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Still wrestling with strange cookie/browser compatibility issues. Ever wonder what life under the reign of Michelle Bachman would be like? This article from Mother Jones detailing the epidemic of teen suicides in her district provides some insight.  Very triggering.  Makes you want to go out and buy some guns just in case.  

Also informative is this article about the Tea Party citing the Bible in their campaign to remove protection for Florida Manatees.  

The Tea Party is not about deficit, debt, or even taxes.  They are about cramming their twisted version of Christianity down our throats.  
dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)


Today's theme is discontinuous change. In Mathematics, we define a discontinuity as a situation in which the normal flow of the function, f(x) on the range x->xo. It's the place where, while a limit may exist. it's value changes depending on which side you come at it from. If you graph this condition, you see that the value of function jumps from th smooth line to a new value. You can get sharp angles, points or jumps. You can even get gaps where the function simply does not exist. Back in my Physics days, I was fascinated by this stuff. It led me to study fairly alarming Chemistry in the form of far from equilibrium reactions. I then wasted way more time than I should have studying the Theory of Complex Systems. I love this stuff. I like studying the places where our laws, mathematical, Physical and/or Social, break down and cease to predict our immediate future. Ido not, however, enjoy experiencing this sort of thing directly. And, yet, my life lands me in these situations. Looks like that old Medicine Woman was right when she said I was 'Coyote'. No joke here. This was actually one of the first things that happened at college. I guess the moral of that story is never hit on Apache Medicine Woman's daughter if you a white a guy like me. Right now I'm experiencing several discontinuous changes. Some are good like the 2300 DIY move we just did to Los Angeles. The other good is shifting from Mac OSX to Linux. My new laptop is a powerful ox sort of machine. Actually, it's more like a Diesel Electric locomotive packed into a mid sized sedan body. The bad is my cycling epic today. I've been escorting Michelle to and from campus just to get some exercise in and to help here deal with traffic in Westwood. This is less stressful than you'd imagine. We're used to Philly volume and Philly's anti-social personality in all things motorized. Compared to that. the Wilshire/Westwood corridor is nothing. So, I'd figured that since I'd been doing twenty miles all told everyday this week. I figured riding to my parents house would be no biggie. Wrong. My total Today's theme is discontinuous change. In Mathematics, we define a discontinuity as a situation in which the normal flow of the function, f(x) on the range x->xo. It's the place where, while a limit may exist. it's value changes depending on which side you come at it from. If you graph this condition, you see that the value of function jumps from th smooth line to a new value. You can get sharp angles, points or jumps. You can even get gaps where the function simply does not exist. Back in my Physics days, I was fascinated by this stuff. It led me to study fairly alarming Chemistry in the form of far from equilibrium reactions. I then wasted way more time than Ishould have studying the Theory of Complex Systems. I love this stuff. I like studying the places where our laws, mathematical, Physical and/or Social, break down and cease to predict our immediate future. Ido not, however, enjoy experiencing this sort of thing directly. And, yet, my life lands me in these situations. Looks like that old Medicine Woman was right when she said I was 'Coyote'. No joke here. This was actually one of the first things that happened at college. I guess the moral of that story is never hit on Apache Medicine Woman's daughter if you a white a guy like me. Right now I'm experiencing several discontinuous changes. Some are good like the 2300 DIY move we just did to Los Angeles. The other good is shifting from Mac OSX to Linux. My new laptop is a powerful ox sort of machine. Actually, it's more like a Diesel Electric locomotive packed into a mid sized sedan body. The bad is my cycling epic today. I've been escorting Michelle to and from campus just to get some exercise in and to help here deal with traffic in Westwood. This is less stressful than you'd imagine. We're used to Philly volume and Philly's anti-social personality in all things motorized. Compared to that. the Wilshire/Westwood corridor is nothing. So, I'd figured that since I'd been doing twenty miles all told everyday this week. I figured riding to my parents house would be no biggie. Wrong. My total mileage was something like fifty miles. Home to UCLA, UCLA to home to Venice Beach to Lawndale and all the back. Man, this was only my third bike ride since the Ohio winter came crashing down. You have to build up to these things. I can't really feel my legs right now.

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I started packing the moving truck today. Michelle and I have a lot of books. I never did throw out my old Physics and Chemistry books. Surprisingly, as I begin a doctorate in the social sciences, I'm find them useful references even now. Michelle has a boatload of Biology and Medical textbooks. Actually, the medical texts are mine now that I think of it. This is why I had to cancel my Science Book Club subscription. I just sorted hoovered up everything. Plus I have computer books, Information Science books. Then there's all the tomes on Cognitive Science, Linguistics, Economics, History, Anthropology and Military Science. I don't even want to think about all the Math books and gaming texts. Anyway, we're bibliophiles and we move. There's a trick to it. The primary trick is staying in shape. That's what I'm going to blather about today.

