21 January, 2007

Dear 0:14:a5:73:89:fd,

I myself sometimes borrow the wireless network of people I don't know. However, when I do that, I do not fire up Limewire and leech down animal porn. Because really, that's just rude.

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19 January, 2007

Some of us are just prime numbers.

We don't fit. We're not divisible. And, like all the other undivisables out there, I've left. So have a zillion others, and I don't pretend to be the first guy who's left and never come back, but I will certainly not be back at wikipedia any time soon. They can have it. Fuck em. ~~~~

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iTunes FTW

Apple has 2 Live Crew. This pleases me.

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The Idea Police

I'm not going to invoke Godwin, so don't even try to attribute that to me.

I've more or less avoided wikipedia for the last three weeks. In that time, I've gotten a few dozen pages written on Foreigners. I've also read a few books (Gibson, Sterling, Pratchett, Stross, Golding, Seymour Lachman, Lovecraft, ...). I've also spent a lot of time sketching out the RB26 project for the Z. I've also done some work for CSC/NOAA. I've also written some code. I've gone to look at twenty-some houses. I've attended a dcawd meet. I've damn near beaten NFS:Carbon. And, last, and perhaps least, I've spent a lot of time on 4chan, 2chan, and 7chan. In that time, I've also made, oh, thirty additions to wikipedia, most of which were entirely useless. Votes for delete, votes for keep, user talk, and a couple of typo/spelling issues. Nothing of substance.

In that time, I am much happier with my contributions away from wikipedia than those for the project. Note also that wikipedia has received over a million dollars in the last couple months, and continues to be tax-free. I went back today to have a look at the article for ASAT, because I have contributed substantially to this (in regards to 1 2 3 4 5 6). Upon so going, I was reminded of the recent Futanari AFD discussion. Naturally, we see these gems:


I have not been able to find reliable references (following an admittedly cursory look, as I wasn't enjoying going through the material), and seems to be comprised almost exclusively of original research.

...

What? Article was unsourced, article is now sourced. Threatening to delete it was, unfortunately, the only way to get this to happen, as the standard request had been ignored for over six months. Proto:: 14:54, 18 January 2007 (UTC)


Of course, I knew about this, and I knew that it wasn't likely to go anywhere. However, the justification sickens me. Now, upon going back and noticing the things I'd commented on, I happen upon this gem:


Let's disregard for a moment that I can't even link to or document what the article originally said. Instead, let's point at the wiktionary entry for fogger which has 25,000 google hits, itself meeting the credibility standards. Nitrous Express, of course, has over a quarter of a million hits.

And so we have the asininentsia of wikipedia mandating on one hand that an article must have sources, on the other that it can't possibly because it's so.. odious, and yet on another (the "dick scenario") that even if it did have sources, and it wasn't so odious, well, it was obviously biased and not fit for inclusion anyways.

It's enough to make me thoroughly fucking sick (er! sicker!) of the project. Having spent three weeks away, what's to stop me from RTD'ing and never contributing again? Certainly not because a few junior members of the down's syndrome orangutan brigade
are quite this stupid? Or, maybe, this is just the last straw. Maybe they're the excuse I need to stop singing the praises of this fucking project, to stop encouraging people to contribute, to stop contributing myself, and to just admit it: the internet is just fucking dumb, and not worth my time.

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15 January, 2007

At what price liberation?

Ahem:


In short, there is a pattern of the "pink collar ghetto" in literary genres as in other professions. (I just looked online for something to link to, to explain pink collar ghetto and did not find an adequate explanation. Yes, it refers to jobs with a high concentration of women. But it further refers to a process: as women enter a high status profession, the pay for that job goes down, and there is a tipping point where the profession itself becomes devalued because women have entered it and succeeded. I remember going in around 1991 as a fledgling tech writer to a meeting of the Society for Technical Communication, and hearing a lot of incredibly depressing but realistic talk about the pink collar ghettoization of tech writing.


Misandry, I suppose. A link would really only fan the flames of somebody who is predisposed to, uh, be uncomfortable and overreact. Been there, done that.

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Thinking too hard?

Are you thinking too hard if you describe something as a Stephensonian near-term societal collapse into capitoanarchy? I have a hard time believing I'm not missing the point by distilling an idea that is clearly just somebody's idea of a fun landscape into something that's a Proper Noun and, uh, referenced. For example, I'd feel completely stupid if I referred to something as a Hamiltonian death-leakage scenario. It makes sense, but I couldn't read it aloud without laughing.

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Oh look, it has a rainbow.



Greenpeace has a sense of humor.



Captain Watson has put together Sea Shepherd's most ambitious campaign to attempt to halt the six-ship fleet.

"At the risk of sounding dramatic, my crew and I are prepared to die for these whales if need be," he said.

Wow. Who gave these people ships to begin with?

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More house hunting.

We've been out house hunting again (note: it's winter. in Virginia. it just looks like that. it's much prettier in spring.) We have now seen, uh, I think eleven houses (and another ten or so in 2004). We've seen probably four that were just garbage, five that were interesting, but maybe more attractive at a lower price, and two that we were really very pleased with. We've been looking in Manassas, Front Royal, Winchester, Woodbridge, Reston (which is really nowhere near as nice as the wikipedia article makes it out to be), and Herndon. We considered looking in Stafford and places south, but going north on I-95 in the morning (note location of Manassas and Stafford on linked map) is just not an option. Coming in on 66 sucks, but it's nowhere near as bad. Plus, that corridor is a lot more likely to get light rail and metro than 95 is. Who wants to go to Newington from DC?

Here's the rundown, so far. Reston, Herndon, while being convenient, and close, give us homes that are not very big, have very little land, and are too close to our neighbors. Additionally, they're in a pretty bad state of repair. So we could probably move out there, from Arlington, but we'd be unhappy with what we've got, and when you spend many hundreds of thousands of dollars, you just can't walk into it unhappy. At least, I can't. This all changes when you get closer to a million dollars (and this is a first house for us, so not a chance here). The neighborhood of 700-900k is pretty okay in terms of quality and location. You can probably get away with slightly less than that in a townhouse, which we're pretty sure we don't want. There was a place off Frying Pan (yeah, they're weird like that in Northern Virginia) that was an end-unit, new, two car garage, and had a yard, but that was in 2004, and it was $420,000 back then. Today it's over $600k. Oh, and occupied.

We looked at Manassas, which is kind of a change for us. I'd never spent much time out there. There's this corridor between 95 and 66, rt. 234, which is reasonably largeish for traffic. There's also an incredible variance in home quality there. There are some nice places in terrible neighborhoods (the first one we looked at yesterday was actually pretty nice in and out, but it was in approximately the worst neighborhood this side of, say, Tijuana). The inverse is true, as well. We found a place we liked pretty well. It was a bit much (just about 10% outside of what we wanted to spend), but it was in a nice neighborhood. The problem was there was all the PO's furniture in it, so it was really hard to get an idea of what the place looked like. Add to that there was a huge Salvadoran family that was talking to their agent about underbidding and getting in the bid, like, today, and I just don't want to get into another bidding war quagmire.


The view west from Front Royal across the 66 corridor

Then there's Haymarket. For those of you in the area, Haymarket is approximately the place between DC and Tennessee where you realize civilization has started again. It's right after the exit to 29 from 66 (out by Gainesville), and it's about twenty miles further in than Front Royal. The houses are, correspondingly, about 10% more expensive. The houses we've been looking at in FR are generally up in the mountains, and have enormous yards (3 acres, give or take), and great views (usually from about 3000' up, and out across the western Virginia (not WV) valley). However, being built on a mountain means your lot is probably a hill, and not especially serviceable. This factor increases the higher you go up, because we don't have mesas in Virginia.

So Haymarket, for contrast, has homes on flatter lots, generally a little smaller (say, 1-2 acres), a little more expensive, and somewhat older (1980 vs 1990). But there's also a different sort of person living in them.

Let me digress for a moment here. There is a huge variance in the kind of people out past Dulles. You get people that are buying out there because they don't want to be in the DC area, you get people that can't afford to be closer, and I think the rest of them are people that didn't want to be closer when they were originally kicked out of the garden of eden. That latter type tend to live in very weird houses, ranging from really gross to, uh, grosser. Generally. The first type can be very eccentric, so you're not sure what you're going to get when you look at one of those (house built into a four-story octagon? check. sacrificial chamber in basement? check.). Some of them are nice, some of them are creepy. They're generally on large, nice lots, though. And inside work is stuff that Can Be Done. Type two are a strange bunch. Some of them bought nice houses out there that would have been twice as much in the Fairfax or Arlington (thrice as much) areas. Some of them just bought modest houses out there. Generally, though, they've done a pretty good job of keeping the place up, they're modestly updated, and serviceable. Since you're going to wind up ripping things out and redecorating, these are good places to look at. You want four walls and a roof that isn't going to collapse, not high fashion.

This puts us somewhere in the convergence of groups 1 and 2. The obvious problem is there's pretty much uniform distribution, so the 1 and 2 houses are going to be scattered amongst the 3 houses, which kind of frighten us. There are a few places the first two tend to clump together. One of these places is Haymarket. The other is the High Knob area of Front Royal.

So yesterday, we find ourself way out in the sticks, but in a neighborhood I wouldn't have any problem associating with, say, the 7100 corridor, except the houses are on 1-2 acre plots. The houses are not quite new (10-20 years old), but because the bias favors 1 more than 2, all of them are in pretty good shape. The roads are in good shape, the yards are in good shape, and there even seems to be a pretty even demographic (40-50, multiple cars — meaning toys, not el-caminos-on-bricks — 2-3 kids, say bottom of the upper middle class category). It gets a little weird, though. One place we looked at had a deer stand (this is a seat, attached to a tree, 8-12 feet up, from which you can shoot deer from an altitude they don't expect bullets to come from), and when we were looking at it, the neighbor to the west of us was entertaining his daughter by driving around the backyard on a 500cc 4-wheeler, which was outfitted with a deer-carcass pallet, and done up in camouflage. So, there's a bit of an eccentric stripe in them (of course, they think anyone who wears corduroy pants and sits in front of a computer sixteen hours a day is weird...).






The house that we most liked had a huge deck, lots of space (eh, 3200-3500 ft2), which was intelligently partitioned, a big yard (deer stand, steel flapper targets for .22 LR, shed, new driveway — big enough for a full sized trailer — and relatively new appliances. Oh yeah, and a garage more than big enough for my evil plans with regards to the Z (that is, full engine swap, stripping the chassis down, possibly painting, and chassis work), and enough to certainly park both indoors, and five more in the driveway. Yeah, seven cars worth of parking. Yeesh. Anyways, the garage is finished, so I won't have any concerns about spilling brake fluid/paint/motor oil/gasoline on it. Neat.

It suits us pretty well. It's a little more than we want to spend, but then it's been on the market for 200+ days, and they're offering a pretty good amount towards closing. So I think we break even there. The commute is 50mi instead of 75mi. Interestingly, the commute from 75mi starts to get ugly right there (just past 29), so that 25mi ∆ is actually just another gallon of gas and twenty minutes you spend, each way, every day.

The yard don't suck.


The outside ain't bad.


... but one car garage ...

the master bedroom is about as big as a shoebox ...

and... egad.

Contrast this to the House On The Mountain, and you have a less-nice yard (but no HOA, meaning firearms are A-OK — I'd really like to be able to sight in a rifle in the back yard — as are open-exhaust vehicles, etc), but a nicer house, and a shorter commute. Note that we absolutely love the lot on HOTM, and we "like" the Haymarket house.

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Squeeeee!!

Sandy wants it for the soundtrack. Alex wants it because he doesn't get to eat enough brains at work. Sounds like a good enough reason to buy. And besides, since I beat Gears of War, I haven't had enough chainsaw-and-gore mayhem. It's important that I get a new game.

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14 January, 2007

Sports Journalism 110


Soccer is like bidets. Do you know what a bidet is? Some strange hygienic device usually parked next to the toilet in European bathrooms. Very big over there. But nothing over here. Don't need 'em, don't want 'em, never going to have 'em. Ditto for Beckham, even at a million dollars a week. Especially at a million dollars a week.


Give that man a raise.

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13 January, 2007

Standard math disclaimer

I feel the need to provide a disclaimer for my math. I reserve the right to be many orders of magnitude off. Numbers herein shall be considered approximate or a suggestion, rather than, you know, truth.

With that, here's some more.

Al, Sagan may have told you the atmosphere is a "tiny, tiny layer" on the planet, but let's remember the planet is enormous: 1,083,273,000,000 cubic kilometers (This seemed large to me at first — a trillion cubic km? It's a lot easier to say 'ten to the twelve'! — but volume is inherently a much bigger number than length; the milky way has a volume of 533,333,333,330,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic light years!). The atmosphere has a volume of 76,509,840,000 km3 (this is obviously back-of-envelope), but of course it's not a uniform distribution of mass. At any rate, that's twelve km3 for every single person on the planet. Just think, if you filled just one of those 12-km3 parcels with goat semen, you could drown every single one of those vile doubletalking politician-cum-activist (no pun intended, mind) on Earth in the appropriate fashion. Sagan's right, it's a lot smaller than Earth (being about 7% of the total volume, and substantially less mass), but it's still really fuckin' huge.

In other news, I found this bit of humor in Math::Complex:

    sub _rootbad {
    my $mess = "Root $_[0] illegal, root rank must be positive integer.\n";

    my @up = caller(1);

    $mess .= "Died at $up[1] line $up[2].\n";

    die $mess;
    }


Bad root! No shell for you!

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Just can't do it.

Limits is going to have to wait. Everything I've been trying to do to dislodge the second book from my head (inundating myself with tons of other genre fiction) has served only to fill my head with ideas for the second book. I have to draw up a timeline and character sketches. Add those to the outline and I should be able to actually put some substantial effort into the book.

On the one hand, I'm kind of bummed because I am so close to being done with Limits. But by not writing #2, I am stifling that book in addition to Limits. That's not what I intended to do when I told myself to stop writing and think for a while.

I find people in the strangest of places. Er, fictional people that is.


... I was disappointed to learn today of the demise of Saparmurat Niyazov, President for Life of Turkenistan, aka Turkmenbashi; a supremely eccentric dictator whose weirdness was of the first water. Doubtless he was a most unpleasant fellow whose demise will be welcomed by many: but his life and personality was a vein of rich ore that I mined ruthlessly whenever I needed to come up with science fictional villains.


I'm in the research phase that comes after the "ah hah" moment. I find it kinda funny how things get twisted from what I initially envisioned to what "works." I find it kind of sad, I guess, that I came up with an idea of what I wanted, and considered it, you know, totally outlandish (hence making it by definition fiction) at the time. Inevitably these outlandish ideas wind up having strong, strong roots in the present. Consider the case of methane hydrates. Let's say for a moment that you don't necessarily believe global warming is going to heat the seabed up enough (say, to 9-10°C). The catch here is that it isn't the entire body of water on the planet that needs to be warmed, it's just a few localized areas. There are a couple places you'd need to do that to have the "big burp." The first of course is the seafloor. The problem with the seafloor is that it has this enormous heat sink: the ocean. So even if you had some way to heat up the seafloor, you'd have to pour so much energy into it as to be difficult to reasonably explained. The second is a little easier: permafrost. There are a million and five ways to heat up the permafrost a few degrees, because the atmosphere is nowhere near as good a heatsink as the oceans are. There are a couple of nuclear options, such as war and fallout (e.g., Chernobyl or a fast breeder reactor). A few chemical options that don't involve CO2 (lithium, fluorine). A few direct cases of human intervention (housing, mining). So let's try that:


Gary shivered as he looked out across the harbor of Tiksi. Bits of ice, ranging in size from Cryptovolans and Diplodocus to Nimitz, Kiev and still larger bergs, sat quiescent in the water. The stench of fluorine blew seaward, and he quickly reached to cover his nose. He looked over his shoulder at ад на земле — hell on earth. The Russians weren't big on subtlety. Columns of soot and fluorohalocarbons rose out of the reactor, a kahlua-banana schnapps pallor coalescing overhead.

The unappetizing cocktail of the coal-fluorine reaction had one benefit: there was little carbon dioxide emitted. The drawback of course, being fluorine itself was more harmful than CO2, incredibly difficult to handle, and generated terrific waste heat. Flourine-Coal reactors were but one arrow in the quiver of Russian ways to circumvent the Kyoto Protocol, who preferred to dodge the restrictions rather than barter on the global carbon dioxide futures market. And who would stop them? The permafrost had loosened up sufficiently that huge tracts of housing could be built as far north as the Ostrovs, creating beach-front property on the Kara Sea. Enormous power was generated in reactors largely sequestered in Siberia, new homes were being built, and the citizens were happy under the yellowish sky, tending to the muck that was their front yard. It beat Moscow.

I've got to get the fuck out of this place, thought Gary.

It's really not especially hard to define an idea, in this case that auto emissions and deforestation are a significant cause of global warming, and support it with a plausible argument which is not the expected one. In this case, we would expect the explosion of growth in sub-Asia and Africa leading to yet more emissions. However, Kyoto itself is the reason global warming has accelerated: it's much cheaper to cheat and circumvent it than it is to comply with it or trade emissions options. At least in the above excerpt.

Anyways, I find myself having little trouble supporting the notions behind some of the important features in the book. The problem is getting the facts straight and in the right order, and creating characters who are not just believable, but actually likable. Because nobody's going to read a book with Velma sussing out the causes of global warming. It's substantially more interesting to have Gary Ames, nerdcore rapper par excellence traipsing about, bitching about the weather while blithely ignoring obvious causes. I wouldn't be against him having a torrid love affair with Velma, however. That is interesting. Geeks in love, am I right?

So, Limits, book 1, is tabled for the second time in four months, this time rather close to actually being finished. Book 2, presently with no real title (tentatively Foreigners until I can find something better, I don't need to start a plural-noun trend), is finally getting the attention it deserves. And, really, I'm enjoying it.

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12 January, 2007

Microsoft Windows on a supercomputer?!

Dear Brad, Kyril, and Lance,

I told you so. Next time listen to your engineers.

Love,
alex

ps., yes, I still have the email I sent you all about this. in 2005.

(I wonder if Strensky had anything to do with this)

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Ribs.

So, people at the coffee place asked me for the recipe. People at Sandy's office asked me for it. People at my work have asked me. My parents have both asked me, the sister too. Well, here's the story. I don't actually like ribs. I'm kind of picky about my fingers getting sticky, so eating ribs is hard (although I do try to get along with a fork). Sandy had been talking about ribs, a number of years ago; living in an apartment building means usually somebody else is cooking, and barbecue is just something that happens in the South (yes, we are south of the Mason-Dixon line). I'm generally an experimenter as cooking goes. Usually new things (Indian, Thai, Chinese, Afghani, etc) are the most interesting, typically requiring an investment in new sorts of spices and ingredients ("they came for the hot stuff"). In the case of barbecue, I hadn't ever done anything other than squirt somebody else's sauce on whatever was to be barbecued. Furthermore, since I had stopped slathering anything on meat I was grilling, I hadn't used barbecue sauce since, oh, adolescence. Typically, steaks get a little coriander, white pepper, black pepper, and sel gris.

And then we got a copy of Chiarello's Casual Cooking as a gift. As above, I'm not especially into Italian, either, which is sort of Chiarello's forte. However, there's a recipe for ribs therein which was interesting in that it looked good, was more or less uncomplicated, and combined ingredients I wouldn't have normally expected to see together. It was similar to:

  • 1c espresso
  • 2c ketchup
  • 2T soy sauce
  • 1c honey
  • browned garlic
Simply combine, stir, and put on the ribs. Cook them in the oven (not in the grill), re-basting and turning every 45 minutes or so for four hours. Then, when you want to serve them, 425° for fifteen minutes. The good thing about this approach is that you can put them in the fridge prior to the last bit. Chiarello says this makes them great for parties, stuff to serve before a meal, etc. Since very little preparation involved.

So I like the approach. But I'm also a lazyass when it comes to cooking by directions. So I read the recipe once or twice, and since then have been doing it by hand, and ingredients and processes have changed. This is more or less what we've arrived at. Bear in mind that a lot of it is per taste. Don't use habaneros if you don't like spicy. Use a lighter coffee instead of an espresso if you want less of that in it. Use molasses and white sugar instead of honey if you prefer a more even taste. I change the recipe based upon my mood at the time of cooking.

Usually we wind up with 3-4 full racks of pork ribs. I haven't tried beef.

  • 1c tomato paste
  • 1c (8 floz, not one serving) espresso (darker is better)
  • 1c honey (darker is better)
  • 2T soy sauce
  • 1c white sugar (perhaps more, perhaps less)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons Sierra Nevada mustard (the smooth one, but this is your call too)
  • 1T ground coriander
  • 2T ground ginger (not fresh! not pickled!)
  • .5T granulated garlic (you can use fresh here, but brown it; I'm just being lazy)
  • 1t salt (whichever you like)
  • 1/2c vinegar (I prefer a cabernet sauvignon vinegar; light isn't appropriate here, the idea is a full bodied vinegar)
  • 1/2c Melinda's XXX (again, personal preference; omit, change with less spicy, etc)
Now, you can add an oil, like butter or olive oil, if you want the meat to be a little greasier/moister. Bear in mind the finished product will be veritably falling off the bone. Also, Chiarello uses sel gris on the meat, just sprinkled or rubbed on. This is a matter of preference. Sandy is not so crazy about salt, I'm pretty pro-salt. The major change is of course the removal of the ketchup. There's an amazing degree of variances in ketchup, so if you use a different brand you'll probably wind up with a drastically different taste. Starting with tomatoes and working your way up is a good way to ensure a little better consistency. Bear in mind also, we're kind of ingredient fascists, and so we obtained all the above from Whole Foods. So that's organic tomato paste, organic pork, and the spices are fresh rather than having sat in your cupboard for three years. I'm not sure you could find a Cab vinegar at Safeway, but I wouldn't recommend it in any case. So your mileage may vary here with respect to the taste/quality of the food (key takeaway here: your food is only as good as your ingredients).

You're going to put all that in a non-stick (do not use a steel like demeyere or all-clad here) pot, probably 2qt sized. Start with the honey, vinegar, tomato paste, and espresso. Everything else goes in when that emulsifies. Again, incrementally, to taste. But I think those above are pretty good bounds. Use cookie sheets. You'll want to put foil down on them because the sauce is a terrific mess. Cook at 325° for thirty minutes. Re-slather, reduce heat to 275°, turn over. At this point, turn over the ribs every 30-45 minutes, re-slathering them each time. The goal is to get to about 3 hours here, but you could go as long as 4, and you might be able to get away with 2.5 if you turned the heat up to 300 or 325 (length of cooking at lower temperatures meaning more moist).

