Sunday, February 8, 2004
The Clash of Civilizations
Read these two quotes and let them sort of roll around in your brain for a few minutes:
"''What if Mohamed Atta had been raised on soul-stretching questions instead of simple certitudes?''"
"I personally find when there's a confrontation between everything I love -- scientific inquiry, reason, cosmopolitanism, secularism, emancipation of women (and those are the things I love, by the way) -- and everything I hate -- Stone Age fascism, religious bullshit, and so on -- it's a no-brainer. I know exactly which side I'm on, and I knew right away. I felt exhilaration on the 11th of September, and I feel slightly ashamed to say that, in view of the fact that so many people lost their lives that day. But when the day was over, and I had been through the gamut of rage and disgust and nausea and so on -- not fear, I will claim for myself. I'm not afraid of people like that. I'm very angered by them. But there was something I hadn't analyzed when I went into in myself, and I was pleased to find it was exuberance. I thought, "Okay, right. I'll never get bored with fighting against these people." And their defeat will be absolute, it will be complete."
I remember that same exuberance Christopher Hitchens refers to after 9/11. In those weeks after the tragedy, there was a vibe going around that we had to change the world to stop this from happening again. That was the exuberance. There was a sudden realization. Irshad Manji got it right; the problem with the Middle East is that their current culture is dominated by fundamentalist thinking that doesn't allow anything in the way of free and open thought. By definition fundamentalist cultures arbitarily set their own moral compass. Thus they can have no independant moral consciousness.
In a free and open society, free expression means that there is always a group of people who believe that the government, or even society in general, is wrong. This keeps the debate open at all times. The effect of this debate is the moral consciousness. We are often told of the value of concensus. The passing of the PATRIOT Act was concensus. A real moral compass emerges from debate.
I have no doubt that right about now some reader will exclaim, "Anthropic you idiot, Bush himself is a fundamentalist!". That's not the point. While I agree that we are not a society free of fundamentalist demons, there are several magnitudes of difference between having a few fundamentalist issues debated in your society and having fundamentalist values thurst upon every crevice of life. Remember, even as you read this there is someone arguing for the legalization of gay marriage or railing against the PATRIOT Act. Whatever failings America may have, the level of public debate today is high. A fundamentalist culture would not even allow such expression to exist.
This lack of expression, this lack of debate, makes fundamentalist-led cultures dangerous to modern societies. Thus, Christopher Hitchen's point up there. Islamic fundamentalists despise everything we stand for. If we want to peacefully co-exist with these people then the long-term solution, for the good of civilization, is to turn the Middle East around by opening up their culture.
At this point in the debate, someone always raises that dictum of political correctness: "We shouldn't be judging other cultures!" And the, I shake my head in disagreement. We should not be in the business of judging other cultures...But, when a culture thick with fundamentalist dogma lashes out as we saw on 9/11, they have judged themselves.
I should stress here that my comments should be read carefully. I am not saying we should destroy the Middle East. I am not saying that we should destroy Islam. I am not saying that the Middle East is inferior to our culture. I am saying that we should not tollerate fundamentalist cultures to lash out at us, and that if the world is ever going to grow more peaceful, we ahve to open up these cultures.
And that is what we are trying to do in Iraq. Iraqis in Baghdad are now going to Internet cafes. The price of goods has radically dropped. The process of opening up their culture has begun. The Iraqis are a strong, industrious people. Given a decade or so, they will thrive, and if we have succeeded, they will created a free, strong culture in the Middle East.
Let us not forget that Western culture was once ruled by fanatical fundamentalists and that there was a time when our cultural progenitors lashed out against more open cultures. That was the Crusades. And yet, today we can look back at the Crusades as insane. We can do that today because Western culture was brought kicking and screaming out of the Dark Ages by the great minds that drove the Rennaisance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment. From there, a more secular, a more sucessful, and more intellectual society grew.
It is clear though, that today we can not wait for analogies of those events to happen in the Middle East. In a world where we are all interdependant on each other to sustain our civilization(s), we cannot tolerate cultures that would create 9/11s. That is the reason why invading Iraq was justified. The flood of outside goods and ideas will envigorate Iraq. They can become the catalyst for change in the Middle East. The full impact of intervening in Iraq will take decades to mature.
The problem, of course, is that this line of thought has appeared nowhere in mainstream politcal thought. It would seem that most people view 9/11 as a crisis that has passed. You hear plenty of talk about the economy, you hear plenty of talk about gay marriage, and you hear plenty of talk about "WMD", that incidental dead-end of this whole debate. Where is the talk of 9/11? Perhaps Bush blew it. Perhaps people would rather not revisit the horrors of 9/11 in their minds. What scares me is that 9/11, a recent event that has to rank in the top 10 most important days in the history of America, is not even an issue in this year's presidental campaign. How is it that Vietnam has entered into nearly every discussion of American foreign policy since at least 1968, but 9/11 barely registers these days?
Well, I take that back...At least a few people realize the significance of 9/11. Here's how Christopher Hitchens answered when Tavis Smiley recently asked him if President Bush deserves to be reelected:
"[sighs] Well, it's a tough call for me. I wasn't-I certainly wasn't for his election the first time round. I didn't want Albert Gore, either, and I'm glad it wasn't Gore, by the way. One has to face that fact. I must say I'm a bit of a single issue voter on this. I want to be absolutely certain that there's a national security team that wakes up every morning wondering how to take the war to the enemy. I don't have that confidence about any of the Democratic candidates, but I think that a Kerry-Edwards ticket would be made up of people who have shown that they are serious on this point, yeah. So I'm not dogmatically for the reelection of the President, but I'm for applying that test as a voter."
I've got to say that is precisely where I stand as well. I disagree with much of Bush's domestic policy, and the specter of pissing on the Constitution with a ammendment banning gay marriage is abhorant to me. However, post-9/11, the question of "how to take the war to the enemy" is THE issue for me. I will probably not decide who I vote for until I fill out my ballot, but that issue will weigh heavily in my mind when I do.
Monday, January 19, 2004
I recently was engaged in a, shall we say, heated exchange about science and religion with some pretty hardcore religious/anti-science folk. At various points in the argument people accused me of making science my religion...Now, this is something I'd generally disagree with, because science is in no way a dogma, but I admit I do feel what could easily be spiritual feelings toward science. The sheer vastness and complexity of the Universe, and our ability to understand it astounds me. However, what I feel toward science is an deep appreciation that is fundamental to my being, but it is not a need to worship.
