Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Davie Goes to Hollywood

Dave has hit the big time. Our man with the blue hair got the lead quote in an article from the Cannes film festival:
"Other companies are working on it (the idea), but at the moment they are too expensive, and the rights protection is too strict. We are also building a community feature into the site, and I think we are going to be the first out of the gate," said Dave Le, Jaman's senior designer.
All that and he still had time to shoot a few virtual rolls of film, too. Still waiting for the photo with Angelina, though.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Difference About Iraq

"I've got mixed emotions about this. We've conquered a country today and for the first time we started it." -- Lt. General Michael "Buzz" Moseley, Bagdhad, April 2003

Monday, May 29, 2006


My old computer died on me, so I splurged and got a good game-capable machine to replace it. I bought the components from Central Computer instead of going to Alienware or somewhere similar; it's really not that difficult to build a high-end machine. Mainly because there are very few choices -- you pretty much go in and say "What's the best X. Okay, I'll take that. What's next?"

The only difficult was that they didn't have the CPU I was looking for (Athlon FX-62) in stock, so I had to get another CPU (3400) to fill in until they come out in a couple months. But other than that, it has a GeForce 7900 GPU, a 750GB hard drive, and an Asus motherboard with all the bells and whistles on it. It claims to have built-in wireless, but I haven't managed to get it to work yet.

So, naturally, I can't let all this CPU power go to waste, so I picked up a copy of Battlefield 2 and started playing. BF2 is a full-battlefield first-person shooter, so not only do you have soldiers running around, but the maps are huge, so you pretty much need vehicles to cover them. And they have a big selection, from tanks, jeeps, APCs to helicopters and jet fighters.

I've spent the last day trying to learn to fly a helicopter. BF2 has a simplified model of how helicopters fly, but it's still considerably more realistic than any non-flight-sim I've played, and as a result the easiest thing to do with a 'copter is crash it. Even getting off the ground and hovering is no small feat, and being able to land where you want to (say, in a small confined space) takes some serious tap-dancing on the keys.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Grace's Blog

Oh, and I managed to convince Grace to get a blog, as well. Now we just need to goad her into actually posting something...

Shoot, between Grace, Danger, and Mark, we could have our own little blogosphere going.


I've been getting a good kick out of the danger blog. Don't know where Katie comes up with this stuff. My favorite is this one:
I have a new goal in life: be larger than the cat. Boo outweighs me by several pounds. If I am to conquer of the world, I am going to have to be bigger than the cat.

I think Danger has a good handle on life. Start small, work your way up.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

To Live and Shop in L.A.

I flew down to L.A. this weekend to visit with Grace and do a little shopping. We did a whirlwind tour of the local mall, and picked up a pretty good new collection of clothes. Then we headed down to Melrose to fill out my growing collection with a few more shirts and some cool shades.

Nate stopped by on Saturday night and we tried to go out to a couple local bars. Apparently L.A. has developed a charming habit of holding people outside the bar even when the bar isn't full, in order to create the illusion of exclusiveness. So after a couple of tries we gave up and went back to Grace's place.

We knocked back some scotch there while discussing various abtruse theoretical concepts. It is Nate, after all.

On sunday Grace and I went to breakfast at a charming little restaurant. On the way back from breakfast we passed Maria Shriver heading into Starbucks (Grace spotted her, I was oblivious). As soon as she pointed her out, I looked up and saw about 8-10 guys from her personal protection unit, complete with black Tahoes, earpieces and don't-fuck-with-me expressions.

Grace thought they were Secret Service, but I figured they were employed by the state, since the Gubernator is a state and not a federal employee. Turns out they used to be part of the State Police, but they got merged into the CHP back in 1995.

That's right, the Terminator is being protected by John and Ponch.

Friday, May 19, 2006

And on a less serious note

Another article from Spiegel magazine, this one about the sex research industry. Sex and money have always gone together, but for years this natural pairing was hampered by the restriction that, in most societies, you couldn't actually sell sex.

Then, in the late '90s, researchers stumbled across a drug that could give even an old senator a rock-hard jimmy, and all of a sudden big pharma saw money in sex. And not just in the traditional drape-supermodels-over-it-and-it-will-sell marking type money, but in making an actual dollar profit off each individual act of sex.

And people have a lot of sex. That's a lot of money.

What's frustrated these guys for years is that Viagra only really works for men. And, well, men already want sex all the time, which kind of limits the market for Viagra to people where the equipment has a hard time working. The real market is women. As the old joke goes:Now, if you could make something that could turn women on, then that, as they say, would be money. And that's apparently what researchers have found. So now it's not can we, but should we?

