fighting the lack of good ideas

standing room only?

From CNN: “Airbus offers standing room ‘seats’ Report: Airbus in discussion with Asian airlines to offer padded backboards to have flyers stand, increasing capacity of largest jet to 853 passengers.” [original story]

Here’s an interesting idea from our European friends: take a plane that will hold 500+ people seated, and install them all in a standing orientation instead. This would increase capacity to about 850 passengers. Fantastic. The only problem? Such standing arrangements could only be done on “short-haul flights like an island-hopping route in Japan”. The Airbus A380 is a super jumbo jet designed for carrying lots of stuff a long ways – not for short-haul routes.

Like Boeing’s 747 series, Airbus plans to use its newest jet to handle large passenger and cargo loads on inter-continental routes. You don’t see many 747s flying from Atlanta to Tallahassee – it’s overkill, and inefficient. Large planes take a lot more energy (ie fuel) to get into the air than small planes, so using them on short-haul routes is not efficient. An airline would be better-off flying a pair of 757s than one 747 generally for short distances (besides the fact that using more smaller planes allows greater schedule flexibility).

On those London-Tokyo routes, sure using a big plane makes sense – they have the range, and can carry a lot. But I wouldn’t want to have to ‘stand’ for 14 hours.

I think Airbus is grasping at straws in trying to find uses for the new jet.

nuclear proliferation

First of all, I don’t think the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons is a bad thing. Nuclear power is nearly fool-proof, runs a long time on very little fuel, and is cheap to maintain. There are potential issues with disposing of the waste from the plants, and if a catastrophe does occur, it could be very messy (like Chernobyl in ’86).

However, just because a country is benefiting from the realtively cheap and clean form of energy generation that nuclear fuels provide does not mean that it should engage in weapons production. Especially if that country is known to be allied with terrorists. The only reason I like the United States having nuclear weapons is to use them as a deterrent to other nations from using any such weapons they may acquire. I’m not especially thrilled that such destructive power can be unleashed by any nation – or in the current international arena, by anyone with enough money to buy one.

There is a line in the movie The Peacemaker where Nicole Kidman’s character says, “it’s not the man who has 9 warheads that scares me – it’s the man who only has one”. Nations like the US, Russia, the UK, Israel, France, Germany, India, and even China aren’t likely threats to use their nuclear arsenal. The very fact they have relatively large reserves of such weapons indicates their retisence to use them.

On the other hand, a terrorist organization, like Al Qaida, or a terror-sponsoring nation such as Iran could very well intend to use whatever meager arsenal they accumulate. Similar to the Secret Service’s inability to stop a truly dedicated single assassin, stopping nations who have publicly said they don’t like their neighbors, or even the west in general, and claim they will use such devices to impact those other countries, is very difficult, and can only be done before such tools have been built.

I personally think the United States made a mistake when we attacked Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power and give the people of Iraq the opportunity to be free: we left his neighbors alone. While we were in the area, and especially if we had massed more troops in preparation, we could’ve easily wiped out Iran’s and Syria’s homicidal leaders. In recent weeks, Iran’s president has openly said their goal is to develop nuclear weapons to use against Israel and their allies. Sitting around and waiting for this to happen is not in our – or the world’s – best interest.

The United States has been a bastion of freedom and liberty for over 200 years, never leaping into war early, or without provocation. However, in a post-Cold War era, there has been increasingly a need to keep tabs on so-called rogue nations and their leaders. In the 80’s we supported Saddam in his war againt Iran. In hindsight, it was a bad idea, since we had to go in and clean him out from his maniacal dictatorship to be responsible citizens in a ‘global economy’. Homicidal leaders, supporters of terrorism, and otherwise ‘evil’ men and women need to be removed from places of power.

I am sure there are such people in the United States and other western countries, but so far our populaces have been able to keep them out of blatantly destructive positions of power as a general rule. Unfortunately, we have turned a blind eye to the rise of oppressive regimes in other parts of the world in the name of keeping our economy running smoothly, or maintaining the ‘peace’. Men like Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, Mohamar Qadaffi, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, and many others have been allowed to continue their oppressive dictatorhips because it is ‘too much effort’ to stop them.

