14 February, 2008

Shitstorm at US House of Representatives

A shitstorm just happened today in the U.S. House of Representatives.
(I'll start with a quick summary, and then go into detail for those who want more info.)
A congressman died not long ago, and the service was held this morning at the House. But Republicans interrupted it midstream with political talk, which got Democrats riled up. Then democrats refused to vote on FISA, which got Republicans all riled up, too. So every time anything happened afterward, the republicans retaliated by using the House rules to annoy Democrats as much as possible. Then Democrats retaliate by deciding to authorize a deputizion of a civil force to potentially arrest White House officals, and Republicans are so pissed that they boycott the vote and stampede out.
This all really happened today in the House of Representatives. CSPAN was never this good before.

Okay, so for the 10% of you who want to know more, here's the rundown.
First, on Congressman Tom Lantos' service interruption, the details I have are still sketchy. I'll update this later once I get more info.
Second, on FISA: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires this weekend. Once it expires, if a new category of target needs to be surveilled, the surveillance of thoe targets has to wait until a new FISA bill is passed. This is not as bad as Bush and other republicans are making it out to be; it's not like current terrorists will cease to be surveilled, nor is it true that new terrorists will not be able to be surveilled, so long as they are a part of a group we are already aware of--at least for the next year. It really isn't that big a deal at all, but hearing Bush speak, you'd never realize that. He is saying that because of the House not passing a bill on this, they are putting Americans at risk.
Anyway, the reason the House is not passing the bill is very easy to understand: they don't want to give the Telecom industry retroactive immunity from the violations of privacy law they perpetrated after 9/11. Bush's argument is that if they don't get immunity, then in the future, the Telecoms won't actively help us out in surveilling terrorists. This is true enough. But it leaves out the fact that if we know of a terrorist that needs to be surveilled, we can always get a court order to force the telecoms to help. Their voluntary help is not necessary, and I for one feel much better living in a world where the telecoms are scared to just volunteer information that they think might interest the gov't. And no, that doesn't make me a terrorist.
The second reason the House isn't passing the bill is because as currently written, the Senate bill cedes authority to the Executive branch that allows them to have surveillance powers beyond what is regulated in FISA. In effect, this would give a blank check (albeit to an account with limited funds) to Bush to trample over even more civil liberties. The House would prefer a FISA bill that has exclusive control over foreign surveillance.
In addition, I should mention that it is not like they just up and said they're not going to pass FISA. They offered a limited short term extension to the current FISA so they can debate more and come to a consensus later on. The republicans passed on this, trying to force the democrats to pass their version of FISA instead. It would've worked, too, since it appears that there are enough votes in the House to actually pass the republican's version. But democrats siderailed a vote by instead voting on other things.
This whole time, the republicans were doing everything they could to annoy democrats during the proceedings. Someone would say: "I'd like to call for an early adjournment", and then another republican would second. This forced Pelosi to call a vote on the issue: she would ask all who wanted adjournment to say 'aye', and those opposed to say 'nay'. Nearly everyone would say 'nay', of course, since they were in the middle of doing their work for the day--even Republicans didn't really want to adjourn, since they were trying to get the democrats to hold the FISA vote. So Pelosi would proclaim that the nays have it, and another republican would dispute this obviously correct assessment, and another rep. would second it. Which means that they'd have to take a written vote, one by one, which, by the way, takes at least fifteen minutes in the House. Then after it was clear that the nays were in the majority, they'd go on to the next item on the agenda, and another republican would then call for an early adjournment again, and the whole ordeal would repeat itself. This happened ALL DAY LONG.
Democrats were so angry over this that they then passed a bill that takes the rather extreme step of stipulating that they will deputize a civil force to arrest Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers on the charge of contempt of Congress. (You might recall that during the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fiasco a while back, Bolten and Miers cited executive privilege and flatly refused to even show up when the House summoned them to appear.) They did this because the current Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced that he would not prosecute against White House officials who refused to testify in this manner, since they likely did so based on the advice of the former Atty. General.
I should mention that the wording they used described this mechanism as a civil lawsuit which, if the judge ruled in the House's favor, would allow the judge to compel Bolten and Miers to testify or go to jail. That's right, you heard correctly: a civil lawsuit that allows jailtime. If this happened, and the Atty. General refused to enforce it, this would require the deputization of a civil force to enforce the judge's ruling.
The whole idea of this pissed off the republicans so much that instead of voting on it, they all boycotted the vote en masse and just left the House floor. It passed overwhelmingly, of course.

