36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

November 30, 2008

“Bold, Persistent Expermientation” = Bad Idea

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, Economics — Kevin Feasel @ 3:25 pm

Jonah Goldberg, over at the Corner, posted an e-mail he received.  This e-mail notes that one of the results of Franklin Roosevelt’s “bold, persistent experimentation” was a marked increase in market volatility.  Volatility is a scary thing for the risk-averse (as most of us are) and this played a significant role in extending the Great Depression.

The first-best answer for a government is a small, predictable government which enforces its limited-but-effective rules in all circumstances.  The second-best answer is moving toward this ideal.  The third-best answer, which is probably the best we can expect over the next several years, is a government which stays relatively consistent and does not expand egregiously or act particularly arbitrarily.  Prepare for a fourth- or fifth-best answer, though…

Cynical Thought Of The Day

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, Wacky Theories — Kevin Feasel @ 2:23 pm

“Privacy is a transient notion.  It started when people stopped believing that G-d ould see everything and stopped when governments realised there was a vacancy to be filled.” – Roger Needham

My cynical addition:  the only reason you have even a modicum of privacy is that you are so insignificant that you do not draw the interest of others.  As soon as this occurs, you lose any vestige of privacy.  This has always been true; it is just simpler nowadays to become relatively significant.

Moving To Ubuntu

Filed under: Computinating — Kevin Feasel @ 12:56 pm

I have Fedora Core 6 installed on my laptop.  Yeah, that should tell you just about how prone to upgrade-fever I am…  I decided that I would finally get around to upgrading my version of Linux and hoping that this time, the install process wouldn’t be quite so bad.  I thought about going with Fedora 10 but eventually decided upon Ubuntu.  I’ve never used a Debian-based distro before (having liked Red Hat, Mandrake, and then Fedora), so I’m sure I’m in for some surprises, but a fellow at work has it and based on what I’ve seen, I should like it.

If it works out well, I’m going to install it on a virtual machine here on my desktop.  Unfortunately, I use far too many Windows-specific programming tools (*cough* and play too many games *cough*) to make a full switch again, but I do like getting my Linux kicks whenever I can…

November 29, 2008

The Dogfood Roundup

Filed under: Programming & Work — Kevin Feasel @ 6:23 pm

Last Thursday was the Dogfood Developer’s Conference in Columbus.  I’m rather glad I went and here’s a quick write-up of some of the things which occurred, as well as a few interesting links.

Most of my day was spent listening to Jeff Blankenburg talk.  Fortunately, he’s a good speaker and knows what he’s doing, so it all worked out.  He gave his version of the opening presentation, which focused greatly on Windows Azure (which I touched upon here), and later on, was scheduled to give a presentation on Silverlight.  Incidentally, the top section of his blog is all done in Silverlight.  Looking at the code was a bit scary at first—well over 1000 lines of XML, which is roughly 1000 too many lines of XML to type out—but Microsoft Expression Blend 2 appears to do a good job of generating XAML.

Before his Silverlight presentation, he showed us a few interesting sites, including Live Mesh.  The gist of that site is that there are certain documents which you want to share between your home desktop, your laptop, your work PC, and potentially other computers as well.  Live Mesh acts as a central repository for files, as well as a peer-to-peer facilitator (particularly if those two machines are on the same LAN).  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there is a Linux-compatible client, so I’ll be sitting out on that for now.  He also showed off Popfly, which is a game and mashup creator, allowing individuals to create things with relatively little coding.  Mashups are fun little things which use publicly available web services to pull data from several sources and present them as one.  The example he showed off was to get his friends’ latest 15 tweets from Twitter and display the locations of those individuals on a map, using a location-to-coordinate web service in between.  Without using any code, he hooked up three web services and got his set of results to display.  Granted, real business applications will be more complex than that and have significantly more business rules, but it’s pretty nice to see that kind of coordination with third-party services.  And finally, Jeff’s also the reason that I decided to start using Twitter, as he made a really good point:  no matter what problem you run into at work, somebody in a room full of programmers will have run into something either exactly like it or similar to it and will remember the answer or at least set you on your way.  The insane practicality of the advice outweighed the relatively small cost of setup and relatively larger cost of search (which I haven’t yet performed…), so I decided to jump into it.

