July 2006
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Month July 2006

Ubuntu 6.06 running on the Macbook Pro

Thanks to the terrific folks at Parallels, I now have three operating systems running on my Macbook Pro:  OS X, Windows XP Pro SP2, and the "Dapper Drake" release of Ubuntu Linux (6.06).  The latter gives me a full Linux development environment running right on the laptop.  Not that developing in OS X was that different, but after 14 years of working on Linux systems, I just feel comfortable there.  Right now, my base Linux VM is running a "desktop" installation of Ubuntu/Dapper, and I’ll probably put together a server VM for testing as well.

The work begins…

I’ve been fairly quiet this week because it’s been pretty busy working on the new house.
After a very hot and uncomfortable weekend in Seattle, I flew back up on Monday to meet the appliance delivery and installation folks from Almvig’s.  They installed my new stove, the Wolf 30 inch dual-fuel range, the Fisher-Paykel DishDrawers (which I highly recommend), a Fisher-Paykel refrigerator, and stackable washer-dryer set with more functionality than the average computer. Dsc_0009

My elliptical trainer and weight set came from Precor as well this week, so I can get a good exercise session without leaving the house.  This isn’t so important now, but given my usual ability to talk myself out of things, when it gets grey and rainy this will be essential.  I also joined San Juan Fitness in Friday Harbor which has a very nice gym as well, and I switched my WAC membership to non-resident.  I can still use the club while in Seattle, but since I’m not around much the dues are lower.

DirecTV was supposed to be out here again on Monday, but this got pushed out until Wednesday afternoon.  The result, however, is good.  The service is great, and there’s more channels than I have any idea what to do with.  The only downside is that DirecTV has switched from Tivo to their own DVR, which (to put it politely) sucks.  This thing has all the normal Tivo functionality, but buried in menus which stack two or three deep, with tabbed dialogs (which work with a mouse but NOT an arrow keypad, guys!) and tons of keypadding to get to any specific option.  It takes several minutes to subscribe to what Tivo called a "season pass."  So I’m not thrilled with the technology but if your keypad thumb is strong it does what you need. 


My contractor, Bobby Ross Construction, has been doing a great job this week.  The electrical work got started, a door got framed in between the media room and the bathroom (which used to be a weirdly laid-out master suite), painting began, and the deck was extended to the side, to meet up with the side of the house and the little "cabana" I’ve turned into a deck room & gym.  The new deck is sweet, as you can see from this picture. 

Next week I’ll be down in Seattle for a few days,Dsc_0021 preparing for the actual move, which happens the week after next.  It’ll be good to have furniture, but it’s also really handy to be able to work on an empty house.  At the moment I’m pretty much living on the deck and using deck furniture for everything.  Which, given the weather, suits me fine.

Internet access has been terrific, with the Canopy wireless 900MHz service from Rock Island Internet.  I’ve got a radio & antenna mounted on the edge of the roof on the west corner of the deck, pointed at the towers on Mt. Constitution, over on Orcas Island.  I get somewhere around 2.8 – 3.0Mbits/sec down, and around 700-800Kbits/sec up, which is quite good.  Mike Greene and I have been trying to figure out a weird pattern, where I lose RF signal lock during sunset, probably because of reflection and multipath issues off glass and water.  But he and his staff are great, and I’m a very happy

I’m slowly getting myself free to get back to other projects.  I expect to go back soon to posting on my usual topics and back to a regular reading pace.  My reading list is up-to-date in the left hand margin, but it’s been slow going these last couple of weeks.   

I’ve been taking a fair number of pictures as well, especially after getting a different lens for the Nikon.  The top picture in this post is a nice one, taken last night at sunset, looking from the southeast at the NE tip of San Juan Island, the SE tip of Spieden Island, with the looming bulk of Saturna Island in the background.  I’ll have more pictures up at Flickr this weekend. 

Bibliophilia and Bibliomania Redux

Will Baude has another post about book ownership and collecting today on Crescat Sententia, and since I’m in the process of moving 68+ boxes of books and 12 bookshelves to a new home, it seemed appropriate to reflect a little further on the psychology of my own book collecting.

Like Will, and unlike Amber Taylor, I’m an advocate of large, but well-chosen libraries.  I’ve definitely left many books unread in my library, having purchased them, however, with definite intent-to-read.  I agree with Rita that there’s something vaguely strange and pretentious about the acquisition of books just to display them, but this is a tactic that I don’t believe really crosses the mind of the true bibliophile.

