I love the idea that the JJ Abrams films are not really Star Trek; they’re really Star Trek fanfic. I don’t remember where I first read that idea, but it’s exactly right. I liked both movies, don’t get me wrong, but they are just ridiculous. Here’s the first movie script:
Kirk is this awesome 13 year old kid and he has a hot car and then he drives it off a cliff but he jumps out just in time. And then he gets in a fight in a bar and then he joins Starfleet and sneaks on board the Enterprise. And then Sulu has to space jump and he pulls out this sword and he’s, like, a killer ninja. And there’s a time traveling Romulan with special magical Red Matter. And Vulcan blows up but actually it’s a parallel Star Trek universe where all the same stories happen only totally different. And Spock and Uhura, they kiss.
Totally rad story, right? The new movie is just as ridiculous, if somewhat clever in what it does. I enjoyed it. Here’s hoping Abrams gives the same tawdry treatment to the Star Wars films, that’s a franchise ripe for self-parody.
I just completed a project I’ve been working on for a few weeks, a vector tile map of American rivers based on the NHDPlus dataset. It’s mostly a demo project with readable source, but it’s also kind of pretty.
There are three and a half products:
Vector maps are exciting. The proprietary map world is moving steadily towards vectors; pretty much all mobile maps are vector now and Google Maps is switching to vectors on the desktop. The open source and data world is getting there too. Thanks to Mike Migurski there’s now an experimental OpenStreetMap vector service that’s very promising. Also my personal thanks to Mike: the genesis of this project was getting an hour of his time.
The Tesla S hype has me interested. So now I’m curious, what does it really cost to run per mile? The Tesla site has a decent calculator, here’s some numbers derived from it.
Tesla says they get 283Wh/mile. Electricity in San Francisco costs $0.35/kWh. So that works out to $0.10/mile in a Tesla. Tesla compares itself to 22 MPG cars. Gas in San Francisco is roughly $4/gal, so it’s $0.18/mile in a gas car. By that math, a Tesla is roughly half the cost of a gas car in San Francisco.
San Francisco has outrageously high electricity costs. At the national average of $0.11/kWH a Tesla is more like $0.031/mile, or six times better than a gas car.
On the other hand, batteries wear out. Tesla is offering to replace the battery after the 8 year warranty at a prepaid cost of $10,000 – $12,000. Assuming 12,500 miles a year that adds $0.10/mi to the cost of driving a Tesla, dwarfing the cost of the electricity! The Tesla ends up being $0.13 – $0.20 / mile compared to $0.18/mi for the 22 MPG gas car (and roughly $0.12 – $0.20 / mile for gas cars in general).
Update: Ken points out the battery lasts another 8 years, so battery replacement really adds $0.05/mi. Our SF Tesla then is $0.15/mi. Also Dan asks if some part of drivetrain maintenance should factor in to gas car operating costs.
If you think of the battery as another form of “fuel” that needs replacing every eight years, then the Tesla costs about the same per mile to drive as a gas car no matter what electricity rates you pay. But maybe the battery will last longer; no one really knows. Also, I suspect most Tesla customers think of the battery cost as depreciation and not a consumable.
Another argument for Tesla is that electricity is somehow more environmentally friendly than gas. Not really; a Tesla is metaphorically spewing 44% coal emissions out its tailpipe. It's 20% nuclear though, I think that's a win.
So it's been long enough now I can tell this story about how I met Stewart Brand. Back in 1995 I was a fresh-out-of-college programmer at the Santa Fe Institute, a research place that attracted all sorts of interesting people. And one of the staff asked me if I could give a ride to Esther Dyson from the Albuquerque airport. "She's quite interesting!" I was no dummy and said yes. I mean, my little Honda was big enough for two! And so I got the car washed and met her at the airport. And when we met she asked "could you give my friend Stewart a ride too? He'll be here in about twenty minutes". I had no idea who that'd be until he got into my car and I was just so pleased with myself. The three of us crammed in my little hatchback for the hour long drive with two of the most interesting, provocative technophilosopher types I'd ever met. Not bad for a 23 year old kid.
Needless to say I took advantage of every minute of having them trapped in my car with me. They were quite friendly and thoughtful and fun to talk to. At some point Stewart mentioned that he'd been at the MIT Media Lab for a while (was writing the book on it, actually) and I mentioned I was applying for grad school there. And so he kindly says "Nicolas owes me a favor, I'll write a letter for you" and that's part of how I got to go to the Media Lab for grad school.
I'm embarrassed posting this now because it seems so starfucker, but back in the mid 90s there just weren't that many people talking like Dyson and Brand were. About the intersection of technology and culture, about the Internet, about building things with beauty and depth. That lucky hour had a big influence on me. And they were both so friendly and generous. I've met plenty of arrogant self-proclaimed pundits, maybe even acted like one myself on occasion, and I always try to remember Stewart Brand's friendly humility.
Originally posted to Metafilter
I finally made good on last year’s New Year’s resolution and transferred domain names away from GoDaddy (registered via Google) to Hover. Hover is a humane registrar, the evolution of Tucows, and they have a good service. Getting out of the clutches of GoDaddy is not easy but Hover has put a lot of effort into helping you. Their docs are thorough and the webapp is good. Even so, I was starting to wish I’d used their free valet service. The steps are roughly:
Step 7 has a race condition; Hover has to have received your domain name before you’re allowed to edit the name server authority in the whois data. And various things cache whois and root DNS information for minutes to hours. My site was offline for about 10 minutes while this sorted itself out. The right thing would be to edit the name server authority for your domain first, before initiating the transfer. Hover seemed happy to provide DNS service before the transfer was complete, I just couldn’t update the whois info.
Another glitch was that some of my names weren’t registered directly by me, but instead via Google Sites or AppEngine. That extra step causes a big mess; here’s a detailed description of the solution. In brief, you have to go to Google Admin Control Panel. That has a link for Domain Settings / Advanced DNS settings that gives you login credentials at GoDaddy that Google made and never told you about. There’s a “Sign in to DNS console” link right there that leads you to GoDaddy management, you can unlock the name and get the authorization code there. But that site has been broken for a year and you can’t disable domain privacy with it. Instead log in to this other GoDaddy site; you have to recover the username (a different random number), but the password Google gave you will work. The “cancel private registration” button works there. It’s almost like GoDaddy doesn’t want this transfer to be easy.
I’ve been having a grand time playing the Minecraft Feed the Beast Ultimate Pack. It’s a ginormous mod pack for Minecraft throwing together some 45–70 mods to extend Minecraft in various ways. It’s terribly complex, occasionally inconsistent, but surprisingly stable, balanced, and fun. I definitely recommend it if you like Minecraft and want to add more stuff to tinker with. I think it’d be particularly good for kids.
There’s a huge number of mods with varying degrees of documentation; part of the fun of FTB is figuring out how stuff works. The unofficial FTB wiki is a good place to start. Some of the big mods I like… BuildCraft and IndustrialCraft add machines, engines, pipes, pumps, all sorts of automation. Thaumcraft adds a beautifully designed magic system. ComputerCraft embeds a Lua scripting engine, letting you write programs for robots that mine and build structures and stuff. And Forestry adds a bunch of agricultural stuff including a crazy apiculture system of bee genetics.
If you want to play it, get the FTB Launcher and use it to install the Ultimate pack. It’s good about installing stuff in its own directory. Unfortunately Java on the Mac is a total mess; you have to set JAVA_HOME to run Java 6 and also configure the launcher to add the XX:PermSize flag when launching the game.
What do we do when Google shuts down Google Groups? I have no particular information that Groups is about to get the axe but I sure wouldn’t bet on it sticking around. Google is shutting down social products that don’t fit their Google+ strategy. And Groups has never gotten much love; it's poorly staffed and the product keeps getting worse. (The site is still touting “the new Google Groups” that’s over two years old; some of the links documenting the “new” features don’t even work!)
The obvious casualty of a Groups shutdown are the communities that use Groups to communicate. But there’s plenty of alternatives: Yahoo Groups, Facebook, maybe even Google+. These products aren’t great; despite how lousy Google Groups is a lot of people still choose it. But I think the market will provide. Migration would be easier if Google offered data export: I think you can get list members but not messages.
But the unique thing Groups has, the thing that’s really important, is the historical Usenet archive that grew out of the Deja News purchase and later supplemented with other donated archives going back to 1981. Usenet is a pale shadow of its former self, but in the pre-Web days Usenet was the place on the Internet for people to communicate. A lot of science, culture, and community happened there and Google has the only easily accessible copy.
Google’s Usenet archive is important, but it’s not commercially valuable. And Google hasn’t been very trustworthy in keeping products like that around. I’d love to see a plan announced now, before there’s a fire drill, to gift a copy of the Google Usenet archive for preservation. The Internet Archive would be a good steward, or maybe the Library of Congress. Someone whose mission is to safeguard the world’s information, not just sell targeted advertisements on it.
I have no idea how I find new music anymore, but here’s two mix tapes I’ve been listening to a lot lately thanks to mentions on Metafilter.
Nicolas Jaar uses techno mixing techniques to work slow tempo music into lyrical, meditative pieces. His two hour set on BBC Essential Mix is absolutely amazing, an eclectic and fresh mix of various music that’s incredibly thoughtful. Jaar also runs the Clown & Sunset label. (MeFi thread).
DJ Shadow is justly famous for his crate digging and hip-hop derived mixing, although honestly other than Endtroducing I haven’t like much in his CD releases. But the All Basses Covered set is absolutely fantastic. He was infamously kicked off the decks after 20 minutes at a stupid South Beach club for being “too future”. Happily he cleaned up the set and put it online. It has a lot of depth and humor; the chopped & screwed Simpsons theme is particularly clever. (MeFi thread).
Ken and I went to Hawaiʻi for a week for my birthday. The big island, at a fancy tourist resort, my first time ever. It was lovely but also a bit boring, next time I go I’ll do it differently.
The great thing about Hawaiʻi is that it’s easy to visit and is absolutely beautiful. I totally get why people go there in the winter, to get some warmth and sun and relaxation. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hualālai which was excellent if outrageously expensive. The problem with a resort like that is it’s disconnected from the real place. And as nice as it is to have your big decision of the day be which of the four pools you hang out by, that’s not really my kind of vacation.
So we escaped The Village and drove all over the Big Island. Saw lots of things, honestly many not very exciting. I was particularly frustrated that the archaeological sites didn’t have more to see. My favorite things were the amazing botanical garden near Hilo, the town of Waimea, finding great macadamia nuts, and a helicopter tour whose highlight was flying into the narrow canyons west of the Waipiʻo Valley. The Kīlauea volcano would have been better if we spent more time.
But what I missed was seeing a real place, getting more in to local culture and food and history. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t plan to visit other islands, in particular to go to Oʻahu to see the Big City, go to Pearl Harbor, and to accept my anthropologist friend’s offer to tour the Bishop Museum. Next time. (Incidentally, the TSA security theater is an enormous burden to inter-island travel. 30 minute flight, 90 minute security.)
PS: the Hawaiian language is fascinating: only 8 consonants and one of them a glottal stop, but plenty of diphthong vowels. t and k are the same letter, so taboo becomes kapu. Only really lives on in place names. Hawaiian Pidgin is in active use, although I only heard it once.
Yahoo shut Delicious down. (Well, they sold it to a new owner who made a mess of it.) A bunch of Delicious users jumped ship and signed up for Pinboard which was a lot like Delicious only better, cleaner, faster. It costs $10 (once!) and now Maciej is making a nice living running this little service for his loyal users. He’s not rolling in VC dough, he doesn’t have a staff of hundreds, I’m guessing he grosses roughly $100,000 a year. But he runs a great service for a dedicated, smart community. Pinboard is a success.
Before Google Reader dominated the scene there were a lot of competing feed readers that were little one man shops. But then Google launched something really excellent, and free, and that was the end of the feed reader market.
Now Google is shutting down Google Reader. It doesn’t make them the hundreds of millions of dollars they measure products by. There’s a large, vocal community of distraught users who are looking for somewhere, anywhere to go. There’s a few products that might fill that niche. Commercial products, cost a few bucks, could pay for the living of a couple of developers. Google Reader shutting down may be the best thing that could happen for them. It could make them a success.