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Telling Boxee Box you’ve watched a file after moving it

Like many of you, I occasionally reorganize my collection of digital video according to my whims of the moment. Unfortunately, this means that my Boxee Box, which I mostly love, now has no idea whether I’ve watched a particular video or not, since it keys off the path of the file. This is particularly annoying when I’m in the middle of a season of TV and decide to move it to a different directory, since I then have to remember which episode I was on.

Now I have a solution, in the form of a very hacky little python script. I had to root my Boxee to accomplish this feat, mostly just to get root access to its database of watched files, but that’s easy to do. My first inclination was to write a python script that edited the database using a proper API, but after an hour of frustrated searching I couldn’t find a way to invoke the python interpreter on the Boxee from the command line. It’s probably in there somewhere, but I’ve given up looking. Instead, I came up with one of my favorite recent hacks: telnet from the NAS (DNS-323) hosting the file to the Boxee and issue SQL commands to the sqlite3 command line tool. It looks like this:

import telnetlib

mnt_prefix = "/mnt/HD_b2"  # NAS root path
smb_prefix = "smb://NETWORKSTORE/Volume_2" # SMB share root path, which Boxee understands
HOST = "" # local IP address of the Boxee Box
sqlite = '/data/hack/bin/sqlite3 -interactive '
db_path = '/data/.boxee/UserData/profiles/zachm/Database/boxee_user_catalog.db' # your path will vary
sqlite_cmd = sqlite + db_path

# Transfers any watched boxee status between the src and dest locations
def move_watched_status(src, dest):
  src = string.replace(src, mnt_prefix, smb_prefix)
  dest = string.replace(dest, mnt_prefix, smb_prefix)

  tn = telnetlib.Telnet(HOST, 2323)

  tn.read_until("Password: ")
  tn.write('secret' + "\n")  # this is the default telnet password when you root the boxee

  count_rows = "select count(*) from watched where strPath = '" + src + "';"

  tn.write(sqlite_cmd + "\n")
  tn.read_until('sqlite> ')
  tn.write(count_rows + '\n')
  row_count = tn.read_until('sqlite> ').split('\n')[1]
  if row_count:
    insert = "insert into watched (strPath, iPlayCount, iLastPlayed, fPositionInSeconds) select '%s', iPlayCount, iLastPlayed, fPositionInSeconds from watched where strPath = '%s';" % (dest, src)
    tn.write(insert + '\n')
    tn.read_until('sqlite> ')


What I particularly like about this solution is that it just automates exactly what I would do if I were doing this manually, telnetting into the Boxee and running some SQL commands. The fact that I was forced into this solution by the limitations of the environment makes it even more satisfying.

I would submit this little solution back to the Boxee hacks project, except that it seems to be mostly dead. Anyone feel like picking it up?

Posted in Coding.

Incremental backups in AWS Glacier using Duplicity

As the CTO of my household, I’m responsible for keeping our irreplaceable data safe. To that end, I have a household networked storage device that runs RAID to guard against the failure of a single drive. But what if that thing gets stolen, or the house burns down? Our data would be gone forever.

The answer, obviously, is offsite backups. I’ve been looking around for a while for a sane way to do this, given that I have hundreds of gigs of data, mostly photographs, that I need to back up. Duplicity seems like a good option, since it’s incremental and has an s3 backend. But I wasn’t looking forward to paying hundreds of dollars a year for my wife’s increasingly large raw-photography collection, and I didn’t really trust my dinky web host, my only offsite server, to keep the data safe.

But now there’s Glacier, which offers the durability of s3 at a tenth the price. The trade off is that you can’t get immediate access to your files anymore; it takes several hours to make them available for download. But since this is meant to handle the catastrophic failure of my on-site backup, that’s acceptable.

