Monday, February 12, 2007


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The Next Big Language

Does Steve Yegge know the future (of programming)? Probably not any more than anyone else, but his prediction is definitely entertaining!
C(++)-like syntax is the standard. Your language's popularity will fall off as a direct function of how far you deviate from it.

There's plenty of wiggle room in the way you define classes and other OOP constructs, but you'll need to stick fairly closely to the basic control-flow constructs, arithmetic expressions and operators, and the use of curly-braces for delimiting blocks and function bodies.

This is because programmers are lame, but hey, it's your target audience. Give the people what they want.

Read The Whole ThingTM


Das ist Interessant!

Autoextremist has quite an opinion about the DaimlerChrysler merger (hey, not like it happened 15 years ago or anything--we're still taking about it!) and why it should end (link via the Carnival of Cars.) In a nutshell, he says the problem is that the Mercedes organization can't make itself collaborate with the Chrysler organization. That's too bad, because the basic concept of the merger was and is simple common sense--give Chrysler brands access to Mercedes' engineering talent, while amortizing Daimler's investment in said talent and quality components across a high-volume product line. It should have been possible to increase Chrysler's quality and reliability, and Mercedes profitability and price competitiveness, and without any of the dilution-of-brand name that some people predicted--as if Mercedes and Dodge were going to start "badge-engineering" crossover models or put $90k price tags on minivans.

Unfortunately, that kind of thing only works when you get buy-in within the companies, and Autoextremist says they didn't do that. If so, then Chrysler definitely needs a new partner. More interestingly though, if they do part ways, the postmortems might give us the first real insight into why these transatlantic mergers never seem to work out the way they're planned. For example, the Ford group owns Volvo, Jaguar, and a few other major brands, but still can't manage to sell the same Ford-branded small car platform on both sides of the pond. Why? It must be political somehow, because they do sell the same compact Volvo model everywhere, and that's built on the same platform.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Life Imitating Art?

Yeah, I ripped off the title from Vicky. The Volokh Conspiracy links this article about Richard Branson's new $25m prize for developing a technology to remove Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. At the same time, I'm watching the environmentalism episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit, where they go out and trick a bunch of environmentalist protestors into signing a petition to ban water (they call it by its chemical name, dihydrogen monoxide)

You could say they handpicked their dumbasses, and they probably did, but is this "x-prize" for CO2-scrubbing technology any smarter? I should go into business selling "organic CO2 scrubbers" (trees) for $99 per sapling. Come on, people.


Tab A, Slot B

No, this isn't about my Friday night, it's about my Saturday afternoon! A couple weeks ago I got myself a decorative outlet cover for an outlet in the livingroom. Upon removing the old outlet cover, pieces of the actual outlets broke off and fell to the floor. Time for a new outlet! Let's begin! Step one, of course, is to turn off the power :)

Old and busted--literally. My toofless outlet makes me think of West Virginia. Also note the push-in connectors on the back of the outlet (holes with cut ends of wire poking out) My home wiring manual says to use those ...never. But with this cheap POS there wasn't any choice; you can see it doesn't have screw terminals (except, weirdly, for the ground wire.) Also, it's hard to tell in the picture but there was a remnant of masking tape on the broken part of the plug, which means someone knew it was broken and "fixed" it that way. I would have to re-read the report to be sure, but I believe my home inspector did not catch that.

New hotness! This is a "professional grade" outlet for which I paid the princely sum of $1.50. It looks exactly like the manual says it should--two silver screws, two gold ones, and a green one for the ground wire.

Here's a dark-ish picture of the wiring. The outlet may have been junk, but the wires were nicely folded back into the box, which continues behind the wall to your right. Something odd here--notice there are two leads each for the black (hot) and white (cold) wires, but only one for ground (the uninsulated wire) That means the ground circuit is wired in parallel, but the power circuit is wired in series. I wonder if that's up to current code.

