Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Mandela: I’m Honored to Have Been Alive While He Was

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

A man of strength, accomplishment, wisdom, and compassion. He certainly suffered, but he had some fun too, and lived long enough for many to consider him something akin to a living saint.

He was controversial, at the peak of the struggle against apartheid, Ronald Reagan and the United States government considered him more a terrorist than hero. I consider him akin to George Washington.

Wow. I am honored to have been on this earth while he was alive.

Thank you, sir.

Bitcoin “Deflationary Spiral”: Any worse than Berkshire Hathaway?

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

When economists say bitcoin is at risk of a deflationary spiral (people hoarding the limited supply, having little incentive to spend today but always waiting until tomorrow), I wonder whether they are missing two key points?

Not a Monopoly Currency

When a country has an isolated economy and single official currency, the model is different from the environment of bitcoin.  (Economists love pure models that they can analyze, but that aren’t realistic, driving the old joke “reality is a special case”.) There will still be inflationary currencies in a world with bitcoin, just as there are still such currencies in a world where gold exists. Yes, gold acts funny when compared with currencies, and yes, people hoard it, but it still has function as just one of many ways to store wealth.

But gold is cumbersome and not very portable. All the bitcoin in existence could easily fit on a tiny micro SD card.

I guess I am saying that economists have a point, but is it a fatal flaw or just one property of bitcoin?

Slices into Very Thin Traunches

There is a feature of bitcoin that is unique in my knowledge of such things: it can be sliced really thinly.  As I write this 1 bitcoin is nearing a thousand dollars US.  This could be a cumbersomely large value for a more physical currency, but bitcoin can be used in really small fractions. The smallest transaction currently possible is 0.00000001 bitcoin (1 satoshi).  At today’s rough value, a thousandth of a US cent. If the value of bitcoin climbs a thousandfold, this is still just 1 penny.

If someday bitcoin gets to valuable that even this is too large, I am told the protocol could be changed to allow smaller fractions.

I know of no currency nor physical asset that has this property. Only artificially defined financial instruments can do this. (Imagine a derivative BRK.ZZ stock.)

What does this property do to the deflationary spiral, if one can always shave off a smaller and smaller slice to, well, maybe buy a shave?

-kb, the Kent who doesn’t own any bitcoin, yet.

© 2013 by Kent Borg

Cleveland Dungeon: What Punishment?

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Assuming he proves to be guilty, what should happen to Ariel Castro?

There are reports that at one point he considered suicide. Ironic. Maybe he felt trapped by his crime and was looking for a way out. But he didn’t have the guts.

He doesn’t deserve the death penalty, it would be doing him the favor that he wouldn’t do himself. Better the man who ran a private dungeon be put in his own cell and left to molder.

If ever there was a punishment that fits the crime, it is prison for this crime. Go ahead and make it a “supermax” prison, but put him in prison.

-kb

© 2013 by Kent Borg

Guns: But WHO Loves Them?

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

There is nothing more red-blooded-American than being a gun nut, right?  Patriotic, tyrant opposing, freedom loving, fundamentalist, God fearing, American!

That’s the PR.

Okay, what if brown-skinned men with heavy beards joined in? Show up at rallies. Testify before lawmakers, with thick accents even. Fundamentalists, Muslims fundamentalists! What would that do to gun PR?

Hmmm, it might just get a bunch of brown-skinned men with heavy beards killed. Might also break the spell that guns have over us.

-kb, the Kent who admits he is a troublemaker.

© 2013 by Kent Borg

As the protests spiral out of control across the world, who’s responsible for the lost lives? Filmmakers or those who spread misinformation?

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

My title is a tweet posted by @Ssirgany.

But I don’t think the answer fits in a tweet, so I have moved here.

Deaths are usually the responsibility of those who kill. There are cases of self-defense, probably a “just war”, and certainly a few other exceptions, but mostly killing is wrong and those who kill are in the wrong. That is a truth that cannot be forgotten when asking who is responsible.

So what of the original question? The filmmakers or those who fan their flames? The filmmaker is clearly trying to cause trouble, but maybe can claim some ignorance of the consequences. But the filmmaker can also just get on with life. There is initiative and effort here: this a damming consideration.

