2011-12-02

Microsoft Excel: The dumbest possible Undo ever

I was just reminded, again, how Microsoft Excel has the worst possible Undo implementation ever.

Instead of keeping track of undo actions separately for each file, it tracks them for all open files together. When you undo actions in one spreadsheet, you will be undoing actions in other spreadsheets you have open, too.

This is the stupidest possible design I can think of. It leads to data loss for anyone who relies on a reasonable undo feature when managing their documents. It is positively dangerous to have multiple Excel spreadsheets open simultaneously, since undoing in one document may lead to data loss in others.

Whoever designed this should be fired from software development, and made to flip burgers instead. There's no excuse for this idiocy in a software product like Office.

2011-11-28

Dell is inept

For the last several weeks, I've been trying to unsuccessfully place an order with Dell.

Let me tell you, that company is inept.

The only reason I'm trying to place an order with them is because I want a powerful desktop replacement laptop, and they have the only one I can find with an 18" screen.

But goodness, it's practically impossible to place an order with them.

Because I live in the Caribbean, I cannot have the order shipped to me in the first place. They don't ship anywhere out of the US. So I have to bug a friend, or use a freight forwarding service.

So, I'm now ordering an expensive laptop shipped (against my preference) to the US, but the card I'm paying with is from outside the US. So my order gets canceled by their verification team.

I contact the verification team, they ask me questions, and they finally say okay, you can try ordering now. Can they reinstate my existing order that they canceled? No. I have to get in touch with their reinstatement department. They have a department for reinstating orders!

I get routed to some automated phone central, get handed over from person to person, spend hours on the phone, and I never can get to the fabled reinstatement department. The agents I talk to keep asking all the same questions all over again and are being useless.

Fine. So I place a new order again. Their website offers the ability to pay in multiple transactions, rather than everything at a time. Great. I'll need that, because my bank imposes a daily spending limit that's below the cost of the laptop.

As soon as I place the order, I find a "chat with agent" link, just to confirm what the limit on my card is, and that I want to pay in two installments. They tell me the first one went through. They'll process the next one tomorrow.

A few hours later, a phone call. An agent from Dell is telling me, in a bad English accent, that my second payment could not be processed. Of course it couldn't be, I reply, one payment was already processed today, the second one is supposed to be processed tomorrow. I am unsure what the status of my order is now.

A Dell manager follows up with me by email. I complain about their poor organization, and request information about the status of my order. He sends a courtesy reply to my comments about Dell, but does not inform me of the status of my order.

I foolishly assume that my order is being processed.

A few days later, I check the status of the order online, and...

Canceled.

In terms of pre-sales support, Dell must be the single most useless company I've ever been in touch with. Every single aspect of placing an order is split into separate departments. The people populating these departments are either powerless, or inept, or both. They speak poor English, and if your order needs the attention of another department, they can't even forward you there. The "managers" are just as useless.

Why Dell even has these people on their payroll, is beyond me. The company is simply unfit to handle any order that does not fit their automated process. The humans they employ have all of the autonomy of a cog in a machine, and are as helpful as a nail.

There are government bureaucracies that function much better than this!

2011-11-15

LOL Slovenia

I just found this gem:

Čas je, da gre politika v stečaj!

Apparently, Slovenia has had an issue with high-profile companies going bankrupt in circumstances that may have involved fraud (but probably involved state favoritism and incompetence). The legal system in Slovenia is incapable of punishing people responsible, so the parliament passed a law which imposes the following blanket punishment:

Everyone who had an ownership or leadership role in a bankrupt company is prohibited from co-owning or leading another company, for 10 years after the end of the previous company's bankruptcy proceedings.

Bankruptcies in Slovenia can take decades, so the effective duration of the punishment may be much longer than 10 years.

Not only that, but people who had an ownership or leadership role in a bankrupt company up to two years before the bankruptcy are also subject to the same prohibition.

Is that ridiculous, or what?

Who on Earth is going to want to run a business in Slovenia?

Suppose a company is in trouble and needs new leadership. Who's going to come to its rescue, risking to lose all of their rights to do business in Slovenia, in case they fail?

Given this new law, the most prudent course of action for anyone who wants to establish a new business is to establish it outside of Slovenia. Slovenia is a tiny country, and it's part of the EU. There are several neighboring countries, only an hour's drive away, where you can found your company in a more sensible jurisdiction. There goes Slovenian tax revenue!

What a joke!

This makes me laugh at the ineptitude of Slovenian politicians, as well as feel fortunate for leaving. A country that makes these kinds of choices is on a road to self-defeat.

2011-11-10

There are no healthy foods - only healthy diets

I'm not a nutritionist. However, for the last 5 years or so, I've successfully based my diet on the following suspicions:
  • Popular nutrition advice is probably misleading and puts exaggerated emphasis on fresh fruit, vegetables, and "natural" ingredients.
  • While some people are highly sensitive to additives, and others to a lesser extent, most people aren't.
  • For most people, what matters in diet is, by far, calorie count. It's no use to be eating a vegetable rich diet if you eat so much you're overweight. Conversely, a restricted calorie diet will lose you weight, even if it consists of sugar and fat. As long as your diet gives you enough vitamins and protein, not being overweight is what matters most for health.
There's no such thing as a healthy food. There are only healthy diets. What matters is how the numbers add up, not the individual things you eat.

In this CNN article, a KSU nutrition professor lost 27 pounds over two months on a diet consisting largely of packaged sugary snacks. He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake each day, but restricted his total calorie intake. After two months, he lost weight, and his blood pressure and cholesterol levels were better.

As long as it's not poison, and you don't have a specific medical condition, your body can process what you put in your mouth. The trick is not to put too much, and make sure that you're getting vitamins and protein from somewhere, and it won't matter if your diet is based on garden greens or hamburgers.

Our species has been on Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, surviving on all types of diets in all sorts of environments. This wouldn't have been possible if our biology required a steady intake of fresh vegetables to live.

Costa Rica vs. St. Kitts for the fitness-minded IT professional

My wife and I are originally from Europe. We currently live in St. Kitts, and are considering a move to Costa Rica. We're returning from a 5 week trip to Costa Rica, where our intent was to see what daily life would be like for us. Here are our findings.


Health care


St. Kitts: There are foreigners living in St. Kitts, as well as medical and veterinary students from the US. Everyone we talked to has warned us to stay away from the local hospital. A student who visited the hospital reported shoddy hygiene in multiple respects, including a cow walking the corridors. People who need a serious medical procedure, and can afford to, go to Puerto Rico, or the US. If you need to go to the local hospital in an emergency, such as an appendectomy, you can expect worse scarring, and probably a greater chance of complications than in the US.

