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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I don’t want to laugh at this, but I can’t help it
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Via LGF:

Clinically Depressed Poodle Mauls Former French President Chirac

I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. The idea of a French politican being mauled by a poodle...

I know it's tragic; I know I shouldn't find it so funny. Chirac's in the hospital, and I feel bad about laughing at him. But it's much like the time Geraldo Riviera had his nose broken by a rampaging guest. I just can't help it.

Of course, those who don't feel so guilty about finding it funny could rub it in. They might start by buying some of these post cards and mailing them to Chirac.

Permalink | Comments ( 15 ) | TrackBacks ( 36 ) | Category: Miscellaneous

Sunday, January 18, 2009

EC starts another shakedown operation against Microsoft
Posted by: Billy Hollis
The European Commission says Microsoft can't bundle a web browser with its operating system:
European antitrust regulators have told Microsoft Corp. that the company's practice of including its Internet browser with its popular Windows operating system violates European competition law, Microsoft said Friday.
This initially sounds like the usual idiocy from EC bureaucrats. Since the line between local and internet content is becoming fuzzy, putting out an operating system without a browser makes no sense.

However, they give the game away with this:
...a "final determination" hasn't been made on the matter.
Trnaslation: "Nice operating system you got there, Microsoft. Be a shame if anything happened to it."

The EC already held up Microsoft for about half a billion in the last round of their protection racket. Since that worked so well, they're coming up with even more transparently ridiculous demands this time.

The old saw about paying Danegeld comes to mind. But Microsoft has no good options here. They could pull out of the European market, which would hurt Europe more than Microsoft, but it would definitely impact Microsoft's stockholders in a negative way. That is, the stockholders come out ahead by paying the protection money, at least as long as the criminal parasites at the EU don't get too greedy.

Oh, how I wish Microsoft would call their bluff and threaten to pull out. I think there's a high probability the Euroweenie bureaucrats would fold. But it's just idle speculation on my part sinces the chance that Microsoft would actually do that are somewhere between neglible and zero.

Permalink | Comments ( 14 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Business

Friday, January 16, 2009

If I were plotting to destroy the Democratic Party...
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Here's a plan that I think might work:

  1. Get a squishy, non-conservative Republican president elected who is so inarticulate and goofy sounding that just about anyone looks good by comparison.
  2. Get the ditziest woman I could find, and put her in charge of Democrats in the House of Representatives. Have the power go to her head, and make sure a compliant media never points out how incompetent she is.
  3. Get the drabbest man I could find, and put him in charge of Democrats in the Senate. Make sure his self-importance is pumped up to the point that he thinks he can flout the law to spite people he doesn't like.
  4. Get a bunch of Republicans to do stupid, corrupt things, and get the media to make it out as a crisis of biblical proportions, thereby getting the Democrats in control of Congress, and making the ditzy woman and the drab man national leaders.
  5. Get the Democrats to nominate a black man with no qualifications or experience for President, and again get the compliant media to grease his way into office.
  6. Get the Republicans to nominate a cranky old fart who pisses off the Republican base, thereby further ensuring that the Democratic candidate wins.
  7. Set things up so that the handover to total Democratic control coincides with a major economic downturn and threatened financial meltdown that was mostly precipitated by government mismanagement in the first place.
  8. At the same time, expose at least a half dozen instances of corruption on the part of Democrats. Preferably at least one of these should be a foul-mouthed idiot. Others should be intimately connected to the aforementioned economic/financial problems. It would help if some of the scandal-plagued Democrats are obviously incompetent at the very things they're supposed to be providing leadership on, such as the tax code. Make sure the new president is involved in some of the scandals, and it would be even better if he precipitated some more scandals with foolish cabinet choices.
  9. Sit back and watch the incompetent and corrupt Democrats completely screw up the handling of their total control. For example, have their ditzy Speaker of the House start doing backroom deals that involve hundreds of billions of dollars. Let them get as many common voters as possible mad at them by sucking up to unions, leftist pro-regulation types, and public employees who have far more generous pensions that those common voters.
  10. Kill off the newspapers that ran interference for the Democrats, and arrange for media to move to an era where everything that happens is spilled right out where the public can see it.
  11. Nominate some Republican candidates with brains and principles, and get them elected because the public is completely soured on foolish and incompetent Democrats. Return to free-market sanity. Put a simplified tax system in place to save tons of money and stop distorting incentives. Cut federal spending by at least 20%. Watch as the 1980s get re-run, except better.
  12. Watch the special interest groups in the Democratic Party tear each other apart fighting over the scraps of federal spending still left for agenda-driven spending.

I know this plan sounds preposterous, with a lot of very long-shot tasks. But I honestly think it could happen. Though I have to admit that the next-to-last step looks like the hardest.

Permalink | Comments ( 16 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Politics

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ending the drug war: now a matter of national security
Posted by: Billy Hollis
I see via Instapundit that a US military report warns of a danger of a possible "sudden collapse" in Mexico. The reason?
...its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels.
If Obama and the Democrats want to move beyond rhetoric on their "change" mantra, the drug issue is one of their best opportunities. The drug war could not be much more obvious as a failure. I think the political benefits for them would be large, and the fallout would be small. Except for social conservatives and brainwashed educators, I don't expect widespread opposition.

Libertarians have been warning for decades of the damage to American society wrought by the drug war. It appears the damage in Mexico is even worse, and according to this report could be the factor that tips them into effective anarchy. The effects of that outcome on the US are obviously very nasty.

Bringing drugs within the law would be a huge step towards steering power, money, and influence away from organized crime in Mexico and drug gangs here. The dynamics are the same as ending Prohibition. It would open up a new source of tax revenue and lower costs spent on fruitless, ineffective enforcement. I can't think of a single good reason not to do it.

Permalink | Comments ( 15 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Freedom and Liberty

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Polly Frost Boot Camp for Shutting You Up
Posted by: Billy Hollis
I can think of a few bloggers and commenters who really need this seminar, featuring advice such as:
"Re-embrace Your Inner Critic." Using advanced transference techniques, you will pretend to read your work to the most discouraging person you know.... You will learn to love them all as they do their best to keep you from typing out another word.

Perhaps that little voice that keeps murmuring in your ear that you have nothing of worth to say is really onto something!
The latest Internet writing malady described in the seminar syllabus is Twitteritis. I checked out Twitter about six months ago, reading a number of posts by folks with whom I'm acquainted. Then I established my own Twitter feed, based on my perception of the value of Twitter. The feed is named "thisispointless". Everything posted there is intentionally pointless, with no value I can perceive except occasional humor. And the amazing thing is that I have over 160 followers.

Most of them are computer geeks, and I'm not sure exactly what that means.

