Thursday, November 4, 2010

manhamsterfish

This fascinating creature, the manhamsterfish, a result of genetic splicing, seems to run forever on a simple diet of alfalfa fried in plankton grease.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Call for Term Limits for Actors

Here's a tedious conversation I never want to have again:
[Pause the movie] "Who is she? That blonde woman, who is she?"

"I don't know. This is the first time that character appeared. Press play and we'll find out who she is and why she's carrying a huge gun."

"No, who is the actress? Where have we seen that actress before."

"I don't know. Can we just watch and find out who she's about to shoot?"

"Wasn't she the psycho killer in CSI, Miami"?

"Oh, right. She was brunette, not blonde, but I think it was Numb3rs."

"No, it was Bones. I'm sure of it. And she was definitely blonde."

"Right, but she was brunette in that episode of Law & Order. That one dude's crazy girlfriend, right? OK, press play now."

"Oh, wow, you're right. With dark hair she's the crazy glitter-soap lady."

"Yep. OK. Problem solved. Press play, please, for the love of god."

[play for half a second...pause] "I remember now. She was also that psycho real estate lady on NCIS?"

"No, that was that other actress: the lesbo girlfriend of that emo band's lead singer. They look alike because they both have a weird too-big mouth."

"Oh... right... OK, well anyway, we figured out who she is and it will stop bugging me." [Finally Presses play]

"Um... Could you rewind a little? I forgot what was going on."

A conversation just like it happens nearly every time a new character appears in anything. Over the course of my lifetime I will spend months, cumulatively, in a paused viewing limbo figuring out where we've seen some actor before. What a tragic waste of my life!

The solution is simple: TERM LIMITS FOR ACTORS.

Be it hereby decreed that no one is allowed to act in more than one Movie or TV Show in their lifetime. Get in, play the role, get out, and find a real job.

Thank you.

P.S. Exceptions may be granted to actors who play the same role again and again. I'm talking about you, Michael Cera.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beware The Big Gold Lever Under God’s Right Hand

My dog, Tzunami, nearly killed me today. She didn't mean to. She's a good girl.

I'd waited patiently for to her find the perfect grassy spot to do her "duty". Then, as I was bent over to clean it up she saw a goose poop nearby.

For this bizarre story to make any sense whatsoever you have to understand how much Tzunami loves goose poop. It's a delicacy to her. To me it's super duper yucky, but to her (and probably to the French) goose poop is a feast.

Anyway, back to the story. As I was bent over picking up her "duty", she lunged for a goose poop, wrapping her leash tightly around my neck and choking off my air supply.

Soon I felt myself floating skyward through a long tunnel leading to an infinitely bright light. I took one last look downward and saw my now-still body, a bit purplish, and Tzunami nearby smacking her lips in culinary delight. I was filled with an indescribable sense of love and well-being.

Then I found myself face to face with God. He was just like you'd expect. He sat in a giant throne, surrounded by a court of winged angels. "Welcome home, my child" he said in a booming voice comparable to a thousand thunderclaps.

I've prepared a lifetime for this moment: my encounter with God. I like to be prepared for life's special moments. For instance, when someone puts a helium balloon into most people's mouths it is a wasted moment because they don't know what to say. They're not prepared. But me, I'm prepared, I say "follow the yellow brick road," which I've determined is the perfect thing to say on helium. For my first meeting with God, I've also prepared the perfect statement: "Are you there God? It's me, Margaret."

"Ho ho ho ho," he boomed, and his court of angels teetered merrily along. "That was funny.... the first 10,000 times I heard it. I've no time for this nonsense." His laughter abruptly ceased, along with the tee-hees of His entire court. "It is time for you to Be Ye Here Judged!"

I noticed then that his right arm rested on a giant gold lever beside his throne. I also noticed below my feet what looked like a trap door. I barely managed to swallow a cry of fear.

"My Child, as your One True God I have given you a brain of almost incomprehensible complexity (incomprehensible to your tiny mind, in any case). In your Earthly life I provided no evidence of my existence, nothing except what you call 'Faith'. You will be eternally judged on your answer to this all-important question: In your life did you believe in Me? Despite the large brain I gave you, and the total lack of evidence for My existence, did you devote your life to serving Me, the All Powerful? Or did you abandon your True Father and instead serve the lesser beings of mankind?"