Costa Rica: Costa Rica is a medical destination for visitors from the US, providing high quality care at lower cost than available in the broken US healthcare system. There is a larger community of expatriates and retirees from the US and Canada, and an international medical center (CIMA) catering to them and to medical tourists.

Score: St. Kitts -10, Costa Rica +10


Language


St. Kitts: The native people speak English, but their accent is so broken that you'll need time to begin to understand. If you ask them to clarify, they'll mostly just say it again, in the same way and the same speed. There are people who speak better English, but after almost 5 years in St. Kitts, it still often takes me 2-3 tries to understand what people are saying.

Costa Rica: The native people speak Spanish. If you don't speak Spanish, it'll be harder to learn than a broken English accent.

Score: St. Kitts -5, Costa Rica -10


Power


St. Kitts: Power is provided by a government monopoly, and the result are frequent power outages. In our 5 years of living there, we experienced:

- A period of several weeks without power for 8 hours every day, because half the power station had burnt down.

- Another period of weeks without power for multiple hours a day, because the power station had been flooded.

- Even in better times, regular power outages lasting 1-2 hours, several times a week. It is fairly frustrating to experience this on a regular basis.

Costa Rica: In our 5 weeks of living there, we experienced one day with a power outage lasting, perhaps, 2 hours.

Score: St. Kitts -10, Costa Rica -3


Internet access


St. Kitts: Believe it or not, St. Kitts might win this one. The problem in St. Kitts is frequent power outages; but if you have a generator, internet access is solid. There are two providers, LIME (phone-based) and The Cable (cable TV based). As of 2011, both currently offer download speeds of up to 6-7 Mbit/s. We have used both, and LIME seems to be more reliable, with fewer interruptions and disconnections. Latency to the US is good.

Costa Rica: Internet access in Costa Rica is through a state monopoly. Our only experience so far has been through a hotel, but the tests I was able to make indicated a 40 ms latency just from the hotel's router to the ISP, and 100 ms more to the US. Ping times to the US were more inconsistent than we experienced in St. Kitts.

Score: St. Kitts +5, Costa Rica -5


Cinemas


St Kitts: A nice, modern multi-screen cinema opened in St. Kitts a few years ago. We welcomed this highly, but unfortunately, the new cinema did not come with a well trained crew. In the first year, we experienced:

- A movie started completely without sound for the first 15 minutes. The sound eventually came on, but we had missed what happened in the first 15 minutes of the movie. No apologies, no refunds.

- One movie had a screaming crying baby in the audience, whose mom refused to take it out. No staff member asked the mom to leave with the baby, either. We left the theater and asked for a refund. We didn't get one.

- Other movies we saw were way too loud. We started going to the cinema with earplugs so we could enjoy a normal volume.

It could be that these issues have been fixed by now; the last movie we saw in St. Kitts had no issues and was enjoyable. However, these early experiences certainly caused us to visit the St. Kitts cinema much less than we would like.

Costa Rica: There are multiple multi-screen cinemas in San Jose. We went to Cinemark in Multiplaza, and to Nova Cinemas not far away. The VIP screens in Nova Cinemas is spectacular! For the same price as a regular movie ticket in the US, you get to see the movie in a luxurious environment with fewer other guests and comfortable, powered recliner seating. Most movies are in English with Spanish subtitles, which aren't a bother, and may help a bit with learning Spanish. The down side is that some movies, animated ones in particular, are available only in dubbed Spanish versions.

Score: St. Kitts +5, Costa Rica +10


Eating out


St. Kitts: There's one excellent restaurant we know of in St. Kitts: Ottley's Plantation. It's pricey, it's out of the way, and they require a credit card to make a reservation. But everything we've had there was amazingly delicious. The service is good, too.

Other than that, though, eating out in St. Kitts is mediocre. The restaurants tend to have great views, but service tends to be atrocious. Waiters shuffle wearily from table to table, and hardly pay attention to your order. Or they are too chummy, and want to talk to you instead of serving you. The food can take forever, and while it tastes decent, the price is high and the experience can be awkward. Therefore, we usually eat at home.

We also love sushi, and St. Kitts has no sushi restaurants. There used to be a kind of sushi on certain nights at the St. Kitts Marriott, but the menu was poor, and it gave us diarrhea.

Costa Rica: Oh my goodness. There are sushi restaurants, and they're so good! White tuna is available, and all the fish are delicious. The Samurai restaurant at Itskazu Plaza has some of the best sushi we've had.

There are tons of other eateries, and most have been highly enjoyable. If we move to Costa Rica, we'll be going out to eat much more.

Score: St. Kitts 0, Costa Rica +10


Groceries


St. Kitts: When we first arrived, the selection of food in St. Kitts groceries was small and variable. If you saw something you liked, you really had to stock up, because when it ran out, it wouldn't be restocked again for a few months. This has improved a lot in recent years. The variety of foods available has grown, and supply has gotten more reliable. The one aspect still suffering is the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables; the availability of these remains poor, and is a lottery when you visit the store. However, St. Kitts has a good supply of foods I like, such as greek yogurts and Lean Cuisine microwave meals.

Costa Rica: Given that Costa Rica has both a Walmart and the largest shopping mall in Central America, we expected more choice. The supply of what's on offer seems reliable - you don't have to stock up on things available at the store. However, I didn't find in Costa Rica's groceries a lot of things that I enjoy in St. Kitts. For example:

- No greek yogurts. I'm talking creamy, high protein, low fat yogurts from brands such as Fage, Oikos, Chobani, Yoplait, or Dannon. Costa Rica has lots of regular yogurts, but those are crap compared to the greek ones. Greek yogurts are readily available in stores in the US, as well as recently in St. Kitts. But not in Costa Rica. Big minus.

- No fat free cheese. Come on. The US has fat free cheese. St. Kitts has fat free cheese. Costa Rica has no fat free cheese. The mind boggles.

- No Lean Cuisines. Or rather: there are some, but in multiple stores, I found no microwave meals that I like, with high protein and low calorie content.

- No Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts. Many Costa Rica stores had Ritter Sport, but none had the Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts. Come on. St. Kitts has that!

That being said, fresh fruits and vegetables in Costa Rica stores are plentiful and readily available.

Score:
- St. Kitts 0 (poor availability of fresh fruits and vegetables)
- Costa Rica -5 (no greek yogurts, fat free cheese, or useful Lean Cuisines)


Protein


St. Kitts: There is no meaningful local supply of protein powder or protein bars. The Marriott has some Nugo bars in the convenience store, and some Steel bars in the spa store, but that's it; and the supply is limited. You will be bringing your protein powder and protein bars from trips to the US. There is a Boost High Protein drink available in Horsfords. I usually buy out the whole supply.

Costa Rica: There are multiple GNC outlets that have protein powders, protein bars, and protein drinks... but.

