Risk dice roller and battle simulator

Over the holidays, I went home and spent time with family. We played some games, one of which was Risk. You may recall that this game can get quite slow and tedious when armies and battles get big. Remembering this, I sat down and wrote the javascript risk dice roller and battle simulator. Enjoy!


here we go again

And a fun picture:

ron paul


Ron Paul label

Inspired by the ideas over at www.infiniteronpaul.com (but slightly unimpressed by the implementation--in particular, the pdf wouldn't print), I decided to take a crack at my own label design for the glabels label designer for linux. By the way, if you're not using glabels you're really missing out. Here is a low-res screenshot of it:

who is ron paul label

click here to download the glabels file (for use with Avery 8066 labels)


materialistic addiction

There's an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Symbiosis which focuses on a dependent relationship between two neighboring planets. A long time ago, one of the planets (Ornara) became more technologically advanced, while the other (Brekka) languished. Then, a terrific plague struck both planets, and the cure was found in a plant that only grew on Brekka. The Brekkans began manufacturing a cure for the plague, and trading it to the Ornarans in exchange for technology and goods. Then the Brekkans realized that the drug they were making had cured the plague, but that it was addictive and the Ornarans were hooked. They continued to exploit this relationship for 200+ years, all the while becoming rich off the Ornarans' technology.


ron paul mass donation day

On November 5th, 100,000 people will give Ron Paul $100 each, for a total of $10 million for the campaign. Well, maybe---currently there are fewer than 5000 pledges. But wouldn't that be neat?



why socialized medicine is wrong, wrong, wrong

5 reasons to reconsider before jumping on the socialized medicine bandwagon.

  1. What if I don't want traditional health care? Traditional health care as I see it: (1) muddle through life, eating doritos, getting minimal exercise; (2) get sick; (3) go to the doctor; (4) doctor prescribes some drug pushed by big pharma, and that probably causes as many problems as it fixes; (5) repeat. What if this is not how I want my health care to be? Maybe instead, my health care program is eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, doing yoga, and getting good amounts of exercise? Is socialized medicine going to pay for my diet, yoga, or gym membership? Where do you draw the line? The problem is, there is no line between health care and other facets of life, such as diet and exercise.

  2. What if I don't want health care? This is just a different take on the first point. Maybe I don't want "health care" (in the traditional sense) at all, because I am skeptical of it's real healing value. Should I still pay for it? Or maybe I'm truly crazy and buying a new kayak is more valuable to me than getting painkillers for my arthritis. In a free system, the choice is mine, in socialized medicine, it's not.

  3. Why should I pay for people who aren't taking care of themselves? I work hard to take good care of myself. I make sacrifices to keep my body in decent shape. If you aren't making those sacrifices, why should I be forced to make further sacrifices to deal with the consequences of your actions?

  4. Where is the incentive to take care of yourself? Under socialized medicine, there's no financial incentive for obvious reasons. You may argue that the incentive is that it sucks to be sick, and that's enough incentive. I'll concede that it's some incentive, though with modern pain and consciousness-reducing drug technology, I'm not even sure how much of an incentive remains..

  5. Giving and receiving. Under a free health care system, those with less may need help with health care. When they get help, it is because some person or community has offered it to them out of compassion. A gift was given and received. Forcing the giver (through taxation) eliminates the act of giving/receiving and replaces it with stealing/welfare. I don't know about you, but I'd rather live in a world with a risk of selfishness and a whole lot more giving and receiving than a world with no giving/receiving and only stealing and welfare.

Ron Paul on health care


pears are yummy

This week, I discovered that pears are yummy. And there are lots of different kinds, just like with apples. Who knew? Try a few!



under the sea

we are crabs
or shrimp
or some other crustacean
crawling along the bottom.

birds are fish
way up there is the surface
but we can't breathe there
so we don't go there
and we don't know what's out there.

air is a fluid


pizza dilemma

Every Friday, Jane Street buys pizza and wings. Usually most of the wings are eaten, and the rest are taken home by employees. Recently, however, a lot of the pizza doesn't get eaten. This week, for example, there were at least 5 whole pies left uneaten when I left.

