2009-06-23

Occam's Razor

 
The simplest explanation is that which is most simply expressed in our language. But language is arbitrary.

2009-06-22

2009-06-21

Miami's tent city for sex offenders

Isaias, a Latino and a former US Marine, is 35. He is a husband and a father of two.

In his twenties, he was convicted of the crime of having had sex with a 16-year old. After serving 5 years in prison, he has now spent 2 years living in Miami's tent city for sex offenders, which is located under a bridge.

Local law prohibits people like him from living within 2,500 feet of anywhere where children congregate - be it schools, libraries, or parks. This prevents him from living with his wife and family. The only place in Miami where he can live is in a tent, under a bridge, in a community of people with similar or worse backgrounds.

BBC has the disturbing story.

The right to arm bears #2

 
It is important to be able to defend yourself against a government.

2009-06-19

A lover's plight

 
Hope Randall won't mind

2009-06-15

xkcd

After browsing through about a quarter of the episodes, now I know why they call it everyone's favorite comic.



You have to know some Unix to understand this one. But there are others. :)

Windows Installer sucks

While I'm waiting for the umpteenth time for the installation of Windows SDK - one of the more poorly written installers recently to come out of Microsoft - I'd like to carp a bit about Windows Installer.

Ever since Microsoft started forcing MSI installation down everyone's throats, program installation has just begun to take... forever.

The bad thing about Windows Installer is that installation programs written for it... are not programs.

They are databases.

It used to be that installation would consist of a program executing and taking a few simple steps to install your software, then do the reverse on uninstallation.

That's not how Windows Installer works. Instead of running a program to simply install and let it be done with, it examines the state of your system, then examines the state of the database that is the program's installer, then does a series of overcomplicated calculations about how to reconcile the two.

It seems that, instead of running an installation script, it goes about solving a traveling salesman problem. Which is why it runs so slow. Or at least, that's my impression.

Microsoft apparently thinks that Windows Installer is some immense improvement on the state of the world. Apparently, all kinds of idiot programmers were writing bad installers before MSI - programs that didn't properly take everything into account, botched the installation, botched the uninstallation... it was a nightmare. Windows Installer was supposed to solve this.

Except, it didn't. Writing an installation database for Windows Installer is no less tricky than writing an independent program that performs the installation right. In fact - it's trickier. In your own installation program, you can fix things. When Windows Installer does something wrong, on some platform, somewhere - that's much harder. Windows Installer is a more inconsistent, less reliable, less flexible platform, than Windows itself.

So we used to have unreliable installers, but now, thanks to Windows Installer, we have unreliable and god damn slow installers.

Yayyyy!

Poking fun at religion

 
The best atheist song I've heard:




And from Edward Current - God only seems nonexistent:

2009-06-14

Seasteading

Well, well, well. Seasteading:
Why seastead?

We believe that current political systems are outdated and work poorly, for two reasons. One is the lack of a frontier - a place to go try out new forms of government (like the crazy new "democracy" which sprung up in far-off America). The other is the lack of mobility on land that happens because people are tied to buildings and buildings are fixed in place, which makes it hard to change states or countries, let alone pioneer. Seasteading fixes both of these.

It opens the oceans as a new frontier for pioneering, a frontier with a fundamentally different quality - fluidity - that lets entire cities be rearranged and reshaped constantly. If you don't like your government, you can literally "Vote with your house" by detaching your seastead and sailing off to another city. In the long run, this will turn the oceans into a laboratory for innovation in social and political systems. No specific ideology is necessary: Seasteads will empower people with a wide variety of beliefs to self-govern and serve as examples (good and bad) for other societies.
Highly agreed.

Man, I hope this works. So far, Peter Thiel contributed $500,000. But this is where I would want Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to be spending their billions. Last I heard, their foundation was having trouble finding enough worthwhile projects to fund. It's sad they don't see the value in this.

The Gateses seem to be focusing on investments that directly improve the human condition, but forgoing investments that will improve our ability to improve. We are in dire need of investment in these areas.

Wal-Mart's Weight Effect

Forbes has an article about research apparently showing that large discount stores have a net beneficial health effect, especially for the poor.

The primary mechanism they identify is that lower prices make it possible for poorer people to afford more. This raises their effective income, so they are able to buy healthier foods than in the absence of large discount retailers.

2009-06-12

Traditional morality and sex health research

Traditional religion-based morality would not have survived if it didn't offer some evolutionary advantage to people who espouse it. More radically, a gene or meme that compels you to "kill everyone who doesn't have this gene or meme" may cause itself to become more prevalent. Less radically, a gene or meme that instructs you to behave in ways that help survival will also cause itself to become more prevalent, even if the reasons the meme uses to convince you make no sense.

The reasons for traditional morality, indeed, do not make any sense. For the most part, we aren't even given any reasons. We're told to abstain from promiscuity because that's moral. The reason it is moral is because it's moral. We don't question the Book. The Book says so.

Now it's one thing to want one heterosexual partner for your entire life; that's a legitimate preference that there's nothing wrong with. But it's a whole other thing to judge people and try to prevent them from making different choices, as many voters around the world seem keen to do.