The protein bars are expensive. A bar that costs $1-$2 in a store like Publix in the US, will cost $3-$9 in GNC in Costa Rica.

The protein drinks are spoiled. I bought a bunch and then returned them, and the people at GNC wouldn't believe me that they're bad. They think it's normal for the solid content in the drink to coagulate, separating out from the water. They think you're just supposed to shake it hard so it mixes again. I did that and tried to drink it, but the taste is atrocious, spoiled, and bitter. I drank a couple ounces and had diarrhea for a day. It wasn't just one drink, either. I tried two from separate GNC outlets, and they were both spoiled in that way. When I returned those I didn't open, the people at GNC put them back on the shelf!

Don't buy protein drinks in GNC in Costa Rica.

Score:
- St. Kitts +3 (there's Boost, but you'll be importing protein powder and protein bars from the US)
- Costa Rica 0 (there's protein powders, but protein drinks are spoiled, and you'll be importing protein bars from the US)


Connections


St. Kitts: Last but not least, travel. If your destination is anything other than Miami, traveling to and from St. Kitts is rather inconvenient. American Airlines has regular direct flights to Miami, but the timing is such that regardless of which way you're going, you won't make most connections the same day. This makes travel to or from most parts of the US rather inconvenient. In addition, ticket price is somewhat high. The airport in St. Kitts doesn't have many stores and facilities, and isn't fully air conditioned.

Costa Rica: Connections with the US seem excellent. There are direct flights to multiple transport hubs, including Dallas and Miami by American Airlines, Los Angeles by United, and others. There are multiple flights every day, so it's much easier to make a connection. The airport is modern and has ample shops and eateries.

Score: St. Kitts -5, Costa Rica +10


Weather, natural disasters, crime


In these respects, St. Kitts and Costa Rica fare similarly.

St. Kitts can be too humid and hot, while Costa Rica can be too rainy.

St. Kitts is prone to hurricanes and may be at risk of earthquake or volcanic eruption. Costa Rica has more earthquakes - we experienced several small ones during our 5 weeks of stay - and also a potential volcano.

St. Kitts has robberies and a high number of murders per capita, while Costa Rica has robberies and an increasing number of murders in San Jose. In both countries, the places where foreigners live are safer and nicer.


Bottom line


St. Kitts scores -17, while Costa Rica scores +17 on things we care about.

St. Kitts could improve a lot by having good health care and reliable power. These improvements alone would improve its score substantially, and make it bearable for us to live there.

In Costa Rica, my biggest disappointment is the lack of high protein or fat free food, and unimpressive quality of internet access. I would expect more from a country of 4.6 million with a healthy expatriate community. However, its higher scores in other categories make it an attractive choice for us at this time.

2011-11-05

Diamonds are a marketing campaign

This article is fascinating for showing how much larger than the stones themselves the diamond product is. The stones aren't the product at all. The product is public opinion about diamonds. The suppliers create public opinion through product placement and advertising, and control price both by controlling supply, and by marketing diamonds in such a way as to discourage resale, which has the potential of upsetting the price in a big way.

That is the diamond product. The stones themselves are inconsequential.

The article is from 1982. It doesn't seem like a whole lot has changed since then; but it would be fascinating to read of later developments in the story.

2011-09-27

Saving democracy through compulsory voting?

CNN recently published a surprisingly starkly worded opinion piece titled Stupid voters enable broken government. The gist of the article is that we have governments we elect, and therefore governments we deserve.

But do we, really?

A commenter points out the following:
Most eligible voters don't even vote. Only 37% did in the 2010 election. That means it only takes 18.87% of all eligible voters to get elected. And that means a candidate must pander to the bat shit crazies...because the batshit crazies are definitely voting.

It's very likely the other 63% of voters don't show up to the polls because they don't think the candidates represent their views. This works out to a feedback effect since if they did show up, their opinions would carry weight and the candidates would reflect their views.
I've spent a fair amount of time contemplating the faults of democracy, but its salvation might be much more straightforward than I thought.

Edit: Wikipedia has a list of countries with compulsory voting. Out of countries that have it, 12 countries are listed as enforcing it. Prominent among these are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, France, Peru, Singapore, Uruguay. Most of these countries don't seem to be faring too badly, but they seem to vary widely nevertheless.

2011-09-15

US Military Waste

Reddit recently had an interesting debate with someone who states he was a Contracting Officer in the US Air Force for several years, and was able to shed some inside light on US military waste.

We learn that things like $10,000 hammers are generally miscommunications. An invoice might contain maintenance work worth $10,000 and supplies worth $10, and the line items get swapped around; or the wrong product code is entered.

That being said, there's still substantial waste. It happens as follows:
  • For many types of purchases, the military is required to look for a handicapped, veteran-owned, female-owned, minority-owned, or small business to buy from, before even considering e.g. Walmart. These types of businesses then buy the items themselves and resell to the military at a markup. This is effectively a subsidy program for business owned by veterans, minorities, and women.
  • There are programs like NASA SEWP that buy products large-scale from contractors that buy from other contractors that belong to the favored minority groups. Each contractor in the chain passes on the products at a markup, resulting in a final price paid by the government that can be 50% over retail.
  • The military employs use it or lose it budgeting, where the budget of each unit is decreased the next year if they did not spend the entire budget the previous year. But expenditures of most units are not the same year after year, and units want to have money available for years when there are emergencies, such as in this Washington State Forest Service example. Therefore, units start their annual financial cycle very tightly to conserve in case there will be an emergency. But as the year comes to an end, they end up with a budget surplus, and now they have to spend it, so that next year, they won't receive less. Units that still have money at the end of the financial year have it taken away, and have to fight to get it back, such as in this Blackhawk fuel example. Most units therefore spend their surplus budgets on items ranging from training, to unnecessary flat screen TVs, to expensive office furniture. This mostly doesn't get reported because the orders come in with full documentation claiming they are bona fide needs that just so happen to come up at the end of the budget cycle.
  • The military employs a large amount of old technology where replacement parts are only still available from a handful of suppliers. These suppliers gouge their prices as high as they can without making it worth for the government to file a lawsuit.
All in all, it looks like there are three major sources of US military waste:
  1. "Use it or lose it" budgeting.
  2. Substantial markups due to having to purchase from favored types of businesses.
  3. Vendor lock-ins for old technology.
If each of these issues were addressed, the US military budget could be cut by possibly as much as 50% without losing effectiveness. The money currently spent on minority business subsidies would likely be much better spent on direct social security. The losses from "use it or lose it" budgeting could be eliminated through a smarter budgeting system that doesn't penalize responsible spending.

Similar lessons could likely also be applied to other government branches, resulting in large overall savings without decreasing the quality and quantity of government services.