Those on the ground who are fanning the flames are really promoting the film, they can see the result of their actions. But maybe are more following their noses and just doing what they always do, they are following a role they have played before, they are caught up in a larger dynamic.

And that is the larger problem: Only a damaged people can be so easily provoked to act so stupidly. The blame for this is centuries of dictators, corruption, and injustice.

This is sensitive territory, so let me get myself in trouble in my own culture, too: In the United States we have had angry people riot and burn their own neighborhoods. They were wrong to do that, it was against their own interests, and it happened because they were a damaged people. In the case of the US, there were centuries of vicious crimes of slavery and discrimination. Recently we have shown some recovery, but we are still working on it.

Responsibility really comes back to those who are so angry: they need to heal, those who are in countries that are seeing new freedoms need to work to build civil society, education, and a sense of justice that has the patience to stop and consider. Rage is a poor guide.

The satirical publication The Onion posted an image this week about which they claimed no one died. It was a pornographic cartoon that insulted Jews, Christians, Bhuddists, and Hindus. It was eagerly tweeted about in the west, and indeed, no one seems to have died. No one got upset. Possibly some still will get upset, but it seems pretty quiet.

In the west this violence looks tragic, but also silly. “Has the Islamic world been quiet for a few weeks? We just have to shake a new religious cartoon at them and watch them kill each other!” Like taunting a frustrated child, cruel and too easy.

Yes, it is wrong to stir up such trouble, but the Islamic world should seek the wisdom and poise to ignore stupidity. I fear it will take many years.

-kb, the Kent who admits he has a limited western perspective.

Nexus Gripes: Very Few

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

I have a new Galaxy Nexus phone and a new Nexus 7 tablet.

The Nexus name is for Android devices that have Google’s version of Android software, without and other add-ons by manufacturers or phone companies.

In the case of these two devices, they did a good job, I recommend them.

My gripes are minor:

  • The power jacks are on the bottom edge of each, but one is flipped from the orientation of the other. The plug should go in the same on both, and it does not.
  • The speaker on the phone is not as loud as on my old Nexus One phone. I sometimes use the phone like a transistor radio of old, but it is too quiet.
  • It would be nice if the battery on phone lasted longer than it does, but the phone is nicely thin and doesn’t weigh too much, so I am getting demanding now.  And, unlike a lot of phones, the battery is replaceable, I can carry a second one.

Very nice gizmos. Very pleased with them.

-kb

Marriage a Civil Right? No, not for opposite-sex couples either.

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Is same-sex marriage a civil right?  No.  But I don’t think different-sex marriage is a civil right, either.  It is a practical matter.

The institution of marriage is a human invention.  It started out as a property deal, for people with property.  Poor people need not apply, though eventually the idea spread and “common law marriage” came to be, and even formal marriage.  (Yes, the definition of marriage was expanded to include poor people.)

People do pair up, usually opposite sex, sharing property, and frequently having children.  Sometimes there are problems, often they are quite familiar age-old problems.

This pairing up happens.  It has consequences for society, it makes sense for society to recognize it and stamp a name on it, “Marriage”.  Once it has a name it can be easily be referred to in laws and regulations–so much easier than dealing with each case on its unique merits, because face it: most marriages are the same in so many ways.  It makes sense to take what we learn from one marriage and apply it to other marriages.  Instead of having to invent laws that deal with things like divorce and child custody issues, from scratch, every time a marriage fails, it is only practical to send the feuding couple to a court that is already experienced with feuding couples, and sort it out with well settled case law.

One can imagine a world without the institution of “marriage”, but it seems an inefficient place.  People are going to do some predictable things that have predictable consequences, it makes sense to have an institution ready for them.

Enter same-sex marriage.  A few years ago it seemed ludicrous that there could be such a thing, yet now it is inexorably becoming obvious to everyone.  Why?  Because the closets opened and different-sex couples have become commonplace.  They are everywhere and are being accepted as existing.  (Like them or not, call them “normal” or not, they very clearly “are”.)  And as with different-sex couples, it is merely practical to have a shorthand way to deal with them, too.

So dang it, let them get “married” it will make all our lives so much easier.  It is a practical thing.

What about the slippery-slope worries?  If we let same-sex couples marry, what about people marrying their horses?  Well, if human-horse pairings become common, then we can figure out how to deal with that. In the meantime, same-sex couples are falling pretty neatly into the same pattern as different-sex couples, so let’s treat them the same.