"Ummmm...." I said.

"ANSWER NOW, CHILD! DID YOU BELIEVE IN ME?!!!" But then, suddenly, his tone changed. "Oh, now is not your time. My bad..."

I felt myself instantly swept away from the Spot of Eternal Judgment. I knew at that moment that I wasn't going to die. It wasn't yet my time. But before plummeting back to my mortal body I grabbed onto a tuft of cloud, hid behind it as long as I could keep a grip, and watched the next person to be judged.

The next soul was that of a woman, who was apparently a very devout believer, for when God asked the Final Question, and she answered, "Yes, My Lord, I had faith, I believed in You, I worshipped You and devoted my life to Your service." God said, simply, "pity", and pulled on his throne-side lever. The trap door opened and she fell into what I then knew to be a pit of endless and eternal torment of fire, brimstone, anguish, pain, and eternal despair. The screams emanating from that trap door were infinitely worse than anything I've ever heard or even imagined.

I released my grip on the tuft of cloud and allowed my soul to reenter my body where the odor in my nostrils, of Tzunami's Goose-Poo breath in my face, was gut-wrenchingly horrible, bad enough to wake the dead (which it had done). Tzunami, worried about me, her best friend, had breathed her Goose-Poop breath of life into my face. She's a good girl.

----

That's all. That's the story of my very-eventful dog walk. It's not every day you nearly die, meet God, and learn the secret to avoiding eternal damnation.

I realize that my story might be a little hard to believe. Maybe you think I simply imagined the whole thing, being deluded by lack-of-oxygen and Goose-Poop-Poisoning, and so you will continue to maintain your belief in God. But is that really the gamble you want to take? Are you so sure you don't believe my story that you're willing to risk burning in hell for eternity as punishment for your faith and belief in God?

Monday, May 10, 2010

I like a good oil spill now and then.

When I was about 9 years old I had a dream that I’ve never shared with anyone. This dream was transformative, it changed the way I look at everything we do. In the dream a wall of my house was given special powers so that I could walk through it and experience the world 40 years or so into the future. Some of the stuff I saw was cool, for instance, I could hold in my hand a thin, flat, handheld screen on which I could read color, animated comic strips. But most of the dream was disturbing because of the sudden contrast in how the world had change in 40 years. The sky was a slightly different color, the plants weren’t quite the same, and there were more people. What got to me most was that the air smelled different, not an extreme difference but a subtle difference only noticeable to someone who could suddenly jump 40 years in time and smell old air versus new air—the people of the future didn’t notice that the world smelled different because it had happened gradually, over 40 years. “What’s that smell?” I’d ask, and they’d say “I don’t smell anything.”

What I got out of the dream was this: the accumulated actions of billions of people have consequences they don’t see, and unfortunately will not see without a magical time-traveling wall.

The billions don’t see; but I see. When I turn on a light switch, a TV, or this computer, I see an oil or coal plant pumping through fuel, polluting the air, depleting resources, and I see it magnified billions of times and I see the world looking different and it smells different. When I drive down the road I see, in my rearview mirror, the ugly gas expand out of my tiny Metro tailpipe, and I see larger clouds of out of the tailpipes of the giant SUVs, and I see it all magnified around the world by a billion other drivers. When I look up at a plane in the sky I always see a dark trail of oil behind it—it’s ugly. I see similar things when I purchase stuff, discard stuff, warm up with heating and cool down with air conditioning. The thought of spawning offspring (and the generations that would follow) brought more visions than I could bear to see, so I had that possibility snipped in the bud.

And yet I turn on lights, and drive, and fly, and I feel awful about it. This seeing is a curse. I hate it.

So when there’s a good oil spill now and then, and oil leaks into the ocean, and beaches and fisheries are closed, and oil-soaked seabirds was ashore mingled with dead turtles, I get a sense of schadenfreude that warms my heart just a little and I think “there, now you all clearly see what I see all the time. Welcome to my world. Sucks, don’t it.”

