The Big Think

July 8, 2014

No Place for Unobtanium

Filed under: Current Reading,Science — jasony @ 8:58 am

Screen shot 2014-07-08 at 9.30.45 AM.png

Five Reasons Why Kids Need Hard Science Fiction:

“I understand that creative license is necessary in science fiction.  After all, I’m part of the generation that was officially okay with tachyon beams, lightsabers and Flynn getting sucked into the grid.  We can be okay with the science being fudged occasionally, but only after the story demonstrates some respect for our intelligence.  I don’t get that sense from modern popular sci-fi any more…

…So yes, we need hard science fiction and more to the point – kids need hard science fiction. It may not be readily obvious but these young minds are absorbing what we give them and if what we’re giving them is pure high-tech mumbo jumbo, then what they will imagine for themselves in the future will be the same. In the parlance of old geeks: Garbage In – Garbage Out. We must be giving these kids the fuel they need to imagine and create the future we’re leaving to them. That’s one reason that kids need hard science fiction. Here are five more:”

July 7, 2014

First Texas Honda takes the Long View

Filed under: Business,Disclosure — jasony @ 1:54 pm

In 2009 I bought my Tacoma through Toyota of Round Rock. For various reasons, it had to be this dealership (long story). It was an excruciating experience filled with all of the typical sleazy-car-dealer horror stories. “I’ve got to talk to my manager”, “what about my five kids”, “That price I promised you this morning isn’t the price any more”, “you have to have the undercoating”. You get the picture.

Erin has been needing a car for a while now and the time finally came. With great reluctance we stopped by First Texas Honda in Austin and talked to a salesman there. Not only are they a non-haggle place, but the TrueCar price we got through USAA was almost $1250 less than the similar “no haggle” price through Toyota of Round Rock. The sales guy (Greg, a ’91 Baylor grad who turned out to be the guy who mistook my apartment for his friend Steve’s place way back in 1989) spent probably five hours with us meticulously going through the entire process. Researching the car. Answering question. Multiple test drives. He seemed like he was having a blast not “selling” the car but really helping us find what was right for us. He even kept suggesting a less expensive Civic as opposed to the Accord Erin wanted since it might work better. What salesman does that? When we finally presented the USAA TrueCar price, which was $750 cheaper than even their “no-haggle” price, he met it without complaint.

After signing the papers today Greg and I had a long talk about how car dealerships and salespeople have largely earned the horrible reputation that they have, and he’s glad to see things changing, even if that means some of the bad dealers will close. Couldn’t agree more. What a night and day experience.

So just now the phone rang and it said “Toyota of Round Rock”. With a huuuge smile I answered it and talked to the salesman (who had been given our contact info as a result of the TrueCar contact info we filled out). Can I help you with anything? Why yes, yes you can. It really made my day to tell him “No offense, and I’m sure you weren’t even there in 2009, but that experience was so horrible that not only will I never return to Toyota of Round Rock, but I’ll make sure everybody I know hears about it as well. Oh, and your TrueCar no-haggle price? $1250 more than First Texas Honda. I wouldn’t come back to you if you paid me to. So no offense, and I’m not upset with you, but you need to tell your management that, if my experience is anything like the norm, you guys have some major reputation repair to do.” He thanked me and the call ended. It just made my day.

So we bought the car! Signed the papers and we’ll finalize everything on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a pic:

IMG_1175.jpg

If you’re in the market for a new car, go talk to Greg Ryan at First Texas Honda.

Teatopia

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:23 pm

What would happen if the Tea Party ran the country?:

“The goal of Tea Party federalism is not for states to serve as ‘laboratories of democracy,’ in which programs that work in Houston are eventually adopted across the country by dint of federal pressure. State governments wouldn’t serve as a kind of minor-league farm system for the big leagues in Washington, D.C.

Rather, the goal would be for different states to offer different visions of the good life. Citizens would vote with their feet in favor of the social-democratic societies that would emerge in Vermont and the Bay Area or the laissez-faire societies that would emerge in large stretches of the Mountain West.

The Tea Party movement sees this approach as the best way to honor and reflect what you might call America’s normative diversity — a diversity that has less to do with ethnicity and race and more to do with the virtues that we as communities want to cultivate in our children, and that we want to see reflected in our collective institutions.”