Besides a flathead screwdriver, this was the only tool I really needed (though not the only one I used) It's a wire cutter/stripper with the various gauges or thickness of wire labeled on the blade. The manual says household wires are either 12 or 14-gauge. Mine is 14. After hammers and screwdrivers, I use this more than anything else in my toolbox.

Zooming in for the picture, I noticed all these nicks on the cutting blade. Weird, because I've only ever used it on copper wire.

Here's the new outlet all wired up. It's hard to see in the pic, but there's a ridge in between the screw terminals on the side. It's nice because you can brace the end of the wire against that while you bend it around the screw. Amazing what $0.50 extra (compared to the cheap outlet unit) gets you.

And voila! Proof that I can accomplish simple electrical repairs without injury to myself or others. Yes, the outlet is upside-down. The manual recommends doing it this way because if your plug pulls out a little bit (as some of them do) and something metal happens to fall there, it will only hit the ground blade, which is not energized. That made sense to me, and I believe I've seen them like that in some newer houses too.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Federal contractors have massive cost overruns?

Imagine that. Of course we don't have to:
The "floodgates of fraud reporting" have opened at the National Reconnaissance Office, the nation's top-secret builder and operator of spy satellites. This bit of news comes from no less a source than the NRO's inspector general, Eric Feldman.

The problems are so deep they "threaten the U.S. edge in high-tech reconnaissance satellites" according to USA Today. Specifically:
The agency's troubled next-generation satellite, a $25 billion boondoggle called Future Imagery Architecture, has been so dogged by cost overruns and technical trouble that the director of national intelligence cut the project in half last year.

Being a veteran of federal contracting myself, I think one of the biggest problems is actually related to the rules surrouding outsourcing and contracting. For one thing, it's often against those rules for an individual employee to split their time between contracts, negating most of the economic case for outsourcing in any line of work. For another, entire large projects like the aforementioned satellite replacement are outsourced to a prime contractor which becomes almost a department of the agency. These contracts are sometimes paid per full-time staff position, as opposed to a flat fee or even time and materials to accomplish specific goals. Of course the contractor's primary incentive is to keep the contract going as long as possible, not finish the job and move on.

And then there's the competence factor. Most government contracting jobs, both DOD and civilian, require a security clearance, but the process of getting a new clearance for an employee is extremely difficult and expensive, and is all placed on the contractor's shoulders. Therefore, even the largest contracting firms with the deepest pockets avoid getting new clearances whenever possible, even if it means hiring marginally-qualified people to do sophisticated work. Future Imagery Architecture is far from the only massive federal high-tech project to be years and billions of dollars past due.

My condo board, or your household (or mine) does it closer to right. We do the overall project management ourselves, bidding out narrow and specific jobs to qualified contractors. That's how the government should do it--keep project management in house and bid out specific pieces with tight scopes of work, and no rules about anything but getting the job done (and disclosure, if needed)

At any rate, I'll leave you with this original demotivator by Clint, which really captures the morass well:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


All Able-bodied Citizens...

I have a lot to complain about tonight, but in the interest of not going off half-cocked, we'll save that for another time. In the meantime, I finally got around to reading The Second Amendment and States Rights: A Thought Experiment (link via Instapundit) and I'm fascinated by the idea of returning to something like the pre-Civil War militia system. As the title says, the paper is a thought experiment and the authors aren't necessarily recommending such a system, but it's still an interesting idea.

I'll add a few details to flesh it out. Imagine every able-bodied man and woman being required to turn out at least once a year for military training, and to own and maintain at least the standard infantry weapon, with interested persons being able to participate in more intensive training (and acquire the weapons and other gear to go with it) or attend Officer Candidate School (if they're qualified) alongside regular military members. A system like that would kill the dreams of gun-banners once and for all, promote greater personal responsibility, and maybe even restore some of the lost sense of community with your neighbors. Most importantly in my mind, it would eliminate the mystique that allows guns and gun owners to be demonized in the minds of people who have never seen a firearm up close. If an "assault rifle" is something everyone's mom and dad have and use, then it can no longer be the anthropomorphized secular demon of gun-control lore.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007



I can't believe nobody else came up with that title...


