Archive for the 'Curiosities' Category

Why there’s really not much point in gun control.

Aug 06, 2012 in Culture, Curiosities

An American gunsmith has become the first person to construct and shoot a pistol partly made out of plastic, 3D-printed parts. The creator, user HaveBlue from the AR-15 forum, has reportedly fired 200 rounds with his part-plastic pistol without any sign of wear and tear.

As you read on you’ll see that he did have to buy the metal portion of the gun, but that was the easy and very legal part. That’s a pointless point, however. We’re already here. What is it but a few years for the rest?

First billion goes to the person who figures out what will sell in an economy where people can buy a 3D printer and some chemicals to get guns, drugs, organs, furniture, etc.

-hw

The demoralization of Dana Pico.

Nov 14, 2011 in Clueless Conservatives, Curiosities, The Internets, We'll post whatever we goddamned want to

Our chief rival blogger, Dana Pico, has called it quits.

While there is always some value to a good rival, the decline of Dana’s site was ultimately an act of justice. By good rival, I mean Dana Pico and his crowd of co-bloggers and regular commenters were always ready to engage and at least present a fairly well-distilled authentic version of the blather that passed for Republican thought. I probably couldn’t last long on Red State without getting axed, but Dana Pico had one conceit that made his blog tragically superior to most rightwing blogs: he wanted an unfettered free speech zone, where liberals and conservatives would match wits without fear of removal.

Now, this is standard practice at Iowa Liberal, but for a rightwing blog that’s quite amazing. Rightwing blogs do no exist to create dialogues or foster advancing thought. They can only exist as echo chambers, and the only liberals who can hope to remain standing in a comments thread are those too weak and easily battered about to pose a real threat. The model is Rush Limbaugh’s show, where an intelligent, articulate liberal who will stand his ground has no chance of making it through the polished screeners or Rush’s mic-cutting button.

Dana bemoans the loss of his regular commenters, and I couldn’t help but feel a little pang of responsibility. As I read the names, Sharon, Eric, DNW, assovertincups, etc., I could almost recall the precise threads that led to their demise. And I was directly involved in each. Yes, I made Dana’s friends go away, but it’s a political blog, not a Facebook page. So screw’em. I didn’t chase them away with cruelty or mocking, I chased them into corners and didn’t let them bullshit their way out. Climbing out the window was their only option. Or stopping the bullshit and being intellectually honest, but apparently that’s a worse option than suicide to such folks. The bullshit is what fuels their existence. Why argue with me and concede anything when they can go listen to Sean Hannity tell them they’re brilliant?

The real sad part of it all is Dana himself, who really did exist in a class above his partners for most of his blog’s existence. Dana could marshall facts together in a manner that demonstrated at least some regard for the value of veracity. His interpretations of a chart might have been skewed, but he was much less likely than other rightwingers to throw complete fiction out there. He might have been veered into racist dogwhistling with his constant invocations of Barack Obama’s middle name, but he somehow managed to convey in his writing a bit of a wink and a nudge: hey, don’t take it too seriously, I’m just razzing.

But ultimately, Dana couldn’t outrun his allegiance to the letter R next to a politician’s name. After eight years of George W. Bush, leaving the country in financial ruin, disrepair, and locked in permanent war, Dana doubled down, declaring Gee Dubya the second best president of his life next to the sainted Ronald Reagan. The hated and reviled Dick Cheney, architect of America’s degradation via torture and surrender to polluters, was Dana’s choice for 2008. Dana dutifully defended Sarah Palin and recently Rick Perry, calling them smart and relying on the defense that people once called Reagan dumb. Personally, I think comparing Palin to Reagan demonstrates more disregard for Reagan than it does credibility for Palin.

The flipside of this is that Dana also tried getting revenge for Dubya by branding President Obama “the worst president” of Dana’s life. The fact that Dana was forced to recognize that Obama prosecuted the “War on Terror” with greater energy and effectiveness than hero Dubya boxed him in further, leaving him with one plank to rest his case on: Suggesting that not only did Obama fail to magically undo the destruction that Republican policies of the past thirty years had wrought on the economy, but that his policies had actually made the economy worse. I pointed out many times that Dana was against TARP, against the stimulus, against saving the auto industry, essentially advocating nothing as a means of fighting the Great Recession, and Dana readily concurred. I asked him, what if Obama had done “nothing,” and we were at 12% unemployment…? Dana said he wouldn’t give Obama the slightest quarter and would bludgeon him with the 12% number anyway, and literally admitted it was because he was a Republican, Obama was a Democrat, and thus he had to “restore fiscal sanity.” Exit integrity.

