Showing posts from April, 2009

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

Gospodarska okorelost

[This post is in Slovenian because it started out as a response to this post by Pozicija Ženska, evoking sympathy for the downtrodden in this economic state.] Kadar se okolje v kratkem času krepko spremeni, to najbolje preživijo fleksibilni, najslabše pa okorni in okosteneli. Efekt tako imenovanih "socialno odgovornih" politik je, da v imenu zaščite tistih, ki jim že tako ali tako v redu gre, maksimizirajo okornost gospodarstva. Zakoni, namenjeni preprečevanju prilagoditev in sprememb, nudijo podpornikom "stabilne" službe in "spodobne" plače brez "pretresov" - dokler ne pride do sprememb, ki jih zakoni ne morejo preprečiti. Ko začne voda segati do grla, se pokaže resnična narava zakonodaje, ki skrbi za "stabilnost": je kot mlinski kamen okoli vratu. Če ne bi bilo davka na dohodke, licenciranja poklicev in cele serije drugih zakonskih ovir, bi tisti, ki so izgubili službe, lahko našli druge začasne vire, s katerimi bi si zakrpali vir

French fishermen blockade channel crossings

The proper reaction to this is to remove the fishermen by force and then put some in jail for criminal behavior. If the Police and the Coast Guard won't do it, the Army and the Navy will. The French State needs to start exerting some control over the destructively crazed portion of its population... god dammit. The very reason we have government is so that people's issues are resolved in ways other than by violence of one part of society over another - especially, as in this case, over people who have nothing to do with it. Governments exist to stop this very thing . A government that doesn't is inept. The French are exceedingly inept. And proud of it.


I think Zipcar is a great idea. It's not really suitable for those who commute to work, since everyone wants to commute most days at the same time, so you might as well have your own car. But with those of us who work at home, our cars are mostly idle. There having to be so many cars for people who hardly use them is a waste. But public transportation doesn't get the job done, and taxis aren't a great alternative either, because it costs about the same (and is usually more convenient) to simply own a car. If only we can get more of the people who still unnecessarily commute to offices, to work from home. Then the roads will be unclogged, and when you do want to get somewhere, you will be able to do so freely, perhaps in something like a Zipcar. Aaah.

The Voodoo Sciences

Jerry Pournelle, a science fiction writer, essayist and journalist, once wrote (and still stands behind) this fairly harsh criticism of what he describes as the so-called social sciences : The Voodoo Sciences I think he makes good points and expresses sentiments that I also harbor. There's nothing like reality to throw a wrench into what one would like to think is "elegant thought". Rather sadly, even tragically, a fair proportion of people these days seem to think that when they go and study languages or literature or philosophy or theology or X or Y or Z, that they are learning something which apparently they think is important and worthwhile . What they refuse to grasp, however, is how their "education" is not teaching them to think . People with these types of educations tend to end up being inept in the realm of logic, inept of detecting their own biases, inept at reaching correct conclusions, prone to emotions, misinterpretations, and appalling lapse

Good job, Navy snipers

1. Somali pirates take ship. 2. Crew trained in anti-piracy fights back, retakes ship. 3. Pirates escape but take captain as hostage. 4. Crew sails ship to Kenya. 5. US Navy negotiates for captain with pirates and Somali elders. 6. Talks stall because US insists on pirates receiving justice. 7. US snipers shoot 3 pirates guarding hostage. 8. Captain freed. Good job :) I don't think anything other than consistent slaughter will teach these people their lesson. Yes, the next act of piracy is now more likely to be violent. It may result in pirates changing their business plan - from planning to take the crew hostage and negotiate a ransom, to just offing the crew outright and reselling the ship and its cargo. Then again, this may discourage pirates if they don't have the connections to resell the ships, or the intel to know which ones carry valuable cargo. We'll see.