However, when I went to implement this solution the brain-dead simple way, I quickly ran into a couple big problems:

  • The first backup takes a long time to complete. I mean a looooooong time, measured in weeks. And since it’s all one big archive from duplicity’s perspective, there’s no way to retry without starting over completely.
  • When the files transition to glacier, duplicity can’t download them immediately. It needs immediate access to the *.manifest files it creates and archives each run or else it can’t do an incremental backup.
  • The first issue made the whole process unwieldy and error prone, but the second one was a total non-starter, and sent me back to the drawing board for a couple weeks. Then I found this blog post with a perfect, if hacky, solution to the problem of the manifest files. I decided to write it up, together with an even hackier solution to the giant-sized archive problem I was having, as a python script.

    The result is glacierplicity, my first public non-work GitHub repository! Feast upon its bounty! I hope that S3 hurries up and makes its lifecycle rules more expressive to obsolete this script, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Also, if you’re going to try to run this on your DNS-323 or another NAS like I am, you might find the following resources very helpful:

    I had to at one point build python 2.6.5 from source to be able to use the most recent version of boto. Provided this backup cron works, I think it will all have been worthwhile.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Nerd doesn’t mean that anymore, so get over it

I watched this guy’s video kind of agreeing with him; but afterwards, the more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that while his facts were basically right, his values are so screwed up that he comes to the wrong conclusion. Give it a quick watch if you think you might have an opinion about the appropriation of nerd culture by the mainstream:

If you don’t have time to watch, here is his basic premise. The labels “nerd” and “geek” are unambiguously negative putdowns. He cites their definitions. They’re words that, until recently, were used to insult socially awkward, obsessive individuals with obscure interests. So far, this is pretty unassailable. But then it goes a little off the rails.

Next, the video encourages you to imagine the suffering of nerds during their adolescences and beyond, and then alleges that this suffering, somehow, means that they have “earned” the derisive labels used to ostracize them. That’s a little… yeah. I’ll come back to that.

Finally, the video rails against the commodification of nerd culture in the form of television shows like The Big Bang Theory, which he hilariously refers to as “nerd blackface,” my favorite phrase of at least the last month. Racially charged allegations aside, it’s hard to dismiss his point that nerd culture is currently being sold like every lifestyle since the hippies. I also hate The Big Bang Theory, but that’s just because it isn’t funny, not because it’s appropriating “my” cultural subgroup.

I was mostly in agreement with him as I watched the video, because the process he’s talking about is unarguably occurring: nerd culture is being colonized and sold. And at first, I felt pissed off by this — not only because I think this process is always insulting to those with prior knowledge of the sub culture being bastardized by its mainstreaming, but because, while I didn’t have it nearly as bad during adolescence as a lot of people, I understand what it is to suffer socially for caring more about computers than socializing (and ultimately, being way better at computers than at socializing).

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the video’s author’s attitude is completely backwards regarding what the commodification of nerd culture means to nerds.

The right conclusion to draw is this: the word “nerd” doesn’t mean what it used to, and that’s a good thing. So get over yourself.

Poseurs on twitter might tweet “I’m such a nerd,” because they watch an HBO show, but they would never tweet “I’m such a nerd,” because they had just gotten humiliated in the cafeteria. The trait that the mainstream is happy to leave behind is the one that made “nerd” and “geek” such a potent insult decades ago: social awkwardness. The socially awkward are still being systematically ostracized at all ages from gradeschool up — it’s just that, these days, they’re more likely to be called “fag” or “slut” than “geek” or “nerd.” The part of “nerd” that means “loser” didn’t carry forward when the mainstream picked it up.

Social awkwardness got left out of the mainstream definition, because society hates or pities the socially awkward. Almost by definition, they are the bottom of the social structure. On the other hand, what the mainstream has carried forward with these labels is intelligence and obsessive behavior, both of which (especially intelligence) are aspirational traits to apply to oneself. That it’s suddenly cool — when it wasn’t 30 years ago — to be seen as smart and driven, in the same obsessive way that nerds are, especially about nerdy things like computers (which are of course now ubiquitous consumer gadgets about as nerdy as a toaster oven) — that it’s now cool and dessirable to apply these labels to oneself shows how much our values have shifted as a culture, how much we now at least claim to value intelligence and earnestness.

The appropriation of nerd culture might hurt a bit, but it’s also an endorsement by the mainstream of the culture’s underlying value system. It represent a shift in mainstream values toward things like curiosity and intelligence, even when that comes at the cost of social prowess. At the end of the day, that’s a very good thing.

