Archive for October 2008

Princess Adda! Princess Adda!   Leave a comment

Robot ants to colonize Mars.  ‘Nuff said.

Posted October 21, 2008 by padraic2112 in hardware, robots, tech

Win One For The Gipper   1 comment

From PhD Comics, a picture is worth a thousand sad, sad words:

Posted October 21, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise

I Vote For Ed   3 comments

Apparently, Ed Felten is on Obama’s short list for national Chief Technology Officer; a proposed new Cabinet level position.

Princeton’s Felten says he has not been approached by Obama’s team either, but believes a government CTO is necessary for these times. He sees the job as holding far-reaching responsibilities. “First, the CTO could act as the cybersecurity czar, ensuring that reliability of the government infrastructure is protected. And much like the role of presidential science adviser, the CTO could offer advice to the president on all areas of technology. The role could be a catalyst to push us closer to being a more entrepreneurial, high-tech country.” When asked if he would be interested in the job, Felten replied: “Almost anyone would be interested in doing that job.” Bezos and Ballmer were less forthcoming; each declined to comment.

I wouldn’t put Ballmer or Cerf on my own list; not because of any anti-Microsoft or anti-Google prejudices, but because of general conflicts of interest (in time, if nothing else).  Ed would have to take on a pretty time-intensive burden to take the job, but it sounds like he’d be willing to accommodate it, and his areas of expertise are much more connected to e-government issues than Ballmer.  Bruce would be another good candidate, but I don’t think he’s as interested in beating his head against political brick walls.

I absolutely think this position needs to be created, regardless of who wins the White House,

Posted October 21, 2008 by padraic2112 in news, politics, tech

You Don’t Need To See My Identification   1 comment

Davi posted a snippet of Steven’s testimony over on his blog.  Ted Stevens apparently thinks he is a Jedi:

“How is that not a gift?” prosecutor Brenda Morris asked.

“He bought that chair as a gift, but I refused it as a gift,” Stevens said. “He put it there and said it was my chair. I told him I would not accept it as a gift. We have lots of things in our house that don’t belong to us.”

Playing to the jury, Morris appeared confused. “So, if you say it’s not a gift, it’s not a gift?” she said.

“I refused it as a gift,” Stevens replied. “I let him put it in our basement at his request.”

Really?  Lots of things in your house that don’t belong to you?  So people just randomly show up and demand that you hold onto expensive stuff because they’re out of space at their place…?  That’s not accepting bribes, that’s just letting your friends take advantage of your square footage!  Poor Senator Stevens, you’re just misunderstood.

“This isn’t the evidence you’re looking for.”

Posted October 20, 2008 by padraic2112 in politics

Yeah, What That Guy Said   Leave a comment

Mark Chu-Carroll just took the NYT to task for horribly bad analysis.  I’m 100% on board with him on this one, and I think one has an intellectual obligation to point out shenanigans, so I’m just saying… whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, go read this.

Moral of the story: pretty graphs do not rigorous science make.

Posted October 17, 2008 by padraic2112 in politics

Moral Quandries   3 comments

In the United States, the President swears an Oath of Office.  Although the Senate and House of Representatives are likewise required to swear an oath in the Constitution (Article VI, clause 3), the actual verbiage of the oath is not in said Constitution, unlike the Presidential oath.

This is the version currently sworn by U.S. politicians, Senators and Congresspersons:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Federal judges get to take not one oath, but two:

I, [state your name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.

I, [state your name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

It is my understanding that the “So help me God” parts are traditional as opposed to written in stone, and could potentially be passed over by an atheist or polytheist, if such came to pass.

“Interesting, Mr. C,” you say, “but where are you going with this?”  Bear me out.

Former Archbishop Raymond Burke (who famously said he would deny Communion to then-Presidential candidate John Kerry) is back in the news.  The Archbishop is now a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, the Catholic equivalent of the Supreme Court.  From a recent article:

Turning to discuss the Democrat Party, Archbishop Burke warned that the party is “at risk of becoming the ‘Death Party,’ due to its positions on bio-ethical questions as Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in his book, ‘The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts and the Disregard for Human Life’.”

Archbishop Burke steadfastly supports his earlier stated position that Catholic politicians who vote to support legalized abortion should no longer receive Communion.

“Mine is not an isolated position. It is shared by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput from Denver, by Bishop Peter J. Jugis from Charlotte and a few others,” he answered, while noting that the bishops’ conference has not “assumed this position, leaving each bishop free to make his own decision.”  He continued, “I have always maintained that there must be a united position in order to demonstrate the unity of the Church when facing this serious issue.”

As it turns out, this is a convoluted issue.  While still a Cardinal, Pope Benedict seemed to support Archbishop Burke’s position.  Since becoming Pope, he’s supported the decisions of bishops in South America that have sought to excommunicate pro-choice Catholic politicians.  But despite this, he’s left the decision of whether or not to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholic politicians to the bishops… which means, at the very least, that the Pope is not quite so concerned with “demonstrating the unity of the Church when facing this serious issue.”  In the United States, the Council of Bishops still leans heavily towards keeping the Eucharist out of the political arena.

In 2004, following agonizing debate, the U.S. bishops decided that they could not arrive at a uniform national stand on this question, and therefore it would be up to each bishop to set policy in his diocese. That’s fully in keeping with Catholic theology, which regards each bishop as the supreme authority in his diocese, answerable only to the pope. Yet it also means that a national candidate could be treated differently depending upon which diocese he or she happens to be in on any given Sunday. Such disparities in turn fuel perceptions of division in the church, which is something the bishops always abhor.

Now, strictly speaking, this decision is something that ought to be up to the bishop, as they (at least theoretically) understand their diocese and the members more than anyone else does… but I have to admit I’d like to see the Pope make a firm decision on this point.

