July 20, 2009

Mr Murphy checks in early

Filed under: Administrivia, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 23:18

Y’know . . . I should have remembered that being careful isn’t always enough. There’s a new build of WordPress available, and I thought I should update to it.

But first, I cleverly backed up my files . . . I’ve been burned in the past by updates that stomp over things you wanted to keep.

Download and installed the update. Cool. Installed cleanly: great.

Except that it wiped out my style.css file. No biggie . . . I’ve got a fresh backup, so I can just . . . oh. Crap. The backup is incomplete and doesn’t include style.css.

Back to the drawing board. Tomorrow.

I’ll probably just do more damage if I try to reconstruct it tonight.

I’ve always been really bad with names

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 20:42

. . . so this xkcd webcomic really hits me where I live:

Difficulties with remembering names

For those of you who don’t normally read xkcd . . . hover over the image: the hidden joke is often as good (or better) than the one in the base comic.

Decoded: the secret of modern education

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education — Nicholas @ 17:06

Tyler Cowen provides the skeleton key to understand the modern education system:

Placebo effects can be very powerful and many supposedly effective medicines do not in fact outperform the placebo. The sorry truth is that no one has compared modern education to a placebo. What if we just gave people lots of face-to-face contact and told them they were being educated?

[Ben Casnochna writes:] He reluctantly provides the terrifying conclusion: Maybe that’s what current methods of education already consist of.

Oh, it’s okay . . . manufacturer claims the EATR is vegetarian

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 14:47

Take back all the panic-mongering in this post. Cyclone Power Technologies assures us that their battlefield robot (the disturbingly named EATR) is on a strictly no human corpses diet:

Many commentators, our own Lewis Page included, not unreasonably took this vague “biomass in the environment” concept to mean anything EATR could get its robotic claws on, including humans.

Some press reports went further, suggesting EATR would suck nourishment from corpses as it went about its unholy business.

Cue an entertaining press release (pdf) from Cyclone, which stresses that EATR is “strictly vegetarian”. The company explains: “Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes ‘human bodies,’ the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips.”

Cyclone marvellously adds: “Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.”

I look forward to Gordon Brown’s “Paul Martin” moment

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:56

For those of you who have already forgotten the premiership of Paul Martin, one of the most striking moments of his term in office was his leaving of it. His final speech, after the election results were in, was the best speech I think he ever made. There was a jauntiness, a cheerfulness in his voice that had been totally lacking at any point before that. After a successful term as Finance Minister under Jean Chrétien, Martin, like Gordon Brown, couldn’t wait to get the current PM out the door.

Martin, for all his faults, was not the ongoing disaster for his party and country that Brown has been. Martin also knew when to bow out. Brown has not been willing to go — and has been unwilling to risk the opinions of the electorate in a general election. Yet.

Christopher Hitchens looks at the wreckage:

Early this past June it became hard to distinguish among the resignation statements that were emanating almost daily from Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. The noise of collapsing scenery drowned out the individuality of the letters — one female minister, I remember, complained that she was being used as “window dressing” — but there was one missive from a departing comrade that caught my eye. It came from James Purnell, a man generally agreed to have done a more than respectable job as minister for work and pensions, and it began like this:

Dear Gordon,
We both love the Labour Party. I have worked for it for twenty years and you for far longer. We know we owe it everything and it owes us nothing . . .

I sat back in my chair. Yes, it’s true. One suddenly could recall a time when membership in the Labour Party (or “the Labour movement,” as it would call itself on great occasions) was a thing of pride. [. . .]

The true definition of corruption, it seems to me, is the diversion of public resources to private or politicized ends [. . .] There are other and lesser definitions, such as milking the public purse or abusing the public trust by “creative accounting.” The cloudburst of lurid detail about the expenses racket, which has made the current Parliament into an object of scorn and loathing, is a cloudburst that has soaked members of all parties equally. However, the Brownite style is by far the most culpable. It was Brown’s people who foisted a Speaker on the House of Commons who both indulged the scandal and obstructed a full ventilation of it. As if that weren’t bad enough, Gordon Brown still resists any call to dissolve this wretched Parliament — a Parliament that is almost audibly moaning to be put out of its misery and shame — because he still isn’t prepared to undergo the great test of being submitted to the electorate. Say what you will about Tony Blair, he took on all the other parties in three hard-fought general elections, and when it was considered time for him to give way or step down, he voluntarily did so while some people could still ask, “Why are you going?,” rather than “Why the hell don’t you go?” For the collapse of Britain’s formerly jaunty and spendthrift “financial sector,” everybody including Blair is to blame. But for the contempt in which Parliament is held, and in which a once great party now shares, it’s Blair’s successor who is the lugubrious villain.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.


Filed under: Economics, Health, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:37

There. I said it. Someone had to.

The acronym would be TANSTAARTHC. Nowhere near as euphonius as TANSTAAFL.

I broach the subject because I can’t seem to turn on a TV or radio without hearing, “Health care is a human right.” The phrase has entered the zeitgeist. Google it and you’ll get 25k hits. Google “right to health care” and you get 200k. Maybe I’m not listening hard enough, but I hear no one questioning its validity.

A right is intrinsic. It’s not given to you, it’s something you’re born with. Its existence is not dependent on the actions of others. In fact, only by the actions of others can it be taken from you.

F. Paul Wilson, “There ain’t no such thing as a right to health care “, Libertarian Enterprise, 2009-07-19

That’s one small miscue for a man, one giant leap for Mankind

Filed under: History, Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:44

It was 40 years ago:

Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin left the Apollo 11 command module (piloted by Michael Collins) in orbit and performed a landing in the lunar module Eagle. At 4:18 p.m. EDT, Armstrong announced to a watching and waiting world that “The Eagle has landed.”

Six-and-a-half hours later, he stepped onto the powdery surface with the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed Armstrong down the ladder to become the second man to stand on the moon.


The mission was by no means a slam dunk. There was real fear that once on the lunar surface the astronauts might end up marooned and beyond rescue. In fact, President Nixon had a condolence speech ready to go in the event things turned out badly.

Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon . . . the very term “President Nixon” is pried out of deep archaeological layers of memory, yet the first moon landing still seems fresh and no-longer-new but still somehow “recent”.

If you’re still eager for more, Wired has a convenient round-up of Apollo 11-related sites and events.

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