Saturday, September 29, 2007

NSS responds to Weinburg's criticism of Space Program

Earlier this month, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg delivered an amazingly cynical critique on the manned space program. He called the space station an "orbiting turkey". And notes that:
"Human beings don't serve any useful function in space," Weinberg told "They radiate heat, they're very expensive to keep alive and unlike robotic missions, they have a natural desire to come back, so that anything involving human beings is enormously expensive."
In addition to addressing the practicalities of spaceflight, he takes on the misplaced priorities that has often accompanied NASA due to its goals of manned spaceflight:

Weinberg pointed to NASA's treatment of its Beyond Einstein program as an example of the agency's misplaced priorities. Beyond Einstein consists of five proposed space missions designed to build upon and expand Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.

"Only one of them is slated to go ahead, and given NASA's record, if we suddenly run into extra expenses in the manned spaceflight program, that will be put on the back burner, just as has been done time and time again by NASA," Weinberg said.

Here is the response of the National Space Society, an organization dedicated to promoting the spread of humanity into space. To counter the manned spaceflight program being a waste of money, they list a number of technologies that were developed due to manned spaceflight, "...such as kidney dialysis machines, fetal heart monitors, programmable heart pacemakers, to name just a few that help Americans every day."

And they continue on to show that both theoretical physics and manned spaceflight have both done good to humanity, and it wouldn't be fair or wise to scrap one for the other. I'd recommend reading them both.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Scary Future

I personally find this (somewhat sarcastic) future of gaming very frightening. If you have about six minutes to kill, I'd recommend watching it. Here's my take on how the open source community will react. However, this is just as speculative as the original show.

Despite the very debatable aspect of having nearly the entire world hooked on Halo, there is something much more disturbing about that future. It actually starts in 2007, the domination of the company who produces Halo. That's right, Microsoft. Microsoft acquires Sony and Nintendo and incorporates them into their gaming division (and would maintain two monopolies) But it doesn't end there. In 2011, with the release of Halo 4, all other media will be busy creating CDs for Halo 4. Of course, there will be some open source insurgents who won't stand for that. Representatives of Canonical and Red Hat, angry at the seizure of their CD writing facilities, gather members of their representative communities and launch the largest security attack on Windows computers Microsoft has ever seen, and regain their facilities. However, since most people are busy playing Halo, the headline quickly slips into oblivion.

In 2016, Halo 6 would have been spread across several media, including movies, television, books, etc. With the number of members in the open source community dwindling, a few experienced programmers create a reverse engineered copy of Halo, and try to gain members there. They make little success. Due to the overhaul of education by Halo and Microsoft, the number of students who end up using Linux and other open source operating systems shrinks to 1% of its current size. With J Allard as president, Microsoft engages in legislation to persecute those who use free software in the United States. All open source activity stops in the United States and is now concentrated in Europe. Red Hat is relocated to France in order to escape suffocating regulation in its Red Hat Enterprise Linux 10.0.

In 2021, with the release of Halo 7, the open source community has now shrunken throughout the world. It is composed of only a few hundred members who live in hiding and continue to program despite the universality of the game. This community slowly diminishes due to an unacceptable amount of progress. By now, all of the major Linux companies have gone bankrupt, including Mandriva, Novell, and RedHat. Strangely, Sun Microsystems has managed to be a powerful force in this new economy with its new line of SPARC chips which are used in the new XBoxes. It still retains the openness which was initiated by its long-past CEO Jonathan Schwartz (you knew this was coming)

In 2026, the open source community is all but gone. They have been caught and killed in the crossfire of the Halo mob, and there is no one left to navigate the massive yet ultra-efficient linux kernel 4.128.36. All documentation had been lost in the blackout.

In the present day, with the rebuilding of civilization, a few rogue scholars depart from the construction of the Halo and analyze an old linux hard disk that survived the Halocaust. They try to piece together the ancient language, C, which once was....

How was that? I hope it was fairly entertaining at least.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I knew war was expensive, but DANG!

Ok, I know this story is kind of old, but it's still as shocking. PZ Myers did the calculations and found out that we spend $4 million in Iraq every 40 minutes or so. Why is this important? The Arecibo Observatory has the threat of being shut down because the National Science Foundation can't find an extra $4 million over three years to keep it in operation.

This is sad because the government is not only THINKING about this choice, but is choosing the side of war. The Arecibo Observatory has long been a symbol of advanced radio astronomy, and plays a vital part in mapping the Milky Way and detecting Near Earth Asteroids. To let this observatory die would be wrong in so many ways. To let this observatory die because of misshapen priorities on war and science is wrong is even more ways. I hope Arecibo makes it through this time and isn't forced to close.

I'm hating this war more and more as time goes on....

Monday, September 24, 2007

Open Source, meet the environment...

Today, Sun just launched OpenEco.Org, which serves to be a community of businesses to track, manage, and compare their carbon footprints with each other; all with an open source philosophy. Why? Here's what Sun says:
The accounting tool is a big step forward in assessing GHG emissions. That's because GHG analysis is frequently conducted with proprietary tools and often requires significant internal resources or outside consultants. Provided all the relevant utility data is available, members can assess their carbon emissions in a matter of minutes.
For one thing, it makes finding data and calculating your emissions MUCH cheaper. With the open source and all that. Plus, the more people that join the OpenEco.Org community, the more data companies will have, and they will be able to plan much more realistic goals. And when more realistic goals are implemented, they're more likely to be met.

And if you'd like, here's a link to a video Sun made about this very community:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

JONATHAN SPEAKS! (about Microsoft)

You may have read my take on the Sun/Microsoft agreement. Now, Jonathan Schwartz explains the purpose and advantages of the agreement. And it appears I was correct:
Customers have more choice - and to be clear, we are committed to doing everything (everything) at Sun in the free software community (even without a statue). This agreement does nothing to change that.
The point of the agreement was to expand Sun's share in the server market by including Windows as an option. The free software community at Sun is not affected by this deal in any way! Oh, and by the way, he managed to answer my question (a bit):
And although we've built a billion dollar annual runrate in the x64 business, we still hear objections - the biggest? "Your competition says you're not serious about Windows." Now of course, that's just silly - SQL Server screams on products like our x4500.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Intensions were right, but....

There is a web site called Blackle which essentially attempts to be Google but with a black background. The basic premise is that white is a power-hungry color for monitors, and black uses less power. It seems reasonable, but Google blog took note of it and duly noted that this was not in fact the case. According to Bill Weihl, the "Green Energy Czar" of Google:
We applaud the spirit of the idea, but our own analysis as well as that of others shows that making the Google homepage black will not reduce energy consumption. To the contrary, on flat-panel monitors (already estimated to be 75% of the market), displaying black may actually increase energy usage. Detailed results from a new study confirm this.

[Links in original]

However, Weihl does give tips for saving energy, such as:
  • turn on the power management features. Virtually all computers today have the ability to switch into low-power modes automatically when they're idle; very few computers have this capability enabled! Here's how to do it on computers running Windows XP.
  • turn off your monitor and computer when you're not using them
  • turn down the brightness on your monitor
  • make sure your next computer meets the efficiency standards of Climate Savers Computing (an efficient computer uses up to 50% less energy than a conventional one)
  • to find the most efficient PCs available today, look for the words "EnergyStar 4.0 compliant."

Here's how to enable power management in Ubuntu. Go to System>Preferences>Power Management. There you can adjust when you want to set your system to sleep (which can be useful) and when you want to set your monitor to sleep (which is what we're looking for). After reading this, I set my monitor to sleep after 15 minutes (from 40 minutes). I can imagine what I would be doing that would require inactivity for more than 15 minutes, but even then, it'll just be a nuisance but I'd still save power. So, I hope this post has taught you something. And I'll see you the next opportunity I get to make a post.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

GIMP wants to hear from YOU!

Ok, so this is a really cool idea the GIMP folks have done (for those who don't know, the GIMP is an open-source photo-editing program, I'd say even comparable to Photoshop, but I don't do hardcore image manipulation). Anyways, they have a blog up where they are brainstorming the new user interface. They're essentially taking ideas and suggestions for the new reworking of the user interface. If you regularly use the GIMP, and have some suggestions, be sure to drop in a line. Here's their summary for what it's for:
This is a visual brainstorm, the channel for everybody to contribute to the GIMP UI redesign process. It is moderated by the GIMP UI redesign team, consisting of professional interaction and usability specialists. We do not post mock-ups here ourselves, we ‘listen’ to what you show us and broaden our horizons.

