A Philosopher's Blog

Diablo III

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on June 30, 2008

Blizzard recently announced Diablo III. The first Diablo was essentially a dungeon crawl in the classic sense: you create a character and increase in power by killing monsters. After you kill them, you loot their bodies for gold and items. The game had an interesting backstory and the dungeon levels were well designed.  It had only three character classes, but had great reply value-it takes a long time to tire of killing and looting.

Diablo II improved on the original by adding better graphics and more character classes. It provided large gaming areas for killing and looting; it also provided yet another interesting plot to provide some additional motivation for killing and looting. Blizzard came out with an expansion set (Diablo did have a third party expansion set) that added a new area as well as new character classes.  While I played the game solo sometimes, the real fun was in teaming up with friends. Since these were typically my D&D buddies, we quickly fell into our usual roles. For example, Ron would always be gathering loot, buying, selling and gambling. He is the merchant of the group. I usually played the assassin. I’m always the killer in the group. I’d loot from time to time, but for me the real joy was in watching the bodies pile up. Of course, all the monsters are bad-so they are in need of killing.  Dave was usually the magic user (sorry, AD&D flashback there). Sadly for Dave, the monsters trying to escape from me would run into him. Since Ron would either be picking gold off the dead or back in town selling and shopping, Dave would usually die fairly often. This was, I must admit, not his fault. Eventually he learned to deal with my bloodlust and Ron’s loot fixation and managed to avoid dying.

Since Diablo and Diablo II were so good (Diablo II is still installed on my Mac and PC), I am really looking forward to Diablo III. I played WoW for over a year, but eventually found that things just took way to long. Believe it or not, I actually am a casual gamer-I spend most of my time running, writing, teaching and taking Isis to the dog park. Diablo II was always great for playing an hour or two with the guys and it looks like Diablo III will have that same sort of fast paced action.

As far as the classes go, Blizzard has only released information about the Barbarian and the Witchdoctor (seems a lot like the Necromancer). The Barbarian seems like the original-he yells, he jumps, he pulls the jaws off big monsters. The witch docter can cast fire and disease spells, plus summon pets. I do hope the assassin returns-that is my favorite class. Blizzard does allow players to switch their characters’ sexes. In previous version, each class had a fixed sex. For example, the assassin was a female.

I’ve just seen the gameplay video, but the graphics look good. The game still seems to preserve the Diablo feel-only with better graphics.

I’m stoked for it, but I expect that there will be quite a wait. Blizzard makes great games, but greatness takes time.

Tarballs on the Beach

Posted in Environment, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 27, 2008

As I write, oil is climbing towards $150 per barrel. In response, Bush has suggested various solutions to the problem of foreign oil. One of these is to open the coast of Florida to offshore drilling.

Oil WellThere are some good arguments in favor of allowing this drilling. First, the technology for off shore drilling is well-established and many rigs are currently operating around the world. Hence, setting up rigs off the coast of Florida would be easy enough. Second, the United States economy would benefit from having a new supply of domestic oil. Third, America would be less dependent on foreign oil and this would be a political asset.  Fourth, Chuck Norris is backing it. Presumably, he will personally drive in the first drill using his fist.

There are, however, good arguments against drilling off the shore of Florida.

First, there is the fact that a considerable amount of trash and pollution come from offshore platforms. The trash and pollution will end up on Florida’s beaches. As I can attest, Florida has truly spectacular beaches. In fact, it is estimated that the beaches help generate  the $50 billion a year tourist industry in the state. Obviously, if the beaches started getting trashy, tourism would suffer.

Second, there is the obvious risk of oil spills. While the technology on oil rigs has improved, there have been 239,000 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico between 1973 and 2001. The United States Coast Guard reports on these spills-an axample is here. Such oil spills are environmentally dangerous and are devastating to tourism dollars. For example, a 1979 oil spill in the Gulf reduced tourism in Texas by 60%.

It might be objected that major spills are unlikely and that the smaller spills are not that damaging. In reply, the evidence is that even the smaller spills are harmful to beaches and the environment.  Also, think about the storms that are so common around Florida. It is easy enough to imagine the effects of such storms on offshore platforms.

Third, exploiting the oil off the coast of Florida will take a considerable amount of time and resources. As such, this strategy will not impact oil and gas prices now. It seems more sensible to use the time and resources to develop alternative power sources that will not put the environment (and $50 billion in tourist dollars) at risk.

I am against drilling off the coast of Florida. I freely admit that my motivation is partially selfish. I prefer my beaches free of debris and tar balls. Also, I teach at a State University and those tourist dollars help provide the budget money for my school. My smart ass advice to people who want to drill: run more and drive less, bitches.

