I’m trying to find the right medium to write on. First I started a blog that I thought was anonymous but it followed me around the web based on my email address.

Then I tried to write a career-related post on LinkedIn but it limited me to 700 characters. Screw that.

A recent interview of Matt Mullenweg (sp?) inspired me to write on this blog some more. I’ve had this blog for over ten years I believe. The nice thing about an anonymous blog is that I could write what’s on my mind without fearing hurting anyone’s feelings.

I think with this blog I’ll take a middle ground. First of all I’ll write less about personal things, but secondly I’ll allow myself to be a little more open about my personal things when I do write about them.

OK, now that that’s out of the way! What I really want to write about is my technology learning experience. I left the farm a month and a half ago. (Has it really been that long? Wow!) Since then I have been spending my days learning. Surprisingly, I think I might have already found a job through an old college friend, but that hasn’t officially started yet. Until it does start, I am treating learning technology as my job. I’ve enjoyed learning python, R, machine learning, and now ASP.NET. When I do start my job, I will need to make sure I set aside dedicated time just for learning.

I want to have a full tool belt at my disposal. I want to be “beginner OReilly book” capable at dozens of technologies, and I want to be expert level at a few. I also want to get on the ground floor of a new technology. Something like Rust would be interesting to learn in this regard. And lastly, I want to contribute seriously to an open source project.

I am legitimately excited to be learning and using technology every day again!

It is time to start writing on this blog again. All of my blogging energy has gone into stuandmags.net, and now that Mags and I have decided to settle down in Nevada City, California, it is time to do more writing, which is more what this blog is about.

Lately, I have been thinking more and more about the coming advances in robot and artificial intelligence technologies, and how much change these advances will bring about in our economy, transportation systems, and personal lives. My thinking has been stimulated and prompted by a piece by 60 Minutes on robots in the workplace, and a series of articles in Forbes about the Google Driverless Cars.

I think it is most clear what the impacts of the Google Driverless Cars will be, and that is the subject of this first post. Very quickly, this new technology will turn every part of our transportation system on its head.

First and foremost, in most respects driverless cars will be a huge boon to street safety for all users. Collisions between two driverless cars will be virtually non-existent, as the cars will be in constant communication with each other. The algorithms and sensors controlling the cars will have much quicker reaction times and much lower error rate than any human driver.

These algorithms will be required to follow all traffic laws. This will be a huge plus for all sorts of streets, but especially in cities. As a cyclist, I look forward to the days when cars will properly yield and merge, and not double park.

Even for the clueless, iPhone-wielding pedestrian will driverless cars be a great advance in safety. Even the best algorithms and sensors can’t bring a car to a dead stop in no time, but a driverless car could begin perfect evasive and slowing maneuvers the second a pedestrian steps into the road. This extra half second and use of perfect technique will avoid many collisions with all road users, no matter who is at fault, and when collisions do occur they will be much less likely to be fatal.

Perhaps the greatest advance in street safety will be the elimination of drunk driving. There will still be plenty of dolts who decide to drive themselves home when they have a driverless car option, but most drunks will opt to let the car drive them home. Drunk driving is a huge problem, as we all know, and I think it is a problem that will eventually be close to eliminated.

The entire car ownership model will be turned on its head. Many people will choose out of habit or pride to still own their own car, driverless or not, but more and more people will realize the great economic benefit of simply renting a driverless car on demand, paid hourly and/or by the mile. If you live in a city or suburb, you will be able to request a car to pick you up, and a car without anyone in it will drive itself to your front door within minutes. Most people will opt for this option over owning their own car, especially young people and city dwellers.

With near perfect utilization of a fleet of driverless cars, many fewer cars will need to be produced. This will be a giant shock wave to the auto industry. The vehicle fleet will eventually fall to 10% of what it is today, since cars will rarely be vacant, save for the times like 3am when most people don’t want to go anywhere anyway. This change alone will be disruptive to many economies, especially the United States, Japan, and Germany. A smart auto maker will realize this change is inevitable and get out ahead of the change. Half or more of current auto makers will fold within the next few decades as demand vanishes.