A level-headed examination of what Tea Party America would look like. The author goes through some of the negatives as well (it’s not just cheerleading).

Overall, it’s as clear and non-freakout of an article about this subject that I’ve read, and certainly refrains from the “they’re all raaaacists! stupidity that has come to be the main objection of detractors. I’ve always wondered about this one in particular since I know several minority-Americans who are firmly behind these precepts. Maybe the cry of racism has been knee-jerk reactionism? Nahh…

Remember the old saying:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you. Then you win.”

July 6, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 10:59 pm

A Company Liberals Could Love – NYTimes.com:

“Insist that for legal purposes there’s no such thing as a religiously motivated business, and you will get fewer religiously motivated business owners — and more chain stores that happily cover Plan B but pay significantly lower wages. Pressure religious hospitals to perform abortions or sex-reassignment surgery (or some eugenic breakthrough, down the road), and you’ll eventually get fewer religious hospitals — and probably less charity care and a more zealous focus on the bottom line. Tell religious charities they have legal rights only insofar as they serve their co-religionists, and you’ll see the scope of their endeavors contract.”

July 5, 2014

Nothing to See Here

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 1:10 pm

Federal government email from the inside:

“here’s how I was briefed during the two terms of the Bush presidency in which I was honored to serve.

At least once a year, I was required to participate in a formal training session in the agency’s regional office dealing with issues of national security, the Freedom of Information Act, record retention and other directives about the use of the government’s computer systems.

Some years there were additional briefings at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., with representatives of the Justice Department and Homeland Security present. On more than one occasion, White House officials provided instructions, including the president’s chief of staff.

I was told that anything I did with my computer or Blackberry device would result in a permanent record being created. Only classified communications would be encrypted, and all the rest would be discoverable in any legal proceedings.

…Upon the end of my term of service, I was required to sign an affirmative statement that I had not removed nor caused to be removed any government record from the office.

Any notion that I could just erase something after it had been sent was conclusively dashed when the hard drive inside my desktop computer in my office crashed.

The tech guy came in, quickly removed the drive and told me he would try to fix it. I explained to him that my concern was that all my data, including email that I often searched through, was on that drive and could be lost.

His reply was to assure me that every stroke of my keyboard had been backed up multiple times in the local office and off site as well, and nothing would be lost.

If he couldn’t fix the drive he had removed, he would simply set up a new one and transfer everything that was there from the moment it failed and it would be completely restored.

Maybe my experience is why the latest polls are finding about 75 percent of the American people believe Congress should keep investigating what happened to Lerner’s emails.”

You don’t say.

Every email that I have been sent since 1993 is attainable in the event that I have a computer crash. It’s backed up automatically in two separate places offsite and trivial to get to. The notion that an agency with an 11 billion dollar budget and a specific legal mandate to retain these very records has done a worse job than little old me with no budget and free tools is preposterous.

July 4, 2014

It’s a Small World

Filed under: Disclosure — jasony @ 7:27 pm

I win the “crazy story of the day” award:

In 1989 I was living at the Quadrangle at Baylor with Robert Durbin. One Sunday afternoon I was studying in the living room when suddenly this random guy came bursting through the front door asking for Steve. Does Steve live here? Hey Steve! Where’s STEVE?!? Wrong apartment! He was mortified and immediately backed out apologetically and shut the door. Robert and I laughed about it a lot. I probably talked to him for less than ten seconds and never saw him again.

Fast forward a quarter century to our test drive today while looking for a new car at First Texas Honda in Austin. Greg the sales guy was showing us an Accord when suddenly he stopped, looked at me in a really funny way, and asked me if I had gone to Baylor. Why, yes I did. Did I live in the Quad? Number 31? Yup.

It was THE SAME GUY.

Even better: it also turns out that he was good friends with a lot of the guides that I guided with at Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting from 1991 to 1993, knows Josh Ward (who’s pad Scott Amman and I crash at when we’re at Sing), and knew several other people that we know (he’s even been in their weddings).

It’s a small, small, _tiny_ world.

(and yes, we’re buying the car)

July 3, 2014

Seen on FaceBook

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 7:33 pm

“You are only born with the rights the government gives you.”

Sigh.

