Friday, July 22, 2005


More bombs today in a resort in Egypt. It seems like more and more the folks in the blogosphere are waking up to the fact that radical islam is a disease that must be fought by every civilized nation and people on the planet.
I'm wondering if this recent spate of violence won't make people more sympathetic to the war in Iraq, as slowly the realization dawns that evil must be confronted and force must be meet force.
Appeasement is the cowards answer, the naive dream of intellectuals who haven't grokked the reality of life on planet earth.
To quote my hero, Winston Churchill,

"We must fight ... we shall never surrender."

Hacking Harry Potter

Prof. Felten has anther good post on the Borg-like futility of resisting filesharing. As some of my readers know, I've read all the books and find them very entertaining. I borrowed the first few books from a girlfriend in college, and the last one from a neighbor. This newest one I borrowed from my buddie 'Bit', Bit Torrent. Yes, it was available as a pdf or an audible mp3. Great stuff Rowling, keep up the good work!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Interested in our National Debt?

If you're interested in national politics and our nation's economy, taxation, and debt then you probably already read The Skeptical Optimist regularly.

If you don't -- well, what the hell is wrong with you? You don't like practical, approachable, non-partisan analysis of our nation's finances?

filesharing is evil pt2

"You're getting something for nothing you lousy ingrate!! OK, I grant that you don't owe anybody the right to make a buck -- but you're enjoying their (movie, music, software) and not giving anything in return; that's wrong."

Ahhh yes, the `ole something for nothing routine. Having discovered that no meaningful harm is being done, some have suggested that filesharing is immoral because it is gratis.

Me: I listen to the radio for free every day -- I enjoy it greatly and I don't pay a cent. Is this wrong?
RIAA Zombie: But you pay for it through commercials!
Me: No I tune into a different station when a commercial comes on -- do you have a problem with that. I also leave the room when the tv commercials come on, its my preferred snack/bathroom break time. Maybe I Tivo. Does this trouble you so? Can I not enjoy tv and radio for free? Did I sign some sort of a contract that I would watch the commercials? The fact is we get something for nothing all the time in life -- air, radio, tv, beaches, mountains, forests, those little snacks they give away in supermarkets, ...
RIAA Zombie: But its not fair, the record studio does all this work to produce the cds, then you just take the music off the internet without paying a dime!
Me: Wake up and smell the napalm! The only thing unfair about the record industry is how they treat the musicians (despite what you think, musicians make the great bulk of their money touring, as they've always done since before there were even vinyl records.) Record studios produce a zero-value product (since the cost of copying and delivering information in today's world costs basically nothing) when they offer me a cd. The artists provide value, but they make their money on concerts and merchandise -- which by all accounts can only increase with a wider distribution of their music. But we're digressing here, as these things always do, into a fight about the proper business model for the record studios. I don't owe the Record companies a profit (see my first post) and I don't give a rat's ass how much money they [don't] make. In a free market its up to the record company to provide me a valuable product if they want my business -- and copying and distributing digital files costs me nothing, so what value do they add?

Up next: why the idea of "owning" digital content is patently ridiculous.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Cross sums puzzle (kakro)

I've just discovered a fun little pencil and paper puzzle game akin to crossword except with numbers -- its called kakro in Japan where it is apparently very popular. Try this site if you'd like to download and print some to play.

Python Rocks!

Yes, all of the hype is true: software development using python is 2-5 times faster than using C++ or Java. I've been a MATLAB scripter in the past, mainly for writing prototype feedback control algorithms, and python rivals matlab for ease of use and quick development.
And the great part is that a slew of usefull modules are available, making the development of cool applications straightforward.
So if you've ever wanted to try computer programming but didn't know where to start, or if you're looking for a better way to develop software: try python, it makes programming fun again.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Digital piracy is wrong!!

I get this line frequently from holier-than-thou friends, co-workers, and [extended] family and I'd like to publicly address this in a series of posts about the ethics/morality of downloading digital content. I think the people asking this question take for granted that deep down I agree with them, and they are sort of expecting a bashfull "aww shucks, yeah I'm a sinner, but hey .." response.

Well, I'll disabuse all you MPAA/RIAA zombies right now of your fantasies -- not only do I think digital piracy is not wrong, I wish there were a whole lot more of it.

There are too many issues to discuss in a single post so I'll concentrate on the "its wrong because it hurts the record studios/software developers/movie studios" line of reasoning.

But does downloading digital content cause harm to the creator of that content? Well, the first thing to note is that noone is being deprived of their property--a download copies a file, it leaves the original intact. Despite being called piracy, filesharing is not stealing: imagine sneaking into your neighbor's house and making an exact replica of their new stereo. You enjoy the benefits of a new stereo and your neighbor need never know -- there's no immediate harm being done, if any harm occurs its because of some secondary effect. Usually the claim is one of financial harm -- i download a song instead of buying the cd, so I've harmed the record company to the tune of $15.
But think about the implication there -- if not buying a particular commodity causes morally significant harm, then we're a bunch of sadists, aren't we? I buy AMD over Intel -- do I owe Intel an apology? My wife doesn't likes to do her own gardening -- is she wronging the local gardening business? Anytime we consume anything, or don't consume for that matter, someone is losing our business -- is their lack of profit creating a deficit on our moral balance sheet? This argument just doesn't add up, unless you believe that we have a moral imperative to ensure everyone makes a buck.
At this point in the argument, my opponents usually jump to another reason why filesharing is wrong by pointing to the illegality ... but I'll treat the other (equally deficient) attacks on digital piracy in future posts. Untill then, burn baby burn. Get you bittorrent groove on, my friends, and download the content you want guilt free.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

My daughter Jessie and me

My First Post

I know what you're thinking, or rather what you should be thinking: what the hell is this blog about? Mainly the theme here (I hope) will be the application of principles from my proffessional speciality (the theory of feedback control, robust system design, and decentralized-networked filtering/estimation/control) to politics, economics, and life in general.

For the sake of transparency, I will briefly describe my views as of 1 July 2005:

I don't identify myself with any particular political party of philoshopy, though the closest ideology would be classical liberalism (aka libertarianism). I favor the decentralization of power. I favor governmental power that is strictly limited in scope to certain necessary functions: law-enforcement and the administration of justice, protection of commons-type assets for fair use (roads, frequency spectrum, water, etc.), national defence, protection of free markets, etc.

I believe that free market - based economic systems (such as American capitalism) are superior in delivering a higher standard of living.

I hold that family relationships are the most meaningful and important ones that we have in life and that identification with and loyalty to family structures are under-emphasized in the great western democracies.

I believe that intellectual property (IP) law in the US has reached the point of insanity, and that modern IP law will become simultaneously 1) less enforcible and 2) more widely percieved as unjust and unworkable.