Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Hacker Culture

Every so often I stumble across something, even something originally written several years ago, that makes me re-question where I belong on a variety of intellectual/philosophical/political spectra.

It's quite long, but still worth reading.

Cars, Fars, Bars, and Tars!

Obama, yesterday: "We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish."

Why not?

Seriously, why not? If other organizations can make cars better or more efficiently or with higher quality than we are willing to, why don't we just let them do it and focus our energies elsewhere? Repeat after me: America does not need a domestic auto industry. America does not need a domestic auto industry. America does not need a domestic auto --

The colors! Oh man, the colors!

Monday, March 30, 2009


Is there a better first-date conversation?

No, thinks I.

Below is a comment I posted to the above-linked Daily Mail article; it's my standard boilerplate, but it is, I think, quite effective in rebutting many of the objections listed by some of the less-informed people populating the thread:

Objections to cryonics normally follow one of four paths: 1) Revival is technologically unfeasible; 2) It is immoral; 3) One life should be plenty enough and only a fool would want a "second" one; 4) It's all a scam.

Rebuttals: 1) Undeniably true now and for the immediate future, but progressively less so the further into the future one imagines. Everything said about cryonics' unfeasibility were also said for tens of thousands of years about flight; 2) If morality demands we all expire at our appointed times, why bother with even CPR or other proven life-extension methods? 3) True enough for some, much less so for those who constantly marvel at and revel in the wonder of life, and cannot imagine having too much of it; 4) Some organizations are less scrupulous than others, but most of the biggies, like CI and Alcor, have sterling track records and reputations.

I have been interested in and debating cryonics for over a decade since first picking up James L. Halperin's The First Immortal in an airport bookstore, and I have yet to hear convincing counter-rebuttals.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Freedom and the Future for a Friday

... And you can have it in any color you like, so long as it isn't black.

Actually, it isn't *quite* as bad as it sounds. California's Air Resources Board -- because air must be parceled out according to bureaucratic diktat -- is not outlawing black cars but is rather mandating "solar reflectivity" levels that represent a tough row to hoe for less-reflective black. So, in an attempt to appease CARB, the paint people have been tinkering with the chemistry to find blacks that reflect more light and to date have produced nothing more striking than "mud-puddle brown".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

RIP, John Brittain, 1965-2009

We lost yesterday one of the funniest men to ever write about baseball, John Brittain. As of now, there are close to 600 comments on the Baseball Primer thread regarding his passing, probably ninety-five per cent of which are from people who never met him, yet feel a sense of loss and will for a while. If nothing else, that speaks to the power of the Internet's ability to bring together people (which has been remarked upon many multiples of millions of times) and to the wit and wisdom of John's writing (which cannot be remarked upon enough).

His last article was published on The Hardball Times site only last week. Fittingly, it covered John's favorite team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

The writing world is a little less full today.

RIP, John, you socially-unacceptable thing, you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Future for a Friday (4 days early or 3 days late)

Interesting. If nothing else, it would be an incredible safety boon to people living alone.

Less interesting, to the point of being tiresomely stupid, is the idea that such a technology is "silly", because people shouldn't be trying to reduce or eliminate risk from their lives and should instead focus on living it. My response to this idiocy is to point out that, firstly and most importantly, monitor != protect. Nothing inherent about such tools prevents people from living their lives to the fullest; if anything, the opposite might be true (this is beside the point, but to argue otherwise is to argue that more information is predominantly harmful, a stance I reject outright). Secondly, who the hell are these people to tell other people what "living" is? For some people, reducing risk and staying safe is a perfectly wonderful way to live their lives.

Meet the New Boss ...

... same as the old boss.

Yes, you have indeed been fooled again.

Related: FSF amicus brief; Obama, Biden, and the RIAA

Friday, March 20, 2009

Because When I Speak, Vegas Listens

Last week I noted that betting even money on the Yankees to win fewer than 95 games was a license to steal money. The bookmakers have agreed: SportsBook.com now has New York's over/under down from 95.5 wins to 94.5 and the price has gone from even to -115 ($115 wager pays $100).

