Showing posts from 2009

The doghouse: GSM Association

It turns my stomach to see how antiquatedly defensive and counter-productive is the GSM Association's response to the recent cracking of GSM encryption : Using the codebook, a "beefy gaming computer and $3,000 worth of radio equipment" would allow anyone to decrypt signals from the billions of GSM users around the world, he said. Signals could be decrypted in "real time" with $30,000 worth of equipment, Mr Nohl added. It looks like GSMA has a mindset stuck in 1995, completely failing to notice the evolution of security attitudes that happened in the software industry. They employ the classic approach of (1) shoot the messenger, (2) downplay the problem, (3) claim they're "working" on a solution: The GSM Association (GSMA), which devised the algorithm and oversees development of the standard, said Mr Nohl's work would be "highly illegal" in the UK and many other countries. [...] [T]he GSMA dismissed the worries, saying that "r

Gravity wells

From xkcd , a very nice, easily graspable illustration of gravity wells. Click for the large version:

The failed jet attack

Details here and here . Note how all the security theater implemented after 9/11 failed to stop this attack. Security processes were followed correctly, but did not detect the explosives in this man's underpants. The man's name was checked against the "no fly" list; he wasn't on it. In fact, the man was traveling on a valid US visa. The real reason this attack failed? The explosive device apparently malfunctioned. Instead of simply blowing up the plane, it merely caused a local fire. When passengers smelled the fumes and saw the flames, they acted aggressively, perhaps preventing a worse turnout. The response of the Obama administration: more security theater. US President Barack Obama, on holiday in Hawaii, has ordered increased security for air travel. The US Department of Homeland Security said "additional screening measures" had been put into effect since the incident. "These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should

Please, put the patent system out of its misery

i4i. How suitable a name for a patent troll company. Another set of people who would leave the world no worse off if they were run over tomorrow by a train . This is how it works. Register an overreaching, abstract patent that the small brains at the patent office have no chance of understanding the ramifications of. They will even let you patent the wheel , for smurf's sake. Then hire an ethically challenged lawyer (or is that a tautology?), and possibly find a cooperative judge (it's not a bribe if they can't prove it!). Then sue the bejezus out of a big corp , like Microsoft or Research in Motion . The people who do this should all be dead. If they stole amounts like these in a bank robbery, they would be chased by every cop and would appear on every front page. But instead, they're doing it by abusing the legal system, and hardly anyone gives a damn. Please put this broken patent system out of its misery.

The doghouse: Predator drone does not encrypt video feed

Of all the billions that are spent on developing aircraft like the unmanned Predator drones, you would think that the designers would employ some decent encryption to protect the command channel and the video feed. Nope.

Unions destroy businesses

A fantastic example of how destructive a force workers' unions are for a business. British Airways just recently lost 292 million GBP over a 6 month period, and its two pension schemes have a combined deficit of 3.7 billion GBP. Management is handling this by freezing pay and downsizing: 1000 employees have already left on voluntary redundancy, while 1200 more need to leave. The union's response? An 11-day strike over the whole Christmas and New Year period, ruining the holidays of a million customers who now can't get tickets on any other airline because everything is booked out. Edit 2009-12-17: A judge declared the strike illegal based on a technicality. Thank smurf.

Obese people on-board: discrimination?

  The Canadian Supreme Court wisely ruled that people like this should not have to pay for more than one plane ticket, because that would be discrimination: I am pro-discrimination. By that token, maybe the Canadian Supreme Court should extend its anti-discrimination activism to roller coaster rides? Surely, the minimum height standards discriminate against midgets.

Belle de Jour: Freakonomics interview

"Belle de Jour" is the pseudonym of a woman scientist, blogger and author, known for writing about her experiences as a call girl. Now that her identity has been revealed, an interview with her appears on Freakonomics: In 2003, a young American woman in London studying for her PhD. ran into money trouble. To support herself while writing her thesis, she joined an escort service. Under the assumed name Belle de Jour, she started to blog her experiences. That blog led to a series of successful, jaunty memoirs beginning with 2005’s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl. The books were adapted for television in the U.K. (where she is portrayed by Billie Piper) and later in the U.S. All the while, as Belle de Jour garnered more attention — and criticism, for portraying prostitution as a glamorous career choice — the woman behind Belle de Jour struggled to keep her anonymity. This month, as an ex-boyfriend threatened to blow her cover, Belle approached one of her critics,

Evil in Russia prospers

CEO and co-founder of former leading foreign investor in Russia says that Russia is now a criminal state : "When Putin first showed up and said he was going to tame the oligarchs I was the biggest fan of that particular concept. Then I realised that what he meant by taming the oligarchs was by sticking law enforcement people in their place," he says. "Now you have a bunch of law enforcement people who are essentially organised criminals with unlimited power to ruin lives take property and do whatever they like and that's far worse than I have ever seen in Russia before. Russia is essentially a criminal state now."

Values across the world

Fascinating - a map based on research of how people's values differ across the globe :

Israel should move to West Australia

I've said it before: Israel is a historic mistake , and their religious zealotry is no better than the zealotry of the Muslims. Israel should get a taste of their own medicine, and be moved to West Australia. They've built a country out of the desert once before; they can do it once again. Except this time, the land should be properly purchased; the borders should be well defined; and there will be no "holy" land to fight about, and no angry, disenfranchised neighbors. Then everyone, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, can get on with their lives, let this mess be over with, and continue to live in peace. But that would be no "fun" then, would it?

Venn's diagram of 4 famous characters


The subconscious: The tail that wags the dog

I had an interesting dream today. Not long before my alarm went off, I dreamt being in a house that I know, and for some reason, Vladimir Putin was there. We exchanged a few sentences, I'm not sure about what exactly. Then he went into another room to meet some other people, and then he was about to leave. I felt that an important concern of mine wasn't addressed, so I caught up with him at the front door. "Hey Mr. Putin," I said, and he looked at me expectantly. I said, "Don't start a world war." The look on his face was one of confusion and bewilderment. I repeated, "Please don't start a world war. I mean... don't start another world war." He understood now. For a few moments there, he was at a loss for words, with an open mouth, more than apparently dismayed - as if to say, that's what you think about me? That I would do something like that? Quickly though, he found his wits, and his expression changed completely. "Ha!"

Catholic water fonts

I was raised as a Catholic - or at least, my mom attempted to do so. I attended church at the time, and I had suspicions about some of the traditions there that seemed a wee bit gross. Two habits, in particular, seem to give excellent opportunity for the spreading of microbes. The communion is one. It is conducted during every Catholic mass, and it involves the priest handing out small, very thin, blandly tasting slices of bread to everyone in the audience who queues to receive one. While some people take the communion into their hands, many open their mouths and accept it on their tongue. The priest might try to avoid touching people's mouths and tongues, but this is hard to achieve, so he most likely spreads microbes onto bread which ends up with other people. The other questionable practice I recall is the font with the holy water. Whenever a believer enters or exits a Catholic church, they are expected to dip their fingers into an open bowl of water that might be changed now

Rejection massively reduces IQ

Wow ( link ): Baumeister's team used two separate procedures to investigate the effects of rejection. In the first, a group of strangers met, got to know each other, and then separated. Each individual was asked to list which two other people they would like to work with on a task. They were then told they had been chosen by none or all of the others. In the second, people taking a personality test were given false feedback, telling them they would end up alone in life or surrounded by friends and family. Aggression scores increased in the rejected groups. But the IQ scores also immediately dropped by about 25 per cent, and their analytical reasoning scores dropped by 30 per cent. "These are very big effects - the biggest I've got in 25 years of research," says Baumeister. "This tells us a lot about human nature. People really seem designed to get along with others, and when you're excluded, this has significant effects." Baumeister thinks rejection