It is not a civil rights issue, but it is sensible and practical and humane and fair.

I Felt Like I Kicked a Dog

Friday, December 30th, 2011

I went to see The Ides of March.  I am visiting Los Angeles, we went to the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.  I listen to KCRW on the internet, I hear references to Laemmle theaters, they sound great. Or, maybe that is an unfortunate way to put it.  The sound was a problem.

There was a 60Hz hum throughout the entire film, and for about half the film there was a twittering, like a bad, theremin-inspired, jazz improvisation on a crappy electronic piccolo.

My mother-in-law didn’t notice, but her hearing is not up-to-snuff. My wife, however, leaned over and whispered “What’s that noise?”, I muttered a short expletived-phrase.

When it was over I exited through the lobby so I could complain.  I looked for the most senior-looking/manager-looking person available. I chose the salt-and-peppered guy at the ticket-taking podium.

I told him the problem and he listened.  And he took it.  And he responded “Okay.” (I think it was) and there was a pause, and I said something like “That’s not right.”, for emphasis.  And he took it. More silence.  I stared sincerely for a moment, and I left.

It was not surprise to him: the customer was complaining, and he didn’t talk back.  He has heard it before.

Then I figured it out: I am in LA, Movie Capital of the World.  On a regular basis some jerk in The Business goes to a retail movie house and complains bitterly that it isn’t as good as the screening room back at the studio or posthouse or the jerk’s house.  (Or so I figure.)

And these jerks complain that their eight-dollar ticket doesn’t buy the same quality.  And they complain righteously.  (Or so I figure.)

I’m not in The Business (I don’t even have a home theater back in Boston) but complain is what I did.

And I felt like I had kicked a dog.  And he took it.  And that I kicked him again.  For emphasis.  And he took it.

Postscript: Across the street and a couple blocks down, for roughly twice the price, is an Arclight theater: and they do sound right.  A couple days earlier we saw the narrow-screen, black-and-white, foreign-made, Oscar-rumored, silent film The Artist, and for a silent (that actually has plenty of sound, just very, very little dialog), Arclight did a better job.

I suspect the jerks in the business, when they go slumming, go to the Arclight.

Movie theaters are in a pickle, they need to compete with not just each other but with home.

-kb, the Kent who, if he is going to be a jerk, feels a bit proud to momentarily feel like a Hollywood insider version of jerk.

P.S.  I complain in Boston-area theaters, too, when projectors are out of focus or flicker and go dark or the sound can’t be heard right.  I have discovered that, for some reason, theaters in Montreal are much better.

Write Down Your Passwords

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Recently someone pointed out that an Ubuntu mailing list will e-mail a forgotten password back to you.  And that this is wrong.  Well, I agree, but…

I am never bothered when a mailing list sends me a plaintext password.

But I do something Extremely Radical: I don’t reuse passwords.

If a mailing list password of mine gets out it is only a mailing list password.

Reusing passwords is too scary. Somehow the idea of having just one (or a small number) of keys to my life and casually handing out copies to anyone who asks seems really stupid. How do I know what they are going to do with it?

Write down your passwords. Yup. Write them down. Keep a list, obscure things a little in the list, but keep a list. Put it in your wallet, keep an updated copy someplace else. If someone steals your wallet you will probably notice it and you will be able to go change passwords before the thief figures out your obscuring scheme.

But when you reuse a password and one of the various sites is broken into, first you won’t know it was broken into, second, even if you did get notified…how would you ever know what other sites you used that password on if you don’t keep a list?

Yes, it is better for mail reflectors to not send out plaintext passwords, but it wouldn’t matter much if you didn’t reuse passwords.

It should bother you that a site is mailing back your real password, but sites are constantly doing things far scarier than e-mailing a password the right person (such as letting actual criminals get a copy). You should be far more bothered by the password reuse that makes every breach have possibly unbounded consequences.

Even if a site does a password reset and e-mails a temporary password, that is also a risk. E-mailing the original password is only worse if it is used elsewhere.

Don’t reuse passwords.

-kb, the Kent who thinks expiring passwords are stupid, too.

©2011 Kent Borg