July 2, 2014

Selling Obamacare

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 4:21 pm

Selling Obamacare – Reason.com:

“…Even more disturbing is that the ambitious Obamacare marketing campaign went well beyond the typical awareness initiatives sponsored by government, making forays into the much more opaque world of popular culture. In 2012, California’s Obamacare exchange spent at least $900,000 hiring the marketing firm Ogilvy to do P.R. as part of an effort that would enlist ‘Hollywood, an industry whose major players have been supportive of President Obama and his agenda,’ according to The New York Times. The effort was said to be working on a reality TV show about families without health insurance, as well as weaving Obamacare story lines into prime time shows and Spanish language TV. ‘I’d like to see 10 of the major TV shows, or telenovelas, have people talking about ‘that health insurance thing,” Peter V. Lee, the executive director of California’s exchange, told the Times.

Two years later, the White House was still working on getting Hollywood to promote ‘that health insurance thing.’ In March, White House aide Valerie Jarrett told Popsugar.com, ‘I’m meeting with writers of various TV shows and movies to try to get [Obamacare] into the scripts.’…

…Aside from her ethically dubious plans to politicize popular entertainment, Jarrett provided an unintentionally revealing window on the administration’s propaganda efforts. ‘What we want to do here is, like, nag,’ she said. ‘We’re really good at nagging. I’m a mom so I know. I’m a really good nag. And I can come at the same issue like 20 different ways until my daughter goes, ‘OK, I’m cool, I’ll just do it.’”

Because what America means is having a government that spends our own money to nag us to do unpopular things.

Why Embarrass Journalists?

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 11:25 am

Because it’s easy:

“I would not go through life ignorant of key facts, especially important facts.  So many of the people writing under bylines are willing to do just the opposite today.  It cannot end well when a free people are choosing leaders based upon the reporting of a class of people both biased and blind as well as wholly unaware of both or if aware, unwilling to work at getting smart enough to do their jobs well.”

Fix the media and you fix the country.

July 1, 2014

Tea’d Up

Filed under: Disclosure,Foodie,Travel — jasony @ 12:58 pm

Really sorely tempted to do this again this year.

No crankshaft, no problem

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 12:09 pm

Toyota’s free piston engine is brilliant

Great video at the link.

June 29, 2014

Strange Bedfellows

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 2:59 pm

Heh:

EFF, Greenpeace Fly Blimp Over NSA’s Utah Datacenter; Launch Campaign To Stop Illegal Internet Spying | Techdirt: “Earlier this week, EFF’s Parker Higgins noted that he was about to head on a secretive ‘adventure to Utah’ — and now it’s come out that he was actually there to fly a blimp over the NSA’s infamous datacenter in Bluffdale, Utah. You know the one. It’s received plenty of attention over the past few years, as it was designed to store a ton of electronic data that the NSA previously didn’t have room for. Either way, EFF and Greenpeace teamed up to launch a new campaign called Stand Against Spying, and took to the skies in the blimp to get it some attention.”

June 26, 2014

Media Loves Big Government

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:58 pm

Media Loves Big Government: “When I began consumer reporting, I assumed advertisers would censor me, since sponsors who paid my bosses wouldn’t want criticism. But never in 30 years was a story killed because of advertiser pressure. Not once. (I hear that’s changed since, and big advertisers, such as car dealers, do persuade news directors to kill stories.)

‘I do a lot of reporting on corporate interests and so on, so there’s pressure from that end,’ says Attkisson, but ‘there’s a competing pressure on the ideological end.’ Right. Ideology affects more stories than ‘corporate interests.’

My ABC bosses leaned left. They liked stories about weird external threats from which government can swoop in to rescue you. 

They are much less fond of complex stories in which problems are solved subtly by the dynamism of the free market. The invisible hand, after all, is invisible. It works its magic in a million places and makes adjustments every minute. That’s hard for reporters to see—especially when they’re not looking for it.

Often, when it comes to news that happens slowly, the media get it utterly wrong. I suspect we get it wrong now about things like global warming, genetically modified foods, almost any story related to science or statistics, or, heck, basic math. Math threatens many reporters.”

A peak behind the media curtain.

June 12, 2014

All Our Patent Are Belong To You

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 1:58 pm

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Way to go, Elon Musk. Wow.

