Thursday, August 27, 2015

Watching the Watchers: Coached vs. Practiced

I will say this about Donald Trump: he makes well coached politicians look like amateurs when re-framing questions. And for those who don't think it is deliberate, here is a relevant quote from his 2009 book The Art of the Deal.
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.
Hat tip to Evan Osnos for noting the quote in "The New Yorker" article "The Fearful and the Frustrated", August 31, 2015.

Another side note, the The Simpsons episode "Bart to the Future" from back in 2000 had a bit Trump as president.

And of course Trump was a potential presidential candidate for a time in 2012 before bowing out to remain on The Apprentice.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Electronics in a Contact Lens

One of the most fun parts of living in the twenty-first century is having some of the wild science fiction visions of the twentieth century become subjects of real research. Sometimes they even become reality, often in unexpected ways. Today's link from Sergey Brin shows off electronics in a contact lens. I realize the post is basically an informal press release, but it's just a very cool picture.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Because Reasons

It's Friday. This is awesome. #dubsmashwar2015 #TeamCarter. Yes, I used hashtags in a blog post.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yep, Diseases Scare Me

The flip side of the wish-fulfillment aspects of end-of-the-world stories is the fear scenario on which they are built. In other words, for every survive-the-cataclysm story, there must be a cataclysm. I currently see widespread disease as the most likely real-world apocalypse scenario. Thanks to things like global warming (pardon me, we're calling it climate change now), rapid human travel, and the increasing wealth disparity, pandemic seems to have a certain ring of non-randomness that an asteroid impact just can't manage. As with most such things, the real world is likely to be a bit more subtle about it than a rapid zombie pandemic, but in many ways a slow decay can be even more frightening than a rapid death. Disease itself has heavy involvement in mythology, from the aforementioned zombies, through vampirism, lycanthropy, witches bringing the Black Death, and all the way to being personified as one of The Four Horsemen. There is also a very real link between poverty and disease, which compounds social factors and helps disguise the problem.

So if you are feeling good today, take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sow the Wind, Reap the Electricity

2014 was a good year for wind power generation in the U.S. A now-expired tax credit encouraged building, and falling costs have made it generally cheaper than ever. Development will slow with the expiration of the tax credit, but it appears that long-term continue to look increasingly competitive against natural gas.

Friday, August 7, 2015

On Posting A Lot in One Night After Much Absence

Rule one for my blog: I do not apologize about my blog posting frequency.
Rule two for my blog: I do not apologize about my blog posting frequency.

And yet, it does not escape me that I have posted more in the past couple of days than in the previous couple of months. Part of that is serendipity, but it's mostly deliberate effort. Who knows if I can keep this up? I looked at my saved articles in feedly last night and realized I have stuff going back years that I thought might make post fodder. Maybe it's time to clean some of that out. But my work schedule remains detrimental to other activities, so I make no promises. Just in case anyone was wondering, I do actually know how to schedule the posts to spread out more for times when I do a bunch of things at once like tonight. But I figure, eh, why bother? It's not like I'm driving any traffic here anyway.

Weirded Out By Linguistic Analysis

IBM has this Personality Insights thing that uses linguistic analysis to generate a personality profile based on a person's writings. On a whim, I plugged in the only thing I have written recently that was entirely out of my own brain, and the results were, with maybe one exception, quite accurate.

I think this may be the first time I have legitimately been creeped out by a computer.

For the curious (I know, nobody, say instead for my records), here's what Friend Computer had to say about me:
You are shrewd and skeptical.
You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them.
You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself.
And you are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much.
Your choices are driven by a desire for efficiency.
You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.
You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.
 Hat tip to Felicia Day for pointing this one out. (Note: that link could be considered PG-13/NSFW.)