As I write this, an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking each day from the latest oil spill, and people are upset over the environmental tragedy. But here’s the thing: if that oil well weren’t leaking that same amount of oil would still be going into the environment, it would just be going into the environment in ways that are more invisible (except to those of use who have had time-travel dreams). Instead of leaking into one relatively small location that is very visible, that oil would be spread around the world in diluted, much-less-visible leaks, in the form of gasoline, auto and power-plant emissions, fertilizer, food, clothing, plastic bags, lipstick, and on and on. It’s the same amount of oil, just spread around a lot so most of us don’t see it.

Think of the movie “The Great Escape”. The prisoners are digging a long tunnel under the prison, but how do they the dirt they’ve removed? They can’t just put a big pile of dirt somewhere, so they cleverly spread it all around the camp, one small handful of dirt at a time, slow and diffuse enough so the guards don’t notice.

That 5,000 barrels per day leak into the environment one way or another, right? 5000 barrels per day is a lot of oil. But at the current rate, worldwide, we extract oil from the ground (i.e. leak oil into the environment) at about the rate of 1,000 barrels every second. In other words, the recent news-headlining oil leak represents only 5 seconds (or 0.006%) of the world’s daily oil use. The other 99.994% of oil we extract every day is leaking from somewhere else that’s more diffuse and relatively hidden and far from our shores, and so we don’t pay attention to it.

That’s just oil. This morning’s news starts with another coal-mining-disaster-of-the-week story, with 32 killed in a Siberian coal mine and 58 still missing. Don’t even get me started on my coal visions.

I don’t know why it has taken me nearly 40 years to tell anyone about my dream with the time-portal wall. Maybe with some imagination you can imagine your own magic wall that lets you see how our actions today affect the world in 40 years. How does it look? What’s that smell?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Apple’s SDK brouhaha explained for non-developers (as if you care)

I’ve got it in my craw to try to explain the current brouhaha behind Apple’s recent SDK changes. It’s a case of history repeating itself, so that a dominant platform can retain its dominance through bullying and complexity.

To understand this issue, you must understand the plight of every business that develops mobile applications. When planning to create an application for mobile devices, this is the conversation that happens at thousands of companies around the world, again and again:

Boss: We want everyone to be able to run our application, no matter what phone they use. Can you create an application that will run on all phones?

Engr: All the phones use different APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces). We can’t write one application that runs on all phones.

Boss: So write a different version of the program for each phone.

Engr: That would take 20 times as many developers as we have, probably one to concentrate on each phone. Can I hire 20 times as many developers?

Boss: No, we can’t afford to hire. So write the application as a web page. I hear web browsers are getting pretty powerful.

Engr: Yes, and very many smartphones are, or soon will be, running a similarly powerful HTML5 browser. But the HTML standard is always about 10 years behind the times in terms of supporting our needs for storage, media input, media output, GPS, compass, touch, tactile, and odor. We can’t do our app in HTML5.

Boss: So we’re back to writing a separate application for each platform. What can we afford to do; keeping in mind that iPhone is the device by which our company will be judged?

Engr: We can spend a lot of time making a really sweet iPhone version, and a little bit of time hacking together good-enough version for Android and Blackberry, then throw together some crap versions for J2ME and Palm and Symbian and Windows mobile.

Boss: Isn’t there some way we can write our application once, and run it everywhere?

Engr: Some way to “write-once, run-anywhere”? Hmmm… That question is beyond the scope of this little embedded dialog. Let’s return to Brent’s blog...


The nirvana solution for every developer with less-than-infinite time and money is to Write-Once, Run-Anywhere (WORA). In a WORA world, you would take the time to write application source code, then flip a switch and the WORA tool would compile that application into something that ran on iPhone, something that ran on Android, something that ran on Blackberry, and Pre, and on and on.

There are two ways to make WORA magic happen:

  1. UBER-API: Translate an uber-API into something that runs on all platforms. The most well-known contender in this area is Adobe’s Flash (but there’s also Corona & Titanium & PhoneGap and others). With Adobe’s tools, a developer could write Flash code, then compile that same code into something that would run similarly on a wide range of phones.
  2. EMULAPI: Create an API layer on all platforms that copies (or emulates) the API of another platform. To do this, one would emulate the X API on the Y Platform, so that code written for X could then be compiled to run on Y. For example, Google could write a tool to take the Objective-C source code of an iPhone application (possibly even the raw binary application), and run it on and Android via a compile- or run-time layer that emulates the iPhone API.
Every dominant platform (i.e. the platform that has the most developers creating for it) has fought to retain its dominance by preventing WORA. IBM did it with mainframes. AT&T did it with Unix. Microsoft did it with desktops. Now Apple is doing it with mobile.