I would take them home and eat them, except that I don't eat pizza and A only rarely does. But it bugs me that all that food gets thrown out. So what I want to do is take the leftovers and give it away. But who's going to take free pizza from a stranger?

It's a shame, I'm sure there are a lot of hungry college kids who would love the free food.


more warrantless wiretaps

We just got a new law to go alongside everyone's favorite, the Patriot Act. It's called the Protect America Act, and it expands the Bush administration's ability to perform surveillance on, well, pretty much whoever they want. It's not clear why they need this, as they usually tend to just do whatever they want regardless of legality; perhaps they're getting afraid of the personal repercussions that could come down on illegal activity now that the democrats have started showing a little spine?

As usual, the lawmakers are way behind the technological curve, and thus their efforts won't actually be effective against terrorists with half a brain. That's because there's now this little thing called VOIP, which makes voice data simple to encrypt. In fact, all you have to do is run this simple app called zfone and all the feds will hear is binary scramble if they try to listen to you. The new law will, however, be effective for spying on most of the naive public, and once the feds figure out that the people they really want to listen to are encrypting their traffic, do you think they'll want to give up the ability to listen to the rest of us? Not likely.

One glimmer of hope here is the VOIP encryption software itself. It does not require "public key infrastructure" (a way of securely distributing public keys and managing trust relationships that often ends up being quite complicated and burdensome), which has always been a major hurdle for encrypted email. For encrypted VOIP, all you need is for both sides to have the encryption software--easy for those who are moderately technically-inclined, and maybe even easy enough for the VOIP phone vendors to pick up on it.



best program ever

graph [scroll down] is a small ocaml program that me and a coworker wrote. It graphs data coming down standard in, on your terminal! It's like, really trivial and yet so useful.

One catch: it currently doesn't support negative numbers properly. I'd love to see a patch that made it do so!


magnetic poetry

You may even remember this one if you've been to our apartment recently.

sno white


monthly challenges

Lately I've been into challenging myself by setting arbitrary rules for my behavior, usually for a one-month period. The idea is to learn or grow through this exercise. Some things I've tried so far:

  • Going vegetarian for a month. This didn't feel all that enlightening at the time, but for other reasons I've since become full-time vegetarian..

  • Going super-low-carb for a month. This was very educational, as I learned how amazingly addicted I was to sugar. I would encourage anyone interested in learning about themselves to cut out refined carbs (e.g. bread) and sugar for as little as a week. Even if you're eating fruit (I was), it'll be an eye-opener.

  • Being silent one day a week. No speaking at all. I've only tried this one day so far (yesterday).

  • Going to bed at 9:00pm every night. I didn't quite manage 9:00, but I was very close most nights.

Here are some ideas I have for future challenges:

  • Use only my left hand for all but two-handed activities.

  • Being celibate, including masturbation

  • Drinking alcohol at least once a day

  • Eating only raw food

  • Getting up at dawn every day

I'd be interested in hearing what challenges others have tried, and what suggestions others have for personal growth and exploration.


Looking for a little hope?

ron paul on cspan radio

Let's say you just got through watching one of the republican debates in it's entirety. Now, you're mortified about what's going to happen to the world in 2008.

Relax! It doesn't have to be that way. Sit back and listen to this (it's about 45 minutes):

parts 1 2 3 4 5

Mitt Romney

Romney looks like a slicked-up 50's poster child.

mitt romney

He also talks a little like maybe he thinks that's what he is (and, correspondingly, that's how the world is today). Also, he's the flippiest-floppiest liberal-that-wants-to-be-conservative up there, except for maybe Giuliani. Heck, let's take care of Rudy while we're at it..

Tom Tancredo
Mike Huckabee
Sam Brownback
John McCain
Rudy Giuliani
Tommy Thompson
Ron Paul
Jim Gilmore
Duncan Hunter
Mitt Romney


Duncan Hunter's right out

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California said he believes the United States should communicate with Iran despite what he termed its constant state sponsorship of terrorism.

