Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Paul Graham Article: Inequality and Risk

Paul Graham on "Inequality and Risk". About the benefits, and prime importance, of encougaging people to take economic risks -- and what this has to do with inequality. "...It sounds benevolent to say we ought to reduce economic inequality. When you phrase it that way, who can argue with you? Inequality has to be bad, right?..." As pretty much always, his conclusions seem pretty contrarian, but are very well argued.

Certainly there is a need for arguments that are laid out like his one is. We need to get beyond the simplistic arguments about economics and politics our society seems mired in, in which policies/strategies/whatever are justified or attacked on the grounds of whether they superficially sound like they'd benefit/disadvantage some particular part of the population. We need to start evaluating them on the basis of actually looking into and working out the details of what effect they would have, without prematurely reaching decisions based on superficial critiera.

Jaron Lanier on Anti-Intellecualism

Jaron Lanier writes about the anti-intellectualism in today's society, the need to overcome it, and suggestions on doing so. One of the topics he focuses on is spiritiaulity and how it can mesh with a naturalistic worldview.

I think the way he approaches these topics is pretty on the mark, and I agree with a lot of his points -- which surprised me a bit, because I don't remember being that impressed by the stuff of his I'd previously read, over at edge.org.

Friday, August 26, 2005

WiMAX Coming To Australia, Sooner

According to this article, "Australia will become the world's testbed for WiMAX". If you haven't heard of it, WiMAX allows wireless networks covering very large areas. Brisbane, where I live, is one of the locations for the testbed. (via Slashdot)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Positive and Negative Processes, Outcomes as Substances, And Function/Purpose

More as notes for myself than anything else, and probably not that comprehensible to anyone else, coz a lot of the stuff left unexplained... an example that brings together some different threads I've picked up on.

Degree of intelligence and depth/accuracy of understanding about how things are and work is commonly seen as the result of a positive, or constructive, process. That is, you gain intelligence and understanding by thinking about things, by reading, solving problems etc. The level of the results is seen as proportional to the amount of time you invest in these activities.

I suspect that this is incorrect. I suspect that 'negative' processes are very important as well, perhaps more so. The 'negative' processes work to avoid certain beliefs and ways of thinking, rather than to explicitly add new ones. They are filters, that (hopefully) weed out poor ideas and poor ways of reasoning.

This seems to be the case because of the following reasons. It takes a lot of time to develop ideas. Anyone who's done any research -- spent time working on a PhD, for example -- ought to know this. We might imagine that we get our views about things by sitting down and thinking them through, but who actually does this except on rare occasions?

I think that we tend to either get our knowledge from others, or by seeing what our intuitions tell us (as opposed to explicit reasoning). If this is the case, being able to fiter out bad reasoning is important. This includes spotting assumptions and avoiding them. I think there's more than enough correct ideas out there - if only you can avoid the bad ones and spot the good ones.

There is an asymmetry between developing ideas and filtering them out -- which is esentially the assymetry that Karl Popper noted between verifying statements and falsifying them. Without going into details, it's much easier to falsify things. You can shoot down an argument by spotting a single flaw in it.

Another reason why a negative, filtering process is important is that -- I strongly suspect -- bad ideas and bad forms of reasoning do a lot more damage than good ones do good, and that there are more ways of having bad ideas than good ones (more bad ideas out there). For example, I think that bad ideas that you may hold may be better at stopping you from picking up correct ideas, than is the case vice-versa.

(you might find it of interest that I think this stuff applies to the problem of understanding what information is, which is what I'm doing my PhD on. I think the main difficult does not concern any positive process of gaining some major new insight, but in a negative process of filtering out all of the presuppositions and red-herrings)

Now, actually the main thing I want to point out is how this is an example of where when people imagine something they, unless they know better and are aware of avoiding it, tend to only consider the positive, constructive, factors influencing an outcome. Thinking about intelligence/knowledge is an example of this.

