2010-11-23

Genetics controls gender, not upbringing

Very interesting article. Due to accidental loss of penis, parents and doctor attempted to raise son as daughter. Despite having been castrated and believing he was a girl, his behavior became increasingly masculine:
"The girl had many tomboy traits, such as abundant physical energy, a high level of activity, stubbornness, and being often the dominant one in a girl's group."

[...]

Yet by the time Brenda reached puberty at 13, she was feeling suicidal.

"I could see that Brenda wasn't happy as a girl," Janet recalled.

"She was very rebellious. She was very masculine, and I could not persuade her to do anything feminine. Brenda had almost no friends growing up. Everybody ridiculed her, called her cavewoman.

2010-11-12

Chocolate flavored powdered meat

Hello to another day in a world where the vast majority of the protein we need for our sustenance - as well as lots of superfluous protein that we don't really need, but it looks nice on our bodies - is derived from daily torture and slaughter of thousands, millions, literally billions of dairy and meat animals.

I probably don't have to go into details of what a lifetime of a dairy cow or farm chicken looks like. You know their life spans are short, nasty, and brutal.

Some time ago, I walked into a nutrition store, looking for protein powder. Among the most prevalent powders, which tend to be derived from milk, I noticed a conspicuous product called Carnivor. It's protein powder... made of beef.

If there was ever an abomination, this is it. This is pure, powdered evil.

You see, we can get far more protein per life-of-animal-suffering from dairy, than we get from slaughtered meat.

Over an average life span of 3 lactations, a dairy cow will produce 20,000 lbs of milk per lactation, for a total of 60,000 lbs of milk per cow. At 3.2g of protein per 100g of milk, this gives us 860 kg of protein, per cow lifetime.

Meanwhile, a slaughtered steer - male cow - yields an approximately 714 lb carcass, producing about 570 lbs of retail beef cuts. This gives us about 20 kg of protein per steer lifetime.

If you simply compare these figures, it's apparent that grinding a steer carcass into a mere 20 kg of protein powder - functionally equivalent to protein you could get from dairy, just 40 times less - is abhorrent, and a waste.

And in the end, this abominable product is fed to people who feel they're more manly if they drink chocolate-flavored powdered meat.

2010-10-27

People who don't help themselves...

In Indonesia, a country of 230 million people, they apparently "do not have expertise" to maintain a tsunami detection system which was put in place after the 2004 catastrophe:
Locals were given no indication of the coming wave because an early-warning system put in place after the devastating 2004 tsunami has stopped working.

Fauzi, the head of Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysic Agency, told the Associated Press that the system began to malfunction last year, and was completely inoperative by last month.

"We do not have the expertise to monitor the buoys to function as intended," he said.
There's just no excuse for this incompetence.

Over the course of 6 years, a country with a population of 230 million has been unable to acquire equipment and train people to run a crucial early warning system? After they received the help to put it in place from countries like Germany, China, France, and the US?

What a waste of help.

Every cent misplaced by helping people who don't help themselves could have been used towards a goal where it would actually have an effect.

Edit 2010-10-29: Unlike bloggers, BBC News does not possess the integrity to annotate articles when they change them after they're published, but instead they regularly change articles, after having published them, in complete stealth.

The article has now changed to quote that the buoys have been "vandalized". How that's compatible with the statement they quoted previously, and why they deleted that statement, is beyond me.

Here's a screenshot of the article the way it still appears at the moment through Google Cache.

2010-10-05

The value of seven billion dollars

According to the French legal system, the value of $7 billion is 3 years in jail. That's what Jerome Kerviel got for fraudulent trading which saddled Societe Generale with a $7 billion loss.

EPA's economic analysis estimates the value of a US human life at about $7 million.

The reason a life can be assigned a value is because it takes a certain amount of money in order to save a US life. If you have $14 million, you could use that in the US to save, most efficiently, about 2 human lives total. Or that's what EPA suggests.

The money wasted by Jerome Kerviel could, therefore, have been used to save 1,000 human lives.

So basically he wasted 1,000 human lives worth of money, and what he gets is 3 years in jail.

Of course the damage cannot be undone, regardless of whether the jail time is 3 years, or a lifetime, or if he is simply executed, like the Chinese would have done.

But money is about human lives. Economic damage is about human lives. A system which handles this sort of wrongdoing by, basically, giving the guy a slap on the wrist, does not have its priorities straight.

2010-09-14

Lady GaGa's meat dress

I think people who are put off by Lady GaGa must either really dislike her music, or must be numb in the head. I don't remember a person this original since... ever.

Here's her latest outrage: the meat dress.

You and I might joke around and come up with a crazy idea to wear a dress entirely made of meat to a celebrity show, chuckling and feeling smug about our original and iconoclastic thinking. Then we would go wearing a nice evening suit because we don't have the balls to actually pull that off.

Lady GaGa goes and wears the meat dress.

It's visually disturbing, and at the same time seems to be a waste of meat that could have been served on a dinner plate. But consider our meat industry, which slaughters more animals in a year than there are all humans living. Consider the inefficiency of our food industry in general, combined with our eating habits, which wastes 50% of our food.

What is actually more disturbing: these few pounds of flesh made into a dress, or 10 billion animals raised in horrible conditions and slaughtered for meat every year? And to add insult to injury, a large part of that flesh going wasted?

We, humans, treat animals with utter, complete disrespect. We don't like to own up to it, we like to pretend we're all civilized, cultured, and nice, while eating our dinner steaks and barbecue chicken. Whether GaGa intended it or not, this dress starkly calls attention to our hypocrisy, and for that, I appreciate it.

2010-09-11

Being deaf vs. speaking an unpopular language

Katja Grace makes an interesting argument comparing:
  • intentionally making your kid deaf - like some deaf people want to do, arguing it will help the child experience deaf culture;
  • raising a child in an unpopular language - like most parents speaking unpopular languages do, arguing it will help the child experience that language's culture.
There is a difference between the two, primarily that a child raised in an unpopular culture can still learn a foreign language, whereas a deaf child cannot learn to hear. However, most won't learn a foreign language, and those who do, will be severely handicapped. Katja's arguments are illuminating and compelling.

I've expressed this sentiment in the past: languages with small numbers of speakers, like Slovenian, are poison for the people brought up speaking them. It should be a basic human right that one should be not just taught, but raised in a major world language, one that's e.g. in at least top 10 by total number of speakers. Of those, it should possibly not be a language spoken by a monoculture, but an international language that enables conversation with people from a wide number of countries.

If you raise your kid in a small language, and only make a token effort of teaching an international one, it's as if you are intellectually disabling your kid, preventing or impeding him or her from accessing the vast majority of knowledge and ideas that would otherwise be easily accessible.

The only acceptable way to speak a small language should be to be fully bilingual, maintaining equal fluency in an international language. When a child cannot be raised fluently in two languages, an international language should take precedence over a small one.

2010-09-08

Fidel Castro, peace activist

Wow:
Over the course of a five-hour discussion, Mr Castro "repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism", and criticised Mr Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust.