To keep things easygoing + fun around here, there are some rules:

Explain your idea in an image or two. Only these images will be published, so make sure any needed explanation is inside them. Images must be in jpg, gif, bmp or png format, maximum 8MB each.

Your images should show your idea in a clear way, but they don’t have to be glossy and polished. Plain vector drawings or even scanned pencil sketches should also work.

Send your image to us, put the word ‘GIMP’ in the title of your email (to avoid spam, emails without GIMP in the title or without an image attachment will not be opened).

We will not publish your name or email address, if you want to be identified with—or even contacted about—your contribution, place your name or email address discretely in your image.

All further text you place in your image can only be used to explain your own idea. Keep it short, point out what is innovative. If you feel you need a lot of text to explain, then maybe your idea is not working on an user interaction level.

Do not write in your image about other people, other people’s ideas or why GIMP sucks, because…

…polemic kills brainstorming, hence there are not going to be discussions or comments in this blog. If you want to vent, use the usual channels. If you have got a better idea, simply show it to us.

If you want to respond to a contribution, by all means take the image, modify it with your own ideas for improvement and send it back to the brainstorm. Visual dialogue: it is allowed and encouraged by the CC licence on this blog.

We are pretty liberal Europeans, but anything obnoxious will ensure that your image does not get published here. We will not modify your image in any way, so either it is fit to be blogged or it will be discarded.

Our team will label your contribution and sometimes we will write a few sentences of analysis, if we are not too busy working on GIMP.

Your contribution has to be compatible with the license of this blog. Speaking of…
(Hat tip t' Greg)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why Linux is better!

I found a site called "Why Linux is better". It seems to me to be fairly well written and comprehensible. It's not drenched in detail, but gives you the points BANG BANG BANG! I'd most definitely put it on a list of reading for people interested in Linux.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

CSE's going too far

Creation Science Evangelism (CSE) is Kent Hovind's "ministry" which is now kinda out of his hands while he's paying his debt to society. However, they're getting more active to clearing Hovind's image and keeping away criticism of his wacky science. Hovind has his videos on creationism and his brand of Christianity online, on YouTube and Google Video. He explicitly states that there are no copyrights to these videos and can be distributed freely, which they have been for many many years. However, there have been other videos floating around which show Hovind's videos but have refutations spliced in. All of the sudden, CSE has been going around YouTube and flagging the videos as copyright violations, and (apparently) by law, YouTube must remove them even without doing a review on the veracity of the copyright claims.

Now, why do I say they've gone too FAR? As if censoring the modified Hovind videos weren't bad enough. CSE actually had the gall to flag one of my favorite videos. Now, the thing that ticks me off about them removing this video is that it was mainly original content. What about a mainly original video with a few clips of uncopyrighted material makes it flaggable? I hope YouTube finally sorts this out.

UPDATE: Oh, I guess not. I was wrong. There WAS no uncopyrighted material in my favorite video. It was 100% original (link is not of good quality. See here for original quality). Well, this is getting much more interesting. This is a pretty strong piece of evidence that CSE is just bluffing and trying to get criticism out. Now I'm REALLY interested in how this turns out.

Sun and Microsoft Agreement

Yes, you read that correctly. If you saw that and immediately expressed disbelief, you're just like me! However, it's true, but not anything that really affects us open source zealots directly. The agreement is essentially that Sun will become a Microsoft Server OEM. There are basically five different points which are addressed in this agreement, nothing really dealing with open source. But since I'm a Sun paparazzi, I'll go over it anyways.

1. Windows Server OEM agreement

Essentially, this means that you'll be able to choose Windows Server 2003 as an operating system when you order a Sun server (I don't know why you'd WANT to do that, but it's a choice). According to the audiocast, all of Sun's customers run Windows along with Solaris, so it makes sense to offer it too. Yeah, that's kinda hard to believe, but I'm sure Sun knows what it's talking about.