The most dangerous person in the world

John Goekler nicely summarizes the stats : The single greatest killer of Americans is the so-called "lifestyle disease." Somewhere between half a million and a million of us get a short ride in a long hearse every year because of smoking, lousy diets, parking our bodies in front of the TV instead of operating them, and downing yet another six pack and / or tequila popper. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, between 310,000 and 580,000 of us will commit suicide by cigarette this year. Another 260,000 to 470,000 will go in the ground due to poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. And some 85,000 of us will drink to our own departure. After the person in the mirror, the next most dangerous individual we're ever likely to encounter is one in a white coat. Something like 200,000 of us will experience "cessation of life" due to medical errors -- botched procedures, mis-prescribed drugs and "nosocomial infections." (The really nasty ones

North Korea travelogue

A rare travelogue of North Korea by Austrians who surprised the "Korean International Tourist Company" by entering the country from Russia by train. This allowed them to see a bit more of the country than the official tour permits. Tourists are otherwise required to be accompanied by two guides and a driver by all times, can visit only standard tourist sites where the regime goes to great pains to make an idyllic impression, and the itinerary has to be planned in advance. The North Korea part of the travelogue, with many pictures, starts here .

Egypt jails swinging couple

Egypt considers consensual sex between adults one of the worst crimes: An Egyptian couple accused of engaging in sex sessions with other couples have been jailed by a Cairo court. The man, a 48-year-old civil servant, was given seven years, his 37-year-old schoolteacher wife got three years. [...] Ayman al-Saadi told AFP news agency the sentence passed on Saturday by a court in the suburb of Agouza was "very harsh". "Even people accused of apostasy have not received such harsh sentences," he said. Notice how the crime of consensual adult sex is being compared to the crime of changing your religion (to something other than Islam).

Unworthy of lasers

Give them technology, and this is what they use it for: All mosques have a niche showing the direction of the most sacred Islamic site, the Kaaba, an ancient cube-like building in Mecca's Grand Mosque. But people looking down from recently built high-rises in Mecca found the niches in many older mosques were not pointing directly towards the Kaaba. Some worshippers are said to be anxious about the validity of their prayers. There have been suggestions that laser beams could be used to make an exact measurement.

Another African economist calls to stop "aid"

Eliezer summarizes it well : Dambisa Moyo, an African economist, has joined her voice to the other African economists [e.g. James Shikwati ] calling for a full halt to Western aid. Her book is called Dead Aid and it asserts a direct cause-and-effect relationship between $1 trillion of aid and the rise in African poverty rates from 11% to 66%. [...] Moyo says she's gotten a better reception in Africa than in the West. Maybe you need to see your whole continent wrecked by emotion and pity before "logic and evidence" start to sound appealing. Foreign aid is interfering with African economies. It is preventing the creation of an internal order based on domestic production, and is replacing it with an external order based on aid redirection. This leads to well-being for the few who are able to hijack the aid for themselves and people around them, while causing suffering for everyone else whose productive potential is undermined by the power wielded by those who hijack aid

Universal Basic Income

Universal Basic Income is the idea that governments can reform and unify their complex, bureaucratic and frequently exploitation-prone social security nets with the introduction of a single benefit, paid uniformly to all citizens, to help everyone meet their basic needs. My below thoughts come from my response to Tomaž Štih's decided criticism of this idea (which he calls a Universal Basic Holiday). One form of a Universal Basic Income is part of the American FairTax reform proposal. FairTax proposes to replace all taxes in the gargantuan U.S. tax code with one simple sales tax (I have explained earlier why this is a good idea). Meanwhile, the progressiveness of the existing income tax would be compensated with a form of UBI. I have until now considered this to make sense. Tomaž exposes the hypothesis, however, that UBI will remove people's will to work. UBI will not necessarily influence people who already earn a lot, and whose motivation for work is intrinsic. I can i

Glimpses of rarely observed reality

Introduction I use the title phrase instead of "supernatural" because there really cannot be anything outside nature. There can, however, be parts of reality, possibly large parts, that we have so far failed to observe; or have observed, but failed to integrate into our common understanding. There are two antagonistic groups of people. These are not the only groups, but they are very visible, for they represent extremes in our belief spectrum. One group bases their beliefs about the world on repeatable experience. Members of this group believe things that they have observed on multiple occasions, or things they hear from others were observed on multiple occasions, and confirmed to occur in a certain way. Their highest value is Reason. At the opposite part of the spectrum are people who base their beliefs on fantasy. There are certain books that they call holy, and they think these books contain everything there is to know about the world. They wilfully ignore and explai