Recently, I've been watching Carl Sagan's 1980 science documentary/philosophical journey, Cosmos. If you're old enough, you may have seen this when it was originally broadcast on PBS, or if you're my age you may have seen/slept through it at school. When it comes to forming belief systems, we all have things which influenced us to a considerable extent. Cosmos is certainly among mine. In 13 hour-long hours Sagan walks the viewer through the rational, ordered Universe (thus the title) that has been discovered by science. Furthermore, it presents his vision of a world where the "demons" of hate, fear, and ignorance had been swept away and people truly began to appreciate the world around them and the power of the human mind to understand it. The purpose of the science in Cosmos is to introduce the viewer to what we know already, and the vastness of what we still don't understand.
The point is that what drives scientists forward are the things they don't know. Some religious people are content in believing that everything they need to know is held in some sacred text. Scientists are the polar opposite. They look out into space and crave the mysteries they haven't solved. They look to the future. There is a satisfaction in knowing that their work will take many lifetimes.
Some religious people talk about sacred truths. Scientists will tell you that nothing is sacred, but perhaps some will tell you that there is much wisdom to be infered from science. Here is my version of one of the pieces of wisdom that Sagan presents in Cosmos:
Long, long ago (on the order of perhaps, 10 billion years) a great star began to die. It's supply of hydrogen fuel was nearly spent and it began to collapse...As it collapsed, the pressures in it's center were so intense that the spent fuel (that is, lighter elements like helium and lithium) began another cycle of fusion. Heavier elements such as oxygen and yes, carbon were created. As the pressures became more intense the star grew closer to death. Suddenly, in a bright flash that would be seen by thousands of stars for thousands of years, the star exploded. During the explosion temperatures were high enough to form heavier elements in small amounts, such as gold and even uranium.
The explosion spewed these new heavier elements out into space, where some of them became part of a nebula where new stars were formed. One of those stars was our Sun. As it wandered away from it's birthplace, it took with it a great cloud of gas and dust, ripe with the heavier elements of dead stars. Gravity and angular momentum soon sent this cloud spinning, but rather unevenly. There were some places were chunks of dust grew and formed planets.
On one particular planet, carbon atoms formed very complex organic molecules. Over 4.5 billion years of evolution, those molecules evolved into cells, and eventually into lifeforms that type on Internet message boards.
It doesn't matter what color you are, what country you're from, or what language you speak. The material that composes all of us all came from the same place; a long dead star. We are all bound together by this fact.
Consider this piece of wisdom carefully: We are all made out of starstuff.
Monday, December 1, 2003
Thoughts from the Random Zone...
/me looks at date on last update...*snicker* It's
been a fricking long time since I've updated this...
But I suddenly realized last night that I have some
interesting things to relate.
First, iTunes for Windows is rather cool. As I've
said before, I'm not a fan of Apple's pompousness,
but this time, they seem to have done something
really great, and on Windows no less! Apple,
as always, has an interesting way of looking at user
interface design. Far too many music jukebox apps (
including my personal favorite, Winamp) are based on
the idea that a music jukebox app should look like
some type of stereo equipment...While this is at
first a nice premise, Apple seems to have taken the
position that a music jukebox app should look like a
library of sorts, because that's what it is, a
library for your music. It's an approach that works,
I've already got my tickets for the MAC
Championship game on Thursday.
Third, over Thanksgiving Break, I made the severe
mistake of picking up my copy of Cliff Stoll's
excellent book The
Cuckoo's Egg. You see, once I start reading a
book like that, I don't stop until I get to the back
cover, and thus night rapidly became morning. If you
haven't read Cuckoo's Egg, and have any interest in
computer networks or computer crime, this is the book
four you. While it's written like a fictional work,
and certainly flows like one, it's 100% true. Cliff
Stoll by the way, is I think the only person I've
ever seen hiding behind a chair on C-SPAN. You may
remember him from the awesome early-period MSNBC show
"The Site" from back in "the day". As I recall, he
did one segment from his bathtub, naked, with his
laptop (computer) on his lap.
In computer news...
I found an IBM Model M keyboard at Goodwill! This is
definitely the Keyboard of the Gods. It makes my
current Gateway keyboard feel like a piece of flimsy
trash. No stupid "media" buttons, no stupid Windows
keys, just 100% pure keyboard. It feels more like
some type of huge control console then a keyboard.
Unfortunately, I can't use it here in the dorm
because it's far too loud...However, I shall display
it proudly and take it to LAN parties and other geeky events.
Elsewhere in computer news, I got bored over break
and installed OS/2 Warp 3.0 and Windows NT 3.51 on
our old Compaq, dual booting via OS/2's very nice
I put OS/2 on because...Well, I don't know why...
It's sort of a joke with me, I've put OS/2 on several machines
just for the hell of it, but I can never really find
any use for it. It takes one hell of a long time
because the copy I have is on several dozen floppies.
NT 3.51 strikes me as very, very cool. I must
admit, I love the way the old interface looks (other
then the wasteful way programs minmize to the
desktop), and with the added graphical goodies of NT
(full window drag and dynamic resolution changes), it
looks better then ever. Thinking back, the NT 3.x
series was probably the first real OS
Microsoft ever produced (32-bit pre-emptive
multitasking, excellent resource management,
protected memory, multiple user support, file
security, etc). Thank you David Cutler, et al.
In gaming news, my roommate introduced me to Gunbound, an amazing
online game that combines the gameplay of Scorched
Earth and Worms with the psudo-manga graphical style
of Rangorak Online. Basically by fighting you can
improve your character. You earn experience points
and gold which is then used to buy cool stuff that
improves your stats. Basically you have to see it to
understand. I recommend it to everyone!!! My
name on Gunbound (not surprisingly) is Anthropic.
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Wow...It's been almost a month since the last update...Really, there's
no reason for the posting delay. Yes, I did go out of town for a week (
Busch Gardens...Wheeeeeeee!) while asshat(s) dragged my good name through the mud on the Internet, but hey, what do
I care. Mostly, I'm lazy.