However, I do think Twitter can be valuable to a particular class of writer: the Bloviators. You know, those writers who can't seem to tell you that they got out of bed without writing five paragraphs about it. With Twitter, you are restricted to only 140 characters per post. Assuming you can learn to be both coherent and grammatical in that length, it's a great tool for learning conciseness.

(Found via GeekPress)

** Update 11:00 CST **

Apparently there is an entire university devoted to this discipline.


Permalink | Comments ( 5 ) | TrackBacks ( 5 ) | Category: Humor

Thursday, January 08, 2009

AT&T Wireless: Now with more suckage
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Telecommunications is a strange area of our economy. It's not part of the public sector, but it's so heavily regulated that it's not really a free and open market either. Plus there is rapid technological change, driven partially by advances in other industries, so business models for some parts of the telecom sector evolve rapidly. Right now that means internet access and wireless service.

I don't know very many folks who are entirely happy with their wireless service. The business model doesn't really promote satisfaction, because the industry is currently an oligopoly. The providers are mostly interested in tying down their customers to make it expensive to switch. That way, they can skimp on reliability of phones, support, and service, and customers will mostly put up with it because (1) it's expensive and inconvenient to switch, and (2) there is no obviously better alternative anyway.

This leads to much suckage from the standpoint of the consumer. I've been experiencing my ration of suckage for the last couple of months. If you want to hear me rant about it, read on. If you're not in the mood, I understand completely, so go over to for a cartoon, or maybe peruse FailBlog for some laughs.


Continue reading "AT&T Wireless: Now with more suckage"

Permalink | Comments ( 25 ) | TrackBacks ( 3 ) | Category: Personal

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Can’t *anybody* in the GOP play this game?
Posted by: Billy Hollis
We all know that the hypocrisy of politicans knows no bounds, but occasionally they do something that even the most severe of the rationally ignorant populace will notice as hypocritical. This week's example: allowing themselves to get a raise not long after pontificating about how corporate executives need to make sacrifices.

The opinion piece on the raise that I referenced above says this:
When Congress begins a new session next Tuesday, critics have an idea for the very first vote: Block the 2009 raise for all 535 senators and representatives.
Sure, that's what they ought to do. But this is such an opening for the GOP opposition to take unilateral action that I can't believe no one has done it yet. Any member of Congress could issue a release much like this:

From Congressman xxx from the State of yyy

It is outrageous that my fellow members of Congress are allowing us to get a raise at this critical time for our economy. We have called on everyone else to sacrifice, but apparently my colleagues believe themselves to be above all of that.

I know that I am not. So I have decided that I will donate any amount of income that accrues from this raise directly back to the US Treasury.

I encourage my fellow members of Congress to do the same, and I further support an effort to roll back this raise for all members of Congress.

Gamesmanship? Yes. But that's the way the political game is played. And as the last few years have demonstrated, the Republicans suck at it.

Permalink | Comments ( 12 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Politics

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Lightworker", version 2: Obama inspires "elevation"
Posted by: Billy Hollis
The whole "lightworker" thing quickly became one of the more humorous tags in the presidential campaign. However, the folks that live by "perception is reality" have a point. Obama does make people feel things they don't otherwise feel. He can inspire emotions that, for example, John Kerry cannot.

Courtesy of, I see that has an article that discusses an emotional state newly labeled as "elevation":
University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who coined the term elevation, writes, "Powerful moments of elevation sometimes seem to push a mental 'reset button,' wiping out feelings of cynicism and replacing them with feelings of hope, love, and optimism, and a sense of moral inspiration."
Of course, the emotion isn't new. Anyone who has gone through a religious experience will recognize that description. But the article claims that the emotion is just now getting serious study. The researcher claims that transcendent feeling "stimulates our vagus nerve, causing 'a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat.'"

...our mainstream press apparently got their vagus nerve over-stimulated during the campaign.
The researcher says certain people are particularly good at inspiring those feelings. He calls them "vagal superstars" based on his lab results of stimulation of vagus nerve activity. The article cites Abraham Lincoln as an example, and the researcher believes Obama fits the category as well.


Continue reading ""Lightworker", version 2: Obama inspires "elevation""

Permalink | Comments ( 11 ) | TrackBacks ( 5 ) | Category: Politics

Friday, December 12, 2008

Why politicians can’t grasp "It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup"
Posted by: Billy Hollis
I'm in agreement with McQ about Obama's connections to Blago. It seems ridiculous that Obama's staff didn't talk to Blago about the Senate seat. They had completely above-board reasons to do so, and until the scandal blew up in their faces, no reason not to.

So why the evasion? As a commenter on that thread (jjmurphy) says:
These people seem to lie and cover-up even when there is absolutely no reason to!
I have a theory about that.

If politicians engage in such behavior by reflex, there can be only one reason: it works.

For minor, gray-area instances of abuse of office, the best possible case for the politician is to pretend the instances never existed at all. Absent compelling tangible evidence of wrongdoing, I think that behavior works a very, very large percentage of the time.

This makes sense because the entire process of abuse of office is necessarily as hidden as possible. All of the players have a strong incentive to keep everything hidden, and the best way to do that is to pretend none of it exists.

For a politician, pretending the incidents don't exist is much easier than trying to defend them as innocent. Given the gray-areas involved, pleading innocence is a hard case to make. And if you are constantly making that case over routine things that you do, you come across as sleazy.

So routine inquiries from the press, in which there might be allegation or suspicion, but no tangible evidence, are met with the Clinton strategy "Deny, deny, deny." A high percentage of the time, it works. It even worked for Clinton right up until the DNA analysis pulled the rug out from under him.

The "deny, deny, deny" strategy looks illogical to us because we only see the cases where it doesn't work. We don't see the hundreds or thousands of cases where it does.

In short, given the realities of daily political manuveuring, "deny, deny, deny" works so well that it becomes a habit.

There's an old piece of Heinlein dialog in which a fast-driving character says "I've never had an accident." The passenger responds "The way you drive, you'll only have one." It's a bit like that in dealing with scandal. The first time you fumble it is usually the last opportunity you get.

So politicians have no practice in seeing where to stop their habit of "deny, deny, deny" and engage in more candid explanations of their actions. That's why it's so hard for them not to resort to cover-ups. It's what they know how to do, and for each individual, it's always worked for them in the past.

Permalink | Comments ( 9 ) | TrackBacks ( 5 ) | Category: Politics

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Live by the narrative, die by the narrative
Posted by: Billy Hollis
I haven't posted in a while. Besides being busy, my reaction to the presidential campaign vacillated between boredom and puzzlement that in a country of 300,000,000, our two candidates for president were both so bad.

