Category Archives: Technology

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Graphics by Mark Hammill

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Modern Toilets as Harbingers of Misery

I am reading Jeffrey Tucker’s wonderful Bourbon For Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo at the moment (you can find it in PDF form online). It’s exceptional in many ways, but I do enjoy the parts in which Mr. Tucker provides the reader with a picture of the practical consequences of certain specific government regulations. One in particular I am truly fond of, and that is the chapter called “The Relentless Misery of 1.6 Gallons.”

In this chapter, Mr. Tucker outlines a few of the consequences of the Energy Policy Act, which was passed back in 1994. Allow me to quote the first paragraph from this chapter:

My order at my favorite Chinese restaurant was taking too long. I stopped into the men’s room. There I witnessed a common scene: the modern toilet disaster. An otherwise clean business had a restroom calamity on its hands, one so grim that I hesitate to describe it.

He then goes onto describe how this “calamity” had probably resulted in a series of disgusted customers and loss of business. But it’s not the fault of the business, he says. It’s that the Energy Policy Act mandated that toilets go from 3.5-5 gallons of water per flush to 1.6 gallons. If you didn’t comply, as a toilet manufacturer, you’d be fined and/or sent to jail.

I think upon this, and I picture that grimy, bacteria-laden plunger next to the toilet, or as far back behind the toilet as possible, so as not to gross your guests at too much. I think of the oval brush wand that sits on that odd pedestal- the one that is meant to scrape the “leftovers” off the toilet bowl. Naturally, these items wouldn’t have been needed (or, let’s say, they wouldn’t have been as prominently featured and utilized) if it were not for the Energy act.

As Mr. Tucker puts it,

So let us remember way back when:

  • Toilets did not need plungers next to them, and thank goodness. Used plungers are nasty, disease carrying, and filthy. It doesn’t matter how cute the manufacturer tries to make them or in how many colors you can buy them. In the old days, you would never have one exposed for guests. It was kept out in the garage for the rare occasion when someone threw a ham or something stranger down the toilet.
  • Toilet paper was super thick and getting thicker. None of this one-ply nonsense.
  • You never had any doubt about the capacity of the toilet to flush completely, with only one pull of the handle. The toilet stayed clean thanks to five gallons of rushing water pouring through it after each flush.

He goes on to say that the Energy act was essentially a step backwards “from a central aspiration of mankind to dispose of human waste in the best possible way.” I have to agree. I want my toilet to flush; and I want it to flush the first time I pull the lever. I don’t want to have to pull it twice, or three times. I don’t want to feel it necessary to keep a trusty plunger available at all times. Nor do I want to keep that fecal scrubber nearby.

But of course, as is often the case, government has the power to make these decisions. And society thinks that government is in the business of deciding what is best for us. I will steadfastly disagree. The environmentalists that pushed this decrease in flush per gallons forget about the unintended consequences. Ah, the unintended consequences. They never think of that. For instance, remember that push to get all babies into cloth diapers? But they easily forget that by doing so, there involves more cleaning, and as an unintended” consequence, more water usage. Same is true for the toilets. The unintended consequence is that people are having to flush two, three, four times before they feel comfortable enough to exit the stall, or home bathroom.

And sometimes, “conserving is not a good idea.” Some activities “cry out for the expenditure of resources, even in the most generous possible way. I would count waste disposal as one of these. ”

I wholly agree. I want my 5 gallon per flush toilet back. I want to witness the power of the flush, and see that everything is clean and porcelain white. There are ways humankind can do things better, and sometimes these ways are to be mindful of our environment, and with the intent of conservation. There’s value in some of those things, certainly. But not in this. This is a step back to the primitive.

Read all of Jeffrey Tucker’s excellent book online here. The toilet chapter is on pages 25-28.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

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Intellectual Property Musings

A few nights ago, I sat and listened to two of my friends have a conversation about intellectual property. One of the friends was on the pro-IP side, and one was on the anti-IP side. That is to say, one felt it unethical that people copy or share books, music, DVDs without paying for them. And one thought that copyright laws (as well as trademark and patent laws) shouldn’t exist.