It’s time to let go of the thinking that one’s scornful label in adolescence is “earned” like a badge of honor. Your suffering wasn’t a good thing, and no label you could apply to it would change that. So let it go. I suffered less and less as I finished high school and went to college, as I learned how to interact with people and discovered that my intelligence was neither unsurpassed nor the most important aspect of my being. In short, I grew out of my label, as do most people who suffer from it. I’m happy to leave behind the old definition of “nerd,” the one that meant I was at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This new definition, the one that dictionaries don’t include yet but will in a decade or so? The one that means I have a lot of fun hobbies and know a lot about things I really enjoy, but I have a steady job in a growth industry and I still probably get laid? Fuck yeah, sign me up for that one!

If you want to get together with the “real” nerds, the ones who were into learning Klingon before it was cool, and talk shit about the johnny-come-latelys of the scene, then go ahead. You’ll be in very good company with countless indie music fans of the last couple decades. For that matter, how do you think the first emo kids feel now that you can buy their lifestyle in a kit at the mall? They were sad to begin with! It sucks when you get colonized, but it happens to everybody, and life goes on.

In any case, you’re not a “nerd” anymore — by that I mean “social loser” — right? You’re now a “nerd” — by that I mean intelligent, driven person. Right? One of these things is always going to be more desirable than the other. For the first time in history, people agree that “nerd” means the latter. Be glad of that, and hope that the nerds who come after you have it better than you did.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Bummed out by gender warfare

People are losing their shit over an article posted on CNN titled Do Hormones Drive Women’s Votes? Rather than stand by their journalist and the story, CNN has reacted by pulling it down because “after further review it was determined that some elements of the story did not meet the editorial standards of CNN.” That’s corp-speak for “people got pissed off and we caved.”

I found a mirror of the original story and took the liberty of copying it down and hosting it if you’re interested in reading it.

First, here’s a summary of the findings, which are about to be published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Psychological Science, that indicate that women’s monthly hormone levels have a measurable, predictable effect on whether they support Obama or Romney, and that this effect is contingent on whether the woman is married.

In the new study’s first experiment, Kristina Durante of the University of Texas, San Antonio and colleagues conducted an internet survey of 275 women who were not taking hormonal contraception and had regular menstrual cycles. About 55% were in committed relationships, including marriage.

They found that women at their most fertile times of the month were less likely to be religious if they were single, and more likely to be religious if they were in committed relationships.

Now for the even more controversial part: 502 women, also with regular periods and not taking hormonal contraception, were surveyed on voting preferences and a variety of political issues.The researchers found that during the fertile time of the month, when levels of the hormone estrogen are high, single women appeared more likely to vote for Obama and committed women appeared more likely to vote for Romney, by a margin of at least 20%, Durante said. This seems to be the driver behind the researchers’ overall observation that single women were inclined toward Obama and committed women leaned toward Romney.

These are the hard facts of the study. The primary researcher (who is a woman) goes on to speculate as to why, evolutionarily speaking, this might be the case. More on that later.

I’m pretty angry about this situation as well, although for a different reason than most people. Simply stated, I’m sick to death of the increasingly common attitude (especially among my liberal, college-educated peers) that any scientific study that contradicts certain egalitarian beliefs they hold must be “bad science.” Here’s a particularly juicy example of this sentiment:

Ugh. It’s really difficult for women to represent themselves as more than just a collection of lady parts when an article like this is published. CNN gave space to an article describing a “study” that suggests women’s voting preferences are dictated by their hormones. Yes, really.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. A peer reviewed study whose conclusions you find offensive isn’t a “study,” with deriding air-quotes. Your subjective evaluation of its conclusions affect the data exactly 0.0%. Scientific inquiry doesn’t give two shits whether a conclusion is morally or ethically right; it only can tell us whether something is factually true. And until I see some peer-reviewed evidence to the contrary, I’m going to accept these findings as fact — because that’s what rational, scientific skeptics do. You don’t get to pick and choose which objective, peer-reviewed facts you believe in and still call yourself a rational human being.

