Ron Paul

It turns out I might be a republican after all. I just never had seen a real one before. In a perfect world this man would win the nomination, but I'm not going to hold my breath. If you are voting in the primaries take a look at Ron Paul. He's the only one with any new ideas and apparently the only one who reads history out of all the republican candidates. Limited government, non-intervention foreign policy, lower (zero) taxes, no IRS, no department of homeland security (yay!) ect ect.

He's extremely consistent (for those anti-flip-floppers) and has always voted against the war in Iraq and raising taxes.

He's the only republican candidate who is against the war (70% of the American public are now against the war ... what are the other 30 thinking?). He's the only one who seems to realize that it is our foreign policy that has caused the hatred toward our country. The other republicans take a cheap shot at that and accuse him of saying we caused 911, but if they'd take their heads out of their asses and listen, they'd understand that we caused the hatred, and the hatred caused the attacks. It's really frustrating to watch these debates sometimes, but at least he's doing well on the internet (so was Colbert, so a lot of good that does).

As Bill Maher said, it's unusual to hear this kind of logic from someone who is actually going to be president.

Check it out:

There are a lot of youtube videos of him. Enjoy.

EDIT: I was really tired last night when I wrote this and now I admit that I really haven't done a whole lot of research on RP. I'll look more into him and post again later. But I do stand by the fact that he is the coolest republican candidate.


The Fragility of Ecosystems

This is stolen from John Hawks Anthropology Weblog.

Darwin on the food chain:

From the Origin, second edition, pp. 73-74:

I have, also, reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease (Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. From experiments which I have lately tried, I have found that the visits of bees are necessary for the fertilisation of some kinds of clover; but humble-bees alone visit the red clover (Trifolium pratense), as other bees cannot reach the nectar. Hence I have very little doubt, that if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that "more than two-thirds of them are thus destroyed all over England." Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, "Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice." Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!


TED talks and why TV is the new tobacco

We live in an amazing time. Just a few years ago the only access for a layperson to inspiring information from cutting edge science and technology was.. nothing. Books were out of date, and not everyone can go back to school. But now the internet is finally achieving what TV never could. Good intelligent content is not being overrun by mainstream pop culture. They can live in parallel. The niche markets of the internet are huge and growing. I read about interesting new inventions, scientific discoveries and interesting political opinions and debates every day. I credit my newly found intellectual connectivity not to blogs, although that's where most of my information comes from, but to RSS. I read hundreds of headlines a day in mere minutes and pick out about 10 articles or blog posts to read. This takes me just an hour a day and I learn so much more than what I would get from an episode [popular hour long TV show].

I think the Hollywood writers strike is a great opportunity for everyone to finally cut their TV watching habits. Do you really need to see the shows you watch? Why TV? There is so much more quality content on the web without the interrupting commercials. If you desperately need to see a show, wait for it to come out on DVD and netflix it. I have no qualms with this service, used in moderation (no more than 2 at a time!) I understand that some shows, like movies, can be intellectually and emotionally fulfilling as well as a good time killer. But I think TV is a seriously horrible thing. I think of it as I think of smoking. It is a waste of time and money. It isn't good for you, but won't really hurt in moderation. Where smoking pollutes with smoke and chemicals, TV pollutes with noise (especially commercials). Both are antisocial; sure you can do it with your friends, but is that a good argument for smoking? What about your non-smoking friends that you force to breath your smoke or listen to your sports channel?

Going to a restaurant with a TV playing (especially with sound) is as annoying for me as sitting in the smoking section. I can't concentrate on my own thoughts let alone a conversation. Sure I could try to ignore it, and I do, but at the end of the day when I'm tired from work it's hard and frustrating. And frankly I shouldn't have to.

Japanese TV is so horrible. It is complete trash. I often get youtube links from friends in America with clips from TV shows here that are amusing, but a few amusing sketches does not make up for the horrendous editing, directing, acting and mindless chatter that spews out of NHK. Dramas are the only saving grace of Japanese TV, and even those, like anime, quickly become tiresome when you see enough to establish the cliches and you realize that each new show is just a rehashing of old ideas with and characters.

American TV's strength is what makes it worse, in my opinion. In Japan the TV is easy to not watch. It is so bad that I never even consider watching it. But American TV has quite a bit of good content. The great satire of Comedy Central and FOX [the Daily Show, Colbert Report, South Park, the Simpsons, Family Guy], and the addictive dramas of today [24, House, Grey's Anatomy ...] make it hard to not watch TV. But I challenge you to do just that. The Daily Show is mostly available online now, as is the Colbert Report. Rent your favorite dramas and shows with netflix and save time and money! Stop buying into the currupt cable companies that artificially raise prices. Say no to intrusive advertising and yes to useful content generated ads that you will actually use from time to time.