"The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust," the former president said.

Mr Castro said that Iran could further the cause of peace by "acknowledging the 'unique' history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence", Mr Goldberg wrote.

Mr Castro told Mr Goldberg that he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and that he did not believe that sanctions and threat would dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

"The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated," Mr Castro said. "Men think they can control themselves but [US President Barack] Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war."

Mr Castro has recently made a number of warnings of the danger of a nuclear war between the West and Iran.

Mr Goldberg then questioned Mr Castro about his stance during the Missile Crisis of 1962, asking if he stood by his recommendation that the Soviets bomb the US.

"After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it at all," he said.
That just might redeem the guy. A bit.

2010-09-01

James Jay Lee's demands

James Jay Lee has been solo protesting outside the Discovery Channel's offices for years, demanding a complete overhaul of their programming. He believes that the human race is so bad for the planet that our population should be radically lowered through mass sterilization. He also wants an end to civilization and armed conflict. Because the Discovery Channel's network reaches many people, he believes they can, and should, make this happen.

It seems that no one has been taking him seriously, so now he invaded the Discovery Channel's headquarters waving a gun and with metallic canisters strapped to his chest. It appears that he is currently taking a couple of hostages, awaiting his demands to be met.

Read about his crazy demands before his web site is shut down, which seems likely. :)
1. The Discovery Channel and it's affiliate channels MUST have daily television programs at prime time slots based on Daniel Quinn's "My Ishmael" pages 207-212 where solutions to save the planet would be done in the same way as the Industrial Revolution was done, by people building on each other's inventive ideas. Focus must be given on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order. Perhaps also forums of leading scientists who understand and agree with the Malthus-Darwin science and the problem of human overpopulation. Do both. Do all until something WORKS and the natural world starts improving and human civilization building STOPS and is reversed! MAKE IT INTERESTING SO PEOPLE WATCH AND APPLY SOLUTIONS!!!!

2. All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs' places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed. All former pro-birth programs must now push in the direction of stopping human birth, not encouraging it.

3. All programs promoting War and the technology behind those must cease. ...

2010-08-31

The doghouse: India goes after encryption

India is going after all sorts of encrypted communications that are making it inconvenient for its security services to keep tabs on everyone.

They've already gone after RIM (Blackberry), and telecoms firms are next.

If their smarts are sufficient to at least be consistently dumb, a countrywide ban on secure web browsing ought to follow.

This is a ridiculously bad idea because it only prevents law-abiding citizens from using encryption to protect their sensitive communications.

All the smart criminals and terrorists can continue to use encryption, whether or not it is legal, as they please.

2010-08-28

2010-08-25

Food additives

A very nice article making an attempt to dispel the irrational fears of food additives. An imbalanced diet is much more of a danger than the additives in the food:
So, had I overdosed? Yes, but not on E numbers.

Dr Heaversedge wasn't worried about my E consumption, not even sodium nitrite (remember that 100-fold safety margin). What he was horrified by was the fact I'd eaten 418% of my recommended daily allowance of fat, 500% of my salt RDA and 218% of my sugar RDA. So the biggest nutritional culprits in my binge came in purely organic form and had no E numbers.
Don't miss the column that enumerates a few additives used by our ancestors in recent centuries. Strychnine and sulphuric acid in beer, anyone?

2010-08-17

"Zakaj bi verniki sami seb lagal?"

[Most of my posts are in English. This one isn't. :) ]

Vprašanje v naslovu mi je pred kratkim postavila neka anonimna korespondentka, ko sem objavil, da je laganje samemu sebi popularno. Da 90% ljudi - vsi, ki so verni - sami sebi lažejo.

"Zakaj bi verniki sami seb lagal?"

Odgovoril sem ji:

Vera temelji na tem. Zato se ji reče "vera", ne pa "resnica". Jedro vere je verska laž, v katero se verjame, ker je udobno, ne zato, ker je res. Okoli laži je antiracionalni ščit, ki varuje laž pred razumom. Ščit poskuša nevtralizirati razumske misli, ki bi versko laž ogrozile. Če kakšna misel pride skoz in predre ščit, pa je vernik zadolžen, da zapolni luknjo s pasto iz laži.

2010-08-16

Conversations with a Christian

The following is my summary of a long and frequently frustrating debate on Facebook between myself, another atheist, and a Christian. I changed the names for some degree of privacy.

"The evolution of morality is a pretty well researched question with solid evolutionary answers. A better argument for the existence of something along the lines of God is awareness itself. To the best of my knowledge, science has so far been unable to offer an explanation of why anyone's aware of anything. Nor does it offer a satisfactory explanation of why I happen to be aware of only me - and not any of the other billions of creatures in existence.

In my mind, questions about the origin of awareness beg an answer that must point somewhere outside of what we currently know as nature, or at the very least requires augmentation of our knowledge of nature.

However, jumping briskly from these questions to "God exists as depicted in the Bible, and he sent Jesus to atone for our sins" is a gross violation of rationality, and it is only possible if you first assume that the Bible contains truth, and THEN proceed from that point onward, rather than considering the truth of the Bible on its own. It must be clear to any imaginative mind that IF a spiritual world exist, it might take any number of forms, and that a book originated by an organization that is obviously in the business of power and influence is NOT a source to be trusted at all.

Now, as far as Evelyn's faith goes, I think it is fairly clear at this point, and has been shown numerous times, that:

(1) Evelyn's faith is irrational, and she's proud of that. She has exclaimed several times that her world is not limited to probabilities between 0 and 1, and that it isn't limited by cold logic. She might as well have said directly that her world involves fairy tales. These were clear admissions that rationality is not important to her. And not just when it comes to religion: she actually went further and stated that even knowledge about the world is not important to her, preferring the bliss of ignorance to scientific pursuit of knowledge. (This, while at another point referring to her credentials as a scientist.)

(2) The purpose of Evelyn's faith is to give her comfort. She has stated several times that the reason she believes is because it makes her feel good, and she would like others to believe because it would make others feel good. At no time nor at any point did she use any argument that would assert that her faith is "true". When asked to evaluate the probability that her faith is true, she flatly declined. This indicates she might not even actually believe her faith is true, she just enjoys a thought process that assumes it is true, and she wishes to preserve that thought process for the comfort it provides.

(3) Evelyn believes that atheists live in mental anguish where they suffer from not having a comfortable answer about the nature of the universe. Evelyn fails to understand that it isn't necessary to believe in a detailed story of a God in order to be comfortably at ease with the Universe.

If any progress is to be made in helping Evelyn understand where Isaac and others like him are coming from, it would be in clearing up the misconception in paragraph (3) above. The reason Evelyn chooses her faith is emotional. The emotions involved are a sense of bliss if the faith is retained, and fear of uncertainty and emptiness if it isn't. Because her reasons are emotional, she will actively evade any attempts to apply reason that could threaten her faith.

I do not think that reason and logic alone can put even a chink in her armor. The armor is auto-deflecting and self-repairing, and she has been practicing those self-repairs her entire life.