I didn't fear Obama the way some others did (and do). I consider him a possible second term for Jimmy Carter, and I don't think McCain would have been substantially better.

The GOP apparently has a death wish. If McCain had somehow been elected and presided over the next few messy years, considering his Bushian comfort with big, intrusive government, he might well have delivered the coup de grace. Small though the chance may be, at least Obama might motivate the GOP to regain some principles and spine. McQ's advice is intended to push them in that direction. We'll see if they take it. Granted the odds don't look good, but any chance is better than none.

I take comfort is some small silver linings in the outcomes from this campaign. For example, I'm now past the point of arguing with anyone who somehow still thinks the press isn't quite biased to the left. Given the evidence, it would be too much like arguing with a young-earth creationist.

However, that doesn't mean I think the press is incapable of going after Democrats. It's just that the bar for them to do so is a lot higher. Hot Rod Blagojevich has cleared that bar with room to spare. So, just as with the odious Eliot Spitzer, he's now fair game.

I'm as jaded about the whole scandal as McQ, but it does have some interesting aspects for Obama.


Continue reading "Live by the narrative, die by the narrative"

Permalink | Comments ( 3 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Politics

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Commercials John McCain should make
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Instapundit points to Kenneth Anderson's suggestions for McCain commercials. He has some reasonably good ideas, but I notice that there isn't much attempt to point out just how liberal Obama is.

Now, maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the Republicans have sullied their own brand so badly that calling other people liberal is just the pot calling the kettle black.

But if I were going to suggest a campaign commercial for McCain, it would go something like this script:

{Show picture of Bernie Sanders.}

Voiceover: This is Bernie Sanders. He's the senator from Vermont.

Voiceover: He's not a Democrat.

{Show donkey with red circle-and-slash fading in.}

Voiceover: He's not a Republican.

{Show elephant with red circle-and-slash fading in.}

Voiceover: He calls himself a socialist.

You might think he would be the most liberal member of the United States Senate. According to National Journal's 2007 computerized ranking, you would be wrong.

{Change screen to quadrants, and put Bernie's picture in the lower right quadrant. Put shadow silhouettes of Barack Obama in the upper left, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in the upper right, and Joe Biden in the lower left.}

Voiceover: Finishing just ahead of Bernie is the Democrat's vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden.

{Light up Joe Biden's picture.}

Voiceover: And the number one most liberal senator in National Journal's rankings for 2007? Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

{Light up Obama's picture.}

Voiceover: So the Democratic presidential ticket this year contains two people who have been ranked as more liberal than the Senate's only socialist. Thought you'd like to know.


Keep in mind that I'm not a McCain supporter, so you Obamanauts can pull back from using the keyboard macros you usually pull out against Republicans. I realize National Journal is a conservative publication, and that a whole bunch of leftie folks have screamed bias against them (though I've seen precious little hard analysis of why their rankings are wrong).

I'm just pointing out something that ought not be that controversial - Obama is very, very liberal, and so is Biden. Given Obama's background as a inner-city community organizer, etc., I don't see why anyone should be surprised or indignant when that's pointed out. And I think it's very, very relevant to this election.

Permalink | Comments ( 15 ) | TrackBacks ( 3 ) | Category: Politics

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Helping out Leno and Letterman
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Over at Instapundit, I saw a reference to this study on how TV humorists are treating the major presidential candidates.

Comedy Central is the equal-opportunity choice, making fun of all sides about equally. That increases my respect for Jon Stewart another notch.

Leno and Letterman don't seem to have found their mojo on going after Obama. Perhaps it's because the guy comes across as pretty humorless, so he's just not that easy to make fun of.

On an apparently unrelated note, Insty's link just above that one says the Obama-Ayers connection is finally breaking into the mainstream media.

That set me to wondering about something. The late night comics seem to settle on certain themes for jokes about politicians. For example, right now, the dominant theme on McCain is his age.

The Ayers connection looks like a real possibility for Obama. Why, the jokes practically write themselves. Here's a couple I came up with off the cuff:
Obama should have been suspicious the first time he visited Bill Ayer's house. The Threat Level Sign outside his door was clearly set to Orange.
Obama is having a conversation with Bill Ayers while visiting Ayer's office. Obama is reading the plaques on Ayers' wall.

"Bill, what's this plaque for?"

"Barry, I got that award for my program to assist elementary school children."

"How about that one over there?"

"Oh, that's my Terrorist of the Year award from Weather Underground."
Now granted, these are not that great, but then I'm not a professional humor writer for a network show, either.

Perhaps QandO readers could try their hand at producing their own. We might as well help out those poor struggling late-night comics as they come to grips with their Obama humor deficit.


Permalink | Comments ( 22 ) | TrackBacks ( 3 ) | Category: Humor

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The WSJ says Sadr’s about spent
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Yesterday, the WSJ reported that:
Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ... intends to disarm his once-dominant Mahdi Army militia and remake it as a social-services organization.

The transformation would represent a significant turnabout for a group that, as recently as earlier this year, was seen as one of the most destabilizing anti-American forces in Iraq.
That doesn't do much to support Iraq war opponents who confidently assured us, when Maliki took on Sadr in earnest earlier this year, that Sadr really won and Maliki lost. Instead McQ looks really prescient in his posting on the subject at the end of March. (That thread is particularly amusing in retrospect, as one of our post-modern leaning commenters assures us that "Objectively, Maliki lost. There is no other honest way to call this.")

In "Moqtada Packs It In" today the WSF further notes that:
In many respects, the story of the Mahdi Army's decline follows the same pattern as al Qaeda's: Not only was it routed militarily, it also made itself noxious to the very Shiite population it purported to represent and defend.
Of course, such progress is of limited benefit by itself, but they also conclude:
The overwhelming Shiite rejection of this brand of politics is another piece of good news from Iraq, as it means that Iraqis will not tolerate Iranian-style theocratic rule.

It is also an indication that Iraqi politics is developing in a healthy way.


Mr. Maliki ... has also proven to be more than a sectarian politician and no Iranian pawn. Instead, he has turned out to be a muscular Iraqi nationalist, a stance that enjoys far greater popular support than many Western "experts" on Iraq believed possible.

I hope they are right about this. Certainly those who claimed that Iran would ultimately triumph in Iraq simply because of its Shiite commonality and its backing of militant groups ought to rethink that position. The situation is clearly more complex than that, and there appear to be good possibilities for a reasonable degree of stability and openness in Iraq for the long term. When Iraqis get a decent taste of freedom and prosperity, I find it hard to believe they will just hand it all back when Iran ratchets up the pressure.

I don't think Bush has handled Iran that well, and Iran has played a pretty good game on a relatively weak hand. They might still contrive a way to induce enough instability to drive out the US and come out as the major power in the region. But that possibility has not been strengthened by events in the last year.