This is why I love living in DC. I live for this kind of thing. Anyway, I'll update the above with links as I get access to them later in the day. The first draft of this article comes straight from listening to CSPAN radio as the events took place in real time.
And since the writer's strike is over, I'm expecting big things tonight with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I'll be very displeased if they don't cover this story as well as I envision them being able to do.

12 February, 2008

How to Promote Your Website

This entry was originally posted on the omnistaretools.com blog. It is reposted here for reference only.

One of the most important things any webmaster has to do on a regular basis, other than, you know, master the web, is to advertise his or her website using the best possible methods.

The process of promoting one’s site consists of three fundamental steps:
Step 1: Brainstorm good promotion ideas.
Step 2: Initiate good promotion ideas.
Step 3: Go back to step 1.
Thankfully, with my help you can all skip step 1 as many times as you’d like. That’s because I’m about to show you a few of the greatest methods you can use to promote your website. (The following were all stolen from omnistaretools.com, but since I wrote the page in question myself, I don’t mind the blatant plagiarism. Though you should note how I’m careful not to mirror my own content, since both of these pages are indexed by search engine spiders.)
1. Publish An Article
Write a really good article in your niche and e-mail all the bloggers in that field to let them know about it. You’ll be surprised at how many may link to you. Just remember to make sure your article is good, or you may get some bad press. (On the other hand, even bad press still counts toward your pagerank, unless they link you with a nofollow tag. But really, who takes the time to do that (except Matt Cutts, of course)?)
7. Be Opinionated
If you happen to notice a blog entry or forum topic where the majority opinion seems to be completely incorrect, be very opinionated on letting them know that you hold the opposite opinion. If you’re lucky, you may get a few links back saying that you’re wrong. (In fact, why not just hold the opposite opinion every time, even if they’re technically right? After all, in the SEO world, any link back is a good link back.)
18. Create a Great Favicon
A good favicon image accomplishes so very much: it increases brand awareness, makes your site stand out from the crowd, and gives you that street cred that comes along with every well-made favicon file. Just don’t make it animated gif style, you may think it makes you stand out even more, but users have been known to delete a bookmark or close a tab solely because of an animated favicon. Just don’t do it.
You can, of course, find many more great tips at the best ways to advertise your site page, hosted right here at Omnistar. (c;
Oh, and as a reward to my faithful blog lurkers, I’ll even add in an extra tip that has yet to make it on that other page:
0. Advertise Your Webpage Through Your Blog
When you finally make that great webpage that you want to spread the word about, don’t ever ever forget to write a blog entry about it, with lots and lots of links pointing right at it. Preferably with good keywords, like Web Promotion Tips You Just Can’t Ignore!.
If you have any tips of your own that you’d like to contribute, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll gladly post any suggestions that make me smile. (c;
Posted by Eric Herboso.
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There are more resources available at our On-line Webmaster Resource Center.

Moving Beyond Capitalism (But Not Through Socialism)

Before you read this post, you have to watch this video:

When you're done watching, read on. I'll wait for you.

Okay, finished watching? Good. Now I have a few things to say. But before I start, I want to share the first thing I wrote down when I first watched this:
I'm still trying to think about how a cooperation-based economy would be fundamentally different than a capitalist economy. I'm not entirely sure I followed where he was going with this talk....
Is he saying that we might be able to create a new form of economy where each of us works together in ways that create wealth for us all as opposed to just ourselves? His mention of the ultimatum game seems to be used as evidence to show that even when we lose out in a capitalistic sense, we may have an innate desire to cooperate in such a way that everyone gains fairly in the end. Is he extrapolating this to say that the new economy will be one where a companies might start doing things that help everyone, even when self interest ceases to be a motivating factor, simply because to not be fair is to invite the wrath of a public which expects cooperation no matter what?
Regardless of whether this is what he was in fact thinking, this is where his talk has taken me. The altruistic punisher effect, as he showed it, is quite small. On the large scale, the only thing close to it is a society which bands together via taxes to impose regulations on others. But a HUGE portion of society (I'm talking about you Ron Paul fanatics who visited this blog for the sole reason that this entry came up on google blog search for the "Ron Paul is awesome" quote that I just gave) does not feel that these regulations are a good idea. (Even Ann Coulter has publicly stated that when she listens to Ron Paul speeches, she starts to fall in love with him up until he talks about foreign policy, at which point she says she regains her sanity.) Is it possible that while the altruistic punisher idea works consistently on the small scale, it breaks down at larger scales?
I'm thinking about it, and it certainly makes sense that if the ultimatum game is played with a million dollars, and player A claims $900 000, you'd have to be crazy to turn down the $100k. Yet then he starts to give examples of companies that are starting to go altruistic today. As more and more companies fall into this mold, will it happen that we as a society will come to expect such behavior, and then punish those companies that don't exhibit it? If so, then companies will HAVE to be cooperative, even if it is to their detriment, since if they don't, society will make it even further to their detriment.
... To be honest, I'm still really fuzzy on all this. If you ask me again tomorrow, I may hold an entirely different view. But today, as I write this, the idea seems not only plausible, but also the evidence Howard Rheingold gave seems to actually support the idea that we could be moving in that direction as we speak.
What do you think?

08 February, 2008

Skateboard Accident

So I'm sitting in my top floor office with a window (I'm just special like that, apparently), working off my three hour recording session for our weekly thirty minute podcast by reading Dilbert cartoons, when all of a sudden I hear someone screaming at the top of his lungs. Due to a certain someone who shall remain nameless for now, my immediate thought was that I'd just experienced witnessing my first stabbing. After all, living in the DC metro area is apparently very different from the bible belt of southern alabama. (Though to be fair, there don't seem to be many KKK members up here.) But after looking out my window and verifying that whoever perpetrated the incident was running away, I rushed outside, phone in hand, to render whatever help I could.
The young man was lying in the middle of the street, howling in pain. A skateboard lay upside down on the curb some two meters to the side. Being a philosophy/physics/math person, I never bothered learning anything in the field of biology, so I literally knew nothing to do other than rush to his side. Thankfully, the person I'd seen running away through the window was a companion that was running to get a car to take the guy to a hospital. While doing my best to help steady him, I lifted him into the car after only a few short minutes, and then the two of them drove off.
This marks, I think, my first 'emergency'-style experience, unless you count the time that Phoe stabbed me with a katana blade. But I was on the receiving end that time, so I don't think it counts. I hope I did the appropriate thing. I sometimes worry that perhaps I won't be any good in an emergency, but I think I did okay in this one. Certainly I did better than anyone else in the immediate area, as not a single other person ran out to help the guy, though I did see a couple of people come out as the car was driving away.
Anyway. Back to Dilbert.

06 February, 2008

Emoto's Emotive Water Crystals

You may have heard about Masaru Emoto before--he's the guy who claims that emotions, when directed at water just prior to freezing, will cause the water molecules to freeze in patterns that are associated with the emotion in question. He is, as you might imagine, completely fucking retarded.
Nevertheless, because the US gov't is also completely fucking insane, they actually fund studies to deal with such issues from time to time (okay, all the time). The one I want to bring to everyone's attention today was sponsored by the National Institute of Health.
I will quote directly from the abstract:
A group of approximately 2,000 people in Tokyo focused positive intentions toward water samples located inside an electromagnetically shielded room in California. That group was unaware of similar water samples set aside in a different location as controls. Ice crystals formed from both sets of water samples were blindly identified and photographed by an analyst, and the resulting images were blindly assessed for aesthetic appeal by 100 independent judges. Results indicated that crystals from the treated water were given higher scores for aesthetic appeal than those from the control water (P = .001, one-tailed), lending support to the hypothesis.
For those of you who skipped over the primary source quote because of some delusion that secondary sources are better, what this is saying is that they tested whether or not water crystals looked "more aesthetically appealing" after "positive intentions" were directed at the water prior to freezing, and the result was statistically significant.
I bet Emoto peed his pants when he found out the results were in his favor.
But for those of you who think I am showing this because I want to convince you to the Emotive Water Hypothesis point of view, please stop being an idiot. The point, instead, is to explain why even when a double blind experiment takes place, its results are not necessarily conclusive.
Whenever someone does an experiment, you get a result. If you do the experiment well, you'll get lots of results, because you'll do things lots of times under exceedingly similar conditions, and compare them to control conditions. The idea is that if you just do the experiment once, you may get a result which is not ordinary; perhaps because there was some error in the performance of your experiment, or even just because you happened to get a high maximal result or a low minimal result of a range of results that you could have gotten.
By this, what I mean is that if you measure the length of a board only once, you may have accidentally measured incorrectly. Or you may have measured in a specific place which gave the longest possible measure of the board. The only way to really get an accurate measurement is to redo the measuring multiple times. If you get the same result twice in a row, that gives you more confidence in your result. Even better if two separate measurers get the same result. And likely there will be a range of answers--some results will be high, and some low. The 'real' measure is somewhere in between. (For you philosophers out there, the existence of a 'real' measure is actually disputed itself, but that's a topic for a future journal entry.)
Anyway, the hope is that by measuring multiple times, you are more likely to not have all the measures be too high, or too low, or consistently mismeasured. This is why, in the NIH experiment with Emoto's water, you have multiple people on every side of the experiment, all giving results multiple times. They were attempting to make it less likely for all the measures to be consistently incorrect.
But even though you have lots of people working together on measuring and remeasuring, there is still the possibility that everyone will, wholly by chance, consistently measure too long a length. We want this chance to be as small as possible, so we say some results are statistically insignificant, even if they give results higher or lower than expected.
For example, let's say the length of board is 100 units (u) long. If we do the measurement twenty times, then depending on the method of measurement used, we might expect to get results back of 98u, 101u, and maybe even a 105u. 90% of the time, these are the results we would get back from measuring. So if we got these results back, and the hypothesis was that the board was 100u long, we'd say that these results corroborated the hypothesis. But remember I said that these measurements are of the kind you might expect 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time, you might get twenty measurement results of which ALL are 102u and above. This would be a statistically significant difference. If these were the results, we'd say the hypothesis that the board is 100u long is less likely true than an alternate hypothesis that said it was 105u long. And we'd say this EVEN IF the 'real' measurement was just 100u long.
Rearrange the above figures so that instead of just a 90% probability, you instead use a 99.9% standard, and you can see even more extreme distances. .1% of the time, a multiply repeated experiment might result in concluding that a hypothesis of the board being 125u long is corroborated, even if it is only 100u long. This is a rather extreme example, but you get the idea.
The end result is that this NIH study is a lottery winner. It is a true rarity--it gives corroboration to the 125u long hypothesis, even though that hypothesis is wildly incorrect. Over time, if the experiment is repeated again and again, you'd expect the results to get closer to reality. But that would mean the NIH would have to sponsor yet another study on emotive water with American tax dollars.

Now I'm going to go eat a cold slice of pizza as a reward for actually updating this blog.

02 February, 2008

Huckabee Announces Chuck Norris as both Head of Homeland Security & Secretary of Defense

Presidential Candidate Huckabee, at a rally in Alabama today, announced that if he gets elected President, he would appoint Chuck Norris as both Secretary of Defense and Head of the Department of Homeland Security. I am NOT kidding. I predict Huckabee will now win Alabama's vote.
Update: Here's a link. The link only mentions the sec of def part; but he said in his speech that he'd appoint him to both simultaneously. As soon as I get a news source to verify, I'll post another link.
Correction: Apparently I misheard on cspan. Chuck Norris is just going to be secretary of defense. He's appointing Nature Boy Rick Flair as Head of the Department of Homeland Security. This is still fucking unbelievable, though.