Carl Banks' Blog

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Stupid Ad Placement

The following image shows a portion of my drive to work every day:

This is the ramp from 405 South to 110 West in Los Angeles, and is part of my commute to work so I see this sign nearly every day. And yet I still have no idea where the Colonial City on a Beach is. The bottom of the sign is out of my view for the whole length of the ramp, but that is (evidently) where the name of the mysterious Colonial City on a Beach is found. The whole sign would be visible to people driving on La Cienega Boulevard, but drivers on the heavily traveled 405 can't see the name of the city.

(I admit to taking a photo while driving, but what is it to risk my own life and the lives of nearby innocent drivers, when I could make a good blog post?)

Tags: billboard, los_angeles, stupid
Last Edited: 26 February 2011, 1:53 AM
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Recently, it was reported that the last unallocated top-level blocks of Internet addresses have been allocated. The top-level blocks, which contain about 17 million addresses each, are distributed on a continent-by-continent basis, and there is still some time time before they are broken into smaller blocks and allocated for use. But sooner or later the pool will be exhausted.

The solution is to replace the current IPv4 protocol (which allows for only 4 billion Internet addresses) with IPv6 (which allows for 3.4 undecillion, aka a whole lot). The problem is, software that works for IPv4 does not automatically work for IPv6 as well: it has to be upgraded to support IPv6. Much of the software already has been upgraded. All major operating systems support it. Your web browser supports it (unless you're using Lynx or NCSA Mosaic). But a lot remains to be converted. This will be the greatest economic cost of switching to IPv6.

Here's how I expect the transition to go:

  1. Pre-exhaustion stage. Unallocated IPv4 addresses for end-users remain. A few consumers, companies, and governments start to adopt IPv6, but most behavior remains unchanged. Toward the end of this time, markets for IPv4 addresses will appear. Some people will grab unallocated blocks to sell at a marked-up price later.
  2. IPv4 market stage. The last IPv4 addresses have been allocated. People who control sizeable blocks will sell them for a quick buck. This will extend IPv4 for longer than people expect. (Most articles I've read predict it will extend IPv4 by a few months; I say it'll be a year at least. Never underestimate raw capitalism.)
  3. IPv6 hype stage. As IPv4 market prices continue to rise, companies will start to hype up the advantages of IPv6 [1] in an attempt to get consumers to change, and to make a buck in the process. Comcast will create ads that say, "Get our new-fangled IPv6-enabled modem!". Linksys will come out with routers, "Now with IPv6!". They will both quietly offer free flash upgrades to reward their smarter, and thus better, customers. But the end result, shady though the process be, is consumers will start to use IPv6 en masse.
  4. IPv6 critical mass stage. When a critical mass of consumers, infrastructure, and content is converted to IPv6, some providers will decide not to bother with IPv4, and some knowledgeable consumers will disable IPv4. New software will start to be developed without IPv4 support. Old software will start to drop IPv4. I'm guessing this won't happen till 2014.
  5. Legacy IPv4 stage. IPv4 prices peak. Large corporations and goverments that have money and a need for maximal exposure will start buying out the ipv4 addresses so that legacy users can still connect to them. Almost no new software will support IPv4. Legacy software that only supports IPv4 will fall into disuse.
  6. IPv4 wind-down phase. IPv4 blocks fall to near zero value. IANA and friends will start asking companies to return IPv4 blocks for permanent retirement.
  7. Microsoft will drop support for IPv4, finally making it obsolete.
  8. Top-level domain servers stop serving IPv4 addresses. IPv4 will survive only in off-line legacy networks, and Gophernet. Guessing this will be about 2020.

We'll check back here in 2020 to see how my predictions went.

Currently, I haven't even begun to adopt IPv6. This is mainly because my ISP doesn't support it yet, so what's the point? I actually have my ipv6 module blacklisted so it doesn't load. (I run Linux so I can do stuff like that.) As soon as my ISP does that (and they should do it pretty soon), I'll start my own conversion.


