Sunday, December 28, 2008

First day as a gun owner.

I'd bet at least half of all blockbuster Hollywood films include gunfire in their scenes. It's funny that we all become engrossed in these films when the average person rarely sees a gun in their day-to-day life, let alone fires one. Well, yesterday was not your average day for me. After a mandatory 10-day waiting period I picked up my Rossi 971 357 magnum revolver from River City Gun Exchange and took it to the Gun Room shooting range in Elk Grove to get used to it.
First off, I have to say... buying a gun is serious business. You have to take a 30 question safety test first, then perform a safe handling demonstration when buying it. You need to fill out all kinds of forms and including proof of current residence when buying the gun. I even needed to sign some form when buying ammunition. Then there's the 10-day waiting period. I suppose all of these regulations make it harder for irresponsible or dangerious people to purchase firearms. I wonder if the red tape deters upstanding citizens from purchasing guns though. It did for me... I've wanted a gun for some time, but procrastinated because I hate tests. With the economy getting worse (which means increasing crime), I figured I'd finally git'er done. Fortunately, my wife Brandie didn't oppose, since she grew up in a rural area where everyone owned a gun.

Home protection isn't the only reason I bought a gun. I believe in the constitional right of citizens to bear arms - to prevent government oppression. We live in a great country and I don't think any sort of revolution or coup is needed... but we can help prevent oppression from creeping in by maintaining an armed populace and limiting government control. Put aside the gun-filled Hollywood films for a moment, and watch the History Channel to understand the importance of an armed populace. How else will we fight to stop a Hitler or Stalin from gaining control?

Guns are serous business, and firearms demand respect. One of my favorite new shows "It's Always Sunny in Philedelphia" has an episode "Gun Fever" where the gang gets a gun and shows ridiculous carelessness with it: carrying it around in their pants, keeping it loaded, twirling it & pointing it at people. It's funny, because they are seduced by the power and respect the gun brings. Now... being a gun owner, I can relate to the seduction (not the carelessness though).

Being unfamiliar with guns, the shooting range felt like a war zone with a room full of blasting weapons. My gun (or any 357) fires both .357 caliber and .38 special ammunition. I figured the .357 was lighter (lower number), so started with that... oops was I wrong! It felt like a cannon going off, fire & thunder flashing from my hands and jolting like a wild horse. What a powerful feeling! I needed to stop between rounds on the .357 to take a breath... needs some getting used to. The 38 special ammo was more comfortable to fire and I could shoot off six rounds without pause. The Gun Room is an interesting place. There were boyfriend & girlfriend there, guys, girls - some renting guns, some bringing their own. On the drive home, and last night, I felt a little different... a little more lethal, more free. Like after a day of boating or at the amusement park, when you can still feel the swirling motion at home - I could still hear & feel the thunderous explosion in my hands later. I guess this is what it feels like to be a gun owner.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thoughts on Christmas: Bloggin' & Egg Noggin'

So what is Christmas really about?
  • For christians - it's a holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, revered as the son of God & savior of mankind.
  • For families - it's a time to gather, share gifts, and celebrate.
  • For retail - it's a time to advertise, encouraging people to spend liberally.

Like most western holidays, Christmas is an amalgam of Christian and pagan traditions collected over time. As empires conquered cultures throughout history, they combined overlapping celebrations together. It's interesting that the earliest English reference to December 25th as “Christmas Day” didn't occur until 1043 A.D.

Around the holidays, you'll see in the news controversial stories about athiests wanting christmas trees taken down from public buildings, or others wanting Kwanzaa decorations given equal prominence. I can understand the argument ‘separation of church & state’… but come on, Christmas is about as religious as Halloween these days. Santa Claus & Christmas trees are not associated with Jesus Christ. Christmas has become a global commercial holiday. When I lived in Japan, a Buddhist & Shinto religious nation, they celebrated Christmas by eating cake. To demonstrate the "global commercial" aspect, there is an amusing well-known occurrance at a japanese department store, where they put up a Christmas decoration of Santa hung on a cross. (That one might out on engrish.com)

Many would say the "true meaning" of Christmas is giving. This is appropriate, given it's timing of the season... when cold winter hits and the less fortunate are hungry and cold. It's also at the end of the year, so perhaps some consider it good timing to finish up their charitable tax-deductions for the year. Christmas is a time when hope and charity thrives as people exercise their beliefs. Children believe a bearded man from the north pole flies in a sled across the world delivering presents. Adults believe the son of God was born in the middle east 2000 years ago, performed miracles, taught kindness, then was executed. Regardless of the belief - hope, charity, and family can only be a good thing. Therefore, I believe Christmas is a good thing.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Sports geeks vs. Sci-fi geeks

Ok, I've never been much of a sports fan. The most popular american team sports (baseball, baseketball, football) have always been extremely boring to me. I would watch the Superbowl, or the Kings in playoffs - because these are good party events to drink beer & chow down. I sometimes watch world sporting events, like the Olympics or Wimbledon (simply because they are international events). I'll occasionally go to a Rivercats came to enjoy the atmosphere with friends. I'll also check out peculiar ESPN2 sporting events like lumberjack competitions and hotdog eating contests. Otherwise, I'd sooner pick my nose than watch sports.

Watching sports is a stereotypical male pastime. I can't count how many times I've been chatting with dudes, when the conversation turns to sports & I want to poke my eyeballs out. I would much rather talk about politics, science, or basically anything else. By and large, sports fans are considered your normal red-blooded americans... your "Joe six-packs" to use a palinism. In fact, a Joe six-pack who browsed my blog might even label me a 'geek' upon finding numerous posts about astrophysics & batman. A 'geek' is anyone who obsesses over any topic too much - the weirdos & nerds first in line to see Star Wars and never getting laid. But, what do you call a sports fan who obsesses over his team, or plays fantasy football every day, or collects trading cards? They're just "geeky" as the trekkie with a millenium falcon scale-model replica.

