Critical Section

Archive: December 16, 2018


Archive: December 16, 2017


Archive: December 16, 2016


Archive: December 16, 2015


Archive: December 16, 2014

Tuesday,  12/16/14  10:52 PM

enhanced interrogationI'm pretty conflicted about the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report about the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques".  On the one hand, these people were animals, and many lives might have been saved.  On the other hand, any torture for any purpose seems reprehensible.  I guess if these prisoners were truly guilty and these techniques truly elicited information which could have prevented terrorist attacks, then I'm okay with it.  Big ifs, though.

I agree with Glenn Reynolds, who is unenthused that Jeb Bush is running for President.  I think he was a decent governor but I wish he wasn't named Bush.  I have the same issue with Hillary Clinton, minus the "decent governor" part.

McKinsey: mobile consumer decision processFrom McKinsey: Busting mobile shopping myths.  I pretty much disagree with all of this.  The premise is that mobile shoppers already know what they want from a mobile shopping experience.  But that experience keeps changing.  For example many mobile shoppers don't know that visual search could be part of their shopping experience.  If they knew, they would want it, but they don't.  Retailers and tech companies have to work together to devise the perfect solution.

Six drivers of the $700B mobile internet.  Yeah that's a B.  Giving people what they already want is not on the list.

And in China, Alibaba's Alipay now sees over half of its transactions from mobile devices.  A trend that is not likely to diminish.

Jefferson Airplane + Grace Slick: White RabbitFrom Gerard Vanderleun: Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit.  "One pill makes you smaller, and one pill makes you tall, and the ones your Mother gives you, don't do anything at all...Excellent.

Mindblower of the day week month from Paul Graham: How you know.  "Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you've lost the source of. It works, but you don't know why."


Archive: December 16, 2013

this is a website

Monday,  12/16/13  10:40 PM

To blog, or not to blog?

This is a website.

So why do we call it a blog?




Monday,  12/16/13  11:23 PM

As an addendum to the coolest photos of of 2013, check out this one pointed out by reader Mark Cote
from the Daily Mail:




Monday,  12/16/13  11:43 PM

Xmas!Our tree is up, lit, and ribboned...  it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas :)  Now to 3D-print some ornaments!  And in other news...

cheeseburger!Americans want the government to stop banning everything they like.  Well, duh.

Gerard Vanderluen says They Know.  "...they still know that they know... And they know that we know that they know.  Yet still they persist..."  I'm not so sure.  I think they may be too stupid to know.

Would you take smart drugs to perform better at work?  Yep, I already do ... caffeine :)  It seems to be socially acceptable, but [so far] it isn't required.  Maybe it should be?

Europa ice plumeThis is cool: Jupiter’s Moon Europa Is Bursting With Icy Geysers.  Maybe a refreshing stopover on my way to Titan?

Federal judge rules against NSA phone data program.  "It is getting harder and harder to see [Edward] Snowden as anything other than a hero who, at great personal risk and cost, has done a great service for our country and the world."  Yep.

console for Hubble Space TelescopeGift guide for millionaires, from Oobject.  As they say, "almost nothing is affordable."  But how cool would it be to have this console from the Hubble Space Telescope?

Today's correlation vs causality confusion: If you're good-looking, you're more likely to complete college.  Alternate headline: if you complete college, you're more likely to be attractive.  There might be more to you than meets the eye...

startup = growthLatest eyesFinding: Startup = Growth, from Paul Graham.

Nothing!If you don't want the Hubble's console, maybe you just need Nothing

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need :)



Archive: December 16, 2012


Archive: December 16, 2011


Archive: December 16, 2010


Archive: December 16, 2009

Pre blogging

Wednesday,  12/16/09  08:39 PM

This is coming to you live from the Charthouse in Dana Point, post Kessel Run, as I attempt to use my Palm Pre to blog (!).  I am dragging, had a *long* day yesterday; up early, busy day of meetings, long and exhausting, ending with a good ride and a fantastic dinner.  Yeah, I might have had some Pinot, too.  It left me tired but smiling :)

And today was pretty good too!  Okay, let's see how well this works, as we make a filter pass...

It looks like healthcare reform might die completely.  Wow, could that really be true?  It seemed too much to hope for, and yet each attempt to craft a bill is worse than the previous, crufted with pork and graft, and the American public is getting progressively less excited.  What a failure.  We need reform, but all these attempts are doomed by too much government involvement.

Red, White, and Sacre Bleu: How American Wines Shocked the World.  I love it.  I love American wines, too, in fact I'm enjoying one right now...

