Hegel's Aesthetics: A handy way of looking at things

I have long been an admirer of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher (1770-1831). Like another German philosopher, Nietzsche, Hegel has tended to suffer by association. This is a pity because Hegal has a lot to teach us about art.

Whereas Nietzsche was [quite unfairly in my opinion] tainted by the admiration of the Nazis, Hegel was over-shadowed by Karl Marx--a much less perceptive thinker, IMHO--who drew on Hegelian concepts to lay the groundwork for the dialectical materialism of Lenin and that whole mess.

So Hegel deserves, I humbly suggest, serious reconsideration. Some of his thoughts and interests were very modern. He was very interested in why people think the way they do, why they hold certain beliefs , which have tended to change over time, and why they behave in certain ways, which also evolve over time (although he died the same year Darwin graduated from Cambridge and so never knew of the latter's theory of evolution).

In short Hegel was interested in explaining observed phenomena, so in some ways he was a very practical philosopher, although you don't really get that when you open up something like Phenomenology of Mind, with its dense prose and page long paragraphs.

One of the most useful concepts that I have drawn from Hegel is that of genuine and ersatz manifestations of the same phenomenon which tend to reinforce, not diminish the importance of the phenomenon. Take the modern obsession with the lives of other people. The latter half of the twentieth century was a golden age of biography. Some truly great biographies were written, genuine works of art. At the same time we saw the rise of People magazine and lower-brow populist knock-offs. In trying to understand what is happening to the human race, some philosophers might ignore populist or crass manifestations of what are, when you scratch the surface, the same yearnings as you find reflect in more serious works of art.

But to Hegel they were both of interest. The existence of the same yearnings in different forms only heightened the importance of spelling out those yearnings, in this case the desire to understand how other people live their lives, something that fascinates us because we somehow sense that the way we live our own lives is a work in progress, but a body of work nonetheless. My own interpretation of Hegel, and my own belief, is that our lives are works of art and we are hungry to know how other artists are doing.

Piss-tec? No, it's true, Mercedes E320 diesel uses urea

This one snuck up on me until I saw an ad for it in the Florida Times Union.

It's a diesel sedan that gets 37 mpg on the highway but can still do 0-60 in under 7 seconds. It can meet ultra low emissions standards by using urea: "For more aggressive emissions aftertreatment, a BLUETEC system can move up an AdBlue injection system. A water-based urea solution, AdBlue is carried in its own small tank and metered into the exhaust in minute quantities..." Check out the details here and at the Daimler Chrysler site (and look for a future Jeep to use the same technology--I'm saving up already).

Suicide is Painless? Ads need many changes...

I am by no means the first blogger to highlight the absurdity of commercial use of popular music out of context or toned town.

Probably the most glaring example is Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's use of Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life". The tune is there, big and bold, but the lyrics skip from "Here comes Johnny Yen again" to "With his lust for life" and thus bypass "With the liquor and drugs, And the flesh machine, He's gonna do another strip-tease...Well I am just a modern guy, Of course I've had it in the ear before, 'Cause of a lust for life." The whole thing is laid out nicely at Dick Mac's blog.

The incongruity has had a lot of people who respect Iggy's music outraged, amused, bewildered, and more (on the other hand it may have turned some folks on to Iggy, which would be a good thing). Still it was hard for some to accept the punk counter-culture subverted by commercial interests. But this is nothing new. The sixties were not over before the free love vibe was subverted by advertisers serving major corporations. Indeed, a lot of the cultural history of America over the last forty years has involved the commercialization ands mainstreaming of what began as anti-commercial, anti-establishment.

Remember how the biting 1970 anti-war movie M.A.S.H. became a TV sitcom and everyone was humming the word-less theme song blissfully unaware [in 99.9% of cases] that the title of the song, and it's refrain, is "Suicide is painless"?

p.s. The lyrcis to "Suicide is Painless" were written by Michael Altman, son of the late great Robert Altman who directed the movie. You can read them here.

