Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Just the facts, Mel | Samizdata.net:: The passion...

"The way I see it, a couple thousand years ago a Jewish man called Jesus, most of whose followers were Jews, was executed on the basis of trumped up charges. This was done with the grudging sufferance of the Imperial Roman authorities at the behest of certain powerful Jewish political and community leaders. Thus it would be fair to say he was killed by Jews.

This is of course not at all the same thing as saying he was killed by the Jews: that makes about as much sense as saying "John F. Kennedy was assassinated by the Caucasians".

This is just history, guys! What is the big deal?"

I agree. The fear that there could be sources that anti-Semites could use is kind of silly. Clearly those folks find some crazy means one way or another to hate. Saying a movie is bad because haters will hate more because of it is a point I don't agree with. Besides, the reviews make it sound that the movie makes the watcher feel culpable, in a “what would I have done, had I been there" sort of way.

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Monday, February 23, 2004

TCS: James K. Glassman - Free Riding Isn't Free:: the OTHER drug war.
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OpinionJournal - Our Favorite Sites:: Funny hows "links" pages have basically gone the way of the Dodo, as far as their usefullness, both because they are usually HUGE->unusuable, and because GOD .. uhh GOOGLE is just too easy.

But above is what the Wall St. Journal thinks you should read. I don't think it humanly possible to read all of it daily, but somehow people stay on top of the news...
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So I just went here and added the script you see from BushCheney04. I wanted to do it for the other candidates, but couldn't figure it out when I went to their sites.

They will be sorry when they lose my 4 readers / day average! Ha..

And the Nader site doesn't even have a blog. Pathetic!
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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Samizdata slogan of the day::Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master
- George Washington, whose birthday it is today
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Kraftwerk:: check it out
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MSNBC - Ralph Nader to run for president

He is right that this country needs more real political parties. I'm sure libertarians, greens, and maybe even DeanForAmerica would love to have a different system, rather than the winner-take-all Electoral College.

Here is my plan: very easy registration to get on the ballot. The California recall proved that you can have 100+ people on the ballot and still get a decent result. Also, electronic voting with a paper trail would help that.

Next, remove the Electoral College. The system would be better served with a ranking system: rank however many of the candidates you like, in order of your desire for them to fill this position. Everyone you don't rank gets tied for last. So ranking the top 3, of 100 candidates, would have 1 #1, 1 #2, 1 #3, and 97 #100s.

Have a runoff of 3, and then 2, then you have a winner. This would require voting 3 times, but that is better than having your vote completely lost in a representational voting scheme we currently have. Note that this would entirely eliminate “strategic voting”, where, like a horse race, you vote for whom you think the winner would be given other people's votes. If Nader voters wanted Edwards before Bush, the rankings would reflect that.

Incidentally, my vote in 2000 would have looked like this:
1) Nader
2) Bush
Tied for last) Gore

I think that I am a bit of an exception in this case. :)

Nader is sort-of wrong when he says Washington is controlled by corporate interests. The point he misses: corporations employ people, and benefiting corporate interests usually benefits employees.

Sometimes too much money is paid to CEOs, but if it were a real problem, you'd see more failing companies. I see no reason why corporations shouldn’t be allowed to be involved in government, because their interests are legitimate and affect the economy and the country as a whole.

But, watch the video of his announcement.
Here is one thing to look for: his right eye blinks independently of his left. I love wonky eyes, a la Thom Yorke

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Meet the Zippies:: THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN on outsourcing. Describing Bangalore:

"Taking all this in, two things strike me about this outsourcing issue: One, economists are surely right: the biggest factor eliminating old jobs and churning new ones is technological change — the phone mail system that eliminated your secretary. As for the zippies who soak up certain U.S. or European jobs, they will become consumers, the global pie will grow, and ultimately we will all be better off. As long as America maintains its ability to do cutting-edge innovation, the long run should be fine. Saving money by outsourcing basic jobs to zippies, so we can invest in more high-end innovation, makes sense.

But here's what I also feel: this particular short run could be a real bear — and politically explosive. The potential speed and scale of this outsourcing phenomenon make its potential impact enormous and unpredictable. As we enter a world where the price of digitizing information — converting it into little packets of ones and zeros and then transmitting it over high-speed data networks — falls to near zero, it means the vaunted "death of distance" is really here. And that means that many jobs you can now do from your house — whether data processing, reading an X-ray, or basic accounting or lawyering — can now also be done from a zippie's house in India or China."

If protectionist means such as taxes, tariffs, greater unionization, or others are used, it will hurt the US.

If the US continues to fund innovation and also helps support the infrastructure of life-long learning, we have nothing to worry about.

I've said this to spoiled brats on Slashdot many times: if you find yourself out of work, get a better education, work harder, compete, and reap the rewards. If you need a part-time job at McDonalds to make it happen: tough. If you lost your job to outsourcing, you are not nearly as valuable as you think you are, and our economy is better off now that your former employer can better spend your former wages!