Traditional morality puts the cart ahead of the horse. There are valid reasons why heterosexual monogamy is better for your genes' inclusive fitness than promiscuity. The reasons, however, are technical. They have their limits. They can be defeated, and if they were defeated, there would remain no reason why people should not be promiscuous, unless they simply don't want it.

If we had full control over disease, and could stop it in its tracks; if we had full control over fertility, with no ill side effects; then promiscuity would not be an issue. That would be a good thing. Your opinion might differ, but the way I see it, monogamy is not very interesting, nor very rewarding. Promiscuity is both more interesting, more rewarding, and more challenging. It's just that... it is slightly worse for your reproductive fitness, for reasons that are unfortunate but quite avoidable. If only people would stop objecting to it on grounds that make no sense.

At this point, you might think I'm going to start talking about HIV. Or syphilis. Or chlamydia.

I'm not.

Those are all solved issues. As long as it's detected, bacterial disease such as syphilis, gonorrhea or chlamydia can be cured with a pill. If it's detected, it is less of a health issue than the flu.

HIV is still a burden, but it spreads much less readily than other disease. If we wanted to, we could defeat it with testing. Even if not using condoms, HIV can take more than a year's worth of vaginal intercourse to spread to another person (though it might also spread fast). For the purpose of stopping it as an epidemic, it would be sufficient to test the entire population a few years in a row, at least once per year. The tests would be cheaper per person than a year's supply of birth control. We wouldn't even have to draw blood, an oral swab would be enough. It would eliminate the risk largely completely.

The Human Papilloma Virus, HPV, is an unsolved problem.

HPV comes in multiple strains, many of which are very common. Some are innocuous. Some cause genital warts, but no other problems. Some can lead to cancer.

Recent research has shown that certain strains of HPV are responsible for an increased incidence of various types of cancer in people who have had more than a few sexual partners. Before widespread PAP testing was introduced, cervical cancer is said to have been a leading cause of death in women. Virtually all cervical cancer has been shown to be caused by HPV.

Not only that, but a history of more than a few oral sex partners increases your chance of oral cancer multiple-fold. This is caused by HPV. Having had receptive anal sex increases your chance of anal cancer by a factor of seven. That is caused by HPV as well.

You don't have to be especially promiscuous to expose yourself to this. You don't have to have had hundreds of sexual partners. It is enough to have engaged in serial monogamy. It is enough to have had one partner who had others before you. It is enough to have had departed from traditional monogamous morality in the most minor way.

What we should be doing about this is supporting research and taking steps to eliminate disease. Imagine that there were no STDs, or that they would not pose a problem. Imagine that all birth control is reliable and has no side effects. It would be safe to have sex with anyone, anyhow, anywhere. That would be a good thing. There would be no support for jealousy. If your partner had sex with someone else, she wouldn't be exposing you to anything. So why should you be complaining?

Since people are being promiscuous already, and aren't going to stop being so due to health risks, solving these health risks would be a good thing.

But then we have all these people who put the cart in front of the horse. People who read it in a Book that we were created to serve morality, instead of moral guidance having been invented to serve us. People who think that monogamy is a value in and of itself, regardless of circumstance. People who think that others should be punished for their promiscuity, whether or not it causes ill. People who want to actively impede progress in solving of sexual health risks, for fear that lifting barriers to promiscuity will... cause more promiscuity! People who don't want girls vaccinated against HPV because that might lead to them having more sex. (It doesn't - and if it did, it isn't even a bad thing.) People who don't want others to use condoms to protect from HIV, because they feel that's giving people an excuse to be promiscuous. People who think that the promiscuous deserve to die, because monogamy is all-important.

These people are nutcases. They are insane. They don't mean to be evil, but due to what they say and do, they are.

We need research. We need action. People were, are, and will remain promiscuous. That's not bad, in and of itself. What's bad is that it has ill side effects. We need to solve them.

2009-06-08

Boneheads in charge of H1B legislation

The U.S. elects senators so they can bury the U.S. economy, eliminating its global advantage. From BBC:
Indian workers are calling for comprehensive immigration reforms in America, including changes in work visa rules.

But American lawmakers are having none of it.

Senators Dick Durbin from Illinois and Charles Grassley from Iowa have reintroduced a bill on the H1B visa programme.

It calls for increased oversight and enforcement and discourages the use of H1B visa holders.

It also requires all employers to pledge that the H1B visa-holder will not displace an American worker.
If the U.S. doesn't want to adopt India's most capable workers, that is the U.S.'s loss, not India's.

This is just one sort of policy that will result in the U.S. waking up to find itself as only one economic power among many, not the superpower that it used to be.

2009-06-07

Slovenians no longer need visas to St. Kitts

Excellent news: as of May 28, 2009, a visa-free travel agreement was signed between the European Union and St. Kitts & Nevis. Slovenian citizens no longer need a visa in order to travel to St. Kitts, and Kittitians and Nevisians no longer need visas for travel in the Schengen area. :-)