We also got to see a presentation on developing for IE 8.  Ronan Geraghty’s blog is a good source for information on that, including features such as accelerators (which I admit I probably will not use too much), webslices (which I will use more often and are similar to Firefox’s Live Bookmarks), and quirks/compatibility mode (which we hopefully will not need to use too long at work, as we’ve been working on developing our apps to be Firefox-compatible).  The people who gave that talk threw out some information on the IE process model and suggested checking out some articles in Code Magazine (including this one) to get more information on it.  I’m reasonably pleased that Microsoft is finally getting to the point where they are developing a standards-based browser, though there will be a lot of work necessary to clean up all of the wreckage of pre-standards kludging.

Finally, I went to a very good talk on security processes.  One of the two people giving the talk pointed out a chart noting that the five biggest software houses produce only about 14% of the bugs, so we third-party folks are doing a great job of keeping that number high and we should give ourselves a pat on the back…  They spent a good amount of time talking about the Security Development Lifecycle and threat tracking tools that Microsoft is putting out, and said that some of the tools are ready for prime time, whereas others (particularly the dynamic analysis one) still need some work.  Also check out Michael Howard’s blog for SDL details and security notes in general.  Finally, if you haven’t done it yet, Steve Gibson (of ShieldsUp fame) has a weekly interview with Leo Laporte over at This Week In Tech called Security Now.  Start at episode 1 and move your way up for a college-level course in security…

Various Political Notes

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, Economics, Wacky Theories — Kevin Feasel @ 2:56 pm

- Jonah Goldberg links to Glenn Reynolds explaining why butter is more dangerous than guns for small-government types.  Wars can be expensive, but they have ends and spending goes down afterwards.  During the Viet Nam war, US military GDP was over 9%, whereas nowadays, it’s 4% and that’s after a post-9/11 increase.  Meanwhile, getting rid of domestic spending programs is nigh upon impossible.

This, I believe, will change in the next couple of decades as spending programs and the “third way” welfare state implode due to demographic issues, but Reynolds makes a great point:  domestic spending makes politicians more popular, as they focus on programs with broad payment bases but narrow, focused benefits.  That way, the losers lose a relatively small amount of money compared to the winners.  Of course, all those relatively small payments add up over time, to the point where we end up with massive welfare states, and removing the programs becomes politically difficult.

- John Hawkins has a few notes regarding what Republicans have to do if they want to get back in the game.  I completely agree with his points.  Republicans need a motivated base and “their guys” in the media to be pleased as well.  In order to do that, they should not do a voter purge (though the leadership should be solidly conservative), but rather by following through on conservative principles and trying to formulate the best policies given those principles.  I’m going to try to have a couple of posts over the next week talking about some potential ideas along these lines.

- Charles Rangel is looking at lowering corporate income tax rates.  I’m a big fan of doing that, especially because the US corporate income tax is terribly high.  Charlie should talk to Mitt Romney, though, to get a good tax plan…  I don’t like the idea of raising individual marginal rates, though, as that will cause its own negative effects.  And to the effect that it, like the Power Line guys speculate, causes people to retire earlier, that will cause the Social Security crisis to hit a little earlier than otherwise.

- People don’t know much about politics.  Obama voters are no exception.  I personally believe that far too many people vote and that voters should be required to pass tests before being allowed to vote.  These tests need not be particularly difficult, but every four years, when you renew your driver’s license, you will have to answer 20 random questions from the US citizenship test.  If you answer 16 of those correctly, you will be allowed to vote and such a note will be made on your driver’s license or state ID card.  Then, only registered voters with valid licenses/ID cards and the appropriate stamp will be allowed to vote (thus solving one of the voter fraud issues at the same time; I love synergy!).

November 28, 2008

Evil In The World

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, Terrorism, Yiddishkeit — Kevin Feasel @ 6:30 pm

A terrorist attack in Bombay has killed at least 125.  According to the Indians, the terrorists came from Pakistan.  My guess is that they are trying desperately to prevent any kind of conciliation and warming of relations between India and Pakistan.  My other guess is that the true root cause of the issue is a lead deficiency on the part of these terrorists, one which the Indian military should be rather willing to mollify.

One of the buildings that the terrorists occupied is the Chabad house in Bombay, where they held hostage the rabbi, his wife and 2-year-old son, and several other Israelis.  A couple of people were able to escape and take the rabbi’s son, thankfully, but after a commando strike, it looks like the rabbi and his wife were murdered.

Chabad has set up a fund to re-build Chabad in Bombay and I encourage anybody donating to the clean-up effort (and to the terrorist elimination effort, another rather worthy cause) also to send a few dollars their way.

By the way, Jessica, Dante was probably talking about Reuters “reporters.” There _will_ be a special place for them.

