Saturday, February 28, 2004

Testing Common Wisdom on 'Drinking Lots of Water' when ill

Researchers have investigated the common wisdom to 'drink lots of water' when ill with a cold or the flu, finding it ineffective and potentially dangerous, as reported in this article.

So why do so many people, including doctors, recommend drinking plenty of fluids when ill? "It's not really clear," Del Mar noted. "All we know is that the idea arose in ancient times, and has been carried on ever since without anyone really challenging it."

(Also reported at: TheAge,, WebIndia123, TheStar)

Wednesday, February 11, 2004


Here's a name for a record label or album: music to f*ck people's heads with. At the time of writing, a Google search for this phrase turns up zero results.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

There ought to be...

...keyboard shortcuts for moving the cursor to the top or bottom of the screen, when you're in a program like a word processor or text editor. You might think that the page up and page down keys do this, but they scroll the screen up or down when they move the cursor, whereas I want something that keeps the screen the same and just moves the cursor. I think I'd often find this feature useful.

Since, in Windows at least, CTRL + UP ARROW (or DOWN ARROW) are already used, perhaps CTRL + < could be used for 'move cursor to top of page' and CTRL + > for 'move cursor to bottom of page'. I'm also wondering, is there any program or operating system that already has this feature?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

An Idea Involving Places, Races and Faces

I've had a number of unsatisfactory attempts at expressing this idea, and it could be who-knows how much longer until I'd be fully satisfied, so enough's enough. Here's my latest attempt, still a little rough around the edges, but otherwise okay, I think...

Like everyone else, my experience of others is a combination of the people I see and interact with in person, plus those I see through the media -- through movies, documentaries or other tv shows, newspapers, books, National Geographic magazines read in waiting rooms etc.

My familiarity with people from different countries may be more than the average person's because for the last nine years I've either studied or worked at a university, but even if that's the case I think that my knowledge of the different races and cultures is in many ways quite vague and incomplete.

Even so, it often doesn't feel that way. I think that we tend to have a sense that we have a fair, if incomplete, picture of the rest of the world, what the people in various places look like, what their culture is like, and so on. If you show me any country in the world on a map my mind will be able to conjure up notions of things like what the people there probably look like, what sort of existence they have (whether they're fairly industrialised, for example).

But I don't automatically think that because it seems that way, it is that way. I'm aware that our minds, when they don't have the actual details to go on, unconsciously fill in the blanks with stereotyped information, which we gleam from a variety of sources.

I have, for example, a notion of African people, but I'm sure this notion does not properly incorporate, or distinguish between, all the different cultures and racial groups it lumps together. I have certain notions of what an African person looks like, but until I, say, spend time in various places in Africa, how do I know how accurate these notions are? Sure, these notions will be affirmed, negated or expanded by the people I see in person or in the media, but I think it's difficult to claim that these are representative samples.

What I would really like is some real knowledge that is representative of what other people in the world are like. Of course, to understand the people, the places, the culture, the history of everyone on earth would be a mammoth task. But I have thought of an idea for the modest task of presenting a real sense of what people in different places in the world look like.

In theory, this information is already available, and the idea is more than just about providing this information. Part of the idea is about how to present this information such that it is interesting and has a chance of having real reach. It's no good if it's just information sitting around that no one ever sees.

What I want is something that will help create, in the world, a greater sense of others, by giving people a more concrete knowledge with which they can mentally connect up places and races to a more richly detailed set of faces.

The World Seen Though Images

Short of going on a world tour, the only practical way of gaining this understanding is through some form of visual media. Certainly there's a suitable set of images out there if you consider the combination of what's found in the various documentaries, magazines, books, image databases and whathaveyou, but it's too dispersed and awkward to get at and use for these ends.

I can think of things which give various pictures of people in places, but it's usually a scattered set of images, not comprehensive to cover all of the different racial groups in a place or a representative sample of each. Often the images are not labeled sufficiently to determine exactly where the person is from or what sort of racial background they have. A further issue is that people are often not the focus of the images: the focus is often the scene the person is in or the task they are performing, and this means that you can't as clearly see what they look like. It also means that people are in different positions, taken from different angles, making it difficult to get a comparative sense of their features.

