Archive for February, 2006

Memory and personal relevance.

February 27, 2006

Big cities with serious population density can create a feeling of frenetic energy just with all of the activity taking place. I’m not sure if it is simply all the people just moving around each one with its own purposes or if it is the volume of people or both.

Normally, I don’t notice this sort of thing. I live near a city, but what I’m experiencing on my current trip never happens in my local city.

Since I’m a visitor, I have the time to walk right the through the throng and get coffee with more leisure than those around me (at least those around me with jobs). This time also probably means more to me than most people going through their normal routines.

Human memory of moments are sorted by relevance and importance. But it is a personal relevance. It is the most personal of all relevance. My moment in the strange city will stick with me longer because it is out of my normal routine. I remember, for example, the homeless guy sleeping in the Starbucks, his head back and mouth open in his chair, snoring. Most of the other people getting coffee probably won’t retain that memory or it is a different familiar memory that is one of many memories of the commonplace scene.

I think of memories as node points in my mind tagged with a time and date and sorted and retained by relevance. It is proof positive to me, though that most of life is irrelevant as I retain very little. It reminds me of the story of what lawyers used to do centuries ago when no one knew how to read and write. When someone sold a piece of property, they would take a kid out the closing and smack the crap out of him with a stick. The kid then remembered the incident and remembered the transaction because he remembered the pain. It was a time node in his life of high relevance and he became a human deed. He would remember the parties to the transaction along with the pain.

In a way, it’s ok that most of life is irrelevant. If every moment were earth shaking, we would lose our perspective. We would focus more and more on minutia trying to get some handle on a way to organize our minds and separate one moment from the next. So thank god for those boring days. They let us retain what’s important.

Fate, limited choice or freedom?

February 24, 2006

Some people think that genetics control 100% of our lives. They point to twins separated at birth who look and dress alike and have similar occupations and even marry women who have the same name. One could argue that people impact each other’s lives to a genetic script and what seems like random behavior is forecast by the double helix. The truly cynical might call this fate. A criminal is genetically destined to commit his crime and his victim is genetically doomed to be the one who suffers.

But even if genetics dictate all of our daily activity and free will truly is an illusion, the environment is still a factor. Hurricanes happen. Our bodies have to react to nature. Maybe that’s the definition of someone who is truly lost: a genetically programmed soul who cannot act upon its programming because Mother Nature has wiped out his playground. Maybe that, too, is what we mean by adaptation. When we are driven from our traditional environments by natural catastrophe, perhaps our adapting genes merely pick up with our programming somewhere else and humanity continues with only a blip in the pre-written story.

Or, maybe not. Maybe genes only play a 50% or 75% roll in life and there is a little wiggle room for a margin of free will. You can choose, for example, a Decaff Venti Carmel Latte or one day, you may get a Decaff Venti Carmel Mocha by accident. It could be more like the movie Run Lola Run. You have a couple of different outcomes in every choice in every day. The choices aren’t huge because much of life is scripted, but there are still multiple endings based on the few choices you have.

 

 

Hard Drive Quandry.

February 22, 2006

I got the three refurbished hard drives I ordered from Woot.com and I finally had a moment to play with them tonight.  It looks like, at this point, 2/3 of them are good.  I haven’t completely tested them yet.  One of them, though, was making LOUD clanking noises and my computer warned me of imminent failure and told me to save my data.  My original thought was to put all three drives in one box.  By way of information, I normally use 4 computers with a KVM.  These are fairly wimpy boxes.  2 P 3 1 GHz boxes, an AMD 1800 and an AMD 2800.  Strangely, the AMD 1800 is my favorite and that’s the one that I loaded 2 of the drives on.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be problematic as the bios is so old in that machine that it doesn’t go past the 137 Gig barrier.  If I want to that, I’m going to have to do a bios upgrade.  But I also have a P4 2 GHz that I’m wondering if I could turn into a Linux box.  I want to take another stab at Linux.  I’ve tried Red Hat 9, Fedora 3 and an old version of Mandrake and I haven’t been happy.  My friend says I should try Umbutu.  It would be cool to take these drives and make a 500 GB Linux server with Raid mirroring.  I could plug it into my hub and keep it running all the time.  That would be wonderful and all my machines could read it no matter that they don’t have bios upgrades.  Alternatively, I could get 3 more drive enclosures or a dedicated enclosure.  That’s only $100 and would be pretty cool too.  I’ll have to think about it. 