There are all types of geeks: renaissance geeks, politics geeks, book geeks, music geeks. However, the sci-fi geek & sports geeks are two major archetypes. I think the sci-fi/comic type geeks are often intelligent, science-minded folks who enjoy imagining the remotely possible. They respect & admire individuals for their intellect and innovation (their heroes would be Einstein, Hawking, Gates, etc.). They tend to be individualistic, because they enjoy their own minds very much.

What draws sports fans in? Firstly, sports are easy to grasp. Anyone of any education level can sit at a barstool & debate the merits of players with their neighbor. Secondly, sports resonates with a base instinct of the human animal - to form coalitions. For most of primate and human evolution, we've lived in gangs and tribes... continually at battle with rival groups. Evolutionary psychology has undoubtedly shaped us to support this behavior. We've been wired to feel pride about our home team and respect (if not idolize) the player who is strongest and fastest. I think the competitive spirit & enjoyment of team activities seen in sports fans are manifestations of these primal instincts.

To each their own. I don't think there's anything superior about sports fans or sci-fi fans... but to anyone who thinks all normal guys like sports, I'd suggest you consider the perspectives above.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Patent abuse

So I was watching TV the other day and this hilarious commercial comes on: "Do you have an idea for an invention? Have you ever wanted to be an inventor but didn't know how to start? Call now for your free Inventors Kit, and we'll help you get started." I told Brandie.. 'Hey, I wanna quit my job & be an inventor!" Seriously though, these guys represent everything wrong with the spirit of patenting. Companies or individuals who patent ideas to ensure they reap the benefits of their innovation are standing on ethically solid ground. However, all too often patents are filed to create legal ammunition to intimidate, blackmail, and squash competitors.

I'm no patent law expert, but it's obviously wrong when patents are filed (and sometimes granted) for things which are natural progressions of technology. Often with new technology, something may appear an innovation when written in a verbose long-winded patent filing - and I think patents are probably granted inappropriately due to the subjective and complex nature of new technology. Let's consider a few examples of patent abuse:

Amazon one-click shopping: This is a fairly well-known case. Amazon basically got a patent for "buy this" buttons on websites. They used it to sue the pants off their rival, Barnes & Noble. Fortunately recently, the US Patent Office invalidated many of those patents.

Apple multi-touch: With mobile computing, we'll need substitutes for keyboards & mouses. Touchscreens have become the best interface to combine display and input. iPhone was first to market with a next-gen touchscreen device. But should you be able to patent the pinch? Apple has tried... filing patents for multi-touch, where fingers pinch and swirl a screen to manipulate objects. They shouldn't get these patents because there is already prior art, and because this type of interface is a natural progression. You should be able to patent innovation, but not intuition. I think the multi-touch patents will be rejected, but they may slow down progress for the consumer with their attempts.

Human genome: Something must be wrong if you can patent gene sequences. So someone owns my genetic code? I know this is an oversimplification, and the intent is to encourage R&D... but I only think you should be able to patent drugs or technology affecting DNA - not life forms themselves.

There are plenty of other examples of patent abuse. I think that the Patent Office tries, but it ultimately incapable of comprehending and interpreting cutting edge technology to judge when patents should & shouldn't be granted. There are ways that could be improved, such as by "crowd sourcing" patent evaluations so academics and experts could inject into the process. Or here's a thinker for you... get rid of patents altogether.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Singularity

In a previous post, I summarized what I consider to be the major milestones in time that have led to humanity on Earth today... an intelligent species inhabiting & dominating this planet. I'm going to continue that post here, not about the past... but about the future. You may have heard of a concept called "the singularity". If you haven't, it's very intriguing... as it ponders the future of humanity and what intelligence & technology lead to.

In astrophysics, a "singularity" refers to the center of a black hole beyond the event horizon... where space-time bends in upon itself and gravity becomes infinite. Nothing can escape. An analogy to this "singularity"( popularized by author Raymond Kurzweil) applies to the evolution of intelligence and technology. You see, as you approach a black hole... gravity gets exponentially stronger. Similarly, as humanity advances with knowledge and technology... our rate of advancement is accelerating. This is apparent when you look at the increasing frequency of the evolutionary & technological milestones. The trend has also been observed by many others - as seen here:

There are at least a couple theoretical scenarios in which this evolutionary singularity could occur, but they each rely upon a common requirement: intelligent life must achieve the capability to enhance and evolve itself. One scenario is biological and genetic - where a species masters genetic manipulation to such an extent that it grabs the steering wheel of evolution, enhancing it's own cognitive abilities recursively. The second scenario is similar, but would involve A.I. - where an artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence and "reprograms" or enhances itself (also recursively). Either of these scenarios would define the "event horizon" after which an intelligence explosion would occur.

Is this for real? Could it really happen, and if so when? A lot of technophiles claim that the Singularity will occur in our lifetime. Personally, I think of this prediction like a bad 80's sci-fi movie premised on flying cars & robots in the year 2003. Still, it is undeniable that our technological advancements are accelerating - especially regarding both genetics and computing. We're currently unraveling the human genome, while Moore's Law reliably predicts CPU power doubling every two years. However, we are still nowhere near genetically enhancing human brains, nor developing artificial cognition. Optimistically, I think either of these technologies are at least a century away (probably longer)... and any type of Singularity would be several centuries away (at least).

