Thursday, May 29, 2008


I was packing my carry-on for a vacation I am about to take, and was looking for reading material that I might peruse while sunning on the beach. I picked up my copy of the Koran, and immediately thought "Nah, I'll probably get flagged and it will create a hassle".

I'm a clean shaven lily white 6'3" 250lb squidgy 20-something, and I had enough of a doubt about the state of the system securing our airports to spot a terrorist that I am not bringing this along to even peruse.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Many online banking and stock trading groups require some way to verify your identity.

The automated account verification systems with most of these groups send you a few small deposits, which you get to keep.

Michael Largent signed up fifty thousand times, and cashed out with thousands of dollars.

In a sad day for cheating, he has been indicted.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Q&A with John McCain?

There are many things to like/dislike about John McCain, but I doubt any item will cause greater bipartisan support for John McCain than the idea of John McCain willfully submitting to a modified version of the House of Commons "Question Time".

One of the things that I truly admire about the British system of democracy is "Question Time", and I have long wished that it could be integrated into our American government. Maybe it would grow weary after awhile (as I have spent the majority of my life listening to politicians talking past one another rather than directly to one another the novelty may wear quickly), or maybe it will increase vitriol and partisanship exponentially and to our detriment. Either way, the specifics of the deal would be welcome from my end because it wouldn't require a change in the institutional structure of the government, allowing the idea to be ditched if poor, or expanded upon if well received.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fit to be tied?

Apparently Nintendo did not send their new 'Wii Fit' video game through enough focus groups. Parents are livid that their children are being called 'fat' by a video game.

They have every right to be. As noted in the article, the BMI Nintendo uses while accurate for adults, fluctuates daily for children and teens. Factor in the mental and emotional volatility of youth, and a game which should be great for young people has suddenly become a potentially harmful game.

A warning should be written into the software (akin to the "Why don't you go outside and play" prompt) telling users each time the game is booted up that the BMI measurement may have varying degrees of accuracy for people under the age of 18.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Metafilter is a brilliant idea.

That song was Greg Brown's Who Woulda Thunk It?

Most importantly was the way I got the answer, by "querying the hive." AskMeFi was exactly the sort of thing I needed. I never got the point of Metafilter until now.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vote for Your Favorite Intellectual

Over at FP, you can vote on your five favorite influential intellectuals! (Finally, a "hottest celebrity" poll for geeks like us!)

It's a hard little game. Posner, Lessig and Zakaria were easy picks for me, but after writing myself in, it was hard to find anyone else who measured up.

(I noticed that Bryan Caplan, who studies the the irrationality of voting, did not make the poll. That's probably for the best, since his biggest fans usually don't turn out for these sorts of things.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mobile Data Center pr0n

This is what the inside of a mobile data center looks like:

(It's also the design scheme for my evil lair.)

Hat tip, Boing Boing.

World News Roundup (Gordon Brown for President)

  • Why is Myanmar refusing outside aid while its population is decimated by the recent disaster? So foreigners don't see the widescale genocide.
  • Zimbabwe has been a humanitarian crisis for a decade. Mugabe has refused to release last month's election results, and is calling for a runoff election, while his supporters use violence to intimidate or kill supporters of Morgan Tsvangirai. The Court has ordered that the results of last months election do not need to be released before the recount (a win for Mugabe), but that 200 Tsvangirai supporters should be freed from jails around the country (a win for the opposition). The fact Tsvangirai supporters were systematically imprisoned is worrisome, but the courts of the country might actually steer Zimbabwe towards real change. Our role has been to ask why the rest of Africa hasn't stepped up to fix their neighbor yet. (Meanwhile, we might be responsible for a civil war in Mexico).
  • China still doesn't have free speech. (Go figure.) In the Atlantic last month, Fallows reported on the Chinese Internet situation, how the Great Firewall is evolving over time. He noted that "Chinese citizens... risk financial or criminal punishment for criticizing the system or even disclosing how it works." Zakaria has a few of his own comments on where China could do better.

Has anyone realized what needs to be done, aside from maybe Gordon Brown? That's not surprising, though, the British Prime Minister is historically the Cassandra figure in international politics. What could make anyone listen this time?

UPDATE: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner seems to get it (excellent FP link there, highly recommended piece). Last week, Kouchner suggested...
...that the international community and the UN are obligated to intervene in Burma, regardless of the wishes of the military junta, in accordance with the "Responsibility to Protect", or R2P, as outlined by the UN at the General Assembly in 2005. The concept asserts that the international community is obligated to intervene in cases where states fail to protect their populations from "genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Yahoo's Glue Pages

Yahoo's trying a new way to organize search content, integrating wikipedia results, image searches and headlines all on one info page called a "Glue Page."

Here's a sample.

The use of wikipedia is notable. What other website started as a small community hobby can claim such prominence in the way we use the web?

Hat tip, Lifehacker.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The HRC Apologist In Me Is Dead.

Robert Reich reports this exchange between Hillary Clinton and George Stephanopoulos:

When asked... if she could name a single economist who backs her call for a gas tax holiday this summer, HRC said "I'm not going to put my lot in with economists.”

Rafe Colburn describes this as anti-intellectualism, and I'm inclined to agree.

I still believe Hillary has suffered more personal abuse during this campaign than any other candidate. I'm no longer convinced she deserves much better.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Two Short Policy Ideas

Repeal agrisubsidies and install a flat tax.

Posner covers agrisubsidies this week, echoing the frustration I feel when considering the issue:

"The deregulation movement passed agriculture by, leaving in place a series of government programs that lack any economic justification and at the same time are regressive. They should offend liberals on the latter score and conservatives on the former; their firm entrenchment in American public policy illustrates the limitations of the American democratic system."
- Becker-Posner Blog

This week I've also been thinking a lot about the Flat Tax. My main objection to the Flat Tax is its regressive nature, greater tax simplicity seems like an obviously worthwhile goal. (Seems like you could easily achieve a progressive but simple tax by slipping one logarithmic function in the tax calculation, or hanging on to income tables while dropping all the peculiar exceptions.)

Recently, Freakonomics mentioned Warren Buffett's realization that his secretary pays a much higher percentage in taxes than he does. He wagered $1 million that the average tax rate of all Forbes 400 members is lower than that of their secretaries, but so far no one has stepped up to claim the money. So our tax system is not only complicated, but being used to shelter the wealthy. This being the case, maybe a flat tax would be a step forward, at least until we can figure out that simple log function we're looking for.

UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria adds opening our borders and adopting the metric system to the list, in an article well worth reading, The Rise of the Rest.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Ben Stein Hates Science (Really)

Boing Boing had a link a few days back about Ben Stein, who concluded from the Holocaust that science is evil. He currently has a film about the stranglehold evolution has on our public schools.

I feel like this news might have helped contestants prepare to "Win Ben Stein's Money." Probably the losers are kicking themselves for brushing up on, you know, facts.

Greetings to the New Dystopia

I embedded this, at first, but I can't actually leave it on the site in good conscience.

I originally thought Idiocracy was dangerously elitist, but I'm beginning to waver.