Friday, September 29, 2006

Your Own Ads: to click or not to click?

I remember reading about how Google once had to refund some $90 million to advertisers because of alleged "click fraud". I then read in the Terms and Conditions for the Google Adsense that messing around with the ads could get your service terminated.

But then I was listening to a BBC World interview with employees of Google. They were asking one of the managers there about the ads, about the moral question of whether some users of google weren't able to tell whether they were actually clicking on ads. The manager defended the utility of ads on Google. He said,
"I click on them all the time."

Whoa! The managers at google "click on them all the time?! Then in reading the fine print at the Google Adsense TOS, I see the phrase is "repeated." So maybe there's no harm in my own clicking on those ads for great vacation savings on a trip to Bali, as show up in my other blog.

Detriments to Google Reader.

The Google Reader service is touting their recent changes to the service. I think it got a lot worse.

It used to be that when you'd load up the page, you'd get immediately be immersed into the most recent posting you were subscribed to. Then you could just space bar your way through the whole set of postings. Now, it looks like all they have made the interface closer to that of bloglines. Now I see no way of space-bar-ring through the whole list, and I'm forced to do a lot more clicking to move between items. The Google Reader service says they've responded to feedback. I'm wondering who really wanted it this way?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Why are you running away?

Finally rigged my test character in blender, and playing around with the rotation of the armatures.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Conservative Lutherans affirm Bill Maher's agnosticism

I was listening to some podcast discussions from KFUO, the radio station of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (LC-MS), the more politically conservative wing of American Lutheran Christianity. The host of this program and his pastor-guest were giving a pretty moving account of a bible passage about Jesus' passion.

Then the guest brought up a discussion he had seen on TV with Bill Maher. The pastor's quote went like this: [paraphrase from memory]
"Bill Maher is one of those liberals who hearts his heart on his sleeve. I saw him on a TV show and in reference to some perceived moral offense, he said, 'Jesus doesn't stand for things like that.' Now Bill and a lot of folks want Jesus the moral philosopher but they don't want Jesus the divine one crucified for our sins."

Overall, this pastor gave a pretty good defense of the orthodox position in Christianity, that Jesus is not just a philosopher but God incarnate and that his death is not an inspiring political act but a work that saves us from our sins. The problem is that I think that the pastor gave the strongest possible reason not to take Christianity seriously in that above quote.

He could have said, "Bill Maher was talking about a moral problem. It's not just a moral problem, but a sin that separates us from God, and that separation is only repaired by the work of Christ on the cross." Instead, the pastor primarily belittled the law written on Bill's heart by calling it a "perceived moral offense." Who wants a God who cannot see the grave sins that even the most resolute atheist can see? Who needs to be saved from nominal and childish, from abstract sins? It's almost as if he couldn't both witness to Christ crucified and affirm that Bill could have seen something as Very Wrong and it being an offense to God. I think that is where a political conservatism, an ingrained defense of the status quo, becomes an impediment to our witness.

Luther wrote, "By making our sins small, we make Christ small."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Wesnoth strategy tip for "The Scepter of Fire" level

I was playing this game and every strategy I tried was losing. First I had recalled all my best units from previous levels, going massively into debt. I tried having four Shamans to keep everyone healed. All paths led to defeat. I could never defeat all the enemy kings and always had a key character die at the hands of a mass of troll-grunts. Even though I kept "staring over," each new strategy I tried was played out on the same map. That's because I only went back to around turn 2, after I had already recruited a whole bunch of folks.

Then I read in some forum for developers of the game about "randomization" of the map.

All my "retries" of the level above however involved the same map. Every time you start over in the game, you start with a new map. Due to this randomization, it is possible for one to have the Scepter out in plain sight down the main pathway. Once I had restarted the level and had this new and easy map, the level was a cinch. I only got out about 10 characters, and we stumbled onto the Scepter before we'd fought our fifth troll-grunt.

In retrospect, this points to an unfortunate design of the level, in that the tension between "cinch" and "impossible" was tied to a randomization factor at the beginning of the game: the map and Scepter location.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Free market solutions to hunger

I heard a presentation from a man who was then serving as a missionary to Madagascar.

He said that during times of period famine, merchants would come into the village and buy up their property. Their house for a few week's food. This was the mutually voluntary agreed upon price. Was it the just one?

The missionary said that he had been involved in an effort where he would buy grain far away and have it transported to the starving village. He'd then sell it at his cost. I was in the crowd, and I commended what he was doing. He said it was a drop in the bucket.

He also said he was chastised for his grain sales by the Pakistani businessmen who were involved in the house-buying, that this was not something to be done.

