29 December, 2008

Should I feel bad about things?

Through talking to others over the years, I’ve learned that what I think of as my “conscience” is very different from the ordinary person’s conscience. While it is true that I do feel badly about certain things from time to time, they are almost never the same things that others continue to maintain that I should feel badly about.

Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly down, I look back on events from my past that I honestly regret:
But other things, things that I intellectually realize are horrible in the extreme, are items that I feel almost nothing about at all. It is as though these events, while real, have no guilt component embedded in them, unlike the events listed in the earlier bulleted list. Still, though I feel no guilt, intellectually I understand that they are negative to some degree or another, and thus I take care to ensure that they never happen again. But no matter how many measures I take, one fact remains: I do not feel bad about having done them.

Some of these items include:
  • losing control of my temper and destroying a dorm window w/ my bare hand, leaving others to pay the bill
  • making fun of a fellow classmate nehind her back (longtime readers will remember her as Total Recall) just because I felt she was not a particularly ‘deep’ individual
  • being physically violent with others in a most cruel and continual way during my first few formative relationships
But there is another class of items I do not feel bad about: things that, for one reason or another, I feel justified in not feeling badly about. Like looking at breasts, for instance. As I explained in detail in my feminist blog entry a few weeks back, I do not consider the looking at breasts to be a negative thing, despite the fact that I consider myself a fully fledged feminist. While some may believe that breast-gazing is equivalent to objectifying the generic female person, I disagree halfway: I think it objectifies only the female form, and so long as the gazer respects the person within that form, then no harm is done by looking. (Unless the recipient doesn’t wish to be looked at, in which case surreptitious gazing is a borderline case.)

But there are other items as well, including:
The above list is just a sample of the many things I continue to do to this day, even while others I talk to continue to insist that it would feel wrong to them. Hearteningly, everyone seems to agree with me on one or two items, yet disagree on others–yet everyone seems to think different things are right. I should mention that I have what I think are rather good reasons for each of the above: many recently popular books have been written on how religion ruins society, for example, and the only real argument for me to pay special attention to those related to me by blood is because they share genetic material with me, and that’s got to be the lamest excuse ever. But even with these well thought out explanations, very few people have agreed with me on all points.

To tell the truth, this diversity of opinion makes me happy. Personally, I think engineering is exceedingly boring when compared to theoretical physics, but I fully understand that engineers are needed for physicists to work their magic. It’s a good thing that different people have different things they like. Yet I still appreciate beyond measure the rare individual who shares my thoughts on these issues. For it is only with those such people that I can ever fully let my guard down and participate openly, as equals.

And that is an experience that I will always treasure.

18 December, 2008

The Horrors of Installing Facebook Connect

Although it’s been a number of weeks since I integrated Google’s Friend Connect on EricHerboso.com, I never bothered to write about it because it was by far the easiest install EVER.  Installing it literally consisted of going to Google’s web site, hitting a few buttons, typing in a few characters, and then it was over.  Google made things super easy.

Installing Facebook Connect, on the other hand, has been an immense pain.  Every step I took in getting it to work has been a step lined in tears of sweat.  Everything that could possibly go wrong has in fact gone wrong, and it was the most irritating install ever.  Horrifyingly, on my second attempt, I even followed an inane video entitled “Add Facebook Connect to your blog in 8 minutes!“.  And while following their directions were not hard, it took more like 45 minutes, and at the end of it, it didn’t work at all.  Which is severely fucked up, since the video was literally posted only three days earlier.  (The sticking point was their usage of uid=’loggedinuser’ — it turns out that ‘loggedinuser’ cannot be called by uid through xfbml.  Which makes the entire video pointless.)

I also tried a custom installation by modifying some code I found at a spanish-only site.  It was a terrible mess by the time I got through with it, and has since been removed completely.  (I don’t speak spanish.)
But today, during my lunch hour at work (okay, I used 1.75 hours), I finally got facebook connect to work on my WordPress install.  And it’s all thanks to some helpful code supplied by Adam Hupp.  You can see a partial documentation of it on the facebook developer’s wiki.  (I’ve already edited a few bits in the Q&A session and plan on fleshing out the article a bit more later on to clarify some of the more complicated parts used to customize how facebook connects to wordpress.)

Anyway, thanks to Adam Hupp, it’s now a pretty seamless installation procedure.  Just follow the directions at http://wiki.developers.facebook.com/index.php?title=WP-FBConnect if you want to add it to your own wordpress installation and you’ll see what I mean.

So please try out the new system.  If you’re already logged in on my blog, log yourself out and come back to this page.  You should see a ‘log in with facebook’ button right above the comment section.  You can log in that way, or, alternatively, if you’re already logged in to facebook, you should see a box in the top right of your screen that asks you if you want to log in with facebook.  Either login method should get you set up, and then all you have to do is enter in a comment and it should connect directly to your facebook account.

However, there a few caveats.

First, it breaks in IE.  After numerous investigations, I’ve come to find out that this is an issue on facebook’s end, and not an issue with the code I currently have on my site.  Facebook connect does not currently work in IE no matter how you try to make it work.  I think this is an xfbml issue, though I may be wrong.

Second, it’s fussy in firefox.  It doesn’t seem to like the way the code is being executed.  Sometimes it works right away, and sometimes it logs meout unexpectedly for no apparent reason.  I can’t seem to find the error here, even though I’ve combed through everything.  If you’re using firefox, and it won’t let you login, try refreshing the page.  It should work then.

These browser issues aside, it works perfectly in Chrome / Safari.  So if you really want to see it work seamlessly, I suggest opening this page in one of those browsers.  I know that’s a terrible way of getting code to work, but it’ll have to do for now.  I’ll let someone else do the legwork on figuring out what’s causing the firefox issue and get it fixed as soon as I see the corrected code posted online.

Anyway, please leave a comment and help me test to see if this works.  Oh, and let me know what browser you used to post the comment with, too.

Be well.

14 November, 2008

EricHerboso.com is Now Live!

After multiple delays, I have finally gotten EricHerboso.com up and running!
Unfortunately, that means that this blogger journal will no longer be updated. Please point your RSS reader to EricHerboso.com/blog/feed/rss to continue to receive updates, and don't forget to visit EricHerboso.com to see my new site!

22 October, 2008

If You're Going to Present to a Public Audience, Please Do It Properly

I attended another Google Webmaster chat session today and learned a lot about the most up-to-date facts on the SEO world as it applies to google. But if you're looking for tips I learned there, I would suggest going to check out other blogs for a round-up, or even the Google Webmaster blog itself, as it will post the audio and slides later on this week.
jonathan simon of the google webmaster teamOf more interest to my audience, I think, are a couple of items I noticed while watching Jonathan Simon's presentation. First off, he's using Firefox, not Chrome. Shame on you, Jonathan. You'd think the Google Webmaster Team wouldn't have bailed on Chrome already.
But perhaps more importantly, your IP address is showing.
Next time, I suggest you utilize the option to show the slideshow through the webinar system rather than allowing everyone to gaze at your desktop. (And yes, that's his open menu there, not mine. Apparently he's a fan of adblock, among other things.)

