Saturday, May 29, 2004

Too high, too low, whatever...

Minnesota is cracking down on underpriced gas.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Kerry's VP Options

McSweeny's runs down the top 20 candidates with analysis here.

California Senate vs. Google - it's a shakedown.

So, the California Senate actually voted to restrict gmail. To quote from the CNN article:
The bill by Democratic state Sen. Liz Figueroa would require Gmail to work only in real-time and would bar the service from producing records.

The bill also would bar Gmail form collecting personal information from e-mails and giving any information to third parties.

What does it all mean? A lot of people are reacting as if the proposal were a well-intentioned mistake, a misguided attempt to help the public put forth by well-meaning politicians. What nonsense!

It's a shakedown.

Senator Figueroa noticed that Google is about to have a huge pile of money and hadn't planned on giving any of it to local politicians, by which I mean her and her friends. Legislators propose regulating an industry primarily in order to get that industry to cough up campaign contributions. Of course this bill does nothing to protect consumers -- that's not its real goal! The real goal is simply to make sure that a big chunk of the $2.7 billion raised in the IPO gets into Liz Figueroa's pocket.

The sad thing is that it'll probably work. Once Google gets the message and hires a few political consultants to spread some green around, the problem will go away.

For a while.

But once you have paid the Dane-gold, you never get rid of the Dane, so only an ongoing program of regular contributions will keep harebrained schemes like this from seeing the light of day and/or limit the damage done by the ones that actually turn into law.

Is anyone else reminded of the Microsoft antitrust trial?

Highest bridge in the world

Engineers just completed the central span of a bridge of truly ludicrous height. Check it out:

My question is: who gets to bungie-jump first?

Inspired by the Day After Tomorrow

Here are a few modest proposals for more movies in a similar vein, including this one:
A ten-cent increase in the federal minimum wage casts millions of blacks and Hispanics into permanent unemployment and despair; all of these unemployed women scrape up pennies by offering themselves as prostitutes, while all of the unemployed men swarm to the suburbs to rape soccer-moms and then riot so violently in the cities that the Empire State building, the U.S. Capitol, the Sears Tower, and the Bank of America building all crash violently to the ground, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians, including a kindly book-peddler specializing in works by and about Ayn Rand.

How to make friends by telephone

Wondering how to use a telephone? You're in luck; the rules are here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

We were duped by the State

Today, the New York Times apologised for having been fooled by the Iraq WMD hoax and having propagated misinformation on the subject.

And now, here's a nice response from Jeffrey Tucker on the Mises Economics Blog:

[The Times] admits to having believed lies and not having checked out claims made by special interests. Just imagine what the Times would write if it offered an account and apology for 50 years of statist economic reporting. "We reported that fiscal and monetary [policy] could stabilize the economy; in fact these policies only lead to destabilization. We regret that we believed the self-interested statements of economists who work for the government, and we admit that we failed to seek independent verification of these claims."

[UPDATE:] A comment notes that I should give credit where it's due, and this is true. It is a big step forward for the NYT to take responsibility like this. They could have just blown it off, and they didn't. They investigated the matter, assessed where the problems were and came clean with the readership. That's huge. It's commendable. It's worthy of the Paper Of Record.

Those who want to encourage this sort of responsible reportage should probably offer thanks and congratulations rather than use any admission of weakness as an excuse for cheap partisan sniping. I'll try to do better henceforth.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Bush administration's liberal policies

David Bernstein is still wondering why Bush gets no credit from liberals for promulgating liberal policies. Bush has indeed done many things liberals ought to cheer, just as Clinton did many things conservatives ought to have cheered. Much anti-Bush rhetoric, like the anti-Clinton rhetoric before it, is pure irrational partisanship.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Gas is cheap!

The doom-and-gloomers are out in force again, and the latest reason the sky is falling is called "peak oil". It's nonsense, of course. As soon as there is some prospect of oil actually getting scarce, it will get more expensive and this will prompt subsitution. Higher prices send a message to everyone in the economy: use less, and find subsitute goods. Then we might see more power production using nuclear and coal and solar. What we won't see is massive die-offs and the end of civilization as we know it.

My guess is that the latest wave of hysteria is based on the non-event of prices at the gas pumps starting to exceed $2/gallon. But gas is still cheap by historical standards, much cheaper than it was in the 1980s. Adjusted for inflation, what we paid for gas in 1981 would be equivalent to $2.94/gallon today.

Here's a nice chart of inflation-adusted gas prices for the last few decades.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Blackjack trivia test

How well do you know your blackjack trivia? Take this quiz and find out!

Some of the questions are subjective, debatable, or just silly, but I enjoyed it. I scored a 160. It styles itself an "IQ test", but isn't. And no, I have no idea what LVHCM refers to.

Take the test and leave a comment with your score!

UPDATE: a commentator tells me LVHCM stands for Las Vegas Hole Card Mafia.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

MIT team players are everywhere!

Now that Burning Down the house is being made into a movie, what next?

Blackjack Science Seminars. Once you've presumably been barred from every game worth playing, the obvious thing to do is train the next generation of counters. Looks like fun!

Geek humor

Here's a parody of tinyURL: hugeurl

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Guards must be guards?

Here's a study worth revisiting: the stanford prison experiment.

Upshot: In a psychology study, a group of students were randomly divided into prisoners and guards. Both sides grew into their simulated roles and the situation quickly became abusive. The experiment had to be called off after 6 days.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Words fail

Ogged of Unfogged writes:
Unfogged: Oh my Lord.
U.S. military officials told NBC News that the unreleased images showed U.S. soldiers severely beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death, having sex with a female Iraqi female prisoner and “acting inappropriately with a dead body.” The officials said there was also a videotape, apparently shot by U.S. personnel, showing Iraqi guards raping young boys.
This will define America for generations. (Note, please, that they "have sex" with the woman, but "rape" the boy.)

Do you really think it's alarmist to point out that Americans can be put away indefinitely on nothing more than one man's whim; that we have a collection of legal black holes: at Guantanamo, on ships around the world, in Iraq; that our soldiers blithely torture detainees; and that fully half the country still thinks the President is doing a good job? Do you wonder how totalitarian regimes come about? This is how: with the consent of the governed.

Look, I, and my friends and family, all live in urban areas, assuming our share of the risk of terrorist attacks. If this is being protected, I'll take my chances. I don't want to live like this, and I don't want these things done in my name. What happened to death before dishonor? Or is it already too late for that?
The NBC article containing the offending quote has been replaced, but you can still find it in google's cache from several news sources. Here's one. And here's a UK news article containing the same quote.

Meanwhile,Katherine of Obsidian Wings aggregates information:

Obsidian Wings: "They Opened the Door to a Little Bit of Torture, and a Whole Lot of Torture Walked Through.": That's a quotation from Carroll Bogert of Human Rights Watch, in this Newsweek article.

Why am I so convinced of this, and that not only a few bad soldiers in the 372nd bear responsibility for Abu Ghraib? Not just because of this, this and this. There's also this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this....

(via too many people to credit individually, as well as Google News--this isn't original research on my part, just an effort to put as much of it as possible in one place.)

As a libertarian/anarchocapitalist, I expect political structures to be prone to corruption and abuse, so I shouldn't be shocked at any of this. But I am. War is the health of the state, and our state is way too "healthy" right now.

I thought it was bad, but it's worse.

Van Helsing is a dumb movie

The characters are all stock. It's as if the writers were checking off boxes on a list. Love interest? Check. Comedy relief? Check...

There is too much unlikely exposition in the form of scenes where one character explains to another character something he already knows, just so the audience gets a chance to hear it.

The Talking Villain is a problem throughout the movie. Again and again, a villain takes the time to taunt a lead character when simply killing him or her would be much simpler, faster, and more productive. The fact that the female lead comments on this does not sufficiently excuse it.

Now on to more specific stuff. There are spoilers ahead.