All Our Patent Are Belong To You | Blog | Tesla Motors: “Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

June 10, 2014

Lyrical Thermostat

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 8:45 am

Pretty neat idea, though letting your thermostat know when you’re gone seems like a good avenue to hackers (of course, they could always, I dunno.. look at your driveway to see if the cars are there).

Honeywell’s Lyric brings geolocation to smart thermostats:

“The Lyric thermostat assumes that if your smartphone is at your house, so are you. You can register your family’s phones with the app, and it’ll use the geofencing features in iOS and Android to tell when everybody’s left for the day. Once you get within a few miles of your house, the thermostat springs back to life, heating or cooling your house so it’s at your preferred temperature (or at least getting there) as you stroll through the door.

The Fine Tune feature is pretty smart too. You know how sometimes the weather forecast has two temperatures: the real air temperature, and whatever it actually ‘feels’ like, adjusted for the wind chill or the heat index? The Lyric is programmed to make those same adjustments inside your house. Fine Tune factors not just the indoor temperature, but also what it’s like outside, and the humidity (the Lyric houses its own humidity sensor), so it can make adjustments like running your system’s fans more or bumping the temperature up or down a degree.”

June 9, 2014

Turing, Complete

Filed under: Computing,Humor and Fun — jasony @ 2:41 pm

Eugene—the supercomputer, not 13-year-old—first to beat the Turing Test: “”

Pretty cool milestone, actually. I, for one, welcome our computer overlords.

June 6, 2014

Color Me Shocked

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 4:52 pm

Report: Freed Taliban Commander Vows To Return To War Against US:

“The deepest concerns of critics of President Obama’s decision to release five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may be coming to fruition.

One of the commanders, Noorullah Noori, has plans to return to Afghanistan to resume fighting against the U.S., according to NBC News which spoke to another Taliban commander.

‘After arriving in Qatar, Noorullah Noori kept insisting he would go to Afghanistan and fight American forces there,’ the commander told NBC News.”

Who could have seen this coming?

June 5, 2014

More Media

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 1:14 pm

A potential candidate putting pressure on a media outlet.

Washington Free Beacon: “Some of Hillary Clinton’s closest aides blasted the New York Times for what they said was unfair coverage of the former first lady during a recent secret meeting with the paper’s Washington bureau, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

Sources said the meeting included Clinton advisers Philippe Reines and Huma Abedin, as well as Times Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan and national political reporter Amy Chozick, who has been on the Clinton beat for the paper.

During the closed-door gathering, Clinton aides reportedly griped about the paper’s coverage of the potential 2016 candidate, arguing that Clinton has left public office and not be subjected to harsh scrutiny, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

Neither the Times nor the Clinton camp would discuss on the record specifics. However, sources familiar with the meeting describe it as an attempt to brush back and even intimidate the staff of the Times. The sometimes fraught relationship between Clinton and the press has been well documented.”

Hypothetical reverse: the presumptive 2016 Republican candidate held a closed-door meeting with the New York Times to complain that the paper had treated him/her too harshly.

What would the proper response be?

Fix the media and you fix the country.

June 4, 2014

When You’ve Lost The Atlantic, You’ve Lost Middle America

Filed under: Politics — jasony @ 8:30 am

President Obama’s Prisoner Swap Weakened the Rule of Law:

“‘If the president truly believed that the bill was unconstitutional, he had a duty to veto the bill pursuant to his oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. President Obama didn’t veto the bill, and instead made it the law of the land. Having done so, he cannot now complain that the law he is ultimately responsible for is unconstitutional and doesn’t need to be followed… A country where the laws apply to the people but not to the president, even when the laws are specifically directed towards the executive branch, is not governed by the rule of law.’ “

June 3, 2014

A Modest Proposal

Filed under: Politics,Technology — jasony @ 12:59 pm

Let’s Charge Politicians for Wasting Our Time – Bloomberg View: “You should be able to set a charge for calling you. Every number that isn’t on your ‘free’ list would automatically be assessed a fee. The phone company would get a percentage of the revenue, and you’d be able to adjust the fee to different levels at different times of the day or for different seasons. (The nearer the election, the higher I’d make my charge.) If candidates really think it’s valuable to call me, they should be willing to pay. Otherwise, they’re just forcing me to subsidize their political efforts with my time and attention.”

Our home phone is going crazy, to the point that we pretty much just ignore it and use it for outgoing calls only.

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