Archive for November, 2006

curing smoking

November 30th, 2006

Politicians like to bemoan how much money governments have to spend on keeping people alive. People who would be well if they took better care of themselves. Instead they have all kinds of bad habits and get sick, which represents a blow to the economy blahblah. And for that reason, every once in a while, the Minister for Health and others will reiterate how smoking is a serious problem and how they plan to eradicate it through all kinds of campaigns and new regulations they have in mind. Well, they have succeeded in reducing the number of smokers, but the total extinction of smoking is nowhere near fruition. And I don't think that is the campaigns at fault, I think it's smoking itself.

Smoking kills, but it just doesn't kill fast enough. People have all kinds of trouble understanding long term scenarios. If you tell them joining the EU will make the farmers suffer rough competition right now, but in the long run it will modernize and improve the country, after a year they say they want communism back. Long term health problems are that way too, the effect is too far away from the cause that triggers it. And so we need to improve upon that.

We should make smoking kill instantly. That will drastically reduce the number of smokers. It will also reduce the number of obnoxious "look how cool I am" high school kids. And on the packs, instead of printing smoking kills, we print don't believe what you hear, smoking never killed nobody. (Which is actually logically equivalent to the statement smoking always killed everyone, but smokers are way too addicted to think about those labels anyway.)

So let's review the consequences..

  • The politicians are happy - smoking kills a lot more people now, but it represents no cost to health care anymore.
  • I'm happy - I don't have that mofo blowing smoke into my air.
  • The smokers who always wanted to quit, but couldn't, are happy - they finally made it.
  • The smokers who said "I don't care if it kills me, it's too good to give up" got what they wanted.

language learning drudgery

November 29th, 2006

I'm having one of those "I can't believe no one thought of this before" moments. If you've learnt at least one foreign language, then you know how it goes. The beginning is exciting, because it's a new language and it's a very cool prospect of being able to understand a whole new world in a sense. At the same time, the enthusiasm is quenched by the drudgery of the process. After you've established the basics, you can pretty much go whichever way you want with it, but at the beginning you are introduced to a new language in the exact same way every time. If you've learnt more than one foreign language, you know exactly what I mean. "My name is", "I am from", "I live at", "How are you" etc etc. How bloody boring is that?

The students are snoozing, but imagine what the teacher must be thinking, doing this every year. What I don't get is why textbooks for language basics aren't a little more creative, I mean how hard could it be? Instead of those inane "my name is, how are you, where are you from" dialogs, why not substitute something more interesting? How about a story about a terrorist taking hostages in a bank? Or a bunch of people on a plane who find themselves back in time? Or a nefarious cracker with ambitions to take over the world who hacks into NORAD? Or a comedy about a bunch office workers who hate their job and stage a revolt against management? Any of those stories you could dumb down sufficiently and still get the same material out of them, the basic verbs, pronouns, all the fundamental grammar, cause that's found everywhere. But while doing so you'd have a compelling story to follow, instead of the usual bs.

I solve problems, that's just what I do.

welcome to DRM

November 29th, 2006

It's all over. Russia apparently caved into US pressure over trade deals and agreed to shut down allofmp3.com. That means the last site that sells non-DRM mainstream music is now gone. So if you want that latest Moby cd (and who doesn't ), you have two options.. a) buy the cd or b) buy it from a DRM store.

If you buy the overpriced cd, paying for 18 tracks while you'd only pay for 2 if you could cause the rest stink, you can rip the cd and put the mp3s on your mp3 player. Media companies have tried various things to cripple cds so you can't rip them, but none of the methods have gained a foothold cause they've all sucked so far.

If you buy the album (or selected tracks) online, you might get it cheaper, but the media is crippled. If you buy through iTunes and you want to put the music on your iRiver, Apple's message is fuck you for not buying our iPod. You could burn the music to a cd and then rip it, but again iTunes decides if you can (which can change at any time), how many tracks you can burn per month etc etc. Not to mention that it's a complete hassle.

To put a new spin on things, Microsoft released their Zune mp3 player and it has some exciting new features. First of all, it's not compatible with Windows Media Player, so all the music you have there you can throw away, you're not gonna use it on the Zune. Secondly, obviously it's not compatible with anything like iTunes, so if you use iTunes and you have a collection of music bought through iTunes, and you want this music on your Zune, you can re-buy it. Isn't it convenient?

Before file sharing took off, the only way to get music was to buy cds. Almost ten years later, with the giant stir that file sharing has caused, the only real way to buy music is to buy cds. Apparently the technological revolution is blazing fast, but the ability of the music industry to leverage the internet to its advantage (that is, without completely alienating its customers) is zero.

Lots of people don't realize why DRM is bad. Yet. But once Zunes become popular and the inability to combine iTunes with Zune becomes a real practical problem, we should hear a bit more noise about it.

what's worse

November 27th, 2006

The smell of pot in your kitchen?

Or the realization that the smell of pot in your kitchen doesn't bother you that much anymore, because it's becoming a common thing?

Fucking potheads.

on the relativity of reason

November 26th, 2006

Richard Dawkins is a popular crusader for Darwinism and at that, of course, a highly controversial figure. I have actually found everything I've heard him say to be entirely reasonable and meaningful. This clip I found on youtube is not to do with Darwin vs religion, however, it is centered on consequences of evolution in all kinds of ways. It's remarkable, because the examples and explanations he gives are things that I instinctively strongly feel to be true, I just have not heard them articulated by anyone before. The notion that humans live in a physical world suitable to our scale, scaled to our bodies, and that this is the reason why we find it so hard to comprehend both the micro scale and the macro scale. I actually wrote an essay dealing with these two extremes in high school, so I completely recognize the proposition and in terms of evolution it also seems highly logical that this should be the case.

In other words, what we find to be true and false is not in relation to some absolute, objective truth, because there is no such truth. What we find to be true is only a product of our evolutionarily shaped minds, as they have been to survive in the climate we find ourselves in. And that is the essence of one of my strongest instincts, in fact. So another entity equipped with what we call "reasoning ability", having evolved in a vastly different climate, would conceivably not share any of our conclusions or views about the physical world, because that world would be different. Physics and mathematics are not absolute sciences, they are sciences relative to us. Observable, verifiable phenomena we observe and we verify. So if something seems to be impossible, does it mean it really is? Or is it simply "not possible" within our grasp of reason.

Which, in essence, is why our definition of intelligent life is quite broken in my view.