Permalink | Comments ( 26 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Iraq

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Jonah Goldberg notes postmodernism on the left
Posted by: Billy Hollis
I've noted many times here in comments at QandO that you can understand the actions and motivations of today's left much better if you look at how the left is infused with postmodernist thinking, and shuns traditional Enlightenment thinking.

The main difference is in what the core concept of "truth" really means. Post-modernists do not embrace the same concept of truth that Enlightenment thinkers do.

A good example was in this thread, which featured a video of Harry Reid taking a rhetorical position that is obvious nonsense to an Enlightenment thinker. As I said in the comments there:
If you strapped a lie detector to Harry Reid during this exchange, I'm convinced it would show that he thought he was telling the literal truth. There's no deception in his mind in redefining "voluntary" to mean whatever he needs it to mean, as long as his ultimate objectives are moral in his mind.
I really do think that understanding today's left requires looking at them in light of postmodernism. However, I think that's a minority position among those in the center and right. Enlightenment-based thinkers, which includes conservatives, libertarians, and most moderates, generally just assume that everyone has the same basic concept of truth and logic. That leads to some of their confusion when they try to understand the actions and words of leftists.

I was pleased to see that Jonah Goldberg's column in USAToday today was on this subject. He notes that:
There is, however, a third possibility. Obama is a postmodernist.

An explosive fad in the 1980s, postmodernism was and is an enormous intellectual hustle in which left-wing intellectuals take crowbars and pick axes to anything having to do with the civilizational Mount Rushmore of Dead White European Males.

"PoMos" hold that there is no such thing as capital-T "Truth." There are only lower-case "truths." Our traditional understandings of right and wrong, true and false, are really just ways for those Pernicious Pale Patriarchs to keep the Coalition of the Oppressed in their place. In the PoMo's telling, reality is "socially constructed."
Jonah then makes a pretty good case that Obama's thinking is firmly grounded in postmodernism. For those of us who wonder why the Obama campaign seems to have no substance to is, Jonah explains that post-modern influence is probably one the most important reasons why:
The Obama campaign has a postmodern feel to it because more than anything else, it seems to be about itself.
I'm sure that sentence sounds silly to some of you, but if you've (critically) studied postmodernism, it won't sound silly at all.

Of course, there are other reasons for Obama's substance-free campaign. I think some of his political strategists think that, since all the underlying metrics point towards a Democratic win this year, the safest strategy is to not say much of anything.

But I think Jonah has an important point. We need to keep it in mind as various obscure writings by Obama come to light and possibly show us new contradictions in his thinking. We need to understand that part of the reason Obama constantly redefines things to suit himself is that in light of his postmodernist influence, just like Harry Reid in the video, Obama doesn't think such behavior is the least bit dishonest.

Permalink | Comments ( 73 ) | TrackBacks ( 9 ) | Category: Politics

Friday, July 18, 2008

Making fun of post-modernism
Posted by: Billy Hollis
It appears I'm not the only one who finds post-modernist literary deconstruction to be worthy of nothing but contempt:

The cartoon reminded me of (and was possibly inspired by) the Sokal hoax. Of course, the post-modernists try to handwave away the fact that their writings are so nonsensical that they can't tell a spoof from the real thing. But then, I've yet to meet anyone who takes post-modernism seriously and also has a recognizable sense of humor.

By the way, if you like esoteric humor, xkcd is one of the very best places on the web to get it.

Permalink | Comments ( 5 ) | TrackBacks ( 4 ) | Category: Humor

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If you experience gun lust...
Posted by: Billy Hollis
... then you'll probably want one of these machine guns that fits in your back pocket:

Unfortunately, it's a prototype with no plans to manufacture. So stop slobbering over it.

(Found via GeekPress.)

Permalink | Comments ( 10 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Guns and Gun Rights

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What I’ve been working on lately
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Usual disclaimer on technology posts: our readers who don't care about technology will probably want to skip this entry.

I've been too busy to post at QandO for a while, and my posting will continue to be slack through the summer as I finish up pending commitments. But for the technology-minded folks in our readership, I thought I'd call out an Internet TV show that was done a couple of weeks ago that highlights my current project.

It's an application using Microsoft's latest user interface (UI) technology, WPF, and we expect to move it to the web version, Silverlight, when that product becomes a bit more mature. The video shows the application in operation. I used Camtasia (a great product, by the way) to capture the video.

I've talked here about Silverlight before a bit over a year ago when it was first introduced. As the competition between Silverlight and Adobe's Flex/Flash combo heats up, I think we'll see a new generation of better user experience on the Internet. As I hope the video shows, it is possible to do much better UI than most apps exhibit today.

Now for the "throwing cold water" part. This stuff is hard to learn. That partly explains why the adoption rate for this new UI technology has been pretty modest. In addition to sheer conceptual complexity, the tools and resources for learning are not where they should be.

So, while the new user interfaces can offer some nice benefits if you use the new technologies effectively, I'm not advising anyone to rush out and start using this stuff on a tight-deadline project. If you want to learn it, pick something small and allocate extra time for the learning. The more extra time, the better.

Permalink | Comments ( 3 ) | TrackBacks ( 2 ) | Category: Technology

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What if there are no alien species?
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Nick Bostrom at Technology Review has an interesting article in which he challenges conventional wisdom on existence of alien species. I think the conventional hypothesis could be summed up thusly: There are billions of stars (no Carl Sagan jokes please), probably billions of planets, and billions of years for intelligent life to develop. If it happened here, it must have happened elsewhere, so there must be other species out there. Some of them must be older than us, so they should have had time to develop space-flight capability sufficient to colonize planets.

This is the implicit assumption behind hundreds of Star Trek episodes, and is pretty deeply ingrained in our culture. But what if it's wrong?

Bostrom keys in on the idea of a "Great Filter", originated by Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University. Perhaps there is some barrier that is extremely hard to get past to get to an intelligent species on a particular planet. One or more such filters might make it so improbable to get to an intelligent species that we are the only ones. Besides the origination of life, the transition to multi-cellular organism and the creation of sex-based reproduction are possibilities. No doubt some would put discovery of nuclear weapons and probably subsequent annihilation in that category.

Or we might just have not hit the relevant Great Filter yet. That is, many species generally similar in capabilities to us might have evolved, but they all faced a challenge which we have yet to face and probably won't overcome because it's so hard.

My candidate for a future great filter is based on two inter-connecting factors. (This is purely my own speculation and isn't in Bostrom's article.) It's long been noted that once a society starts taking care of it's infirm members, evolution slows down or stops. In fact, I think it's possible that without sufficient evolutionary pressures, the natural entropy involved in genetic mutation would cause de-evolution.