Martin Luther wrote in his "Sermon on Trade and Usury" about the public service of Joseph, who rose high in the court of Pharoah:
"Besides, there can be no doubt that as a Christian and a righteous man he let no poor man die of hunger, but, as the text states [Gen. 41:36], after he had been placed in charge of the king's temporal law and government he gathered, sold, and distributed the grain for the benefit and profit of the land and its people. Therefore, the example of the faithful Joseph is as remote from the conduct of the unfaithful, self-seeking merchants as heaven is far from earth."

Two rational views on the controversies surrounding violent Islamic mobs

First, from a secular view. From Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. The Philosophical Question of the Day
If a man goes into the forest and pokes a bear with a sharp stick, and the bear kills the man, whose fault is it?
Now substitute an irrational human being for the bear.
And let’s say the irrational person is completely rational in every way that is not related to his religion. He might even be an engineer or a doctor. But his irrational side is well understood by all. Now the guy with the sharp stick pokes him and gets killed.

Whose fault is it?

And then a source from an evangelical Christian perspective. From an article forwarded to me by an evangelical missionary. John Piper writes How Christians Should Respond to Muslim Outrage at the Pope's Regensburg Message About Violence and Reason

"How should Christians respond to this situation? I will suggest ten responses that flow from the Bible.

1. Admit that the Christian church has often been too entangled with civil governments, with the result that violence has been endorsed by the church as a way of accomplishing religious, and not just civil, goals. ...

2. Make clear that the use of God-sanctioned violence between Israel and the nations in the Old Testament is no longer God’s will for his people. ...

3. Admit that there are many Muslims today who do not approve of violence in the spread of Islam. ...

8. Always be ready to die, but never to kill, for the sake of commending Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for sinners and rose again as the Lord of the universe. ...

9. Pray for the salvation of all those who belittle Jesus Christ. ...

10. No matter the cost, continue to exalt and commend Jesus Christ as the great and only Savior that he is. ..."

I would encourage interested persons to visit both links and benefit from the writings of these two wise men. One offers straightforward secular wisdom, the other a witness to Christ crucified amidst all this madness. Too often we have Christians speaking forth in the public square in a manner that sets aside both. Too often Christians embrace a foolhardy apology for the brutalities of the Empire-- engaging in an idolatry of Western Civilization-- instead of the foolishness of a suffering Christ.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Improved Blender head

Now I'm ready to start rigging. But maybe I should make a female character, too.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Last fm is pretty cool.

Uber-ginger man

I've been playing around with the Blender Summer of Documentation tutorial on Character Animation. They are showing you how to make a very stylized simple character. I took the character I made with them and put it in front of a rotoscope of an Arnold-like character, then tweaked my mesh.

"I'll be back for more icing."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Old povray image with isosurfaces

I found this image on a USB stick where I'd stored some of my old povray INI files. The isosurface glass thing is cool, with perhaps some more work it could be "art".

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blender Summer of Documentation- Head

I'm calling it Beesod, in honor of the tutorial I'm following at the blender site.

I guess that this rendering also officially marks the christening of my "other" box with Knoppix 5.01. As I'd blogged about earlier, i got fed up with ubuntu. Now I'm trying to do my graphics production on two Knoppix 5.01 HDD installs. Many benefits, and just one of them is that Knoppix "comes with" a "blender (windowed)" version of the app, which comes in quite handy when trying to go back and forth between a tute off a web page.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Who left this mess here?

Another test of the physics simulations capabilities of blender. I'm using 2.42, which I have found works better than 2.41. I was happy that the Debian maintainers got 2.42 up there.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pope vs. Islam (sans cross)

Here's a thorough document on the response:

And here's the complete speech.,,1873277,00.html

I perused the speech and found it quite sad. It condemns Islam without making any reference to the cross or the gospel. I guess I have a completely opposite view from Benedict-- I don't see how any particular religion or philosophy is any better at showing us how to order society or to see our sin. What is missing from the other philosophies is a cross, a gospel. We need more Christian leaders willing to inject the offense of the Cross, the scandal of the Cross, into public dialogue. If we suffer from angry secularist mobs because of such a witness, so be it.

What we do not need is the cultural and philosophical imperialism of Benedict's speech.

To further complicate things, it is interesting is how different it seems to be in the teaching of the Catholic Church as expressed in the 1992 Catechism. It was a teaching I always found odd at the time.
841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

Now there's another articulation of a path to salvation completely devoid of the cross.

I suppose everyone can have a bad day. I'm hoping that's what the pope was having.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lunchtime render: spheres in blender

This actually took two lunch breaks to complete. Made with Blender 2.41 as found on a live boot of Knoppix 5.01.

It took me a while to figure out how to apply the color pattern in the texture to the material. I wonder if I have found a bug. The pattern was not applied when I only asked for Color to be applied. When I also hit the Normal, I got color and normal.



Thursday, September 14, 2006

What did Iraq have to do with 9/11? Nothing!

Gratuitious partisan indulgence in a youtube video from the Daily Show, featuring the Bush press conference where he said the above.

You can find it quickly by searching for it on google:

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cool Podcasts

  • Stomp Tokyo: The Cult Movies Podcast
    This is a podcast featuring three nerds talking about all the horrible new movies you'll not want to see and waxing nostalgic for the classic movies and TV shows you saw as a kid. Unconditionally, a delightful listen every time.
  • Chinese Pod
    They teach you spoken Mandarin in a creative-commons licensed podcast. The lessons are fun, informative, useful (I've greatly impressed my Chinese friends already and my son loves it). Just make sure you select the "newbie" lessons. I'm also fascinated by the quality of the voices of the man and woman who run the show: they have perfect enunciation of English and a thick Chinese accent at the same time.
  • Linux Questions Podcast
    This is always a useful listen. It's interesting that the speaker spends most of his time talking about business events in the computing industry, but it's much more insightful than what you'd get from CNBC.
  • Daily Audio Bible Podcast
    A guy reading scripture. He has an earnest and sincere approach that is touching, completely lacking of Jim-and-Tammy cheeze.
  • New Scientist Podcast
    Science News.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Distros: edubuntu vs. knoppix

Please find enclosed two different youtube videos. They represent a problem with video drivers that I believe will create frustration with many new users of linux. I hope that this demonstration will inspire linux developers to change their development priorities, or perhaps their ideology regarding OSS. In the meantime, it will offer a path forward for new users of linux, in the form of advice of a good choice for a distribution of linux.

Both videos are a test with live CD's of linux-- a CD or DVD that contains an entire linux distribution, complete with software. The two distributions are Knoppix 4.0 and edubuntu 6.06.1 live. They are performed on a box with 2.8 GHz processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce 4 video card.

The test involves the modelling, rendering, and gaming application blender. Both of these distributions of linux "come with" blender. When blender first loads, after a flash of the blender logo, one sees a basic scene with a cube, a light, and a camera. Now one of the more interesting features of blender is that it gives one the ability to create and play games. Now you might not realize it, but this opening scene of a cube, a light, and a camera is also a game. It is of course an incredibly boring one, in that nothing is going to happen. You can design or download more interesting games than this stationary cube, but that is an exercise for a later time. The way to play the game is to hit the key "P" when you are in object mode (you're in object mode when blender first loads).

What I discovered in my recent tinkering is that blender requires the advanced features of your video card-- you need the drivers-- in order to do this "game playing" properly. It was not clear to me until about a week of banging my head on the wall and asking in various internet fora. In this demonstration, you will note that:
  • the knoppix 4.0 installation properly plays the game (i.e., shows you a stationary cube upon hitting the "P" key.
  • In edubuntu, the application crashes.
What brought this whole problem to my attention is that I had a kubuntu 6.06.1 installation on a box. I discovered that blender would crash when I would try to test a game I was designing. In asking around, it was pointed out that I probably needed the video drivers. I tried to install the drivers at 11:30 PM at night, after a long day, using instructions from an ubuntu web page on the topic. Upon rebooting, I found that the system was unusable-- when it got to the first big kubuntu logo, it was stuck. I don't know how to fix it. Now I guess that I'm at least of average innate intelligence, surely average understanding of computers. If I can wreck my system by means of a simple driver update, what does that mean for the typical person using Windows right now?

Shouldn't therefore any distro wanting to be usuable to the unwashed masses of humanity come with all the drivers you need for wireless and video display built-in?

Knoppix does and ubuntu doesn't.

Linux: Don't Try it at Home, Or, the Fable of Activist Publishing, Ltd.

Are you considering installing linux on your computer? Don't do it! (*) Here's a fable to describe my frustrations and why I feel the ideology of open source gets in the way of helping people use their computers.

Consider book publishing. Suppose there's one big, evil publisher out there, say one based on Washington State. The Washington publishers insist on printing every page of every book on paper featuring a particular watermark. The watermark is a titillating image of the backside of a woman's knee. Every page has knee-pit water marks and the bindings have a big logo of several women's kneepits. Now there's a group of religious fundamentalists-- activists-- who are personally offended by pictures of kneepits, and in the name of decency decides to set up their own publishing house, Activist Publishing (AP). Every one of the books from AP will be on plain white paper-- no kneepit watermarks. However, the activists are either unable or unwilling to make their own binders. The reasons AP doesn't provide its own binders are a complicated question of legal restraints and simply having much better things to do with their time. But books and books and books (all without binders) keep pouring out Activist Publishing.