But he also warned that he would not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapons program.

"I would authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons if there was no other way to preempt those particular centrifuges," Hunter said.


Tom Tancredo
Mike Huckabee
Sam Brownback
John McCain
Rudy Giuliani
Tommy Thompson
Ron Paul
Jim Gilmore
Duncan Hunter
Mitt Romney


eliminating Republican candidates, part 1

This is part 1 of the epic series where I knock down each Republican candidate with something they say/said that is wrong or stupid. I'm going to start with the easy ones and work my way up. I'll admit now that there's at least one that I probably can't completely eliminate (no hints! big surprise!).

I'd like to start right off the bat by sweeping the following three candidates:

Tom Tancredo
Mike Huckabee
Sam Brownback

Based on the fact that they "don't believe in evolution." I hope for their sakes that they're lying. I guess they're either lying or just really dumb.

7 to go!

Tom Tancredo
Mike Huckabee
Sam Brownback
John McCain
Rudy Giuliani
Tommy Thompson
Ron Paul
Jim Gilmore
Duncan Hunter
Mitt Romney


Ron Paul is winning! tee-hee

As of 9:59 a.m. ET today, Congressman Ron Paul has the most YouTube subscribers of all presidential candidates -- Republican and Democrat.

Paul - 5,679
Obama - 5,678
Clinton - 2,998
Edwards - 2,750
Romney - 1,977
Kucinich - 1,685
Giuliani - 1,370
McCain - 1,233
Gravel - 824
Richardson - 756
Biden - 582
Hunter - 381
Dodd - 221
Huckabee - 187
Tancredo - 166
Brownback - 86
Gilmore - 40.

Now if only we could replace our electoral system with YouTube-subscription voting, we might get a decent president!

Ron Paul 2008 Youtube Channel

Seriously though, all this grassroots internet support for Ron Paul reminds me of Howard Dean in 2004. Is it all going to flame out when the media decides it doesn't like him and tears him down? Maybe it'll be different though--Ron Paul is mostly being ignored by the mainstream media, whereas Dean was definitely not. It's almost as if they're afraid of his message..

Republicans on Torture

Here are some excerpts from the latest republican debate, where the candidates talk about the use of torture in interrogating suspected terrorists:


Google feedback?

Google likes to talk about how they're user-oriented, and this back-and-forth is how they make their software projects happen:

User feedback is always an important part of our product development process [...]

(from http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/02/real-world-testing.html)

But what I want to know is, for general feedback, how do you give it to them? They certainly don't make it easy to give feedback on their more established services. For example, here are two bits of feedback I would give:

  • In google groups, you can only create 5 groups, and then you get the following message:

    You may not create any more groups at this time. Please try again later.

    When should I try again? I have no idea. I did a google search and found a few other people who were saying they had waited 72+ hours and still unable to create more groups.

    The message is a dead-end, leaving you knowhere to go and no idea how long to wait.

    This is almost scary enough to get me to try a different groups service, as I need 15-odd groups.

  • iGoogle is google's new name for their personalized home page. I think this name is too marketing-department-and-internet-bubble-esque.

Being the good web 2.0 citizen that I am, I'd like to tell google about these experiences but I don't know (and can't figure out) how to provide feedback. If google's model is truly centered around the user experience, they are making a big mistake by not encouraging feedback flow more actively.


track record of our latest energy bill

You may have noticed daylight savings time changed its date this year. In fact, if you work with computers you very likely noticed it, as you may have had to scramble to get the right updates installed.

The clock outside of Century 21 in downtown Manhattan still has the hour wrong.

The point of all the hoopla was to save energy, but according to the utilities, there has been no noticable effect so far.

I wonder how many millions of dollars were wasted, though, on computer issues related to this legislation?


review: The 300

I went to see "The 300" tonight at a sold out theater in Manhattan. The movie is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, which I managed to read just an hour or so before the movie.