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Pundits and officials on the ground alike have blamed violent political speech as contributing factor in Gabrielle Gifford's assassination.  I know, she's not dead, for the assassin still took her out.  The fact that she's not completely vegetative from the wound she received is a miracle, but let's not fool ourselves.  She won't being going back to congress.  Someone else will take her place.  And it's a good bet that someone will be Republican given Arizona.  I'm not merely indulging in partisanship here, I'm observing a pretty simple fact.  Demographics point in that direction.  Moreover, only one faction in politics uses the sort violent speech being blamed.  A lot of people are asking themselves how this situation came to be.  They're acting as if it came out of nowhere.  Unfortunately, this sort of rhetoric has been used on the Right side of political spectrum for a good long time and it has motivated lone wolf actors to murder as well as organized movements to less than lethal violence.  Anyone who 's worked in Women's Health for the past twenty and more years has lived under constant threat of attack.  The violent speech we now condemn in politics can trace its lineage to Pro Life movement.  At first such speech was confined to the fringes, but, gradually, the mainstream adopted the tone as well.  That's when the bombings and murders began.  From there, the word began to spread.  Things have been getting paranoid on the Right for some time now.  Threats have been pouring out of that side for decades now.  The two biggest vendors of intimidation have been the Pro-Life movement and the various racist movements that collect on the far side of the spectrum.  We've become accustomed to small bombs and individual murders centered around both.  Those of who have had our ears to the ground have noticed the rumblings spreading further.  A few years back when I was in Library School, I became aware of increasingly violent rhetoric from the religious groups aimed at Librarians.  In fact there were a couple of 'hit lists' on websites that implored men of action to take out American Library Association officers.  The crimes our association was accused of were imaginary; removing the Bible from shelves, promoting the occult and pushing pornography on kids.  Crazy stuff, but nonetheless, a lot of people believed it.  Thankfully, no violence happened, but people in quite a few communities leveled sincere accusations at library staff based on what they had read on these websites.  While the volume of violent speech has certainly picked up since the election of Barrack Obama and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the speech has been there.  More importantly, the speech has been adopted by the political establishment of a major party and media outlets friendly to it.  I'm sure they only meant to fire up their demographically nervous, pro 2nd Amendment base, but they have glossed over the consequences of embracing the crazy.  People who are unbalanced seldom listen to calm level headed voices.  If you've ever tried to talk a crazy person down form doing something insane, you know how futile it is use reason.  You have to find the river of their insanity and hope you channel it in a safe direction. Talking crazy talk means embracing the crazy in your midst.  The talk encourages them, validates their beliefs and moves them to action.  The speech now commonplace on the Right if not officially endorsed by the Republican party falls just short of incitement.  It's sad because the one thing that was true during the Civil Rights Movement is still true today:  It's dangerous to be progressive in this country even when you're just to the right of FDR. 
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I've made mention of a strange coding project involving the Quake 2 game engine and some AI concepts. I figure I'lll describe it for whoever's interested. I've been interested in Cognitive Science since my first year of college so I've always been into Artificial Intelligence to some degree. Not so much that I'd actually try to code such a thing, but challenges in the field are that same for those trying to understand the human mind. While studying Physics and getting somewhat appalling marks, I developed an interest a in loosely defined field of study that attempts to understand the general principles of organization which appear to be common throughout Physical, Psychological and Social systems. The field is fairly old and comes in and out of vogue every few decades. From the 1940s to the 1960s it was System Theory. It fell out of favor because while interesting, it's hard to devise experiments and test hypotheses. By the late 1980s, computers had shrunk both in size and price such that even impoverished undergrads like me could run simulations inn their dorms. A new set of researchers began to talk of Chaos and a Theory of Complex Systems while we dusted of textbooks on Dynamical Systems Theory. Once again, the field faded from view even as we built the Internet and started swimming complexity to earn our paychecks. In recent years, researchers in Economics, Sociology, Mathematics and a few other fields started using the name Network Science and going to seminars at the Santa Fe Center for Complex Studies. Whatever the name, the inquiries remain the same. My own particular interest is the study of the dynamics of Social Systems and how individuals organize into groups and how those groups aggregate into communities and even nations. Over the years, I've been sort of looking or a visually appealing way to model this phenomenon.
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I'm getting into a heavy duty programming project today.  I just discovered one real big reason to keep with Apple instead of going down the Linux laptop route.  That reason is Xcode.  I'm just getting into using it.  To think I used to struggle with Make.  No more of that mess!  Then again, I think the Eclipse development suite has everything that's nice about XCode and a whole lot more.  The other thing that's helping this project is my Kindle.  While I dislike the crap that Amazon is doing with retracting people's old purchases when they decide that certain genres are offensive, I like the platform and its capabilities a lot.  I need to learn C++ for this project and simply because it'd be another skill to put on the old CV. So that means I need a book.  Normally, I might try Borders or Barnes and Noble.  Now, since I am in Toledo, the computer section has loads of books that prepare you for various low level IT certifications, teach you web design and light weight web programming.  But, old school CS?  No way.  They don't deal in that mess or any sophisticated works.  Toledo's just not the market for that stuff.  The University City Barnes and Noble in Philly had this kind of thing as do the book stores in Ann Arbor.  No surprise, there are people who buy that kind of stuff in those places.  Not so much here.  The bookstores would cheerfully order me any book I want, but that'd take close to a week.  A minute in the Amazon store and I have Stephen Prat's C++ Primer Plus on the Kindle.  E-books are here to stay.  A lot of people are going to like this experience and the traditional book store is probably going to become a niche retailer.  My gut feeling is that people are going buy a lot of fiction in paper after they've developed a sentimental attachment to a work, but for most things they'll prefer the immediacy of downloading.  This is definitely the case with nonfiction for me.  The other nice thing about the e-book experience is something I mentioned in passing.  With paper books you're restricted by the interests of the people in your geographic area.  It's hard to find books about Complex Systems, Systems Theory and general academic works here in Toledo.  Popular fiction and politically biased nonfiction are available by the bushel.  Religious books abound, but try finding a decent book on Economics.  All you find are political attacks on the other guy's fiscal policy positions.  Not good, but that's what the retailers have.  With a good e-book platform, a network connection puts almost anything in your grasp.  It's hard to say what the ultimate cultural impact is going to be.  I'd like to think these new technologies offer the promise of transforming people by helping them to see things in new ways.  Unfortunately, what I've noticed is that while these readers facilitate searching for information, they inhibit browsing and the retailers can constrain both search and browse.  The retailer can subtly steer you towards certain choices.  They probably won't do so for any nefarious reason.  They just want you find the best match, but it's what they believe is the best match as opposed to your judgment.  The other problem these technologies pose is that we can create cocoon of opinion affirming information and never see anything which challenges our beliefs.  This is a serious hazard in nation that's becoming ever more culturally and politically divided. 
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I just read about a Broadway musical that just might have inspired Mel Brooke's "The Producers".  Except it was produced ten years after the movie originally was.  The musical was entitled Via Galactica and there's a NY Times piece about it. 