With far fewer cars sitting idle, giant parking lots will become a thing of the past, as will many areas of street parking. This will be a great thing for bicycle infrastructure, sidewalk widening, and using old parking lots for things like parks and public gardens. This will also cause business real estate prices to drop, as many huge parking lots will now be open to development for business use. Indeed, even streets themselves will be able to be significantly narrowed as driverless cars will be able to follow each other with just inches to spare. This narrowing and removal of car travel lanes will present even more opportunities for more sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure.

Again, driving will be much more efficient, and I mean an improvement by leaps and bounds. Gone will be the days of constant traffic jams due to irrational driving behavior, collisions, and inefficient use of road surfaces. Because driverless cars will be in constant communication with each other, they can follow each other within inches, braking instantly as needed, and gaining a huge boost in wind drag efficiency due to drafting. This huge increase in efficiency will make our current freeways look downright silly as most of the road surface will be completely empty while other parts will be crammed with cars safely going 100 miles per hour. Rather than our current ridiculous trend of widening freeways, we’ll actually contract them and save bundles on maintenance costs.

As you will be able to instantly get a personal vehicle sent to your location at any time, equipped with a computerized chauffeur, public transit will go through a huge change. Many public bus lines will be eliminated, and where they are kept the drivers will be replaced by computers and sensors. Some people will have their driverless car memberships subsidized by local government so the costs to them will be comparable to their current subsidized transit passes.

Other types of transit will show resiliency as they offer speed advantages over cars with rubber tires on asphalt and cement. Airplanes and eventually high-speed rail will be used when you need to get somewhere more quickly or more comfortably than a driverless car can get you there. However, routes like San Francisco to Los Angeles will greatly shrink as people can do the route in 3.5 hours using a driverless car at 100 miles per hour, without having to deal with the indignities and delays of airports. Air travel and high-speed rail will mostly be used for trips of 500 miles and more, and of course trips across the oceans. I don’t see good local trains and subways going away any time soon, as in many cases they are already such a fast and efficient way to travel.

Even many of our errands will be turned on their heads. You’ll be able to place an order on the web to the grocery store, and a car with no one in it will arrive at your house at the appointed time with your order. Your package deliveries will also arrive in a driverless vehicle at appointed times. A driverless car will arrive to take kids to school.

Taxi drivers will of course resist this entire endeavor, and of course I feel for them. But, honestly, resistance is futile. It is not a matter of if the taxi driver profession will be almost entirely wiped out, but simply a question of when.

Unfortunately, with the increases in efficiency, cost, speed, and convenience, many people will actually increase the amount of time they spend in cars. People won’t mind living two hours away from their job as much when they can work, read, eat, and drink from their moving car. Unfortunately this all equates to more time people will spend sitting on their asses, increasing incidences of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Driverless cars will be the push that electric cars needed. When it is a computer rather than a human worrying about how, when, and where to charge, many companies will make the switch. Gasoline combustion engines will still have a significant role for longer trips, but for shorter trips electric cars will rule the day. This will be a significant advance in air quality and engine noise.

However, another form of noise will surely increase: that of cars moving at 100 miles per hour regardless of any engine noise. This background “wooshing” noise can travel for many miles, and I think it will increase as there are more cars moving at a faster speed at any given time.

Google already has working prototypes of the driverless car, and I think within three to five years we will start seeing them on the roads. In that time frame they may still be out of reach for most private owners, but they will start to be used for car sharing, where people can share the costs of these expensive cars, currently estimated to cost $300,000. The car sharing model will be the one that eventually comes to dominate, anyway. Costs for these cars will rapidly fall until they start to approach the price of current human-operated cars, and as the prices fall these things will really start to take off. I feel that most people have no idea what huge changes in transportation are on the horizon but soon enough everyone will know about it.