But Dana still had hopes of using this narrative to win an election. Until the debt ceiling fiasco.

The debt ceiling fiasco, where Republicans held the economy hostage, threatening to sink the whole ship if Democrats tried to combine spending cuts with tax increases to get our deficit problems under control. Obama surrendered, seeing his approval numbers shattered, the avenger of 9/11 bowed before Republican economic terrorism. In the immediate aftermath, the combination of being so close to the brink damaged our credit rating, and the threat of austerity measures dampened the stock market. How did Dana respond to this great Republican success? Yep, he blamed Obama. Integrity stood no chance of return.

Unfortunately for Dana and the Republicans, Obama’s rope-a-dope strategy snared them again. With the debt deal complete and the public soured on the issue, Obama was able to pivot to active job creation measures. It had been proven to the public and the media for anybody to see that the Republicans were utterly intransigent, and would do absolutely anything to block Obama in the hope of drawing blood for 2012. Emboldened, they weren’t about to stop and suddenly cooperate, and thus the Republicans found themselves once again advocating nothing except more passes for the rich, the 1%, to pay fewer taxes, pollute more, and ship more jobs out of the country.

Then Occupy Wall Street happened, and the dynamic of the country shifted. Everything became crystalline, and the real picture of the past thirty years of Reaganomics became clear. The system was rigged for the rich to get richer and everybody else to suck on their fumes. “Trickle down” economics didn’t work. Bush’s tax cuts broke the bank. The “job creators” were moving factories elsewhere and had the Republican Party firmly in pocket re-writing the rules to keep the money moving in one direction- up. They weren’t making jobs, they were inventing piles of money on paper, calling shit loans triple-A, and when they came up short, when reality intervened, the country took the blow and the taxpayers were handed the bill. Right now, millions of homeowners are still underwater, obligated to pay imaginary prices, facing no good options while the bankers responsible got a bailout.

In that aftermath, lodged in this reality, it’s no surprise that the Republican primary process is a circus, that any halfway-decent candidates long ago opted out, and that we get to tune in to buffoons tossing word salads around trying to pretend that somehow, Dana’s alternate world actually exists. That yes, it’s really Obama’s rescue measures that hurt us, not Republican deregulation. That lower taxes for the rich will do us some good. That we should really keep pouring billions into overseas wars that the public wants out of, and maybe start the biggest one of all with Iran. Why the fuck not nominate a pizza salesman who is proudly ignorant? Knowing things hurts the Republican dream, knowing things chases the la-la fantasies away. Why the hell not claim that Rick Perry is smart and that, you know, he couldn’t do worse than Obama!?

This is an utterly horrible time to be a Republican, and an even worse time to be a Republican blogger who doesn’t want to ban opposing voices from his blog. Dana was too dedicated to his flock, yet his flock wanted seclusion and affirmation. Free speech? Dana’s product didn’t sell.

And so he’s now resigned to offering some content to the blog of his craziest collaborator, John Hitchcock, who’s now begging their few readers for handouts because he’s too broke to afford a decent car (I drive a 2007 Honda CR-V, and I don’t exactly make a fortune, so what’s the deal, Hitchcock?).

I turned very bitter on Dana after the debt ceiling disaster, my patience finally snapped. But it was all politics. Personally, I have no trouble understanding that Dana is a genial, nice guy who would probably make a great neighbor. I’d trust him with him son, I’d hand him the keys to my home if he needed to crash. To me, stuff like that really has nothing to do with political arguments. Even most segregationists were lovely people back in the day, if you were white. But if Republicans tried understanding that principle, they’d deflate the core of what drives populist Republicanism, resentment.