If you want her to understand where you are coming from, the first order of business would be to explain, in EMOTIONAL terms, what helps you, as an atheist, to sleep peacefully at night. What makes you not perceive the world as cold and empty. What gives you the same emotional assurance as the bliss she gets from "knowing" that God is there to love her and guide her.

For atheists, who are used to thinking logically, this is a pretty tall order. Not every atheist might even have these emotional issues resolved. This is because atheists are ascetic thinkers, driven by principle, not comfort. We are willing to endure mental discomfort in order to pursue Truth.

Most people who are religious, however, are not ascetic thinkers. They don't find refuge in religion because they're driven by a noble principle. Instead, such people put more stock in mental comfort. They may in fact have given up on understanding the world in the first place, and so could not care less if their world view is further distorted. They may not even be able to tell the difference between a distortion and truth. And they don't care - as long as what they believe makes them comfortable."

2010-08-15

Iran considers prisoner rape noble

Words of an influential imam, with whom Ahmadinejad "regularly consults":
"If the judgment for the [female] prisoner is execution, then rape before execution brings the interrogator a spiritual reward equivalent to making the mandated Haj pilgrimage [to Mecca], but if there is no execution decreed, then the reward would be equivalent to making a pilgrimage to [the Shi'ite holy city of] Karbala."

Cultural relativism, anyone?

2010-08-12

How socialism caused World War II

I was just recently informed, via Tomaž Štih, of Götz Aly's book Hitler's Beneficiaries. The original German title of this book was Hitler's People's State, and it analyzes in detail Hitler's economy before, as well as during World War II. There's a Spiegel review here.

Apparently, this book makes a compelling case that the entirety of the German war effort existed to finance German socialism. The Nazi party was, of course, a socialist party - its full name was the National Socialist German Workers' Party. But it turns out that apparently, the wars and the socialism weren't related just coincidentally. Hitler was a great social redistributor; the ultimate Robin Hood, in fact - in terms of taking from the rich and giving to the poor. His social state was financed first by confiscating the property of Jews in Germany. But eventually, this source of funding ran out, and the social system required funding. Hitler's choices at that point, then, were either to let the socialist regime collapse, or... obtain funding from neighbors. The subsequent invasions were not only self-funded from what was taken from the occupied regimes - they actually helped the Reich avoid bankruptcy it would otherwise had faced.

Tomaž makes the interesting observation that, time and again, history unfolds as follows:
  1. To gain popular support, leaders distribute treats to the deluded masses by tapping an unsustainable source.
  2. The masses get used to those treats.
  3. When treats can no longer continue, two problems arise:
    1. The masses do not wish to accept that they were deluded, or that it's no longer possible for them to get treats.
    2. The leaders who caused the problem blame a third person, who becomes the victim.
I find it amazing that I never managed to see this pattern with World War II. Yet now that I do, it is striking how time and time again, the world revolves around this same old pattern: enjoying too much in the present, and paying for it later on. Not just on the macro scale, even people's individual lives revolve around the same unthinking paradigm: spend, broke, spend, broke; eat, diet, eat, diet.

If at least people were conscious of this process as it goes on. But it is the denial that makes it possible in the first place. And the denial is what, for me, makes observing it the most painful.

2010-06-02

Apartheid was bad, but South Africa today is worse?

Interesting comments by a few South Africans:
  • "We didn't like apartheid, but some things were better under apartheid than they are now."
  • "Life here under apartheid was bad, but now it is more bad."

2010-06-01

Chicago Justice

Inevitably, in a country of 300 million people, even if most things go right, there will be stories every day that make you sick.

Inevitably, in a country that large, many of these stories will involve the police.

This is a story like this.

Dad, wife and daughter are out for breakfast when they notice what appears to be a woman in distress. It is in fact an undercover police officer looking to trap people with "soliciting" a prostitute. She leans on the passenger side window and offers sex or blowjob. No sooner are they able to respond when the police swarm the car, arrest the dad, impound the car, and leave the wife and daughter stranded.

The dad spends 8 hours in custody. They do not return the car. The city wants $4,700 in "towing and storage fees" in order to give it back.

Related: read this insightful comment about the Chicago Department of Revenue and their car impounding racket. Snippet:
And as for the poor guy in this story, odds are that he will not get his car back, as there are many reports that they take very expensive cars that they get and re-auction them off very quickly, to avoid having to give them back. Once the car is gone, they can stall forever regarding the money, if they are ordered to return the vehicle.

2010-05-30

The doghouse: Residence Inn "High Speed" Internet

My wife and I are currently on an extended trip. We spent some time in Vegas and are now visiting Chicago. Hotel prices in Vegas currently seem to be about as low as they're going to be, so we took this as an opportunity to stay in some nicer hotels that we might not have otherwise considered. We stayed in the lower-end suites at Trump, Vdara and our favorite from last year, South Point, and we must say that the Trump is now our favorite experience. We will for sure stay there again, if we can get a similarly reasonable rate.

What we liked most about the Trump was the lack of any major inconveniences or drawbacks. The suite was nice and had a great view overlooking the strip. The bathroom was the most marvelous of a comparable size suite or room that we ever stayed at. There was a lot of storage space; there was a nice little kitchenette; none of the space was wasted on a mini-bar with insulting prices; 24 hour room service with excellent food; a 24 hour gym; and quite importantly...

... fast and reliable internet access.

Thankfully, all of the hotels we stayed at in Vegas this time - Trump, Vdara, and South Point - offered great internet access.

Now fast forward to our stay in Chicago. The most reasonable accommodation we could find was at a Residence Inn, where for a decent price, the little suite has nearly everything you might wish for - even a full fledged kitchen with a large fridge and a freezer - except...

... fast and reliable internet access.

About a week ago at South Point, I clocked the download speed at 2.3 megabytes per second. Here at Residence Inn, the "High Speed Internet" connection manages a paltry 60 kB/s, or about 2.5% of that.

At Vdara, the ping time to Google was consistently around 60-70 ms. Here, the ping time ranges anywhere from 300 to over 1000, with an average of over 500 ms. Even just pages with a lot of images take long to load, let alone more network intensive types of access.

I called the hotel's internet help desk, provided by Guest-Tek, to ask about these issues, and was shocked at their response. I thought perhaps there is a technical problem that makes the network temporarily that slow. But no. This is their service operating as intended. They consider the service to be primarily for business purposes such as email and basic web browsing. The following, they explicitly stated, are not what they consider acceptable uses:
  • Watching streaming video (e.g. YouTube).
  • Downloading music (e.g. from Amazon or iTunes).
  • Skype.
I am perplexed that, with such limitations, they dare call their service "high speed" internet. What, exactly, is "high speed" about emails and basic web pages, in the year 2010? I could do that with a modem, fifteen years ago.

If anyone knows of a place to stay in or around Chicago that offers (1) a fridge, (2) actual high speed internet access, and (3) a reasonable price...

... please leave a comment.

