4K Ultra HDTVs are Here (Almost)

I just saw an ad from Amazon to pre-order a new Samsung 4K Ultra HDTV. What is a “4K Ultra HDTV”? It’s like an HD TV, but with 4 times as many pixels. HD TVs have 1920X1080 = 2,073,600 total pixels. The new 4K Ultra HDTVs have 3840X2160 = 8,294,400 total pixels. So we’re going from about 2 million to about 8million, so I guess that explains the 4. I don’t know what explains the K. (As an aside: most people who actually talk about resolution in their day-to-day lives would consider this a doubling because only the rows are counter, which is why 1920X1080 is referred to as “1080p”, but that’s neither here nor there.)

2013-04-29 Ultra HDTV

The 65″ model is going to set you back about $7,000, but–aside from the facts that I don’t have $7,000 to spend on a TV and that even if I did my wife would kill me for it–there are a couple of problems. First: the 4K Ultra HDTV is only one of two standards under the “Ultra HDTV” moniker. The other is 8K Ultra HDTV (I’ll let you figure how many pixels that one has). So if you bought the 4K, would you end up sort of like those folks who bought the 720p HDTVs before the 1080p HDTVs became standard? Even more importantly: what are you going to watch on this monstrous display? There’s not a lot of content available at the resolution. The only thing I found was TimeScapes which, while cool, doesn’t seem to justify a brand new computer.

But what I’m really curious about is when TVs will finally move to a display standard that makes sense, like the Apple Retina Display. The idea there is that it’s not the number of pixels that matter, it’s the size of the pixels relative to the distance you are from the screen. Once you can no longer visually recognize pixels at a normal viewing distance, adding more pixels gets silly. It’s just a nice, simple number that marketing guys can emphasize to sell their product, although a lot of other things (like color fidelity, brightness, and contrast ratio) matter a lot for making a screen look good.

Wikipedia has more, if you’re curious.

Al-Qaeda battles for control of chemical weapons plant

2013-04-29 Chemical Weapons Plant

From the Telegraph:

Set amid the rolling plains outside Aleppo, the town of al-Safira looks just like another vicious battleground in Syria’s civil war. On one side are lightly-armed rebels, on the other are government troops, and in between is a hotly-contested no-man’s land of bombed-out homes and burned-out military vehicles.

The fight for al-Safira is no ordinary turf war, however, and the prize can be found behind the perimeter walls of the heavily-guarded military base on the edge of town. Inside what looks like a drab industrial estate is one of Syria’s main facilities for producing chemical weapons – and among its products is sarin, the lethal nerve gas that the regime is now feared to be deploying in its bid to cling to power.

That would be ominous enough, but then there’s this:

Among the rebel lines in al-Safira flutters the black flag of the al-Nusra Brigade, the jihadist group that recently declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda. Known for their fighting prowess honed in Iraq, they are now taking the lead in nearly every frontline in the Syrian war, and earlier this month, pushed to within just over a mile of al-Safira, only to for the Syrian troops to regain the ground last week.

Yeah, this can’t end well.

Hollywood.com: Mormons and Sci-Fi

2013-04-29 The Host Movie

This post is a little old (from back on April 1), but I was waiting for the reporter to tell me when the article was going to get posted and I guess he forgot. In any case, it’s a piece about the connection between Mormons and sci-fi spurred by the release of movie version of The Host. And I’m quoted extensively, although perhaps not coherently? I’m too tired to tell. In any case, it’s neat to be cited and the article is pretty good.

I’ve also got a piece on Mormonism and sci fi myself that will be running in Times & Seasons a little later on today.

“Never Once Did I Have to Sacrifice My Intellect for My Faith”

2013-04-28 Atheist's Dilemma

A simple, beautiful recounting of one young woman’s journey from atheism to Catholicism. I loved it.

I also thought how it might be a really great thing for someone to come to Christianity after a life of atheism rather than the other way around. So often the folks who are raised in the faith have a hard time coming to grasp the value of what has always been right in front of them. Does a fish really understand what water is? Because someone wandering through a desert absolutely will.

