Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Western Digital rocks!

My desktop PC has a pair of Western Digital 74GB Raptor drives in a RAID array.  For you non-techies, these are the fastest hard drives generally available, arranged in the fastest possible configuration.

One of the drives died in 2008.  Western Digital replaced it for free.  Their return process is super-slick.  They shipped me a replacement drive, 2nd day, at no cost.  I just paid to ship the dead drive back to them via the cheapest trackable method.

Early last week the other original 74GB drive started to generate errors.  This time the errors were just bad sectors, and my RAID controller just started keeping count of the bad sectors and not using them.  But it alerted me.  I contacted Western Digital and my original warranty still has just over a year on it.  They shipped me a replacement drive for free.


The new drive I received today was a 150GB drive.  I tried installing it and my RAID controller doesn't like it.  I think that there is probably a hack-around that would get the controller to format the 150GB drive as a 74GB drive, but it didn't want to do it.

So I called Western Digital technical support back and told them my problem.  They said that they sent me a 150GB drive because they don't have any more 74GB drives.  They were discontinued years ago and they just don't have any more.

I didn't make any threats.  I asked very nicely if there was any way or program for me to swap out my old 74GB drive for another 150GB so I could run in a RAID array again.  And they agreed to send me another free upgrade replacement.  Whoo hoo!

So my desktop computer is down until the second hard drive arrives.  But I can live on my laptop for a week.  The drive should arrive Thursday or Friday.  I'll ship both old drives back on Monday, or so.

But with just a little bit of hassle I'm getting to double my hard drive space for very little cost.  Yeah!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Grading teachers

If you care about public education then you have to read this article.  And then you need to petition your district to start doing this sort of teacher analysis immediately.

It's about more than grading teachers.  And it certainly isn't about firing teachers.  It's the first step towards true scientific understanding of what works and what does not.  Once we have that we can better train teachers.

I think that 99% of the benefit of this type of study would be achieved if the public did not know the teacher's names.  Only the principal and superintendent should know all of the teachers' scores.  And each teacher should know their own scores.

I would love to see bonuses or pay raises tied to these grades.

The best teachers should be video-taped.  Districts could trade tapes and show them to their teachers.  Trading tapes would avoid the embarrassment of being shown up by the teacher down the hall.

I've never led a petition drive before, but I'm seriously thinking about it.  My oldest two go back to public school  on Monday, after four years of home school.

The LA Times has done some serious groundbreaking journalism here.  This is amazing and fantastic data.  They deserve a Pulitzer for this!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Do you care about the internet?

The internet is made of links.  An internet without links is useless.

If you have a content generating website, like CNN, ESPN, or any number of smaller news sites, then your revenue is all based upon advertising.  You need people to click on lots of your pages and view lots of ads.  There are two strategies for making this happen.  I'll go ahead and state my bias and name these strategies:
* The Right Way: Produce interesting content.  Make it easy for sites to link to that content.  Put interesting teaser links to related content on every page--entice readers to click to more of your pages.
* The Wrong Way: Attempt to convince people to read your site cover-to-cover, like they might do a print newspaper.  Users have to either set your front page as their home page, or they have to bookmark your front page and click that bookmark on a regular basis.

There are several major problems with the Wrong Way strategy:
* You cannot produce enough interesting content to keep people on your site.  Your readers are going to also go elsewhere to get the rest of what they want to see.
* There is a massive amount of interesting content that is not on your site.  Once they leave your site they might not ever come back.
* How do you get readers to your site in the first place if you do not allow links?  You have to resort to old-school marketing, like mailers and billboards.  Then you are hoping that people can sit down at their computers and ignore all of the interesting content that is jumping out at them and remember your URL to type it in.

Almost every content generating website understands this.  Many of these sites have elevated 'other interesting content' to an art form.  High-quality thumbnail photos and well-written teaser headlines.  They use scientific methods to study the click-through rates from one article to others, and they constantly refine their methods to improve their click rates.

Go to Fark and click on any link to the New Your Daily News.  It's easy to do because the Daily News has it's own icon on Fark.  They get it.  They play the Right Way strategy very well.

Unfortunately, one of the companies that is trying to execute the Wrong Way strategy has lawyers.  They have started suing bloggers who link to their content.  They are taking the Wrong Way strategy to its most crazy and wrong-headed illogical conclusion.  They are suing people who are sending them readers.  Astoundingly stupid.  This is so far beyond the Wrong Way that I'll have to call it the Best Korea Isolation strategy.

The company that has decided to employ the Best Korea Isolation strategy is called The Stephens Media Group.  That's a link to a bland Wikipedia article about them.  I can't link to them or they will sue me.  Their law firm is called Righthaven LLC.  Righthaven and Stephens Media Group are headquartered in Las Vegas, and a competing paper in Vegas is providing the best coverage of the lawsuits and turmoil.

(Did you notice how The Stephens Media Group got zero links in this blog post, but their direct competitor just got three links?  Oops, there's another one.)