Now couple that with the supposed transition to cyborg states as we start augmenting ourselves with technology. Some have posited a Singularity, as the acceleration of innovation hits a near-vertical curve, leading to all kinds of ways that we as biological beings might merge with technology.

I'm not a Luddite; I make my living on the bleeding edge of software development technology. But I'm also aware that increasing complexity in software systems is not an unalloyed benefit. Above a certain point, complexity leads to instability. I think it's an open question as to whether software can get past a certain point of complexity without failing due to it's own internal instabilities.

So I think it's possible that the transition away from biological evolution to technological evolution might contain within it some sort of Great Filter. Perhaps we just get so happy with living in a virtual world that we lose any desire to develop any further, for example. Or perhaps the inherent complexity of such a high-tech state is not resistant to natural disasters in some fashion we can't see right now. I already worry about what would happen in some sort of societal breakdown in a tech-dependent world where perhaps one in a hundred people would know how to feed themselves.

If you're the least bit interested in this subject, I'd recommend that you read the whole article. It's an interesting and well-argued counterpoint to conventional viewpoints.

(Found via GeekPress)

Permalink | Comments ( 29 ) | TrackBacks ( 13 ) | Category: Technology

Monday, April 21, 2008

Do you want a third term for George Bush or a second term for Jimmy Carter?
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Ann Althouse rightly slams Obama for a very lame response to John McCain's criticism of Obama's friendship with Bill Ayers. McCain points out something that's entirely true, as best as we can tell:
[Obama] became friends with [William Ayers] and spent time with him while the guy was unrepentant over his activities as a member of a terrorist organization, the Weathermen.
The heart of the response is:
The American people can't afford a third term of President Bush's failed policies and divisive tactics.
I'm on record as being no fan of McCain. And given the general similarity of Bush and McCain on Iraq and immigration, it's fair to point out the similarities.

That does not answer McCain's point, though. And, as Ann points out, that's the general approach from Obama's campaign no matter what the opposition says.

McCain's points must be quite valid if Obama has no better response that the lame one above. He seems to consider himself above it all, and is trying to get elected on nothing more than the perception that he's somehow more moral and caring than the other candidates.

Hmm. Reminds me of someone else who ran a campaign just like that back in 1976. Today I'm fond of referring to him as the highest ranking useful idiot in American history.

"A third term for George Bush" probably sounds unappealing to many voters, but when compared to "a second term for Jimmy Carter", it might come off looking a bit better.


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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hey, MSM! Where were you when Spitzer was merely abusing his power?
Posted by: Billy Hollis
It's a natural libertarian impulse to take pleasure in seeing authority-abusing office-holders get brought down. The Spitzer case, though, goes well beyond that. He has been well and truly hoist on his own petard. As a consequence, he's furnished some delicious schadenfreude for people across the entire political spectrum. He's in his own class in that regard; so much so that John Derbyshire came up with the term "spitzenfreude" to describe it.

It appears that nobody really likes the guy, even his nominal allies. Derbyshire says:
It's not just that nobody likes him now; nobody has ever liked him, that I can recall.
Here's another example:
There was not one iota of sympathy for our Governor to be found at that table, even among the liberals. Every second person in the neighborhood works on Wall Street - and no one - including the apolitical - had missed the ruthlessness and utter vindictiveness with which he prosecuted minor and ambiguous offenses, and in the process destroyed companies and lives.
That doesn't surprise me. He always struck me as a holier-than-thou, moralizing... well, I'll stop right there before I get too vulgar. Let's just say he's a thoroughly unlikeable cuss.

Yet, while I'm enjoying seeing this arrogant jacka$$ get brought down as much as anyone, I am depressed by what the whole episode reveals about our mainstream media. They fawned over this guy for years, no matter how much he abused his power.
Journalists have spent the past two days asking how a man of Mr. Spitzer's stature would allow himself to get involved in a prostitution ring. The answer, in my mind, is clear. The former New York attorney general never believed normal rules applied to him, and his view was validated time and again by an adoring press.

. . .

He was the one who deserved as much, if not more, scrutiny as onetime New York Stock Exchange chief Dick Grasso or former American International Group CEO Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. . . . What makes this more embarrassing for any self-respecting journalist is that Mr. Spitzer knew all this, and played the media like a Stradivarius. He knew what sort of storyline they'd be sympathetic to, and spun it.

I'm too busy to get into an extended debate with the "no, the press isn't biased, they're just sloppy" crowd today. But I'm quite fed up with the malleable principles of the modern mainstream press. They claim it's their duty to be intentionally and consistently adversarial to politicians. When it comes to Republicans, you can bet that take that principle seriously. Yet a Democrat has to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar, crumbs on his face, and a dozen unimpeachable witnesses that will testify that he's been stealing cookies for years before the press seems interested in finding anything bad to say about him.

Why couldn't they have been sitting outside Spitzer's house for days when his cases against various Wall Street types began to come apart?

Unless, of course, it's about sex. Then our mature, sophisticated, cosmopolitan journalists transform instantaneously into circus barkers. They camp out for days to get one more shot of the aggrieved wife. They relish the most sordid details. And, after the, um, orgy is over, the inevitable navel-gazing begins. "Did we go too far? Was our coverage relevant, or just salacious? Whither political journalism?" Which is nothing more than an exercise in self-delusion to make themselves feel better, because come the next sex scandal, they'll be right back at it.

Why couldn't they have been sitting outside Spitzer's house for days when his cases against various Wall Street types began to come apart? Well, that's obvious! He was taking down wicked corporate types! They deserved it! This is the southern sheriff stereotype of "Of course he's guilty... of something." mentality transplanted to Wall Street.

If Martha Stewart deserved prison for her transgressions, which looked rather mild to me, then Spitzer certainly needs to spend some time there too. One gets the strong impression he would have been perfectly happy to serve in various authoritarian regimes in past history. He's not the only one, of course, and such people need deterrence lest they apply their worst impulses. Let Spitzer provide some by example.

The press needs to learn some lessons from this episode also. However, I strongly suspect they will not. The next Spitzer that comes along and jumps on rich people or corporations, no matter how groundlessly, will get them fawning again.

They've demonstrated that they don't really care that much about abuse of political power, no matter how much they claim otherwise, as long as the power is being used against people they don't like. Unfortunately, the next authoritarian politician that "plays them like a Stradivarius" may have enough sense to keep his pants on. That will give him license to abuse power as long as he likes, at least if our vaunted mainstream press has anything to say about it.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

This creeps me out
Posted by: Billy Hollis
This video is not from the Obama campaign.

However, I'd bet you won't see independent supporters of John McCain making a video that features swooning zombies chanting his name. Unless it's a parody, I mean.