Apple does not want to lose its dominance. Apple does not want WORA. Apple’s tactics to prevent WORA are the same ones used by IBM, AT&T, and Microsoft before it. These tactics are A) bullying, and B) complexity.

A: PREVENTING WORA THROUGH BULLYING

Much has been written this week about section 3.3.1 of the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, which says, in essence, that no app will be accepted into the app store if it is originally created with a non-Apple API. For as long as Apple can get away with it, this bullying clause prevents WORA type 1: UBER-API. You can read here, here, here or here for more about this brouhaha.

B: PREVENTING WORA THROUGH COMPLEXITY

Apple also announced something else last Thursday that has not been much written about: They announced over 1500 new APIs. That’s 1500 NEW APIs, an addition to the approximately gazillion API’s already in the iPhone SDK.

Why is it so important for a dominant platform to have so many APIs, and for that API list to keep growing? Remember that the second way to achieve WORA is to duplicate the API of the dominant platform. If Apple wants to prevent this form of WORA (i.e. to prevent a developer from writing an app for the iPhone, but being able to then compile that same app to run on Android and RIM and other platforms) they need to keep their API large, complex, and always growing. This makes it hard for another platform to duplicate for two reasons:
  1. The shear number of APIs means that a lot of engineers must take a lot of time duplicating those APIs.
  2. With so many APIs will come even more bugs. Some small percent of code is going to contain bugs, even if written by the mighty geniuses at Apple. To duplicate Apple’s API well you must also duplicate the bugs, which is even harder than duplicating the APIs themselves.

So that’s what’s up with Apple this week. In short, they are now the dominant platform in a space, and they intend to maintain that dominant position for as long as possible by preventing the ability to write an application once and run it anywhere. Apple’s tactics for maintaining their dominance are: bullying and complexity. They’re the same tactics use by every computer platform dominator before them. All of this has happened before, and it will happen again. So say we all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Apple’s 4.0.1 Developer License prohibits apps written by the left hand

News Item: A small but vocal subset of developers across the web are registering their outrage at this change in Apple’s new iPhone 4.0.1 SDK license:

15.3.5 Applications must be written using only the developer’s right hand (e.g. applications written using the left hand, or partially written with the left hand are prohibited).

The primary reason for the change, say sources familiar with Apple’s plans, are to ensure quality of user experience, better multitasking, and longer batter life.

“A quality user experience is critical to the iPhone and iPad experience,” said Steve Jobs, who declined to specify if he was left-handed, right-handed, or bisexual. “Beautiful apps start with beautiful code. Our User Interface Imagineers have determined that the right hand, which is closer to the return key, produces more newlines, a cleaner source-code look, and, hence, more beautiful apps. Such code also extends battery life in a multitasking environment.” Jobs further explained that developers using their left hand to code are overly tempted to be masturbating with their right hand, or accidentally using too many words starting with letters from the left side of the keyboard, such as “Adobe”, “Silverlight”, “Flash”, or “Google”.

In a press release it was also announced that the Apple board has agreed to shorten Jobs’ lengthy title from “Chief Executive Officer” to just “F├╝hrer”.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Postcard from the Holy Land

I love Peeps. I loooooooooove Peeps. No, that’s putting it too mildly (damn me and my low-key understated ways). I luh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-ove 'em.

Peeps are my rock. My foundation. This makes Easter the most significant day of the year. For you Easter may be just about bunnies and decorative hats, but for me Easter is almost a religious thing.
BTW, I’m not fanatical in my religion. I’m not like those cultish blaspheming schismoids who believe that Peeps come from Cadbury Eggs. That’s ridiculous. Peeps are immaculately conceived.