Dracula's weakness is revealed by a painting that moves. How did this painting come to exist, and how does it do what it does? Even granting that the painting could move at all doesn't help much. There are two possibilities: it moves for everyone, or it only moved for Loyal Sidekick. If everybody who looks at the painting sees it move, you'd think the painting would have long since been sold for a huge price to some art collector OR it would have been burned out of fear of witchcraft. Probably the latter. On the other hand, maybe the painting only moved for our Loyal Sidekick. In which case, why would it do that? How would the painting know the right person was examining it? Then there's the question of the information being conveyed: whoever made the painting knew that werewolves are dracula's deadly weakness. How could this knowledge even be known, given that there's only one Dracula and he has thus far survived every attack?

Dracula was exiled to a frozen land, but was given the power of flight in order to escape it. So our heroes go to this land to kill dracula, traversing a one-way portal. How did they then escape? Were they, too, given the power of flight?

Given that Dracula knows werewolves are his weakness, why does he keep one around? Sure, a werewolf is useful, but it doesn't seem like it's useful enough to make up for that rather major drawback.

Werewolves turn into wolves when the moon is full. Our Glorious Hero gets attacked by a werewolf who is in wolf form due to it being a full moon. Then we hear that having been bitten, V.H. has only three days until the next full moon. Is the moon full twice a week in translvania?

Where did the team of horses get the magic power to jump arbitrary gaps?

How did the top of the carriage catch fire?

Did the booby-trapping of the fake carriage make logical sense?

Given that the acid surrounding the syringe is strong enough to dissolve steel bars almost instantaneously, why isn't it strong enough to dissolve the needle of the syringe as well?

Why would the harpies have functioning reproductive systems to produce dead bags of glop? (On the other hand, at least now we know why the harpies are so upset - you'd be bitchy too if you'd had to give birth a thousand times and all you had to show for it was a bunch of dead bags of glop!)

Why don't the bags of glop dry out?

After all this buildup to the effect that Dracula will be able to enlighten us as to the nature of Van Helsing's missing memories, what is actually revealed? "You're really old and used to be named Gabriel" just didn't cut it for me.

What were all those cables hanging from?

If you can answer any of these or have more items to add, please leave a comment.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Self-referential aptitude test

is here.

New bat-look, same bat-channel

Updated the site to use a new blogger style, with comments. Had a little issue that the new format doesn't allow for big inline images. Let's see how this works...

Yeah, that sounds about right...

What Type of Villain are You?

Certified Software Test Engineer

Just got the results back and - woohoo! - I passed the test. I'm now a Certified Software Tester (CSTE). Let the world bow down before my testing prowess, or something. I'll probably go after the CSQA next, but I've got a lot of reading to do first...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

On humility...

Joel Spolsky forwards a book recommendation, and writes:
There’s something weird about software development, some mystical quality, that makes all kinds of people think they know how to do it. I’ve worked at dotcom-type companies full of liberal arts majors with no software experience or training who nevertheless were convinced that they knew how to manage software teams and design user interfaces. This is weird, because nobody thinks they know how to remove a burst appendix, or rebuild a car engine, unless they actually know how to do it, but for some reason there are all these people floating around who think they know everything there is to know about software development.
Read the whole thing..

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


Here are some good tips on how to reduce the noise your computer makes.

Bonus essay: Why iPods are like Samurai swords.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

How does the casino spot counters?

In the good old days, counter-spotting was done from the pit. You could /see/ the people sweating your action and moderate your play accordingly. Nowadays counter-spotting is done by the Eye in the Sky, sometimes with the help of clever software. Your play can be closely scrutinized without your knowledge; play intelligently long enough and they will probably figure out what you're up to. The best casinos have computer software which can calculate the degree to which your bets correllate with the count and the degree to which your playing decisions help the house. (One such program is Blackjack Survey Voice). The ultimate result of a computerized "skills check" is a dollar estimate: how much per hour is the house likely to win from you?

Such systems undoubtedly still have flaws, but they are very good at what they do. And the programmers have come up with clever ways to display the results. For instance, suppose you want to know if a player is gaining an edge over the house via bet variation. Do a scatter plot of the amount bet versus the count at the time of each bet. If the player is a card counter who utilizes bet variation, this plot will have a slope; larger bets will tend to match larger counts and smaller bets smaller counts. Even with a lot of cover, mistakes, or deliberate randomness, the slope will be apparent. Whereas a non-counting player's bets are essentially random with respect to the count; the plot will look like static rather than a fuzzy sloped line.