Thursday, September 27, 2007

Roswell explained

When not running Modern Marvels or shows about Hitler and World War II, The History Channel is known to run UFO shows. I had one on in the background today about Hangar 18.

Of course, Roswell came up. And of course, they mentioned that the Army had issued a press release saying they had captured a flying saucer.

Most conspiracy theorists like to point to that press release as the one irrefutable fact in the Roswell case that proves it was a flying saucer.

I'll explain why exactly that press release was made.

On June 24, 1947, Kenneth Arnold reported seeing UFOs over Mount Rainier. This was actually the event that coined the term "Flying Saucer".

Less than two weeks later, the Army claimed that one had crashed in New Mexico.


That, my friends, was the lamest attempt at a cover story ever. Some secret project -- later identified as Project Mogul -- crashed in New Mexico, and because the Army was the Army, they figured they had to put out a cover story. Some idiot remembered the Ken Arnold story and decided the cover story would be that it was a flying saucer. In short, Roswell was the biggest PR blunder possibly of all time.

What about the rest of it? The rancher, the people who tell all kinds of stories? That's just bullshit. It can all be dismissed as bullshit. Yes, BULLSHIT.

Conspiracies are easy. Some idiot comes up with one and it is denied by officials, then the conspiracy people believe that denial means it must be true! We live among conspiracy nuts. This is a world where a hundred million people watched live as the second plane hit the World Trade Center, and yet Truthers want to claim there's a conspiracy, bombs in the building, that no plane crashed into the Pentagon, and so on. And once a conspiracy gets started, it can never die because of what's mentioned above -- denying it or explaining it just means you're covering it up.

Do you really think Roswell uncovered aliens and the US government would issue a press release? My theory of a dumb cover story based on Ken Arnold is much more plausible than their theory that the US captured a saucer, wanted to tell the world and instead covered up all hard evidence proving the existence of saucers, anywhere, ever, to this day. Yeah, this government couldn't even keep Valerie Plame's CIA employment secret.

One more thing about aliens. Why is it that all of these major UFO events happened in the 40s and 50s? Why not the 90s, or 2000s? Why did alien/UFO footage suddenly dry up after we get a billion people walking around with video cameras on their cellphones? We should be seeing a legit UFO movie per week on YouTube, right?

We don't see this stuff anymore because that flying saucer bullshit was attractive then but isn't now. Now it's bullshit like Truthers and Scientology that turns that category of mainstream people on, and only true nutcases are left to peddle UFO bullshit.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Your right to wear breadboards on your chest in the airport hasn't been lost...

...because you never had that right, pre or post-9/11.

Probably the most infuriating claim about the Boston Logan fake bomb incident is that somehow our rights are being taken away. That right hasn't existed in 88 years -- it's called Schenck v. United States, and was decided on March 3, 1919. This is the "Fire in a crowded theater" decision from the Supreme Court. It doesn't matter if a keen eye can tell you it was just a breadboard with LEDs and a 9v battery -- if you are doing something that creates a panic in a public place, you have no right to free speech. Random electronics and wires on your chest in an airport certainly qualifies.

But to those who believe rights have been lost, you should feel better because her rights are completely intact. Now she has the right to defend her actions in a court of law. If it is determined that her right to free speech was infringed upon, then I guess we'll have people with the right to wear fake bombs on their chest. She has the right to go on the Today show and cry to Matt Lauer about how it was "free speech." She has the right to sue TSA if she feels she was treated unfairly. Seeing as this is the United States, she can probably sue Duracell for making a battery that looks bomb-like.

Many other countries would not give her those rights. If it was Tel Aviv airport, or Moscow, or Jakarta, she would not have been given the right to live. They would have shot her in the face if they thought she had a bomb and was not responding to their questions about it.

So when commenters on Slashdot and other geek-asshole websites say things like "Arresting her is what they do in oppressive America. In my country, they would just leave her alone", remember what rights she still does have. No other country lets people test the boundaries and keep their rights like the United States.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Using Silverlight for a Website

I needed to set up a website that privately serves videos and pictures for family. So I looked around at the options for hosting the videos as streaming media in the browser -- basically Quicktime, Flash and Silverlight -- and decided to use Silverlight.

Going through each possibility one by one:

If you read this blog, you know by now that I have no love for Apple's Quicktime implementation on Windows. Maybe on Mac it's good, but it sucks on Windows. It crashes, installs services that continually bug you for upgrades, etc.. So that was out quickly.

Flash was the obvious choice going in, but I couldn't really figure out what to do. There are almost too many choices out there. I looked at Adobe, but they charge $700. Then there are a bunch of encoders you can buy for $50, $60 or whatever. I skipped over this in the meantime to at least try Silverlight.

Silverlight worked well so quickly that I decided to forgo messing with Flash. Silverlight just worked in the framework I already have on my desktop: Visual Studio (though it does require the forthcoming 2008 version), Windows Media, Vista. I did download Expression Encoder for the 60 day trial, but using Silverlight allows me to encode using run of the mill WMV encoder tools. Furthermore it was very clear to me how to hack together a template player and substitute in the media I want to play in Silverlight -- all in Javascript and XAML. No compilation required. And if I do want to compile things, in the next version of Silverlight I can do it using C#, which I already know very well.

The nice thing is that Silverlight 1.0 played well into the back end being Ruby on Rails. I created some super simple Rails templates to put together the Silverlight code I needed for a page.