Home Wiring

Among the million things that seem to be on my plate these days, I have a broken power outlet in my livingroom. I mean literally broken. I had bought a decorative outlet cover, and when I pulled the plain old one off, pieces of plastic cracked and fell off of the receptable (plugs)

So, I have to replace it. I can't see hiring an electrician for such a teeny job, but being me, I have to research it to death before attempting a DIY. I bought two books, Wiring a House by Rex Cauldwell, and Basic Electricity by the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Yes, I have plans to learn and use electricity beyond just fixing the outlet.

Anyway, Wiring a House is great--it explains things in simple plain language, with lots of informative drawings. I feel like I now know how to install an outlet from scratch and make it completely up to code. I guess it's not rocket science, but I know several of the tips have already saved me from doing something unsafe that I would probably have done otherwise. If you are contemplating doing some household electrical projects, I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, February 04, 2007



Here's the first good response I've seen to Arnold Kling's RFC. I wouldn't say that I agree with the writer's commentary on Kling's list, but his alternative list is much tighter and, to my mind, works better as a statement of first principles. It's internally consistent, with no obvious language-of-political-convenience. Most importantly, it's simple. I particularly like the statement on foreign relations (emphasis added):
We further recognize that it is in the nature of free societies to extend the general scope of these rights and freedoms, and that it is in the nature of despotic regimes to extend the suppression of these rights and freedoms to the greatest possible extent. It is therefore an essential action of government to staunchly defend these rights and freedoms against despotic regimes, and to engage in peaceful coexistence or alliance with the free nations of world.

Edit: I'm just going to copy the entire list over here. Item #4 might rub some people the wrong way, but remember there can be a lot of different kinds of families. I don't know whether the author of the list is ruling any of them out, but I'm not. Traditional, nontraditional, gay, straight, 2.3 kids or childless, even close groups of friends who make up for each other's dysfunctional biological families, the point is that people are social animals and need their support group to maintain their humanity (if you've ever known someone who has no friends and isn't close to their family, you know what I mean)
Ethical and Economic Principles

1. The free individual, by virtue of engaging in lawful commerce, contributes to the general good of society.

2. Lawful commerce in modern societies requires the fundamental right of ownership of private property; the ownership of private property in turn requires the freedom of economic contract and the freedom of association for invdividuals.

3. Goverment is essential to the preservation of individual rights. A government that engages in unjust seizure or supression of these rights; whether by outright confiscation or usurpation, excessive taxation, the unequal enforcement of the laws, coercion via the threat of retaliatory action, or by undermining the private institutions of society; has become a danger to the general liberty of its citizens.

4. The family in particular is an essential private institution necessary for the continuation of a free society.

5. We recognize that the rights and freedoms of the citizens of any one nation depend, in part, upon the rights and freedoms of the citizens of other nations of the world. We further recognize that it is in the nature of free societies to extend the general scope of these rights and freedoms, and that it is in the nature of despotic regimes to extend the suppression of these rights and freedoms to the greatest possible extent. It is therefore an essential action of government to staunchly defend these rights and freedoms against despotic regimes, and to engage in peaceful coexistence or alliance with the free nations of the world.

6. Ethical behavior, being derived from numerous sources of wisdom throughout the cultures and history of the world, requires the freedom of private opinion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom of religion for its fullest acceptance by the people.

Friday, February 02, 2007


IATF RFC Comments (1)

Arnold Kling has the following to say over at Techcentralstation:
I admire the governance structure of the Internet. I believe that libertarian conservatives, under siege from so many directions, could draw inspiration from this open, voluntary, do-it-yourself, just-in-time approach.