And I think this 'habit' comes from seeing such outcomes as 'things' or 'substances'. If intelligence is a substance, then it comes about from positive processes that create it, and this view is less condusive to seeing it as being influenced by negative processes. Whereas it can be a property of some process, a differential relative to some typical value in a population, a perceptual thing etc.

And I think that relates to what seems to be the very common 'habit' of seeing the world solely in terms of the functions and purposes of things. The functions/purposes are seen as like essences. That is, their are functions for bringing about that outcome (spending time thinking of things has the function of incresing knowledge/intelligence) - that is the positive, constructive processes have the function of the outcome. Whereas under this sort of view, it is hard to see conceptualise such negative, filtering process, in terms of that function.

That Sweet Siren Sound

Sirens are designed to capture our attention, which is why a good siren makes us feel uncomfortable, and why a good siren sounds annoying. Those effects are reallly enhanced when that siren is ringing every two minutes, all frigging day long.

Like the one that’s been asserting itself on my existence today. It’s been a fixture in my day since it woke me up in the morning, and a constant companion as I’ve been trying to do work throughout the day (loud music unfortunately does not drown it out).

I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but I suspect one of the local schools, and a sportsday or something. I’m starting to have fantasies of baseball bats and smashed-up siren speakers.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Article: The Monster That Wouldn’t Die

Not a bad article on the uncritical use of the frankenstein myth. (via ALDaily)

Turn Any Flickr Photo Into a Magazine Cover

This page can turn any flickr photo into a magazine cover, with the text of your choosing. Very nice. (via Robotwisdom)

The Size of Populated Australia?

Just a thought. Australia is a pretty large country, but most of the population is dotted around the coastline. A lot of it is desert or otherwise uninhabited, or quite sparsely populated. I wonder how large an area is taken up by just the parts that are at least moderately populated? If we considered just those parts, how big a land mass would we have? What countries would it be comparable in size to?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Differences Betweeen Fictionalised and Real Police Investigation?

There's all these police investigation shows on tv at the moment (all the different CSIs, etc). I'd like to see a documentary that looks at how their potrail of police investigation differs from the reality.

I think that could be quite interesting (and I say this even as someone who's not really into those shows). Surely, there are differences; but how many, and in what ways? It would be interesting to know this in concrete detail.

And it would probably do us some good, as I imagine that for a lot of us, our main conception of police investigation comes from such shows.

I have no idea whether there is anything like this out there.

(and of course, a similar idea could be applied to medical dramas, etc).

Monday, August 15, 2005

Living the Dream

Oh man, talk about living the dream! Most of us may dream of packing up our jobs, setting off on an around the world trip and doing funky dancing at the major tourist sites, but Matt Harding has actually done it, and has compiled his experiences in a video.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Fulltext of Brights Press Release

The fulltext of this press release.

Individuals unite via Internet to press their case for civic justice

CONTACT: Mynga Futrell
The Brights' Net
Phone: 916-447-2170
Email: the-brights@the-brights.net

July 12, 2005 (Sacramento, CA, USA) -- The Brights’ Network recently launched its revised website ( http://www.the-brights.net ). The new information and action hub serves people in 115 nations. It links to "Brights sites" in five languages. Brights have a naturalistic worldview, free of supernatural and mystical elements. The international Internet constituency of Brights is speaking up for civic justice.

Brights advocate "a level playing field" for citizens having a religious or a naturalistic worldview. A just society welcomes the presence and participation of both. The noun "Bright" resonates with the Enlightenment. In that optimistic era, people had confidence that, with reason and science, we could create a just society.


The Brights' Network hub registers as Brights persons who are free of belief in any supernatural forces. The U.S. alone has millions of such individuals — skeptics, humanists, agnostics, atheists, Christians (who follow Jesus’ moral dicta free of supernatural belief), rationalists, secularists, and many others. http://www.the-brights.net/people/.

People who have naturalistic worldviews bring thoughtful and principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance. The Internet constituency of Brights wants public recognition of that reality.


