Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin - Is she qualified?

It's amazing how many people are claiming that Palin is not qualified to be President - never mind that she's the only one of the four (considering VP and President candidates equally) that has any executive office experience.

McCain has always been in Congress. So has Biden, and Obama's new on the scene. The job of any Congressmen (or Congresswoman) in either the Senate or the House of Representatives is two fold:

1) Legislative: Make Laws, Vote on Laws.
2) Do #1 with respect to the interest of the People of the state and district you represent.

Notice that there is not a single Executive responsibility in there. It is the responsibility of the Legislative branch - i.e. Congress - to make the laws. That's it. It falls to the Judiciary branch to ensure those laws pass the muster (or so to speak), and the Executive branch to enforce them. Each are pretty mutually exclusive - by design so that one group cannot dictate what happens and the people get represented. That's how its designed from the Constitution on out - though you'll never hear it from a Senator or Representative mind you. (They like to think they are more important than that.)

Now they the Legislature does get charge of the budget, which is one way they get to do their "checks & balances" thing. But ultimately, they have no control over the troops or any executive official. Not a single senator has as a Senator made an executive decision; nor can they. Same for Representatives.

However, that is not true when it comes to a State Governor. When a Territory decides they want to join the United States, they must first pass a State Constitution that is based on the Federal Constitution. As such, each state also has a House of Representatives and Senate in its Legislative Branch, a Judiciary branch, and an Executive Branch modeled after those of the Federal level. Guess who is in charge of the Executive Branch? The Governor. No one else.

Does the Governor control troops? To borrow a phrase from Sarah Palin - "You betcha". What troops? The State Militia, National Guard, and other troops that belong to the state's executive branch. Sure, the U.S. President can call on these troops for other needs - i.e. the President can take over the National Guard under certain circumstances such as a national emergency - but at the very least, they report to the Governor.

The Governor also has the ability to pardon crimes, signs the state laws, and oversees the groups that enforce those laws. Same as the President.

Would Sarah Palin be the first Governor to be the Vice President - or if something happened to McCain President? Most certainly not. Both former Presidents Reagan, and Clinton, and the current President were all formerly State Governors; as well as a fair number of former Presidents before them.

So is Sarah Palin qualified to be President? In one word - "Yes".
Is she more qualified than Obama? Most certainly.
Does McCain have to listen to her? Not in the least.

Am I voting for McCain or Obama? I'm not sure yet as I don't really like either one.

Oh, and the polls? Most pollsters know how to ask - or write questions that will be asked - to give an answer in a certain way. So don't ever take poll's at face value; each poll - Republican or Democrat - are aimed to get certain numbers. And they will show what the pollster wants it to show. In the case of Palin, they are probably trying to get the numbers to be against her, against McCain. After all, if they get enough polls to say she's a problem for him - then no matter how much she may actually help him, he won't be able to deny polls that they push through which will hurt, even if they are misleading. It's kind of like a snow ball effect - get enough mass and speed and it'll roll over anything in its path. That's the media for you, especially the pollsters.

What's this come down to? Look at her job. Look at her resume, and be your own judge. Don't necessarily believe what the media is telling you. Check the facts yourself. You don't need to take my word for it either - check for yourself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

D600 and Linux...

So a while back I purchased my old work laptop - a Dell D600. I initially put Win2k on it b/c that is what I had and my wife wanted Windows and it was easy. Recently we got her a new laptop - a nice HP Core Duo system running Vista Ultimate. She's happy; and I've had a little bit of free time.

So I put Linux - specifically Gentoo 2008.0 - on the D600. It took a little work, but nothing I wasn't up to. The install was really smooth - and would have been smoother if I had followed the directions the first time around. (Fortunately Linux is designed well, so while I rebuilt it, I didn't have to go back to the CD and no wireless. So I was able to do more over the wireless!)

So now I'm running a very recent Linux Kernel - 2.6.25. The ATI Video card (ATI Mobility FireGL 9000 Rev 1/Radeon R250) is natively supported with the radeon driver. The wireless (Broadcom 4306, Rev 2) and wired (Broadcom NetXtreme BCM5702X rev 2) NICs are natively supported too. In fact, pretty much everything is natively supported - sound, etc.

The downside, though, is that the ATI drivers don't support the video card any more. However, the open source driver does just fine.

So why am I writing this? Well, mostly to note that the support is now native - at least with Gentoo. In setting up the system, I have noticed that a lot of information on the Net mentions adding patches and other stuff. And really, the only big thing I had to do with Gentoo was the following - and this is only stuff specific to the D600:

1. Make sure to set the 'Dell Laptop' stuff when compiling the Linux Kernel. It's pretty evident in the various menus used to configure the kernel (e.g. make menuconfig).

2. I had to install the Wireless Firmware - which required some special work due to licensing restrictions, which basically consisted of downloading the firmware from a website, extracting it to /lib/firmware, and running a small program (also from the website, though I think Gentoo might have it in Portage too) to align it with the kernel. After that, it was like running any other NIC - though it came up as wlanX instead of ethX - but that's okay.