2011-08-15

Why women shave and wax

The hirsute women of Reddit, and the men who like them, have been downvoting my attempts to explain that the reason females remove their body hair is not just due to some mere cultural convention, but has deeper causes.

Here's the typical complaint:
We're fucking mammals for fucks sake. Hair is not abnormal. The idea that a woman has to shave and pluck and wax in order to pass muster is abnormal. The solution is for you to stop being so shallow.
I think my following response is my best so far:
The whole reason women shave and pluck and wax is because we're mammals. We have evolved to find people attractive based on their gender traits. We have evolved to associate a certain set of characteristics with manhood, and another set of characteristics with womanhood. Women shave and pluck and wax to differentiate themselves from males. A woman who does this distinguishes herself from women who look more like men. Therefore, females who don't wax are outcompeted on the sex market by those who do.

This entire situation is inevitable. We are brought to this point by evolution and game theory. We don't choose to have these preferences. We are built to prefer women that are more unlike males. Removing hair just helps make you more unlike men.

If you're female, you're burdened by the need to shave and wax. You don't want to have to do it. It's a burden to compete with other females. But you fail to see that the reason you need to play this game is because we are subject to evolutionary pressures. This is the same type of mechanic as what causes deer to have huge antlers.

Be thankful that you can do something as simple as makeup and waxing to vastly improve your attractiveness. I'm a guy, and I'm 5'7". Most women are looking for 6' plus. There's nothing I can do about my height. Now you tell me who is being "shallow".

2011-08-10

The Unemployable

I'm not sure I even need to provide a link to the UK riots. There's already a Wikipedia page about it.

I've recently been considering an idea to which these riots seem to be related. This idea is about the marginally employable - or quite possibly, unemployable.

The society we have right now rewards talent. The more talent you have, the less you need to work to enjoy material comfort. If you have lots of talent, your work can be comfortable and fun, and you might make millions. If you have mediocre talent, you can still prosper if you work hard. If you have no talent, you need to work your bottom off to pay your bills.

With talent distribution being the bell curve that it is, there are bound to be unfortunate people with little to no talent. With talent being somewhat hereditary, a disproportionate number of these are likely to be born to parents who also lack talent. This means that people without talent are more likely to be poor, and the poor are likely to be stuck there.

Not so long ago, if you didn't have a talent to contribute, you could still contribute work. Manual labor was in relative demand. If you could operate a shovel, you could find work.

As time goes by, we are replacing more and more manual labor with machines. This would be wonderful if every manual worker was able to graduate to work that takes more skill, e.g. to operate machines. But it seems to me that this isn't the case. Many people who would have done manual labor in the past, will in the future have fewer and fewer ways to help the economy.

Unskilled people in developed countries are also being squeezed by competition from developing countries. At the moment, there remain many jobs that employ manual labor. But these jobs seem to have been exported to developing countries where labor costs are lower. The people suffering the most from this are unskilled people in developed countries. The jobs that remain in developed countries take more skill. The unskilled workers have to compete for those jobs with skilled people, and are losing.

This situation pretty much requires governments to step in and bridge the gap. They have done so. The cost of cheaper products from abroad is a more expensive social state, which needs to help the unskilled workers as long as unskilled jobs remain exported.

I don't see a way of fixing that, other than allowing companies in developed countries to compete with developing countries on the same terms as permitted there. This means the same low pay, and the same lack of protection laws. This would make unskilled workers even worse off than on social welfare, so it's unlikely to happen unless the social state goes broke.

In several more decades, developing countries will become developed. Their salaries will rise, and unskilled jobs will start to come back to countries they came from.

But will a large enough number of unskilled jobs come back, or will technological progress cause the number of unskilled jobs to still be exceeded by the unskilled workers in the population?

On the one hand, national IQ levels are rising over time. I attribute this to the dominance of genes that lead to intelligence, which proliferate as people mix.

However, I suspect that technological progress will be faster than the rate of natural human improvement. Unless we invent ways of improving ourselves, I suspect that an ever-larger portion of humanity is going to find themselves on the margins of the global economy. They will be in a state where they cannot contribute, because all the work they can do will be done more efficiently through automation. In a state of ultimate technological progress, where all aspects of the production of any good are automated, there will no longer be space for the existence of anyone but the brainiest individuals, and those providing personal services to them. Everyone else will have no way of earning goods, unless they receive them as a gift from those who still play a part in the economy. It might be a direct gift, such as in charity, or a systematic gift, such as in a social state; but it will be a gift nevertheless.

Unless we invent technology to improve human mental abilities, an ever larger share of the population will become dependent on the sheer generosity of an ever smaller pool of people who have skills to contribute. Whether this generosity will be forthcoming, and in what form, is up for anyone to speculate.

We could change our system to reward effort, rather than the good it does. But that's what communism did, and it impedes progress through misuse of resources. It is better for everyone to keep rewarding that which has results, and therefore to reward talent, while giving away part of the proceeds as social welfare.

One could argue that a social welfare state where everything of value is produced by a few people, and everyone else is on welfare, could be similar to heaven. Why, yes, that in fact could be the case. We could live very well in an automated system where most of us are not needed, or even useful, in the production of what we consume.

But for examples of states where the needs of citizens can be provided for without their input, look only at countries like Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia. Their oil exports are 40-50% of GDP, and the rest is, to a smaller or greater extent, foreign workers. Instead of creating heaven on Earth, material security has enabled these nations to indulge in dysfunctions from cultivating religion to oppressing women.

Either way, the outcome is questionable. I think a much better bet is technology to improve how well we think.

2011-07-23

Reforming the economy with multiple currencies

Our national economies appear to be breaking at various points that are hard to fix without substantial reform.

I suggest that many problems within an economy such as the US that have traditionally been addressed by complex, intrusive, and not all that effective legislation, can be addressed more elegantly by redesigning money.

I propose splitting a national currency such as the US Dollar into three or more currencies. These currencies would be:
  • Consumption Dollars, used for retail purchases. Persons would obtain Consumption Dollars by exchanging Investment Dollars they receive as their income. The exchange rate would start at 1:1 and become progressively more expensive as a person acquired more Consumption Dollars in a certain time frame.
  • Investment Dollars, received as income. All dividends, salaries and wages would be payable in Investment Dollars. This currency would be used to purchase companies and shares of companies, and could be lent to others who will invest it in this way. This currency could not be used for retail purchases; it would need to be converted into Consumption Dollars first.
  • Medical Dollars. This currency would be purchased with Consumption Dollars. The exchange rate would start very favorable for an initial quantity of Medical Dollars a person acquires in a certain timeframe. As more Medical Dollars are purchased, the exchange rate would climb to 1:1, and become progressively more expensive as a person acquired more Medical Dollars in the same time frame.
A reform like this would address the following issues:
  • The variable-rate Investment Dollars to Consumption Dollars conversion would replace highly complex income tax and sales tax legislation with a simple, easily administered mechanism. It would reduce government intrusion in the private sphere, and become the primary means of government funding.
  • The variable-rate Investment Dollars conversion would progressively tax consumption by the rich without adversely affecting investment crucial for economic growth, and without adversely affecting the poor.
  • The investment wealth of rich people is difficult for people inexperienced in investment to understand. An average person is used to their income matching their consumption, so they will view the net worth of a rich person as if all of it is there to be consumed. They do not notice a crucial distinction between the income that a wealthy person invests, and the part of their income they consume. Introducing separate currencies for investment and consumption would make this distinction clearer, reducing popular impulse to tax investment, which damages the economy as a whole.
  • The variable-rate Medical Dollars conversion would allow all persons to have access to basic medical care at a minimal cost, subsidized by persons able and willing to purchase much larger amounts of Medical Dollars at less favorable exchange rates.
  • The variable-rate Medical Dollars conversion would reduce monopolization of medicine by the rich, which reduces medicine's overall effectiveness. Medicine is highly effective with the first few dollars spent on each person, but becomes progressively less effective as more treatments are applied to the same person. Beyond a certain threshold, the marginal utility of additional medicine approaches zero, as progressively more expensive treatments are employed with lower and lower chances of helping. Under this scheme, the rich would be able to obtain more medical service by paying more, but would be unable to monopolize medicine due to diminishing returns on purchasing Medical Dollars, and would be subsidizing medicine to the poor as they do so.

Clarifications

Q. Who would perform the exchange between these currencies?

A. A government institution similar to current central banks would fill this role.

Q. If a person is paying more Investment Dollars than they get Consumption Dollars in return, where would the extra Investment Dollars go?

A. Into the government budget. That's how this scheme can replace existing income and sales-based taxation as the source of government revenue.

Q. How do you suppress the black market?

A. Same way as you suppress cheating on VAT. Most goods that people obtain are acquired from corporations. Corporations have strong incentives to comply with legislation. Corporations try to change legislation in their favor, but you don't generally see them cheating on sales tax or income tax. They have more to lose than they can gain.

Q. How would you define the exchange rate with an external currency, such as the Euro?

A. You would define another currency, Exchange Dollars, as the freely tradeable currency. Exchange Dollars would be convertible 1:1 into Investment Dollars, and could be purchased 1:1 with Consumption Dollars, but not the other way around.

A foreign tourist visiting the country would undergo this conversion: Euros -> Exchange Dollars -> Investment Dollars -> Consumption Dollars. The conversion into Consumption Dollars would be at an exchange rate specific to this particular tourist, according to the same rules as for everyone else. The tourist's foreign income wouldn't matter; a first time tourist wanting to spend 1,000 Consumption Dollars would be able to obtain them 1:1.

A citizen visiting a foreign country would undergo this conversion: Investment Dollars from income -> Consumption Dollars -> Exchange Dollars -> Euros. This would avoid foreign shopping sprees using untaxed Investment Dollars, and the customs you would have to set up to deal with that.

There may be legitimate circumstances where businesses need to spend Investment Dollars abroad, e.g. to buy a foreign company. Lossless conversion from Investment Dollars into Exchange Dollars could be made available for such cases with a strong paper trail. This is similar to how you currently need a paper trail for business expenses you don't want the government to tax - except you would need such paperwork only for some foreign transactions.

Q. What about a poor person reselling a product to a rich person for Investment Dollars at a markup? The poor person would be able to convert the Investment Dollars to Consumption Dollars at a profit, and the rich person would pay a lower price than they otherwise would.

A. Letting people engage in trade like this is not necessarily bad. The general idea is to throttle consumption by the rich, since its net benefit is lower than consumption by the poor. If a wealthy person and a poor person arrange to trade like this, then the result is a direct social transfer from the wealthy to the poor. That isn't contrary to the purpose of the system.

That being said, trades like this would result in loss of government revenue, and less funding for social services, including services to the poor. If this became the only way anyone buys their Ferrari, then that would be a small lottery win for those who get to do the trade and pocket the profit, and a net loss for others who do not.

It would be possible to simply outlaw this, which would make it too risky for large purchases, and thus restricting the problem in scope.

However, instead of outlawing these trades, it may be worthwhile to formalize them. The central bank could provide an exchange service where poor people could sell their Consumption Dollars for Investment Dollars at a free market rate. This would eliminate illegal trades from the economy, provide income to the poor that everyone can access, and add a control valve preventing rates paid by the rich becoming draconic. It would provide a self-enforcing maximum tax rate, as well as useful feedback helping officials to set gradients for Investment to Consumption exchange rates.

Q. What would prevent everyone from using Consumption Dollars exclusively, e.g. in transactions between individuals?

A. This could be discouraged in the same way as you are currently discouraged from accepting cash for services, and not declaring it for income tax. It is essentially the same problem, and similar solutions can be used.

If the currencies were digital, the system could go further to prevent this kind of tax dodging. For example, for payments from one natural person to another where there's no apparent prior connection, you could simply make a conversion from Consumption Dollars to Investment Dollars automatic.

This simple move would eliminate tax dodging for waiters and others who receive most of their income in tips. Transfers without an automatic conversion would still be possible between people who have prior relationships, e.g. in families.

This would require formalizing financial relationships in cases where there's a need for payments in Consumption Dollars between people who aren't family, such as between new partners and roommates. I think such formalization would be welcome, as it would provide an additional formal step between "strangers" and "married".

However, even without that, it would still be possible to use the same types of discouragement that are in place for income tax today.

2011-07-22

Don't stop using soap just yet

So I did an experiment for you. For science.

This guy posted on Reddit about how he hasn't used soap and shampoo for a year. I've heard similar ideas before, so I decided to give it a try.

For over a month, I showered only with water. I never stopped feeling unclean. My hair had lots of dandruff. My scalp itched. Scratching it felt tacky due to the oil on my hair. I cut my hair to 1/3 inch, and it wasn't much better. A month went by. No improvement.

I used soap & shampoo again today. I finally feel clean. My hair smells good. My scalp isn't itchy.

Maybe not using soap and shampoo works for people who shower 3 times a day and swim in chlorine regularly, but it didn't work for me.

So scratch that theory.

2011-07-21

The top 1% vs. the top 0.1%

Excellent article by an investment manager about the makeup of the top 1%:

Who Rules America: An Investment Manager's View on the Top 1%

The 99th to 99.5th percentiles largely include physicians, attorneys, upper middle management, and small business people who have done well.

...

Since the majority of those in this group actually earned their money from professions and smaller businesses, they generally don't participate in the benefits big money enjoys. Those in the 99th to 99.5th percentile lack access to power. [...] I speak daily with these relative winners in the economic hierarchy and many express frustration.

