Saturday, January 26, 2008

CSTV's New Basketball Gametracker Interface:
The Finest Sports Ticker Tape Yet

As an out-of-market fan of Stanford basketball, Nebraska football, and Fulham football/soccer, I'm accustomed to "watching" games online via dramatizations of game statistics. It can be pretty dull stuff, since you're merely watching statistics like 10:25 Free Throw GOOD by STAN's Lopez, Brook being stitched together via a dynamic web interface.

There's only so much drama that you can inject into the snippets of game information some poor drone is feeding into the information service that ESPN et al. use for these displays. Familiar with the general un-watchability of these screens, I'm STUNNED by one that I just discovered. As far as basketball goes, CSTV's new basketball interface raises the bar. Obviously, the action still has the Morse Code pacing of erratic statistical blurbs, but the representation is beautiful and flowing:

It's nearly watchable.

Seeing is believing. Watch a bit of a game yourself. Good job, CSTV.

We Have Always Been at War with Eurasia

The New York Times magazine this week features a piece that is both dreadfully insightful at the same time that it is painfully obvious. Rather than investing the peace-time dividends resulting from the end of the cold war into a liberal world of laws, human rights, free trade, and cultural and technological growth, we looked inwards, made war, and did everything in our power to ensure that not one drop of the excess productivity of the famously productive American worker actually went into making us any better off. The result: A world dividing itself three ways with the US, the EU, and China playing off against each other using the rest of the world as chips and resources.

It sounds mighty pessimistic, doesn't it?

It also sounds eerily familiar. Courtesy of, a frightening (if long) reminder that the best criticism of our age was written more than 50 years ago, and we didn't learn a thing from it.

"The splitting up of the world into three great super-states was an event which could be and indeed was foreseen before the middle of the twentieth century. With the absorption of Europe by Russia and of the British Empire by the United States, two of the three existing powers, Eurasia and Oceania, were already effectively in being. The third, Eastasia, only emerged as a distinct unit after another decade of confused fighting. The frontiers between the three super-states are in some places arbitrary, and in others they fluctuate according to the fortunes of war, but in general they follow geographical lines. Eurasia comprises the whole of the northern part of the European and Asiatic land-mass, from Portugal to the Bering Strait. Oceania comprises the Americas, the Atlantic islands including the British Isles, Australasia, and the southern portion of Africa. Eastasia, smaller than the others and with a less definite western frontier, comprises China and the countries to the south of it, the Japanese islands and a large but fluctuating portion of Manchuria, Mongolia, and Tibet.

In one combination or another, these three super-states are permanently at war, and have been so for the past twenty-five years. War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference. This is not to say that either the conduct of war, or the prevailing attitude towards it, has become less bloodthirsty or more chivalrous. On the contrary, war hysteria is continuous and universal in all countries, and such acts as raping, looting, the slaughter of children, the reduction of whole populations to slavery, and reprisals against prisoners which extend even to boiling and burying alive, are looked upon as normal, and, when they are committed by one's own side and not by the enemy, meritorious. But in a physical sense war involves very small numbers of people, mostly highly-trained specialists, and causes comparatively few casualties. The fighting, when there is any, takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at, or round the Floating Fortresses which guard strategic spots on the sea lanes. In the centres of civilization war means no more than a continuous shortage of consumption goods, and the occasional crash of a rocket bomb which may cause a few scores of deaths. War has in fact changed its character. More exactly, the reasons for which war is waged have changed in their order of importance. Motives which were already present to some small extent in the great wars of the early twentieth century have now become dominant and are consciously recognized and acted upon.