[1]IPv6 has other advantages besides the larger address space.
Tags: internet, ipv4, ipv6
Last Edited: 6 February 2011, 3:40 PM
Steven Don wrote: It's not 2020 yet, but in 2017 I think we're pretty much stuck in a mash-up of phases 2 and 3. My ISP can't even provide me with an IPv6 address.
Carl Banks wrote: Yes, I was a little aggressive in my timing. Never underestimate raw capitalism.

Mini diets

I have never been on what I would officially call a diet. However, I find that it's good to have some rule in effect about what I can eat, even if it's minor. A rule like that forces me to think about what I'm eating, and that alone is very helpful in maintaining decent diet.

Generally I stick to a mini diet for about a month or so, but I've done longer and shorter.

Here are some of the rules I put in place at some point:

  • No alcohol: I've been a teetotaler my whole life. I believe the most alcohol I've ever consumed at once was at The Melting Pot (a restaurant specializing in fondue).
  • Many years ago I tried having different dietary restrictions for different days of the week, so Monday I couldn't eat this, Tuesday that, and so on. It didn't work that well, because I'd have to change my shopping/cooking/storing strategies day-to-day. However, it did get me thinking about what I was eating.
  • No fried food. I did this for nearly all of 2007 (mid-January till Thanksgiving). This was prompted by the fact that I'd been living in Georgia for the last year, and anyone who's lived in the South knows, fried food is a way of life there. (It's probably that way because it's pretty much the only thing you can expect Southerners to cook reliably well.) After a year in Georgia I was sick of the fried food, so I just quit eating it. To this day I eat much less fried food than I did before my year off.
  • Various limitations on carbonated beverages, including (at different and sometimes overlapping times): no carbonation at all, no beverages with sugar, no caffeinated beverages, and nothing with aspartame. Once when I was living in Cincinnati I had no sugar/no caffeine/no aspartame in effect, but sucralose (Splenda) was ok. Splenda is a good sweetener for fruity drinks but sucks for cola; nevertheless I would have to grab an RC Zero every once in awhile.
  • No caffeine. I gave it up cold turkey after some precautionary medical checks. I should mention that caffeine does almost nothing to my mental state until I drink enough of it to give me a racing heart, which conversely I seem to be rather sensitive to. After a while (and noting that stopping it had solved my racing hearts) I allowed myself to use it occasionally.
  • Don't eat out. For me it makes economic sense to eat out. I value time saved more the money lost, though I do like to cook. So every so often I add a rule to eat in for a period of time (usually around a month or so).
  • Only eat out at places I'd never tried before. (This is my current mini diet.)
  • No sugary foods. I've tried this a few times a while back, but wasn't as successful as I'd have liked. I'm planning this for next month, though, and I am more experienced on how to stick to these mini diets now so I think I'll be successful this time.
  • Once I tried to go a month only eating ethnic food. I thought this would be an easy one. I lasted about one week.

A few future mini diets I have planned are:

  • No meat. I've been told it's not as easy as it sounds.
  • Eat something every day that I wish I ate more of. This includes foods such as fish, sweet potatoes, hot cereals, vegetables in general.
  • Calorie counting. I.e., a "real" diet. I've never done it but I'd like to try sometime to see how I cope. Maybe I'll even try an extreme limited caloric intake.
Tags: diet, food
Last Edited: 18 January 2011, 8:15 PM
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Christmas Presents

I hate Christmas shopping. I hate the whole culture of gift-giving in general, especially when there's an expectation of reciprocation, which is especially true on Christmas.

One year I proposed to a borther that we should agree not to buy each other presents ("My present to you is that you don't have to buy a present for me"). My mom overheard this proposal and wailed, "But you can't do that!", with such urgency that I never again suggested it. I didn't want to be seen as "that guy" and her outburst made it clear to me that I would be seen that way, so for twenty years I've been dutifully buying Christmas presents for the family, and, after my mom remarried a guy with five children of his own, for the step-family as well.