The consequences of early life stress

Wow ( link ): "We separated the pups from their mothers for three hours each day for ten days," Dr Murgatroyd explained. "It was a very mild stress and the animals were not affected at a nutritional level, but they would [have felt] abandoned." The team found that mice that had been "abandoned" during their early lives were then less able to cope with stressful situations throughout their lives. The stressed mice also had poorer memories. Dr Murgatroyd explained that these effects were caused by "epigenetic changes", where the early stressful experience actually changed the DNA of some of the animals' genes. "This is a two-step mechanism," Dr Murgatroyd explained. When the baby mice were stressed, they produced high levels of stress hormones. These hormones "tweak" the DNA of a gene that codes for a specific stress hormone - vasopressin. "This leaves a permanent mark at the vasopressin gene," said

Give organ donors free health care!

Robin Hanson quotes research which finds that blood donors aren't really put off by the prospect of being paid for their donation, they just don't want cash . Vouchers would work just fine, though. Commenter Michael Keennan then comes up with this ingenious idea : instead of refusing to compensate organ donors at all due to ethical concerns, why not pay them back in kind? How about, for example, giving kidney donors free health insurance for the remainder of their lives? That would surely cause more people to consider donating their kidneys, which may save plenty lives; and I don't see how it raises any ethical dilemmas. Doesn't it seem fair and just for people who have donated an organ to receive free health care in return? Doesn't it seem more unjust if they do not?

Education as demonstration of willingness to suffer

This exchange summarizes my opinion of much - though not all - university-level education: Doug S: Remember: the job of a university professor is to do research and bring in grant money for said research, not to teach! Teaching is incidental. redired urologist: So why do the parents pay $40,000+ annually for this type of service? Doug S: In most cases, it’s not the education that’s worth $40,000+. It’s the diploma. Earning a diploma demonstrates that you are willing to suffer in exchange for vague promises of future reward, which is a trait that employers value. So Dilbertesque... but - like Dilbert - generally true.

The countability of real numbers

Natural numbers (symbol N) are positive whole integers starting with either 0 or 1. It is obvious that there are an infinite number of natural numbers, and that they are countable. By starting with the lowest natural number and counting long enough, you will eventually reach any other chosen natural number. Integers (symbol Z) are countable as well. The set of integers contains zero and all natural numbers as well as their negatives. To count them all, just start with 0, then 1 and -1, then 2 and -2, etc. Rational numbers (symbol Q) are those numbers that are expressible as fractions, e.g. 1/2. Rational numbers are also countable. For an idea of how to count them, imagine a two-dimensional grid that has integers on each axis, and contains infinitely many horizontal and vertical lines, one for each integer on the respective axis. To count all rational numbers, start at (0,0). Then, count all intersections on the border of the square between (-1,-1) and (1,1). Then, count all intersect

Somali pirates, Italian mafia, and radioactive waste

Looks like the story about Somali pirates has some twists and turns. Johann Hari : As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. In other news , the Italian mafia is reported to have sunk as many as 30 ships of toxic waste off the coast of Italy. Johann Hari makes perverse conclusion

Gay rights worldwide

In a time when the civilized world is slowly progressing towards equal rights for gays and lesbians, it is interesting to look at this map and see what world regions have the harshest penalties for homosexuality. Source: Wikipedia It's striking to see how many countries have penalties as harsh as death, or life in prison. In much of the Caribbean, the penalty is 10 years. In Jamaica, it is "10 years of hard labor". Fascinatingly, the South African Republic is an exception - same-sex civil marriage has been legal there since 2005.

Jaw bone created from stem cells

  Fantastic! In a couple of decades, it may be standard practice to replace older people's worn out joints by growing new joints from the patients' stem cells. Let's hope for similar breakthroughs that will allow the growing and replacement of people's organs, as well. Now consider IBM's efforts to develop techniques for quickly and cheaply sequencing a person's DNA . These types of breakthroughs may allow a person's DNA to be sequenced when young, and reproduced when the person is older. The DNA in your cells gets damaged as you age, but a digital copy of your DNA takes a snapshot at the age at which it was sequenced. Live another 50 years, and the breakthroughs that will be achieved during this time may allow us to continue living much, much longer!

Religious zealotry vs. child molestation

In March 2008, an 11-year old died from undiagnosed but treatable diabetes as her parents prayed by her side without even considering taking her to a doctor. Now, the parents have been sentenced leniently by a judge who sympathized with them. Quotes from the article: During the sentencing hearing, Leilani Neumann, 41, told the judge her family is loving and forgiving and has wrongly been portrayed as religious zealots. "I do not regret trusting truly in the Lord for my daughter's health," she said. "Did we know she had a fatal illness? No. Did we act to the best of our knowledge? Yes." Dale Neumann, 47, read from the Bible and told the judge that he loved his daughter. "I am guilty of trusting my Lord's wisdom completely. ... Guilty of asking for heavenly intervention. Guilty of following Jesus Christ when the whole world does not understand. Guilty of obeying my God," he said. Compare this to child molestation. If the parents were mad in

Progress in tiny nuclear batteries

  BBC article with a photo of the battery. PhysOrg article with comments.

Half the human population is evil

A study performed at the Faculty of Economics and Management in Magdeburg confirms my intuition that nearly half of all humans are inherently unempathic, even downright evil, but simply hide their psychopathy most of the time, because civilization expects that from them: The Pleasure of Being Nasty We introduce the joy-of-destruction game. Two players each receive an endowment and simultaneously decide on how much of the other player's endowment to destroy. In a treatment without fear of retaliation, money is destroyed in almost 40% of all decisions. See Figure 1 - Destruction frequency over time . At least 25% of people will cause gratuitous harm to a random stranger if they can do so at no cost, while up to 50% will do so if they can also deny it.

Poland silences paedophilia dissent

This is alarming. New Polish legislation not only prescribes chemical treatment for paedophiles to lower their sex drives (OK - that could be justified, depending on side effects) - but also... criminalises any attempt to justify paedophilia. Anyone propagating such a view is subject to a prison term of up to two years. Incredible. What is this - the middle ages? The majority is not content punishing those who violate its norms - it must punish dissent as well?

Free accomodation in Frigate Bay, St. Kitts

For students of Ross University and others who might be interested in a "free" place to stay in Frigate Bay, St. Kitts: We - that is, me and my wife - are looking for a female student (or anyone else our age, e.g. in their twenties or thirties) who would take care of our condo and our kitties when we travel, but also help with the household and generally be good company while we are here. We are offering rent-free use of a furnished bedroom and a bathroom, preferably for a long stay. Our place is at St. Christopher Club, close to the Marriott hotel, right next to the Atlantic and near the Caribbean beach. There is a common swimming pool and tennis area on property. Conditions: Dependable yet easy-going character. You like cats - we have two. No pets of your own - they might not get along with ours. Will help with household chores when we are here. Will take care of our two cats, and the whole unit, for months at a time when we're away. Can bring occasional guests, but

UK imposes direct rule over Turks & Caicos

Having been in Turks & Caicos twice, and dealt with them to some extent, I can confirm Britain's findings : Britain has imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands after an inquiry found evidence of government corruption and incompetence. ... Politicians are accused of selling crown land for personal gain. ... [The British government] examined the actions of the Turks' Cabinet and Assembly and found "information in abundance pointing to a high probability of systematic corruption or serious dishonesty". It also concluded there were "clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of a general administrative incompetence". In my experience, this is exactly how it was. The Turks & Caicos are fortunate. They have a foreign power to watch over them. This same amorality, immaturity, and incompetence takes place all over the Caribbean. Except that, in most places, there's no one to intervene. So it just goes on, and on, and on. T

Empathy out of control

To feel joy when others feel joy; to feel pain when others suffer. Every day, our own empathy enriches our experience. It allows us to feel not only for the events that affect ourselves, but also for the many more that affect others. It allows us to immerse ourselves into a story and not only understand it, but feel it - whether we are listening to a friend, watching the news, reading a book, or enjoying a movie. Empathy connects us. Lacking it, we would be - at best - rational agents acting according to game theory, in a game of repeated Prisoner's Dilemma. We would be alone in a world in which no one feels for us, and we don't feel for anyone; a world inhabited by grayness and indifference. Many people already live in a world like that. Many people don't have empathy. This doesn't make them broken - only different. Rest assured though, if a creature doesn't feel any empathy for you, you should not feel any empathy for it either. But this is not an article for