No More Ham, Eggs, & SPAM: Blog categories revised

Okay, so I admit that I didn't get the point of categories when Blogger first introduced labels. So there I was, merrily labeling my posts with all manner of terms. For example, a post about email security had the following labels: AOL, ham eggs and spam, Microsoft, spam, TurnTide, Yahoo.

Now I have realized the error of my ways and have revised the labels to create meaningful categories. After all, if you want to find any of my posts that deal with ham or USB or AOL you can always use the Search function. I don't plan to have separate categories for those subjects.

For a start, the blog is Cobb on Technology, so there is no need for a technology label. Technology is assumed to be the subject of every post (however tenuous the link might be). There is a need for a general category that includes housekeeping posts like this one that you are reading right now.

And a humor category will denote posts that are [supposed to be] amusing or at least light-hearted. Different kinds of security are given their own category, but most of my security posts are done at scobbs.blogspot.com. A category that is likely to cover a lot of posts right here is "Gotchas."
Gotchas include all manner of quirks, snafus, annoyances, like the fact that there is no Backspace key on Macs and no grayed out File Save command in Microsoft Office apps to let you know something has been saved, or the fact that PS/2-to-USB adapters rarely work and Control-Tab doesn't work the way it should in Microsoft Word. Of course, some posts will have more than one label, like this one, which is mainly 'general' but also now contains some 'gotchas.'

So, I hope this reformed approach to labeling will be useful and make the blog more accessible.

On National Health Insurance: Political history has much to teach

As we recover from the shock of President Bush actually finding something worth talking about in his 2007 State of the Union address--health insurance--we would do well to keep some historical perspective. There is a long but very worthwhile article in the New Yorker that I found very helpful. For example, consider this:
In 1945, when President Truman first proposed national health insurance, they [union leaders] cheered. In 1947, when Ford offered its workers a pension, the union voted it down. The labor movement believed that the safest and most efficient way to provide insurance against ill health or old age was to spread the costs and risks of benefits over the biggest and most diverse group possible. Walter Reuther [the national president of the U.A.W at the time]...believed that risk ought to be broadly collectivized. Charlie Wilson [president of G.M.], on the other hand, felt the way the business leaders of Toledo did: that collectivization was a threat to the free market and to the autonomy of business owners. In his view, companies themselves ought to assume the risks of providing insurance.
In a nutshell, that is why America does not have universal health insurance today. And as today's G.M. crumbles under the crushing weight of the burden Wilson took on, losing ground every year to car companies based in countries whose governments provide universal health care, it is instructive to ponder how--albeit with the benefit of hindsight--how wrong Wilson's call was.

Image from coloribus.com.

PS on DST: Vista is pre-fixed, Mac OS X 10.4.6 also

After my posting a few days ago on the changes to Daylight Saving Time in the US that will be happening this year, it occurred to me that I might have raised more questions than I answered. In fact--surprise, surprise--I still don't have ALL the answers. But here a few more that might be helpful.

Q. How long until the change?
A. 47 days (March 11 is the first time the new DST rules go into effect, but there is another date of importance, October 28, 2007, which is when you might have expected DST to end, but in fact it will end November 4).

Q. What about Windows Vista?
A. Vista is aware of the new rules. You have to remember that, back in the summer of 2005--when a change to DST rules was mandated--Microsoft was talking "second half of 2006" as ship date for Vista. And the perpetual optimism in Redmond probably led coders to think a large percentage of PCs would be running Vista in time for the change.

Q. What about Mac OS X?
A. The version 10.4.6 update set the clock straight, so to speak, for Mac users. BTW, that update was released in March of 2006, considerably in advance of the Microsoft patch for XP.

Q. What about my iPod? Palm? Treo?
A. I am still looking into how these devices, which all have date and alarm functions, will handle the DST rule change.

Q. What's that weird clock at the top of the post?
A. It's a clock made out of computer parts. The face is a hard drive platter and it's reflecting my hands holding the camera as I took the picture (with a Sony DSC-T1). As the song goes: "It's always 5 o'clock somewhere."