Despite this lengthy blog post detailing the many changes I expect to see, I am not necessarily a full advocate of driverless cars; I just think that these changes are inevitable. Overall, I think the changes will be a net positive over our current transportation system, mostly due to the huge advances in street safety for all users. However, we need to be aware of the significant drawbacks, some of which I have addressed above.

The biggest downside I see to driverless cars is that it will make it much more tempting to not engage in active transportation. Cycling, walking, and combining these modes with public transportation are currently attractive to many people because of the cost and convenience compared to private automobile ownership, especially in cities. As using driverless cars becomes inexpensive enough, many people will start to use the service and miss out on the significant health benefits that active transportation provides. In fact, I think cyclists and walkers will increasingly be seen as quaint and behind the times. The social and economic pressures to travel by driverless car will be great.

People who choose to not own a cell phone will probably be left in the dust, as they will be needed to get picked up anywhere you don’t have access to a computer.

As people are no longer in control of their own motion, they will lose touch with their sense of direction, even more than they already have with smart phones and GPS. People will lose the sense of connectedness of places as they will pay less attention to the geography between points A and B.

As active transportation decreases and public transportation shrinks, we will become more atomized as individuals than we already are. When you get picked up and dropped off door-to-door in an encapsulated vehicle, you interact less with people. The driverless deliveries will have the same effect as you no longer interact with people at the grocery store. However, you may be able to easily choose to carpool in a driverless car which would increase your interaction with people.

As it stands now, the easiest way to limit the adverse effects of car culture for yourself is to simply not own a car. It is a big, expensive decision to own a car and therefore you can easily stick with your original decision to not do so. However, when a car lifestyle is a simple web form and $50 membership fee away, it will be much more difficult to remain true to your decision to not own a car.

There will be impediments to the widespread adoption of the driverless car. These impediments will come in the form of cultural resistance, mostly from conservatives, resistance from the auto industry, and from lawmakers scared of change. These impediments are real, but at most they will slow but not stop the driverless car. Resistance is futile, for better or for worse.

I just listened to a This American Life episode about the working conditions in which all of our electronic crap is made in China. It is really quite eye-opening, and it is amazing yet totally predictable that pieces like this are not more common.

Our economic model (capitalism) guarantees that these atrocious working conditions will exist. Capitalism turns everything, including people, into mere objects. When you have an iPhone, it is just an iPhone. It is not this particular unique piece that contains aluminum from a particular mine and made by a particular person with their own unique feelings, wants, needs, fears, and passions.

The person that made your iPhone in fact does not have time or space to express themselves as a unique human. During their 12 to 16-hour working day, they aren’t even allowed to talk to their coworkers while on the assembly line. They then go “home” to a 12′ x 12′ dormitory containing 15 beds. There are even cameras in their dormitories.

One Foxconn (the actual manufacturer of Apple crap) worker died after working for 34 hours straight. Other workers are poisoned from hexane, losing use of their hands in their 20s, or even dying from it. If they complain to the official government agency about working conditions, they get put on an official government blacklist. With nowhere to turn, many workers choose to end their life.

And of course Apple and Foxconn did not want to talk to Ira Glass. They, like all of us, see what they want to see. Apple complains a certain amount about the working conditions, but clearly not enough to prevent all of the above from happening consistently year after year.

The New York Times “liberal” Paul Krugman and “conservative” Nicholas Kristof actually speak highly of the current economic phase that China is in. Kristof actually has an article titled Two Cheers for Sweatshops. Sure, there may be problems with sweatshops, they say, but the lives of the workers are better than they were when living in their hovels. At least Kristof is honest enough to call them sweatshops. Steve Jobs wouldn’t even admit that Foxconn was a sweatshop.

You’re officially allowed to stop celebrating the life of Steve Jobs. Certainly, we’re all guilty in this globalized system. It’s complex. But the level of guilt is on a continuum from “just trying to get by” to “massively profiting from the misery of others and the destruction of our planet.” Steve Jobs was on the latter end of this spectrum.