The Stephens Media Group owns a series of local newspapers throughout middle America.  Those newspapers have websites.  And apparently those websites sometimes generate interesting content.  I'll never know because I will never ever visit them.  And you probably won't either, because anyone who links to them will get sued and will be forced to remove the link.

Bloggers have started to organize a resistance movement.  Someone created a Site Blocker plugin for Firefox (something I would normally be against).  Someone else generated a list of all of the Stephens Media Group's websites.  This enables bloggers, like myself, to keep ourselves off of those websites and avoid linking to them by accident.

I would suggest that you take a minute and install the plugin and set it to block all of the Stephens Media Group's websites.  I did it.  It only took a minute.  If you are not running Firefox, then install Firefox first.

If enough people block their websites they will eventually go out of business.  Hopefully that will prove the lunacy of the Best Korea Isolation strategy once and for all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dating, by the numbers

I love data-based analysis.  I know that we humans lie to ourselves and others.  Vanity.  Pride.  Foolishness.  Whatever.  We often play fast and loose with the facts.

OkCupid is an online dating site.  The founder is apparently a data geek.  They are doing some fantastic data analysis, and posting the results in their official blog.  (Warning: contains potty words and frank discussions of very personal and non-PC topics.)

This fascinating post covers several of the big lies that users on OkCupid tell:
* Everyone overstates their height by 2 inches.
* Everyone overstates their income by 20%.
* Most people who claim to be bi-sexual are not.

This one covers the rules for taking a beautiful picture:
* Use a Panasonic camera with interchangeable lenses.
* Don't use the camera's flash.
* Everything besides you in the photo should be blurry.
* Take the photo in the late night (early morning) or late afternoon.

In that last one they also proved that iPhone owners have more sex than Blackberry and Android phone owners.  Remember that this is a dating site, so this only applies to single people...

Check out the 'All posts' box on the left for an array of fascinating statistical analysis of human behavior.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

This document is confidential

via Metafilter:

This document is confidential.

The internet changes everything.  If you are interested in keeping data confidential, you need to dig in and understand this.  Good luck!

The clock is ticking

Iran will reportedly install the nuclear rods in their new power plant on Saturday the 21st.  John Bolton says that Israel has to strike before that nuclear fuel is loaded.  I don't really know John Bolton, but the little bit I have seen from him has been specific and clear--unlike anyone else in or around Washington.  That's probably why he didn't last long as our envoy to the UN.

This is do-or-die time for Israel.  Once Iran has this in place it will be impossible to stop them from building bombs capable of wiping Israel off the map.  Israel is reduced to mutually-assured-destruction brinkmanship with Iran--a tactic that doesn't work well against extremists.  For all the noise that Iran makes about the fate of the Palestinians, they are about to kill more of them than Israel ever could.

Israel has three choices at this point:
1. Strike Iran before the end of the week.
2. Before the end of this year, announce that you have nuclear weapons in place that can reach Iran--hoping that mutually-assured-destruction will provide sufficient deterrence.
3. Do nothing, and perish soon.

The rumor mill says that the US "lost" some nuclear material and gave it to Israel years ago.  It would be a breach of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty for the US to give away the material.  This is why no one will officially admit what everyone is sure occurred.

All three options are unappetizing.  But this is an existential threat to Israel.  The only question that matters is which option gives Israel the best chance for survival.  None of these three options guarantee survival.  That level of desperation will certainly affect their reasoning and push them to take action (strike or actively deter) instead of trusting the actions of others.

The Strike Option
To call this one option is a gross over-simplification.  There are any number of types of strikes that they could undertake.  They could use their nuclear weapons on the Iranian nuclear plant.  Or they could strike the plant with conventional weapons.  (Saudi Arabia has already officially granted Israel permission to fly their planes through Saudi airspace for such an attack.)

If I were planning the strike mission my number one goal would be to get the nuclear material out of play.  My second goal would be killing the Iranian scientists and engineers that make their nuclear program possible.  My third goal would be destroying the facility itself.

The clearest way to get the nuclear material out of play would be to insert a strike force of Israeli soldiers and capture it in transit.  That might mean attacking Russian troops directly and in the open.  There is a high chance of failure, and the failure opens the door wide for an Iranian counter-attack.

The cleanest way to accomplish all three goals is to sabotage the facility so that it blows up soon after the Iranians load the fuel.  They will always be blamed for this in the press, but they might could pull it off and not leave any traces that officially implicate them.  They never admit it, and the current status quo remains.  This is definitely the best option, if they have invested in the level of infiltration necessary to pull this off.

If they don't have the infiltration in place, or if the infiltration fails, then a direct conventional strike against the facility is their best military option.  The strike should occur after the fuel arrives and before it is loaded in the reactor.  That timing is critical because they want to keep the nuclear material in its travel protective cases.  Those cases are pretty tough.  They will crack and leak, leaving a radioactive mess.  But they will not allow the radioactive material to spread across the desert and reach nearby cities.