Also, Michelle and I just watched Boa Vs Python.  To catch a giant man-eating snake in the sewers of Philadelphia, you send in a second giant man-eating snake.  And make sure you have a bunch of gun toting rednecks on a private hunting party in those same sewers.  Hijinks and mayhem ensue.  Much to our disappointment, no Philadelphians were injured in the making of this film because it was shot on location in Bulgaria.

In other news, I think I can implement my model of mind for Quake II monsters as three layer neural net that processes the sensory input, sight and sound, through a hidden layer that represents different instinctive drives.  The output layer decides between attack, flight and going back to default behavior.  I think I can create very different behaviors this way.  Once set of monster might be a territorial grazer which is peaceful as long as the player doesn't try to keep it from feeding on medpacks or infringe on what it believes to be its territory.  Another type might stalk the player actively but run away if the player wings it.  Still another could try to race the player to the end of level.  The decision to attack or flee would be determined by which neurons get activated.  The idea is to create a bizarre eco system of menace which the players have to figure out.  I can also create flocking behavior and get interactions between monsters.  For instance, one type would fight regardless of health but would flee once a certain number of its brethren get killed.  Likewise, this one would be placid individually but aggressive in groups.  And, once again, this projects gives me a chance to review my math.  Depending on much computational power my next laptop has, I might be able to do some sophisticated stuff as well.  That is, if I understand the math behind it well enough.

dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
I was gonna do the usual drunken food post for the holidays as well as my usual pessimistic prediction post for the New Year but it's been a tough holiday in the Dagoski household.  While squatting in the neighborhood of 250 lbs, I discovered that some doofus removed a safety bar in the squat cage.  That meant when I ran out of juice on the last rep, I couldn't dump the bar and save myself.  I managed to power up the bar to rack.  I then admonished a doofus that safety bars are not to be used for Good Morning exercises.  I compounded injury with self inflicted insult by doing my usual Dead Lift the next day.  So I spent much of the past week in agony from some manner of torn muscle.  I can finally walk like homo habilis now and am up to doing something besides laying flat on my back and groaning.  With any luck you'll get some posts soon.  I have something a promise to post a recipe for dish that's been getting rave reviews.  I may post some weird stuff about modeling of social systems.  Oh, and I might even do some more strange memoir writing. 
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I just updated my gaming shelf with the GURPS 4th ed. rules.  Overall, I think I made a good investment.  Everything needed for just about anything in two compact rules books.  If you hated GURPS before, you'll hate it the same now.  If you liked it before, you'll like it better because two books now contain twenty years of game development in their pages.  No more digging through world books or Pyramid backissues looking for rules to cover your player's crack headed character concepts.  Overall, GURPS is still GURPS only a bit more succinct, somewhat more all encompassing and still a big bundle of details for any GM to manage.  A couple of things stand out.  First, the illustrations.  There's fewer and they're relevant to what's on the page.  More importantly, the female characters are not decked out in chainmail bikinis.  This is a first for rolepaying games.  There is no overt misogyny.  I don't know how I feel about this.  I mean, what's a roleplaying game without immature attitudes towards women?  Gee, I might have to call that one progress.  It means that more women might play and you might stand a better chance of finding a mate as a gamer.  Worked for me by the way.  The second thing that leaps out is organization.  You can find stuff quickly and informative diagrams abound.  Was this update worth it?  Yeah.  It brings everything together and makes teaching players the system a whole lot easier.

Now for the field test part.  Most games don't get their strength attribute even remotely right in terms of the real world.  That's okay, though.  Things like this only have to make sense in the game.  Still, it's fun to test them.  1st Ed D&D explained strength as the amount of weight you could military press divided by ten.   A military press is performed by pressing a barbell from you shoulders over your head.  So, an 18 strength means lifting 180 lbs.  That made sense.  You have to be close to the limits of human capacity to perform such a feat and every single pound past that gets exponentially harder.  By comparison, I have, at most, a strength of 15 and I'm one of the strongest guys in the gym.  D&D 2nd ed. explained the strength stat as bench press divide by ten.  Pfff.  I bench 190.  Those writers had never been in a gym.  In GURPS, they use a formula to derive what you can lift for any given strength.  The feat described is lifting a given weight from the ground over your head in one second.  I gave this a try and got to a  strength score of 16 with no effort.  That's fifty pounds in one hand over the head.  If I had pushed it, I could've gone to a score of 18 which is close to where the Supers rules kick in.  Does this mean GURPS fails the reality test?  Not at all.  I noticed something.  When I lift, I start in good squat position and I coordinate my muscles.  In other words, someone, several someones to be exact, trained me to lift and I practiced.  In other words, I have a skill.  Sure enough, GURPS lists that skill.  I probably have a raw strength score around 12 or 13 which would make put me in the athletic range.  However, because I know what I'm doing I can make the most of that strength.  GURPS passes the reality test.
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I was just digging around the net for science fiction propulsion systems for a roleplayting campaign I'm putting together. Incidentally, I'm probably going use an Alcubierre drive in my setting.  Think Star Trek Warp Drive.  The Alcubierre drive is one of several so called reactionless drives.  These are propulsion systems which violate Newton's Laws of motion, specifically the 3rd law, often phrased as "For every action, there is an equal opposite reaction."  This boils down too the fact that rockets work by shoving large amounts of something out the back with a lot of speed.  That change in momentum goes into rocketship.  4th of Jul rockets take gunpowder, mix it with air and heat.  You get a chemical reaction which generates CO2, CO, HSO4 and some other junk.  Oh, and the reaction liberates a lot of heat as the energy of the chemical bonds in the gun powder go into the environment.  If you bottle this up and leave a hole in one end, the energy has only one way out.  The combusted propellant and whatever else is in there goes flying out the back end.  The rocket looses the mass and it goes out with a force roughly equal to its energy.  That force also goes into the rocket and it goes flying off in the opposite direction as the combustion products.  All solid rockets from your bottle rockets on up to Space Shuttle boosters work this way.  Liquid fuel rockets work little different.  Advanced propulsion systems get interesting.  You can heat up some Cesium until it becomes an ionized gas, meaning the individual particles have an electric charge.  You then accelerate that gas with electrical and magnetic fields.  But, it's all the same thing.  Just different ways to accelerate something to a high velocity so you can go bravely into the night.  The Alcubierre was proposed as part of NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Program.  Sounds way more impressive than it was.  Basically it was a competition that gave beer money to the physicist with coolest idea.  A guy from Mexico, Miguel Alcubierre, was one of the finalists.  His drive distorts space time to create a sort of gravitic Venturi Effect.  In other words, denser spacetime to the rear pushes the spaceship while sparser spacetime pulls it.  This allows for extremely high acceleration and all you need is power source.  Make that a ginormous power source and add physics we don't yet understand.  Still, instead of carrying massive amounts of fuel and reaction mass, you can travel light.  This belongs to a family of blue sky ideas I call Transcendent Propulsion systems.  They're transcendent in that they all go beyond, transcend, the laws of Physics as we currently understand them.  Great science fiction even the science fact is pretty thin.  Still with the Large Hadron Colider now in operation, we live in a spectacularly interesting time, and not in the Chinese proverb sense.  We might see Physics rewritten to allow for these sorts of propulsion systems.  In the meantime, if you're looking for plausible ideas on getting around the Solar System or to a near star, give the Project Rho's page on rockets a read.  This is a fan site by a devoted science fiction fanatic named Winchell Chung who has done all the research that I typically do.  Only difference is that he was kind enough to share it with the web.  His page has got everything, and I do mean everything, propulsion systems, space suits, weapons and more.