It always amazes me that these people, people like Jobs, Kristof, Krugman, and almost any economist, are actually taken seriously. How poor are our critical thinking skills that we accept their dichotomy of abject poverty on the one hand and sweatshops on the other? Why should the lives of people in third world countries be reduced to these two choices? And how little respect we must have for these people to never realize that it is not up to us to decide what is best for them? It is our responsibility, in fact, to instead model our world around giving people their due human rights and then letting them decide what is best for themselves.

Props to my friend Greg for linking to the This American Life episode that inspired this post. This post was tapped out on an Apple Macbook Pro 15″.

Computer games used to be just a waste of time for me. Sure, they were fun, but they did me more harm than good.

When I heard that Civilization V was coming out in September 2010, I knew I had to play it. But these days, the only computers I have are a Macbook and an Eee PC. Both of these computers are woefully underpowered for the task. Something surely had to be done…

I have loved the entire Civilization series. It is truly engrossing and it is really fun to build an empire from the ground up. Besides that, I feel like I am missing out on experiencing the art form of our times: video games.

So, I set out to get a gaming computer. For a while I thought I would get a gaming laptop. But, with my budget being limited (about $600), I knew that I could get so much more in a desktop. I had a few requirements: lots of RAM, small physical size, Windows 7 (I didn’t want to use a nine-year-old OS, and I wanted Direct X 10), decent video card, low power usage, and quiet.

Here’s what I ended up with:

  • Shuttle barebones: case, motherboard, 250W PSU
  • AMD Athlon 2 64-bit 2.9Ghz dual-core processor
  • 4GB PC8000 RAM
  • Radeon 5700 1GB video card
  • Wireless NIC
  • Windows 7 Home Premium

For my hard drive I used an old 120GB IDE drive that I had sitting around. I also used an old DVD-ROM that I had sitting around.

If I had another $250 to spend on it, I’d get an SSD as my hard drive and up the RAM to 8GB.

Since Civilization V won’t be out for another couple of months, and because it won’t be the only game I’ll ever want to play, I went onto the Interwebs to see what else I should get. I perused the past few years of top games on ign.com and decided to get Company of Heroes (an RTS from 2006), The Witcher (an RPG), and Empire: Total War (an RTS/TBS hybrid).

So far, Company of Heroes has arrived. I played it for about an hour or less last night. It seems like a pretty solid game. I like how the soldiers take cover.

I realized this morning that I actually really like the fact that it is a desktop computer and not a laptop. We don’t have a desk at home. Well, rather, we are using my desk as our dining table. My big 24″ monitor lives, covered, on a side table in the living room. We uncover it when we want to hook it up to a laptop for a movie or some such. Because we don’t have a desk, I need to borrow the dining table when I want to game. This means moving everything over there and plugging it all in, and unplugging it and putting it away when I am done. This will result in more “intentional” gaming sessions and less gaming because it is just so easy to start. This means less time wasting and procrastinating through gaming, which is a good thing!

Although, when Civilization V comes out, I am pretty sure I am going to have to set aside a weekend to play the hell out of it. Also, I think I should try to organize a small LAN party. I can throw an Ethernet cord down to the garage. With folding tables, I think I can get maybe an eight-person LAN party going. Ah, just like old times…

Because it took me 15 minutes to figure it out, and because Google was no help… to get the mysqldumpslow command installed on FreeBSD, use the databases/mysql51-scripts port.

I just finished reading Call of the Wild by Jack London. I had been wanting to read something by Jack London for a while because, of course, he is regarded as a great writer, but also because he was a radical leftist.

Call of the Wild was a somewhat enjoyable read. I’ve definitely read better, though. The story seems a bit out there.

I read Call of the Wild on my iPhone using the Stanza app. I got the book for free from Project Gutenberg because this book is in the public domain, along with a great deal of other books. The app was a breeze to use: just tap left or right to flip pages. And when you start up the app it remembers which book you were on and which page on that book.