Unlike those in the lower half of the top 1%, those in the top half and, particularly, top 0.1%, can often borrow for almost nothing, keep profits and production overseas, hold personal assets in tax havens, ride out down markets and economies, and influence legislation in the U.S. They have access to the very best in accounting firms, tax and other attorneys, numerous consultants, private wealth managers, a network of other wealthy and powerful friends, lucrative business opportunities, and many other benefits.

...

[T]he bottom line is this: A highly complex and largely discrete set of laws and exemptions from laws has been put in place by those in the uppermost reaches of the U.S. financial system. It allows them to protect and increase their wealth and significantly affect the U.S. political and legislative processes. They have real power and real wealth. Ordinary citizens in the bottom 99.9% are largely not aware of these systems, do not understand how they work, are unlikely to participate in them, and have little likelihood of entering the top 0.5%, much less the top 0.1%. Moreover, those at the very top have no incentive whatsoever for revealing or changing the rules. I am not optimistic.

2011-07-20

The best, not the worst, must be teachers

Build a better educational system by taking a leaf out of Finland's book.

Interview with Tony Wagner:
[Finland] began in the 1970s by completely transforming the preparation and selection of future teachers. That was a very important fundamental reform because it enabled them to have a much higher level of professionalism among teachers. Every teacher got a masters degree, and every teacher got the very same high quality level of preparation.

So what has happened since is that teaching has become the most highly esteemed profession. Not the highest paid, but the most highly esteemed. Only one out of every 10 people who apply to become teachers will ultimately make it to the classroom. The consequence has been that Finland's performance on international assessments, called PISA, have consistently outranked every other western country
You can't have good educational outcomes unless you have good teachers. I find it shocking how many countries are letting the teaching profession fall into disregard. It is the way to an incompetent future work force, and uneducated voters.

2011-06-18

Heightism in online dating

I came across a heightism thread on Reddit today, and I found the following report stunning:

I made two accounts in different metropolises in the country using the exact same profile picture and descriptions but in one the height was listed as five foot seven and the other it was six foot three. And this was a "good looking" "handsome" "fit" guy.

The five foot seven guy? ZERO messages received first; ever. Not one. A reply rate back of less than 5% as well and most of those were from girls you'd describe as homely. And mind you this guy was attractive and fit.

The six foot three guy? He would get anywhere from 1-3 messages a DAY initiated from girls. And not just homely girls, but some very cute ones. I'd always ask why they messaged and they'd say it was due to a high match % or something listed in the profile interests. This guy would also get like an 75% return on his messages, and we're talking about from good looking girls here.

Funny enough, the fake hot girl profile I created got a ton of messages, and one of the most common leading lines was "do you like tall guys?" That's it. Naturally I thought this one liner would come off arrogant and off putting, but when I tried it using the tall guy profile, the success rate was even better than before.

I thought it's bad to be a guy on online dating sites, but no! There's just a complete lack of interest in short guys, regardless of their other features.

If you're tall, finding interested women is apparently cake!

2011-06-01

Leaders against war on drugs

A panel of former and current politicians and world leaders have published a report stating the obvious: the "war on drugs" is a huge failure.
Their report argues that anti-drug policy has failed by fuelling organised crime, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and causing thousands of deaths.

[...]

Instead of punishing users who the report says "do no harm to others," the commission argues that governments should end criminalisation of drug use, experiment with legal models that would undermine organised crime syndicates and offer health and treatment services for drug-users.
So a group of people - from Kofi Annan, to Paul Volcker, Javier Solana, Richard Branson, and 15 others - go out of their way to speak out against this positively harmful, brutal, intrusive, puritanical "war on drugs", which criminalizes innocents, overcrowds American jails, wastes tens of billions, and fosters organized crime in countries south of the US, and achieves nothing.

How does the White House react?

It dismisses the report as "misguided".

What's misguided here are politicians who worry about appearing soft on drugs rather than solving the problem.

2011-05-26

Anonymity: The refuge of the frustrated immature

There are people who would have you believe that anonymity is somehow crucial to a functioning and civilized society, and that it's somehow essential on the internet.

It is not.

In the vast majority of my experience in real life and on the internet, anonymity is only ever abused.

In real life, people are much more likely to behave in ways that are harmful to others if they feel they aren't being watched.

It's the same way on the Internet. When people feel they are anonymous, they will do and say things they would otherwise never consider if they had to sign their names to it.

The vast majority of those things are harmful. Check any forum that allows anonymous posting. Under the veil of anonymity, people post things as if they have no capacity for self-restraint. Anonymous posts aren't thought out, they're overly aggressive, and are frequently meant to intentionally hurt others.

There's this movement, called "Anonymous", whose greatest achievement is that they've vandalized a few sites on the internet.

For the past several years, I allowed comments from anyone on this blog because any comment is at least better than no comment, right?

Well, perhaps not. Overwhelmingly, the comments that were posted on this blog anonymously were poorly thought out, overly aggressive, and most of all, dumb. Most anonymous comments would never be posted if the writer wasn't sure that they won't have to answer for it.

And for tolerating all this crap, what do we have to show for it? I gained insights into human nature. I learned that if you give people the opportunity to show their unrestrained selves, many will turn out to be meaner, dumber and less worthy of respect, than you'd expect.

That's an interesting insight in and of itself. But since anonymous commenting is about as unrestrained, as unpleasant, and as intelligent as farting, we really shouldn't be offering an audience to it.

2011-05-18

The fate of anonymous digital currencies

I just recently found out about Bitcoin, a digital currency that strives to be anonymous and have no central authority.

Instead of there being a single, trusted, centralized issuer of the currency, the entire network of peer-to-peer nodes, formed by people who use the currency, acts as the issuer of currency, and verifier of transactions.

The technical overview sounds convincing, and while there could be glitches I'm not aware of, I have no reason to believe right now that the system is technically deficient. It is already used in practice and accepted as a currency by a few.

But here's the bottom-line issue.

In order for a currency to be useful, you have to be able to use it to buy bread and pay electricity. Virtually all local government prohibits such transactions from using anything but the locally mandated currency.

In order for Bitcoin or a similar currency to become more than a curiosity, it has to be perceived as reliably exchangeable to a local currency.

In order to be perceived as reliably exchangeable, at least one country would have to credibly protect an exchange point between the digital currency and some other exchangeable currency.

That country, or group of countries, would then have to defend this courtesy, as the digital currency is used increasingly by folks worldwide to dodge taxes, and by mob lords to launder money from illegal activities.

As long as governments around the world maintain their irrational obsessions with making the drug problem bigger through prohibition, and making the tax problem bigger by trying to tax people's income, they will not tolerate an anonymous digital currency becoming more than a curiosity.