USB in the SUV? JVC car stereo lets you plug in MP3s via USB as well as iPod

When I first saw this idea I knew I had to check it out: a car stereo with a USB port on the face plate. In other words, you can put tunes on a USB thumb drive and play them in the car. In fact, I liked the idea so much I now have a JVC KD-G720 installed in my Jeep, as shown here.

Oddly enough, JVC seems to have dropped this particular model. When I went to get a link to listing at Circuit City (which is where I got mine) the search came up empty. Over at Crutchfield the model is listed as "no longer available." There are some links here that might work. Note how happy the reviewers sound--so it is not just me. I gave the unit a good write-up on epinions and also put in aq good word for Circuit City which had the unit installed in under an hour, for under $240 including the iPod connection in the glove box.

Obviously an iPod playing through the car stereo can be a life-saver on road trips and a lot of units are now offering this, either via a simply AUX connection, or through an intelligent link, like this unit, where you can select songs and functions, like shuffle, through the faceplate controls. But it was the USB port that really caught my eye. By using a USB adapter I can quickly take the SD card of tunes out of my Treo 650 and plug them into my car radio (there is a one gig limit ,but that is still a decent chunk of music). I can do the same thing with Sony Memory Sticks--drag a bunch of songs from iTunes on my Vaio laptop to a stick and stick it in the car.

Why would I do that instead of use my iPod? Just seems easier sometimes. Several mixes that I really like are already set up on SD cards for my Treo. Besides, I have my iPod docked in my home streo a lot of the time and it is a lot heavier than a USB key...and oh heck, maybe I'm just lazy.

Anyway, if you do like the idea of using a USB drive for tunes, this is the unit to play them. If you set up six different folders on the USB device the JVC KD-G720 will treat them as different CDs (the same holds true with MP3 CDs, which this unit also plays). You get song title info displayed and a number of shuffle options (within folder, across folders).

What Comes Next? Try Brussin's blog

There's a new tech-oriented blog on the block and I'm betting it will become a "must-read" for anyone serious about Web 2.0, Business 2.0, and the whole intersection of technology and business. The blog is called "What Comes Next" and the blogger is David Brussin.

While David Brussin might not be a household name in high tech households, I would add the caveat "yet." I've been in the high tech field for over 25 years and have yet to encounter a sharper mind than Brussin's. It was no coincidence that he was named to the 2004 list of the world's 100 Top Young Innovators by Technology Review, MIT's Magazine of Innovation. Brussin has that rare combination of a. technical brilliance (he was building serious commercial networks before he graduated from high school) and b. business acumen (he had co-founded two successful hi-tech startups before he was thirty, and both were snapped up by public companies).

Then there is c. he is very articulate. So, not only does Brussin come up with valuable and sometimes highly complex insights, he can put them into full sentences that are easily understood. Now, you sometimes meet people who have a or b or c. Occasionally you meet people with two of the three, but rarely do you encounter someone who has all three AND a sense of humor AND above average scores in tact and diplomacy.

So check out Brussin's blog. I hope you find it as interesting as I do.

Of all the Dumb Things: Patching XP for daylight saving change

For once there is an XP patch that has nothing to do with Microsoft programming errors! Thanks to the meddling of America's congress-critters, your Windows XP machine needs to be patched in the next 50 days or it will not properly reflect the change to Daylight Saving Time.

The XP patch is here but I suggest you read this Microsoft KnowledgeBase page first. It covers things that could go wrong and other Microsoft code.

When does Daylight Saving Time begin in 2007? March 11. Whaaauh? March? Yes, thanks to a law passed in August of 2005 as part of President Bush's mammoth energy bill, DST comes three weeks early in all states (except Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation, which observes DST even in Arizona, due to its large size across three states) [deep breath]).

With all the embedded OSes out there and just about everything we use running on code these days, a lot of it date-sensitive, the probability of a miniature Y2K event in 2007 is definitely not zero.

And guess what? Congress has the right to change DST back to the way it was if they don't like these new dates. Personally, just personally, I have never liked DST and think it is more trouble than it is worth. This would seem to prove my point. About the only change worth making to the dates that have existed unchanged for the last 20 years in America would have been to bring us in line with the Europeans (see the table here). But noooo, Bush had to be different-er.

New Year is Here: So is new daylight saving timing

Here's a good trivia question to ask your friends? When does Daylight Saving Time begin in 2007?

The answer: March 11. Whaaauh? March? Yes, thanks to a law passed in August of 2005 as part of President Bush's mammoth energy bill, DST comes three weeks early in all states (except Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Nation, which observes DST even in Arizona, due to its large size across three states) [deep breath]).

With just about everything we use today running on some kind of software, a lot of which is date-sensitive, the probability of a miniature Y2K event in 2007 is definitely not zero. And guess what? Congress has the right to change DST back to the way it was if they don't like these new dates.

Personally, just personally, I have never liked DST and think it is more trouble than it is worth. This would seem to prove my point. About the only change worth making to the dates that have existed unchanged for the last 20 years in America would have been to bring us in line with the Europeans (see the table here). But noooo, Bush had to be different-er.

BTW, check my technology blog for word on updating Windows XP and other software to handle this change.

Some Groups of Interest: Tilters and feet first fans

Have been having some very interesting communications lately from folks in two Yahoo Groups that have some overlapping interest in gyro vehicles. If you are not familiar with Yahoo Groups they are an interesting hybrid of forum and mailing list that can be very useful for several different communication needs.

(For example, I belong to one computer security related group that sends out one email per week to all members. That's all. Other people use the Yahoo group system as more of an opt-in discussion list--membership can be more tightly controlled than many forums. The nice thing is that you don't have to you get every single message that goes out to the list, you can get a weekly digest of all postings.)

With that in mind, you might want to consider these two groups:

Tilting: "This group is for sharing information and ideas about Tilting vehicles. HPV and all power source enthusiasts are welcome, but please focus on the CHASSIS."

Feet Forward: "This mailing list is for the discussion of Feet Forward motorcycles in all their shapes and forms. This covers both the various mega-scooters such as the Honda Helix, Foresight, Yamaha Majesty, Suzuki Burgman and Piaggio Hexagon but also the various low volume and prototype FFs such as the Ecomobile, Quasar, Phasar, Voyager and so on."

There is also an interesting web site that focuses on feet forward designs.

Happy surfing!

I'm Loving IT: Humor for geeks

Recently I was writing a column about computers and romance for the February--as in Valentine's Day--issue of a regional 'lifestyle' magazine (how I get talked into these things I don't know). Anyway, it brought to mind one of my favorite Dilbert cartoons. That same cartoon also came to mind when I was writing my previous post about 'loving technology.' But then I discovered something sad, a lot of young people had never seen the cartoon. And then I figured out why: it first appeared in 1995! Heck, some CTOs weren't even teenagers then. So, here it is:

And as an added bonus, here is a link that leads to just about every Dilbert strip ever, arranged in superbly simple one-click reading order. You can waste spend literally hours reading these.

In some ways the early- to mid-nineties were the golden age of Dilbert and I encourage you to stock up on some of the collections from that period (Shave the Whales is a good place to start). Here's a list to get you started. Enjoy! And remember, if the boss catches you reading Dilbert, you are doing anti-competitive lifestyle market research by thinking outside the box and running a straw man up the flagpole to see which way the wind blows in order to optimize the mission statement going forward, thus getting all hands onboard with the primary goal setting agenda-ism.

Health Care Dollars: Got your missing billions right here

Further evidence today to support my theory that the free market is an inefficient provider of health care. Happened on a short article in today's business section of the Florida Times Union. Just a one page piece about a small local company, E&S, with operations mostly located in Amelia Island and seven employees. What do they do? They work on behalf of hospitals to collect money that insurance companies owe them (and would not pay them without prompting--keeping that money to themselves). E&S has just five clients right now. Pretty small stuff huh?