Writing, Backing Up & a Hot Plug Fix

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on June 25, 2008

I’m currently writing a science fiction monograph for Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu game, hence I’ve been a bit slack in my blog writing.

Like any sensible writer, I’m paranoid about losing my work. Months of writing could easily be lost to a failed disk, so I make a point of backing up my files. Some people use dedicated back up software to do this, but I tend to back up my writing the old fashioned way. However, I’m quite careful about how I do this. Here is what I do.

First, I back up copies several ways. Currently, I have the project files on two USB thumb drives, two USB external hard drives, one SD card and on the internal drives of three computers. Yes, I am totally paranoid.

Second, I make sure to preserve older copies of the files. Rather than simply over-writing all the files, I’ll drag the older files into a “time machine” folder and then create a new folder for the more recent files. This way if something happens to the new files or I need some previous version, I’ll have access to that. Yes, Apple’s time machine can do this sort of thing. Eventually, I’d really love to have a new Mac.

Third, I email myself copies of the files when I’m done for the day. That way, even if everything is wiped out here, I’ll still have copies. I have considered using online storage, but text files are modestly sized and email works just fine for this.

One thing I did find as I swapped USB drives on my PC was that the Windows XP Safely Remove Hardware icon would vanish from my computer from time to time. Without that function, removing external hard drives is a bad idea (for some things you can use the Eject option). Fortunately, there is an easy fix. Just go to Start and select Run. When the window comes up, paste the following into the field and hit OK:

RunDll32.exe shell32.dll,Control_RunDLL HotPlug.dll

Paste all the text in there at once. This will bring up the dialog for removing hardware and restore the icon. Then you can safely remove the hardware.

Back to writing.

 

The Cloud

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on June 23, 2008

If you are reading this, then the odds are good that you have heard of cloud computing. While it is being put forth as the next great thing, in many ways it is a return to the early days of computing.

Oversimplifying things, the basic idea behind one type of cloud computing is that users are able to tap into vast computing power via the internet. To be a bit more specific, imagine that you need to run a complex analysis of vast amounts of data. Sadly, all you have is a mere desktop PC. Powerful, yes. But not powerful enough to grind through all that data before your data is obsolete. The solution? Send it to the cloud. Rather than running the analysis on your PC, the analysis would be done by other computers that you would access via the web.

One current example of what some people consider cloud computing is Google Docs. Instead of doing your word processing and spreadsheets using programs installed on your PC, using Google docs allows you to do the same thing via a web browser. Your files are stored on the Google servers, so you can access them from any computer that has a web connection. Google Docs is but one example of what is planned for the future-the hope is that eventually almost all software will reside on servers and all you will need on your computer is a web browser to access everything.

This sort of cloud computing does have a certain appeal. One appeal is the fact that you can access your documents and data from (almost) any PC with a web connection. As such, leaving your files at home while on a business trip or at school would be a thing of the past.  A second appeal is that the technology will allow users to have simpler and cheaper computers. This is because the majority of the work will be done by the computers in the cloud rather than your PC.  A third appeal is that the hassle of updates and such will be largely gone-the server computers will always have the latest versions. A fourth appeal is that the platform will be largely irrelevant. No longer will users have to worry about Mac vs. Pc vs. Linux versions of software-it will all be served up via the magic of the cloud.

A terminal.Of course, cloud computing does have some downsides. As mentioned above, it is a return to an old model of computing that went away for many good reasons. This old model, which I used as a kid, was the use of dumb terminals that would dial up mainframe computers. While today’s computers are vastly better, the reasons people moved from the mainframe to the personal computer still remain.

I’ll now present some of the reasons why I find the cloud somewhat unappealing.

First, there is the fact that to use cloud computing, you have to be connected to the cloud. While I already use many internet based programs (Slacker, WordPress, etc.), I am glad that I do not have to rely on my internet connection to do my important work. For example, I am working on a project for a gaming company and the deadline is fast approaching. While doing my writing today, my internet connection has gone out a few times. If I had to rely on the cloud, I’d be screwed in terms of getting my work done in a reliable manner. Of course, the cloud people have an answer-you can run the software on your PC while your connection is down and then connect back to the cloud when your connection is back. My reply is the obvious one-if I need to have software for when my PC is offline, why should I go to the cloud when I already have what I need on my PC? The cloud folks might reply that the cloud will give me the above mentioned universal access to my documents. While that is appealing, I can do the same thing by using various online storage options (such as just emailing the files to myself). Also, there is the worry that the cloud that holds your data might go out of business. In that case, you’ll have to hope that your data is also on your PC.

Second , while I do like the idea of having a simpler and cheaper computer, there is the concern that I just raised above. If my web connection is out and my computer relies entirely on the web, I have a simpler and cheaper brick. If my computer has to be able to run the software offline as well, then it will presumably still be a normal PC.