Update:  I cannot recommend Winchel Chung's website, Project Rho enough.  I've been trawling through it and forgetting the fact that I'm working on something of my own.  Not only does he present the physics of science fiction props, he also traces the development of their concepts.  In doing so, he cites almost every Golden Age work of science fiction.  He traces ideas in science fiction from the first time they appear in literature on up through their evolution towards cliche.  The dude has essentially compiled a history and critique of science fiction as a genre from the 1940s up to present.  Man, I wish I were as OCD as this guy.  Chung is a geek's geek.  If I meet him at a con, I am so buying him the mind altering liquid of his choice.

Update the Second:  I am upgrading this site from, a "It's very cool!" to:  "Everyone on my friends list must read this, now! Pick a section and write a book report.  Reports are due Thursday." He does an tremendous critique of all Faster Than Light travel schemes known to Science Fiction and Conspiratorial Nutcases alike.

dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
Since I'm looking at replacing my Mac G4, I've been giving some thought at to transporting a laptop/notebook computer on my bike.  Outside of an actual ruggedized notebook, Mac Powerbook Pros are about the sturdiest thing going.  I've carried mine in a simple laptop sleeve and even taken a fall with it in my pannier.  It came through without a problem.  Still, I worry about how to protect a nearly two thousand(or more, way more) dollar investment.  There's a few options out there.  Here's a list of a few that I found without putting too much effort into the search:
  • Arkel Commuter Briefcase.  $214.  Yeah, it's expensive, but these are Arkels.  The panniers I bought four years ago look almost new even with the cats using them as scratching posts.  Also, this thing sports hard sides under the fabric so you can fall on your computer and not damage it.  There's a reason why these things are expensive.
  • Jandd Commuter Briefcase.  $104.95.  Durable, but not armored.  The last pair of Jandd general purpose panniers I owned lasted a good eight years.  These are top notch and you can get a padded insert for extra protection.
  • Burley Travoy Trailer.  $270-$300 + extras.  Expensive, but less than a second car.  I got a good look at this new trailer from Burley at a local bike store.  This is one of the best thought out cargo carrying solutions I've ever seen for a bike.  It mounts at your seat post, it's foldable, can be reconfigured and it needs no extra hardware to mount.  The ride balance looks great too.  For unsupported tours, I'd still go with their Nomad, but for hauling groceries, oversized stuff and boogie boards, this is the device you need.  It's a very stable platform which reduces the risk of tipping and eliminates the need for armor.  Michelle and I are planning to get one of these once we get to LA.  The car will likely be reduced to long trip duty and not driven much at all.  This opens up my second bike choices since it eliminates the need to add panniers to front as well as rear for grocery duty.
The more math I do on the subject, the more it looks like my next system will be the System76 Pangolin Laptop, possibly their Serval.  The Serval just gives an higher res display, but I don't know that I need that much screen resolution for the kind of work I anticipate doing.  Oh, and it's got a Lithium Polymer battery pack.  That oughta give it battery comparable to the MacBook Pro.
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My computer is dieing right now. Not quickly, but I need to shop for a replacement in the coming months. The dilemma I face is whether to get a new Mac or go PC with Ubuntu Linux. I like Ubuntu a lot, it's Linux distro that's pretty much ready for prime time. However, I cannot run a great many commercial applicatio...ns directly on it. I'd have to install a Virtual Machine with Window and then install stuff like Adobe's Creative Suite on that. Meanwhile, I directly install what I want on the Mac. The issue here is price. System76 has a line of powerful laptops for half the comparable Mac. What d'yall think? Since this laptop is likely to become my primary professional machine, I'll do a lot of development on it, and that argues for Linux and VMWare on its own.

