Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Beauty

Philosophy is a good endeavor, but it fails to connect with most people. The mass of men are at least vaguely philosophical about life, but it's the sort of late-night, half-baked philosophizing that they do.

Aesthetics is one of those areas that garners less and less attention in genuine philosophical circles while, compliments of shows like Project Runway, My Fair Wedding, What Not to Wear et al. This isn't because philosophers are losing interest in it, but since aesthetics is a judgment of an internal nature, it's slowly being absorbed into neuroscience and the study of mind. These are experimental sciences.

This isn't entirely surprising. Philosophy has a grand history of having areas hijacked by experimental science, which is a good thing. But when most people talk about aesthetics, they're not discussing experiments involving control groups and finely tuned experimental elements. For most people, beauty is actually a thing. Some things have it, while others don't.

How philosophy as an industry has managed to fail engaging a world so engrossed with beauty in some substantial way is beyond me. The subject has been thrust upon us. All we have to do is produce the books. A deeply complex discussion of fashion throughout the generations, or architecture. One of the only very good examples of this sort of writing is The Architecture of Happiness, which was an excellent look at architecture and what it means. But one book does not a genre make. Moreover, it wasn't a very accessible book. It was loaded to the brim with flowery language and longer-than-necessary sentences. Basically, it was interesting to me because I already had an interest in the subject. It had no effect on outsiders.

Compare this with the monstrous success of The Secret. A wannabe philosophical book entirely composed of pseudo-spiritual drivel. Yet it sold. Holy shit did it sell. It sold because it tapped into what people wanted. They want meaning, power, and answers. It makes the world seem less scary and more understandable. That's the fucking point of philosophy! We should have a monopoly on this stuff! Yet, we don't. We continue to write for journals read only other philosophers.

Beauty is the most obvious example of something that is generally accepted by the population, enjoyed and consumed in large amounts, and is a legitimate philosophical concept.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ponderings on Truth

Truth is something that can never be attained. That's obvious to me. Mathematical and logical truths are not truths, they are tautologies. Two and two equal four in the same way that the reverse is "true."

I'm instead focusing on what a proposition must have in order to be true. We can not achieve a complete account of a true statement, but we can at least say that a statement is definitely not true if such-and-such a requirement is not met.

I actually go way back to the verification principle. Remember, this is only a metric we're using to toss out things that are necessarily not true. If a proposition cannot be verified, it is not true. It isn't false, and it might actually turn out to be true, but until it is verifiable, we cannot label it as "true."

The proposition must be both internally and externally consistent. Internally means that the basic elements of the statement do not contradict. Externally means that other statements outside of the proposition that have not been shown to be necessarily not true do not contradict the proposition.

The statement must be meaningfully believable. By this, it must fulfill the first two requirements and also be understandable in some linguistically non-nebulous way. Two types of propositions can be meaningfully believable: internal and external. External propositions correspond to something in empirical reality. "Dog," or "el perro" correspond to dogs. "The dog is running" corresponds to the sight of a dog running. "The dog is an odd number" is not meaningfully believable because no dogs are odd numbers. All external propositions must be empirically verifiable to be called true.

Internal propositions correspond to things that are only apparent to the logical entity speaking the proposition. "me so horny" has two meanings. The speaker means that they are experiencing certain things that they associate with the word horny. The listener is seeing certain behavior that they associate with the word horny and other people. As such, propositions that don't appear to be logically tied with something actually are, it just depends on where that thing is. For example, when I declare "oh shit!" that statement is logically tied and represents sensations that I am feeling.

This is where other minds come in. We make the assumption that other people's internal worlds are at least similar to our own. As such, we project our internal world on other people. There are likely very many evolutionary reasons for this, not the least of which is empathy. So when somewhen says "me so horny," we don't say that this person is behaving in a way that I usually behave when horny, or in a way that frequently ends up with them copulating. No, we say, with great assurance, that they feel horny. We state that we know what's going on inside their head.

But even here, it's an unfounded assumption. For example, if someone frequently said "me so horny," but sex was never correlated with this statement, it might take awhile, but we would stop assuming that their internal world was the same as ours. The empirical information would reveal itself to be the true determinant of our assumptions about someone's internal world.

As you can see, I dodge neo-Wittgenstein by not regarding atomic elements of propositions as directly corresponding to "things," only the propositions themselves. All propositions correspond to something. Unlike words, we can definitely define a proposition.

Where the disconnect happens is the internal/external difference. Sometimes, we as listeners can never truly be sure of to what a proposition corresponds. "Oh shit!" could correspond to fear, or elation. We rely on context to help make this determination, but the speaker knows precisely to what the proposition corresponds.

Obviously, I can say this with confidence because I am making an assumption. I am assuming that other minds exist and that they are similar to me. I say "oh shit" very frequently, and I am quite aware of what this statement logically represents, even though other people are not. That does not change the fact that it does definitely represent something, and I know what that is. That means, under my assumption, that other people's statements who's logical foundation is not available to me nonetheless have a logically specific foundation, even if I don't know what that is.

As such, if a statement cannot be shown to represent something internal or something external, it cannot be true.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Julian Assange

Apparently, Julian Assange's OKCupid profile from four years ago has been identified. He sounds like the self-righteous, politically charged super-geek that everyone suspects that he is/was. My god. The sheer number of people I've met with this personality profile is shocking. It's also a bit of a conflict, for me, because while I think that what Assange is doing is of great value and importance, I'm utterly sure that I would hate him if I ever met him. I have hated everyone I've ever met like him. How can you not? Kudos to him, though. Most guys like him become young Republicans. So that's something.

Assange's OKCupid Profile Sounds Like Assange Sex Musings (Updated) (Jezebel)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Teachers.

Education is the single most important thing in the country. Nothing else is more important. Not health care, not the environment, not foreign wars, nothing. Education is the only path we have to abandonment of old beliefs and dogmas. For example, do you think if the country was as educated as would be ideal that there would be any debate about global warming? We'd all be riding around on bicycles and installing as many windfarms as we could manage. The environment is important, but education will provide the solution.

It is with this that I say we need to shit-can our current educational system and start anew. This thought train (like a soul train, but with less soul) was started with a Manhattan high school's riot after the principal decided that the correct response to a fight breaking out was to close down the bathrooms for everyone. This is startling.

Forget the obvious problems with punishing everyone for the actions of a few, much less the absurd idea that stopping people from peeing is correct punishment for anything, and instead focus on the fact that the principle thought that this was a good idea.

I have heard the argument that to attack teachers and destroy their unions is wrong because these teachers truly care. I'm sure that many of them do. My problem is not with their hearts, but with their minds. They're incompetent. This principal is in charge. This principal has power. This principle is a moron! How the hell are our teachers this out of touch? This principal undoubtedly thinks that Silly Bandz are the work of Satan. I remember when my teachers were banning slap bracelets and Troll dolls. We're not past this? We're not past teachers banning things in, apparently, some desperate effort to prove to every fucking student that they have that anything and everything which they have to say is worth ignoring? This situation is one of many, just amplified to a comic level. These teachers don't know what they're doing.

Our teachers are out of touch because the vast majority of people who become teachers, today, were never cool. They were never the bright energetic kids. Those kids are off doing cool things and earning lots of money. They were the awkward kids. The lower the grade taught, the worse it gets. In Freakonomics, the authors posit that the reason for the fall-off in teacher quality is women's-lib. Basically, fifty to sixty years ago, job prospects were pretty grim for women. But from that point forward, things got increasingly better. Obviously, the best women started leaving the work force in droves as they started being accepted into board rooms and positions of prestige. Essentially, we're now left with all of the people who can't get jobs elsewhere, because if they could, they would.

