Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tom Jones is THE MAN.

68 years old, and he can blow every singer in the world today off the stage before breakfast, then come back and do it again at lunch and dinner.

Seriously, you may not like his music; but if you don't respect the voice, you must be deaf.

GBL@&%*RGHLE

I have a ton of stuff I want to write, that's pounding from the inside of my head out; but I feel too crappy to write it.

I worked Wednesday through Friday (from home of course), after taking Monday and Tuesday off for illness. I wish I'd taken the whole week; not because I was too sick to work, just because it was a stupidly irritating week.

I spent the whole day today getting punted around trying to figure out final requirements and numbers for an absolutely business critical project, to add critical security software updates to EVERY SINGLE ONE of the 24,000 servers in our organization (covering all 15 operating systems and revisions, and the ridiculous number - hundreds, spanning 8 years - of hardware platforms we support), many of which will need to be installed manually, because either there is no automated or scripted process, or because the systems are not connected to any kind of automated management server.

Of course being business critical, and being so big, no-one was willing to commit to any numbers in any meaningful way.

We had what we thought were final numbers by yesterday (thursday), but ended up finding 5000 or so servers that hadn't been accounted for, outside of datacenters (in stores, remote offices, etc...) that would have to be covered by local support, or by vendor contract (local support only covers windows and linux, and we have to bring in Solaris, AIX, and HP-UX support on contract).

Even better, I think 2500 of the ones on my list are actually either already decommissioned, or they SHOULD have been (a lot of stuff just gets left turned on and plugged into a wire, because someone forgot to turn it off, and didn't document that it should have been); representing half of the unaccounted for boxes. Unfortunately, no-one could get me a straight answer, as to who could authoritatively state these boxes could be struck off, so I had to include them.

Note, I didn't say no-one could give me an authoritative answers; I said no-one could even tell me who COULD give me an authoritative answer; so next week I'm going to have to escalate that one issue to the enterprise CIO, who will have to devolve it down to the CIO covering whatever division supports those boxrs... but at the moment we can't even figure out which division that is.

So, I did what I always do, and make the least stupid guess possible, and put in all the caveats and clauses I could think of.

All told, it'll probably end up costing us about $5 million in labor, and we'll end up having to completely rebuild from the ground up about 2000 of those boxes when they blow up horribly. Security software is like that: Once you've got the process and package down (a chore in and of itself), either it works immediately; or it fails completely, killing everything within sight.

Ahhh the glamorous world of large enterprise (technically, Fortune 20 at this point; though officially fortune 50) information technology and services.

Haloscan died for a full day, finally coming back early this morning, making things even more interesting.

And of course, recovery from valley fever proceeds apace. Actually, today was my first day in a week without any kind of elevated temperature, which was good; and my breathing is probably 75%back to normal. The sinus, coughing, sore throat, and myalgia continue; though nowhere as bad as the first few days.... and unfortunately the rash did come back (it's the biggest visible difference between valley fever and the flu).

Now it's 4am the next day, I've been up since 8am yesterday, and I can't bloody sleep to save my life (mostly because of aforesaid illness; but also my biorythyms are completely thrown off these last few weeks, from the illness and other things). I've been alternating between reading, watching late night TV, and web surfing (I'm writing this right now because it's popped over into all informaercial land).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This guy amuses the heck out of me

...and should scare the heck out of you, if you're a security professional, or even if you just understand the implications of all this stuff.

Trevor Paglen is an author, and Dr. of Geography, who developed a fascination for the "black" side of the military some years ago; and started snooping.

His first book on the subject "I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me", was basically a recounting of his experiences in trying to figure out what mission patches for classified projects meant.

I posted a video interview of him talking about his book when I first found it, about a year ago; but I can't find it at the moment. I'll post it when I find it again.

I think this is it. It's not embeddable, but it is a flash video from C-Spans BookTV.

He's nowhere near 100% accurate (for one thing, he has a very odd and limited understanding of the military. He approaches it as a cultural anthropologist, from the outside looking in), but I'll tell you, the guy knows how to make an educated guess.

His new book is "Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World." ; in which he extends and develops on the methods and means from the first book, into an expanded view of the black world, focused on geography (and specifically logistics, and how they are related):



So, what you're watching in this video, is an intelligent man with no experience in the field but a great deal or personal interest, training himself to be an intelligence analyst.

Following connections, that's really all it is. Find a point and follow it outward to get the big picture. Then find a thread, follow it 'til it dead ends, then zoom back out and follow the next thread, and so on. Then, once you have enough threads in the warp, look for threads in the weft (the parallels between threads, or where threads cross). Then look for where there SHOULD be a thread, and it isn't there. Pretty soon the picture in the tapestry starts to show up, and the holes become more and more obvious.

The smart ones, and the curious ones, and the persistent ones will always follow connections, and will always figure it out (of course, you could take advantage of that if you were a bit clever...) . That's the problem with intelligence (both types).

So, why exactly are we supposed to feel sorry for this criminal idiot?

This sob story has been making the rounds the last few days, and I thought I would take a look at the math of it.

First, watch the video:



I'm sorry, but she DESERVES to lose her house. In fact, most of the people being foreclosed on deserved it. God know my mother deserved it.

But let's get back to this example in particular. Why on earth would a school bus driver (it never mentions what her husband does so maybe he has a better job) think that she could afford an $800,000 house?

I don't care if a lender "makes it too easy" for you, it's still your decision to accept responsibility, and you know what you are doing when you sign on an $800,000 house.

And don't try and tell me this woman was conned by predatory lenders. Commenters on other sites dug up the following public records:

She has owned a condo at 6001 Arlington #721, Falls Church, VA since 1999 (and still owns it).

She purchased 3438 Charles Street, Falls Church, VA on 1/05/05 for $510,000 and sold it on 6/10/08 for $429,000.

Her current home - 1920 N. Dinwiddie Street, Arlington, Va -was purchased with her husband (Luis Guillermo Flores) on 11/16/06 for $800,000.

What she is, is an unsuccessful flipper.

Again though, lets just assume she's a normal "homeowner", not a greedy and stupid flipper (nothing wrong with greed, but you'd better not be stupid at the same time), and go back to the numbers; because they just don't make sense.

This woman purchased a 5 bedroom 3.5 bath, 3500 sq foot house, on a 7500sq ft lot, in one of the most expensive suburbs of Washington (with some of the highest property taxes, at $0.89 per $100 assessed value).

Conventionally speaking, a person is usually considered to be able to afford a house between 3.5 and 5.5 times their gross income; depending on interest rates, creditworthiness, other assets etc...

In some markets, that would allow almost no-one to own a home (much of California for example), so standards have relaxed to as much as 7 times declared income.

In any case, your housing costs should be no more than 1/3 your net household income; and ideally no more than 1/4.

In order to afford an $800,000 market price home, under even the loosest standards, the household would need a declared income of about $117,000; or by more conventional standards between $145,000 and $235,000.

Ok, if she's a unionized bus driver, with government benefits, pension etc... and we assume her husband makes at least as much as she does... That could be within their range.

However, with a 30 year fixed mortgage at 5% that would require a payment of $4,300, not including PMI. No way did they put 20% down... I doubt they put anything down at all, so add another 1% annual PMI on, $8,000 a year or $667. At an assessed value of $800k at purchase, and a rate of $0.89 per $100, that's also an additional $7120 a year, or $593 a month in taxes.

$5560 a month...

Again under the best of circumstances, that would require a takehome of $16,680; or a gross income of around $24k a month (presuming a best case scenario of a 30% overall tax burden) or about $285k a year.

That seems somewhat out of reach of a school bus driver and her husband... unless her husband is a lobbyist, or a government "consultant" (it is Arlington after all).

As with the income multiplier, in some markets these cost percent standards would allow very few people to buy homes, so they've extended mortgage terms to 40 years, and are allowing up to 40% of monthly takehome to go to housing.

That same mortgage on a 40 year fixed at 5% (never happen, but lets play the game) is about $3900 plus PMI and taxes for about $5160 a month.


Oh and I know what you're going to say "Well, they didn't have a fixed rate, they chose an I/O option arm).

You're right, I bet they did. You know how much an I/O payment would be at 5.7% on an $800,000 house? $3900 before taxes and PMI. The exact same as the 40 year fixed.

Given a 40% housing cost percent allowance, that would require a monthly takehome of $12,900; or (again assuming just a 30% tax burden. highly unlikely) a gross income of $18,420 a month, or just about $220k a year.

Now, I'm not a bus driver. I'm a senior technical executive at one of the largest banks in the world. By senior executive, I mean there are 4 people between me and the CEO.

I don't make that much, or even close to it. In fact, I HAVE made that much, during the peak of the dot com boom when I was contracting at $240 an hour; but that wasn't "real" and everyone knew it. It was as much a bubble as the housing was (actually they're deeply related, and I'll talk about that in a later post).

Based on my actual income, and presuming a 95% loan (which you can't get anymore) and the same PMI and taxes, Bankrate says I could afford a house between $500,000 and $650,000 (I tried several permutations with slightly different results each time) and monthly payments of as high as $3500 a month.

I wouldn't consider those affordable personally, but that's what Bankrate says. By my own much more conservative standards, I'd say I could afford, at most, about $2200 a month. On a 30 year fixed at 5%, that would put me into about a $425,000 house without PMI or taxes.

My actual house is worth about $300k (or was when I moved in. Recently it was assessed at $225k) and my payment is about $1500.

Now even in the craziest days of the housing boom, you still had to at least pretend to meet that 40% monthly/7x multiplier requirement; and sign legal documents to that effect.

Which means in order to buy that $800,000 house, that "poor innocent victim" had to intentionally and knowingly commit massive fraud.

She may not think of it this way, in fact I'm sure she doesn't; but that woman is a nothing more than a fraudster. Not only should she be foreclosed on, she should be prosecuted; as should the broker who worked the deal.

I love it when Dilbert gets political

Dilbert.com

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Abreva in brief (and not so brief)

In short, don't waste your money.

In long, really, don't, and here's why:

I've been getting cold sores since I was a kid; because, like 80% of all human beings, I carry the oral variant (HSV-1) of the herpes simplex virus (unlike the OTHER type of Herpes, HSV-2, which only affects about 25% of all humans. Yes, 25% of people have that kind of herpes, likely including people you've slept with).

Like I said, 80% of you are right there with me (though only half of you get cold sores regularly).

They call them cold sores, or fever blisters; because when your immune system is weakened by a cold or other illness, the virus which causes them is no longer suppressed, and starts reproducing like mad. This causes orofacial blistering; and in some cases oral ulcers of the tongue, soft palette, and cheeks.

If you get them,you know how much they suck. They itch, they're painfully sore, they look hideous, and they can spread from one little dot, to all over your mouth (technically to any soft tissue, but in most people it's limited to their mouth and lips; which is a very virus friendly environment) within an hour or two; swelling your lips up to Pam Anderson proportions.

There are several ways of treating them.

Most people just let them run their course, which is fine. They generally go away in a few days, to a few weeks at most.

There is actually a quite effective medication for them, sold over the counter in some countries under the brand name Zovirax; but in the U.S. it's only available by prescription (as Aciclovir). It's also rather expensive, and a pain to go and get a prescription for a simple cold sore.

There is another very effective treatment, that works, stops them from spreading, and guarantees you'll heal faster than if you just leave them alone. Lance the sores, and then flush them with alcohol repeatedly until they stop weeping.

Seriously, that's been the doctor approved method of dealing with severe cold sores forever. The alcohol denatures the protein coating of the virii, preventing them from reproducing; as well as sanitizing the skin, and now open sore, to prevent secondary infection.

Unfortunately, doing so is painful, itchy, looks almost as bad as letting the sores go on their own, ALSO causes your lips to puff up, and can lead to dermatitis, and even permanent scarring (most of the time it's not a problem, but I do have some slight scarring from a particularly bad flareup I had as a kid).

So, as you know, I am at the moment recovering from an immunosuppressive fungal infection, complicated by a secondary infection by the flu. Basically, cold sores were going to be a given; and they showed up right on schedule.

A few years ago, a third option for treating the sores became available; a topical cream with a 10% solution of Docosanol (a fatty alcohol), sold under the name Abreva here in the U.S.

Up until now I hadn't bothered trying it because of the cost (about $13); but this is the most severe flareup of cold sores I've had in years. Seriously, my mouth is totally fishlipped and swollen; and I've got an ulcerated tongue, making eating, drinking, and talking, all painful.

So I thought, what the hell, if it works, the $13 is a bargain; and instead of my usual lance and flush treatment (which leaves me at most with slightly swollen lips and a scab for a few days)I used the Abreva.

I really wish I hadn't.

The idea behind the Abreva cream, is that the fatty alcohol in a topical solution will be absorbed through the skin without lancing the sores, then do the same thing as flushing them with alcohol; only slower, and with less skin damage.

I knew the cold sores were going to come, and knew I needed to start abreva "at the first tingle", so I had Mel pick some up for me in advance. I started spreading it on the tingly area from the first tingel, then the other areas as they got tingly too; and it not only didn't slow down, or stop the blisters from forming; I'm pretty sure the abreva accelerated it.

Maybe that idea works for other people, but in my case, all the abreva did was numb my lips a bit, and make it easier for the sores to spread by drying out the skin at the edges of the sores (dry skin cracks, the virus laden fluid seeps into the cracks, then forms another sore).

My advice is, don't waste your money. If you need to stop the spread of cold sores, or need them to heal faster; either do the alcohol treatment as I describe, or pay for the Aciclovir prescription, because Abreva is just a waste of money.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The single greatest achievment in the history of mankind

In a way you've probably never seen before:



It's a shame we've wasted the last 40 years since isn't it?

Anyway, I felt the need to counterbalance the Oscar triviality.

HT on the video to Depleted Cranium, the bad science blog.

So how'd I do on the Oscars predictions?

Let's see how I did with my Oscar predictions; having only seen about six of the nominated films.

First, an explanation of the format from my original prediction post the day the noms were announced:
I'm going to intersperse my commentary, and my predictions will be in bold. If I bold two, it's because I can't really decide which one. If I italicize it, it's because I think that entry SHOULD win, instead of the one I think WILL win.
So, simple format; and I'll intersperse my comments:
Best Motion Picture Of The Year:

Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Not exactly a surprise here. Slumdog took every oscar it was nominated for except sound editing (which went, unsurprisingly, to Dark Knight).
Achievement In Directing:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button David Fincher
Frost/Nixon Ron Howard
Milk Gus Van Sant
The Reader Stephen Daldry
Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle
As I said when they announced the nominsations "No question here, Danny Boyle is getting his Oscar. There isn't even an outside shot for anyone else". And there wasn't.
Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role:

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn in Milk
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
So this one reversed on me; but I always suspected it might. When the nominations were announced, there was a strong backlash against Sean Penn, and a groundswell for Mickey Rourke. Since then, Penn has been pulling a hardcore lefty suckup (no pun intended); and Rourke has been refusing to play the game, making a ridiculously profane (though hilarious and fun) and clearly intoxicated (well... maybe not. Maybe thats just him after 30 years of destroying his brain) acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit awards, and going so far as to say he didn't hate Bush. That pretty well decided it.

I will say, I did appreciate that Penn gave a shoutout to Rourke at the end though. It seemed that Penn was genuinely surprised that the statue didn't go to Rourke.
Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role:

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Josh Brolin in Milk
Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road
Again, no discussion necessary; this one was Ledgers before the movie ever opened Loved the tribute by his family.
Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role:

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie in Changeling
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
Meryl Streep in Doubt
Kate Winslet in The Reader
There was a severe ani-Winslet backlash after she cleaned up (and showed an astonishing lack of good grace) at the Golden Globes; so for a while it looked like someone else had a shot, but then her Campaign kicked into high gear, and all was forgiven.

Oh and Winslet proved again that she should never go off script, telling Meryl Streep she'd just have to suck it up losing this one. I'm sure it just came out wrong and wasn't intended to sound crass, but it did.
Performance By An Actress n A Supporting Role:

Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Amy Adams in Doubt
Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis in Doubt
Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler
No surprise there. Good looking girl that everyone likes, with a reputation for doing arty indie work with good directors, her second nomination, nominated in a supporting role in a Woody Allen film. She was always a lock.
Best Animated Feature Film Of The Year:

Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
WALL-E
It's not like the other nominees even needed to be considered.
Original Screenplay:

WALL-E
Frozen River
Happy-Go-Lucky
In Bruges
Milk
When the nominations were announced I said I thought Milk would likely get it "since the writer himself is both a well known gay activist, filmmaker and writer; and an ex mormon who is very publicly critical of the church"; though "Happy go Lucky" had an outside shot at a consolation prize. Turns out I was right.

Oh and other stars who have a "cause" should really take a lesson from Dustin Lance Black (the winner here). He gave one of the best acceptance speeches of the night, and he did it with strength, pride, and class; and without trying to preach.

Sadly, Sean Penn didn't get that lesson (as if anyone would expect him to).
Adapted Screenplay:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Doubt
Frost/Nixon
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
Again, I'm guessing Slumdog continued its sweep; giving "Full Monty" writer Simon Beaufoy his first statue (he was nominated for Monty though).

Although I didn't predict it in my post, I expected that best foreign language film would go to "Waltz with Bashir"... and judging from reactions today, so did everyone else. It appears that though anti-israeli, it wasn't anti-israeli enough for hollywoods taste (it certainly was not for the Lebanese or Arabs). Of course the film was barely considered for any Oscar, after they deliberately changed the rules to disqualify it from the animated and documentary categories.

So of the main predictions I made, how'd I do? 8 for 9 in the majors, and the ninth was always a split.

I also predicted in comments that Button would win for best makeup, best visual effects, best art direction, best cinematography, and best editing. I went 3 for 5 there; with Slumdog surprising me to take editing and cinematography (again, it took every oscar it was nominated for except best sound editing).

Not bad for someone who didn't see any of the best picture, best actor, best actress, or best supporting actress nominees eh? In fact of the winners, I only saw Wall-E and Dark Knight.

As to the show as a whole, what did I think?

Well first of all, the GAYEST Oscars ever; and it was very much deliberate. Personally, I enjoyed the musical numbers, and the overall design and feel of the thing.

I very much enjoyed the treatment of the four acting categories; choosing previous winners in the category to deliver the nomination, rather than the film clip that has been typical of the past few years. It added a personal element that I thought was touching (except in the case of Sophia Loren, who unfortunately still barely speaks any english; so at least it's understandable).

Bill Maher... well, honestly, what did you expect? It's Bill Maher.

I appreciated that it was a relatively short telecast, and well paced; but they still got in the major features, like the songs. No interpretive dance this time thank god, but the "The Muscial is Back" number in the middle was great fun. Was it too much? Yes. That was the point.

But what can I say, I've always loved musicals.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I frikking hate frikking Arizona

So about two months back, I got pretty sick. At first we thought it was a sinus infection and bronchitis; but I got a severe rash, and started having pretty bad muscle and joint pain.

You got it, motherfrakkin valley fever. Now generally valley fever isn't serious; and there's no real treatment for it, you just sort of wait it out until your immune system recovers; except instead of a week like the flu, it can take a couple months to completely recover, during which time you get every virus that wafts by your nose.

After about three weeks, I was 90% OK; but I was still getting a little upper respiratory schmutz, and my sinuses weren't clear.

Livable, but a bit irritating.

More irritating to me however was that during the two months while I was sick, my activity level plummeted to near zero, and I went off my restricted diet (you can't fight illness without energy); and I managed to gain about 30 lbs.

So last week I started back on my restricted calorie diet. I was also having more reflux than usual so I upped my UC meds a bit; which are themselves somewhat immunosuppressant.

..and we're into one of the worst flu seasons in years.

Restrictive diet, plus immunosuppressant, plus dormant valley fever, plus flu = death like misery for Chris.

I'm an idiot. I weakened my immune system through diet and medication; so I have no right to be surprised that I'm in full relapse since yesterday afternoon.. Fever popped to 102, every muscle in my body feels like I bruised it, and my chest feels like I'm trying to breathe tar.

Oh well, it's my own stupid fault... and at least the rash isn't back.

Anyway, the fever is back down somewhat and I'm taking all the palliative steps I can. If I spike again I'll hit the urgent care, but it's probably just going to be another week of waiting it out.

A grave lack, that must immediately be corrected

Last night, I learned that my wife has never seen Caddyshack.

The poor woman.

Sadly, I'd seen it so many times I never bothered buying the DVD so I couldn't correct the problem immediately; but through the wonders of Amazon it will be here Tuesday.

Imagine going through life without benefit of the wisdom of Ty Webb and Carl Spackler...

Remember, Be the Ball.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Finally someone on latenight gets honest



You had me at "We're Fucked"...

Love it.

A Little of Both I Think

"You're suggesting that working in IT makes you a spiteful vindictive bastard with borderline Aspergers?'

'If we're talking cause and effect here it might be that being a spiteful vindictive bastard with a mild personality disorder might attract you to IT," I counter, "as opposed to IT making you that way"
From the most recent BOFH

Random Pop Cultural Tidbit

Carl Edwards (the backflipping NASCAR driver) speaks, and has mannerisms, EXACTLY like Kenneth Parcell.

I mean, creepy, like as in I expected him to start talking about the mountain witch.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Damn, I wish I could see that

I've mentioned here in the past how fond I am of comedian and comic actor Lenny Henry. I think "Chef" is one of the best sitcoms ever made, and that his variety and ensemble work is also among the best ever (just one step below Fry, Laurie, Moore, Cook etc...).

The thing which strikes one most about Henry is his intensity, combined with his clear humanity and good nature. Playing the maniacally mean Gareth Blackstock in "Chef", he was always still relatable and likable and human. There was always a softness to his meanness that showed his true nature.

One cannot think of Lenny Henry, without thinking of him smiling.

I've also said many times before, that though it is relatively rare to see a dramatic actor do well with comedy (they usually don't have the timing); it's amazing how often a comedic actor will surprise and delight you with their dramatic capabilities (Danny Kaye being probably the most outstanding example I can think of).

Finally, I haven't seen a good Othello in at least ten years. Late last year I found out they had done a production with Eamonn Walker (of "Oz" fame for most Americans); and I REALLY wanted to see that (I'm a big fan of Walker. Amazing expressive capacity in that man). I'm in luck in that it was recorded for the BBC so I may be able to get my hands on it; but it's not the same as live.

So imagine my jealousy of those who have the opportunity to see this:


Rather than a theatrical car crash, Othello with Lenny Henry at the West Yorkshire Playhouse is a triumph.

By Charles Spencer
Last Updated: 9:54AM GMT 19 Feb 2009


When I heard that the comedian Lenny Henry was to play Othello it struck me as a cynically opportunistic piece of casting.

Henry is a palpably decent and amiable man, and a genuinely beloved public figure. But, to be frank, he has never struck me as much of a comedian, let alone an actor, and his dramatic experience in the theatre extends only to panto and youthful appearances with the Black and White Minstrels in summer season.

How on earth then was he going to cope with Othello, one of the most challenging roles in dramatic literature, which demands a combination of superb verse speaking and lashings of raw, racked emotion?

Frankly, I was expecting to review a theatrical car crash. What a pleasure then to report that Henry truly triumphed last night.

Continues at link...
I heard that Idris Elba (of "The Wire") was also doing an Othello production; but it was also going to be in London (where Elba is originally from).

Why can't there be a great modern (but not a "reimagining". I want the bards words being spoken in 14th century italy) American production of Othello, starring an American?

There are no shortage of great black actors in America. Laurence Fishburne played Othello in Brannaghs production (I enjoyed it, but it was an uneven production and an uneven performance). I'd bet that Forrest Whitaker could play an amazing Othello.

I'd really like to see it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I can't believe I haven't explicitly stated this before

This evening, a friend was asking me to clarify some points of catholic doctrine, as regards communion, one's conscience, and the teachings of the church.

We had what I hope was a fruitful discussion; but there was a specific element I wanted to address.

Apparently, I've managed to go four years without explicitly stating this; though I know I've made reference to it in the past several times:

Abortion is morally wrong, in all cases and at all times. Abortion is always homicide (though in some cases, for grave reasons, homicide can be justified). Abortion for anything other than grave reasons is murder. Certainly abortions of convenience are murder.

Pro-choice is just a polite way of saying pro-murder; and believing anything else is just sophistry.

It IS murder. If you are "pro choice" either you are deluding yourself; or you just think it's OK because an unborn life isn't worth as much as the one who wants to end it.

In this, you are wrong.

Choosing to end the life of a baby because it is inconvenient to you (even if it would "ruin your life") is no different than choosing to shoot a grown man because HE was "ruining your life".

And trying to say "but it isn't a life" is, again, sophistry. If you must take action to destroy that life, or he will be born; that is no different than waiting for him to be born and strangling him.

You may rail and scream all you want, it won't make you right on this point. You are wrong, and there is simply no way around it.

There is no morally defensible argument, that abortion is anything other than morally wrong.

HOWEVER, that doesn't mean it should be outlawed. There are circumstances under which abortion should be allowed. There are circumstances under which abortion is necessary.

There are some practical, legal considerations which need to be addressed.

I don't believe the government should have the power to decide matters of life and death arbitrarily (and yes, I know, in many cases they do today. That doesn't make it right or good).

The Government should not be able to legislate such things as this; except in the most basic way, laying out a framework for an ethical choice to be made.

At the most basic level, it should be made legally clear, that prior to decidualization (the successful implantation of a fertilized egg, and formation of protective constructs that allow the embryo to safely develop), that there is no murder; because there is no pregnancy.

The mere presence of a fertilized egg that does not implant, does not mean a human life has been ended. The human body spontaneously rejects such things on it's own many times.

This would allow for some variants of chemical pregnancy prevention; including various treatments currently referred to as "morning after" pills.

On the other side of things, it should be made legally clear that a viable baby (which can be as early as six months) should NEVER be aborted, even in the case of grave need. In the event of an emergency threatening the mothers life; her life, and that of the baby should be treated equally, and all measures should be taken to save both.

Finally, it should be made legally clear that all termination of a viable pregnancy (that is a pregnancy which is past decidulization) IS homicide; but as with other homicides, it may be justified under grave circumstances.

The government would be perfectly justified in requiring that all doctors recieve ethical training as to the above; and that those who seek abortions receive counseling in such matters.

The government is also justified in requiring that parents of girls under 16 who seek abortions must be notified (though I do not believe the parents should have the right to say no; they should be notified).

However, the choice as to the gravity of need should be left up to the woman, and her doctor.

Notice, this doesn't change the moral status of such a choice. It is always wrong, and nothing can change that. However, involving the government in such a matter as choosing who lives and who dies is an even greater wrong.

Yes, this will result in women and doctors who perform unjustified abortions. That is a better alternative than giving a bureaucrat the power to decide.

Everyone is responsible for their own moral choices; and they will face the consequences of those choices; both in life, and if you believe as I do, after it.

In general, one should have to bear the consequences of ones actions; and if you choose to have sex, even if you use birth control which fails; then you should be forced to bear the consequences.

For example however, there is in fact one specific instance (though not necessarily the only instance, it is the clearest example... and even in that it's muddier than the mississippi), that of rape.

One should not be required by law to bear the consequences of someone removing your free will.

I believe abortion in that circumstance is acceptable, because it would be equally wrong to force a woman to accept the consequences that were forced on them by another, against their will.

I believe this, because the forcible abrogation of anothers free will without great justification, is as great an evil as murder is (and in fact I believe; born both of my philosophy, and my experience with rap survivors, and rapists; that rape is a greater evil than murder).
An aside note, I believe there are three crimes worse than murder: On an individual basis, slavery and rape; along with their equivalents (like child molestation; and true torture, which is effectively both, and of course their mass forms like systemic slavery, concentration camps etc... ). On a mass basis, genocide and democide.
This stance will displease those who have a strict "right to life" philosophy; but I don't much care. They will say "but what about the babys interests? They aren't guilty and shouldn't be punished"...

...which is true, the baby isn't guilty and shouldn't be punished; but forcing a woman to accept the consequences of having their free will forcibly abrogated is more evil than aborting a baby (unless that baby is viable, as I said above. Under no circumstances should a viable baby be aborted. If she wanted not to live with the consequences forced upon her, she should have made her decision before the baby was viable).

Again however, none of this makes abortion morally right under any circumstances. Abortion is always morally wrong.

The fact is, we do not live in a moral world. Sometimes you have to make bad choices, because they are the only options you have; or because the other options are far worse. Sometimes you have to make the least bad choice, and sometimes abortion is that choice

Just because it was the least wrong thing to do at that moment however, doesn't change the fact that abortion is always morally wrong.

I came to this moral judgment completely independent of my religious views; and believe this fully, outside the context of my religion. I came to this judgment during the time in which I explicitly rejected the church and its teachings; and I believe it is true in any moral context, without regard to religion.

Abortion is always morally wrong, no matter what belief system you follow.

Though of course, I am a catholic, and I cannot say my moral sense is not informed by my Catholicism. Of course it is, and to say otherwise would also be sophistry.

EDIT: In response to comments, I added some exposition on the role of government and law, and practical considerations; and I clarified some language.

Illustrating the Point


Short little illustration of why megapixels beyond 6 or so are mostly pointless except for huge enlargements; and why a 6mp DSLR takes about 10,000 times better pics than say, your cell phone camera.

Oh and it's also a decent illustration of why I want a D700, even though I have a perfectly adequate D80.

Sweet

Literally... though actually, slightly less sweet than before:



In the middle of April, PBV [Pepsi Bottling Ventures] also will begin distributing Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback, which features those brands formulated with sugar.
I bet Greg Dean is having a heart attack right now.

I'm looking forward to it; though I've switched mostly to diet, I still have the occasional real sugar coke. Now I can have a real sugar Mountain Dew instead.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I don't want to be WoWed

Frequently, my fellow geeks are surprised to learn that while I am familiar with World of Warcraft (how can you be a geek today and not be); even familiar enough to get WoW jokes, and be amused by WoW themed and/or inspired comics and videos (Looking for Group is one of my favorite web comics); I don't play WoW.

I don't play WoW, because I don't like WoW.

In fact, I don't care for MMOs in general. They're fun for me for a few weeks, or even a month or two (basically until the solo gameplay aspects limit out), then I get bored.

I love role playing games; but I prefer they be single or multiplayer, not massively multiplayer... Or really I prefer they involve 3-7 people who I like (or at least tolerate), in a single room, with books and dice.

As for electronic gaming, I just don't like social network gaming. I enjoy social gaming, like Rock Band; and I like networked gaming when it is focused on individual achievements, or ad hoc groups (I enjoyed City of Heros for months, because it was entirely possible to advance through the game without ever having to have a "guild"); but not games that require the formation of online social networks (which is the fundamental mechanic of most MMOs, including WoW).

I'll gladly pay $60 for a game with an excellent, immersive single player storyline and gameplay. I won't pay a dime for a gameplay environment that requires me to create or join an online interest group, completely detached from "reality", in order to "get the full experience".

I build teams and manage projects, and schedule group efforts all day at work; and THEY pay ME, not the other way around.

I don't need or want that class of interaction. I have my job, my friends, my wife and my family, my gaming group (a subclass of friend as it were), and you guys for that.

"How bad is it going to get?"

Yesterday, a reader wrote:
"I have been wondering how bad the current economic "crisis" will get. Depending on who I talk to I have been told everything from this is simply part of the normal cycle of economics to being told to invest heavily in ammo"

Ok, here's my take on it.

Short term? Not too bad. Unemployment and the credit crunch are going to creep up a bit more; but for the most part the recovery has actually already started.

Though, if the government (Democrat and Republican) continue their spending spree, they could double hump this recession.... actually, I think it's likely at this point.

The "stimulus" and "bailout" won't be doing any real stimulating (except maybe in the auto industry); and could very well end up pushing us into the doublehump recession by preventing the efficient allocation and reallocation of capital and labor resources.

I have said from the beginning, this was a manufactured crisis. The banking shock and housing crash would have been serious, but relatively minor bumps; if they weren't blown up all out of proportion by the media and government.

Through this deliberate manipulation (and yes, it was deliberate), the sectoral recession became a self fulfilling prophecy of general recession.

This was done intentionally, to create political opportunity for a plain and naked power grab (Rahm Emmanuel publicly admitted that much); and an explosion of graft, "legitimate" bribery, and vote buying not seen since Tammany.

In the long term, there could be some serious repercussions to our economy as a whole. Partly, it depends on how successful the democrats are at pushing us into socialism; or at the least, their manipulation of markets, and incentive structure.

Mostly however, it really depends on what the Chinese do.

Yes, we're going to see an inflation hit from all this (should be a big one actually, though not 1979 big); but our RELATIVE inflation is actually far less than most other currencies around the world (and considerably less than the euro). Because of this, even with our mess right now, we're actually gaining in value against most major currencies (excepting of course the Yuan).

The Chinese are holding the line on relative currency valuation by buying up as much of our debt as possible, because their trade and current accounts depend on the value of the dollar; but they can't do it forever, or THEIR economy will tank from the other side of things (especially if we keep inflating, and accumulating debt; which is the current Democratic "plan").

A debt sell off (unlikely, because it would destroy their economy as well), or a recession in China (much more likely) would stop them, and us, flat; and then the entire world will go into a true depression.

We need to avoid that at all costs; but it's not something we have much control over; and the current government in this country seem hell bent on pushing us over that cliffs edge.

What needs to happen here to allow us to rebalance and make a true long term recovery, is a massive deleveraging, and moderate deflation for a year or two.

If we allowed that to happen naturally (and it's too late to do so really, given the stimulus and bailout, but we could still salvage something); it would mean perhaps two years of negative growth, and a spike in unemployment, with a lot of bankruptcies, mergers, consolidations and writedowns. However, it would be followed by a period of rapid growth and expansion as capital gets more efficiently reallocated.

It's called the business cycle, and it works, and it's historically proven.

Unfortunately the government is actively and aggressively preventing that natural rebalancing from happening. We should be trying for a short sharp shock, and instead they are trying to move us into the European/Japanese style social protectionist stagnation.

If China holds strong, we will slowly recover, and Europe will slowly sink. If China falters, everything goes into freefall for a while, but we come out on top because of our structural strengths (again, presuming the government doesn't try to destroy those strengths through more socialism and market distortion).

...That may take 20 years though; and what happened in the mean time would be unpleasant.

Oh and that's not even taking into account the coming "retirement bomb" for Social Security and Medicare... that one makes this one look like a minor hiccup.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pissing Apple and AT&T Off

My internet access has been down all morning (major regional failure on Qwest choice fiber internet; apparently not on their standard DSL); which is not great when it comes to my working, but at least I've got basic coms, and an alternate net connection.

I'm connecting to post this, through my jailbroken iPhone, using the internet connection sharing app "PdaNet" (which I highly recommend to anyone who jailbreaks their iPhone; and I highly recommend jailbreaking your iPhone), and accessing the net using my AT&T 3g connection.

It's a bit slow, but overall not bad. I wouldn't watch streaming video or download large files, but for email and blog posts, it's just fine.

However, if Apple has their way, it will be declared a violation of the DMCA to do this, and I would be subject to a $2500 fine and up to two years imprisonment.

Oh and AT&T wants to SELL me this service, for a $30 a month additional charge; for no extra capability, and in fact, adding a 5GB bandwidth cap.

Why is it that executives in so many of our large companies really don't seem to understand that screwing the customer isn't a viable profit making plan.

I have something to say

No-one is defined by any one thing; least of all their race (or their sex, or their ancestry, or any other thing they are by accident of birth).

Anyone who attempts to define themselves, or any other person, by just one thing; is at best a fool.

Blogiversary Observed

Saturday was my blogiversary; but I had more important things to do (like spend the day with my lovely wife); and no-one reads blogs on the weekend anyway.

So, I thought I'd take a page from the federal government, and today will be my Blogiversary Observed.

A lot has changed in the last four years. I've acquired a wife, and two wonderful children. I've moved into a career making position. I've made so many amazing friends, and had so many interesting experiences.

This marks my 2380th post; for an aggregate total of perhaps 3 million words (I really don't know, but I estimate it at 3 million. I don't know, because when I run a blog export to put it into a word processor to get a count, most of 2005 and 2006 are missing, and I don't know why. The rest add up to about 1.5 million words).

In 4 years, I've had just under 1.5 million unique visitors, and 2.6 million page views. Not as much as some, but not too shabby; especially considering that in the 12 years I'd had a web site before I started my blog, I had a total of about 150,000 hits, most of which were on my resume.

You keep reading, I'm'na keep writing.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

50 years ago, a man asked a simple question...

... with a complicated answer:

"Why cannot we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the head of a pin?"

Many years later, I read that question for the first time, and it changed my life.

The man who asked that question was Richard Feynman. He was one of my personal heroes, and he died 21 years ago today.

His speech "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom"; was the first entry into the public mind, of the possibility of nano-science:
"I imagine experimental physicists must often look with envy at men like Kamerlingh Onnes, who discovered a field like low temperature, which seems to be bottomless and in which one can go down and down. Such a man is then a leader and has some temporary monopoly in a scientific adventure. Percy Bridgman, in designing a way to obtain higher pressures, opened up another new field and was able to move into it and to lead us all along. The development of ever higher vacuum was a continuing development of the same kind.

I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This field is not quite the same as the others in that it will not tell us much of fundamental physics (in the sense of, ``What are the strange particles?'') but it is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous number of technical applications.

What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale.

As soon as I mention this, people tell me about miniaturization, and how far it has progressed today. They tell me about electric motors that are the size of the nail on your small finger. And there is a device on the market, they tell me, by which you can write the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin. But that's nothing; that's the most primitive, halting step in the direction I intend to discuss. It is a staggeringly small world that is below. In the year 2000, when they look back at this age, they will wonder why it was not until the year 1960 that anybody began seriously to move in this direction.

Why cannot we write the entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the head of a pin?
"
Feynman was; between the time when Albert Einstein passed in 1955, until his own passing, and the entry into the public conscience of Stephen Hawking (with the publication of "A Brief History of Time" in 1988); the worlds most public face of mathematics and physics. Though Carl Sagan was arguably more famous (he did have a TV show after all); no-one had more influence, or impact, or more respect.

When the Challenger disaster was investigated, it was Feynman who was selected (as the most respected name in science), to give credibility to the largely political committee. It was also Feynman who exposed the institutional bias, and marginal competence that caused the disaster in the first place.

It wasn't because of his brilliance (not that he wasn't brilliant) so much as his uncanny ability to relate both to other scientists, and to the general public.

He had a knack for explaining physics... or anything else for that matter... in a way that anyone could understand.

He was a nobel prize winner; but he also danced like a goofball, and played the bongos, and made AWFUL jokes, and played juvenile pranks.

He was the antithesis of popular perception of scientists. He was a geek, but he wasn't JUST a geek; which is the mold popular culture tried to shove us all into for so many years.

When he died, his students placed this banner on the Miliken library:


Feynman would certainly have loved the phallic pun involved right there.

In 1960, Feynman was asked to prepare a new curriculum for freshman physics as Cal Tech (where he was a professor). He agreed to do so, provided he only had to teach the course once. Out of that course came the single greatest education in the broad base of physics, to ever have been assembled.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics are required reading for anyone seeking any kind of education on the subject. They are accessible to anyone with a more than basic knowledge of math and science; but still useful to professional physicists, who may re-read them periodically to refresh their meory on a particular topic.

I have a set, and have had since I was a teenager. They are also available electronically online; and I strongly suggest anyone with any interest in science at all seek them out and read them fully... and over again every year or two.

I also recommend his three books; "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman", "What do you care what other people think?", and "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" all of which were compiled from his written essays, and tapes of his extended interviews with his writing partner Ralph Leighton, and others.

Feynman gave several lengthly televised interviews towards the end of his life; I've embedded the first episode of several of them here.

Nova - "The best mind since Einstein?":



QED:



The Pleasure of Finding Things Out:



Take the World From Another Point of View:

Boosting The Energy

Seven Seas of Rhye:



Keep Yourself Alive:



Don't Stop Me Now:



Hammer to Fall:



Princes of the Universe:



One Vision:



Or you can watch the extended version here, with even more really great backstage and studio footage.

Seriously, how can you listen to Queen, and not get amped up? And just watch the energy that Freddy is putting out. If that doesn't make you get up off your ass what will?

If you know "Jet Boy Jet Girl", this is surrealistically awesome

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Possibly the most profound words I have ever heard spoken

"We are living in a universe of willing slaves; which is what makes the concept of liberty so dangerous, and the concept of freedom so dangerous" -- James Baldwin

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If you get this...

...you are as big a geek as I am... or love puns waaaaayyy tooo much. Extra credit if you start growing by the third frame:



Click to embiggen

Camera Lust

So yesterdays lens post prompted a reader to comment "You are inciting camera lust".

Oh, you think so? Honey I aint even started yet ;-)

Seriously, I love photography, and have since I was a kid. I got my first camera as a "premium" from one of those door to door sales programs for kids to sell wrapping paper and stamps and collectibles to their neighbors, that they used to advertise in boys life and the like.

It was an Ansco 110 with a built in flash... and it was utter crap. It broke pretty much right away; and my mother felt bad, and bought me a considerably less crappy Vivtar 35mm for christmas; with cheesy autofocus and auto exposure that sort of worked.

Yeah, it was a junk camera, BUT it taught me the most basic principles of photography:
  1. Interesting subjects make interesting photos

  2. Composing a shot badly can make the most interesting subject boring. Composing it well can make boring things, surprisingly interesting

  3. Lighting isn't everything, but it's everything else

  4. Great cameras don't take great photos; you do. The better the gear, the more it gets out of your way to let YOU take the photo you want; that's all.

    Oh and coincidentally, the better the gear, the easier it is for YOU to screw up the photos as well. After all, good gear assumes you know what you are doing, and just want it that way.

  5. That said, bad cameras certainly can (and frequently do) ruin good photos. Although you can take great shots with bad cameras, you're always taking a risk that the camera won't do what you need it to.

    If you want to get good shots, consistently; you need as much control, as much versatility, as much quality, as much reliability, and as much toughness as you can afford.
So gear isn't the answer... but it sure is fun to play with and drool over aint it?

I admit it, I like photography half for the photos, and half for the gear... in fact maybe more than half, considering how much of a gadget obsessed geek I am...

But really, what I want, isn't bells and whistles; it's gear that will get out of my way, and let me take the photo that I want to take.

When I was 12, I cleaned out a neighbors attic, and he let me keep anything I wanted. In that attic was a box with a Nikon F2, a 60s era Rolleiflex 35c, a light meter (my memory says Contax, but I don't think they ever made standalone meters... maybe Konica?) and a Bolex movie camera; along with some lights and accessories.

Unfortunately, they were all broken except the meter; but I was able to trade the Bolex and the lights and accessories to a Camera shop for the repairs to the Nikon and Rollei ( shutter on the Rollei, mirror on the Nikon. Monetarily I probably got the worse of that deal, but I didn't care).

The biggest problem I had with the Rollei was getting film stock for it. Of course I grew up in Boston where there was no shortage of camera shops; but I was 12. It wasn't exactly easy for me at the time. Consequently, I never used it much. Also, as I didn't have my own darkroom, development costs were high... and mostly it just sat on my shelf looking cool (until it was lost in the fire when I was 19).

Hey, what can I say, I was 12. I didn't know any better.

The F2 on the other hand... Well first, it was an F2AS with the DP-12 viewfinder, so it had automatic light metering, which was awesome; and the worlds most expensive and hardest to find batteries; which was not. Thankfully the camera was operable without batteries (how long since that's been true eh?).

I had a 50mm f/1.8 and an 85mm f/1.8 with it (from the box o goodies), but no flash. Thank god for fast lenses (sharp too, though I remember them both having a lot of what I know know is chromatic abberation).

I eventually saved and got an 80-200mm f/4.5 to go with it (flea market find actually); and an old SB-2 flash unit that went over the film winder, because the F2 didn't have a real hotshoe. It was weird... you had to take the flash off to rewind the film; and the flash batteries lasted for like a single roll anyway. It mostly got left behind, and eventually the adapter for the winder/shoe broke.

I took a LOT of pictures with that camera.

Of course I was always losing rolls of film, or forgetting to have them developed, or not having cash to have them developed... I'd guess I probably took 4 times as many shots as I ever developed, at least.

A couple years later my grandfather bought a fancy little Ricoh point and shoot, and gave me his Canon "AE-1 Program", because it was "old" (though at least 10 years newer than my Nikon) and "too big, and bulky, and complicated" for what he wanted a camera for.

He also gave me a pair of binoculars with a 110 camera built in. Very fun to play with, but I didn't use it much because the 110 camera bit was awful... huh, funny how google is. I decided I wanted to figure out what they were, and bang, one of the first results is exactly right, including the case.

Anyway, the Canon was theoretically a much "better" and more advanced camera than the Nikon, with full auto-exposure, and exposure and aperture priority program modes (which I don't remember ever using); and it had a medium size zoom lens and a decent flash with it.

Honestly, I didn't like it. I only took a few photos with it, and sold it to pay for other things (including the Nikon Speedlight, and a 24mm, or maybe 28mm, wide angle which had horrible distortion). It was too fiddly, and the controls seemed wrong... like they were in the wrong places.

However, the Nikon was almost old as I was; and there were lots of new and cool cameras coming out. In particular, new cameras with full autometering, full autofocus, built in flashes, remote shutter releases, and real hotshoes.

Unfortunately, I couldn't afford any of the new Nikons with autofocus... not by a long shot.

At the time, the then current "prosumer" Nikon SLR, the N90 (or F90 everywhere but America) was running a cool $1500 list, and even on the deepest discount was over $1000, and that wasn't even for the kit. If I remember right, at the time, the cheapest of the new generation lenses was like $400. Never mind even considering the F4, which was around $2000 (the F5 was still a couple years off).

Also, all my Nikon lenses and gear were manual focus, and mostly older than me; and while they would work with the new bodies (that's the joy of Nikon), I wouldn't get all the features possible.

And I was stupid.

I sold all my Nikon gear, to buy a fancy brand new Minolta Maxxum 3xi, a flash, and three autofocus zoom lenses (a 35-85, a 55-135, and a 135-300 if I remember correctly).

What can I say, I was a teenager.

I would KILL to have that F2 and lenses back right now (not the least consideration of, the F2 is now a collectors item, and worth a fair bit; and those lenses are spectacular).

That isn't to say that the Maxxum wasn't a great camera; it was. What it wasn't was a professional quality camera, with professional quality lenses. It was slow to shoot, slow to focus, the lenses were slow to zoom... (to be fair, all the first two generations of autofocus cameras were; escpecially in comparison to a pro manual like the F2).

I took good pictures with it, but the camera got in the way.

Finally a few years ago, I sold all my film SLR gear, thinking that I would immediately buy a Canon DSLR (the Nikons were too expensive at the time, and not as good)... and I lost my job and went broke shortly thereafter.

I was stuck with prosumer point and shoots for a few years, biding my time so to speak; and in the mean time I acquired a wife, children, and a MUCH lower budget for cameras and lenses etc...

Finally, Nikon announced the D80, a very nearly pro quality camera, at a reasonable price (I paid $1345 with an 18-135 zoom); and I was able to get back into SLR photography in the digital world.

I've been shooting with the camera since Christmas 2006, and I still love it. It's a great camera. In fact, the best I've ever owned. If you know the controls, it gives you every bit as much control as the old F bodies. No, it's not a magnesium body, and yes, there are still some control you need to access from menus, but overall I'm very happy.

There's only one problem.

It's a DX camera; which means lens cropping factor is an issue. If I want to get a really decent wide angle lens, I need to spend a LOT of money on a much wider model than if it was a full frame camera.

The fact is though, I really can't afford a full frame camera right now. The three lowest cost, good quality choices are the $4,000 Nikon D3 (apparently worth every penny, but still outrageous), the $3,000 Nikon D700, and the $3,000 Canon EOS-5D... though the D3 and 5D are being replaced by upgraded models shortly (both are officially out, but not widely available yet), so we should see SOME price drop in them (though with the D3X streeting at $8k I don't expect a huge drop), I don't think we'll be seeing any kind of full frame DSLR under $2,000 any time soon.

For those who would tell me to go to another manufacturer for a lower cost, I would say to you two words: Lens Selection

note: I always want to spell lens lense. Lense is the proper spelling. I don't know when it was decided in American english to drop the E. The pronunciation is with the Z sound, not the sibilant S; therefore should be followed by an e.

Anyone who had any plans for using a wide variety of lenses would be silly buying any camera other than a Canon or Nikon. There's nothing wrong with Pentax or Sony (formerly Minolta) lenses (and the new Sony bodies are actually quite excellent. Very good sensors -Nikon uses them- , and built in anti-shake/vibration reduction); there just aren't nearly as many of them in comparison.

Actually, that's my "camera lust" dilemma.

I can buy a used D3 for $2000, or wait a while for the price to come down a bit to around $2000 with the D3X coming out; or wait for the next generation of smaller full frame DSLRs for hopefully less money (the D700 just came out at $3000, but it's streeting at $2500 to $2700); or until some used D700s come on the market (maybe soon given the number of people who can't afford those credit card payments now)...

...But I don't have that kind of cash to spend on a camera, nor will I for a long time.

...but, I DO want to buy some different lenses, for different shots and effects than I currently have; and you can buy a fair number of lenses for $2500.00

And then of course there's the fact that DSLRs are definitely going in the full frame direction. Though the DX lenses that will do what I want right now, on the camera I have right now, are FAR cheaper than the D lenses; DX lenses aren't usable on full frame bodies...

...Well, that's not exactly true. The D3 and D700 will both autocrop their sensors to mimic a DX sensor so you can use DX lenses without vignetting; but at that point you might as well be shooting with a DX body.

So if I know I'm going to eventually buy a full frame body, isn't it a waste to buy DX lenses?

Or maybe not. After all, I'll be able to take great pictures with those lenses now, and for years in the future; and I won't be able to afford that full frame camera for years anyway.

In fact it's far more likely that I'll pick up a new old stock D300 (also a DX camera, and currently about $1500, but likely to dip under $1k sometime late this year), or maybe a D90 for the HD video feature; than spring for a D3 or D700 any time soon.

Or I could spend the extra cash for full frame (what Nikon now calls "FX"; though the lenses don't have any special designation) lenses, which work on both, and split the difference.

I have what I'll call a "lens lust list" for my current camera, that looks something like this:
  1. Nikon AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED

    Price: $700

    Notes: Basically the best DX lens ever made. It's very sharp, has relatively low distortion for the incredibly broad zoom range, has that incredibly broad zoom range, and has vibration reduction.

    This is the lens you can put on the camera and leave there forever; only taking it off if you want to use a special lens, or take a weird shot.

    This lens is in such high demand, it was consistently sold out the first three years of its production.

    I have shot with a friends sample of this lens, and I want it more than any other (thus the number 1 spot).

    Unfortunately, it's DX only; and the closest thing in an FX lens is the 24-120vr (not nearly as wide a zoom range, and especially not very wide on a DX camera; though it is $150 cheaper). In fact, it's the kit lens on the new D700; and were I buying one, it would be my default lens.

  2. Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G



    Price: $200

    Notes: The lens I talked about yesterday. A DX equivalent of the classic "fast fifty" prime lens. Very versatile, good in low light, good for fast action, great for portraits... just a good all around lens, and a good value.

  3. Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D

    Price: $329

    Notes: Pretty much the best candid portrait lens available for a Nikon F mount; whether digital or film (and this is useful on either). The fastest 50mm commonly available for under $1500. I just wish they made it (or any other full frame AF lens faster than f2) in 35mm.
  4. Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED


    Price: $475

    Notes: The longest tele with VR that doesn't require its own tripod. If I need something longer than the 18-200, I'd like to be able to reach for this; especially since with the crop factor, it's effectively a 450 (though you do lose detail compared to a real 450).

    Plus, it's a great value, and it's not a DX, so it's good for full frame.

    I could possibly live with out it if I had the 18-200DX, but if I went for the 24-120 D (full frame) alternative, I'd definitely need this one too.

  5. Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX AF 11-16 f/2.8


    Price: $650

    Notes: Basically the widest lens you can buy for a DX camera; and $300 cheaper than the Nikon equivalent, sharper, and with less distortion.

    Unfortunately, it's only DX; the closest FX is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, which is about $1800 (and three times the size and weight).
So, three of those lenses there really have no economical full frame alternative; and one has no real alternative period.

On a full frame body, the 35mm f1.8 would be replaced by the 50mm f/1.4, and I'd need a fast 75mm to 85mm prime to replace on full frame what the 50mm was doing for me on DX. Nikon has their 85mm f/1.4, and it now sells for about $1100; though the 85mm f/1.8 is only $400, and is smaller and lighter.

To get the full frame versions of the three that HAVE them, would run an extra at least $1000... and several thousand to get full frame equivalents for everything. Of coure if I DIDN'T spend more on the D lenses, when I upgraded to full frame, I'd have $1550 worth of lenses that I wouldn't be able to use.

Oh well, it's nice to dream, since I don't have the cash for any of it right now anyway.

Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do

Actually, I think there's a lot more than five; but here's a good start:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Well, I'm Not

and NEVER will be... but at least they're finally admitting they are:




Yes, that is actually the Newsweek cover, for this story. I suppose since they're already using Newspeak and doublethink, the rest of the ingsoc program is acceptable to them as well.

A Prime Lens



That, is Nikons new "fast 50" for DX sensor cameras. Technically speaking it's the "AF-S DX Nikkor 35MM f/1.8G", so it's not really a 50mm lens at all, but in effect it is.

The fast 50 prime lens is the most basic SLR lens for all photography. It's the default general photography lens, and has been since the invention of the SLR.

... and up 'til now, Nikon DSLRs have been missing one.

Oh yeah, there's been a 50mm available, in fact a really quite decent 50mm kit lens that came with the D40 kit, and an 18-55 kit zoom that was decent (though it's an f/3.5); but on a less than full frame digital camera (any camera less than 2 grand) a 50mm isn't actually a 50mm.

With any digital camera where the sensor is smaller than a full 35mm film frame, lenses have what's called a cropping factor, or a multiplier. The DX is 66.6% full frame area, therefore it has a cropping factor of 1.5 (Canons sensor is 62.5% for a 1.6x cropping factor). so a 50mm lens used on a DX will have the same effective focal length of a 75mm lens used on a full frame camera. In order to get an effective 50mm focal length on a DX, you need to use a 34mm lens.

That's a pretty significant difference; and it's why it's such a pain to get good fast primes (a prime is a non-zoom lens), and especially a pain to get good wide angle lenses.

For example, the 24mm wide angle is the standard for full frame photographers. In order to get the same effect on a DX body, you need to go down to 15mm; which is INSANELY wide, and thus insanely expensive, especially for a fast lens (a lens with a large usable aperture).

Zeiss makes some really spectacular fast 50mm lenses, with f/1.4 models runing around $500 and even an f/.7 at around $4k; but nothing wider than 50mm in those speeds, leaving DX users out in the cold.

Generally speaking, the shorter the focal length below 50mm, or longer above 135mm, the more expensive glass is. Also generally speaking the faster the lens, the more expensive it is.

Ok so why is this important?

Wide lenses, let you capture more of a scene, with greater sharpness, and less distortion. Fast lenses gather more light, which also means more sharpness and less distortion; and they let you shorten your depth of field more (keep the subject in sharp focus while blurring the background). Prime lenses gather more light, and distort less than zoom lenses; and they're also smaller, lighter, and more reliable (and generally cheaper than a zoom of equivalent speed and quality, but not always).

What exactly do I mean by "fast"?

Basically the smaller a minimum f stop number a lens has, the larger its aperture can open. The larger the aperture opens, the more light it lets in; therefore the faster it will expose film. Lenses with f/2.8 or below are generally considered "fast", and anything below f/2 is very fast.

F stops are based on powers of the square root of 2 (1, 1.414, 1.999, 2.827 etc...) rounded, and each progressive full stop allows twice as much light to come in; thus doubling the speed of the lens. So 1, is twice as fast as 1.4, which is twice as fast as 2, which is twice as fast as 2.8, which is twice as fast as 4 and so on.

A 1.4 is the fastest common lens of any focal length, and lets in 4 times as much light as a 2.8; which is 2 stops (or 6/3 stops, as most lenses are calibrated in 1/3 stops) slower. A 1.8 is 4/3 faster than 2.8 so it lets in about 3 times the light.

So a very fast, relatively wide, prime, at a low cost (about $200), is a big deal. This new lens, at 35mm and f/1.8, will give DX shooters the fastest first party 50mm class lens (effectively 52.5mm) available for less than $1500.

I say "first party", because Sigma does have a 30mm 1.4, which is both wider and faster; but it's a $500 lens, and its optical quality and build quality aren't spectacular (significant aspheric and chromatic abberation, and edge distortion); and it's lens coatings are inferior to Nikon, for signifcantly worse light transmission at a given aperture.

I don't mean to say the Sigma is a bad lens; any lens that wide with that large an aperture is going to have some distortion; it's just that it's not up to the same quality as Nikon.

Now admittedly, I'd love it if it were a 30mm f/1.4; but Nikon doesn't make anything wider than a 50mm any faster than 1.8 (at least not anymore. They used to, but it was $2,500)... Oh, except for a 35mm 1.4 manual focus; but it's designed for stationary studio photography.

Up 'til now, I thought in order to get into the 50 range with acceptable speed, I'd need to buy one of the $1,000 plus high dollar f/2.8 ultrawide zooms; and they have unacceptable edge distortion and chromatic abberation (an inherent issue with ultrawide zooms). Now for $200 I can get three times the light gathering capacity (or be considerably sharper at the same aperture), without the distortion.

I'll be picking one up as soon as the pipeline allows it. Knowing Nikon they won't make enough to cover demand for the first year.

Time for some twilight shots; and some nice fixed interiors under natural lighting.

Monday, February 09, 2009

So, we're not all going to drown, or be killed by hurricanes?

This is the single best, and clearest, explanation of the Rationalist Position on wlobal warming I've Ever Seen


Key line: "So, why don't we ever talk about the suns contribution to global warming? ...Well, because we can't regulate it, tax it, or make it feel guilty for what it's doing".

Got it in one there friend.

There's no profit, political gain, or power to be grabbed from acknowledging the real causes, and real effects of whatever global warming there actually is. So, the interested parties simply ignore all that, shout down anyone who disagrees with them, and go about seizing as much power as they can, in a disorderly fashion.

From "What You Oughta Know", a website with videos explaining an assortment of general, and sometimes esoteric knowledge.

Oh and here are the links he mentioned in the video:

Pacific Research Institute:
the documentary, more information

Reid A. Bryson - scroll down for ice cap article

Solar Activity: A dominant factor in climate dynamics - scroll down read sections in blue

BBC’s The Great Global Warming Swindle

Other possible causes for global warming



Oh and just for fun, here's the same sites take on "Liberals vs. Conservatives"... which is really a pretty solid explanation of the foundations of minarchist positions:



And a great take on the bailout: