Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Problem With Google

In general I love Google. They put together some brilliant software and I wish they'd hire me. Outside of their products, I'm generally rooting for them in their battles in the phone industry and with copyright law.

That said, I am not entirely at ease. The problem is that, at its core, Google is an ad company and that makes me more than a bit distrustful. Money has to come from somewhere, but it's an industry I'm opposed to. Myself, I try to avoid exposure to ads, using Adblocker and the like on my computer, and skipping TV commercials thanks to Tivo. I have a great deal of sympathy for the characters in The Monkey Wrench Gang who burned down billboards. Advertisements are unaesthetic, annoying and a waste.

Beyond simple personal preference, I dislike the function of advertisements and have a problem with consumerism in general. I am hardly unique for that, Adbusters and countless other hippies have spent far more time than I driving that point home. At the risk of repeating those folks, ads are not fulfilling any desire, their purpose is to create more desire, and therefore I feel they are somewhat harmful to society. I suppose ads used to function to inform people, but that's hardly the case these days. When one is looking for a given product, a simple Google search can tell them where they can find it. If I were in a position of power, I would certainly consider a large tax on advertising. Admittedly that runs into the same problems as campaign finance reform and trying to disentangle money from speech, but I would like to try.

I'd like to one day live in a world where advertising is largely absent, where people decide what products they'd like to buy primarily on the basis of reviews and reputations thanks to things such as Yelp and Consumer Reports or's recommendation system. Of course, Google just tried to buy Yelp, so it's certainly not an either/or condition. Which reminds me, I should think some more about about my plans to create a more universal recommendation/reputation system that would function as a sort of whuffie for everything. However, even with systems like that in place, advertisements still work and will continue to be used. The more attempts there are like my own to try to censor advertisements, the more advertisers will devise new ways to get through to people. As long as advertisements continue to work, this will simply be one of life's annoyances, much like the trying to stay one step ahead of bacteria evolving resistance to antibiotics. It's just a shame that one of my otherwise favorite companies is in league with the opposing side.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Industries are Going to be Destroyed Next?

As I continue to sit here rather underemployed and somewhat dispirited with the job hunt, I figured I'd indulge in some schadenfreude and imagine what industries are going to be wiped out in the near future by good ol' technological progress. I started thinking along this course when desiring, as I often do, a car that can drive itself. They're getting fairly close with this technology, it might be on the road by 2020. As I generally hate driving, I'll enjoy this immensely, but there will be a fairly huge number of additional consequences. In addition to the possibility of saving 40,000 lives a year, we'll all be able to drink as much as we want without stranding ourselves at the mercy of America's shoddy public transportation.

On the jobs side though, there'll be a few upsets. At the moment, America has around 200k taxi drivers, 600k bus drivers, and more than 3 million truck drivers. As soon as automated cars become cheap, that'll be a fairly large hole in the economy. Then there's also the affect that if everyone stopped owning cars and using them in Zipcar like fashion, the entire automotive industry will take a huge hit as we could get by with far fewer cars if they were used more continuously. Amory Lovins will be thrilled.

But that's all only going to start around 2020 and I bet it won't fully be felt until ten years after that. In the short-term there's plenty of industries crumbling. Much of that is simply the economy, as many on that list are only vaguely related to technological change and therefore somewhat less interesting to me.

In terms of jobs that technological change might render obsolescent, well, I've said for awhile that as soon they can robotically make fast-food there will be a revolt, but, the Japanese aside, I don't imagine that being cost effective anytime soon. I feel we'll see cars automated long before restaurants because a car already costs in the range of 20 thousand, adding an automation system to that will end up being a relatively small addition.

Still, maybe my dislike of driving is making my car predictions too techno-utopian. Whatever happened with self-checkout for example? When I first saw those a few years ago, I figured they'd have expanded more by now.

Ah well, later, I'm sure there are plenty more good resources on how technology will render more jobs obsolete. Now if I could just get someone with a group health plan to hire me...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Great Recession Continues

I haven't had that much to write about in the last... what? Ouch, almost a month. I've been putting most of my time into applying for jobs and trying to study up on whatever it is that software engineers are supposed to know these days (apparently it's a lot of web design).

As far as commenting on the world, well, I feel like I haven't had all that much to say recently. Still waiting to see if health care gets resolved in any coherent way, waiting to see if anything is made out of the mess in AfPak, waiting for the damn economy to get sorted out. Most of those things are horribly complex issues that don't really have easy solutions.

However, as I'm still unemployed and bitter about it, I suppose I can complain about the economy some more. From California to America as a whole, things could be better. Some of these problems might indeed be getting getting worked on, but at a horribly slow pace. That's why I tend to support radical overhauls of everything, practicality be damned.

I suppose I'm also waiting for augmented reality, life extension, fusion power and room-temperature superconductors to be invented, but I have even less to contribute on those fronts. To get us out of this economic mess though, I'm starting to think we're going to need some damn nice technological innovations.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Repaired and Recoved

Once again I made it back from Burning Man alive. I somewhat wish people would stop betting on my death, but it is fairly humorous.