During the years of economic sanctions on Iraq, Saddam still made out like a bandit. In a totalitarian environment, those in power will do anything they can to stay in power – from taking bribes to starving their people to killing any dissidents. Such leaders are dangerous not just to their people and nations, but to others as well. How much economic and personal hardship has the dictatorship of Fidel Castro caused in Cuba? Or the senseless violence and repression under Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders? Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of millions of his citizens.

As a Christian, I acknowledge that all forms of authority have been ordained by God for some purpose. However, evil rulers are not exempt from responsibility for what they do. In Exodus we are shown the example of Pharoah who was given many opportunities to repent – or at least capitulate – but who hardened himself against God and His people. God used many wicked nations to bring judgement on His chosen race of Israel for their disobedience to His laws. In the New Testament, King Herod was consumed by worms on his throne for not giving glory to God for what He had allowed him to accomplish.

I disagree with those who consider the United States to be God’s new chosen land. Under the New Covenant all who have been truly saved are members of God’s Kingdom – regardless of where they reside in this life. However, I also hold that those with power and influence should use that power to accomplish good whenever they can. I believe we have accomplished a great deal of good in Iraq by removing Saddam from power. I belive we did a great deal of good in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power. And I belive we can do a great deal more good in convincing other distasteful leaders to renounce their current ways of doing business.

With God’s help, I hope those leaders can be removed from power peacefully, or have their hearts changed by a work of Christ in their lives. However, if such cannot be accomplished, I think that peace-loving countries like the United States and like-minded allies have a responsibility to act on the behalf of those cannot – or will not – act for themselves.

Whether that always needs to be done with military action is up for debate, but something should, can, and must be done about these maniacal individuals. With their current political climates and leaders, countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria, and the Sudan should not be entrusted with the capacity to use nuclear weapons. Programs to build those – or, indeed any type of weapon of mass destruction – need to be opposed by the international community. But if the community is too afraid to do it, they must be opposed by those who aren’t afraid to do what is right.

I pray that God will convert men like Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But if He won’t, I pray He will give the community of freedom- and peace-loving nations in the world the guts to stand up to him.

handgun experiences

In my recent northward foray over Easter weekend, I had an opportunity to go handgun shooting with friends, and I discovered a couple things.

First, I don’t like the Smith & Wesson Sigma model. It has a two-stage trigger, so the trigger is the safety (like Glock uses), and I don’t like it. It also sat in my hand funny, which didn’t help my impression of it. I did enjoy firing the Ruger .22 – it was almsot perfectly balanced and stable in my hand, though I can’t shoot it left-handed since it has a pronounced thumb rest on the left side of the handle for right-handed shooting.

The .357 Magnum revolver was a blast – literally. I hadn’t ever fired a revolver before, and the huge flash of light with every trigger pull was a little disconcerting at first, but the piece was very comfortable to shoot, and shot very tight groups. I also had the chance to fire a .380 Auto, which had surprisingly little kick. Though I didn’t like the sights on the piece, it was still fun to shoot, and it was very shortly after I started that I realized I had put 50 rounds through it.

This was the first time I had been out shooting any kind of handgun since I first went with a friend in Raleigh a year and a half ago. He owns a Glock subcompact in .40S&W, and I didn’t really like his gun much, though it shot well – it was way too small for my hand.

These varied experiences lead me into my real topic for this post. This summer I am planning to purchase a model 1911, probably from Kimber. I’m also looking at a secondary piece to purchase, but I haven’t decided whether to go with Springfield’s XD, something like the Ruger I shot on my trip, a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum (Dirty Harry’s gun), a Golden Eagle, or a Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum.

If you have had any experience with any of these handguns, I would appreciate hearing from you.

new york international auto show

This past weekend I was visiting friends in New Jersey, and we went to Manhattan for the New York International Auto Show on Saturday. If you have never been to the NYIAS, it’s huge (held in the Javits Center), and has a ridiculous number of people in attendance each day.