I graciously accept the title of most influential person in Las Vegas, and will wield my power wisely.

Yanks under 94.5 at -115 is still a decent bet, if not the print-money deal it was a week ago. There's some real risk in that lineup; Derek Jeter will be 35 in June, can no longer play anything more than a passible shortstop (if that), has lost his power (after belting 150-200 points of isolated slugging at his peak, he was at 108 last year), and is little more than an average player. They're paying A.J. Burnett for five seasons' worth of Cy Young-caliber pitching when he's really had only three good years in his whole career. They need C.C. Sabathia to not develop his own gravitational pull. Throw in the age in the outfield, their not having a decent backup behind Jorge Posada ... there's a lot of risk here. Plus the competition from the Red Sox and defending champion Rays will be just brutal, Toronto still has one of the better run-prevention teams in baseball, and Baltimore will be ushering in the Era of Matt Wieters, who will one day rule all he surveys. I see New York as more of a high-80s team with 92- 93-win upside, maybe a 30-35% chance of getting to 95 ... at -115 you need about a 53% probability to break even, so under-94.5 is still playable.

If gambling were legal, of course.

EDIT: 3/23/2009 - I mentioned at the top that "Yankees to win fewer than 95 games" was the original bet. The original bet was actually Yankees to win fewer than 96 games, since the over/under was 95.5 -- LCL

Monday, March 16, 2009

Humans >> Chimpanzees

This Megan McArdle post is more about the hazards of predicting the future and the extent to which our liberties-protecting and -enhancing economy relies on those predictions, but what caught my eye was this part:

In some sense, all of history's progress from lives that were nasty, brutish and short to today's splendiferous buffet of iPhones, nine-month courses of physical therapy, and year-round fresh broccoli can be summed up in three words: gains from trade. We live better than a tribe of chimpanzees roaming through the primordial forest because we specialize and then exchange the fruits of our skills with each other. Trade, as the ecoomists say, increases the size of the economic pie to be divided between us.

I will leave it to the reader to decide whether year-round fresh broccoli really qualifies as a societal advance, but that's neither here nor there. What matters is the importance of trade and, more specifically, *trade based on specialized skills*. You do what you're good at and don't waste time doing what you're not good at. I do what I'm good at and let others do what I'm not good at. Then we all trade what we have produced with those skills. It's really quite communitarian when you think about it (the communitarian-boosting effects of capitalism clearly exceed those of explicitly-communitarian "isms" like socialism and communism, though, again, that's neither here nor there). Keep that in mind the next time someone espouses the spiritual goodness of self-reliance, etc., and other such claptrap.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Aaaaannnd ... It's Official

Florida is left out of the NCAA basketball tournament for the second year running. Actually, a more accurate statement would be that Florida PLAYED ITSELF OUT of the NCAA basketball tournament for the second year running. Ken Pomeroy's ratings have them as the 44th-best team in Division I when there are only 34 at-large spots. Defensively, Pomeroy has the UF rated 88th, giving up 63.2 points per 65 possessions when adjusting for quality of opponents (the top teams are normally well under 60), and they lost 10 of their 32 games despite playing a shamefully-putrid schedule: 292nd out of 344 by Pomeroy's numbers. Part of this was the decline of the Southeast Conference as a whole. Strength-of-schedule rankings are not unlike house prices; what your neighbors are doing matters, and Florida's in-conference neighbors were so weak that the league finished dead last among the six major conferences. And even surrounded by po' folks, the Gators couldn't crack the SEC's top five, finishing tied for fifth at 9-7 with a Mississippi State team that a) beat them head-to-head and b) won the SEC tournament when UF was bounced in the second round. So call them sixth in the weakest SEC in years.

So .. 44th overall, 88th in defense, 292nd in schedule, and sixth in the number-six major conference. Is this deserving of a bid to the national championship tournament? Lessee ... Pomeroy's #44 teams the past three years:

2008 -- Missouri. They missed the tournament (but were much better than Florida '09 at the defensive end, ranking 70th) and played a vastly tougher schedule: The Big 12 was the nation's toughest that year, and Mizzou's 180th-ranked non-conference schedule was *112 spots better than UF's this year*.

