Tuesday, September 30, 2008

the perfect is the enemy of the AWESOME

Apparently the i-phone doesn't have a 56 megapixel camera so we should just wait till it does.

Anyone wanna tell Greg what an idiot he is for even hesitating?

Added: 5 comments might suggest a number of idiot denunciations, but in if you didn't want to click through, this is sadly not the case. Thanks a lot guys.

Monday, September 29, 2008

rumors of bloggy's death have been greatly exaggerated

Apologies to those who do check, events have conspired to keep me from blogging.

Though Bloggy does seem to have forgotten what blogging is supposed to be about. He's got all these posts half written or swirling about in his head and he doesn't post them. Why? Because they're serious, deep posts that'll show everyone, everyone! That's actually quite tricky to blog though and it's not like I'm writing up papers to send off to prestigious journals, sooo... nothing.

So, e-readers it is then! A typical reaction to e-readers is that they suck, they could never replace books, they don't have the look, or feel, or smell, or taste of real, pure, books! We love books more than anything! The e-reading advocate is left dazed and blinking rapidly. Do we hate books? Do we want to roll in the ashes of all the books ever published? What just happened?

Sometimes, neither person actually knows what e-readers are like. The thing that gets me is how quickly some people have framed their emergence as, "is this the end of the book?" and then proceed to talk books up as though e-readers urgently need to be defeated. If people still like books they won't vanish!

But we just know what we like now, I think it's pretty sad to translate that into "knowledge" of things we don't know yet. Nobody liked books before they existed but we do now . There are zillions of cool things that could be invented they we don't have a taste for yet, but if we fetishise books, or violins, or test cricket, we'll stifle their development. The same process that made books in the first place.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Are we going to be the next Zimbabwe?

Basically no.

I do believe that things have been sliding politically, but that we're just sliding back to our "natural" level. Of course where we go from there is up in the air. I'm not massively optimistic, but that's mostly because it's really difficult to develop the kinda society we'd like. In some ways we look like a good democracy, but until a different government (with different people behind it) can peacefully be voted into power we're not one. Any suggestion that we could honestly do that I think is pretty crazy.

I'm not overly pessimistic either and think any Zimbabwe talk is massively overblown. The big problem for the moment is instability. That's bad, but I'll bet it'll settle down more or less; the Zumerites have won.

rabid partisanship

Anti-Obama of course. Well, I don't think so but I'm sure it could read like that. I read quite a lot about the election and I have two things to add.

  • The Palin choice has brought "experience" back into focus. Obama defenders are claiming that his experience in campaigning is excellent experience for president. Unfortunately I think there's something to this, but I really think it's a depressing thing to get all excited over. His qualification for power is that he's tried really really hard to get into power? And he's good at that?! Yay!
  • Even conservatives have been having a go at McCain for, "putting his own campaign ahead of the good of the country". It's reckless, damaging evil etc. I thought that Palin could doom McCain, but I wasn't judging him for the choice. You know why? Cos they have this wonderful mechanism for preventing him from hijacking the interests of the nation before he becomes president, it's called "an election". Is he somehow tricking the electorate? Nobody knows that Palin's inexperienced? I'm bombarded with people telling me "what Americans want", but they seem to like Palin. If Americans want her, shouldn't McCain be praised.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mbeki is gone

Jeeze.

Apparently I'm insufficiently grizzled and cynical.

I'll learn.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What hope do we have if we can't even bloody queue?*

I seem to be getting crankier. I hoot at people, I freaked out and one of Henry's neighbours and I recently had a very spirited conversation with a nice man in a queue.

He started the discussion by asking if I was in the queue after cutting in front of me. We differed over how close I should have been standing to the guy in front, because some people are in a rush you see, how could I be so inconsiderate. The conversation quickly became very one sided and monotonous as I repeatedly asked him how standing closer speeded things up (I had to repeat the question since he didn't answer).

If people from different cultures can be enraged by 30 cm queueing differentials I guess I should be less surprised over Motoon riots. And less optimistic about the prospects for world peace.

*If this headline doesn't seem to match my general cheery outlook, it could just as easily read, "Considering that people don't know how to join a queue, why are things so good?"

Monday, September 15, 2008

man

In a bizarre three-web-page-in-thirty-seconds whammy I discovered that the author of my favourite Roger Federer article had also written, "one of the greatest contributions to the animal rights literature.", and one of the very most excellent novels of the past 100 years. But I now know all this because he has hanged himself...

Man. I've never felt so sad about the death of someone I barely even knew existed...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jonathan Haidt

Continues to frustrate me. My repeated claims to be a fan are probably starting to look a bit hollow, but, I am a fan! Really!

I chose not to mention something from the book that was actually relevant to the discussion Trevor and I recently had. Haidt told this story about reading Peter Singer's book, "Practical Ethics"; he was intellectually convinced that he should stop eating meat produced in factory farms, but instead of changing his behaviour he just felt a little guilty each time he bought meat. After a time he saw some video from a factory farm and was so disgusted that he actually did stop eating meat, at least until the emotional impact of the film wore off a few weeks later after which time he continued eating meat. His point was that emotion plays a huge role in morality. This is an important point, but his conclusion seems to be that this somehow justified his reaction (stop for a while then carry on). I always thought morality was about constraining our behaviour, not rationalising what we do anyway.