Blog Written By Dutiful Men

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Feasel @ 4:30 pm

Thanks to the Internet, I found out important stuff about me via my blog.  First, according to
Typealizer, I am an ISTJ.  Generally, when I take Myers-Briggs tests, I end up as an ISTP but my writing here ends up as “Practical” (heavy on the ST) with a small focus on Thinker (NT).  That does make sense.  Here’s my description (with some cleaned-up grammar and spelling):

The responsible and hardworking type. They are especially attuned to the details of life and are careful about getting the facts right. Conservative by nature, they are often reluctant to take any risks whatsoever.

The Duty Fulfillers are happy to be let alone and to be able to work at their own pace. They know what they have to do and how to do it.

I’d like to say that this doesn’t describe me, but yeah, it really does…

Meanwhile, according to the GenderAnalyzer, there is a 59% chance that this blog is written by a man.  There’s only one way I could explain this.  Given that there are three writers (well, okay, two writers and Dan, who writes on in spirit even though he’s a lazy bum), you can split this into thirds.  Dan is a male lesbian, so we’ll put him at 30-70.  Tony, a man’s man, rates closer to 80-20, given that he constantly writes about sports and video games here.  That leaves me at 69-31 in my posts.  I find this a reasonable percentage, as it means that I won’t have to start wearing women’s clothing*.

* – Tony wears it only for comfort issues.  Dan, meanwhile, just wears flannel.

Living In The Clouds

Filed under: Computinating, Product Whoring, Wacky Theories — Kevin Feasel @ 11:59 am

Microsoft and Google are both trying to take over the data collection and storage market by moving to cloud computing.  Over at Simple Talk, James Moore has a couple of doubts.  I completely agree with Moore’s points.  “Who owns the data?” is an important question, but there’s one which I haven’t heard a sufficient answer to yet:  “Who is liable for the data?”  If somebody finds a way to crack one of the cloud servers and gains acess to your data, can you sue Microsoft or Google for that?  If not, and if those companies do not have a liability policy in place, I can’t see big companies moving that way.  In addition, adding another layer of maintenance and another company’s bureaucracy to deal with will have its own transaction costs.  I like the idea of easy scale-up of servers and “use it as you need it” processing power, but security, liability, and lock-in are vital issues.

PS – Check out Adam Machanic’s comment for a de-buzzification of The Cloud.  I very vaguely recall ASPs back in the heyday of their hype, but he’s absolutely correct.  In the computing industry, anything new gets an inordinate amount of hype, followed by failed expectations.  The good things (like XML), after the subsequent de-hypification, will eventually find the appropriate level of use, and the bad things will just disappear as we move on to the next Big Thing That Will Change Everything.  Very few things change much at all, much less everything, so ignore the hype, wait for the real products, and make reasoned decisions based on those.  But then again, that route’s just not sexy, so you get consultants and companies who want to look “with it” jumping on the bandwagon.  Fortunately, many of those will, if they buy into the hype too much, just go bankrupt…

Speaking of Machanic, I can’t praise  his Expert SQL Server 2005 book enough.  It’s the type of book that will move you from an intermediate user to an advanced user and move you into interesting topics.  We’ve already used this at work to re-work many of our stored procedures and I use his load testing tool quite often to track down performance issues.

November 27, 2008

Part 1 Of Dr. Mabuse Watched

Filed under: Deutschland, Filmography — Kevin Feasel @ 10:47 pm

I figured that I would watch Dr. Mabuse:  The Gambler tonight.  I saw that Netflix shipped it as two DVDs, but when each read 2 hours and 20 minutes, I figured that it would be 2 hours and 20 minutes total, not 2 hours and 20 minutes _apiece_.  And truth be told, the first DVD was actually nigh upon 3 hours, so with any luck, I be able to watch the rest of it tomorrow.

On the bright side, Gertrude Welcker is absolutely beautiful in the movie.  She appears to have played generally upper-class, relatively minor roles in the early years of German film and disappeared into the mist in 1925, to the point where even Wikipedia knows nothing about her.  And Fritz Lang is the director, so you naturally get noir elements (though he had not yet built up his style to that point, and I shall have to wait for M to see the high point of his career).  I do find it funny that, speaking with Count Told, Mabuse says that expressionism is nothing more than “playing games,” given that Lang made his early career as an expressionist director…

More Thoughts On Death Wish, As Well As Batman Begins

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, deep philosophy, Filmography, Wacky Theories — Kevin Feasel @ 7:31 pm

As I noted yesterday, I watched Death Wish a couple of days ago.  In addition, I watched Batman Begins with Pat over the weekend.  I’m actually surprised that Pat has watched Batman Begins and that he would have borrowed it from the library, given his taste in movies, but because I had not seen it before, I was glad that he did.