The Truth About Gun Control Legislation in America

The Economist has one of the only truly honest stories about the gun control debate in this country that I’ve ever read.

2013-04-26 Gun Show SignThe mantra of the gun-control crowd following the tragedy in Newtown has been that no one wants to come after your Second Amendment rights. The only objective is to protect little children. A lot of people who don’t think about the issue much at all seem to have swallowed this rhetoric, which is why there is a lot of genuine anger about the Senate’s failure to get even the smallest change into effect: closing the gun-show loophole by requiring private sales to also go through the background check system. And I’m going to be honest: I’m really surprised that that initiative failed, and even more stunned that it failed in the Senate. Part of the reason President Obama was so furious is that he assumed that if it failed it would fail in the House and therefore be attributable to the GOP. Gift-wrapped 2014 issue, here we come. The fact that it failed in the Senate, still under Democratic control, not only robs the Democrats of a potentially lucrative political opportunity, but also indicates that the whole issue might be practically irrelevant in the 2014 midterms. But I digress.

The point I was originally making is that it is absurd to think that any of the proposed changes would have any impact on gun crime, either on spectacular (but rare) mass-shootings or on mundane (but tragically common) gun violence. The only way to have a significant impact on either metric via gun control is to significantly reduce the number of guns in circulation. In other words, the Second Amendment (as it is presently understood), absolutely is the target. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant or lying.

Which is why I found this article so refreshing. First of all, it gives a relatively balanced and fact-based assessment of the practical implications of expanding background checks. Secondly, it goes on to put the background check legislation in honest context:

This gets at the crux of the debate over gun control. Background checks are fine, but more background checks are better, and even stricter regulations are better than that at preventing guns from getting into the hands of criminals. As my colleague has stated, the gun control that is most effective is no guns at all. Honest gun-control advocates will admit that the bill that failed last week was merely a first step towards more regulation. Sure it was weak and flawed, but as Barack Obama said, it represented “progress”.

And so, with that clear-eyed perspective on what was going on in this particular case, the article can also present the NRA’s response accurately:

The question asked and answered by the National Rifle Association and those in its thrall was, “Progress towards what?” They know that the endgame for gun-control advocates is not expanding background checks to private sales at gun shows and online. They too saw the bill as the start of a longer-term attempt to place greater restrictions on guns in America. And that’s why they vehemently opposed a sensible measure with minimal impact.

That’s what was really going on. I’m guessing that the NRA had to go all-out to get the background check bill killed in the Senate. They didn’t exert maximal political pressure because they hate background checks that much. If someone could have guaranteed that the background check law would not have been used in any kind of subsequent regulatory rights-grab, the NRA would have preserved their political capital for another day. But such a guarantee is impossible. The NRA dug their heels in because universal background checks are a beachhead for a greater offensive.

The consequence of all this is simple: we’re not likely to see any incremental changes in gun control legislation without some kind of progress on the much larger question of the long-range future of guns in the United States.

Homegrown American Terrorism: Liberal Edition

The blind eye the media largely turned to the Gosnell story is only one example of the subtle but pervasive media bias in the traditional media establishment. This isn’t a  conspiracy, it’s merely a reflection of homogeneous politics. Journalists and their editors are overwhelmingly from the left of American politics, and they see the world through a center-left lens. So when a someone who claims affiliation with the pro-life movement shoots an abortionists, this is head-line news. It fits a pre-existing narrative. But when someone who claims affiliation with the pro-choice movement shoots a non-violent pro-life protester that gets much less coverage because it doesn’t fit a pre-existing narrative.

In a center-left view of American politics: the right wing is associated with violence, authoritarianism, and oppression.

Flord Corkins II - Mass murder in the name of marriage equality.
Flord Corkins II – Mass murder in the name of marriage equality.

