actually own a building. But there's a purpose behind this, too: It's far less intimidating for newcomers to visit a public space with a dozen or so other people than a normal "church" with pews and a steeple and a hundred strange faces. In the course of our gatherings, we also meet people who were just going out for coffee and probably wouldn't have wandered into a sanctuary along the way.

This emphasis on the nontraditional is intentional. For many of the Europeans I've met here, it's not God who is dead to them as much as it is The Church--the official, often state-supported church, be it Catholic, Anglican or Lutheran. Now new life is being infused into these churches by missionaries from America and even Africa.

Some of the elements in The Well--and its sister churches in Madrid, Amsterdam and other European cities--that are deemed unusual here would seem familiar to American Christians: worship songs that sound like rock 'n' roll rather than 18th-century hymns; discussions focusing on a personal relationship with God rather than a list of do's and don'ts. But other elements would seem out of place even in cool U.S. churches. Holding services in a microbrewery is an effective way to hammer home the point that church doesn't have to be the way it always has been.

The message is getting out. A mostly American and British group at first, The Well now regularly attracts people from Belgium, France, Holland, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Ghana and Lebanon. Some wouldn't be attending church if The Well didn't exist.

Interesting developments. I'll be in prayer for these European Christians.

I'm no political genius, but I've been predicting for a long time that Hillary isn't the inevitable 44th president of the United States, or even the inevitable Democrat nominee. Now the wheels are coming off in Iowa and nationally I expect the race to get a lot more interesting.

Too bad the Republicans don't have an awesome candidate and are becoming increasingly demoralized.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott's resignation announcement on Monday was the latest in a wave of retirements to hit congressional Republicans, making an already difficult 2008 electoral landscape even more complicated for the minority party.

Party officials insist that the retirements -- 17 members of the House and six senators -- are simply the result of individual decisions and not indicative of a broader negative sentiment within the party.

Frankly I don't mind all these retirements... it's not like many members of Congress of either party are that impressive. We can only hope that the generation that replaces these retirees will be a little more tech savvy and a little less corrupt and self-interested.

As fun as Dwarf Fortress is, it looks like these guys in Italy took it to the extreme.

Here, 100ft down and hidden from public view, lies an astonishing secret - one that has drawn comparisons with the fabled city of Atlantis and has been dubbed 'the Eighth Wonder of the World' by the Italian government.

For weaving their way underneath the hillside are nine ornate temples, on five levels, whose scale and opulence take the breath away.

Constructed like a three-dimensional book, narrating the history of humanity, they are linked by hundreds of metres of richly decorated tunnels and occupy almost 300,000 cubic feet - Big Ben is 15,000 cubic feet. ...

But the 'Temples of Damanhur' are not the great legacy of some long-lost civilisation, they are the work of a 57-year-old former insurance broker from northern Italy who, inspired by a childhood vision, began digging into the rock.

It all began in the early Sixties when Oberto Airaudi was aged ten. From an early age, he claims to have experienced visions of what he believed to be a past life, in which there were amazing temples.

Around these he dreamed there lived a highly evolved community who enjoyed an idyllic existence in which all the people worked for the common good.

Obviously nuts, but extremely cool to see. I'd love to go visit.

Scroll down a little bit to section "[1]" of this page to read a letter from a couple of Harvard law professors telling the RIAA to "take a hike".

This Spring, 1,200 pre-litigation letters arrived unannounced at universities across the country. The RIAA promises more will follow. These letters tell the university which students the RIAA plans on suing, identifying the students only by their IP addresses, the "license plates" of Internet connections. Because the RIAA does not know the names behind the IP addresses, the letters ask the universities to deliver the notices to the proper students, rather than relying upon the ordinary legal mechanisms.

Universities should have no part in this extraordinary process. The RIAA's charter is to promote the financial interests of its corporate members – even if that means preserving an obsolete business model for its members. The university's charter is quite different. Harvard's charter reflects the purposes for which it was founded in 1636: "The advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences; the advancement and education of youth in all manner of good literature, arts, and sciences; and all other necessary provisions that may conduce to the education of the ... youth of this country...."

The university strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge, and to enable students to take best advantage of their educational opportunities. The university has no legal obligation to deliver the RIAA's messages. It should do so only if it believes that's consonant with the university's mission.

We believe it is not.

They rightly point out that the RIAA's business model has been outdated by technology and that legal bullying will only extend its lifespan for a limited time. I'm often hard on our "elite" universities, but good for Harvard.

(HT: Recording Industry vs. The People,, and Instapundit.)

Democrat presidential candidates are acknowledging improvements in Iraq but moving the goalposts so they don't have to actually develop a plan for winning.

Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains. At the same time, they are arguing that American casualties are still too high, that a quick withdrawal is the only way to end the war [i.e., retreat] and that the so-called surge in additional troops has not paid off in political progress in Iraq.

Well good grief! The "surge" (and more importantly, the change in underlying strategery) has only been in place for a few months! Violence has drastically decreased, but it will take time for the safer environment to culture real political change.

Think about it: American politics has been mired in the Vietnam War for more than 30 years! The Democrats' last presidential candidate was set up and taken down based on his Vietnam-era record, and that's ancient history. Speaking of ancient history, the Sunni and the Shia have been fighting each other for centuries, and Iraq is additionally recovering from a major war on its home soil and a brutal multi-decade dictatorship. Maybe it'll take more than a couple of months of civil peace to iron things out!

I can't and don't believe that the Democrats' candidates are so much dumber than me, a mere blogger, that they don't already know all these things. So why don't they try leading the rest of their party into reality?