Wow, Toyota testing a plug-in Prius, to go on sale in 2011.  Another game changer?  Could be...

Jeff Atwood celebrates International Backup Day; he's urging you to do backups after suffering a disaster.  Amen, brother.

Joel Spolsky suggests let's stop talking about backups.  It is not enough to do backups, you must also do restores.  Amen, brother.

Facebook passes AOL in the U.S., in unique visitors.  The surprising thing about this to me is that they hadn't done so already; does anyone still visit AOL?  Really?

Google wants you to give Chrome for Christmas.  Price $0, and they'll do the [virtual] gift-wrapping for you.  What a cute idea.  Have you been good this year?

Hey, I think my Pre blogging worked!  Next up, pictures; yeah I know, you miss them.  Stay tuned!


Archive: December 16, 2008

the axis of understanding

Tuesday,  12/16/08  09:16 PM

the axis of understanding

The Axis of Understanding

If you're a regular to these parts, you know it is my habit to read magazines while shaving each morning.  And so it was that on this particular morning, I found these particular magazines in my bathroom: the latest issues of Il Tridente (a puff piece from Maserati), The New Yorker, Reason, and The Economist.  And as I was looking at them it occured to me that in some sense they were each opposites of each other, each endpoints of a two-dimensional "axis of understanding".  And this insight was so exciting that I had to share it with you :)



Tuesday,  12/16/08  10:14 PM

Another cold day, we had frost last night, and woke up to the view of a white golf course (I'm dreaming of a White Christmas...)  It was so cold in fact that when I tried to ride I discovered my fingers were numb, and couldn't shift; one of the few times I've started a ride and came back home immediately.  Brrr. 

Megan in Oaks Christian Christmas concertIn other news Shirley and I got in some great Christmas shopping (and I can report, the Topanga Mall is *still* not very crowded), and tonight Megan and the Oaks Christian Advanced Band gave a wonderful Holiday Concert.  'Tis the Season, fa la la la la, la la, la la...

Want to know what really happened to cause the present economic meltdown?  Then read this from Reason: Anatomy of a Breakdown.  Bottom line, bad government policy which led FNMA and FDMC to run amuck, and a poor overreaction to the crisis once it surfaced.  And now we have this ridiculous "bailout" environment.

The incomparable Onion summarizes perfectly: $700 Billion Bailout Celebrated With Lavish $800 Billion Executive Party.  All too true, I'm afraid...

garden gnomeAn interesting retrospective from an Economist correspondent: Auf Wiedersehen.  (I must tell you, I am a big time fan of garden gnomes; we have one ourselves :)

This article about sexual selection is pretty interesting on merit, but the real reason to link it is the punch line: Riskier but worth it when older.  "The reproductive risk to a female increases as she gets older, merely because she is more likely to give birth to a male.  In the evolutionary game of life, this strategy is giving them more bang for their bucks."  I love it :)

An interesting diary entry from cyclist Michael Barry of Team Columbia: Back in the Saddle Again.  I'm always struck by the fact that cycling is such a physical sport, yet performance is so mental.  The atmosphere and preparation of a team is crucial.

giant plush microbesThis is pretty cool; ThinkGeek is featuring Giant Plush Microbes.  "Most folks never realize how cute microbes can be when expanded 1,000,000 times and then fashioned into cuddly plush. Until now, that is. Keep one on your desktop to remind yourself that there is an "invisible" universe out there filled with very small things that can do incredible damage to much bigger things. Then go and wash your hands. Lather, rinse, repeat."  I love it, and I want one!

Huh, this is interesting; Palm launches Palm Software Store.  An obvious precursor to the rumored announcement of their new OS at CES, we can now guess that third-party applications will be a part of it.  An open API has always been a strength for Palm...  (I hope the apps will be backward compatible with Centro!)

Be careful!  Truffles Lead to Food Abuse.  A public service announcement :)



Archive: December 16, 2007


Archive: December 16, 2006


Archive: December 16, 2005


Archive: December 16, 2004

referral spam wars, cont.