So, yes - I think an evolutionary Singularity is a real possibility, given that we don't destroy ourselves first. Or perhaps the new intelligence following the Singularity will destroy itself.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fun with Google Trends

Google Trends is a pretty cool site. According to their website: "you can compare the world’s interest in your favorite topics. Enter up to five topics and see how often they’ve been searched on Google over time". Their data goes back abour 4 years now. You can compare different search terms - so it's all about what you ask. (It's important to remember, search terms are often variable... e.g. 'Coca-Cola' vs. 'Coke' - so wording is important)

I ran a few comparisons in Google Trends that I thought might be interesting:
(Scroll down to see the chart image)
  1. Coke, Pepsi
    I did this just as a baseline. You'd expect they come out pretty similar & in fact, they did.
  2. Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Hulk, Spiderman
    Okay, this just goes to show how big the movie releases impact interest in these characters. You see huge spikes in interest when their films release in theaters.
  3. Obama, McCain
    Perhaps Google Trends will turn out to be a good predictor of election winners? Interest in Obama certainly overwhelmed McCain prior to the election. Of course, they always said the internet is a younger more liberal crowd. It's notable how dramatically interest tapers off after Nov 4th.
  4. iPhone, Blackberry, G1
    I thought I'd compare the three top "next gen" phones out there. iPhone has been around over a year. The Blackberry has been steadily increasing. The G1 is pretty new - will Android be bigger than iPhone? We'll have to wait & see...
  5. Apple, Microsoft, Ubuntu
    Speaking of technology, I thought I'd compare these OS & PC platforms. Microsoft is actually decreasing over the long term. Apple has been slowly increasing & Ubuntu is surprisingly strong riser! I'm not sure what the little humps in the Ubuntu trendline are... my guess would be new distribution releases.
  6. Prop 8, Bailout, Global Warming, Gas Prices, Britney Spears
    And last but not least, what have been major issues facing our country in 2008? I tried a few & threw in Britney Spears for measure. Sadly, Britney Spears is of greater interest to googlers than our national crises on your average day. However, you can see definite spikes when Prop 8, bailouts, & gas prices peaked our interests.
(click to enlarge)


Give Google Trends a try yourself with & feel free to share interesting ones!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Farewell to bachelorhood

So, I'm getting married this Saturday.
I think it's appropriate that I save any personal thoughts & words for family and friends at the wedding, rather than 'blog' about that... especially since I've soiled this blog with talk of politics, boogers, & batman. I'll just say - goodbye to bachelorhood. That first half of life has been a prelude to a new second half to be shared with my wife.

Well, it will be a very special weekend, so I won't dwell. I'm sure I'll have more to add about the wedding & honeymoon afterwards...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A purge of frustration regarding the careless & selfish

This past Labor Day weekend wasn't the best time for Batman to leave Gotham...

We went to Tahoe for our friends' Ed & Beckys wedding at The Ridge. Much fun was had at the wedding & I must say casino karaoke at the Lakeside Inn was good fun as well. It was also helpful to watch another wedding a few weeks before my own.

I got home from Tahoe after a 4 hour drive. Asking passerbys in the bumper-to-bumper stopped traffic informed me that a motorcycle & Subaru had driven off the road, resulting in fatality. When we passed the accident, the motorcycle looked like crumpled tin-foil with leaves sticking out of it. We passed the Subaru later on a tow truck...As we arrived back in Sac, there was graffiti on the building across the street (again). This happens a few times a year, and a good neighbor (let's call him Batman) usually goes out & paints over it right away to discourage further hooliganism. Being on the windows, it was lucky someone in the neighborhood association had the owner's contact & they came to clean the windows today (and hopefully the screen soon)...
After unpacking, I went out back to water the plants to find my newly planted clover trampled & mushed. Yes, it's newest episode of the tiresome saga called "The 3-story house being built 2 feet from my yard".

I will now briefly recap the story...

City code in my zone says a building must be at least of 3' away from a neighbor's property. I pointed that when they started drawing construction lines and the neighbor/owner replied my fence was 'like two feet on his property' based on a survey he had. His project manager chimed in, correcting it to be 6"-9". I asked for a copy of the docs, but had to acquire them myself to find it was actually 3"-6". I'd bet if I paid the $1000 for my own survey, it'd be closer to no inches. Okay, great way to kick off a neighborly relationship by fibbing, right? So, they're trying to fit a duplex on a narrow lot & get every square inch they can (both outwards & upwards). Even after starting construction, they built to that 6-9" figure after I corrected them on it. I had a city inspector come out, measure, & verify my case - but let it go to avoid a hassle. Furthermore, I realized that California supports 'adverse possession' which means the fence had been there in plain sight for enough years to make it my property... survey or no survey. Later, contractors and all got into a mini-feud about them trespassing, putting up scaffolding, & turning my yard into a construction zone. We finally closed the book on it all with some compensation & promissory notes to repair damage.

Okay - back to Labor Day... After what I thought had been closure, the neighbor/owner agreed to tell all his workers not to use my yard until talking with me first. (That's all I wanted in the first-place... common courtesy). So this weekend his guys trampled/mushed my newly planted clover with their ladder work. I called & emailed the neighbor/owner to find out who it was. As of yet.. no response, we'll see.

That brings me to this evening. I was out front, when I saw two guys wheeling furniture down the alley. I knew what was up, because people treat that alley like a junk-yard & I'm goddam sick of it!

Well, for that one... I'll leave you to the video-blog:


Friday, August 22, 2008

Singing in the shower/car

The greatest singing performances of all time weren't seen on American Idol, MTV, or on Broadway. They had an audience of one (myself), and they took place in the porcelain amphitheater that is my shower and the felt-padded sound chamber cabin of my automobile. Of course, the singer didn't know all the words... but the audience fully appreciated the embellishment of non-sensical rhyming substitute lyrics. In the morning shower, if one is so lucky to awaken during REM Stage IV sleep, they will be energized enough to celebrate the new day with song. The benefits of singing in the shower include good reverb acoustics and background noise of running water to blur any vocal imperfections, plus the audience is likely to be groggy and non-critical. The benefits of singing in the car include having a backup singer and band. I think the shower is more enjoyable of the two, as it offers unlimited songs and artistic license and guarantees no strange looks from passerbys.

Now, let me talk about the criteria for picking a good shower/car song...
  1. Should be beyond your vocal skill and range (changing key mid-song is bonus points)
  2. Should have lyrics that don't make much sense (so filling in nonsense won't matter much)
  3. MUST have a lot of feeling and soul
Here's a few that would be favorites to perform:
  • That's amore
  • Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)
  • Sad Songs (Elton John)
  • Unchained Melody (Righteous Brothers, Elvis)
  • Jesus is just alright (Doobie Brothers) ... substitute your favorite deity
  • Spirit of Radio (Rush)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Why blog?

Blogging is a strange phenomenon of this new information age. Like the printing press revolutionized the publishing of ideas, the internet transformed it competely. While you needed to be hired by a newspaper or signed with a publisher to reach the literate masses of the 20th century, today anyone can do so regardless of the content's quality or popularity.
Many people have kept journals or diaries in the past. Many psychologists would praise the positive aspects of doing so. Writing helps one practice expressing thoughts. Expressing ones ideas in a tangible form forces one to critique and refine those ideas, and subsequently commit to them. Would all of the people who ever kept diaries say they intended them to be private, or was it the lack of distribution in pen-paper technology which kept them private? What would Anne Frank say...would she have blogged? We don't necessarily purge our topic of the week for an audience. It's just that there is zero cost to making it public, so if some like-minded netizen out there happens to be interested in these words... the blogger has performed some minute social benefit.
There is another reason for blogging : heritage & posterity. If blogging went back 200 years, I would cherish the opportunity to look back & read about the thoughts and lives of my ancestors. It would be a great resource for both self-reflection and human history. For bloggers who may feel shy or silly about posting their words for all to see, think about all of these reasons.

Next month, it will make one year that I have been blogging. I am 34 years old, and I intend to keep the habit up as long as I have thoughts, ideas, and means to post them.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A timeline of human emergence on our planet.

Look around you. We are human & we've overtaken this planet. How did this happen? Let's take a look by highlighting the major natural & manmade events in time which have led to what we are today...

  • 14,000,000,000,000 years ago - This Universe. Our universe comes into existence in a massive explosion of energy everywhere, possibly due to the resonations of two 'branes' (parallel universes or dimensions of space). The fabric of our brane unfolds defining the laws of physics as they exist in our universe. The universe cools, and leftover matter is comprised of the lightest elements: hydrogon and helium. Over time, these gases coalesce into the earliest stars where nuclear fusion creates heavier elements (like carbon, key to life on Earth) released as those stars die in violent supernova explosions.

  • 4,600,000,000 years ago - Earth. The Sun and orbiting protoplanets in our solar system coalesce from condensed gas, dust, and rocks - likely triggered from the shock of a nearby supernova in our Milky Way galaxy. Our planet formed with relatively active plate-tectonics, which provides an electromagnetic shield from the Sun's atomic bond-breaking radiation (unlike Mars).

  • 4,000,000,000 years ago - Abiogenesis, or the emergence of "life" (self-replicating organized matter). The earliest life was most likely RNA-like compounds, which emerged from complex combinations of amino acids in early Earth's organically-rich (methane, ammonia) waters. Extremely active deep sea volcanic vents may have perpetuated and catalyzed the reactions generating these amazing compounds and initiating the process of Darwinian selection.

  • 2,000,000,000 years ago - Oxygenic photosynthesis. Cyanobacteria proliferates introducing the first photosynthetic life which will continually produce O2 as a by-product of sequestering carbon from CO2, increasing oxygen concentration in the atmosphere. This atmospheric O2 will support the biochemical energy pathways of respiration in later animal life.

  • 1,500,000,000 years ago - Sexual Reproduction. Sexual recombination produces greater variety in the genomes of life, and thus accelerates the process of natural selection which previously relied solely on mutation for variety.

  • 1,200,000,000 years ago - Multicellular life. Complexity of life - including plants and animals became possible once life organized on the multicellular level. This allowed cell differentiation into specialized structures like the eye, digestive system, nervous system, and other organs. This eventually led to the Cambrian 'explosion' about 550,000,000 years ago, in which a vast number of animals suddenly appear in the fossil record.

  • 200,000,000 years ago - Cerebral cortex in mammals. This folded layer of brain tissue supplemented the reptilian instinctive brain, providing mammals enhanced learning and associative abilities to better adapt to their environment. The cortex grew larger as mammals emerged from nocturnal life and dominated the daytime after the age of dinosaurs.

  • 60,000,000 years ago - Primates. These tree-dwelling mammals evolved opposable thumbs (for grasping limbs and vines), forward turned eyes (for depth perception), and a larger cortex (for adapting to more complex social and natural environment).

  • 6,000,000 years ago - Bipedalism. Some primates took to the savannah, possibly in search of new food due to receding jungle. Bipedal skills became an adaptation for seeing over tall grasses, and carrying offspring and perhaps sticks for protection from predators.

  • 5,000,000 years ago - Symbolic communication (vocalizations, gestures). The first primates (australopithecines) who adapted to the savannah had their hands freed for other purposes. Cooperation and communication became useful in these new, open environments and simple communication and gestures became instictively advantageous. (Chimpanzees have already been proven to have the capacity to learn sign language)

  • 2,000,000 years ago - Primitive language, tools, & cranial expansion. Basic communication and cognitive abilities exist with the appearance of the genus Homo (Homo habilus, then Homo erectus) . Fire and hunting are new skills of this species, and simple language undoubtedly helped for cooperative hunting and social interaction. Homo will continually evolve larger craniums over the next two million years.

  • 100,000 years ago - Modern language & cognitive abilities. Syntax structures (supported by evolution of Broca's area of the brain) have co-evolved with improved cognitive abilities to process information passed via language by Homo sapiens sapiens. The result is this hunter-gatherer species with cranial capacity twice that of H. erectus, and increased technological and cultural complexity.

  • 10,000 years ago - Agriculture & civilization. Mastery of controlled agriculture allows people to support larger populations in permanent settlements. This allows for specialization of skills and trade, spurring more complex economic and government systems.

  • 600 years ago - Printing press. This technology started the original information age, as the populous became literate and able to bulid upon the knowledge of others. This initiated a new age in religious and scientific thought.

  • 200 years ago - Combustion, mechanics, and industrialization. The invention of engines enabled new powerful and productive tools for manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation. This revolutionized the scale of economic structures and businesses, as well as social structures. War would have airplanes. Cities would have automobiles.

  • 100 years ago - Electro-magnetic technology. Applications of this science included electricity, light, and communications (telegram, telephone, radio, and television). This technology changed lifestyles: powering new machines in homes, allowing long-distance communication, and opening up new channels for media and entertainment.

  • Present day - Computing & Information networking. Data processing and information access grew exponentially with the creation of personal computer networking and the internet. Process efficiencies would be gained and businesses would become more global. Media, business, and education will continue to be transformed as the Internet integrates into our lives.
And here we are. This timeline shows how our technology has changed our planet in a short time. What's next step for us in the timeline? I would bet on genetic technology to be a transforming milestone. I just hope we don't destroy ourselves with nuclear or biological weapons or some other technology to end our own story.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Dark Knight was just alright

I thought Chris Nolan's "Batman Begins" finally captured the spirit of batman on the big screen. It shook off the unbelievable comic-book surrealism of the film series started by Tim Burton. I hated the stiff, rubbery bat-suit. I hated how the villians had color-coordinated costumes and weapons for no explicable reason. Most of all, I hated how Michal Keaton's lips puckered out from under his cowl. Tim Burton is dark, but in an emo 'nobody liked me in high school' kind of way. Batman is dark in a brooding 'you killed my parents' kind of way. At least his film shook off the campy legacy left by the 60's Adam West TV series. The few films that followed Michael Keaton's in the 90's just went downhill with Robin & Batgirl... but at least George Clooney's mouth didn't look silly in a cowl.

When I saw Batman Begins, it was what I had hoped the movies would be like when I was younger & looking forward to Tim Burton's film release. It delved deep into the obsession, angst, fortitude, and self-sacrifice that could drive a man to quest for justice and vengeance after seeing his family murdered. I still didn't like the rubbery batsuit, but keeping to the character well made up for that.

This most recent movie "The Dark Knight" is one of the most over-hyped movies I can remember in recent years. I'm sure it's because Heath Ledger unintentionally inflated the public curiousity about his last performance by overdosing before the film's release. Whenever I see Batman Pizza Hut specials & Batman-branded whoppers at the theater, I have to worry that a film is more bark than bite. I left the theater feeling confirmed on that. It was annoying sitting through 20 minutes of previews. The Day the Earth Stood Still, the new Terminator, & Watchmen look awesome... but all the other previews were tedious. The film started... and my biggest problem was the choppiness & poor editing of the movie. It seems like when Heath Ledger died, the editing & post-production team got lazy or unfocused. Maybe they figured the film would be a blockbuster so they didn't have to finish the job. It could have been trimmed down from the 2+ hours & some background/mood music in spots would make it less bland. Story-wise, there was no revisiting of batmans' impetus for crime fighting & training.... which made the first film great. I think that should be a central part of any batman story. I've liked Christian Bale as an actor until this movie. He looked pretty girly in a scene with his t-shirt on & batman would need to be buffed. What happened to the method acting dedication he had in The Machinist? He ruined all the batman dialogue with his gruff froggy voice. Not menacing at all, just weird. He also has a goofy overbite & lisp you want to laugh at in the cowl. I guess he just isn't the right choice for batman. Finally, I just can't handle the funky rubber molded cowl. It looks more IKEA than scary.

Here are a few images of batman from different films - from bad to better:

BAD

STILL BAD, BUT BETTER
BETTER? NOT REALLY (at least it's not glossy)

GOOD - I hope to see this incarnation on the big screen one day. Will someone please get it right?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My cool-ass economy chart (with comments & wild speculation)

Yeah baby... the economy is big news right now. We've gone through some intense housing, oil, currency, stock, and credit/interest fluctuations in the past decade. What does it all mean & what will happen next? There's a lot of buzz & speculation about that right now...

I've said this before. I love charts & I created the graph below from data I scraped off the web.
I used nominal prices for oil and gold, plus the Dow Jones index - then adjusted everything for inflation based on the national CPI. I added the national bank prime rate and unemployment then scaled everything to a scale of 1 (from maximum/peak value) to compare the relationships.

History is a great way to learn because there are equilibriums and trends to be found. You can see that unemployment does not trend up or down over time... but still fluctuates a lot. Interest rates change depending on how the Fed feels about inflation & unemployment. You will notice that oil and gold fluctuate together, because they share a relationship with inflation. Gold hikes may coincide with inflation (or expectations of inflation). Oil hikes may cause inflation (or increase expectations of inflation). I say 'expectations' because Milton Friedman didn't believe in cost-push inflation & I'm undecided. You'll also see that the Dow Jones forms an inverse relationship (think sine & cosine waves) with oil & gold. Perhaps this is because weak currency corresponds with contracted business earnings.

What does it mean? Well, if you extrapolate a 40-year cycle in the market.... we might have another 5-10 years of contracting economy before things turn around. I have no idea why there would be a cycle - but the chart does imply one & economic cycles have been debated for a long time. What does it mean for how you should invest? No one can predict exactly... but I'd say a good strategy would be to go heavy on gold and commodities and then gradually shift to stocks over the next 5-10 years (somewhat like if it was 1970).

Maybe I will add real estate value, inflation rate, and/or other data to this chart at some point & wildly speculate further.



Friday, June 27, 2008

We're still in the dark ages of physics...

Star Stryder » Blog Archive » Dark Energy is Real- by Pamela L. Gay

I believe dark matter & dark energy exist.

I think they may be poorly named however... and 'dark matter' may not end up being matter at all.

Perhaps we'll end up seeing it as a side-effect of gravity.
E.g. String theory describes our universe made up a fabric of strings. Gravity is created when matter displaces space-time, creating a gradient which into which matter & light are pulled. Perhaps this gradient of dense space-time also exhibits a friction upon the adjacent fabric of space.

Think of it like this...
You put a golf ball (like a star or black hole) inside of a spongy material (representing the space-time 'ether' or fabric). The squeezed spongy material around the golf ball has a tension energy of it's own.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Feed Reader Subscriptions

If I am addicted to the web, then Google Reader is crack cocaine.
I don't think the whole 'feed reader' concept has become a mainstream habit - but those who try it will get it & those who haven't yet should.

Below is my formatted OPML file (feed subscription list) as it stands today, exported from Google Reader. My categories (work, webdev, geek-news, fun, sacto, & biz-news) aren't very standard... but they were the best buckets I could come up with for my strange collection of feeds.

Google Reader has some nice features I fully utilize. You can 'star' & 'share' feeds - and you can publish those selections. I do this to tag the items I really like (which you'll see mixed in on my friendfeed & blogroll... starred items for my personal/fun stuff & shared items for work/professional stuff). They added a new feature to 'note' items... which I use like some people would 'tweet' or 'digg' things (nice substitute if it means one less service I have to use).

Here's the list - enjoy...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Historical Bank Prime Loan Rate Changes



I got this data from http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/data/PRIME.txt and dropped in into a Google Docs spreadsheet with a time-based chart. There are some nifty tools in gDocs for sure!

You always hear that rates are at an all time low... but it's not so extreme if you consider that rates could have been abnormally high in the 70's. We'll never know what normal is so long as the Feds keep peering into their crystal ball & messing with things!
We need an average fixed rate & to quit printing money... if we fixed the dollar back on gold & focussed all of our meddling on keeping accounting and investing behavior fair and honest in our country, then we'd have a stable economy that doesn't spin wildly due to politics & speculation.
Economies are supposed to have ups & downs... but keeping business practices straight-up is the only way government should involve itself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Teaching at 三郷北高校

It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since I left Japan.
I graduated from UC Davis in the summer of 1996, and found a brochure for the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program in the career counseling office. While applying for techie jobs, this opportunity called out to me 'Steve, you will never have a better time in your life to do something like this.'
I became interested in Japan because of Kiyonari Otobe, who was a foreign exchange student that lived with my family in high school. The Otobe's (Takaaki & Kyoko) graciously had my brother & I visit them in Nagoya one summer. I was fascinated. I talked about this in my application & JET interview... and I guess it helped, because oddly enough I was selected without speaking a lick of japanese. A couple months later I was taking off in a plane to Japan to become an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) in Misato Kita High School.
I just happened across my old school's website last night. Their new ALT had posted an english page & I started reminiscing about what a great experience my two years there were. I could write a book about my experiences there... but this is a blog, so I won't.
If I had to sum it all up though - I'd say it just fell short of moving to an alien world. I suddenly couldn't understand anything around me, I looked different than everyone else, and I had to get used to eating strange exotic foods. The people were so hospitable & kind to me there. I met my good friends Masa (Masatoshi) & Kei Konno in Yoshikawa, the town my apartment was in. They dubbed themselves the gaijin (foreigner) welcoming party... and in fact they did introduce me to the other ALTs (Greg & Andy). We had good times with Humpty, & Ogi - who introduced me to my girlfriend Mizuho Toda (she's married now & I hope she is doing well). It was nice to live just an hour north of Tokyo by train (closer by car) - and we had some wild nights bar-hopping in Roppongi for sure! On the off weekends, we'd just hit a local izakaya, rent a karaoke room in the next town Koshigaya, or sit around a table at someone's pad drinking beers (there wasn't a whole lot to do in Yoshikawa).
The ALT life was also fun & the staff & teachers at my school were extremely kind & helpful. The JET Program lets you stay for a three year maximum. I told myself I'd stay for one year, but felt like it took me that long just to adjust... so decided to stay for a second & came back home in 1998. I still remember how hard saying goodbye was. I miss all my friends from Japan & regret losing touch with them... but I hope to one day return & see them again.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Internet TV - the future of home entertainment

So, everybody knows about YouTube. It’s a great timewaster… you can find everything on there from HR PuffnStuff to tours of the Large Hadron Collider. That’s the ultimate video-on-demand. If you have your PC hooked up to your HDTV like me, YouTube is a great alternative to the boob-tube – especially nowadays when there is nothing but crap on cable.

Now what I really want is the best of both worlds: the wide immediate selection of YouTube at the length & quality of HD television. That won’t be possible until the next generation of broadband evolves. In the meantime, media content from the big networks and creative individuals are all flocking to the web. There are some great sites & resources in addition to YouTube that are here for your enjoyment today:

Miro – This is a great front-end to the wide world of podcast & torrent content out there. Because you subscribe to ‘channels’ which automatically download new content for you to watch at your convenience, you can have higher quality (and sometimes even HD).