The Worst Possible Answer

I read in the English version of a German online newspaper that a US judge has dismissed a case against a Khalid al-Masri, a German national, on the basis of national security. According to the article,
A US federal court in Alexandria, Virginia rejected the case he brought against former CIA director George Tenet and other spy agency employees involving kidnapping, torture and mistaken identity. The court argued the case would risk exposing national security secrets that are key to Washington's efforts to battle terrorism.
Now, the only reason I can see that a case like this would "expose national security secrets" is that if some of the allegations made by al-Masri were true. And if that's the case, exposing secrets is the least of our problems. If the only way we can figure out how to win the "war on terror" is to kidnap and torture every Arab-looking man we can find, then the terrorists really have won.

Because these are not the actions of a rational society. When people can look at actions like these and say, "Well, maybe thats okay, given the heightend circumstances", what they're really saying is that collectively, Americans are just scared shitless.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Stupid Pump and Dump

So, I checked my Yahoo spam-catching account, as I do periodically, and found about 15 emails all telling me how incredibly hot this "Riverbank Invt Corp" (ticker: RRBK) was. The dumb part is, it's not listed on any major exchange -- it's a penny stock. I'm sure that makes it easier to run a scam like this, but anyone stupid enough to fall for a scam like this probably isn't smart enough to be able to figure out how to find a penny stock, much less trade in it.

Oh, and in the interest of fair reporting, the company denies it had any part in the scam.

Patent Grendels meet Beowulf

A recent Supreme Court ruling appears to give large manufacturers a stronger hand against "Patent Trolls" by establishing a higher bar for issuance of a preliminary injunction. A new four-factor test now requires a plaintiff to show that harm to their business outweighs harm to the defendant in order to receive the injunction.

Since most patent-portfolio companies have no business (other than enforcing patents), this makes the likelihood of receiving an injuction much less, meaning corporates now have much more incentive to let it play out and go to trial.

This is good news for big corporates and cross-licensing, but bad news for patent reform.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Computer Security Becoming Pervasive

An interesting article (especially for Keith) on stealing cars shows how computer security as a topic is becoming increasingly pervasive. There is anecdotal evidence that some new cars (BMW X5s are mentioned in the article) that use keyless unlock and start mechanisms can be spoofed by a sufficiently intelligent attacker.

The article mentions laptops being used for this, implying that any off-the-shelf laptop would be capable of this, although this seems unlikely -- the radios in standard laptops are set up to run in the 2.4Ghz range (both Bluetooth and 802.11 operate in this frequency band), and I believe the BMW keys operate at around 300Mhz.

Bad security or urban myth? Hard to say at this point.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Rumsfeld's War

I've been reading more of "Cobra II," covering the time leading up to the invasion of Iraq. The theme from the beginning of the book has been clear and consistent, and the cast is surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly) small. The major player is, of course, Donald Rumsfeld, who has had a personal hand in much of the invasion planning to date (we're in late 2002 now), to a degree probably unprecedented by any civilian save possibly Robert McNamara. The other main player to date is General Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander responsible for the invasion.

Franks comes off as being somewhat cocky and unimaginative in the book. While CENTCOM is the logical command to oversee the invasion, as it is the theatre command, none of the command staff have any experience in occupying and reconstructing a nation and from bottom to top there is a clear lack of appreciation of the tasks involved. The expertise for this does exist in the military, in the European command responsible for peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans, but there is no interest from either the administration or CENTCOM in tapping this knowledge. The Joint Chiefs do try to make several recommendations about force levels, as well as suggestions based on experience from the Balkan conflict, but Rumfeld sidelines the JCS as irrelevant and deals directly with CENTCOM.

The post-war occupation and administration of Iraq is referred to throughout the military as "Phase IV," but almost no effort is put in to it. Word comes down from the administration that Phase IV will be handled by other parts of the government, so Franks assumed it was someone else's problem. The clear warning signal, to those familiar with the dynamics of large organizations, was that no individual was actually tapped to lead the effort. Throughout this entire period, as well, Franks is engaged in a constant struggle with Rumsfeld to get commitment to use the forces the military wants for the invasion. Rumsfeld wants to use as few troops as possible, and constantly questions deployment orders and schedules in an effort to pare down the size of the invasion force.

Phase IV plans are further muddied and hampered by Rumsfeld's ongoing power grab to consolidate as much under the Department of Defense as possible. It is around this time (again, late 2002) that post-war administration will be handled by the DoD instead of the State Department, which traditionally takes on these duties.

The final element confusing all of this is a terrifying lack of intelligence about the situation and events occurring inside of Iraq. The CIA has almost no human assets inside Iraq, let alone ones at the policymaker level, and makes all its assessments based off of inferrence, satellite imagery, and some intercepted communications. This leads to intelligence analysis somewhere in the realm of a wild-ass guess. And, unfortunately, they're completely off base.

The funny part (that's funny boo-hoo, not funny ha-ha) about this is that everyone is convinced that President Bush knows something they don't, and that's the basis for the invasion. And I mean everyone.
'Abd-al-Tawab 'Abdallah al-Mullah Huwaysh, who oversaw Iraq's military industry, had no idea what America was talking about; he was not aware of Iraq's possessing any WMD and he was in a position to know a great deal. But the charges leveled by Washington had been so unqualified and persisten that he started to wonder whether Saddam might not control a secret cache after all. "I knew a lot, but wondered why Bush believed that we had these weapons," he told his interrogators after the war.
The assumption that Iraq possessed WMD was so fundamental that it was never seriously questioned. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that a great amount of planning on the military side was devoted to how to contain and react to the threat of Saddam's non-existent WMD, while little attention was paid to the large caches of small arms created throughout the country to support the activities of the Fedayeen (government-backed militia), or to Phase IV planning.

Reality Distortion Field

I was reading an article this afternoon regarding some performance benchmarks for Mac OS X vs. Linux and Windows (short version, OS X has some problems with its memory manager), when I encounted an amusing reference to the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. It cannot be summarized, it's best to just read the article. When you're done with that, there's another amusing anecdote about how to combat the effects of the field.

Friday, May 05, 2006

OO Takes Advantage of the BSA

On a somewhat-related note to the previous article, OpenOffice has started an ad campaign taking advantage of a recent BSA (Microsoft's jackbooted-thug license-enforcement arm) crackdown on less-than-legal copies of Office. They even have a neat little logo:

According to the article, there's a £20,000 reward for ratting out your friends. Hmmm, maybe we can pirate some software and turn ourselves in?

Antitrust in Europe

I got a few chuckles this morning reading an article in the Wall Street Journal on Microsoft's problems with the European Commission on documenting its server protocols. The amusing part is that Microsoft has finally run into an opponent that it cannot coerce, wheedle, smokescreen, bully, blackmail, or bribe, and yet it cannot bring itself to do the one thing which would get it out of the situation -- honestly comply with the EC directive.

To date, Microsoft has created a "manual" that is some 12,000 pages long. That, by itself, would be an unmanageable monster, however, every outside expert that has looked at the document to date has said it's so much unorganized gibberish. This was the opinion of the engineers from Sun, Novell, and RedHat that first looked at the document, and the opinion confirmed by a computer scientest chosen from a Microsoft-provided list.

Then, they tried political pressure (the U.S. government has "warned" the EC not to be "unfair", whatever that means), and doing an end-run through the U.S. court system (all three courts refused, saying it was outside their jurisdiction).

The problem for Microsoft is that the EU has figured out it has no real interest in making Microsoft happy. Europe's native software industry is oriented around Linux, applications, and embedded devices, and an increasingly nationalistic Europe sees little distinction between MS and the U.S. government. Both of them you deal with, because they're too big to ignore, but you don't have to like them.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Motorcycle Crash on Helmetcam

Was browsing through Google video today and found this video with a bike that runs into a car. Not clear why the car suddenly spins, which is probably why it came as such a surprise to the rider, who unfortunately supermans over the car's hood.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More From "Viper II"

I've been continuing to work my way through "Viper II," the history of the invasion of Iraq, and more and more it reads like a treatise on the dangers of New-think ("We're operating under a New Paradigm, none of the old rules apply") and Group-think. Mainly one gets a picture of an administration almost completely disconnected from the thinking and advice of the individuals tasked with the actual problem of conquering and securing Iraq.

It's also interesting to note some parallels between Iraq and the Bay of Pigs invasion -- in particular this recurring, irrational belief that the repressed citizenry of the nation will a) greet an American invasion with open arms and b) rise up in popular support. Get over it, guys. It happened once, due to a unique set of circumstances, and it's never happened since then. It's long past time to stop building it into your war plans.


I watched "Scarface" last night, which is the first time I'd seen the film. The message of the film is delivered fairly early on, from Tony's first boss, which is "Don't want too much." Tony, of course, wants everything, which sets the stage for his spectacular rise and fall.

So, now I know the scene behind the "Say hello to my leetle friend" quote, and I also realized that much of GTA: Vice City was, in fact, an homage to Scarface, including the mansion that eventually becomes your home base.

I also wasn't aware of the apparently-famous "Cuban crime wave" that forms the backstory for the movie -- Casto decided to take advantage of the U.S. open-borders policy on Cuban refugees to clean out some of the scum that had been clogging up his jails, and dumped some 25,000 hardened criminals on Miami. Clearly the law of unintended consequences was in effect.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fun with SketchUp

I've been having fun with Google SketchUp. Spent a few minutes today working through the tutorial, and after that I managed to do a passable re-creation of the monitor that sits on my desk.
It remains to be seen what else Google is going to do with this, but I definately have to say this is the easiest-to-use 3D drawing program I've ever encountered. I've used tools like Blender to do entry and found that the learning curve for getting the tool to do what you want it to was very high.