Sunday, August 25, 2013

Discovery on the Shelves

I'm working on having a sort of modern geek garage sale. This of course means that it has to be online, especially with the difficulty of finding buyers for things like signed first edition science fiction. It feels like I've been going back and forth on whether to use eBay or Amazon forever and I think it's basically coming down to things that I can reasonably value and the things that are so unique that it's really hard to do. The latter are probably better candidates for eBay, IMO. For example I found a book on the shelves yesterday that I thought I'd lost years ago since I just couldn't remember where it had gotten to (Hey, there are lots of books in this house.) and I had lost some books years before due to water damage. It's a 1973 paperback edition of Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. What made this such an interesting find for me back in 1977 at a little used bookstore was the inscription. Yes, it's very good condition for a 40 year old paperback and not only did Heinlein sign it but it's inscribed "To our jolly shipmate, Louise Thayer. Robert & Ginny". It's also noted that it was while he was on the Mariposa on Washington's Birthday in 1974. I may have to sell it but I was still very happy to find that it hadn't been destroyed after all. But lots of luck finding information to help price that one. Then there's the scripts. George R.R. Martin has done things in television before Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season". In fact he produced a pilot for a television show that never got picked up by the networks, Doorways. ABC actually commissioned six scripts for episodes that never were produced. It so happens that I acquired a copy of the script for the pilot and the first episode years ago at a convention's charity auction. George signed both of them Once again, how do you value something like that. I'm still mulling over what kind of reserve to put on them since I do think that eBay is probably the best venue to sell them. But I'm still smiling about finding that book.

Cory Doctorow on the Digital OED

Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame has an interesting article in The Guardian about the Oxford English Dictionary in the digital age. The idea of access to the OED is great but isn't going to be in my budget soon.

Careers Are the Craziest Things Sometimes

Ars Technica has an interesting article about a major career shift made by a NASA engineer. Mark Rober became a halloween costume designer after 9 years at NASA where he spent most of his time working on the Curiosity rover. A big shift that's really panned out for Rober, who started a company with friends to expand the idea and then sold the company to British company Digital Dudz.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How to Alienate Your Employees in One Easy Lesson

I remember reading about this management practice before but I didn't remember that Microsoft was one of the companies using rank stacking, an amazingly misguided management methodology, IMO. Basically it means that no matter how good you are, and a company like Microsoft could attract a lot of very talented people, your manager just might get you fired because someone has to be put down as the least valuable employee by some criteria, any criteria. It doesn't really matter if everyone is good and everyone contributes value, the system demands it. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Kutcher Praised for Speech - But Why?

The Hill has an article complete with video on how conservatives are praising Ashton Kutcher because of a speech he gave at the Teen Choice Awards. What was so amazing about this speech that it drew praise from people such as Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and Rush Limbaugh? He talked about the virtues of work. Why do they consider this so remarkable? Because of the conservative straw man argument that liberals don't believe in work and instead believe in giveaways. Limbaugh's quote from the article:
"This is a message that young kids today are not hearing except maybe in their homes from their parents, but they're not hearing this. They're not hearing this from Obama. They're not hearing this from presidential or political leadership," he said.
We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don't want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realize their full potential. - Barack Obama “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” - Barack Obama
It looks like he said something about it at least a couple of times. If you read comments on the internet you'll see that with appalling regularity people who defend the necessity of social programs will themselves be referred to as being on welfare or told they should go get a job. I know that I've been told that many times myself. It's the belief that gave rise to the 47% controversy and it's something that every person I know who votes exclusively for the Republican Party believes. The motivation for believing something so contrary to obvious facts is something that still puzzles me about our current political and social environment but maybe some day some one will figure it out. Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

New Jersey Senate Candidate To Single Mothers: Stop Relying On Food Stamps And Go To Work!

ThinkProgress shows a New Jersey Senate Candidate's message to single mothers. Because nothing has changed since he was a kid and there's enough jobs that pay well enough for a single mother or father to support their kids. Does this guy understand that you can work full time and still not be able to pay the bills?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Snowden leaks: the real take-home - Charlie's Diary

Charles Stross has a take on a core meaning of the Snowden leaks that few seem to be discussing. Snowden represents a sociological phenomenon that will quite likely only grow.

Snowden and his fellow members of Generation Y have never known an environment where employment was something likely to be long term and a two way bond of loyalty between employee and employer is the norm. The corporation will use you and then dismiss you at the drop of a hat. What does this have to do with Snowden and leaks from the United States intelligence apparatus? Stross also points out that currently 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget is spent on contracting out to corporations that follow this "ethos". Where does the border between the government and the corporation lie in that kind of environment?

This attitude on the part of the corporations that now do so much of our government's work may be good for short term profits but it really isn't the way people are wired for the most part. As Stross points out:

We human beings are primates. We have a deeply ingrained set of cultural and interpersonal behavioural rules which we violate only at social cost. One of these rules, essential for a tribal organism, is bilaterality: loyalty is a two-way street. (Another is hierarchicality: yield to the boss.) Such rules are not iron-bound or immutable — we're not robots — but our new hive superorganism employers don't obey them instinctively, and apes and monkeys and hominids tend to revert to tit for tat quite easily when unsure of their relative status. Perceived slights result in retaliation, and blundering, human-blind organizations can slight or bruise an employee's ego without even noticing. And slighted or bruised employees who lack instinctive loyalty because the culture they come from has spent generations systematically destroying social hierarchies and undermining their sense of belonging are much more likely to start thinking the unthinkable.

Will massive private entities that are seen as treating individuals like replaceable cogs in their machinery increasingly engender an attitude where retaliation for perceived injustices is acceptable? Will government increasingly be viewed as no different than these corporations since they do so much of the government's work for them and are viewed by many as having undue influence with the government because of the power their wealth gives them and thereby deserving of the same lack of loyalty and respect? Perhaps some of that is already happening at some level and is what is part of the cause of some people's attitude towards our government. If so I am reminded of "whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" and that it most likely applies to corporations and governments as well.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The true mystery of the Who-verse

I watched the BBC special last Sunday introducing the 12th doctor who will move into the Tardis when Matt Smith leaves the show this Christmas and am optimistic about what Peter Capaldi will bring to the show. I liked Dr. Who when it first came to these shores on PBS with Tom Baker's curly mop of hair and streaming scarf charming legions of fans. Quit watching after a bad experience helping run Panopticon West. But then came the re-boot. I loved it. I still love it. It seems to be almost a completely new creature with real drama, great writing and talented actors who didn't have cheesy bad special effects distracting from how good a job they are doing. I think it deserves the Hugos and the Hugo noms its gotten. I also enjoy the music of the show tremendously and have watched the BBC Proms concerts featuring Dr. Who several times as well as buying the CDs. But I do have to admit that I don't know that they got one thing right. Is the greatest mystery of the Doctor really his true name? You know, the thing that wasn't revealed even in an episode with the title of The Name of the Doctor? Of course not. The greatest mystery of the Who-verse is "Why humanity?". What makes this Time Lord determined to be the protector of Earth and those humans who will be leaving it? I know what my answer is...

Another new hope for solid state storage

If this storage technology pans out it seems to me that it would have the potential to eliminate hard drives as we know them. The remaining questions I didn't see addressed is expense of scaling up production and number of read/write cycles it can survive.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A good first step for asteroid mining

It was just a short while ago that Planetary Resources was in the news for it's crowdfunded telescope project. Now astronomers have identified a dozen asteroids that would make good targets for the company's goal of moving asteroids into an orbit that would make it easily accessible from Earth.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Congressional Republicans Take Stab At EPA Before Heading To Recess | DeSmogBlog

The modern GOP just loves to incessantly attack government agencies such as the EPA. There's enough of them that are old enough to remember what it was like before any of our current regulations existed and had the EPA to enforce them. It just doesn't take that much effort to find out if you missed it somehow.

Here's what I found by plugging "What was the environment like before the EPA?" into Google:
Photos: What America Looked Like Before the EPA