I made the best of a bad situation, and I admit that I did feel driven to buy good and thoughtful gifts, and took satisfaction from doing so. But, on the whole, I never liked it, always considered it a burden, and always hoped someday I'd get out of it.

My problem with gift-giving is that it's so damn dramatic. People say the person who receives the gift should be grateful for even getting a gift; if it's a bad gift you're no worse off, right? Except that bull.

First of all, when gifts are given with the expectation of reciprocation, you very well might be worse off, because you spent time and money on their gift.

But more insidiously, gifts are not always borne out of generosity. Oftentimes gift-giving is done as a way to manipulate, test, embarrass, or otherwise exert power over the receiver. Gift-giving can be malicious.

Unfortunately, in my family, gifts of malice are quite common.

This year, for various reasons (including recession and starting a new business) my family called off the regular gift exchange and had a Secret Santa drawing instead. I've always hated the Secret Santas we used to have in the extended family (it's bad enough shopping for someone I know well, now I have to get something for an obscure cousin-in-law), and didn't want to participate in this one, but with some difficulty and luck I was able to swap draws with my sister, who drew me. And so, with no regular gift exchange and having effectively removed myself from the Secret Santa, I was now free of obligation to buy anyone a present.

And it was the best Christmas ever.

There is a much longer version of this post, including details of some of the malicious gifting, here. I probably will come off looking like a whiny loser if you read the whole thing. You probably would have to have grown up in my family to understand.

Tags: christmas, gift_giving, rant
Last Edited: 30 December 2010, 7:55 AM
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Political Observation

One of the most effective ways for a party to get its agenda passed is to lose an election.

Tags: politics
Last Edited: 19 December 2010, 6:46 PM
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Big Ten Division Names

The newly expanded Big Ten Conference recently had a major flub by calling the names of the new football divisions the "Leaders" and "Legends" division. Commisioner Jim Delaney announced after a few days that they would reconsider because of absolutely terrible approval ratings from fans (under 10%).

Well, I have the perfect name for the divisions. There is no arguing about this, I have the answer that no one can possibly be opposed to, no one will think is lame, and will give us a catharsis.

Patrick Division Norris Division
Illinois Iowa
Indiana Michigan
Ohio State Michigan State
Penn State Minnesota
Purdue Nebraska
Wisconsin Northwestern

Who can possibly say no to that. Everyone rued the day when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettape decided to get rid of the old hockey division names in favor of bland geographical name, but now the Big Ten can carry on the legacy.

It also covers the most likely geographic areas for future expansion (New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and, alas, Missouri).

Main disadvantage is some teams (Illinois most probably) might be upset about no being in the Patrick division. But tough, Northwestern's closer to Chicago. Minnesota and Michigan are both in the Norris. Penn State is in the Patrick. Other states didn't have a hockey teams so it doesn't matter as much which division they're in.

There's the minor issue that Big Ten doesn't sponsor hockey (yet), but the division names are really a cultural thing.

So there you have it. I dare anyone to argue that this isn't the best division names possible. Go ahead.

Update: With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, Illinois can move over to the Norris Division, while Maryland and Rutgers can join the Patrick division.

Tags: big_ten, division_names, sports
Last Edited: 18 December 2010, 2:46 PM
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All right, I might as well weigh in on this Wikileaks controversy that everyone's talking about, and by everyone I mean media klaxons.

Well, the fact is, so far all they've released is kiddie secrets. Wake me up when they publish some real secrets.

Seriously: Wikileaks published 250,000 classified documents a few weeks ago, and the most alarming thing the media could come up with is a straw poll of American diplomats asking them what locations they think are important to American interests, as if terrorists have no other way to guess what sites might be important to America.

And, with nothing else in those documents to raise an alarm over, the media falls back to wailing about how bad it is that some ambassador might feel embarrassed. Give me a break.

The American government and military, you'll notice, didn't exactly come crashing to its knees. Their main reaction to the Wikileaks seems to be to try stop it before anything worse happens [1]. Aside from reasonable tightening of data security, even that might be unnecessary.