It was, once again, a great experience, that fills me with such wellbeing towards my fellow man that I feel like a damn hippie. Not quite sure what that word might have meant back in the 60s, but it's interesting these days to see the different subcultures out at Burning Man, and how the hippie subtype compares to everything else. Whatever everything else is, I'm not the best at observing human nature. I'd like to read someone else's comments on the subject. In some ways the whole fracturing of mass media and popular culture has made things difficult. There's no agreed upon story for this decade, for this generation, and there is a benefit to having a story to live by. Have to think for ourselves, I suppose.

But back now, and doing well. Spent a good bit of time cleaning up the aftermath, having a birthday and then getting sick, but now am back on the attempting to find employment so as to avoid starving to death, but hitting that with renewed energy. We'll see if the economy is amenable to that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Earnest Goes To Burning Man

The posting has fallen off a good bit in the last month, first because I was in a bit of a mood and then because I got tremendously busy prepping for Burning Man.  With my financial situation the way it is, it would probably be a lot more responsible for me to skip Burning Man and focus on finding a job, but, well, priorities are priorities, and I've found myself at the center of getting our camp up and running.  It'll be my fourth year out on the playa and at this point Burning Man is essentially the most important week out of the year for me.  Fortunately we've got some people out there doing their best to convince me that I'm taking part in an important cultural event and that I'm not simply frittering my time away.

If any of you reading this are going to be out there this year, look for us at the 7:30 Portal, Spider Melon Camp.  There will be 40+ of us, the social core of the group being members of the Stanford Band over the last two decades, and the rest various friends and acquaintances.  As for where the name/theme came from, such details are lost to conflicting hazy memories.  We've been changing the name every year as long as my group has been going, though some of our camp members were consistent members of other camps, such as Skullfuck, before my time.

The next two weeks will be an intense celebration before returning to the world of hunting down a living.  Fortunately my girlfriend is back in town and can help keep me on track.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Democracy 2.0 Revisited

I came across this article on an idea to improve the US Constitution, and it seemed fairly good to me. I continue to be quite interested in ideas to fix fundamental structural problems in our government, and I'm still waiting to see the California Constitution get rewritten.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

In Which I Argue Science Fiction Philosophy

Well, I let this site get a bit behind after feeling a bit out of it for the last two to three weeks. However, I'm dragging myself back to health now, and would like to finish off this half-written post.

Realizing I've spent too much time arguing politics here, I wanted to write about something else and look at a philosophical question commonly raised in science fiction. An argument I often had with my friend Pfau, was regarding the hypothetical situation of whether or not one would be willing to use a Star Trek style transporter where a body is scanned, the data is transmitted and a copy of one is built in a different location. This, to some people, raises the objection that the original person/consciousness/soul/self/etc. is lost. Dollhouse raises several similar questions, as do all the science fiction that involves uploading people's brains to computers. Yes, this is all freshman philosophy, but as I'm still arguing with my friends over it, I wanted to have my say.

The crux of this debate, in my mind, is whether or not the concept of a singular identity, a soul, is valid. Many people imagine a person's identity to be continuous, singular and undivided. A person has a soul when they are born (or conceived, whatever) and that soul is them for the entirety of their life (and after, if you take that school of thought). Ignoring some of the finer points, this is generally how it is in all cases. We don't have transporters or uploading to make things complicated and we can get away with thinking of identities or souls that way. Our ethics, laws and customs assume that it always must be that way, but often the current concept is imperfect. A person's identity changes throughout their life; their mind, their body, all are different at different times, but because the change is continuous, we assume a singular, continuous identity or soul.

That's all well and good, but when we get into this hypothetical question involving technology that hasn't been invented yet, our concepts fair less well. The reason that some people would not want to be transported is because that break of continuity in space makes them feel that continuity would be broken in their identity or soul, and as that isn't allowed in their conception of identity or soul, they believe that they would have died. Some people, on various Star Trek forums, argue that continuity of self is maintained in Star Trek transporters because the new person is built with the old atoms, but I view this as completely irrelevant. We have already hypothetically given up continuity in space, and we are maintaining continuity of form, so I feel that continuity of matter is not important. Oddly enough there aren't many ethical questions raised by a lack of continuity in time, though I suppose this is an issue in some science fiction where they have to rework the definitions of death and inheritance law when people start cryogenically freezing themselves. Anyways, the question is, what forms of continuity are important for continuity of self?

As I would like to live in a world where such questions become relevant, I would like better answers. Should I be OK with being transported? If there is a copy of me, should I be afraid of death? If there is a copy of me, who gets my stuff? If my mind is copied into a computer, what rights should it/I have?

I believe that to answer this we should be prepared to recognize the continuity of identity as the convenient convention it is and not as an absolute. The person I am now exists at one moment in time, with some memories of the past. One's 'self', as an absolute in one moment of time, is constantly dying, as it does not exist from one time to the next. As no identity is perfectly continuous, then the issue of 'dying' or 'losing one's self/consciousness/soul' when being transported becomes much more irrelevant, and issues of what do with duplicates, or large discontinuities of time, become more issues of practicalities. This certainly doesn't answer the question, but it makes it much simpler.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Income and Democracy

Recently, I seem to have seen rather frequently the idea that democracy requires an average midlevel of income in a country. Of course, when I started writing this post and looking for evidence supporting that, the details seemed rather vague, and the main source I found for this was Fareed Zakaria.

