2009-11-29

Checking NVRAM...


My laptop failed to boot, saying Checking NVRAM... I took the back off the laptop and removed the battery that maintains the settings when the computer is switched of. After a few seconds I replaced the battery. That reset things to the factory default and the laptop now boots!

Overdose

Yesterday I was walking back from the train station to my house, it was raining and gloomy. I noticed a man sitting at the bottom of the steps leading from the front of a house to the pavement. At first I assumed he'd just a had a bit too much to drink. About two steps past him I realized something was wrong.

I went back, bent down and asked if he was okay. As if in response he keeled over to his left. His shoulder hit the pavement, followed by a muffled thud as his head struck the pavement too. I got my phone out to call an ambulance.

I tried talking to him, and he responded by swearing at me in a slow, slurred voice. When the ambulance arrived I told the medic what I knew, and left.

I was in shock for the rest of the day, still am a bit.

A chapter of Dostoevsky's Demons ends with the words, 'I'll never forget the sound her head made as it struck the carpet'.

2009-11-11

Spooks and Energy



I've just watched Spooks.

First my standard plea that the BBC should make all of its shows OpenSource. The license payer has paid for them, so they should be available to view, download, copy, show publicly, adapt, whatever. Also, they should be published using an open format such as Theora or Dirac.

This episode had me tutting and snorting at the TV. The idea was that a gas processing plant had blown up and the nation had a week before the lights went out. The only way to save us was to do a deal with an unpleasant regime and turn a blind eye to them murdering a UK citizen.

If something like that happened, the government shouldn't get involved. Gas prices would rise, which would mean electricity prices would rise. People would use less gas and electricity as a result and a new equilibrium would be found. Other sources of energy would make a healthy profit, directing future investment towards them.

As a bonus nobody gets murdered.

2009-11-08

Raise The Roof


I've been asked to sign the Raise The Roof petition to raise the tax free allowance under the Rent A Room Scheme. I won't be signing it because I think that the Rent A Room scheme should be abolished. All income should be taxed at the same rate, otherwise government is effectively subsidizing some activities at the expense of others, picking winners and distorting the market, impeding the creation of wealth.

Atlas Shrugged


The first thing you need to know is that the 'Ayn' in Ayn Rand is pronounced to rhyme with 'fine'. Atlas is noteworthy as one of the few books where the heroes have Asperger's. I say hero rather than protagonist because the characters are heroic. Rand believes that humans can be heroic. Her morality casts a person as a trader. One should always act in one's own self-interest. A trade should not take place unless both sides gain. Charity and selflessness are dirty words to Rand. The Marxist slogan, 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their need', is anathema to Rand. She appeals to the evolutionary vigilance against freeloaders.

Dawkins' Law of Adversarial Debate says that when two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

So, in disagreement with Dawkins, Marx and Rand, I think people that create wealth should be allowed to keep most of it, but some should be taken from them to give minimal support to the whole population. A good start would be to stop taxing the poor.



Patents

On patents she has the baddies say that they want to end the monopoly that Reardon had on Reardon Metal. I agreed with the baddies on this!

But later on in Galt's prolix radio address he says, 'it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one's sacrifice or loss'. Hear, hear!

So Rand seems to be ambivalent on patents.

In that same address, Galt says that you can't be responsible for something you have no control over, and in this way convincingly demolishes the idea of original sin.

At times I found Rand's arguments embarrassingly one-dimensional, a real sixth form-ish style of argument, often falling into the straw man fallacy. However, Atlas is a polemic and so I forgive it for overstating its case.

Another beef I have with Rand is that she mainly avoids democracy. When she doesn't avoid it she's denigrating it. Come on Rand, democracy is a good thing, there's no getting away from it. Plato's philosopher kings? Gimme a break.

By instinct I'm a right wing libertarian, and so I have an innate sympathy for Rand's ideas. This book was really on my wavelength, we think alike. I 'got' what she was trying to say. On the other hand, this view has shortcomings which I can't and won't overlook.

Btw, all the characters smoke, which is always a breath of fresh air.

2009-11-01

Revelation Space

After reading The Prefect, I was looking forward to Revelation Space. I finished it in France, but have only just got round to writing about it.

The first thing that comes to mind is that Reynolds uses the word 'caul' too much.
Revelation Space is a space opera of vast scope, Prefect is more character driven. I prefer Prefect. I think I can detect Iain M. Banks' influence on a lot of sci-fi. Did he set up the Jeeves and Wooster relationship between AIs and humans? Also the ironic naming of ships.

Reynolds is to be applauded for giving some of his human characters technological modifications. We haven't gone far enough though. It's not going to be too much longer before humans will have changed beyond recognition. How this issue pans out in the future depends on the nature of consciousness. Perhaps consciousness can merge and separate? Perhaps it can't. Maybe there's a limit to the size of a conscious entity, maybe not. I think someone needs to make some guesses here and then see how it plays out in a story. I'd love to write a sci-fi story. The problem is that it would never be as good as Reynolds...

Free The Postcode


Here in the UK the postcode data set (the mapping between postcode and physical location) isn't freely available. Thankfully the Free The Postcode project are creating a free postcode database. It's easy to help, you just tell them a postcode and its GPS coordinates via the web form.

You can also submit postcodes using the nifty freethepostcode Android app, available from the marketplace. That's what I did last night while I was at a friend's house for Halloween, and from my dad's house today.