Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Randy Pausch just passed away a few days ago. He gained immense internet popularity (on top of his academic prominence in VR) by posting his Last Lecture, given last October, on youtube. I highly recommend it, as he spends an hour discussing how to achieve your childhood dreams, as well as how to enable others to achieve theirs.

It's long, but I really can't recommend it highly enough.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Here's a great article about a new Catholic school organization that has kids work 5 days a month in lieu of paying tuition. Brilliant! It strikes me as a great way to help get some of the more promising (but desperately impoverished) students to see that they have a stake in their education, as well as providing them with an entry into the working world where they can develop marketable skills and networks that stand a good chance of helping them to become solidly middle-class adults, rather than remaining poor.

(via The Agitator)

Dr. Horrible is up online over at hulu. Go here and watch it now, or watch below, before they take it down again! It's fantastic, and totally worth the $4 to buy it on iTunes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Presented without comment:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Congress: still economically illiterate:
Legislation meant to crack down on oil speculators passed a key test vote in the Senate on Tuesday.

The test vote on the legislation, which was backed by the Democratic leadership, was 94-0. The support of 60 senators was needed for debate on the bill to proceed. It was unclear when a final vote on the legislation would occur.

With gas prices edging over $4 a gallon, lawmakers are rushing to introduce legislation meant to lower prices at the pump.

Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, one of the Democrats sponsoring the bill, said the quickest way to lower prices at the pump is to stop speculators from driving up the price of a barrel of oil.

Since this is a family blog, I won't give you my full opinion. Suffice it to say that Congress is continuing to earn its current (abysmal) approval rating in my book. Then we have McCain, who either voted for the above abomination or abstained, switching stories as prices begin to fall again. Don Boudreaux writes a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

John McCain credits the recent fall in oil prices to President Bush's announced support for more off-shore drilling and, hence, to the fact that the future supply of oil likely will be higher than previously thought. ("McCain Credits Bush For Drop in Oil Price," July 23). Sen. McCain also blames the preceding run-up in oil prices on unjustified speculation.

Sen. McCain can't have it both ways. Oil prices either chiefly reflect the underlying reality of supply and demand or they don't. If baseless speculation caused oil's price to rise to heights unjustified by supply and demand - if speculators are financial sorcerers who detach prices at will from underlying economic realities - how does a presidential announcement signaling higher future supplies cause lower prices? On the other hand, if a more promising prospect of greater off-shore drilling really is responsible for pushing oil prices downward (which I think more likely), why would Sen. McCain ever have blamed high oil prices on evil speculators rather than on the underlying conditions of supply and demand?

I despair of Congress ever getting a clue. Nobody who would make a good Congressman/woman can be convinced to run - they have better things to do.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The new TOR website kicks off with some great stories by two of Sci-Fi's biggest new authors: John Scalzi and Charles Stross. Check it out, particularly since Stross's takes place in his "Laundry" universe, which is what would happen if the love child of James Bond and H.P. Lovecraft grew up on the set of Office Space.

Funny headline spotted on the Onion News Network: "Libertarians outraged about being told when to vote."

That one's entirely too close to being true...

This is a bit old, but still freaking hilarious. True story:
U of L sued Duke for $450,000 — or a series with another Atlantic Coast Conference opponent — after the Blue Devils backed out of a four-game football contract with three dates remaining.

The contract called for a penalty of $150,000 per game if a date with a “team of similar stature” could not be arranged.

Duke’s lawyers argued the Blue Devils, which have a record of 6-45 over the past five seasons, were so bad that any team would be a suitable replacement.

Judge Shepherd agreed in his summary:

“At oral argument, Duke (with a candor perhaps more attributable to good legal strategy than to institutional modesty) persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower. Duke’s argument on this point cannot be reasonably disputed by Louisville.”
Now that's an admission against interest...

Seamus has somehow acquired Satan's own keyboard (yes, it's that bad).

New hilarity over at JibJab. Heh.

We can add this to the list of reasons Democratic hose-the-rich rhetoric scares me. This is where we are right now:
The latest release of Internal Revenue Service data on individual income taxes comes from calendar year 2006, a year in which the economy remained healthy and continued to grow, increasing individual income tax collections along with overall average effective tax rates.

This year's numbers show that both the income share earned by the top 1 percent of tax returns and the tax share paid by that top 1 percent have once again reached all-time highs. In 2006, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 39.9 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 22.1 percent of adjusted gross income, both of which are significantly higher than 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes.

What happens after Obama gets elected (he probably will, after all)? There's something dangerous about a society in which the benefits of government accrue largely to the middle class while the costs accrue largely to the rich. Voting to spend someone else's money is entirely too easy to do.