However, assuming that this concept is somewhat accurate, that democracy generally isn't stable and self-sustaining in a country until GDP per capita hits about $5000 to $6000 a year, this raises a question for me. The real GDP per person back when the United States was founded was far below this, apparently approximately $917. We didn't have what we would consider a full democracy at the time, with only people with a certain amount of property or who paid a certain amount of taxes were able to vote.

This leads me to wonder if, with countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of promoting full democracy, should we instead have put into place a system where only the more well to do are allowed to vote, perhaps at the range that Zakaria mentions?

Of course, by the time all property requirements were dropped in 1850, average GDP was still only $1888, and this seems to disprove the initial assumption. More importantly are the ethical questions around this, as many would find property requirement as bad as requirements based upon race or sex. Still, it does make me wonder about how we are trying to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Just in visiting Houston for a bit as a launching pad for a vacation. Driving around the city, it definitely feels different and to be honest just set my teeth on edge. For a long while I've detested urban sprawl and this combines with my dislike for driving to have Houston give me a bad taste in my mouth. Of all the cities I've been to, I've preferred urban, walkable ones with good public transportation: Portland, New York, San Francisco, pretty much any city in Australia or Europe in comparison to the US. I generally despised LA for this reason, not simply because my parents are ashamed I was born there while my dad was finishing up his doctoral degree at UCLA.

LA though, always just struck me as an absolute mess, where sprawl somewhat happened through accident and incompetence. Admittedly, this isn't exactly true, and I haven't spent all that much time in LA, but that is the feeling I would get.

Houston, on the other hand, seems to be designed for the purpose of sprawl. The massive ring highways are extremely well designed for what they are and the more upper class suburban areas I visited seemed somewhat like resorts, in the vein of Sunriver, only with no sidewalks and no store within miles. There is apparently no public transportation system in the city aside from a few buses. It left me uneasy. I will give them that their housing prices are much much lower than most of the cities I enjoy so much and their traffic does seem to not be that significant, so there is something to it, but I would absolutely hate to live there.

I wonder how much of Houston's development comes from benefiting off of externalizing economic costs that should be taxed away, such as carbon admissions or subsidized greenfield development. Also, it makes me wonder of what would have to be done to reduce housing prices in cities such as SF or NY, or if those cities are simply better at internalizing external costs.

Or maybe I'm just a snobbish urbanite, and the external costs simply aren't that great, and I simply am willing to pay more for an urban environment of my choosing. I hope that's not the case though. Houston just feels wrong, and I would like to think it wouldn't look that way if the true costs of everything were taken into consideration. I'll have to look into it more, given that I've gotten these feelings after only seeing the city for two days.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Empiricism in Politics

The last few weeks have not been the most reassuring in terms of politics. I suppose this is mainly due to seeing the health care debate in America. From what I have seen of the argument, and my cursory examination of other countries health care options, I believe that a single-payer plan would be the best, and if not that, then at least a public option. Thus, reading the news on the health care debate alternatively angers and saddens me.

I hope that it works out in the end. After all, I could be wrong. I don't understand anything close to all the details in the plans being suggested now, and it is possible that the conservatives do have some good points. Possibly, whatever half-assed mess of a compromise that is delivered will actually function. I don't think it will be as good as what I want, but I can't tell for sure.

Thinking of this brought to mind an article I had read on empiricism in politics, claiming that in the future mankind would move towards making political decisions more on the basis of factual evidence. After a fair amount of searching, I believe I might have found it, in an article by J. Craig Venter. Of course, at times I doubt that facts will make anything of a difference in political debate. It's an effort having to bite my tongue around my girlfriend's father when he starts going on about how humans don't cause global warming.

There will always be policy debates, and most likely I won't be happy with what the majority decides. Obama's election did give me some hope that one could convince the public of a good idea, but I cannot put all my faith in this. Given my dim view of human nature, I put much more hope towards a technical solution to our problems. Or, to rephrase, a technically aided solution. It is not that I think that old-school political maneuvering for what I believe to be the right ideas is useless, it is that I think that relying only on them is inefficient. I have much more hope that we can do something new that will change the game and get us out of this mess.

How exactly this Democracy 2.0 can work out is still being worked on. I see several ways in which things could improve. I hope the social sciences, especially economics, can make some large leaps forward as more and more information is recorded and made accessible on the Internet. I imagine that some day we could have a good map of most people's social contacts, their locations, their tastes and preferences, and also a good idea of what they're spending money on. This seems fairly likely to me as things like Facebook,'s recommendations and become more widely used, and hopefully their information will become more open in the future. We've also got things such as reality mining that will provide a great amount of information. Put all this together with greater computing power to enable larger simulations, and maybe we can get to the point where we can actually make meaningful and useful economic predictions.

As far as actually making politicians try to work for the common good, well there's the hope that things like reputation markets and the Sunlight Foundation can force some more accountability out of elected officials.