The primary things I want to say about the film are:

  • Stylistically, it is very much like the graphic novel. In fact, a very many scenes are almost exactly what I imagined when I read the novel. This is a good thing. Lots of beautifully bloody and bad-ass slow-motion battle shots.

  • They made up some battle scenes with big ogrey guys for the movie. No problems here.

  • Oddly, the massive amounts of violence didn't bother me much. However,
    there were a few scenes where they went a bit too far.

  • There's not a whole lot of story in either the book or the movie. However, there's more in the movie than the book. Primarily, the filmmakers added a side story about Leonidas' wife (Leonidas being the king, the main character). They also added a political agenda: discourse along the lines of "freedom isn't free", "support the troops", "finish the job", "congress sucks for opposing the increase of troops in Iraq".. well they obviously didn't say that last bit but they might as well have. This particularly bothered me because I felt it subtracted significantly from Frank Miller's original portrayal of the reason, freedom, and justice pose struck by the Spartans.

  • (minor spoiler) One interesting detail conspicuously missing from the movie: in the book, when Ephialtes, the betrayer, finds out by speaking with the king that he is not worthy of being a Spartan warrior, he jumps off a cliff in an effort to kill himself. He does not quite die, and then drags himself to his feet again to perform his betrayal. In the film, he does not try to kill himself at all--he instead immediately turns bitter and gets the idea to betray the Spartans. I thought the suicide was an important illustration of the depth of the warrior Spartan image. I'm not sure why it was left out--perhaps because they wanted to make Ephialtes more clearly a badguy.

In conclusion, I have to say that the made up plot points and political agenda turned me off significantly to what could have been a truly original and fine piece of work. Read the graphic novel; I felt that part was a valuable experience. Stay away from the film, or at least wait until it's netflixed. It doesn't deserve your $10.


xootr customer service for teh win!

I have a xootr mg. It's a love-hate relationship; it's a great ride, but it breaks in one way or another fairly frequently.

On the latest break, two screws wiggled loose and got lost. The scooter still rides but the handlebar clamp is loose and probably won't stay on forever in this state. I sent xootr service the following email:

To: service@xootr.com
Subject: need little screws for handlebar clamp


My xootr has lost the screws that live inside the handlebar clamp. I
don't need or want to change the entire clamp, but I need the two
screws that go in the front. I've attached a picture to describe what
I'm talking about. Can I buy just those from you?


What sort of response would you expect from your favorite merchant? I was thinking of one of two things: either "please buy an entire new handlebar clamp kit" ($20 plus shipping, IIRC), or "okay, that'll be x dollars". The actual response follows:

Subject: RE: need little screws for handlebar clamp


Let me have your address and I will send some immediately.



Radical. I like small companies, and I like companies that respect their customers. Yay Xootr.


person-to-person lending

Prosper and Zopa have emerged with a fresh new idea: person-to-person lending. The basic idea is as follows: borrowers register with the site, have credit reports taken, then post their request for an unsecured loan, with some interest rate cap and a description of their situation. Lenders, who are also registered with the site, can then bid the lowest rate they're willing to accept to loan to this person. Lenders can loan small amounts to many people, and the system will deliver the proper fraction of the payments to the proper lender.

The idea is certainly commendable: open up the personal loan markets to ordinary people, instead of keeping all the goods in the banks. In theory, this should improve the efficiency of this market significantly and make the world a better place. I'm pretty optimistic.

The biggest drawbacks I can think of:

  • no IRA accounts for lenders -- In the current situation, lenders have to pay taxes on all interest income as if it were ordinary income. This situation may be worsened by the following: for higher-risk loans, lenders diversify by lending small amounts to many places. When some significant fraction of these default, the lender has lost that fraction of their returns. But can they deduct this loss on their taxes? Not sure. I see no reason that IRA and other tax-advantaged accounts for lenders should be impossible.