Society has progressively become more civically inclusive regarding ethnicity and sexual orientation. Still, deep prejudice exists at all levels of society regarding those who do not claim to be religious.

Math professor Herb Silverman ran for governor of South Carolina, USA, in 1990. He jokingly called himself "the candidate without a prayer." By making known his naturalistic worldview, he had zero chance of being elected. Being a straightforward fellow, Herb made his outlook clear, faced the slings and arrows, and lost honorably.

Herb's campaign slogan was funny, but the situation is not. No matter how excellent a candidate's character and qualifications, divulging a naturalistic worldview is politically fatal. (In some nations, revealing a naturalistic worldview is fatal, period.) Hope of winning elective office hinges on utmost silence or, worse, a violation of conscience to imply, however mildly, that one is a "persons of faith."

Herb Silverman is one of the Brights seeking change in the civic values that lead to such situations. http://the-brights.net/people/enthusiastic/


It is time to open access to political office and usual forms of societal and civic participation to all deserving persons. No religious litmus test is acceptable or appropriate for civic suitability. Ethical actions are not a monopoly of the religious.

Paul Geisert, Co-Director of the Brights' Net states: "In the United States, capable citizens like Herb Silverman are socially and politically marginalized. Many would like to contribute in leadership capacities. But they 'don't have a prayer' unless they conceal their views or feign a modicum of religious belief. We believe many religious people will recognize this problem and support change. It's reasonable. It's fair. It's necessary. We know there are principled people who hesitate to speak out. We invite them to learn more about the Brights."

Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell
Co-Directors, The Brights' Net
Phone: 916-447-2170
Email: the-brights@the-brights.net (media kit available upon request)
URL: http://the-brights.net

The Ubituitous Twentieth Century Collection

update, 7.12.08: related: Brewster Kahle's TED talk (video) about "building a truly huge digital library -- every book ever published, every movie ever released, all the strata of web history [...] all free to the public"

Something to ponder. I imagine that data storage will become so cheap, and so large in capacity, and that data transfer will become so quick, that someone will end up building a collection of every single song recorded in the twentieth century, and that everyone will end up with a copy of that collection. Or access to it that is equivalent to having a copy of it. Imagine if you could have a copy of something like this and easily give a friend a copy -- it could spread pretty quickly, I think. And of course the same reasoning doesn’t apply to just songs, or just stuff from the twentieth century.

Avocado and Sweet Chilli Tuna Sandwich

Having discovered the wonders of sweet chilli sauce with avocado, here's some recipes from the world-renound kitchens of explorer street.

Add layers of these ingredients in this order:

  • avocado slices
    • sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • some sliced spanish olives; not a major ingred, so easily optional
  • cheese
  • tuna mixed with sweet chilli sauce

Cheese-divided Avocado Salad, with Sweet Chilli Sauce

  • cut an avocado in half lengthwise, place each half cut down and cut each of them into vertical slices across their width.
    • make the slices, say, about 1/2 cm thick
  • the next step is to place slices of cheese between the slices of avocado
    • you can make the cheese slices approx the same size as the avocado slices
      • and probably a bit thinner, so they don’t overwhelm the milder avocado
    • tasty cheese works fairly well for this, and I imagine that mild cheese would as well
  • sprinkle some sliced spanish olives on top
  • sprinkle a little salt and pepper, then drizzle some sweet chilli sauce on top of it all

Friday, August 05, 2005

F. Scott Fitzgerald Line on What Makes Intelligence

An F. Scott Fitzgerald line that I saw mentioned -- in an incdental way -- on Slashdot:

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."
Spot-on, I think. Or, at least, I think it's a good test.

I think that, to a large extent at least, intelligence involves an ability to control and manipulate your thought processes -- and that test checks for a high-level of that. It tests your ability to be able to hold an idea, not simply as a belief which is directly connected up to your attitudes, opinons and actions, but as a piece of passive information that you can subject to evaluation and thought.