There’s a couple of OS trends that are pushing me back to Linux too.  Microsoft wants to tie licenses to motherboards.  I think they should just be site licenses.  If I have 4 copies of XP, I should be able to keep it on 4 computers no matter what they are.  I should be able to bring them up and down at will and swap out entire boxes, just so I don’t run it on more than 4 boxes at once.  The other trend is tying personal identity to the box.  Microsoft wants to do that too, through layering.  Having multiple boxes would give me a split personality!  Plus, sometimes, I want NO personal information on a computer.  I can do that with Linux. 

Incidentally, I wrote tonight’s blog on Writely because my box with Word on it is down.

Stick a fork in OSX, it’s done.

February 17, 2006

Apple’s OSX’s days are numbered. Soon, it will just be Windows and Linux. I agree with Dvorak. The thing that I don’t buy, though, is that Apple makes “premium” computers. In my view, there is only one thing that Apple does really well: aesthetics. They make really pretty things. These things are not necessarily the fastest, but they are nice to look at and fairly easy to use. I’ve gushed about the iPod before. My iMac, not so much. It’s like that Hak.5 video on how the G5 was supposed to be so freakin’ fast. It’s not. It’s slow.

That being said, my iMac is the most popular computer among the non-nerds in my house. I think it’s the gorgeous 20-inch screen and the relative ease of use. Plus, its location is good in the piano room. But the cost of the thing! Good lord! It cost three times what a PC with more power costs.I’ve never been comfortable with OSX. It’s like a second language to me. I speak Windows. I can’t help it. I was raised on DOS and went on from there. OSX is just alien. Plus the mouse isn’t that precise. Now I’m just whining.

But Dvorak is right. OSX is a doomed OS. Windows will take over and rightly so.  Switching to Intel chips clearly sets the stage.  The ink on the deal with Microsoft is probably already dry.  In a very short time, Vista will be found on Powerbooks, iMacs and Power Macs.People will still have a choice.  Linux will continue to gain popularity but OSX is bound for the same fate as OS/2 Warp.  Maybe OSX fans will get lucky and Apple will make it open source in a few years.    

 

Final Word on “Snow Crash.”

February 15, 2006

I finished reading Snow Crash and I am still amazed by it. It’s the mark of a great book that it makes good reading years past its release date. It really started reminding me of Infinite Jest with the plot line of the bit map that makes people crazy. I am more than a little happy that I can now say Infinite Jest is a little bit derivative as it was written five years after Snow Crash. It’s central theme concerns a video tape that is so amusing that it makes people crazy. Stephenson gets a bad rap because people say that he wraps his books up too quickly. Those critics should read more David Foster Wallace. 1088 pages and NO ENDING. Not that he cares, but I still have not forgiven him for that.

I enjoyed the theme of religion-as-virus and as something that has evolved over time. It reminded me of my Western Culture classes in college when we learned that Jesus wasn’t the first religious figure to die for his people. There truly is nothing new under the sun. Modern religions borrow heavily from ancient ones.

Sometimes, I wonder, too, if there aren’t people who can hack into other people’s minds. Or, at least have some capacity that gives them an immense advantage over others. Take Warren Buffet for example. Has there ever been an investor in the history of humanity who had his knack? Doesn’t he seem to have a superhuman ability to figure out what to invest in? Is he a mind-hacker?  All of this heavy thought is wrapped up in a slam-bang action cyberpunk thriller. What could be better than that?     

 

 

Paying Taxes on Everquest Booty.

February 13, 2006
There is this great story on NPR that I picked up on their business podcast. It seems that Uncle Sam might be interested in your activities in Norrath. It turns out that since virtual items and gold won in games has real world market value, winning them creates real-world taxable gain. Right now, for example, gold in EQII is selling for $50 real world money per 1000 EQII “gold.” Say over the course of a few months, your character generates 2000 gold. You’ve just earned the real world equivalent of $100 income which is taxable in real life, even if you don’t sell it. Now I suppose you might be able to offset the “cost” of your monthly subscription to EQII, but I don’t know. 

Now suppose you find a really rare sword and you trade it to someone else for a shield. The NPR report says that this could be considered barter trade and you could be taxed on that as well.

My favorite mental picture is going through an audit:

Auditor: Now, er, Mr. Thaed.
Thaed: Yes?
Auditor: It says here that your occupation is “Necromancer.” What exactly is that?
Thaed: Oh, I animate dead things to kill monsters.
Auditor: I see. And you made $100,000 gold doing it?
Thaed: Business was good, I killed a dragon!
Auditor: I see.

The thought of the millions of people throughout the country playing MMORPGs and then getting 1099s from Sony at year-end is really thought provoking. The guy in the article says he’s not going to be the one asking the IRS for an opinion on this because he would feel the wrath of gamers everywhere. I figure he’s already let the cat out of the bag by calling the IRS and talking to NPR. Talk about changing the face of gaming as we know it!

Jean Shorts are Out of Style.