Then of course, you put a light coating (note I did not say 'slather'), and toss em in there for ten or fifteen minutes at 425°. The notion being, of course, to put a glaze on them.

You'll want to then take them out of the oven, cut them into individual pieces, and then serve them in bowls or large plates. Consideration to be taken for the huge number of bones to pile up after serving, so bowls is probably best. As are wet-naps. Obviously the typical barbecue vegetables go well here. I actually prefer a lighter beer than normal with barbecue, like an IPA or even hooch. Wine? Are you kidding? It's ribs for crying out loud! You don't drink wine with ribs, even if you're Michael Chiarello.

The benefit of cooking on a grill is the goo falling off the meat winds up in the grill, not all over your kitchen. So this is going to create a giant mess in your kitchen. But remember, you got into this because you didn't mind having caramelized sugared tomato paste on your fingers. Enjoy.

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Where have you been all my life?

I suppose telling George Romero to, uh, eat his heart out would be silly. But, please do eet.

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Coffee or GTFO

Hadn't had a coffee from Papua New Guinea until today. Murky Coffee had PNG's Red Mountain today when I went to pick up espresso for the ribs I'm making. The 3cups review is pretty much spot-on. It's an incredible coffee. Very balanced and light, while still having a very full body to it. It's got almost no bitterness to it, and the taste just keeps going (a lot like a really nice Speyside will do, which is curious). Note that I've had the Blue Mountain from Jamaica quite a few times over the years, and I've had (genuine, as in not Hilo Hattie's) Kona as well (on Hawai‘i, Maui, and O‘ahu no less). I'm not sure what exactly typifies an "island coffee" per the review, but I'd certainly have a hard time picking between the Red Mountain and Kona. Blue Mountain is a nice coffee, but it's a little too fruity and sweet for my tastes.


... this is the best example of an island coffee I have tasted in a long, long time. The classic Waghi Valley ginger overtone is here, along with a gentle cherrylike fruitiness and notes of vanilla, brown sugar, and spice.


still no news.

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11 January, 2007

you know that feeling

When you really want to know the answer, but you're terrified of it? Yeah, it's like that.

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10 January, 2007

house hunting



So it's not in Taiwan (link to Google Earth kmz). But, it's got an unbeatable view. It just happened that as we went out to have a look at the place, it began to snow. So we got pictures with and without the snow, and had the joy of driving the Subaru up and down a mountain, on gravel and dirt roads, in the snow. Glee. Many more pictures, probably won't post them publicly as we obviously haven't bid on the house. But boy do I wanna. Yum.

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The Oceanaire

But we knew that already.

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08 January, 2007

missing the point and liking it!

The Guardian has published an excerpt of a book on the future of China. It's kind of interesting in that it starts

The emergence of China as a $2 trillion economy from such inauspicious beginnings only 25 years ago is such a giddy accomplishment that the temptation to see its success as proof positive of your own prejudices is overwhelming. And the west's broad prejudice is that China is growing so rapidly because it has abandoned communism and embraced capitalism.

And yet it goes on to state, one paragraph later:

in China, its so-called capitalism looks nothing like any form of capitalism the west has known and the transition from communism remains fundamentally problematic. The alpha and omega of China's political economy is that the Communist party remains firmly in the driving seat not just of government, but of the economy - a control that goes into the very marrow of how ownership rights are conceived and business strategies devised.

The author seems to be missing the point. While the West seems to see (or perhaps, desperately wants to see) China as proof that communism must fail, giving way to western capitalism, the author indicates for us that China is actually just pretending to be capitalist. What's really under the covers is

... one of the most corrupt organisations the world has ever witnessed. The combination of absolute power and an ideology that palpably no longer describes reality is a virus that is morally and psychologically undermining the regime.

...

Corruption has become part of the system's DNA, now threatening the integrity of the state.

Mr. Hutton goes to great lengths to describe the corruption in China, and the harm it can do to its people (not least of which, apparently, is the suicide of corrupt officials). In fact, he concludes that

Successful businesses have to be successful in business terms - with managers freely exploiting opportunities, developing products and brands and promoting on ability. No such autonomy is possible within Leninist corporatism; party needs come before those of business, enforced by a national system of party committees in every enterprise, finance from state-owned banks and a complex system of accounting and ownership rights that leaves majority ownership of most enterprises with the state. Private shareholders have very limited ownership rights; companies' fixed assets are separated out in company accounts and can still only be legally owned by state and public bodies.

This is to say, capitalism and progress cannot exist in a system which is, by definition, anathema to Western Capitalism. It seems to me that Hutton has forgotten one of the most important tenets of capitalism: Capital.

Capitalism generally refers to an economic system in which the means of production are mostly privately or corporately owned and operated for profit and in which distribution, production and pricing of goods and services are determined in a largely free market.

(via) If we look at the above definition, offered by those most astute of economists, we can see the primary focus of capitalism is not the corporate or private ownership of "distribution, production, and pricing," but rather is the fact that they are operated for profit in a free market. Let us also remember (because there are a few of you screeching at me, I can hear you) that Mr. Hutton and wikipedia are subject to the systemic bias that many of us are subject to:

  1. Male
  2. Technically inclined
  3. Formally educated
  4. English-speaking
  5. White
  6. Aged 15-49
  7. From a predominantly Christian country
  8. From an industrialized nation
  9. From the Northern Hemisphere
  10. More likely to be employed in intellectual pursuits than in practical skills or physical labor
leading to the presumption that any form of capitalism is likely to be based upon the above ten biases. A profit-driven economy, in a free market

A free market is a market where the price of each item or service is arranged by the mutual consent of sellers and buyers (see supply and demand); the opposite is a controlled market, where supply and price are set by a government.[1] However, while a free market necessitates that government does not dictate prices, it also requires the traders themselves do not coerce or defraud each other, so that all trades are morally voluntary.[2]

need not have prices set by consumers, or by citizens (with a nod to Solzhenitsyn). Rather the prices need to be set by the market itself, by the consumers of goods. In the case of the Chinese state-owned capitalist economy, the prices are still set by the consumers, as the government is not — cannot — force people to buy goods. Rather, the Chinese are simply setting prices much the same way they fix the value of their currency. This isn't as sinister as it sounds (although, as somebody who lives in the west, I can say that it does indeed sound sinister; please however remember your and my bias here). All those corrupt officials have one thing in mind: profit. Even if it means they're corrupt to the core, and they're ordering mafiaesque killings and scams, if they are so corrupt as to prove the market untenable, the whole thing collapses on their heads.

We don't need to look any further than Singapore or Viet Nam to see that these sorts of markets actually do work, can and do succeed, and will continue to for quite some time. It may be helpful to think of this system as "capitalism by the few" rather than the western "capitalism of the many" (note distinction of by/of). Even in the west, it isn't clear that the entire society dictates the prices of goods, or the valuation of currency, or labor standards. One can simply examine the economy of Europe (and things like socialized medicine, state-provided narcotics — the value of methadone being substantially higher in a truly consumer-controlled market — and so on), as well as in the United States, where we have a great many (although fewer than many places in the world) socialized programs and products. Corn, for example.

I'd be interested in reading Mr. Kamm's opinion of the book. I suspect it will eventually come across his desk.

There are a couple salient points in the excerpt, the first being

According to one influential estimate, even the tiniest upward movement in interest rates or the slightest decline in sales would mean that 40%-60% of their enormous bank debts would not be serviced, rendering the entire Chinese banking system bankrupt. They are commercial and business disaster areas.