Tales of the Caribbean, #1

  Monday Employee: Boss, I'm in dire need, I'm all out of money. Can I borrow 200 EC dollars? Boss: Well, I dunno. Your salary is on Friday... Employee: But I really need the money. I don't have any left. Boss: Well, that's not how it works. Where's your salary from last Friday? You'll get a new salary on Friday. Employee: Dear boss's wife! I'm in dire need. Can you lend me 200 EC? Boss's wife: Well, didn't you get your salary on Friday? Employee: I did. But I have nothing left. Boss's wife: Is that so. What you need the money for? Employee: Well it's urgent. I really need it. I can't buy anything. I need just 200 EC. Can you lend it to me? Boss's wife: I dunno. Let me talk to my husband. Boss's wife: Well he says he really needs the money. Boss: This isn't gonna work out. He spent all last week's salary on booze. Now he's gonna spend more money on booze. What do you think is gonna happen after you

Outlawing lying and deception

I get the impression that a whole lot of bad things that happen in the world are a consequence of, and perpetuated by, lying and deception. It is curious that neither our legal systems, nor even our religions, have adopted such a prohibition categorically. Even the Ten commandments do not prohibit lying categorically - just testifying falsely against a person . In the past century, developed countries have started punishing lying and deception when done for profit, to some extent. Scams are frowned upon and eventually might be prosecuted. Companies are beginning to be punished for misrepresentations in their ad campaigns. In other areas of private and public life, however, lies and deception are not merely permitted, but routine. Politicians are expected to deceive the public and lie to it. Organizations, for profit and otherwise, fund studies which seek not truth, but rather a biased distortion of truth that aligns with their interests. People cherry-pick studies and refer to only

Standards of beauty

Some people go around saying that the media propagate unrealistic standards of beauty, especially to girls. According to such criticisms, it is the fault of publications such as Vogue and toys such as Barbie that "totally healthy", well-rounded women get the idea that they're unattractive, and fall victim to self-pity, anorexia, or depression. There are multiple ways to tackle this argument. Here's a humorous one: Bratz Dolls May Give Young Girls Unrealistic Expectations of Head Size The controversy begs the question, though. If a taut, flat tummy, and a slightly chubby one, yet not quite overweight, are similar in terms of health results; then why are more of us attracted to the taut one? Not all of us prefer the flat tummy, of course. A significant proportion of men are attracted to women who have something to grab. Still, however, it's fair to say that most men are attracted to the flat tummy. So the question remains. It used to be that, centuries ago, f

The Onion, now run by the Chinese

The Onion newspaper and news network have been "purchased" by Yu Wan Mei, a Chinese fisheries and plastics company. Take a look at their new homepage . Highlights: Yao Ming! - The entire world population confirmed Friday that Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is the greatest athlete in the history of sports and a glowing symbol of what citizens may become if they remain loyal to their government. China’s Andy Rooney Has Some Funny Opinions About How Great The Chinese Government Is Hilarious.

How well do you know the Bible?

Test your knowledge here.

Occam's Razor


Can't hear you, honey


Miami's tent city for sex offenders

Isaias, a Latino and a former US Marine, is 35. He is a husband and a father of two. In his twenties, he was convicted of the crime of having had sex with a 16-year old. After serving 5 years in prison, he has now spent 2 years living in Miami's tent city for sex offenders, which is located under a bridge. Local law prohibits people like him from living within 2,500 feet of anywhere where children congregate - be it schools, libraries, or parks. This prevents him from living with his wife and family. The only place in Miami where he can live is in a tent, under a bridge, in a community of people with similar or worse backgrounds. BBC has the disturbing story .