Food is expensive at the event ($3.25 for a 20oz Coke), but with such a captive audience, free-market capitalism gets to shine and charge what people will pay for a drink. Needless to say, we didn’t buy much at the show, but waited till we left to grab something from a street vendor (all of whom were a lot cheaper). It’s also a total rip-off to park anywhere close to the convention center when an event is under way. Parking lots and garages double their fees just to nail people who don’t want to walk a long way. Had we known this ahead of time, we would’ve parked a mile away where the rate was <$12 including taxes. All in all the show was a lot of fun, though I wish it hadn't been as crammed. I got to climb in a bunch of vehicles, both ones that I was interested in, and not. I also found out that a couple cars I like the looks of I won't fit in, so they're off my list of possibles. For some reason most manufacturers don't get it when it comes to big folks. I fit fine in Mazda's Miata, the Mini Cooper, BMW's Z4, and even the short cab edition of the Ranger. However, the Chrysler Crossfire, one of the few non-Ford-family vehicles I like the looks of, is too small to fit even close to comfortably. When sitting in the driver's seat, I had less than 3 inches of clearance between my shins and the dashboard. In my Protege I have over 5. I also decided that while I like the looks of Cooper, and fit in it quite well, it's not on my graduation list. Mercedes' Smart brand is on the list, though only as a commuter vehicle. Right now the short list for cars is the Mazdaspeed6, Mazda MX5 Miata, Lotus Elise, Mazda RX8, and Volvo S60R. For non-cars, the short list is the Ford Escape, Landrover LR3, Volvo XC90, and Ford Ranger Supercab. All I need now is to graduate and get a job 🙂

dating sites

I’ve noticed (for a while now) that most dating and matching sites are all pay based. What I want to know is why? Yahoo! Personals, for example, requires a monthly subscription fee to use it for more than browsing. eHarmony is famous for allowing free scanning, but they charge a (seemingly high) monthly rate. also uses a subscription system. There are myriad others out there that all use the same basic concept – allow people to create a profile free, but as soon as they want to really use the service, it’s going to cost them.

It would seem to me that such a service should be able to be built and run based only on non-subscription revenue. Many people make a stable income from such services as Google’s AdSense. On high-traffic sites, that income has been reported to be as high as $100k/month or more. Even if it took some time to get the service noticed and utilized, I think such a service could be constructed and run entirely off ad revenues. A quick survey of available hosting packages from just one company shows dedicated servers with 4TB/month or transfer and 30GB of space for $99/month.

With such space and bandwidth available, and especially with the bonus of total administrative freedom of a dedicated box, I don’t see why someone doesn’t launch a free dating site. Basic requirements would include a demographics survey, space for an ‘about me’ narrative, a search feature, place to store a small collection of pictures, and some way to contact other members (email via scripted page?). I think it should also have a way of verifying members when they register for the site – a combination of captcha and email /text message exchange – to ensure that scripts aren’t registering bogus people.

A simple policy of “we won’t share your information with anyone without your permission, and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any profile on our site – please report suspicious activity to us at…” should absolve the administrators of any legal repurcussions if something doesn’t work out between members. Obviously, a lawyer should be consulted to get precise wording, but I think this has great potential.

Another feature that could be offered would be private or internal messages – like eBay uses. Members could intentionally change their message delivery preferences to have them delivered to their personal e-mail address, but would default to storing them on the server so that you have to login to communicate. Users should be able to block people they do not want to hear from in the future, too.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and would be interested in building something like this with some help. If anyone reading this is interested in such an endeavour, please contact me.

the society for creative anachronism

First off, what a great name for an organization.Second, I first heard about this group when I started researching knife-fighting techniques. One of the books I bought on the topic suggested that among the best ways to practice hand-to-hand combat is to join a local SCA chapter. I have spent more time recently learning about the group, and have become quite intrigued in their organization.

I have been interested in siege machinery, medieval weapons, horse-mounted combat, etc for a long time, but haven’t done much more than play various period-set games to acquaint myself with the terminology and technology of that bygone era.

The SCA, founded in 1968 in California (didn’t see that coming, did you?), places as its focus the recreation of the middle ages in today’s world. Currently comprised of 19 kingdoms around the world (though most are in the US and Canada), the SCA is further subdivided in feifdoms, barrons, etc – all old-world terms for the subdividions of kingdoms. Royalty is determined by competition at sanctioned events, and their is a full recreation of nobility terms, based on competition, favor of the current King/Queen of the kingdom, etc.