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Thursday, February 19, 2004

Nvidia Talks Up PCI Express at IDF:: I love the progress of technology. By 2020 we should have computers which are as advanced, with respect the the number of FLOPs, as the human brain:

"The vast majority of the session was devoted to a crystal-ball gaze at what PC graphics' future might be. To begin with, Tamasi gave us a look at the specs of a typical high-end system from 1994. We had 100MHz CPUs, 100MB/sec bus speeds, 4MB of main RAM, half a gigabyte of hard disk space, and graphics cards that offered paltry 40 megapixels per second fill rates -- with no geometric processing and only 1-2MB of frame buffer memory. Contrast such a system with today's best and you can see that things have really progressed in ten years. In some areas, quite a bit faster than Moore's Law.

Tamasi extrapolated these trends a decade into the future, to illustrate what PCs and PC graphics cards would be capable of in 2014 (provided that technology continues to march apace): CPUs operating at 100GHz with 10 terabyte hard disks, 44GHz system RAM with bandwidth of 160GB/sec. Graphics cards will be able to handle 127 billion vertices and fill 270 billion pixels a second with over 3 terabytes a second of memory bandwidth and frame buffers of around 32 gigabytes. The computational power will be around 10 teraflops – enough to be ranked one of the top ten large-scale supercomputers by today's standards. This would be enough to render Shrek in pixel-perfect detail in real-time, with power to spare. Ten years may seem like a long way off, but when put in terms of technological evolution, we'll have amazing computing power on our desktops before we know it."

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004

TCS: Tech Central Station - Freedom Without Responsibility:: Arnold Kling gets better and better the more I read his articles. Here is an excellent article that goes beyond the mundane left-right debate.
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George F. Will: Questions for Kerry:: He has an awesome list of questions for Kerry. In any useful debate/interview these would be the first to be asked. Instead we are left with his military record from 30 years ago and an accusation of infidelity, both effectively irrelevant to today's Presidency.

Here are the first 7, there are 28, and more to come:

"Other than denoting your disapproval, what does the adjective mean in the phrase "special interest"? Is the National Education Association a special interest? The AFL-CIO?

You abhor "special tax giveaways for the privileged and special interests." When supporting billions in ethanol subsidies, mostly for agribusinesses, did you think about corn-growing, caucus-holding Iowa?

Is the National Rifle Association a "special interest"? Is "special" a synonym for "conservative"?

When you denounce "lobbyists" do you include those for Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club? Is "liberal lobbyist" an oxymoron?

All the Americans affected by laws you pass -- that is, all Americans -- refuse to pipe down and mind their own business so that you can mind their business for them. Often they hire lobbyists to exercise their First Amendment right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances." Can you despise lobbyists without disparaging that right?

You say the rich do not pay enough taxes. In 1979 the top 1 percent of earners paid 19.75 percent of income taxes. Today they pay 36.3 percent. How much is enough?

You say the federal government is not spending enough on education. President Bush has increased education spending 48 percent. How much is enough?"

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DARPA Defense Sciences Office - Human Assisted Neural Devices:: a good compliment to Rodney Brook's 1st edition of his new column in Technology Review.
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Iris scanning to begin at German airport - News - ZDNet
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Robots, start your engines: It's a mad, mad, mad race / Driverless cars to be tested in the Mojave:: A description of some west coast teams about to compete in DARPA's Grand Challenge. They will all lose to CMU's Red Team.
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Monday, February 16, 2004

Four Wheels Good, Two Legs Bad :: Robotics Trends

A good discussion on why legged robots don't make sense. Basically it's everything: less robust under uncertainty, harder from a control perspective, quickly draining power, slower, faster to get worn down, etc.

I think the article should focus more on what is fundamentally wrong with the current approach. Clearly, working legged biological machines number in the billions around the world. When a robot takes a step, many motors are working to keep the robot in balance. This makes sense. When a machine is standing still in a stable position, those same motors are still working. This is why an Asimo has a 15 minute battery life, which is unacceptable.

From a biomechanics perspective, a human act very differently. We do have tiny stabilizing muscles when we are out of balance, but most of our energy when walking or running goes into what amounts to a spring system. The energy you add in one motion is given back with the next motion.

I do think that legs will be very necessary, as the article mentions, for robots to act in a human environment (with stairs everywhere, obstacles like children's toys strewn on the ground, and other mobility requirements which wheels couldn’t handle). But, much needs to be done before this approach is feasible.

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The Right War for the Right Reasons::Robert Kagan & William Kristol at the Weekly Standard give a most in depth justification for military action in Iraq.

For those who wish to counter the arguments David Kay's recent report give to opponents of action, you should read this. It was a clear choice for many, many reasons.