The right to arm bears #2


The right to arm bears #1


Biosphere 2

A friend shared this with me: Jane Poynter tells her story of living two years and 20 minutes in Biosphere 2 -- an experience that provoked her to explore how we might sustain life in the harshest of environments. Unique, and fascinating.

A lover's plight



After browsing through about a quarter of the episodes, now I know why they call it everyone's favorite comic. You have to know some Unix to understand this one. But there are others. :)

Windows Installer sucks

While I'm waiting for the umpteenth time for the installation of Windows SDK - one of the more poorly written installers recently to come out of Microsoft - I'd like to carp a bit about Windows Installer. Ever since Microsoft started forcing MSI installation down everyone's throats, program installation has just begun to take... forever. The bad thing about Windows Installer is that installation programs written for it... are not programs. They are databases. It used to be that installation would consist of a program executing and taking a few simple steps to install your software, then do the reverse on uninstallation. That's not how Windows Installer works. Instead of running a program to simply install and let it be done with, it examines the state of your system, then examines the state of the database that is the program's installer, then does a series of overcomplicated calculations about how to reconcile the two. It seems that, instead of running an ins

Poking fun at religion

  The best atheist song I've heard: And from Edward Current - God only seems nonexistent:


Well, well, well. Seasteading: Why seastead? We believe that current political systems are outdated and work poorly, for two reasons. One is the lack of a frontier - a place to go try out new forms of government (like the crazy new "democracy" which sprung up in far-off America). The other is the lack of mobility on land that happens because people are tied to buildings and buildings are fixed in place, which makes it hard to change states or countries, let alone pioneer. Seasteading fixes both of these. It opens the oceans as a new frontier for pioneering, a frontier with a fundamentally different quality - fluidity - that lets entire cities be rearranged and reshaped constantly. If you don't like your government, you can literally "Vote with your house" by detaching your seastead and sailing off to another city. In the long run, this will turn the oceans into a laboratory for innovation in social and political systems. No specific ideology is necessary: Sea

Wal-Mart's Weight Effect

Forbes has an article about research apparently showing that large discount stores have a net beneficial health effect, especially for the poor. The primary mechanism they identify is that lower prices make it possible for poorer people to afford more. This raises their effective income, so they are able to buy healthier foods than in the absence of large discount retailers.

Traditional morality and sex health research

Traditional religion-based morality would not have survived if it didn't offer some evolutionary advantage to people who espouse it. More radically, a gene or meme that compels you to "kill everyone who doesn't have this gene or meme" may cause itself to become more prevalent. Less radically, a gene or meme that instructs you to behave in ways that help survival will also cause itself to become more prevalent, even if the reasons the meme uses to convince you make no sense. The reasons for traditional morality, indeed, do not make any sense. For the most part, we aren't even given any reasons. We're told to abstain from promiscuity because that's moral. The reason it is moral is because it's moral. We don't question the Book. The Book says so. Now it's one thing to want one heterosexual partner for your entire life; that's a legitimate preference that there's nothing wrong with. But it's a whole other thing to judge people and tr

Boneheads in charge of H1B legislation

The U.S. elects senators so they can bury the U.S. economy, eliminating its global advantage. From BBC: Indian workers are calling for comprehensive immigration reforms in America, including changes in work visa rules. But American lawmakers are having none of it. Senators Dick Durbin from Illinois and Charles Grassley from Iowa have reintroduced a bill on the H1B visa programme. It calls for increased oversight and enforcement and discourages the use of H1B visa holders. It also requires all employers to pledge that the H1B visa-holder will not displace an American worker. If the U.S. doesn't want to adopt India's most capable workers, that is the U.S.'s loss, not India's. This is just one sort of policy that will result in the U.S. waking up to find itself as only one economic power among many, not the superpower that it used to be.