I bring this up now because I'm just reading an essay of his on the topic where he butchers a famous (in philosophy terms) quote of David Hume's

This research led me to two conclusions. First, when gut feelings are present, dispassionate reasoning is rare. In fact, many people struggled to fabricate harmful consequences that could justify their gut-based condemnation. I often had to correct people when they said things like "it's wrong because… um…eating dog meat would make you sick" or "it's wrong to use the flag because… um… the rags might clog the toilet." These obviously post-hoc rationalizations illustrate the philosopher David Hume's dictum that reason, "the slave of the passions, and can pretend to no other office than to serve and obey them."

One way to interpret this is that we rationalize the things we do after the fact. But another is that we should apply reason to stuff we care about. These are not the same thing!

Two scientists apply the dictum to their work.

Scientist A feels passionately that homeopathy is better medicine than drugs that go through double blind testing etc. So he spends his life trying to make this particular case in as convincingly reasonable way possible.

Scientist B passionately wants to find a cure for malaria and so devotes much time to studying mosquitoes and not fruit flies, which he would enjoy far more.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

correction

This is very embarrassing, but apparently Greg was joking about the name Zagaritus. My protests that I had already blogged the name and had thus put my credibility was on the line, fell on deaf ears.

Henry is the actual, respectable name.

There's still a middle name slot open for Zagaritus though!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

WOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm an uncle!!!

Rude little kid's interrupting the flow of deep posts I've been planning. Hmnpf.

Greg informs me that his name is Zagaritus, but it's early days yet; I imagine that Ursula may have something to say about that.

In the meantime.

Long live Zagaritus!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wooo!

Yay! Federer's mind wandered (as it inevitably does) near the beginning of the second set and, inexplicably, when he was trying to serve it out. But, he played really well in the first set and his break at the end of the second was about as good as it gets.

So, that's 5 straight US Open's and 5 consecutive Wimbledon's. This may be Federer's most lasting record I don't think it's an arbitrary stat, though it's not necessarily the most significant either. Aesthetically I think it's pretty striking.

If you'll indulge me while I ponder non-French majors; Federer has won 13 of the last 17. Of those 4 losses, only the 2003 US Open is a pretty anonymous one (4th round loss to Nalbandian). In order, the other three involved an injury and a match point not taken, glandular fever and a gut wrenching epic, in two semis and a final respectively. My point is not to say that he deserved to win 16 of the past 17, just that 13 of 17 doesn't quite capture just how brutally difficult he is to beat over 5 sets.

Similar tales cannot be told of the French Open, but even here, only Nadal has beaten him in the past four tournaments (3 time champion Kuerten beat him in 2004) and Nadal is not your run of the mill French Open champion.

Given his style of play and the way he suddenly burst on the scene after underachieving for several years, I always worried that his bubble of greatness would dramatically burst sometime. Losing the Australian and French (the only French Open he was legitimately favoured to win) in 2005 would have been a good time, and now was a perfect time after Wimbledon. But matches like the last two are the best for Federer, he feels deep in his bones that he's got his opponents number (unlike against Nadal) and his mind is focused but the significance of the match.

Nadal is clearly the best player around right now but I really think Federer needs to miss at least one semi-final before people start claiming that he's a spent force (actually, even then, surely he'll be capable of winning majors for a few years. Who knows when things will suddenly just click like they did this time?).

Sunday, September 07, 2008

WTF!!????!!?!?!

What is it with this dude and fucking break points!?!?!?! WHAT?????

AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Added: Given the final score, my level of aggrivation was probably a bit disproportionate. But, from the end of the first set till the last point, Murray was a Federish 1/17 on his break point chances. I'm stunned that Murray converted his first match point.

I like Nadal much more than Murray, but I'm happy that Federer's odds of winning have just gone up (and Nadal's coronation as the greatest ever is temporarily delayed). In an abstract way I'd rather Nadal simply beat Murray in a way that demonstrates his superiority but I find Nadal's resistance to break points almost unseemly. IT GETS ON MY NERVES.

Federer

He's now made it to 18 consecutive grand slam semis and 13 of the last 14 finals. I've been pondering how much of a big deal to make over the fact that he was "sick" at this year's Australian Open. Whatever you happen to think, just ponder the possibility of 14 straight finals, amazing.

Murray is slightly favoured to win over Nadal later today. Hmm... maybe, but Nadal looks like a good bet at the current odds.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

finally, some respect!