February 11, 2006

This is something I only learned in 2002 and they were out of style long before that. Men’s clothing is full of traps like that. But who really decides? And who really cares? At work, I try to look as nice as possible, but when I’m home? Long sleeve T-Shirts and cardigan sweaters with faded jeans older than 2002. Or, I might wear sweats I bought 10 years ago.And what’s the big deal about pleated pants? I don’t get it. It’s not like wearing sandals with black dress socks. Or maybe in 2006, it is. I have caved on that one and now two pairs of my khaki slacks are flat front. But not all of them!

Honestly, it’s a man’s right to dress like a slob when he’s at home. It’s as American as plaid pants on the golf course. And when some seventies style clothing came back, I was very relived. My closet is now full of possibilities! And let’s not forget converse sneakers, worn with black socks… and jean shorts.

Online Shopping.

February 10, 2006

Let’s talk about discount merchandise websites. I’ve talked about woot here enough to make it clear I’m a fan. They had a BOC today. I’ll never get one. Since I’m in Eastern Standard Time, I am resigned to the fact that a BOC isn’t in my future. So I figure I will just have to get a paper bag, paint a question mark on it and dump some old computer stuff in it. I could then put it on a shelf until I forget what’s in it. After that, I can open it and have the BOC experience.Anyhow, my new favorite discount site is Ben’s Bargains. I found out about it from the diggnation podcast. Ben’s Bargains is cool because it’s almost like a whole bunch of woots in one day. I like it when the discount items are paraded in your face. Fatwallet.com is pretty much the same thing and they’ve been around for a long time.This is opposed to Froogle and Pricegrabber and Bizrate where you enter the product in and it generates the best places to buy it from. These are very, very useful when you’ve done your market research and you know what you want down to the model number. I’ve bought some digital cameras this way. This method is good for checking to see if you are buying something on woot or some of the other sites for a good price.Finally, there’s the warehouses. These are the overstock.coms of the world. There are a bunch of different sites including geeks.com and electrified.com. I don’t know that I actually buy a whole lot from these places though. I’m really tempted to get the box of 1000 feet of Cat 5 from geeks, but I don’t have the patience to cut my own cable.

I still buy from Newegg and Amazon too, it’s always nice when you don’t pay retail!

 

Snow Crash

February 8, 2006

“… a scattering of schizophrenic first worlders who have long ago burned their brains to ash in the radiant heat of their own imaginings.” Neal Stephenson, “Snow CrashI told my friend that I had my choice tonight of losing myself on the Internet or reading about people who lose themselves on the Internet. “Snow Crash” is a great book and I’m committing a cardinal sin by talking about it before I’m done reading it. The story of how I came upon this book is mildly interesting though. J Allard was interviewed in the January 2006 issue of CPU magazine. When asked why his Xbox Live gamertag is “Hiro Protagonist,” he responded, that it was “more about identifying with Neal’s dream. Neal’s vision for the metaverse—how people would communicate, compete, collaborate, and use technology—was excruciatingly similar to the dream I had held and wanted to build… ‘Snow Crash’ has been ‘required reading’ for many of the teams I’ve built, and it felt fitting to honor Neal by making Hiro my gamertag.”

This is pretty damn good for a book that was written in 1992. It inspired the man who created the Xbox. How can you read that and not let out a Keanu inspired “Whoa.”

Bumble

February 7, 2006

Let me tell you what happens when I over-extend myself. When it’s to the point of actual exhaustion, it’s easy, I fall into a confused sleep and get better. However, when I am working and it’s the middle of the day, and there is no couch available, I get mental rebellion. I start asking myself questions like “are we just blobs of stuff that dream primitively about base future desires and perceive the present haphazardly?” “Do our dim senses only slowly give us lame, less than real time input to a brain that remembers only a fraction of what happens to it in a sad misguided way?” “Is life a bumble?” “Are the best of us the ones who screw up the least?” “Worse yet, are the people who live the best lives separated from those who live the worst only by the amount of daily pain they endure?”This is grounded in reality. I’ve been thinking lately about experiments that show that we decide to do things before the conscious mind is involved. I’ve also been thinking about the input rate of the eyes and ears to the brain (ears get info there much faster). So my brain keeps asking questions: “Is human achievement much different from ant achievement from a deep time view?” “Is it fair to the ants, since they never had bombs?”This is what happens when I let complexity mess with fun. This is what happens when I have outgrown the pure capacity to experience joy and muddle it up with complex thoughts that are really holes in that joy. Pure fun and pure joy are not impeded by a worldview. I have to believe that pure fun is innocent and consuming and is best undiluted. It is a gift that is best embraced without guilt or reserve.And pure fun is clearly what I need right now. And maybe some sleep.