From The Erbo Files
Monday, April 23, 2012

  • Stephen T. Gordon: In the future, everything will be a coffee shop. A compelling point, since you can't download or order online a gathering place, or a grande cafe mocha with one or two pumps of vanilla (my Starbucks poison-of-choice). Via Glenn Reynolds.

  • One startup company, 4ormat, saved over $100,000 in its development efforts by refusing to support Micro$oft Internet Asploder. Boy, I wish IQNavigator could do the same it is, I think we've only recently deprecated support for IE6. (But then again, many of our customers are stuck with browsers that old, more's the pity.)

  • From Lexxi: A video of dubstep violinist Lindsey Stirling. The music has a funky, half-Eurodance, half-New Age feel to it, and Ms. Stirling is a fair dancer in addition to a decent violinist. Filmed at an ice castle in Silverthorne, Colorado, that looks very Scandinavian; I thought it was Finland or Iceland or some country like that. Okay, so it's not metal...but it's still good. :-)

  • The RNC produces an absolute gem of a video, using Barack Hussein Obama's own words to show why he must not be re-elected. I say, "More, please, and faster!" Unfortunately, the RINO-NC will probably cave and refrain from producing any more such videos, lest the New York Times starts calling them "not helpful."

  • Former EMinder Crizz sent me a link to some handheld technology that looks straight out of Star Trek: an X-ray scanner you can hold in your hand. Maybe the inventors of this technology should get together with these guys...a real tricorder could be just around the corner...

  • And speaking of science-fiction stuff, check out this idea for a LEGO® model of one of EVE Online's most iconic spaceships, the Minmatar Rifter-class frigate (what I refer to as "The Official Ship of Gettin' Yo' Ass in Trouble" :-D ). CCP is on board with the idea, so go like it...who knows, the LEGO® people might just release the model!

  • If you're a Ford owner (like I am now), these sites might be of interest: this one will decode all the characters in your VIN and tell you what they all mean, and this one will take your VIN and show you what your actual factory window sticker looked like.

  • Three words: Angry Birds bra. Sabrina wouldn't wear one, but they don't come in her size anyway. (Via Valorna Edgeworth on Facebook.)

  • At IQNavigator, we do a major release of FrontOffice (our hosted solution software) about once a month. Facebook does releases far more frequently than that, and to a much larger audience. How they do it is a tangled tale involving custom PHP compilers, BitTorrent, IRC, good old-fashioned dogfooding, and perhaps the only actual Facebook "Dislike" button in existence. And a fair amount of ethanol to act as a social lubricant...

  • Meanwhile, Facebook's 140-character competitors at Twitter have released some of the enhancements they've made to MySQL for their needs. This isn't the first bit of open source Twitter has released; their Bootstrap CSS/JavaScript framework, which underpins the Erbosoft Web site itself, is very good. (Via several sources, including Bryan Glenn at IQNavigator.)

  • Want to hear what the live music in the world's coolest Nordstrom would sound like? Watch Camille and Kennerly, the Harp Twins, bring modern music to life on their instruments. Their performance of "Stairway to Heaven" is to die for. (They are also third degree black belts in Tae Kwon Do, and "Distinguished Experts" in rifle marksmanship. Don't f**k with these ladies! :-D )

  • From my fellow IQNavigator developer Ben Messer: A complete emulation of the Atari 2600 game console, written in Java. Of course, that's no strain on modern computers (the original 2600 had a 1.19 MHz 6507 processor and 128 bytes--not megabytes or even kilobytes, bytes--of RAM), but it kicked off an interesting discussion of how far gaming technology has come since the late 70's/early 80's.  Also, coworker Nick Hill is working on beating Billy Mitchell's high score. :-)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

This blog post was inspired by a question I was asked to answer on Quora by Robert Gluck, which consisted, in its entirety, of the phrase that makes up the title above. Herewith is my reply.