The problem with this argument, however, is that debt is part of any healthy economy. It is helpful to consider the question of American homeowners. One of the typical arguments of armchair financial planners is that the best investment one can make is their home. It's generally the most expensive thing anyone buys. Let us say that tomorrow, I purchase a home, and find myself suddenly in US$1.5M of debt. This is an enormous figure. However, what this ensures is that I will continue to work to pay it off, and my buying it ensures that the people who built the house will be paid for their work. Additionally, there are more nuanced factors, such as my investing elsewhere to hedge bets against a flagging housing market. The point is that debt is not as unhealthy as the author makes it out to be. Consider also, the debt of America as a country, or of its people. I won't pretend I remember the numbers from the last Marketplace, but I do certainly remember American consumer debt is in the many trillions of dollars. Americans will be paying this off in perpetuity, as debts are paid, and new debts are created. Importantly, without debt, there is no payment.

Again, also consider that it is not in the interest of the corrupt state officials to bankrupt their own economy. It is always in the interest of those involved in Capitalism — whatever the strain — to perpetuate the system in order to further increase their profits. In a static system, where prices are fixed not by the consumer, but by Leninist or Marxist ideals (not the case here, certainly), there is no incentive to keep the system working, as there is no way to increase wealth past a certain point. The promise of free-market capitalism is perpetual wealth gain through reinvestment.

The second interesting point in the excerpt is thus:

The cumulative result of all this is economic weakness, despite the eye-catching growth figures. Innovation is poor; half of China's patents come from foreign companies. Its growth depends on huge investment, representing an unsustainable 40% or more of GDP financed by peasant savings. But China now needs $5.4 of extra investment to produce an extra $1 of output, a proportion vastly higher than that in economies such as Britain or the US. But 20 years ago, China needed just $4 to deliver the same result. In other words, an already gravely inefficient economy has become even more inefficient. China's national accounts tell the same story. Hu Angang calculates that China is now back to the Mao years in term of the inefficiency with which it uses capital to generate growth.

which indeed offers actual numbers to demonstrate the health of the Chinese economy. Note that they are numbers relative to the west, which is a meaningless comparison here. All the same, it is worthwhile to note that the trend has changed. It's really too bad that Hutton continues with

Behind all these problems lie Leninist corporatism. Capitalism, I contend, is much more than the profit motive and the freedom to set prices which China's reforms have permitted. It is a system in which many different actors freely take different decisions according to their best judgment; some are right and some are wrong, but the system never has to bet on any one being right for everyone - as in an authoritarian system of centralised economic control.

(emphasis mine). There's a tenet in the "so you're new to investing" school

Investing and religion don’t mix
Amana aside, all of these funds are mediocre performers, at best. That could be reversed at MMA Praxis, because last year’s Morningstar equity-fund managers-of-the-year, Christopher Davis and Kenneth Feinberg, were hired in January to take over the Core Stock fund.

But it’s unlikely that dynamic duo will be able to achieve the kind of greatness they enjoy at their economic-inspired mutual funds, Davis New York Venture A (NYVTX) and Selected American Shares S (SLASX).

You may substitute "religion" here for "morals," "politics," and any other subjective razor you'd like (counterpoint). The point is, if you're going to objectively value something so as to invest (or not) in it, you cannot view it through a lens of what your beliefs are (although here, one could make equivocal arguments that it is either theosophist or capitalist to do so). Mr. Hutton in this case, has done precisely the latter. He has tried and convicted the Chinese economic model in a court of his — not their — views. They may well succeed, continue to grow, in their own particular corrupt fashion, and maybe even step on the little guy in their path to do that. It doesn't mean they won't succeed. They're just going to do it in such a way that causes him to jump up and down, simian-fashion, screeching about how unfair and unjust the world is to conscientious, righteous investors such as himself.

The west is unforgivably ignorant about China's shortcomings and weaknesses, which leads it vastly to exaggerate the extent of the Chinese "threat".

See also: irony.

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Big wheel keep on turnin'


(there's some un-work-safe-ness towards the bottom of this entry, but it's pretty small and only a dick would think it was a firing offense)

I really want to finish Limits, but it seems I can't get the next book out of my head (I've tried, and tried, and tried, but it keeps giving me this sort of mental indigestion, where I can't seem to kick its ass back into the small intestine of my superior temporal gyrus for processing later). It's literally keeping me up at night. So tonight, I sat down to start the outline. It had to be done sooner or later, I might as well get that started, I guess. I know it's going to distract me from Limits, but it's doing that already.

For a little bit of context, I generally have all my writing stashed in a single hierarchy in my "directory of stuff to not throw out, and to probably keep backed up." It would look something like:

DOSTNTOATPKBU/$title/$title.doc
DOSTNTOATPKBU/$title/$title-$branchnum.doc (usually a few)
DOSTNTOATPKBU/$title/$title-Outline.doc
DOSTNTOATPKBU/$title/Rubbish/
DOSTNTOATPKBU/$title/Rubbish/notes
DOSTNTOATPKBU/$title/Rubbish/concept
DOSTNTOATPKBU/$title/Rubbish/@stuff_generally_research_related

So I already had the notes and concept put together (where 'notes' is stuff I think is interesting to the topic, and 'concept' is the 'ah hah' moment that I got, inspiring me to, you know, write a book). In the grand scheme of 'how complete' this book is, I have nine $title directories (all of which, by definition, have a 'concept' file), of which four have a 'notes' file, three have an outline, and two have an outline and manuscript. This particular book, while I've been trying very hard not to write it, is one of the outline/manuscript/notes/concept/research conglomerates. That is to say, it's the second most complete pile I've got. It's got about three megs of stuff in it, as compared to Limits' eight megs (doesn't sound like a lot, but consider this is text).


I guess this means it really, really wants to get written. So, as I took my war-mongering contemporary fiction hat off, and replaced it with the Neuromancer hat of cyberpunkish science fiction (note: I'm not writing Neuromancer, but it helps to consider the difference between, say, Clancy and Gibson), I began fleshing out the outline, I also traipsed through my notes and the concept, seeing what I had left for myself. It turns out this is going to be a hard book to write. In many ways, it's going to be a lot harder to write than Limits was (is). It's got significant portions of three languages (only one of which uses a roman character set) — in
addition to English — in it. It uses, necessarily, a lot of meme-ish type stuff (which clearly gave Charlie pause in Accelerando). It also requires a little more imagination. I'm not going to go into the particulars of it, but let's say that it's a lot easier to predict where things are in Limits' timeframe than they are in this book. And, this book (no real working title, but I'm toying with Foreigners) has a lot more intimate connection with the characters (in Limits, they're more a part of the story, rather than the story themselves). I'm also having a hard time reconciling a lot of the ... familiar tone required for the book with the need to have it not come across as a 7th grade report on 4chan. But then how does one discuss futanari seriously?

Sometimes I hate it when I set out to challenge myself. Seems to me that I'd be bored if I wasn't trying to do literary backflips, but it would be a lot easier to write books about...

Ashore, Commander Wolfson faces his own death. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he realizes his life is in shambles. Health gone, marriage a facade, and career now tarnished by the sinking of the USS Manhattan.

Commander Wolfson fights to raise the sub and learn why she sank. The incident was blamed on a faulty seal, but new evidence points towards sabotage.

Aboard the sub, Noah listens intently to the stories of each of his fellow travelers. He uncovers evidence that one sailor might be the enemy within. A suicide bomber, using a nuclear submarine as his delivery vessel.

(via). For those who haven't already read about the Kursk are invited to do so.

In other news, I think I've finally unfucked all those broken tags I created ages ago. Apologies for the CC reference.

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07 January, 2007

Economics in SFF

NPR has a not-quite-interesting piece on the role of economics in contemporary science fiction and fantasy. They speculate that some of this came out of the dot com era (referring to Charlie as a programmer, rather than, say, pharmacist), and that it's only natural for the genre to branch out into new territory. This is, of course, the problem that modern literary criticism (in the classical sense of the word, not as in 'derision') has with contemporary science fiction (or indeed contemporary fiction) in general. As human knowledge increases in depth and breadth, writing which is necessarily cross-genre emerges. To insist that a piece of fiction is 'breaking out of' traditional genres (such as 'science fiction' or 'period piece') is to refuse to recognize that a sort of renaissance has occurred in modern writing. I find myself wondering when people (critics in specific; the authors don't seem to have any difficulty with straddling multiple traditional genres) will just get the clue, and realize that fiction is just that: fiction. There's no need to classify fiction as foofiction or barfiction. Why not just refer to it as fiction?

Perhaps because people are too attached to having a sort of semantic filter for incoming data? Please, for jebus' sake, identify that fiction so I don't have to read any of it to know what it is! I might be tainted by reading some science fiction when I was looking for a book on economics!

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Chinese vs. Computers


It has been more than six years since Mr. Li started using a computer for Chinese word processing. It has been just under six years since the characters started slipping away. He estimates that more than 95 percent of his writing is now done by computer.

''I can go for a month without picking up a pen,'' Mr. Li said.

Among Chinese speakers, anecdotal evidence suggests that the use of computers for word processing is mounting a slow but steady assault on their ability to write characters by hand. Many Chinese say that could undermine the written language.




Why would you still spend so much time on handwriting Chinese characters when you are eventually going to use computers?

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06 January, 2007

more crazy writers

Scalzi points this out:


For God's sake, I'll be in the mall and see something, and go, "Oh, it's the perfect gift for (fill in the blank)." I've been in line with the present in my hand, before I go, "Wait, these are make believe people. I can't buy them a Christmas present." I guess I could, but there's no way to give it to them. They aren't THAT real. But they are real enough that I see things that make me think of them in the way you think of a boyfriend or a husband, or a best friend.


I'm not especially a fan of LKH, but I think it's nifty that somebody else is saying this kind of thing. I've brought up characters with Sandy before, "(fill in the blank) would really like (object of current discussion)." It's entirely possible I'm daft or weird or broken, but at least I'm d/w/b in the same way as other people. That's comforting.

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05 January, 2007

obligatory spam

Guy Kawasaki, who is not the worlds most erudite columnist, but who has been around for quite a long time, has published a ... thingie on using Linkedin. I have been told many times, by many different people to use it. As I've told them, I'm generally skeptical, as the only things I get from Orkut, Friendster, and the other social networking sites (including places like Flickr or Wikipedia) tend to be spam of the "hey, I found you on this useless site too" variety.

That having been said, because the people who recommended it to me are generally useful people who I have some modicum of respect for, I am linking it above because they may be right. And for those who I have pestered with the "hey I found you" emails, this may serve to explain why I've been such a chuffish boor.

Apologies in advance for linkspam, socialspam, and every other sort of processed meat the innernets convey.

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Uh huh.

Not like having a general who speaks arabic natively isn't useful in the present conflict. Or, for that matter, it certainly isn't such a great idea to have a soldier fighting a ground war (or two).

In other news, I wrote about this, too. Oh, back in, uh, July. We're running out of people to put into these sorts of positions. Bring on Csrnko.

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04 January, 2007

this page exists to fix a bug.

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02 January, 2007

Self-aggrandizement

I am glad to see that Minefield has auto-completed 'self-aggrandizement' as the subject of this here message. Allow me to quote myself, for a second:

And there you have it. Today, I had an ongoing and emotionally very draining conversation with myself, while all the while taking notes so I would remember what I/we had told me/us.


I had previously thought that nobody else actually commented on how they felt when they were writing. I think maybe I'd just forgotten the things I had read, or maybe I was right. In any case, I ran across this today:

The story is taking hold and Justin is talking to me again...that's so good. Y'know, this is one of the only professions where you get paid for hearing voices in your head.

It is so pleasing that CJ Cherryh describes hearing her characters 'talking to her.' Especially Justin, who is kind of a hard guy to talk to.

Happy dance.

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How near-term is 'near term'?

Of course, this has happened before. But this time, I hadn't even started writing the book that's being upstaged by current events. I damn near quit writing Limits so that I could figure out what to do about it, and instead decided to lose a whole hell of a lot of specificity in the interest of actually, you know, getting the book out. But I find myself in a position, again, of thinking that maybe I won't be able to get the next book finished because, well, the world won't wait for me to write the book.

Writing is hard.

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01 January, 2007

If I ever...

Write myself into a book/movie, and ask for absolution/guidance from a character therein (which is to say, write myself getting guidance from myself), please shoot me.

In other news, the Tamil Tigers are restless tonight.

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31 December, 2006

One step forward, e steps back

I've made a little progress on the Z. I spoke to about a zillion shops. It turns out that most of the shops in the area are either engine builders or chassis fab (or outright rice). None of them are both. So if you are in my situation, increasing power by a factor of four, you need not just the engine, but also the chassis work.

Julian recently exploded his STI (well actually there's some debate about who blew it up, but it blowed up regardless). He had to get the engine rebuilt (spun rods), and found a local shop, AR Fab.He had the usual stuff done, blueprint, bump compression, forged pistons, etc. This is more or less what I'm going to have to do with the car. I'll be getting an SR20DET that's more or less going to have gone through the wringer on its way over here. So, rather than blow it up and have to rebuild it later, just rebuild it now, and install it.

But the S130, while still more rigid than the S30/31, is still a pretty flimsy chassis. I had all kinds of hell with the car when I started making 300hp, with the engine breaking mounts and jumping forward into the radiator and things (I actually had to change a radiator in the middle of the street in Chula Vista one day, but I'd done it so many times before, I had it done in half an hour). So the SR20 will begin life as a 220-270hp motor, but since the exhaust is going to be near-open, and it's going to be cammed and boosted, we should be looking at at least 350-400hp, and I'd really like to have 600hp (I'll settle for bhp). Remember, the 280ZX Turbo had 180hp, and the 280ZX had 150. And I think those numbers are optimistic.

So, it will need subframe connectors, a cage up front, probably on top and on bottom, and something on the rear to tighten things up (another problem I had was flexing the rear of the car enough that halfshafts would get pissed off). I think the 300ZXT diff will be okay, but in the event it isn't, the STI diff should fit right in (and has LSD). I asked AR Fab if they were comfortable doing the engine work and the chassis work, and they tell me "they do the impossible builds." That sounds good to me.

We'll be moving in March, so I'll need to get the car into shape before then. At that point, the question is whether to get it limping along and ship it to Taiwan, or to get it all the way on the road. $employer will ship it to me as part of the relo, but I'm not sure they will if it sits in the states for another six months getting a heart transplant. I find myself wondering whether there is a shop in Taipei that will want to do the work for me, either. Or, for that matter, what the laws are re: inspection and emissions.

Fret.

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Orders of Magnitude




In addition to hacking through the set-up to the last few bits of the book (it's a tiny bit more setup, and then everything happens at once), I've been conferring with Rick about the math. It turns out I had the right idea, but I was about an order of magnitude off. Simple stuff:

R = (V/3)2

E = R*M

E = (V/3)2 * M

Where V is velocity in km/s, R is ricks, M is mass in kilograms, and E is impact energy in kg of TNT. If we assume a 1,000kg projectile (1 metric ton), then we need very high velocities (or a 1,000,000 kg projectile). If we achieve 100km/s (ten times escape velocity), or 0.03%c, we can achieve impact in the neighborhood of 1kt of energy. This is where things get ugly.

We also know that it takes 10,000 joules to move 1 metric tons one meter per second. But, we want to move a metric ton one hundred kilometers a second. So we take our 10MJ and increase that by a factor of a thousand, or 10GJ, and we get to one kilometer per second. Crank it a hundredfold, and you need 1TJ to move one metric ton at 100km/s.

Sounds simple enough. 1TJ doesn't sound like a lot, right? Well, let's look at available power sources:

  • Hydroelectric: 50KJ, Brasil
  • Fission: 24KJ (spec: 5,000MW, attained: 4,100MW), Los Alamos (not designed to actually function as a stable reactor, this was a rocket motor)
  • Fusion: 5GJ (Z-Machine, Los Alamos, proposed)

So it would seem that the power would be a problem if you wanted to deliver kilotons from such a weapon. It'd be a lot easier to just drop nuclear weapons on people. This is also not counting for the fact that you can't expect a projectile traveling at ten times escape velocity to actually, you know, come back down. For contrast, the Endeavor orbiter putters along at 7.75 km/s. Additionally, let's say the barrel is 100m long. So you're not just squirting 5GJ into it, you have to sustain it long enough to actually get the fucker to exit at speed.

Now, I know what some of you are saying (those who aren't saying "IM IN UR BLOG, LAUGHING AT UR MATH. LULZ"). "Well, why don't you do what they do with interplanetary flight, just use gravity?"

The answer to this is, sure, you could get vehicles to that sort of speed, and squirt them into outer space. And maybe you could have some really insanely complicated geometry whereby it swung around Luna, Mars, or anything else big enough to avert its path (bear in mind, also, that 100km/s is greater than the escape velocity of Luna or Mars anyways). Let's just propose we use Sol to keep us from flying off into the deep. First, it would take 2,666,666 minutes (5.1 years) to actually get to Sol. Presumably you could pick up some speed on the way back, so let's say it only takes 4 years to get back. Hm, so a nine-year round trip. That doesn't sound so bad, considering how far it's going, but it's entirely ludicrous to plan an attack that delivers one — one — kiloton to your destination of choice, nine years in advance.

On the plus side, you're never going to overpenetrate when attacking a planet with kinetic weapons. Unless you're, uh, Galactus, or a Super Star Destroyer, or something.

So, a solution. First, you have to keep under escape velocity, because you're intending the things to come back down. Maybe they go into a really shallow orbital path before coming down, but either way, we're not going to exceed 20km/s (because we have atmosphere between us and Kabul) of muzzle velocity. That leaves us with:

E = (V/3)2 * M

11.1 * 1,000kg = .011kt.

and our power requirements become 200KJ.


Okay, so there's a benefit to this. Let's say we use the aforementioned 24KJ fission reactor. We would need to run the thing for 8.3 seconds to hit 200KJ of capacitance. This means you can fire six times per minute. You can deliver a kiloton that way in 1,257 hours, or 52 days, give or take. Now bear in mind, also, that it doesn't take any longer than half an hour for your care package to reach its destination, and the whole time (for two months!) you've been spitting ionized gas out one end of a 150-meter gun which is, by definition, stationary. And you've only just delivered a kiloton, not even a meager nuclear weapon sized yield (well, unless you're Israel).

There are ways to get phenomenal amounts of energy in fiction. The most recent example I can think of was from Cowl by Neal Asher. Before you consider, don't. It's a horrible book. But the energy source in the story was the "sun tap," (not scare quotes, those are mocking quotes) a big ... scoopy thing that trawled the photosphere, sucking up heat (without being destroyed, mind), and somehow, uh, beaming it back to civilization. We could go Michio Kaku, and say something like "oh, well we're a Kardashev 1 now, so we're actually just tapping the entire planet for energy." But aside from spelunking into the hell that is The Core, it's not going to happen either. There's also the mention of fusion causing a global heat epidemic and subsequent serious problems in Hamilton's Night's Dawn books, but those are not as plausible as I'd like, either. Baxter uses "higgs field" energy (Exultant), but he doesn't really quantify just how big a higgs field device is, and I haven't seen anyone else use it.

So this means I am going to have to revise what I think is destructive (rather than just lie outright about what I can do in the next ten years), and how destructive I think "too destructive" is (that is, the point at which people say "HEY! YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP!"). And, I have to get that figured out before I bring the Sri Lankans into this.

Positive note: I learned a little sanskrit today.

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30 December, 2006

Pants are overrated

So, I'm probably the last to know. While I've been a long time devotee to talk like a pirate day, I had missed the obvious:

http://www.nopantsday.com/

Free your pants.

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Toil, toil

It looks like I may actually exceed the mark I was going for. I think I see enough now that I can write all the way to the end, more or less only stopping for, you know, food and stuff. Which is good, because I've got a giant twig up my ass that is my next book, and I can't wait to write it.

No, it's not the dicks book.

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29 December, 2006

On language

I find myself really shocked at how easy Chinese is to learn. It has this reputation of being incredibly hard to learn, and much has been written on the subject. But I think it's mostly out of date. Because I can speak, I can write in pinyin, and this is quite easy to convert into pictographs (in traditional or simplified Chinese). From the pictographs, which have less concrete meanings than the spoken language (interestingly, the spoken language is not especially coupled to the pictographs), I can infer concepts. So for example, I am looking for the proper noun for double eyelids (this is a trait present in about 50% of Chinese, and is regarded as an attractive feature. have a look at Gong Li for an example). So, I wind up finding 手, which is actually translated as 'hand', but can refer to a plurality (such as a couple of people, a double-edged weapon). Eyelid is pretty clear, and I can just convert pinyin to traditional: 眼皮. And so the final result, 眼皮手, is exactly what I want (眼皮倍 also works, but is used less frequently). I can then search around on the intarweb for it, or I can translate it into pinyin (and thereby romanize it so I can include it in my writing).

Calligraphy still gets me, but I'm becoming rapidly conversant in traditional Chinese. The cool thing about this is, the better I get at traditional Chinese, the better I get at Mandarin, because I am learning both the pictograph and the pinyin (and therefore can pronounce it, and more often than not, it's new vocabulary). Frequently when I find a new pictograph, I remember it (although not all the time), and this means I can read more text (because so much is inferred). Additionally, I get a deeper understanding of the language, as I begin to understand the nuances like the revolver-succor relationship above.

To be clear, I've been using traditional Chinese for less than a week. I can hardly believe somebody would find this difficult to pick up if they already spoke Mandarin. In the past, I suspect that people had a more difficult time. I have a pinyin-english and an english-pinyin dictionary here, and I also have the intarweb for when that doesn't work. On top of that, I can quickly and reliably translate between the phonetics and the pictographs with software that comes with both MacOS and Windows. So while my Mandarin improves, it's actually improving slower than my grasp of traditional Chinese is. It's a crutch, using the software, but it's a very convenient crutch, and nobody's going to complain if I'm typing emails phonetically and sending out traditional/simplified. And since I speak, there's hardly any reason to complain that the "crutch" is preventing my learning.

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27 December, 2006

Depraved indifference

Even /b/ (not even remotely close to work safe; if you don't know who they are, you don't want to) is complaining that Disney has "no soul" in regards to the upcoming release of Bridge to Terabithia. I read the book when I was pretty young (I suppose I was seven, thinking back to when and where I read it, but I read everything in the house at this age, so that could be wrong). It was used as a text in school, but I believe this was some years later (as I remember it being assigned in fourth? fifth? grade). Regardless, it's interesting to note people's reaction to it. I was of course, very fond of the book as a child. Some piece of me is still clutching onto it, even at thirty. I reviewed the wikipedia article, and indeed it looks like my memory of the book is accurate. The trailer doesn't seem to really jive with the book, but then the trailer is designed to get kids into the theater (instead of getting them to fucking read the book!), not to convey literary accuracy.

The reactions seem to be based (as in the case of 4chan) on something "sacred" being defiled in some way by either depraved commercial exploitation of the film, or perhaps by the more benign "totally screwed up the story." I initially was pretty revolted myself, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the seven year old in me is clutching onto a book that's not especially significant, and I suppose it even makes sense that Disney (whores that they are) would filminate it.