3. Configuring X was a pain. Mostly because the ATI drivers don't work, and it's hard to know the monitor and video card information on your own. I'll have to post more on this another day - but suffice it to say that it's not too hard to get a well working system.

4. Sound was pretty easy. I've got a pure ALSA set-up; and once Alsa mixer was installed and I enabled the various volumes - especially the 'Headphones' and 'External Amplifier' I got sound without a problem. The "External Amplifier" drives the Internal Speakers. Kind of doesn't make sense - but works very well.

5. I installed a few extra things laptop related - namely 'gkrellm'. Sadly, I can't quite remember all of them. The other thing was enabling the 'dell' USE flag for 'sys-apps/hal'.

6. I use KDE, and there is some information out there regarding using the 'latitude' keyboard. As I said, I paid a little attention during the various build phases and made sure 'dell' and 'latitude' stuff was enabled. And once I set KDE to use the "Dell Latitude series laptop" keyboard layout (Control Center->Regional & Accessibility->Keyboard Layout->Keyboard model), it just worked! Volume Up/Down/Mute just worked!

Needless to say, the year of the Linux Desktop is certainly upon us when it has finally become extremely easy to configure a system and get near full usage out of it, and not necessarily with manufacturer support at that - by that I mean, a number of the parts companies haven't released full specs or helped much with drivers; yet, I still get nearly as much out of it as I do under Windows - likely more since Linux is more resource friendly than Windows is.

(WinXP SP-2 wasn't bad on the system when I had it a while back; but as far as Windows went, Win2k SP4 was the prime for it. Now, I'm sitting quite pretty with a nice KDE 3.5.9 desktop, doing things that Win2k - likely even WinXP - could barely dream of. In fact, soon I'll be sitting pretty doing things that even Vista has a hard time dreaming of once KDE 4.1 or so is more easily able to install under Gentoo - right now, Portage 2.1 is keeping it from getting installed since it needs Portage 2.2, which isn't quite ready yet. Hopefully soon.)

Well any how...the last few weeks have been a dream for me. Oh - and my Win2k installation? I'll likely only be booting it using Bochs or some other emulator that can use the hard drive partition! Or may be I'll finish cleaning it up (getting the photos off of it) and then convert it to more disk space for Linux...I certainly don't need Windows here any more!

Hope someone finds this useful. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

US Energy Independence...

What does it really mean for the U.S. to be "Energy Independent"?

Honestly? You hear it all the time right now with the presidential politics, in the debates, and everything else. But what does it really mean?

To start with - it means that the U.S. would be self-sufficient on its energy needs - as any country should be. That's all there is. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, how do we get there?

Well, that's the hard part. Primarily entirely due to nothing more than politics. Why? Because its politics that keeps us from it; and big spending lobbyists as well.

It's the lobbyists paying the politicians for their interests. For example, the U.S. Congress tried to raise the required gas mileage for the average vehicle to 35 miles per gallon; however, the bill never made it through, namely due to political interests - the big auto makers didn't want to do it as it would be "too costly" for them, so they poured lots of money against it. But it is that exact kind of politics that are keeping the U.S. from achieving energy independence. Why?

Because it keeps driving the need for certain kinds of energy sources higher. For example, the current standard is 25mpg - which typically yields about 400 miles per tank of gas. My Mazda 3s gets between 26 and 32 mpg on its 14g tank - thats between 364 miles and 448 mpg if I were to run it empty. Raising it to 35 mpg on the same vehicle would either raise minimum miles per tank to 490, or lower the size of the tank to about 11 gallons.

Now to put it into a little bit of perspective. Suppose you have to go 1000 miles. At 25 mpg, that's 40 gallons of gas. At 35 mpg, thats 28.57 gallons - or 70% of the fuel consumption. In today's dollar - at nearly $3.75 per gallon - it comes to a savings of $42.85. That also frees up 11.43 gallons for distribution elsewhere.

So what, then, would happen if we increase fuel efficiency to 150 miles per gallon? Or 200 miles per gallon? Or more? We do have the technology; but the auto-makers choose to give us all kinds of things we don't need - like TV's - instead of giving us savings that would really help us.

So how else do we get there?

The other big side of why politics gets in the way of energy independence is that there is a lot of political upheaval over building new fuel refinery plants, or even nuclear facilities.

Why are these important? New refinery plants means the ability to spread the fuel we have further at lower cost. Nuclear energy has the highest return available in terms of fuel to power ratios. Nothing comes close. The only argument against Nuclear is the relatively small amount of waste afterwards. And in terms of safety history, nuclear is by far the safest; with less injuries than anything else. And every instance of a nuclear plant failing - all two or three of them - containment has occurred. (Yes, even Chernoble was no where near what it could have been; and research already shows that after only about 20 years it is already coming back to levels that are safe enough to live in!)

** It doesn't mean we have a nuclear plant in everyone's back yard though! **

Don't get me wrong - we need a very diverse energy plan that includes solar, wind, hydro, and many other forms of energy harvesting. But bang-for-buck, nuclear is the cheapest and cleanest we can get.

Again, to put it in perspective - we can reply "dirty" fuel sources such as coal that have limited resources, which are costly to recover and transport, with other sources of power such as nuclear that can do far better. And when the next safer/cleaner thing comes along we can upgrade the power plants to that too.

BUT that does nothing for the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that traverse the roadways and railways all over the world, over 90% of which use some form of petrol - which is even more limited in quantity than coal.

There really is only one solution for the vehicular side - converting everything to pure electric. The reality, though, is that the conversion is not an overnight process. Most are ranting now about the battery situation - however, Porsche had a 100% electric vehicle around 1915, and companies such as Tesla Motors are figuring out ways around the battery situation. (BTW, Tesla has a really neat method of charging/discharging batteries by treating them like a big network of small batteries.) But should we toss the baby with the bath water, or so to speak?

Absolutely not. What it means is that we need a hybrid vehicle to get there. Toyota brought us the Prius, and several other companies have brought similar vehicles. But they all do it wrong by building two system in-line, instead of building one system that supports the other and for that there is only one real solution - a full electric system that can be supplemented by an alternative energy source.

Now why did I say "alternative energy source" instead of saying a "gasoline engine"? So as not to limit the possibilities. That alternative source will likely be a small gasoline engine - and if we do it right we could recharge the batteries while the vehicle is moving and then shut it off again - but it must also include a way to draw energy from the greater power grid - i.e. a plug-in hybrid.

Sadly, we'll have to wait until at least 2010 for such a vehicle to be done right . The EPA killed it before; hopefully they won't do it again. (Why? Because it meant they couldn't get the test results to be consistent since it could be plugged in, thus the vehicle might have gotten 50mpg one time, and never used a gallon another time.)

Why is this important? Because until it is provided, we cannot centralize our energy generation systems. Until we can plug-in the vehicles there will be no such thing as energy independence. Why? Because we'll still need oil and petrol from other nations in ever growing quantities than the U.S. could ever itself produce.

Of course, once they start selling it'll take about 20 years to replace the vehicles on the road. Why? It'll take about 10 to 15 years to trickle down once it reaches a generally accepted price range, and it'll probably take about 5 years to reach that once it hits market.

But there is hope for making it happen sooner, but only if someone can come up with an economical way to convert existing vehicles to either a pure electric system or a hybrid. Needless to say it can be done - there are a lot of enthusiasts our there doing it right now - but it usually is a very custom job, namely since no one is doing it on large scale. What is needed is someone to pick it up, create a replacement engine that will suite most vehicles and give decent performance (not everyone needs a sports car), and the glue-parts (namely the connections to the transmission) for most vehicles and deliver it at a cost that is not much more than replacing a standard engine.

Why the cost limit? To make it affordable, and that would probably come at about the same point the car companies are able to do it for their current selections - about 5 years out - since it would use much of the same kinds of technology.

But it can't just stop at vehicles. Systems that can be maintained by solar energy such as traffic lights or school zone lights should be. Systems that can be shut off when not needed should be.

And don't forget about "Daylight Savings Time" - it should just be eradicated. It doesn't save us anything (as the recent study of the state of Indiana showed when they converted to it in 2007), and does not make an impact on energy usage - the U.S. is a 24/7 economy. Manufacturing (which is what DST was all about) happens regardless of the clock. If it's not heated, it's cooled (which is more likely nowadays anyway) and that happens regardless of the time of year. People tend to just leave their air conditioner or heaters on; which in the end just uses more fuel though it may save a few dollars a month today.

Then of course there is the big farce that is ethanol. The only reason you hear anything about ethanol is again politics - the farming lobbyists which spend more money on the U.S. Congress than anyone in the world. So despite the fact that 1 gallon of pure gasoline produces more energy than 1 gallon of gasoline mixed with ethanol, which produces more energy than 1 gallon of pure ethanol, we're still force feeding ethanol production through the system - even legally requiring it - despite the fact that it is a leech on the entire fuel system that only drives demand for fuel higher because the vehicle that was getting 400 miles per tank is now getting 200 or 300 mile per tank just because of ethanol. (Of course there are also the other side-effects such as how much more corrosive ethanol is; the fact that it burns hotter and makes engines deteriorate faster, and more.)

Ultimately, there's a lot there. And it will take a long time to do. But it'll only take longer unless we get started on the road to it today. Some are starting. Energy independence - energy self-sufficiency - will be a long and hard road; but it will be more than worth it to get there.

Now if we can only get the politicians in line with the interests of the people instead of the lobbyists...

P.S. Sorry if I seemingly got a little off-topic. Everything there is really on-topic. Hopefully I made it all relate in a way that made sense. Comments, discussion welcome as always.