Of course, as I said earlier, facts often don't do much at all in affecting a political debate. I can hope that a lot of the more idiotic political positions out there can be alleviated by neuropharmacology that raises every one's IQ 30 or so points. Beyond that, some bastards just disagree with me, and there's not much I can do about that.

All of the above are mainly ideas to make our current form of government more efficient and don't affect the major problems of democracy itself. How to replace democracy with something better though is quite a question. It's something I've put a good bit of thought into, and have only some vague ideas. As this post is getting fairly long, I'm going to save some of those thoughts for later.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Time for a New SimCity

I'm rereading The Death and Life of Great American Cities, for the first time in six years or so, and it's really making me want to reinvent SimCity.

Right now I'm on a chapter talking about how parks cannot be applied as magical talismans to raise property values and as that is how they were used in SimCity, I started to think about others ways in which it could be improved. One of the major things you would need is to simulate individual humans, down to their daily comings and goings, their interests, a rough sketch of what they see, and so on. Now computers have improved tremendously in the last years, but I'm still not sure that they can get to that level of detail. It would depend of course upon how many simplifications could be made, but in order to simulate the city in the level of detail that would make things talked about in The Death and Life of Great American Cities relevant, the program would need to have many more details, the different types of businesses instead of simply 'commercial' 'residential', model what times of day people are going places, cultural differences between people, etc.

Now, at a more basic level there are things that I've been thinking should be improved in SimCity for a long time in order to make it possible to do more realistic simulations of cities. There needs to be an ability to layout streets in any direction and not be restricted to a grid. There needs to be mixed use buildings that are seen in cities, where in one building there are commercial stores on the ground floor and residential apartments above. Furthermore, the basic plan of it costing money to zone out land always seemed a bit unrealistic to me. What of the pressures brought to bear in trying to keep people form expanding to new areas? Either trying to prevent sprawl in America or dealing with growing slums in India. There's never even been bums in SimCity!

Bear in mind that I haven't played SimCity since SimCity 4, not the Rush Hour expansion set, nor SimCities Societies. It is quite possible that some of the thoughts I've had have begun to be implemented, but certainly nowhere near the level that I would like to see.

There is also the point that SimCity is designed as a game, and that bogging things down in extreme levels of details might lessen the fun. I admit that that is a risk, but it can be overcome. It is not the case that someone playing such a game would be exposed to all these details, but for me, it would be more fun if I had the option to get down to the level where I could see them.

As for what those details will all need to be, well, I'll think more on the subject and get back to you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Health Care in the United States

One important political issue that I have had very little to say about over the years has been health care. I was talking with a friend of mine about why this was, and as best I could determine it was simply because the issue was too complex to provide an easy answer for me to support. Not that many of the political issues I've spent time yelling about have been simple, but at least I've read books about subjects such as copyright, environmental policy, agricultural policy, etc. With regards to health care, I have very little background.

So, I set out to try and get a handle on the issue. That has proved somewhat difficult. I know the basic statistics of how the US spends more on health care than any other nation and yet has a life expectancy only in the middle range for developed nations. That the US is the only developed nation without a universal health care system and that 46 million Americans are uninsured. I certainly believe that universal health care should be a right in this country, and I have some idea of the inefficiencies that create our current problem, but I cannot say that I have seen an clear argument for a solution, or any clear estimates of the cost. There is a definite lack of a message out there.

Given my distrust of the right in this country, I lean towards claiming that we should push for a single-payer health care solution, but I still do not know enough. I know that some of the writers at the FiveThirtyEight endorse singles-payer health care, as do various parts of and the Daily Kos, but I have still yet to see a clear example of what a new health care system should look like and what it would do for us.

Friday, May 29, 2009

An Audience

After telling a couple of friends about this blog, I've started to have to deal with the results of that. I did indeed want an audience, but have now become a good bit self conscious about this page as a result. I've been going back and forth worrying about every little detail, and have started to edit my past posts. Continuing with that would probably wreck me and I need to learn to relax. In the future I'll want to improve the quality of my writings, which is why I started to tell people about this page, but I'll deal with the rest of this blog as is. RELAX.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Minor Update

Found a new blog out there on technology's effect on social behavior by Alexander Van Elsas and it looks pretty interesting. Sort of in the vein of Clay Shirky back when he used to post regularly before writing a book. Still need to look at it a bit more to determine it's worth, but it looks like it shares a lot of my interests.

In other news, I'm planning on redoing a lot of the design of this page and applying some of the web design stuff I've been brushing up on. We'll see how that goes in the next few days.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

American Debt and Digging Ourselves a Hole

Complaining about the national debt and unfunded social programs in America is hardly a unique activity, but it's something I'm increasingly worried about. America has been pursuing short-sighted policies for decades that sooner or later we will have to pay for, and I believe we should address this as quickly as possible. True, we are in a recession, and there are a lot of economic arguments for deficit spending in a recession, but the levels we are seeing today are simply terrifying. China has been fueling our public debt for decades and we have become dependent on this. If that changes anytime soon we are in for a world of hurt.