I for one am glad that the "rich" are spreading out their political affiliation among both parties. Perhaps this realignment will continue the Democrats' movement towards capitalism and sensible economic principles.

Democrats like to define themselves as the party of poor and middle-income Americans, but a new study says they now represent the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional districts.

In a state-by-state, district-by-district comparison of wealth concentrations based on Internal Revenue Service income data, Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation, found that the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional jurisdictions were represented by Democrats.

He also found that more than half of the wealthiest households were concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats hold both Senate seats.

"If you take the wealthiest one-third of the 435 congressional districts, we found that the Democrats represent about 58 percent of those jurisdictions," Mr. Franc said.

It would be great to have two parties who were supporters of free markets and individual responsibility. (Ok, or even one.)

"It's not adultery if your wife is in the room."
Free polls from

(HT: GeekPress.)


I bought a Roomba 4220 a week ago from Woot and it was delivered yesterday. It rules.

Only downside: while cleaning, the roomba can nudge light objects every so slightly out of place, which really throws off my OCD.

Mark Steyn points out that the world should give thanks for America.

We know Eastern Europe was a totalitarian prison until the Nineties, but we forget that Mediterranean Europe (Greece, Spain, Portugal) has democratic roots going all the way back until, oh, the mid-Seventies; France and Germany's constitutions date back barely half a century, Italy's only to the 1940s, and Belgium's goes back about 20 minutes, and currently it's not clear whether even that latest rewrite remains operative. The U.S. Constitution is not only older than France's, Germany's, Italy's or Spain's constitution, it's older than all of them put together.

Americans think of Europe as Goethe and Mozart and 12th century castles and 6th century churches, but the Continent's governing mechanisms are no more ancient than the Partridge Family. Aside from the Anglophone democracies, most of the nation-states in the West have been conspicuous failures at sustaining peaceful political evolution from one generation to the next, which is why they're so susceptible to the siren song of Big Ideas – communism, fascism, European Union. ...

Three hundred and 14 years ago, the Pilgrims thanked God because there was a place for them in this land, and it was indeed grand. The land is grander today, and that, too, is remarkable: France has lurched from Second Empires to Fifth Republics struggling to devise a lasting constitutional settlement for the same smallish chunk of real estate, but the principles that united a baker's dozen of East Coast colonies were resilient enough to expand across a continent and halfway around the globe to Hawaii.

Americans should, as always, be thankful this Thanksgiving, but they should also understand just how rare in human history their blessings are.


It appears that all your have to do is form yourself a "union" and the Democrats will back you up no matter who you hurt. The ongoing exploitation of our children by the various teachers' unions is obviously a prime example, and the recent decision by the Democrat presidential candidates to avoid the upcoming CBS-sponsored debate if the writers strike is a less egregious but more timely.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, all said Wednesday they would not cross a picket line to appear at the CBS debate, with Clinton issuing a statement which said, in part, “It is my hope that both sides will reach an agreement that results in a secure contract for the workers at CBS News, but let me be clear: I will honor the picket line if the workers at CBS News decide to strike.”

Spokesmen for New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd also said those candidates would not participate.

This decision is thick with irony. As with much the Democrats do, this makes for good publicity but ultimately hurts a hoard of "working-class" people for the benefit of the wealthy. Striking members of the Writers' Guild of America make a mean of $200,000 per year and should be easily able to survive an extended work stoppage, but what about all the other workers who are put on hold by their strike? The caterers, grips, teamsters, assistants, set designers, lighting engineers, make-up artists... they don't make six-figure salaries, and they're the ones who end up suffering.

And let's not even get into the money this costs the poor middle-class investors who own these entertainment companies. Thanks for looking out for the "little guy", Democrats!

(And yes, the median writer doesn't make $200k, but apparently 50%+ of WGA members don't even work in a given year.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm constantly amazed by supposedly intelligent people who ignorantly connect legal concealed weapons with gun crime. What percentage of gun crimes are committed by people who are carrying legally? In Florida, a concealed weapon permit holder is 300 times less likely to commit a gun crime than a non-holder. Preventing legal concealed carry only disarms the good guys and leaves the bad guys and the lunatics free to run wild.

College campuses are different from other public places where concealed weapons are allowed. Thousands of young adults are living in close quarters, facing heavy academic and social pressure - including experimenting with drugs and alcohol - in their first years away from home.

W. Gerald Massengill, the chairman of the independent panel that investigated the Virginia Tech shootings, said those concerns outweigh the argument that gun-carrying students could have reduced the number of fatalities inflicted by someone like Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

"I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," said Massengill, a former head of the Virginia state police. "But our society has changed, and there are some environments where common sense tells us that it's just not a good idea to have guns available."

Except guns are available to anyone willing to break the law! The only people on campus who don't have guns are law-abiding adult citizens. Calling them "young adults" is offensive because the obvious implication is that college students should be denied the rights that the rest of us enjoy despite their adulthood. The justification for that insult is that many college students abuse drugs and alcohol... but such abuse would typically disqualify any adult from lawfully carrying a concealed weapon. The majority of college students who aren't drunken druggies should be free to exercise their Constitutional right to carry a weapon and their natural right to protect themselves from the predators and crazies who surround them.

This isn't rocket science, and I'm basically to the point that I no longer believe in the good intentions of the opponents of concealed-carry. At some point the evidence and logic are so compelling and irrefutable that no intellectually honest and informed individual near the median intelligence can persist in their opposition.

(HT: Michael Silence.)