If you don't know where to look for good content on the web, let me point you in a very good direction. I spend most of my time watching talks, seminars, reading design, tech and science blogs, and occasionally a few comics. Recently I came across what is what I consider the most inspiring, informative and stimulating collection of videos I've ever seen. They're called TED talks. TED is a meeting once a year of 1000 remarkable people and each one gives an 18 minute talk. I've watched about 30 and over half have been good enough to recommend to everyone. Here is a list broken up by category. Watch at least one please. They are all about 18 minutes on average. Please leave comments!

Bonobos, Chimps, and the Origin of Man.
Susan Savage-Rumbaugh: Apes that write, start fires and play Pac-Man
Jane Goodall: What separates us from the apes?
Zeresenay Alemseged: Finding the origins of humanity
I love just about anything in this catagory and all these are well worth a watch. Check out just how amazing Bonobo's and Chimps are in the first two videos. I promise you'll learn something new. Also, listen to the guy who found the oldest child ancestor of modern humans and why that is so important to our understanding of evolution.

The Human Brain.
Jeff Hawkins: Brain science is about to fundamentally change computing
Vilayanur Ramachandran: A journey to the center of your mind
I love reading about neuroscience as much as I love reading about paleoanthropology. And in case that doesn't mean anything to you, that means I love it a lot. The first one is Jeff Hawkins (famous for designing all kinds of hand held devices), who has a great new way of looking at how the brain works. The second is about new discoveries in how the brain works based on rare brain injuries and their bizarre results. I think these two videos have changed my outlook on things more than any other TED talks. Truly amazing.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
This is a great video about why we should be concentrating less on math and science and more on dance and the arts in school. This really clicked for me and I really got chills at the end. I never learned how to draw or paint. I never learned how to dance or sing. I had to choose and go way out of my way to study music. Is there a reason why learning Geology in elementary school is required but no one ever taught me any pencil shading techniques? I could go on all day on this one alone.

Architecture and Design.
James Howard Kunstler: The tragedy of suburbia
This is a great and funny talk about the horrible state of American suburbia. Anyone who has been to Europe or, well most of the world outside of the US, knows that there are amazing places in almost every city or town to hang out. These places are not malls, but natural city centers created by good architectural design and city planning. I love architecture, design and the idea of city planning, so this one really hit home for me. I also love the way things are set up in Europe. Japan, unfortunately, is another story.

Greener Design in Buildings and Cities.
William McDonough: The wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle
Once again I love the idea of city design. I always had a dream to do a real life sim city type of thing except to make everything really good for the environment and create a really great place to live for everyone. I always thought it was a far fetched idea, though, because no one can create a city from scratch without a government helping them out. Well, it turns out China is the one doing just that.

Global Warming and Green Tech.
John Doerr: Seeking salvation and profit in greentech
John Doerr gives a great and emotional talk about how many great things have been happening in regard to green tech, and why it's still not enough. One amazing example was Walmart going green. I hadn't heard about this, but it certainly has changed my impression of the "evil" giant.

Old Laws Governing a New Medium.
Larry Lessig: How creativity is being strangled by the law
This video really describes the problem with the way the government and big corporations are looking at digital content. It kind of speaks for itself. If this kind of thing interests you, it is a must see.

The Third World Myth.
Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen
This is great. It really shows a new way to look at statistics and how things have changed drastically in countries like China recently. Also a good tech demo. For those of you who think that the "third world" still suffers from short life expectancy and extremely low income, check this out.

Energy and Biology.
Juan Enriquez: Why can't we grow new energy?
Good video about how we really haven't advanced much in energy production and we really should reevaluate what energy is and how we can make it.

Fabrication and Building things with DNA
Neil Gershenfeld: The beckoning promise of personal fabrication
Paul Rothemund: Casting spells with DNA
These talks overlap a little because the guys are working in the same group. This has huge implications. I am most fascinated by the DNA building blocks and programming because I think this is truly a huge step toward a Star Trek style replicator. I predict by 2050 we'll have 3D printers in every home and in another 50 years replicators that can make food (although I think not out of thin air).

Pandemics and hope for the future.
Larry Brilliant: TED Prize wish: Help stop the next pandemic
This video is really inspiring. I don't have a whole lot to comment on, but I really think you should watch.