2007 -- Boston College. The Eagles were invited as a 7th seed, but played the #117 non-conference schedule and were fourth in the ACC, the nation's toughest league. BC fell in the second round to Georgetown

2006 -- Air Force. A 13th-seed invite that was 24-6 and lost its first-round NCAA game to Illinois.

The number-six teams in the number-six major conferences the last three years:

2008 -- Wait, that was Florida again, finishing sixth in the number-six SEC (two years straight the SEC has been the weakest of the power six). They missed the tournament.

2007 -- Missouri from the Big 12. They missed the tournament.

2006 -- Nebraska from the Big 12. They missed the tournament. Let's just run this back a bit farther.

2005 -- Arizona State from the Pac 10. They missed the tournament.

2004 -- Southern California from the Pac 10 (which was actually the number-eight league that year, ranking below the Mountain West and Conference USA). Guess what. They missed the tournament.

2003 -- Southern California from the Pac 10. And the beat goes on.

2002 -- Syracuse from the Big East. One of the very few seasons that Jim Boeheim's Orangemen were denied a chance to dance.

2001 -- Ah, never mind.

The lesson here is pretty simple: When you're conference is the weakest of the six majors, you had better crack that league's top five to have even a prayer of being in the conversations when ESPN's herd of talking baboons surrounds Jay Bilas and pontificates on the selection committee's choices and snubs. Two straight years now, the Gators have been unable to do that.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Auburn 61 Florida 58

Quentez Robinson blocked Walter Hodge's three-point shot as the buzzer sounded to seal Auburn's win over Florida in the second round of the SEC basketball tournament. The loss cements UF's disappointing finish; after winning their first five conference games, the Gators dropped eight of their remaining thirteen in a six-week spasm of rotten play that was reminiscent of their 3-7 falloff to close last season.

This is Florida's second consecutive miss-out on the Big Dance that is the NCAA tournament after having their ticket punched nine years running from 1999 through 2007, closing that run with national championships in '06 and '07.

Does coach Billy Donovan find his seat a bit warmer? Probably not, or at least he should not. I am a big believer in Bill "the Sports Guy" Simmons's rule regarding five-year grace periods (see rule #12), and after back-to-back banners, Donovan could coast for another four or five years and still be deserving of having his name grace the O'Connell Center's hardwood floor. But there's no getting around the fact that too many of the Gators' losses over these two often heart-wrenching seasons are attributable to factors most people associate with poor coaching: Missing late-game free throws and not having someone get back for transition defense, which cost UF a shoulda-been-a-win game against South Carolina ... turnovers ... blown defensive assignments ... and, finally, putting the season-deciding shot in the hands of Hodge, a bit player for most of his first three years and not a light-it-up scorer as a senior (although, in fairness, he did hit a three on the prior possession to keep Florida within striking distance) when Nick Calathes, Dan Werner, and Erving Walker are all equally good or better from three-ball land. Florida was second to league-champion LSU in per-possession point margin, outscoring its opponents by 4.55 points per 65 possessions and was first in offense at 71.5 points per 65 possessions, yet will miss the tournament. Some of this hangs on the middle-aged man with the suit and clipboard -- and the $2.5 million salary.

The SEC tourney continues tomorrow with LSU playing Mississippi State and Tennessee squaring off with Auburn, with the winners playing in Sunday's final, but who the hell cares?

Florida is going to the NIT. Again. Oh, the ignomy.

Freedom for a Friday

Preach on, Brother Bill! I could not agree more with this, and think that it will eventually be ... well, "downfall" is too strong a word, but the closed nature of the iPhone is going to bleed Apple's market share, with Google's Gx phones, based on the company's open-source Android operating system, being the primary beneficiaries.