2. Sun x64 Systems and Storage

This basically means that Microsoft and Sun will work to get Windows Server 2003 to work on Sun hardware (I don't if any amount of work on Windows could improve it very much, but I'd like to see them try).

3. Solaris and Windows Virtualization

This is fairly straightforward. Microsoft will work to make sure that Solaris could be virtualized on Windows Server 2003, and Sun will make sure that Windows Server 2003 could be virtualized on Solaris. I personally think Microsoft will have to work harder on this, because virtualization is built-in to Solaris. I'd like to see a sort of competition in features between the openSolaris community and the Microsoft developers (I'm sure you can guess who I think will win).

4. Expanded IPTV partnership

This is kinda confusing. So far, I've been able to glean that Windows Server 2003 has a piece of software called Microsoft mediaroom IPTV, which basically is able to stream internet TV. I have NO idea why this is so important as to merit a separate point. But it seems like having a good piece of Microsoft software running on extremely good Sun hardware will make streaming internet TV much more efficient.

5. Expanded Investment in Interoperability

This basically means that Microsoft and Sun are going to build an Interoperability Center, which is basically a lab where Sun/Microsoft employees will try to improve Windows Server 2003 performance on Sun hardware (and this'll give Sun employees a reason to be on Microsoft grounds, hehehe).

So yeah, this agreement is not at all threatening to the open source community. However, I'm still wondering WHY? I understand why Sun is offering Windows Server 2003; it's because most people end up installing it on Sun hardware anyway. But I don't understand why people WANT Windows Server 2003. What does it have that Solaris doesn't? If anyone has an answer, please, leave a comment and tell me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Spider Solitaire

Ok, I've waited a long time to write this post. It's a reflection back to Arizona where I played large amounts of Spider Solitaire. Most of the time, I played it on easy, with only one suit. However, I decided to move up and tackle medium. I must say, it was quite a switch, and it took me a while to find out the secret of doing it. And I'll reveal that secret right now.

But first, here's something I call one of the fundamental problems of computer science (in reality it's probably not so grandiose, but to me it's extremely intriguing). Lets say you have two objects and you wanted to swap them. The only way to do it is by having a temporary space to move one object, then to move it back. Here's a graphical example of it (forgive its horribleness. I can't draw, even on a computer):
Here, we start out with our two objects, out of order. Now, what we have to do is move them. However, we can only do this with the temporary space: as shown by the next slides (if you could come up with a way to do it without the extra space, you'd probably be able to win an important prize of some sort).We moved X into the temporary storage slot. Now we swap Y.We moved Y, and now we move X back, and they're in order. As you can see.
See, now the objects have been swapped and are in order. However, if you just look before and after, the temp is empty. However, the seemingly unused temp area is integral for the ability to swap the two elements. However, it's not just swapping which needs this. Anyone who has tried switching the name of two files has encountered this, because two files cannot have the same name. So, in order to do it, you need a temporary name for one file while you rename the other file.

Now you're wondering how this connects with Spider Solitaire. Well, in Spider Solitaire you're going to have to eventually mix red cards and black cards, you can't keep them separate for very long. However, Lets say you have a six of diamonds on a seven of spades on an eight of diamonds (8D/7S/6D). Then all of the sudden, an eight of spades turns up (8S). You'd like to put your 7 on there, but you can't directly. However, if you have an empty column (a temp), this impossible task becomes very easy. You move the 6D to the temp, then the 7S onto the 8S, then move the 6D back onto the 7S. So, you'll end up having the more orderly 8S/7S/6D. And your temp will be empty to accept a new card. Now you can do it over and over until you stop having cards in this position. Now, if you have TWO temps, you can go deeper. For example, if that 8S was a 9D instead, you can move the 6D to one temp, the 7S to the other, the 8D to the 9D, and move them back. You're left with the two black columns again. Now, this strategy does NOT guarantee you will win (my victory rate was about 50%). However, gaining this concept is essential to being able to beat Spider Solitaire past the easy level. Heck, if you apply this to the easy level, it's pretty much guaranteed you'll win. So, I find it funny that I was able to gain a fundamental insight in computer science, and even the physical world by playing a simple card game (one by Microsoft too). And that's my lesson for tonight! Don't expect more original picture by me.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Conan Walker Texas Ranger Lever