Here’s how I see it: let us assume for the moment that Archbishop Burke’s interpretation of canon law is correct.  Then I see the following quandary:

If a Catholic takes the oath of office as described above, omitting the “so help me God” point, then they have a conflict of ethics and morals: they have agreed to abide by a code of ethics that puts the Constitution as the arbiter of their legislative actions, not the Church.  If they throw in the “so help me God” line, they’re in a double conflict, ethics and morals vs morals, since violating their oath is now taking the Lord’s name in vain (which, after all, has high billing in the Top Ten).  [edited to add]  You may remember this is why a lot of people said at the time that they wouldn’t vote for Kennedy, since they didn’t think a Catholic could answer to the country, which JFK countered with, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me.”

This whole argument presupposes that you agree that the question of when “life begins” is a metaphysical question, and thus voting to ban abortion on the grounds of your religious beliefs is in effect violating the establishment clause – but keep in mind that in order to keep your oath here you’d have to come up with a metaphysical argument against abortion that doesn’t rely on your religious beliefs.  This is not easy, try it some time.

So I see the following possible courses of action:

  • Don’t run for office or become a federal judge, if you’re Catholic.
  • If you run for office, refuse to take the oath as currently worded.
  • If you run for office and take the oath, accept the fact that you’re likely to be stuck in the unenviable position of withholding yourself from Communion and/or excommunicating yourself, or breaking your oath.
  • Run for office, take the oath, vote against abortion, but get someone to explain how this isn’t a violation of your oath (tricky, but possible, I suppose).

I’m not so sure this is a logic tree the Pope is overly thrilled with, which is probably why there is no ironclad ruling on this point.

Posted October 17, 2008 by padraic2112 in politics, religion

This… Is My BOOMSTICK!   3 comments

Megan’s blog buddy VE wrote a post recently that covered what I like to call “alternative lifestyle user input devices”, also known as ergonomic keyboards.  He’s largely poking fun… which is fair enough, there’s a lot of screwy ergo keyboards out there and he’s got most of them on his list.

He missed one.  This is mine:

Buy One.  Trust Me.

Buy One. Trust Me.

The Kinesis Classic was introduced to me by the programming crew at Idealab, in 2000.  I cannot recommend this keyboard (or the Advantage or Pro models) enough, I currently have two of my own, and two that I’ve dragooned CS into purchasing for me, one for each office.  Unfortunately, I can’t get Kitty into using one, so the keyboard at home is still an old school 101 enhanced.

Here’s a list of the awesome (assumes the Advantage Pro model):

  • The keyboard is programmable, hence the “CTRL” key can now reside under your left thumb instead of your left or right pinkie finger.  For anyone who operates a UNIX command line, this is divine.
  • You can get a footpad for it, enabling all sorts of advanced control magic.
  • It has a built-in USB hub.
  • You can toggle it between QWERTY and DVORAK.
  • You can pull it off of your desk and type with it in your lap.  For mixing up your body positioning during long terminal sessions (ie, a normal day at the office for me), this is good at preventing all sorts of bad ergo-related consequences.
  • The keyboard is macro-programmable, so you can actually (if you’re crazily patient enough) write your own macros for keycombos you use regularly.  This is more of a time-burning bug than an actual feature, but it can be dork fun.
  • And, of course: nerds think you are cool when you own one.

The unawesome:

  • It takes anywhere from 2 hours to a week to get used to it (I was at the 2 hour end).
  • They don’t have a wireless model.  Boo (although I have seen one hardware-hacked into wirelessness).
  • If you share a computer, you have to get your terminal partner to use it, which is a social engineering problem (see above).
  • They’re expensive.

How expensive, you may ask?  Well, $289 for the Classic, $299 for the Advantage, and $349 for the Advantage Pro.  I know, most of you reading at this point just decided I was out of my mind… $280+ for a freaking keyboard?

YES.  For anyone who spends hours a day at a computer, this is good money to spend.  A good 55% of the people who do my job have crippling RSI by this point in their career, and I don’t.  That’s worth a lot more to me than the money I’ve spent on these keyboards.

Posted October 16, 2008 by padraic2112 in ergonomics, hardware, tech

Which Is Why We *NEED* Eddie Van Halen!   3 comments

There are times when digital flotsam and jetsam comes to your attention, and you feel compelled to point at said flotsam (or jetsam) and elbow your neighbor sitting at the rail of the ship of life and say, “Hey, check that out!”

This is one of those times.  I claim no responsibility for the results of your viewing.  Blame Connie-Lynne since she posted it to Gale…

Posted October 16, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise

My Head Just Exploded   1 comment

In the interest of being healthy and getting a little exercise, some coworkers and I just walked about a half mile and back to get lunch.

Being outside on Santa Ana wind days is not a good idea for someone who has been known to have allergic reactions to airborne particles.  I know have a colossal headache, and the front of my face feels like someone crammed a pillow up my nose.  Ah, fire season, how I hate you.

Posted October 13, 2008 by padraic2112 in noise

Our Concept of “Intellectual Property” Is Seriously Broken, Exhibit A   3 comments

ZDnet reports that Microsoft’s patent application has been approved as U.S. patent 7,415,666.  We’ll pause for the inevitable joke about numerology and Bill’s relationship with the netherworld.

The patent in question?  “A method and system in a document viewer for scrolling a substantially exact increment in a document, such as one page, regardless of whether the zoom is such that some, all or one page is currently being viewed”.

In other words, Microsoft has patented “Page Up” and “Page Down”, a “method and system” for which has existed since I first started playing around with computers over thirty years ago.

Posted October 13, 2008 by padraic2112 in news, software