I just stumbled across this, which is happening as we speak.  It's an online community 16 years old being shut down - without an archive (via Scott Rosenberg).  It hurts a little, because I posted there from 1998 through the early 2000s before moving to Salon's other forum, The WELL.  I built friendships, met people face-to-face, and read a lot of great stories.  For example, this hilarious tale of two dogs finding an elk carcass and refusing to leave it.  What does the shutdown say about the permanence of content on the Internet?

The official announcement gives reasons for the shutdown and for the lack of an archive, but that's not why I'm posting this.  In this Metafilter discussion there's an interesting comment by user meehawl:
"I see my commenting history as more akin to conversation than anything else. It always suprises me that people might want to save what they've said online. This is not to snark at those who want to keep what they've said. It's just not my viewpoint. I'd happily see my ephemeral conversational metafilter history deleted."
Sounds like Facebook, doesn't it?  One of the first things I noticed about Facebook was that they make it a lot harder to find old content than pretty much any other site on the Web.  Facebook is not archival.  They don't make money off people looking up advice and interactions from years ago, so they don't let you.  It's not like it would be difficult for them to put in a search form, they purposely left it out so you'd concentrate on the here and now. So they can build an advertising profile on you.

Discussion forums like Table Talk are starting to look old-fashioned in comparison to Facebook, but people who got on the Internet before Web 2.0 developed an expectation that everything they ever said was in the cloud and would stay there forever, searchable by a simple Google query.  Not that you necessarily wanted it to be, it just was, because of the simplicity of the HTML that was used to build forums.

That age has ended.  Closed databases like Facebook--and The WELL--are not indexed, either for reasons of revenue or privacy.  Every byte on the Internet has a cost and a value, and business decisions are being made about your public history.  Who knows, maybe eventually it will be unnecessary to be careful what you put out there - the pictures of you drunk, the off-color jokes - and link rot will take away everything you don't pay to curate and archive.

A Restaurant Menu in Hell, Michigan

Meatball with Sauce of Reduced Circumstances
Existentially Sharp Knife
Squid Ink Immersion of Diner
Steak Bordelaise with Marrow Transplant
Pesto Won't Leave You Alone-o
All The Thyme In The World
Chili Con Carny
Pollo en a Dobro

How your car gets from 0 to 60mph

Car guys talk about how fast a car can accelerate to 60mph.  Not that you ever get a chance to actually do that.  But if you've taken Physics 101, you should be able to predict a car's 0-to-60 time just by knowing its horsepower and weight.  It turns out it's a little trickier than that.  One day I got curious and figured out why.
In its simplest form, the calculation says that the car's power times the length of time it accelerates equals the car's kinetic energy at 60mph.  Kinetic energy is 1/2 the mass times that velocity squared.  We know the power, weight, and speed.  The thing is, this says my car should reach 60mph just 4.6 seconds after I floor the gas - and I can tell you it doesn't.  Most family sedans take eight or nine seconds, a sport/luxury car takes six or seven, a serious sports car will be down in the four to five range, and to get to 60mph in less than four seconds you'll have to pay six digits.

So why is acceleration so inefficient?
First, "horsepower".  When they say a car like mine has 156 horsepower, it's not all available on demand.  You only actually get that when the engine RPM is high - see the red power curve in the graph above.  So even if you floor it, you have to wait until the car speeds up to about 30mph before you're at full power.  And then of course it shifts into the next gear.  So in the process of going from 0 to 60, on average 30% of my car's horsepower is unavailable.

Second, friction.  There's a difference between the amount of horsepower the engine puts out and how much power the wheels actually put down to the road.  Manufacturers put the engine number in their brochures - partly because it's a larger number, and partly because it's a lot easier to measure.  In the example above, the Lexus IS-F is rated at 416hp but delivered only 333hp to the wheels, a loss of 20%.  Friction takes 10-25% of the power produced by an engine - more for AWD systems with automatic transmissions, less for two-wheel-drive stick-shift cars.  My car is a front-wheel drive automatic, so I'm assuming it's fairly efficient.

Finally, shifting.  The car can't accelerate while the transmission is between gears, and no car can get to 60 in first gear.  Those six-digit cars can shift in one or two tenths of a second, but I figure most cars take closer to half a second.

Add all that up, and the calculation says my car goes from 0 to 60 in a much more realistic seven and a half seconds.  In fact, Car & Driver magazine actually measured it, and got 7.4 seconds.  Not bad for a back-of-the envelope scribble!


Some gloves you wear to protect your hands.  Others you wear to protect the things you're handling from your hands.

Words are like that too.  Some you leave unsaid - to protect yourself or your listener.

Comparative symbolism of wealth displays: Pharaonic and Gangsta cultures

Let's begin with contemporary Gangsta culture, where displays of wealth and power involve US currency, weapons, and gestures related to gang membership:
The Pharaohs, in contrast, saved their best bragging for after they were dead:
Those hieroglyphs are Egyptian for "one time, my dad donated 309,950 sacks of grain to this one temple.  He was standing next to some gods when they drew this."  And that, my friends, is badass.

Inspired by this.

Snap out of it, America

Osama bin Laden is dead, and I've been thinking about the last ten years - the escalating lunacy of security theater and foreign wars - and I wonder if now we might finally snap out of this 21st century Red Scare.

The final months of 2001 brought some quite sensible reforms in aviation security, like locks on cockpit doors.  But then security was institutionalized in the form of the TSA, and bureaucracies exist to perpetuate themselves.  Fear, plenty of it whipped up by the institution itself, fueled a cycle of dehumanizing regulations.

What began as security quickly became security theater.  The thing about theater is that it attracts the dramatic.  There was the guy with his shoes full of gunpowder.  And the one with the explosive underwear.  Are these guys credible threats to justify the existence of a system that frisks nine-year-old girls?  No, they're the same kinds of guys that put on costumes and turn themselves in to the police every time there's a serial killer on the loose in a big city.  These loonies are created by the attention the system creates in order to perpetuate itself.

At some point America had had enough of McCarthy's cancerous fearmongering.  Are we done with the TSA yet?  Can we go back to making laws like "don't drive drunk"?