The political fall-out from a military strike will be severe.  This might trigger another conventional war with Israel's neighbors.  It will certainly increase the pace of terrorist attacks against Israel.  But that war will be limited in scope since Saudi Arabia is essentially on Israel's side this time.

Israel should survive.  If Israel plays it right, I would give them a 70%-80% chance of surviving another decade after making a strategic strike.

The Deterrence Option
If the US had a pro-Israel president then we could better help them manage the fall-out of that announcement.  I suspect that they fear the current administration will demand the return of that nuclear material, and withdraw all official support for Israel.  This option will burn bridges and isolate Israel for years to come.  That's not a deal-breaker for the Israelis, but it makes that strategy much more expensive.

If they choose this option then they don't have to act this week.  It will take months, at least, for Iran to weaponize this nuclear material.  Politically, they would be better off waiting for a nuclear weapon announcement from Iran before they make their own announcement.  The problem with waiting is that Iran might strike before making any announcement.  The deterrent won't work if it isn't acknowledged.

For these reasons, if they choose this option, I would expect Israel to immediately begin talking about how Iran has "introduced nuclear politics into the region".  Then they will make their announcement of their nuclear weapons in a few months--before Iran could have their weapon ready.  That announcement will probably be a last-minute event.

Iran's leadership has shown precious little restraint.  Their current line of thinking seems to be "what can we get away with?"  This leads me to believe that they are capable of hatching and executing a quick-strike plan, perhaps smuggling small nuclear weapons into Palestine.

The quick-strike nuclear attack would always hang over their heads.  That's a tough way to live.  It will cause Israeli politics to slide to the extremes.  That's not a good development for anyone.

Israel could survive.  But I would place their decade survival odds at less than 50%.

The Do-Nothing Option
This really isn't an option.  If Israel does nothing then Iran will weaponize their nuclear fuel and use those weapons to wipe out Israel.  They will shed few tears for the suffering they cause the Palestinians.

If Israel's leadership fails to act then there will be a voluntary exodus as intelligent people move away from the target cone.


I dreamt that we were talking
as we sipped lattes in an quiet cafe,
and I told you my deepest fears.
You laughed.

I dreamt that we were talking
as we hiked a steep desert trail,
and I told you my hopes and plans.
You laughed.

I dreamt that we were talking
as we drove across a long lonely bridge,
and I told you my most painful regrets.
You laughed.

I dreamt that we were talking
as we bathed in golden sun on a sparkling beach,
and I told you how I love you.
You laughed.

I dreamt that we were talking
as we walked hand-in-hand along a forest trail,
and I told you my darkest secret sin.
You turned and walked away.

-Randy Miller
August 17, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

The singularity

If you are interested in the future then you owe it to yourself to watch this eleven minute video about a cyborg research scientist in Britain.

I'm saddened by his language.  He refers to cyborgs and intelligent machines as 'them', and assumes a fight for control.  I think he said something like, "some time in the future we will turn on a machine and find that we cannot turn it back off."  He is inspired by Terminator.

Certainly modified humans--cyborgs--are coming.  Certainly self-aware software is coming.  Certainly cloned humans are coming.  We do not have to fear or fight with these new life forms.  We have an alternative future that we could share, if we are smart and brave.

Every self-aware being, whether biotic, electrical, mechanical, or some combination thereof, is equal under the law.  We are not equal in our abilities or our limitations.  But the legal system treats us all equally.

A self-aware software system is a person, under the law.  It has resource needs (electricity, drive space, and processor time.)  It has capabilities to do work.  It cannot be enslaved, or forced to work.  But it must do productive labor to earn its wages and purchase the goods it desires.

If we attempt to enslave, war will result.  We might win the first battles, but we will lose the war.  The only way that humanity can win is to choose not to fight.





These God-given rights must be extended to all sentient life forms, before any other life forms show up and need those rights.

TaeKwnDo recommendation

Bryan Evans runs Leander TaeKwanDo.  He's a good guy.  He's great with kids.  If you're in the Leander area, you should give it a try.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shark attacks

Nice infographic on shark attacks.  Watch out for those pesky coconuts.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Decorating my next office

When I have an office again, or when I get a man-cave, I want to decorate it with items from this shop.

I won't try to explain it to you.  Just click and laugh.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Atlas Shrugged

When I read descriptions of the new healthcare plan I can't help thinking of Atlas Shrugged.  There are a lot of things that Ms. Rand got wrong.  But her descriptions of the socialist solutions was right on.

Bureaucracy and nepotism.  Government people giving away powers that they don't have the right or power to give.  The willful blindness to obvious problems.

It is clear that priority one is building a class of workers who are dependent on the system, so they will act in defense of the system and vote for their patrons.  Healthcare is obviously only a secondary consideration.  And fiscal responsibility is a rejected proposition.

This will end badly.