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“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when”

Wait, I know exactly where and when.

Over at my new blog, just as soon as you click this link.

Yes that’s right, this blog is deprecated, or at very least on permanent hiatus. So please do drop by my new cyber-digs and say hello.

Posted in Music.


Start Building Lifeboats…

…’cause now we have a shot of getting the hell off this rock. Scientists have confirmed discovery a rocky planet it the habitable zone of its star. (Wired link | Link to paper on Arxiv.org)

The planet, Gliese 581g, is a tantalizingly close 20 light years. Not close enough for a one-lifetime trek with today’s technologies, but certainly doable with some advances in propulsion and life support, volunteers willing to never see the other side, and a hell of a lot of luck.

Long story short, it’s now conceivable that Homo sapiens sapiens could become a multi-star-system species. How fucking awesome is that?

Rhetorical question. Very fucking awesome.

Posted in Science/Tech.


“Be still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle”

by A. E. Housman

Be still, my soul, be still; the arms you bear are brittle,
Earth and high heaven are fixt of old and founded strong.
Think rather, — call to thought, if now you grieve a little,
The days when we had rest, O soul, for they were long.

Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry
I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran and blood sprang out and I was never sorry:
Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born.

Now, and I muse for why and never find the reason,
I pace the earth, and drink the air, and feel the sun.
Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season:
Let us endure an hour and see injustice done.

Ay, look: high heaven and earth ail from the prime foundation;
All thoughts to rive the heart are here, and all are vain:
Horror and scorn and hate and fear and indignation —
Oh why did I awake? when shall I sleep again?

Posted in Art.

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Say what you will about China Mieville…

…when the man slaps you down in prose, you damn well stay down.

Purveyor of Blue Pocohontas in the Skyrealms of Jorune is right. Won’t somebody please think of the dignity of highly profitable commodities?

That right there? Proper scathing, that is.

Posted in Misc.


Google Ads Irony

One more thing to love about the future are its rich veins of pure irony. Case in point, the following popped up in my RSS reader this morning:

Great pay, benefits.  At least until you get fired.

(Click for full-size.)

Posted in Uncategorized.


Well sure, kill them, but don’t be mean about it.

I’m about as certain an opponent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as one can find. Coalition forces shouldn’t be in either country, and the sooner we can safely withdraw troops, the better. In the meantime, however, it would do everyone some good if folks on the home front were reminded that these wars are, in fact, actual wars.

Case in point: a member of the British military recently cut the head off of a Taliban warlord and brought it back to his superiors. He did this not out of bloodlust or to take a trophy, but for the very sensible reason that he’d been asked to find this man, kill him, and provide proof of a positive ID. Taking the head was not an act of barbarism, but rather an expedient way for the soldier to provide that ID.

People are apparently upset about this. They say that it’s disrespectful to the Muslim Taliban. The same sort of people who have no problem “supporting the troops” as they get sent to the third world to get shot at apparently have an issue with it when those troops do the mission they were sent there to do. I would have thought that this was hypocrisy, but apparently the term for it these days is “cultural sensitivity”.

For those people, I believe that the definitive response re: the head-lopping Gurkha can be found here.

Take home quote:

IT’S WAR, YOU SODDING NUMPTIES, NOT A DAMNED GAME OF CONKERS!

Put another way: If you’re going to support sending your countrymen off to war, don’t be surprised when you find that they’re engaged in warfare. If this idea disturbs you, then do whatever it takes to make sure they don’t get sent off to war in the first place.

Posted in Politics.


Holy Jackbooted Beakers, Batman!

Science is turning Authoritarian!

Or, at least, that’s what Kenneth P. Green and Hiwa Alaghebandian of the American Enterprise Institute want us to think. See, they did some research into how science is talked about in news sources. They conducted an experiment, which ran roughly as follows:

1.) They picked a bunch of “Authoritarian” sounding phrases.
2.) They counted up how often those phrases appeared in Lexis Nexis by year.
3.) Then they made a pretty graph.

No, seriously, that was about the extent of their argument:

To see if our suspicions were correct, we decided to do a bit of informal research, checking Lexis Nexis for growth in the use of what we would categorize as “authoritarian” phrasing when it comes to scientific findings. We searched Nexis for the following phrases to see how their use has changed over the last 30 years: “science says we must,” “science says we should,” “science tells us we must,” “science tells us we should,” “science commands,” “science requires,” “science dictates,” and “science compels.”

There are a few problems with this “research”. (To be fair, they did admit that it was “informal”, but that didn’t stop them from drawing some far-reaching conclusions from it.) The main one, however, is that the thing they are measuring isn’t correlated with what they’re trying to prove. They’re measuring number of references of certain “authoritarian” phrases as a function of time, but they’re trying to prove that the way science is talked about is changing. All that the authors really succeeded in proving is that science is being talked about more

The problem is that the number of references of these “authoritarian” phrases is not an independent variable. It is, in fact, linked very closely with another important number that the authors entirely ignore: the amount of text in Lexus Nexus by year. Sure, there are more mentions of the phrases the researchers chose now than their were 30 years ago. But I’m pretty sure that that’s true of any reasonably common, generic phrase.

I’m sure the number of times that the phrases “the investigation is ongoing” and “alcohol may have been involved” have also increased in the past three decades. Does that mean that investigations or alcohol consumption have suddenly skyrocketed? No. It means that people are writing a hell of a lot more for a wide variety of reasons. (I’m reasonably sure it’s significant that the start of the positive trend in the number of references correlates roughly with the rise of the Internet and the World Wide Web.)

In order for their numbers to mean something even close to what the authors claim they do, they would need to be measuring something like “authoritarian references per column inch” or “authoritarian references per article”. Something that gives us a sense of the “density” of references in the larger (and changing) volume of media. Unless they can provide such a “density” style measure, we really don’t know if the tone of scientific discourse is changing (to be fair, it might be) or if people are writing more, or writing about science more, or if Lexus Nexus is just covers more sources for recent years than for previous ones, etc.

Now, to be fair to the authors, their argument might be entirely true. If it is, then their research is insufficient to show that. To be honest, I imagine that the way science is covered by the media probably has changed quite a bit in the past 30 years. I do genuinely think that part of that change revolves around writers trying to cast descriptive science in a proscriptive fashion. But if we’re going to try to reform the way in which science is seen by both the media and the public, it behooves us to be accurate in both our experiments (informal or no) and also our arguments.

Posted in Science/Tech.


Return of the Polis

By way of Let A Thousand Nations Bloom comes this interesting SF Gate article by Paul Saffo on why the San Francisco Bay Area needs to act more like a city-state. One very interesting fact grabbed me:

If the Bay Area were to secede from California, it would instantly become the world’s 25th largest economy, ahead of Austria, Taiwan, Greece and Denmark.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Alpha Cities and the ways in which certain metropolises affect not only their region or nation, but the entire globe. San Francisco is, economically speaking, a more important global player than many EU or Asian powers. Yet it would be strange to hear talk of San Francisco’s economic or fiscal policies in the World News. This, to me, seems like the interesting contra-positive to the U. N. Fallacy. Namely, the role of alpha cities on the world stage is downplayed simply because they aren’t recognized as nation-states, despite the fact that many have a far bigger impact on international affairs than do most U.N. nations.

In addition to the underplayed economic effects of alpha cities, there are interesting political concerns that again get short shrift. It seems to me that, as Saffo touches on in his article, cities are increasingly requiring a level of political autonomy that participation in a larger nation might not afford them. (It’s certainly a strange nation, after all, that can simultaneously support San Francisco, Dallas, and Cleveland without severe social and political dissonance.) Furthermore, the increasing trends of globalization and the rapid growth of communications networks are meaning the centralized governments are required less now than they ever have been before. There’s a very real sense in which centralized national power was useful (in part) because it provided a single point of contact between large groups of people. Nation states were useful because they were the only way to create global communities and for disparate peoples to interact, relate, and trade.

Such really isn’t the case anymore. Globalization means that the graph of international relation is getting more connected, meaning that it’s no longer necessary to go through centralized choke-points to get things done. Increasingly, governments are bottlenecks to, rather than facilitators of, international trade and relations. They are out of touch, inefficient, and slow to respond, and getting more so with every passing year. Local governments, however, are better in all three of these regards. They have a better sense of the needs and wills of their constituents, their inefficiencies are smaller in scale, and they are smaller and more agile, and thus able to better respond to changing environments.

In short, IF we are to have governments, then I think that local ones would be preferable. This is partly due to the fact that they are better equipped to deal with the demands of a populace that are both globally influential and increasingly globally connected. The San Franciscos of the world might well be better off on their own.

Posted in Politics.


Saab. Saab. Saab.

Grinding away at work. Build box is doing its thing for about the 20th time tonight. So in the spirit of “this added some levity to a night otherwise full of suck”, I present you a random drunkard trying to pronounce the names of various automobile companies:

Posted in Misc.


Sugru for you!

Hey, just wanted to post a quick follow up to my post on Sugru. Pete, in comments, points to the fact that it’s now on sale again. I will definitely be getting some. Hackers of all kinds and stripes should hie themselves to the Sugru site and do similarly.

Posted in Cool Stuff.