I completely advocate the elimination of teacher's unions. Once, they made perfect sense. Eighty years ago, when the first teacher's unions started forming as collective-bargaining bodies, teachers were women (a big strike against them, already) who were seen as poorly-skilled people who simply regurgitated a curriculum. They were, effectively, factory workers using lessons instead of rivets. Anyone who's seen as practically worthless needs a union, lest they get walked all over.

But that's no longer the case. Teachers are highly-skilled people with the most important task our country has: its own enlightenment. Standardized testing is nonsense, so we need more flexible ways to assess teacher performance. Student evaluations, final grades, peer review, etc. Whatever combination of those forms of evaluation is settled upon, the answer is clear that we need to do it.

We can't simply go forward with out of touch, loser teachers who, regardless of their motivations, are so completely lacking in skill and finesse that I wouldn't trust them with a dog.

UPDATE:

I wanted to link to a well-written defense of teacher's unions. The author touches on a few concerns I have for things like charter schools, namely that the dynamic would simply result in segregation by race and economic status, but dodges the big gun aimed at unions: they offer no solutions for the flagging US education system.

Yes, yes. Unions "support" many great things. I don't care about what they support, I care about what they're doing to raise test scores, increase college admissions, and stop high-school drop-outs. Moreover, the author doesn't say anything about the biggest strike against teachers, that pay is determined by seniority, not performance.

Students Riot After Bathroom Ban (Jezebel.com)
Teacher's Union EXPOSED
It's Not the Teachers' Unions (The American Prospect)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Amelia Earhart's Resting Place Fingered?

Apparently, a finger fragment has been found that may tie Amelia Earhart to a remote island. I've been captivated by the Amelia Earhart story for years, but I find it highly doubtful that she was ever on the island in question. No plane has ever been found, no "Amelia was here" etchings, no absolute proof that she was there. The Island would have provided more than enough food and water for one or two people, and people from a British expeditionary group landed on the island and colonized it only 18 months later. If she was there, she was injured and died quickly, which would explain the lack of "Amelia was here" sort of stuff, but it doesn't explain the complete lack of airplane wreckage.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Check Out The Hypocrisy

The best website for highlighting the hypocrisy of those who stand against Wikileaks is Techdirt and their coverage thereof.

http://www.techdirt.com/blog.php?company=wikileaks&edition=techdirt

I want to send as many links this way as possible. This is something that as many people as possible need to see.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

The cell phone cancer debate strongly smacks of the power line cancer debate from over a decade ago. As in everyone is all hyped up about it now, lawsuits will undoubtedly flow for awhile, then everyone will forget about it. The meta-study of research showing that industry-funded studies were much more likely to show no connection, while non-industry-funded research was the opposite should indicate that the answer lies in the middle, i.e. LIFE causes cancer. If there was a connection, and the industry was trying to hide it, nearly 100% of non-industry studies would show a connection.

For example, smoking and cancer. We have studies showing that there is a connection between smoking and cancer and they are more or less in agreement. There is very little deviation from the accepted theory. When test results are all over the map, it doesn't indicate hidden truths, it means that there's nothing there.

Debate Continues: Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? (LiveScience)

New Life

I was dismayed when the third biggest discovery we could have made regarding life was made, and it garnered nary a mention in the major news outlets. There are only two bigger discoveries we could make, three if you include a subset of one of the others: non-carbon life and life on another planet. Sentient life would be the biggest, but I include that in life in general.

This is HUGE. Fucking HUGE, and major news organizations all but ignored this. We should have had Bill Nye doing a special on it, discussions with experts, CGI animations, the whole nine yards. Instead, The Situation takes a shit and 7,000 people Twitter about it.

Thankfully, Gizmodo was one of the first publications to break the news, and their post has over one million views and two thousand comments. Thank God for the geeks. Someone cares.

Nasa Finds New Life (Gizmodo)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wikileaks is Great

I'm puzzled by the furor over the Wikileaks leak. For one, it actually paints the US in a surprisingly good light. It shows the US working hard to do legitimately good things. Bravo! Moreover, it has politicians saying things that we want them to say in public (like Putin is a weak leader). Second, what was released is borderline unimportant.

Wikileaks itself is also a good thing. Many seem to think that they released this information to specifically embarrass the US. If they did, they didn't release terribly embarrassing information. Even Assange has said that the goal if Wikileaks is not to embarrass, but to prove that nothing is secret. If nothing is secret, there can be no "conspiracies." That's Assange's term, and I don't like it, but you get the picture. If people think that there will be sudden, global oversight to anything that they do, people won't do some of the shit that government has been prone to do. No more secrets.








Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at MOVIECLIPS.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

Crime mapping

I'm not really sure why, maybe because I'm a paranoid white person, but I'm interested in crime mapping. It lets me know where I can safely walk. Nice feeling. Governments have sometime provided crime maps to the public, but if you live in an area where those maps have just never been made, you're out of luck. If you're another paranoid white person, like me, check out www.spotcrime.com. It'll map all of the local crimes, including weird ones like bomb threats.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ad of the Year

A driving safety ad has won YouTube's first annual Ad of the Year Award. Like so many ads for driving safety, it misses the point entirely. People know what the consequences are. They don't need to see another ad showing blood, or crashes, or even very artistic takes on crashes like this commercial. There is nothing in an ad that can get people who will not wear their seat belts to start doing so because they don't think it will ever happen to them.

Why do none of these public service organizations realize that and instead drive home the statistics associated with accidents? You have to convince people that it can and will happen to them, not show them the juicy results of an accident that they don't think they'll ever encounter.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Science Be Praised!

If you're already running Folding@Home and SETI@Home, I have another way for you to participate in the global, scientific progress. You can help spot super novae!

Apparently, super novae are problematic things to catch, because even though they happen frequently enough, they only last a short time. And every night there are thousands of photographs that people must sift through by hand and analyze personally to tell whether what they're seeing is a true super novae.

C'mon. All the cool kids are doing it.

Help Scientists Hunt for Exploding Stars (Wired.com)

Don't Buy From China

I'm starting, today, an attempt to not buy stuff made in China. Not for nationalistic reasons, but because the Liu Xiaobo situation has reminded me that China is still a nasty dictatorship. They're using economic growth as a salve over political and social discontent. This is NOT because I want to buy stuff made in the US. I don't give a crap. But I'm going to do my best to not buy stuff from China and I encourage you to do the same.

Nobel Piece

It looks as though the Nobel Peace prize will not be handed out this year. Reports indicate that China has clamped down on family members of Liu Xiaobo's family and are preventing any of them from traveling to receive the award. Stay classy, Far East.

China is running the usual channels of political pressure and are pushing for countries to not accept invitations to the awards ceremony. Currently, the countries that have declined invitations are Russia, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Iraq. Well, that's some spectacular company that China is keeping. If for no other reason, we know that China is wrong simply by its shithead friends.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Economics And The Conversation

I think that I'm going to stop talking about economics. I do have some background in it, but econ has become much like politics in that everyone has an opinion. My background is worthless against an asshole. The Wall Street Journal is seeing big increases in sales, and it's not because we have more bankers being born. EVERYONE is an economist these days. Because, like, reading the Journal is like being there. Like, yeah.

That's one of the reasons why I hate Austrian economists (the school, not the country). They reject most econometrics, which is the only thing that gives any structure to the conversation! This likely explains why most armchair economists are conservatives. You don't need credentials or evidence when your official position is that credentials and evidence are useless!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Marketing People are Retarded

This subject is near and dear to my heart: Suits and ties and marketing people.

These people are the scum of the universe. They go out, get degrees in whatever, feel self-important, learn a vocabulary of impressive-sounding words, then weasel their way into positions of power

People like the guys in PBS's early 2000's Frontline, Merchants of Cool. They talk like they know what's going on, labeling behaviors, both group and individual, with semi-scientific sounding words, but their actions say that they don't. Their actions say that they don't have a fucking clue.