Bill Quick thinks Hillary will endorse an individual right to keep and bear arms in the context of the DC handgun ban case the Supreme Court has just agreed to hear. If that happens, the gun prohibition movement will be officially dead.

Donald Luskin explains why the best time to buy is when everyone else is scared.

But that would be giving in to panic, wouldn't it? Yes indeed, which brings me to my next simple solution: Buy everything you can. Go bullish. Sound crazy? Maybe, but there's some sound logic to it. And simple logic, too — logic that has served investors well for centuries. When things are most uncertain, most complex, most opaque, most scary — then you know that you'll be buying at bargain prices.

So even if a lot of bad news really does end up coming true, you'll have paid such low prices that you won't get too hurt. And if after a couple of weeks it turns out things weren't really all that bad, then you'll make out like a bandit.

How can I say that you'd be buying at bargain prices when stocks were at all-time highs just five weeks ago, and have only fallen about 7% from there? Hey — don't act like that 7% drop is nothing. It has you plenty scared, doesn't it? When you think about selling everything just to end your fear, you're thinking how horrible that 7% drop is. But when I suggest buying, you think that 7% is nothing. Am I right?

I've got friends who work in the financial industry and they're practically jumping out of windows. Do they know more about what's going on than I do? Maybe at the micro level... but I think they're missing the forest because of all the trees. Scared investors depress prices below their rational value, which means this is one of the best times to buy.

Walk fast, live longer.

Researchers who followed the health of nearly 500 older people for almost a decade found that those who walked more quickly were less likely to die over the course of the study.

The findings, the researchers said, suggest that gait speed may be a good predictor of long-term survival, even in people who otherwise appear basically healthy. The study was presented at a conference of the Gerontological Society of America. ...

The study presented at the conference reported that nine years after their gait speed was measured, 77 percent of those people described as slow had died, 50 percent of those considered medium and 27 percent of those considered fast.

Which is cause and which is effect? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that I walk "slow".

(HT: Nick.)

What's your favorite thing to throw? (Not you favorite game.)
Superbounce Ball
Toilet Paper
Pet Toy
Paper Airplane
Juggling Pin
Molotov Cocktail
Other (What?)
Free polls from

So some experimental data suggests that Asians are smarter than whites who are smarter than blacks, and Jews are smarter than everyone else. So what? America's Declaration of Independence proposes "all men are created equal", not because of their intelligence but because they are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". The rights to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" -- among others -- don't depend having a certain amount of intelligence, they depend solely on the endowment of God.

Wait, what's that? You don't believe in God, and you don't believe that our natural rights derive from him? Well then, what's your basis for blanket equality across the human race? If we're merely the product of evolutionary processes, they why should anyone stand in the way of those processes continuing and weeding out the branches of humanity that are "less fit" for our modern environment?

$999. That's how much it costs to have 23 and Me collect a sample of your DNA, sequence it, and analyze it for you. They then make it searchable for you through their website and keep the analysis updated with all the current genetic research. If I weren't sure the service would get cheaper over the next few years, I'd sign up right now.

Amy Harmon at the New York Times gave the service a try and reading her account gave me chills. I must know.

I just got a note from a friend pointing me to this page confirming that Sears treats their military reservist employees very well.

Sears is indeed one of the employers who take additional steps to show support for employees involved in serving their country (either in the Reservers or the National Guard) by guaranteeing the continuance of their civilian pay (for up to 60 months) and allowing continued participation in life insurance, medical and dental programs. Many other companies, large and small, do the same for their workers, but as one of the nation's oldest and largest employers, Sears (acquired in 2005 by Kmart) gets the publicity for setting a prominent example.

Maybe this will influence where you decide to shop this Christmas season.

(HT: Chris.)

Holy crap... in the recent Democrat presidential debate, all six of the questioners CNN presented as "undecided voters" were actually heavily involved in Democrat party politics!

CNN hits bottom and digs: All six debate questioners appear to be Democratic Party operatives. So much for "ordinary people, undecided voters". To paraphrase Junior Soprano, CNN is so far up the DNC's hind end, Howard Dean can taste hair gel.

In a nutshell, CNN's six "undecided voters" were:

A Democratic Party bigwig
An antiwar activist
A Union official
An Islamic leader
A Harry Reid staffer
A radical Chicano separatist

Also: Gateway Pundit here in STL.

The wife and I visited Mount Vernon while we were on the East Coast a few weeks ago, and at first the house looked remarkably familiar. There's the entry way, there's the staircase, there's a bedroom, there's the back porch.... But then I noticed that Mount Vernon's floor plan was missing some nooks and crannies that we take for granted. None of these are surprising to a student of history, but their combined effect on the design of the house was striking.

First, there were no bathrooms, as you might expect. There was no indoor plumbing of any sort.

Second, no closets. None.

Third, no kitchen! Apparently the servants and slaves prepared food in a nearby building and then brought it over to the main house.

I wonder what kind of rooms houses will one day have that will cause future people to look back on our floor plans with curiosity?

The scientist who invented the process of nuclear transfer and kicked off the embryonic stem cell fad has decided to stop working with embryonic cells because he says they aren't necessary.

Prof Ian Wilmut's decision to turn his back on "therapeutic cloning", just days after US researchers announced a breakthrough in the cloning of primates, will send shockwaves through the scientific establishment.

He and his team made headlines around the world in 1997 when they unveiled Dolly, born July of the year before.

But now he has decided not to pursue a licence to clone human embryos, which he was awarded just two years ago, as part of a drive to find new treatments for the devastating degenerative condition, Motor Neuron disease.

Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient's own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson's, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as "nuclear transfer."

