Monday, February 27, 2006

Damn it

Hi, my name is Aaron and I'm an addict. It has been 3 hours since I last bought a book. I have a problem. I am addicted to books. In the past week, I've bought 6 books. I don't know why I keep doing this to myself. I'm usually able to finish a book or two a month. That means that I should be buying at most 2 books a month. At most, 2 books. I've been averaging 5 or six books a month. I have a knee high stack of books that I don't know if I'm ever going to get through. This has been a problem for quite some time, but it has gotten worse lately. Like a junkie amongst fellow junkies, I've fallen in with a bunch of readers. I don't know how many times I've heard, "You should read book X.", where X is the most recent tome completed by the speaker. Like the good book junkie that I am I go out and buy the damned book. I thought I had a solution to the problem. I put together another pseudo blog where I'd record all the books I wanted to eventually read. I thought I'd do this instead of buying the books. If you look at the thing you will notice that it hasn't been updated recently. That's because I've fallen off the wagon. It has really just obscured the magnitude of the problem. I don't know if there is a solution for this. I'm sure that finances and space will eventually force me to get rid of some of these books, but for now, I've got a 3 story house to fill with books I may never read. I'm going to die crushed by a pile of unread books.

I'm a book junkie

Friday, February 17, 2006

China, the US, Cisco, Yahoo, MS and Google?

The recent ruckus in Congress over tech companies Cisco et. al's involvement with China has me confused. There are several congressmen who have raked the tech company representatives over the coals for providing technology that enabled the strict social and ideological controls that China has placed over its citizens to be extended to the internet. I think it is a little hypocritical for our country to extend normal trade relations or most favored nation status (NTR/MFN) to China despite their failing to qualify for the standards for those relations. The NTR/MFN status would normally be denied based upon China's human rights and emigration policies but they are given a waiver based upon executive order on a yearly basis. One congressman went so far as to compare the companies' cooperation to IBM's cooperation with Nazi policies during WW2.

Now, I'm not going to make excuses for these companies. They do what they do to make money and for the most part are amoral. On the other hand, I think to criticize them for doing business with China after lowering the trade barriers is a little disingenuous. This is morally equivalent to beckoning a chained dog from right outside the arc of packed dirt that represents the length of his chain and then laughing when he's jerked back having reached the extent of the chain. If China is so evil (I think it is), then why are we doing business with them at all. Is it OK to trade with them or not? I would argue that despite the controls that these companies are helping put in place the access that it promotes is justified.

I'm going to make a little aside here. I was about to quote Stewart Brand by saying "Information wants to be free", but I wanted to check the attribution first. It turns out that my interpretation of Brand's intent was flawed. I'd always thought that he was describing the memetic nature of information. I was wrong. He was making a statement about the value of information. The full quote is:

"Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better."

I was not aware of anything past the first sentence. His statement is insightful, but not appropriate to the argument at hand. Given that disclaimer, let me misuse his words. Information Wants To Be Free. Information Wants to Be Free. Information Wants To Be Free. The internet is a powerful medium. I believe that the internet is a useful tool to insure the freedom of information. The open access to information is a key in the search for truth. The more open that access, the easier the search for truth. So the restrictions placed by the Chinese government are ultimately counter to that search, but I believe that the greater good of access to the medium (though restricted) is much more valuable. Without that access, the search for truth and power and self determination are stymied. I'm of the opinion, where the internet is concerned at least, that limited access and unlimited access are or will ultimately be equivalent. Whatever barriers that are put in place to restrict access will ultimately be circumvented. That's just the nature of the beast. The flip side of that coin is that no access to the medium means no opportunities to circumvent the barriers. Example? North Korea. I also believe, that given the choice, most people will choose enlightenment over ignorance. Sometimes it is a painful choice to make but enough people will make the choice to make the difference. People just need to see that there is a choice to make.

What's the moral to the story? Make up your own.

UPDATE (2/19/2006): I just ran across this article and I think it demonstrates my point.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Friendster, Myspace and 17 new posts

You may notice about 324 new posts. Most of them are back dated. I would get started on a post, and loose interest. Is that ADD or is it just a lack of focus? On another note, I've recently created or added to friendster and myspace accounts. I didn't do this out of any real need. It was more to see what the hype was really about. I keep hearing myspace and friendster mentioned everywhere. I didn't want to be the last one to jump on the bandwagon. Now that I'm on the bandwagon, I have to admit to not being that impressed. Oh don't get me wrong. Both sites have been giant timesucks. I've wasted an inordinate amount of time putting together profiles and looking at other peoples profiles. While I can see some of the draw. There's an odd voyeuristic quality about looking at a person's profile and noticing who they are friends with and how you might or might not be connected to them via some weird 6 degrees of separation scenario.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Requiem for a Dream

This is the post where I was going to write something insightful about having finished the book Requiem for a Dream. Having read the book, I now feel so broken inside that I'm not capable of coherent thought or analysis of the themes on the book. Some might argue that I'm not normally capable of coherent thought, and they might be right. To make up for the fact that I can't write anything meaningful, I'm just going to ramble. This book and the movie by the same name are actually an exception to the rule that the book is always better than the movie. I think in this case, they play perfect complement to one another. Once I finished the book, I decided I should watch the movie again. I couldn't do it. I got about half way in, and the foreboding sense of doom that surrounded every character made me turn it off. Maybe I can try again on a nice sunny day with nothing sharp laying within reach.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Facts, Theories and The Religious Right

In science, 'fact' can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.' I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
-- Stephen Jay Gould

Oh how I appreciate this statement. It so captures the sentiment of the social and philosophical war that is currently taking place between the side of sanity and the side of the religious right. I've been thinking about this topic alot lately. I'm very dissapointed at how gullible some people seem to be. People's willingness to accept that a supposedly loving god would willingly create a universe in such a way that the observable laws of the universe would work in a way counter to what we are told by certain believers in this god.

There are two things that are going on that I think that this quote speaks to. The first, is of course the despicable attempts to poison our science education with the notion the notion of Intelligent Design. The second is this incident . For those of you too lazy to read the article the gist of the article goes into bullying performed by a Bush appointee. There were efforts to suppress science that ran counter to the administration policy. There was also a demand that all mentions of the Big Bang be as prepended with the word theory. These subtle and not so subtle attempts to poison our nation's leadership in the sciences are despicable and underhanded.