So, what should I talk about today? Internet Asshats? Politics in
Liberia? The MSBlaster Worm?...Nah...How about stupid people with
Every so often, I come across something so sublimely hillarious that I
feel I have to share the hillarity with everyone. Today is one such day.
Witness the poor plight of one BuddyChrist83, a denzine of the Gaming-Age
forums (one of my favorite places to lurk, though I don't post). As a
result of a two-thread romp of hillarious 0wnage, BuddyChrist83 has
contributed multiple counts to his idiocy inditement.
Count One: Seeking relationship advice on a videogame forum. Now,
Gaming-Age is a pretty happening place, full of people with real brain
tissue. But relationships are not something you want to ask these people
about. Just watch this:
"So my ex-girlfriend (Leah) IMs me earlier. For anyone that remembers
anything, I was pretty much happy for it to be over, as it was just too
much of a hassle. She's all 'my life is empty without you', and 'my
parents, who hated you when we broke up, love you now because they see that
I really care about you' and all that wonderful alluring stuff. So I'm
going over tonight....to tell her no, I'm gone, forever. This is going to
be one of the hardest things to do because I'm not a dick and I do care
about her well-being, not to mention the fact that I've already had a crap
day at work."
Having grown up on bad sitcoms, the denziens of GA urge Mr. Christ83 to
seek "breakup sex". Now, in and of itself, this is not a bad thing.
However, recall that said Mr. Christ83 is in fact, an idiot.
Count Two: Recall that sex-ed class serves a very important purpose.
That purpose was not making pre-teens laugh. BuddyChrist83 continues...
"Well...I'm alive, and to answer everyone's burning questions
1) Yes, we had sex. In my backseat, no less, and yes, I was extremely
stupid and did not use protection."
Now, we all know exactly where this is going. Fans of Law and Order
will no doubt want a damning-gavel sound right here...So here you go.
And so begins Buddy's plight...Immediately, the moderator steps in and
changes Mr. Chirst83's tag...It now reads:
"OH SH*T SHE'S PREGNANT"
For the next four pages, nearly everyone else weighs in on this in a
Count Three: Having spilled all of this onto the Internet, how could
BuddyChrist83 increase his stupidity further?...Posting pictures of himself
and the female in question will do nicely...This leads the expectant crowd
(hah) to do a little photoshopping:
Count Four: Remember Count One?...Buddy goes for multiple counts of that
offense by posting yet another thread a few days later. Yes ladies and
gentlemen, you all saw this coming. Out self-protagonist continues:
"well, she had her period, but it was lighter and shorter than
normal, not to meniton completely cramp free which has only happened 3
times in the past 5 years. in other words, there's still a good chance
she's pregnant, especially considering when we had sex (about 5-7 days
before she was supposed to 'start'). needless to say, i'm freaking out
right now, i'm going to do some type of pregnancy test over the next week,
but i don't know what's reliable, i don't know where to get a blood test or
how much it'll cost, and i need to keep this all secret from my family (
including my dad, who is also my boss) and her family. this comes,
ironically, after i told her i just wanted to be friends and i didn't want
to date her anymore. i need to know if she is so I can drop out of college
before the next semester starts.
Now the crowd, realizing Mr. Christ83's serious intelligence
deficiencies, becomes sympathetic. Alas, it is too late (hah), the APB for
this suspect is already out.
As of right now, this case is still wide open...Though, I'm sure
BuddyChrist83 will in due (hah) time make another post for all of us in the
waiting room (hah).
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
The Great Gaming Divide
Yes ladies and gentlemen, today I want to talk about videogames...I guess the nature of life, the universe, and everything can wait a day or so (hehehe)...
Have you ever noticed the, shall we say, tension between PC gamers and console gamers? At times it's almost like two rival gangs. On the one hand, PC gamers rib console gamers for tollerating 640x480 screens and playing FPSs with no mouse. They lambast the lack of strategy games and chuckle at the thought of "multiplayer" meaning four people in front of one TV. On the other hand, console gamers have this general distaste for PC gaming. They complain about the price of a decent PC rig and sneer at the lack of console style RPGs. Then they mutter something about how FPSs and startegy games are the only well maintained PC genres.
What strikes me here is that these are perceptions generated entirely by the gaming populace, and not corporate hype machines. Think about it...Console giants such as EA, Codemasters, Rockstar, Konami, and THQ have all seen fit to release PC versions of prominent console games. Even Square, Sega, and Sony-era Psygnosis supported PC from time to time. Conversely, PC-centric companies such as ID, Epic, DICE, Bethesda, and others have brought famous PC games to consoles. It's definately not in these companies interests to bash either side.
There is, of course, the perception that PC gaming is somehow very seperate from console gaming. When Rockstar signed a single platform exclusivity agreement with Sony for Grand Theft Auto, nothing prevented PC versions of GTA3 and VC. Back when the only way to play Sega games was supposed to be a Sega console, PC version of Sega classics from Outrun to Sega Rally 2 were made.
And yet, though there may be divide in software, there has never been a divide between PC hardware (in the sense of all personal computers and not the Wintel sense) and console hardware. The NES and SNES shared CPUs with models on the Apple II line (6502 and 65c816 respectively). The Sega Master System and Gameboy were both powered by a Z80, an infamous and widely used copy of the Intel 8080. The Genesis and Sega CD shared CPUs with the early Macintosh line (the 68000). N64, Playstation, and Playstation 2 both drew upon technology from SGI's workstation lines (MIPS cores). Dreamcast is well known for having a PC graphics chip at it's heart, but the SH series of CPUs had also been used in handheld PCs running WindowsCE. Gamecube, of course uses a video chip from ATI and a modified version of the G3 chip that powered Macintosh a few years back. From a hardware perspective, XBox is only unique because it uses an official Intel CPU. In a very real sense, at the most basic levels, console and PC gaming are just branches on one big videogaming tree.
However, as many have come to find out, facts are quickly lost on the gaming masses. Nearly every message board has some misguided soul who will complain that the XBox is too much like a PC, or that he hates PC gaming in general. Really, I think it's time for gamers of all creeds to just get over it and become one big gaming continuum.
Monday, July 14, 2003
On the Uranium Question
Woah, it's been awhile since I updated...That's not good...As I said when I started this blog, I don't want to just be talking about what I do all day; that's just boring. So, the challenge for me is to come up with interesting things to talk about here, and after a week, I think I have a few.