Considering that embryonic stem cell research hasn't led to any medical breakthroughs like adult stem cell research has, this seems like a smart move. Plus, you know, murdering babies etc.

Via my wife, an inspiring story from Iraq of Muslims asking their Christian neighbors to come home.

Muslims mostly filled the front pews of St John’s, Muslims who want their Christian friends and neighbors to come home. The Christians who might see these photos likely will recognize their friends here. The Muslims in this neighborhood worry that other people will take the homes of their Christian neighbors and that the Christians never will come back.

And so they came to St John’s in force, and they showed their faces, and they said, "Come back to Iraq. Come home." They wanted the cameras to catch it. They wanted to spread the word: Come home.

Muslims keep telling me to get it on the news. "Tell the Christians to come home to their country Iraq."

Please, let's not give up on Iraq yet.

Despite my general cynicism, I'm a big proponent of hope: present circumstances may go up and down, but the future is bright! As a Christian my hope is in Jesus Christ, and as an American my hope is in the ideal that hard work and tenacity can improve any situation.

Believing in mobility helps make people happy, then. But does mobility actually exist in the United States? The Left doesn’t think so. Liberals, including rich liberals, are far less likely than conservatives to see a better future for people who work hard. Just 26 percent of liberals with incomes above the national average believe that there’s a lot of upward income mobility in America, versus 48 percent of conservatives with below-average incomes. And 90 percent of the poorer conservatives said that hard work and perseverance could overcome disadvantage, versus 65 percent of the richer liberals. If a liberal and a conservative are exactly identical in income, education, sex, family situation, and race, the liberal will still be 20 percentage points less likely than the conservative to say that hard work leads to success for the disadvantaged.

It is small wonder, then, that conservatives tend to be happier than liberals today. The 2004 GSS showed that 44 percent of people who identified themselves as “conservative” or “extremely conservative” were “very happy” about their lives; only 25 percent of self-identified liberals or extreme liberals gave that response. Conservatives believe that they live in a more promising country than liberals do, and that makes them happier.

This matches with my experience. The people I know who are happy aren't the ones who never face any difficult circumstances, but rather are the people who persevere in hope no matter what life throws at them. Sometimes this is extremely hard, and goes rather against my nature, but I work at it every day. I've been hopeless before, and it sucked, and I decided that I wasn't going to go down that road again no matter what.

Do you read my blog?
Free polls from

The connection between poverty, education, and terrorism may not be what you think.

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted public opinion surveys in February 2004 in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, involving about 1,000 respondents in each country. One of the questions asked was, “What about suicide bombing carried out against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq? Do you personally believe that this is justifiable or not justifiable?” Pew kindly provided me with tab­ulations of these data by respondents’ personal characteristics.

The clear finding was that people with a higher level of education are in general more likely to say that suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq are justified. I have also broken this pattern down by income level. There is no indication that people with higher incomes are less likely to say that sui­cide-bombing attacks are justified.

Another source of opinion data is the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headquar­tered in Ramallah. The center collects data in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One question, asked in December 2001 of 1,300 adults, addressed attitudes toward armed attacks on Israeli tar­gets. Options were “strongly support,” “support,” “oppose,” “strongly oppose,” or “no opinion.”

Support turned out to be stronger among those with a higher level of education. For exam­ple, while 26 percent of illiterates and 18 per­cent of those with only an elementary education opposed or strongly opposed armed attacks, the figure for those with a high school education was just 12 percent. The least supportive group turned out to be the unemployed, 74 percent of whom said they support or strongly back armed attacks. By comparison, the support level for merchants and professionals was 87 percent. ...

Public opinion is one thing; actual participation in terrorism is another. There is striking anecdotal evidence from Nasra Hassan, a United Nations relief worker in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who described interviews with 250 militants and their associates who were involved in the Palestinian cause in the late 1990s. Hassan concluded that “none of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depressed. Many were middle class and, unless they were fugitives, held paying jobs. Two were the sons of millionaires.”

And, of course, none of the 9/11 hijackers were poor, oppressed, or uneducated.

I think that it's easier to believe that wealth and education will solve the problem of terrorism than for us to admit that we're in an ideological war that needs to be fought on the battlefield of morality, religion, and philosophy.

A survey of New York University students confirms what I argued more than four (!) years ago: people will sell their power to vote if the price is right.

Two-thirds say they'll do it for a year's tuition. And for a few, even an iPod touch will do.

That's what NYU students said they'd take in exchange for their right to vote in the next presidential election, a recent survey by an NYU journalism class found.

Only 20 percent said they'd exchange their vote for an iPod touch.

But 66 percent said they'd forfeit their vote for a free ride to NYU. And half said they'd give up the right to vote forever for $1 million.

I bet most of those students would sell their power to vote for a lot less than $1 million if they actually found a guy willing to write checks.

Four years ago I raised this economic perspective on voting to wonder whether or not even fundamental elements of our society, such as suffrage for women, would be up for sale.

Costs and benefits often aren't monetary -- generally economists refer to "utility" to describe how valuable something is to a person. Love and affection, the power to vote, $1000, clean air -- all of these items have utility to people, and different people will value them differently. When it comes to the power to vote, I hypothesized that if you were to walk up to a random guy on the street and offer him a 20% permanent raise in exchange for his power to vote, he'd probably sell it to you. Most people don't vote, and many who do don't take it very seriously. If Joe Shmoe won't sell his vote for a 20% raise, maybe he will for 50%, or 100%, or 1000%. There's a price, you just have to find it and be willing to pay it. Some people may place infinite value on their power to vote, but I doubt there are many such people -- especially if you separate the power to vote from the natural rights we hold so dear.