Wikileaks got its most recent cache of documents from some low-ranking enlisted assclown in the Air Force, who downloaded them from a server open to certain people with clearance. Do you really think any important secrets would have been accessible to this guy?

Wikileaks could have gotten, or could be able to get, more imporant secrets than they've released to date [2]. No secret is 100% secure and you never know what people might have up their sleeve, but given what Wikileaks has revealed so far and how they obtained it, I'd say the actual threat of important information being leaked in the future is, at best, modest.

I want to make it clear that I do not support Wikileaks, but honestly, what they've done so far is not worth worrying about [3].


[1]I might add that their approach of trying to find an excuse to capture Julian Assange is quite possibly counterproductive: making a martyr out of this guy might inspire more people to reveal more secrets, but I'll hold my final judgment on that for now.
[2]I don't expect that encrypted "insurance" file to be any more dangerous than what they've released so far. More embarrassing, probably. But if there were anything really juicy in there Assange would have been smart to hint at what it was, yet it seems that he didn't. So I think it's more or less a bluff. But we'll see.
[3]I should also point out that Wikileaks has been in operation for about ten years, and nobody cared about it until they started leaking American secrets, and by nobody I mean no media klaxons. They've released documents about many other countries and organizations, including the Taliban, and those were important secrets. But I would think it's a little easier to get important secrets from the Taliban or Uganda then from the U.S. But who knows?
Tags: media, wikileaks
Last Edited: 10 December 2010, 9:03 PM
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Food Chain of College Sports Realignment
Tags: college_sports, conferences, sports
Last Edited: 5 December 2010, 10:41 PM
Ben wrote: I was just thinking of something like this, specifically how 2 losses in the SEC are treated like 1 loss anywhere else
Carl Banks wrote: Ben: this chart is actually about realignment. I.e., when a conference expands what conference does is grab new members from. That's why the Big East is shown feeding off the Big XII; it's poised to grab what's left of the Big XII North but it certainly doesn't have better teams. As for who's better, it changes every year, despite the assertions of SEC fans who think time began in 2006. Remember, in 2005, zero losses in the SEC was treated like one loss in the Pac Ten and Big XII. [Note: I've since changed the title.]

The Grapes of Wrath

I've often observed that a lot of people have an almost hostile cynicism to anything more sophisticated than ordinary. Whenever a movie tries to be a intelligent, whenever it tries to pass up the common banal snarky dialogue and obligatory shots, whenever it tries to use camera work and writing to tell a more profound story, these people will roll their eyes and say, "That director's full of himself." Or, if an actor is acting his part with power to reflect the intended power of the scene, they'll say, "That actor's full of himself." If a novelist tries to pretty up her writing style, and to adopt a tone beyond mere storytelling, they will say, "That writer's full of herself." If an artist sculpts a creature that doesn't exist, if a songwriter creates a beautiful harmony with a new instrument, if a painter paints something in a different color to symbolize sadness, they will roll their ways and say, "Those people are so full of themselves." Anything that these people believe is "high-falootin'" they denigrate and treat with scorn.

I am not like this. If anything I'm the opposite: I'm cynical of the ordinary, or rather, of contentment with the ordinary. It doesn't mean I respect anything out of the ordinary (I'm looking at you, people who cast simple cubes out of iron and claim that it represents the suffering of Bengali farmers), but whenever a work tries to be something more profound than ordinary, I respect it, even if it doesn't quite succeed.

John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath is a work that does try to be sophisticated like this. The chapters of The Grapes of Wrath alternate between an ordinary narrative style, and a non-narrative style that Steinbeck uses to highlight the deeper meaning of his work. And all I have to say about it is this: John Steinbeck is full of himself.

He's a great narrative writer, and I enjoyed the narrative chapters quite a bit. The best of his non-narrative chapters were the "essay" chapters, the ones where he used full sentences and spoke directly to the reader. Especially good is Chapter 25, the chapter where the words "the grapes of wrath" appear a metaphor for growing discontent among the working class.