What he's getting at is that "libertarian conservatives" aka right-libertarians, are suffering today from a false dichotomy that's arisen between so-called liberals--dominated by the left--and social conservatives/the religious right. People now seem to expect you to be either a socialist or a social conservative, and you have to deliver a long lecture to explain the concept of being economically conservative (capitalist) and socially liberal. Really, libertarian conservative is another word for [classical] liberal, in contrast to leftists and various flavors of religious conservatives, none of which are 'liberal' in any meaningful sense of the word.

Anyway, Kling wants the right-libertarians/libertarian conservatives/liberals to step up and work out a statement of principles. I'll bite. I don't actually have a lot of comments on this first draft, but I'll reproduce the entire thing here since I don't think my readers frequent either TCS or Instapundit and probably haven't heard of this:
Economic Principles

1. We weave a thread of self-reliance into a sturdy fabric of interdependence. By respecting the law, we reinforce impersonal justice. By competing intensely and fairly in an impersonal global market, we raise our standard of living through specialization and innovation. By upholding Constitutional principles for limited government, we sustain our individual freedom.

2. We are creative and pro-active in helping one another. We do not have the patience to wait for government, nor do we want to be lulled into passivity by the promise of government. Instead, to solve those problems that require collective action, we form voluntary associations, including civic groups, corporations, clubs, standards-setting bodies, consumer information services, and charitable foundations.

3. Government must be kept in its place. We hold government officials to high standards of competence, honesty, and fairness. However, we do not confuse government with family. We do not confuse government with religion. We do not confuse government with business. We are conscious that any expansion of government responsibility, however well-intended, crowds out those institutions that are the true bulwark of our society.

4. We celebrate the successes of others. We are glad when an entrepreneur becomes wealthy by finding a way to fill a customer need. We are glad when an immigrant family climbs the ladder of success. We are glad when people living in other countries make economic progress and spur us to innovate and improve.

Ethical Principles

5. Government cannot legislate morality, but it does mess with the incentives. Those incentives should never be tilted against the institution of the family whose mission is to raise children to be fine, upstanding citizens.

I'll stop for a quick comment here. I would write the first sentence as "Government cannot legislate morality, but it can distort incentives, particularly economic ones." This is mainly to be clear what we're talking about. Very few people change their behavior because a criminal penalty exists, but everyone changes if they perceive a tax loophole or other regulation-based chance to make or save money. The first requirement of of all taxes and regulations should be to distort economic incentives as little as possible (well, except where the regulation is meant to correct a market failure, in which case the market is what's distorted and the regulation is actually making it better.)
6. We maintain an ongoing conversation about morality and ethics. This conversation is informed by the Ten Commandments and Biblical scripture. It is informed by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. It is vital to continue the conversation, even when consensus is difficult.

Mainly nitpicking, but I think the list of influences (which I realize are examples and not all-inclusive) should be reversed so that the biblical references come last. Maybe they shouldn't be included at all.
7. Like new businesses, new moral ideals can revitalize our society, even though many of them fail. For example, we recognize that we are a better people without racial segregation or barriers to the education and career opportunities for women. However, we judge some social experiments to be failures, including eugenics, Communism, and nihilistic cultural relativism.

International Principles

8. Our ideology does not have to be sustained by military suppression. Although it can inspire people to fight against tyranny, ultimately our ideology allows us to live in peace.

9. We believe that people all over the world yearn for liberty, and for them we stand as a beacon and a champion. But we recognize that freedom is not ours to give when community leaders are not ready to seize the opportunity that it offers.

10. When foreign leaders issue threats against us, we take them at their word and act accordingly.

That last one needs to be removed. As much as the Don't Tread On Me approach appeals to me, foreign policy is a game, and it's played in the real world with real people. What works in that world is a sort of benevolent gangsterism, so if we're going to state an approach to foreign policy, it should be that we'll work to be the best gangsters we can be. Importantly, one principle of the successful gangster is to use force judiciously and as rarely as can be gotten away with, subject to maintaining your status and influence. And when--not if--it is necessary, then to act ruthlessly but also forgive quickly, in the Jacksonian way.

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