I watched this, and only commented twice. Once to bring up Cory Doctorow and Nina Paley: two artists that believe very strongly in open source, data sharing, free information type of digital world. Cory publishes his books with a Creative Commons license, which essentially says that people can copy, share and use as much as they want. For Cory, copyright is an outdated system that illogically tasks the state to intervene as well as wrongfully diminishing and stagnating the growth of culture.

To him, it isn’t a problem of piracy, but of obscurity. He feels that if you cast a wider net, get your name out to the widest possible audience, the better it can be – for “culture” and for the author. Same is true for Neil Gaiman. See the video below where Neil speaks about Copyright, Piracy and the Web:

As for Nina Paley, she publishes all of her works and puts all of her animations online under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, which you can read more about here. Nina explains a bit more of what this means on her website:

You are free to copy, share, sell, remix, modify, fold, bend, staple, and mutilate Mimi & Eunice but you may not prohibit others from doing the same with any resulting copies or “derivative works“. You may include Mimi & Eunice in larger, copy-restricted works (like textbooks, magazines, movies, TV shows, etc.) but the Mimi & Eunice parts must remain under the Share Alike license (aka Copyleft). This is easily achieved by marking the Mimi & Eunice parts “CC-BY-SA Nina Paley” or “copyleft Nina Paley,” even while the rest of your work is under copyright or whatever godawful restrictive license you use.

If you make any changes to Mimi & Eunice cartoons, you must take credit for them. Please do not draw “new” Mimi & Eunice cartoons and imply I created them. Please do not imply you, or anyone other than me, created existing Mimi & Eunice cartoons. The CC-BY-SA license prohibits fraud and plagiarism, but I really think you know better than to do those things even without the threat of legal force, if for no other reason than self-preservation and not wanting to ruin your credibility and become a laughingstock and pariah.

For commercial uses, I request (but do not demand or legally require) you share money with me.

Mere use of Mimi & Eunice cartoons does not imply my endorsement or approval. I strongly recommend obtaining my endorsement for any significantly commercial projects, as my endorsement increases the value of commercial copies. My endorsement is negotiated by contract the way “rights” usually are. Please contact me to negotiate my endorsement.

I tend to lean towards the thinking of Gaiman, Paley and Doctorow. I feel that copyright (and, in the same vein, trademark and patent) laws are inherently a form of censorship. Ideas are free. Alternatively, they are not scarce goods. Unlike, say, tangible private property, like a bookshelf.

Jacob H. Huebert speaks of this over at the Mises blog:

Land and tangible items are subject to becoming private property in this way because they are scarce. That is, they are limited in quantity, and one person’s use of a piece of property prevents someone else from using it. Two people cannot occupy the same space or eat the same orange. Without property rights, there would be irresolvable conflicts over who can use what land and objects, and how they may use them. With property rights, these conflicts are avoided. On the other hand, if certain things weren’t scarce — if we could reproduce them infinitely at no cost, or if they were somehow abundant — there would be no conflicts over those things and no need for ethical rules, property rights, or laws to govern such conflicts.

As it happens, ideas fall into this latter category. If two people want to have the same idea in their minds, or put that same idea to use, there is no conflict between them — they both can do it. And they can pass on an idea to as many people as they want without diminishing their own possession of the idea. Kinsella uses the example of a book:

[I]f you copy a book I have written, I still have the original (tangible) book, and I also still “have” the pattern of words that constitute the book. Thus, authored works are not scarce in the same sense that a piece of land or a car are scarce. If you take my car, I no longer have it. But if you “take” a book-pattern and use it to make your own physical book, I still have my own copy. (from Against Intellectual Property by Stephan Kinsella)

Check out this cool video Nina Paley put together that speaks to the idea that all “creative work is derivative” of another:

And, for a taste of some of the awful things that have come out of copyright, see the excerpt below from Ideas Are Free: The Case Against Intellectual Property by Stephan Kinsella:

  • There is a case where the seminal German silent film Nosferatu was deemed a derivative work of Dracula and the courts ordered all copies destroyed.
  • Shortly after the death of the author J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye — courts banned the publication of a novel called Sixty Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. Banned it. Based on copyright.
  • Some get lucky though, and they say the work was a fair use. There was a parody called The Wind Done Gone which is an unauthorized rewrite of Gone With the Wind from another character’s point of view.
  • In another interesting case, fantasy author Mary Zimmer Bradley, who actually encouraged and allowed a lot of her fans to write fantasy without suing them for copyright infringement, came across an idea that fans had submitted to her that was similar to one she was using herself in a novel she was writing. So she wrote to the fan to tell her what was going on and even offered to pay her a little bit of money and to acknowledge in the book that they had come up with the same idea. But the fan replied she wanted full coauthorship of the book and half the money or she would sue. So Mary Zimmer Bradley scrapped the novel rather than risk a lawsuit; it was never written.
  • Sometimes lawyers who send cease and desist letters claim copyright in the letter and threaten to sue you if you republish it on the web [laughter].
  • The Australian band, Men at Work, was recently found guilty of plagiarizing “Kookaburra Bird” on their 1980 CD, Down Under. The judge held that a flute rift in Down Under bore an unmistakable resemblance to “Kookaburra Bird Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” a folk tune taught to Australian school children for 75 years [laughter].
  • RIAA wants a law passed that would impose a penalty of $1.5 million per CD copied.
  • Ford Motor Company has attacked Ford enthusiasts, claiming that they hold those rights to any image of a Ford vehicle, even if it is a picture that you took of your own car.
  • The NFL has prohibited churches from holding Superbowl parties on TV sets larger than 55 inches.
  • And, of course, there are recent extensions of copyright such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, which criminalizes even the mere possession of technology that can be used to circumvent digital-protection systems. But I say DVD ripping devices don’t steal; people do.

You can read Stephan’s entire book, Against Intellectual Property, for free online! Check out the PDF here.

I think, for me, I am very much still in the learning stages. I have much to learn about intellectual property, but I am looking forward to knowing more. I sympathize with authors, want to hear/understand their stories. But I also want to know more about copyright, trademark and patent, and how they help or hamper artists, producers, inventors and writers.

For more of my thoughts on intellectual property, go here.

Cory Doctorow - Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

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Cory Doctorow on E-Books, Durability and Harper Collins

Writing in the Guardian, Cory Doctorow speaks about the “indefensible” deal Harper Collins has made with libraries. As Cory puts it, “Harper Collins has informed libraries that henceforth, e-books will be sold on the condition that they can only be circulated 26 times before they self-destruct.”

But, as the article says, the durability of e-books is not a bug, it’s a feature!

Of course ebooks don’t wear out. Programming them to self-destruct after 26 checkouts is tantamount to asking librarians to embrace entropy. Anyone who thinks that this is going to happen has never spent any time with a librarian.

Read more here.

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I, Pencil by Leonard Read: Audio Version

The classic 1958 essay from Leonard Reed, regarding the wonders of innovation and the inherent dangers of central planning as it pertains to that innovation. As Lawrence W. Reed put it in his introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of the essay, he says:

Ideas are most powerful when they are wrapped in a compelling story. Leonard’s main point- economies can hardly be ‘planned’ when not one soul possesses the know-how and skills to produce a simple pencil- unfolds in the enchanting words of a pencil itself. Leonard could have written ‘I, Car’ or ‘I, Airplane,’ but choosing those more complex items would have muted the message. No one person- repeat, no one, no matter how smart or how many degrees follow his name- could create from scratch a small, everyday pencil, let alone a car or an airplane.

Part 1:

Part 2:

For more information about Leonard Read, go here.

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Apple Products, Release Schedules

A year ago, I was nothing more than a PC owner. My Dell, old, tired and pitiless as it was, hardly saw the light of day. Not that it needed to. Not since Jessica, anyhow. Her shiny black Mac (truthfully, I have never felt so hip abbreviating) was sufficient for the both of us.

Well, that was then. Oh yes, that was all the way back then. Back to the stone ages, in which our simple tastes were pleased as punch with one meager Apple computer, and an iPod, 1st generation, brought into the equation by Jessica of course.

Everything has changed. Some could, and most deservedly would, say that I’ve gone Apple crazy. But I say to you, kind sir, hold your tongue! Take a step back and look at the big picture! It’s not me, it’s her. Or you.

Okay, it’s me too.

I’m smitten.

Fast forward to the present and you can see that Jessica and I have in our possession, in addition to the aforementioned Mac book and 1st gen iPod, an iMac (gift from us both, to us both), an iPod Nano (wedding gift from Jessica), an iPad (gift from my boss) and, as of today, an iPhone 4 (birthday gift to Jessica from the Dobson gang and myself).

Plainly put, we love Apple products. I love Apple products, thanks to Jessica.

So Shiny, So Nice

But I’ve also heard, on more than one occasion, and from more than one individual, one major gripe: that Apple releases a new product, only to follow that up by releasing the second iteration less than a year, or 6 months, or some “small” time later.

And I say to that, why is this a bad thing? Am I distressed and angered by the soon-to-be-released iPad 2 in April? A meager one year later?!

No, no. It’s not a bad thing. Heck, it’s actually quite the opposite of bad. It’s good. It’s great. Wonderful. Superb. Beautiful.

So I wonder, where does this come annoyance and anger come from? Is it rational to be offended by how Apple chooses to release its products? They’ve obviously done something right. I’m still here, licking my chops, as our millions of people worldwide. Plus, let’s say you presume that Apple only releases as such because they want to maximize their profit (in some respects, some companies have taken the opposite approach to this. See Disney, for instance). To that, I say, well duh!

More profit=happier profit holders.

Happier profit holders=investment, longevity.

Investment, longevity=more reason and means to innovate, produce.

Innovation, production=happier consumers.

What about you? Please vote in the poll below. I’d like to see what you think too.

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Adam Carolla on the Kindle

Dear Kindle Readers,

Part of the overall bizarre experience of writing my first book, In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks, was thinking about it coming out on Kindle as an ebook.  These Kindles are amazing.  You can fit 3,500 books on something the size of two maxi-pads.  And as my grandpa used to say, there’s nothing like curling up in front of a roaring fire with 3,470 good books.

Unlike you good people, I was never a big book fan.  In fact, we’ve had a troubled relationship.  I was unable to get my high school diploma because I had not returned a copy of We the People to the school library.  It occurs to me that in a few short years the Kindle could render the library obsolete, which is a troubling thought.  I don’t know if I want to live in a country where an able-bodied, unemployable guy can’t waste a Tuesday reading a USA Today that’s been spot-welded to a bamboo Japanese fighting stick.

I still can’t get over the capacity of these things: 3,500 books.  Can we figure out a way to apply this technology to other areas? Hey Mr. Kindle, for your next invention, let’s focus on a thermos that holds eighty gallons of beer, a lunch box that holds a six-foot sub, or a single suitcase that can contain Lady Gaga’s entire wardrobe. And if you could find a way to stuff her in there too, and then lose it at LAX, that would be great.

Strangest of all was when I was asked to write for this Kindle blog. First, Kindle blog sounds like an obscure Austrian holiday celebrated the first Sunday after Christmas. “Run to the butcher, fetch his fattest goose, and prepare the figgy pudding. Tomorrow is Kindleblog!” But more important, prior to this, the longest thing I’d written on the Internet were some tweets and my eBay password.

By the way, right now you’re reading on your Kindle about reading on your Kindle. This is getting too deep, man. I’ve got to wrap this up. It’s harshing my mellow.

Hilarious. And insightful! Per usual. By the way, I’ve picked up my copy of the hardcover book (I don’t own a Kindle). Have you?

(via Kindle Post)

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Electronic Frontier Foundation and Nina Paley

Somehow I missed this gem from Nina Paley.

From EFF: Here’s What You Saw

Onerous user agreements.
Users regularly click through monstrous blocks of legalese in order to use the most popular web sites and applications. Unfortunately, these agreements are frequently one-sided and rife with attempts to take away your rights. EFF informs users of various pitfalls, lobbies companies to make necessary improvements, and argues that certain rights should always remain intact.

Tracking and surveillance online.
Governments, advertisers, and websites are developing increasingly sophisticated methods of tracking what you read, watch, upload, and share on the web. EFF argues for your right to privacy, advocates for governments and companies to put meaningful limits on the collection and use of your personal data, and helps promote tools you can use to protect yourself.

“Three Strikes” and copyright cops.
Entertainment industry bigwigs worldwide want ISPs to monitor subscribers, filter content and kick users off the Internet for file-sharing. EFF is fighting worldwide for the protection of fair use, free expression, and fairness for all Internet users.

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