2007-04-24

"Let's wank together!"

If you want to learn about the boneheadedness of the custodians of the Slovenian language - the editors who decide what sort of Slovene is good for publishing, and what sort is not - then look no further than the official Slovene translation of the film title Blades Of Glory. The translation is Drkajva skupaj - which to every Slovenian person under the age of 35 means "let's masturbate together".

Just to make sure that there is no confusion about the title of the film, the publisher adds the following justification where the translated title appears:
From the Dictionary of Standard Slovenian (SSKJ): drkati, -am (outdated):
  1. to slip multiple times;
  2. to skate.
What the SSKJ doesn't mention, of course, is that the prevalent meaning of this word among the current population is 'to masturbate'. And the reason that the dictionary doesn't mention this is because the people who create the dictionary are conceited enough to think that their job is not just to document the Slovenian language, like the American Heritage Dictionary documents English - no, they feel their job is to direct the evolution of the Slovenian language. This is why they call their dictionary the Dictionary of Standard Slovenian - they feel that it is not only a reference, but a normative reference. And the prevalent meaning of the word drkati - which is to masturbate - is too ugly to be included.

Which is why I despise people like the authors of SSKJ, and Slovenists in general: they are conceited enough to think that their role is not only to document a language; it is not enough to observe it impartially; but they also need to direct its evolution, even if it means to impose their own will against everybody else's instincts.

The translation "Let us wank together!" is just one manifestation of this holier-than-thou attitude.

2007-04-23

Libertarec

I've just - belatedly - discovered this amazing blog, written by someone for whom I have a lot of respect. The blog is in Slovenian and is, in general, aimed at the Slovenian public. The author is an exceptionally bright and informed thinker on economic policy and freedom, and many of his articles shed some Socrates-like light on the sorry envy-based economic situation in Slovenia in particular and Europe in general. He also has an amazing sense of humor, as evident from his articles Kritični intelektualec 1.0 and Generator sporočil za javnost Matjaža Hanžka, as well as his other posts.

I wish that we had more people like him. :-)

2007-04-13

The Commission for Unfair Trade

Here's something I just noticed looking at one of Microsoft's sites:
In compliance with the Korean Fair Trade Commission Order, Microsoft will produce for distribution in the Republic of Korea new versions of Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional. The new versions containing “KN” in the name will not include Windows Media Player or Windows Messenger. Note that computer manufacturers may pre-install third-party media players or instant messaging software on computers running these new versions of Windows XP. Korean consumers may also separately install media players or instant messengers, either from Microsoft or a third party. The new versions containing “K” in the name will include links to Web sites containing links to software downloads to third-party media player and instant messaging software and will also be available to Korean consumers.
How is there anything "fair" in this "Fair Trade Commission" order?

Commissions like this are supposed to act in the best interest of the widest population they serve - which is the consumers.

How exactly is the consumer served by this ruling?

What this ruling does is disadvantage the consumer by prohibiting Microsoft from providing a service (seamless media and OS integration) that it is in a unique position to provide. So this service is not provided, benefitting no one but the vendors providing their own media players and messengers.

Imagine for a moment that there was this car company, let's say GM, that provided cars with no stereo. If you wanted to listen to music in one of their cars, you'd have to buy a car stereo from one of a number of manufacturers. A healthy market of car stereos for GM cars would thrive.

Then, one day, GM would decide that the consumer would be better served if their cars already came with a stereo. The stereo would be free, and it would be a standard one that the owner could freely replace with any other one if she so chooses. But for those people who can't be bothered to worry about the stereo, one would already be there for them.

Suppose the stereo manufacturers made a furore about how this is going to destroy their business, and complained to the government that it must interfere. The government would step in and order GM to not include a stereo in their cars, or else they'll face stiff fines, or worse.

That's exactly what's happening with Microsoft. This isn't governments preventing a monopoly. It's just governments preventing the markets from working properly - shifting the playing field in somebody's favor.

How about Linux distributions that all come with SSH software already installed. Our company makes SSH software for Windows, but suppose that we made it for Linux. Perhaps then we should complain to an antitrust body that those Linux distros are all ruining our business by freely bundling OpenSSH?

Joel Spolsky and income tax compliance costs

Here's just one reason why income taxation is evil. Instead of having people like Joel Spolsky do what they do best - run a software company - it forces them to spend their time figuring out complex workarounds on how to construct office walls so as not to attract a 46% income tax on money they don't have.

The FairTax book mentions:
Some have estimated that nearly 80 percent of all business decisions at the highest corporate levels are made only after due consideration of the tax consequences involved. This, in and of itself, constitutes a tremendous drag on dynamic business decision making, and thus our economy.

(Chapter 4, Our current tax code: The cost of compliance, page 46)
And also:
For several years, the Tax Foundation has calculated the costs of complying with the increasingly complicated federal tax code. They estimate that in 2002 individuals, businesses, and nonprofits spent 5.8 billion hours complying with the tax code - an effort that cost an estimated $194 billion. [...] The December 2005 report calculates that 6 billion hours and $265 billion were spent to comply with the federal income tax in 2005.

(Page 42)
The FairTax site describes an excellent way to solve this.

2007-04-12

The average person's skewed perception of risk

Schneier quotes this excellent article:
Although statistics show that rates of child abduction and sexual abuse have marched steadily downward since the early 1990s, fear of these crimes is at an all-time high. Even the panic-inducing Megan's Law Web site says stranger abduction is rare and that 90 percent of child sexual-abuse cases are committed by someone known to the child. Yet we still suffer a crucial disconnect between perception of crime and its statistical reality. A child is almost as likely to be struck by lightning as kidnapped by a stranger, but it's not fear of lightning strikes that parents cite as the reason for keeping children indoors watching television instead of out on the sidewalk skipping rope.