Anyone with a basic understanding of biology should be relatively unsurprised by the notion that hormone levels influence behavior in measurable, predictable ways. It’s part of why strippers make twice as much at peak fertility than during menses. And men’s aggression-causing testosterone levels decline sharply after becoming a father, and even more so when sleeping with an infant. It’s fine to be upset about these facts — there’s nothing “fair” or “right” about them. It’s not fine to denounce them as “bad science” because you experienced some negative emotions when you learned them. If that’s your first inclination, then you need to understand that you’re not guiding your belief system by rational means.

If you’re upset about these findings, then you should concentrate your ire on the speculation made by the lead researcher. These explanations sound plausible from an evolutionary perspective, but since they’re not falsifiable they remain idle speculation. I’ve decided to give the liberals of the internet the benefit of the doubt and assume this portion is what tweaked their outrage so mightily.

Here’s how Durante explains this: When women are ovulating, they “feel sexier,” and therefore lean more toward liberal attitudes on abortion and marriage equality. Married women have the same hormones firing, but tend to take the opposite viewpoint on these issues, she says.

“I think they’re overcompensating for the increase of the hormones motivating them to have sex with other men,” she said. It’s a way of convincing themselves that they’re not the type to give in to such sexual urges, she said.

Durante’s previous research found that women’s ovulation cycles also influence their shopping habits, buying sexier clothes during their most fertile phase.

“We still have the ovulatory hormones that have the same impact on female brains as across other species,” she said. We want sex and we want it with the best mate we can get. “But there are some high costs that come with it,” she said, particularly for women who are already in committed relationships.

I can understand why women would find the idea that they’re influenced by hormones insulting, because it takes away their agency. To those women I say: welcome to the 21st century, where every advancement in neuroscience and genetics reveals that our agency is a tiny bit more of a fraudulent conceit than it was the day before.

Posted in Politics.

I’m glad I’m not alone in condemning EA’s marketing

These guys had a much bigger production budget than I did to make basically the same point.

Posted in Advertisements, Games.

Thanks for elevating your art form, EA

This advertisement for Dead Space 2 is making the rounds on the internets:

I’m glad to see that EA’s marketing department thinks so much of their product that they feel the need to tell me how much playing it will piss off my mom. I understand that, 17-and-up rating notwithstanding, they’re marketing to a younger demographic, but come on. When your medium is near universally dismissed as a pursuit for basement-dwelling man-children, maybe you should consider a little sensitivity with your ad campaign.

Today I learned that Firefox’s spellcheck considers both “Internet” and “internets” to be valid words, but scorns “internets.”

Posted in Advertisements, Games.

This old thing again?

I’ve come to dread someone in the media or the wide blogosphere talking about women (or the lack thereof) in science and engineering, particularly in the “hard” sciences and computer programming. Inevitably, someone will make a comment like the first one on this relatively bland essay about being a woman programmer:

it is actually only partly because of our culture. genetics found out many years ago that male and female brains are sort of preprogrammed trough evolution. man are stronger therefore they were more likely to survive risky endevors like hunting and in general experimenting. females in return had to cover the more manual, monotone and mostly repeating tasks without taking risks (collecting berries).
through this evolutional behavior men just have no fear “breaking” things and women are rather scared of breaking things and try to handle situations on the emotional level instead of putting in risk. a good example is that women are prefered in factories doind repeating work. our brains are just wired like that.

Just as inevitably, someone will reply to that guy like so:

Wow. And the fact that this sort of gender-essentialist, ev-psych nonsense is the VERY FIRST RESPONSE to an extremely thoughtful post? Oh, yeah, the constant messages that women should go back to their “natural” work (read: taking care of men and children) definitely have nothing to do with women’s challenges in technology. Nuh-uh, it’s all about our genetic adaptations to pick up berries. Go check the research, because you’re quoting a bunch of debunked bullshit.

This fight just won’t go away, and the reason it persistently avoids resolution is because the two sides of the argument represented above — I couldn’t have found a better archetype of it if I’d made it from whole cloth — are just talking past each other. Or maybe, to the members of their respective choirs. I’ll paraphrase these two sides, reducing them to absurdity.