AP does however tell folks how to get kneepit-logo binders from the Washington publisher. The readers are therefore either faced with the options of
  1. Going to the Washington publisher and then glueing the pages to the binder by hand, or
  2. Doing without a binder and dealing with a set of loose pages.
Problem is that the gluing process is complicated, which makes some folks not even bother leaving the Washington publisher. And nearly every person who gets a book from the AP ends up carrying it around in a binder proudly displaying a row of women's kneepits. Meanwhile, supporters of Activist Publishing condemn purchasers of Washington Publishing books because the books contain images of the back of women's knees.
In this analogy, Washington Publishing is of course Microsoft, and Activist Publishing is the linux community. Pictures of kneepits represents the concept of software which is proprietary, copyrighted, and patented, laden with spyware and digital rights management restrictions. The absence of kneepit watermarks is Richard Stallman's "free as in free speech" concept for open source software. The bookbindings are things like wireless drivers and video drivers, many of which come as copyrighted binaries rather than GPL-ed software. The difficulty in gluing is the computer and linux skills required to download and make-install drivers, perhaps even to recompile the kernel (required by some distros to get wifi). The gluing difficulty is also the fact that some distros don't "come with" wifi drivers (for accessing the internet) but provide you URLs to the binaries (which you can access via the internet). That the gluing instructions are available from AP is the fact that linux communities give you detailed instructions on how to get to the non-free stuff: it involves adding lines to your script for your repositories. The chiding of the Washington Publishing customers is what you can see daily in the comments about Windows users at the slashdot forums.

If you're really offended by non-free-as-in-speech software, wouldn't you refrain from giving out instructions on how to get it, wouldn't you be offended by setting up a system where folks need the binaries anyway? Wouldn't you drop EVERYTHING and make your own binders?

If you're really out to get people away from Microsoft, wouldn't you provide an alternative where everything is ready to go? For example, rather than investing man-decades in developing openoffice, couldn't the linux community have licked the drivers problem in like a few months if they really wanted to do it? And isn't it the most absurd situation to give people books with no binders? (SUSE 10.1 shipped with no wifi drivers because of the ideology of OSS).

I'm ticked because of what happened to me this weekend. I discovered that my kubuntu install needed the advanced video drivers for my NVIDIA card in order to use advanced features of blender. At 11:30 PM at night, I tried to follow some instructions from an ubuntu web page: the result is a wrecked ubuntu installation-- I see nothing. I later figured out that these binders come with Knoppix 4.01 and 5.01.

I work in the computer hardware industry using skills largely based on a materials science background. The opinions here are soley those of myself and not of my employer or on behalf of any software entity. I don't even speak for the linux distros that I prefer.

(*) When I say, "Don't do it!", I mean, "Don't use a linux distribution that requires you to do all the heavy lifting (glue-binding) yourself." I hereby endorse Knoppix 5.01 as the ideal distribution for newbies and for folks who just want to use the advanced capabilities of a computer. The reason is that it comes with the drivers you're probably going to need. It's as if someone went to all the trouble of making a coherent, working linux distribution and put it on a CD. (Oh wait, that's exactly what they did!) You can then install this distro directly to your hard drive. I will be writing more about this in weeks to come.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Problem of Spanish-speaking Persons in Service Jobs

In the past month, while milling about places in the Northeast, I've run into a few cases where I needed to interact with the staff of the place, either a store or a restaurant. Twice I tried to explain what I wanted to the staff person, and she would direct me to another person, and that one would get it wrong too. I asked for no bacon on a sandwich and got double bacon; I asked if a set of children's cultery were clean & intended for general customer use: the person gives clueless nods and points to the canister and pulls out a spoon. It caused me to take extra time. I was ticked. It wasn't a "Spanish business". Accomodating spanish-speaking customers meant that they didn't get bilingual staff but monolingual staff of a different language from the majority in the town. yada yada yada.

So, does this ire on my part indicate that I represent a constituency that needs to be empowered and accomodated, either in the marketplace or on the capitol hill? No! I believe that this means I need to hear a reminder that God intends us to welcome the stranger, that we are to love the alien, because our spiritual ancestors--the Israelites-- were strangers in the land of Egypt.

I guess that's this willingness to engage in hand-wringing instead of flag-waving means I'm a liberal.