Well consider this, last year the company identified about $850 million in under-reported claims for its clients. That's right $850 million! For just 5 clients! Using just 7 people! The implications are many and some of them are amazing. The cynic in me wants to buy stock in E&S because you just don't see many business models this good (the company had revenues of about $1 million per employee, taking a 25% cut of the amount collected for clients).

But think of how much waste this implies. There are about 6.000 hospitals in America. Some 3,000 are medium to large hospitals (100 or more beds). There are 900 with over 300 beds. Even if we assume that the 5 clients of E&S each have 4 large hospitals the math is pretty staggering: Over $120,000 in uncollected insurance money per hospital bed. There are about 950,000 hospital beds in American hospitals. Total uncollected insurance money could easily top $100 billion.

What a waste!

PS/2 to USB Adapters Don't

Just bought a couple of small converter plugs that allow you to plug a PS/2 keyboard into a USB socket. But guess what? They don't work. I have scoured the net to find out why and the basic answer seems to be that PS/2 to USB adapters are a kludge and very unpredictable (people use them for mice as well as keyboards, apparently with very mixed results).

Boo hiss I say. I wanted to use my lovely old IBM PS/2 keyboard on my laptop to reduce the wrist strain from all this blogging, but noooo. Looks like it ain't gonna happen. Now I have to go through the whole send-it-back process. What a pain. If things are known not to work reliably they should say on the package: May not work with all PS/2 devices. I would have given these things a miss and carried on my search for a good USB keyboard.

The Nerve: Bush/Cheney challenge Iraq plan critics

So Bush challenges Iraq plan critics to come up with a better idea than theirs. Cheney tells Fox News "I have yet to hear a coherent policy out of the Democratic side, with respect to an alternative to what the president's proposed in terms of going forward."

Well, excuse me for asking, but who got us into this mess in the first place? A Republican White House and Congress. Am I the only one who thinks there's a limit to how much help the president should now expect, given that he made Iraq the debacle that it is by ignoring a lot of advice that would, if heeded, have avoided the situation we currently face? Besides, didn't a bipartisan group of experts just offer Bush a seriously considered alternative, which he flatly rejected?

The Gyro Hawk: What was it and where did it go?

My thanks to Roger Crier of Birmingham, England (home of BSA Motorbikes and a lot of other great engineering) for reminding me of the Gyro Hawk.

A video and "info pak" featuring this machine were advertised in several magazines in the 1990s. In fact, I ordered the video and still have it somewhere. Along with the video came a copy of the 1967 article in Science and Mechanics about the Gyro-X. The video itself was not terribly impressive. I haven't watched it in a while but as I recall it was basically a machine--looking like the one pictured in the ad--making slow turns in a parking lot. No thrilling chase shots of a highway-ready vehicle. I didn't resent paying for thing as it clued me in to the Gyro-X. Over the years, a number of people have asked for more info on the Gryo Hawk but I don't have any. And as people have pointed out, the Roadhawk company is not reachable at the address listed. (There was phone number in the ad but I have clipped that to avoid bothering whoever owns that number now.)

If you can shed any light, please leave a comment. I have had an intriguing email from someone who may have spotted a Gyro Hawk and has promised to send pictures the next time they see it. Fingers crossed.

Some Days Daze Me: Bush/Gonzales want my mail/life

Some days I pick up the newspaper and get dazed by the headlines before I even have a chance to get caffeinated [note to self--drink coffee before looking at newspaper]. The front page of today's Florida Times Union had the following headlines: "Feds want to know where you go online" and "Mail snooping." I am not kidding when I say that I checked the date to see if it had suddenly become April 1. But no, this was either an out-of-season hoax or reality. Yet what sick kind of reality is this? These headlines were not in big print. The big print was reserved for a football game, which is apparently more important to some people than civil liberties. Here's most of the top half of the front page:

So, Attorney General Gonzales "wants your Internet provider to keep track of every web site you visit." And we are told this right after "the most digital holiday season ever." In other words, as the major corporations of our planet urge us to live more and more of our life online, the government wants to know more and more about our lives.

