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Month: February 2007

GMU Goes Dhimmi: John Lewis Talk Cancelled

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

George Mason University has abandoned its commitment to freedom of expression on campus. At the last minute, GMU has caved-in to pressure from Muslim groups and has canceled Dr. Lewis’s talk, “‘No Substitute for Victory’: The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism”, which was scheduled for tomorrow night, Wed, Feb 28, 2007.
Please spread the word.

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Environmentalists embracing pro-industry 'heresies'?

by David Veksler David Veksler 1 Comment

The New York Times writes about an early environmentalist who realized he might be wrong about a few things and changed his perspective.

One of the arguments used by those who believe that religion is a bigger threat to civilization than the anti-industrial revolution is that environmental claims ultimately concern reality, and can (eventually) be proven false, whereas supernatural claims cannot. Could this be evidence of an emerging trend?

Professor Ehrlich’s theories of the coming “age of scarcity” were subsequently challenged by the economist Julian Sinon, who bet Mr. Ehrlich that the prices of natural resources would fall during the 1980’s despite the growth in population. The prices fell, just as predicted by Professor Simon’s cornucopian theories.

Professor Ehrlich dismissed Professor Simon’s victory as a fluke, but Mr. Brand saw something his mentor didn’t. He considered the bet a useful lesson about the adaptability of humans — and the dangers of apocalyptic thinking.

“It is one of the great revelatory bets,” he now says. “Any time that people are forced to acknowledge publicly that they’re wrong, it’s really good for the commonweal. I love to be busted for apocalyptic proclamations that turned out to be 180 degrees wrong. In 1973 I thought the energy crisis was so intolerable that we’d have police on the streets by Christmas. The times I’ve been wrong is when I assume there’s a brittleness in a complex system that turns out to be way more resilient than I thought.

He now looks at the rapidly growing megacities of the third world not as a crisis but as good news: as villagers move to town, they find new opportunities and leave behind farms that can revert to forests and nature preserves. Instead of worrying about population growth, he’s afraid birth rates are declining too quickly, leaving future societies with a shortage of young people.

Old-fashioned rural simplicity still has great appeal for romantic environmentalists. But when the romantics who disdain frankenfoods choose locally grown heirloom plants and livestock, they’re benefiting from technological advances made by past plant and animal breeders. Are the risks of genetically engineered breeds of wheat or cloned animals so great, or do they just ruin the romance? (Emp. mine)

Mr. Brand classifies environmentalists into “romantics” and “scientists” — a distinction between those who treat it as a religion, and those who are sucked in by environmental claims, but still open to reason.

Can we really expect any significant faction of the environmentalist movement to see reason? The article lists only a few of the predictions environmentalists and their precursors have been preaching since 1798, with no sign that they will see the light. The persistent Malthusian prediction of imminent global starvation for over 200 years makes sense only when compared with Christian expectations of imminent rapture for 2000 years.

I experienced both kinds of “romantics” in college. One of my college roommates was convinced that the Second Coming would come “any day now,” while members of the secular student group assured me that we were in the midst of a global eco-apocalypse, and that we were rapidly turning turning earth into a desert. What basis do we have for assuming that one group is any more rational than the other?

The Cover-Your-Ass approach to Terrorism

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

Wired: “Much of our country’s counterterrorism security spending is not designed to protect us from the terrorists, but instead to protect our public officials from criticism when another attack occurs.”

The idea that the political approach to disasters is to create excuses for the inevitable failure rather than the more costly effort of avoiding the next one is hardly new. What else can we apply this analysis to?

  • FEMA: Let’s spend billions on the last disaster, since we can’t predict what next one might be.
  • The War in Iraq: We don’t have a strategy for success, so lets advocate politically unfeasible measures so we can blame the other party for blocking our “solution.”
  • Iran/North Korea: We tried to stop them with sanctions. It’s not our fault that the world wouldn’t cooperate and an American city is a ruin.

Contrast the political process to the market: an insurance or security company is held accountable for results, not appearances and excuses.