Folks, we are electing a president, not a messiah. The people in this video apparently believe the world is run by magic and you can somehow create exactly the world you want just by commanding it into place.

That's scary. It's the attitude of which authoritarian regimes are made.

Has our citizenry lost the independence of spirit that made this country special? How much of our voting population believes in the modern equivalent of medieval superstition: chanting for "change" and "protecting the environment" as if that's all it takes to make the world an ideal place?

I've said before that I do not intend to vote for McCain. I fear him too, because he has a "great man" complex and if he is elected, I fear there will be no effective opposition in Congress to whatever grand government programs he decides are some kind of historical imperative.

But if Obama's campaign keeps getting creepier, it might start looking like an even bigger threat.

There's one other aspect I'm wondering about. I've said before that the left in this country has lost its hold on reality. It's not hard to see: from the 9/11 conspirazoids to Michelle Obama's utterly incomprehensible view of American business, you can pick out any number of different degrees of separation from reality in today's left.

If Obama is elected, the reality will not match the mystical dreams of his leftist supporters. His grand designs will be opposed by a mostly-Republican coterie in Congress.

I have no idea what the left will do then, but if their apoplexy at George Bush is anything to judge by, it won't be pretty.

(Found via Ann Althouse)

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yes, free trade and open markets really work
Posted by: Billy Hollis
If you are interested in any of the following subjects:

- Effects of globalization
- Income distribution (rich vs. poor)
- Global health issues
- Progress of the "third world" during the last forty years
- Impact of free trade on a poor country
- How to present complex data in an intuitive way

then you need to spend 20 minutes this weekend watching this video. Trust me, it's worth it.

Permalink | Comments ( 4 ) | TrackBacks ( 0 ) | Category: Economics

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What has value when copies are free?
Posted by: Billy Hollis
In Nashville, we often talk about the problems faced by music labels and other content providers in an age when copies are effectively free. The music execs put off facing the inevitable for a long time, but they can't do that any more. This article in The Economist recounted a typical example of why:
IN 2006 EMI, the world's fourth-biggest recorded-music company, invited some teenagers into its headquarters in London to talk to its top managers about their listening habits. At the end of the session the EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table. But none of the teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free. "That was the moment we realised the game was completely up," says a person who was there. {Emphasis mine}
So now we're past the denial phase, and entering the "what do we do next?" phase.

Of course, it's not just music. Publishing is right behind music. I'm writing a book right now, and so I'm all too familiar with the changing economics of the publishing industry. Many of my colleagues have gone to self-publishing with e-books, because they make just as much money with less effort and more control. Right now, the cachet of having a real, bound book in a bookstore still carries some weight. That probably won't last more than another ten or fifteen years.

Via GeekPress, I saw this quite thought-provoking post on the problem.

The author, Kevin Kelly, has brought together and clearly delineated several ideas on what people still value. The basic idea is that when copies become free, people will still pay for various attributes of content that are more intangible. Kelly calls these "generatives", and he lists and discusses eight of them. Some of them are related to convenience, and others to various emotional aspects of relating to content. For example, he thinks consumers gain emotional satisfaction by paying directly to creators:
Patronage — It is my belief that audiences WANT to pay creators. Fans like to reward artists, musicians, authors and the like with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect. But they will only pay if it is very easy to do, a reasonable amount, and they feel certain the money will directly benefit the creators.
Having paid for and downloaded music directly from a couple of my favorite bands, such as Porcupine Tree, I can attest to that analysis. I liked the idea that they were getting something in exchange for the pleasure I derived from their music.

I know plenty of our readers work in the world of supplying intellectual property or content of various kinds. I think you'll find his discussion very worthwhile.

As a side note, I have a business relationship with some people in the music industry (which of course is not unusual in Nashville). Right now, they're very open to ideas about what they should do next. If any of our readers care to offer their own ideas, I'd love to hear them.

After all, since I'm usually just a token geek, I need something to sound interesting at their cocktail parties.


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Friday, February 01, 2008

Let’s get something straight about McCain
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Jonah Goldberg joins the ranks of the "McCain's not that bad" apologists with this posting at The Corner.

What I find interesting thing about that post is what it doesn't say: nowhere in it is campaign finance reform mentioned.


Continue reading "Let’s get something straight about McCain"

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Heinlein calls it again
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Via Instapundit, there is this from Pravda:
As 40 years have passed since Gagarin's flight, new sensational details of this event were disclosed: Gagarin was not the first man to fly to space. Three Soviet pilots died in attempts to conquer space before Gagarin's famous space flight, Mikhail Rudenko, senior engineer-experimenter with Experimental Design Office 456 (located in Khimki, in the Moscow region) said on Thursday. According to Rudenko, spacecraft with pilots Ledovskikh, Shaborin and Mitkov at the controls were launched from the Kapustin Yar cosmodrome (in the Astrakhan region) in 1957, 1958 and 1959. "All three pilots died during the flights, and their names were never officially published," Rudenko said.
I'm not sure, but if I read the dates right, this has been in Pravda since the 40th anniversary of Gregarin's flight, which would be a few years back. But it's the first I've seen of it.

When I saw this, I immediately recalled a passage from Expanded Universe by Robert Heinlein about his trip to the Soviet Union during that same general time period (pages 415 and 416 in the original softcover edition):
About noon on Sunday, May 15, we were walking downhill through the park surrounding the castle that dominates Vilno. We encountered a group of six or eight Red Army cadets. Foreigners are a great curiosity in Vilno. Almost no tourists go there. So they stopped and we chattted, myself through our guide and my wife directly, in Russian.

Shortly one of the cadets asked us what we thought of their new manned rocket. We answered that we had had no news lately - what was it and when did it happen. He told us, with the other cadets listening and agreeing, that the rocket had gone up that very day and at that very moment a Russian astronaut was in orbit around the earth - and what did we think of that?

I congratulated them on this wondrous achievement but, privately, felt a dull sickness. THe Soviet Union has beaten us to the punch again. But later that day our guide looked us up and carefully corrected the story: The cadet had been mistaken, the rocket was not manned.

That evening we tried to purchased Pravda. No copies were available in Vilno. Later we heard from other Americans that Pravda was not available in other cities in the USSR that evening - this part is hearsay, of course. We tried also to listen to the Voice of America. It was jammed. We listened to some Soviet stations but heard no mention of the rocket.

This is the rocket the Soviets tried to recover and later admitted that they had had some trouble with the retrojets; they had fired while the rocket was in the wrong attitude.

So what is the answer? Did that rocket contain only a dummy, as the pravda now claims? Or is there a dead Russian revolving in space? - an Orwellian "unperson," once it was realized that he could not be recovered.