The short of it is, if you want to do this with what's out there, you'd have to do a lot of work, and why would anyone in an ordinary situation bother to do this? The problem would be hard enough even if you just were interested in a single place or racial group, and if you're interested in every country in the entire world you have that multiplied by about one hundred and ninety.

You can think of my idea as a coffee table book containing a page for each country in the world, each of which shows an image of a collection of people representative of those in that country. Each page/image/country might have twenty five or so people, and they are standing side-by-side and facing the viewer. It could also have a bit of textual information indicating the country, the racial make up of the people in it, and so on. That's the essential idea, though there is more to it which I'll explain further down, after commenting on these basic details.

Since the focus should be on the people and what they look like, I think they should all be standing next to each other, facing the viewer. I think the background to the image should be fairly neutral and I don't think there should be anything in the pictures that could bring up racial or cultural stereotypes or associations, like people wearing traditional dress or having images of the landscapes 'typical' for that country in the background. For this reason, I think it would be best if they were, in all of the pictures, wearing the same type of clothing, something minimal, plain and as culturally neutral as is achievable.

And that's basically it. I have in mind something that's visually striking, memorable, and which fascinates the viewer. I think this idea could meet those criteria, criteria which bring to mind those Benneton ads by Oliviero Toscani and Yann Arthus-Bertrand's Earth from the Air pictures. Consciousness raising, largely.

A Zoomable Kaleidoscope

While book-form has its advantages, you could do a lot more with this idea on the computer. When I originally thought of the idea, I had in mind a web-site or a multimedia program (I think it would work both on the computer and in book form). The static arrangement of images in a book could, on a computer, be arranged in any number of ways. Want to show the image of New Zealanders aside the image of Mexicans so you can view them comparatively? Want to show just the images of all the Asian countries? Want to show the images of all the racial groups that share some common ancestry? The computer could give you the means to show together whichever collection of images you wanted, in a kaleidoscopic number of potential arrangements.

I think a really interesting think you could do on the computer would be to allow the viewer to 'zoom' in or out, so they could, for example, see a larger, more representative, set of images for a particular country, or see a single image for a larger area, such as Europe. So even if you've just got the time to view the single image for each continent, you're getting at least as best a view as you can with that much information, and if you want to go deeper and more detailed you can. So you can get an image that gives you some idea of the people in a particular country, but if you want to get a more representative view you can zoom in and see perhaps three pictures for that country, and so on.

Corrective Lenses

What this idea is really about is giving ourselves a better perspective on the world. For most of us, myself included, the people of the place we've lived in exist in a much different part of our minds to those elsewhere in the world. Being able to see everyone one in the world, together and on equal footing, would hopefully help put things into proper perspective.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Favour the Intrepid in the Search for Knowledge

Favour the intrepid in the search for knowledge, for their job is far easier than the naysayer's. The naysayer says, I know there is not an answer out there. The intrepid says, how do I know there is not an answer out there? The intrepid must search for an answer somewhere in the landscape of knowledge, for a path that will lead them to it, and they have all of the future -- and the developments it brings -- in which to find one.

The naysayer too must search for an answer somewhere out there in the landscape of knowledge, an answer which says that there is no path, no where, that the intrepid could ever follow to reach their answer. This is a fundamentally more difficult task, and one which puts the seeker at a far greater risk of finding a mirage when they think they've found an answer, for when they have found their answer, everyone else has all the future to prove them wrong.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Article on Effectivenss of Open Dissent in Organisations

Effective organisations are nourished by an internal culture of open dissent, while pressure to conform is damaging. Take the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster as an example: the report into the accident cites the lack of such a culture as the major cause. Cass Sustein, in his (I checked, he is a guy) Los Angeles Times article, takes this example as a starting point for a brief look at this issue, in which he further illustrates his point with examples involving Enron, judges and private investment clubs. (for some reason that URL is not currently accessible to me, nor any others at uchicago for that matter, and an alternative source for the article can be found here).