Now, on to today's topic...The issue of the President's african uranium statement from January's State of the Union address. Quite frankly, I think this is a non issue. That may sound like I'm simply brushing the issue off, but I don't think it was ever an issue to begin with...Did that make any sense?
Allow me to explain. First, as I recall, the Administration never used nuclear weapons as a reason to go into Iraq. Even before the war it was pretty clear that Iraq was not actively persuing nuclear weapons. That was just plain common knowledge. Recall that Colin Powell demonstrated simulated chemical weapons at the UN Security Council, not simultated nuclear material. What is being said now about the african uranium line implies that uranium was really an issue for Iraq. No, it was more like the little sprinkles on top of a large, multilayered cake.
Second, it's clear that the fact that the sixteen words that are in question got into the Address because several groups with the Executive branch screwed up. What's not clear is why they screwed up. Did they screw up because they honestly believed the bad intelligence? Did they screw up because they needed more evidence and were grasping at straws? My problem with this issue being raised in the way it has, as some sort of backhanded credibility issue, is that we have nothing that speaks to motive (I have in fact been watching too much Law and Order). It's pretty clear that those that are opposed to the President, i.e. the people who are raising this issue, are trying to imply that in making the incorrect statement about african uranium, the President lied...And that's just a bunch of BS (or just plain bull, heh). For the President to lie, the President would have to know that the statement he was about to speak was blatently untrue (as was clearly the case with Clinton). We have no evidence that is the case.
Third, the timing of how this issue is hitting the front pages bothers me. I distinctly remember hearing/seeing news reports that the documents used to support the President's statement on african uranium were not believable as far back as late April or early May. Now it's July and this is suddenly a Presidential issue. It just gives me the impression that someone opposed to the President sort of slipped this into the media...Is that how we want our news media to work?
Thursday, July 3, 2003
Stuff that Really Matters
I found this "Ask Slashdot" question to be extremely disturbing: "In all seriousness, I need a RAID that supports at least level 3 and stores > 500 GB, and I need to it work in zero-G (but not in a vacuum)". Yes ladies and gentlement, this man is actually asking a question about space equipment on Slashdot. I mean, the only places that I can think of that are in zero-G but not in a vacuum are the interior of the space shuttle and the International Space Station. The person who is asking the question works for Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Apparently, they send all kinds of things into space, including hard drives...
In a coincidence worthy of a Police album, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is also working on a "New Fuel for Hypersonic Ramjet". They say that, "Striking time-critical, heavily defended, or deeply buried targets while protecting our forces is an important role for future hypersonic weapons." These guys must read the Guardian.
In other news, the launch of NASA's "Opportunity" Mars Exploration Rover has been delayed until July 6th...Which is very cool since I have plans Saturday night. I watched the launch of sister-rover "Spirit" and it was extremely neat to watch.
Wednesday, July 2, 2003
The Coming Living Room Superstorm
There has been some talk lately that Microsoft's XBox console is faltering. The "gloom and doom" crowd, spured on by a recent John C. Dvorak piece in PC Magazine entitled The XBox Quagmire, claims that XBox, having too few exclusive "AAA" games, is bound for failure in a PlayStation 2 dominated world.
In my opinion, these people are missing the point. This is about much, much more then games. Microsoft is taking the long view here...They intend XBox to be the first part of a long term strategy to compete with Sony for the blossuming digital home entertainment market. In essence, these are first drops of rain in a looming battle of corporate giants to create the equipment that will power the HDTV-centered living room of tomorrow.
For example, Microsoft is trying to push Windows Media technology as the software side for a hi-definition DVD replacement. Check out the demos here. Just look at the new T2 DVD release. It comes with a WM9-encoded version of the movie to be viewed on PCs that's higher resolution then the DVD. With resolutions like that, there's no doubt in my mind that Microsoft is serious about the next DVD standard being Windows Media based. Think of the T2 HD disc as a sort of prototype of the next generation in home video. Sony, of course will undoubtedly have their own codec to counter Microsoft. And why not? Whoever controls that codec will be receiving lisencing fees from each HD-DVD player slod, even if that player is a competing company's videogame console.
This is bigger then just DVD. With PSX (Sony's new Tivo-like PlayStation 2 model), Sony is trying to create a centralized digital home entertainment machine. This is an attempt by Sony to undercut Microsoft's Windows Media Center initative.Microsoft thinks Sony wants to leverage their Playstation empire to start to compete against Microsoft in the home entertainment world.
While most people see very definite borders between PC's, consoles, Tivos, and DVD players, Microsoft and Sony see this as all one big market. The same technology drives all four markets. A Tivo is just a PowerPC running Linux. A PS2 is not just a game console, it's a MIPS based Linux platform as well. Microsoft understands that in the home market their Windows monopoly on PC is dependant on people needing Wintel PCs for everyday tasks. They fear Sony wants to "come in the back door" so to speak by creating products that people use instead of their Wintel-based PC. So, to compete, Microsoft competes with Sony on a one-to-one basis, with a Wintel-based console, which could easily become a Wintel based home-entertainment center.
Therefore, I'm saying that Microsoft is willing to fund XBox until Sony gives up their home entertainment ambitions. XBox is the moat that lies between the Sony hoards and Microsoft's Windows monopoly. As a result, it doesn't matter how good or bad XBox does at this point. It's a hedge for the future.
Tuesday, July 1, 2003
Much Ado About Nothing
The way the media, especially the British media covers the U.S. Military is very odd. Today The Guardian reports:
"The Pentagon is planning a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic drones and bombs dropped from space, that will allow the US to strike its enemies at lightning speed from its own territory."
Now, I would have to say that's a pretty important story. Some people have even commented on how unusual it is that the mainstream U.S. press isn't covering this.
The answer is that this is old news. The very public, 1996 "Air Force 2025" study contains this statement about the one of the types of weapons the Air Force wants by 2025:
"Hypersonic Attack Aircraft A high-speed strike vehicle capable of projecting lethal force anywhere in the world in less than four hours. Operating at Mach 12 and a cruise altitude of 100,000 ft, this vehicle is a reusable two-stage system comprised of an unmanned boost vehicle and a manned hypersonic strike aircraft. The gas turbine-engined boost vehicle requires a conventional runway and accelerates the strike vehicle to Mach 3.5 and 65,000 ft. The strike vehicle then separates and uses a ramjet/scramjet engine to reach its cruise condition. The total system range is 10,000 nautical miles (NM); the hypersonic strike vehicle has an unrefueled range of 5,000 NM. It is capable of launching precision-guided munitions, including the hypersonic air-to-ground missile described in system 5.4, at a standoff distance of 1,450 NM. Alternatively, the platform may be used to transport an uninhabited unmanned air vehicle described in system 4.2."