If you smile to yourself whenever you walk into a bookstore, or love the slightly dry, dusty smell of masses of old books in close proximity, or if the first thing you do with the NYRB is go through all the publisher’s advertisements and list all the new books that look interesting, or heck, if you subscribe to the NYRB or LRB and actually read it on Sunday mornings, if you can pick up a book off your shelf — no matter when acquired — and instantly recall when you bought, why you think you bought it, and (if you’ve read it) what you thought of it, then you’re a bibliophile.  And as I’ve posted previously, you might even be a bibliomaniac.

How does one know whether simple bibliophilia has crossed the line into a full case of bibliomania? 

A clue from my own life:  I’m at the new house for a week, working with contractors to prep everything before I move the furniture, etc.  Obviously I’ll need reading material.   

A "normal" person might have brought a book or two.  Or maybe none, the way reading stats in our society are trending.

A bibliophile might have brought four, maybe six.   Borderline bibliomaniacs (like Will might be!), say 10, some of them "justified" as work-in-progress.

In my case, after packing the Land Rover with bedding, kitchen stuff, half a case of wine, and stuff needed for the house projects, I systematically packed books into all the empty nooks and crannies left by all the irregular shapes. 

I managed to get 35 books in the car for the trip up….because you never know what you’ll feel like reading right now

THAT is bibliomania, and I couldn’t be happier about it.   Books are one of our most incredible achievements as a species, and it completely mystifies me that we’re reading less and less as a society. 

Bastille Day Twilight

Here’s another picture or two of the dusk to twilight transition last night from the house.  I used a Nikon D50 and stabilized iDsc_0001t on a table for long low-light exposures —
the actual scene was about 25% darker than each of these exposures to the human eye. 

In the first picture, you’re looking northwest, at Rocky Bay (my house is on the southern arm of the bay, and you’re looking at the northern arm) and McNeal Island (not the McNeil Island with the state penitentiary, that’s down in southern Puget Sound.  Behind and to the right of McNeal is the southeastern tip of Spieden Island, normally seen during the day as a dry brown streak (it’s very dry presumably because it’s so thin there’s little groundwater).  The bigger island in the background is Saturna Island, which is over the border into Canada. 

The second photo is taken a bit later than the first, almost dark now (though it doesn’t look it).  By taping the camera down to the deck railing so it couldn’t move, I was able to get a super-long exposure.  The trees are glowing fairly bright purely from the ambient light leakage from the house (though I’d turned off the deck and living room lights).  The effect is kind of eerie but I like it. 

Of Paradise Terrestre

Very early this morning, I steered my very over-loaded Land Rover, stuffed to the gills with bedding, temporary deck furniture, books, network gear, half a case of wine (and glasses!), coffee-making apparatus, and a couple of shorts and shirts northward, to take possession of the house on San Juan Island. 

I felt a deep sense of coming "home" upon driving from Friday Harbor to the house.  I’d worked up here as an archaeologist (and student) in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and this island (in particular) had a strong effect on my emotional geography.  The islands have loomed, throughout the intervening years, as my unrequited "paradise terrestre."  I think I became, to quote Lawrence Durrell, an "islomane":

Somewhere among the notebooks of Gideon I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit.  There are people, as Gideon used to say, by way of explanation, who find islands somehow irrestistable.  The mere knowledge that the are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication….But like all Gideon’s theories it was an ingenious one.  I recall how it was debated by candlelight in the Villa Cleobolus until the moon went down on the debate, and Gideon’s contentions were muffed in his yawns; until Hoyle began to tap his spectacles upon his thumbnail of his left hand, which was his way of starting to say goodnight….Yet the word stuck; and though Hoyle refused its application to any but Aegean islands….we all of us, by tacit admission, knew ourselves to be ‘islomanes.’

Lawrence Durrell, Reflections on a Marine Venus

To begin my first day of intensive Islomane therapy, I arrived on the first direct ferry of the morning, along with a gaggle (herd?) of tourists including about a zillion teenagers bound for some kind of camp, and stopped in Friday Harbor for the keys to the house.  For most of the day, Andrew (from Rock Island) worked on getting me Internet service, via their 900 MHz wireless "Canopy" service from Mt. Constitution (I look out to the northeast from San Juan Island) — successfully getting me between 2-3Mbits down and 5-600Kbits up by the time we were done (thanks, Andrew!). 