As has been pointed out by other respondents to this question, the phrase "the banality of evil" was coined by Hannah Arendt, as part of the subtitle to her 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. The book was her account of the 1961 trial, in Jerusalem, of Adolf Eichmann, who had worked during the Nazi era in Germany for branches of the S.S. dealing with "emigration," "relocation," and "evacuation" of Jewish populations across Europe. Many of these, of course, were convenient euphemisms for "extermination." By "banality," Arendt meant that, for people such as Eichmann who were part of the monstrous bureaucracy of death developed by the Nazis in the process of implementing their "Final Solution of the Jewish Question," dealing with matters involving the suffering and death of so many human beings became a mere matter of routine, "just another day at the office," as it were. (It is perhaps significant that Arendt herself later regretted employing the term, and noted that she would not use it if she were to write the book over again. By then, of course, it was too late, and had become a catchphrase.)

Eichmann, despite his many boasts to the contrary, was, it would appear, no more than a "middle manager" in this bureaucracy of death. He did not dictate the policies that were implemented; this was, of course, done, ultimately, by Hitler himself, and to a lesser extent by Heinrich Himmler, head of the S.S., and Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Main Security Office, to whom he ultimately reported. Nor did he actually kill anyone; in fact, the one time he visited sites where the actual killing of Jews happened (once by firing squad, once in the gas trucks), he was sickened and shaken by the experience. Eichmann's chief concern was that of transportation, shifting Jews around from location to location, locating the trains needed to move them and making sure there were enough people aboard each train so that no trains were "wasted," and ultimately delivering them up for "resettlement in the East" (read: extermination at Auschwitz or one of the other death camps). He may have viewed the lives affected by these operations as no more than abstractions, numbers which had to be shifted around to meet the expectations of his superiors. (A similar attitude is expressed in a quotation famously misattributed to Joseph Stalin: "The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic." )

Edward Herman calls the development of this "banality" a process of "normalizing the unthinkable," in which, over time, terrible, murderous acts simply become "the way things are done." This was certainly the case for Eichmann as he was made responsible for the "relocation" of Jewish populations throughout Europe. The example of Rumania is perhaps relevant here: the Rumanians were so eager to comply with Nazi demands that their land be made judenrein (Jew-free) that they instituted their own bloody pogroms against their own Jewish population. Eichmann was forced to scramble, quickly arranging transportation so that the Rumanian Jews could be dealt with in the usual fashion. Even though the outcome was ultimately the same, he felt that the approach taken by the Nazis, the "way things were done" to which he had become accustomed, was more "civilized."

It's also true that people in this kind of situation may not be aware of the ultimate consequences of their actions, though Eichmann, at least in the latter half of his career, surely was. This may include, not only those such as the Nazis, but scientists involved in the development of potentially-destructive new weaponry. In the movie Real Genius, for example, Mitch Taylor and Chris Knight are college students engaged in developing a powerful laser merely as a research project for Professor Jerry Hathaway. After they succeed, and Lazlo Hollyfeld confronts them with the question "What would you use that for?", their friend "Ick" Ikagami deflects the question with a joke ("Making enormous Swiss cheese?" ), Knight brushes it aside, thinking only of his own situation ("Lazlo, that doesn't matter! I respect you, but I graduated!" ) and Taylor shrugs it off: "The applications are unlimited...let the engineers figure out a use for it, that's not our concern!" Only when further prompted by Hollyfeld, and upon returning to the lab to find out their laser has been spirited away for immediate military testing, do they realize the enormity of what they've done and begin working on a plan to sabotage it. Whatever "evil" they committed in the design of what proved to be a new weapon surely was "banal" in that sense, and acquired this quality chiefly by virtue of their own ignorance. The real evil, it might be argued, was Hathaway's, in exploiting their labor without informing them of the ultimate purpose, after having diverted funding for the laser project towards remodeling his house. This mirrors the way the Nazis engaged in division of labor to keep groups of people in their lower echelons focused on minor details of the Final Solution instead of on the "big picture"...and corruption was also endemic in the Nazi era as well.