Photosynth Tech demo.
Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Jaw-dropping Photosynth demo
This is amazing. I think Photosynth really has potential to change the computing world. Imagine if you could go anywhere from your computer just by harnessing the power of the millions of photos from everyone on the internet. Imagine the power here. You could potentially tour a city before going there, or see what things look like in real life instead of just the map. Integration with a mapping program would be the ultimate here, but you could take it one step furthur and allow time travel into the past. Images tagged with dates could allow you to see buildings that are no longer there or see how a landscape has changed over time.

"Self Aware" Robots.
Hod Lipson: Robots that are "self-aware"
These robots are programmed to figure out their own structure by experimentation and then they have to figure out how to move. It kind of reminds me of the game coming out Spore where you can create a creature and the game figures out based on the limbs you give it how it should move.

Marketing and Design.
Seth Godin: Sliced bread and other marketing delights
David Pogue: When it comes to tech, simplicity sells
Seth Godin really tells it well for those of you interested in starting a business or anything like that. The basic idea is that in the modern market, ordinary doesn't sell. You have to be remarkable or you'll be ignored. Playing it safe is risky. Then comes David Pogue (NY Times video blogger/comedian) who gives a funny talk basically just bashing Microsoft and Praising Apple for design choices. It wasn't too informative but I found it entertaining.

Cheap Architecture for the Third World
Cameron Sinclair: TED Prize wish: Open-source architecture to house the world
Good story of how the internet can really do amazing things. Not much to say here, just watch it for yourself.

Ways the World Could End.
Stephen Petranek: 10 ways the world could end
This is 30 minutes and fairly interesting, but you probably won't learn anything new.


Partial Virtual Reality

I've always wanted to design games. I am constantly writing down ideas for games and trying to design new ones in the hope that some day I'll have to power and money to get them made. One game idea I had a long time ago in high school I haven't given much thought since then. Basically, it's just a shooter that you can play online from the computer or any console (I knew consoles would get connected sooner or later) and everyone would play together despite the different medium. But what I reaaally wanted was to have real life arenas like laser tag where people would wear VR helmets. They can see all the terrain and real people, but they can also see virtual people playing from the PC's or consoles and they can see explosions, items ect. probably with some opacity to keep it safe. I think this would really drive up the laser tag industry and I know people would pay to play.

The reason this came back to mind was Façade. There is this VR social game where you interact with virtual people in a real environment. I think this is the closest thing I've seen to my idea ever. Pretty exciting. It's definately not a shooter, but its a step in the right direction for VR. Why recreate the whole environment when adding to it would be easier and much prettier. It's like a movie I once saw (can't remember what it was) where the guy had this old house he wanted to renovate and he had painted a picture on glass so when you stand at the right angle you can see his vision. Except in VR you're always standing at the right angle!


お誕生日会 The Birthday Assembly

Today I went to one of my favorite schools. This school is great because the kids are good and I do almost no work. The English adviser is really professional and does all the preparation, and I play with the kids almost all day. I always feel exhausted and happy when the day is over. The only hard part is balancing my time spent with the 1st-2nd grade crowd vs the time with the older kids.

Today was お誕生日会. Quick Kanji Lesson! Skip if you don't care!
=== Start Lesson! ===
お誕生日会 = おたんじょうびかい = O TA N JO U BI KA I
お, or 'O' is a polite prefix. This is Hiragana, not Kanji.
誕生日, or 'たんじょうび', or 'TANJOUBI' is birthday (OU is a long O sound, not a diphthong)
会, or 'かい, or 'KAI' is meeting, assembly, gathering, etc. It's also the root of the verb 会う, or 'AU' which means to meet.
=== Lesson over! ===
Every month of the year, this school has a birthday assembly. They seem to always fall on Thursdays, which is the day I am usually at this school, so I have seen quite a few of them. All the students gather in the gym and the ones born in that particular month come to the front. They sing a catchy song with crammed in lyrics based on the month - one part crams 10 syllables into 5 eight notes (十一月に生まれた, 'those born in november'). Then the piano goes into a soft background melody reminiscent of Mr. Rogers and one by one a student announces the names of the students rhythmically, followed by their response (HAI!) and everyone claps three times. It's all quite cute and very well organized (by the strict music teacher).

During the song, the principal takes a picture of each student. After the song, each birthday boy and girl is asked a question. The question is different each month - The one right before summer vacation asked what they are going to do and why, and today's asked what comedian/performer they like and why. One of the sixth grade boys does it like an interview. He announces the question once and gives an example of how to answer, then he gets on his knees and holds his hand out like a microphone in front of the students one by one. If they freeze up he says something like '特にないそうです' which basically means the person has nothing special to say. The whole thing is very charming and I really wish I could better share the experience. I don't think a video from my little camera would capture it well enough.