Thursday,  12/16/04  09:13 PM

The great referral spam wars continue...  At the last turn of the crank, I noted I was getting a bunch of bogus referral hits from URLs which are not on the air.  There doesn't seem to be any point to these, but still they are annoying.  So I changed my filter a bit to check whether the domain for a referer is registered in the whois database.  If not, I drop it silently.  I am back to taking a quiet satisfaction in my chaste referral logs :)


unintelligent design

Thursday,  12/16/04  09:20 PM

There are people who do not believe the theory of evolution is sufficient to explain the existence of the world as we know it.  They prefer to believe in creationism, the idea that there is a deity who created the world.  I have no problem with people who wish to believe this, it is their prerogative, of course, just as they may chose to believe the Sun orbits the Earth, or that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

Because the belief systems of organized religions like Christianity are thousands of years old they predate a great deal of scientific learning, and there are situations where religious dogma contradicts current knowledge.  Some of these conflicts have been resolved over time; very few religious people still believe the Sun orbits the Earth, for example, although as recently as 1633 Galileo was condemned for heresy because he proved otherwise.  Today most religious people accept that the Earth is billions of years old, based on overwhelming geologic evidence.  However many religious people still reject evolution as an accepted scientific theory, despite the strong evidence in its favor, and despite the fact that few scientists have doubts about its validity.

Note: one may accept evolution as a scientific theory and still be a creationist.  Evolution does not say anything about the existence of a deity, it says only that the existence of a deity is not necessary to explain the world.

People who are anti-evolution try to position creationism as an alternative to evolution, but they are different things entirely.  Evolution is a scientific theory, which attempts to explain observed facts and makes predictions, while creationism is a human belief, sustained by faith.  Be that as it may, creationists nonetheless have invented terms like "creation science" and "intelligent design" to position their beliefs as a theory.  In some sense they feel their beliefs are competitive with evolution, as if the two were mutually exclusive.

Note: there are known facts which are not fully explained by current theories of evolution.  These facts do not mean "evolution is wrong"; as with any scientific theory, evolution steadily evolves to explain more and more observed facts.  Apparent contradictions between facts and evolution provide no evidence at all for creationism.

Advocates of intelligent design have been working hard to convince public school systems to modify their science curricula to teach intelligent design alongside evolution.  Aside from the confusion between religion and science, this is simply unintelligent; we don't teach our kids the theory that the Sun orbits the Earth, nor that the Earth is 6,000 years old.  These efforts have mostly failed to gain traction, but simply raising the issue in debate has value to creationists, because some people assume "where there's smoke, there's fire".

unintelligent design
(via The Panda's Thumb, a terrific blog about Evolution)

Recently I had an interesting email exchange with a reader who asked good questions about evolution and creationism.  I've copied his questions and my answers below:

1. How did life begin?  How did the first cells evolve from nonliving matter?  Have we ever seen life produced from non-life in a laboratory?

Life began incrementally, from crystals which were self-replicating.  Over time the crystals accumulated “mutations” which improved either their fidelity of replication, or their fecundity (rate).  Such mutations were selected for and became predominant.  Slowly component specialization crept in.  There are many books which tell this story in detail – the chemistry is well characterized.  The key here is that there was no moment at which life suddenly started.  Life is a meta-property of matter configurations.

Scientists have been able to form complex organic molecules like amino acids in labs by duplicating the conditions found in the first billions of years on Earth.  They have not made life, of course, because they haven’t had enough time!

2. How can genetic mutations bring about drastically different life forms?  For example, when reptiles evolved into birds, they supposedly grew wings.  That means there must be intermediate creatures with half-wings.  But a half-wing is not an advantage that is naturally selected for, it is a big disadvantage!  So how did the wing ever evolve?  Have we ever seen one species mutate into another species in a laboratory?

Speciation is exactly like life – there is no one moment where suddenly you have a new species, any more than there is one moment when you have life.  Gradual mutations are responsible for all the incredible variation we see in life today.  Richard Dawkins’ book Climbing Mount Improbable is a great discussion of this objection, and contains a specific discussion of the evolution of wings.  It turns out a half-wing does have advantage.  Eyes are another commonly cited “thing which couldn’t have evolved”.  But half-eyes existed - they exist today, in fact - and eyes evolved not once but at least seven different times.

3. Why doesn't the fossil record show any evidence of intermediate species?  To my knowledge, there is not a single example of an intermediate species, even though the earth's crust should be full of such fossils.  Have we ever found a single example of an intermediate species in which we are confident?

There’s no such thing as intermediate species.  Species evolve gradually and later you can look back and note that speciation apparently occurred over some timescale.  The fossil record is amazing – it shows a huge variety of different species including entire phyla which are no longer in existence, victims of natural selection.

One way to think about this is to consider the common objection that “humans can’t be descended from apes”.  Well, no.  Humans and apes have common ancestors, but at the time those ancestors lived neither humans nor chimpanzees were in existence.

4. These flaws are really big!  They all suggest that each species was created by an intelligent creator with a specific purpose.  I cannot imagine a reasonable alternative to the theory of evolution, but it looks like I might have to.