If I wasn’t sufficiently deferent in my last post, let me defer to a thought I couldn’t hope to top (though this is paraphrased, he said something like this in his podcast with Will Wilkinson).
People think there's either there is some universal moral truth or there is no moral truth at all. There's no universal moral truth that existed before us, but there are many true things that have emerged. Think about the value of gold and silver, which is more valuable? Gold is, it costs more, and this doesn't depend on your preference either way, even if you'd pay more for silver. But gold and silver have no intrinsic value outside of human society and they change value as other circumstances change.

more haidt

I feel bad about mean about the book (which is funny, since Haidt could trounce me if he ever read it).

But really, there is some good stuff. If you survey people about morality their answers fall into five more or less distinct moral categories. Harm, fairness, purity, authority and in-group loyalty. But the people doing the moral theorizing have systematically different intuitions about what’s moral. They tend to care about harm and fairness but sneer at the rest. This wouldn’t be a problem except that it’s really common for people to “refute” a moral argument by drawing out a conclusion that offends our intuitions. If that’s fine, then what are the grounds for dissing other peoples’ moral priors?

Where I seem to differ with Haidt though, is that I tend towards relying less on all these intuitions, rather than elevating moral convictions based on them. Or in other words, I agree that morality should be thought of a set of rules and norms that constrain behavior in order to maximize human flourishing and that it’s a good idea to consider all five moral foundations to do this. But we should want to ground them better. Like maybe in-group loyalty is better between mathematicians or World of Warcraft players than between Americans to the exclusion of Canadians. There’s aver reasonable hierarchy in tennis, with Federer near the top and me near the bottom that we can all agree to accept our place in, but I don’t respect any intrinsic right of someone to exert authority over me without some sort of consent. And I’d prefer purity to centre on things like truth seeking rather than menstruation.

The happiness hypothesis

Another book I really wanted to like but was also strangely unsatisfying. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with it, but I was left thinking, “yeah…?” Maybe I shouldn’t have been reading Samuel Brittan at the same time; many authors would suffer from the comparison.
The best thing about it is putting a more realistic spin on a lot of generally accepted wisdom. Sure, what doesn’t kill you can make you stronger, but it can also turn you into a gibbering wreck for the rest of your life, that kind of thing.

I liked the first half better than the second, which The Last Samurai pretty much has covered, with the bonus of pretty scenery and Tom Cruise’s gravitas. You should do as you’re told, be a clean freak and do lots of bowing and aweing.

That’s not really fair; I do take his point, but I wish he hadn’t focused on such unappealing, clichéd conservative examples. I was constantly thinking, “OK, I’ll go along with this, but hopefully next time…” It was like hoping a vertebra will click into place soon but never does.

“These pious, preachy conservatives are awesome. They’ve got it all figured out and we really should let them force their values on us. Oppression of some groups seems to be the cost of this of course (homosexuals these days), but it’s really a small price to pay.” Is what he seems to say.

I also think he weirdly misses the point when it comes to religion on happiness. Religious people are happier all over the world. Religious Americans are happier than irreligious ones and religious countries are happier than you’d expect given their other indicators. But western secular countries are the happiest countries! It’s just bizarre to focus on religion as the key to happiness rather than liberty given this. He likes lecturing people overly attached to liberty about what they’re missing and praise people who’re happy despite low living standards, but he doesn’t lecture poor countries to become free and rich. What’s up with that?

Incidentally, another common observation is that people don't get happier when they get richer. The conclusion jumped to seems to be that we should cut out the stuff we don't like (traffic, working long hours) and our satisfaction would soar! When the observation actually says that we'd be about as happy. In reality we'd be less happy for a while cos we dislike giving stuff up much more than getting it in the first place.

The real moral of his story is that tight knit communities (usually religious) voluntarily formed are the best thing since sliced bread, but despite his constant assurances that he’s a “liberal” he misses it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Is Obama as delicious as a donught?

When many libertarian pundits see Barack Obama jaws slacken, heads tilt back, tongues flop to one side and eyes glaze over like donughts, "Mmmm... Obaaaammma" is what they gurgle.

Part of me understands this. I like him for the same reason many people don't; he's an intellectual type. Some of his speeches are thoughtful in a novel way and I like the fact that he's genuinely liberal in some ways.

There are plenty of reasons for libertarians not to like him though and I doubt he'd be such a super duper president, so why are so many so smitten? They normally hate all politicians and they love divided government (different parties in power in different branches).

If the republicans controlled congress I'd probably go for Obama, but they don't, so I'm sticking with McCain for now.

Speaking of McCain, I'm pretty excited by his VP pick. Sarah Palin seems cool (even though it looks like I have a lot to disagree with her about). It's also fun to watch democrats freak out over how inexperienced she is. I know little about politics but I buy the argument that McCain wants democrats to make a big deal over this. I wonder if their conviction that Obama is the second coming really has made them lose all self-awareness or if I'm just missing something.

Report: 93% Of Drunk Drivers Get Home Just Fine

According to a report released Monday by the National Institutes of Health, 93 percent of those who get behind the wheel while intoxicated arrive at their homes safe and sound, just like they told everybody they would.
Since I've been all judgemental recently, I may as well be all judgemental about drunk driving too.