Guy: There exists evidence that men and women are different when it comes to logical reasoning and mathematics. I have misplaced my references on this evidence. Women are inferior and nothing will ever change that.
Girl: Your evidence must be “bad science” because its conclusions contradict my very pleasant, egalitarian beliefs. You are obviously a sexist. [To be fair, the dude often is a sexist]

What really bothers me about this repeating argument isn’t so much the often blatant sexism expressed, but that it’s always immediately derailed by emotional rhetoric into a conversation that’s no longer about evidence. After all: it’s a scientific question. Without evidence, it’s just a particularly nasty sort of philosophy. I said as much when I wrote about the Larry Summers debacle back in 2005:

What is really at stake here is academic freedom. The job of a scientist is to discover and present facts, not to dictate which facts should and should not be presented. When the president of a prestigious university suggests a venue of research and is silenced and forced into retreat by ideologues, there is cause for concern.

I was taking poetic liberties in that opinion piece — Summers didn’t so much “suggest a venue of research” so much as talk off the cuff about his own personal beliefs, which include the probability that innate differences between the sexes plays some role in gender imbalances in various occupations. As evidence, he cited the much wider distribution of SAT math scores among men relative to women, despite a similar mean. In other words, many more men than women score very high or very low on the math SAT, although the average scores for each gender are relatively close. For scores above 700, it’s a ratio of 2:1.

What happened to Summers was a case study for everything people hate about the Political Correctness movement — the privileging and presupposition of certain thoughts over others. A torrent of media voices, his peers, and fellow academics called for his censure or resignation. A blog kind enough to link to my opinion piece paraphrases their outbursts:

The speech of Lawrence Summers was outrageous – everyone who has heard it should either black out or throw up. He has no right to speak in this way. Women are discriminated. You can see that they have a smaller representation in various professions – and most people (both men and women) believe that men are more likely to be successful in these professions. This proves that discrimination is everywhere around us because everyone with the right opinions about the world knows that the women are identical to the men, perhaps except for one organ. Note that this is not a circular argument because it is not a circular argument.

Several commentators at the time pointed out the irony of feminists shutting down a debate about the rational abilities of women with an emotional outburst, such as this lady.

I can think of few things more discouraging to any woman who lives by her intellect than the sight of some of the nation’s most highly credentialed female scholars attempting to use their emotions to cut off argument, rather than focusing on winning the debate. Political correctness is the opposite of thought. It proceeds by moral condemnation and emotional outrage: Anyone who can imagine such a thought must be a bad person, or a crazy one.

Because here’s the thing: when you disagree with someone about a potentially falsifiable thing they said, you’re supposed to disprove them with contradictory evidence, not angry rhetoric. That people agree to do so is the only reason the scientific community can function.

It saddens me to see people scorning evolutionary psychology because some of its findings reinforce gender stereotypes from the fifties. Evolution is the guiding light of biology, which is the root of psychology and behavior. Just as I didn’t really understand the unifying principles of life on earth until I understood evolution, I didn’t really get the unifying principles of the people around me until I understood evolutionary psychology and cognitive science. It probably says a lot about my own propensity for engineer-thought that I needed a formal, math-based framework to understand other people’s motivations, but there it is.

Of course, that’s not to say that out culture isn’t responsible for some part of the gender imbalance in science and engineering (but not all of it). The driving force behind these social pressures is illustrated nicely by the aforementioned bland essay, and is something I’ll call Male Privilege.

Most of my classmates were not that extreme, and from my experience, most mean well but are just socially awkward. They can say something so simple as “Oh don’t you know that command?” but in an inadvertently condescending voice that makes you feel like you’re the only person who doesn’t know it. As someone just testing out the CS waters, that type of experience in every class can be very daunting. I think women are more susceptible to these feelings of inadequacy, and it can deter some potential CS concentrators from the department. From my limited experience, the ones that stayed with it were pretty strong-willed and generally kept to themselves.

