Wed, 31 Oct 2007

USPTO Failure

The USPTO fails to protect US citizens against theft by unethical patentors of existing or obvious ideas.

People who don't like markets love to talk about "market failure". I wish they were as quick to recognize government failures. If the government isn't supposed to protect us from crooks, what are they supposed to do? In this case, the government is enabling crimes rather than preventing them. An absence of a patent system would be better than what we have now.

Posted [16:01] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , ] [digg this]

Advice to New Parents

Everyone -- friends, relative, acquaintances, and total strangers on the street -- will offer you advice on how to raise your child. Listen to everyone, because you never know what advice may be helpful, but remember that it's you who has to stay up with the kid, not the advisor, so only take the advice your heart tells you to.

Naturally, you are required to take this advice; it doesn't apply to itself.

Posted [10:14] [Filed in: life] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Tue, 30 Oct 2007

When Salt Was Money

Here's an interesting article found by my friend and railroad historian Richard Palmer, entitled When Salt Was A Substitute for Money. Of course, as I've written earlier, money isn't necessarily coins and bills. Money is always that commodity which people freely trade, knowing that other people will accept it in further trade. People will fluidly switch their idea of "money" from coins and bills to salt, or cigarettes, or stones, or beads, or whatever commodity is most widely accepted. So contrary to the title of the article, salt wasn't a substitute for money. Salt was, for a time, money.

Posted [16:41] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Keycoding system

Several people have asked me what coding system is used for the Chordite. There is no standard chording system for chording keyboards, because they're all different. Some use two hands for chording. For example, Douglas Englebart's Augment used a chord keyboard and mouse combination. Hold a combination of buttons on the chord keyboard (five switches, one for each finger) and press one, two, or three mouse buttons. Or for example, the Twiddler uses a large set of buttons, three for each finger. Or I saw a fellow at a Linux World Expo who had a wrist-mounted keyboard that had four buttons under each fingertip and three under the thumb.

The Chordite has at least two possible codings. The one proposed by the inventor, John McKown, involves pressing buttons until you've gotten the correct combination of buttons, then releasing at least one button to generate that key. Another one is to use only combinations of two buttons, let's say A and B. The two of them generate four keys by changing the order in which you press and release A and B. I haven't (yet) experimented with both to see which works better.

Posted [15:23] [Filed in: chordite] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Mon, 29 Oct 2007

Economics versus Finance and Business

Three people walk into a bar: a financier, a businessman and an economist. The businessman says that a minimum wage hike is bad because they couldn't afford to pay their workers any more and stay in business. The financier says that it distorts the market and causes them to move investments to socially-disoptimal areas. The economist disagrees with them both because they're arguing for their own interests. The economist says the hike is bad because a minimum wage only makes low-wage workers better-off if the demand curve is vertical -- as unlikely as a frictionless surface or a universal solvent.

No joke.

Posted [14:23] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Sun, 28 Oct 2007


So on fairly short notice, I got invited to a WF360 event called the "360 Summit", held on the trading floor of the NYSE. I thought "hmmm... interesting people, interesting place, good food, how can you go wrong?" There was a bit of uncertainty over the security vetting ... something about being unexpectedly a person short. But all was settled and my invitation was approved.

So I drove down on Wednesday night and stayed with my buddy Eli Dow aka aim://judas0riley (a reference to a Smashing Pumpkins album) in Poughkeepsie, NY. That's significantly the northern end of Metro North, which has an hourly 97 minute run into New York City. Since I can sleep on Eli's floor for the stunning price of "free", the $25.50 fare into the city seems cheap by comparison.

The 360 Summit didn't start until 6PM (be there at 5:45 to get through security the infosheet said, but more on that later), so no hurry to get into the city. I went for a ride on the future Dutchess Rail Trail. It's the former Maybrook line, and connected to the bridge over the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie. Finished that about noon, missed the 12:10 train, got the 13:10 train and with a little delay got into the city by 3PM.

Wandered around Chinatown and up Canal Street to Broadway, then down Broadway to Wall Street. You know, Heere, at the Wall, right outside Trinity Church. Went down Wall Street to Broad Street, which is the actual location of the NYSE. At 5:30 they said I was a little early, but come back in 15 and I could get in. Went down to see the Charging Bull, which was moved from Wall Street to Broadway shortly after its unauthorized placement (but I wonder where is the sculpture of the Crashing Bear). Came back at 5:45 and was asked to wait with the others. We all waited, and waited and finally self-organized into an outdoor 360 Summit, chatting each other up. Why wait? So I met Thomas Carroll and Rich, of whose last name I do not remember. Thomas works for RR Donnelley, so I told him my father's RB Donnelly story.

Shortly we had our photo ids checked against the guest list, and we went through security. At least, most people sailed through security. I had brought my Chordite keyboard which looks a little homemade because it is homemade. Even Isabel got tired of waiting for me, and she's the one who arranged for my invitation! So I sent her on to the trading floor and the waiting cocktails.

Met Linda Bolliger, CEO of BoardroomBound, which does corporate board training. Also met Tom Guarriello, Chief Idea Officer of True Talk (a blogger like myself). He was wandering around eyeing all the screens with amazement, as was I. We ended up at the same table after being called to dinner.

My table, the Bon Mot Masters, consisted of myself, Candace Kendle, Tom Guarriello, Laura Scott, Joanna Lau, Lorraine Segil, Mark Morris, Hamed Al-Hamdan, and a woman whose name I failed to record. The tragedy of an event like this is "so many interesting people, so little time." I got to speak at length with Candace, Laura, and Joanna because they were seated close to me, but with Lorraine, Mark and Hamed I only shared a few words.

Candace was interested in why I blog. It's mostly to share interesting things, like my Chordite design, bicycling, railroads, and open source. I also vent about people's lack of understanding of economics. This isn't the economics about which economists disagree -- of which many jokes have been made. No, this is the economics on which economists agree strongly and yet the general population is ignorant of. Things like free trade, and minimum wages (there should be none).

Joanna was fascinated by the Chordite. We ended up passing it around the table so everyone could see how it works. It has the usual problem of really only fitting one person's hand well. It's a problem, but I'm going to try a new solution for the next two keyboards I make.

We listened to three presentations as we ate some excellent steak -- or in the case of the vegetarians, pasta. Afterwards it was chocolate cheesecake, and some parting gifts: a girl bear, some girly lotions, and Godiva chocolates fit for a queen (are you sensing a theme here?) My wife cleaned up, but then again, she had to do my chores while I was off gallivanting.

Took the train back to Poughkeepsie without incident, arriving at 1AM. On Friday, I rode on three more rail-trails on the way home, making a total of 68 miles between the two days. Stopped by my mother-in-law's in Glens Falls for dinner, and headed home.

A good time was had by all. Especially me.

Other people's impressions of the event: Don Dodge, Howard Greenstein, Tom Guarriello, Dorian Benkoil, Christina Kerley aka CK, and Tom Steinthal posted twice.

Posted [14:15] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , , , , ] [digg this]

Ride starting Thu Oct 25 09:16:24 2007

41.00 km 134512.90 feet 25.48 mi 9900.00 seconds 165.00 minutes 2.75 hours 9.26 mi/hr

On Thursday, I went for a ride on the future Dutchess Rail Trail. I noticed two interesting things. First was the abutments of an old road bridge crossing the railroad. On the west side was a hill, so on the east side they built an abutment raising that side of the road up above the tracks. Second was part of a wye that I didn't have on my list of NY railroad routes. Oh, and there's also a siding, the tracks of which they didn't remove.

Posted [02:48] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Racism is Prejudice

Cast of Characters

Board our cast of characters in Poughkeepsie (all names are invented (except Poughkeepsie (nobody would invent that, even in a work of fiction))):

Act One

Flores and Juan strike up a conversation in Spanish. No problem with that, except that, Flores being by one window and Juan by the other, it's a pretty loud conversation. For me, it was moderately annoying because I only understand about half the words in the conversation because of my limited Spanish. Equally for me, it was something that I tolerated because of course there are jerks everywhere and you can't correct everybody's rudeness.

Obviously Adam didn't feel the same way. He stood up and loudly asked Flores and Juan "If you're going to keep talking, why don't you sit next to each other". Flores, who seems like a real loud-mouth no matter what, immediately instructed Adam to mind his own business. She loudly claimed that he was only objecting to their loud conversation because it was in Spanish. Then, in a fit of thoughtlessness, she accused Adam of being a racist. Heated words followed and she announced that she didn't want to talk to him anymore. Poor Juan followed her down the rathole, saying something like "You're only so mad because you only speak one language"

Act Two

The issue seemed to be settled, when Flores got to her stop. Obviously she felt she had to put Adam in his place, so she started things again as she was walking off. Adam pretty much didn't give a crap, until Chica, walking right behind Flores, spat at Adam. At that point he demanded a policeman. I don't know what happened to whom, but the upshot was that the doors of the train stayed shut for about ten minutes, and when we rolled away, Flores and Chica were still talking to the police.

The Denouement

So .... you now have all the evidence I have (or can remember; of course eyewitnesses often disagree on exactly what happened). I stewed about this for a while, and finally decided that the racist on the train was .... Flores. Adam didn't say anything to her and Juan, a hispanic pair, that he wouldn't have said to a pair of white people. It was simply counter-factual to accuse him of racism. It was prejudicial of her to interpret as racism his request, no matter how boldly and perhaps even rudely stated.

So what's a racist? A racist is somebody whose prejudice is based on race, just like a sexist is somebody whose prejudice is based on gender. Racism knows no racial bounds, because prejudice is prejudice no matter who is prejudiced against whom.

So what's the problem here? Is Flores only giving as good as she's gotten from white folks? Maybe she's bringing emotional baggage to this play in two acts? Maybe so, but that doesn't stop her from being wrong. Where she's most wrong is in imputing racism to non-racially motivated criticism. What she's effectively asking for is a racist world. One in which everybody stops to consider race before criticizing somebody. One where people only criticize people of their own race.

Which brings us to Carlita. When Flores launched into Adam again, Carlita jumped up and started to give Flores what-for. If f-bombs were paintballs, Flores would have been black and blue and green and red all over. "You're the reason why people don't like Mexicans." Etc. Criticism from somebody of her own race she got in spades.

Nope, Flores didn't want to hear criticism from somebody of her own race, either.

Posted [00:49] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , , ] [digg this]

Sat, 27 Oct 2007

Ride starting Fri Oct 26 09:46:24 2007

Rode on three different rail-trails today. w00t w00t. The first is the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. Second is the Ballston Lake Rail Trail. Third is the Jim Tedisco Fitness Trail.

49.57 km 162618.26 feet 30.80 mi 11914.00 seconds 198.57 minutes 3.31 hours 9.31 mi/hr

The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail follows a portion of the Wallkill Valley Branch. It's about fifteen miles long. I started in the middle, at New Paltz, headed up north to Rosendale, went all the way south to Gardiner, and back up to New Palz. It's a pretty ride, with a few cuts and fills. The north end at Rosendale is curious, because the fellow who owns the bridge and that portion of the trail has decked it at his own expense, but only partially. You go out halfway across the bridge, and the decking just stops.

Ride starting Fri Oct 26 15:04:07 2007

15.00 km 49200.22 feet 9.32 mi 3041.00 seconds 50.68 minutes 0.84 hours 11.03 mi/hr

The second ride was on the Ballston Lake Rail Trail. It follows the old trolley line from Schenectady to Saratoga Springs. It's only 3.5 miles long, but the ATVers keep it open to the north of the official end of the trail. Unfortunately, it runs into a bridge which is out. The abutments look in fine shape, and a little steel and wood would restore the bridge. Hopefully they're considering doing that.

Ride starting Fri Oct 26 16:11:32 2007

3.96 km 12996.06 feet 2.46 mi 1424.00 seconds 23.73 minutes 0.40 hours 6.22 mi/hr

The third ride was on the Jim Tedisco Fitness Trail, which is pitifully short (1/2 mile). It dead-ends on both ends in missing bridges. Better something than nothing, I guess. So, I extended the ride by tracing the route of the railbed south from the missing bridge. Eventually I found tracks!

Posted [00:11] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Wed, 24 Oct 2007

test, test

Is this mic on? Testing the blogging software on my n800 ....
Posted [01:30] [Filed in: posts] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Mon, 22 Oct 2007

Ride starting Mon Oct 22 14:51:06 2007

46.09 km 151227.72 feet 28.64 mi 9014.00 seconds 150.23 minutes 2.50 hours 11.44 mi/hr

Went for a ride up to Parishville today, or very nearly. Cut over past Allen's Falls, then down to the Pumpkin Hill Road into Hannawa Falls. Took in a small section of the Red Sandstone Trail. Then on the Back Hannawa Road to Potsdam.

Posted [17:39] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Sat, 20 Oct 2007

Microsoft Patent FUD 2

The Microsoft FUD is laughable, while the patents are a serious problem. But the fact that they're trying to gain currency from it -- without actually naming any of the patents -- is a joke. We need to treat it as such.

Think about it this way: what if they said "We have 235 nuclear bombs?" If they actually thought that they were all functional bombs, they would say "... and we'd be happy to demonstrate one." They haven't done that, so it's reasonable to conclude that they're of wildly varying quality.

The problem with Microsoft's threat is that they really don't know which of the 235 bombs work, and which don't. Do they show us their best bomb? If they do, and we defuse it, they've given it up for nothing and haven't proven anything except that they're foolish. Do they show us their bomb least likely to work? What would that accomplish? We'd just laugh at it when it fizzled.