Think about it this way ... Apple's iPhone is more closed than any OS Microsoft has ever released. When was the last time an MS operating system would run only programs either developed by or expressly approved by Microsoft? Yet that is exactly what Apple has chosen to do. And the company will suffer for it, and rightfully so.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What I'm Watching Tonight

Main Event

SEC Basketball Tournament: Florida/Arkansas, 8:45

The Gators need to win three straight conference-tournament games to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. Given that a team cannot win three without first winning one, beating Arkansas is critical.



TNT's Thursday-night pro-hoop doubleheader consistently offers one of the most entertaining five-hour blocks on TV. Tonight it's Lakers at Spurs (important for the Hornets, who trail San Antonio by three games in the Southwest division) followed by Cavaliers at Suns. Anyone who misses a chance to see LeBron James should have their televisions taken away. James is having a season that wouldn't look out of place in Michael Jordan's career. And he's only 24.

Keeping an eye on ...

NHL - Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets

Pittsburgh is a game ahead of Columbus for sixth in the East, a spot it needs to maintain to avoid having to face juggernaut Boston in the first two rounds of the playoffs, plus the Pens have two of hockey's most exciting players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Melkin.

NHL - Calgary Flames at Detroit Red Wings

A likely preview of the Western Conference semifinals.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Make! Money!! Now!!!

The Dow has lost most of its gains from the past ten years. Jim Cramer is waving his arms on CNBC's Mad Money, saying that while there's always a bull market somewhere, he can't find it here. Many workers' 401(k) accounts have been wiped clean. And in the cruelest of fates, some people "were good friends" with Bernie Madoff. In such uncertain times, how does one grow wealth?

The award-winning* staff at Diamonds & Emeralds is here to provide you with the answer. The surest way to make money in 2009 would be to bet on the New York Yankees' winning fewer than 96 games this year. Or it would be if gambling were not illegal.


Here are the MLB over/unders for regular season wins, as posted by SportsBook.com. The minus-sign number in parenthesis represents the amount needed to risk to win $100 (the rare plus-sign number denotes how much the better stands to win with a $100 bet)

Toronto Blue Jays
Over 79.5 (-105)
Under 79.5 (-125)

Texas Rangers
Over 73.5 (-130)
Under 73.5 (even)

Arizona Diamondbacks
Over 86.5 (-115)
Under 86.5 (-115)

Atlanta Braves
Over 84.5 (-115)
Under 84.5 (-115)

Baltimore Orioles
Over 72.5 (-105)
Under 72.5 (-125)

Boston Red Sox
Over 93.5 (-130)
Under 93.5 (even)

Chicago Cubs
Over 91.5 (-115)
Under 91.5 (-115)

Chicago White Sox
Over 78.5 (-115)
Under 78.5 (-115)

Cincinnati Reds
Over 80.5 (-115)
Under 80.5 (-115)

Cleveland Indians
Over 85.5 (-115)
Under 85.5 (-115)

Colorado Rockies
Over 77.5 (-115)
Under 77.5 (-115)

Detroit Tigers
Over 81.5 (-115)
Under 81.5 (-115)

Florida Marlins
Over 76.5 (-115)
Under 76.5 (-115)

Houston Astros
Over 73.5 (+105)
Under 73.5 (-135)

Kansas City Royals
Over 75.5 (-105)
Under 75.5 (-125)

Los Angeles Angels
Over 87.5 (-130)
Under 87.5 (even)

Los Angeles Dodgers
Over 82.5 (-150)
Under 82.5 (+120)

Milwaukee Brewers
Over 80.5 (-115)
Under 80.5 (-115)

Minnesota Twins
Over 83.5 (-115)
Under 83.5 (-115)

New York Mets
Over 89.5 (-115)
Under 89.5 (-115)

New York Yankees
Over 95.5 (-130)
Under 95.5 (even)

Oakland Athletics
Over 82.5 (-105)
Under 82.5 (-125)

Philadelphia Phillies
Over 88.5 (-115)
Under 88.5 (-115)

Pittsburgh Pirates
Over 69.5 (-115)
Under 69.5 (-115)

San Diego Padres
Over 71.5 (-115)
Under 71.5 (-115)

