Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Money than Brains

Larry Ellison has more money than brains.

Want proof? He built a house for $200 million and then complained, when the house was assessed at $160 million, that it clearly wasn't worth anywhere near that because it was "overdeveloped". He claimed it was only worth about $60 million, and eventually the assessor's office agreed. This is just the tip of the iceberg of his wasteful acquisitiveness.

What does it mean to have more money than brains? It means you knowingly waste money. When you acquire far more of something than you can possibly use or properly appreciate, you have more money than brains. When you pay far more for something than it is worth to anybody else (meaning you could never resell it for more than a fraction of what it cost you), you have more money than brains.

Monday, May 7, 2012

8th Fire - Can't miss CBC Documentaries

CBC has recently aired a truly great series called "8th Fire". Many of the comments and tweets surrounding it have shared the same sentiment: A series that every Canadian should watch. 8th Fire has finished airing on TV but you can watch the full episodes online at

It is about the Aboriginal population of Canada and their relationship with the Non-aboriginal community. Creator and host of the series Wab Kinew gives a few facts, a few perspectives that many of us will not be familiar with, and a few ideas about how we can all improve the way we get along.

I know what you are going to say. You don't need to be preached at and blamed for something you had no hand in. But the 8th Fire isn't like that. It is a gentle, entertaining exploration of these ideas that is quite humorous. And you might learn something you didn't know before you're done that changes the way you think about Aboriginal and Non-aboriginal relations. I did.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Usage Based Billing caused by an Internet Bug called Bufferbloat

There has been a lot of talk about Net Neutrality (NN) and Usage Based Billing (UBB) recently. The issue appears to be that as more and more people transfer more and more data, the Internet is getting bogged down. BitTorrent was originally seen as the biggest culprit, although services like NetFlix are now the front-runners. The current thinking is that improving the situation is going to require large investments in the infrastructure.

The problem with that explanation has always been that the math doesn't work out. Although it is true that usage has been going up, the infrastructure has also been increasing at an exponential rate. Given the actual numbers, there is no reason for the Internet to have been slowing down. Yet it is absolutely undeniable that it has. For example, you probably have several times the bandwidth you had five years ago. Does the Internet feel faster to you? For most people, the answer is that it feels decidedly slower.

In the last couple of months, a network engineer working at Bell Labs named Jim Gettys has finally determined why things have been getting slower and slower. He found that there is a bug in the Internet that he has called Bufferbloat.

I'm going to explain Bufferbloat, but Don't Panic! This is a decidedly non-technical explanation. We are going to look at Bufferbloat by using a classic "I Love Lucy" episode.

Monday, December 6, 2010

An open letter on Bill C-32

I believe strongly that we need balance in copyright. For the most part, I believe that Bill C-32 provides much of the balance that is needed. There is one portion of it, however, that renders all other aspects of the copyright act moot. That portion is the digital lock provisions.

These provisions are nasty. They not only allow someone issuing a copyrighted work to steal from the public all of their fair dealing rights, they also allow the theft of copyrighted works themselves. I feel so strongly about this that any party that supports Bill C-32 with the digital lock provisions in place will lose my vote not just in the next election, but for the rest of my life. These aspects of Bill C-32 are that evil.

It will no doubt come as a surprise to many that the digital lock provisions of Bill C-32 allow theft of copyright material from the copyright holders, with no recourse for them to determine that infringing is occurring. Let me explain how that comes about.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Directly Downwind Faster Than The Wind

A recent article in Make:Online and soon to appear in Make Magazine discusses the successful attempt by Rick Cavallaro to create a wind-powered vehicle that can go faster than the wind. This "land yacht", called the Greenbird, has been verified by the North American Land Sailing Association to have run at 2.8 times the speed of the wind. They have done this with various sensors, the data for which can be found on their website.

Rick was continuing the work of Jack Goodman who released a video of his toy DDFTTW cart in 2006 and created a huge internet buzz. Unfortunately for Jack, it also created huge controversy. People issued cries of "Perpetual Motion", "fraud", "its all done with string". Physicists claimed if this video were true it would break the basic laws of physics so it is clearly a hoax. One contributor to Make Magazine tried to reproduce the results and couldn't, and therefore concluded that Jack Goodman was a fraud.

You would think that Rick's full-scale reproduction of Jack's work verified by an independent body would be enough to silence the critics, but people continue to lose their minds over the impossibility of using the wind to travel faster than the wind. The cries of perpetual motion and breaking fundamental laws of physics continue. I find the hysteria just a little bit baffling.