Friedrich Hayek, in his book The Road to Serfdom, wrote, "Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things. The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule." This is a contributor to the development of evil as a "banality," if it is viewed as something that one is merely required to do to maintain and advance one's position, such as Eichmann hoping for advancement in his post, or Knight getting his college degree. People are often willing to "go along to get along," as shown by Milgram's experiment and Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment, as well as by the Jewish Councils set up by the Nazis, which did much of the "dirty work" in selecting those who would be put on the trains for "resettlement," perhaps in the belief that they would avoid the same fate or worse thereby. (Ultimately, this would not be the case; many members of the Councils themselves were sent along to the death camps.)

So we have a number of conditions: the participants in evil acts are either ignorant of the consequences of their actions or are willing to suppress or "abstract away" what knowledge they have of them, their actions have been "normalized" by the organization they work in, and they view their actions as necessary to maintain or advance their own position, or to further their own goals. Under these circumstances, yes, evil can become quite "banal" indeed. It is worth noting, in closing, an observation that Isaac Asimov once made in recounting a conversation with Fritz Leiber: a truly "intelligent" villain never just shouts "I'm a wicked bad guy!", he is never a "villain" in his own eyes. Eichmann certainly was not; he even professed that he had been trying to save Jews by his actions, even as he acknowledged that he was to be made something of a scapegoat for the Nazi regime by his trial and execution. Even one of the most clichéd villains of all time, Darth Vader, would tell Luke Skywalker that his ultimate aim was to "bring order to the Galaxy," much as the Nazis wanted to bring "order" to the world. Their examples must stand as a cautionary tale for us all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The second element of my "trinity" of symphonic metal hails from the Netherlands, which is home to a fair number of good symphonic-metal bands. Unlike Nightwish, they approached it from a gothic-metal background, but, like Nightwish, they've taken their art in a bit of an unusual concept-album direction. They're Within Temptation, they're the biggest band to come out of the Netherlands, and the fact that there's a couple at the center of the band should help ensure that they're around for a long time.

More below the fold.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Over on the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, DJ, who has been the resident "Loyal Opposition" for over ten years as well as contributing technical expertise to keeping the site thriving, has just announced that he has Stage III liver cancer, probably close to Stage IV. His estimate is that he has no more than a year left, unless he finds a donor organ for a transplant before hitting Stage IV, which even he admits is unlikely.

Please note that the link in the paragraph above is unlikely to be functional by the time you read this, as he has announced the intention to take the post down shortly. He has also disabled comments on the post. The reason?

Please understand as I am telling you this, I am NOT asking for your prayers or sympathy. I do not deserve either. I have known about this for about six months now, and since there have been a few of you asking after my health, I felt that I should come clean as much as I am comfortable with.


Please understand that I do NOT want your sympathy nor your prayers. I just want to be treated as I have always been. I only want to come clean and let you know that I am not going to be around too much longer.

When I read this, I have the uncomfortable feeling that DJ is selling himself short. Besides, regardless of whether he wants, or feels he "deserves," sympathy and prayers or not, he's going to get them anyway from his fellow denizens of the Rott. Including me. Because we're human beings first and foremost, no matter how far to the Right we are of his political positions.

And so I offer mine, with no Imperial Authority behind it, just one conservative geek among many raising a voice.

DJ, there is such a thing as a "Loyal Opposition." To a certain extent, we need having our beliefs and positions challenged on a regular basis, because that forces us to re-examine them, and help build them up and make them stronger. And your opposition is a lot more articulate than that of most of Ogabe's NSDWP minions, whose entire argument could be summed up in large part as "You're nothing but racist, sexist, uncivil bitter-clinger Visigoths who're being not helpful! WAAAHHHH!! MOMMYYYYYYY!!!" Don't think that goes unappreciated, as vehemently as we may argue against you. Besides which, as opposed as you are to the kind of opinions being expressed on the Rott on a daily basis, you've gone above and beyond the call of duty in keeping the site alive so that those opinions could be expressed...and, as a former manager of a virtual-community site myself, I do know something of what that entails, including things like checking in with the site while on vacation in Maui to make sure everything is copacetic. I doubt anyone could ever "replace" you in either of those two roles; they can only succeed you.

