Archive for the ‘Rants and Raves’ Category

NASA!!!! Come on now!

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

I heard a report on NPR this morning about the decommissioning of the Shuttles remaining in the Space Program and the movement towards the new Orion rockets (based, if I remember correctly, on the early Saturn rocket design).

While I have no objections to the design they’re moving towards (staged separation rockets, as far as I know, have a lot less of the maintenance issues that plagued the Shuttle over the last few years — and as a result cause far fewer teachers to incinerate), I do have some objections to the trajectory of the program.  The main goal, it seems, is to get back to the Moon.

The arguments in favor of this, as stated by the NASA scientists interviewed this morning were as follows:

  1. While our parents’ generation went to the Moon, our generation hasn’t yet
  2. We’ve only had a little over 300 hours to explore the Moon.  There’s so much left of the planet to explore.
  3. We need to get smart minds excited about space again.

My responses to these are:

  1. So what?  My parents generation has been to Vietnam.  Doesn’t make me want to fight another war there.  Seems like a pretty juvenile argument, to tell you the truth.
  2. First of all, the Moon isn’t a planet.  It’s a moon. Show some respect to poor Pluto.  Second of all, in the time we’ve spent there, we’ve figured out that a) the moon is not easily or readily inhabitable and b) the moon used to be part of the Earth c) it’s now a big ball of dust and rock with little signs of life, water, etc.  What else do we need to know about it?
  3. There are tons of exciting challenges in space.  Tons.  Not the least of which would be cleaning up all of the junk we have in orbit which caused the ISS people to be on high alert last week.  I don’t see how going to the moon is particularly exciting and inspiring to a new generation.  It’s done (unless of course you believe the conspiracy theories, in which case we haven’t actually done it yet).   Let’s aim higher.

There are those who agree with this and think that, if we want to head to the Moon again it should only be to the purpose of establishing it as a base of operations for deeper space exploration (Mars for example).

The Russians seem to have the right idea.  On Tuesday they will start experiments with the aim of testing how humans would react to such a long space flight as the one required to get to Mars.

Only time will tell how this all will come out in the wash.  But I definitely think we should think carefully about our long-term goals in terms of space travel.  Especially considering it’s a recession and these things are damned pricey.

Cognitive Dissonance

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Ok New York Times.  What’s going on here:


So the lead story here seems to be a pretty big deal: ‘GM Loses 9.6 Billion as Its Strugles Continue.’  Wow right?  That sucks!

What’s the lead image?

Living Together : My Monkey, My Self


Have things really gotten so bad that, instead of dealing with monumentally bad news about the econmy, we feel we should give mental precedance to stories about having monkeys in the house because you’re just not a cat person?

Granted, AIG’s quarterly loss of 61.7 billion obviously made GM’s loss look like chump chnge.


The 26th, when the story was published, was a Thursday.  A Thursday!  This is the kind of fluff reporting I’d expect on a Sunday!  Were your editors all on vacation?


Come on NYT.  Stay sharp.

What on Earth Are They Thinking?

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Ok Lenovo.  Let’s talk.  Man to company.

I used to be a huge ThinkPad fan.  Huge.  My parents worked for IBM for a bunch of years and we used to have at least 3 ThinkPads floating around the house at any given time.  They were great, tough little machines.

I had my doubts when IBM sold their ThinkPad line to you.  On one hand, IBM’s quality control had shrunk to the point where it was basically non-existent, so I couldn’t imagine another company doing worse than Big Blue already was.  Still, I was skpetical enough to start buying Mac.

But I was curious enough to keep my eye on you.  And you certainly did come out with some little gems. Your X Tablet series with the pivoting screen that turns into a writing tablet? Genius.  Really, you outdid yourself with that one.  My brother has had one since they came out and loves it.

So what’s with the W700DS?  What the heck is that?



The Catholic Church Transforms Its Own Mind!

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

check it:

Vatican Rewrites History On Galileo

Many of you may not remember this, but Galileo was condemned by the Catholic Church for his radical belief in Copernicus‘ ideas of a heliocentric solar system.  Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (for whom my high school was named, incidentally), was the one who did the honors — arguing for the bible and against things like logic, scientific progress, etc.  Galileo was found guilty of heresy, and was sentenced to life imprisonment (later commuted to house arrest).

BUT WAIT!!!  Just in time for the holidays, the Catholic Church is gearing up to change history!  Rather than condemn Galileo, they’re all set to re-cast him as the patron saint of “the dialogue between faith and reason.”  Which, as you can imagine, seems somewhat ironic given how that particular ‘dialogue’ ended.  And how pretty much every other ‘dialogue’ between science has played out since the beginning of time.

But hey!  The church is totally hip!  They can be with it!  They can change their minds 400 years after the fact.  On a geologic scale, that’s a really quick decision!


… I know.  You have your doubts that this will change anything.  But if the church can transform a former member of Hitler Youth into the current Pope, maybe they can re-fashion the way they interact with the scientific community.

Perscription Heroin

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

I just read in The Huffington Post that Switzerland is voting today on a proposition to permanently implement an experimental prescription Heroin program.