I am sure of this: At noon on May 15 a group of Red Army cadets were unanimously positive that the rocket was manned. That pravda did not change until later that afternoon.
There are discrepancies between the Soviet admissions and Heinlein's account. The Pravda report on the three dead astronauts claims that the flights were suborbital. Heinlein wrote his account in 1960, and the Soviet account places the last of the flights in 1959. So it's not certain that Heinlein caught them in their lie. However, given that the Soviets lied in the first place about the entire incident, I don't think that necessarily disqualifies Heinlein's account.

Permalink | Comments ( 1 ) | TrackBacks ( 8 ) | Category: Foreign Affairs

Friday, January 25, 2008

"George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party"
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Peggy Noonan looks at the state of dissension in the major parties, and puts the blame on two people: Bill Clinton and George Bush.

Her observations on Bill Clinton are pretty much what everyone else is saying, even many Democrats. But her points about George Bush rate a bit more focus:
On the pundit civil wars, Rush Limbaugh declared on the radio this week, "I'm here to tell you, if either of these two guys [Mr. McCain or Mike Huckabee] get the nomination, it's going to destroy the Republican Party. It's going to change it forever, be the end of it!"

This is absurd. George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party, by which I mean he sundered it, broke its constituent pieces apart and set them against each other. He did this on spending, the size of government, war, the ability to prosecute war, immigration and other issues.
I think this is a fair statement, and is in line with what we've been saying around here for a long time. I know Bush thought he was doing the right thing by enthusiastically supporting federalization of education, expanding Medicare, restricting free political speech, and so on down the line. He thought that because he has no political philosophy of his own except pure pragmatism. That's not surprising; his father was the same way.

If McCain or Huckabee are nominated by the GOP, it will simply be a continuation of the mushiness and confusion that both Bush presidents established. It seems clear that the GOP is going to need a period in the wilderness before they break free of the idea that they can be light versions of the Democrats.

Huckabee has a small core of evangelicals that are excited about him. They want to explicitly inject their religious feelings into politics. While I'm not in sympathy with their aims, I understand something about their motivations. For many on the left, politics and government are the closest thing they've got to a religion, especially if you place the global warming movement in the political sphere. Thus the left is effectively injecting their religion into politics. Why shouldn't the evangelicals do the same thing?

But running such a man as the GOP's presidential candidate in the fall ensures a loss of Goldwater-McGovern proportions.

As best as I can tell, not very many people get excited about John McCain except some of the reporters that cover him. Some neocons like McCains vigorous defense of the war on terror/Islamism/whatever-you-like-to-label-it. Otherwise, he seems the consensus candidate among those for whom politics is more like a football game, in which winning is the end instead of a means to a certain type of government.

Rush is correct about this. Nominating McCain signifies the end of the GOP as it's been envisioned by many since the Reagan years, and only a serious rebuilding effort or a dramatic realignment of political parties will bring back any significant emphasis on freedom, the free market, individual responsibility, and the other principles most of the folks who come around here believe in.

But there's no point in blaming McCain. He's just following the pattern laid down by the Bush pair. Talk a good game, pander, arrange "grand compromises" which inevitably lead to expansion of government, and get your place in the history book. Limited government principles? Who needs 'em?

And the GOP faithful are still out there attempting to scare folks with "What? Any Republican is better than Hillary! If you small-government types know what's good for you, you'll get behind the GOP nominee, whoever it is. Otherwise, it will be a disaster!"

Well, it will be a disaster - for the political insiders and those whose life revolves around winning. The Democrats already suffered through theirs. In 1994, the entire Democratic political establishment was shell shocked when the GOP took Congress, by a big margin. The GOP has not yet faced their own disaster, mostly because they've been blessed with stupid enemies.

But I think it's coming, sooner or later. Sooner, if McCain or Huckabee are the standard bearer. Later, if the GOP squeezes out one more victory, but just can't internalize the need to stop selling the spending, stop the earmarks, and get serious about their core small-government principles.

You would think that their most successful president of the last century showed them the template they need to succeed, and that they would therefore adopt it. Apparently not. As the old saw goes, they might do the right thing - after they've exhausted all other possibilities.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Open Letter to the Grand Old Party
Posted by: Billy Hollis
To: Republican Party officials and members

Perhaps this letter is presumptuous of me. After all, I'm not a Republican and never have been. But I am in a group of voters the GOP needs to win. I'm in that freedom-oriented, libertarian-leaning, small government, low taxes group that was part of the Reagan coalition. Granted I'm a bit more minimal government than most in that group; I'd like to see the government down to less than a quarter of its current size. Anyway, you guys are going to have a hard time winning without we small-government afficiandos. Very hard.

So let me say this plainly. If you nominate Mike Huckabee or John McCain, you've lost me. I won't vote for your candidate. Period.

I don't care who the running mate is, and how much "balance" such a person brings to the ticket. I don't care who the Democratic candidate is, though I won't be voting for him or her either.

I won't vote for any of the Democratic candidates because they're all leftists, no matter what they call themselves. They believe government is the solution to many, many problems that I think government is simply incapable of solving. They all believe in reducing our freedom any time they can get away with it - for the "common good" of course. Hillary, nominally the least far-left of the lot, made that quite clear in her "we're going to take things from you on behalf of the common good" quote.

Why, then, would I not vote for a Republican, any Republican, to oppose them? Because I've learned something about the GOP. When we put you guys in charge with a leader who doesn't believe in small government in his gut, you sell out your principles.

Bush gets mixed grades in his war on Islamic fundamentalism; at least he has shown some aggressiveness in fighting it. However his domestic policies have been awful. Even with a Republican Congress during much of his administration, he used up his political capital on a massive expansion of the welfare state with the Medicare Rx program, a massive expansion of federal government involvement in education with the No Child Left Behind program, and a massive expansion of government power to suppress free speech with campaign finance reform.

And Congress did nothing to stop him. They rolled over. Heck, they did more than that. They got down in the pork and wallowed around in it. Now they stink as badly as the Democrats.

Despite numerous warnings, the Republican Congress did not take any significant measure to increase freedom or decrease government. Not one. Except for a minor tax cut, which is going to expire soon and which looks like it won't get renewed, Congress didn't do anything of consequence in addressing the desires of folks like me.

Contrast this with Bill Clinton's administration. Republicans in Congress stood up to government run health care, forced welfare reform, and obtained expansion of free trade. The bottom line is that during Clinton's administration, Republicans mostly held the line on government expansion or actually made a small bit of progress in limiting government. Under George Bush's administration, Republicans in Congress have become free spending, corrupt beltway insiders who care far more about their own power than about their principles.