Most local meetings require medieval garb, and they have directions for making basic tunics on their website. Members make it their goal to learn (and perhaps master) ancient arts that have either long-since been forgotten, or have become passe in this modern era. Such disparate activities as sewing, metal working, armoring, jousting, and farming all come under the auspices of the society.

Even more fascinating than this, though, is the fact that the whole organization is voluntary. No one is forced to become a member to attend meetings (though to compete you typically must). The whole society is predicated upon respect and politeness – when meeting someone whose rank you do not know, a typical greeting may be “my lord” or “my lady”. Titles are earned, not merely bestowed, and each individual in the society works to create a simultaneous economy of pre-17th century Europe while living their normal lives in today’s world.

Upon joining the society, new members choose for themselves names (which must be period-appropriate) and occupations, with the only caveat being you may not have the same name as another member (no pairs of John Hunters walking about, but John Hunter and John Barber are fine). Depending on your locale, you may be able to join a guild of like-minded members to learn a similar trade, improve your fighting skills, or just converse.

Overall, the SCA has very few rules. Beyond disallowing conversation of modern-world things and events as a general rule, and requiring the donning of period clothing, they function as a live role-playing game.

From what I have read about the orgnanization, some members go so far as to design entire stories about themselves and their character name, so they have a ‘history’ in their anachronistic realm. Other participants are more in it for the fun of it, but have a chance to learn from others who have joined to actually live-out a personal fantasy and become very proficient at the occupation they have chosen.

Another bizarre feature of this society is the possibility of wars. No, not ‘real’ wars in which people end up dead, but wars for prestige of the kingdom, and (perhaps) the transfer of regions of a given kingdom to a neighboring one.

Since learning about these folks, and especially after my recent research into local meeting places, I have decided it would be fun to try it out for a while, and see if it’s something I would like to pursue as a hobby.

For more information, or if you have participated in the society and can give me some pointers, please leave a comment.

containerized datacenters

Expanding on Cringely’s posts late last year (first, second), I was wondering why companies don’t offer turn-key datacenters for businesses.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were in need of several servers – email, web, hr, inventory, file storage, applications – and support architecture – routers, switches, firewalls, etc. Locating suppliers for all of these can be a very time-consuming process, and if everything is not purchased at the same time, you can run into compatibility issues. So, why not have a business whose sole purpose in life is to integrate datacenter needs for customers, and then deliver those datacenters ready to roll?

For example, let’s say you need to provide email for 5000 users, handle user authentication for workstations, serve a medium-use website (>10000 hits/day), document management, and handle human resources -related stuff (employee contracts, sick/vacation time use, benefits, time tracking). From my understanding, a typical organization who needs to do this will solicit proposals from several vendors, fight their internal bureaucracies over how much should be spent, what OS to use, etc, and then finally start purchasing equipment after several months. In a perfect world, the vendor supplies support and training to administrators so they can run the hardware for their organization, but otherwise leave the ‘real’ work up to the customer.

I think a very profitable business could be run in which a vendor receives such a request from a customer, but instead of worrying about which hardware goes in which closet, is there enough rack space already, or do they need more, etc, they could provide the entire package in a container that could be delivered via truck (or train). Said container could include its own HVAC unit, and only need a couple connectors to the outside world to become a ‘usable’ server room when it’s delivered.

My vision for this is to install lots of rack space into a default arrangement in the container, preroute cooling and ventilation ducts, wire the whole container for power, phone, and network, and install insulation inside the container, so that the HVAC unit won’t be working overtime to keep the box cold.

Containers have lots of space inside of them, and could easily be used to hold dozens of servers, storage units, and networking infrastructure hardware. Once a customer settled on what they need, in terms of current and future capacity, minimum networking requirements, OS, etc, the vendor would just install all of the necessary hardware into the racks inside the container, install non-proprietary software into the hardware – basically everything the systems administrators would have to do when the hardware arrived at their location – but would then just close the doors on the container, hire a trucking outfit to deliver the container, and have it dropped-off at the customer’s location.

All that would be left for the customer would be decide where they wanted their datacenter, connect power and network, and turn it on.

What do you think?