  • it's not easy -- One of the big advantages of the bank way of doing things is that banks have professionals poring over loan applications deciding which ones to fund. Individuals can't be expected to gain the same level of expertise. This could lead to a bad reputation for person-to-person lending as a dangerous place for your money. On the other hand, this may really open the doors for new small lending firms to pop up all over the place and get started. These firms could then become experts at lending on these sites; at which point the system is similar to before, but different in that a huge pool of loans and lenders compete in the same marketplace, instead of having a bunch of disconnected markets.

It will also be interesting to see what this does to the credit reporting systems. It's not clear that credit scores will be sufficient for judging risk in these marketplaces. Perhaps this will shed light on inefficiency in that area as well, and we will see better credit rating systems emerge soon.

the ocaml summer project


Like, duh.


is more egotism really what we need from our leaders?

Governor Richardson of New Mexico says he's running for President in 2008. Good for him. His statements:

Most importantly, I can bring this country together. I'm a negotiator. I've brought countries together, closer, on peace treaties. I've rescued Americans, hostages and servicemen. What we have right now is an opportunity to deal with major issues that really are dividing this country. I have the experience, I've been in Iraq, I've negotiated with Saddam Hussein. I was secretary of energy, I increased energy efficient in our country," he said. "I've been a governor, I created 86,000 jobs in four years, I've cut taxes, I've brought economic growth to our state, I've made our schools better. I've got the strongest record on the environment and dealing with clean energy and fighting global warming," Richardson said.

"A lot of people give speeches on these issues. I've actually done it."

Ah yes, and by the way, I also invented the internet, proved the Reimann hypothesis, ended poverty, and created world peace.

The man clearly has a problem with his ego. Regardless of what his actual record is, anyone who talks themselves up like that is not getting my vote. It demonstrates a pretty severe lack of humility and perspective, both of which we need badly in our leadership.


Buy low and sell high

stock market graphThe prices of individual shares of stocks are meaningless. This fact should be obvious, but it turns out the world doesn't understand. Read more only if you're ready to learn why, and then be beaten into submission with how silly people can be about such things.


review: Micro Copter Remote Control Helicopter

For Christmas, somebody had the brilliant idea to give me this little beauty. It's a very small, lightweight remote control helicopter. And it's fantabulous.

Micro X Copter


berkshire hathaway is not in the S&P 500

Really? It's the 12th largest US company. That seems crazy.



env bike

It's a hydrogen fuel-cell powered bike, that looks cool and has the following sweet properties:

  • 0-50 in 12.1s

  • 100+ mile range

  • no transmission

  • completely silent

  • you can drink the emissions


a new startup idea

I'm sure this idea isn't original. It's too obvious. In fact, I'd bet money that somebody is already doing it.

Consolidate the social networks. Write a nice abstract social network layer, and connect all the data into one large, meta, ...social internet.

Wired predicts that in 2007, if this doesn't happen, the social networks will start to die. People just can't keep up with all their different profiles, and having some connections here and others there.

It's a great spot to start a startup, so go forth and prosper! I'm too busy to do it, but if I was a poor student I'd be all over this. Maybe if you're smart enough I'll invest in you.

there should be a common-sense green index fund

What's an investor to do if he wants to invest in companies that produce or plan to produce clean green energy? There are a few options out there, but from what I can tell they all suck. Here's an example: the new alternatives fund. Here are the problems with it:

  • Front load of 4.75%

  • Expense ratio greater than 1%

  • Does not invest in nuclear power

Vanguard has an index fund that tracks the FTSE4Good social index, which has a much better expense picture. However, it also does not invest in nuclear power, and it's not so much investing in green energy companies as it's avoiding companies with bad track records in environmentalism, labor, etc.

My ideal fund:

  • Is an index fund. That means passive investing style, with low expense ratio. The expense ratio doesn't even have to be super low, like Vanguard's funds. Even as high as .4 or .5% would be a reasonable price to pay.

  • Invests in energy technologies that are sustainable for the very long term. That means no coal or oil, and yes wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, etc. Preferably with an emphasis on companies that show real promise of profitability in the moderate (10-yr) horizon.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe I should just start the fund. Managing other people's money looks like a really easy way to make a lot of money anyhow.