To understand the nature of the present war -- for in spite of the regrouping which occurs every few years, it is always the same war -- one must realize in the first place that it is impossible for it to be decisive. None of the three super-states could be definitively conquered even by the other two in combination. They are too evenly matched, and their natural defences are too formidable. Eurasia is protected by its vast land spaces. Oceania by the width of the Atlantic and the Pacific, Eastasia by the fecundity and industriousness of its inhabitants. Secondly, there is no longer, in a material sense, anything to fight about. With the establishment of self-contained economies, in which production and consumption are geared to one another, the scramble for markets which was a main cause of previous wars has come to an end, while the competition for raw materials is no longer a matter of life and death. In any case each of the three super-states is so vast that it can obtain almost all the materials that it needs within its own boundaries. In so far as the war has a direct economic purpose, it is a war for labour power. Between the frontiers of the super-states, and not permanently in the possession of any of them, there lies a rough quadrilateral with its corners at Tangier, Brazzaville, Darwin, and Hong Kong, containing within it about a fifth of the population of the earth. It is for the possession of these thickly-populated regions, and of the northern ice-cap, that the three powers are constantly struggling. In practice no one power ever controls the whole of the disputed area. Portions of it are constantly changing hands, and it is the chance of seizing this or that fragment by a sudden stroke of treachery that dictates the endless changes of alignment.

All of the disputed territories contain valuable minerals, and some of them yield important vegetable products such as rubber which in colder climates it is necessary to synthesize by comparatively expensive methods. But above all they contain a bottomless reserve of cheap labour. Whichever power controls equatorial Africa, or the countries of the Middle East, or Southern India, or the Indonesian Archipelago, disposes also of the bodies of scores or hundreds of millions of ill-paid and hard-working coolies. The inhabitants of these areas, reduced more or less openly to the status of slaves, pass continually from conqueror to conqueror, and are expended like so much coal or oil in the race to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, to control more labour power, to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, and so on indefinitely. It should be noted that the fighting never really moves beyond the edges of the disputed areas. The frontiers of Eurasia flow back and forth between the basin of the Congo and the northern shore of the Mediterranean; the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are constantly being captured and recaptured by Oceania or by Eastasia; in Mongolia the dividing line between Eurasia and Eastasia is never stable; round the Pole all three powers lay claim to enormous territories which in fact are largely unihabited and unexplored: but the balance of power always remains roughly even, and the territory which forms the heartland of each super-state always remains inviolate. Moreover, the labour of the exploited peoples round the Equator is not really necessary to the world's economy. They add nothing to the wealth of the world, since whatever they produce is used for purposes of war, and the object of waging a war is always to be in a better position in which to wage another war. By their labour the slave populations allow the tempo of continuous warfare to be speeded up. But if they did not exist, the structure of world society, and the process by which it maintains itself, would not be essentially different.

The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. "

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It Hurts (More Than It Should?)

It's sad to hear that actor Heath Ledger has died, 3 years younger than me and apparently dead of his doing.

Something hurts especially strong within me when someone who is young and attractive and famous dies.

Our culture sets its young & famous upon pedestals like Greek heroes. If they die too soon, it feels like their deaths are almost the death of youth itself.

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

To An Athlete Dying Young, A. E. Housman

Saturday, January 19, 2008

If we're like Sweden....

Yesterday folks at Wonkette posted this great map in which the name of each state has been replaced with the name of the country that has a similar GDP to that state.

California comes out looking like France, which is sort of fitting.
North Carolina comes out like Sweden.


As a resident of North Carolina, a state in which I routinely see people with rickets and missing teeth, I have to ask, Where is all that money going?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Google: Because We Can, Primaries Edition

At risk of feeding Andy's addiction, I just discovered that Google Maps and Google Earth now do election results.

New Hampshire: Map, Dems in Earth, GOP in Earth

Iowa and Wyoming seem to have predated this particular hack.

Of course, I'm sure that the map's default of showing Democratic results will feed the conspiracy theories that the liberal technology sector is working against the right.

Update (1/10/2008): I stand corrected — they do have, at least, Iowa results in Maps. And I'm a bit behind the curve; at least the Earth version was introduced for the 2006 midterm elections. They don't appear to have a central clearinghouse for each of these links, unfortunately.

An Election Year: Months & Months of Reduced Productivity

The New Hampshire primary results are dribbling in and I'm reloading news webpages like B. F . Skinner was standing outside my cage wearing a lab coat.

Oh Spaghetti Monster, please grant me the strength to turn off the internet on my computer this year. I've got stuff that I have to get done.

The Best Invertebrate Biology Project Ever.

