Autonomous Source

Main

January 25, 2007

Stellarium

The internet age offers us vast resources for education, of which I am just beginning to make use of. If, in a discussion with my children, the topic of something odd like pole vaulting comes up, I can go to Youtube and quickly find a video that demonstrates what it looks like. I can find the words to any half-remembered rhyme with ease, and find all kinds of fun activities in a moment.

Tonight we were discussing stars, and since it's -25 out right now, I couldn't take them to see the real thing. But I just knew that somewhere in the world someone had created a perfect stellar simulator and was offering for free. After three minutes searching and two minutes downloading, I had it: Stellarium.

It's a planetarium for your computer. You can show the sky from any position on earth at any time, speed up or reverse time, zoom in, and overlay labels, constellations, and various navigational markers. I've wasted almost as much time on it as I did Flash Element TD...

October 01, 2006

Smoke gets in your brain

According to Drudge, Al Gore has claimed that smoking is a 'significant' contributor to global warming. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Umpty-dum people smoke, umm, a bunch of cigarettes every day, and uh, each cigarette releases, umm, a whole bunch of CO2, and uh, you multiply it all together and get... whoa! That's a lot of deadly greenhouse gases!

Problem is, the CO2 being released from those cigarettes was taken out of the atmosphere as the tobacco plants they were made from grew. The net effect on the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is zero.

This reminds me of the press release Greenpeace made accusing a corporation (of course) of creating a 'carbon time bomb' by... planting trees! Because according to Greenpeace logic, those trees would eventually rot or burn, releasing their poisons to roast us all.

Is it scientific ignorance or an eagerness to exaggerate that creates these stories? I imagine it's a combination of both.

July 11, 2006

Another rock uncovered

Yesterday, Industry Canada released the results of an audit on a sampling of companies that received 'loans' from the Technology Partnerships Canada program. This was a program that handed money out to tech companies promising products so dubious they couldn't find any other source of funding, and were conveniently located in strategic ridings around the country. The program had such a bad stench that it was the Liberals that decided to close it down last September -- unless the needy technology company involved aerospace or defence. In which case the gravy train was still rolling.

The audit only looked at whether the companies broke the terms of their contracts with TPC with regards to paid lobbying. It was found that almost a third of the sample had used lobbyists to get their hands on the cash, paying between $100,000 and $900,000. The audits didn't look at whether the projects funded made any sense, or what work was done. They also didn't look at the chances that Canadian taxpayers would ever see any of these 'loans' paid back. So far it doesn't look good, out of the roughly $2.15 billion paid out since 1996, only $156 million has been paid back. Hopefully more rocks will be uncovered in the near future and more information will be revealed on how the Liberals spent our money.

Many of the companies that cashed in were legitimate, but we can also assume that some small companies whose major assets were slick PowerPoint presentations and the phone numbers of good lobbyists were able to loot millions from the taxpayers. This should be big news, but it isn't. We all knew this kind of stuff was going on and we collectively shrugged our shoulders. That's why this story is relegated to the business section of today's paper and will soon be forgotten.

June 23, 2006

Net Neutrality: dangerous nonsense

Few things annoy me as much as preachy celebrities working for a cause. Whether it's Paul McCartney looking weepy over a baby seal, Pamela Anderson fretting about chickens, or George Clooney shilling for poor John Kerry, I'm much less likely to support a cause if some overpaid nitwit endorses it than if they stuck to what they're good at. I mean, why should I listen to them for advice?

So when I saw the picture of Moby on the front of this week's Ottawa Citizen 'Tech' section -- photographed from below, looking defiant and staring into the distance -- I knew what he was advocating would be complete horseshit. And it is -- it's 'net neutrality'.

The central premise behind this new cause célèbre is: Boy, isn't the internet getting busy? Seems like everyone is downloading videos and game demos and music. Maybe we could run out of bandwidth! And then what would happen? Maybe the ISPs could start charging the big content providers to give them priority! They have that technology! And that would destroy all the little content providers, leaving the world at the mercy of... (No! Say it's not true!)... Big Business.

Think I'm exaggerating? Check out this terrible vision of the internet to come from an article in the New Republic titled (very neutrally) 'The Bush administration prepares to wreck the Internet':

Imagine you were choosing whether to buy a book from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble's website, and you knew that Amazon's site would load much faster, allowing you to scan books and sample their content much more easily. Or imagine that Fox.com's streaming video came up instantly and CNN.com's balked. Or that whitehouse.gov loaded quickly while the site of a contentious political magazine was plagued by delays. That is what your Internet experience could be like if Congress doesn't require the big cable and telephone companies that control access to the Web to observe what is called "net neutrality."
Reality check. There is no bandwidth shortage. So much fibre was laid down by the (now bankrupt) telco startups during the dot-com boom that there is still a glut of long distance transport. And new WDM (wave division multiplexing) technologies allow more traffic on a single piece of fibre than was ever imagined before. And on the routing side, routers are cheaper, more powerful, and more reliable than ever. Because of the way internet traffic is distributed, if there are any areas of congestion they can be quickly relieved by added new hardware.