I simply say to Dana, either embrace rational thought or go the way of your friends and heroes. The two have become mutually exclusive. Your blog, in that it was an attempt to reconcile the two, was doomed from the start. I believed at one point you were smarter and wiser than your friends, now I think you to be merely a slicker salesman trying to make blatantly unpopular and unsound positions sound like folksy “common sense” that defies any real common sense. Maybe there’s a brighter future for you, but in all likelihood the only chance is to sell out completely and turn those skills into cash money pimping for the Republican Party at a higher level. Revive the blog, make it exclusive, keep the interfering liberals out, and watch your garden thrive. You might even get your Joe the Plumber moment. Won’t do the country any good, but hey, that obviously stopped mattering awhile ago, didn’t it?

-hw

Virus Hunter X

Jul 13, 2011 in Curiosities

Fascinatin’ bit on the Stuxnet virus, designed specifically (by Israel, the US or both) to ruin Iranian centrifuges, and the anti-virus experts who unraveled the huge (500k, most viruses are 10-15k) deeply encrypted file that was supposed to stealthily enter Iran and destroy its nuclear program. It obviously failed at being stealthy and didn’t really do much more than piss off the Iranians and make them twice as determined, but in a movie it would have totally been like that virus that broke all the alien ships in Independence Day.

-hw

I’ll tell anybody who will listen-

Jun 30, 2011 in Culture, Curiosities

HOAs are the devil.

In a less horrible story, a local HOA made an elderly lady stop playing cards and watching TV with her friends in her garage, because the rules said garages could not be living spaces. I’d like to find the persons responsible for moments like these and unleash a verbal tirade that would completely, totally ruin their day.

-hw

This is your brain on the internet.

Oct 23, 2009 in Culture, Curiosities

Long (but fascinating) article for a guy who says he ain’t got no more attention span.

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”

As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our “intellectual technologies”—the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities—we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies. The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 14th century, provides a compelling example. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.”

The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.

The question open is where our internet-addled brains are leading us. We’ve seen amazing advances in politics, the arts, and research.

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.

I can still dive into a book when I want to (though I almost never want to anymore), and while I share this guy’s guarded optimism that new mediums will lead to new innovations and a net plus for human advancement, there’s no denying that losing the ability to read full-length books is a mighty sacrifice. Ebook readers are becoming very cool, but once again you’re not holding just one book in your hand, but hundreds or thousands at your fingertips, and once again attention spans are challenged.

An article by Jamais Cascio points to where we may be going, as technology is integrated into our very perception:

The emerging technology, called “Augmented Reality,” enables users to see location-specific data superimposed over their surroundings. Long a staple of science fiction, it’s trickling into the real world through the iPhone and similar ultrasmart mobile phones. With AR applications such as Layar, the smart phone displays what its camera sees, with information about nearby buildings and shops, travel directions, even notes and “tags” left by other users in that location. Although AR now relies on handheld devices, electronics makers like Sony are working on systems that you wear like sunglasses, making augmented vision more immersive.

Eventually, contact lenses, corneal implants or artificially engineered eyes, I wager.

Conceivably, users could set AR spam filters to block any kind of unpalatable visual information, from political campaign signs to book covers. Parents might want to block sexual or violent images from their kids’ AR systems, and political activists and religious leaders might provide ideologically correct filters for their communities. The bad images get replaced by a red STOP, or perhaps by signs and pictures that reinforce the desired worldview.

Did I mention that the “wrong” people can get replaced too?

After California’s Prop 8 ban on gay marriage passed, opponents of the measure dug up public records of donors supporting the ban, and linked that data to an online map. Suddenly, you could find out which of your neighbors (or the businesses you frequent) were so opposed to gay marriage that they donated to the cause. Now imagine that instead of a map, those records were combined with an AR system able to identify faces.

You don’t want to see anybody who has donated to the Palin 2012 campaign? Gone, their faces covered up by black circles. You want to know who exactly gave money to the 2014 ban on SUVs? Easy—they now have green arrows pointing at their heads.

You want to block out any indication of viewpoints other than your own? Done.

Obviously people have figured out how to do that nowadays, and will continue to do so, but could it lead to greater heights? I’ll be sure to give my feedback after I get my iShades…

-jb

UPDATE: More on augmented reality here.

You throw a shoe, you get woman!

Dec 19, 2008 in Curiosities

The shoe-throwing hero of the Middle East, languishing in prison and severely beaten, is offered a bride. Truth be told, he could walk into any Muslim home in the world and claim the hottest daughter. I’m thinking he’ll get pardoned by Maliki after Bush leaves office, because that guy needs to go out there and feel the love.

-jb