Why do these marketing people fail? Why do they not understand people? Well, because they're stupid. The merchants of cool have no idea what cool is because they themselves were NOT COOL when they were young. They were the freaks and geeks. That's the reason why they've become so obsessed with what is cool. They've dedicated their lives to trying to quantify the nebulous qualities that they so sorely lacked when they were younger.

Do you want to know what cool is? I'll tell you right now, and you don't even have to pay me. It's confidence and sexiness. That's it. You're selling them what they don't have. They aren't confident with themselves and they don't feel sexy. If you market like that and have a quality product, you're golden. It's that simple. Any marketing guy who says otherwise is saying so because he doesn't want to lose his job.

This isn't directly connected other than being the brainchild of retarded business people. Video game companies are raising prices and using tricks associated with online content to try and force more money out of people. Why would they be doing this? Why wouldn't they be using the wonder of the always-on digital age to try and create even more value for users? Why wouldn't they expand into services that the old paradigm of physical media didn't allow?

Because they're retarded, that's why. Books written ten years, reworked, edited, and finally published two years ago, don't have answers for the problems of today, and no matter how much time you spent in MBA school, that reality is inescapable.

For example, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2 are two games with downloadable content that is unavailable if you buy the game used. Game companies hate the used game industry, so they're trying to step over it.

Instead of, I dunno', raising value or decreasing prices, they're trying to squeeze more money from the balls of consumers with downloadable content that costs extra or by raising the prices, thus making used games even more attractive.

What will the $15 extra, to access the online content, mentioned in this recent lawsuit do?

Well, it will immediately drop the value of the used games a further $15. This on top of the $5 discount from buying used. So $20 off. Instead of $60-$70, the game is $40-$50. And even worse, the reduced value of the used copy will reduce the value of the new copy for hard-core gamers who frequently sell back games to buy new ones, just like cars. You pay more than a Kia for a Honda, but you can later sell it for more than the Kia, either equalizing the equation or, frequently, making the Honda actually cost less.

This is not a difficult concept! This is Econ 101 at a community college taught by Sloth from The Goonies! What the fuck!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Health or Education

I saw an interesting post in regards to Afghanistan asking whether it was more important for us to push for education or health. You can easily see the issue. People can't learn if they're sick, and people have a hard time not being sick when stupid.

From a foreign policy perspective, it's certainly a sticky issue. The organic growth of increasing health, education, and social stability that the west went through is something that would take multiple generations. We could wait that long, but we might not need to.

I think that it's a false dichotomy. Obviously, health must be covered first, but only for the students. If we can create an island of health in an otherwise destitute area, as long as violence doesn't take that away, we can then focus on the education of the healthy. A very small degree of health must be ensured before education becomes paramount, but after that point, education is without doubt the most important element in society building.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Anti-Suffrage Propaganda

While I admit that the progressive perspective might be incorrect, the fact that "conservatives" are so damned stupid, they can't possibly be correct. If we incorporate a historical perspective, modern conservatives must own that their... ilk, were the same who, a generation ago, did shit like this. No, conservatives today would not argue that women shouldn't be allowed to vote, but the building blocks that underpin the beliefs are the same.

Anti-Suffrage Propaganda (Buzz Feed)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Macchiavelli Was Right

The events of the past few years has had a strong if gradual effect on my political, economic, and moral opinions. I started off this century quite conservative, I guess it's a side effect of being intelligent, young, and living in a well-off area. But I finished the first decade having experienced a huge shift to the left. The core of my political leanings are inherently conservative and I think that anyone who doesn't have that is an idiot, but my belief in ideals has grown. Is our country currently capable of complete medical coverage for its population? Perhaps, perhaps not. Should making it so be a social imperative? Most certainly.

But the two-fold election of George Bush and the economic crash have sent me reeling. George Bush was a terrible president, his staff were self-serving people (at best fools, at worst evil), and yet people elected him twice. People continue to rack up credit card debt while happily becoming indebted to corporations that try very hard to fuck them. I live for my ideals, because what other reason to life is there, but the realities of life in a world of blithering idiots can't be ignored.

I don't mean to absolve myself of idiocy. I am very idiotic about many things. They are things about which I think I am knowledgeable but am not. It's one of the reasons why the dialectic is so important to me. That clash is the only thing that reveals me to be an idiot, and revealing areas of idiocy are the goal of any truly inquiring mind.

The extreme idiots that populate the world aren't of that nature, though. They are ignorant and willfully happy about it. They do not desire to discover where they are wrong because they aren't wrong. They're right, dammit. They watch Glen Beck, roil themselves up with self-righteousness, and then take to the streets and scream and holler about it to anyone who will listen. I have been randomly taken up in conversation about the conspiracy that is global warming THREE TIMES. I wasn't doing anything else but walking.

I have since taken a sort of Machiavellian approach to life. This is actually a new thing. It's an exhaustion, really. I've given up. I can't care, not any more. If banks are out to fuck us, let them. If the government is out to fuck us, let them. My goal, now being aware of that dynamic, is to avoid being fucked and try as hard as I can to throw other people in front of the train. It's not really a pessimistic position, nor is it realistic. It's a deferred idealistic position. I'll have ideals when I think that they'll actually do something. Currently, ideals have no place on the national scale. Hell, ideals on a local scale are even on life support.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Genius of Design

The BBC produced a five-part documentary called The Genius of Design. It's absolutely fantastic and is currently airing in the US on The Smithsonian Channel. As with lots of BBC content, they're trying their hardest to prevent it from being seen online because... I don't really know why.

I found all five parts online here. It's a Chinese website and as such takes forever to load the videos. You can also go to Isohunt.com and download a torrent for both it and the producers previous series, The Genius of Photography.

It is easily the best television retrospective on design ever produced. It's thorough, detailed, wonderfully shot, and managed to straddle the line between design porn and legitimately informative.

Africa Needs More Help Than We Can Give

George Ongere has an article over at Skeptical Inquirer about superstition in Africa, specifically sub-Saharan Africa. Basically, he's arguing that all of the economic advancement in the world won't help them since that will cause a greater rift between the haves and the have-nots, and a strong, deeply engrained superstitious culture will hamper if not outright ruin any attempt at education and development.

I've ranted about Africa before, basically saying that the West can do two things. They can continue what they're doing and keep Africa in the dark ages, or they can invest in business and take a strongly moral stance. Namely, we will only do business if you knock off this garbage. No superstition, no killing albinos, no corruption, and if we catch so much as a whiff of this, we're out. We'll come back in another decade and see if you're ready.

We're not doing this anywhere else. In China, human rights violations are rampant, but we don't care. Same as India. We can't do that with Africa. We have to put our money where our moral mouths are and pay more than lip service to our quest to actually help them. Because, let's face it, Bono ain't doing shit.

Will Africa Still Be Immersed in Deep Superstition by the Year 2030? (Skeptical Inquirer)

Suck On It

I'm not one to hate on someone else's lifestyle, but vegans piss me off. Veganism can be necessary for health reasons, for example, I had a friend who developed a build-up in his joints of animal proteins, but it usually is a moral decision. Vegetarians are off the hook, mostly, since that can just be a really healthy diet.

The overcharged moralizing of vegans results in nonsense like the organic movement and PETA who make explicit, public statements that I am evil because I eat animals and animal products. As you can imagine, being called a bad person doesn't sit well.

We are animals. We eat animals. It's the only damned reason that our brains are so large. At one time, a moral drive was critical for the survival of our species. Understanding right and wrong made sure that we never fell out of the good graces of society to die in the woods. Now, that moral drive is still there, but even if we're amoral assholes hated by everyone, we can still survive just fine. Without a serious need on which to focus the moral drive, it runs amok trying to find something about which to moralize.