I hope I'm there when they do it in January! Teachers join in!


The state of the web

We’re so far from state of the art, we can’t even see the state of the art from here.
-Douglas Crockford on the state of the web
I can remember when I was a freshman in college I though I should make a new web browser and a new standard to replace HTML with something that supports modern advanced graphics and user interaction along with server interaction (like AJAX). The standards we use that govern the stale beauty of the web are all at least 8 years old. There has not been any real innovation in browsers or web standards and the web continues to fall behind the cutting edge every day. Some may point to AJAX as innovation, but it took 5 years after being implemented for people to discover it. AJAX was discovered because web developers were up against a wall. The web lacked the ability to move further and allow innovation and people began digging deep into the code to get every last drop of functionality.

Let's be realistic. All AJAX does is allow transfers from the browser to the server and back without reloading the page. That's it! The fact that people (myself included) were excited when AJAX was discovered is a sign that we really were up against the wall. But we didn't break down the wall. We just moved it back a few inches.

Since it's discovery, the web has been populated with richer applications, but the browsers weren't designed for these heavy applications. Things are getting as big as they can, and this is about as good as it will get. We are back up against the wall, and there is no way to break it down. Computers get faster and graphics are more amazing now than ever, but the browser cannot and will not take advantage of that power without some major changes.

The Solution: A New standard
Let's say all the brightest people get together and make a new standard. It will kill the horrible mess that is HTML, CSS, and Javascript.
Problem #1: Different Browsers
A new standard would have to be implemented by all the major browsers. This is yet to happen for simple things like CSS and it is very unlikely that a huge overhaul would be accepted by all the major browser makers.
Problem #2: Current websites and developers
It's a miracle! All the major browsers decided to upgrade to the new standard! Oh wait, none of the websites take advantage of it. People still code for the same thing they have been all this time! The next major hurdle is convincing the world of developers and basically the whole world to come to the new standard. Sounds unlikely, but let's roll with it.
Problem #3: Old browsers
Another miracle: The entire business world is onboard! Unfortunately a large percentage of people on the web do not upgrade their browsers regularly. In fact, a large amount of people still use IE 5.5 and 6!! The estimation Crockford gives for these people to either upgrade their computers or die is about 5 years. FIVE YEARS!! That's like 35 dog years and a whole lot of time in the computer industry.

Another solution: Proprietary
There are great advantages to a proprietary internet.
  1. The portal (browser) could be updated at any time to stay state-of-the-art.
  2. There is only one source of bugs for developers to worry about, rather than all the major browsers (and old versions).
But the problem is that it might not be free, and that it will not be open. The openness of the web is a big (lonely) win. Another problem is that even if this did happen and it was well done, it does not replace the internet. Few developers would develop for both the web and this proprietary solution, and given the choice between the two, the bigger is best for business.

The New Standard Revisited:

So it's going to take 5 years for people with IE 5.5 and 6 to drop dead? So we better have something done before then! Here are the things we have to address:

  • Support on all major browsers. This is unavoidable and I don't think this is impossible. I think it is very difficult, but with a great standard that addresses all these problems, it might just happen.
  • Backwards compatibility to not leave old browsers in the dust. I don't see the problem here, honestly. Here are the four cases
    • Old sites on the New browser: This isn't a problem. The new updated browser will support old sites AND new sites.
    • Old sites on the Old browser: Not an issue.
    • New sites on the New browser: Not an issue.
    • New sites on the Old browser: This is the only real issue. One solution is to code the site twice and give the old style site to the old browser, but a better solution would be to have a create the new standard in such a way that it can be trivially (automation) translated into the current HTML / CSS / Javascript mess we rely on today.
  • Future compatibility. The reason all this is necessary is that the web is built on standards made by people who either didn't think ahead, or didn't think ahead far enough. The email standard is taken from a bunch of researchers who didn't care about security because they didn't have to (only a handful of people were connected at the time). The new standard needs to be created in such a way that new additions and corrections can be added without too much hassle. I don't really know how this can be done between behemoth companies and the 4 or 5 major browsers, but anything is possible.
  • Mobiles! The standard should keep in mind the mobile world.
  • Graphics and interaction. The standard should be able to take advantage of high end graphics while not limiting or crashing slower computers. Scalable graphics? High end sites?

So this is a pretty bleak outlook on the future of the web, but that's the way it is. I might come back and edit this later when I think of more (smarter) things to say. It's midnight and I'm tired! Comments are welcome.