My current machine is one of the last pre-ban Hemis. Actually it's an genuine PowerPC based PowerBook that I bought for grad school just before the great chip switchover. The hard drive's probably iffy and the DVD drive now jams a bit. I already had to open 'er up and change the keyboard. I will never do that DIY repair again! I will, however, keep the thing and install ginormous SSD drive and a replacement dvd drive. This gives me a backup system and an experimental platform for deviant OS installs. I can achieve geek fame by porting BeOS to PowerPC architecture. Wonder if the OS2 Warp codebase is in the public domain. The fun I can have with a spare system...

The finalists for my replacement candidates are:

System76 Pangolin:
  • Core i7-640M Processor ( 32nm, 4MB L3 Cache, 2.80GHz / 3.46GHz Turbo Mode )
  • 15.6" HD+ LED (1600 x 900) display
  • GB - DDR3 1333 MHz - 2 DIMMs
  • ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4570 Graphics with 512MB GDDR2 Memory
  • 160 GB Intel X25-M Solid State Drive
  • CD-RW / DVD-RW
  • Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 - 802.11A/B/G/N Wireless LAN Module
Price: $1681 + VMWare $189 and a Windows 7 disc that I can borrow or obtain through work or school


Macbook Pro
  • Intel Core i5 2.53 Ghz processor
  • 1440-by-900-pixel LED-backlit glossy display
  • 15.6 4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2x2GB
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Mac standard wireless etc...
Price: $2649

So far, the only compatibility issue I can think of is I-Tunes. Still it exists for windows and I have VMWare or Wine to handle that.
dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
I often have a dismissive view of many of the so called new information technologies.  Often they're just applications of technologies rather than new ones in and of themselves.  Much of the time, I fail to see the dramatic new vistas these techs offer because I know and understand the foundations too well.  They're just trivial database applications.  Geospatial metadata?  Bah.  I've been dealing with that since 1992 when I worked in ground control.  Unfortunately, that attitude misses the Big Deal that's changing the world.  True enough the tech is old and old hat for an application developer and all around info geek like myself.  However, due to spending years administering systems, I fail to see what people with vision do with them.  Case in point today.  I'm beginning the great LA apartment hunt.  I found a good locator service.  Once of the nice features they have is a Google Street view of all their advertised properties.  This is nice because it lets me eliminate lodgings in bad neighborhoods.  Being an LA native, I can determine badness by architecture and the overall look of the street.  Besides, after living in Philly, I have mad skills in neighborhood determination.  The real coolness, however, is that Google Street View moves.  You can virtually drive down the street.  I spent this morning looking at the commute to UCLA from various likely candidates.  This is so, amazingly cool!  I could check out the area surrounding the property and was able to make quick determination as to the viability of cycling from various points.  What astounds me after having lived away from LA for the bulk of my adult life is how much room there is on all the streets.  Many of the streets from Culver City/Palms/Mar Vista are arterial by most cities standards.  However, in LA, many of these are neighborhood streets.  They all have light traffic, generous shoulder and long expanses of sidewalk when either condition fails.  The only tricky bit is the transition form Overland Ave to Santa Monica Blvd.  Overland Ave seems to be the common denominator in many of these neighborhoods.  In previous years, there was simply no way I could find this stuff out without knowing someone familiar with the area.  The wealth of information available to me for a trivial cost in terms of connection dramatically shortened my apartment search and helped me make decisions I would only be able to make by actually going to the site.  This means that my Feb. Trip to LA is probably just going a formality to check the physical structure and sign a lease, leaving me with a goodly amount of down time.

This experience is an example of what Alberts called Power to the Edge.  In an age of cheap bandwidth and storage, the center of gravity for information exchanges has shifted to the edges of organizations and societies.  While this information was created and is stored in a central place, a Google data center, it is no longer actively distributed by an infrastructure which filters and packages the information.  That's left to a variety of entrepreneurs, activists, organizations and crafty individuals.  The invent new applications, draw independent conclusions and create their own insights.  This is a radical departure from previous, Industrial Age, paradigms of information distribution.  Even though it's a old and focused on military issues, David Alberts' Power to the Edge should be required reading for all information professionals.  He saw where we were headed very clearly back in 2001.

dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
I got some birthday money this week and was at an impasse as to what to spend it on.  Michelle suggested a Kindle.  I had been saving up for a tablet of some kind.  Not the iPad, but maybe the the Cruz or Samsung's Galaxy.  Michell and I talked it over and cam to the conclusion that a tablet is nothing more than a light weight laptop for people who have simple communication and media needs.  This describe neither Michelle or myself.  We both do a lot of heavy duty writing and desktop publishing.  Michell does scientific work on hers.  I do software and system development plus will probably do a fair amount of statistical work in the future.  We both need fully featured laptops.  Tablets are what we used to call "thin clients" back in the 1990s when Network Engineers and Application Developers like myself were trying to imagine the networked information appliance that the masses would use once we got Last Mile Connectivity figured out.  Michelle and I need thick, very thick systems indeed.  So, what did I want a tablet for?  I wanted to read books without adding to my already overloaded bookshelf.  I also liked the idea of a general purpose information appliance.  Wait, that's my laptop.  So, I want to read books without buying a paper object.  That's the mission of a kindle.  Why not a Nook?  Price.  The Nook is a crippled Android based tablet.  Sure I can unlock it, but that voids the warranty and requires opening the device up and flipping a dip switch, IIRC.  I have a hard enough time opening my laptop and working around inside it.  I don't want to crack a tablet to get the functionality that Barnes and Noble should've given me in the first place.  So, I got a Kindle.  It has a very limited functionality and that turns out to be just fine by me.  This thing is definitely a disruptive technology.  E-ink readers will definitely change how we read, especially once the various platforms open up for unlimited commerce.  That motive, I believe, will drive currently closed devices to open their formats and stores.  As it is, Amazon has an awful lot of the books on my wish list in their Kindle format.  And I like obscure scientific and academic books.  Not only that, but I can put all my PDF documents in the reader.  I think aside from graphic novels, I probably bought my last paper book sometime in September.  Here are the advantages of a Kindle or similar device over our traditional books:
  • Takes up very little space.  Even the kindle DX is only the size of a notepad.  If you ever fill up your Kindle, you can archive your books or documents in the cloud, on your laptop or an an external drive.  Can't impress visitors to your home with your scary bookshelf, but so what?
  • E-ink means you don't consume anymore resources over what went into your reader.
  • Never need to print up an academic paper again.  Man, that really works for me.  I have binders full of old papers that are organized for crud.  No longer!
  • E-ink is very easy on the eyes. And, I can resize the print.
  • You can make notes in the margin without actually marking up the book and you can erase them.
  • E-books cost half the price of paper books or less.  Without the hassle of printing, the book vendor has much less cost.  Still dunno how badly the vendors are sticking it to publishers and authors.  I know a couple of my favorite sci-fi authors have become their own publishers due to crappy deals.  However, that's also empowering as well.  The author can become their own press. Marketing is a pain, but it can be done.
So far I have GURPS Red Tide, GURPS Michael's Army and two books on Complex Systems on my Kindle.  Think about that for a moment:  I purchased two gaming books, one of which is a large and prestigious volume and two scientific books for the price of $36.  On paper, Red Tide alone would cost $25. 

dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
I guess it's officially fall now.  I've had my first quiz in class.  I'm discovering that the class I expected to be boring is actually interesting and the one I expected to be interesting is dull and stupid.  I rediscovering why I liked Calculus the first time around and why I loved Differential Equations.  There's just a rush that comes with solving problems.  Also, so much of Calculus is mathematical hacking.  Logarithims, for instance, were invented as shortcuts to deal products that were painful to calculate by hand.  Meanwhile, Microeconomics is dull and taught by a disinterested professor.  It never ceases to amaze me how a professor can make an inherently interesting and vital subject an absolute ordeal.  This experience is different from initial undergraduate experience.  The Evergreen State College experience was that every class was important, every class was taught by a committed, capable and engaging professor who was genuinely interested in you.  My experience was that said professors had a habit of taking your best work and using it to reset the standard for barely acceptable work each week.  UToeldo on the other hand is just a good chance for me to catch a review and get an introduction into the fundamentals of a discipline I'm interested.  I'm getting what I pay for, more actually, since these classes are free. 

There's another large difference from my original college experience.  For those who don't know, I grew up in an immigrant neighborhood of LA.  Moving away for college to a place that was not a port of entry for the world.  Evergreen, for all its rhetoric of diversity, was not every diverse at all.  How could it be in Olympia, WA?  University of Michigan was much the same except for its varied population of graduate students.  How could it be diverse, based as it was in America's Heartland?  Now I'm in Toledo, just a few miles South of UofM and the year is 2010.  Things that were once worthy of an op-ed column are now just facts of life.  Case in point today.  I saw an information table for a fraternity set up in the lecture hall where my Microeconomics class is taught(or not taught as the case may be).  That was not interesting.  We're coming up on pledge season.  What was interesting is who was sitting at the table.  The frat guys waiting to haze pledges were represented by a Sikh, a Korean and generic white guy.  They were just kicking it at the table shooting the breeze while waiting for potential pledges.  And this represents the UToledo student body.  It's Black campus.  It's a Middle Eastern campus, a Vietnamese and Chinese campus.  And there are also a lot white folk attending as well.  And, it's no big deal.  This is status quo for this generation of kids.  The weight room has no racial divisions whatsoever.  The social splits are by age and status.  Staff members caucus with one and other.  Grad students hang together.  Everyone else just kind of works out and scopes out multicolored members of the opposite sex. 

Now fire up your cable set or dust off that old radio and surf the airwaves.  All you get is talk of taking back the country, the evil of anchor babies, the menace of the 9/11 Mosque and a whole lot of other voices preaching a fear of the other.  Take a look, the other is growing up just behind you and they're hoping you leave them a good legacy.  That's what this election is about.  Forget the economy.  Yeah, it's important and should be worked on by informed policy makers.  A lot of voters are going to the opposite party this season because they're ticked off at the economy.  But, is that side talking economy?  No.  They're talking about the Sinister Other.  They're talking about Muslims, illegal immigrants and those who look like them, about gays, about people who aren't Christian.  In short they're talking about my classmates.  They're talking about the children of the USA. 

What really bothers me is the simple fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Back in '84 and again in '88, I remember being scapegoated along with my multi-ethnic classmates.  I'm really tired of this.  When do the bitter old honkies in charge of things finally die off and let those of us who simply want to be human live our lives and build our communities?
dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
Was the reply I gave to a classmate yesterday to the question of "What year are you?"  It's sort of weird being, in essence, a freshman again.  I'm taking the Calculus for People Who Won't Ever Use It class as a gentle math review and Intro to Microeconomics.  I think the last was a mistake.  I should've tried to get the 200 level class.  Oh well, the idea was to try out some things without taxing myself.  The idea, especially with Econ, was to see if this is what I want to study.  After listening to the profs uninspiring intro, I think the answer is yes.  So, when we get to UCLA, I'm going to take classes on Michelle's benefits again only at a higher level.  The weird part is being a Freshman at a conventional university.  I definitely made the right decision all those years ago to attend Evergreen.  My experience so far is that college is like high school, but even more banal.  Evergreen was totally different.  It was like a graduate program that gave you a bachelor's degree.  UToledo is four more years of high school.  Everyone here is simply taking care of business.  No one seems to actually be interested in the subject, they just want to get through it.  This attitude is something that really makes me question how we do higher education.  I'm sort of doing the taking care of business thing since I want to study at the intersection of Psychology, Sociology and Economics, what some call Behavior Economics, Computational Sociology or even Systems Sociology.  In order to get there, i have to get a grounding in the traditional, foundational topics in the field.  However, one thing I have learned over the years is that the journey is way more important than destination and you should really take the time to see where you are at every point along the journey because the sights are interesting.