After I finished putting together a bed and buying a few essentials (soap, toilet paper, dishwasher soap, garbage bags), I had a celebratory dinner at Steps Wine Bar and Cafe, about which I’ve previously written.  Madden and Tawm took great care of me, and I had some utterly spectacular local English peas (served with yam gnocchi, garlic, and a bit of brown butter), and tiny carrots, in a savory vinegar and molasses sauce, grilled.  Amazing.  I could be a vegetarian quite easily with food like this.  Madden started me off with a revelatory Pineau des Charentes, a slightly sweet aperitif made in Cognac from unfermented grape juice halted with Cognac (basically, a vin doux natural or vin doux licquer).  I followed this with a bottle of 1988 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf from the cellar, which actually needed more air to open up than I thought.  Still great tannins and acidity, and a beefy, iron-and-blood note in the nose, coupled with some spiciness when fully open.  Two hours later I’m drinking the rest sitting on the deck, with red fruit, spices, and definite iron, with less of the beefy/bloody thing as it thins out.

We finished with a bread pudding with an amazing mango puree with fresh vanilla beans and balsamic drizzle, accompanied by a Coteaux du Layon (a sweet Chenin Blanc dessert wine from the Loire Valley), and finally a shot of espresso.

I arrived home just as the sunlight turned golden and sunset occurred, and now as I write these words the last glow is fading, behind Saturna Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands.  The sea is calm and I’m left on the deck typing and listening to the occasional sigh of a wave lapping on the beach, so far below. 

A perfect day for a long-latent islomane to return to what has, after all these years, turned out to be not just a set of memories, but hopefully…..home.

Why Hayek + social preference research supports welfare-state liberalism

A couple of days ago, Brandon Berg posted on Catallarchy a response to a common hypothetical:  what happens when a large percentage of a population becomes superfluous given much cheaper labor?  Berg’s posting was in response to Michael at Half Sigma, who raised the possibility that cheaper sources of labor would cause a segment of the population to become permanent unemployable at almost any wage, rendering them "economically worthless."  Michael and Brandon take this example to its logical conclusion by assuming that a class of "worker" exists which can beat *any* worker on price and management costs — in this case, robots.  But of course we need not imagine actual robots here, the analysis is equally useful if one simply imagines very large relative differences between groups of people in their expected wages and working conditions. 

This may seem like a bizarre science-fiction scenario, but of course it’s also a thought experiment for possible "halting states" of a globalized economy.  For example, progressives in the U.S. wonder whether it’s even possible to ensure that we can roughly match the supply of jobs (let alone well paying jobs) to the domestic demand among American workers, or whether additional technological advances (in communications, supply, energy efficiency, etc) will further decrease the "friction" that continues to make globalized workforces a difficult thing to manage for most companies.  Were that "friction" to lessen, it’s an open question as to whether we can count on there being a rough balance between labor demand and job supply.  Massive domestic unemployment, or at the very least drastic "underemployment" at low wages, may result.  The end result of such a scenario is a "third-world" economic structure here in the U.S. — a small population of wealthy property-and-company owners, and vast numbers of people who are chronically under- and unemployed, dependent for subsistence and survival.  Clearly, this is a problem of political economy most progressives would wish to avoid, or if not, to remedy.   

Not everyone agrees that such a situation is problematic, however — there is a strain of libertarian economics which seems to view such a situation as almost desirable if the economy is productive enough in aggregate.  For example, examine Brandon’s response to such a situation:

We live in a world of scarce resources and unlimited desires….But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that scarcity is eradicated. Robots make everything, including other robots. They perform all manner of services as well as or better than humans, and no feasible desire, however trivial, goes unfulfilled. There’s no work left to do except to maintain the robots, and a small minority will be sufficient to handle that. I don’t see the problem. A world without scarcity would, by definition, be a world so fantastically wealthy as to allow the productive minority to support the idle majority at virtually no cost.

Note that a welfare state would not be necessary to achieve this. With no scarcity to temper the benevolence of the wealthy, pure charity would be far beyond sufficient to provide for the needs of the rest.

I suspect this argument is deeply flawed, even though it seems to be fairly common in libertarian circles.  I see at least two flaws, although there may be more.