Hulu – This site was started by NBC & NewsCorp, so it has a solid collection of ‘legal’ high-quality content. They insert ads in the middle of full-length shows & movies… just like the ol’ days before you had a DVR!

Vimeo – This is a user-generated video site, but allows longer length & plays higher quality than YouTube. It seems to have a more artsy-fartsy userbase… which leads to some very cool entertainment.

Others – There’s Blinx, which claims to be the best video search (although Google & YouTube suit me just fine). Other’s I haven’t checked out much are Soapbox, Break.com, Jumpcut, Blip.tv, Metacafe, Revver, iFlim.

I look forward to a future where I believe all entertainment will eventually be ‘on-demand’ and internet based (along with everything else in our lives). It will be interesting to see how the advertising adapts to the new form - whether it be plugged into streaming content I can't skip, played along-side where I try to ignore it, or integrated into content (like in the movie 'The Truman Show').

Friday, May 9, 2008

My internet radio playlist

Here it is:
http://sav74sac.googlepages.com/radio.pls

I've gotten to the point where I'm not much of a music snob.
When I want to listen to some tunes at home... it's pretty easy since there is a solid selection of streaming music out there from collections like SkyFM & SomaFM to cool dudes like the guy who runs RadioParadise. (I think it's neat that I spent much of my childhood up the hill in Paradise hanging with my cousins... since it's where my mother is from. Who would have known that little retirement town in the woods would have one of the most popular internet radio stations?)

You can copy & edit this file it notepad... but the PLS format is fairly stupid.

Just click & listen!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Yes to Obama. No to violent McCainiacs.

I'm decided. Between Hillary, Obama, & McCain - Obama is clearly the best choice for next leader of our country. I decided to show my support and buy a $3 "Obama '08" bumper sticker at the local campaign office (on 65th & Folsom).

Well, within 48 hours... my car was violently vandalized. Someone smashed in the back window. Nothing was stolen - and it's pretty obvious this wasn't a robbery since they broke a small back window where you couldn't even get in or fit anything out. This happened on a residential street in East Sac, fairly well lit.To me, this only bolsters why we should support Obama. Whoever bashed my car window believes in violence and that is what McCain and the war-mongering neo-conservatives stand for. Or maybe there is a racist motive behind some people who hate Obama. I can't say for sure what the thinking or motives are... but I know it's not the kind of thinking we need in this country or for the leadership of this country. I can't say for sure it was a McCainiac that broke my window - it could have been a random act of violence or some hardcore Hillary fan, but I think we all know that's not the likely scenario.

Dear McCainiacs, you have only bolstered my support for Obama & strengthened my distaste for the violence and ignorance you represent. I will pay another $200 every time you bash my window, but my Obama sticker stays.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Multiple personalities?

It's either that... or maybe these personality tests aren't all that great. I took the the personality test (not sure if it's called Keirsey or Myers-Briggs, but I think it's somehow based on Jungian psychology).

A couple years ago when I took it, I was INFP ("the idealist/healer").
Today I took it for again and came out ENTP ("the rationalist/inventor").

I guess I'm on the fence on the I/E (introvert/extravert) dimension. I'm pretty extreme N(intuition/sensation). I was moderately strong T(thinking/feeling) (which is weird since I used to be F). The P(perception/judging) didn't change.

So the I/E thing doesn't surprise me since I'm not really introverted or extraverted.
The T/F change makes me wonder whether the test is unreliable... or whether my attitudes changed in some way.... maybe a bit of both.

Having a B.S. in Psychology, I feel safe to say that personality tests aren't much more scientific than a horoscope. They measure what they measure & they are fun exercises... but they seem to have narrow categories & poorly worded questions which can be misconstrued.

Regardless, I read the ENTP profile & think it fits me fairly well.

Brandie took it right after me & came out ISFJ (the complete opposite of me). It's funny... I told her to let me guess her profile before she told me & I nailed her letters exactly.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

One citizen's take

I remember watching the Republican Party Presidential debates a few months back & was dumb-founded that every one of the nominees (except for my main-man, Ron Paul) was for staying in Iraq. In fact, they accused eachother of wanting to pull out of Iraq... like it was a bad thing.

Here we are - the dollar is approaching the peso in value, and we're officially in a 'recession'. Hmm, could this have anything to do with it?

Federal Contract Awards by Major Funding Agency (from fedspending.org)

Federal Assistance by Major Agency (from fedspending.org)

Actually, the bottom pie is much larger in total. Homeland Security(30%) amounts to about $700 billion in 2006, and Defense contracts(54%) amount to about $300 billion. It just makes me think that if we could somehow shrink the pie or the biggest slices of the pie... you and me could eat more pie! (FedSpending.org is a great site. I have yet to try out FFATA.org, a similar site with broader data that was recently created because of a bill co-sponsored by Barack Obama.)

I know economies can't be summarized by a simple chart... but the visuals above represent a very important statistic: Where is our government spending your tax dollars?

I would say that our government is broken... except Americans re-elected George W. Bush AFTER we'd had a chance to see what he's made of, so maybe the American ideology is what's broken. I sincerely hope we don't vote another war-monger into office & that our country begins to repair it's reputation across the world. That is the best 'homeland security' money can buy.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Turk

I'm a fan of the new Fox TV series "Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles". Film series like "The Terminator", "2001", & "The Matrix" were great because they rested their plots on the chilling premise that speaks to geeks & technophobes alike: Artificial Intelligence/Life will eventually surpass humans and nature... leading to our own extinction. (of course, that is only if we don't destroy ourselves first). A popular article on this topic is Why The Future Doesn't Need Us, by Bill Joy (computer scientist & co-founder of Sun Microsystems).

In Sarah Conner Chronicles, "The Turk" was a computer that was built for playing chess... but demonstrated emotion & 'child-like' qualities. The Turk was destined to be the technological ancestor of SkyNET - the intelligent computer which would eventually launch a war against human-kind. That makes for great fiction... but I think the questions about the potential of artificial intelligence are deeply more interesting. In reality, artificial intelligence is a joke. There is no computer that comes close to replicating the complexity of the human mind. Computers built for chess are just that... they process all possible moves & counter-moves ahead, selecting the best one. That is not intelligence... it is raw CPU power with a very simple algorithm.

The classic concept from A.I. is the "Turing Test", which posed the question: if a you could type questions into a computer, and couldn't determine by the responses whether it was a computer or person answering... is that computer intelligent? To me, that question is pointless. Intelligence should be qualified by what happens inside the box... not what comes out of the box. Could there be some to-be-discovered special algorithm which could create an intelligent machine like "The Turk"? No way. Chess-playing & stock-market predicting programs are not intelligent. Expert systems which store huge amounts of data & spit out answers are not intelligent. A truly intelligent machine will need extremely rich perceptual systems. Animals, insects, even microbes are able to see, smell, feel, or hear to some degree. Intelligence and learning occurs by applying cognitive tools to categorize and formulate relationships from post-processed information. Visual & auditory stimulus are processed by the brain into their respective shapes, phonemes, etc.... then recognized by their context as 'fuzzy logic' of a neural network constantly gives the "conscious" mind it's surroundings.

Perception of the environment is just half of the challenge. If we had that, could we ever create a machine that is creative and original? In order to do so, I believe emotion is required. Emotion is an essential part of our own cognition & learning. When you are sad, embarrassed, happy, or proud - different chemicals are released by the limbic system of the brain, which in turn encourage growth or elimination of neural connections. I guess that means Data from "Star Trek" or Vicki from "Small Wonder" wouldn't be very smart robots. Call it 'emotion' or not... but when you yell "Bad computer!", the computer isn't very smart unless it understands and corrects it's behavior. Any useful intelligent machine would also require some 'social awareness'. It should understand and predict our desires and intentions. It would also need to be instinctively rewarded (or "feel good") by pleasing us. That's where the scary sci-fi & Asimov's I-Robot "three laws" come in.

Imagine a futuristic home where an intelligent computer controls your security, lights, communications, entertainment, and more. In order for the home computer to be truly useful, it should be able to learn by watching it's inhabitants habits - learning the likes/dislikes of each individual. The computer would need enough perception to tell it's inhabitants apart, their authoritiy, what they desire, and when they are pleased or displeased. Like they say, "necessity is the mother of invention"... and the convenience of this kind of system is what I can see being a good early application of artificial intelligence - not The Turk. Hopefully one day, we won't have SkyNET - but maybe something more useful like HomeNET.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My American Idol commentary

This show is kind of a guilty pleasure for me... but in my defense, I always DVR it so I can skim through 90 minutes in about 15 minutes. Those highlights usually include a minute of each performance and Simon's Cowell's original & creative ways to insult the performers.

This year, I think the contestants suck even more than in previous years. I have been a supporter of http://votefortheworst.com and am pleased to see that they have already sponsored my personal favorite, Danny Noriega. Last year, of course, they sponsored Sanjaya as contendor for the idol throne - with his crazy hair, weak girly voice, and lazy dance moves. Yes, I actually voted for him.

Now for the rest of them. I'm going to take a wild stab at who I think will survive the flurry of teenage text-message votes.



This guy is a goner. He is about as exciting as air.
Amanda "Fat Chin" Overmyer. She has another Janis Joplin song in her... (plus maybe a Rod Stewart, Joan Jett, or maybe some Joe Cocker) then she's gone.
Or, it's possible her head will explode mid-performance if she tries to sing too high.
This girl sang a weird song last week. Not sure what to think of her yet... but I have feeling she will go far because she seems kind of wacky & dynamic.
This kid won't quit smiling. That irritates the hell out of me in a Jennifer Love-Hewitt kind of way.
I hope he gets voted off soon because he's boring - yet I have a feeling the teenage girls will keep him in with their votes. Maybe votefortheworst.com will pick him up if Danny leaves.
This is the girl that does Britney Spears impressions.
It's early to tell, but I'm going to predict she makes it to the final three.
This girl has the largest mouth I've ever seen. It's amazing.. I bet you could fit a whole grapefruit in there.
This guy is cool because he plays the guitar & doesn't fit the cheesy pop idol mold.

He has these creepy evil eyes though.
What is it with this guy? He came out dressed like Axl Rose last week, then he sang the Carpenters or something. He needs to get the boot... boring!

Obviously, I didn't mention all the best singers here. I don't really care about that. With as long as they drag out this giant karaoke contest, they need to keep variety & chaos in the mix or I'll just have to watch Nova or something worthwhile instead.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Great news!

I switched to Geico car insurance.


Hehe, I never thought I'd mock that commercial... but is it just me, or do insurance agencies creep up prices on you over time? It's such a pain in the butt to switch - so they get away with it.

Well, we'll see if GEICO does it to me... I'll keep switching if so. So far they gave a way better price than my old company 21st Century.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Storm of the Century


So Sacramento saw it's worst storm in a decade on Friday. There are plenty of blown down fences & damage from fallen tree branches. After all, this is the "City of Trees". The buillding next door to me had a branch the size of a telephone pole crash down on it from an old giant.

I got my share of trouble, as shown in this picture. My dad came by today to help cut this tree to pieces with a chainsaw so I can haul it away & get the fence repaired.