If any one digital currency threatens to become more than that, the US government will shut it down by outlawing exchange points within the US, and by outlawing transactions with exchange points outside the US.

They did the same to online poker.

2011-05-05

Happiness gene identified

A gene has been identified which causes people who have it to report a higher degree of happiness than others. (The gene causes the brain to recycle serotonin more efficiently.)

I contend that it is now irresponsible and immoral to let a child be born without first ensuring that he or she has this gene.

Allowing children to be born without this gene is to create people who will be less happy than they could be.

2011-04-24

Planes are harder to hijack these days

This story represents why planes are harder to hijack these days.

Never mind the (questionable?) security at airports. This guy was still able to bring a knife on board. But he could not hijack the plane. The passengers and crew didn't let him.

2011-04-15

I predict there's no dark matter or Higgs boson

Face it, physicists.

There likely is no Higgs boson, and there likely is no dark matter either.

Our current theories are decent as far as they go, but we will likely need to discover a new theory, and undergo a paradigm shift, to understand what we now call "dark matter" and gravity.

EDIT - July 4, 2012: I guess it's time for me to eat my shoe! Apparently, a new particle was found at energies where a Higgs boson was expected. Congratulations to everyone involved in the discovery!

The education bubble

I really like what Peter Thiel has to say about education:
Education is a bubble in a classic sense. To call something a bubble, it must be overpriced and there must be an intense belief in it.
...
Like housing was, college is advertised as an investment for the future. But in most cases it’s really just consumption, where college is just a four-year party, in the same way that buying a large house with a really big swimming pool, etc., is probably not an investment decision but a consumption decision.
...
[W]e’ve looked at the math on this, and I estimate that 70 to 80 percent of the colleges in the U.S. are not generating a positive return on investment.
His fellowship plans to "select 20 college students under the age of 20 and pay them $100,000 each to drop out of college and embark on entrepreneurial careers."

2011-02-19

US vetoes UNSC resolution on Israeli settlements

See, this right there is the reason for 9/11. The whole world condemns Israel, but the US turns a blind eye:
The US has vetoed an Arab resolution at the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories as an obstacle to peace.

All 14 other members of the Security Council backed the resolution, which had been endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

It was the first veto exercised by the Obama administration which had promised better relations with the Muslim world.

"Better relations with the Muslim world." ... Right.

2011-02-11

Security "features" that hurt good guys more than bad

So, you're using Windows, and you want to enroll for a public key certificate.

You open up your Internet Explorer (because other browsers don't work), apply for the certificate, pay for it, receive it, and you think all is dandy.

Then, you want to export the certificate so that you can use it on another machine.

No go.

In their infinite wisdom, developers of Windows Vista made it so that private keys for certificates requested through the browser are automatically marked unexportable.

This is to "protect" the private key. You can't back it up or use it on another machine, but the bad guys also can't export it from your computer behind your back. Right?

Except the bad guys can. The private key is, obviously, stored on the machine. The operating system has to access the private key in order to ever use it. So the private key is there. All you need is a third party utility, such as Jailbreak, to work around the "protection", and there you go, you can export the key.

The only people actually hurt by this stupid design decision are people who want to be careful and responsible, and do not want to risk running an untrusted third party hack with administrative permissions.

Those people have to revoke their certificate, install Windows XP in a virtual machine, and request a new certificate from there, because Windows XP did actually allow the key to be exported.

Gah!

2011-02-08

You have two cows...

Reposted from an internet forum.

1. FEUDALISM: You have two cows. Your lord takes some of the milk.

2. PURE SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. You have to take care of all the cows. The government gives you as much milk as you need.

3. BUREAUCRATIC SOCIALISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a barn with everyone else's cows. They are cared for by ex-chicken farmers. You have to take care of the chickens the government took from the chicken farmers. The government gives you as much milk and as many eggs as the regulations say you should need.

4. FASCISM: You have two cows. The government takes both, hires you to take care of them, and sells you the milk.

5. PURE COMMUNISM: You have two cows. You help to take care of them, and you all share the milk.

6. RUSSIAN COMMUNISM: You have two cows. You have to take care of them, but the government takes all the milk.

7. DICTATORSHIP: You have two cows. The government takes both and shoots you.

8. SINGAPOREAN DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. The government fines you for keeping two unlicensed farm animals in an apartment.

9. MILITARIANISM: You have two cows. The government takes both and drafts you.

10. PURE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbours decide who gets the milk.

11. REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. Your neighbours pick someone to tell you who gets the milk.

12. AMERICAN DEMOCRACY: The government promises to give you two cows if you vote for it. After the election, the president is impeached for speculating in cow futures. The press dubs the affair "Cowgate".

13. BRITISH DEMOCRACY: You have two cows. You feed them sheep's brains and they go mad. The government doesn't do anything.

14. BUREAUCRACY: You have two cows. At first the government regulates what you can feed them and when you can milk them. Then it pays you not to milk them. After that it takes both, shoots one, milks the other and pours the milk down the drain. Then it requires you to fill out forms accounting for the missing cows.

15. ANARCHY: You have two cows. Either you sell the milk at a fair price or your neighbors try to kill you and take the cows.

16. CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

17. HONG KONG CAPITALISM: You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly-listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax deduction for keeping five cows. The milk rights of six cows are transferred via a Panamanian intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder, who sells the rights to all seven cows' milk back to the listed company. The annual report says that the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. Meanwhile, you kill the two cows because the fung shui is bad.

18. ENVIRONMENTALISM: You have two cows. The government bans you from milking or killing them.

19. FEMINISM: You have two cows. They get married and adopt a veal calf.

20. TOTALITARIANISM: You have two cows. The government takes them and denies they ever existed. Milk is banned.

21. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: You are associated with (the concept of "ownership" is a symbol of the phallo-centric, war-mongering, intolerant past) two differently-aged (but no less valuable to society) bovines of non-specified gender.

22. COUNTER CULTURE: Wow, dude, there's like... these two cows, man. You got to have some of this milk.

23. SURREALISM: You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

IQs and opinions

Many people seem to assume that those who disagree with them on something basic must be stupid.

I understand the frustration of fundamental disagreement. I used to fall into this trap, too.

Then, I got a fair amount of exposure to a group of very diverse high IQ people. My most striking experience was that they are as likely to agree with you, as to have a completely opposite mindset, arguing things you would never consider reasonable.

It is appealing to equate a person's disagreement with one's basic values with stupidity, but this is usually not the case.

I like to compare IQ to the horse power of a car engine. A stronger engine means you can reach your destination faster, but it doesn't dictate where you're going to go.

You're more likely to find yourself in the same destination - having similar opinions - with a bunch of people with large IQ variations. It is appealing to characterize a person as smart because they agree with you, but again, this is not necessarily the case.