After letting these movies sit in my mind for a couple of days, I hit upon a realization:  Death Wish is a consummate neoconservative movie, whereas Batman Begins is strikingly conservative.  I probably should note here that I believe that the directors, writers, and actors were emphatically not desiring to move in those directions; rather, it wouldn’t shock me if pretty much the whole bunch of them were left-liberals.  After all, in Batman Begins, the problem in Gotham was linked to a depression which turned the poor to crime*, whereas any actual conservative in Death Wish is almost-entirely unlikeable, including Paul Kersey’s partner at the firm (who makes a comment about wanting to round up all of the criminals into concentration camps).  But the underlying themes are both strongly conservative.

First, I’ll take a quick look at Batman Begins.  Without spoiling too much, a young Bruce Wayne slums around until he meets the League of Shadows, an organization dedicated to destroying the corrupt.  When a city or civilization moves too far toward decadence, the League of Shadows destroys it, forcing people to start anew, hopefully this time without the problems that caused the previous decay.  Wayne, disgusted at this prospect, strikes out on his own and makes his way back to a corrupt Gotham to clean it up.  He finds his childhood friend Rachel Dawes working for the DA’s office as a prosecuting attorney and Jim Gordon is one of the few clean cops left in town.  With their assistance and his financial assets, Wayne—as Batman—starts cleaning up the town and eventually must fight the League of Shadows.

There are a few ways in which Bruce Wayne’s actions and beliefs are markedly conservative.  First of all, when Wayne and Dawes are arguing in her car after she finds out that Wayne was going to kill the murderer of his parents, Wayne says that justice is not being served in the city (in the context of Mr. Chill getting off so light), while Dawes argues that becoming a vigilante isn’t justice either.  Wayne has to accept this, as being a vigilante is about vengeance—something he can never have—so he must go for justice.

Then, contrast Wayne’s philosophy with the League of Shadows.  The League of Shadows strives for justice, but they are actively anti-conservative.  When something fails, they tear down the edifice, destroy the foundation, and begin anew.  When the people are not decadent, the civilization will not fall, but because people become decadent, they are no longer worth salvation and must be destroyed, to allow a new set of people a new opportunity to fulfill destiny.  This is a fundamentally radical proposition, whereas Batman’s operating philosophy is entirely different.  His motif is to find good people, punish criminals, and scare some of the marginal people (like Gordon’s crooked partner) straight.  Batman is aware that most of the important people in Gotham are on the take and he is not above using uncouth tactics (blackmailing a crooked judge or threatening Gordon’s partner with death), but he still operates within a certain set of rules and wants to preserve civilization by improving social relations and societal ties as Bruce Wayne (just like his father did) and removing scum from the streets and important institutions as Batman.

Finally, Batman does not try to destroy the protective state; rather, he is trying to reform it and allow it to do its job.  He works with the police to catch criminals and bring them to justice.  It is not his job to try them or to determine what the laws are; rather, he makes up for a deficient police force and allows officers like Jim Gordon to reform it from the inside.

In contrast to Bruce Wayne/Batman, Paul Kersey seems distinctly neoconservative.  To use Irving Kristol’s formulation of the term, a neoconservative is “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.”  In this case, the description is particularly apt, as muggers murder and rape Kersey’s wife and daughter, respectively.  Kersey, beforehand, is a self-described “bleeding-heart liberal” (and conscientious objector during the Korean War) who brushes off his architectural design partner’s brusque comments regarding lawlessness and the crime problems of New York City.  After this horrible turn of affairs, he goes off to Tuscon and, while working with a property builder and stereotypical cowboy named Ames Jainchill, shows his prowess with pistols.  As a gift for all of his fine work, Jainchill gives Kersey a .32 pistol, which Kersey then uses to exact vengeance in New York.

Kersey’s actions have him acting as a mugger honeypot.  He wears (relatively) fancy clothing, brandishes large amounts of money, walks around alone in the park late at night, and tries his best to get people to mug him.  When they try to do so, he shoots them dead.  He does this because, as a detective explained to him, the police are almost entirely useless, and as Kersey later explains to his son, when the police fail, all that’s left is self-defense.