It's not simply the deficit spending that worries me; personal savings have also been rash in America. The Great Recession seems to be changing American savings rates and the credit card reform bill show that things might be changing, but our past actions are symptomatic of a view in our society that could bring about tremendous future pain. Our politicians have not stepped forward to address these issues, trouble looms in the form of unfunded Medicare, Social Security and pensions. Surprisingly, Social Security might be one of the more insignificant issues here.

Furthermore, in addition to the national debt and unfunded social programs, there is a severe lack of investment in American infrastructure. Nations such as China are handily surpassing us. This is not simply a problem for convenience or pride, but how the American economy will do in the future. America seems to have been ignoring this due to a misplaced belief in our own superiority and avoiding looking at reality.

So, how do we deal with all this? I'm not an economist, and cannot give easy answers, but my suggestion is that we pay more now to avoid suffering in the future.

We may need to continue deficit spending during this recession, but there are still plenty of areas that the federal budget could be trimmed. Subsidies to the agricultural industry, the oil industry, the automotive industry could all be cut. We could end the war on drugs. Immigration law could be reformed to allow more working age, tax-paying citizens into the country to boost the economy.

With Social Security and other pension plans, I believe that as Americans are living longer, the retirement age should be slowly raised. With medical care, I believe that universal medical care should be a right. Unfortunately, this would cost the government much more than Medicare costs now. The reforms Obama is proposing will hopefully bring total US medical costs in line with that of other developed nations, but that is assuming the program is executed properly. If it is, total medical costs would be lowered but would still require greater taxes as the cost would be born by the government. I can suggest that more policy makers listen to thinkers such as Michael Pollan and Jane Jacobs, so that we stop subsidising urban sprawl and cheap fast food, as per the above paragraph. A large enough share of our medical costs go to caring for preventable chronic diseases brought about by over-eating and sedentary lifestyles that those changes would make a difference. If those suggestions don't make a big enough impact, well then, we can just hope future medical technology saves us all.

With our infrastructure, we should be spending more money, investing more in better rail networks, broadband, a national power grid and better wireless and cellular coverage. All of that will cost money, and I am fine with seeing taxes raised for it.

In regards to personal behavior, I saw this idea for a progressive consumption tax over at Along those lines I could also support a tax on advertizements, but that would do a lot of harm to the Internet industry I like. Either way, I like playing around with ideas to radically rework our tax structure. It has grown so large starting from scratch might be a good thing.

This has turned into quite a long post, but to close, I can only repeat that we must invest now if we want to avoid greater pain in the future.

Hopes For a New Economy

Wired has a good piece out in their new issue that feeds my techno-utopian dreams and desires for radical social/political/economic change. The article, titled The New New Economy, argues that The Great Recession will shake up the economy enough to the point that the ease of communication brought about by the Internet will allow the economy to seriously re-engineer itself around small flexible businesses. The three articles branching off from the main one detail the need for the reinvention of the auto industry, the possibilities brought about by Google's automated auctions and mathematical modeling of economics and memes, and what they call the New Socialism as seen in online collaboration ranging from the direct open software projects to more indirect examples such as the tagging on Flickr or Delicious.

Now, I've seen a lot of idealistic ideas like this before, and I don't expect the economy to get rewritten in this mold in the next decade, but I do expect things to move a bit more in that direction. These ideas embody several of my hopes for the future of the economy and I hope to see more of this in the future. Now, if only we can get a good universal, easy-to-measure whuffie system in place...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Straight Line Borders

After a previous blog post mentioning dividing California into multiple states, I started thinking more about redrawing the borders of several other political entities. I love the idea in theory, as so many political borders in the world don't reflect the cultural or economic realities on the ground. A good number of conflicts in the world today are created by borders drawn by colonial powers without regard to the people living there.

Within the US, there have been a number of ideas for redividing the states, such as Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America, George Etzel Pearcy's 38 states proposal and a host of other secessionist movements. I've seen various ideas for breaking up California, Texas, New York, Florida and so on. I also wouldn't mind to see my home state of Oregon modified a bit along with Washington to better match the Republic of Cascadia. That then draws in Idaho, and you might as well edit Nevada a bit as long as you're redrawing California. Then there are all those low population states with three electoral votes that get disproportionate political power in the US, so I wouldn't mind combining some of those. Maybe combine Montana and Wyoming, Vermont and New Hampshire, and go down to one Dakota, though I imagine that people in those states wouldn't necessarily be happy with those divides. Of course I need to do some more research before actually calling any of this a serious suggestion, but I am playing around with a map that seeks to work along the lines I've suggested while minimizing disruption to existing states. If anyone has or knows of any well researched maps in this vein, please let me see.

Additionally there's the part of me that likes Ameriwank alternate histories and would like to see Canada and the UK and other English speaking territories lumped together into one large American/English country, and that would require a whole new set of borders.

Ignoring that for now, there a lot that could be done to improve international borders. I've seen suggestions for the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world. This Wikipedia article on unrepresented nations and peoples lays out some of the changes I would like to see. Now to just generate some easy to look at maps.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Homo Superior

In thinking about how humans might be improved through genetic engineering, I've been playing around with some ideas.

I feel that one of the major questions will be whether we even bother with the more advanced structural improvements on the human body, or if by that point cybernetics and uploading will be far enough along to make that irrelevant.