There Is No Escape From Cows (Gizmodo.com)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Believed the Darndest Things

A new study shows that kids are especially prone to believing things that they're told. The obvious connections to religion are worth a mention, but nothing more. It reminds me of when I was younger. I was around nine and read an interview with Weird Al in the magazine Disney Adventures. He said that when he was thirteen he sold his family's house for a lifetime supply of wax lips. Even at nine years old, I believed it! So yeah. Funny story.

Young children are especially trusting of things they're told (Eurekalert)

Fuck You And Your Manly Men

I hate gender stereotypes. I hate masculinity and femininity. I hate the nebulousness of it all. And, most importantly, if you want men to be MEN, and conversely demand similar things from women, I hate you.

I've talked about it before, and here it is again. Shocker(!), this complete garbage is being spewed by someone who fashions herself a "conservative." I mentioned that these ideas are nebulous, and Katherine Miller does nothing to bestow clarity on the subject. She simply embraces facile, insulting ideals and runs with them. As you would expect, a good chunk of society's ills can be explained by men not being manly enough, oh, and skinny jeans.

Fuck you. I am who I am. If I'm a man and I want to wear make-up and dance to Lady Gaga, THAT'S MY FUCKING BUSINESS. Idiots such as these seem, to me, to be embracing 300 like it's actually tenable. Rock Hudson, James Dean, and Alexander the Great were all fudgepackers. The bouncers dressed as Dorothy at a gay club could easily kick the shit out of you and your entire cavalcade of conservative friends.

So don't give me this bullshit about indecisiveness and mamby pamby feelings being what actually annoys you. You want Pa, smoking a pipe, working his job, mowing the lawn, and grilling on weekends. You've got nothing concrete. Because anything concrete can be said of both men and women (because we're all people!). No, you want the same arbitrary differences that allow you to fantasize about being a sitcom from the early 60's.

Fuck you. Happiness, no matter how I achieve it, is good. You can take your comical ideals and shove them so far up your ass that you puke out Donna Reed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Science Can Answer Moral Questions

Scientific American has lent a perspective on Sam Harris' new book The Moral Landscape, where he argues that science is the best choice for answeing moral questions. Both surprisingly and sadly, the criticism is terrible.

The one point that the article touches on by proxy, via a link to an article in the New York Times, that is valid is Harris' actual moral statement: morals are a function of human suffering. This sounds like utilitarianism, which as you would expect, has some problems with it. But what's important is that this perspective is empirical and thus scientific. We can analyze and determine the best ways to get the best outcomes for the most people. It allows of a discussion, a dialectic, on the subject. Religious morals are not based on anything empirical! They're based on books, scriptures, and are, arguably, total nonsense.

He brings up the issue of scientists who did lots of damage in the past, but that misses the point entirely. Scientists did what they did while "rogue." It's like saying that scientists who falsify data negate all of science.

"Some will complain that it is unfair to hold science accountable for the misdeeds of a minority. It is not only fair, it is essential, especially when scientists as prominent as Harris are talking about creating a universal, scientifically validated morality. Moreover, Harris blames Islam and Catholicism for the actions of suicide bombers and pedophilic priests, so why should science be exempt from this same treatment?"

There is so much wrong with this I barely know where to begin. You can not hold a process accountable for what people do with it. You don't blame physics for the atomic bomb. Religion is a pre/proscriptive belief system, science is a process for achieving things. If we can all agree that morals are the rules defining right and wrong, and that wrong is wrong because it causes suffering, science applies! With morals as a function of suffering and happiness at the core, science is all we need.

Moreover, religion can be blamed where science cannot because science is a process to try and determine truth, religion is a system of posited statements. Moreover, we don't do things in the name of science, but truth and all of the good concepts that result from science. People do perform actions in the name of their religions. Finally, we don't blame religion, per se, for the pedophillic priests, we blame the system that claims to be moral and righteous that then hides them. What we do is mock the idea that the religion can have any weight or truth to it when the supposed arbiters of God are some of the biggest assholes on Earth.

Be wary of the righteous rationalist: We should reject Sam Harris's claim that science can be a moral guidepost (Scientific American)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Brian Cox

Brian Cox, the host of Wonders of the Solar System, keeps pronouncing "geysers" as "geezers." Such as "this geezer erupts once every twenty four hours," or "this geezer is volatile." If I was high, right now, I'd have peed myself laughing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Islam Is As Bad As We Think

Nicholas D. Kristof opens an article with great snark, saying that if we request Muslim moderates to reject the extremism in their religion, us moderates should also not be bigoted against Muslims. I'm not sure if I've ever read anything by Mr. Kristof before, but if I have, I'm sure I thought he was an idiot then, too.

Mr. Kristof's simpering, simplistic, "can't we all just get along" piece of fluff made me a little bit angry. First, he asks me to be tolerant of a group who has shown no tolerance of its own, and as a great Robot Chicken sketch shows, turning the other cheek to those who don't care just gets you two bruised cheeks.



I refuse to tolerate people who have never shown toleration themselves. No leaders, or politicians, or even people in the Muslim world have rejected actions and violence taken against the Western world. There are moderates, to be sure, there have to be, but we don't hear about them. They never say anything, and silence is damnation with this. These extremists fly the same flag as you and you must explain yourselves. Because as it stands, Islam on the whole, not simply the extremists, seems as atrocious as we think. Some people blow themselves up, others simply approve. Both are bad places to be.

Mr. Kristof then pays due attention to the reasons behind our hatred of Islam. He also compares our hatred of Muslims to hatred directed at Jews, Catholics, Asians, and Mormons. Someone provided a rejoinder, saying that “Catholics and Jews did not come here and kill thousands of people.” His response to this is so intellectual corrupt that it boggles the mind.

"That’s true, but Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor and in the end killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda ever did. Consumed by our fears, we lumped together anyone of Japanese ancestry and rounded them up in internment camps. The threat was real, but so were the hysteria and the overreaction."

First off, comparing a religion to a race is ridiculous. Our hysteria with Japanese-Americans was stupid because they were simply people who looked alike. Looking alike is not a unifying characteristic of behavior, which is what we are fearful of. If being Japanese was highly correlated with a particular type of behavior, our fear would have been warranted. But it doesn't, so it wasn't. Believing certain things IS highly correlated with behavior. So our fear of Muslims is entirely, completely, 100% warranted. As Sam Harris put it so eloquently in his book The End of Faith, "belief is a fount of action in potentia."

Kristof continues with a line that seems ripped straight from a peace-loving flower child's notebook, "Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger." There is no misunderstanding, here. I am completely aware of my bigotry and hatred. The difference here is that I do not think it the slightest bit unfounded.

He continues, again comparing this sort of fear with racism,

Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.

I said it before and feel that it bears saying again, this is a ridiculous comparison. The two examples he chooses were both of racist origin. I don't care about race. White, black, Asian, green, Plutonian, it doesn't matter. What matters is their beliefs. His argument up to this point could be equally applied to white supremacists. We are talking about beliefs, not race!

Kristoff continues to smear on the simpering, liberal, P-C platitudes. He expresses how bad he feels that those good Muslims who help rape victims in Pakistan, or feed children in Afghanistan, are having the faith that they hold oh-so-sacred excoriated in public. Well, first off, what is he not telling us about these so-called good Muslims. What backwater, racist, sexist beliefs do these peaceful men of Allah hold? I'd wager quite a lot.

And if they don't hold these beliefs, the question I pose to them is, why be a member of a religion that embodies the opposite of all you do? Islam is a terrible religion, and all of the terrible actions enacted by those who follow it is entirely defensible by scripture. If you are not terrible, you are not Muslim. Perhaps you should try Buddhism. It seems pretty cool.


Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry
(New York Times)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Faith in Schools

This is a documentary by Richard Dawkins. It's primarily concerned with British schools, but the arguments apply equally well to our own system.

Dawkins' first argument is undeniable. If the government is spending taxpayer money, faith should not be a component in the schooling. If schools want to maintain religious aspects to their school, and thus discriminate based on religion, government funding must drop to zero.

Dawkin's second argument is not nearly as definite, though. He argues that faith schools in general are bad for children. While I agree, allowing the argument of "doing it for the children" opens the door to all of the abject stupidity we see with grandstanding politicians day-in and day-out. If you can't figure out how to argue your position rationally, pull out the "children" card. I think that it's dangerous to allow the "for the kids" argument at all.

From a more libertarian perspective, I also think that it's the right of the parents to raise their children however they see fit, even if that leads irrevocably to the child's death. Again, doing otherwise introduces to the concept of "for the children." While I think that the argument is valid, and we can, in fact, come up with objective variables by which to measure the "good" for the child, the subject is far too easily hijacked by grandstanding politicrits looking for easy hay. We need to avoid areas of discourse that are easily perverted.

So, in a sense, I'm not actually against Dawkins in the meat of his argument. He says that we can determine if something is good or bad, children are their own people and not property of their parents, and as such the government must enforce a standard on parents. I just think that it's a terrible idea in practice.

Part 2 is my favorite part. An Islamic faith school allows them to film the lessons, apparently the only school that did, and the students and teachers are then interviewed. It's almost uncomfortable to watch the students and teachers squirm in their seats as they try to explain the disconnect between the government science curriculum and their faith vis-à-vis evolution. Everyone in the room reiterated that everyone gets to make their own choice. It's convenient how everyone made the same choice. I find it interesting because of the societal difference between Britain and the US. In Britain, the school seems almost aware of how stupid what they're doing is, while US schools will proudly declare that evolution is wrong and the scientists who advocate for it are all imbeciles.







American Prudishness

There's an article over at The Register asking whether American prudishness is ruining the internet. The author's thesis is, essentially, that most of the internet is dominated by American companies, American companies are beholden to American advertisers, and American advertisers are beholden to the American people, who are morons who hate naughty words and naked bodies.

I do not take a pessimistic perspective on this. In fact, my perspective is downright Pollyanna. Even though major corporations rule the web and, in many ways, force American cultural norms onto their users, this sort of restriction is almost always fleeting. The internet has shown that it is repulsed by censorship and restriction, and while a system or company that advocates and/or uses those two tools may succeed in the short term, in the long term it crumbles. I can think of no better example than AOL.

In comparison to AOL's sleek interface, the internet of the late 1990's and early 2000's was a no-man's-land, but it won out. Not only did it win out, but by the end of the conflict, one of the world's biggest corporations had been reduced to a website. Apple is a good example that is playing out right now. Apple won over users and got them to buy into Apple's ecosystem of products with sleek design, wonderful user interfaces, and great advertising.

This had s snowball effect, where users bought one or two Apple products, but eventually bought more and more, until a god chunk of their digital life revolved around Apple products and services. But see what is happening, now. The flagship of the closed Apple system, the iPhone, is seeing its market share and dominance give way to the inherently open Android OS. Whether Android is actually open or not is open for debate, but it's certainly far more open than Apple. Once people buy one or two products outside of the ecosystem, they're far less likely to buy back in (I actually have data to back that statement up... just wish I could find it).

We can also look at cultural movements over the course of the past ten years. Remember when the Paris Hilton sex tape came out? Remember the controversy? The news coverage? We now have sex tapes released almost every month... and no one cares anymore. Or for examples more quantifiable, look at acceptance of homosexuality in America. Five years ago, a majority of Americans did not support gay marriage. Now, less than half a decade later, even in the face of ceaseless attacks from the religious right, a majority do. Staggeringly, men also now outnumber women in their support of gay marriage. Cultural shifts of this speed and magnitude have never happened before. Why did it happen? The only variable I can see that didn't exist before is the internet.

It is perhaps the "wild west" nature of the web that has made the major companies act the way that they do. The internet at large is free and uninhibited. To differentiate themselves, they hew closely to the tactful ideal, with no naughty words, nudity, or raunchiness. While I understand this strategy, I think that it's dangerous. They risk damaging their brand when cultural norms begin to accept the very activities that the big companies now censor. When that shift happens, people won't want to be associated with the companies that now represent the censorship they are escaping. Why do you think that CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and every other old-world news service have demographics with an average age in their 60's?

So while I think that major American companies are stupid to try and censor, because of the damage it can do to their brand, I don't think that it's a problem for the rest of the world. The internet is free and freedom is better than no freedom --people like the ability to do things-- so any shift towards censorship will be isolated both in time and digital space. It is this seemingly inherent mechanism to the internet, perhaps because it's as direct an extension of the human psyche as is technologically possible, that will keep it free and will continue to have an increasingly large effect on society at large. I think that the greatest decades of cultural change are in front of us.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Futility of Atheist Arguments?

I recently read a review of The Impossibility of God. It's a very dry, long, multi-authored meditation on god and his various forms and, in total, concludes that God is impossible. It's right, basically, so why don't more people stop believing?

The reviewer takes a rather pessimistic stance, basically saying that people cannot be swayed at all in their beliefs, and complex, well-formulated physical arguments is like using an Xacto knife to cut brick. Not only is it too refined, it's the wrong tool entirely.

I feel ambivalent. I like to think that most people would accept arguments if given to them, but at the same time, most people believe in a very loose sense. They've never really thought about what they're supposedly worshipping. They primarily just live their lives, and religious belief is something that operates in the background and is brought out only when needed. As such, trying to argue against it is like trying to argue about the importance of preserving wild rice swamps in Japan to someone who lives in Chicago.

That's a problem, but instead of seeing it as the end and not bothering to go further, I see it as the issue that must be overcome before further discussions can take place. This book's failure is that it jumps straight to part #2 before addressing the nature of the audience. So, in the end, I guess the reviewer is correct. This books is written for a very small group of people, and as such, why bother existing?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Atheist Southern Baptist?

About.com's atheist section has a recent post discussing Daniel Dennet and Linda LaScola's interviews of various protestant pastors who self identify as atheist or close to it. It's not that there are closeted atheists out there, we've had those for, likely, centuries. And before that we had closeted Christians, and Jews, and whatever the hell the Hittites worshiped. No. What shocks me is what the pastors are. Southern... Baptist?!

I mean, my god! If the interviewees had been Anglican, or some jovial Irish Catholic, I could have been like "Oh. Alright. I guess that's not too surprising." But Southern Baptist? They might as well have been snake handlers who say in secret interviews "Yeah, I don't buy all this, I just like snakes."

Dennet and LaScola were unable to find any Catholic or Orthodox atheists, which isn't too surprising. I guess I would have expected at least a few Catholics, if nothing else. But wow. Southern Baptist. Wild.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Geeks Ruled the World.

I’m a computer geek. Been one for years. My first computer was this strange TI computer that had no disk drive and, as such, anything you did was deleted when you turned it off. It was a TI-99, and I was old enough to know how to turn it on, turn it off, and copy stuff from an instruction manual to such a degree that I sometimes achieved things. What I was achieving was beyond me, but the screen did stuff which made me positively ecstatic.

My first real computer was a Commodore 128. Yeah, bitches. We splurged on the 128 model. Too bad almost all of the software required us to run in 64-mode, which kinda’ negated the need to buy the more expensive 128. It was a great first experience for me. I had to debug problems, learn how to run software, and played LOTS of Impossible Mission and Ernie’s Magic Shapes. Being a cultured five-year-old, I also enjoyed the finer pleasures in life, like Astro Grover. And I will never forget the pleasures of printing out signs and banners with... Let's Make Signs & Banners, and doing it verrrrrrrrry sloooooooooowly. Dot-matrix printers weren't exactly speed demons back then.

My dad always had laptops from his work, including the very first Compaq notebook, so I usually had up-to-date hardware and operating systems, which allowed me to stay current. My adult awakening happened when a friend of mine brought me to my first computer fair. It was great. The internet was around, but the selection of hardware was limited, so fairs were the best place to get selections of the wildest computer shit around.

I still feel a great nostalgia for those days. While I would never want to go back, I like my cell phone way too much, there was something special for us geeks in the days of exclusivity. Computers in the 1990’s were old enough to have a large, robust market, lots of games, cool hardware, but still esoteric enough to be exclusive. It was still mine. It wasn’t everyone’s yet.

At this point in history, companies no longer make stuff for us. The greater market of general users is, obviously, ten times the size, probably more, of the geek market. I completely understand why companies are leaving the geek market for the market of tech-hungry average users who showed their numbers with the creation of the iMac, and have since turned Apple into the most valuable technology company on the planet, having recently passed Microsoft.

But I still kinda’ miss those days. It was a different world, a different demographic. For example, Roberta Williams (founder of Sierra and creator of Kings Quest) mentioned in an interview how she had become disillusioned with the computer market. When she had started in the late 1970’s, the computer market was a highly affluent, educated market. As such, the computer game market was dominated by puzzle games, wonderfully written adventure games, and the occasional action games.

This is in contrast to today, where most games are action games and laptops are sold at Wal-Mart. Look at all of the best-selling, big budget games of today, almost universally, they involve shooting lots and lots of things. The world has changed. I’m sure that’s good, but I’m not trying to be rational, here. I’m being a curmudgeon, dammit. The computer world used to be mine, furiously loading up the newest hardware into a gigantic, beige box at two in the morning. Things weren’t shiny, they were geeky, and that spoke to me.

Sigh. Progress. She’s a bitch. But man, I love it.

UPDATE 8/24/10:

To further add to my nostalgia, Windows 95 is 15 years old, today. I clicked through the links and listened to the Wind95 Startup sound, made by Brian Eno. It instantly elicits and incredibly strong gestalt of memories. By transport, I mean it really does transport me to my bedroom, fifteen years ago, building computers and otherwise geeking out.

Hearing that sound immediately draws out palpable memories of other sounds and images. Like the first time I played through Myst (the sound of big clock or seeing people in a book), or Kings Quest 7 (the opening movie). My first time downloading and playing the demos for Command & Conquer or Warcraft 2, and playing them a lot since I couldn't afford the actual games.

Windows 95 was there right as I experienced my aforementioned adult awakening into technology and computers. I bought a bootleg copy at a computer fair for, $5, I think. Good thing. I had no money. Most of my hardware was used or second-hand, and my software was either pirated or discount bin. I have more, powerful memories of this time than basically any other time in my computer history. I love those memories and I think that saying that I cherish them is not too strong a word.

Religulous

I'm watching Bill Maher's Religulous and he has just left some Christian tourist site down in Florida. A woman who appears to be something like the floor/general manager confronts the camera crew because she didn't know that Bill Maher was going to be there personally. She's upset because of "who he is and the types of work that he does," or something along those lines.

I actually kind of understand her perspective. These people are, well, idiots. The woman who owns the place might not be, but she doesn't need to be nor does she need to care. She's just running a place that people like to visit. Bill is actually just kind of being an asshole for going there, disrupting her business, and putting people on the spot.

I completely endorse his putting of major characters on the spot. Rabbis, politicians (especially), and people in positions of great power, but everyday people? There's no useful end in it. I don't even derive any schadenfreude from it. I also don't think that his usage of derogatory jokes achieves much. These people are, mostly, wrong on their own terms, and that's more than enough to dig into.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Love for the Nintendo Wii.

I Love the Nintendo Wii. I don't play it very often, but I love it. I love it because it is a video game system. You play games on it. You don't stream movies, or sign into massive online communities of eight-year-olds that can destroy you in Halo. You don't form Nintendo guilds of people who all play Mario together online. You just play a fucking game.

I love the success of the Wii because I see it as a celebration and vindication of the GAME. Microsoft and Sony, and even PC developers like Blizzard with World of Warcraft, have abandoned the casual gamer. The gamer who isn't willing to dedicate hundreds of hours of game time and spend stupid amounts of money on the "it" games every month.

I've felt so abandoned by the companies. I don't want to join guilds to avoid shit-head teenagers in online Gears of War matches. I don't want to spend nine hours raiding in Warcraft to get any good equipment. I don't want to play nothing but another damned first person shooter when one comes out every fucking month.

And I don't with Nintendo. They keep me rooted in the 1980's and 90's, when I simply bought a game, put it in, and played. No signing in. No leader boards dominated by guys against whom I have ZERO chance. That's what I like. You cannot just put a game into the Xbox. You cannot simply open a save file. You cannot simply jump in and out of games. Oh no! You need to create an avatar, and an Xbox Live name, and sign into the Xbox to access any save files. And if you're playing multiplayer, the person who originally signed in and pressed "start" must then be the person who signs in and presses start every time you start the game if you want to access the save file. Why not just have a simple save file that anyone can play? Because Microsoft wants to remove as much control as possible from you, because they've got designs on turning the Xbox into a set-top-box and being the Apple of the living room, where you control nothing, they control everything, and they charge you lots of money for it.

I think it no surprise, then, that Wii is outselling everyone else combined, and that I and all of my friends with whom I remember playing games back in the 80's and 90's all primarily play the Wii. I only have one friend who plays the Xbox primarily, and he is that super-gamer. He buys and sells games by the dozens every year, belongs to a gaming clan, and lives on Xbox Live. My Xbox isn't even connected to the internet and all I play is Street Fighter IV. Is the Wii for that hardcore gamer? No. Not nearly enough shooters (he says with a sly sarcasm). Obviously, Microsoft has found a model that works very well for that market. That market loves the network, the leaderboards, the sign-ins, and all of the other trappings of the Xbox. I don't. Those very same trappings do nothing but piss me off.

I could spin that market negatively. For example, World of Warcraft. The people there are similar to the people on Xbox Live. They're hardcore and the Warcraft world is their world. They derive a great deal of satisfaction, self confidence, and social interaction from this world. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not at all. But when someone who doesn't mesh with that world comes in, they clash. Do you remember the movie Christine? It's Stephen King's evil car story. Basically, an evil car is purchased by this timid, teenaged milquetoast, and he begins to become infected by it and turns into a total asshole. One of the underlying themes is that the car didn't actually infect or possess him, thus turning him into an asshole, it's that the kid was always an asshole, he was just too much of a coward to let it come out. Emboldened with his car, we discover that the kid was never a nice kid, and our earlier empathy is replaced with disgust.

Think of World of Warcraft and other online games as Christine. There are very few nice twelve-year-olds, so just imagine the pricks that they turn into when given an epic fantasy world. As such, the consistency of this fantasy world is important. They feel badass, here, and when that is threatened, they get angry (I'm here referring to not only the tweens and teens, but anyone with that profile). I'm reminded of this trenchant comic by the guys over at Penny Arcade.


So yeah, as I think I've explained, the ever-growing online world is one that has basically abandoned me. Instead of playing World of Warcraft, I play through Final Fantasy V for the tenth time. Instead of playing Bioshock II, I play Doom II. The only new games that I'm playing are New Mario, Mario Galaxy, and Street Fighter IV. Games that have basically been around since the beginning of games.

I like games. I LOVE games. And that's why I like Nintendo. They're a game company. They make games. I appreciate that and their quasi-old-style view of the industry very much. Go Nintendo.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Starbucks Don't Know Shit.

Starbucks has shown nothing but complete confusion in the recent years. Their growth was stagnating before the downturn, and then when everyone stopped having money, their growth took an even bigger dive.