Slovenians no longer need visas to St. Kitts

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

Way to go, South Point

We just arrived at our (totally standard) room at South Point in Vegas, and we are pleased . This room is the best deal we have found so far in Vegas - or anywhere, at all. The room is actually as lovely as on their pictures. It's spacy enough, comfortable, and nicely appointed. The room has a safe that actually fits my 17" laptop, and the wireless internet has so far been blazingly fast. Internet still costs an additional $13 per day, as in most places in Vegas; but at other places, for that price, it hardly works or not at all. Here, pictures load faster than at our DSL at home. It's wonderful. And all that for an average of $62 per night! The second best deal we found so far in Vegas has been Bally's. The rate we paid there was slightly higher than South Point. The room was nicely appointed, though definitely not as nice as here. The location on the Strip is fancier, but the internet access was really crappy - wireless didn't work and even wired access was sl

Women not finding partners

I noticed a certain phenomenon among female friends about my age - in their late twenties. The phenomenon is, many of them are single. Several of those recently had relationships with rather horrid guys. Of the few who are in relationships, some are still in relationships with horrid guys. And the thing that strikes me? At a certain point, many of these girls were with guys, or had the opportunity to be with guys, that were better than the fare that they're now putting up with. This is not to say that those guys were perfect. But they do appear to have been better than whatever is available to them today. I get to watch all this from a perspective of a guy who has enjoyed a nearly perfect relationship and marriage over the past 5 years - but also a guy who was previously incredibly frustrated with girls until my early twenties. From my very limited personal observations, here's what I ponder: Can most people find a partner that is better for them than being single? I

Never forget!


Egypt slaughters all pigs to avoid swine flu

Someone in Egypt sure doesn't like pigs. I'm aware that it is standard practice to kill animals to prevent the spreading of an infection, but this is just ridiculous. Egyptian pigs have no infection. Apparently, they're just killing them because they're pigs, and the flu is named "swine flu". Side note - if this happened to humans, it would be called "ethnic cleansing".

Obama to radically increase science funding

This could be excellent news (thanks to Scott Aaronson ): I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development ... This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history... I agree with this: The fact is, an investigation into a particular physical, chemical, or biological process might not pay off for a year, or a decade, or at all. And when it does, the rewards are often broadly shared, enjoyed by those who bore its costs but also by those who did not. That’s why the private sector under-invests in basic science – and why the public sector must invest in this kind of research. Because while the risks may be large, so are the rewards for our economy and our society... If we start from the assumption that the government will hijack, by force, a large portion of everyone's fruits of labor, then this is probably one of the best long-run investments that can be made; and these are i


Holy cow! Did you know about Svalbard ? (Feel free to sneer at this point that yes, because you paid more attention to geography in school than I did. In my defense, I mostly had horrid geography teachers.) More than 2,000 people live in this archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole. The capitol, Longyearbyean, is at 78 degrees north. For comparison, the Antarctic continent starts at 66 degrees south. It is the northernmost inhabited place on Earth. According to Wikipedia, they have "the world's northernmost school, church, hospital, bank, newspaper, airport with scheduled airline service, movie theater, kebab shop, and in-door swimming pool." In North America, the northernmost settlement is Barrow , at the northernmost end of Alaska, with a population of 4,600 living at a geographic latitude of 71 degrees north. Edited to add: Trivia question. Where is the easternmost land of North America? Is it in Newfoundland? Or perhaps Greenland? Thereabouts

French wine militants attack

There's just no arguing it. The French truly are a nation of hooligans and vandals . In another recent act, militant wine growers broke in and destroyed $830,000 worth of someone else's wine in a campaign for higher wine prices. They had previously "claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on supply trucks, supermarkets, and the ministry of agriculture". As for my take on this, no use repeating myself. I've written about it before.

It's not my arm!