2011-02-06

The baby-sitting parable for the economy

In 1998, Paul Krugman wrote this insightful article illustrating the Japanese recession, and the stagnation that followed, with an approachable and interesting parable.

2011-02-05

Rich envy

Robin Hanson posts this insightful observation based on Scott Adams's suggestions on what minor vanity perks could be given to the rich as a reward, and motivation, for paying more taxes:
Why do we tax the rich? If it is just because the rich have lots of money, and we need more money, then we should be pretty eager to take up something like Scott’s suggestions. Such policies could help us get lots more money at a relatively low cost to ourselves. But if we tax the rich more to lower the status of the rich, so they don’t loom as high above us, we are more likely to dislike Scott’s suggestions. Yes such policies lower the income status of the rich, but they might more than compensate via other very visible status markers.
Societies don't tax the rich because of fairness, or because of the economy. By far the main reason so many people are in favor of "progressive" taxation appears to be envy.

Not money envy, but status envy.

We are the aliens to some

While we contemplate with doubt the possibility that aliens might be observing us, eluding us, and not contacting us, we are doing much the same thing to tribes in South America's rainforests.

Look at these guys peering at the airplane, wondering "what the hell is that?"

The researcher in the video says we should leave them the decision about whether or not to contact us. Consider the ridiculousness of that statement. How can they ever make an educated decision about whether or not to contact us?

2011-02-02

Don't buy HTC

I like Android phones, but as far as specific manufacturers go, I wouldn't recommend HTC.

My HTC Desire, which cost about $700, worked fine for about 6 months, but then apparently overheated at one point from watching a video over Wi-Fi.

It then started having increasingly severe startup problems, rebooting constantly after turning it on, and now it won't start up and stay up at all.

Internet message boards are full of people reporting overheating and rebooting problems with this phone. In many cases, this is apparently fixed by sending the phone in and replacing its motherboard under warranty.

Unfortunately, my phone didn't come with warranty, so I'm out of luck. I'm back to my age-old Motorola which still works fine, without fancy technology.

Save yourself some trouble, and don't buy HTC.

2011-02-01

Why culling "alien" species?

Scottish conservationists are expending time and effort to hunt down American mink and shoot them.

Their intent is to protect local species such as water voles and moorhen, who apparently cannot compete with minks.

Why the favoritism? Why should we care whether one species is predominant, or another?

It's one thing if a species, foreign or domestic, is causing direct damage to humans. But if it's just displacing one set of species in the ecosystem with another, what's the problem?

The ecosystem will adapt.

2011-01-26

Why Slovenian media are... shit

I like to use accurate words. I prefer that words do not exaggerate, but convey that which is true.

In the title of this post, the words are, unfortunately, appropriate. Saying that Slovenian media are "poor quality", or something otherwise reserved, would be an understatement. "Poor quality" would indicate that they aren't as good as they could be, but they may still have uses.

Consuming Slovenian media is about as harmful as consuming that which should go in the toilet:
  • Slovenian media will try to intentionally warp your worldview with manipulative, and frequently untrue, allegations about the moral, social and economic perils of Western society. This is mainly to support local politicians who distance themselves from the Western concept of justice and meritocracy, and instead put emphasis on privileges that "ought" to be available to all, and "national interests" that benefit a few. This harms the long-term development of the country, but pacifies the masses while some people profit.
  • Possibly in support of the above, or possibly because they are inept, Slovenian media will regularly take all sorts of internet hoaxes, easily verifiable as such, and publish them as serious articles. This seems to be more likely if such "articles" discredit the US. Slovenian readers will believe these articles in consternation about the state of the world beyond Slovenian borders.
In other words, you can't really believe not just opinion pieces, but even "factual" articles in what's considered to be "serious" Slovenian media.

Fundamentally, the major reason this can happen is that the Slovenian language, spoken by only 2 million, is a ghetto for the Slovenian soul.

2011-01-25

Humane executions?

There's an interesting article on New Scientist about the drugs used in "humane" executions by lethal injection.

For the purpose of this article, let's set aside the contentious debate about whether execution is acceptable in the first place. Given that executions do take place, what would be the most humane method?

I think the very fact that prisoners can't choose their own method of execution is inhumane. There ought to be a selection of several approved alternatives, and the prisoner should be able to choose a method he, or she, is comfortable with.

I also find it fascinating that no state practices execution by substituting air with nitrogen. This seems to me more humane than the lethal injection method, which may very well involve suffering if the anesthetic fails.

When pure nitrogen enters the lungs, it absorbs oxygen from blood cells. Within a few heartbeats, the new blood entering the brain is devoid of oxygen, and the brain shuts down. There is no pain. The person simply goes unconscious. Keep them breathing nitrogen, and the brain is dead.

Still, if I had to make this awful and macabre choice, I would not choose either the lethal injection, or the nitrogen. They are too sissy. As for hanging, or the guillotine, or stoning - I find them disgusting, and awful.

If I had to, and were able to, choose for myself, I'd go for firing squad. There's something about standing up to the guns, facing them, that says to me - I stood for something, I lived with principles, and I die with self respect.

Don't give the shooters any blanks either. That's a disgrace. An executioner should know the reason he's firing at a guy for, not seek sissy comfort in that he's just following orders, and that his gun maybe contained a blank.

Suppose you had to make this choice. What method would you choose for yourself?

2011-01-14

Parking law abuse in Miami

If you ever park a car in Miami, you may want to know that the Miami-Dade County cares a lot - in fact, it cares $23 - whether your car is parked this way:



... or this way:



Unfortunately, I was unaware of this factoid.

So, this past night, as my wife and I were contributing to the local economy by having dinner out in South Miami, eating sushi in the belief that our car is correctly and legally parked, officer "Y Isidor" took a look at our car, and after glancing briefly, decided that our mutual evening would be greatly improved if he issued this lovely request for us to help top up the Miami-Dade County budget:



And this is after I put all my coins in the parking meter, to make sure it would not run out - because, unlike many people I know, I actually care about correct parking.

So I logged on to the net tonight to find out more about how stationary vehicles can be deemed to be "parked against traffic", and I found the following opinions, gracefully provided by the internet:
You are parking the wrong way and when you leave the parking spot you will have to drive the wrong way, for a short time, against traffic.
Everybody I issue a ticket to thinks they should have gotten a warning... Give me a break, if I read your post right; you drove on the wrong side of the road, parked against the direction of traffic and now you think you should have gotten a warning.

These are obviously incredibly intelligent individuals whose mental powers must surpass mine. These gentlemen are able to see the recklessness and danger in my briefly positioning my vehicle to occupy the opposite lane before parking, as well as the incredible daftness of crossing that lane again when I exit the parking space.

We have only the stars to thank for such useless bozos insightful individuals who make the world a better place by issuing citations to people who've paid their parking.