Trends, Means, And Goals

Hans Rosling gave a talk over at TED about “the myth of developing countries”. It’s worth watching the presentation just to see how creatively data can be presented. For example, the United States’ wealth per capita increased much faster than its health per capita did. Meanwhile, India (among other countries) has shown the opposite trend: it became healthier faster than it became wealthier. He also points out that the goals of development are not necessarily the same as the means of development. For example, development relies to a large degree on a stable government, but government is certainly not the goal of development. And while human rights is an extremely important goal of development, Rosling points out that it’s not really crucial to modernization.

Anyway, it’s a delightful talk – interesting and funny – and well worth the fifteen minutes. And I almost forgot – he does a magic trick at the end, to prove that “the seemingly impossible is possible.”


Now I’ve Seen Everything

I was wondering what it would take to get me to say that, but the Avatar Machine definitely fits the bill. It’s a fairly complicated rig that lets a person see themselves in third person, as if they’re in a game. From the site:

Avatar Machine is a system which replicates the aesthetics and visuals of third person gaming, allowing the user to view themselves as a virtual character in real space via a head mounted interface.

I probably have seen weird things, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head…


GWT versus Rails

I recently got into a debate with a friend of mine about which is better for developing web applications – Google’s Web Toolkit (GWT) or Ruby on Rails. He argued for GWT, I for Rails. Neither one of us convinced the other, although we both got each other to watch the frameworks’ respective screencasts (GWT, Rails).

Disclaimer: I’ve done quite a bit of Rails, but not any GWT, and I’m rusty with Java. So I may be totally off base with some of my analysis, but that’s what the comments are for (besides, what else is new?).

Anyway, without further ado:

Advantages of GWT over Rails

  • It’s FAST. GWT is designed to be lightning fast, and as far as I can tell, it’s pretty much as fast as it’s going to get for an HTTP application.
  • It scales extremely well. Because GWT relies quite heavily on the browser, there are fewer HTTP requests to the server, and the requests themselves are smaller. The ImageBundle widget is a great example of this.
  • GWT gives you a toolbox of graphical user interface widgets to build your application with out of the box.
  • There’s compiling. That catches quite a few errors before deployment.
  • Java is a much more mature language than Ruby.

Advantages of Rails over GWT

  • Database support. It is very easy to work with almost any database in Rails with almost no configuration. Rails also gives you RDBMS-agnostic migrations so you can update your database without writing any SQL. In fact, you don’t even have to manually create any tables in your database – Rails will create migrations for you to do that when you create your models. GWT has none of this as far as I can see.
  • Multiple Environments. Rails supports as many environment types as you can think of. Out of the box they give you basic code for a development environment, a testing environment (more on this later), and a production environment. This includes different database connection strings for each. Simply change RAILS_ENV to whatever environment you’re in.
  • Ruby is a much easier language to learn and work with. It’s also much lighter-weight as far as the amount of code you have to write.

This post may get updated as I think of more pros and cons for each. Stay tuned!


PSA: Toxic Counterfeit Toothpaste

Colgate is warning (PDF) that someone is manufacturing toxic counterfeit toothpaste. It has been spotted in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

And society seems a little bit more screwed up today.


Theodore Roosevelt: My Favorite President

Theodore Roosevelt is one of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore. The other three are famous for something: George Washington was the first president, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. But Teddy Roosevelt is up there because he simply kicked *** as the president.

There are so many things I love about Roosevelt. He was an outdoorsman and conservationist to his last days (and was one of the earliest advocates of conservation in America):

During his tenure in the White House from 1901 to 1909, he designated 150 National Forests, the first 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 5 National Parks, the first 18 National Monuments, the first 4 National Game Preserves, and the first 21 Reclamation Projects.

He was a champion of consumers’ rights, workers’ rights, children’s rights, and civil rights. Regarding that last, Roosevelt was actually the first president to invite a black man (Booker T. Washington) to the White House for dinner, which was actually scandalous at the time.

Finally, he was a diplomat, winning a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a truce between Russia and Japan.

There’s obviously much more to the man, and I’m just scratching the surface here. I just wanted to give a tip of the hat (for no particular reason) to my favorite president.


The Libertarian Fallacy

Ron Paul seems to be picking up steam as a populist candidate – the candidate who speaks for the people. Part of his popularity stems from the fact that he is was always against the Iraq war, which appeals to the left, and his heavily libertarian positions, which appeal to the right. Republicans, by contrast, tend to be conservative, not libertarian, when it comes to individual rights (like drugs, media censorship, wiretapping, etc etc etc). Paul was also against the Patriot Act from day one – along with pretty much anything that would increase the power of government.

And that’s the problem. He has one simple rule for every single problem: less government. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t follow simple rules. The market, far from being a magical benign force that solves all of society’s ills, has proven again and again to bring out the worst in many people. There are too many examples to go into here, but one good resource that indicts the market and the negative effects that it has had on our lives is Is The American Dream Killing You?, by Paul Stiles (it’s on my reading list on the right of this page, which I haven’t updated in a quite a while).

The general motto for Libertarians is something like this: “Can we really trust the government with [insert issue here]?” Of course, the question they don’t ask is “Can we really trust corporations with [same issue]?” At least government agencies have to answer to voters, to some degree.

FEMA was put under the magnifying glass after their shockingly inept performance in New Orleans. Why do we expect that a private agency would do better? The people of New Orleans were not exactly profitable victims. What’s in it for the private sector? For all its faults, FEMA’s mission is “to reduce the loss of life and property and protect the Nation from all hazards, including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters…” The mission of any private agency would be profit. The fact that the competent and experienced FEMA workers were replaced with political cronies doesn’t reflect as badly on FEMA as it does the corrupt administration that ruined it.

Privatization may fix many problems in this country, but it’s not a panacea – not by a long shot. Ron Paul’s approach may be able to undo much of the damage Bush has done to this country (particularly in the realm of civil liberties), but there’s also a real possibility that he’ll make things much, much worse. I hope his presence will force certain issues to the forefront that more mainstream politicians would prefer to ignore.


Please Let Me Save

Dear Video Game Developers:

I would like to save my game now. I am done playing. I have to go to sleep. Yet, if I were to turn off my game now, I would lose about a half hour (the amount of time that has passed since my last opportunity to save) of progress. And playing the same half hour again is boring, especially in your game. Also, I already watched that cutscene – I don’t need to watch it again.

Thank you for your time (as I’m sure you’re thanking me for mine),


Silly Bank

I recently started a new job, and it’s going well, but one annoyance is that there are no ATM’s for my bank nearby, and there aren’t any where I live, either. Since both the ATM machine and my bank charge a fee for adulterous ATM withdrawals (phrase borrowed from Laura Penny), I am charged $3 to $4 dollars every time I take out money. That’s 5-7% of a $60 withdrawal! Since I don’t feel like giving up 5-7% of my money in fees, I’m going to have to switch banks. And that’s the kicker. My bank, by insisting piling on this pointless fee (in addition to the various other fees they get me with), is going to lose my business. I generally like this bank, but they’re essentially punishing me for not having a local branch available to me. Dumb move…