The first thing to do is probably fixing the various problems and design defects built into people. This ranges from the relatively simple removal of congenital defects on to more complex things, ranging from removing the appendix to having the urethra not go through the prostate gland to flipping the retina of the human eye. Then there's all the problems associated with our bipedalism, the arches in our feet, our knees and the curvature of our spine that could all be improved a great deal. Actually our ankles and wrists could be improved a great deal, that's a problem that goes back to when we first got out of the water. You could also view ageing as a defect that should be edited out.

There are also a number of cognitive aspects of humans that could easily be viewed as problems in need of editing out. This is a fairly interesting side of things, and the thought that prompted me to write this post. I've only studied the beginnings of cognitive neuroscience, and I should probably be consulting Pfau when writing this, but there are a number of mistakes common to human thinking and seemingly inefficient physical organizations of the brain. Why is the main vision processing center of the brain at the back of the head? I think it would be pretty interesting to see how the brain could be reorganized to minimize the length needed to transmit singles. They're getting pretty good at tracing axons with diffusion MRI. As far as improvements for mental processes, this page had a fairly good outline. How we'd go about fixing these basic illogical thought process, I'm not sure.

Further on, there's a good number of things that we could steal from other lifeforms that could greatly improve human life without going so far as to the point were we stop being recognizably human. I for one would love to have bird lungs, for example. Beyond that, you get to imaging doing whatever you'd want, and that's a bit beyond the scope of what I've been thinking about. I'm fairly attached to my human form.

Well, more to think on this later, for now, good night.

Litigiousness, Avoiding Risk and the Unpleasant Results

I am increasingly frightened by the avoidance of risk in our society. Though that article from The Atlantic is a fairly specific piece, it is indicative of the disappointing mood I see around me. It's a shame that we live in a society that has to devote so much time running people through sexual harassment training, where kids can't get into a simple fist fight, where I've seen the Stanford Band be hobbled over concerns that someone might be offended by a given field show, where I have never seen a fight in a bar. This is not the world I want to live in.

Admittedly, I'm fairly glad that we don't see things around here such as the music stores I saw in Europe back in 2001 where there would be a section labeled 'Black Music' containing everything from rap to Michael Jackson to jazz. Obviously there is something to be said for educating people in basic decorum. I don't want to see a world with institutionalized racism and gun fights, but we've taken it too far. We should not live in a world where we can expect to never be offended, where no one gets their nose bloody.

Incarceration in California and America

Of the many problems facing America right now, the number of us in prison certainly ranks near the top. Incarceration rates in America are quite horrible. While I've wanted prison reform for a long time, opposing the war on drugs and three-strikes laws, the current budget crises in California has made this even more apparent.

I'm normally somewhat in favor of unions, at least as they provide something of a counter-balance to corporations. It's somewhat more complicated than that but I'll look at that issue in more detail later. The point is that right now the Californian prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, has earned my ire. Admittedly there are many organizations that wield disproportionate political influence and suck at the lifeblood of the rest of the society such as the farm industry, the automotive industry, the military-industrial complex and so on, but this one is directly involved with the trouble wrecking the state of California.

This organization directly benefits from criminalizing the activities of more Californians and putting more people in jail. Associated with the CCPOA on many of these issues are the California Peace Officers' Association, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotic Officers' Association. It's not that we don't need police officers or prison guards, but when our politics are decided by these groups we find ourselves in the situation we are in now, with almost as much money being spent on prisons as on universities, where we have the highest proportion of incarcerated people in the world.

I urge California to resist the influences of the CCPOA and similar organizations when it comes to further increasing the prison population. The prison population should be decreased dramatically and money spent on prisons should be correspondingly decreased. A good startin California would be passing Tom Ammiano's bill to reform marijuana laws, but further prison reform and other such laws are needed. As for America as a whole, I advise the ending of the war on drugs, the support of Webb and Specter's prison reform proposals.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

California Special Election

With the time afforded me by unemployment, I spent several hours researching the California special election and talking to friends about. I just got out of the voting booth without any real confidence in my choices. Seems to me a strange election where the Greens are advocating the same thing as the Republicans.

So, in the end, I'm more strongly now than ever in favor of rewriting California's constitution from scratch. The Economist has a nice piece on it. Removing the 2/3rds requirements for passing taxes or a budget in the legislature, decreasing the size of the constitution, not allowing propositions to alter the constitution, reducing gerrymandering of districts, and consolidating existing districts are all suggestions I could go for.

Being an ex-resident of the State of Jefferson, another part of me also wouldn't mind splitting California into two to four states, but that's more a dream than anything else.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Well, That Was Unpleasant

Continuing the job search here, just got of my worst interview in awhile. It's been a long time since I felt that out of my element, but I suppose I should expect that with job interviews. I've been lucky in only applying to Stanford before getting in, and only applying to mSpot for my first salaried job. Hopefully I'll find something that works out in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, new encouragement to be learning various software engineering things. After that interview, I suppose I need to get a much much better understanding of HTML and Javascript. Fortunately I've got this blog I can screw around with. I'll start with a better background...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Acquaintances in the News

Some for better, some for worse. Either way, improving the liberal score for Stanford and I approve of that.