The conservatism in Death Wish is also quite blatant.  People are fallen and there are bad people in the world.  These bad people need to be stopped somehow, and when the “civilized” methods for preventing crime (i.e., the police and judicial system) are ineffective, it is up to the individual to act in self-defense for the preservation of his self and society.  Throughout the entire movie, Kersey acts only in self-defense.  Sure, he’s trying to bait criminals, but he waits until they brandish weapons and threaten him before he shoots them.  Unfortunately, as a vigilante, he has to kill his attackers to prevent the police from stopping him, but his actions are wildly successful:  muggings were cut in half, murder was down, and people did not fear criminals like they did before, so little old ladies were able to fight off muggers and construction workers broke up robbery attempts (as well as a few of the robber’s bones).  Meanwhile, what did the police do?  Create an entire task force dedicated to finding the guy who’s doing their job better than they could!

In this situation, the hero, seeing corrupt institutions, digs deeper into American history and comes up with another set of institutions—frontier justice (which was itself rather mythical, but that’s a little beyond the point).  Kersey sees himself in the Wild West, fighting against bandits and the uncivilized.  Without the assistance of law enforcement (which may as well not exist, as far as Kersey is concerned), it is up to good men like him to preserve civilization.  Kersey does not create new rules, but instead usurps the authority of institutions which have lost their value.  When prison is a revolving door and the police shrug their shoulders rather than fight crime, we can no longer rely on the protective state to do its job and must pick up the slack ourselves.  This ideally results in a crime-fighting spontaneous order in which individuals, in self-defense, do whatever is necessary to stop crime.  Many criminals, especially dangerous ones, cannot be rehabilitated, so putting them back out on the streets results in more crime and a failure on the part of the justice system.

We can draw a final parallel between the New York City of Paul Kersey and the New York City (err, Gotham City) of Batman.  Batman’s town is corrupt from head to toe, but the machinery is still functional.  The problem here is that enough people in charge are on the take that those who are still clean cannot operate that machinery effectively.  Thus enters a new, uncorrupted institution who gives the good guys an opportunity to take back the reins of the machinery of justice.  In Kersey’s town, however, the problem is not so much corruption but an unwillingness to do what needs to be done.  Judges let criminals out early (like Kersey’s first mark, a man with a long rap sheet who was out on parole yet again), powerful defense lawyers keep criminals out of jail, and the police are handcuffed in their ability to do anything.  The failings of the institutions come not from corruption, but rather the weakness of the ideas of those in charge.  Batman wouldn’t be as successful in this town, since as soon as he’d stop Falcone or the Scarecrow or some thugs, they would be right back out on the street again thanks to mush-headed judges and politicians.  Kersey also acts as an institution, but one antagonistic to the desires of the bureaucracy.  He knows that the only way for justice to be served is if he does it himself.  This does not mean that he _is_ the law (as opposed to Judge Dredd), but rather that he is an effective instrument of the law.  Kersey is a(n ex-)liberal, but he is no radical.  His conception of the law and justice fit in with his society’s and he is not trying fundamentally to alter the structure of the world he is in.  Rather, he is trying to reform failed institutions in his own way.

* – Right now, I want to make a point about Gary Becker’s analysis that poverty leads to crime.  Becker’s argument was that the poor have relatively few opportunities outside of crime, so when crime pays better than the alternative, they will do that.  Okay, I’ll buy this argument to an extent.  However, poverty is neither necessary nor sufficient for crime—wealthy individuals are also quite capable of committing crime, just as a good-sized number of the poor are honest dealers who don’t commit crimes.  I believe that Becker’s analysis is a bit misguided because he does not take into account what Edward Banfield, in The Unheavenly City (and The Unheavenly City Revisited, which you can download for free in a PDF format), calls the Lower Class.  According to Banfield, a small but significant percentage of individuals will have the mores of the Lower Class, leaving them with an extremely short time preference schedule (so they will not think ahead to the long-term consequences of actions), little self-control, a risk-loving nature, and near-sociopathic tendencies.  This is totally different than the Banfieldian Working Class (which is hard-working, blunt, religious, and not as stuck up as Middle Class prigs), but the Working Class people tend to live interspersed with the Lower Class, making it seem that “poor people” are likely to commit crimes, when it’s really the Lower Class who are more criminal than average, and both their poverty and criminality derive primarily from their makeup.  The other three classes—Working, Middle, and Upper—would be more likely to fit into Becker’s analysis, but give the Lower Class a lot of money and they’ll still go out and commit crimes because they don’t think ahead to the consequences of their actions or are out looking for some fun.

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