photon power

April 14, 2007

Discovery Channel :: News – Technology :: “Printable” Solar Cell Factory Revs Up

small, cheap, flexible. could this be the big breakthrough we’ve been looking for in solar energy?


attention democrats:

February 15, 2007

Not being a Barack Obama fanboy doesn’t make you a racist. Nor is it racist to observe that Obama is a sort of political Tiger Woods (except that Tiger Woods has won a lot more contests than Obama has).

It’s not even racist to say that Obama “isn’t black enough”; it’s just stupid and tactless.

The 2004 election wasn’t even over before the hard-bitten moonbats on Atrios were howling about how long they’d waited for a black president, how excited they were that Obama was going to be in the Senate, what a great man and great leader he was, etc.

This was before he’d served a day in Congress, when his political career consisted of a few years as the Illinois state senator from the neighborhood surrounding the University of Chicago, and an unsuccessful 2000 US House campaign against incumbent Bobby Rush, an exercise in self-indulgence which everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten.

Obama is an obviously bright person with impressive academic credentials. So is Condoleezza Rice, and I sure as hell don’t want her to be president.

Right now, what America needs a lot worse than a black president is a Democratic president. I don’t even particularly care a whole lot who that Democratic president is, as long as it’s not Joe Lieberman; whoever it turns out to be couldn’t possibly be as bad as Bush.

I have a mild preference for Bill Richardson, but I realize already that he’s hardly likely to get the nomination. I will happily vote, however, for whatever Democrat is nominated – again, as long as it’s not Joe Lieberman.

But I’m voting for the Democrat; George W. Bush has amply seen to that. The Republicans could nominate Jesus Christ, and I’d still vote for the Democrat. I just think it’s a pity that Obama, who could have such a bright political future, is going to burn out so early in a flash of ego gratification.

they mean well

February 15, 2007

Yesterday, while trying to explain office politics to a co-worker, I metaphorically invoked the story of the Israelites in Egypt. Since the two churchgoing ladies to whom I was speaking weren’t familiar with the story, I had to explain it to them, and then account for my intimate familiarity with the book of Exodus; before the conversation ended I had let slip that I once briefly considered studying for the Methodist clergy.

Oddly, learning that I was once very religious often causes people to look at me in a different light. To some folks, I am suddenly a member of The Club, albeit one who hasn’t paid his dues in a while.

One of these ladies fell into this category. She told me that I was like Jonah – dwelling in the belly of a fish, waiting to eventually be vomited up on a beach somewhere, at which time I would return to the flock and fulfill my destiny.

Obviously, I can’t say with complete certainty that this will never happen. All I can say is that it’s very, very unlikely; I consider myself to have “graduated” from Christianity, in that I’ve gotten everything I needed from it and moved on. I now believe that Christian theology – indeed, monotheistic theology in general – is based upon an irresoluble fundamental paradox.

Some people with beliefs like mine are insulted and/or angry when Christians patronize them. I don’t react that way because I’m used to it – even when I was a Christian, I was often patronized by various cliques and in-groups within the churches I belonged to. It’s not meant as an insult; usually it’s meant as a compliment, or at worst as an invitation.

These people do not patronize you because they want to insult you or belittle you, but because they have a powerful need to believe that they have chosen the correct path, the best possible path, and they are looking to you – as they look to most if not all people they respect – for confirmation and validation. If you join their church or clique, you have validated their choices.

Most people I have encountered say things like this not because they think they have something you need, but because you have something they need – approval and validation. It’s a compliment, in a twisted, indirect way. They mean well.

I need a Dynabook

February 15, 2007

Here we are in 2007, and there’s still a computing device I need that doesn’t exist.

I need something shaped roughly like a notebook. Not a laptop; a notebook.

I need it to be big enough that I can write fairly long text compositions – like blog posts – on it, with a stylus, not a keyboard.

I need to be able to carry it like a notebook.

I need to be able to upload pages from it to something with a network connection – preferably wifi, not Bluetooth. (To paraphrase my father, “I need Bluetooth like I need a gold-plated asshole.”)

I don’t necessarily need handwriting recognition, although that would be nice. I could deal with page images, as long as they could be compressed to a size not much bigger than ASCII text.

If I had a thing like this, I could make practical use of all the neat hypermedia tools – what the hipsters call “Web 2.0” – currently being developed for Web browsers, like Google Notebook, Writely, Tiddlywiki, Zoho, etc. etc. etc. I could probably even quit carrying a pen and paper around. The requirement of a keyboard-driven web browser makes these impractical for someone with a truly mobile lifestyle.

My PDAs are too small; my laptop is too big, too fragile, too much of an encumbrance, and that would probably still be true of a Tablet PC (if I didn’t object to using Windows); my Windows CE mini-laptops are too old and too limited.

I need something like Alan Kay’s Dynabook. I need something like a fourth or fifth-generation Newton (oh, by the way, Apple: thanks for canceling the Newton and replacing it with the iPod, which is absolutely useless as an application platform).

quantum computing is for real?

February 15, 2007

I’ve read – we’ve all read – the hype about how quantum computing would change the landscape of technology, how it would enable the solution of a whole new class of problems, how it would render digital cryptography as we know it obsolete, yadda yadda yadda.

Yesterday, a company based in Vancouver demonstrated a quantum computer. This could potentially change the landscape of digital privacy as we know it. If the NSA doesn’t already have one, they will have one soon; and then they’ll have dozens.

Jeez. I have to think about this for a while.

(Update: this turned out to be bullshit.)

The God Delusion

February 14, 2007

I’m not even going to attempt to review Dawkins’ latest book here. Suffice to say that I think Richard Dawkins is one of the most brilliant people currently walking the earth, and that Charles Simonyi’s endowment of his chair at Oxford is one of the relatively small number of really good things to come out of Microsoft.

Dawkins makes a powerful argument turning the ethical wisdom of most human societies on its head, and casting religion, particularly monotheistic religion, as a perpetrator of evil rather than a force for good.

Probably the best thing I got out of The God Delusion, though, is a renewed appreciation for how powerfully the anthropic principle demolishes the argument from design. Never mind how improbable it is that complex organisms like mammals evolved into existence (although I personally think it’s not as unlikely as most creationists claim); the very fact that we are here, on the terms of the theory of evolution, means that that improbability is moot.

Unless you insist that the probability of spontaneous evolution of life is absolutely nil (as opposed to vanishingly small), the improbability of its occurrence is irrelevant with regard to the origins of life on earth; it only becomes relevant when we attempt to estimate the density of life elsewhere in the universe. (I should make clear here that this paragraph is my own argument, for which Dawkins shouldn’t be blamed.)

Personally, I recommend The God Delusion to everyone – but especially to intellectually honest religious people, one of whom I used to be.

Abolish presidential elections!

February 13, 2007

Karl Rove is already tired of the 2008 presidential election, probably because he’s not going to be making any money in it. (Let’s hope that the stench of Turd Blossom has spread so far that not even the right-wing lunatic fringe will have anything further to do with him.)

Personally, I’ve been tired of presidential elections ever since Rove, the Republican establishment, and the Supreme Court stole the 2000 election for George W. Fuckup. In 2004 we cumulatively spent more than a billion dollars on the presidential election, and there can hardly be any doubt that the price tag next time will be even higher.

And what do we get for our billion dollars? A nice warm illusion that we are co-participants in a democratic government. When you go down to your local polling station, cast your ballot, then go home and spend the evening watching people on TV partying their asses off and making speeches, it’s easy to forget that there’s nothing directly at stake in “the presidential election”.

The Constitution places the power to name presidential electors for each state in the hands of the state legislature; there is no constitutional requirement that any state hold a popular presidential election at all. The constitution provides for Congress to schedule Election Day – the day on which presidential electors are chosen – and the day on which the Electoral College meets. There is no requirement that a popular vote be held, and any state could at any time reassert the direct prerogative of its legislature in selecting presidential electors, canceling the presidential election in that state.

I think this would be a great improvement. Instead of having elections decided by the marginal voter of IQ 80, we would have elections decided by people who are at least intelligent enough to hold elective office in their own right. This would get us one step closer to a parliamentary system like they have in Canada and the UK, where the voter only has to worry about voting for legislators, leaving the task of actually running the government to the legislators who are paid to do it.

tubular, dude

February 13, 2007

Vertical fireplace from Cyclone

Seems to me that if you’ve got $3800 to drop on a four-foot-high fire-breathing test tube, you might want to, um, buy a real fireplace or something.

well, at least it’s an actual radio

February 13, 2007

Acoustic Energy Wifi Internet Radio

Back when these things first started coming out (though the first generation or two had 10BASE-T ports on the back, rather than wifi, making them technically not radios), I really thought I needed one.

And although it would be nice to be able to listen to music streams without having to boot the computer, I’m not sure I need $300 worth of it. I mean, I do have an iPod and an adapter cable plugged into the aux port of the Sony bookshelf system.

I first saw this on the mobile newsreader, where I hopefully thought that “wifi” meant “portable”. No such luck. On the other hand, now that I can listen to live streams on my Treo, I’m not sure why I would need such a thing.


February 12, 2007

Baked tilapia, breaded in crushed croutons, in a milk binder. No egg.

A little lime juice on top, frozen broccoli (with four-cheese “Mexican blend”), and Vigo wild & white rice mix on the side.

Simple, but elegant. Sort of.