In other words, this is simply not news. Similarly, a 2001 Global Security.org article describes the military's HyperSoar project...
"HyperSoar could fly at approximately 6,700 mph (Mach 10), while carrying roughly twice the payload of subsonic aircraft of the same takeoff weight. As a military aircraft, a HyperSoar bomber the size of an F-22 could take off from the U.S. and deliver its payload from an altitude and at a speed that would defy all current defensive measures. It could then return directly to the continental U.S. without refueling and without the need to land at forward bases on foreign soil."...
Gee, sound familiar? This is old news.
In fact, this idea is really, really not new. The Nazis dreamed up the A9, a giant manned version of the V-2 which could strike at America that is similar to the "HCV" concept the Guardian speaks of. Hypersonic bombers have long been a dream of aircraft designers, a fact that these media reports ignore.
In any event, the HCV, aka FALCON, aka HyperSoar is a good idea. Unlike ICBMs, this weapon could be considered a precision weapon. Current ICBMs are so inaccurate that they need to use nuclear weapons as warheads. With a nuke, there are no near-misses. What this new concept envisions is something with the precision bombing capability of a B-2 (recall the "decapitation strike" on the first night of the Iraq War) combined with most of the speed and range of an ICBM. As of right now, ICBMs are only options for madmen. With a hypersonic strike capability, we get all of their advantages with none of their disadvantages.
Even more interesting is the notion that at hypersonic speeds, one no longer needs bombs. A precision guided rod of titanium traveling at Mach 10 would be just as effective as most bomb, without the danger of unexploded bomb fragments...And all of this, at two hours notice.
Monday, June 30, 2003
The Right Takes a Wrong Turn
I was watching a discussion on CNN's NewsNight about the political views of Ben Franklin, the founding father...In particular, the biographer spoke of Franklin's dislike of partisanship, and his belief in compromise. Aaron Brown asked, "Would he have been a Republican or Democrat?", and the answer was "he would have been a centrist". That sounds so foreign in a political discussion, doesn't it? We're so focused on "Left or Right", "Liberal or Conservative", that it almost seems like we've forgotten the vast expanse in between. Sadly, our politics has become so partisan and the center seems so barren.
I get into a lot of politcal arguements, and someone usually accuses me of being on one side or another. I am not on the Left or Right. I'm a Centrist by reason. For example, I take issue with much of the Liberal agenda, such as Affirmative Action, expanding Welfare, and to great an emphesis on environmentalism. I am vocal in my disgust for Marxism, which in my opinion seems all too often to drip into the agenda of the Left.
For that reason, I'm often accused of being a Conservative. But I'm not. How could I associate myself with a movement that could produce this?:
"WASHINGTON - The Senate majority leader said Sunday he supported a proposed constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriage in the United States."
That's just plain sick. Two things strike me here the most. First, as a heterosexual male who is free to marry at any time, it deeply saddens me that in this nation built on freedom, where we are supposed to be guaranteed “pursuit of Happiness” that homosexuals are not given the same right. Is not marriage one of our greatest institutions of happiness? Conservatives paint homosexual marriage as a moral issue. No, it is plainly a civil rights issue. Frist wants to alienate a minority in this nation through constitutional amendment. If that minority was black, Asian, Jewish, or anything other then homosexual, there would be riots in the streets.
Secondly, how could Bill Frist, one of our nation's top legislators, even think of trying to legislate morality through constituional amendment? Didn't his predeccessors early in the 20th Century learn how poor a choice that was with the 18th Amendment? That "noble experiment" failed.
Friday, June 27, 2003
Cue X-Files Music...
First, I missed my usually Thursday update because I was spending the day at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure. Someday I'll write about my love for roller coasters...In the mean time, check out my buddy Mike's excellent site about my local Six Flags.
Anyways, I recently started reading Nick Cook's somewhat odd book The Hunt For Zero Point, where Cook, a former writer for Jane's Defense Weekly tracks a thin trail of evidence that the U.S. government has been developing anti-gravity technology since the 1950s. Needless to say, I am not reading this book for it's factual value. Much like George Cloony's recent movie Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the fun is in not knowing what, if any of the book is true. It's almost like watching one of those wacky cartoons on Cartoon Network; the farce is entertaining.
In between the odd first-person "poor detective novel" writing, unverifable claims, wacky suppositions, and bad science, Cook does have a few interesting points. For example, Lockheed's Skunk Works, the secretive division responsible for such exotic birds as the U-2, the SR-71, and the F-117 Stealth Fighter has been remarkably silent on it's activities for the last 20 years. What exactly have they been up to? Four thousand people work for the Skunk Works, which recieves something near to billion a year for government work. What have they been doing? One guess is the "Aurora", a hypersonic spy plane. Whatever it is, I'm guessing the coolness factor is off the charts.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Woe is Gamerweb
Late in 1999, about when Dreamcast was coming out, I saw a Saturn at a local used games place and bought it and Daytona USA for . I couldn't afford a Dreamcast, so this was the next best thing. I really enjoyed my Saturn, so being a connected fellow I looked for a place on the Internet to discuss Sega stuff. SegaWeb seemed like the logical place. I lurked for a few months and finally registered in February 2000. The forums then were excellent, with great discussions and tons of interesting personalites. I've been posting there ever since.
Eventually SegaWeb, which was just a fansite originally (and a great one at that), caught the hillarious Internet business investment craze and sometime in 2000 converted to GamerWeb, which was supposed to compete with industry giants IGN, Gamespot, and DailyRadar. I had a bad feeling about it from the beginning. A lot of good forum-goers left after that change. The close-nit community had been shattered. Slowly, the first generation (1998-1999) forum members left. The downward spiral had started. After the first-gen member who had been serving as moderator went nuts, she was replaced by people who supposedly worked for the site, though we had never heard of them before. Things started seriously sucking then, but there was a certain status quo...While the gaming discussion had become very boring after Dreamcast died, the unique politcal discussion that kept me posting was sustained by a few intelligent members.