I'm trying not to blow a gasket over Gonzales' position. If you read the article you can tell there is not really a fixed position at which to target one's arguments, which is either tactical brilliance or administrational incompetence. Let me just state what is obvious to most people who have spent more than a few days studying this whole Internet thing, including the ways in which it can be abused: Serious paedophiles are not going to get caught by the Internet strategies Gonzales is proposing. The most serious bad guys have been online since before the Internet. They are adept at anonymizing their online activities.

What is predictable with some certainty--should Gonzales get his way--is a whole heap of misdirected misery for innocent schmucks who happen to check the spelling of paedophilia in Google [as I just did] or take a wrong turn when trying to find toys for boys.

In other words, innocent citizens will have to curb their use of the Internet quite drastically for fear of the SWAT team at the front door scenario. As for First Amendment protected Internet erotica, just stop thinking about it! That will become way too risky. Best just abstain. And don't even think about sublimating those naughty thoughts into steamy letters to your [legal age consenting adult] loved one.

Why? Because, as the tiny sidebar above reeals, our president reserves the right to read our mail in "exigent" circumstances. And of course, we all know what those are, right? No? Well surely that's the point.

They had a phrase for this in the old country (that English-speaking country with a system of government on which upstart America was going to improve). They call it "Defence of the realm." Civil liberties suspended until further notice to serve the interests of the Crown. Meetings banned. Letters intercepted. Property seized. Thumbscrews and hot irons firmly on the table. And the date today is? January 4, 2006. Aaaaargh! It's getting so bad I'm starting to have some sympathy with those who would rather go to the game than bang their heads against this stuff. Go Gators!

A Hot and Happy New Year

I just noticed that, thanks to the wonders of Internet technology, and some good-hearted humans, the ancient annual ritual of the Biggar Bonfire is being broadcast this New Year. Check out the webcam link lower down the page. Seems a nice way to share the spirit of the season and a good excuse to wish everyone around the world a Happy and Prosperous 2007! May your pixels stay bright and your bits not byte.

If you are into this seasonal stuff, there is also a webcam to cover another Scottish seasonal phenomenon, the Maeshowe, a Neolithic monument on Orkney "that catches the last rays of the dying sun each winter solstice." Sorry this posting is too late for this year, but you can put it in your Google calendar for December 21, 2007.

Thanks to Wikipedia, another wonder of Internet technology+good people, you can learn the connections between different Yule celebrations (some of which are very pagan and Norse it would seem). Including your own virtual log fire.

[Updated 1/7/07: Just noticed this additional Christmas+New Year+Yule+fire connection, the Orthodox Christmas celebration, an example of which is here.]

Biggar Bonfire Postponed! Catch it January 1

Here's hoping 2007 is a great year for you and yours!

In the spirit of the season, below is a link to The Biggar Bonfire, a weird and wonderful New Year event we enjoyed when we lived in Scotland. This year the bonfire was postponed until January 1 due to 70 mph winds.

The good news is, you may still catch it today--via their webcam--at about 4:30 Eastern on New Year's Day. Here's the main link:
Here's the webcam (with chat room where ex-pats and bonfire afficianados from around the world congregate):
And check out related events and history here:
Basically, in Biggar, since time immemorial, the locals have parade up the main road (which is blocked to through traffic for the evening) carrying big torches, urged on by the sound of bagpipes. Then they light this huge bonfire that eventually gets so hot you have to retreat to the far side of the town square. The bus shelter used to melt, until they moved it. Carousing and piping continues well into the next day. They used to bake potatoes and sausages in the embers for breakfast. Not sure if the fire department still allows that. Both January 1 and 2 are national holidays in Scotland to help folk recuperate.

Happy New Year!