Edit: We made the mistake of giving a chance to another Marriott-operated Residence Inn in a different area near Chicago. They again advertised "free high-speed internet", and again, the problems were identical. The average ping time is 500-1000 ms, and the average transfer speed is 30-60 kB/s. A simple text page can take some 10 seconds to load. A page with photos takes minutes.

I am reporting these guys to the Federal Trade Commission - if I can get the page to load. :)

2010-05-10

Braindead MP3 buying restrictions

As you may know, I live in St. Kitts. St. Kitts is a nice island in the Caribbean, part of the two-island Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis. The two islands have a population of about 40,000 and have their own government, their own seat in the UN, and so forth.

St. Kitts & Nevis also happens to have no really enforced copyright law.

There's a store downtown which sells pretty much any movie you can think of for about USD 7. All bootlegged, poor quality, pirated copies. If they don't have a copy pre-manufactured in the store, they'll burn it on a CD for you if you return in 20 minutes.

I don't buy movies this way. I prefer high-quality copies, and I don't mind shelling out what's basically the price of two movie tickets to have it on a proper DVD. I also like to know that I'm contributing towards production of future movies, not just some guy who purchased a device that can copy a CD.

For similar reasons, I prefer to buy my MP3 music from legitimate copyright holders. I'm not sure there's any law in St. Kitts that would make it illegal for me to go online and download pirated music for free. Even if there is such a law, almost certainly no one enforces it.

But I hate stealing intellectual property. I believe in contributing for stuff that I enjoy. So until recently, I liked to buy my MP3s on Amazon, for the (for me) reasonable price of $1 per track.

It seems this era is now coming to an end.

First, Amazon was verifying my shipping address. It had to be in the US for me to be able to purchase and download an MP3. Okay, so I use a shipping address in the US.

Then, they introduced IP address checking. Okay, so instead of connecting directly, I connect through a proxy in the US.

Now, apparently, they introduced credit card checking. My credit card, unfortunately - or fortunately, for other reasons - is not in the US. And there's not much I can do about this.

Even though I'm right now sitting in a hotel in Las Vegas, I am therefore unable to buy an MP3 on Amazon. They won't sell it to a customer with a credit card outside the United States.

It is braindead - though I understand the reasoning for it. Copyright for the same song might not be held by the same person in every country. The revenue may need to go to different people, depending on the country it's used in. And there may be other legal restrictions.

But still, that doesn't change the fact that it's braindead. As a resident of St. Kitts, I now have no other choice than to download bootlegged copies of my music - even though I want to pay for it.

Life in prison for "lewdness with a minor"

A 34-year old Nevada woman was drunk and made some seriously inappropriate proposals to a 13-year old son of her friend:
Taylor kissed a friend’s child, forced him to touch her breast [through a bra] and asked him to have sex with her.
Prosecution charged her for "lewdness with a minor". A jury found her guilty, and the judge had no choice but to impose the penalty required by Nevada law: life in prison.

In the words of her public defender:
“She is getting a greater penalty for having a boy touch her breast than if she killed him.”
Check out some of the insane comments here. For example:
Lori Bishop: About time!!! Maybe if a state takes a stand against predators other states will follow.
Bekah: FINALLY! I AGREE because these sick people might really think next time they want to mess up another childs life! GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i wish it was like this in EVERY STATE!

2010-05-05

Idiot Greeks

I've never had too much respect for modern Greece - like I don't have much respect for any country that dwells on the overinflated achievements of its ancestors, but not achieving anything today.

What's happening in Greece these days, however, is outrageous. Over the last decade, Greeks have enjoyed a government spending splurge that was financed by borrowed money. Now they are deeply in debt. In order to stop accumulating that debt, let alone to repay it - if at all - they need to tighten their belts. Work a little bit more, for a little less money, for a little bit longer. There is no other way, because the borrowed money isn't coming any more. The Greek government's spending cannot continue at its former levels. Without the borrowed money, the numbers simply don't work out.

So what do the idiots do? They don't just stick their heads into sand. They cement buckets full of sand onto their heads and run around while setting things on fire:
At least three people have been killed in the Greek capital as protesters set fire to a bank during a general strike over planned austerity measures. [...] Riot police forced them back, but right next to parliament, other groups set buildings on fire - including a department of the finance ministry in charge of the the austerity programme as well as an office of the Athens prefecture.
What could we possibly do to make people understand economic realities? To not lash out like this when their debt-funded benefits must end? Better education in schools? What else is possible?

2010-04-23

No Flash on the iPhone

I've written before of Apple's crappy attitude towards developers. Here's the latest example with Adobe:
Mr Chambers also commented on Apple's revision of its terms and conditions. He wrote: "...as developers for the iPhone have learned, if you want to develop for the iPhone you have to be prepared for Apple to reject or restrict your development at any time."
And what a bunch of hypocrisy from Apple:
Apple responded in a statement to technology news site CNet in which it described Flash as "closed and proprietary". Apple preferred to support more open standards which replicate everything Flash can do, added the statement.
This coming from the vendor of the most proprietary and tightly controlled of popular computing platforms.

2010-04-21

Miscarriage blamed on non-fussy uterus

Very interesting:
FAR from being a passive container, the human uterus seems to be highly selective about which embryos it accepts. Women with less "fussy" uteruses may be at higher risk of miscarriage.

Miscarriage is the most common complication of pregnancy, with around 1 in 3 embryos lost before 6 weeks of pregnancy and a further 10 per cent before 12 weeks. For years, faulty embryos or problems such as abnormal clotting or immune responses have been blamed.

Jan Brosens at Imperial College London wondered if another process was at work. He had noted that many women who had repeated miscarriages claimed to have conceived incredibly quickly. "Each one of their pregnancies was conceived within one or two months of trying," he says. What's more, some studies have hinted that embryos implanting outside the normal window of uterine receptivity were more likely to miscarry.

[... article ...]

2010-04-20

The doghouse: US Postal Service

A month ago, I ordered a shipment from the US. Unfortunately, the only shipping method available was US Postal Service. The shipment was supposed to be delivered from a sender in Colorado to me in St. Kitts, and the quoted time was 10-14 days.

Now look at these admirable tracking details:
Electronic Shipping Info Received, March 25, 2010
Arrival
International Dispatch, April 05, 2010, 8:14 pm, ISC MIAMI FL (USPS)
Arrived Abroad, April 09, 2010, 12:38 pm, BAHAMAS
Origin Post is Preparing Shipment
Inbound International Arrival, April 13, 2010, 3:25 pm, ISC MIAMI FL (USPS)
It is now April 20, and the shipment spent this time going from Miami to Bahamas and back to Miami, and is now apparently still in the States.

A courier service would have delivered this in 2 days.

2010-04-19

Omni-fix for Windows?

Nice!
Microsoft has launched "Fix It" software that keeps an eye on a PC and automatically repairs common faults.

The software basically adds the automatic diagnostics system in Windows 7 to older versions of Microsoft's operating system.

[...]

Once installed, the software gets updates about known issues with Windows or any connected devices, and regularly checks to see if a host machine has fallen victim. Once fixes become available it will tell users they are ready or attempt to apply them.
Let's hope this takes off and becomes more effective over time. There's really no reason why Microsoft shouldn't proactively fix common problems on people's machines, including malicious software removal. It is a major opportunity for Microsoft to make Windows friendlier to users who don't know much about software, and invariably end up with machines bogged down by malware and other problems.

2010-04-15

Abortion should be legal after birth

Kids like these are why abortion should remain legal for quite a long time after birth:
At first all seems well, but as time goes on the boy begins to display disturbing behaviour, spitting, hissing and kicking his new mother, threatening to kill family members, reacting violently when denied a new toy, attempting to beat a relative with a statue when asked to correct his math homework.

Finally, when the child not only threatens to burn down his house but draws pictures of the conflagration, the adoptive mother hatches a desperate plan. She puts the boy on a plane back to Russia with a note saying that he has severe psychological problems, she was lied to by the orphanage, [...]
Looking at some of the comments under this article, I am bewildered by the attitudes some of these commentators take:
This is a new variation on child abuse. The disposable child abandoned by airplane.
narcissistic single woman who should never have been permitted to adopt a child and now rightly deserves to be facing criminal charges of abuse and/or abandonment.
This selfish woman was unprepared to deal with a difficult child.
It is telling how far we have fallen that these attitudes are taken as self-evident and normal, rather than the insanity they are.

The following points lead me to believe such attitudes are insane.
  • The sum of a society's unamortized investment in a human being is not nearly maximum at age 7. It is when the said being has stopped studying and is about to start working. Depending on the country and the child's education, this could be anywhere from age 18-28.
  • When a person dies, the true cost to the world is (1) emotional, as in the sum of unpleasant emotions felt by others over the loss; (2) loss of investment, as in when the child has already undergone significant medical attention and schooling (especially when paid by taxes and others' contributions, rather than by family).
  • A severely damaged child is not going to improve and is only going to become a damaged, and quite possibly dangerous, adult.
  • We, humans, are animals. Our experience differs from the experience of animals in details, but not in its essence. We all experience life, thoughts, emotions. Only the degree of complexity differs.
  • We kill animals for joy and profit all the time. Our civilization is a lean, mean killing machine that you help propagate each time you bite into a sandwich.
  • Learning about the cruel nature of our civilization shocks many people, me included. But even knowing that meat in our sandwiches comes from slaughter, 95% of humans will not stop eating meat. Almost every one of us, most likely including you who are reading, silently endorse the slaughter we do on a daily basis.
See the disparity here?

On the one hand, we kill on a massive scale without blinking. On the other hand, the life of a psychotic child, one who's probably going to grow up to cause massive damage to life and property, that's sacred.

It's not sacred. It's an investment gone wrong. Investments like these should be terminated, before more resources are sunk, or possibly some innocent bystanders who are actually contributing get hurt in the process.

2010-04-07

Fruit and veggies don't make you healthy

I've suspected this for quite a while, and evidently, it's true. The claim that fruit and vegetables are inherently healthy is baseless:
In the best case scenario, an extra two portions of fruit and vegetables each day could prevent 2.6% of cancers in men and 2.3% of cases in women, the study concluded. [...] Fruit and vegetables could [...] be beneficial just by virtue of taking the place of more calorific fare, health experts say.
The following is the best article I've read so far on what we actually know about nutrition:

Science and Pseudoscience in Adult Nutrition Research and Practice

I stick to the following rules myself:
  • Calorie budget. I write down the number of calories in everything I eat. I do not allow myself to exceed my daily calorie budget. I pace myself throughout the day, eating 100-300 kCal every 1-3 hours, so that I can have a final meal of protein before I go to bed, without exceeding the budget.
  • Protein. I try to get at least 20g of protein every 3 hours. I get it from a variety of sources, including meat, yogurt, cottage cheese, fat free cheese, fat free milk, and protein powder.
  • Exercise. I go to the gym several times a week. Primarily weights, with cardio on some days.
  • Vitamins and minerals. I take one multivitamin pill each morning in an attempt to make sure that I get the vitamins and minerals I need. I choose a pill that has a 100% recommended daily dose for all the vitamins, and a variety of minerals as well.
I have found that exercise is definitely what makes the major difference, but keeping to a calorie budget and getting enough protein lets me keep my weight down and muscle mass up even when I get lazy about exercise for a while.

2010-04-04

Dubai stinks

Dubai, the Arab world's most "cosmopolitan" and "secular" destination, sentences a British couple to 1 month in prison, based on a 2-year-old child's allegation that she noticed them kissing in the restaurant they were at.

Also for enjoying alcohol illegally with their meal.

2010-03-29

"Your user profile was not loaded correctly"

Is anyone experiencing the following issue?
  • About 25-50% of cases after booting, logging into Windows produces the message "Preparing your desktop". This takes several minutes, and then you get logged into a temporary profile instead of your own, and Windows shows a notification stating "Your user profile was not loaded correctly!"
  • When you check the Application section of the Windows Event Viewer under Administrative Tools, you see messages from User Profile Service with Event IDs 1502 and 1508, and contents that include: "DETAIL - The process cannot access the file because it is being used by another process." One of the events mentions specifically that the file is ntuser.dat, belonging to the profile being logged in.
I've had this happen on two laptops consecutively, so the problem must be in some software I've installed, but I don't know what software.

I've read reports on the net that this problem can be caused by Google Updater, a program that's installed with applications such as Google Earth and Google Toolbar. Apparently, Google Updater can lock the file that contains a profile's registry, and that prevents the profile from loading correctly.

However, I have uninstalled Google Updater, and the problem has occurred again, in the exact same way, since then.

2010-03-04

Germany tells Greece to sell islands

If there's something I particularly like about Germans, it is their hard-nosed character trait of not only accepting responsibility, but expecting others to accept it, too.

More so than other European nations, they seem to have the ability to tell themselves and others to suck it up, tough it out, and face the consequences of foolish decisions in the past.

So I cheer when I hear German politicians proposing that Greece should start solving its national debt problem by selling islands. That's principled.

I'll add to that: sell sovereignty along with the islands. An island that goes for €2 million would easily sell for €2 billion (or more) if the buyer gets to make his own laws.

2010-03-03

Apple is evil

Not only does Apple make arbitrary decisions that affect the livelihoods of anyone developing for the platform; they are also now abusing the hopelessly wrecked US patent system to thwart competition.

Apple stinks.

2010-02-23

Why we don't do Apple

This is one reason why our small software company has not invested anything into producing software for the Apple platforms, nor do I plan us to:
ChilliFresh is an Australian company that creates apps for the iPhone, including the recently banned Wobble, which provides pictures of women's breasts.

"I'm now worried the eco-system is run by puritans and is not fair to all players," developer Jon Atherton said on its website.

"And worst of all it is not a secure source of income. It can drop to close to zero if they decide to change the rules," he added.

The firm was making £320 a day out of its apps, a figure which has dropped to £5 since the ban, he said.

"On Friday evening we got an e-mail out of the blue which basically said, thanks very much but we don't want you any more. Apple said it was removing all overtly sexual apps," he told the BBC.
It just doesn't seem to make sense to develop for a platform where you can't even count on being able to sell your software once you've invested years of effort into its development.

Apple picks sides, too:
When asked why some apps with adult content [such as Playboy's] had remained intact he said that Apple took into consideration how "well-known" companies were as well as whether they had "previously published material".
In other words: shaft the small guys, but try to avoid the big guys suing.

2010-02-18

Man crashes plane into IRS offices

The US Internal Revenue Service is frequently described as the most aggressive, least forgiving, most bullying tax agency in the western world.

The IRS is charged with enforcing a tax code which is incredibly unwieldy and full of traps. The way IRS enforces this tax code is said to frequently result in honest individuals ending up bankrupt or in jail for "transgressions" that they did not even know about.

I do not know this man's background, but quite apparently, the IRS was ruining his life, and he saw no better recourse than to crash his plane into their office building.

Quite possibly, they did, in fact, leave him with no other recourse.

The US tax system must be reformed, and the IRS must get out of the business of destroying people and businesses.

2010-02-11

Charity considered harmful

I was struck by this comment by Toby Ord under a LessWrong.com article:
It's not actually that hard to make a commitment to give away a large fraction of your income. I've done it, my wife has done it, several of my friends have done it etc. Even for yourself, the benefits of peace of mind and lack of cognitive dissonance will be worth the price, and by my calculations you can make the benefits for others at least 10,000 times as big as the costs for yourself. The trick is to do some big thinking and decision making about how to live very rarely (say once a year) then limit your salary through regular giving. That way you don't have to agonise at the hairdresser's etc, you just live within your reduced means. Check out my site on this, http://www.givingwhatwecan.org -- if you haven't already.
Charity is the process of taking purchasing power away from functional, creative individuals and communities, and giving it to dysfunctional, destructive individuals and communities.

Charity doesn't change the nature of the dysfunctional and destructive. It only restructures the reward system so that the dysfunctional and the destructive is rewarded, and the functional and constructive is penalized.

A person who does this willingly is, I am sad to say, stupid. You are only supposed to do this if people force you at gunpoint (taxes), and even then it's more patriotic to flee.

You should reward people for doing the right thing - providing a quality product or service - not for when they fail miserably.

The reason we evolved empathy is for cohesion with our immediate social group, where our empathy is balanced with everyone keeping track of everyone else, and an effective sense of group fairness.

But this only works within our immediate social group. Charity towards complete strangers is harmful because it is not balanced with fairness.

To balance our economic interactions outside the immediate social group that we can monitor, we already have a functioning system that's fair and encourages constructive behavior.

That system is money. Use it for what it's for.

2010-02-05

Happy times in North Korea

In The Economist:
First, women under 40, the main cohort of traders, were banned from markets, which have since been closed. Travel restrictions, especially near the Chinese border, were reimposed. “Antisocialist Conscience Investigation” teams fanned out. With market activity criminalised, punishments got harsher. In low-level “labour training-centres”, where most economic “criminals” are housed, 60% of inmates have seen executions and 90% witnessed forced starvation, refugees tell surveys by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland for the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Copyright troll hijacks hit song Down Under

Copyright troll Larrikin wins lawsuit against Men at Work for their inclusion of two bars of an old Australian popular melody in Men at Work's recording of Down Under. The copyright troll now wants 40-60% of the song's earnings.

Larrikin purchased the copyright to "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree" specifically to extort people who make any use, even tangential, of this old, well-known Australian melody:
"It's earned a hell of a lot of money for us since we've bought it,'' Mr Lurie told The Age.
Another case of people who would leave the world better off if they were run over by a bus.

Previously:

2010-01-31

Australia bans depictions of small breasts and female ejaculation

 
Incredible.

If the world is indeed overpopulated, then censors like these should be the first to go.

Protecting you from yourself, and from your obviously immoral curiosity about female ejaculation.

2010-01-30

"You... slut!"

In various shapes and forms, the following has been making the rounds:


This has a ring of truth to it, which is why people think it's funny. But it's false - unless the woman in question is failing to protect her fertility by getting tested and using condoms, or is failing to use birth control.

I think that the label "slut" for women who like sex is spread primarily by women who have a lower sex drive to begin with, and use sex as a means of manipulating their partners. If such women did not shun and discredit other women who genuinely like sex, then their undesirability would become apparent and their manipulativeness would lose power.

2010-01-26

St. Kitts election

The Labour party has been in power in St. Kitts & Nevis for 3 consecutive terms over the past 15 years. During Labour's reign, the islands first subsidized an ailing sugar industry, then retired it, improved as a tourist destination, and have seen much development in recent years. This would have been great, if it wasn't for an ominous and enormous dark side: the foreign debt has ballooned from several million USD when Labour began their first term, to now over US $1 billion. With a population of perhaps 50,000, this works out to $20,000 US per every adult or child - exceeding the islands' annual GDP.

Talk of corruption is endemic, and the amounts that have reportedly been spent on public projects, such as houses for laid off sugar workers, seem to be more than these projects should cost. Since St. Kitts has no external supervision and no Freedom of Information Act, it is hard to estimate how much of the more than $1 billion has been siphoned off to private accounts, but the word in the newspapers and on the street is that the people in power are living beyond their salaries, and own surprising amounts of expensive real estate, locally and abroad.

This year began with an election for the next 5-year governing term. The competition is for 11 seats of the National Assembly. 3 of those seats go to representatives from Nevis, while 8 seats go to representatives from St. Kitts.

The two islands are a federation, and the parties in St. Kitts are separate from those in Nevis. Since St. Kitts controls 8 seats, the main competition is in St. Kitts. The contenders here belong virtually exclusively to either Labour, led by PM Denzil Douglas, or to its antagonist PAM, led by Lindsay Grant. The election, which was held this Sunday, again gave Labour a decisive victory: it won 6 seats to PAM's 2.

But there's a twist.

The local democracy here has a peculiar rule that a candidate can only fail to run for office twice. Once you have been a candidate twice, and failed both times, you may no longer run for office. It so happens that the leader of PAM, Lindsay Grant, lost the previous time around. If he lost again, he would no longer be able to run for office; PAM would be decapitated.

So Labour set out to make this happen. They expected correctly that voters in Denzil Douglas's district would vote overwhelmingly for him. They therefore encouraged a large number of those voters to register in Mr. Grant's district instead, to turn the balance against him. These extra voters did not necessarily live in Mr. Grant's district, but it so happens that voter registration doesn't require anyone to prove where they live. So apparently, hundreds of people from Mr. Douglas's district went to the other district to vote against Mr. Grant. As a result, Mr. Grant lost the election by a total of 29 votes out of 2,661 in his district. If this is left to stand, he is no longer eligible for office.

The peculiar thing is that this is not considered blatantly illegal. My understanding is that Labour freely admits to having done this, and contends that this is quite alright according to the law.

You can imagine that the PAM supporters disagree, and that there is major tension about the issue. Mr. Grant will need to challenge this outcome in court, but the swearing in of the new representatives is this week.

The further unfolding of this story should be exciting. Not too exciting, hopefully.

2010-01-22

Obama is the man

It's been a year and I have to say that, so far, I am fairly pleased with the Obama presidency.

It is certainly much better than the dumb white guy that was in charge before.

I am particularly happy to hear about his plans for some serious bank reform that ought to prevent banks from getting too big to fail.

This is good news, and is something I've been advocating since a year ago.

2010-01-21

Violent genes

In the UK, two brothers, aged 10 and 11 at the time, beat two other boys almost to death, apparently unprovoked:
During police interview, the court heard the older brother said he attacked the boys because he had been bored and "there were nowt to do".

[...]

A BBC investigation has already revealed the two attackers were well-known troublemakers and that social services were heavily involved in their lives.
Compassion is a genetic trait.

Some people have more of it, some have less of it, and some people don't have it.

We aren't all the same.

Most people who lack traits that we take for granted don't make themselves visible like this. They live among us and have relatively normal lives, except for little or no compassion, and they show this in small ways rather than large.

I say this because some people have a fiction that there is such a thing as a "brotherhood of humankind", united in values that "virtually all" respect (or should respect) by default.

This is not true. Not only do we not appreciate the same ideals, we don't even share the ability to. Perhaps up to half the human population is evil. We are not united in our sensibilities and ideals. We come together as individuals who agree on a common set of laws to solve our various private concerns.

Societies that understand this, and build on the basis of everyone's self-interest, prosper. Societies that try to build on some non-existent, pre-supposed common idealism, fail.

2010-01-09

G-spots and squirting

There has recently been a lot of ruckus about a "study" having "proved" that there is "no such thing" as a G-spot.

The "study" basically involved asking a bunch of women who were twins whether they have a G-spot or not.

Since women in genetically identical pairs would differ on whether they have a G-spot, the study concluded that there must not be any such thing.

The study seems to have pretty much completely ignored relevant information such as the variety and sexual competence of these women's sexual partners.

I shudder to think that this sort of complete bullshit passes any sort of review and gets published worldwide as if it's meaningful.

If you want to know the truth about sexual topics, you need to go to people who have had a lot of sex and a variety of sexual partners.

You need to go to people who enjoy swinging, partner swapping, group sex, open relationships.

If you enter a community like that, you will quickly learn that:
  • Yes, there most definitely is a G-spot. Even if you think you don't have one, if you find the right partner, you may be surprised.
  • Yes, women most definitely have the capability to squirt (female ejaculation). Not all women are physically capable of it, but a very large proportion is. Even if you think you're not, if you find the right partner, you may be surprised.
You just can't get very reliable information about people's sexual potential by studying people who deliberately try to not have sex.

Addendum: Some readers have interpreted the above as boasting that I am "the right partner". This was not the intended at all.

I do believe that it may very well be possible to have a semi-objective ranking of people's sexual prowess; some ways of doing it are just universally lame, while others will receive a good response from most potential partners. However, it seems highly unlikely that we would ever have consensus on who is the best sex partner - or even who is "very good". This seems highly dependent on each person's biology, preferences, and past experience.

2010-01-08

PEBKAC

PEBKAC. Acronym for: Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.

I have cofounded, and I run, a small software company that specializes in SSH client and server software for Windows.

SSH is a standardized protocol which specifies how a desktop program, called an SSH client, can connect to a back-end program running on another machine. The other program is called an SSH server, and the SSH standard specifies how the two programs can transmit files and information in a securely authenticated and encrypted manner.

If you have any experience with computers, I hope it's not too far fetched to expect that you have a vague understanding of what "client" and "server" means. A program that runs in a client role is proactive: it decides what server to connect to and what actions to request that server to perform. A program that runs in a server role is reactive: it waits expectantly to receive connections from clients, and responds to them as they arrive, in turn.

So, as I mentioned earlier, our company makes an SSH server, called WinSSHD, and an SSH client, which we call Tunnelier.

About a year ago, we introduced a built-in feedback feature into WinSSHD, which I hoped would make it easier for users to report any problems that they might experience, so that we can fix them.

And report they do.

Unfortunately, however, my expectations turned out to be... off the mark... about the quality of the feedback we would receive.

The very first thing that it became apparent we have to do was to introduce a minimal length requirement for the content of the feedback.

The feedback dialog, which is displayed automatically when a user uninstalls WinSSHD, has four components. There is text which explains that the user can provide feedback, but only if they want to. There is a text area for the feedback, and there are two buttons. One says "Send", the other says "Close". The instructions say that if you don't want to send feedback, just click "Close".

In the beginning, the only requirement to send feedback was that it's non-empty. This was insufficient. We got a barrage of feedbacks that said simply "blah" or "[expletive]" or "doesn't work". Such feedback, of course, is useless - and often just plain mean and insulting. So we now require that the feedback must have 40 or more characters.

The volume of useless feedback is now less, but even so, between 1/2 and 2/3 of all the feedback we receive is "abdfhkjghdfkjghfj..." - garbage characters repeated enough times to satisfy the 40 character minimum. Some feedback even seems angry because we "make" them type it in. Most of these people use an English version of Windows; and yet, they do not seem to realize that they could simply click Close.

Which brings me to the next most common type of frustrating feedback. These are people who have downloaded the SSH server instead of the SSH client, and do not realize their mistake. Here's one such case:
what is wrong with simple ftp transfers? This has a large learning curve, and I don't have a lot of time.

I uninstalled this before I even ran it.

Make it simple:
1. where do you want to connect
2. what is your login name
3. what is your password

That's about it.

terrible interface.
This is feedback from an apparently literate English speaker who has succeeded in downloading, installing, uninstalling, and forming a terrible opinion of WinSSHD, without even noticing the plentiful occurences of the word "server".

The sad thing, the tragedy, is that this is not exceptional. We get feedback like this every day. In combination with the people who send "abcdkjhkjshg" because they don't realize they can simply click Close, this constitutes the majority of our feedback.

Yes, we have also received feedback that was beneficial, and has helped us improve WinSSHD. The feature does help, despite the frustration. And even if all it did was let us know how many people were totally befuddled beyond our expectations - that would be helpful as well.

But still... there is so much of this.

I have already tried changing our download page to clearly identify which program is the server and which program is the client. The only thing that remains to be done is to physically separate the download pages, and attempt to lead the user to the right one.

Yet, I still have some doubts that it'll fix the problem completely.

2010-01-04

Why Kenzo died

Edit 2009-01-27: We learned Kenzo's pathology results today. It turns out Kenzo he had a tiny tumor that obstructed his bile. This resulted in the damage to the pancreas and liver that eventually led to his death. We are told that the tumor was very small and hard to identify even during the autopsy. It wasn't until they put the tissue into formalin that they were able to see it. Identifying it in the first place would have probably required a CT or an MRI, and removing it would have required a very involved procedure that would have been very high risk even in an otherwise still healthy cat. There is apparently no way he could have been saved on St. Kitts, and his chances would still have been poor even with state of the art skills and equipment.

When our cat Kenzo fell ill, and we were browsing the web for information and other people's experiences, we mostly found reports by people whose cats survived. It may however also be useful to hear failed accounts, so as to know what to look out for.

Kenzo was a big, gentle, adorable, 5-year old male cat who weighed 7.5 kg (16.5 lbs) before his illness. He was happy, playful and loving, and had a marvelous character. He had been overweight, but not obese; his stature was simply majestic for a cat. Genetically, he came from a prohibited liaison between a Turkish breed female and a Persian breed male.

In early December 2009, we left for a 10-day holiday and left Kenzo and Chanel (his female cat companion) in the care of a roommate. When we came back, we noticed that Kenzo had lost considerable weight. He went from 7.5 kg to 6.5, which the roommate had failed to notice. She merely observed the total food eaten by both cats, which remained normal, but did not notice Kenzo's loss of weight.

Mistake #1: Failure to spot the problem when it starts.

At this time, Kenzo showed no other signs of problems. He was cheerful and playful, and showed passion for chicken breast when we fed it to him. We therefore assumed that he might have simply not liked the food he was being given, or stopped eating due to stress of our absence. We thought this despite the fact that we had left for longer several times before, and the cats never had any problems.

Mistake #2: Failure to call a veterinarian as soon as noticing the problem.

Since Kenzo only lost weight but was still happy and playful, we thought perhaps a parasite might be involved. It was also time for the cats' monthly shot of Revolution, a parasite preventative, so we administered that just in case. A veterinarian later told us that this probably overburdened his liver.

Mistake #3: Failing to consult a veterinarian before administering medicine after noticing a problem.

Since Kenzo seemed relatively fine, and his toenails had grown long during our absence, I clipped them. He resisted, and my persistence added to his stress.

Mistake #4: Adding stress to a cat that already has a problem.

The next day, day 2, Kenzo didn't eat at all. On day 3, I noticed yellow color around his mouth. I raised this with my wife, but she thought it was from the food he was recently given. I was suspicious, since I had never before seen such discoloration after he ate, but did not pursue the matter further.

Mistake #5: Failure to recognize the onset of jaundice.

On day 4, I noticed that the yellow color around his mouth persisted. This time I suspected jaundice, and I checked the inside of his ears. They too were yellow. I conferred with my wife. We immediately called the emergency veterinarian and promptly brought Kenzo to them. He stayed with the veterinarian overnight.

On day 5, we came back to the vet to talk about results and see Kenzo. He was none too happy about the clinic environment and had not eaten much at all. They had done bloodwork and an ultrasound, but not a biopsy. His liver enzymes were all out of whack, his bilirubin was 9 where the normal is up to 0.9, but the rest of the bloodwork was fine, so they suspected that he has hepatic lipidosis. This is a dangerous liver condition in a cat that hasn't been eating. It is caused by the general inability of cats to process their stored fat. The treatment is to force the cat to eat enough for the liver to recover.

In the vast majority of cases, hepatic lipidosis is a consequence of another condition, but the underlying condition wasn't diagnosed. We all assumed Kenzo stopped eating due to stress of our absence, and/or due to the new person taking care of the cats.

This wasn't, in fact, the case. We didn't learn until the autopsy that Kenzo had pancreatitis.

Mistake #6: Failure to diagnose the underlying cause of hepatic lipidosis.

When we returned home, Kenzo showed some interest in food and ate a significant amount, but not enough given what the vet said he was supposed to. Jana took it upon herself to force-feed him over the next two weeks, which she did heroically. We did this in hope of avoiding him having to get a feeding tube, which would involve surgery to place it into his stomach through a hole in his throat.

The force feeding should have worked to help his liver. But what he really had was pancreatitis, and he needed an IV of fluids and electrolytes to keep him hydrated, as well as not that much feeding, to give rest to his pancreas. With oral feeding, he just wasn't getting (and keeping) enough fluids.

Mistake #7: Failure to hydrate the cat.

Mistake #8: Prolonged treatment based on an incorrect/incomplete diagnosis.

Kenzo didn't seem to be doing much better, so we called the vets, but were reassured that the treatment we were giving him was fine. We continued force feeding, even though we were worried because his energy level rose right up when he wasn't eating, and bottomed out when he was fed.

Mistake #9: Failure to reconsider diagnosis when treatment is not working.

Kenzo seemed to be getting worse, and the force feeding was very wearisome, so we finally insisted on bringing him in to get more tests and a feeding tube.

When we brought him in the second time, tests showed that his bilirubin was 19 - twice what it was the first time. He had lost more weight, and was down to 5.9 kg. They performed bloodwork and ultrasound again, but it was right before New Year's, so the people needed for a more detailed checkup were all off-island - celebrating in the US with their families, not having their cat die on them.

Tests showed that his gall bladder was enlarged and his bile flow was obstructed. He underwent surgery to receive a feeding tube. We were told to continue administering food, and now also antibiotics which they hoped would reduce internal swelling and remove the obstruction. What he would have really needed is more thorough tests and/or surgery, but the necessary people weren't on island.

We took him home December 31 and were told to bring him back on January 5.

He seemed to be improving slightly on antibiotics, and the feeding was much simpler with the feeding tube. (If your cat needs force feeding, definitely get a feeding tube.)

However, on the evening of January 3, he just seemed to fall of a cliff. He lost all energy - couldn't even climb out of the litter box after peeing - and looked like he was about to die. We brought him in first thing next morning.

We hoped they could still operate and do something, but it was apparent to the vet immediately that he was dying, that he wouldn't survive anaesthesia, and that euthanasia was the only remaining option. Reluctantly, this is what we did.

Autopsy showed that his bowel had ruptured, which was probably what caused the drastic decline the previous evening. The rupture itself was fatal and irreparable. The main problem, however, appeared to be severe pancreatitis, which had destroyed his liver in turn.

Autopsy also showed scarring of the intestines, which would point to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, but he didn't recently show any such symptoms. We suspect the scarring may have been from when he was younger, and was unrelated to the recent situation.

After the autopsy, the veterinarians reassured us that there was nothing we could have done. That given the state he was in, he would have died no matter what we did, even at the point when we first brought him.

We're not so sure that is the case. If none of the above mistakes had happened - and perhaps if this wasn't a godforsaken island which all the skilled people leave over New Year - then, maybe, Kenzo might have lived.

As it is, we are left with a tuft of his hair... his favorite toy... and the next 10 years without our beloved, special, irreplaceable companion.

In memoriam Kenzo, Sep 2004 - Jan 2010

Our cat, Kenzo, died today after 3 weeks of intensive home care. He was the sweetest, most graceful and majestic cat we've ever known.

Goodbye, Kenzo.