With all that understanding, it's quite reasonable to wonder whether or not giving women the power to vote was a wise idea. I agree that it has moral value, and we gain some utility as a society from that good morality, but does that moral utility out-weigh the utility of every effect that has arisen because women can vote? It's possible that that moral utility is more valuable to you than anything else, but I doubt that's the case.

If we could all see a permanent 20% increase in our standard of living by disenfranchising women (or men?), would you vote for it? 50%? 100%? It's a hypothetical, so name your price.

Camille Paglia -- who says she will definitely vote for Hillary if the latter is nominated -- describes exactly why Mrs. Clinton is the wrong woman for the presidency.

Hillary's stonewalling evasions and mercurial, soulless self-positionings have been going on since her first run for the U.S. Senate from New York, a state she had never lived in and knew virtually nothing about. The liberal Northeastern media were criminally complicit in enabling her queenlike, content-free "listening tour," where she took no hard questions and where her staff and security people (including her government-supplied Secret Service detail) staged events stocked with vetted sympathizers, and where they ensured that no protesters would ever come within camera range.

That compulsive micromanagement, ultimately emanating from Hillary herself, has come back to haunt her in her dismaying inability to field complex unscripted questions in a public forum. The presidential sweepstakes are too harsh an arena for tenderfoot novices. Hillary's much-vaunted "experience" has evidently not extended to the dynamic give-and-take of authentic debate. The mild challenges she has faced would be pitiful indeed by British standards, which favor a caustic style of witty put-downs that draw applause and gales of laughter in the House of Commons. Women had better toughen up if they aspire to be commander in chief.

She goes on to write that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California would have been a far superior first-female Democrat presidential nominee, and I have to agree. Feinstein, as a Democrat, isn't exactly my cup of tea, but she's unflappable, strong on defense, smart, well-spoken, and dedicated. The Democrats are certain to do far worse with whomever they end up nominating.

Here's an article that gives a good overview of swarm intelligence, a key field of research in artificial intelligence. The emergent properties of biological swarms are fascinating and could eventually contribute to enhanced organization of both humans and robots.

If you have ever observed ants marching in and out of a nest, you might have been reminded of a highway buzzing with traffic. To Iain D. Couzin, such a comparison is a cruel insult — to the ants.

Iain D. Couzin, above, and his colleagues are discovering rules that allow swarms to work effectively.

Americans spend a 3.7 billion hours a year in congested traffic. But you will never see ants stuck in gridlock.

Army ants, which Dr. Couzin has spent much time observing in Panama, are particularly good at moving in swarms. If they have to travel over a depression in the ground, they erect bridges so that they can proceed as quickly as possible.

“They build the bridges with their living bodies,” said Dr. Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton University and the University of Oxford. “They build them up if they’re required, and they dissolve if they’re not being used.”

There isn't anything new in the article, but for someone who isn't familiar with swarming it makes a good read. These sorts of group-intelligence algorithms will be particularly important for small, cheap robots, from unmanned aerial vehicles to spy bots to submarines.

(HT: Dan.)

Apparently high-definition video technology is causing problems for pornographers.

Pornography has long helped drive the adoption of new technology, from the printing press to the videocassette. Now pornographic movie studios are staying ahead of the curve by releasing high-definition DVDs.

They have discovered that the technology is sometimes not so sexy. The high-definition format is accentuating imperfections in the actors — from a little extra cellulite on a leg to wrinkles around the eyes. ...

“The biggest problem is razor burn,” said Stormy Daniels, an actress, writer and director.

Uh. Huh.

Anyway, I've been predicting for a while that computer-generated actors will be branded like modern movie stars and eventually replace them. With star "participations" being the primary cause of movie non-profitability, it's only a matter of time before real-life brand-name actors are eliminated almost entirely... or their salaries are competed down, anyway. (A "participation" contract appears to simply mean that stars get a percentage of a movie's gross receipts, even if the movie loses money. CG actors won't have that sort of clout or greed.)

Just as pornographers are first-to-bat with HD video, they may also be first to jump on the CG bandwagon. Argument against: pornography actors are cheap compared to movie stars and it may cost more to replace them with CG than to just hire more.

1985 was a great year. Back to the Future. The Breakfast Club. The Goonies. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Real Genius. Remo Williams. Teen Wolf. Weird Science. And like 50 John Cusack movies. (In alphabetical order thanks to Fast Rewind.) But my childhood wasn't all about disgustingly awesome movies, it also depended on toys, which is where the Sears Wish Book came in.

I had so many of those toys at some point... and I never threw them away. Draw your own conclusions!

(HT: Robb.)

In a surprising move (to me), Utah voters have rejected a school choice plan that would have created education vouchers for families who wanted to attend private schools and simultaneously increased funding for public schools. The vote wasn't even close:

Utah citizens voted down the voucher plan by 62% to 38%. That is too bad--educational choices by parents for their children is an important concept--but not surprising. While there are successful school choice programs operating in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, 10 state referenda on various voucher proposals have been defeated since 1972, including two defeats each in California, Michigan and Colorado.

One reason for these defeats has been the work of the teachers unions, which oppose school choice of any kind because it limits their power. Passage of the Utah school choice statute earlier this year prompted a union call to arms. The national teachers unions went to war in Utah and won.

A very unfortunate turn of events, and surprising because I think the population is decreasingly trusting of unions in general. Introducing producer competition to the education system/industry improves education for students everywhere that it's tried. Either teachers' unions are more concerned with their own power than with educating students, or their leaders are unable to comprehend the statistics.