Microsoft is the one with the problem here, not us.

Posted [22:54] [Filed in: opensource] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Thu, 18 Oct 2007

Led Zeppelin's Kashmir

Led Zeppelin's Kashmir.

It can be done on handbells.

It must be done on handbells.

Posted [19:48] [Filed in: life] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Tue, 16 Oct 2007

Little Old Ladies

If asked to think of the defenders of democracy, you might think of Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the flag on Mount Suribachi. It's a very stirring image, but no, you'd be wrong. Think, instead, of the little old ladies who are present when you vote. They are the true bastions of liberty, the heros who save our elections from corruption.

How do they do this? Well, understand first that they aren't buddy-buddies. They're poll watchers; present to ensure that the vote is accurately recorded. They're Democrats and they're Republicans. Their loyalties are not to each other, or to their knitting. They're making sure that neither of the major parties corrupts the vote.

They do this by understanding how the votes are recorded in the voting machines, and by how the voting machines count the votes, and how the counts are removed from the machines and recorded and reported. They have sufficient experience with the machines and the process to be able to recognize when things don't work right.

This isn't true with electronic voting machines. The ways that they can be corrupted are too foreign to them. They don't have years of experience with the $FOOBAR model of electronic voting machine. And I'm not sure that open source software running on the machines is all that much of a help. Maybe after the women graduating from MIT and Harvard and CMU become little old ladies, open source will be a source of trust for them.

The solution is in the poll watcher system, not in the software. Software is too blind and uncertain, too soft. We need a machine which works a certain way, and which always works that same way. We need software without bugs, so it doesn't need to be changed. Ever. Once we have that, then the poll watcher system can learn to trust the operation of the machines.

Posted [15:31] [Filed in: opensource] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

OSI Approves Microsoft Licenses

In a board meeting held October 10th, and announced today, the Open Source Initiative approved two of Microsoft's software licenses: the Microsoft Reciprocal License and the Microsoft Public License. These licenses are refreshingly short and clean, compared to, say, the GPLv3 and the Sun CDDL. Like Larry Rosen's pair of licenses (the Academic Free License and Open Software License), they share a patent peace clause, a no-trademark-license clause, and they differ between each other only in the essential clause of reciprocation.

Of course, Microsoft is not widely trusted in the Open Source world, and their motives have been called into question during the approval discussions. How can they be attacking Open Source projects on one hand, and seeking not only to use open source methods, but use of the OSI Approved Open Source trademark? Nobody knows for sure except for Microsoft. But if you are confident that Open Source is the best way to develop software (as we at the Open Source Initiative are), then you can see why Microsoft would both attack Open Source and seek to use it at the same time. It is both their salvation and their enemy.

Posted [12:06] [Filed in: opensource] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , ] [digg this]

Power for Sale

The more influence politicans have to sell, the higher a price they are able to command.

The only solution to this problem is to take power away from politicians. The way you do that is to keep the federal government powerless so that everything not listed in the Constitution is done on the state level. People can pay more attention to more local government, and if it gets really bad, they have the option of switching to a different state's government (by moving).

Politicians will always try to sell their influence. You keep it down to a dull roar by keeping them as powerless as possible.

That means doing less through politics and more through markets. This is good for markets, too, because it forces corporations to look more to their customers and less to politicians.

Posted [00:02] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Mon, 15 Oct 2007

Immigration vs. the Constitution.

Conservatives who are opposed to immigration need to think about why there is nothing in the Constitution which permits the Federal Government to keep foreigners out of the U.S.

Posted [02:25] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [digg this]

Thu, 11 Oct 2007

The Invisible Fist of the Market

Free markets avoid a whole world of hurt. The invisible fist of freedom does it for us. When you can't coerce people into buying your product, or selling you theirs, many bad outcomes simply never happen.

Isn't it great having a big invisible buddy on your side? Unfortunately, he's easily offended by well-meaning acts of coercion. If you're not careful, he can invisibly slip away and you won't realize he's gone until you need him. Just a cautionary note. Don't assume that free markets will protect you if you've allowed them to become state-controlled markets.

Posted [14:54] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Tue, 09 Oct 2007

Ride starting Tue Oct 9 10:35:04 2007

21.87 km 71741.12 feet 13.59 mi 5951.00 seconds 99.18 minutes 1.65 hours 8.22 mi/hr

Went out on the Rutland Trail to do maintenance on the Rutland Trail #2 geocache. The original container that I used was simply inappropriate for a geocache. I thought it would be watertight, but it wasn't.

