Sunday
Jun092013

The Gold Standard: Why it's not a measure

You might have thought that with my previous post, this blog would become all about fatherhood or something. Hardly.

I was listening to an Intelligence Squared episode: America doesn't need a strong dollar policy, and found myself incredibly annoyed by one argument that one side used. Worse than that, despite the fact that it's a false analogy, the other side never countered it! This angered me so much, that I have to vent here.

If you want to listen to the debate, now's your last chance before spoilers!

Steve Forbes and James Grant were arguing against the motion, thus in favour of a strong dollar policy. One of their arguments went something like this: If you were a carpenter, and the length of a foot changed from day to day, week to week, month to month, you wouldn't be able to ever know how much wood (in feet) you needed to be able to build a given house. In the same sense, the dollar's value cannot be allowed to change, so that participants in the economy can predictably know how much money they will need to execute a certain transaction. In order to fix the value of money, we peg the exchange rate from dollars to some commodity, say gold (at, for example, $35/ounce).

That sounds great! Now the dollar has a fixed value, and we can all go about our business, right? Wrong. Unlike something like a physical object (to which you can calibrate the measure of a "foot"), the measure of value can change over time. If demand for something increases, some people will be willing to pay more to ensure they get it, and so the price goes up. Same in the opposite direction. A good example is Tickle-Me Elmos. When those hit the market, they cost $28.99 in stores, but people would buy them for (i.e. they were worth) hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The same of course can happen on the supply side. If all the oil wells in the world dried up tomorrow, though demand for oil would be relatively constant, supply would be zero, and again, you'd have a frenzy of people willing to pay anything to get some.

Gold is not immune to the supply/demand pressures either. As a result, its value, relative to other items, can change because of human whim. So fixing the dollar to gold is almost no better than letting it float. Don't be fooled into thinking that the supply and demand for gold are constant, either. When the Spanish brought back vast amounts of gold from the "New World", the supply in Spain skyrocketed, thus the price went down. Instead of being rich, the Spaniards found that because everyone had more gold, things cost more gold to buy!

My point is that the dollar, even just as paper with nothing backing it, is just as good a proxy for value as anything else, even gold. What strikes me as crazy is that Steve Forbes, the man who wrote a book entitled: "Freedom Manifesto: Why Free Markets Are Moral and Big Government Isn’t (2012)", doesn't see the free market involved in the changes in supply and demand for gold, and a reason that a gold standard dollar isn't any better than a floating dollar.

Saturday
Jun082013

Achievement Unlocked: Procreate!

So... yeah... it's been a year since I've written anything here. Not for the lack of anything to write, more that I'm really bad at keeping up a writing habit. But, with what's happened over the last week, I really can't keep that up anymore.

On Monday, June 3rd, 2013 at 0957h EDT(UTC-0400), Kyla Nerice Gerlach, my daughter, was born to my wife and I. She weighed 7 pounds 14 ounces, was 57 cm tall from head to toe, and was (and still is) our beautiful sea nymph.

Picture time!

Kyla Nerice Gerlach at about 15 minutes old

Having a daughter is... well, it's interesting, mostly. Don't get me wrong, it's amazing, it's hilarious, it's touching, it's all those things, but I think it's interesting most of all. For example, when Kyla first came into the world, she just stared at Alexandra for a long time. She was mesmerized by her Mom's face. She doesn't focus on anything else in the world around her at all, but Mom is captivating. Given that the V1 and V2 visual cortices are not fully developed in newborns, I can't rationalize that it's visual recognition that's happening, but man does it look like it.

Newborns live by their own rules, and like a game of Mao, you have to figure the rules out on your own. At this young age, you're not going to change their rules, all you can do is mold your schedule around them. So far, we're doing pretty good. For example, as I write this I've got Kyla in her car seat (which she loves, go figure) and my wife is in bed. She'll be up again in about 15-20 minutes, which is when I'll head to bed. Gotta finish this post and load the dishwasher before then.

Some people have said that having your first kid is this life-changing moment. I'm not finding that. I'm not a drastically different person than the one I was on Sunday. I know those changes will come over time, but it's been a bit less from an emotional perspective than what I expected. Being someone on anti-depressants, sometimes I wonder if there's something I'm missing as a result of the drugs.

But then I think about how we change as people. I am, in every sense I can think of, a completely different person than I was ten years ago. I wrote crappy code, I was naive about so many things, I didn't have the same handle on my life that I do now. Also, most of the molecules that were in my body then aren't in my body now. Thinking about "self" as a temporally-relevant concept has helped me a lot. Yeah, past-Eric did some stupid stuff, but that was past-Eric. I'm not past-Eric, I'm Eric.

The point I'm getting to is that every day we do wake up as a different person, and though I may not feel the effects of Kyla in my life today, there's been a small inflection in the direction of my life that will alter the makeup of many small changes over time, so future Eric will be a different person than he would have been had Kyla not been born. I think that's what people mean when they say it was a "life-changing moment" in retrospect. One light-year out, a half a degree change in trajectory makes a big difference.

Kyla is stirring. I'm running out of time. Better get to that dishwasher.

Tuesday
Jun192012

Building a SOCKS proxy on EC2 to get around wifi port blocking

At the NXNE Mobile Hackathon, we ran into a small problem. The wifi set up in the room would only allow connections over HTTP and HTTPS, which made it impossible to do many things you might want to do at a hackathon, like:

  1. Push to GitHub over SSH
  2. Connect to MongoDB instances
  3. Connect to... anything... that isn't on ports 80 or 443... so a lot.

If you can configure your tools correctly, the easiest way to get around this kind of problem is via a SOCKS proxy. Normally, I'd set up an SSH tunnel and run the SOCKS proxy over that... but no SSH. So the next best thing is to get a SOCKS server running on EC2. Let's go through the steps required to set this up so that if you end up in the same situation, you can help those around you.