Cancer is a hell of a thing. Many of us on the Rott have gone through it, and/or had loved ones that have gone through it. For my part, my father had throat cancer back while I was in college, and has just recently been diagnosed with, and treated for, pancreatic cancer. An aunt of mine succumbed to breast cancer. My ex-wife had a hysterectomy years before I met her, due to uterine cancer. I would bet that not one of us does not at least know, on a clinical level, what happens as a result of this. We're all qualified to sympathize...and those of us who are of the sort inclined to offer prayers are not only qualified, but called upon to do so when "a member of the family" is in need. You may not believe that there's Anyone on the other end of those prayers to listen to them, and intercede on your behalf...but there may yet be. In an infinite universe, anything is possible.

In the same post, DJ has announced his intention to take a series of bike rides around the U.S. and Canada for as long as he is physically able to do so. To him, I will offer one final benediction:

May the road rise up to meet you,

May the wind be ever at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face and the rain fall softly on your fields,

And, until we meet again,

May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
Old Irish blessing

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April 4, 2012

I'm still not quite sure how it happened.  One minute, I was cruising up Colorado Boulevard, on my way to King Soopers to fetch a sandwich for Sabrina after getting off work. The next, the Ford Escape was stopped at the light at Amherst in front of me. I jammed the brakes to the floor, but not even the anti-lock braking system could keep me from striking the Escape.

The Saturn jerked to a stop; I could see the hood folded up and in on itself, but no other damage was apparent from where I sat, and the air bags, significantly, had not fired. I wasn't injured...but the car certainly was.

The first thoughts that went through my head were, "No, no, no, no, no..." Little did I know that, a week later, I would wind up, perhaps, better than I deserved to.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

The only universal holiday of the Internet is April Fool's Day, and this is when many sites bust out their best jokes. Here's a rundown of some of the stuff I've seen today. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Google is no slouch at April Fool's Day Jokes, and have turned out some of the best...and at least one project that was introduced on April Fool's Day that turned out not to be a hoax. Today they introduce Google Racing, a partnership with NASCAR for autonomous race cars (!). Also check out their Really Advanced Search.

  • Oh, and check out Google Maps for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Blocky goodness!

  • introduces FARK.mag, "The Magazine by Drew Curtis's's Drew Curtis." Help save a dying business model today, with their offer of 72 issues for the price of -72, or 200% off the cover price!

  • YouTube has put a lightswitch next to all their videos. Turn the lights off to get a dark background, then turn 'em back on! Also, order The YouTube Collection, all your favorite videos on actual DVDs, the way God and the MAFIAA intended, for one low, low price of $2,448,693 plus tax! Oh, and delivery may be somewhat delayed...

  • TechCrunch introduces TechCrunch Drama, the channel for all your drama needs. I have a feeling they're only partly joking here... :-)

  • TVTropes has been randomly redirecting people visiting its home page to the translated versions...including the "Lolspeak" version. "O hai. U can has descripshun of tvtropes? Dis wiki iz lolcatalog of trix of traed four riting fikshun." If you can't understand it, ask your cat. :-)

  • Tyler Durden on Why Regulation Is Good For Growth. "The biggest problem with 'free' markets is the stupidity of the common people. How can they possibly know what they want, or what they want to achieve when they have not attended prestigious universities like Oxford, Harvard, or Yale?" ZeroHedge on April 1 = HuffNPuffPost, Daily"ScrewEm"Kos, or Democrappic Underpants the other 365 days of the year (since 2012 is a leap year).

  • Facebook, according to some sources, may be considering adding a "Hate" button. Truth here, people: Wouldn't you buy that one at a black-market price right now?

  • From the IETF, we have two new standards: RFC 6592, "The Null Packet," and RFC 6593, "Service Undiscovery Using Hide-and-Go-Seek for the Domain Pseudonym System." This is a longstanding tradition, and I'm pleased to see it has continued.

On a sad note, April 1 marks the end of Francis W. Porretto's long-running conservative blog Eternity Road, due to various technical difficulties and "personality differences with his Webmistress." However, he continues blogging, for the present, at Liberty's Torch. Make sure and follow him there.

Copyright © 2012 Eric J. Bowersox, All Rights Reserved.
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