It's early on this project, but it already appears that Silverlight probably was the best choice for the site. I got it up and running with minimal work and expense, which were my two main requirements. Now I just have to hope that Microsoft doesn't can Silverlight too quickly

The buzz about Silverlight seems to be growing since I last stated that it would get canned, but I still don't understand what Microsoft is really doing with it product-wise. The technology seems pretty good. And if you read some of the buzz on the web, old time Flash guys are starting to like Silverlight. The Expression tools that are supposed to compete with Adobe are not that aggressively priced -- they're maybe $100 cheaper than Flash.

Rails guy on Sun's interest in Rails

Here's his blog post.

As mentioned before, Sun will latch onto everything that might give it some exposure (see post below about Sun's strategy wheel). They have no direction and are looking for anything that will stick. So they can dedicate a few guys to supporting Rails and make it look like Sun is a big Rails champion.

A word of advice to those involved in Rails.... do not hitch your cart to Sun. Use them to get good prices on (or better yet, free) hardware. Use them to expose yourselves. But at the end of the day, keep your movement to yourselves and don't let Sun start driving it for you.

BTW, I am using Netbeans 6.0 beta 1 for Rails dev and it's not bad. It hangs a lot and doesn't come back, but it's not often that you get an IDE that has decent code completion for a dynamic language (i.e. using type inference and introspection to do code completion).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why does Office:Mac need to be different from Office 12?

Here's Microsoft's Mac Office 2008 site.

Why would you put out Office on the Mac that doesn't have the Ribbon interface that makes Office 12 worth upgrading for in the first place? This version of Mac Office looks about as non-powerful as iWork.

I don't get it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sun's corporate strategy

Saw this gem on Fake Steve Jobs

I have to admit, I thought the Sun announcement that they were shipping Windows was mighty bizarre. Isn't part of the point of their Niagara chip to take advantage of kernel level modifications and allow the Java VM to spin up tons of threads efficiently? Why have two directions so unrelated? Meanwhile, they changed their stock symbol to JAVA... to let us know that they're the Java guys?

I think Sun is just throwing a bunch of shit at the wall and hoping something sticks before their server revenue runs dry and they're completely hosed.

Apple's quality hardware days seem to be gone

Well, minutes after posting my Apple iPod Touch article, I came upon a bunch of threads about how crappy the screen is.

I find it amusing that people like to claim that Apple would not skimp on quality. Really. Actually, the numbers tell exactly otherwise. Time for a basic business lesson in gross margin.

Gross margin is the total revenue of a company minus the cost of that revenue (i.e. the cost of making whatever you sell), divided by the revenue. It tries to measure percentage of money that's profit on each widget sold. It's one of the better indicators of how much money a company is making on its product.

Apple's gross margin has gone from 29.2% to 36.9% in the last 4 quarters.

Therefore, Apple must be reducing costs somewhere. Either the parts they build computers with are getting cheaper on their own, or they are seeking out cheaper parts, or they are cutting costs in producing those goods.

Based on all of the complaints about Apple's hardware quality -- and there have been dozens of cases over the last year on all levels of their product lines -- the only logical conclusion is that two out of three, possibly all of the above, must be true.

That's not to say that all vendors aren't dropping quality. You think Dell is any better? Lenovo? I'm not sure when the last time I bought a truly high quality computer might have been. Maybe my Centris 650 in 1993? Even that machine blew up in the first 10 minutes of use with a bad power supply. Maybe it's when I bought a SparcStation 1 on a whim at Weird Stuff in Sunnyvale. That machine was solid (though old).

In reading these threads, I learned a new term today: iTard.

Friday, September 14, 2007

iPod Touch more important than iPhone?

Today I wanted to check out the iPod Touch at the Apple Store. Unfortunately, it wasn't there to play with. The reason I headed over there is because when I was at the Sony store, something clicked when I was looking at Sony's clunky UMPC. I thought, "Damn, putting Vista on a machine this small is an enormous waste of time. It would make more sense to put a custom OS on there that pretty much does everything you want with less overhead."

Enter the iPod Touch.

The Touch is essentially a portable computer with a custom OS. It's very limited, but it still does most of what people need -- internet, music, videos. It doesn't do games, but Apple has already starting doing games for the regular iPod with EA, so I guess that's just a matter of time. Eventually Apple can start pushing through signed applications of all kinds. You can have an office apps, Quicken, whatever. This is what 99% of the world does with their home computer anyway.

I'm very curious if the iPod Touch is actually the more meaningful device that Apple has released. It's the portable PC, and isn't tied to crap AT&T EDGE service. Maybe someday Apple will build upon it, give it a microphone, give it bluetooth, and you'll be able to use it as a VOIP device as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Great Marketing idea

Watching the news today, they featured the CEO of LifeLock.

LifeLock is a company that prevents identity theft by watching credit requests on your social, then renews the lock every 90 days, which you would have to do yourself normally. It seems like a straightforward business.

Here's the genius in marketing: click on the link above. The CEO has posted his social security number on their website. He also read it off on TV this morning.

Even if this failed and he did get bit by ID theft, that sure is great marketing for his product. It got me thinking about subscribing to it.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Viva la Appalachian State

I stole this image from somewhere on the internet. Seemed like a good one when Lloyd Carr leads the losing squad in the biggest upset in Div-IA football history.

Usually I root for the Big Ten during non-conference games. Except Michigan. Lloyd Carr is a jerk.