The One Laptop Per Child project is offering a special deal for the next two weeks that allows you to donate a laptop to a child in a developing nation and also get an XO laptop for your child. The machines look pretty cool, and if I had a child I'd definitely consider getting one because the price is extremely low for so much functionality. For $399 you can "give one, get one", and $200 of that price is tax-deductible.

Like the cheap adjustable eye glass frame, this sort of technology has the potential to revolutionize the society and culture of the developing world.

Researchers are continuing to make progress connecting brains to machines.

Harnessing the electrical impulses of sight, scientists have built a robot guided by the brain and eyes of a moth.

As the moth tracks the world around it, an electrode in its tiny brain captures faint electrical impulses that a computer translates into action.

The moth, immobilized inside a plastic tube, was mounted on a 6-inch-tall wheeled robot. When the moth moved its eyes to the right, the robot turned in that direction.

I can't wait to have Google in my brain... as long as it serving up ads, I guess.

(HT: GeekPress.)

Technology that recently cost millions of dollars can now be built at home for a few hundred. I'm inspired.

(HT: hackaday and Gizmodo.)

Former Federal Reserve governor Bob McTeer explains why the declining value of the dollar is the "least-worst" way to correct our ongoing trade deficit. The international monetary system is not an easy topic to understand, but he does a good job of making it accessible.

What is the big picture of what's going on with our B/P and the dollar?

Like a family during the process of running up their credit card balances, our large current account deficit means we have been living beyond our means as a country. We have been absorbing (consuming, investing, etc.) more goods and services than we have been producing. This isn't necessarily bad — you can use a credit card for worthy purposes — but it probably was unsustainable and it is the opposite of what one would expect of the world's richest large economy. The "normal" pattern is for capital to flow from rich countries to poor countries, where presumably its return is greater. The reverse has been happening. Capital has moved to the richest country from poorer countries, presumably because our institutions and policies compared to our trading partners more than offset other factors.

What has to happen for "equilibrium" to be reached?

Our exports need to rise relative to our imports. Resources will need to move from other industries into export industries. The declining dollar will provide the needed price incentives by making our imports more expensive at home and our exports less expensive in foreign currencies. Another way of saying that is that the exchange rate will raise the price of traded goods relative to the price of non-traded goods.

Is there an alternative to a declining dollar?

Yes, but they probably would involve more friction and more pain. If the dollar is somehow prevented from falling, the needed adjustments would be the same in terms of exports needing to grow relative to imports, or imports needing to shrink relative to exports. But with no change in the exchange rate, downward pressure on domestic income would push down domestic goods prices relative to international traded goods. Our imports would have to shrink not because of higher import prices, but because of lower domestic incomes. If internal prices and wages were as flexible as the exchange rate, it would make little difference which is used. But internal prices, and especially wages, tend to be sticky in a downward direction, so unemployment would be the likely result. In effect a recession would be needed.

With inflexible exchange rates the temptation would be very strong to avoid the internal adjustments by restricting trade. Our free trade policy would be in jeopardy.

There's lots more. It's not something I'm losing sleep over at the moment, though the falling dollar does make my foreign investments more expensive.

My wife pointed me to this article about a completely sick family whose adults taunted their daughter's friend into suicide using a fake MySpace account.

Josh had contacted Megan Meier through her MySpace page and wanted to be added as a friend.Yes, he's cute, Tina Meier told her daughter. "Do you know who he is?"

"No, but look at him! He's hot! Please, please, can I add him?"

Mom said yes. And for six weeks Megan and Josh - under Tina's watchful eye - became acquainted in the virtual world of MySpace. ...

Megan went to her room and Ron [her dad] went downstairs to the kitchen, where he and Tina talked about what had happened, the MySpace account, and made dinner.

Twenty minutes later, Tina suddenly froze in mid-sentence.

"I had this God-awful feeling and I ran up into her room and she had hung herself in the closet."

Megan Taylor Meier died the next day, three weeks before her 14th birthday.

Later that day, Ron opened his daughter's MySpace account and viewed what he believes to be the final message Megan saw - one the FBI would be unable to retrieve from the hard drive.

It was from Josh and, according to Ron's best recollection, it said, "Everybody in O'Fallon knows how you are. You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life. The world would be a better place without you." ...

The neighbor from down the street, a single mom with a daughter the same age as Megan, informed the Meiers that Josh Evans never existed.

She told the Meiers that Josh Evans was created by adults, a family on their block. These adults, she told the Meiers, were the parents of Megan's former girlfriend, the one with whom she had a falling out.

No charges have been filed against the perpetrators, and they haven't been named in order to protect their own daughter. Even though what they did doesn't appear to be a crime, they should be shunned and thrown out of civilized society.

For all the Iraq pessimists, more good news from Iraq in the form of former Sunni insurgents slaughtering al Qaeda terrorists on their own initiative.

Former Sunni insurgents asked the U.S. to stay away, then ambushed members of al-Qaida in Iraq, killing 18 in a battle that raged for hours north of Baghdad, an ex-insurgent leader and Iraqi police said Saturday.

Fighters of the Islamic Army in Iraq staged the surprise attack Friday afternoon near Samarra — sending advance word to Iraqi police and requesting that U.S. helicopters stay away, since the fighters had no uniforms and were indistinguishable from al-Qaida.

Despite the agonizing difficulty we and the other good guys face, time is ultimately on our side. Our civilization is far more appealing than that pushed by the bad guys at gun-point, and the people caught in the middle will eventually fall our way. Just be patient.

