Sunday, May 24, 2009

Climate Update

A short (7 min) talk by Al Gore at this year's TED (Feb 2009):

"We need to go far, quickly."

Innovative Data Presentation

Hans Rosling presents data like you've never seen it before (TED 2006):

Raw Data Now

An interesting talk by Tim Berners-Lee on his vision of the future of the Web: Linked Data.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


“Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts. One day, Mother Nature shows up and blows out your knee caps.”

-- Denis Hayes, CEO, Bullitt Foundation

Via: Portland Business Journal

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Science News Cycle

This cartoon is spot-on:

Front Yard Flower

Here's a flower in my front yard, which just popped out of nowhere in the last few days:

Guns in National Parks?

All I know about whether guns should be allowed in National Parks is this: several years ago I was backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, somewhere in Tennessee or maybe southwestern Virginia. One day we came across two hunters carrying rifles, hunting something or other. We exchanged short, polite greetings and we each went on our way. But I remember that the next half-mile was quite stressful, and I have rarely felt so vulnerable -- and this is a place where the locals hang fish hooks on the trail at eye level to warn-off hikers.

No one has a legitimate need to carry a gun in a National Park -- if you're that afraid of its animals, don't go there -- where hunting isn't allowed. It's a shame America will now allow this. People will die because of it, and, if not, will take on far more stress than need be in a civilized society.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


Werner Herzog is perhaps an acquired taste, and the first movie of his I ever watched (I'm a little ashamed to say) was the 2005 film Grizzly Man. (Although I would still like to hear the audio of Timothy Treadwell's last minutes as he was eaten by a bear.) It was tastefully done and even inspiring (but realistic).

Since then I have been trying to catch up on Herzog. The Wild Blue Yonder is not Herzog at his best (or Brad Dourif), and you can honestly wonder what they hell they both had in mind.

But 1982's Fitzcarraldo is pure gold. You have to watch it. You especially have to watch it when you realize that Herzog used no special effects at all -- he actually filmed the actual dragging of the actual 340-ton boat over the actual mountain. It's insane, but it made the entire film.

That, plus the boat's later passage through the rapids. Rather than edit it as some loud, quick-cutting, fast-action horror sequence as this huge boat crashes through the rapids, Herzog simply pans back and shows the boat almost dancing through the rapids. It makes all the difference.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Towards a Real-Life Serge

One of the neater details of the new movie (and coming TV series) Caprica, which takes place 58 years before the just-concluded Battlestar Galactica series and explains the creation of the Cylons, was the robotic butler Serge, which looks a bit like a mobile, talking golf bag:

A new robot by Anybots is not exactly the same thing, but about half of it:

This is a teleconference on wheels -- the robot can follow you around, etc., but the voice is that of the person/people on the other end of your teleconference.

Here's a video of the concept. They cost about $30K apiece. I could see this catching on, if the price were a lot lower, and people have about 15 years to grow comfortable with the idea.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Google's Power Consumption

Google has a data center in northern Oregon, in The Dalles on the Columbia River. It's power consumption at full capacity will be (in 2011) an estimated 103 MW. (Google won't reveal its own numbers.)

The total electricity consumption in Oregon in 2005 was 46,457 million kW-hr/yr, or 5300 MW.

So Google will be using about 1-2% of all Oregon electricity (a state of 3.6M people).

The Guardian has another interesting article about Internet power consumption -- it's growing at about 10% a year. US data centers used about 61 B kW-hr in 2006, 1.5% of all US electricity consumption (or enough to power the entire United Kingdom for 2 months), and perhaps will use 80 B kW-hr this year (9100 MW).

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Truman as a War Criminal

Was Harry Truman a war criminal for dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Jon Stewart said yes when asked the other night.

Of course (of course), anyone who ever dropped an atomic bomb on an American city would be labeled a war criminal, no question about it. What's the difference?

The difference is that we think we can parse out morality. We thought we had good reasons for killing tens of thousands of completely innocent Japanese women, men, children, and babies. Just as they thought they had good reason to bomb Pearl Harbor. I mean, the Japanese didn't just wake up one morning and decide to commit as much evil as possible. The Japanese needed oil, and the US was dogged in trying to deny them that.

Funny how, when we need oil, it's justifiable to attack Iraq, but when the Japanese needed oil, they're not justified in looking out for their interests.

Actually, the whole damned thing makes me sick -- it's OK to murder thousands of little babies in this case, but not in that case, and we were justified because of what they did to us, but of course they were justified because of what we did to them.

It's OK for the US to waterboard to protect our people, but it wasn't OK for the Japanese to do the same to protect their people. Because they're just Japanese but we're Americans.

Like it all isn't at the bottom just stupid, naked, nationalistic tribalism.

I do not believe in a God, but I almost wish there was one, just so maybe some day I could get to see Truman and Yamamoto and Patton and Eisenhower and Hirohito and every one of the murderers standing at the pearly gates still arguing with whomever is still listening about how right there were and how wrong everyone else was, all talking over one another, still pointing fingers at everyone else, still trying to explain why they were a true Christian or whatever other stupid religion they thought they were pretending to practice, but it was just all the other guys who still forever without a clue and why can't you let me in after all these years and how responsble can you expect me to be just because I dropped a bomb that killed thousands of children and babies?

What did you expect?

Las Vegas Sprawl

Here's an interesting set of photographs showing the sprawl in the Las Vegas area since 1984.

Sightline has an animated version here.