This Easter was supposed to be the greatest of all Easters. This is the year I had made my holy pilgrimage to seek the origins of those magic marshmallow treats. But…


Wow! Easter Island isn’t at all what I expected it to be. I thought it would be like CandyLand of the Gods. Turns out it’s an island (which I expected) without trees (which I did not expect) some really really big stone heads (which nobody would expect, because it’s just weird--I thought I had a big head, I always say it’s big enough for someone with at least twice my IQ, but these things are enormous) and, worst shock of all, ask around and no one will tell you where to find Peep Eden. They keep it a secret. Not a Peep.

To make matters worse, our group was stuck with a tour guide, named Ricardo, who was a complete, rude asshole. He was also just plain stupid: I mean, the guy could hardly even speak English. He’s from Chile, fer-chrissakes. North America, South America, whatever, it’s all America and he should learn to speak American gosh-darnit!!
I got nothing against Chile, mind you. I luh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh-ove Chile. It’s my second favorite food (behind Peeps)—I don’t care if it’s with meat, without meat, chunky, hot, mild, marshmallowy… I love Chile. I was planning a pilgrimage next year to Chile, but this tour guide is such a jerk that I may cancel that trip.

I’m really starting to question my faiths.

Here’s a little taste of the tour, so you can see what a douchebag we had to put up with.
Guide: The ancient inhabitants of this land were known as The Rapanui, they once numbered over 10,000.

Me
: Hold it right there, Rick, but that’s just BS. I happen to know that the inhabitants are called “The Peeple.” Also, there’s no way in hell 10,000 Peeple ever lived here. So no more bullshit, OK?

Guide
: Some say as many as 17,000 at it’s height.

Me
: Bull-Shit! Just look around, there’s hardly any food growing, hardly any trees, there’s no way 10,000 could live off this land.

Guide
: Most experts say that the Rapanui deforested their land, causing their own population collapse.

Me
: Oh my god, you’re one of those hippy environmentalists, aren’t you. Next thing you know you’ll start talking about climate change.

Guide
: Yes, climate change in the 18th century probably exacerbated the deforestation. They simply used up their resources faster than they could be replenished. I believe the day came where a Rapanui individual, desperate for fuel, knowingly and willfully cut down their last mature tree.

Me
: No way. Peeple weren’t so stupid as to use up their own food and fuel supplies faster then they could be replaced.

Guide
: Tell me, sir, how did you get from your home to Easter Island?

Me
: I flew. Took a few flights, actually, it was quite a hassle. I should have been upgraded.

Guide
: Those planes used a lot of fuel. How quickly are you replacing the oil that was drilled to make all that fuel?

Me
: I don’t replace the fuel. The oil companies do that. Duh!

Thankfully, we broke then for a box lunch the tour agency had provided. But pretty soon the guide was all up in my ass again:
Me: Excuse me. Could I have a real knife instead of this plastic stuff you gave us?

Guide
: Good for you, sir, using reusable silverware instead of disposable, oil-based plastic. You have learned something, sir.

Me
: Hell yeah, I’ve learned something. I tried to chisel off some pieces of that big stone head, to bring home as souvenirs, but these plastic knives don’t cut through shit.

Guide
: grrrble grrblle grrrble (his English got so bad at this point that I couldn’t make sense of any of it)

So that’s my Easter vacation. A bit disappointing, eh? It just goes to show that people are the same wherever you go: there’s always some asshole trying to ruin things for the rest of us.

Actually, although I hate to admit it, the guide did have a point about maybe, possibly, the oil running out. Just in case he’s right (and I’m not saying he his) you should all get on a flight to Easter Island now, while you can, pronto, before the oil’s all gone. Those heads are ginormously big, you have to see them for yourself to believe them, and (thanks to the jerk guide) I wasn’t able to bring any pieces back to show you!

Bring a chisel.

Hopefully I’ll have a better time on my next vacation in a few months in Puerto Vallarta, where I plan to celebrate the 4th of July (although for some weird reason they call it “Sinko Day My Oh!”)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to earn over $20 a year as a work-from-home blogger.

Are you wondering how to earn money as a professional blogger?

Since beginning my professional blogging career three years ago, I have earned $63.63 through ads on my blogspot page. That’s over $20 a year. Working from home!