Assuming you don't accept my explanations of these "flaws", nor anyone else's, they provide no evidence at all for creationism.  Flaws in evolution mean improvements in the theory are needed.  Creationism is simply giving up; if you can't explain something scientifically, postulate magic.

To me a belief in magic is far worse than a belief in science.  I can’t imagine there really could be such a thing as an intelligent creator.  Explaining that would be much harder than explaining any of the things which such an intelligent creator might have created.  (Who created the creator?)  The argument for intelligent design is appealing to people who feel evolution defies their intuition.  It doesn’t solve the problem, but it is comfortable.

Obviously religious belief is personal, and I have no problem with anyone who doesn’t believe as I do.  I only ask that they admit they are choosing to believe in “magic” instead of rational facts and logical reasoning.

Finally, I must caution those thinking about these issues not to invoke the “argument from incredulity”.  Many people feel evolution violates their common sense, and so it can’t be right.  People have the same reaction to other science – relativity, or quantum mechanics, or the scale of the universe.  The big disconnect is time; evolution on Earth has been quietly operating for billions of years, far longer than anything we can easily grasp.

If you are interested in these issues I recommend Daniel Dennett’s classic book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.  It deals with all these issues and many others in a wonderful entertaining way.

© 2003-2017 Ole Eichhorn


Thursday,  12/16/04  11:17 PM

old man windOur wind tunnel test continues...  wow.  "People should watch for flying debris as well as downed trees and power lines."  Not to mention flying dogs.

L.A.Dodgers Don't read if you're a Dodger fan.  Well I shouldn't have, but I did.  Beltre to Seattle?  Finley to Anaheim?  Jeff Kent coming?  Jose Lima going?  WTF?  Coming on the heels of last season's debacles (LoDoca / Mota / Roberts), this just shows that the Dodgers are clueless.  There's no there there.  Anymore.

So this is finally going to happen: Stock Option Expensing Required Next Year.  "The new rule, which takes effect in June, promises to have a big impact on technology companies.  Tech firms have used stock options as a means to recruit and retain employees.  Recognizing stock options as an expense could take a big bite out of earnings."  I don't understand why this is a good idea.  Seems like a reaction, not a solution.

Wired: Inside the Mac Revolution.  Mac pioneer Andy Hertzfeld has written a memoir of the early days of the Mac, and this is an interview with Andy about his book.  It started as the website (which makes for great reading), and now it has been "booked"!

Hey, this is interesting: Apple and Motorola announce partnership on cellphone.  Could this be the "flash iPod" everyone is speculating will be announced at Macworld in January?  I wonder how long before every phone has a hard drive?

Samsung's 102-inch plasma TVEngadget: Samsung's 102-inch plasma TV.  Okay, that's big enough, you can stop making them bigger now.  Still, I want one, although right now they're probably about $50,000.

Blinkx unveils video search engine.  This is probably going to go on for weeks, with new video search engines every day.  There really isn't that much content out there - yet.  And no reason business model for the content owners, either.

OnfolioScoble thinks Onfolio is a great RSS aggregator, because it runs in a browser.  Hmmm...  I'm not sure about that.  SharpReader has a browser run inside it, and that seems like a good way to do it.  This might come down to the "three pane" vs. "one pane" argument.  I'll have to check it out, stay tuned...

Robert reports his wife Maryam is now an American citizen!  Congratulations!!


Archive: December 16, 2003


About Me

Greatest Hits
Correlation vs. Causality
The Tyranny of Email
Unnatural Selection
Aperio's Mission = Automating Pathology
On Blame
Try, or Try Not
Books and Wine
Emergent Properties
God and Beauty
Moving Mount Fuji The Nest Rock 'n Roll
IQ and Populations
Are You a Bright?
Adding Value
The Joy of Craftsmanship
The Emperor's New Code
Toy Story
The Return of the King
Religion vs IQ
In the Wet
the big day
solving bongard problems
visiting Titan
unintelligent design
the nuclear option
estimating in meatspace
second gear
On the Persistence of Bad Design...
Texas chili cookoff
almost famous design and stochastic debugging
may I take your order?
universal healthcare
triple double
New Yorker covers
Death Rider! (da da dum)
how did I get here (Mt.Whitney)?
the Law of Significance
Holiday Inn
Daniel Jacoby's photographs
the first bird
Gödel Escher Bach: Birthday Cantatatata
Father's Day (in pictures)
your cat for my car
Jobsnotes of note
world population map
no joy in Baker
vote smart
exact nonsense
introducing eyesFinder
to space
where are the desktop apps?