Doing this assumes that you temporarily have an internet connection that is unrestricted, like a tethered smartphone or a wired connection. I'm also assuming that you know your way around EC2 a bit.

  1. Connect to your unrestricted internet connection
  2. Login to EC2
  3. Ensure that you have a keypair setup
  4. Create an EC2 Security Group that opens ports 22 and 443 to the world
  5. Fire up an Ubuntu 12.04 LTS instance (micro will usually do) with your keypair and Security Group
  6. SSH into the new machine with the SSH key (default username: ubuntu)
  7. Run the following commands at the prompt or in a shell script:
    sudo apt-get install build-essential
    wget http://www.inet.no/dante/files/dante-1.3.2.tar.gz # or another version
    tar -zxvf dante-1.3.2.tar.gz
    cd dante-1.3.2
    ./configure
    make
    sudo make install
    
  8. Put the following config in /etc/sock.conf
    ## general configuration (taken from FAQ)
    
    internal: eth0 port = 443
    external: eth0
    method: username none
    user.privileged: root
    user.unprivileged: nobody
    logoutput: stderr
    
    ## client access rules
    
    client pass { from: 0.0.0.0/0 to: 0.0.0.0/0 } # address-range on internal nic.
    
    
    ## server operation access rules
    
    # block connections to localhost, or they will appear to come from the proxy.
    block { from: 0.0.0.0/0 to: lo log: connect }
    
    # allow the rest
    pass { from: 0.0.0.0/0 to: 0.0.0.0/0 }
    
  9. Run sudo sockd -D

Now that we've got the server running, we have to configure our clients to connect to it. Fortunately, this is relatively easy. If you're on linux, run your programs with tsocks. On Windows or Mac, you can try Proxifier (never tried it myself). Remember that the proxy is on port 443.

If you're using PuTTY, you can set your proxy under Connection > Proxy.

This set of steps creates an open proxy that anyone can use to proxy to anywhere. Don't leave it running unless you want really big EC2 bills.

In doing this, I realized that it would be even better to be able to do this via a VPN instead of a SOCKS proxy in order to get better Windows and Mac full capture support. I'm going to play with this idea and post again when I've got something.

Monday
Jun182012

Switching to Squarespace

You may have noticed my blog now looks different. That's because I've migrated to Squarespace. Why? Well, when I first built the blog I was building out my Drupal skills, and so I built on Drupal. Now I'm not really developing those skills any longer, and so maintenance of a Drupal site is just extra work. I thought about moving to Wordpress, but Squarespace is easier to manage. Plus, I can export from Squarespace to Wordpress if it doesn't meet my needs.

Saturday
May192012

Ludum Dare 23 Post-Mortem

I'm about a month overdue in writing this entry, but better late than never. Back in April, I participated in the 23rd Ludum Dare by creating a game in 48h by myself. You can play my finished product: Tiny World Defense. Results of the competition were released last week, and I was really proud. I managed to get #176 in the "Fun" category, and #244 overall. For a field of over 1000 games, that's pretty good. If you're looking for some really fun games, check out the top 50, and top 25 per category. They're pretty awesome. Remember, each one was completed in 48h.

Overall, it was a great experience. I got to challenge myself to finish something that I never had before, and I learned a lot along the way. It's a lot of fun to watch the #ludumdare IRC channel during the compo, and the community is fun, even though I didn't participate much.

Without further adieu, what went well:

  1. The Keynote. Ludum Dare had an awesome, interactive keynote this year. Go check it out.

  2. Working at KwartzLab. Having other people around who were working at the same time as me was extremely helpful. It was really encouraging, and provided a means to talk to people about successes/problems. For an extrovert like me that's necessary.

  3. Choosing Flixel. It's a very good framework, and helped me out a lot. Probably won't use it next time, but that's no fault of its own.

  4. Tools. mtPaint and bfxr made graphics and sound FX really easy. Aww yeah.

  5. Participating in Warmup Weekend. This was probably the most critical factor for my success. The fact that I had already done something with my language and framework allowed me to get to work quickly when I finally started working.

  6. Getting food delivered. Meant that we didn't have to get up in order to eat. Very important for continuous work. Pepi's Pizza is the bomb.

  7. Going out for food. Spending all your time in one place, even if it is as awesome as KwartzLab, sucks. Going for a walk is important.

  8. My heating regime. KwartzLab is cold in the spring and fall because of stingy heating from the landlord. I got myself a heated shrug for my legs, and a lizard heat lamp for my hands. Vital to my success in that environment.

  9. Sponsors. CCJ Clearline and TribeHR each bought us some food. That was awesome.

  10. Support from my wife. She recognised that this was important to me and let me do it. Without that, it never would have happened. Thanks, hon.

Things that could have been better:

  1. Better planning of snacks. I bought some at a Shoppers Drug Mart on day 2, but the whole situation was meh. Need to plan that better for next time.

  2. More sponsors! Food costs about $50/person for the weekend. I'm going to try to get that all raised so that it's all covered next time.

  3. Go deeper with the framework. There's a lot of tools out there for making certain types of games in certain frameworks. Working with those to lessen my personal workload would be a good way to improve.

  4. More testers, more often. One of the things that didn't quite work out with my game was the balance of the powerups. Had I taken more time to get that balance right earlier and had people test, I think I could have had a better game at the end.

  5. Participate in the community more. That would have been one way to get testers. Also to get help.

  6. Theme. Tiny World? Really? What's up with that? Bah.

As I said above, overall it was really awesome and one of the most fun things I've done in my life. Now I need to get ready for the next one in August!