The demise of GamerWeb is the result of whatever business stupidity was going on behind the scenes. I never got the full story, but this is how I understand it. The details may not all be true, but that doesn't matter. THis is how we, the oh-so-little people saw it happen: The original owner/founder, Adam, wanted to cash in on SegaWeb, so he converted the site to GamerWeb, a multiplatform site, which in my opinion overstreched what little resources he had. GamerWeb never really grew. They added a paid video service about the same time IGN added Insider, which distracted even more from the site's original intent. At some point, the whole operation got bought by Hi2, who apparently never gave a damn. A few months ago, Adam got fed up with Hi2, and left to make a new site. Seemingly, he also took many of the videos that GamerWeb was offering as well as the forum member list. I never quite understood if that was legal or not, and it may in fact have been completely legit, but it seemed odd to me.
The most obvious problem that GamerWeb had was that no one wanted to pay the staffers, so little if any content was produced on a regular basis. This was fine way to run a fan site, but not a big commercial site. recently, one of the few staffers that cared decided that he wanted to get paid. He refused to update the site until he got paid, so the backers apparently just took down the whole site. They replaced it (nearly a month later) with a shoddy looking forum and no content. This new site supposedly exists to promote the "GamerWebTV" show that their making in Europe. Yet another distration from the original intent of the site. It seems that everyone wants to cash in without actually caring about the site itself.
The big losers in all of this are the members of the GamerWeb forum community. We stuck with GamerWeb, hoping for a good outcome. No one ever gave a damn. With the hillariously poor content, the site's best, and only real asset is the forum community. We were and still are treated like some ancilary component. They forget that a site is nothing without a faithful community. Now, with this most recent forum migration, even we are beginning to give up, scattering to other places.
Earth to whoever runs GamerWeb now: Just give a damn for once!
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Since everyone seems to be weighing in on the Affirmative Action ruling, I figure I should too...
On the one hand, I certainly recognize the view that many liberals and minorities have that because of the inequalities of the past, we need Affirmative Action to give their decendants equal opportunties. There is a certain logic there. I do not deny that this view has merit.
However, I have a number of serious reservations about Affirmative Action.
First, how do you explain to Johnny Majority that Johnny Minority gets preferential treatment because of actions that occured before either Johnny was a twinkle in their parrents eyes? How is this fair? Should not both Johnny's be judged on the "content of their characters and not the color of their skin"? This is a question that Affirmative Action supporters have never really been able to answer.
Secondly, the logic of Affirmative Action says that minority groups are given preferential treatment not because they are minorities, but because these minority groups were oppressed in the past. In other words, Affirmative Action seeks to give formally oppressed peoples greater opportunities. However, why aren't "formally oppressed peoples" duch as Jews, Irish-Americans, and Chinese-Americans also given preferential treatment? They too were oppressed...The logic breaks down.
Finally, as I read a discussion of this issue on an Internet forum, minority members were constantly bringing up stories of how their ancestors were oppressed in the past. I feel this misses the point. Affirmative Action should not be driven by guilt. That is not the point. No one is denying that oppression took place. The point is that if Affirmative Action really works then at some point in the future the current generation of these oppressed minority groups should have the same economic and social advantrages as the non-oppressed groups. Now, here is the problem with this...What mechanism exists to stop Affirmative Action when it has achieved it's goal? In general, the idea of a grand plans (think "Five Year Plans") to equalize society without clearly defined limits gives me goosebumps. In that vein, I applaud the Supreme Court for coming up with the brilliant idea of placing a 25 year "time to live" for Affirmative Action. Perhaps this is the proper mechanism.
Monday, June 23, 2003
Living in the Past
If it hasn't become obvious by now, I have a particular afinity for technology. I love technology, not just the new, bleeding edge stuff, but older technology too, like those 70s amplifiers I mentioned last week. If you ever find a good thrift store, walk around and look at there sheer amount of stuff laying around. When I look at this old junk, say and old computer or an old radio it strikes me that these objects are portals into another time. I mean, you can't look at a Zenith Transoceanic without imagining some child huddled around that tube-driven reciever listening to a now classic baseball game in the 1950s. Similarly, it's one thing to read Insanely Great and read about the original Macintosh, and it's another thing to actually use one.
Ever since the industrial revolution, technology has increasingly shaped people's lives. In Salmon of Doubt Douglas Adams speaks of pressing his ear against his hi-fi set, secretly listening to The Beatles at bording school. This is a memory that is completely defined by technology. Speaking of The Beatles, can you imagine how Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band would sound different if they hadn't been forced to use now primitve 4-Track recorders? Did the limits of that technology inspire their creativity?
The popularity of "retrogaming" is evidence of the pull of old technology. A whole generation who grew up with videogames suddenly wants to revisit the 8-bit past. Atari, a company long drawn and quartered is now a pop-culture status symbol. Old NES's are now popular items.
Which brings me back to thrift stores...Unlike the fashion and fad obsessed retail world, these merchants embrace the past. What's more, you never quite know what you'll find at these places. Walking into a thrift store is like pulling the arm on a One-Armed-Bandit, you never know what piece of history will pop up.
Friday, June 20, 2003
A Sound Mind
I'm a big fan of 70s and early 80s amplifiers. This may sound odd, considering all the new features that home audio equipment offers today, but I have my reasons...
A. You can find some kick-ass old amps at thrift stores that are still in great condition. I mean stuff from Yamaha, Harman/Kardon, and Marantz. These things are all 20-30 years old, but they were built like tanks, and now they can be had for under .
B. The "dirty little secret" of today's receivers is that they are more computer then amplifier. Do you ever wonder how that Pioneer can be 0 and have all of that stuff on there? Dolby Digital, DTS, DSP modes? How does it do all of that?
Essentially there's a single, programable processor in there that does all of the decoding and DSP tricks. Want DTS? It loads the DTS program. Dolby Digital? It loads the Dolby Digital program. All of the DSP settings are also programs.
Now, this isn't a bad thing at all. Hell, I think it's kind of cool. My main problem with this is that when you are paying for the receiver, you're paying for a bunch of computers as well as the amplification circuitry (which for now, is all analog). In the old days, you payed for an amp. That's all it was. And they built them well, which brings me to my next fanboyish point...
