Instant translation

Google announced their new AJAX Language API today. I thought a translator that worked as you type would be cool and I was able to put one together in just a few minutes:

Instant translation

Now I wonder how hard it would be to make an iPhone optimized version . . .

Lifelike robotic quadraped


Boston Dynamics, a small DARPA-funded robotics company is designing the robot in the video for the US military. The video shows the bot, called BigDog, maintaining balance while being kicked, slipping on ice, climbing over rubble and leaping. It can carry more than 300 pounds.

(via io9)

Personman for the iPhone

Last week Apple finally released the iPhone SDK so that developers can create programs that run natively on the iPhone. I downloaded the SDK and installed it. It would be fun to learn some Objective-C and try my hand at making iPhone apps, but web development is my main interest right now. While the iPhone has always been able to run web apps through the mobile version of Safari, the new SDK does include some tools for web developers. Dashcode, which used to just be a tool for making Dashboard widgets, now lets you make iPhone-optimized web applications. It includes most of the UI elements and animations that native apps have, but it's all done in XHTML, CSS and JavaScript.
I used the RSS template in Dashcode to make an iPhone version of my website: It runs off of my normal RSS feed, but it presents the data in an iPhone-friendly way. All I really had to do was plug my feed url in and then I added my header image and changed some fonts. And the SDK comes with an iPhone simulator, which I used for the screenshot.

The page works in Safari on a computer, too, but if you try to view it Firefox or IE it's going to break badly. The apps that Dashcode creates use some custom JavaScript functions that only work in Safari. Most of them are meant to improve performance or add eye candy. I don't have one yet, but I think the iPhone is a great device. I'm torn about this approach to development, though. It's incredible to have such a small device with these kinds of capabilities. The non-standard browser features like SVG, off-line data API and hardware accelerated animations make it possible to do so much with so little. But making a version of a site that only works in one browser and breaks terribly in all others feels a bit too much like using FrontPage to make a site that only works in IE. The fact that FrontPage sites are disgustingly ugly and iPhone sites are sexy and useful doesn't change the basic fact that it's flouting standards and causing problems down the road. Apple says that they're submitting these features to the web standards boards.

This was a fun experiment and I'll be learning more about it, especially if I finally break down and get an iPhone. Even though there are upsides and downsides to developing for the iPhone, the important fact remains that it has the best mobile browser that I've ever seen. It does a brilliant job of making regular web pages useful on a small screen.

The atheist candidate

I guess I won't be running for the Missouri House of Representatives.

I went to a meeting of the Bates County Democratic Party for the first time last Thursday. They were having their caucus for selecting delegates to the regional convention. Bates county has 4 delegates, and although Hillary Clinton beat Barack Obama 1427-676, the delegates were split 2-2. At the caucus, we split up into Obama and Clinton groups. The Clinton side of the room had about 12 people, and the Obama side had five. We needed to choose two delegates and two alternates. Two people in our group immediately said they didn't want to or couldn't make it to the convention. I said I was willing to go and so I'm headed to Warsaw, MO later this month to help select delegates to the state convention (where they will select delegates to the national convention.)

At the meeting I met the chairman of the county party and we discussed their website and the possibility of me helping them with it. I came home feeling good about being involved.

Today (four days after the caucus) I got a call from the spouse of a party official. She asked me if I would be interested in running for the State House of Representatives. She said that I would be getting calls from some people in the party, including the campaign of Jay Nixon, who is running for governor, and the representative from a neighboring district.

The fighting 125thI live in the 125th district and our Rep in Jefferson City is Republican Barney Fisher. He's a former Marine fighter pilot who rose to Lieutenant Colonel before he retired and he's running for his third term in the Missouri House. Fisher won in 2006 by a count of 3,146 to 2,550 (55%-45%) and he'll probably have no problem winning in 2008.

The fact that the Democrats don't have a candidate yet is a bad sign. The fact that they tried to draft a 27-year-old computer programmer who had come to only one party meeting may be an even worse sign. That's not to say that I wasn't flattered. I like to think that I'm well-informed and well-liked. I like to think that my occasionally political blog is worth something. But surely someone in the 125th has a better shot at this than me. It was all about to be a moot point, anyway.

I said, "Now you should probably know that I'm an atheist."

She said, "Oh, is that widely known?"

"I'm very open about it."

"Why are you an atheist?"

"Because I don't believe in god."

Then I mentioned the poll that Gallup released last year, which says that 53% of Americans would not vote for an atheist. It was the only item in the poll with higher than 50% negative. Mormons, homosexuals, blacks, women and 72-year-olds all did better. The person on the phone agreed that it would be hard to run against a conservative Christian incumbent in a conservative Christian district when you go around saying that god doesn't exist.

She said, "That, as they say, puts a turd in the punch bowl. I'll stop the calls, then." Thus ended my very short political career.

That was probably one of the strangest things I've ever experienced. I was, in rapid succession, confused, flattered, disappointed and relieved. I wish my local party was organized better and had already chosen a good candidate. I think it's very nice that they thought of me. I wish that people who didn't believe in invisible beings were not de facto disqualified from public office. Yet I'm relieved that I won't be sinking time and money into a campaign that would very likely fail. And though it would probably be quite an adventure, I wouldn't have been thrilled about having a job that's three hours away from my home.

I don't blame the party for not wanting to run me, but I do wish that the people of this district (and the whole country) could understand that non-believers can be morally upstanding, sensible and compassionate public servants.

Euthyphro dilemma

One common argument for the existence of God is the moral argument, which says that the best explanation for humanity's shared sense of right and wrong is a god who sets an objective standard. I've discussed with the Morality Argument before, but I'd like to bring up one particular question that comes up for people who subscribe to this argument: The Euthyphro dilemma:

ἆρα τὸ ὅσιον ὅτι ὅσιόν ἐστιν φιλεῖται ὑπὸ τῶν θεῶν, ἢ ὅτι φιλεῖται ὅσιόν ἐστιν

Plato first posed the dilemma in the dialogue called EuthyphroWhich translates to "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" When dealing with Christianity, the dilemma can be phrased like this: "Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?"

If God commands things because they're moral, then that means there is some standard of morality above and outside of God and he's only passing it on to us.

If something is moral only because he commands it, then morality is arbitrary. If God wanted to declare that genocide is allowed, then it would no longer be evil. If God is the very definition of good, then saying "God is good" is meaningless. You might as well say that that the book 1984 is Orwellian.

The standard Christian response to the dilemma is to say that goodness flows from God and is one with his very nature. I don't think that really avoids the problems of the dilemma, but I'm not bringing this up in order to settle the issue. I only want to point out that there is a dilemma. It doesn't disprove the existence of God, but it does show that the Moral Argument is not without its problems. I think that there are better explanations for our shared morality than god that are simpler, fit better with the facts and raise fewer questions.

Note: I encountered the Euthyphro Dilemma while reading a review of Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. The review was written by Chris Hallquist and I recommend it. And yes, this is all a thinly veiled excuse to add Greek to a post.

AMC Best Picture Showcase

Sara and I went to the AMC Best Picture Showcase on Saturday. It ran from 11 am to 11 pm, with about a 20 minute break between each film. The $30 ticket included all 5 movies and unlimited popcorn.

12 hours is a long time to be in a theater, but it's still nothing compared to the 24-hour Butt-Numb-a-Thon that Brendan went to in 2003. There were over 400 of us in the theater and it did start to smell by the end of the day.

Sara watched Juno with some friends in December, but other than that, we had not seen any of the movies. I thought they were all good films.

Juno was my favorite, though I wasn't surprised that it didn't win. Daniel Day-Lewis deserved the Best Actor Oscar and Diablo Coty did write the best original script.

How to Talk Good is a site dedicated to exposing and improving business communication. It's produced by my brother, Mike. Mike is a professional writer and he uses knowledge, sarcasm and pitiless scorn to point out the stupid ways that some business people are using the English language.

Street view in KC

Street View in Google Maps now includes Kansas City.

Fish Friends

Emma and I made this video today:


She made all of the models except for the white fish. iStopMotion is a really nice app for doing this. You can even use your Apple Remote to trigger frame captures.

Screencast: Install weather plugin for b2evolution

Here's a video showing how to install and use my Weather plugin for b2evolution.


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