San Francisco Giants
Over 80.5 (-115)
Under 80.5 (-115)

Seattle Mariners
Over 72.5 (-115)
Under 72.5 (-115)

St Louis Cardinals
Over 82.5 (-115)
Under 82.5 (-115)

Tampa Bay Rays
Over 88.5 (-130)
Under 88.5 (even)

Washington Nationals
Over 73.5 (+105)
Under 73.5 (-135)

How on earth is Yankees over 95.5 (essentially betting that the Yankees will go 96-66 or better, a mark that would basically make them the the best team in baseball) such a heavily-favored bet? Minus-130? The idea that the Yanks will win 96 or more games is so popular with SportsBook's customers that the book forces you to accept only 79 cents on the dollar (a $130 bet pays $100) if you want a piece of it. At that price, Yankee-over betters need a 57% probability to have even a break-even chance of winning money, and, to my mind, a 70+% chance to make it a good value wager. Do the 2009 Yankees have a 70% shot at winning 96 games? Out of the 120 team-seasons over the last four years, only nine teams (7.5%, an average of 2.3 teams per year out of 30) have won 96+. So risking 130 to win 100 on Yankees over 95.5 means requires thinking that the Yankees have a 70% shot at being one of the top two teams in baseball. That's an awfully high standard. Much easier money stands to be made on the under (95 wins or fewer). They can be "only" one of the top five or six teams in the game and still not win 95, especially in a division as steel-cage-deathmatch tough as the AL East -- and that bet pays even money.

Detroit under 81.5 looks good, too. That's a club with some tasty implosion potential.

Pity we do not yet live in a free society. Maybe in 2362 (sigh).

* Six-time winner of coveted "Darkest Office in the Building" award

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Universe Does Not Exist to Comfort Homeowners

My dad pointed this out from the Yahoos. Seeing more pieces like this floating around. Hough's article is better than most, and his #5 ("Neighborhoods are changing in unpredictable ways") is a very under-appreciated reason for praising renting over buying. Depending on the source, the typical homeowner might have anywhere from 30-80% of their net worth tied up in their home. This is madness. Talk about lack of investment diversification ... sixty, maybe eighty cents for each dollar of a person's life, tied up for decades in one home in one neighborhood. For a generation, and probably longer, personal-finance gurus have railed against individual people buying and selling individual stocks or behind too heavily weighted in any one investment, etc. And this whole time public policy and culture have encouraged people, most of whom have the financial sophistication of Pez dispensers, to not only make a massive thirty-year investment in one asset, but to borrow money to do it.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Joy of Life #39 -- Schadenfreude


This makes me pine for the good ol' days where NCAA sanctions meant a program's being banished from TV, conference champioinships, and bowl games. America's college football fans could use less garnett 'n' gold-clad Bobby Bowden in their lives.

If seven of the Seminoles' 2007 wins are "vacated", what might that do to St. Bobby's chase of Joe Paterno for the all-time Division 1-A wins record? Nothing. For one thing, the Florida State program will be vacating wins, not Bowden personally. For another, a chunk of Bowden's wins were at what is now Samford University, a 1-AA school. If only wins at 1-A universities count, then Bowden is too far beyond Paterno for it to be even considered a race. If wins at 1-AA as well as 1-A schools count, then Grambling legend Eddie Robinson still sits at the top of the mountain.

Friday, March 6, 2009


This is monumentally depressing.

Slashdot commenter "Joe Snipe" has what I think is the most likely explanation:

[Colorado] made attempts to be "ahead" of the curve when it came to an online presence (see also denvergov.com and the atrocity that is netfile; we were one of the first states to have online tax filing). Unfortunately they hired people who knew ass all about javascript (or proper DB handling) and no one knew enough to stop it in it's infancy. Now it has snowballed into something too costly to replace and too borked to simply repair. I imagine someone told some user that ff was a security risk, rather than go into the technical details of why the site falls to crap on browser it was never tested for. Eventually, through what I like to call "the wiki effect" that same information got passed back as fact to the current web coders who promptly put up a notice to inform their end users.