White Privilege means never having to worry that your apparent race is the cause of your inadequacy in the eyes of others. Male privilege is never having to worry your gender is the cause. Anxiety caused by such worries is a measurable demotivator and performance killer in academic contexts, so we know objectively (at least in the case of race) that it’s a real problem that we should try to correct. Note that I have absolutely no idea how to do so short of quotas in CS schools and corporate jobs, and good luck getting that one past the Fourteenth Amendment. Still, plenty of people want to fix the problem by doing exactly that, applying Title IX to the sciences. Yes, they are serious.

I think a large part of putting this fistfight to bed, or at least making it marginally more civil, is for the proponents of innate gender differences to stop referring to “ability” and start referring to “preference,” turning the argument from one about superiority into one about empowerment and choice. It’s not a misrepresentation — the data are entirely sensible in this light — and it reframes the debate to not sound so confrontational. Susan Pinker does so very eloquently in the same Times article about Title IX:

Ms. Pinker, a clinical psychologist and columnist for The Globe and Mail in Canada (and sister of Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist), argues that the campaign for gender parity infantilizes women by assuming they don’t know what they want. She interviewed women who abandoned successful careers in science and engineering to work in fields like architecture, law and education — and not because they had faced discrimination in science.

“Creating equal opportunities for women does not mean that they’ll choose what men choose in equal numbers,” Ms. Pinker says. “The freedom to act on one’s preferences can create a more exaggerated gender split in some fields.”

I don’t think the argument will get anywhere close to settled anytime soon, and sadly I see it getting worse in the face of more empirical evidence, but I do wish people would quit saying it was all my fault.

Posted in Coding, Musings, Politics, Science.

Specific things I remember about high school, in the order they occurred to me while doing laundry

  1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  2. Kjelene Martin feeling herself up with my hand in the Gig Harbor movie theater during You’ve Got Mail
  3. Acne
  4. Mrs. Shanafelt announcing to her sophomore chemistry class that she had thrown out my exam score when computing the curve, and that as a result I would be receiving a grade of 116%. Thanks for helping me keep a low profile, Mrs. S.
  5. Being told by Josh Deceuster that the secret to dancing was to move my hips, while at a dance, dancing badly.

Sometimes it seems like I remember Ocarina of Time better than most of high school.

Posted in Musings.

Everything is fucked, but it doesn’t matter that much

Compared to the all-night street party that attended Obama’s election in every liberal stronghold in the country, the left’s reaction to the Republican takeover of the House on Tuesday has been surprisingly muted. True, there was gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair from the expected pundits, as well as lengthy analyses of why the country had voted the way it had, couched in desperate, weaselly turns of phrase like “referendum” and “wave election” to avoid sounding condescending and liberal to those honest, patriotic Americans that had seen fit to restore to power the exact same group of individuals who had created most of the immediate problems the polls said voters were concerned about. But even Colbert and Stewart were eager to portray the most sensational election cycle in the nation’s history, in which the most money was spent with the least accountability and least transparency (one guess for which side), as a battle between two equally guilty, equally shrill and irrational ideologies. To quote Stewart, he and Colbert brought an NPR tote to a knife fight.

Apologies to Mr. Colbert and Mr. Stewart, but saying that Republicans want what’s worst for everyone isn’t insane partisanship; it’s called being informed. How many chances are we obligated to give Reaganomics before acknowledging that maybe it’s not working so well? Is thirty years not long enough?

I’ll do what mainstream pundits dare not and lay the blame for this flaccid outcome right at the feet of the ignorant, selfish, amnesiac public. I’m not saying their anger over the country’s direction isn’t righteous; I’m saying that they lack the temperance and knowledge of history (as recent as two years ago) to make an informed decision about what to do with it. In this case, they decided to cut off their own nose to spite their face. Their face being Democrats, I guess? Or maybe their nose is the job at the plant they lost eighteen months ago and blame Obama for? I’ll quit torturing this metaphor by eliding the rest of my rant and saying, without apology or equivocation, that Americans are stupid and we got exactly what we deserve.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Washington State, where we had the rarefied privilege of voting on a large number of ballot initiatives, almost every one of which demonstrated the single-minded avarice and ignorance of the public. Do you accuse me of exaggeration? Let’s do a quick recap.