(HT: Blackfive and Instapundit.)


At the end of this Karl Rove article about the failure of the Democrat-controlled Congress to tackle any meaningful issues over the past year is a paragraph that reminds us how narrow their margin of victory was:

The Democratic victory in 2006 was narrow. They won the House by 85,961 votes out of over 80 million cast and the Senate by a mere 3,562 out of over 62 million cast. A party that wins control by that narrow margin can quickly see its fortunes reversed when it fails to act responsibly, fails to fulfill its promises, and fails to lead.

Unfortunately the Republicans haven't exactly shined recently either.

I've heard a few stories about persecution of Christians in Israel, but it either isn't common or it isn't news. From Voice of the Martyrs today though comes this unfortunite item:

Church Set on Fire - Compass Direct News On October 23, suspected arsonists set fire to the Narkis Street Baptist Church, in Western Jerusalem. According to Compass Direct News, the arsonists forcibly entered the building through a side door and set three fires in the sanctuary. The fire damaged 60 chairs and also caused smoke and water damage in the building. Compass News reported that although the police had not yet determined those responsible for the attack, it was suspected they were Jewish militants. According to Pastor Victor Blum, the leader of a Russian Messianic Jewish congregation that meets in the building, an anti-missionary organization named "Yad L'Achim" has threatened him and his congregation over the past few years. The group opposes the church's local evangelistic work and claims that the believers are members of a "dangerous sect." Pray God gives these believers boldness to stand against this attack. Pray the testimony of Christians in Israel will draw the attackers and other nonbelievers into the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Joshua 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:7

Thankfully no one was hurt, and Christ's work in the Levant will continue.

Here's a pretty nifty video sent to my by Daniel and created by Joe Castillo. The Passion performed with sand:

Fascinating new results indicate that "overweight" people live longer than others.

About two years ago, a group of federal researchers reported that overweight people have a lower death rate than people who are normal weight, underweight or obese. Now, investigating further, they found out which diseases are more likely to lead to death in each weight group.

Linking, for the first time, causes of death to specific weights, they report that overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

As a consequence, the group from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute reports, there were more than 100,000 fewer deaths among the overweight in 2004, the most recent year for which data were available, than would have expected if those people had been of normal weight.

Of course, the definition of "overweight" may be suspect, since it's based on the Body Mass Index which classifies muscular people as "overweight".

Researchers generally divide weight into four categories — normal, underweight, overweight and obese — based on the body mass index, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A woman who is 5 foot 4, for instance, would be considered at normal weight at 130, underweight at 107 pounds, overweight at 150 pounds and obese at 180.

There's no information in the article as to whether or not the researchers attempted to differentiate between overweight people with excess fat and overweight people with lots of muscle. Is the latter category significantly large to affect the statistics? I've got no idea.

Despite the coolness factor, titanium (alloy) isn't a great metal for making sword blades.

What are the implications for cutlery? Well, it means that although Ti compares favorably to steel in an I-beam, this isn't true when you start hardening the steel for use in cutlery: let's take a sword for example. If you made a typical broadsword in steel, its blade would be between 1"-1.5" wide, 1/4"-3/8" thick and about 2-3 feet long. Now, if we ignore the fact that Ti alloys don't hold an edge for now, to make a Ti blade that is as strong as the steel, you'd need to make the cross section about twice the area, so you'd end up with something about 1/2-3/4" thick and 1-3/4"-2" wide! Such a blade would look more like a 2x4 than a sword!! On the other hand, the blade would be lighter than the equivalent steel blade..

Look at this from another point of view: if you have two blades made out of the exact shape and size, one of tempered steel, and one of titanium, the steel blade would in this case be stronger and because of it higher hardness, would likely cut the titanium sword in half, but the titanium sword would weigh but a small fraction of the weight of the steel blade. Titanium's only advantage here is low weight. Essentially, it's a glorified version of aluminum.

If low weight is your top priority then titanium is your metal of choice. If you want to kill dragons, stick with steel.

Tucked within this report of Tom Cruise's bizarre Scientology adventures is a note about a fellow with an interesting mission:

Sunday night, Tom Cruise rewarded high-ranking members of the Church of Scientology with tickets to a private screening of his new movie, "Lions for Lambs." ...

Cruise's other Scientology guests were Randy Hepner, a jet pilot, and John Danielson, partner with former Bush Department of Education Secretary Rod Paige in Chartwell Education.

In 2005, Danielson, according to published reports, tried to push Applied Scholastics, a Scientology education program, in the St. Louis public school system.

Apparently Applied Scholastics moves around the country trying to inject its curriculum into ailing school districts. Surprisingly, St. Louis' school administrators in 2005 were sharp enough to sort it out.

The DARPA Urban Challenge flew under the radar, but apparently the results are in:

Carnegie Mellon's Tartan Racing Team scored the first place prize of $2 million. Stanford University's Stanford Racing team came in second for $1 million, and Virginia Tech's Victor Tango team won the third place prize of $500,000. ...

Tether said Tartan's vehicle averaged about 14 miles per hour throughout the course, which covered about 55 miles. Stanford averaged about 13 miles per hour, and Virginia Tech averaged a bit less than that. In response to a question from the press, Tether said that MIT came in fourth place.

Tether couldn't have been more pleased with the race, calling it a "fantastic accomplishment," and saying that the technology for robotic vehicles was now just about ready for other companies and organizations to pick up the work in honing it further. "DARPA is an interesting organization," he said. "We really never finish anything. All we really do is show that it can be done. We take the technical excuse off the table, to the point where other people can no longer say 'Hey this is a very interesting idea, but you know that you can't do it.' I think that we're close to that point, that it's time for this technology to [be furthered] by somebody else."