The good decisions that they did make were all pretty much straight out of business 101. Close some locations. Refocus on your core aesthetic. Introduce new product.

But whenever Starbucks tried to step outside of this basic "make something; sell it" business model, they stumbled. The first Starbucks card was cumbersome and stupid, the Gold card was better but wasn't a hit with the faithful. Starbucks never released numbers, and even lied about them being good, but it's rumored that they were very poor. The newest card, My Starbucks Rewards gets rid of what was good with the Gold Card, reintroduces what was bad with the Starbucks Card, and numbers have plummeted. I can only go on what baristi have told me, and they say the new card is not liked. How does a massive company fail so badly when simply having a paper punch card with little holes shaped like latte cups gets the job done for other cafes?

Or for an even more laughable example, Starbucks music label, which they brilliantly announced just as the music industry was crashing. It's like getting onto the Titanic after it's hit the iceberg.

Their shocking cluelessness was illustrated very well a few days ago, with the announcement of the Starbucks Digital Network. Before I get into that, though, a little history. WiFi has roots going back to the 1980's, but was solidified and patented in the US in 1996. WiFi started its atmospheric rise quickly, and by the early 2000's, ordinary people had wireless networks in their homes. It didn't take long for major companies to try and sell wireless access, which anyone with a brain knew was stupid at the time. People don't want to pay for something that they can only use in one spot. Luckily, smaller companies were there to quickly fill the void and offer free WiFi as a freebie to get people to come in. For example, Coffee Exchange has had free WiFi since 2004, which requires no clicks, no landing pages, no sign-ins, no nothing, and it is, I'm not kidding, ten, maybe twenty times as fast as WiFi at Panera, Borders, or Barnes & Noble.


After a decade of failing to sell access, the big guys finally stopped trying and, last year, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and any number of big companies started giving it away for free. Starbucks, oddly, was the last hold-out. You could get "free" access for a scant two hours each day if you used your Starbucks card at least once a month. You also had to create a sign-in name (which, despite my best efforts, I could never get to work) and profile. Again, shocker, very few people used Starbucks WiFi.

Finally, earlier this year, Starbucks has started giving away actual, real, truly free WiFi that requires naught but a single click on a landing page (still annoying, but I'll leave that be for now). I figured that Starbucks had finally gotten it. But oh, no, they didn't. They moved simply because it was grotesquely obvious that they should.

What about this move shows that Starbucks doesn't have a clue? Basically, it's that the same issue that Cox, Charter, or Comcast has. They don't want to simply be a dumb pipe, where information from other sources flies over their wires to the consumer. They want control, because in the old world, control meant profit. Free WiFi is the right move, the SDN is just dumb.

"We know that people would pay us for this opportunity. But instead of asking them to pay us, we thought, ‘Let’s aggregate and compile the best content that [Starbucks customers] can’t get any where else,’"

"Starbucks does plan to upsell SDN users, and there will be a revenue share between the coffee retailer and its content providers should customers go on to purchase while browsing."

"In the News channel, customers will have unfettered access to the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The New York Times. Brotman explained that access to the latter of the two will be the paid versions not available for free to readers anywhere else."


Really? You know that you can sell this? If you can sell it, why does everyone who tries to sell it fail? Why was your own WiFi a failure? Oh, and the Times and the Wall Street Journal? WOOOOOooooOOOOOhhh! Hold me back! I already get "unfettered" access to everything on the web. NY Times gets blocked, Huffington Post, here I come. Wall Street Journal? I haven't read that in years, and I'm a freaking stock trader.

Starbucks still thinks that they can sell data, as do its partners. They can't. That business model is dead. You can sell new data, the creation of data, the searching of data, the manipulation of data, but once the data is out and about, it's free because it's infinite. The SDN will try to upsell you to other content... most of which can be had for free on the internet. The SDN cannot compete with the internet. Its video services can't compete with YouTube, Hulu, and BitTorrent; its audio can't compete with Pandora, Uvumi, and TheSixtyOne; its news can't compete with... everything ever. This service is dead before it even comes out.

The final point I find puzzling is how the service will be distributed. Will it be a no-download application? Java? Adobe Air? People hate downloading things. I've worked in the online casino world, trust me, people HATE downloading things. The uptake for a download casino is less than half of that for a casino that streams through a browser. And even if we assume that people have no issues with a download, are they going to be willing to download an application that they can only use in one place? The digital world is mobile, why do companies refuse to understand this? If I can't use your program at my house, I don't want it. Boundaries and borders no longer exist, data is infinite, sell the finite. The goal of a company is to get the finite product as integrated with that mobile experience as possible, not to try and shoehorn the mobile experience back down something physical and immobile.

BRAINSTORMING SESSION: How can we sell the finite (food) better with free WiFi and a Starbucks network? We've got an iPhone app from which people can order food, next step, people sign into and pay for food from their SDN page in their laptop. The network knows from which location you're signing in, so it knows where to send your order. You sit down, open your laptop, log in, place your order, it's done and brought to your table all the while you're in a video chat.

For people who like the experience of ordering from a real person (weirdo), signing into the Starbucks network from a Starbucks location pops up coupons, freebies, and information from and about the employees at that location. Allow people to leave tips in a digital tip jar. The network lets Starbucks know who's signing in, where, when, and how often. Let them link-up Facebook accounts to glean consumer information and better target products. You know that someone who eats a lot of cinnamon buns has suddenly changed his most frequent location, and he shows up at 3pm every day, Starbucks knows to have a cinnamon bun read at 3pm. Let people publish their Facebook on the SDN, so people can see if there's anyone interesting at the location, maybe facilitate a date.

I came up with those ideas in three minutes. Not hard.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Fatties

A club up in Montreal, one of my favorite planes on Earth, is receiving some flak for posting, and I quote, "NO FAT GIRLS ALLOWED!!!!!!!!!!", on their Facebook page. Obviously, the club is backpedaling, and they say that it was some planner's idea of a joke. I actually buy that excuse, it probably was intended as a joke. It was just intended as a joke at the expense of fat girls.

Lots of people are up in arms over this, and apparently night clubs have been sued for racial discrimination in the past, which is, somehow, a bigger problem. I just can't get too up-in-arms over this. Clubs? Only allowing hot people inside? No!

For Pete's sake, duh! Of course the clubs are discriminating. That is was clubs do. Clubs exist for almost entirely superficial reasons. A book store, or perhaps cafe doing the same thing sounds wrong, but a club? That's SOP. If you're fat, you know that you're fat, and you're going to a place that's a temple to shallow, alcohol-fueled physical contact. You're an idiot for getting insulted.

In much the same way that I have no problems at all with high-end designers not making plus-sizes, clubs simply work this way. These companies are selling an image as much as a product. If a club was widely known for being filled with fat and/or ugly people, no one would go! Look at club websites. See anyone who's ugly in the photos section?

Make no mistake, this is discrimination. But if you have an image to maintain, and that image is material in the continued success of your brand, you need to regulate how that image is broadcast. Remember Burberry's brand taking a hammering in the UK after the chavs picked it up? Or Coach in the US after it started going after lower SES brackets? We have direct evidence showing that a poorly managed brand suffers damage when undesirable clients are seen attached to that brand.

So get over it or lose some weight.

Club Prohibits "Fat Girls," Claims It's An "Inside Joke" (Jezebel.com)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Debate With Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins debates evolution, the existence of God, and the nature of the human soul with Wendy Wright. She's remarkably poor in a debate. Whether I agree with her statements or not, she is terrible at this. Holy crap, Christopher Hitchens would have simply eaten her face.