Posted [17:24] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Fri, 05 Oct 2007

N800 External Battery

The internal N800 battery is pretty studly, but there are contexts in which I don't want to have to swap out the battery for a spare. Have to reboot the machine to do that and if you're trying to run a program for a long time or continuously, that's not acceptable. Plus you have to notice that the battery has run low and replace it.

So, I have made myself an external battery holder. It's an "External Li-ion Battery Pack". Input is 5V, 500ma. Output is 5V, 6.8Wh. By way of comparison, the internal BP-5L battery is 1.5Wh, so this battery has four times the power. Cost me $26 bucks postpaid from CaBattery. Comes with a power adapter with a standard-size Nokia coax connector, a USB to coax connector (which can also be used to charge the battery from any USB port), and a set of coax to (whatever) adapters including an N-series coax.

I scavenged an old USB cable connector and got an N-series coaxial power adapter from a local electronics store. Cut the plastic off both of them and greatly shortened the cables, being careful to check and double-check the polarity (center positive for the coax). Both cables were marked red (postive) and black (negative) so it was no trouble.

I have a supply of polycaprolactone (capa for short) which I purchased from Shape-Lock also sold as Polymorph or Friendly Plastic. I covered the N800 and external battery with aluminum foil because the capa will stick to plastic. The cable needed to be covered with plastic, so being careful not to short out the cable to the aluminum foil, I opened two holes for either end of the cable and plugged it in.

The capa is soft like modeling clay and hardens like nylon when cool. Thin pieces cool off pretty quickly, so you don't get much work time. I wrapped the capa sheet around the back of the N800, covering the external battery and wrapping around to the front. I purposefully made the right-hand wraps thicker to hold the cable and connectors in place. The left-hand wraps are thinner, so I could bend them to fetch the N800 from its embrace.

As it turns out, I didn't use enough capa, so quickly heated up another batch and made the corner fingers and covered the battery a little better. It will stick to itself if both surfaces are reasonably warm.

I still need to cut some holes for the external battery charger and power monitor. Also need a hole to fetch out the stylus and connect the headset. Capa cuts pretty easily as long as you don't heat it up. It softens then and melts rather than cuts.

I've run it on the battery mostly idling but wifi-connected for nearly two days before the external battery ran out and I noticed the internal battery start to lose its charge. I'm sure I could have gotten a full two days out of it. I expect to get ten hours of solid use out of the combination.

UPDATE 8/20/2008: Note that the N800 and N810's power supply must be within certain limits. See Nokia's charging interface specification.

Hover for a caption or click on the thumbnail for a larger picture:
front view (Thumbnail) top botton view (Thumbnail)
coax power connector lump (Thumbnail) removing the N800 (Thumbnail)
coax power connector (Thumbnail) USB power connector (Thumbnail)
battery coax in and USB out (Thumbnail) cable (Thumbnail)

Posted [22:14] [Filed in: 770] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags , , ] [digg this]

Ride starting Fri Oct 5 16:13:00 2007

15.70 km 51513.09 feet 9.76 mi 2970.00 seconds 49.50 minutes 0.82 hours 11.83 mi/hr

Track is short by two miles because it took that long to synch up. The ride was more like 11.7 miles and an hour long.

Posted [17:07] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Ride starting Thu Oct 4 16:08:59 2007

19.96 km 65489.75 feet 12.40 mi 3900.00 seconds 65.00 minutes 1.08 hours 11.45 mi/hr

More or less a standard ride for me. Go up to Knapp's Station (labelled on this map as North Stockholm), ride on the Rutland Trail into Norwood, take a back road to the Dry Bridge, cross the CSX tracks, and head home.

Posted [12:59] [Filed in: bicycling] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]


All these words, and not one mention of the fact that the Constitution doesn't authorize ANY federal medical funding. Not one dollar. This is a problem for the states to solve. Clearly the states want to solve it differently. Fine. Let them. They can tax their own citizens as they feel appropriate to pay for it.

That's how our government is supposed to work. It creates a free market in government. Don't like your government? There is no legal restriction on moving to another state, because you're a citizen of all of them. No state can stop you from moving in, no state can stop you from leaving. No franchise possible. Let the best state government compete for citizens.

Posted [02:56] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]

Economics and Math

Economics needs math like a fish needs a bicycle. If you understand economics, you don't need math. If you don't understand economics, all the math in the world won't help you.

Example: you don't need a calculator, or calculus, to understand the economic calculation problem.

Posted [01:48] [Filed in: economics] [permalink] [Google for the title] [Tags ] [digg this]