DARPA is a great organization, unique in the world, and an enormous spur to innovation. Congrats to CMU! Wikipedia has some more details about the race:

The third competition of the DARPA Grand Challenge[2], known as the "Urban Challenge", took place on November 3, 2007 at the site of the now-closed George Air Force Base (currently used as Southern California Logistics Airport), in Victorville, California (Google map).[3] ...

The course involved a 96 km (60-mile) urban area course, to be completed in less than 6 hours. Rules included obeying all traffic regulations while negotiating with other traffic and obstacles and merging into traffic. While the 2004 and 2005 events were more physically challenging for the vehicles, the robots operated in isolation and did not encounter other vehicles on the course. The Urban Challenge required designers to build vehicles able to obey all traffic laws while they detect and avoid other robots on the course. This is a particular challenge for vehicle software, as vehicles must make "intelligent" decisions in real time based on the actions of other vehicles. Other than previous autonomous vehicle efforts that focused on structured situations such as highway driving with little interaction between the vehicles, this competition operated in a more cluttered urban environment and required the cars to perform sophisticated interactions with each other, such as maintaining precedence at a 4-way stop intersection.

I've spent way too much time at George Air Force Base, and it presents some interesting terrain, but I'd call it more suburban than urban. In any event, I bet this technology will lead to cars that drive themselves with minimal human guidance long before we have practical flying cars.

Here's an advertising opportunity for someone: I get tons of drug-related spam for products such as viagra, prozac, cialis, propecia, soma, xanax, percocet, ephedra, tramadol, ultram, and hoards of others. I don't even know what most of these drugs do, but if someone wants to pay me I'll be happy to advertise them! I'll even let you use the proper spellings.

If you're looking for something funny, go watch some Flight of the Chonchords videos.

The conversation began on this post about how economic corrections are healthy but quickly diverged from the realm of finance into the more general realm of information theory. I'd recommend reading the comments there, but I want to post here my latest thoughts on the matter because I think they highlight a major reason that I'm skeptical about biological evolution.

Information is conserved, in a manner similar to energy and mass, except with losses over time due to entropy. Information can be thought of as the property that distinguishes useful energy from heat. To believe that biological life is due to evolution is to believe that natural selection and random mutations are transferring information from the environment into biological matter, with some loss due to entropy. (Due to entropy, there is an ever-decreasing amount of information in the universe.) This perspective reveals two difficulties facing the theory of biological evolution:

1. There doesn't appear to be a lot of information in the universe. There are a very limited number of physical laws that pretty much explain everything. We probably don't know all the laws yet, but I suspect if we did they could be contained in a single book. Cosmic background radiation exhibits almost no information whatsoever, for example. In order for information to be transferred from the universe to life through evolution, there must be enough information in the universe to start with.

Most naive experiments with evolutionary algorithms begin with a few simple rules and hope to generate complex results from them, but cannot do so. You don't get more information out of a system than what you put it, and you generally get less.

2. If there is a lot of information in the universe, where did it come from? This is a different question from "where did all the energy/matter come from?" because the presence of energy and matter does not necessitate the existence of information. As I said earlier, entropy transforms useful energy (with information) into waste heat (without information). Like our constant supply of energy and matter, our ever-decreasing supply of information came from somewhere, but where?

Random mutations don't net add information. They may increase information locally by moving it from somewhere else, but every transaction is degraded by entropy so in the net there's a loss of information. As with Brownian motion, the more interactions in the system the faster the whole tends towards the average. Contrary to the arguments of believers in biological evolution, longer time spans and larger populations actually make biological evolution harder to believe, not easier.

In my experience, information is never created without intelligence. I've never seen an example of a non-intelligent system that creates information, and I think the burden of proof lies with anyone who argues that it's possible. I'd even argue that, as a useful definition, an "intelligent system" is a system that creates information rather than just moving it from one place to another. I believe that God and humans fit this criteria, but I'm not convinced that any other systems or entities do.


There seems to be some confusion in the comments about what information actually is. Let's use an illustration. Wrote jez, suggesting a way that information might be created without intelligence:

7) a short computer program generates a continuing list of prime numbers

However, all the information required to represent every prime number can be written down in a very simple recursive form. Actually doing the work to process that function and generate a list of prime numbers doesn't create any new information. In fact, unless your list is infinitely long it contains less information than the function itself. My argument is that mathematics and the laws of physics encode all the information that makes our universe work. If biological evolution really happens, then the information must be derived from those sources. See again my problems with this theory, above.

Jeff Rosenthal built his own electric truck based off a 1996 Ford Ranger.

Rosenthal bought the truck for $3,000 and estimates he's spent about $12,000 modifying it, including $1,000 for the batteries.

The truck gets 40 miles on a single eight- to 10-hour charge, but Rosenthal said with more investment, an electrical car can get up to 100 miles on one charge. Total cost to charge Rosenthal's truck: $1.06.

He estimates he puts about 8,000 miles a year on the truck and expects it to last until it has about 500,000 miles. He's gotten good at knowing the mileage for trips. About 14 miles for soccer practice, 33 miles to the Spirit of St. Louis Golf Course.

That would be quite a fun project, and could even go on a resume.

The morning after...

What are your favorite types of candy?
Straight chocolate
Chocolate mixed with other stuff
Hard candies
Pure sugar (Smarties, Pixie Stix...)
Things you suck on that have sticks
Stuff with nuts
All candy
No candy
Something else (???)
Free polls from

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