I study sea urchins. This is not the most exciting model system, I admit. But every once in a while someone working with urchins really does something to push back the frontiers of science. I present to you, dear readers, the best of urchin biology.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two Laptops, No Children

Just a few months after One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)'s triumphant launch, the effort has been dealt a major blow: Intel has withdrawn its support for the program. This is the latest in a series of difficulties the program has faced — it had already doubled its price-point goal of $100 and drastically lowered sales expectations due to unexpected competition.

Technologically and financially, Intel's support is not critical to the success of OLPC; it runs on an AMD chip, and the company had only made good on a third of its promised $18 million donation. No, the real problem is that the dispute arose over Intel's Classmate PC. The Classmate is, arguably, a well-designed classroom computer that governments appear to prefer to the OLPC. Depending on which account you read, the arrangement fell through either because OLPC wanted Intel to abandon the Classmate or because Intel's sales organization was intentionally undermining the OLPC.

If you care about OLPC's mission, which is more accurate doesn't really matter. The real problem is that while most accounts have suggested that the Classmate and the OLPC are head-to-head products (along with the Asus Eee PC), that isn't the case. The OLPC is a fundamentally new product, whereas the Classmate and the Eee PC are not. While the latter two are, at best, very well built laptops that are affordable for developing countries, the OLPC is a very well built educational tool that is designed to serve developing countries.


  • The OLPC was designed to be run where electricity is a scarce and unreliable commodity: running for 5 hours — potentially twice that in ebook mode — on a full battery (the Classmate runs a typical 2-4 hours) and rechargeable by hand.
  • The OLPC automatically creates a mesh network in the presence of other OLPCs and can detect WiFi signals up to 2 kilometers away (compared to standard WiFi on the Classmate).
  • A core capability of the OLPC is eToys, a game-like, graphical, educational programming environment (on the other hand, the Classmate can run Office!).
Having experienced the local school board's decision to switch from Mac to Windows when I was in high school, based on the well-intentioned but utterly false supposition that learning on Windows better prepares one for a Windows-based workplace, I am not surprised that governments are choosing the Classmate. Who wouldn't choose the machine backed by a multibillion dollar company, running the software that every other country runs?

But if you're a kid in Iraq, where the electricity is on 8-12 hours a day, or Afghanistan, where "normal" Internet access is only available via satellite, which laptop would you want?

Unexpected Consequences of the Drought

For those of you lucky enough not to be living in the Southlands, you may be aware that we are experiencing something of a drought down here.

For those of you living in the South East, the dead lawns, endless water policy debates and the empty lakes probably speak for themselves.

I came back from an extended holiday yesterday to discover that my house is sinking. And apparently more on the right side than the left. Apparently this is happening all over the Triangle.

That last one is the door that no longer closes.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Russians Get Fyodor Dostoevsky, We Get Pat Robertson

Historians have long suspected that Fyodor Dostoevsky, a Russian novelist of immense talent, had temporal lobe epilepsy. This condition – which also appears to have afflicted Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allan Poe, Gustave Flaubert, Philip K. Dick, & Sylvia Plath – can cause the individual to feel a euphoric connection with the divine, to experience an ecstatic array of visual images, and it may be implicated by some people who report UFO or other paranormal experiences.

I wonder if Pat Robertson has something like temporal lobe epilepsy.

You see, Pat's a wonder to me. I'm astonished that there is an individual who can time and again intrude upon our national consciousness, say something crazy, and then retreat back to his relative obscurity only to emerge later in the year. Here's like a hibernating bear of nuttiness. For a chronicle of Pat's previous predictions, threats, and promises, click here.

Of late, God's been talking to Pat. What's He/She/It been saying, you ask? Well, a couple things.

First, God told him the outcome of the upcoming U.S. Presidential election. Sadly, Pat's not going to tell us who the victor shall be, but if he is at all like Biff in Back to the Future Part II, we'd expect Pat to increase his already massive wealth by betting on the election.

Second, God has informed Robertson that China is going to by-and-large convert to Christianity. Since God didn't provide a timeline to Robertson, we'll just have to wonder when the miraculous mass conversion of China will occur. Tomorrow? How about 2010? Tell us, Pat. Please.

God told me you should tell us.