But for the rest of his non-narrative chapters: wowsers. They were bad. It seemed as if he had this idea that he would alternate between narrative chapters and essays, but it turned out that there much more story to be told than there were lessons to be learned, and so he had to find aw way to tell the story in a non-narrative style. And the result was not good.

The chapter where the car salesman keeps wishing he had more jalopies was probably the worst thing I've ever read. It was the stream of the car salesman's thoughts, and I don't think Steinbeck used a complete sentence once in the whole chapter. I guess the point was that evil salesmen don't think complete thoughts, or something like that, but it was poorly done and pretentious. To make matters worse, its storytelling function was confused, since you don't know if the people he's bargaining with are the Joads or not, since you never know if Steinbeck is talking specifically or in general.

Besides the ridiculous quasi-narrative chapters like these, there was another thing Steinbeck used to get his non-narrative chapter count up, an old classic: filler. Such as the whole chapter devoted to a turtle crossing a road. Now, of course the turtle's trek was really a metaphor, and can credit Steinbeck for finding a creative solution to technical problem, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking this wasn't filler.

Overall, the book was a good read and Steinbeck has written a profound work that makes us think about how we treat our fellow people, but when it came to the non-narrative chapters he was totally full of himself.

While we're at it, we might as well deconstruct one of the "lessons" from The Grapes of Wrath a little. In the story, after the Joads have had some trouble with the law in some of the labor camps, they find a government-run camp that treats them like actual human beings. The Joads are even introduced to amenities they never had in better days in Oklahoma, like toilets.

Now, it's clear what Steinbeck was trying to suggest here. But let's look a little more deeply at this. In the government camp, the people were treated with dignity, but no one had work. And once the Joads' money ran out, they had to hit the road, and find work with the dehumanizing corporate plantations. But then, though they weren't living well, they at least got to eat, and even had a little leftover to small luxuries (Cracker Jack).

So. Capitalism treats people as much like dirt as it can get away with, and it requires the Socialism to force it to treat people like human beings. But in a Socialist utopia, there is no production so no one eats. So the lesson here is: if you want dignity, you need Socialism. If you want to eat, you need Capitalism. And if you want both... well you can figure it out. I think it's a great (if simplified) lesson. I just don't think it was the lesson that Red commie socialist Steinbeck intended.

Tags: john_steinbeck, literature, the_grapes_of_wrath
Last Edited: 21 November 2010, 8:55 PM
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Many Worlds interpretation is crap

The universe, to the best of our scientific knowledge, is non-deterministic. This pisses a lot of scientists off.

The field of quantum mechanics studies many situations where particles seem to behave as if they were in two places at once, or (equivalently but a lot more weirdly) where the same event happens at two different times. Scientists can infer this behavior by observing effects like interference patterns [1], but they never actually detect the particle in both places: whenever they try to observe the particle, they only ever detect it in one place. And here's the kicker: which of the two places the particle is observed is indeterminate, there's no way to predict it. All you can do is make statistical observations (such as: it'll zig 40% of the time, and zag 60% of the time [2]).

Erwin Schrödinger tried to explain this paradox as "wave function collapse". What he suggested was that the particle is in both places at once, but when the particle is "observed" (meaning: when it directly interacts with another particle) its existence collapses into a single location. The wave function is a probability of which location it will collapse to.

However, most scientists (Schrödinger included, who gave us a tongue-in-cheek large scale consequence of that explanation) don't like not being able to predict things. Albert Einstein was perturbed by this explanation; he once said "God does not play dice with the universe".

In the years since Einstein and Schrödinger's heyday, another explanation has come into fairly wide acceptance, one that eliminates the indeterminacy (and, thus, the scientists' own sense of inadequacy). What they claim is that, yes, the particle does exist in two places at once, but when the particle is observed, the wave function doesn't collapse. Instead, the universe splits: and in one universe, the particle is observed in one location; in the other universe, the other location. This supposedly happens every single time a particle with multiple quantum states interacts. This is known as the Many Worlds interprtation.