I am going to at least start reading American Power and the New Mandarins by Noam Chomsky next. It was his first political book.

I realized some time ago that there are a lot of things that I needed to write down, and that I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t doing it mostly because they were things that I didn’t necessarily want my whole Twitter feed reading.

So, I started a new blog and Twitter feed that will probably get a lot more posts than this one. But, of course, I’m not telling y’all what they are, because that would defeat the whole purpose.

And, seeing as how I am a geek, I wanted to provide anonymity for myself on a technical level as well. To this end, I am using the Tor Project to anonymize my IP address. I am using a completely different browser just for using Tor. I didn’t want to share my regular browser (Firefox at the time, Chrome now) for my regular browsing and my anonymous browsing because there was the risk of not using Tor when I meant to, the risk of my anonymous browser visits getting logged in my browser history unintentionally, the annoyance of possibly having cookies get mixed up, and also the annoyance of having Tor possibly slowing down things that I didn’t need or want to use Tor for. It was much easier to just relegate Tor to its own browser.

Unfortunately, a couple of browsers on OS X use system-wide proxy settings. I didn’t want to use Tor for my whole system, just one browser! I settled on Opera as my Tor browser because it allows you to set the proxy settings that only affect it and not the whole OS. Also, Opera for OS X is a pretty nice browser, even if Opera Mini for the iPhone has awful privacy implications (please, please don’t use Opera Mini).

Anyway, I don’t know if my new blog means that I’ll be blogging here less. Probably not, seeing as how I only post on here about once every month or so. But the ten or so posts that I have made on the new blog have been really helpful for me so far. It is really good to get thoughts and feelings down in writing sometimes to help myself really understand them.

I did tell one lucky person about the blog – Mags. I wanted to make sure there was nothing hidden, and be completely open with her. On the flip side, she said that she decided not to read it unless I showed it to her, as to respect my need for a private outlet. One thing I thought of, though, is that I’ll need to show her how to use Tor if she is to view my blog from her computer, because my paranoid side knows that combing the visitor logs would reveal her IP address… which is also my IP address. And my anonymity would be potentially blown 🙂

I had been thinking for years of starting an anonymous blog. I am not sure what took me so long to do it. One thought of mine has been – if I want the blog to be anonymous, why go through all the trouble to put it on the web at all? An encrypted text file would do just fine. And I am not really sure how to answer this question completely. But I guess my vanity demands the potential for some readers, which I have had zero of so far 🙂 Also, with the potential for other people reading what I am writing, I am motivated to make my writing more coherent more thoughtful and complete, which helps to further the purpose of the blog to begin with.

OK, it is time to make another post on my super-secret paranoid anonymous blog!

I’ve decided to start messing around with Ruby on Rails a little bit recently. I am reading Learning Rails from O’Reilly Press. I like this quote (page 178):

Because Rails works hard at staying independent of any given database implementation, migrations also offer you a convenient technique for creating your application using one database for development or testing and yet another for deployment.

Fun stuff so far. I haven’t written anything besides Perl for a long time, and even when I have written Perl it has been small systems administration scripts.

It is 2010 and video on the web is in a sorry state.
– It is choppy on all OS X web browsers, no matter the video source. It is better on Chrome and Safari, worse on Firefox, but definitely choppy on all three.
– It doesn’t work on the iPhone.
– There is too much buffering on all platforms. Really, software developers, set it so it buffer enough before it starts playing so playback isn’t interrupted.

Sometimes, a lot of the time, modern technology seems like it is in one giant beta test. Being a sysadmin, I see hardware and software fail to do really basic things all the time. Things like:
– servers locking up with no useful error logging to let me know why
– Apple’s Mail.app crashing, with no error messages
– my new keyboard, of all things, needing to be unplugged and replugged at least once per day to work correctly

And with video, well that is supposed to be the new hotness on the web, but I for one still find it remarkably frustrating.

I am excited – Google Maps now has walking directions. For instance, here is my run from yesterday.