These are my tips for blogging your way to $20 a year.
  • Write infrequently - I average about 2 posts per month. In all of 2009 I posted only 9 times.
  • Be inconsistent about your subject matter - Do not stick to any one topic for your blog. One month write about politics, weeks later about your dog, months later about time machines. Once you write about some topic never revisit that topic (lest people start to think you’re an expert).
  • Use inconsistent voices - Sometimes tell the truth. Sometimes lie. Sometimes try to be funny. Sometimes try to be serious. Sound smart. Sound stupid. Use the voice of one person. Use the voice of a corporation. Remember, we can all have multiple personalities if we apply enough self-abuse.
  • Do not link to other bloggers - Adding links just takes effort and makes those bloggers aware of you as competition for those yearly $20. Do not try to figure out how those complicated Blog Trackbacks work: you’ve got better things to do with your time, like planning how to spend $20 every year.
  • Facilitate ad-blocking - If the above tips aren’t enough, and you are in danger of getting much more than $20/year through ads, allow RSS feeds and Facebook’s Notes to deliver your posts to readers without showing them the ads.
What are you waiting for? There's 2 or 3 readers out their eager to find out what you have to say. Get your blogging on!!!!

Next week, how to use social media to 1) enhance your personal brand, 2) I forget step 2, and 3) make millions!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Open Source, Schmopen Schmource

Open source doesn’t make software great.
   Great code makes software great.
   Great engineering,
     and great design,
       make software great.

Weapons are evil.
                    open source
              used as a weapon
      is evil.

Monday, January 25, 2010

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Saving lives through better terminology

I've been thinking about the power of terminology, and how it can save lives.

Using the right term is so important. For instance, "sweetbreads" taste and sell a lot better than "pancreas & thymus" or "brains" or "offal".

In a debate, the side that controls the terminology has a huge advantage. For instance, when Bush's team was fighting the "estate tax" they weren't making much progress. But by redefining it as "death tax" they were able to make sweeping changes.

Terminology is something Tiger Woods has failed to understand. By allowing his actions to be labeled "cheating" he has already lost. Nobody likes a cheater. But had he framed the issue as one "love" he could have retained the moral high ground. How can anyone be against "love"? It's what the world needs now. Love is all we need. This is the speech Tiger should have given to retain his lucrative endorsement contracts: "Hello, I'm Tiger Woods, and if I'm guilty of anything it's that I love… too… much!"

In the abortion debate, the "pro-life" side has a semantic advantage over "pro-choice". They're both positive terms, but "pro-choice" has a touch of selfishness about it. "Planned Parenthood" is onto the right idea. The pro-choicers should instead use a term that takes the high ground: e.g., "pro-family".

"Drug war" is a good turn of a phrase. If "prohibition" ever replaces "drug war" then the war will be as good as over.

Bono was onto something this weekend when he almost used the term "file-swiping" instead of "file-sharing". As long as "file-sharing" is the debated term, artists' rights are lost. "Sharing" is such a nice, friendly term. It's hard to feel negative about "sharing". "Swiping" isn't as nice, but I don't think it goes far enough in conjuring negative images. Bono should instead replace "file-sharing" with a term like "artist-raping" because it better describes what's happening: forcibly taking pleasure from the artist without their consent, but without actually "taking" anything because the orifices are still there for the next artist-raper to do the deed. I can guarantee you that if "artist-raping" were to replace "file-sharing" the practice would end.

With a term like "global warming" the environmentalists have already lost: it's a warm term; it's fuzzy. "Climate change" would scare people into action if they knew what "climate" meant, but most people think it means "weather", and the weather changes daily anyway, so why worry?

"Universal Health Care"? That phrase is a disaster. Joe Schmoe doesn't care about health care for everybody else, he only cares about health care for himself. I don't know a better term. Anybody?

But enough trivialities. It's time to take what we've learned about words and save some lives. How many people die because "killing spree" is such a fun, fun term. Suppose your friend calls and says "hey, wanna go on a killing spree this weekend?" for at least a split second you're going to think "yeah, that sounds like fun." Let's do away with "killing spree" and replace it with something that sounds less oogly-boogly joyful, such as "murderous rampage". I don't know about you, but if my friend asked me to spend my weekend on a "murderous rampage" I'd say "no, how about if we just watch the game" with no hesitation at all.

Can we all agree? No more "killing sprees"?