In other news, my cat has a bald patch.  Sigmund missed a jump, banged his head and it got infected.  The vet took care of everything, but they had to shave his head.  Bald cats, even partially bald ones, don't look right.
dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
We've arrived safely in Toledo.  We've halfway unpacked in a charming apartment in a thoroughly charmless section of Toledo.  Which means we could be just about anywhere in the city.  Actually, the place isn't half bad.  I've found a nice little coffee house a couple of blocks from the apartment.  Campus is probably two miles from the front door.  The people here all have language, use tools and have at least some command over fire.  That means they're an evolutionary step up from most Philadelphians.  They're also polite and don't resent you bitterly for expecting them to do their jobs.  Basically, the social contract, while stressed, is still intact here.  The contract in Philadelphia was torn up and flushed a long time ago and it shows in your daily interactions with most citizens there.  And, did I mention, the place is cheap?  I mean spectacularly cheap to live.  If you're pursuing a career that is not a 9 to 5 office or factory job, this would be a good place to set up; art, music or writing for instance.  You can get a two bedroom apartment here for bit over $500/month.  Food's pretty inexpensive as well.  Car insurance?  I'm paying $120/yr.  That's right, per year!  The trick is finding a job that is not retail, warehouse or factory.  The creative economy has definitely not hit this town, yet.  First Solar down the road is hiring all sorts of engineers and scientists.  They're poised to do to Toledo what Microsoft did to Seattle. 

It's weird coming back to the Midwest, though.  Everyone drives an American car.  Casual and shallow displays of patriotism abound.  Religion is worn on one's sleeve. Trucks routinely have provocative religious messages.  The pick of the bunch was a semi truck with the following emblazoned on the side in one story tall letters: "Jesus Christ is Lord is not a four letter word!".  File that one under stuff you learn in the first grade. You're definitely not on the coast anymore in Ohio. 

Also, I'm trying to figure out what kind of broadband service to get.  Looks like Buckeye Cable is the best provider locally.  All I have to do select the level of service.  Since I hope to to be doing some consulting in the near to mid future, I need decent upstream speeds.  What speed do y'all like for doing X-Windows forwarding?  We can fairly easily afford a 600 kbps upload speed or can stretch and get the 1 Mbps speed.  Either one provides more download speed than I'll likely use.
dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
Today was the last day of the job I have boldly held down for the past six years.   This was the longest job I've ever held.  Granted I spent close to fifteen years all told at University of Michigan,  but I moved around a lot within that mammoth institution.  Basically, I'd get bored after a couple of years notice myself making stupid mistakes and then apply to other positions to shake myself up.  Not a bad strategy.  I gained loads of experience in a lot of different areas.  I also left my spoor on most of the U's information architecture.  Open up any telco closet and you'll smell eau de Dagoski.  You don't wanna know how much diet soda I had to drink to pull that one off.  I left the good U in 2002 when Michelle got a chance of a lifetime to study Parasitology at the University of Pennsylvania.  After a bad year and a year at the marketing firm Joseph Heller should've founded, I came to work at a place I affectionately dubbed the Linguistic Salt Mines.  The place was incredible!  Remember back in the 1970s when James T. Kirk was your personal role model?  Well, okay, for some of the people here it might have been Spock or Sulu or Uhura.  Did anyone ever look up to Chekov?  Anyway, we all watched Star Trek in syndication.  There was a lot of far fetched stuff on that show: Faster Than Light Travel, Rayguns, women on the bridge of a capital ship, mini-skirt uniforms and aliens.  The one thing that was never quite believable to me was the Universal Translator.  I could never see how a machine could translate between known languages let alone unknown ones.  Hell, I had a hard enough time learning Spanish despaired of ever learning enough Serbo Croatian to impress the parents of a girl I had a crush on.  Fast forward more years than I care to mention and I'm actually working in a place that's laying the groundwork for real life Universal Translators.  We don't so much work on the technology as we grow the fodder for research efforts in the area.  Any such translator will, by necessity, be an adaptive system that learns.  Developing the algorithims that do this requires a lot structured language samples.  Then getting the the system to utter anything besides "I see London, I see France, I want canned mackerel." in Mandarin Chinese or Urdu requires even more structured samples as training material.  Then you have to test it and, eventually, you'll want to improve its performance to the point where you can translate on the fly, say in a meeting with local leaders in crisis situation.  You guessed it, that needs still more data.  For six years, I was the guy who chucked finished language research products out the back of a speeding van.  The van symbolizes the state of the art careening down the road of basic research.  It's a bumpy ride let me tell you.  

