Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why do geeks get religious about computers? Human evolution.

What is it about computers that makes us (I include myself) want to get all religious about them? .NET is better than Java. Ruby is better than Python. Mac is better than Windows. Linux is better than Mac. C vs. C++ vs. Java. OpenGL vs. DirectX. Xbox 360 vs. PS3. Intel vs. AMD. x86 vs. PPC. ATI vs. NVidia. Google vs. Microsoft. Maya vs. Max. Whatever two competing products you can think of in the computer world, people will get religious about the difference between them.

I've concluded the driving factor for this is because computers are horrible devices. We all have lost work because of a bug or a bluescreen, or we've spent time coding something that was just painful to do because someone told you to use language X. So the natural tendency is to cling onto whatever you think is going to help you get through your day when it comes to using a computer. I cling onto .NET on Windows because I feel like I can be more productive than if someone walked up and told me to use Java on Linux. My friend (who I'm having a mini-flame war with in private email about whether Apple designs closed systems) believes in his Mac because he feels he can get done what he needs to get done.

And how about the excitement that people have when they see something new, fancy and meaningless in computers, like Vista's 3D flip feature in Aero or Mac's Expose feature. These really do just about nothing to make one's life significantly easier, but the promise is there, and that makes people excited. Myself included... I installed Vista on my work laptop because I had hope that it would fix some issues and make my life easier (as it turned out, ATI drivers bluescreened my laptop when it would automatically hibernate in the middle of the night, so I had to remove Vista and reinstall XP from scratch)

So why do people get religious just because computers suck? I think it has something to do with human evolution and religious worldview. I'm reading Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion right now, wherein he waxes poetic about religious belief itself being an evolutionary trait. It hit me this morning that maybe that same genetic propensity is what drives religious wars in computers. The same genetic whatever that made us think that a god would strike us down with lightning because we worshiped a false idol makes us think that we're going to get a crash playing Battlefield 2142 on a AMD/ATI combination. The combination of bad luck and weird superstitious genes in our blood, plus the sucky, buggy nature of computers drives us to act this way. And a lot of people who do this are themselves atheists with a background in science, yet their logic breaks down. For example, someone buys the Mac because they claim it's built better -- even though the Mac is built by the same Chinese manufacturer that outsources for several PC vendors. Or I would claim that C# is better than Java, and can point to reasons why, even though Java is in much wider use and has the advantage of not being tied to Windows (vastly outweighing the language features).

What can we do? Not sure. I sometimes wonder if we'll ever get to the point where contained devices (like the iPhone or Treo) would ever usurp the general PC. It would be nice to have a device that did the one thing it's supposed to do really really well. But I can't think of a device that would let me get through my workday that would work this way -- I multitask way too much.

I guess we could always just pray.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I'm glad someone is getting the word out on environmental hypocrisy

I've finally found someone who is calling out the environmentalists for their contribution to the current carbon crisis: Dr. Bill Wattenburg on KGO, 810AM.

The hypocrisy is this: at the tail end of the oil shock, a fear of nuclear power was pushed in the United States by environmentalists. Fear that nuclear plants can "explode" (still a fear by ignoramuses out there who don't understand the technology), fear of nuclear meltdowns like The China Syndrome (see Chernobyl note below), fear of nuclear proliferation by the Carter administration, fear of radiation, etc.

As a result:

  • Nuclear waste has been piling up thanks to a Carter administration ban on nuclear reprocessing (see IFR). We now plan on burying this nuclear waste in the Nevada desert instead of creating more electricity with it.
  • Nuclear power plants have become obscenely expensive to build, probably more because of the lack of continuity in building them for the last 30 years, and the number of projects that were partially or completely built and then cancelled (like Shoreham -- easily the main attraction in this theater of the absurd against nuclear power, helped along by Mario Cuomo)
  • All electricity that could have been produced by nukes is now being produced by gas and coal.
  • Fossil fuel use has gone up.
  • Carbon emissions have gone up.
  • Radioactive materials released into the atmosphere have GONE UP. Burning coal releases more radiation than nuclear plants.

So everything about nukes they pushed against in the 70s has basically come back to bite their own global warming argument in the ass. Without the same fearmongering bozos that now peddle global warming, global warming is unlikely to be a large concern!

Nuclear technology is the most ridiculously powerful technology ever discovered and developed by man. Problem: we discovered it far ahead of our political ability to deal with it, so only those who understand it well are not put off by disasters like Chernobyl and see the advantages of it in light of the bullet points above. Others cling to unattainable goals like solar and wind power, whereas a box of a few square meters can power a submarine for years on one fueling (as the French have done).

Fortunately, enlightened environmentalists are coming around. Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, now agrees that nukes are the only viable answer we have to the growing power needs. Sadly, not everyone has wised up yet. I recently saw a New York Times / Discovery Channel show about Chernobyl that was plainly filled with lies to scare people away from nuclear power. They included a "nuclear physicist" saying that Chernobyl could have exploded in a megaton explosion (an all-out fabrication).

In the meantime, we'll have to put up with these fearmongering blowhards now getting in our faces about global warming while they fly around in their private jets and air condition their 5,000 sq. ft. houses in Tennessee.

The Chernobyl note: Chernobyl was caused by poor reactor design, not a flaw in the idea of nuclear power. The Soviets designed their reactors with a graphite moderator, which is flammable. The real problems at Chernobyl started when the moderator caught fire. Our reactors all use water as a moderator. You can read Richard Rhodes' article on the exact circumstances of Chernobyl and why it cannot happen with our reactors.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Google's logo changing thing has jumped the shark

Official Google Blog: Strawberries are red, stems are green...

Excerpt: "I just know that those with true romance and poetry in their soul will see the subtlety immediately. And if you're feeling grouchy today, may I suggest eating a strawberry."

My take: if you have to declare the responsibility for proper interpretation onto the viewer, you've failed in your job as a commercial artist.

Today is the day Google's logo changing gimmick jumped the shark.