Third, while I like automatic updates, I also like being in control of my updates. I have used software that actually became worse with each new version. Features I used vanished and features I disliked were added. Also, the model being used for this type of online software is often subscription based. I’d rather be able to just buy a program and use it, rather than having to pay an ongoing subscription fee.

Fourth, while I do like the idea of not worrying about the OS and platform, I’ll believe it when I see it. I use Macs, Windows PCs and Linux PCs and notice that the web experience can vary with each one. Perhaps this will get sorted out in the clouds someday.

Overall, I do find the cloud appealing. If my web access were as reliable as my phone and electricity, I might even be tempted to get on a cloud of my own.

In a nice bit of irony, just as I was about to publish this, my Comcast connection went down again. Fortunately, I copy and paste long blogs into my word processor for just such occasions. Yes, it will be a while before you see me trying to put my important work on a cloud.

Women, McCain & Obama

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 20, 2008

Like the battle between Clinton and Obama, the general election in 2008 will be heavily fought along gender lines.

Not surprisingly, Hillary enjoyed extensive support among many female voters while she was contesting with Obama. This contest, as most will recall, often saw the Democrats lashing away at each other over race and gender. It was a bitter struggle and some would say that the battle was over whether race or gender would emerge with the medal for greatest victim. In the end, Obama won out. As with all civil conflicts, the Democratic party now contains many bitter and angry people.

Recently Carly Fiorina (of HP fame) was in Columbus, Ohio. She was speaking to the group Women for Fair Politics on behalf of John McCain. Although McCain’s actual positions on many issues puts him at odds with most Democrats, he is no doubt hoping to tap into the bitter anger of many female supporters of Hillary.

While the anger might fade by November, it is currently quite intense. Some of Hillary’s ardent supporters have accused Obama of attacking the Clintons in a way comparable to the infamous swift boat campaign against John Kerry. Naturally, there are also accusations of sexism being made.

Although saying so is sexist, I cannot resist saying that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This fury is best expressed by Cynthia Ruccia. In addition to cofounding the women’s group in question, she is alo a Democratic Party official in Franklin County. She said the following: “We need to elect John McCain in 2008″That’s the only way the Democratic Party will learn it can’t treat women this way.” (Newsweek, June 23 2008)

Such anger is not unexpected. Many women regarded Hillary as more than just another candidate. They saw her as an avatar of all American women. Hence, her defeat would be regarded by some not as Hillary losing, but of women being mistreated once again (presumably by the patriarchy). Naturally, it is interesting to speculate whether black Americans would have reacted in an analogous way, should Hillary have emerged the victor.

From a practical standpoint, there is the question of whether such bitterness will endure. Will Democratic woman vote for McCain in order to punish the Democrats and Obama for their perceived sins against women?

Obviously, the many female supporters of Obama will not do so. They obviously do not think that the Democrats mistreated women. The angry and bitter women who feel betrayed by the Democrats might be able to sustain their anger for months-especially if people like Fiorina keep stoking their bitterness. However, as the anger cools and they look more carefully at McCain’s positions (especially on the  issue of abortion), they might return to the Democratic fold and vote for Obama. After all, Obama has an excellent voting record in terms of the general values of most female Democrats.

Some women might decide that the price of having McCain elected is worth the lesson that will allegedly be taught to the Democratic party. Presumably, the Democrats are supposed to learn that they should not give the nomination to the candidate who wins the nomination process but to the female candidate. That doesn’t seem like a lesson that should be taught.

It can be replied that the lesson the women have in mind is that the Democrats should treat female candidates better. While Hillary did get attacked based on her gender, it must also be noted that Obama took shots because of his gender and his race.As such, the Democrats could learn some lessons in both these areas.

Also, it must be kept in mind that national politics is not an afternoon in the kiddy pool. National politics is a high stakes game and it can get a bit rough. As such, some hard shots are to be expected. Yes, I do think that people should be polite and ethical and hence believe that politics should be played better. But I am careful to distinguish between what I would prefer and what is likely.

Another question is whether Hillary was treated worse because she is a woman. People who think she was tend to point to the gender based attacks as evidence that she was attacked because she is a woman. Some even go so far as to see any attack on Hillary as being gender based. Presumably they reason that an attack on a woman must be motivated by her gender.

While gender based attacks would show that she was attacked as a woman, this still leaves room to wonder whether she was attacked because she is a woman.

When politicians run against each other, they almost always attack each other directly and indirectly. As such, the main reason Hillary was under attack was because she was in competition with Obama. If a man had been running so close against Obama, he would have been attacked as well.

It could be replied that the gender based attacks show a gender bias. After all, there were many non-gender issues that Hillary could be attacked on (such as the numerous Scandals during the Clinton administration).