To remain in the spirit of Chuck Norris week, here are several clips of Late Night with Conan O'Brien when he had the "Walker Texas Ranger" lever. If you have a lot of spare time, go ahead and watch them. I promise you won't be disappointed. Note to NBC: Keep up the lever!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chuck Norris Week

I've just been informed that this week is officially Chuck Norris week on the Ubuntu Forums. This is in honor of the Chuck Norris meme which has been very dear to the internet, especially Chuck Norris facts. Here's a taste of what people have done, just on day 2 of Chuck Norris week:
andExpect more goodness. I'm also getting into the celebration, but my photo editing skills are very sub-par. So, if you see me on IRC, note that my name will be changed during the week from "cactaur" to "chucktaur". Have a great Chuck Norris week.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Dawkins Disproven

Yes, it's true. The most demolishing review of Dawkins's book came. Seemingly out of nowhere. It looks like the New Afascism movement is going to be stopped abruptly to a halt.

In addition, other reviews of the New Skeptic movement by the same authors have also seemingly posed intellectual problems for those who doubt witchcraft.

(Hat tip to PZ)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Week recap!

Ok, first (half) week of school is done. I'm now stuck on this horrible weekend away from that heaven of learning. Ok, don't have that much to say, except about AP Calculus and AP Physics, which were exceptionally fun! Most the other classes were still about getting used to the setting and going over the class requirements and all of that boredom.

So, AP Calculus was pretty fun. It was a review of functions, namely the "mother functions" (it took me a while to get that too). They are y=x, y=x^2, y=x^3, y=1/x, y=|x|, y=sin x, and y = cos x. I think that's all of them. But yeah, that was what was so interesting.

AP Physics was more fun! I look forward heavily to this class in the year. We did some examples of Fermi problems, which are essentially problems where you have to estimate to get the correct answer, because finding the actual answer is impractical or impossible. For example, "How many notes does the 'typical' radio station play in a year?" You can't count or call up the station, your best guess is to estimate. And the best way to do this is with the factor-label method. This is basically, you start out with an assumption, lets say a station can get through 200 songs in a day. You start with that, then you keep converting that until you get to notes per year. It goes like this:

200 songs/day * 700 notes/song * 365 days/year

You end up with 51,100,000 which is about in the ballpark of what we did in class. Of course, other students used different values, some more reality-based than others. But they were all in the ten millions range, pretty close for estimates like that. We had a lot of fun with those. So that's some of the stuff we did in that class. And, uhhh, can't think of anything else to write about.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

School started

Ok, school started yesterday for me. So, until I get readjusted to the schedule and rediscover my free time, I probably won't be blogging except on weekends or whenever I have time. Sorry. For those of you who are curious, my classes are:

AP US History
AP English Lang
Academic Decathlon
AP Calculus AB
AP Physics C
Advanced Orchestra
Spanish 2

Shutup about Spanish! I procrastinated, so what? Any of you young'uns reading this blog, don't put off a foreign language.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Party Delayed

Due to a personal schedule change, I will not be able to make the party at 6:00. I'll probably drop in at around 7:30. However, you can still go on time and get chummy with the other LoCo IRC members. Heck, plan a surprise party or something. Sorry.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Firefox blocked

Greg Laden has a post up about a certain web site which blocked all visits from Firefox browsers due to an extension known as Ad Block which is able to filter out the ads on web sites. However, it spews out this little gem:
Demographics have shown that not only are FireFox users a somewhat small percentage of the internet, they actually are even smaller in terms of online spending, therefore blocking FireFox seems to have only minimal financial drawbacks, whereas ending resource theft has tremendous financial rewards for honest, hard-working website owners and developers..
First of all, Firefox users being a small minority is just not true in just about any way you look at it. Greg posts up his stats on his site, and Firefox users are the majority. Of course, as you can guess, my stats are EVEN MORE skewed:

1. 67.66%
2. 23.35%
3. 2.99%
4. 2.40%
5. 2.10%
6. 1.50%

Except for Internet Explorer, all of the top five are open source browsers. This is most certainly not a minority for me. And if I had ads, I most certainly wouldn't want these users to be blocked at all. So, this is not the solution. And this isn't an entirely novel problem. The web site quotes this excerpt from the blog Internet Technology and the Law:
Like free television broadcast content supported financially by advertising, much of the content on the Internet today is distributed free to end-users for an indirect exchange of advertisement revenue. When a user loads an ad-driven copyrighted website, he produces a copy of the work due to the inherent architecture of the Internet. If this user is using Adblock to screen out annoying advertisements, he is creating an unauthorized derivative work analogous to skipping television commercials. By the letter of copyright law, this practice would most likely be seen as an infringing use.
They decide to use TV, I'll counter using TV. Using Adblock is a personal preference. It's analogous to recording a program on TV, then fast forwarding through the commercials. According to this post, people who record should be sued for making unauthorized copies and not watching the commercials. Of course, that's silly. It's the same with Ad-block. The ad-free page is designed for each user of Adblock and that copy is used for personal use only, it isn't going to be archived then distributed as ad-free content. If other people wish to see the content, they will still go to the original ad-full source. Well, that's my $0.02. Why can't the ad companies be more like the spam companies? Instead of complaining, just make it more difficult to detect.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"Welcome back" party

Ok, I'm sure you were wondering what the previous page about IRC Parties were. Well, it was supposed to be a template for instructions for reaching #ubuntu-california. We decided to have our first party as a welcome back party for me. I'm really anxious about the turnout. Well, for those who don't know. The party is Tuesday, at 6 PM PST, on #ubuntu-california on You don't have to be part of the LoCo team. You can introduce yourself even if you don't live in California. You'll be acquainted with a group of people who KNOW about Ubuntu, and that's pretty helpful. So, I look forward to seeing a bunch of new people there. Consider this an engraved invitation!

IRC Party!

On the agenda of the second meeting of the Ubuntu California LoCo team a resolution was passed to unequivocally allow IRC parties on the channel (ok, I'll quit sounding important). Anyways, there can be parties on IRC in #ubuntu-california. This page is supposed to function as a way for people to find their way to the party. There is no map, just directions.

If you have an IRC client and know how to use it:

That's great. The party is in #ubuntu-california on You should be able to find your way.

If you want an IRC client:

There are several IRC clients. The major ones are XChat for linux (not to be confused with xchat-gnome. Don't get that.) and mIRC for Windows. If you have pidgin, that can also be co-opted to do IRC, but keep in mind that it's not entirely meant for that. To learn how to use it, consult your client's (whichever one you choose) documentation. Then go to #ubuntu-california on If you don't feel like doing it, just type in the text box:
/join #ubuntu-california
Those are two separate lines. Those commands will get you there no matter what client you use.

If you don't want to install an IRC client, but still want to attend:

You can use a web-based client, this Java applet one is one that I recommend, and is one that I survived on in Arizona. It's best for just dropping in temporarily. If you wish to remain in IRC, it's highly recommended that you use a client.

If you want to do it the 1337 |-|aXX0r way:

If absolutely desired, I may allow you to ssh into my machine and use irssi (a text-based client) to join. If you would like to do this, contact me. I'm not putting my machine stats on the internet. And it'll help if I actually KNOW you. This method is highly discouraged.

Bullet Proof X

There's going to be a new feature in Ubuntu Gutsy called Bullet Proof X. It's a really cool thing. The basic idea is that if the X server breaks, you have another independent and less intensive GUI to fall back on and fix your X server. A demonstration is here.

What usually happens if your X server breaks is you get a message (not a BSOD because your computer is still operating) which basically says your Xserver is broken:
After that, it would drop you at a command-line. You're expected to type "dpkg --reconfigure xserver-xorg" to reconfigure it. However, a new person would not be expected to know this. Generally you only know what to do AFTER it happens to you and you fix it. This is a fairly common solution to a fairly common problem. However, to make Ubuntu more intuitive, and not have people asking for help every time the X server breaks, this is where Bullet Proof X comes in. Instead of dropping the user on a command line, it gives the user an explanation of what happened, and the option to reconfigure the X server graphically. I think this is a really good step of progress, and has a lot of potential for other methods of handling X errors. We'll see what happens once Gutsy comes out.

(Hat tip to Greg)