I'll cut to the chase. Scientists should run away screaming from this explanation because what they've done is asserted the existence of universes where where God demonstratably exists, which is a no-no for any respectable scientist [3].

You see, although quantum effects are small, they do have large scale consequences. If all quantum possibilities are realized, then there is a universe somewhere where all the particles zag in such a way that their cumulative effect results in demonstratable benefits to people who pray to a certain god, and scientists in that universe measuring this effect will have to conclude that that god exists.

Not only that, but there are universes like that that will branch off this one. If Many Worlds is true, then there is a universe branching from this one where scientists will wake up to discover that a plague has appeared that attacks everyone but Christian fundamentalists. Richard Dawkins, Steven Jay Gould, and Carl Sagan will have to eat their crow in that universe. (I realize that last two have died, but they aren't dead in that universe. Although the universe we're talking about did branch off this one, various quantum effects combined in such as way so as to restore life to their bodies, and they rose from the grave, just in time to see a plague attack everyone but Christian Fundamentalists.) They can at least take solace in the fact that there's another universe out there with a plague that attacks only Christian Fundamentalists.

According to Many Worlds, universes have been branching off in the past. So it might comfort you to know that in some world out there you did ask that girl to the prom, but it probably wouldn't comfort you to know that in some other universe out there you were hit by a car and spent your whole life living as a quadriplegic.

It's also likely, accoring to Many Worlds, that you're immortal. Many theories on aging put at least part of the blame on the gradual chemical breakdown of molecules in the body. If all quantum possibilities are realized, then in some universe those chemical breakdowns will not occur, and you'd live forever, or at least until the world ends. Which sounds nice, perhaps, but that forever could be in a dungeon.

Enough silliness. I believe Many Worlds is crap, for various reasons, including some which are personal to me and can't rationally be demonstrated to others. But the Many Worlds interpretation should be rejected by science as well.

The fact is, Many Worlds is not a scientific theory or hypothesis, because it can be neither verified nor falsified (apart from falsifying quantum mechanics altogether). Whether the Many Worlds interpretation, or some other interpretation, such as the Copenhagen interpretation that Schrödinger wrote of, is "correct", has no bearing on science. Either interpretation results in the same observable predictions. Whether the wave function collapsed, or you are observing from Universe A, you are going to observe the same result.

The simple truth is, Many Worlds is a philosophical statement and not a scientific one. And philosophically it is the interpretation most opposed to science, because it asserts the existence of worlds where science is worthless. That is far, far worse than an interpretation that allows for mere indeterminacy.


[1]Interference happens when two similar waves interact. If the waves line up in certain ways, they will cancel out in some places and reinforce each other in other places, and create moire patterns on much larger scales than the waves themselves. The strange thing about interference at quantum scales is that particles—which are just tiny waves—seem to interfere with themselves. For example, a single electron passing through a barrier with two closely spaced slits will show an interference pattern as if the electon had passed through both slits simultaneously.
[2]Because quantum scales are so small, most of these quantum indeterminacies are smeared out at our familiar human scales. If you know that 40% of electrons will zig, and 60% will zag, and you have 10 quadrillion electrons, you pretty much know what the large scale effect will be, even though the behavior of individual particles is random.
[3]This is sarcasm, or would be if it weren't more or less believed by most scientists, despite what they may say.
Tags: indeterminacy, many_worlds, quantum_mechanics, science
Last Edited: 6 November 2010, 11:27 PM
jonimethfan wrote: Many Worlds clearly sucks because it requires a single quantum event to be exothermic enough to 'create' a whole new universe like our own. I understand that wave functions experience all possible actualities continuously, but that the cardinality of those possibilities is not even countably infinite and that consequently the possible energy release is likely to be small and finite rather than cosmically enormous.
jonimethfan wrote: In any 'Many Worlds' infiniverse, Each universe would consist of a single quantum event (Think it through!) This is contradicted by the macroscopic reality of human consciousness. To paraphrase Descartes: 'I think therefore 'Many Worlds' is bullshit'.
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