I came to this conclusion about remembering other books that were very dear to me when I was a kid. Perhaps the most relevant example is the Asimov books. Good grief, I read every single one of them. I thought they were masterful fiction, that this guy was one of the best authors evar. I was actually pretty hurt when we lost both Roddenberry and Asimov so close together (I was too young to understand who Sagan was at the time). But when I think back to the substance of those books, I inevitably wind up with a comparison of, say, Ring and the Foundation books, especially the latter ones. (or even At The Mountains of Madness and The Hardy Boys...!)

When I think back to how long I've actually been reading "new" books vs the Asimov crowd, it's hard to find the inflection point. I read so voraciously as a child, everything from my mother's textbooks from college to contemporary juvenile fiction, classic fiction, and I even eventually got around to Sagan and Gleick (I suppose reading Chaos and John Gribbin at eleven could be considered precocious). So while I think now that there was a point at which I shifted from juvenile books to !juvenile books ("adult" is not the right term), there probably isn't.

I digress. The point here is that the books I read today are vastly better than the Asimov books. Bridge to Terabithia is a very sweet (if hard to swallow) story. Yeah, Disney will fuck it up. They're good at that. But nobody's desecrating the Talmud here. You may remember that "I, Robot" was recently destroyed in film (and I dearly loved The Robots of Dawn). I was more than a little irritated by this, but it didn't feel like somebody was hurting my story (this is what has /b/ up in arms, they just don't understand it's because their mutant bodies actually contain feelings), because it's a very different kind of book. I, Robot was an interesting, engaging read. Bridge to Terabithia (at least for me) was something one read, by oneself, and had a personal experience with it. I mean, how could you not? At age seven? Or even eleven or fifteen? Discussing death? Or unrequited love in a way every adolescent boy understands? So, when somebody comes along and decides to make a movie out of it, to make money off it, and to most likely clobber the book's story, it kind of stings.

Consider a corollary: a childhood friend is found naked on the internet. Sure, we all see porn, we know it's there and what it is, but it's not our friend with that big glob of ... nevermind. So it seems that the problem is not in the making of the film, but in our not understanding — not wanting to understand — why we are sentimental to this book in particular. I could list a few more that people would feel this way about, but I'd come across as a sappy fool.

Or, maybe I've just said that one can defile children's fiction all they want because it's not important. This is probably wrong.

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26 December, 2006

Numbers time!

In addition to posting a bunch of shit today (have a lot on my mind), I'd like to finish up with this.

What do 1,485,000 people in China, 405,000 people in the United States, 30,907 people in Taiwan, and 8,100 people in Taipei have in common?

Or, if you prefer, 8,100,000 people worldwide.

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蚱蜢



Sometimes we forget.

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I'm Alex. We knew each other a long time ago, I don't think you remember me. We grew up in the same place, and we know the same people. But somehow, it seems like we don't connect at all. Is it because I've changed? It feels to me like you just haven't existed all these years. I mean, look at us. We're obviously similar, and yet you and I have such totally different dreams, different concerns. The world scares both of us, but in such different ways. I just don't understand how it is that we have so much in common, and yet we just can't know each other. We're total strangers. I remember when we were in Del Mar, we went to the same school, and we knew the same people. Yet today, there's a gulf between us. I wish I understood, I wish we could somehow reach a common ground so that I can understand who it is you are, and maybe in that I'll understand myself a little better. We're really similar, you and I. Perhaps sometime we'll meet, and have a long discussion about it, and maybe we'll understand each other then. But you're there, and I'm here, and it's just too far. I don't even recognize you. I'm sorry.

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25 December, 2006

sigh

I should really stop reading weblogs from Taiwan. If the job there doesn't pan out, I'll wind up with more Mandarin and kanji than I know what to do with. How often does one encounter written Chinese and a) need to respond in written Chinese or b) which doesn't have English (or at least pinyin) nearby?

Learning pinyin is a cop-out. Especially if I'm going to be doing Unix stuff with Chinese, I suspect there's no phrase for "grep." (prove me wrong, please) But I am going to have to be able to adequately convey, "Your home directory was taking up 335gb because you have downloaded a lot of porn. I have deleted the porn, and restricted your quota to 256mb. Call me if you have questions."

Of that, let's see what is probably going to be English. Well, 335 translates across. Since the giga- mega- tera- etc notation as a) in Roman characters and b) is based on Greek (γίγας for example), which has no influence on Chinese.

Drat, I just looked this up. There is a prefix/phrase for "giga-". That would be "ギガ". It looks like gigabyte is "ギガバイト". So that is, in fact, [ギガ] (giga) concatenated to [バイト] (byte). Entirely understandable, I suppose. At any rate, all the mentions of ギガバイト actually have "GB" in the same text. It's interesting to note something like this. So here we have:

全國首賣,鏡面型數位相簿

I know the leftmost character. That's "money." Although it alternatively can mean fancy, expensive, "gold" (element, not color), and similar. The idea is that there's context to the first phrase, 全國首賣. Let's figure this out. So the second character refers to geography of China. It's sometimes just simplified to 中国, which makes sense if you look at it. The first character there is "China", although it can be descriptive rather than a noun. So you might have noticed that the character, 國, looks a lot like 汉, which when combined as so: 汉朝, again refers to a location, epoch (in this case, Han dynasty, but other sources have it Qin.) it also refers to the location thereof. So the first character, 汉 is stuffed inside 國, with another character I don't know.

Where are we? We're on the second character. I think we've determined that the first two mean "made in China" or "built in China", or even "for sale in China." That's not really important. Let's continue. So the next two characters I can't seem to make out the radicals for. But we have 賣, which seems to mean sale, or sold, but I can't find the radical in it, and it's always used in conjunction with other characters. The 首 is a tricky one. I am going to have to pass on this. So we have something like "selling chinese good". 首 can mean "radical" (as in character, not as in tubular), but it also seems to mean short (as in a period of time). So maybe it's something like "Sale on this nice Chinese ...".

Actually, I'm going to stop right here. I've been told that this is impossible. That white people — myself in particular, mind you — are only good for teaching English in China. Maybe I should stop before I change somebody's expectations about what a fucking gwailo is capable of.

Also, this.

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臺北市新移民會館

So I am going through the requirements for citizenship in taiwan. It's interesting to note that, while I married a chinaman, I must live there for three contiguous years, more than 183 days per year. Now, that's interesting, in that I'll have to have a work visa for the first three years (and a criminal background check, and a financial check, and an education check, and various fees amounting to about $200 per year). But what I found even more interesting is the part about having children.

So in the case that one parent is a foreign national (including a naturalized alien) and the other a citizen (although "citizen" is ambiguous, because there are requirements for having been on the ground for a certain amount of time), and they have a child, the child may apply for citizenship. What really tweaks me is this beauty:


(二) When applying for birth registration or initial household registration, the naming must be made in accordance with the fashion that Taiwan natives are accustomed to.


So, given my last name is anglophone -- Avriette -- should I have children, I will have to give them Chinese names. That's really interesting.

The other thing I noticed that's kind of weird is the distinction between Taiwan and ROC citizenship. To become a citizen of Taiwan, I can apply, go through the requisite visa/etc process, and get a green card. However, to get citizenship on the mainland, I'd need to renounce my American citizenship. Wow. Considering that ROC is fiercely assertive about Taiwan being a provice/property/asset of theirs, you'd think that citizenship (for foreign nationals, it's not clear how it works for Taiwanese nationals) would be the same for both. Single sign on as it were.

Not likely I'll be getting mainland citizenship, that'd make keeping my clearance hard. It's really an interesting idea, though, to have a clearance from two (but allied) governments.

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