C. Today, you talk about a "500-Watt" receiver. That means that it has at maximum of 500 watts of total of power spread across five channels. However, the rear channels need less then the front, so it's probably something like three 120s (fronts) and two 60s for the rears...
However, those power ratings are for the maximum posible power that the amp could put out for a very short period of time (like a fraction of a second). The constant maximum is far lower then that, though the specs don't say that.
I have a Marantz Model 2235 which is speced at 35 watts per channel...Must be not be as loud, right? Nope. Back in the 70s, 35 watt/channel meant that the amp could keep that level up for an hour, from both channels.
Another issue is that the power supply must be able to supply power to the amps...Check to see if the power consumption rating of that 500-watt amp is anywhere near 500 watts...My guess is that it's somewhere around 320 watts...How are 300 odd watts supposed to come in from the wall and 500 watts are supposed to come out of the speakers? Obviously, today's spec sheets are loads of bull.
That brings me to my next point...
D. Sound quality...Now, in 1976 that Marantz amp sold for 0...According to this inflation calculator, that's a staggering 00 in today's money! For that 0 (in 1976 money), you got a power supply, two amps, some switches, some lights, an RIAA preamp (which is used for records), and an AM/FM tuner. Today, for 0 you are getting five amps, all of that computer circuitry, probably some kind of nice LCD screen, and all kinds of other stuff. In that Marantz, the focus of that 0 was on the amps; the sound quality...Now, the amps are mere fraction of the cost of that Pioneer.
It just strikes me as something to think about...
Thursday, June 19, 2003
What's In a Name?
I am an atheist. I’ve been that way all of my life. My mother came from a Jewish background and my father came from a Christian background. When they married, they decided to become non-religious and I was raised in this non-religious environment. However, outside of the house, religion was something that I avoided talking about (living on a street with a church at the end of the block may have contributed to this). It was almost as if I was ashamed of my views. That’s not to say that I wished my family was religious (I have never had any religious ambitions), but I just didn’t want the inevitable questions to come up. Such things can be a source of torment when one is in elementary and middle school.
However, when I came to the high school, I went into Ms. Faulkner’s Enriched World History class. It was the best history class that I had ever taken. One of the things the class did was a comparative religion unit. I had definitely heard of the world’s other religions, but never had I learned about them in detail. I soon came to the conclusion that western religions were just plain silly. Conversely, eastern religions made far more sense to me. A religion such as Buddhism is an exploration of one’s self. I found this concept very refreshing.
In that class we also read works by several philosophers from the Age of Reason. It was here that I found the works of Voltaire. Micromegas astonished me. Here was a man from the 18th century who was ridiculing organized religion! Here was a man who disagreed with the mainstream and used satire to express himself! This was a watershed event for me. I became proud of my (dis)beliefs.
Ms. Faulkner would give the class journal assignments. This was basically my first chance to sort out and write down my worldview. I united my science knowledge (little of which had been gleaned from school…I’ll probably have gray hair before super-string theory is even mentioned in high schools) with my philosophical views in a comprehensive format. I finally had a view of my own. It didn’t have a church and thick text to go with it, but it was mine.
In essence, my belief is that I am a collection of accidents and matters of chance that began with the Big Bang. Consciousness is simply a matter of some of these parts working together in a complex way. I reject the supernatural and the mystical, since the fact that I am a collection of exploded star-stuff in itself holds a mystical (but not divinely inspired) quality. There are religions that indoctrinate people to believe that they should reject science as cold and insensitive. They still want to be the center of the universe. I embrace the fact that I, and the rest of the human race are not the center of the universe. We are mere collections of atoms (which are in themselves collections of other objects) in a collection of stars in a collection of galaxies in a collection of superclusters. Our insignificance is a result of the great number of accidents and matters of chance that formed us. In science, this is expressed in the Weak Anthropic Principle, which states that, “in order for conditions in the universe to be observed, conditions must allow a observer to exist”. In an atheistic view, this means that we shouldn’t be surprised (in a theological sense) that we’re here, since if our universe didn’t support life, we wouldn’t be here. This became the core of my beliefs*.
When I got into IRC a few years ago, I needed a name. I already had a screen name, but to put it bluntly, it sucked...So, I picked up Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time", and looked for something cool to name myself. I wanted something that sounded intellectual, but not in a blunt way. I wanted something that was uniquely me. What better way, I thought, to sum myself up then to choose the name Anthropic?
* If you do a search for "Anthropic Principle", you'll get results that favor both theistic and athestic views. I like this. There's a certain ambiguity there. I realize that not everyone has to agree with me. If my personal interpretation of the Anthropic Principle is the core of my spiritual beliefs, then Pluralism is the basis of my political beliefs.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
The Transformation is Nearly Complete
Early this morning I decided to take the plunge...After using Internet Explorer for years on end, I decided to make Mozilla Firebird my default browser.
For years, I've been a die-hard IE user. I hated Netscape back in the days of the First Browser War with IE 3.0 and Netscape 3 doing battle. I just didn't like the way Netscape felt back then. It felt like it belonged on Mac or something...I don't know what it was, but I didn't like it.
IE 4.0 was, to say the least, a major event for me. What a great browser that was. It was so far ahead of Netscape that it wasn't funny.
However, since then IE really hasn't added much in the way of features. Tabs? Themes? The browser has stagnated. Microsoft says "wait for LOnghorn", but that's inexcusable (I have a feeling that we'll hear from IE again before Longhorn).
In any event, I didn't find Mozilla 1.0 very impressive. It was Netscape under a different name. It was bloated, it was slow, and I didn't need a new browser then.
When I first heard about Phoenix (aka Firebird), I was intrigued. A browser made for browsing, not an Internet suite made one hell of a lot of sense to me. So I tried it...I was impressed, but I didn't feel that it warranted replacing my beloved IE.
Now however, I feel that Firebird has reached the point where I no longer have any need for IE. It just makes so much sense. Tabs? Awesome. Themes? I can have a new look every day (Ken Lynch, you kick ass). Extensions? This just makes sense. Speed? Right up there with IE.