Understanding how DDFTTW is possible is actually fairly straightforward. Once you understand what is going on, it is clear that what is causing all the naysaying is simply a failure of imagination.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Time Travel and Causation

I've talked about my disappointment with many time travel stories because they don't address basic questions about momentum and try to claim that people can "get away" with time travelling so long as they don't change anything, when quantum mechanics requires them to change everything (at least on the scale of the very small). Here is my last objection to the way people write time travel stories, and also how they read them. I have read a number of essays and blog entries where people dismiss a time travel story as ridiculous because of the way that they "know" causation works, when in fact we are all ignorant of how causation would work in the presence of time travel. There may be good reasons to doubt time travel is possible, but this certainly isn't one of them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quantum Mechanics and Time Travel

I have issues with how many time travel stories hand wave away a lot of science. My first objection was about how momentum was dealt with (or rather, not dealt with) in these stories. Now I'd like to focus on what Quantum Mechanics says about changes to the universe when time travel is present.

Often in time travel stories the author will try to get around the possibility of a paradox by claiming that the characters are only allowed to remain in the past so long as they don't change anything. Stories where the timestream would just spit out anyone that made a change in human history are an example in a seemingly never ending line of examples of humanity's hubris. Why on earth would the universe care whether humans noticed a change? The only things that the universe can be said to care about are the fundamental laws that it follows. And one of these laws appears to demand that if time travel is possible, the universe must be changed by it every time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Lack of Science in Time Travel Fiction

I am a sucker for time travel stories. I love thinking about ways in which the past could be altered and considering ways in which that might be better or worse.

For example, if Hitler had not risen to power and started World War II, would we have had the civil rights movement in the 60s? Did it take the extremely negative example of the holocaust to convince a new generation growing up in the 50s that racism and prejudice of any kind are abhorrent? And what about surviving the nuclear arms race? Without Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would mutually assured destruction have worked as a strategy to reduce the likelihood of nuclear war? Would the human race have survived a period of nuclear proliferation without a negative example to draw on?

It is reminiscent of Leibniz's "Best of all possible worlds". I am not referring to the mockery that Voltaire made of that phrase in Candide when he suggested that the phrase meant there was no unhappiness in the world. I mean it as Leibniz meant it, that for all the unhappiness in the world, things would be even worse if we did not go through that unhappiness.

To me, that gives us two great types of time travel stories that I seem to see far too few of: ones where people try to change the world for the better only to have it get much worse, and those where people change the world for the worse knowing that the overall effect will be better.

But for all these time travel stories that I love, I find that there are few that I can call Science Fiction despite the fact that there are at least some reasons in science to think that time travel of some sort may be possible. I am not a physicist and if anybody is reading this and wishes to correct me on any of these points then feel free. I think that they are all rudimentary enough to pass muster, though, and it surprises me that no one ever seems to deal with them in any time travel stories that I have read.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Cure for Binary Worldviews

Some people reading my post on the limitations imposed on our thinking by the bimodal nature of our view of truth may have found themselves frustrated by it. "Something is either true or it is not. That is undeniable", they may have said. Well, I deny it. So does a significant portion of the population of the world.

Let me give you a simple example to expand your view of the problem. The checkout time of a particular bed and breakfast is 11:00AM. True or false: you will be charged for an extra day if you leave after 11:00AM.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Binary Truth In Western Culture

A recent TED talk mentions that one of the great things that happened during the enlightenment was that we shook off much of the legacy from the ancient Greeks that was stifling our ability to think for ourselves. Since they were wrong about a lot of things, treating their pronouncements as eternal wisdom held us back from making progress in our understanding of the world. But there is one area of thought where ancient thinking has become so insidious that we are not even aware of its influence. It is an area where we think we are being more rational in our thinking whereas in fact we are straying further from reality. I am talking about true/false logic and how it affects our worldview.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I Invented Google

One reason people have given me for resisting the free sharing of their ideas has to due with regret. It seems to be an almost universal experience to feel resentment when you have an idea and then later see someone take the same idea and make a lot of money or get a lot of credit from it. In most cases you know that the idea was developed completely independently and that the person who succeeded did so solely on their own merit, but if you've broadcast the idea beforehand then the thought that you might have given them your idea and then seen them succeed with it seems too much to bear. For this reason, people still want to hoard their ideas.

