Saturday, September 24, 2005


In the absence of a clear direction, a computer will freeze. It will cease to function and wait for direction from a higher power. In contrast, a human being, in the absence of clear direction, tends to make some sort of decision. The basis of that decision has been studied since humans attained the power of reason. The last place you're going to find an answer is here. It's just an interesting issue to ponder.

Reading the Bible and listening to angry evangelists would have you believe that the fatal flaw in humans is the fact that they actually make decisions in the face of a dearth of information. I think the real problem is that people are made to feel that their future actions can have an affect on their past. Thus if you feel guilty enough and do enough penance, it'll erase the past. Or, in other words, you are a good person until you screw up, at which point, you lose any right to feel control over your own life, and owe your salvation to a higher power.

At this point, my only contribution to this debate is not new, but makes a lot of sense to me. It's not how you handle the past, but how you react to your past and how you use that to guide your future. A statement like that only leads to more questions, but at the end of the day, at least helps me to frame them in a way that makes sense and helps me move forward.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Slashdot Comment Moderation

CmdrTaco has been trying to leverage crowd wisdom for years with his comment moderation system. I think a key problem is that he dosen't use a big enough sample size. It only takes a few people to moderate a comment up to the highest level. The rules of crowd wisdom state that the larger your sample size, the more likely you are to arrive at the "correct" answer. Granted, with something like a story comment, there is no "correct" answer, only interesting and relevant responses. CmdrTaco's goal was not to tease out the interesting comments though, it was to filter out the irrelevant and wasteful spam.

In essence, CmdrTaco had no choice. Spam was starting to choke slashdot comments and making them less than useful. The moderation system saved the comment system, but didn't, as many people assume that it should have done, make the comments more interesting.

I believe that if the prevailing attitude among slashdot developers is to "weed out the spam", we'll see a slow decline of slashdot's popularity until it's made irrelevant by RSS feed aggregators.

IMHO, the attitude *SHOULD* be to exploit slashdot's major differentiator over simple aggregators, which is the community it has created. In other words, they should invert the "weed out the spam" attitude into a "make the comments more interesting" attitude. It's a subtle difference and, on the face of it, it would appear that one begets the other. I contend that weeding out spam does not make comments more interesting and conversely, making comments more interesting won't weed out the spam. Thus we come to the root of the problem, two crosswise goals.

CmdrTaco has to worry about the system from a performance standpoint. Weeding out the spam means less bandwidth and storage costs. That's immediate ROI, and a good thing on many levels. The community, however, needs more than 1,2,3,4 or 5 to determine what comments to read and which to ignore, to make them interesting. I can conjecture at a few ideas that would make it better, but I do not know the ultimate solution, and I doubt anyone else does either. I believe the problem requires more than just CmdrTaco playing whack-a-mole with ideas, meta-ideas and meta-meta-ideas etc. It requires serious PhD dissertation level study.

Monday, September 19, 2005

French Toast

This weekend, my son and I happened upon the ultimate French toast recipe.

It starts with a loaf of "Nant Brioche". It's a wonderfuly light bread with a slightly buttery flavor that just seems to sponge up the french toast egg mixture. I was able to find it at our local Metropolitan Market. I did a few Google searches, but wasn't able to find much on it. Perhaps it's a unique recipe?

Cut the slices of Nant Brioche about a 3/4th of an inch in size. It's hard to tell if the slices can be too big, but too small and you don't get that rich french toast goodness.

For the egg mixture, we found that about 3 eggs per four pieces of "toast" was about right. My son and I can go through about 4 pieces each, so it took six eggs. Next, add a sufficient amount of milk to just barely cover the top of the eggs. I used 1% milk. I suppose if I wanted to really go wild I'd use 2% or even whole milk, but as you'll see, you have to draw the line somewhere. Mix it up until it's a consistent "yellow".

The choice of cooking pan is critical here. I used a 12" frying pan with a teflon coating. Due to the size of the Nant Brioche slices, I was able to get two in at a time. This works well, because it forced my son and I to pace ourselves as we ate them. Make sure the stove heat is set at a conservative "medium" (or whatever suffices for "medium" on your stove).

Soak the Nant Brioche in the egg mixture two pieces at a time. Make sure to soak it to the point at which the bread is nearly falling apart. Before putting the french toast in the frying pan, make sure to coat the bottom with a generous amount of REAL butter. Margarine simply will not do here!

Let the French toast cook until the sizzling dies down and flip it. Cook each side until they're golden brown and eat right away! I suppose you can cook up an entire batch and eat them "family style", but I find that they're best right off the frying pan.

As for what to put on them? Make sure to use real butter and real maple syrup. I've been using "Western Family" style maple syrup. Not the best, but it's considerably better than the "fake stuff". At one time I had a very expensive bottle of real Canadian maple syrup. You can definitely tell the difference between that and the "Western Family" stuff. However, the WORST maple syrup is infinitely better than the best fake stuff.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

"I take responsibility..."

My jaw just about went through the floor today when I read, that President George W. Bush actually admitted that he takes responsibility for something that went wrong (in this case, for the Federal Government's failure to adequately help New Orleans after hurricane Katrina). I mean those were his exact words; "I take responsibility"!!!

This is the same man who, when asked at the presidential debate, if he'd made any mistakes in his administration, wouldn't cop to a single one (the assumption being that we're all human and he had to make *SOME* sort of mistake in 4 years).

This is truly amazing, incredible even. It's not just me either, he made the cover of in bold print, "I take responsibility...". I need to observe the color of the moon tonight...

Monday, September 12, 2005

iTrip Fun

Had some fun on the way to work this morning, while listening to some podcasts. I have an Apple iTrip that transmits audio from my iPod to my car stereo, this enables me to hear without using headphones that block out potentially important background noise like sirens, etc. As I pulled past a white SUV on I-5 this morning, I noticed the podcast I was listening to started to get really fuzzy. I noted that the driver of the SUV also had an iPod with an iTrip attached to the top. How did I notice this? She was waving the damn thing around her car, ostensibly trying to improve reception. It seems that my iTrip and her iTrip were tuned to the same channel and were interfering with each other.


Normally I just pull past people and zip along on my merry way. This time, I figured I'd have some fun and pace her for a while. Granted, my podcast was obliterated with a lot of fuzz and occasionally some of her music. It was fun (in that "trainwreck" sort of way) to watch her try to figure out where the sudden spate of interference came from.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and September 11th, 2001

After untold billions of American tax dollars spent as a result of September 11th, 2001, and so much progress made (according to the Bush administration), how can we see so many failures from a hurricane that we knew was coming? God forbid we ever have a nuclear weapon go off in a major population center. Katrina has clearly pointed out that the billions of dollars we have spent on disaster recovery and mitigation have been wasted.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The iPod Bandwagon

I jumped on the iPod bandwagon last weekend. I got myself a 60Gig iPod color. I must say, this is definitely the cadillac of portable players. I've now got my entire CD collection (about 30 CDs; a mere fraction of what I once had) ripped to the player. It's neat listening to all of my music in shuffle mode. I didn't realize that I had such a nice collection of music. When you're listening to it one CD at a time, its easy to get tired of the music and just let it sit on a shelf.

This iPod also stores pictures and addressbook contacts. I can also sync up my calendar to it. Even more impressive, it has a few relatively amusing games on it, ostensibly to pass the time while waiting at the doctor's office. The next accessory I want to get is the FM radio attachment so I can listen to my iPod in the car just by tuning to an unused radio channel.

At one time I used to buy a lot of music, but I've been turned off lately at how much time the RIAA spends litigating against single moms and elderly pensioners. Instead of taking the time to realize that there's an opportunity here, the RIAA insists on clinging to the old ways and litigating with their customers. Not a terribly wise way of running a business IMHO.

What's more interesting to me, than commercial music, is the various independent music you can find out there. I like the fact that I can pay my money directly to them, rather than through a bunch of lawyers. I also like listening to the various podcasts out there. I don't really have a favorite yet, but I tend to enjoy the NPR Science Friday podcasts. I also just finished listening to the first book in podcast form, called Earth Core. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it to anyone.

I'm off to the Tom Petty concert tonight at the Columbia River Gorge Ampitheater. I'll try to get some pictures. The views are some of the best I've ever experienced in Washington and I hear that Tom Petty puts on a great show. Should be a fun evening.