Sunday, April 30, 2006

Who is Malthus?

I am going to pre-emptively answer this question which will inevitably be asked by anyone who reads or sees Urinetown, The Musical.

Thomas Robert Malthus, England's first academic economist, is most famous for his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, expanded in 1803), which the bio linked above summarizes as follows:

In this famous work, Malthus posited his hypothesis that (unchecked) population growth always exceeds the growth of means of subsistence.  Actual (checked) population growth is kept in line with food supply growth by "positive checks" (starvation, disease and the like, elevating the death rate) and "preventive checks" (i.e. postponement of marriage, etc. that keep down the birthrate), both of which are characterized by "misery and vice".  Malthus's hypothesis implied that actual population always has a tendency to push above the food supply.  Because of this tendency, any attempt to ameliorate the condition of the lower classes by increasing their incomes or improving agricultural productivity would be fruitless, as the extra means of subsistence would be completely absorbed by an induced boost in population.  As long as this tendency remains, Malthus argued, the "perfectibility" of society will always be out of reach.  

Monterey Bay photos

I've uploaded photos from our weekend trip to Monterey Bay. They include photos from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the 17-Mile Drive Scenic Tour in Pebble Beach. Most were taken by Megan, so they're quite good.

This photo gallery is a little different from past ones in two respects:

  1. I was able to fit all the thumbnails on a single index page instead of being limited to only 48 on a page.
  2. I set the full-sized images to be 640x480 pixels instead of 800x600. Hopefully this reduction will result in faster download times for those of you using dial-up Internet connections.
If you have any praise or complaints regarding this gallery, please leave a comment or e-mail me.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Congress readies new digital copyright bill

For the last few years, a coalition of technology companies, academics and computer programmers has been trying to persuade Congress to scale back the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Now Congress is preparing to do precisely the opposite.
If this legislation passes, the person who is currently hosting that clip of Conspiracy School Rock could possibly be sent to jail for 10 years. And if the record labels copy-protect all the CDs, the iPod will essentially be an illegal device.

Geek Squad In Strife

Retail chain Best Buy is in trouble after aggressively promoted, 24-hour computer support task force the Geek Squad has been served with a temporary restraining order barring it from using a popular brand of system restore software, which Best Buy is accused of pirating.
But don't true geeks use pirated software?

Terrorist, or Truth Seeker?
Wired News

To the United States, he is a seriously dangerous man who put the nation's security at risk by committing "the biggest military computer hack of all time."

But Briton Gary McKinnon says he is just an ordinary computer nerd who wanted to find out whether aliens and UFOs exist.

air ventAir vents are for air

Thanks to continuous bombardment in television and movies, the idea of characters shimmying through air ducts has become not just a cliché, but almost a given. The moment a hero finds himself stuck someplace, we expect his eyes to drift north to that spot just below the ceiling, where an oversized grate is beckoning.
I thought the same thing when I saw the episode of Lost referred to. But screenwriter John August, whose credits include Go, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and some others I'd rather not mention, makes the point even better in this funny, well-written post.

Edward Scissorhands, photo: Bill CooperEdward Scissorhands Ballet

Matthew Bourne and New Adventures are back with their latest creation: a magical new adaptation of the classic Tim Burton motion picture Edward Scissorhands.
Although this production is currently only touring the UK right now, I overheard from the director of Urinetown, The Musical that it will be coming to San Francisco. Photos and video clips can be seen by following the link above, but if you have Flash Player 8 and a high-speed connection, you can visit the official site.

Conspiracy Theory Rock
via Cartoon Brew

This weekend, Saturday Night Live is airing an episode comprised entirely of Robert Smigel's animated Saturday TV Funhouse shorts. But there's one short that's guaranteed not to be on the line-up: Conspiracy Theory Rock. The 1998 Schoolhouse Rock parody, animated by J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, criticizes corporate ownership of the media and takes some sharp jabs at NBC owner General Electric.
I saw this short when it originally aired on March 14, 1998. Because I was doing a senior project on media ownership at the time, I was a little disappointed that I didn't tape it. And even more disappointed when I discovered they were never going to show it again (though not entirely surprised).

Seven years later, I had the opportunity to ask J.J. Sedelmaier about the short (at the San Diego Comic-Con last summer). He said I was lucky to have seen it at all, since it had only aired on the New York feed once (which doesn't seem to jibe with my having watched in Forest Grove, OR). Thanks to the Internet, everyone can see it here. In addition, there's a good New York Times story about Saturday TV Funhouse here.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

DC Bridges Films with Superman Returns Specials

DC Comics bridges the classic 1980 movie Superman II and one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer with its Superman Returns Specials, four books that each deal with a character from the new motion picture!
I would typically remove the exclamation mark, but it is pretty exciting. It's going to be a big year for Superman, if Warner Bros. has anything to say about it: Year of Superman

Raiders of the Lost Ark as an animated gif

Pretty much the entire movie in only 257KB.

Methanol-Powered Robot Muscles - Bend It Like Bender

Alcohol-powered artificial muscles for robots? They could be one way to solve the limits that batteries place on robotic limbs and prosthetics.
This science news is a good excuse to give a compiled history of Bender.

Episcopal Churches Turn to U2 to Pack Pews
Associated Press

As the electric guitar in the U2 anthem "Pride (In the Name of Love)" faded from four speakers, the Rev. Robert Brooks welcomed worshippers to Grace Episcopal Church with an unusual suggestion: He warned them to protect their hearing.

Christ Among the Partisans
New York Times

There is no such thing as a 'Christian politics.' If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tired of technology

I'm tired of reading jackasses on the Internet who propagate factually incorrect or inaccurate technology information and cliches. I'm tired of their never-ending bickering and condescension. I'm tired of people hiding behind the anonymity of a computer screen and using that shield to wreak havoc and disturb the peace in a multitude of ways, without consequence. And I'm especially appalled and sickened by the level of illiteracy and carelessness the Internet has revealed among people who are either too lazy or too stupid to take the time to write clearly.
Aaron Adams is tired of a lot of things and I agree with him on most of them. I may be bitter, but I'm shocked and disturbed by the level of unnecessary hatred and anger I see on online message boards. Combine that with the level of factual errors and and it's worrisome. In the last few months I've heard Diggnation podcast co-host Alex Albrecht spout such untruths such as 'Apple has made more money from iPods than it has ever made on Macs' and 'Pixar was started at Disney, so its weird to see them bought back.' At least newspapers have a section for corrections.

The ham's big. It's the movie that got small.
The Seattle Times

Other amateur filmmakers had warned that the editing process takes a long time. These folks often repeated the admonition ("No, I mean really, a long time") as if I hadn't been paying sufficient attention.
A funny first look at digital moviemaking.

Prisoner of Redmond
By Robert X. Cringely

What do you do when your wealth is immense but completely tied to people whom you inherently do not trust? If you are Paul Allen you watch your tongue and spend eight years getting out from under that burden.
This should be of interest to anyone in the Pacific Northwest who are undoubtedly affected by Paul Allen's post-Microsoft ventures. And to anyone else who wants to know a little bit more about how Bill Gates got to be the richest man in the world.

Hijacking the Internet
PC Magazine opinion by John C. Dvorak

It seems to me that if you buy a 1.5-Mbps connection, you should be able to redline the connection, to use the full capacity without being charged more. And you should also be able to use it for whatever you want to use it for. Otherwise, it's like selling public-utility water to people and making them pay more to use it for washing dishes.
Dvorak is loathed by many in the Mac community for his hyperbolic statements. But he has his moments and this is one of them. We've lived in California for a little more than three years and have seen the phone company change hands as many times. So I especially appreciate his noting that
In just six years, the name of the fabulous baseball stadium in San Francisco has gone from Pac Bell Park to SBC Park to AT&T Park. Just the expense of changing the signage and promotional collateral tells you that someone is making plenty of money.
The ads promoting "the new at&t" tell me that "your world is suddenly changing for the better ... all because two companies — two great companies — have now joined forward to deliver the world that matters most: yours." That 'better' world I'm inhabiting has resulted in a DSL connection that drops unexpectedly and repeatedly, regular phone service that was out for a week due to their own downed equipment that they wanted to charge me to come look at, customer service via phone that uses those maddening voice recognition menus (which don't recognize much) and then I get to find out about this:

Whistle-Blower Outs NSA Spy Room
AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker ...

Cox Newspapers tunes out AP Online video

While 450 news outlets are distributing video newsfeeds from the Associated Press, using its Windows-only viewer, Cox Newspapers is opting out.

According to the interactive-projects editor at the Palm Beach Post, Cox is dropping out because the MSN-supplied player does not work with the Firefox browser or Apple Computer's Macs.
Nice to know someone has some backbone.

How France Is Saving Civilization
Wired News Commentary by Leander Kahney

But French legislators aren't just looking at Apple. They're looking ahead to a time when most entertainment is online, a shift with profound consequences for consumers and culture in general. French lawmakers want to protect the consumer from one or two companies holding the keys to all of its culture, just as Microsoft holds the keys to today's desktop computers.
Many Apple fans have been deriding the bill in France aimed at forcing digital music files to be played on any hardware device. But as Leander points out, if Microsoft held the position in digital music that Apple currently does, those same fans would be complaining to high heaven. They also seem to forget that it would force online stores selling protected Windows Media Audio files to be compatible with the iPod and Macs. Hmmm, that would give Apple competition, and they'd have to respond by making a stronger case to consumers: higher quality files? subscription option? more freebies?

Of course, we also have to consider where this train of thought could take us: Should all blades be legally obligated to work on every razor? Should XBox games be legally compelled to run on a Playstation 2?

The Torn-Up Credit Card Application

Could a determined and dexterous criminal gather all the bits, tape them together and apply for a card in my name? Would a credit card company balk when confronted with an obviously resurrected application?

Overhyped bands has compiled a list of bands from the past five years that we feel were over-hyped by the critics. While you may be angry at some of our choices, remember, we're just a bunch of bitter computer geeks.
Bitter? Count me in! I don't agree with all their choices, of course, but it's a fun trip with a surprise at the end.

Inside Scientology
Rolling Stone

In June of last year, I set out to discover Scientology, an undertaking that would take nearly nine months.
15 years after the Time magazine cover story, Rolling Stone magazine has published an up-to-date and well-researched look at the "religion" that may take you nine hours to read but is engaging nonetheless.