Firstly, Waffles, aka Jeremy Cohn, altoz sexion leader in the Stanford Band, was the guy interviewing Condoleeza Rice in the few clips that got spread around the Internet and even popped up for a bit on the Colbert Report. Good for him, and damn but I have issues with Stanford hiring Condi.

Second, more recent and much more unfortunate, was the incident surrounding Daisy Morin, a friend of mine and girlfriend of one of my housemates. Apparently her mother found out she was living in a co-ed room in a co-op on campus, Columbae, a house that I lived in for two years, and was social manager of for one of those years. Now, I can understand a conservative mother freaking out about this a bit, but Daisy's mom took it a step further and cut off Daisy's financial support and wrote a letter to the National Review without telling Daisy. The National Review then published the letter.

The letter is an insulting conservative rant filled with a number of mistakes and untruths, which the National Review apparently didn't bother to fact check. This further supports the opinion, first eloquently voiced to me by either Tynan Burke or Hunter Richards, I can't remember which, that the National Review is nothing but a bunch of crazy people squatting in William F. Buckley's mansion.

I don't much understand cultural conservatives, and what I do understand, I don't like. I have some understanding that a mother might freak out about an issue such as this, but to send a letter off to the National Review without even telling your own daughter strikes me as despicable.

Well, good luck to Daisy in dealing with the fallout, and I hope Stanford stays firm in ignoring parents such as this. Stanford does enough to interfere with the social lives of its students, allowing co-ops to organize their own housing policies is a bright spot that should be defended.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Californian Government

With my only recently having registered to vote in California and starting to live here not as a student, I can't say I've ever paid much attention to how the state government is run. Most news that I pay attention to is national or international. However, with my recent experiment in trying to be a good citizen by informing elected officials of everything they're doing wrong, I've started to learn a bit about how this state works.

In short, it's a mess. To be fair, I've known that for awhile, considering that Arnold Schwarzenegger is my governor, but after looking into the our mess of a budget, our incumbent protecting gerrymandered districts, our ridiculously long and complicated constitution... Having the Terminator as our governor is actually one of the more reasonable things in the Californian government. So now I'm going to have to start writing a new share of letters to whatever state officials happen to represent me.

Yarg, citizenship...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Good to See the Collorans Again

Been a long time since I took the drive from my parents house to theirs. It'll be one of the last times too, as Jim and Linda are moving down to San Mateo in a couple of months. By the end of this week, when all of Kenny's childhood friends are back in town for the wedding it'll be even more nostalgic.

Nice to talk again with the family that influenced so much of my childhood development. They're still making me feel like a right-winger, yelling about Obama being too far to the right. Well, Kenny at least. Should have some fun political arguments by the end of the week.

Anyways, I'm back to coding, see if I can get this finished up tonight. I don't know whether its that software design always takes longer than I imagine it will or that my ability to berate myself exceeds my ability to make myself work, but coding for someone else has always brought on a lot of stress. Lets hope I can get this done by the time Erik wants to go jogging tomorrow.

Back Home This Week

Spending this week back in Medford with the parents, hanging out with the Collorans as Kenny has his wedding reception. Damn strange to see my friends start to get married, but it should be a good week of catching up with friends and family that I haven't seen in several months.

At the moment, I'm spending most of my time reacquainting myself with writing software for various job applications. It's been a surprisingly long time since I've written software, so good to get back into it, I suppose. Now, if only I could find a job like Clay Shirky, and be interacting with technology and society in that sort of way, but I suppose I gotta prove my chops a bit as a software engineer first.

Speaking of that sort of work, I started reading The Whuffie Factor. Seems generally pretty good, haven't gotten too far through it though. We're still a long way off from Doctorow's imagined world of having Whuffie a currency reducible to an easily measured number, but good to see some progress on that, or at least talking about it. I've been toying around with ideas for that for years.

Well, I'm back to writing this damn code before my friends get back into town. I'll be spending the rest of my time reading, jogging, cooking, painting my parent's porch and writing more letters to the government.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


So far, being unemployed has been a blast. I haven't had this much free time since the summer of 2002. I've been getting around to things I've been meaning to do for ages, such as sanding and varnishing this furniture. And doing some coding for fun, which I haven't done since before college. That and exercising, reading, working out, etc. All those things that completely get put off when you're working or in school.

Of course, some might think I have a bit too much free time on hand, seeing as I'm relearning how to type in Dvorak, but ah well, I'll enjoy it while I can.