This is, of course, a matter worth considering. Hillary did take numerous gender based attacks. However, most of these came from outside of the Democratic party. Ironically, many of those who launched such attacks are supporting McCain. So, if the angry women fall in behind McCain, they will be joining with some of the very people who launched gender based attacks on Hillary.

Women who are liberal on what are considered woman’s issues should rationally support Obama. After all, his views are in line with such views. McCain is a true conservative on such issues. However, bitterness and anger are not rational things and one must remember that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Shale Oil

Posted in Environment, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 19, 2008

Oil ShaleAs oil prices close in on $150 per barrel and gas prices remain over $4 per gallon, the cries for solutions grow ever louder.

President Bush recently claimed that shale oil can provide a solution to our oil woes. “Shale oil” is something of a misnomer. The rock in question is a sedimentary rock but need not be shale. Also, the oil in the rock is not crude oil. It can be processed into a form of crude oil and then further refined.

America has significant amounts of oil shale  located in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Some estimate that about 800 billion barrels of oil could be recovered from the shale, which exceeds the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia by three times. Obviously, if that oil could be extracted, then America would have  a significant source of oil. And, of course, the oil companies would have a significant source of new profits.

As per the usual political formula, it has been claimed that shale oil is not being exploited because regulation and red tape stand in the way. The solution is the stock proposal: the regulations need to be dealt with so as to allow American energy corporations to step in and do what they do best (that is, make vast profits by exploiting public resources).

Also following the usual formula, environmental groups are generally opposed to this proposal. This is because exploiting shale oil typically involves strip mining and that can involve significant environmental damage. The replies to the environmental concerns are the usual ones about the need for energy, the need to be free of foreign oil and so forth.

One factor that Bush and his fellows seem to be ignoring is the fact that the main obstacle to exploiting shale oil is not red tape but reality. To be specific, creating a system to commercially exploit shale oil is a significant challenge and one that some experts estimate will take 10-20 years to develop. Hence, shale oil cannot be a solution to our current oil woes. It might, however, provide some solution to our future oil woes.

In addition to the technical challenge, there is also the matter of cost. The cheapest way to get oil is the stereotypical oil well-you drill a hole into the earth and liquid oil comes out. Obviously, digging up rock and processing it into oil will be more expensive than pumping liquid oil from the ground. Because of this, it might seem more cost effective to focus instead on alternative energy.

However, when calculating the cost of an energy source it is important to consider the total cost of that energy. One thing that people often overlook is that most of our energy technology is built around oil. If shale oil can be converted to fuels that can be utilized in current cars, furnaces and such, then this would make shale oil less costly in this regards than converting over to a different source of energy. For example, my truck runs on gas. In order to use electricity as a “fuel” for it, I’d have to replace the engine. That would be rather expensive and I’d probably be better off paying more for gas derived from shale oil.

Obviously enough, the situation also raises significant moral concerns.

On one hand, there are good reasons to exploit such a resource. First, oil is the basic source of energy for our economy and way of life. Assuming that employment and the modern way of life are desirable goods, then we have a moral reason to exploit the shale oil. Of course, people have been critical of this way of life, so this can be challenged. Second, to be cynical and hateful, it could be argued that the recent exports of the Middle East have been oil and terror (in the past, the Middle east made significant contributions to mathematics, science and philosophy). Naturally enough, the importance of the Middle East and the funding for terror and political extremism rests heavily on oil. If the world had another large source of oil, that would make the Middle East far less significant and provide less funding for political turmoil. While it might be regarded as selfish, with a vast oil reserve of our own we could leave the Middle East to its own devices-either to work things out or go out in a blaze of nuclear fire. Naturally, we’d still need to keep and eye on the Middle East, but this could be a form of containment rather than involvement. In reply, some might regard this approach as morally reprehensible.

On the other hand, there are good reasons not to exploit oil shale. The first one is that oil shale will harm the environment. In addition to the damage inflicted by strip mining, there is the obvious fact that shale oil is still oil and will pollute the environment like conventional oil. The second one is that focusing on oil shale could divert effort and funding away from better sources of energy, thus leaving us worse off than we could be. The third concern is that the exploitation of oil shale could turn into yet another mess for the American taxpayer. If the usual pattern is followed, the companies that plan to exploit the shale oil will receive significant largess from the government.

My concluding thoughts are that oil shale should be seriously considered. However, the situation reminds me a bit of drug addition: imagine a junkie who is running out of her drug of choice. Rather than using the opportunity to clean up her life, she instead hopes to find a similar drug and keep going on the same path.

Bush, Wiretaps and Immunity

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 16, 2008

Currently, AT&T and other telecoms are being sued for allegedly allowing federal authorities to tap phone lines without warrants.

Since wiretapping without a warrant is illegal and seems to be a clear violation of various legal rights there seems to be excellent ground for suing these telecoms. In their defense, the telecoms’ lawyers are claiming that they acted in good faith and hence should not be subject to such law suits. The Bush administration, seemingly devoted to violating the law whenever it can, agrees with the companies.

On one hand, there are good grounds to agree with the telecoms. After all, if they were pressured by the federal government, then they could be regarded as having little choice in the matter. After all, everyone is expected to conform to the dictates of the state and to do otherwise could be regarded as to be acting in a lawless manner. Further, the state can apply a great deal of pressure to get its way and the telecoms would have to go along.  Finally, the telecoms could claim that they were cooperating with the war on terror and believed they were doing the right thing.

On the other hand, the telecoms are big companies who possess legions of lawyers. These folks surely understand the law and the consequences of breaking it. Further, these telecoms have armies of lobbyists and significant influence. This would enable them to resist being pushed around by the federal authorities. After all, big companies influence the state all the time. Further, it is quite possible to resist such illegal requests. Qwest did it and they seem to have suffered no ill effects. As such, there seems to be little justification for the actions of the companies in going along with illegal wiretapping requests.

Turning now to the Bush administration, it was clearly wrong of them to request such wiretaps without going through due process. America prides itself as a country based on law and ethics. To simply disregard the law in such a manner is not only an illegal act, but an expression of pure contempt for the basic principles that are considered the foundation of the United States.

What makes the matter even worse is that the legal mechanisms were already in place to do what Bush and his fellows wanted to do. They could have simply asked for warrants and they would have almost certainly been granted. The fact that the administration could not be bothered to go through such a process to get what it wanted serves to illuminate even more their attitude towards the law and due process. Like someone who lies when the truth would serve as well or better, the Bush administration members seem to have a pathological condition in regards to due process and ethics.

Of course, the Bush administration’s members are not the only players in this game. The Senate and House are playing as well.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence currently claims that the telecoms involved should be granted retroactive immunity. The committee members base their claim on the following line of reasoning:

1. By law, the telecoms have protection from lawsuits in regards to wiretapping when either they are given a legal warrant or the attorney general certifies the action.

2. The Bush administration, as it so often does, has classified any documents it “may or may not” have provided the telecoms as state secrets.

3. Since the documents are secret, the telecoms cannot show these (alleged) documents in court and thus cannot mount a proper legal defense.

4.  Therefore, says the committee members, the telecoms must be granted immunity.

On the face of it, their logic has a certain appeal. It would be unjust to convict anyone when they cannot provide key evidence in their defense because it has been ruled a state secret.

Of course, I am rather suspicious of the state secret gambit. Rather than saying that warrants exist, the committee simply seems to be saying that if there were warrants, then they could not show them. So, even if there were not warrants, then they cannot be sued. While I do appreciate clever maneuvers, this hardly seems to justify granting the telecoms immunity to prosecution. If there are warrants, then the administration can simply make this fact non-secret. The telecoms can thus have their defense. If there are no warrants, then the telecoms acted illegally and should be punished. Since they seem to have been pressured to commit such illegal actions, then those who pressured them should also be subject to  prosecution.

It might be replied that the warrants must remain secret to protect the state in some manner. I do understand that they might not wish to reveal exactly who was being spied on. After all, those people might still be under surveilance and they might actually be terrorists. However, revealing that warrants were issued hardly seems to be something that would harm the state. Of course, if it were revealed that wiretapping took place without warrants, then this would hurt the administration and the telecoms by revealing that they acted illegally. But, of course, the legitimate purpose of state secrets is not to protect people from their violations of the law.

The House has proposed an alternative approach to the matter. Their solution seems to be a fairly reasonable compromise. To appease those devoted to state secrets, the plan is that relevant documents can be presented in secret before a judge with none of the plaintiffs being present. The judge would presumably assess the documents and determine whether the documents show that the wiretapping was illegal or legal. If the judge decides that the wiretapping was done properly, then the telecoms would have a strong legal defense. If not, they would be in some trouble.

While this is better than the senate’s solution, it still keeps an important matter cloaked in secrecy. This is, of course, quite contrary to the ideals of an open, democratic state.

I suspect, but obviously cannot prove, that the secret documents do not show that the telecoms acted in a legal manner. If everything was above board, then there would be no reason to cloak the matter in the stinking shadows of government secrecy. If everything were on the up and up, the relevant information about the warrants would be available and the matter would be settled.

More Thoughts on the Asus EeePC

Posted in Technology by Michael LaBossiere on June 14, 2008

When I flew to Maine last year, a flight delay left me stuck in Atlanta for about six hours. Expecting that to happen again this year, I bought an EeePC 4G to serve as my travel laptop. I wrote about my initial impressions, which were positive. Having used the EeePC on my trip to Maine, I can now comment more about it.

