Sunday, January 27, 2008

Link Blogging

New experiment: Google Reader has this awesome feature called "Share it". Well, you can only share it with other people using Google Reader, which makes sense in a "promote Google Reader" sort of way. Eh, whatever. Google Reader is an awesome product and I love using it, but if you don't want to use it, that's your prerogative.

The question then becomes "How do I get my shared stuff over to you". The idea was completely Andy's - he's doing something similar, I'll let him explain on his blog when he's ready.

I can't post the script without sanitizing it because it contains my Google Auth token (yeah, its *in* the script - ha!) but if you really want a crossposting script that will take your feed off anywhere and post it to Blogger, let me know and I can clean it up and post it.

And the whole point of the experiment is to find out if link blogging is super-annoying or not. Right now cron's running it once a day - so if you think that's annoying (or not), do let me know.

Links from Google Reader

Saturday, January 26, 2008


My Tahoe snowboarding video, as shot by famous director Stecher. Note that the director is not above taking a few videos of herself, in the third person, *while snowboarding*.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

[books] Monstrous Regiment

I have been reading a lot of Terry Pratchett lately and been loving it. Pratchett's humour and sense of satire and style are unparalleled in the sci-fi/fantasy world. For the uninitiated: most of Pratchett's books are based in a world known as Discworld: the world is a large disc resting on the backs of 4 elephants which stand on a giant tortoise that travels through space. Asking what the tortoise rests on is considered bad form in Discworld. Pratchett's books have several recurring charachters and almost all of them share the desperately-not-trying-to-be-a-hero trait. Most of the heroes would run away from battle, hit their enemy when they're down and turned away and in general fight as unfair as possible, most of them lie, cheat, steal and do whatever is necessary (or sometimes just for the fun of it), almost like in real life.
I keep going on about Pratchett and I haven't said much about this book. Pratchett was definitely feeling pro-feminist when he wrote this one. If you ignore the message at the end, where there lie huge swaths of feminism that are hard to avoid, the book makes for a pretty good read. Generally light and humorous, standard Pratchett fair, and leaves you with a good feeling at the end.

[books] Nine Princes In Amber

I started Zelazny with Lord Of Light, suggested by my friend Evan. Read it, loved it.

The Chronicles of Amber are a whole series of fantasy/sci-fi books written by Zelazny decades ago but have maintained their awesomeness unhindered by Kronos. Nine Princes is written as seen through the eyes of a prince of Amber who wakes up on Earth with slight memory loss. It takes you through his recovery as he talks to several key charachters and tries to figure out what Amber is and who he is. Lots of interesting concepts, lots of political intrigue, subterfuge, in fighting among large royal families, and best of all, lots of unanswered questions for book 2. Can't wait.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On Energy Conservation

I'm an engineer. As an engineer, when you think about optimizing something or fixing something, you think about the 80% case. Its nice to think of the tiny micro-optimizations that will gain you a percent here, a percent there, but for the most part, they're futile academic exercises. Applying the same logic to energy, I think the 80% problem is energy *harvesting* not conservation.

Note: harvesting not production. Why? The sun is the closes source of infinite energy (by todays consumption rates). Various nuclear reactions on the sun are going on and are expending the energy stored there (as a result of the big bang, or God, depending upon your choice in these matters) and blasting this energy out to us. The amount of energy that sun blasts out does not change irrespective of how much you or I use. It is available for harvesting and if you don't harvest it, its gone.

Note again: I lied. Energy coming from the sun is clearly not infinite. Its a finite resource. However, it is more, by several orders of magnitude (unverified, pulled-out-of-thin-air stat here folks!) than the energy that we consume as a planet.

Hence my conclusion: Conservation is not the 80% problem. Better harvesting is the 80% problem and that's what we should be focusing on.

Now this is clearly untrue for known finite energy production resources such as nuclear fuel, coal, natural gas and of course, oil. The known capacity of these resources is within the same order of magnitude as our current energy needs x several decades or centuries. Which is worrying given that as our society evolves, our energy needs will go up and thus the known period of time for which we can survive on these resources will go down.

There is another, non-trivial argument for conservation: Energy costs. *Because* we get energy from increasingly expensive finite resources, the cost of energy keeps going up. Right now, its bordering on the edge of becoming a non-trivial part of living expenses, I think sooner or later, it will become this. Some percentage of our living expenses will be the energy. Cities will be able to attract or repel people based on how much energy they can supply and how much it costs (this already happens for industry which requires a steady supply of clean electricity at relatively low costs). So for purely monetary reasons, I think conservation is fine - even necessary in order to keep our daily costs down.

However, for anything else, we're attacking the wrong problem. Lets focus on harvesting, not on conservation. Go after the 80%.

Monday, January 14, 2008

[books] A Brave New World

My "classical" education is definitely lacking. Aldous Huxley is required reading for most high school or early college students these days. Well, not mine.
For those that haven't read it, its a vision of the future that, depending on your perspective, describes either utopia or distopia.
Unlike 1984, the people living in Huxley's world aren't miserable - far from it. Free love, perpetual employment at 30-some hour weeks and all the drugs that you want make it a great place to live. What is even more striking is the caste system, unlike any other caste system, is stable. Stable because people within a given caste are made, physically and psychically, to server their purpose. An Epsilon is happy to be an epsilon because he doesn't know any better - he doesn't know what it would be like to be an Alpha and is conditioned to not care. Very, very powerful concepts for societal control.
All in all, a definite Good Read.


I've been reading a lot lately and I realize that I maintain no record of what I read. I probably don't recollect (after a month or so) what I felt were the best/worst parts of a given book. This amounts to essentially a waste of my time, other than the instantaneous temporal pleasure I derive from the very act of reading itself. Enough. I'm documenting all the books that I read, however pithy from now on. Resolution for a new year.