  • Initiative 1098, establishing a state income tax, was rejected 65% to 35%. Given that it lowered taxes for 98% of households and raised them for the 2% making more than $400K per year, this is a surprising outcome. It’s even more surprising given that the proponents far outspent the opponents. You could explain this result with fears of a slippery slope of income taxation, but personally I think it comes down to the old adage: that a poor man would rather have the chance to be rich than admit he’s poor.
  • Initiative 1100, ending the state liquor sales monopoly, was rejected 52% to 48%. If you think that a state monopoly on anything is good, what kind of conservative are you? But then, if you’re a conservative, what do you care about the income generated by liquor sales, or about the right of a person to get drunk in the first place?
  • Initiative 1107, repealing the recent sales tax on soda and candy, was approved 63% to 37%. This one’s pretty simple: we’re in the middle of a tax revolt, and Coke spent $16 million to put this on the ballot and pass it. It’s possible for reasonable men to disagree about whether governments should use tax policy to shape society; but if you’re on the other side of that disagreement, I suggest that you repay the Feds your mortgage deduction.
  • Resolution 4220, amending the state constitution to deny bail for violent offenders, passed 85% to 15%. Tough-on-crime legislation is always popular, even when it means that an innocent person can be locked up for months or years without having been found guilty. Violent crime is perceived as an eminent danger of modern life, despite the fact that it’s declining and is now less common than any time since 1970.
  • Initiative 1053, requiring a 2/3 legislative majority or voter approval for tax increases, passed 65% to 35%. This is perennial jackass Tim Eyman’s latest electoral stillbirth, likely to be struck down by the State Supreme Court, as it was when it passed in 1999, hidden in a ballot initiative about car tab fees. 12 years later, the citizens of the state still won’t acknowledge that taxes are necessary to run a massive industrial society. I saw a lot of ads about 1098 and 1053, all some variant of “We don’t trust Olympia with our tax money.” Yeah, they’d probably fill some potholes or pay a schoolteacher.

To be fair, citizens also declined to privatize worker’s compensation insurance. But on the whole, Washington residents continue to reap the benefits of their parents’ and grandparents’ investments in the Commons while feeling absolutely no responsibility to give any of that wealth back.

As for Congress: things aren’t that bad. Really. Republicans know they can’t roll back health care reforms, despite talk to the contrary, and even the most cynical part of me can’t fathom what they think they can gain by taking on the scientific establishment over global warming. What we’ll have is two years of total deadlock with mounting voter frustration, hopefully followed by a rueful admission that maybe, just maybe, the GOP doesn’t have anyone’s best interests at heart, no matter how quavering, corrupt, and ineffectual the Democrats happen to be. In the meantime, it’s not like there’s anything to fix in our society.

Posted in Politics.

Novel use of material sciences: immersion cooling

Immersion-cooled computers have been around forever. All it takes it some non-conducting liquid and a willingness to condemn your hardware to a sopping mess for the rest of its life. Problem is, until recently the non-conducting liquid in question has always been mineral oil, and it’s just not that glamorous to use.

But there are a variety of more exotic non-conducting liquids out there that make your immersion-cooled system much more interesting. 3M just developed one they’re calling Novec, an inert, colorless liquid which boils at 93F. The downside is that your system needs to be airtight to prevent the vaporized coolant from leaking, and it probably still requires a fan to dissipate the heat completely. But it sure is pretty to watch.

As the cost of these materials drops, I could see this technology moving from ulta-niche to general hobbyist, maybe with the participation of a case manufacturer like Antec. I wouldn’t mind having to top off my bubbling computer once in a while, especially not if it meant I could squeeze a 40% performance boost with the added heat dissipation. For data centers, where the cost of electicity is quickly eclipsing the cost of the hardware itself, and where every watt pumped into the building must be pumped back out by air conditioners, this technology is even more attractive. But without major support by rack-hardware vendors, it’s difficult to imagine it taking off, no matter the cost benefits.

Posted in Technology.