Monday, March 28, 2005

Your Oxymoronic Gov't At Work

The Federal Communications Commission recently extended a deadline set for cable providers from 2006 to 2007; which going on forward they will be forbidden to offer "integrated set-top boxes" to their subscribers. All in the name of the holy grail of "consumer choice".

(Read more here at the thread which inspired this blog entry. You can also choose to ignore the freemarket-ignorant comments.)

If the irony isn't staring you in the face by now, I ask you how is the [non-existent constitutional] entitlement of "consumer choice" fulfilled when a government agency forbids a company from offering a choice to consumers!?

Of course there are those unscrupulous electronic manufacturers who are set to gain from this ban, which will no longer have to compete with cable providers to sell their digital set-top boxes (DVRs, PVRs, Navigation boxes.) So in short, the FCC's banning of cable providers from offering integrated set-top boxes will somehow lead to a more competitive market place and more "consumer choice", when several set-top box contenders have been restricted from joining that competition.

Wait, thats like fighting for peace and all that.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Hudson Railyard Update

Yesterday, March 21 was the official deadline for submitting bids on the development rights for the MTA's Hudson railyards. I can happily announce that if anything, Cablevision offer of $600 million spurred the Jets to make a more realistic dollar offer- for $720 million. See the beauty of the (somewhat-) free market? The city and especially the MTA have Cablevision to thank for the additional $620 million, if they do accept the Jets offer. It should also be mentioned that TransGas put up an offer for $800 million. The winning bid is as yet undecided, but at this point I won't be suprised if the Jets win.

Yay capitalism!

Friday, March 18, 2005

LucasArts, where is thou soul?

Can you call them sell-outs? (Is that even a derisive term?)

For the longest time, fans of LucasArt's adventure games have lamented the lack of new titles in their adventure game line-up. All they seem to be doing is spitting out Star Wars Jedi Knight clones by the bushel. While some of those titles may bear merit, it's quite dissappointing to see them ignore the adventure game market which brought them their early acclaim, IMNSHO.

Lovable gems such as Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, Secret of Monkey Island 1, 2, 3 & 4; Full Throttle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Indiana Jones 1 & 2, Grim Fandango, Loom, and more.

In more recent years, they were working on releasing sequels to both Full Throttle and Sam & Max, and even released trailers, but unfortunately both projects were axed. Needless to say, Scummbar and Mojo residents were quite unhappy to the point of despondency. "What the Hell is Wrong With LucasArts?" reads a feature editorial.

Fortunately, you can still play these games (some of them were DOS only) with the help of ScummVM, which works on practically every platform known to mankind. I replay these classics from time to time on my Apple Powerbook, my Sony Ericsson P800 cellphone, and my MS Windows XP box at work (don't tell my boss!)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Jets Fight Back (Dirty)

The imbroglio over the Hudson Railyards was "punted" up another notch this morning when the NY Jets filed a federal lawsuit against Cablevision accusing them of engaging in a "multimillion-dollar anticompetitive campaign to delay and derail" the NY Jets' plan to build a competing West Side stadium.

On the homepage of, one of the NY Jet's websites it reads-

"Today the Jets filed a lawsuit against Cablevision Systems Corporation, the owner of Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, for engaging in ongoing anticompetitive behavior designed to maintain its monopoly over enclosed large-scale spectator events and private spectator suites in Manhattan - and deprive New Yorkers of the benefits of fair competition in the market.

It has become increasingly clear over the past several weeks that Cablevision will stop at nothing to defend its stranglehold on New York City's entertainment venues. Cablevision's egregious actions have violated Federal laws, harmed New York City consumers, and fall way outside the boundaries of common sportsmanship. From our perspective, litigation is, and always should be, a last resort, but Cablevision has crossed the line from playing tough to playing dirty and it's time for the Jets to fight back."

Far from being an honest disagreement, it's quite sad that the Jets have escalated this dispute to the federal level, by launching an anti-trust lawsuit against a competitor vying for the Hudson railyard real estate. If anyone is being anti-competitive, it's the NY Jets, along with numerous politicians who are propping this whole stadium shenanigans and are trying to keep this massive tract of real estate from undergoing any sort of development other than their pet stadium project.

And that is just for starters, never mind the fact that the stadium plans call for $600 million to be funded by John Q. Taxpayer; and we all know quite well that taxpayer funded projects containing a high number of dollars only turn into even higher sums later on, as if by magic.

But that is not all; the NY Jets are also suing because Cablevision refuses to air pro-stadium advertisements on Cablevision's cable TV network(!!!) That's like Snapple suing McDonald's to force them to sell their brand of soft-drinks in their restaurants.

And to add insult to injury, it's the Jets who are accusing Cablevision of playing dirty!
Did Cablevision try to usurp taxpayer funds in their bid to develop the railyards?
Did Cablevision launch federal-level lawsuits to stop competitors from bidding on the land?
Did Cablevision try to deprive the MTA of much needed funds by underbidding on the land, and trying to force the undersell with the hands of politicians?

Oh the bitter irony!

Read more here:
NY Times

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Redacting History

While reading Wikipedia's entry on "Forced Disappearance", it mentions the methods that different governments utilized, notably the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Argentina. (What brought me there in the first place was the featured article on Mordechai Vanunu.)

In a very Orwellian fashion, dissident individuals were erased from society overnight. In Argentina, they would "disappear" over the Atlantic Ocean, thrown from airplanes, with none of the bodies ever recovered. In Germany and it's occupied countries, Gestapo agents would arrest, and either kill them on the spot, or send them off to concentration spots.

But the Soviet Unions' "Great Purge" definitely takes the cake: not only was the dissident "disappeared" by cold murder or pressed in forced Gulag labor; books, records, and history books which mentioned them were recalled or rewritten; statues, paintings and pictures were airbrushed, altered or removed, and the government generally forbade the mention of the disappeared person.

As seen on here on Newseum, the commissar of water transport, one Mr. Nikolai Yezhov was airbrushed out of existence. There are also a few more interesting examples of retouched photos on the site to view.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

REBNY Luncheon

Today I had the privilege to attend a Real Estate Board of New York's Luncheon, of which the guest of honor was Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mayor Mike graciously took the oportunity to give a re-election campaign speech, noting how crime is way down, property values are way up, and how his administration is spurring more commercial and residential growth then any previous administration, etc.

Then he dropped the stadium bomb.
"And after what the IOC Evaluation Commission said while they were here last month, there can no longer be any doubt. Their message was clear: no Sports and Convention Center, no Olympics: End of story. You can’t have it both ways; if you’re opposed to one, you’re opposed to the other."

Damn, can't this guy give it a break? I'm not opposed to any stadium plans, nor the 2012 Olympics. I am simply against paying for them with taxpayer monies. To read the entire speech, you can read it at here at Alternatively, you can watch the entire event here.

But to add insult to injury, he went on saying how many "permanent" jobs the Unions' and other anti-stadium activists would be denied; how much money the city expects to generate in taxes over the next 30 years from the project; and the crowning-glory:

"The municipal unions that oppose the stadium need to realize that without new tax revenues, we won't be able to afford as big a raise for our workforce as we’d like to have."

Looking at all this from the Austrian perspective, you feel kind of marginalized, and on the side. At the same time, you feel sorrowful for these people who think that the government is responsible for all the growth, and is therefore entitled to more of your money. With Austrian economic logic, you understand that despite the government, the market somehow manages growth (although unfortunately so in this case since this growth is spurred by inflationary dollars.)

Now wait until you hear this gem- "Those who say we would do better with commercial and residential development over the rail yards are ignoring what we have already accomplished in the surrounding area. On the Far West Side, we just completed the largest rezoning in the City’s history..."

What, is he actually patting himself on the back for removing the blocks to development?! Give this man a cookie! He removed one set of arbitrary land and building zoning restraints, and replaced them with another set of arbitrary limitations, and he thinks himself a saint! Would anyone doubt the boom in new construction once arbitrary zoning regulations are loosened?

My stance on both land and bulding zoning restrictions is that they are unethical, and unwise economic policy, especially to those who aren't on buddy-buddy terms with all the bureaucratic mechanations. But we are too late in the game to remove them now without suffering massive market corrections- and just pushing it off towards the economic judgement day.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Happy Semiversary!

For those of us who celebrate the auspiciousness of certain calendar dates, they should hereby note that today, March 9th, 2005 is the semiversary of my marriage (and which if your'e mentally lazy, took place on September 9th, 2004.)

At first I was thinking of buying my wife a box of Godiva chocolates, and biting half from each piece of chocolate, to celebrate this half-year milestone in our marriage. But I had doubts; perhaps the correct way would be to buy a box of chocolates and consume half of them, and leave the other half intact. Or maybe, I should simply saw the box in half and hand that to her!

You can see where this is leading. Should I buy her a half-carat diamond earring pair, or do I give her a one-carat diamond earring now, and the matching piece in 6 months from now? Ok, I'm just kidding around; I'm too thrifty to purchase expensive, yet plentiful gemstones made of compressed carbon molecules at this point (a fine lesson in Calvinism, Utility Theory, Cartel Monopolization, Media Programming and Subjective Valuation).

In any case, I decided to buy tickets for comedian Jackie Mason's new Broadway show called "Freshly Squeezed", which debuted just last night. And needless to say, I got them less than half-price through TDF.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Wonkette's Warped Wired Words

Ana Marie Cox, perhaps better known as the "Wonkette", wrote an article for Wired Magazine's March edition in which I found a glaring error; the sort of twisted logic commonly employed in Wired's agitprop... er, articles.

Cox writes:
"For all [Howard] Stern's complaints about the FCC, the truth is that government policies made him what he is today. When the government lifted regulations on radio station ownership in the mid-'90s, communications giants like Clear Channel muscled their way into local markets - so no more Dave in the Morning or Billy the Wonder Weasel. Larger-than-life national personalities like Stern and Rush Limbaugh replaced quirky local hosts. Stern can now be heard on 40 stations nationwide. He may be pissed at the FCC for telling him what not to say, but he should send them a thank-you note for allowing him to spray himself across such a big audience."

While I'm not set out to correct every Wired article which gets my goat, I fired of a letter to the editor (AKA "Rant + Rave Department) stating:
"Ana Marie Cox's "Howard Stern and the Satellite Wars" (03.05) asserts that Stern's widespread success belongs to the FCC, due to deregulation in the mid-90's which allowed the industry to consolidate around the most popular hosts. Saying that Stern owes his popularity to the government refraining from controlling the [free] market is akin to attributing the health of any pedestrian, to the vehicles on the road which don't run over them; statements which are both equally ridiculous and false.

I maintain that despite the indecency laws which violate first amendment freedoms, the free market is ultimately the only capable judge for the allocation of the broadcasting spectrum to the needs which serve the individuals and the public. Stern's success may have only been jumpstarted by the derring-do of his verbal-jaywalking, but from now on he will be judged solely by the non FCC-meddled entertainment he provides."

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Runelords Review

I have certain qualms when reading anything of the fantasy/sci-fi genre, similiar to the views I espouse regarding of modern-day action movies, and why I think GRRM is the best thing since the invention of literary hero-slaying and regicide. The following review will spell out more clearly those biases that I employ.

Dave Wolverton (AKA "David Farland" when penning fantasy novels) is a talented writer, no question. The first thing which drew me to his Runelord series is the balance of magic. I consider the balance of magic to be a crucial element in any fantasy writing. The balance of magic is what allows me to suspend disbelief, and to comfortably enjoy a fabricated tale. The moment that the magical elements become an unaccountable system, the careful balance is thrown off, and my frustration at the series grows proportional to the disbelief unsuspended.

The Runelords universe of magic employs two different and distinct spheres of magic. The first and far more commonly employed magic is a system by which the natural endowments of people can be transfered to another individual, at the cost of the person who gives the endowment. A person may transfer his strength to his lord becoming a "dedicate", which in turn the lord will take care of this person, who may not have the strength to move about any more.

The transfer of one's endowment, be it their wit, sight, voice, olfactory, strength, metabolism, etc is accomplished by the use of magical crucibles, marked with a particular rune, which when applied first to the donor, will extract or channel that endowment. The crucible, glowing with the endowment is branded either directly to the recipient, or to someone who indirectly serves as the conduit for the recipient.

This magic system is a pretty sensible one; one person will grow in abilities, but at the same time, someone else has given up those abilities. It is a check-and-balance system, as no one person can increase their abilities, without some cost attributed elsewhere in the system. It's also a more realistic magic system, i.e. it doesn't let people teleport, shoot fireballs, fly, or generally do things which are outside of normal human abilities. However a person can move and heal faster if their metabolism is increased. The system of endowments also leads to interesting ethical dillemmas which are explored in the plot.

The second, more-encompassing magical system are the elemental magics, which unlike the other type, are powerful, abnormal magical abilites which are created ex nihilo, and therefore are mostly unaccountable, and presumingly undepletable resources. It is the type of magic where the earth lends you the ability to quake it at will, or for a river to be diverted, fireballs to be emitted from fingertips, and wind to batter the enemy. The only check-and-balance on this magic system is that the person has to follow the will of the anthropomorphized "element" in order to wield it. It is a non-nuetral value system; elemental magics are categorized as being objectively good or evil.

I have two main objections to this series. One is the slow story timeline. The series' timeline progresses at a rate of a day or so per book. Granted this isn't Ulysses, it's unrealistic, unnatural and doesn't make sense to carry so much detail "per day" in these books. The other thing which I found bothersome to is the moral qualms the main character doesn't stop quibbling about. Yes, it's fine to have ethical questions every now and then; but it's unreasonable to bore the reader with ethical dillemmas of varying degrees every page or so. Let the damn protaganist make some choices, damned be the consequences, like most people in the world. Otherwise, the character is too fake and therefore the reader unable to relate to a character who painstakingly questions every action and decision.

Otherwise this series is pretty good, and merits 4 of 5 stars.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Elements of a Balanced Magical System

[This was part of a post I'm currently working on, and it discusses the balance I believe must be maintained in the magical systems utilized in the fantasy genre. I felt it could stand on its own, so here it is.]

Many fantasy writers start their book or series with a weak hero and powerful foes, and the "resolve" is that the hero is the strong one, and the villian the weaker one. To me, neither the hero nor the villian should clearly have the magical-upperhand. A better writer will employ non-cookie cutter villians; the resolve will often involve the villian being misunderstood and perhaps virtuous, or the villian was misguided and repents; or the hero is as guilty as the villian; etc.

Overall, there must exist a plausible understanding of what motivates the hero and the villian to use their magics. The villian shouldn't be depicted as a ruthless, homicidal miscreant, wishing harm and death upon others solely for its entertainment value. The hero shouldn't be a selfless, altruistic "friar" who is fighting the battles, and constantly putting himself in mortal danger solely for the sake of others. With believable characters, your mind can more easily suspend the disbelief required for magical tales, or any other fiction for that matter.

The second element of balanced magic is that there are no major magical suprises in the sequels. This means that once a system of magic is explored and its possibilities are discovered, you simply cannot write sequels utilizing the same universe of magic, but which also burst the envelope of limitations that the previous stories and struggles were contained within. Simply put, if the magic used in the first book was only a subtle magic, fantasy writers can't use cheap parlor tricks on readers to accept the fact that now the magic is now a hundredfold more deadly, explosive, fiery, etc. Its an insult and disservice to readers who respected the earlier set magical guidelines, and whom invested time to understood the challenges that the characters faced and the actions they undertook within those limitations.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

CS Progress

Forgive me, for yet another update on a project I've been contributing my talents to; yes it's the Centerstage project. Now bkmarcus, before you yawn and delve back into Otto Matic, I just wanted to pass on a couple of announcements.

1. Centerstage's developers team are scheduled to be kicking out a rudimentary product in just a couple more days.

2. We've finalized on the GUI for that demo, going with Cosmo's overall GUI structure, schema and design.

3. The logo/splashscreen/icon is complete, thanks to DaxCS and Aykew's hard work.

4. We have a write-up in the shortly-expected MacUser's Magazine about our project.

5. will be featuring our project in a discussion of how Apple's Mac Mini has taken an unexpected foray into the living room, and its ramifications on possible partnerships with Tivo or Sony.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A Magical Tale, Darkly

In what I can only describe as a pleasant, albeit tedious work of literature, I present before you the work of an author, who goes by the name Susanna Clarke. The title of her opus, which I might add is her first published effort, is:
"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell"

The tale she so expertly crafts is set in Victorian England, some time before the industrial revolution cranks into life. Her prose mimics the style of that long-gone era, which some readers may find cumbersome. But harkon not, noble reader, for if you have accidentally stumbled upon any of Neal Stephenson's last four books, it should be but a breeze to your accustomed and nineteenth-century-adjusted reading faculties.

The books' protaganists are two magicians, one laconic, bittersome Mr. Norrell, a self-styled tutor of the finer arts. Jonathan Strange is Mr. Norrell's only student and of the opposite character. Mr. Norrell is an aging, introverted bachelor, magically-cautious, and none too happy to share the wealth of the magical knowledge in his unparalleled collection of magicians texts.

Mr. Strange is a devoted husband, and is the counterpart of his mentor. He's more daring in what magic he will summon, and spells he will perform. He wishes to learn more, but his mentor has purchased every significant text and is unwilling to share their knowledge.

Aside from their diverging personalities, they disagree over the correct school of thought for proper English magic. Mr. Norrell despises any and all magic related to John Unkglass, who was known as the Raven King. Mr. Strange disagrees with his mentors assesments, and attempts to learn and practice the magic anyway.

One thing I felt about this book is that the storyline progresses to slowly, and the resolution doesn't properly resolve the issues at hand; it's almost as though Susanna is counting on the sequels to move the story foward into other dimensions.

Overall 3 out of 5 Stars.