Secondly, no one is doing this now -- or at least no one is doing it in the way the fantasists in the above article are suggesting. They want to legislate against an abuse that is only hypothetical! But in so doing, they will destroy many benefits that tiered internet traffic might bring.

Internet providers are being squeezed by competition. Most markets in the US and Canada are served by many ISPs, so consumers have a choice in where to invest their high-speed dollars. It would be foolish if the ISPs didn't look at both sides of their traffic to try to generate revenue. Who might pay for a guaranteed speed on the delivery of their data? Companies providing subscription financial information would. For example, Bloomberg receives a great deal of money from financial services companies for their data. In delivering this data, milliseconds count. As well, a company that provides video conferencing services needs a guaranteed level of service to keep their customers happy. They don't want to lose connections when the newest Paris Hilton video becomes available. New business oportunities become possible with tiered service. A multinational company might exchange their global telephone network with a Voice over IP (VoIP) system -- but only if they could count on their IP service remaining consistent.

The net neutrality people want all bits to be the same. Seriously, that's the legislative goal of these deluded folks. They want it to be against the law for an ISP to prioritize data. But all bits aren't the same. Some are more important than others and people are willing to pay to ensure that they get there on time. And you know what? The big spenders will wind up subsidizing the regular users. Internet access will be cheaper because of the premiums paid by these 'elite' data streams. Imagine the effect of a law that made first class airline travel illegal -- say, because it's 'not fair' and the airlines might fill the planes with first class seats only. Would it improve prices and service? I doubt it.

The internet has grown to be the absurdly wonderful thing it is because of competition and the minimal intrusion of government. Strangling the companies that provide this service (and very cheaply, I might add) to ration an unlimited and man-made resource to prevent a hypothetical abuse is ridiculous. Even worse though, is that it will prevent IP services we can't even imagine yet from being developed. Equal rights for bits is possibly the dumbest cause the left has come up with yet.

UPDATE: Reason has more on the silliness of this cause.

June 18, 2006

This makes me nostalgic for Vegas...

(via Samizdata)

Continue reading "This makes me nostalgic for Vegas..." »

June 14, 2006

Science meets junk science

We're all doomed. Everyone knows it. Or actually they don't know it. All those tubby sheeple trundling through the Wal-Mart to fill their SUVs with stuff they don't need sure don't seem to be aware. If they knew that our planet is going to overheat and cause massive devastation due to the use of those fossil fuels which will cause a apocalyptic economic implosion when they soon run out and we can't use them anymore, would they live the way they do?

This is the way the clever people in our world think. And it's not surprising considering the way the media promotes these doomsday scenarios. They also think that the only way to solve these potential catastrophes is to hand over some of their (and of course those blind sheeple's) dwindling supply of autonomy to the even wiser men than they that promise a solution. That those wise men are almost always the same as the prophets of doom doesn't seem to bother them.

The Financial Post is running a series of stories this week dealing with most of the big sources of potential global annihilation. They've asked scientists with in-depth knowledge of these subjects -- but whose views are not bleak enough for the media to quote -- to rebut some of the hysteria. Unfortunately, yesterday's article on Toxic Chemical Hysteria is not online (though Terence Corcoran's editorial on the subject still is), but today's piece on the Peak Oil Panic is very much worth reading:

Proponents of the imminent peak of global oil extraction -- led by Colin Campbell, Jean Laherrere, L.F. Ivanhoe, Richard Duncan and Kenneth Deffeyes -- resort to deliberately alarmist arguments as they mix incontestable facts with caricatures of complex realities, ignoring anything that does not fit their preconceived conclusions about the demise of modern civilization. Ivanhoe sees an early end of the oil era as "the inevitable doomsday," followed by "economic implosion" that will make "many of the world's developed societies look more like today's Russia than the U.S." Duncan's future brings massive unemployment, breadlines, homelessness and a catastrophic end of industrial civilization.

These conclusions are based on interpretations that lack any nuanced understanding of the human quest for energy, disregard the role of prices, ignore any historical perspectives and pre-suppose the end of human inventiveness and adaptability.

I will raise just three key points aimed at dismantling the foundations of this new catastrophist cult. First, these preachings are just the latest installments in a long history of failed peak forecasts. Second, the Peak Oil advocates argue that this time the circumstances are really different and that their forecasts will not fail -- but in order to believe that, one has to ignore a multitude of facts and possibilities that readily counteract their claims. Third, and most importantly, there is no reason why even an early peak of global oil production should trigger any catastrophic events.

As the say in the blogosphere: RTHT.

I can't help but think that there's some intrinsic religious aspect to these type of fears -- that there's something in humanity that is uncomfortable with an easy life. There's the idea that there's a cost for everything we enjoy -- that we must make sacrifices to balance our blessings. Even though religion is so passé to the clever people, this belief has not died, it has simply morphed into the new junk science cult.