Basically, the decision to change Iraq is a drastic change in will of policy makers. It is one thing to decide that an Iraq without dictatorship & Saddam would have amazing effects on the entire region, and therefore the world. The Clinton administration, to give it credit, knew that it would be the right thing to do.

It is another matter all together to take action.

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Friday, February 13, 2004

Scientists develop new hydrogen reactor This is a necessary step in removing the necessity for fossil fuels in hydrogen production.

But I'm told a bigger issue is storage for the hydrogen, which would need to be kept in a liquid or solid form to have enough power for long term usage.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Volokh Conspiracy:: answers Prof. Robert Brandon, chair of the philosophy department at Duke:

"If some liberal professors (who are probably pretty far from 1860s Liberals) want to express their contempt for conservatives (who are probably pretty far from 1860s Conservatives), then it seems to me that they shouldn't call on John Stuart Mill to support their prejudices."

It's almost depressing how the label of a 'liberal' has completely changed over the years.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

FOXNews.com - Special Report w/ Brit Hume - Political Grapevine - Times Are Changing ...:

"Conservative Estimation

Conservative students at Duke University are complaining that the school has a nearly all-liberal and all-Democratic faculty. But the chairman of Duke's philosophy department, for one, suggests the reason his department has so few conservatives is that most conservatives aren't smart enough to get the jobs.

Robert Brandon says -- 'If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire. Mill's analysis may [also] go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican Party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia.' "

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ScrappleFace:: a funny news parody site.
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Can Free Trade Promote Peace in the Middle East?
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DECISIONS UNDER UNCERTAINTY:: TCS: Tech Central Station - Arnold Kling describes why being wrong about WMD non-existence after acting, is far better than not acting if they had existed. In the case where there was little we could do to improve our knowledge in the closed, non-cooperative Iraqi ex-regime, leaning towards caution is the only choice.

Similarly: "The classic example of asymmetric errors is a criminal trial. Sending an innocent person to prison, which is a Type I error, is considered a much more serious mistake than letting a guilty person go free, which is a Type II error. We express the asymmetry in the phrases "innocent until proven guilty" and "the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.""
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Bush Aims For 'Greater Mideast' Plan:: The only thing that will stop the roots of Islamic terrorism is a sea change in the system in the middle east. Progressive democracies with free markets and protection of civil liberties will NOT produce terrorists on the scale of 9-11.

The world-reaching insanity of fanatics on a mission to destroy infidels can only be stopped by giving people control over their lives. Given the choice, a normal person, regardless of background, will work to ensure that his community's well being is secure, rather than attack a neighbor. The key element is the empowerment to do so.

Democracy gives the individual choice over policy and government.
Open markets gives the individual choice over his/her well being: working harder directly translates to personal benefit.
Civil liberties, a combination of the effects of the 2 above, when guaranteed, allow for a level of trust in the system which facilitates smooth operation in an ordinarily chaotic world.

Bush seeks a bigger vision for the Middle East, post-Iraq. Just like the axis powers post WWII & former Eastern Block states, efforts to spread our values pay off immensely on a long enough time line. The article describes the basic plan, to be discussed in the G-8 summit.

By the way, it is insane that India and China are not in the G-8, for the same reasons. We are better off if they benefit from mirroring our system.
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Monday, February 09, 2004

Economist:: What if the dark energy and dark matter essential to modern explanations of the universe don't really exist?

epicycles in sheep's clothing
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To Boldly Go . . .

Larry Miller has a touching story on new space & Columbia.

'I've been thinking about space, and progress, and the prices that are sometimes paid for them. I've been thinking about President Reagan's beautiful speech after the Challenger disaster, when he said the crew had "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."'
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Russian Presidential Candidate Still Missing
+ the disputed Georgian elections
+ Putin's jailing of a rival oil tycoon
+ the out-of-control war on Chechen rebels
+ 1000's of nukes
= trouble brewing

UPDATE: canceled criminal investigation + Safire's views

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Radar Brings Vision to Cars' Blind Spots

If you add sensors to a car to aid the driver, eventually you have a perception base to automate the driving. 50,000 people die a year in cars, not to mention lost time due to inefficient driving habits. Also, the cost of transportation on businesses is pretty great. It is the exact reason why food & convenience-item delivery services failed.

Robotic cars are years away, but this is a needed start.

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The FlexDollar Welfare State

I'm told Democratic politicians usually hire lawyers for their staff, and Republican politicians usually hire economists.

This article is an excellent example of why economists are awesome. The method of analysis is what is good.
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From Glory to Sideshow: The Space Station's Story

Reading this article on the history of the space station, I had an idea: Build a space elevator on the moon. It would be a great test bed for the technology, and it would actually be easier.

The big issue with a space elevator is that you need a material strong enough to withstand the tension of "suspending" from the ground, into geosynchronous orbit. I would imagine that the fraction of gravity on the moon would make it far easier.