Unfortunately, my money will run out at some point, and if I don't have a job by then I'll start to panic. I've got my first interview coming up in an hour though, we'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thoughts on the Singularity in Relation to Modern Movies

I had the offhand thought that all of the reboots being done of movie franchises and TV shows might in some way be a sign of the singularity. They've been rebooting, what, Bond, X-Men, Batman, Battlestar Galactica, now, the Star Trek series. I've enjoyed all of the listed reboots tremendously. Looking at the Wikipedia page on reboots I realize that reboots have been around for awhile, but they certainly seem to be gaining in number and stature as of the last five to eight years. Now, I had the thought that this could in some sense be indicative of a singularity, in that it shows our culture is changing to the point that we cannot accept the universe previously created for these popular series, and we have the resources to rebuild them from the ground up. Or maybe it's just a fad, and I'm a ranting singularitarian. On the other hand, if this trend continues, or accelerates in the coming generation, I think that would be a pretty good sign that culture is changing more rapidly than before. If it gets to the point where they start forking these popular series, well, then we'd really have something.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Signs of the Singularity

I saw some recent pieces come out in Wired and Technology Review on automating scientific discovery. One was a computer program able to extrapolate some scientific laws, and another was an automated lab capable of testing its own theories. I've worked before as an intern on the Prometheus project, so I have some experience with the field. People have been working on such things for the last fifty years or, and making only incremental process. I'm not certain how much of a breakthrough these new developments are, other than to make Wired and Technology Review, but it looks like we're getting closer to the point where we can turn computers on large data sets from complex systems and have them explain, or at least greatly speed up the explanation of, what's going on. When we get to that point, well, we'll be a good step closer to the singularity. Now, to look up what's going on with getting computers to engineer things on their own...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Writing Politicians

One of the things that I've been doing with my recently graduated and still unemployed amount of free time is writing letters to my various elected officials. This was always something I'd meant to do, but never had any time for. Sadly, being a caring and informed member of the community seems to take a good bit of effort. Well, at least for someone who wants to do some research on an issue before yelling a Senator. But now that I've got the first few out and the addresses and proper letterhead figured out, it should be a good bit quicker to start spitting these out.

Then, as told to me by someone who had this job, the letters will be read by some poor intern who will then enter my opinion into some large spreadsheet that tells the politicians how their constituents want them to vote. Hopefully the adage that they assume every letter sent in represents 2000 people who felt the same way but were too busy to write a letter holds true. At least I think that's an adage.

Oh, and for anyone interested, the letters I have written or am drafting are on the subjects of greater environmental protection, reforming copyright law, anti-gerrymandering, instant runoff voting and other voting reform measures, ending the drug wars, lowering the drinking age to 18, anti-sprawl, ending Don't Ask Don't Tell, removing marriage from the legal system... actually I'm getting ahead of myself there, I haven't even started writing the last few.

Ah, but time for that later, plenty to read up on.

Slightly More Cybernetic

I finally got around to getting a smartphone last week. A friend of mine at Google gave me a G1 to play around with, and now I'm fairly hooked on it. Of course, I still need to find a job to cover the increased data plan, as well as my rent. But in the meantime, well, I can go back and reread Smart Mobs, Collective Intelligence, Natural Born Cyborgs and the like. Being constantly in contact with my email, Wikipedia, Google Maps and the like definitely do tie me in a good bit more. Hope that's a good thing. Well, we'll see. Now about that job...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Well, It Was Worth It

Four days ago I got my degree conferred, and am still enjoying the celebration. Feels damn good to have succeeded at getting good enough grades to get out of here.

So, for the next while, I will happily enjoy a period as free of work and stress as I've had since at least the summer of 2002. Of course, I'll be needing to get a job at some point, but I've got enough money saved up that I can put that off for a few months. Though, in a few months, if the economy actually is bad enough that I can't find a job, well, then I'll start panicking.

But for now, I'm enjoying relaxing, and will spend my time on various hobbies and errands I've let slip over the past year. Some of that will involve writing on this blog.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

This Better Be Worth It

After a month of visiting doctors, I was in pretty good shape; I'd lost 12 pounds, but had largely recovered from the various physical ailments and the depression had lifted. Unfortunately, I then noticed that in meantime I'd come dangerously close to not being able to graduate. So, for the last few weeks I've been more consistently hardworking and sober than I have been for a long time. By the time this quarter is over, as I plan to be continuing this, it will probably be the longest such period since coming to college. If I had know antidepressants were so good at giving you drive, motivation and a better mood; well... hindsight. Also the fear of god that I won't graduate also helps with the motivation. Looking for a job in this economy will be fun enough if I do have a diploma and don't have to go back to school. So now it's 4am, I'm just wrapping up a day of work after not sleeping last night, and I have to say, if I don't graduate after this, I'm going to be clawing my eyes out.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Well, That Last Month Sort Of Went Off Track

My writing on this, and indeed a good bit of things in my life went a good bit haywire over the last month. Fortunately, things are looking better now after seeing a good share of doctors. I'm back on some anti-depressants and also on a good share of antibiotics. So, I should be back to actually doing things now.

In looking back at the last things I had written for this, well, the New Years resolutions somewhat fell apart, but I've had a good set of thoughts on revamping those. Well, not as New Years resolutions, but as general advice to keep things together.

Hmm... In good news, I did get a dictation machine, which I've been putting to good use. Also, I'm missing Kira terribly, can't wait till she gets back from Chile.

And then I suppose I could talk about politics. I'm generally happy with what Obama's done in the last two weeks, but damn, could be a good bit better. I suppose you'll never get exactly what you want though.

Anyways, I'll get back to that and other thoughts shortly. For now, peace.