And when a child is parked on the living room floor, he or she may be safe, but is safety the sole objective of parenting? The ultimate goal is independence, and independence is best fostered by handing it out a little at a time, not by withholding it in a trembling fist that remains clenched until it's time to move into the dorms.

Meanwhile, as rates of child abduction and abuse move down, rates of Type II diabetes, hypertension and other obesity-related ailments in children move up. That means not all the candy is coming from strangers. Which scenario should provoke more panic: the possibility that your child might become one of the approximately 100 children who are kidnapped by strangers each year, or one of the country's 58 million overweight adults?

2007-04-03

Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface

I haven't read all of it yet, but this paper (via LtU) is a revelation to all software developers and designers. Intelligent, witty and insightful, it discusses how the methods of presenting information in software can be greatly improved, how interactivity in information presenting interfaces is frequently a crutch, and demonstrates lucid examples.

Worthy of a bookmark.

2007-04-02

Don Quixote and the Battle Against Global Warming

There's been some ado recently (Time, New York Times, Shtetl-Optimized) about Schwarzenegger's wimpy proposals to cut California's carbon emmissions by... 2020... starting in... 2012.

We've also been privy to some other wimpy exhortations, notable among which was Al Gore at the Oscars about how we should all participate in doing something against climate change. Ride mass transit, Al Gore says. Switch to energy-saving lightbulbs. And so on.

When people seriously propose with long, straight faces that we should all go save this planet through individual contributions such as, hmm... driving our cars less, installing energy efficient light bulbs, and choosing paper bags over plastic bags - hearing such proposals makes me sick. It makes me sick because they're so... luddite; so missing the forrest for the trees.

Here's an anecdote. One time my father was explaining to me how he hates to eat at McDonald's because - among other things - they throw away so much packaging. (He didn't consider that washing all the plates and cups in a hygienic manner might actually make the overall pollution problem worse.) Then he complained about all the plastic bags we throw away, and how they're needlessly dispensed at every corner store. He harangued about how he hates it when he's checking out from a store and he's again forgotten to bring a plastic bag, so he needs to take yet another one from the store when he already has so many. And how this makes the pollution problem worse.

Now, here's the thing about my father. He drives some 50,000 km per year. Every year he also goes on a tourist trip by plane somewhere. I calculated he must burn some 5 or 6 metric tons of fuel per year, just for the gasoline.

That's 5 or 6 metric tons. Of fuel. That's made of oil. Which is also what those plastic bags are made of.

Now, I just weighed a plastic bag and it weighs in at about 30 grams.

Suppose my father were to switch to a car that is 1/5 more energy efficient. Or suppose that he would cut back on unnecessary trips. Or suppose that he would, god forbid, move to a more geographically suitable location to serve as the origin of his travels, such as the city, reducing the distances he needs to travel every day. (The notion of living in the city is something he's very much averse to.)

Suppose he were to do any one of these things. If, by doing so, he would cut back his annual fuel consumption by 1 metric ton alone, he would be saving the equivalent of some six hundred plastic bags per week.

But no. He worries about that one plastic bag that he gets at the shopping mall. And then he burns the equivalent of 100 plastic bags driving back home.

It can't be said he lacks an environmental consciousness. Yet what good, exactly, does it do the world?

This is why our pollution problems won't be solved by appealing to our individual environmental consciousness. Because our personal considerations, such as my father's need to live where he lives, to drive what he drives, and to go to the places he goes, are more important to each and every one of us than the abstract and intangible harm every one of us is doing.

And I say, that's okay. It's okay - because the individual level is not where the problem really is.

The real problem is not that we consume too much energy. The problem is not that our light bulbs are too wasteful. The problem is not that we drive our cars too much. The problem is not that we use and throw away our plastic bags.

The problem is that the energy we use comes from coal-based power plants. The problem is that the cars we use run on oil. The problem is that the plastic bags are not bio-degradable.

None of these are problems that need to be solved at the level of the consumer. These problems should all be solved systematically, potentially without even the end consumer having to be aware of it at all.

Here's how to solve our environment problems, if we are serious:
  • Place an immediate and global ban on the construction of all new coal or oil-based power plants.
  • Over the shortest time period possible, shut down existing coal and oil-based power plants and replace them with nuclear power.
  • This implies the West giving a helping hand to the rest of the world with nuclear power. The West must help the rest build safe, secure, and economically attractive nuclear power plants. It's either that, or they're going to pollute the world with coal and oil. Are we serious about the environment or not? If yes - we can't have that.
  • Place an immediate and global ban on the sale of new non-electric vehicles. So, electric cars have heavy batteries and aren't quite there yet? No problem. There's nothing like a ban on new polluting vehicles to help the electric vehicle technologies develop at a faster pace.
  • And finally, fix those plastic bags so that they will be bio-degradable - if this hasn't been done already.
So, rest assured; the problem is not you. Yes, it's true, we use a lot of energy; that is a property of civilization. We're only going to use more. The energy consumption alone is not the problem. We have a long way to go before it starts to be a problem; that is, when our consumption begins to approach the output of our Sun.

Until then, our problem is not how much energy we consume; the problem is how we generate it.

And here is where all those thousands of coal-based power plants and billions of internal combustion engines need to be replaced, pronto. Because that's where the climate change problem is. In the generation - not consumption.