Also, all the big benefits are still there: far cheaper entrance & exit from a planet along with safer tech that doesn't need a rocket.

Here is an article about it. Here is another.

UPDATE: From this article:

Later, Pearson thought about building a tower on the Moon. He determined that the center of gravity needed to be at the L1 or L2 Lagrangian points, which are special stable points that exist about any two orbiting bodies where the gravitational forces are balanced. The cable would have to be 291,901 kilometers long for the L1 point and 525,724 kilometers long for the L2 point. Compared to the 351,000 kilometers from the Earth to the Moon, that's a long cable, and the material would have to be gathered and manufactured on the Moon.

So, maybe the moon idea isn't that hot. Wouldn't the tower from the earth also be affected by the moon?

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An Information Deficit

"As a percentage of the gross domestic product -- which many economists consider a better measure than simple dollar amounts -- the currently projected deficit, at 4.2 percent according to the Congressional Budget Office or 4.5 percent according to the Bush administration, is equal to or smaller than those recorded in six years during the 1980s and 1990s (6.0 percent in 1983, 4.8 percent in 1984, 5.1 percent in 1985, 5.0 percent in 1986, 4.5 percent in 1991, and 4.7 percent in 1992). "

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Regulating the Boob Tube

As Ronald Reagan said many times, "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away."

Read it.

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US plans to cut troops in Europe by a third

This is great news. Defense and law enforcement are the two most important jobs of the Federal and State governments, respectively. I love defense spending, because it is used to advance American presence abroad, fund bold new research initiatives, or, at its best, is used to free an oppressed people.

But, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars every year on an old Cold War infrastructure is ridiculous. I would much rather we become more flexible and heavily stress the use of Special Forces. This move will do just that.

Beyond this, we should pull out of South Korea and Japan and let those rich countries defend themselves. Having targets for the North only provokes choleric, attention-getting behavior, and if a situation were to arise, we can be mobilized quickly, as the first gulf war proved, and eradicate any threat. Letting North Korea know we are serious is the best way to ensure it won’t happen. Here is an article from Cato Institute that better describes the options.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I haven't posted much on robotics recently. The news is only somewhat interesting.

Here is a brief rundown:

Marshall Brain thinks military robots are bad because they can do immoral acts without question, and the barriers to war go down. Frankly, I think he is right about the ease to go to war, but wrong with the results: aside from nukes, what would stop us from invading every dictatorship in the world and achieving our implicit long term goal of spreading democracy? Nothing.

I want to go to the Robotics Trends' Emerging Robotics Technologies and Applications Conference . It looks like a good collection of industry leaders coming together to talk about what is right around the corner. Sounds fun!

The DARPA Grand Challenge robotic race is coming up fast. I see a few particular graduate students always working down the hall from me in Red's Office. Keep up with it from the Red Team or from DARPA's Grand Challenge homepage.

And as always, keep up with the robotic snail on Mars. Who am I kidding, that little guy is awesome!

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Pass or Fail

This is an interesting post from a soldier on his rubric for choosing a candidate in the next election. But, his most interesting point follows:

Any strategic plan for the Middle East [to fight terrorism] that left Saddam in power was doomed to failure.

I supported the war in Iraq, and not just from behind a computer keyboard. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can claim to “oppose the war, but support the troops.” Let me clarify something here: we’re all volunteers. Almost every one of the brave men and women that I served with were proud to be defending our country, and passionately believed that our mission was worthwhile and just.

When you express opposition to the war, you’re pissing all over what we were fighting for. So please don’t insult us by explaining how we were just hapless victims of Dubya and his cronies. Our biggest complaint was that it took twelve years for someone to give us the order to finish the job!

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Saddam’s Gifts

I always had the impression that other governments couldn't operate from the high moral ground they claimed in their opposition to the continuation of the war with Iraq.

It just so happens that Germany, France, and Russia had great interests in keeping Saddam in power, which is a morally inferior position to tolerating collateral deaths in taking military action.

This might be obvious, but the story above makes it clear: Saddam helped his supporters with lucrative oil contracts and money. "No blood for oil" indeed does have a nice ring to it as a rallying cry when it actually has facts behind it...

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Ivan & Abigail

Abigail and I are engaged to be married! How exciting!
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Monday, February 02, 2004

Not Too Much Taxes, But Too Many

Above is an awesome rundown of the tax system for a small business owner in Minnesota (local, state, & federal).

I would much rather a set percentage is taken, and the divisions shown. Wouldn't you like to know that X% of your thousands spent in taxes goes towards a particular program you might not approve of? Wouldn't that make you more likely to do something about it? Or, what if something were being neglected?

A simpler, more open tax code would make people more involved in politics and would probably be much fairer to smaller businesses or startups, which can't handle the added red-tape as easily.

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