Therefore, I cannot and will not support you in putting another Republican in the White House who simply doesn't care about the creeping totalitarianism of the federal government. That's the path to things getting worse. I'd rather see Republicans holding the line than defecting to the other side in a misguided effort to be all things to all people.

Let's look at these guys. First, McCain sponsored the worst rollback of free speech in this nation's history. He thereby shows utter contempt for the rights and freedoms of his fellow citizens. He also demonstrated that he will do anything - anything - to bolster his own reputation with people across the political spectrum.

He looks to me as if he has a "great man" complex and is convinced that he's a world-historical figure. Such men are dangerous. George W. Bush, as mediocre a president as he's been, does not have those problems. Therefore, I must presume that a McCain presidency would be worse by far than the Bush presidency has been in the erosion of freedom and the continued expansion of the size and prerogatives of the federal government. For example, I'm convinced that McCain would "reach out" to create a form of universal healthcare, giving in to the largest expansion of the federal government since the New Deal.

McCain tried to flex his world-historical muscles last year, by giving us a disastrous immigration bill that would do absolutely nothing to solve the problem, but would (he thought) give him another line in the history books. Having realized the magnitude of his misjudgment, he now utters mealy-mouthed assurances that he's "learned his lesson". I suppose that's true, if the lesson he's learned is to do a better job of deceiving the citizenry next time he wants to jam something we don't want down our throats in the pursuit of yet more mentions in the history texts. (Oh, I realize he personally doesn't see himself that way. Too bad. That's the way I see him, and I've never seen a single example of behavior that would make me doubt that assessment.)

Then there's Huckabee. Seriously, fellows. Where did this clown come from? His politics are within shouting distance of John Edwards. He's the worst of all worlds; an evangelical populist. Elmer Gantry meets Ross Perot.

If you nominate Fred, I'll send him some more money. He's far from perfect, but I'm prepared to hope that he gets it, and would put at least a minimal amount of spine in the Republican Party. If you nominate Mitt, I'll grimace, and hope he's not as bad a flip-flopping Northeastern liberal as I fear he is. If you nominate Rudy, I'll shake my head and hope things don't go too badly; I don't think I'd vote for him, but if he wins I wouldn't dread Inauguration Day.

But if it's McCain or Huckabee, you'll get no vote or any form of support from me. I'll probably hope for a Democratic victory with a subsequent inept administration that causes the pendulum to swing towards somebody I can support in four years. Because, based on the Clinton vs. Bush comparison, I don't think a Democratic president would be any worse than either McCain or Huckabee, and at least there's an outside chance that the party and the base voters might rediscover their attraction to less government.


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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Is this the signal the rest of the media has been waiting for on Fred Thompson?
Posted by: Billy Hollis
The New York Times is used as a reference point for many in the mainstream media. That's even more true of TV than of print journalism. (I recognize that despite my own distaste for them.)

So that makes this article on Fred Thompson more important than it might first appear. I believe there are journalists who will regard this as a signal to cover Fred more seriously.

As I've said too many times before, I have no idea how this race is going to turn out, but I hope Fred does well. I don't subscribe to the "Candidate X has to do well in location Y or all is lost, lost, lost!" school of campaign reporting, but South Carolina is important to Fred. It's as close to home territory as he'll get in the early primaries. So he needs to do well there.

The signals are not too bad. Apparently his campaign events were so crowded they had to turn some people away. I've never seen such a clear consensus on who the media thought won a presidential candidate debate as the one this past week in which Fred dominated.

I don't think Huckabee helped his case after Fred went after by coming back with a laxative joke. It emphasizes the differences between the two men, and not in a way very complementary to Huckabee.

Full disclosure: I sent some money to Fred, and he's the first person in the GOP I've sent money to in over twenty years. My gut feel still says the odds are against him, but oh, how I want to believe that he could prevail against: a moderate-to-liberal NorthEast mayor, a Senator who doesn't believe in freedom of speech or control of a country's borders, a Southern governor whose politics are closer to John Edwards than Ronald Reagan, and a Northeast governor that I can't say anything about because I don't know what he really believes.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The pace of innovation: more gasoline on the flames
Posted by: Billy Hollis
Via Geekpress, I saw this article in The Economist on the growing use of genetic/evolutionary algorithms in innovation and design. One of the consequences of growing computing power is the feasibility of generating improvements through what you might think of as a massive trial-and-error approach. Random variations are introduced into designs, and the results are measured against some metric to see which ones do best. Those best variations are then "cross-bred" with other good variations to see what comes out.

The result can sometimes be dramatic improvement over anything a human designer can come up with. For example:
At the University of Sydney, in Australia, Steve Manos used an evolutionary algorithm to come up with novel patterns in a type of optical fibre that has air holes shot through its length. Normally, these holes are arranged in a hexagonal pattern, but the algorithm generated a bizarre flower-like pattern of holes that no human would have thought of trying. It doubled the fibre's bandwidth.
When I think about the application of this technology, plus the real genetic manipulation going on in biology, and the availability of information on all kinds of innovative ideas from search engines, I think there's a lot of possible cross-reinforcement. Innovation has been accelerating throughout my entire lifetime, and it shows no signs of stopping that acceleration. The very pace of innovation picks up every year.

It's always been hard to predict future innovation, but when we're into realms where it's not even people doing the work, the results are literally impossible to predict. We get situations like this one from the article:
His team at Stanford developed a Wi-Fi antenna for a client who did not want to pay a patent-licence fee to Cisco Systems. The team fed the algorithm as much data as they could from the Cisco patent and told the software to design around it. It succeeded in doing so. The result is a design that does not infringe Cisco's patent-and is more efficient to boot.
So now it is possible in some instances to bypass patents. That should speed some things up. I'm not sure what the net effect is; patent protection is one of the things we've always believed promoted innovation by making it possible to gain returns on the investment required to innovate. Is innovation becoming so cheap and pervasive that this concept no longer applies, or is at least significantly weakened?

I had a few other random thoughts. What if someone uses genetic algorithms to improve the genetic algorithms themselves? Will genetic algorigthms thus become more efficient and flexible? Will our lives someday be managed by a device that uses genetic algorithms to find the best way to satisfy our desires?

Permalink | Comments ( 15 ) | TrackBacks ( 4 ) | Category: Technology

Monday, January 07, 2008

Bill Gates: A nerd, it’s true, but with a sense of humor
Posted by: Billy Hollis
If you attend Microsoft conferences, you've seen the tongue-in-cheek videos they produce, usually starring Gates or Balmer or both. Here's one of them, spoofing what Bill Gates' last days at Microsoft might look like.

Bill Gates' last days

Guest stars include a couple of folks we've been discussing around QandO just the last few days...

Permalink | Comments ( 5 ) | TrackBacks ( 1 ) | Category: Humor


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