Working at the Linguistic Salt Mines was like living the US Navy's marketing slogan.  No, not because, six burly guys from the Village were singing "In the Navy..." the whole time, but rather because it was more of an adventure than a job.  A Livejournal friend, [livejournal.com profile] ozarque , is a science fiction author and retired linguist.  In one of here story ideas, she imagined a future US empire employing a specially trained Linguistics Corps as part of its foreign policy.  This agency collected languages across the stars.  A seriously futuristic idea.  However, I worked in an agency which did this work in real life.  We didn't do a whole lot of field linguistics, though.  We mainly ran a sort of signals intercept program that hoovered up vast amounts of foreign language broadcast and newswire.  That was the boring part.  We'd take all this and transcribe, translate, annotate, spindle, ream, tear and immolate it in effort to turn the raw feeds into usable resources.  That magic all happened in this huge open room where we employed an army of immigrants from nations I'd either never heard of or heard about daily on NPR and CNN.  Diversity?  You're soaking in it, dear.  These native speakers of various strategic languages made it all happen.  An elite corps of programmers and Linguists would then refine the material.  In the end it would come to me in varying states of disrepair and I'd make it ready for prime time.  This involved a tremendous amount of technical writing on my part.  And I loved it.  I had a license of research!  One week, I'd be reviewing everything I'd long since forgotten about Information Theory.  The next I'd be connecting the dots between Triangular Trade, Fidel Castro and obscure Southern US dialects.  The last by the way is exactly what happened when I helped publish a dictionary covering almost the entire Yoruba Dialect Continuum.  This product really was an adventure to work on.  Part of it was a translation dictionary that went from Lucumi to Cuban Spanish to English.  Lucumi is the liturgical language of Santeria.  And carries a certain amount of baggage because of that.  At the eleventh hour I discovered that the translators hired for the project had refused to translate certain sacred words and phrases all the way into English. This found me and the author desperately scrambling to find someone who could speak enough Caribbean Spanish to complete the entries.  I checked out every book on Afro-Caribbean religion, Cuban Spanish, Cuban history and Cuban Sociology that UPenn had.  I really wondered what the librarians made of my reading habits that month because it coincided with my frantic efforts to write an intro to an arcane Information Theory product.  So I was also checking out books on Cryptography.  In the end, my abysmal command of Spanish and phearsome research skills saved the day.  Not without calls to UN relief agencies and to Rick's Occult Shop, though.  

I also experienced the politics of language first hand by helping to publish a dictionary of modern Tamil.  Language is contentious in emerging nations because language articulates identity and identity in many nations is not so settled.  Tamil is a case in point.  This project had wonderful timing because I had just started reading CJ Cheryh's Foreigner series.  This science fiction series is pure awesome.  However a lot of people are put off because they find the politics of language that Cheryh depicts no quite compelling or not quite believable.  Neither is true.  All you have to do is assert evident facts about a language whose speakers are undergoing an identity crisis to see that.  That's the current day Tamil diaspora.  The confluence of two politically and sociological significant dictionary projects with my master's program ignited new interests in me and have boiled over into what looks to be an enduring interest in Political Economy and Behavioral Economics on my part.  I''ll be starting undergraduate studies in the subject this fall hoping to build up enough of a background to pursue in the field. 

Anyway, all that came to end today.  I'm finding it really hard to move on.  And, that's a good thing because I'll be doing part time work for them by spring.  Nice way of dealing with the unemployment situation in the Midwest if I don't say so myself.  Won't be same, but that's okay.  I'll still be in contact with some of the most amazing people you'll come into contact with without press credentials in an international crisis.

dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
I just gave $50 I can't really afford to the Democratic National Committee.  The reason for this is the people on the other side.  The Republican Party is no longer a party of fiscal tightwads.  Instead we have people who mistake Christianity for Objectivism.  We have Theocrats and racists.  We have out and out lunatics claiming to be an alternative to president who's mired in the mistakes of the previous administration.  Think I'm joking? Tune into what some of them are saying:

  • Sharon Angle called for armed insurrection in a TV interview yesterday.  She also talked about 'taking out' Harry Reid
  • Angle has also said that the unemployed are spoild
  • Rand Paul has said that the government has no business enforcing Civil Rights laws on businesses.
  • Angle said that the Constitution does not create separation between church and state(goes against almost 200 years of legal interpretation).
  • Representative Joe Barton has warned against adopting wind energy because we may run out of wind.  Not with this guy in office.
  • Joe Barton is the same guy who apologize to BP for the government demanding the company clean up its mess.
  • State Republican Parties are trying to make homosexual acts illegal.  Why are they for smaller government except in out bedrooms?
As if that isn't enough, Scott Brown wants to shift the burden of winding down failing banks onto the average individual tax payer instead of taxing banks.  Not only that, Republicans will not increase taxes at a time when states are buckling under revenue shortages.  The great tragedy here is that this crisis was one of their making.  Goes like this:  To compensate for lower salaries than comparable skills fetch in private industry, governments tend to give the employees generous pension benefits.  And, don't tell me that state employees make more than the private sector employees.  I've been a state employee most of my working life and we make 3/4 of the prevailing private sector salary if we're lucky.  The only problem with generous retirement benefits is that they have to be budgeted for.  In my case, as a university employee, I've had a kick ass 403b plan.  That's a defined benefit plan.  I've contributed generously since day one and the Us have matched.  I'm going to do okay.  States fell under the spell of Reagan and failed to fund pension plans while pleasing voters with tax cuts.  The employees weren't going to retire for thirty years so who cared?  Turns out it's us kids who were just going into high school back then.  The same kind of mentality spread to federal entitlement programs.  No amount of discretionary spending cuts can reduce the deficit or the debt.  Only cutting benefits and raising revenues will do that.  Should we fail to do that, the good will go away.  Did you get your degree from a state university?  That'll go away and is going away now.  The Good Goes Away.  Do you have kids in public schools?  Do you realize they'll need a level technical skill that you never dreamed of just to survive?  Well, teachers are being laid off and programs canceled.  The Good Goes Away.  Do you use computers at Public Libraries to search for a job?  Public Libraries have cut staff and reduced hours.  Branches will close.  The Good Goes Away.  Voting Republican makes the Good go away. 
dagoski: Emperor Norton I of the Bear State Republic (Default)
Looks like Toledo will be a rest stop that's just long enough for me to cool my heels on on PA unemployment and take some review math classes.  Michelle has had a very positive conversation with a PI staring up a new lab at UCLA.  We could be in LA as soon as next summer.  This pleases me on a number of levels.  Toledo is a former mid size city that's shrunk to the level of large town.  Ann Arbor is probably bigger and has a more varied economy. LA is a self contained world economy.  Granted it has the same problem as the world's economy.  Still there's way more going on that two overly educated people can latch onto there.  Then there's the weather aspect.  As long as we live above the climate change high tide line, we'll be comfy throughout the year.  No Philly humidity.  No Midwestern winter.  I'm liking all that!
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