You can read the full story (including a really insightful video clip) on BBC.

I am of so many minds about this as a concept. Part of me feels like this is a totally ridiculous idea.  But then the more open-minded part of me speaks up: “Maybe that’s just Nancy Regan’s voice in the back of your head telling you to ‘Just Say No to Drugs’.”  So ok. Let’s look at this rationally.  Does it work?  Sounds like the results thus far are inconclusive.  Except for the fact that the Swiss are seeing less addicts on their streets.  Which seems like a good thing right?  These people are being treated and cared for by the state.  That’s what we should be doing, right?  Proactively caring for those who are ailing in our society?

I concede, however, it’s really none of our business what Switzerland does to control its drug use problems.  Unless, of course, it’s working and we’re considering adopting it ourselves.  I don’t like that our media (and Britain’s too) feel like we can step in and judge what other countries do to solve their social problems.  I’m sure, from our repressed, narrow-minded, western perspective, this seems like an unholy idea: “Heroin prescribed by the state!  Dear god!  What next?”

But if it’s working, by their own standards, what’s wrong with it?

Questionable Math

Monday, November 10th, 2008

On the subway this morning I saw a sign that read something like:

“In 1989 a single ride on the MTA cost $1.  That’s $1.89 in 2008 dollars.  If you buy a 30 day unlimited pass now, the cost is $1.17.  That’s a real value!”

Something like that.

Does anyone else see some problems here?  First of all, they don’t say how many times you need to ride in order to get a rate of $1.17.  Turns out it’s 69.23 times, or a little more than 2x a day in the 30 day period.  I’m assuming this is based on some internal average they have somewhere (and is honestly probably accurate for most commuters), but it’s still a questionable omission.

Second, and this is a larger issue: they’re comparing apples and oranges.  A fair comparison would be: a single ride used to cost $1, which is $1.89 in 2008 dollars.  Now it costs $2.  So you lose.

OR they could compare the cost of some sort of equivalent to the 30 day pass in 1989 and the cost of one today.  But I’m sure that’s a losing arithmetic battle as well.

Why did they put up this ad?  I guess the intention was to make us feel like we’re getting some value out of our subway pass.  But, really.  How stupid do they think we are?

Ironically enough, the next billboard over was one for the 2nd ave subway line, which is slated to be in operation by 2015. To which we say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Some Cheese With Your Whine?

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Oh AOL.  You’re so pathetic.  You don’t even have to say anything.  You just ARE pathetic.  Sad.  Completely backwards.  Technologically retarded.

When I hear you saying things like this:

An Open Letter to Gmail: Happy Halloween! We love your costume!

you should know it does not make me want to sympathize with you. It really just makes me pity how you’ve managed to squander such potential.

You had the entire freaking population eating our of your hand with those dial up CDs.  For years, people thought AOL was the internet.  But maybe you got a little too comfortable.  Maybe you kept pushing dial-up long past the point when it was still useful.  And there was backlash.  And now your image stinks. (along with your attitude, apparently).

So there’s your first problem.  Your image.  You could figure cold fusion and people would think they’d have to use your crappy dial up service to get to it.  Or deal with your abysmal customer service when the reaction didn’t yield as much energy as they’d like.  You’ll notice that even in the comments to your post, most people confuse the online mail product with the old AOL Client (now in, for some inexplicable reason, in version 1.5b6 for Mac!).  Tough break there.

Your second problem is, and has always been, your interface.  It is pretty much unusable.  You could have all the features in the world, and if people can’t find them you might as well not have them in the first place.  I used your webmail client back when I worked for you it was very difficult to navigate.  Having used GMail for years now and AOL Mail a few years ago with the old interface, I’m not afraid to say: the new interface is a BLATANT RIP-OFF of GMail’s (just like 2 years ago when you ‘redesigned’ your homepage and it ended up looking exactly like Yahoo!).

That last note is easily solved.  Hire some good UI and graphic designers.  (Oh wait.  You just fired them all. Crapola!)

But the core problem is more insidious.  In every product of yours that I’ve seen (product, mind you — your AIM service API is actually quite nice) you suffer from feature overload.  You throw in the kitchen sink on every product, and enable everything by default.  And nobody can find anything.  Google’s strategy, by comparison, has always been simplicity: get users used to a new, easily assimilated paradigm with a few twists, then introduce optional complexity.

So yes.  You could’ve done everything that GMail does way before they did.  But I’m a pretty advanced user and I couldn’t find half of the features you’re talking about.  I quickly got frustrated and left.

In the end, though, what does it matter?  You’ve lost.  It’s not even a contest.  I can’t think of a single one of my friends who still has an account.  Most of them are

You lost this war years ago when a) Google offered its users a truckload of free disk space, b) they started with an invite-only Beta program that made them sound exclusive and c) spent a huge amount of time QAing their code before they released it (another little something you’ve never been very good at).

Give us all a call when you want to play with the big kids.  After you’ve had some time and think about what it is you think you actually want to be good at, how you can distinguish yourself from your competitors, and why you think we should pay attention to you.

Until then, I think you need a time out.  Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.