Fascinating article by Yvain on Less Wrong: After a right-hemisphere stroke, she lost movement in her left arm but continuously denied it. When the doctor asked her to move her arm, and she observed it not moving, she claimed that it wasn't actually her arm, it was her daughter's. Why was her daughter's arm attached to her shoulder? The patient claimed her daughter had been there in the bed with her all week. Why was her wedding ring on her daughter's hand? The patient said her daughter had borrowed it. Where was the patient's arm? The patient "turned her head and searched in a bemused way over her left shoulder". So what's Dr. Ramachandran's solution? He posits two different reasoning modules located in the two different hemispheres. The left brain tries to fit the data to the theory to preserve a coherent internal narrative and prevent a person from jumping back and forth between conclusions upon each new data point. It is primarily an apologist

One value set to rule them all

Phil Goetz argues on Less Wrong that everyone should use the same set of values for personal decisions as well as for moral reasoning. His article has an interesting passage with which I agree: How do you weigh rationality, and your other qualities and activities, relative to life itself? I would say that life itself has zero value; the value of a life is the sum of the values of things done and experienced during that life. But society teaches the opposite: that mere life has a tremendous value, and anything you do with your life has negligible additional value. That's why it's controversial to execute criminals, but not controversial to lock them up in a bare room for 20 years. We have a death-penalty debate in the US, which has consequences for less than 100 people per year. We have a few hundred thousand people serving sentences of 20 years and up, but no debate about it. That shows that most Americans place a huge value on life itself, and almost no value on what h

Stardock leaks customers' emails to spam

I rarely, if ever, use PayPal. The other time I used it to buy a copy of Demigod (by Gas Powered Games), a fairly simple-minded but graphically rich third-person combat game. Within days of placing that order, I started to get spam to my PayPal address, where I never received spam before. I only used the PayPal address in the order and license process, and never used it for anything else with them. That's a filthy, filthy, filthy business practice. Either someone at Stardock who has access to order emails is covertly selling them, or Stardock themselves are doing so. It is illegal, too.

Why hearsay is not to be trusted

Robin Hanson summarizes a fascinating study .

How things work out if government doesn't get in the way

Sudhir Venkatesh has a fascinating article about his experience with "loan sharks" - people who loan money to desperate penniless borrowers at high interest rates. [C]ontrary to popular perception, very few cases of failed payment led to physical harm. Instead, you could be forced to pay in kind — e.g., with a television set — or with food stamps and welfare checks (which also function as collateral). It is sad to see that regulators - well, and people in general - are so f***in stupid as to fail to realize that the setting of maximum interest rates is what prevents poor people from getting legal loans . Which, in turn, helps keep them in poverty. Loaning people money is a form of betting. Some loans will not be returned, so if you want to make ends meet, you have to charge interest - or loan to nobody. The riskier (the more peniless, the more desperate) the borrower, the higher the interest needs to be in order for the equation to work out. If the equation doesn't

Amazon EC2

I have long been eyeing Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud , but now the pieces have fallen into place: For a while now, it has been possible to run Windows servers, which wasn't possible earlier. They now have a nifty web-based control panel in place, so you don't have to download third party software or learn command line utilities in order to manage your server instances at EC2. The Elastic Block Storage (EBS) provides, in effect, flexible persistent virtual hard drives which you can attach to any server instance. These volumes are supposed to be resistant to failure of any individual hardware component. With a click of a button, it is now possible to bundle a Windows server instance, which saves its state and allows it to be relaunched later in the same configuration if it crashes, or to launch multiple clones of a server. Before Amazon EC2, I also tried GoGrid , but I have not been as impressed. I would explain what's wrong with GoGrid, but they make you agree to a &qu

Never, ever use Cooplabs

A while ago I carped about the troubles I was having with servers hosted at Burst.Net. Well, that trouble pales in comparison to what I've been through with Cooplabs. I'm right in the middle of having to reinstall our main web server with another provider because Cooplabs have been unable (or unwilling) to bring it back online after the power supply failed - 10 hours ago. [Edit: it eventually took 13 hours. They were trying to recover the hard drive, but did not succeed.] In mid 2008, I had to do the same thing - we had two servers hosted with them, and the one that was the main server inexplicably failed with no feedback or response from them. I sent emails and left them voicemail, to no avail. I had to hastily reinstall at the other server and then wait a week before hearing from them. That wasn't the end of trouble either. In October, the same server (though now not hosting our website) failed again. It took them days to bring it back online. When they did, they s