In general, my experience with the EeePC was very positive. My friends and family rather liked it as well and I suspect I helped contribute a few sales to Asus on my trip.

I had worried a bit about the tiny keyboard, but found that it was actually quite usable-once I accepted its limitations. Since I’m a bit over six feet tall (and have proportional “man fingers”) I knew that touch typing would not be a viable option. Luckily, I am a master of what my mother calls the “Columbus Method”: find a key and land on it. To be a bit more specific, I’m rather good at typing with two fingers and my thumb. While this annoyed my typing teacher in high school, it is useful on the EeePC. I found that as I got accustomed to the keyboard I could type at just about my normal full size keyboard speed. I’m writing a monograph for Chaosium, so I had the chance to do a lot of typing and hence gave the EeePC a thorough workout in this regard.

I found that the trackpad worked well. Since trackpads are worked with your finger tip, size is usually not a critical factor (you just pick up your finger more on a smaller trackpad).  The trackpad has a section on the right side that allows you to scroll with your finger-I found this very handy.

I didn’t like the “mouse” button very much. There is just one-you click the left side for the left click and the right side for (obviously enough) the right click. It is silver plastic and reminds me of the silver painted plastic of cheap toys I had as a kid. It took me quite a while to get accustomed to it enough to be able to use it semi-comfortably.  Trying to scroll with the button was particularly annoying I hope that later versions have an improved button system. Fortunately, the track pad supports “tap click” and I used it as often as I could.

The screen is, of course, small. However, the quality is quite good and I found it easy to read text and watch movies on it. Since I went through graduate school using Macs with 512 X 342 pixel resolution monitors  (Mac Classic, Classic II and SE/30), I found the screen quite adequate. Compared to the Mac I wrote my dissertation on, the EeePC is a powerhouse with a large screen. Of course, those accustomed to only using large, high resolution monitors might take longer to adjust to the screen.

Naturally, the small screen size does impose some limits. You can only see so much text when typing and editing. I found that I could view the full width of a standard page (8.5 inches) in Open Office and still have the font large enough for easy viewing. As such, writing was no problem.  Naturally, I could not view the full length of a standard page. This made editing the text a bit slower than on a larger monitor, but it was still quite doable. Obviously, doing full page graphics or layouts on an EeePC will require a lot of scrolling.

For the most part, the screen worked fine for web surfing. The EeePC ships with Firefox and it does an excellent job with most pages. Of course, if I hit an Internet Explorer only site, then there were some problems.  Aside from that problem, the only real challenge I faced was viewing web pages that did not allow scrolling. For example, when using AOL web email I found that I could not scroll  to actually see what I was writing in response-the top was crammed with ads and the window was “fixed in place”. I solved this problem by starting to write and then clicking to view New Mail (or Old Mail or Sent Mail, etc.). This gave me the option to open a new window that was adequate for writing a reply. In case you are wondering, AOL is my legacy account-I have so much stuff  “out there” with my AOL address that I need to keep using it. Fortunately it is free.

While the small size does have its disadvantages, I found that one major advantage is that the EeePC is very easy to use while standing or when reclining. I spent a couple hours writing outside  in a reclining lounge chair and the EeePC was quite comfortable to use in that position. It does generate heat, but I never found this to be a problem.

The small size also makes it easy to pack. Rather than use a special laptop case, I opted to use a neoprene laptop “envelope.” This protected the EeePC while still allowing it to fit just fine into my messenger bag. I prefer to not carry an obvious laptop case-people tend to target those for theft. It was also easy to handle the EeePC when going through security-being small and light was a plus when it came to juggling my shoes, boarding passes, carryon and ID.

It is also an ideal size for using in an economy class seat on an airplane. It fits nicely on the tray table and is easy to handle when it comes time to stow it away for landing.

When I went to print my tickets for my return flight, I found that my mother’s Windows 98 PC was not up to the task (dial up connection and only AOL 7.0 as the web browser). Fortunately, I was able to tap into a neighbor’s wireless network and get my tickets. Then I had to print them. The EeePC recognized the ancient Canon printer, but the bar codes on the tickets did not print properly.

I’ve found that many printers are rather finicky about their drivers, so I suspected the problem was with the driver and not the printer. So,  I printed the tickets to PDF, emailed them to my mother’s PC. When I printed from her PC, the bar codes were fine.  If you plan to print from your EeePC be sure to keep my experience in mind-you can probably print to almost any USB printer, but there might be some unexpected printing issues.

The battery life was as promised by the manufacturer (under three hours), which was fine for me. My longest flight segment was 2 hours and 16 minutes. If you need to use the EeePC longer, the obvious solution is a spare battery. The planes that I’ve flown on the Tallahassee-Atlanta-Portland (Maine) route do not have the power plugs for laptops-so battery power is the only option. Be sure to check the TSA web site before packing  spare battery, though. New rules were put in place recently and, of course, things could change. Just as toothpaste was banned for a while, some incident might result in spare batteries being banned. Or laptops. Or clothes. Perhaps someday we’ll have to fly naked, sealed into zip lock storage bags for the duration of the flight.

Overall, the EeePC proved to be a wise purchase. If you travel and use a laptop, there is an excellent chance you’ll find the EeePC a good thing to have.

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Positive & Negative Racism

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on June 12, 2008

Race has, obviously enough, long been a major factor in American politics. Obama’s success to date has served to show that American racial views have chanObamaged over the years. But, it also shows that race is still a major factor.

Traditionally, racism has been seen in negative terms. To be specific, racism of this sort involves regarding the race in question as inferior or lacking in some way. For example, a white racist would traditionally be seen as regarding non-whites as inferior or defective.

This sort of traditional racism has long been a factor in American politics. Minorities have long had a very difficult time in getting elected on the state and national levels because, many claim, of racism on the part of whites. This sort of racism has also come out in the contest between Clinton and Obama. Some of Clinton’s supporters, such as Ferraro, have made remarks about Obama’s race. Further, Clinton and her followers have been stressing how Obama cannot sway certain white voters-presumably because he is black.

Various polls have been taken about the effect of race in the context of Obama’s campaign. Not surprisingly, race is still an important factor. Whites who are concerned about race are less inclined to support Obama.

While people still admit to holding positions that could be taken as racist, one interesting fact is that people tend to lie on such surveys in order to appear to not be racist. While racism still remains, it can be taken as a good sign that even some racists feel obligated to lie about there racism. This indicates that they might feel a bit guilty about such views. At the very least, it shows that they know that most people do not approve of racism.

Racism can also be positive. By this I do not mean that racism is good. Rather, positive racism occurs when someone attributes good qualities to a person based solely on race It also occurs when someone supports a person because of his favorable views of the person’s race.

This sort of racism has also been around a long time, but is usually referred to in terms of race pride or ethnocentrism rather than positive racism. For example, when members of the Klan talk about the superiority of the white race, they are exhibiting positive racism.

Positive racism is having an impact in the current conflict between Obama and Clinton. Followers of Clinton have claimed that black people are supporting Obama simply because he is black-thus accusing them of positive racism. Meanwhile, Clinton seems to be quite willing to cash in on the positive racism of white voters.

Interestingly, the gender issue has helped to fuel racism. To be specific, the contest between Clinton and Obama has served to put gender against race in a contest over which is the greater source of victimhood. Gloria Steinhem claimed that “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life”, thus setting the stage for the conflict over race and gender. After all, if gender is the most restricting force, then it follows that race is not as important as gender. Because of this sort of view, many feminist supporters of Clinton were quite dismayed about the support Obama has been receiving from black women. Presumably, these feminists think that black women should be more concerned with gender than race. This attitude no doubt has led some, such as Ferraro, to make remarks that might be construed as racist.

So, on the downside, racism is alive and well in America. On the plus side, racism is being openly discussed and is being addressed. While it might be disheartening to see race in the news so much, it is actually good that it is being exposed to the light of inquiry.  After all, admission of a problem is the first step towards solving that problem.

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Running With a Dog

Posted in Running by Michael LaBossiere on June 11, 2008

I’ve been running with my husky, Isis, since 2004. While running with a dog does present some challenges, there are many good reasons to do so.

One common reason to run with a dog is that a dog can provide protection. People are usually more reluctant to bother someone with a dog, even if the dog is not particularly fierce. Of course, it is unwise to think that a dog makes you invulnerable so good sense should still be used when selecting when and where to run.

Another reason to run with a dog is companionship. While dogs are short on conversation, they can be good company. For many people, having a companion is a key motivation to sticking to a workout routine. Since dogs are almost always ready to run, they can be a great motivator.

Another reason to run with a dog is that it can be very good for the dog’s health. Apparently, just as American humans are getting more obese, so too are American dogs. Running helps keep the fat off and also has other health benefits as well. In general, the good things that running does for you will also be the same benefits your dog will receive.

Before hitting the trail or road with your dog, there are some important things to consider.

First, there is the dog. If you are getting a dog to run with, be sure to select the right body type. The ideal is a medium, short furred dog with normal legs. Very small dogs and very large dogs are generally not well equipped for long distance running. Specific breeds are also more inclined to run long distances. For example, labs and huskies love to run long distances. Bulldogs generally do not.

You will also want a dog with the proper behavior. A dog that is disobedient, aggressive and easily distracted can pose serious problems for you and others while running. Fortunately, almost all dogs are trainable-given time, patience and the right methods.