A Bit About Chernobyl

Veritasium visits Chernobyl

I assume anyone with the slightest interest in such things is well aware of Chernobyl now. But I still find it fascinating. The glimpses people give when they visit of a world that has moved on from us. While there is always an element of wish fulfillment at play in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fascination, I think Chernobyl brings out another facet: it puts us in our place. Humanity is both dominant and fragile. We can harness forces that are literally invisible and nearly unimaginable, yet those same forces can kill us very, very easily. That small, poisoned section of Ukraine shows us a parallel world that thankfully never came to pass, and yet some are still drawn to it. I suppose I'm one.

Tune of the Moment

Embedding is disabled for this one, but the tune of the moment is "Good Man" by Devour the Day.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What Extreme Green Looks Like

Rob Rhinehart, creator of "meal replacement" drink Soylent, has taken reducing his personal power consumption to extreme levels. This lifestyle sounds to me like something from an old science fiction novel. (He basically alludes to that himself when making a comparison to living in space colonies.) Really, this is yet more proof that the sci-fi future is here now, and real sustainability is already possible.

There are several choices he has made that I would not, but I have to admit, if I could find a consistent, nutritious source of pre-made food that would eliminate cooking from my life without drowning me in sodium, I would be all over that. I do require it be recognizable as food and not a series of combined powders, but that's just because I'm not an early adopter. (And I've had quite enough digestive related health issues in my life already, thank you very much.)

A Parable Come to Life

CEO decides to cut his own salary and institute a minimum seventy-thousand dollar salary at his company. The results play out in a way that mirrors the Biblical parable of the workers in the vineyard so exactly, in so many ways that I don't think any further explanation is needed. It does, perhaps, offer an interesting perspective on capital-C capitalism in this country today. And if not that, then maybe it says something about human ego and myopia.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Very Different, Maybe Very the Same

Some time over the last several years, I have come to believe that the culture surrounding sports and sports fans is, in my mind, an echo of the culture found in politics and political ideology. And that in turn bears a close resemblance to the how a lot of religion is done in the U.S. these days. Stay with me here a minute, so I can provide an example:

Let us pretend that there exists a document which is actually made up of a series of documents written at different times. This document concerns a set of beliefs and laws. This document is very old and was originally written at a completely different time in history when society bore little to no resemblance to society today. At various times between now and when the document was written, committees of chosen experts decided what would and what would not be included in the document. Today there are, broadly speaking, two major factions of ideology among followers of the beliefs and laws in the document. One believes that the document is sacrosanct and simply following it will right the ills of society. The other says that while it is good for general guidance, it must be viewed as historical legacy and not all things in it apply today. Around the fringes of those groups are smaller groups who think the document is being used as a lever to keep certain people in power (or oppressed), or that the beliefs and laws described are failures and something better should be devised, and there are those who cite the document as a source of their beliefs when they clearly have no real knowledge of its contents or themes.

Now, am I describing the Bible or the Constitution?

Honestly, I'm really not sure how this makes me feel.

Bookworming: Blind Man's Bluff

Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, ****
Once upon a time, long before Edward Snowden revealed some facets of the extents to which the U.S. intelligence agencies would go to collect said intelligence, there was a forty-plus year period of tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. known as the Cold War. This book contains tales of espionage and surveillance missions undertaken by Navy submarines during that time. There are stories of great courage, extreme danger, illegal activity, bureaucratic incompetence, and the general Cold War paranoia caused by the thankfully-now-inconceivable threat of nuclear war. The book generally tells its stories well. The primary exception is one long chunk of investigative work concerning what could have happened to a particular submarine lost at sea. Unfortunately, though the book leads you to believe one version of events, there is no actual proof on hand, undercutting the too-long section describing the theories.

I actually read this once before, a long time ago. At the time I was very into techno-thrillers, and this book is not unlike those, except these things actually happened. Back then I found it fascinating, if a little slow. Reading it now, I see quite a few more layers. The sacrifices of the men on those boats and those they left behind on the shore. The lies and secrecy that protected the "special projects" programs even from other parts of the government. The book has examples of the human dedication that it took to win the Cold War, and it has examples of the human stupidity that lead to it happening in the first place. And for that, I think I can recommend it to anyone.