Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Vote For Info

If you don't vote, you can't complain.
You've heard that, probably from a coworker or friend. Voting is usually touted as the primary democratic right. And it is. But it is not the primary democratic responsibility. Your primary responsibility in a free society is to be informed.

Dictatorships are easy. You don't have to make any decisions. But when things get too bad for you to bear, then action is required. It is like getting out of a rut in a muddy path. Dirty and violent.

Change in democracies should be easy. They are a paved road; switching lanes should be as easy as turning the wheel. A wheel with 24 million hands.
Democracies require continual vigilance and Dictatorships require occasional violence.
The problem in democracies comes when people say, "I'm not into politics." That's like saying, "I'm not into oxygen." You're lungs are into it, whether you are or not. Politics affect every part of your life, unfortunately. You don't need to be an expert, but you do need an understanding of facts. Where do your tax dollars go[1]? What is the difference between debt and deficit[2]? How much of the gasoline price is taxes[3]? What industry emits the most greenhouse gases[4]?

The reason democracies required an informed population is so bullsh!t doesn't rise to the top. If someone says they are going to lower taxes, increase services, and reduce the deficit, you know they are lying. You won't vote for them. You'll vote for the guy who says, "We are spending more than we take in so, unfortunately, we will have to cut back."

The US recently had presidential debates, which is basically Presidential Idol. Some questionable "facts" were spouted that night (see this Mish article). This type of fact checking should be big news, not page 6.

People want it both ways. They want the convenience of a dictatorship, with the freedom of democracy.What happens is they get politicians whispering sweet nothings and bribing them with someone else's money. They get the US, where you can vote for a big liberal government or a big conservative government. Where a "liberal" president has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined.

I had a conversation with an American who thought state-run health-care was some communist plot. I pointed out that health-care in Canada is not only half[5] as expensive, per person, than US health care, but also has better outcomes. I did agreed with some of what he was saying (e.g., we could privatize some of our health care), but facts were clearly getting in the way of his argument.

I shouldn't get off-topic. I'm fiscally-conservative-socially-liberal[6], but I can be swayed by a good argument, backed by facts. Facts are what matter. Facts shame and correct democratic governments when they spout nonsense.
If you don't care about facts, don't complain if you get a used-car salesman for a leader.[7]

[1] Can you believe $9.4B per year goes to "Public Safety"? That is 3% of your taxes!
[2] Debt is what you owe, deficit is the difference between what you earn and spend.
[3] 32%.
[4] Coal-fired electricity generation. Or maybe cows. Or electric cows.
[5] Halfish. Or something. It is less, for sure.
[6] Code for: I'm a type-A first-born of hippie parents.
[7] There is no way that quote deserved to be in italics, but its the best I could come up with. Come on, man. I have work to do. I can't spend all my time coming up with quotes you can put on matchbooks. Damn.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

3D Printer - Part 1 - Setup

I was under the sink recently (and for a handyman like me, recently is last year), and I wished I had some sort of stand for the flashlight so I could see what I was doing. If you have ever wished for a small inexpensive part, then maybe you too should spend thousands of dollars on a 3D printer. Wait, that just sounds crazy.

3D printers are like 2D printers, except they print in plastic. They are like hot glue guns than deposit layer on top of layer of plastic until a 3D object is created. One of the plastics it can use is ABS, which is what Lego is made of.

I thought I'd blog about my experience, because 3D printers are not mainstream consumer-friendly devices yet. There is a learning curve. Or learning cliff.

I first bought a Solidoodle 3D printer. The wait time was going to be 8-10 months before they even built it. This is common in startup companies; it takes time for them to ramp up from a custom one-off shop to an efficient assembly line. But after a few days, I decided I didn't want to wait. Also, I was a little nervous they might go broke before they shipped mine. I was order number #3800, and they had just shipped printer #50 out the door.

So I bought the MakerBot Dual Extruder Replicator instead. It is several times more expensive than the Solidoodle, but it is an established company and product. It took 2 days to get to Canada from their shop in Brooklyn. Of course, it took over a week to get out of customs, where I had to pay GST before they'd release it. For some reason, I think I'll blame Canada Post. (Jerks.)

Unboxing and setting it up was relatively easy. The instructions are good, and their website helps you get printing right away. I got a dual extruder model, which can print two different colors of plastic, or print two parts at once. The printer comes with black and white, and I also bought red and blue. I should have bought some zombie green, because I'm going to make a whole bunch of those.

After finishing my first print, with a few hiccups, I wasn't really sure what to do. The Replicator can either print directly from your computer, or from an SD card inserted at the side. My plan was to keep the Replicator in our spare room and just bring the card in to print. The card is preloaded with shapes to print, but there is no list of what each part is. I tried a few until I got this one, a calibration cube. It is very light because the inside is mostly hollow. There is a honeycomb shape inside which keeps it structurally strong but light. 3D printers like this can't print anything parallel to the ground, because the plastic will droop (it comes out of the nozzle at 220 degree C).

I'm going to continue printing and figuring this out. More to come.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Failure is Fun and Profitable

Capitalism gets a bad rap. Some of it is deserved and some of it isn't. The worst thing is when people don't even know what capitalism is.

Pop quiz: What is the defining feature of capitalism? I bet most of you said "Greed", and you'd be partially right. I prefer to call it "Self Interest", like Adam Smith did.

Actually, the defining feature of capitalism is Failure. That's right: Failure.

Failure is the balance to Greed. While Greed might lead people to take risks with their (and other peoples) money, Failure is what helps rein in the risks.

Small failures help prevent big ones. Just like small forest fires clear out the deadwood, small failures help eliminate poor businesses from the marketplace.

This is why if you ever hear things like, "The company is too big to fail," or "We have to stop this company from going bankrupt to save jobs," or any other nonsense that implies failure is bad, you know that is not capitalism. Government bailouts are not capitalism. Government subsidies are not capitalism.

Frankly, any government jobs are not capitalism because the government cannot go broke. Government jobs are like an actor playing a role. Natalie Portman did a damn good job in Black Swan, but she will never be as good as a real dancer because real dancers have more to lose. If a government agency screws up and goes over budget, who cares? In the real world, the company would go broke. When government jobs are lost, I'm usually happy because the private sector can do it more efficiently, if it needed to be done at all. (Just to be clear, losing a job is tragic. But the idea that creating government jobs helps the economy is crazy.)

Bailing out failing companies is terrible because it not only rewards bad behavior, but it punishes good behavior. All the competitors to the failing company (yes, I'm looking at you Air Canada), who actually know what they are doing, don't get any reward.

Capitalism has many flaws, but failure isn't one of them.