I thought I'd share an example from my own life of giving away an idea that ended up being the foundation for a hugely successful company. I hope it may help give a sense of perspective on this.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Who Owns a Copyrighted Work?

In honour of European Public Domain Day (North America won't get a Public Domain Day until 2019) I thought I'd post some thoughts on copyright.

First, a disclaimer. For my whole career I have made a living from copyright. As a software developer, I rely on the existence of copyright to make the work I do worth being paid a salary. Some might think my opinions would be biased by that. But I have a second disclaimer. I am a consumer of copyrighted works. As a consumer, I recognize the value in keeping copyright limited. What I would like to see is a copyright law where there is a balance between the rights of the copyright holder and the rights of the consumer.

With that out of the way, I would like to ask all of you to think about a question. Before you go on reading, see if you can figure out who owns a copyrighted work. If you think the answer is obvious, I will point out that it is a trick question. You might want to look at the question again and make sure you fully understand what it is asking.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Novelizations of the Icelandic Sagas

To demonstrate how easy it is to share your a-ha ideas, I thought I'd share one of mine.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Share Your World Changing Ideas

Every once in a while I get an idea that really knocks my socks off. It is an idea that sweeps my imagination and gets me passionate about seeing the idea through to completion. I will usually spend at least 100 hours of my own personal time doing research and coming up with a plan to ensure its execution. These are the a-ha moments, the ideas you just have to act on.

As for actually seeing them through to completion, I have a dismal record. After all that effort on all those projects, there are only a few successes that I can point to. When I consider the difference between the ones that make it and the ones that don't, though, it has nothing to do with how excited I am about an idea. It is whether I worked on it with someone else.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Creative Urge

I sometimes get funny looks from people when I refer to computer software as "elegant". For most people, I think, the notion that creating software is something creative goes against all their preconceived ideas about what a programmer's working life must be like. After all, people just sit in cubicles and tell a machine what to do day in and day out, don't they? What could be creative about that?

For these people, the existence of open source software is a complete mystery (when they bother to take notice of it at all). It seems like some kind of socialist conspiracy. Why are all these people doing this boring work in their spare time and then giving it away? Orders from their communist overlords? Are they trying to undermine the capitalist system?

With this in mind, I thought I'd offer a gentle introduction for the general populace about why geeks work all day writing code and then go home and write more for free. There have been many excellent analyses of this phenomenon written for those within the geek culture (see particularly The Cathedral and the Bazaar) but I'm not aware of one that takes the time to explain to people who are outside the hacker tribe exactly what is going on.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What to Expect - Yet Another Blogger's Manifesto

Before starting on this blog, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on what I expect from these posts. My intention is to make this blog an eclectic one, not focused on any particular topic or even a consistent way of presenting ideas. Sometimes I plan to write a long essay, other times I'll just mention ideas that strike me as Quite Interesting.

As you may have realized from my last post, though, I have strong opinions about what constitutes a worthwhile blog post and a sensitivity to the needs of someone reading them. If I am just spouting off about my own opinions then I am just wasting my time and I shouldn't even bother making the effort.

With that in mind, I thought I'd try to discover a set of guidelines that reflected the patterns in the posts of other blog writers that I appreciated.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Why Write a Blog?

I wrote my initial blog post here two years ago, but I knew at the time that it was unlikely that a second post would follow it. No one is more surprised than I am that there will now be more. The reason I was so sure back then that I wouldn't use this site for actually blogging is that, at the time, I hated the whole notion of blogs.

This might seem an odd attitude given that I ran a blog long before the word had been adopted. Originally, I ran a site based on Squishdot. This was an add-on for the Zope web publishing framework which at the time I was quite impressed with. Squishdot was a clone of Slashdot whose user interface I thought to be perfect for a news site. Hence, I ran a Squishdot site that aggregated news on a subject that was important to a community I belonged to. The site ran collected news items and also my own take on the import of some of those items. It was a blog before the notion of blogs existed. Eventually, when its purpose had been served, it was retired.

So if I am an early adopter who saw my blog benefit a community of people, why did I bear such a grudge against the whole concept for all these years? The simple answer is signal-to-noise ratio.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Welcome to Callenish!

This is a blog I've created for playing around with the Google blogger offering. I'm hoping I can understand how to make it integrate with various mashups, even though it is nowhere near as sophisticated as Facebook, for example. I'm also uncertain about the social networking side of things with Blogger. Still, the only way to find out about these things is to play with them, so here goes...