A digital record of your life

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

Last month, I wrote:

A number of researchers are working on video cameras integrated into clothing or eye-ware that can record a 24/7 video stream from the wearer’s perspective. They predict that an entire lifetime of such recordings will be able to fit into a small device within 10 years. When this technology is merged with GPS and computer vision software and cross-referenced with our contact lists and email, a complete digital record of our life will exist to supplement our memories. Imagine being able to search for and review anything experienced during your digitally-enhanced life.

Today I came across a SciAm article about the technology that will make it possible:

New systems may allow people to record everything they see and hear–and even things they cannot sense–and to store all these data in a personal digital archive
Microsoft Research’s Gordon Bell has launched a research project, called MyLifeBits, aimed at creating a digital archive of all his interactions with the world. Bell’s digital memories include documents from his long career in the computer industry, all the photographs he takes and conversations he records, every Web site he visits, and every e-mail he sends and receives.
Storage requirements are estimated at 18 GB a year, 1.1 TB over a 60-year span.

Things to do with Flash memory

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

 5GB of Windows Vista memory for $40: I have 3GB of DDR2 memory, which is sometimes not enough for Windows Vista when I run graphics intensive applications or switch between users who have many applications open. I recently heard about Windows Vista ReadyBoost, which uses flash memory to speed up virtual memory, so I got a high-speed 2GB SD card for $40, stuck it in my printer and enabled ReadyBoost. Vista now appears to be more responsive even when I’m only using a fraction of system memory. 5GB of memory in 2007 – wow.

Instant TV upgrade: Wondering what else I could tune up, I Googled the support site for my Magnavox HDTV – and found a flash upgrade for my TV. Remember the days when you were stuck with the functionality you purchased in the store?

University of Texas Admission Essays

by David Veksler David Veksler 1 Comment

My girlfriend is applying to transfer to the University of Texas. She asked for help with the following essay questions on the admissions application:

1. The statement of purpose will provide an opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances that you feel could add value to your application. You may also want to explain unique aspects of your academic background or valued experiences you may have had that relate to your academic discipline. The statement of purpose is not meant to be a listing of accomplishments in high school or a record of your participation in school-related activities. Rather, this is your opportunity to address the admissions committee directly and to let us know more about you as an individual, in a manner that your transcripts and other application information cannot convey.

2. Many students expand their view of the world during their time in college. Such growth often results from encounters between students who have lived different cultural, economic, or academic experiences. With your future growth in mind, describe a potential classmate that you believe you could learn from either within or outside a formal classroom environment and upload it to your free online student portfolio do share with the class.

The not-so-subtle purpose of these questions should be obvious given the Hopwood v. State of Texas ruling which struck down affirmative action in Texas.

I suggested that she write about her life as an African American Muslim Immigrant Woman who escaped crushing poverty and abusive relationships to embrace lesbianism and campaign for Social Justice, but for some reason she got upset at that and I ended up having to buy her chocolates.

First Commercial Quantum Computer

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

D-Wave just demonstrated the first commercial quantum computer. I think it’s too early to say whether the current quantum computing technology is practical, but a promising commercial effort is a good sign.

Quantum computers could represent the sixth generation (electromechanical, relay, vacuum tube, transistor, integrated circuit) of digital computing. They are unlikely to ever replace integrated circuits, but will function as specialized processors for certain (NP-complete) types of problems common in simulating real life and encryption. (Incidentally, quantum computing may one day break all current methods of encryption, but also to introduce theoretically-unbreakable encryption – which has the Feds sniffing.)

Quantum Computer Photo

Originally uploaded by jurvetson.

New article on Environmentalism on the Objectivism Wiki

by David Veksler David Veksler No Comments

I’ve started a wiki article on the Objectivism Wiki to serve as a resource on environmentalism. Here is the introduction:

Philosophically, the essential principle of the ideology of environmentalism is the belief that “nature” has inherent moral value, and therefore the influence of man, and especially that of industrial civilization, is evil. Politically, this means the advocacy of various limits on industrial civilization, since all productive human activity has some kind of byproduct. While few (but alarmingly many) advocates of environmentalism recognize it as such, the ultimate goal of the environmentalist movement is the total destruction of industrial civilization, and the vast majority of the human race whose existence is made possible by it.

Please contribute!