The open source aspect is also very cool I can download a new build every day. You can actually see progress. Bugs get fixed within days. Everyone is remarkably candid and open. If someone wants to make special builds, with extra extensions or optimizations, they can go right on ahead. What a breath of fresh air.
Speaking of fresh air, all you have to do to install Firebird is unzip a .zip file. No "install this and you'll never be able to uninstall". No "Do you also want to install RealBS Player?" This is pure no-bull browsing.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Loss of Legacy
I recently read Steven Levy's 1994 book, "Insanely Great", which chronicles the history and circumstances behind the creation of the original Macintosh. In almost reverant tones, Levy speaks of the revolutionary aspects of the Mac's GUI, the Mac's design, and the overall Macinthosh ethic.
Computer history sems to agree with Levy, though it does not do so with such religious devotion. Certainly Macintosh made the GUI mainstream, and it certainly changed the way that people think about computers...
However, I think something has been missed, or at least smoothed over by many historians. In order for Apple to reinvent their vision of personal computing as Macintosh, they had to abandon the Apple II. They had to abandon machine that was the first serious home computer, the machine that had a loyal fanbase, the machine that had made Apple. They had to start from scratch with Macintosh, which allowed IBM/Microsoft to sweep away the industry from under Apple's feet.
Had Apple created a machine that was a bloodline successor to Apple II, rather then a whole new royal house (so to speak), they could have gradually reinvented the personal computer without handing the market to IBM. In other words, Jobs's zeal to create a new machine damned Apple to the place it has today in the computer industry; a distant second. Sure, Macintosh was the computer of the future, but it will always be the computer of the future. It will never be the dominator of the present.
There's a lesson here...Microsoft's slower path to the GUI (which led it to an imperfect, yet presentable solution by 1990) let them bring in innovative technology without abandoning the past. At times, there is an almost hedonistic desire in the computer industry to create products that eliminate past legacies, as is seen in the design of the original Macintosh. However, as luscious as this may seem, it is not always the best path to success. The public does not necessarily want innovation and perfect design in the products it buys. Sometimes, it wants products with a sense of the past and the future.
Monday, June 16, 2003
"Save The Whales" Returns From the Dead
Just when you thought the utterly hillarious enviro-nazi craze from yesteryear was gone, it comes back from the dead...
Study: Nets Drown 1,000 Cetaceans Daily
This article can be summed up as "Save the Whales"...Let's see how credible this article is...
"Nearly 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises drown every day after becoming tangled in fishing nets and other equipment, scientists say in what appears to be the first global estimate of the problem.
Annually, the researchers said 308,000 of the marine mammals die unintentionally in fishermen's hauls."
I believe Mr. Mark Twain once had something to say about statistics...
By the way, ever notice how these reports always mention "scientists"? That word makes us think of distinguished scholars with beards...Trusted men, in effect. This careful usage of words blinds you to the fact that these people may just have agendas.
"The report was released by World Wildlife Fund, a Washington-based advocacy group, as governments gather in Berlin for the 55th annual International Whaling Commission (news - web sites) meeting that begins Monday."
Well, there certainly can't be any agenda at work here...I mean, WWF isn't known for being a left-wing, eco-nazi organization at all...Oh wait, they are...
I mean, they aren't releasing this alarmist report just to disrupt an perfectly legal international conference...Oh wait, they are.
What exactly could be the real agenda at work here?
"There is need to harvest seafood," said Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Massachusetts' Cape Cod. "We should be able to feed the planet without driving non-food species to extinction. But I'm not sure we can."
Gee, this guy doesn't have an agenda...Nooooo, not at all...
But how did these esteemed professionals arrive at these alarming numbers?
"To reach the worldwide estimates, the researchers resorted to multiplying the U.S. statistics. They acknowledged their results were "very crude," but said mortality figures in more remote countries were not available."
Yep, I want fishing policy to be determined by "very crude" measurements that have been colored by a hillariously apparent bias...
Sunday, June 15, 2003
The Dangers of Obnoxiousness
I have a recording (We Shall Overcome) of Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer, playing at Carnegie Hall in 1963. Seeger was widely known for his left wing views, and had been blacklisted in the 50s. For him to be playing Carnegie Hall was a triumph for him personally, and for the liberal movement in general. More then likely, everyone in that room held left-wing views, and Seeger even points out several left-wing activists in the crowd.
Pete Seeger had plenty of reason to be angry. He could have used the occasion to lash out at those who had tried to ruin his career (as a result of his political views. Instead he dedicated his performance to those working so hard in the civil rights movement.
"If you would like to get out of a pessimistic mood yourself, I got one sure remedy for you. Go help those people down in Birmingham and Mississippi and Alabama," he says before launching into an awe-inspiring rendition of "We Shall Overcome".
What struck me about the whole two disc set was how upbeat and positive it is...This is a snapshot of when the liberal movement knew what it wanted...It had a purpose, a direction...It was a positive movement that fought for positive change.
...And then I look at the liberal movement today. I see these punks lashing out against police because some leaders want to talk in peace. I see these people tying up traffic in major cities, just to piss people off. They spew this rhetoric that stings like acid. All I hear are these "minds that hate", the people that John Lennon tried to warn the movement about in "Revolution This is no longer a positive movement. The positive movement of 1963 has turned into a negative movement in 2003.
Where I grew up is a mere minutes drive from Kent, Ohio. My parents when to Kent State...Several relatives went to Kent State. I've had teachers then went to Kent State. So, needless to say, I hear a lot about May 4th, 1970.
What you had were Marxists and other extreme leftists that came to Kent State from the outside (they were not students) and incited a rather unrulely protest to the war in Vietnam. They burried a copy of the Bill of Rights. That was free speech. Then they burned down the ROTC building. That was not free speech. At that point, the governor called in the National Guard to enforce the peace. He went to his grave without entirely explaining that decision. On May 4th, another protest occured, and the protestors began screaming at, and throwing stones at the line of National Guard soldiers (most of whom were the same age as the protestors). Someone got spooked, as as I'm sure you know, the National Guard opened fire and killed four people, some of whom were merely watching the protest.
This is what happens with negative movements. Obnoxiousness turns to hate, and things snowball from there.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
I Suppose this is Hello
Since Gamerweb is down, I need a place to express thoughts about the Universe. I'm not a fan of personal drivel, rather I just want a place to voice my opinion. So, lets see what thoughts and opinions I can dig up...