For example, she keeps saying "show me the evidence," which Dawkins does, and she then appears to ignore him. I don't think she's ignoring him, I think that she's failing to articulate what she means. She requests evidence for the transition from species to species, he then tells her about transitional fossils. She rejects that as not evidence. What she means is that the fossils only show that a creature that looks like that once existed, not that it then evolved into any of the other fossils. She accepts the discreet fossils, but rejects the theorized path from example to example. If we can't show her a monkey turning into a man, she doesn't buy it.

Also of interest, she doesn't openly describe herself as a young-Earther (someone who believes the Earth was created less than 10,000 years ago). I can only assume this is because she knows that the argument is unbelievably stupid. To reject the age of the Earth is to reject ALL science. You reject cosmology, physics, biology, geology, oceanography, everything, to explain your view. That is not a view that would hold up well with one of the planet's premier scientists.

I also think that her belief that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old outright rejects the validity of the fossils. Even if she wasn't specifically rejecting the transition itself, she simply rejects that the fossils represent anything at all.

And I want to go where Dawkins didn't want to for, I'm assuming, the sake of keeping the argument from getting mired down in too much morality. she asks in part four whether a person who is mentally retarded has a soul or not. Dawkins says that "soul" is a meaningless word and that, for example, a person in a vegetative state does not have the properties of a person with consciousness, and thus doesn't have a "soul."

She then says that she believes that the person is still a person and has a soul and as such must be cared for. Ignoring Western religion's great history in not caring for people, I see no problem with the materialist perspective (she keeps trying to use the word materialism, and I know what she's doing. She's trying to tie the scientific perspective back to the USSR). No. NO ONE has souls. Souls are a meaningless word. Even Wittgenstein, a devout man, would agree with that. When you say "soul," you might as well have said quijibo.

This does not negate a kind and loving existence. A wise society recognizes that its greatest contributions might come from its weakest members. Profoundly retarded people produce great art and music, can remember amazing things and perform mathematics that beggar the imagination. Even a person in a vegetative state can be recognized as someone who can spring from that state at any moment and be a full person again. There are very, very good reasons for caring for everyone and keeping this world a happy place without simply retreating to God. Because, as I argue frequently, that still doesn't explain it. Why should I help people? Because God says so? Why should I listen to God? Why should I care? Because I'll go to hell if I don't? And thus, we reduce it to self-serving nihilism.

In part 5, she mentions being arrested. She's either lying outright or smoothing over the facts. I found two references to her being arrested, one was quite violent, only that it was her being the violent one. The second arrest appears to be the one that she references; here it sounds like she was just being an asshole.

Also in part 5, she says that it's demeaning to say that they haven't read books. Michael Behe is a superstar in the ID community. With that in mind, watch this clip from the PBS documentary about the Dover, Pennsylvania school board controversy.




She's right, it is demeaning to say that they haven't read the books. But she deserves to be demeaned. I started off angry at her, but finished the videos just being baffled. She simply pretends that Dawkins hasn't said anything on a number of occasions in the debate, leaving him puzzled how to respond.

The whole encounter reminds me of the frequent counterpoints to Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris. Each book comes out, opponenets bring up arguments like how Nazi Germany and the USSR were atheistic, those arguments are soundly rebutted, and then, later, they pretend like the arguments weren't rebutted at all and simply bring them out again. The worst one is the argument that Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins are attacking a straw man. Dawkins specifically addresses this argument early in his book, and then readdresses it in the updated forward to the paperback. Yet, this is one of the first arguments trotted out in any confrontation.

As watching this, keep thinking that she represents 500,000 people.







Monday, July 19, 2010

The Nature of AT&T

"In a fate that will soon befall the rest of the wireless carriers, AT&T has become a mere toll-taker on the digital highway, an operator of dumb pipes that cost a fortune to maintain but garner no credit for innovation or customer service."

That's Wired Magazine speaking, above. This is a short but critical point about AT&T and what is does. AT&T has always been a dumb pipe. AT&T has never received credit for innovation, because that's now what it does. You can innovate with ancillary aspects of the business, but the core remains the same.

Imagine a shoemaker who makes dress shoes. He does not innovate about making the shoes. He doesn't make Moon Boots, or things with rockets in them. He just makes shoes, and that's great! He can innovate with artistic flourishes, but the shoe itself remains the same.

Sillier still, is that AT&T is acting as though it once was an innovator, in some long-dead halcyon days. How?! Once, AT&T was both the dumb pipe and the provider of the phone. But they only provided the phone, the drab black ones that are slowly dying as a cultural touchstone, to get you access to the dumb network for which you would pay.

AT&T's business hasn't changed! They still provide phones, which they subsidize, simply to give you access to the network for which they charge. What in the bloody blue hell is AT&T thinking? No, it's not glamorous, but it's profitable and powerful.

That doesn't mean that they can't put some foofaraws on the shoe, though. Provide service to anyone who has access to the network. A valet service. Free access to just-released movies on Netflix or the like. It's never going to be the super-gloss of Apple or other hardware makers, but, again, it's profitable.


Bad Connection: Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown

(Wired.com)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Comment-ary

There's an article on Yahoo! about the Tea Party expelling some leader for, basically, saying something stupid (as though that's new?). The comments for this article, all 1,600 of them, reminds me of how great the internet is. For the first time, people can be part of the discussion instead of passively experiencing the news. Their voice can be heard. Even these people.

From Will C.

THE BLACKS, JUST WONT LET GO OF RACEISM. THEY ARE THE ONES THAT KEEP IT ALIVE. EVERYTHING THAT DOESNT GO THERE WAY IS RACIEST. I AM SICK AND TIRED OF HEARING THE BLACKS COMPLAIN. IF THERE IS ANOTHER CIVIL WAR, THE BLACKS WILL HAVE HELPED MAKE IT HAPPEN,BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE ME HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THERE BELLYACHING.

I added the italics, but everything else is all Will. I actually think he should be congratulated. Grammar might be beyond him, but he did figure out how to use a computer. That's something! Still, he's not as bad as YouTube comments (nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is), which YouTube has finally gotten something of a handle on with their newest system. So, bravo internet, bravo Will C., and bravo to our ever-evolving system of commentary.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Living Small

Yahoo! is running a series of uplifting love-thyself/Earth videos called Second Act where they profile a guy who is living super-small. Generally, this guy is harmless, and I find his dedication to his work and life to be impressive and honorable, but he's a limited case, for one thing, and for another, what he's doing isn't all that impressive. From an American perspective, it's amazing. Living in 100 square feet seems almost impossible.



The average American home is over 2,000 ft/sq. My rather modest home is still over 1,300, and he's living in 100. Incroyable! But this isn't really stunning in the grand scheme of global housing. Chinese workers live in not much more, and there are multiple people in those places. Japanese city-dwellers have whole families living in less than 1,000 ft/sq. Yes, he's pushing it to the limit, but only in America is his action truly remarkable.

And perhaps that's his point. America has so much space and so much money, we've lost our ability to properly put our lives into a larger perspective. Does the average family really need 2,500 ft/sq of living space. I can almost guarantee not. But when all of your neighbors have the same thing, we might sometimes think that we do.

Second, and perhaps most important, is that when he says "all he needs," he obviously doesn't need a lot. If he was an artist with one thousand pencils, brushes, and pens, would this still be all he needed? I doubt it. Would it still be all he needed if he wasn't single? Or would he have to double his space? What if he did audio production and needed speakers? Or if he was an aspiring chef? What was his job? A cashier. And what does he do, now? He apparently spends his time feeling self-important and, um, living. This is an incredibly low-energy style of living, both in input and output, and one that lends itself to a life spartan. I'd imagine that all of the people who are now big supporters of him and his work live similar, uneventful lives. Notice how one of them was a "sustainability teacher"... Right.

Still, setting aside the mockery of that last paragraph, I appreciate his work and what he's doing, I truly do. I find a lot wrong with it, and get more than a whiff of hippy self-righteousness, but the idea that he's espousing -you need less than you think- is a good one.