So here’s another story that will get limited coverage because it doesn’t fit that mold. Anyone remember the shooting spree at the Family Research Center that wasn’t? I say “that wasn’t” because an armed security guard managed to stop the attacker (Floyd Corkins II) immediately, but the HuffPo (hat tip for going against the political grain) has some information on what the shooter’s objective was:

A security guard subdued Corkins in the lobby of the Family Research Council in August after he pointed a pistol at the man. Corkins fired three shots, and the guard was the only one wounded. Corkins, who was carrying nearly 100 rounds of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, later told authorities that he had planned to kill as many people as possible and then to smear the sandwiches on their faces as a political statement.

According to the government’s case against Corkins, if he had not been defeated by the security guard he “would have almost certainly succeeded in committing a massacre of epic portions.” And smearing each corpse with a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Why a Chick-Fil-A sandwich? Well here’s some video of Corkins being interrogated by FBI agents in which he discusses why he targeted the Family Research Center.

So, a would-be mass shooter picked the FRC by looking at the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s list of anti-gay organizations (the FRC opposes gay marriage). Now the Chick-Fil-A thing makes sense, since the attack happened around the time that some people were boycotting Chick-Fil-A because the CEO gives money to socially conservative causes that opposed gay marriage. So Corkins thought a good, pro-gay marriage response would be to kill a few dozen people and rub it in their faces, so to speak.

Does Corkins represent the pro-gay marriage side of the debate? Absolutely not. I’m not interested in trying to tar an entire half of the political spectrum with this man’s craziness. I just think it’s instructive how much the news cycle depends on pre-existing stereotypes to news coverage. And this isn’t always friendly to liberals, either. There is absolutely no doubt that if you’re a pretty, young, blonde girl who gets kidnapped you’re going to get wall-to-wall coverage, but if you’re a black girl from an inner city forget it. The center-left political lens of American journalists is, after all, also calibrated to a mostly white, college-educated cohort.

I just think it’s useful to keep in mind that violent people come from all parts of the political spectrum, and I can’t help but wonder what some of the national debate on political issues would look like if the violence of conservatism wasn’t taken as axiomatic…

Armed Citizen Uses Gun to Stop Stabbing Spree

This is the kind of story that folks who are familiar with American gun culture hear all the time, but folks who aren’t close to the culture seem to never hear about.

The two key things to point out are that first: yes, an armed citizen can stop an in-progress attack. No one was killed in this incident, but the two stabbing victims were injured “critically”, so this was a life-threatening incident. Secondly: concealed-carry holders (I’m assuming he had a permit) are not prone to just opening fire at the smallest provocation, putting innocent lives at risk.

I’m also curious about why the attacker shouted “You killed my people!” as he began stabbing, but rather than speculate I’ll just wait for more information on that. (Article here.)


Samurai Sword-wielding Mormon Bishop Chases Off Mugger

Kent Hendrix

So, a guy who had been stalking a woman hides outside her house and attacks her at 7am as she leaves for work in a quiet neighborhood in Salt Lake City. The result? The entire neighborhood apparently comes pouring out of their homes like a baseball team clearing the dugout to protect one of their own. The Mormon bishop with a 4th degree black belt in Kishindo and a sword is getting most of the headlines, but if you watch the video from Fox News, it sounds like the stalker/mugger was well down the flight branch of the fight-or-flight response before the bishop even got on the scene. One witness said an elderly woman with a baseball bat got there first, jumping on the attacker and hitting him while the sword-toting bishop ran to join in.

Which is part of what makes this story so awesome: in other parts of the country you might read about neighbors pretending they can’t see an attack happening, but in this part of Salt Lake City everyone apparently comes running out of their homes with baseball bats and swords if they hear someone in trouble.

The mugger got away from the impromptu posse, but not before the sword-wielding bishop managed to grab some his chapstick (?) and memorize his license plate. He shouted at the attacker has he drove away: “I’ve got your DNA and I’ve got your license plate: You are so done!”

The mugger/stalker turned himself in an hour later.