(Found via Cafe Hayek)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Brilliant! How to make the ISS actually useful, rather than its current status as international pork-barrel.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Here's a great essay on what the author believes to be the phenomenon currently drifting toward making sci-fi short stories as irrelevant as modern poetry:
[T]here's one aspect of the new implied readers that distresses me: nowadays, for many newer writers, the implied reader is a member of a writer's workshop.
Plus, this gem of a quote about RAH:
Some authors go through phases of being different implied authors — Heinlein the practical romantic, Heinlein the uncle we all should have had, Heinlein the uncle you'd warn your girlfriend about.

I just returned from seeing The Dark Knight. It was excellent! It was far darker than the first one, but overall it certainly lived up to the standard of Batman Begins. One thing though: I was shocked to see a very influential Batman character make an appearance. How did I not hear that Harvey Dent was going to be in this one? (If that name means nothing to you, just wait until you see the movie. You know this character, you just don't know you know him. Got it?) Heath Ledger's Joker was truly maniacal, and I can see why it got such good reviews - he plays the Joker as the Joker was meant to be: a psycho who wants nothing more than to watch the world burn. Creepy.

Go see it; it's well worth the ticket price.

Friday, July 18, 2008

A scathing response to the airlines inane open letter demonizing oil speculators can be found here:

Dear CEOs of U.S. airlines:

I want to say thanks for the July 10 email you sent to all your customers seeking to explain why today's air travel experience is so painful. The letter, signed by 12 of you, explained that "oil speculators" -- presumably by betting on future oil prices -- are killing your industry and thus requested that I, as a consumer, pressure Congress to rein in this "unchecked" market "manipulation."

I admit that just lately I'd begun to feel that flying was something akin to having my intestines fished out with a long hook. Actually, I'd been wondering whom to blame for the fact that it would probably be cheaper, easier and maybe even faster to drive to wherever I want to go than to board one of your planes. Suddenly, all is clear.

She proceeds to sarcastically pin all her (numerous) encounters with airline inconveniences, screw-ups, and incompetence on the New York Mercantile Exchange. She finishes with a simple inquiry:
I have only one question: What the heck happened with Southwest? I seem to remember back in 2005, as oil prices were rising, Southwest used the oil market to "hedge" its fuel supply, locking in lower costs that gave it a competitive edge. Oh, now I get it. Southwest totally used the market to its advantage. Ha, ha. I bet those speculators are still beating themselves with flight manuals over that one.
Commodity markets are damned hard to manipulate - just ask the Hunt brothers. Besides, look at what banning speculation did to onion markets. Speculation reduces market volatility - it does not arbitrarily raise prices on a long-term basis.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Go. Watch. Now. (They take it down Sunday.)

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Congress: economically illiterate since at least 1958:
Back in 1958, onion growers convinced themselves that futures traders (and not the new farms sprouting up in Wisconsin) were responsible for falling onion prices, so they lobbied an up-and-coming Michigan Congressman named Gerald Ford to push through a law banning all futures trading in onions. The law still stands.

And yet even with no traders to blame, the volatility in onion prices makes the swings in oil and corn look tame, reinforcing academics' belief that futures trading diminishes extreme price swings. Since 2006, oil prices have risen 100%, and corn is up 300%. But onion prices soared 400% between October 2006 and April 2007, when weather reduced crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only to crash 96% by March 2008 on overproduction and then rebound 300% by this past April.


NOT OKAY: Schoolboys punished with detention for refusing to kneel in class and pray to Allah. (In the UK)

Heh: the dark side of Kinkade paintings:
1) Hellish glow seen emanating from every closed window to every sealed-up cottage, clocktower, inn, horse barn, church, etc. All of Kinkade's structures seem consumed from within by raging infernos. What might be laughed off as artistic excess suddenly trickles icily down your spine when you realize that Kinkade's rustic incinerators are operating at full tilt regardless of the time of day, prevailing weather conditions, and the particular season depicted in the painting!
2) All of his structures bear multiple chimneys that are exhaling thin, vertically-stretched spires of exhaust smoke which are indicative of extremely hot fires within, and of virtually no air movement without. Again, these chimneys are operating in all seasons and weather conditions. Why are the fires burning so hotly all the time? What's cooking? You don't want to know!
3) There is an inexplicable absence of people, despite the presence of livestock, abandoned agricultural implements, raging chimney fires, what have you. In Kinkade's peaceful landscapes, it seems as if a sort of aestheticically-directed neutron bomb had detonated, leaving standing only the charming buildings, bucolic beasts and majestic landscape

There is something terrible going on in these paintings.

via TJIC.

A new video has gone up over at, and I thought I'd share it with you. It's entitled "Banned!" and is devoted to detailing all the various things government busybodies have banned somewhere. Watch.

It's not so much the content of any one of those bans that I find offensive, but the untrammeled arrogance of politicians claiming the right to regulate such trivialities. If they can ban me from playing poker with my buddies, grilling outdoors, or using trans-fats, what areas of my life exactly can't they regulate? By what right do they presume to tell me I can't? It may be that we never had halcyon days of freedom, but I wish I lived in a country where I was largely left alone by government, rather than micromanaged by it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

How do you make McCain exciting? You do this: