Programmable Road Sign Messages

 Posted by on 3 February 2009 at 12:01 am  Funny, Technology
Feb 032009

At NoodleFood, we completely respect property rights.

Hence, when we learn of links such as this one on how to hack programmable road signs, we stress that this is for information purposes only.

In particular, we do not condone anyone doing anything like this:

(Link via Chris Zeh who noted: “Now that the info is out there, I wonder if this sort of thing will happen more often. I’m just worried if zombies do attack, nobody will pay attention to the warnings ;-) “)

Not Your Father’s Axe

 Posted by on 30 January 2009 at 4:00 pm  Technology
Jan 302009

Via Flibby, not your father’s axe:

Cool! I wonder how widespread the device is.

Ray Niles Hits Two Home Runs

 Posted by on 30 January 2009 at 12:03 am  Activism, Economics, Technology
Jan 302009

I’ve just had the pleasure of reading two of Ray Niles’ recent articles, one on financial regulation and one on proposed government internet regulations to guarantee “net neutrality”. Both are clear and excellent applications of Objectivist principles to important and timely issues. If you have an interest in these topics (or know someone who does), these are “must reads”.

His article on “net neutrality” appears in the Winter 2008-2009 issue of The Objective Standard here: “Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet”.

Given the widespread prevalence of the “information wants to be free” viewpoint by libertarian tech types, it’s refreshing to read a principled defense of property rights as applied to the issues of internet traffic and the “net neutrality” debate.

If you’re not a subscriber, you can purchase a PDF of the entire piece for $4.95. But you really should be a subscriber, if you’re not already.

His second piece is on the issue of financial regulations in the wake of the recent economic crisis. Here is his description (reproduced with his permission):

I am excited to announce that an article I wrote has been published in CFA Magazine, a magazine with global circulation of 100,000 that is published by CFA Institute, a finance professional organization. It is part of an “Agree / Disagree” set on the proposition: “The global market crisis calls for an expansion of regulatory oversight.” I have permission to email it; if you want a copy, let me know and I will email it to you. Please feel free to re-distribute it, but do not post it in its entirety on the web.

In the article, I call for gold money and the abolition of regulatory agencies. I identify the need for government to recognize the right to life, liberty, and property. The editor featured the article as the magazine’s cover story under a scary image that says, “Big Government Is Watching.” In the print version of the magazine, a yellow banner also asks, “Is more regulation the answer to market woes?”

Here are the opening paragraphs. Later, I discuss the specific causes and solution to the crisis.

Regulation cannot be the solution to the financial crisis because it is the cause of the financial crisis. The only proper action for governments to take is to remove existing regulations, fully recognize property rights, and enforce already-existing laws against fraud and theft. Doing so will help our economy speedily recover and make future crises smaller and rarer.

In fact, the premise itself is misleading. “Regulatory oversight” implies that regulation is some form of law enforcement mechanism that protects the rights to life and property, akin to laws against robbery, murder, and fraud. But that is not the case. Such laws already exist on the books and should be enforced when mortgage lenders, for example, commit fraud. No new regulation is necessary to protect rights.

Instead of protecting rights, regulations violate them. A regulation is an action by a government body that intervenes in voluntary agreements between individuals. It prohibits — before the fact — entire classes of behavior, criminalizing that behavior even if it is voluntary and involves no compulsion or fraud. For example, a law such as the Community Reinvestment Act that forces lenders to give mortgage loans to borrowers that do not meet their credit standards violates the right of the lender to decide whether and to whom to lend its money.

To get the full version of the article, you can contact Ray directly at: “rayniles (at) rcniles (dot) com”.

This would be a great article to distribute to friends, coworkers, your investment advisor, or anyone who lost money in the markets in the last 6 months (which is pretty much everyone in the Western World!)

Plus Ray’s example highlights two important points:

1) Americans are interested in hearing our message. Many people know that there is something deeply wrong with the status quo, and at some level they recognize that Obama-style socialism is not the answer. But they don’t know what the positive alternative is. We can offer them that. Americans are becoming increasingly receptive to our ideas. Hence, there is no better time to speak out.

2) Individuals can make a difference. I’ll let Ray speak for himself if he wishes, but until relatively recently he did not engage in any kind of formal activism. But he has found subjects that were of great interest to him and chosen to write on those subjects to appropriate audiences.

The result has been two articles in The Objective Standard (one on energy policy now available for free and his more recent article on “net neutrality”) as well as his article for CFA Magazine. This latter piece could reach many influential minds in the financial industry and give them the moral defense of the free market that they so badly need.

Ray Niles has clearly upped his game. And I thank him for it!

Explaining Mystery of the First Down Yellow Line

 Posted by on 14 January 2009 at 4:36 pm  Sports, Technology
Jan 142009

Wow, the technology of the first down yellow line in football is even more cool than I ever imagined!

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

Speed Camera Abuses

 Posted by on 31 December 2008 at 1:01 am  Law, Technology
Dec 312008

Some Maryland high school students are using speed cameras to “exact revenge on people who they believe have wronged them in the past, including other students and even teachers”.

According to this article:

High school students in Maryland are using speed cameras as a tool to fine innocent drivers in a game, according to the Montgomery County Sentinel newspaper. Because photo enforcement devices will automatically mail out a ticket to any registered vehicle owner based solely on a photograph of a license plate, any driver could receive a ticket if someone else creates a duplicate of his license plate and drives quickly past a speed camera. The private companies that mail out the tickets often do not bother to verify whether vehicle registration information for the accused vehicle matches the photographed vehicle.

…A speed camera is located out in front of Wootton High School, providing a convenient location for generating the false tickets. Instead of purchasing license plates, students have ready access to laser printers that can create duplicate license plates using glossy paper using readily available fonts. For example, the state name of “Maryland” appears on plates in a font similar to Garamond Number 5 Swash Italic. Once the camera flashes, the driver can quickly pull over and remove the fake paper plate. The victim will receive a $40 ticket in the mail weeks later.

These speed cameras are a technological embodiment of the flawed principle of “guilty until proven innocent”. These sorts of “pranks” (and the subsequent injustices) are a predictable result of this bad approach to enforcing the law.

Police on YouTube

 Posted by on 19 December 2008 at 12:43 am  Law, Technology
Dec 192008

The December 17, 2008 New York Times reports on the variety of reactions that NYPD police officers have to being videotaped while performing their official public duties in this interesting article, “Officers Become Accidental YouTube Stars“.

The article notes that videotaping police is entirely legal, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the performance of their duties. And some police officers correctly recognize that fact:

“People tape all the time,” said an eight-year veteran of the department, a female officer in Downtown Brooklyn who, like other officers questioned for this article, spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak to reporters. “It makes you uncomfortable, but that’s their right. You can’t stop them from taping.”

Unfortunately other NYPD officers hold the following mistaken view:

An officer directing traffic in Brooklyn asserted that it is illegal to tape police officers. “If I know that he’s taking video, I’m going to walk up to him and stop him,” the officer said.

Or in another encounter:

…[A] man asks an officer if he may film him, and the officer replies, “You going to post them on the Internet? Then I’m going to have to break your camera over your face.” But he and other officers laugh, as does the cameraman, who eventually walks away. The video had 19,370 views as of Tuesday evening.

Provided that citizens don’t interfere with official police duties, this sort of transparency is a good thing. It can protect innocent civilians from police misconduct as well as protect honest police officers from wrongful claims of misconduct.

Given that it is perfectly legal for citizens to observe and truthfully write about any actions that police officers perform in public view while “on the job”, it should be (and is) similarly legal to record their official actions on video.

Update: As a concrete example, here’s a related news story about an apparent assault by an NYPD officer caught on video:

Note that the bicyclist was originally charged with “resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration.” After the video surfaced, those charges were dismissed.

Technophobia from 1900

 Posted by on 24 November 2008 at 6:39 pm  Humor, Technology
Nov 242008

Here’s a sign from the early 1900′s telling patrons about that new-fangled electrical light. I especially liked the sentence, “The use of Electricity for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep.”

I’m sure glad we Americans in the 21st century beyond such irrational fears of new technology!…

Water Fountain

 Posted by on 16 September 2008 at 12:37 pm  Cool, Technology
Sep 162008

There’s nothing worse than the big vertical jets of water that often populate shopping malls. They’re loud — and not interesting in the slightest. In contrast, I’ve seen some cool “jumping” fountains, but this fountain beats them all:

(Via Guy.)

Sep 102008

The Ford Hall Forum is a longstanding and prestigious platform for speakers with interesting things to say (like Objectivists Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and Yaron Brook). The Forum sent out an announcement that Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales of Wikipedia fame will be speaking on September 11 in Boston. This caught my eye, not only because I fondly remember Jimbo from Objectivisty circles many years back, but also because it advertises that he is going to talk about how “Objectivist philosophy guides his vision”:

Free Speech, Free Minds, Free Markets: Competition and Collaboration

Across the globe we are building, editing, and contributing to a growing body of knowledge and tools at everyone’s fingertips. Volunteers in leaderless organizations contribute to online initiatives and articles. Software developers spend their free time collaborating with complete strangers. Amazingly, these efforts are creating products of extraordinary quality, sometimes better than that of large for-profit organizations. Why do we do it? Why does it work? Join us tonight as Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales joins journalist Christopher Lydon to address these questions, where “web 2.0″ will take us next, and how Objectivist philosophy guides his vision.

I would love to ask some questions about how Objectivism guides his vision, but I can’t be there. Maybe some NoodleFoodler could go and ask questions for us and report back! Here are the ones I am curious to hear addressed:

  1. You refer to Wikipedia as a way to give people free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Yet Wikipedia doesn’t even aim to express what is true—it is focused on documenting what people believe, carefully including all the patently silly and downright vicious things people think. That is, Wikipedia strives for neutrality rather than objectivity with regard to the truth of what is claimed. Wouldn’t Objectivism inspire you to characterize Wikipedia more accurately as a vast snapshot of what people currently think, good and bad?
  • When you ask for contributions to Wikipedia, you seem to frame or at least decorate the appeal in altruistic terms. How does that square with the ethical egoism of Objectivism, which flatly rejects altruism as immoral?
  • In your appeal for contributions, you wrote that “This is a radical strike at the heart of an increasingly shallow, proprietary and anti-intellectual culture. … I hope [my daughter] will grow up in a world where culture is free, not proprietary… We’re already taking back the Internet. With your help, we can take back the world.” (Emphasis added.) Just what is bad about being proprietary? Wouldn’t an Objectivist be supportive of the creator who chooses to profit from the sale of his work, rather than fight against him? And “taking back” seems to imply that something was unjustly taken. The Internet is physically composed of private property (computers, connections) and wasn’t taken from you; the information communicated using it wasn’t taken from you, either. Wouldn’t Objectivism inspire clarifying and reinforcing the intellectual and physical property rights involved—including how they recognize and foster a deep harmony of interests—rather than this talk of “taking back” something that wasn’t taken in the first place?
  • You recently announced your launch of a Green Wiki. That site explains, “In light of the climate crisis and other ecological challenges increasingly facing us,” that it hopes to serve the “people who want to inform themselves and live in a more sustainable way,” because “the threats to our environment are real and that they require action.” It will be “written from a green point of view,” and will focus on detailing such helpful actions as “How to reduce your carbon footprint.” How can this initiative of yours be informed by Objectivism, which repudiates the Environmentalist movement as epistemologically, morally, and politically corrupt?

Obviously, I don’t understand how Jimbo’s actions can be reconciled with Objectivist principles, so I’m surprised to hear that he thinks the philosophy guides his vision. It would be great to see how he addresses this.

Black Google?

 Posted by on 26 August 2008 at 12:28 pm  Business, Technology
Aug 262008

Is there a need for a “Black Google”? According to this article, there is.

In a free market, specialty search engines could be entirely reasonable and appropriate if there is a demand for such a service. For instance, a search engine catering towards physicians might properly give different sorts of results than a search engine catering towards patients.

But the business model would only succeed if there were a subpopulation that had distinctive and significantly different search engine results preferences from the population at large, and the business could get them to become dominant users of their alternative search engine.

Otherwise you end up with problems like this:

Since search engines learn from what people are clicking on, RushmoreDrive had a small problem immediately after its launch: So many white members of the media were visiting the site that the results became skewed and turned up more “white” results…

The article also struck an odd note when it stated that Google’s search results “alienate the rest of the population” (i.e., the non-caucasians). It’s not clear to me that the term “alienate” is warranted.

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