Naturally, you will want to make sure that your dog is healthy. Just as they say that you should see your doctor before getting involved in running, your dog should be checked by a vet for various problems. Although running improves health, it can be very stressful to the body and hence you will want to be sure that your dog is up to the challenge of running.

There are also some important differences between you and your dog that you will want to take into account. Since dogs are (usually) coated in fur and vent heat via their paw pads and mouth, they cannot handle the heat as well as we can. As such, you will want to make sure that you watch your dog carefully for signs of distress and be sure to take steps to make sure that he is properly hydrated. I run through a park that has water spigots and stop by them regularly to see if Isis is thirsty.

While it might surprise some people, humans are generally much better runners than dogs. While dogs are faster in a sprint, humans are built for endurance running. If you are a long distance runner, the odds are that your dog will not be able to match your endurance, especially in warm weather. I’ve found that Isis can run 10-16 miles with no problem in the winter, but this drops quickly in the spring and summer. As such, you will need to plan your running to match your dog’s endurance. I solved this problem by running a loop near my house in the spring and summer. That way I can get Isis back to the house when she is tired and then go on to finish my run.

As with humans, a dog also needs to be old enough to run. Puppies should not run long distances (even if they can). Check with your vet to see if your dog is ready to run.

Second, there is the matter of transforming your dog into a runner. While many people think that dogs will just run naturally and hence there is no need of any special preparations, this is not true. Like humans, dogs need to build up to running. As such, you should start your dog off gradually and get him accustomed to running. Since individual dogs will vary, you should watch your dog to see when he starts to tire and then allow him to rest. In general, some people recommend starting your dog out at a mile and then working up gradually from there.  It can be useful to talk to your vet about this. Some vets are also runners and run with their own dogs and hence can give you excellent advice.

Third, there is the matter of where to run. While you can buy things to protect your dog’s feet, you probably cannot get running shoes for your dog. As such, you will want to run places that are free of sharp debris (like broken glass) and places that have softer surfaces. As such, trails and grass areas are perfect for dogs. Be sure to check your dog’s paws after running to make sure there are no injuries or other problems. While dogs will often let you know when they are hurt, they sometimes show no signs of distress. Grass and trails are also cooler for the dog.

You will also want to run someplace that has low or no traffic. A dog’s nose tends to be at the same level as car’s exhaust pipe, hence they will be exposed to more pollution than a human. There is also the obvious danger posed by traffic.

In general, you should not bring your dog to run in races (unless it a race that allows that), to tracks (most tracks forbid dogs for obvious reasons), or on group runs without informing people that your dog is coming along.

Fourth, there is the question of the leash. Some people are pro-leash while others let their dogs run free. I’m pro-leash. One reason is that most places have leash laws. While I’m not in the habit of obeying just because someone says so, I think that leash laws are a good idea because they compel people to do something they should do. A second reason is that dogs do not recognize many dangers such as broken glass, spilled chemicals, cars and scary people as threats. A leash allows you to control your dog and keep her away from such things. A third reason is that even a well trained dog can be distracted (perhaps by a squirrel) or decide to wander away. A leash prevents this.

Dogs vary in their behavior and strength and you’ll want to take these two factors into account when selecting the way you’ll leash your dog. If your dog is well behaved, then a normal collar can work just fine. If your dog is strong and tends to pull, then a control collar or a harness can be a good idea. I favor the harness approach since it controls a dog better without causing discomfort (which is how choke and control collars work). Of course, dogs vary a great deal so you’ll need to find what works best for your dog.

I use a traditional style leash, as opposed to a retractable leash. I find the normal leash more comfortable to run with as well as easier to use.  SInce Isis is a husky, I bought a strong leash and check it before running to make sure that the metal parts are not wearing out.

I’ve heard of leash belts that you can wear, but I prefer to use my hand to hold the leash.

When running with a dog on the leash, you have to be very aware of what your dog is doing. In addition to watching to make sure that your dog is not running into your legs, you also have to make sure that you don’t get entangled in the leash. A dog will sometimes lag behind you and then surge ahead. If you are not ready for this, you can get tripped or have your hand painfully yanked.

Dogs do not seem to get that we are very unstable compared to them and they tend to treat us like other dogs. To be specific, they don’t get that if they bump into our legs, we will probably fall over. Dogs happily slam into each other when running, so they probably just do the same thing to us by nature. As such, you’ll have to watch for than until your dog is trained as a runner. Dogs are often prone to sudden stops (bathroom breaks, interesting smells, something nasty on the ground) and you’ll have to watch for those as well.

If you run with other people, you’ll also have to watch your dog and them as well to avoid any dog related problems.

While running with a dog poses many challenges, it is well worth it. If you can run, you should run. So should your dog.

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