30 September, 2008

PPI is the Opposite of DPI when it comes to Photo Quality

As a webmaster, I often have to field tech questions unrelated to my job in the office. Usually this is no big deal; I generally give the answer and then move on. But the other day, a question was posed to me that really threw me for a loop.

I was asked why, when increasing the Pixels/Inch (ppi) in photoshop, a photo became bigger.
If you stop and think about it for a minute, this is a really good question. DPI (dots per inch) is used quite often in print circles; it literally refers to how many individual dots are printed per inch. With a DPI, more dots are squeezed into each inch, and the picture is therefore sharper; with a low DPI, there is more space in between each dot, and the picture is therefore of a less quality.
So when you increase the PPI (which one might assume is the same as DPI, except with pixels), you should be increasing the quality of the picture by making the dimensions smaller, right?
Wrong. If you try this for yourself in Photoshop, you'll find that the photo increases in size when you increase the PPI, thereby decreasing the quality—which is exactly the opposite of what you might at first expect.
It takes a bit of extra thought to understand what the logic is behind this. The key to comprehending this paradox is that while printed materials can vary the spacing between dots, computer screens cannot vary the spacing between pixels. So if you vary the PPI, you are increasing or decreasing the number of pixels in your image, not increasing or decreasing the space between the dots as with DPI.
So what does this mean? In a nutshell, this means that when you increase the PPI of an image, what happens is Photoshop adds in additional pixels, horrendously ruining the quality of the photo while simultaneously making the pixel dimensions increase.
The moral of the story: DPI≠PPI! If you're a print person who is just getting into web stuff, don't make the mistake of thinking that just because DPI count and quality are proportional that must mean that PPI count and quality are also proportional—on the contrary, they are inversely proportional!
And the figuring of this out is how I avoided looking like a fool in front of my non-tech-savvy coworkers. I hope this blog entry will help you to also not look like a fool. (But if it doesn't, it sure as hell isn't my fault.)

24 September, 2008

Eating Out to End Child Hunger

As many of you probably already know, my day job is as the webmaster of strength.org, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that no child should ever have to grow up hungry. Well, one of our initiatives, the Great American Dine Out, is going on right now all across the country. Simply by going out to eat at one of the four thousand participating restaurants this week (through Sunday, 28 Sept), you can help end child hunger.
So today I went out to eat at the M Street Bar & Grill with three of my coworkers. It was great. If you're ever in DC, I heartily recommend that you stop by. I've even added it to my custom google map of great places to eat in DC (for vegetarians).
But I of course realize that most of you aren't in DC, and perhaps even fewer are vegetarians. So instead, I want to give you guys links so you can find out which restaurants in your area are participating in the Great American Dine Out. So click on the major metropolitan area you live in to see a list, or type in your zip code here to find participating restaurants near you. And eat out every day this week—remember, it's for the kids!

10 September, 2008

The Rabbit

I did not take a picture. I will not take a picture. Yet I feel like I cannot go on without showing a picture. So here is a picture I found on the internet.

My lawn is small. Too small to bother with, really. But the grass was getting long, and weeds were taking over, and Rosina asked me to cut it. So I did.

The lawn mower is a simple machine, powered not by gas but by gears alone. Yet as I plow through the yard, the blades turn swiftly -- far more swift than I imagined possible.

I am oblivious to the world as I mow. A song rages through my head and thoughts on the Large Hadron Collider consume my attention. So it is with surprise when I notice a rabbit jumping away from my feet, mere centimeters from where I had just cut down the grass.

That rabbit could have died, I thought. It almost died by my hand. The thought was sobering. I immediately stopped mowing. The song in my mind stopped playing. The LHC took a back seat to the close call I had just made.

That's when I noticed the rabbit's mate.

She lay behind me, almost invisible in the grasses. I had hurt her. I had damaged her. Not with my blades, but by rolling over her with the wheel of my lawn-mower.

For a split moment, I thought of how lucky she was to have missed my blades. But then I realized it was worse than I'd imagined. One of her eyes was red. She was bleeding internally.

My heart stopped, just as the rabbit vainly tried to jump away, with the entire left side of her body fully paralyzed. She pushed herself in circles, again and again, as I watched helplessly. This is my fault, I told myself.

Through carelessness, I had caused such unnecessary pain and suffering. Through pointless singing and idle physics wonderings that I've no business to think of while handling such dangerous blades.

She was dying, but slowly. Ever so slowly. Blood started seeping from one ear, though the blood in her eye lay locked behind the cornea. I had to kill her now. I had to, to end the suffering.

Rosina directed me to the only instrument of death in the house: a small shovel. I took it.

Carefully, I carried the poor rabbit to the woods beside the house. There, in the shelter of trees, I apologized for the seventh time to the rabbit before me. And I raised the shovel, ready to strike. I wanted to do it one blow.

But I could not even attempt it.

I stood there, shovel in hand, yet could not strike. I could not bear to kill her.

Softly, I returned to Rosina, and asked if she could do it. I asked if she could deal the blow that the poor rabbit needed so dearly. But Rosina, true to form, insisted that she could not. It was up to me. It was up to me, or else the rabbit would die a horrible death of slow agony.

So I returned to the rabbit, knowing I would blog this immediately afterward. Knowing that if I so chose, I could bring my camera to take a picture. But I did not. I could not.

Instead, I cut off her head, then crushed her skull.


29 August, 2008

Are Porn Links Good for SEO?

Ever since I started becoming more knowledgeable about search engine optimization, I've started trying out different things to see how it would affect my traffic. I even did a test run of doing nothing but gathering links to a static blog that wasn't updated (amazingly, the traffic generated was quite impressive, given the fact that the blog had no new content).
But perhaps nothing I've done thus far is quite as noticeable as getting a link from Fleshbot, a fairly popular porn site with a pagerank of 7. (Even the nonprofit I work as a webmaster for (Share Our Strength) only has a pagerank of 6.) As of now, I'm linked from their front page, which is actually pretty cool. (Although the anchored keyword they linked with is pretty lame.)
Of course, it's the search engine spiders' view of the link that's important to me, so it doesn't even matter that no one who reads fleshbot will bother clicking through.
Which makes me wonder: Has anybody from fleshbot actually clicked through? If so, please post a comment. In the meantime, I'll update later with stats on how many referrals one can get from a porn site.

Oh, and also, I think the images fleshbot used were very poor. Here are two better ones I found with a quick google search:

Thanks to KNX News Radio and Progressive Alaska for the photos.

21 August, 2008

My Morning Ritual

4:45 AM
The alarm goes off.
4:54 AM
The alarm goes off again.
5:00 AM
My alarm goes off -- it is distinctively less pleasant than the one Rosina uses.
5:03 AM
Rosina's alarm goes off yet again.
Skip forward more than a half-hour of repeated alarms going off.
5:33 AM
Absently, I hug Rosina gently as I attempt to wake thoroughly enough for morning sex.
5:42 AM
The alarm goes off at the worst possible time.
6:04 AM
After loading boxes of books into the car, we are finally ready to go. I hold my green laptop bag in my arms and rub the sleep from my eyes as she drives me to the train station.
6:09 AM
As Rosina drops me off, the train is just arriving. I wish her well on her upcoming day at the high school and pull out Anthem while I walk to the train.
6:55 AM
The train pulls into Union Station, as I write in my physical journal about the book I'd just read.
7:09 AM
Breakfast at Au Bon Pain is purchased.
7:20 AM
I walk into my building at work. No one else will arrive for at least an hour and a half. Most will not arrive until 9:30 AM.
8:30 AM
I close google reader and start planning my day of work.
8:31 AM
I pull up facebook scrabble.
8:54 AM
I restart planning my day of work.
8:55 AM
I pull up blogger.com to start writing this entry.

18 August, 2008

Feedity: Unethical RSS?

In my position as webmaster of Share Our Strength, I am constantly on the lookout for better and easier methods of generating content to drive visitors to our many websites. One exceedingly easy method is to grab content from outside RSS feeds, allowing a page on our site to have constantly updating content from another site. Working with RSS is so easy that when I'm in a rush, I sometimes grab our own content through RSS, just to save time.
Grabbing rss content to post on your own page is perfectly permissible, both legally and ethically. Firstly, because when you grab a feed, you are not only linking to them, but also driving visitors to their site, but, more importantly, because by publishing an rss feed, they are inviting users to use that content. (People can even monetize their feeds by using Google Adsense for Feeds.)
But what if you find regularly updated content that doesn't use a feed?
I recently found a site that had data that I wanted to pull, but no RSS feed existed of the content I wanted. The webpage is American Towns, and it shows regularly updated local events content for a specific city. (The content in particular that I am interested in is "Local Events", on the left.)
So, after a bit of thought, I did a quick google search and found Feedity.com. In less than five minutes, I had created an RSS feed that takes JUST the info I want from the American Towns site.
Feedity allows you to define the opening and closing tags of anything yo want turned into RSS; in this case, I chose <div class="event"> to begin each RSS link, and </a> to end it. This allows me to get just what I want in the feed I'm creating: the event name with a hyperlink to more info on the event.
From there, feedity did the rest, and I had an RSS feed ready to go.
Had I been making the feed for my private use, I would not feel s weird about it, but since I was creating this feed for the purpose of making dynamic content on one of my sites, I realized that perhaps this kind of feed was not quite as ethical as feeds that are put out by the content owner. After all, the feed I am pulling here was not intended to be pulled by the content owner. Even though I am linking to their site while pulling the events list American Towns publishes, at no point did I get even an implicit nod concerning the usage of this data on my own site. I was, in a way, just framing their content without their permission.
Because of this moral quandary, I decided not to go through with using feedity in this way. But now that I am aware that the possibility exists of taking content straight from other sources like this, it occurs to me that one could mass produce sites that could be automatically generated from ANY site, just using completely customized RSS from feedity. Each site would literally take less than thirty minutes to create, once the general design was chosen. Pop a few adsense fields on the page, and tailor it to a specific audience who would find the info useful, and profit inevitably results. Hell, I've done testing on this site where I go for multiple months without posting a single blog entry, and I STILL take in a few dollars each month from adsense. Yet what I'm describing through feedity is upwardly scalable in terms of the number of sites, and requires absolutely no upkeep to maintain.
In short, Feedity makes it possible to easily create completely unethical sites that can consistently generate income in the aggregate without maintenance. This makes me almost want to mark my link to them as nofollow, but since most users of feedity probably use the feeds for their personal use rather than for website creation, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, I use feedity to keep track of my thirteen year old sister's fan website, TwilifyMe.com, and that's a lifesaver all in itself.
Also, in case you're interested, I did NOT get paid to write this entry.

08 August, 2008

Feedity: Unethical RSS?

In my position as webmaster of Share Our Strength, I am constantly on the lookout for better and easier methods of generating content to drive visitors to our many websites. One exceedingly easy method is to grab content from outside RSS feeds, allowing a page on our site to have constantly updating content from another site. Working with RSS is so easy that when I'm in a rush, I sometimes grab our own content through RSS, just to save time.
Grabbing rss content to post on your own page is perfectly permissible, both legally and ethically. Firstly, because when you grab a feed, you are not only linking to them, but also driving visitors to their site, but, more importantly, because by publishing an rss feed, they are inviting users to use that content. (People can even monetize their feeds by using Google Adsense for Feeds.)
But what if you find regularly updated content that doesn't use a feed?

Feedity is a service that creates an rss feed from a regularly updated page that does not utilize an rss feed. This means you could grab another site's content automatically without their consent.

[EDIT: Entry never finished, but I'm publishing as is anyway, in case it helps others flesh out this concept.]

06 June, 2008

Review: The Giving Tree

The Giving Tree The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As she was packing, I stood off to the side, mostly watching. Supposedly, I was there to help with heavy items, but she kept going through the lightest things, and all I could do was just stand by awkwardly and keep her company.

It was weird, I guess, listening to her troubles. Her husband isn't exactly the greatest guy out there, but she feels stuck in her life with him because of the child. Their little girl requires special care, and it would be extremely difficult to do what is best for her if they were to separate.

But then, in between bringing up another horror story of the worst kind, she pauses, having noticed a book--_the_ book. El Arbol Generoso (in English: 'The Giving Tree'). It is a few moments before she remembers me.

"Eric," she finally begins, "this book is my mantra. This book is who I _am_, and I want you to read it." With that, she hands the book over to me.

I am momentarily dazed. The book is in spanish, yet I speak the language only very poorly. But I open the book anyway. After all, it is a children's book with lots of big pictures. Maybe I'll be able to muddle through it.

Those next few minutes made me _feel_. Oh, how I felt. I was unable to rush through it, because I had to translate as best as I could with my limited spanish. Every sentence--every word--had full effect on me. It tore at my heart, made me cry, yet also it was so very beautiful that I felt I was soiling it with my hands as I turned each page.

I did not deserve to read that book. Not then. Not there. But I did anyway. And it was amazing.

When she saw how moved the book made me, she gave me the book on the spot. I tried to refuse, but she insisted. It was one of the top five gifts of my entire life.

Today, El Arbol Generoso holds a place of honor on my desk at work. It stands between my phone and my computer monitor, accompanied only by a few photos of those I love most. My other books rest on a bookshelf, but Shel Silverstein's masterpiece is displayed prominently to remind me each day of true beauty.

If you haven't read The Giving Tree, then you need to. But don't just flip through it at a bookstore. Take it home with you and wait until the time is right. And take your time with each page. Believe me: it will be worth it.

View all my reviews

05 May, 2008

Consequentialist Ethics in an Infinite Universe

A Consequentialist Argument for Weighted Consideration of Interests
or: How an Infinite Universe Affects Consequentialist Ethics

A common argument against consequentialist ethics is the empirical fact that most persons seem to place more weight on the consideration of interests of those they know than on those they don't. While not fatal, it is true that most consequentialists tend to regard as a fundamental premise the idea that all persons deserving of consideration should receive equal consideration; thus when one points out that, in practice, most persons choose to regard the consideration of interests for friends and family as of higher importance than the consideration of interests for strangers or others outside their sphere of knowledge, the dedicated consequentialist usually has to retort by maintaining that 'true ethics is not decided by popular vote', or that it is merely a biological and psychological necessity that humans can only intensely relate with ~150 other persons, but that this should not have anything to do with how one should act.
However, I believe that a different counterargument can be raised: that the consequentialist position may in fact _necessitate_ that a person give extra weight to the consideration of interests of those they know more closely. While this new argument relies on a few extreme conditions that cannot yet be verified scientifically, I nevertheless believe that it will soon become clear to the reader that if these conditions are allowed as premises, then this new way of looking at consequentialist ethics will be hard to dispute by resorting to weighted consideration of interest arguments.
While not all consequentialist ethics are the same, generally they all agree that in order to decide on which set of consequences is preferable, we must have a way to measure those consequences against one another. Usually this is done using units of some type; for ease of understanding, I will use 'good' units in this argument, where those consequences that have a higher cardinality of 'good' units are strictly preferable to those consequences that have a lesser cardinality of 'good' units. My reason for using mathematical terminology here will soon become plain. (A higher cardinality set means merely that there is 'more of' that set in relation to another.) I am avoiding the ordinary usage of the word 'maximize' here for two reasons: first, that there may be multiple realizations of a maximized result, and second, that there may be no maximally realized result. Again, this will become clear momentarily.
Traditionally, consequentialist ideas have been described in terms that only work with a finite number of possible consequences. For example, we may consider whether to do X or Y, where X has consequence X1, and Y has consequence Y1. Solving this conundrum consists only in comparing the cardinality of 'good' units in X1 and Y1 and determining which is greater; hence we would then choose to do the action associated with that consequence. Of course, reality is much more complicated; not only is it nearly always extremely difficult to predict consequences accurately, but the number of possible actions one may take is limited mostly by one's imagination. Nevertheless, the basic idea remains: were we able to predict the future and compare cardinalities of all possible consequences, then we would be able to choose which actions had the highest cardinality (in a finite set, at least one and as many as all may have the highest cardinality). In this finite instance, it makes sense to speak of 'maximizing' the cardinality.
But it is possible that the total set of actions one may take is not finite in number, but infinite to some degree. In this case, 'maximizing' may no longer make sense at all, since there might always be some action which produces a higher cardinality consequence than any individual action you choose. In other words, in the special case where there are an infinite number of possible actions, it may be true that there is no 'best' choice, just as there is no 'highest' number.
(It should be noted that it is possible to have a highest (single or tied) cardinality even when the number of possible actions are infinite, but it is no longer necessary as it is when the number of actions available are finite.)
But even more alarming is when you consider the possibility that the cardinality of 'good' units in total is infinite. If the total sum of 'good' units is infinite, then choosing a consequence where unjust genocide occurs (normally a net negative) or choosing a consequence where world peace comes about (normally a net positive) makes no difference at all! For if the total cardinality of 'good' is infinite, then subtracting or adding ANY finite amount, no matter how large (or even any _infinite_ amount!), makes no difference to the total amount of 'good' in the world. Mathematically, the cardinality remains unchanged.
(Before continuing this argument, I would like to address the issue of whether or not an infinite number of possible actions is possible in principle. If units in space are infinitely divisible, then obviously an infinite number of possible actions arises as a consequence. But that space is infinitely divisible is not clear; quantum physics, at least, seems to suggest that at some minimal distance, further subdivision is not possible (or at least that further subdivision does not alter observable causation). But this is not the only way that an infinite number of choices need be present. You may also have an infinite amount of space, a concept that cutting edge physics seems to think is much more plausible, whether in the form of a multiverse interpretation of quantum theory, or an infinitely expanding universe that procreates through new 'big bang's. But even if you find both of these types of infinity hard to swallow, there is also the idea that time may continue on indefinitely--even pre-Einsteinian physicists were ready and willing to believe in a steady state universe of infinite duration, and I believe most people would admit this kind of infinity into the universe even if they dismissed the other forms.
In the case of infinitely divisible partitions of matter, the first half of the above argument, relating to the irrationality of a maximal 'good' consequence, is most relevant; but the second half, regarding the concept of an infinite amount of 'good' is not possible when that universe is finite in both extent and duration. However, in the case of an infinitely large or infinitely durable universe, there may only be a finite number of possible actions one can take, but the total 'good' in universal terms may very well be infinite in extent, so the second half of the above argument applies perfectly well, while the first half of the argument does not seem to apply. Please note that for the rest of this essay, I will concentrate only on infinite extent/duration universes.)
Assuming some possibilty of extent/duration infinity in the universe, and further assuming that the total cardinality of 'good' units in the universe is infinte in amount (this is possible, I hurry to note, even if 'good' is scarce in the universe, just as primes are scarce among integers even while they are both infinite in extent), then consequentialism seems to fall apart completely. For no longer does the addition of any amount of good or ill make any difference in the total 'good'; even if you chose an action which made the universe infinitely worse off, consequentialist ethics would not be able to warn you against that choice (because infinity minus infinity is still infinity). But this seemingly insurmountable objection can be avoided in two different ways.
First, there is the psychological defense: As stated earlier, humans, for biological reasons, are capable of keeping only ~150 other persons in their world view at one time. While this makes no difference to what ethical prescriptions may be, it does mean that we are incapable of seeing the infinite extent of 'good' all at once. We instead see portions of the 'good' and can then see quantifiable results by adding to that finite amount through consequentialistically decided acts. While not affecting the total 'good', we are increasing the amount of 'good' in a given area, making it more dense in the region of our surroundings. While I am not making the argument that this means we should pay attention to the region of our surroundings while ignoring everything else, it does explain why in practice most persons act this way. It is rational for us to expect the average consequentialist to feel like she is making a difference by acting locally even while ignoring more pressing issues halfway around the world. As oxymoronic as this previously sounded, the concept of an infinite amount of 'good' makes it possible for someone to be regionally minded and rationally consequentialist at the same time.
Second, there is the mathematical defense, which is not descriptive like the psychological defense, but is rather purely prescriptive: When cardinalities are equal, we should choose that class of action which, when universally applied, has the consequence of possibly bringing about the densest amount of 'good'. This overly complex statement requires clarification.
If you were asked to choose a random integer (assuming we both understand the meaning of 'random' when used in this sense), the probability of your chosen integer being a prime number is effectively zero (assuming we both understand 'zero probability' to mean what it means when used in this sense). This is because the non-primes so overwhelm the primes on the higher end of the scale. But you'd have a fully 50% chance of your random integer being an even number. This is what is meant by 'density' here. The evens are far more dense among integers than primes are. This is true even while all three categories, integers, primes, and evens, all have the same cardinality. (While irrationals crowd out rationals among reals just as much density-wise as evens crowd primes among integers, the irrationals form a different cardinality altogether, and so do not serve as a good example here.)
So if there is an infinte amount of 'good', then while any given action will not be able to change the cardinality of 'good', there may be _classes_ of actions which, when always applied, can modify the density of that 'good'.
Classes of action make no difference in terms of cardinality: If I choose the action that brings about world peace, the cardinality of 'good' may not change, even if we chose that action based on a rule that said we should always bring about world peace when possible. In other words, even if world peace came about everywhere, at all times, the cardinality would not change. In this sense, talking about classes of actions does not help. (Infinity plus infinity is still just infinity.)
But in terms of density, classes of actions can bring about huge differences. Using that same example, if world peace came about everywhere, at all times, then, depending on the relation between constant world peace with other possible actions, that class of action of always bringing about world peace may increase the density of 'good' even while leaving the cardinality the same. Thus, we would want to take that class of action, knowing that if it is always followed, then the density of 'good' may increase.
You'll have noticed, I'm sure, that I've used the modifier 'may' here. This is because I cannot think of a reliable way of demonstrating that a particular class of action will increase the density of 'good' when universally applied. Nevertheless, it _may_ increase the density of 'good', and that is enough to justify doing so, given that the alternative is to definitely not increase the density of the good at all. In general, if a class of action is equally dispersed among possible actions, then that class will add to the density of 'good'. If that class of action is diminishing in dispersion among possible actions, then if the rate diverges, it will not add to the density of 'good', while if it converges, then it will add to the density of good. As to how you can tell whether or not a class of action is equally dispersed, let alone converges or diverges, I have no idea. (For example, imagine the 'good' is 0 mod3, every third integer among integers, making the density 1/3. Choosing a class of action that makes 1 mod3 'good' will then increase the density to 2/3 (even 1 mod27 will increase the density to 1/3 + 1/27). But choosing a class of action that makes primes 'good' will add only zero to the original 1/3, and the density will remain the same.)
In practice, choosing a class of action that, when universalized, may increase the density of 'good' could take the form of 'help your neighbor' or 'give preference to your family'. In this sense, the consequentialist may rationally give preference to one's own while ignoring admittedly greater needs of strangers. Helping the strangers may bring about a higher finite amount of 'good', but since the cardinality is equal to helping one's own, this is not a pressing difference. On the other hand, helping strangers may bring about an increase of the density of 'good', but it is not clear that it would be a greater increase than helping one's own instead! Indeed, it seems possible that 'helping one's own' and 'helping strangers' may very well increase the density of 'good' equally well, and so choosing between these ideals would be totally arbitrary! (Of course, it may turn out that they increase the density by different amounts, in which case consequentialism would demand one choice over the other. But the point is that it remains unclear as to how each choice may affect density, and so you cannot blindly say that helping whomever needs most help will take precedence.)
Thus these are the two arguments, psychological and mathematical, descriptive and prescriptive respectively, that show why a rational consequentialist might weight the consideration of interests of one's own more highly than that of strangers, if they are faced with the possibility of an infinite universe in extent or duration in which the total good is nonfinite. With this additional reply added to their arsenal, I imagine the consequentialists will have an easier time defending their doctrine against those who argue that friendship comes first.

29 April, 2008

The Landscaped Yard

Hesitsantly, I knocked on the front door. There was a doorbell present, but somehow using it would have taken too much away from the occasion, and I really didn't want to kill the mood. After all, I'd been planning this for over a month now.

When she answered the door, I couldn't help but to think that she wasn't what I was expecting, even though for the life of me I cannot imagine what it was that I was expecting. She looked to be in her early sixties, in a floral print dress that has long been out of style. Her (assumedly) graying hair was wrapped in a towel, almost as though she was coming from the shower, but she showed no sign of it otherwise, so perhaps it was just a cultural thing.

"Hello, my name's Eric, though I don't know why I'm telling you that; we don't know one another, and since I'm just passing by, it won't do you any good to know my name." I was already screwing it up. She gave me a strange look, and I thought for sure she'd shut the door on me if I didn't get straight to the point. "I'm not selling anything, if that's what you're thinking. And I'm not here to spread the word of God or some other notion I may have. I just..." Pausing, I glanced inside her home. It was clean, perhaps too clean, with flowers everywhere.

"I walk past your home nearly every day on the way to the library, or the metro, or for nearly anything else for that matter. And I just wanted to say: every time I pass by your yard, I cannot help but to smile. Your garden is absolutely beautiful."

She blushes, thanking me in a midwestern accent. She's clearly not from here. "I don't know if it your doing, or your husband's, or just your gardener's, but the beauty you have in your front yard is simply too much for me to not have stopped by to thank you for it. I cannot relate to you how many times I have passed by in a foul mood and been jerked back to happy thoughts by your azaleas. And that tree--forgive me for not knowing its species--its blossoms bowl me over no matter how heavy a load of books I am carrying back home."

She responds kindly, in her own way, and in the background I can see that a tall man has come to stand nearby, just out of sight. I see this because he does not notice his shadow falling within my field of vision.

"No, I couldn't possibly intrude on you this evening", I reply to her hesitant invitation; then, nodding toward my backp-ack of groceries, I explain: "I am on my way home now, and cannot really take the time to stay for much longer than I already have. Besides, I don't really want to get to know you." Her look of puzzlement is plain, and I find myself wondering what look is on the face of the tall man just behind the corner. But I continue my (somewhat rehearsed) speech nonetheless. "I am not a particularly social person. I don't relate well to very many people. It's just..." I seem to struggle to get out the words, even though I know in advance what I will basically say. I've thought of nothing else these past few days. "Most people speak of inconsequential things to people who do not deserve to be spoken to: they gossip with coworkers or pass along confidentialities to second cousins. But I prefer to say what is deserved to the deserver, regardless of whether or not they happen to work where I do or share my same bloodline. You garden is why I've chosen to stop by here today, and it is why I'm saying this to you. But if I get to know you, it will be different. It will degrade this conversation, and when I write of this moment in my journal later tonight, the memory will be marred by the fact that you and I differ strongly on politics, or religion, or perhaps psychology. If I get to know you, then this memory will be of you; I would rather it be of the gardener behind this yard. If I shared a cup of tea with you, I may end up hating the experience, and every time I pass your yard on the way to the metro, I will think of you, when I really just want to appreciate the beauty of your garden. So no, I will not come inside. I wished to only give a compliment and leave; and that is what I will do."

So I left.

There was so much I didn't say that I had planned on. I wanted to tell her about how I was not the only one who enjoyed her garden. I wanted to tell her of the many car-goers who passed too quickly by in admiration, and I wanted to tell her of the pedestrians who did not stop because they would think it too silly to stop for, or because they needed to get to the bus stop in a hurry so they could get to their minimum wage job, or maybe because they did not know any English at all. I wanted to tell her that I was their spokesperson. That though I was the one to knock on her door to give this compliment, it was a compliment shared by countless passers-by, who all had brightened days due only to the beauty of her landscaped front yard. But I said none of this.

In fact, I said none of this at all. I planned to. I even stopped in front of her house, and willed myself to walk to her front door. But it was too late. I was tired. There were groceries in my backpack. It was dinnertime, and I didn't want to be a nuisance. All these and more objections came to my head, and so I walked home without saying anything at all. And as I walked home, I imagined the sixty-ish floral clad figure with a towel wrapped around her head. I imagined the shadow of her companion, and the cleanliness of her home. And I know that I will not be saying any of this to her, nor to whomever may actually live there. Because, as uplifting as it may be to that mystery resident, it would just be too mean from my point of view. After all, her garden is despicable.

Oh, it is landscaped and well-groomed. With red flowers surrounded by stones and a row of bushes cut as though they were meant to a enjoy a fully right-angled existence. But seeing it every day makes me sick. Others look at with smiles on their faces--yes, I see these others taking enjoyment from that yard--but it is all too very fake to me. The lawn is cut, the weeds are all pulled, and the sterility makes me long for the sparse woodlands of my youth, path-ridden though they may have been.

No, I won't ever knock on her door, though I fantasize complimening her on making a yard that is somehow even more devoid of nature than those who have nothing but grass cut to its shortest extent. If I did speak to her, I would be kindly in words, giving a rehearsed speech on behalf of the idiots who actually like the beauty of her yard, but it would all be a lie, because I HATE her yard, and I don't wish to lie to this complete stranger just so I can fulfill this relentless fantasy of speaking to whomever it is that has such a backwards heart to care enough of plants to bother with gardening so thoroughly yet cares so little to take those same plants and keep them in a sterile, fake, zoo-like environment. (I abhor zoos.)

No, I will instead just write up what I imagine the encounter may have been like, and then start on my new library books. I'm looking forward to Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones--the movie was so good, I can't imagine not enjoying the book. And I wonder how much Miyazaki changed when writing the screenplay.

I will be very disappointed if the book turns out worse than the film. That hasn't happened to me since Bridges of Madison County, and I fear the day when I meet another book that pales in comparison to the film vesion.

15 April, 2008

Vegetarianism Issues, The Crazy Dude, and a Published Secret

"A #2 with a coke, please; but, if you could, hold the meat and add extra lettuce and tomatoes."
"You mean you don't want the meat?"
"That's right. I'm vegetarian."
"Would you like to get the vegetarian sandwich meal instead?"
"No, I don't particularly like whole grain bread, nor do I enjoy the particular type of veggie-burger you serve here. I'd really just like the sandwich made the same way you make all #2 sandwiches, except don't put meat on it, and add extra lettuce and tomatoes."
"So instead of fries, you want the apple and side-salad, right?"
"No, I'm not a health freak; I'm a vegetarian. There's a difference. Just make the same kind of meal you would make for any meat-eater, except don't include the meat. That means I want the same greasy fries you serve to everyone else."
--five minutes later--
"Hi, I just ordered a #2 without the meat, but when I got my order, it had meat on it."
"You want your money back? You already opened it."
"No, I don't want my money back. I just want to get what I ordered initially. I was supposed to get a #2 without meat, but with added lettuce and tomatoes, but instead what I was given had meat in it. You did get the extra lettuce and tomatoes thing correct, though."
"Okay, don't worry; we'll get it taken care of."
--five minutes later--
"Hi, I'm sorry to be such a bother, but the replacement meal you just gave me is on a whole-wheat bun. I wanted a #2."
"Yeah, with no meat, right?"
"Yes, with no meat. But I didn't want the vegetarian sandwich--I wanted the #2 sandwich, but with no meat."
"Okay, we'll get this fixed for you. Don't worry."
--five minutes later--
"Excuse me, but I overheard the troubles you've been having getting your order fixed up correctly."
"Yeah, it's okay, though. I'm used to it."
"Well, I just wanted to let you know that they do it on purpose. I'm a regular here, and every day they find someone to pick on and deliberately get their order wrong over and over."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, they think it's funny as hell. But I'm going to show them. Next time I order, when they get it right, I'll tell them they got it wrong, and if they get it wrong, I'll just eat what they give me. It's the perfect plan, you see."
"... Yes, that sounds like a good plan. ... Uh, thanks for letting me in on it. But I really should finish eating now. I'm in a bit of a hurry."
"Yes, yes."
--30 second pause--
"You know, you could start out this perfect plan by giving them back your half finished food and saying they got it wrong again. I mean, I know they got it right this time, but it'll really get them back if you tell them it's wrong."
"Um..., no, ... no, thank you. I think you'll do quite fine by yourself when you order your food tomorrow. After all, if I do that today, it might warn them of your perfect plan for tomorrow, and that wouldn't be good."
"You're right! We can't let them know about my plan. Hey, you're a pretty smart guy. Maybe you can come eat here tomorrow with me and we can fool them together--that'll really get them!"
"I appreciate the offer, but I really do have to go, and I won't be available tomorrow. Thanks for letting me in on your plan, though. I'll keep it a secret."
"Yes, yes, keep it a secret. Don't tell anybody! If they find out, who knows what could happen! You promise you'll keep it a secret?"
"I won't tell anyone but my diary, at least not until after tomorrow."

01 April, 2008

Certainly Not What I Expected

Went to a speech by Karl Rove. Two hecklers cursed him out in the middle of his talk; apparently, this is quite common with him.
Rove pointed out, quite accurately, in my opinion, that it is dishonest for Obama to pledge that he wants to run a different kind of campaign, and yet continues to harp on McCain's '100 years of war' statement.
It's really weird to realize that I went out to a speech by Karl Rove, got irritated at the hecklers who called him nasty names because I was trying to follow what Rove was saying, and in the end agreed with him far more than I disagreed with him. Certainly not what I expected.
If the many anti-Rove documentaries I've seen tell truthful stories, then Rove is a complete dick. But his speech at George Washington University was actually pretty good, and about three-quarters of what he said actually made a lot of sense to me.
Certainly not what I expected.

Update: Three days later, Obama gave a speech in PA and was asked by a member of the crowd if he thought he was going too far by mischaracterizing McCain's '100 years' comment for political advantage. Obama staunchly denied this, stating unequivocally that he felt he was being quite fair, and said that he was referring to an exact quote. "We can both go back on youtube to see exactly what he said," Obama told the questioner. "He was quite clear that he would stay in Iraq for 100 years." (paraphrased)
Of the remaining candidates, since Nader has no chance in hell, I'm an Obama supporter. But this is just plain wrong. Obama himself said that he would keep troops around similar to what we now do in Germany and Japan, and that is exactly what McCain clarified that he meant in his statement as well. I'll still vote for Obama, but I'm very disappointed in him for this. .:sigh:.

14 February, 2008

Shitstorm at US House of Representatives

A shitstorm just happened today in the U.S. House of Representatives.
(I'll start with a quick summary, and then go into detail for those who want more info.)
A congressman died not long ago, and the service was held this morning at the House. But Republicans interrupted it midstream with political talk, which got Democrats riled up. Then democrats refused to vote on FISA, which got Republicans all riled up, too. So every time anything happened afterward, the republicans retaliated by using the House rules to annoy Democrats as much as possible. Then Democrats retaliate by deciding to authorize a deputizion of a civil force to potentially arrest White House officals, and Republicans are so pissed that they boycott the vote and stampede out.
This all really happened today in the House of Representatives. CSPAN was never this good before.

Okay, so for the 10% of you who want to know more, here's the rundown.
First, on Congressman Tom Lantos' service interruption, the details I have are still sketchy. I'll update this later once I get more info.
Second, on FISA: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires this weekend. Once it expires, if a new category of target needs to be surveilled, the surveillance of thoe targets has to wait until a new FISA bill is passed. This is not as bad as Bush and other republicans are making it out to be; it's not like current terrorists will cease to be surveilled, nor is it true that new terrorists will not be able to be surveilled, so long as they are a part of a group we are already aware of--at least for the next year. It really isn't that big a deal at all, but hearing Bush speak, you'd never realize that. He is saying that because of the House not passing a bill on this, they are putting Americans at risk.
Anyway, the reason the House is not passing the bill is very easy to understand: they don't want to give the Telecom industry retroactive immunity from the violations of privacy law they perpetrated after 9/11. Bush's argument is that if they don't get immunity, then in the future, the Telecoms won't actively help us out in surveilling terrorists. This is true enough. But it leaves out the fact that if we know of a terrorist that needs to be surveilled, we can always get a court order to force the telecoms to help. Their voluntary help is not necessary, and I for one feel much better living in a world where the telecoms are scared to just volunteer information that they think might interest the gov't. And no, that doesn't make me a terrorist.
The second reason the House isn't passing the bill is because as currently written, the Senate bill cedes authority to the Executive branch that allows them to have surveillance powers beyond what is regulated in FISA. In effect, this would give a blank check (albeit to an account with limited funds) to Bush to trample over even more civil liberties. The House would prefer a FISA bill that has exclusive control over foreign surveillance.
In addition, I should mention that it is not like they just up and said they're not going to pass FISA. They offered a limited short term extension to the current FISA so they can debate more and come to a consensus later on. The republicans passed on this, trying to force the democrats to pass their version of FISA instead. It would've worked, too, since it appears that there are enough votes in the House to actually pass the republican's version. But democrats siderailed a vote by instead voting on other things.
This whole time, the republicans were doing everything they could to annoy democrats during the proceedings. Someone would say: "I'd like to call for an early adjournment", and then another republican would second. This forced Pelosi to call a vote on the issue: she would ask all who wanted adjournment to say 'aye', and those opposed to say 'nay'. Nearly everyone would say 'nay', of course, since they were in the middle of doing their work for the day--even Republicans didn't really want to adjourn, since they were trying to get the democrats to hold the FISA vote. So Pelosi would proclaim that the nays have it, and another republican would dispute this obviously correct assessment, and another rep. would second it. Which means that they'd have to take a written vote, one by one, which, by the way, takes at least fifteen minutes in the House. Then after it was clear that the nays were in the majority, they'd go on to the next item on the agenda, and another republican would then call for an early adjournment again, and the whole ordeal would repeat itself. This happened ALL DAY LONG.
Democrats were so angry over this that they then passed a bill that takes the rather extreme step of stipulating that they will deputize a civil force to arrest Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers on the charge of contempt of Congress. (You might recall that during the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales fiasco a while back, Bolten and Miers cited executive privilege and flatly refused to even show up when the House summoned them to appear.) They did this because the current Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced that he would not prosecute against White House officials who refused to testify in this manner, since they likely did so based on the advice of the former Atty. General.
I should mention that the wording they used described this mechanism as a civil lawsuit which, if the judge ruled in the House's favor, would allow the judge to compel Bolten and Miers to testify or go to jail. That's right, you heard correctly: a civil lawsuit that allows jailtime. If this happened, and the Atty. General refused to enforce it, this would require the deputization of a civil force to enforce the judge's ruling.
The whole idea of this pissed off the republicans so much that instead of voting on it, they all boycotted the vote en masse and just left the House floor. It passed overwhelmingly, of course.

This is why I love living in DC. I live for this kind of thing. Anyway, I'll update the above with links as I get access to them later in the day. The first draft of this article comes straight from listening to CSPAN radio as the events took place in real time.
And since the writer's strike is over, I'm expecting big things tonight with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I'll be very displeased if they don't cover this story as well as I envision them being able to do.

12 February, 2008

How to Promote Your Website

This entry was originally posted on the omnistaretools.com blog. It is reposted here for reference only.

One of the most important things any webmaster has to do on a regular basis, other than, you know, master the web, is to advertise his or her website using the best possible methods.

The process of promoting one’s site consists of three fundamental steps:
Step 1: Brainstorm good promotion ideas.
Step 2: Initiate good promotion ideas.
Step 3: Go back to step 1.
Thankfully, with my help you can all skip step 1 as many times as you’d like. That’s because I’m about to show you a few of the greatest methods you can use to promote your website. (The following were all stolen from omnistaretools.com, but since I wrote the page in question myself, I don’t mind the blatant plagiarism. Though you should note how I’m careful not to mirror my own content, since both of these pages are indexed by search engine spiders.)
1. Publish An Article
Write a really good article in your niche and e-mail all the bloggers in that field to let them know about it. You’ll be surprised at how many may link to you. Just remember to make sure your article is good, or you may get some bad press. (On the other hand, even bad press still counts toward your pagerank, unless they link you with a nofollow tag. But really, who takes the time to do that (except Matt Cutts, of course)?)
7. Be Opinionated
If you happen to notice a blog entry or forum topic where the majority opinion seems to be completely incorrect, be very opinionated on letting them know that you hold the opposite opinion. If you’re lucky, you may get a few links back saying that you’re wrong. (In fact, why not just hold the opposite opinion every time, even if they’re technically right? After all, in the SEO world, any link back is a good link back.)
18. Create a Great Favicon
A good favicon image accomplishes so very much: it increases brand awareness, makes your site stand out from the crowd, and gives you that street cred that comes along with every well-made favicon file. Just don’t make it animated gif style, you may think it makes you stand out even more, but users have been known to delete a bookmark or close a tab solely because of an animated favicon. Just don’t do it.
You can, of course, find many more great tips at the best ways to advertise your site page, hosted right here at Omnistar. (c;
Oh, and as a reward to my faithful blog lurkers, I’ll even add in an extra tip that has yet to make it on that other page:
0. Advertise Your Webpage Through Your Blog
When you finally make that great webpage that you want to spread the word about, don’t ever ever forget to write a blog entry about it, with lots and lots of links pointing right at it. Preferably with good keywords, like Web Promotion Tips You Just Can’t Ignore!.
If you have any tips of your own that you’d like to contribute, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll gladly post any suggestions that make me smile. (c;
Posted by Eric Herboso.
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Moving Beyond Capitalism (But Not Through Socialism)

Before you read this post, you have to watch this video:

When you're done watching, read on. I'll wait for you.

Okay, finished watching? Good. Now I have a few things to say. But before I start, I want to share the first thing I wrote down when I first watched this:
I'm still trying to think about how a cooperation-based economy would be fundamentally different than a capitalist economy. I'm not entirely sure I followed where he was going with this talk....
Is he saying that we might be able to create a new form of economy where each of us works together in ways that create wealth for us all as opposed to just ourselves? His mention of the ultimatum game seems to be used as evidence to show that even when we lose out in a capitalistic sense, we may have an innate desire to cooperate in such a way that everyone gains fairly in the end. Is he extrapolating this to say that the new economy will be one where a companies might start doing things that help everyone, even when self interest ceases to be a motivating factor, simply because to not be fair is to invite the wrath of a public which expects cooperation no matter what?
Regardless of whether this is what he was in fact thinking, this is where his talk has taken me. The altruistic punisher effect, as he showed it, is quite small. On the large scale, the only thing close to it is a society which bands together via taxes to impose regulations on others. But a HUGE portion of society (I'm talking about you Ron Paul fanatics who visited this blog for the sole reason that this entry came up on google blog search for the "Ron Paul is awesome" quote that I just gave) does not feel that these regulations are a good idea. (Even Ann Coulter has publicly stated that when she listens to Ron Paul speeches, she starts to fall in love with him up until he talks about foreign policy, at which point she says she regains her sanity.) Is it possible that while the altruistic punisher idea works consistently on the small scale, it breaks down at larger scales?
I'm thinking about it, and it certainly makes sense that if the ultimatum game is played with a million dollars, and player A claims $900 000, you'd have to be crazy to turn down the $100k. Yet then he starts to give examples of companies that are starting to go altruistic today. As more and more companies fall into this mold, will it happen that we as a society will come to expect such behavior, and then punish those companies that don't exhibit it? If so, then companies will HAVE to be cooperative, even if it is to their detriment, since if they don't, society will make it even further to their detriment.
... To be honest, I'm still really fuzzy on all this. If you ask me again tomorrow, I may hold an entirely different view. But today, as I write this, the idea seems not only plausible, but also the evidence Howard Rheingold gave seems to actually support the idea that we could be moving in that direction as we speak.
What do you think?

08 February, 2008

Skateboard Accident

So I'm sitting in my top floor office with a window (I'm just special like that, apparently), working off my three hour recording session for our weekly thirty minute podcast by reading Dilbert cartoons, when all of a sudden I hear someone screaming at the top of his lungs. Due to a certain someone who shall remain nameless for now, my immediate thought was that I'd just experienced witnessing my first stabbing. After all, living in the DC metro area is apparently very different from the bible belt of southern alabama. (Though to be fair, there don't seem to be many KKK members up here.) But after looking out my window and verifying that whoever perpetrated the incident was running away, I rushed outside, phone in hand, to render whatever help I could.
The young man was lying in the middle of the street, howling in pain. A skateboard lay upside down on the curb some two meters to the side. Being a philosophy/physics/math person, I never bothered learning anything in the field of biology, so I literally knew nothing to do other than rush to his side. Thankfully, the person I'd seen running away through the window was a companion that was running to get a car to take the guy to a hospital. While doing my best to help steady him, I lifted him into the car after only a few short minutes, and then the two of them drove off.
This marks, I think, my first 'emergency'-style experience, unless you count the time that Phoe stabbed me with a katana blade. But I was on the receiving end that time, so I don't think it counts. I hope I did the appropriate thing. I sometimes worry that perhaps I won't be any good in an emergency, but I think I did okay in this one. Certainly I did better than anyone else in the immediate area, as not a single other person ran out to help the guy, though I did see a couple of people come out as the car was driving away.
Anyway. Back to Dilbert.

06 February, 2008

Emoto's Emotive Water Crystals

You may have heard about Masaru Emoto before--he's the guy who claims that emotions, when directed at water just prior to freezing, will cause the water molecules to freeze in patterns that are associated with the emotion in question. He is, as you might imagine, completely fucking retarded.
Nevertheless, because the US gov't is also completely fucking insane, they actually fund studies to deal with such issues from time to time (okay, all the time). The one I want to bring to everyone's attention today was sponsored by the National Institute of Health.
I will quote directly from the abstract:
A group of approximately 2,000 people in Tokyo focused positive intentions toward water samples located inside an electromagnetically shielded room in California. That group was unaware of similar water samples set aside in a different location as controls. Ice crystals formed from both sets of water samples were blindly identified and photographed by an analyst, and the resulting images were blindly assessed for aesthetic appeal by 100 independent judges. Results indicated that crystals from the treated water were given higher scores for aesthetic appeal than those from the control water (P = .001, one-tailed), lending support to the hypothesis.
For those of you who skipped over the primary source quote because of some delusion that secondary sources are better, what this is saying is that they tested whether or not water crystals looked "more aesthetically appealing" after "positive intentions" were directed at the water prior to freezing, and the result was statistically significant.
I bet Emoto peed his pants when he found out the results were in his favor.
But for those of you who think I am showing this because I want to convince you to the Emotive Water Hypothesis point of view, please stop being an idiot. The point, instead, is to explain why even when a double blind experiment takes place, its results are not necessarily conclusive.
Whenever someone does an experiment, you get a result. If you do the experiment well, you'll get lots of results, because you'll do things lots of times under exceedingly similar conditions, and compare them to control conditions. The idea is that if you just do the experiment once, you may get a result which is not ordinary; perhaps because there was some error in the performance of your experiment, or even just because you happened to get a high maximal result or a low minimal result of a range of results that you could have gotten.
By this, what I mean is that if you measure the length of a board only once, you may have accidentally measured incorrectly. Or you may have measured in a specific place which gave the longest possible measure of the board. The only way to really get an accurate measurement is to redo the measuring multiple times. If you get the same result twice in a row, that gives you more confidence in your result. Even better if two separate measurers get the same result. And likely there will be a range of answers--some results will be high, and some low. The 'real' measure is somewhere in between. (For you philosophers out there, the existence of a 'real' measure is actually disputed itself, but that's a topic for a future journal entry.)
Anyway, the hope is that by measuring multiple times, you are more likely to not have all the measures be too high, or too low, or consistently mismeasured. This is why, in the NIH experiment with Emoto's water, you have multiple people on every side of the experiment, all giving results multiple times. They were attempting to make it less likely for all the measures to be consistently incorrect.
But even though you have lots of people working together on measuring and remeasuring, there is still the possibility that everyone will, wholly by chance, consistently measure too long a length. We want this chance to be as small as possible, so we say some results are statistically insignificant, even if they give results higher or lower than expected.
For example, let's say the length of board is 100 units (u) long. If we do the measurement twenty times, then depending on the method of measurement used, we might expect to get results back of 98u, 101u, and maybe even a 105u. 90% of the time, these are the results we would get back from measuring. So if we got these results back, and the hypothesis was that the board was 100u long, we'd say that these results corroborated the hypothesis. But remember I said that these measurements are of the kind you might expect 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time, you might get twenty measurement results of which ALL are 102u and above. This would be a statistically significant difference. If these were the results, we'd say the hypothesis that the board is 100u long is less likely true than an alternate hypothesis that said it was 105u long. And we'd say this EVEN IF the 'real' measurement was just 100u long.
Rearrange the above figures so that instead of just a 90% probability, you instead use a 99.9% standard, and you can see even more extreme distances. .1% of the time, a multiply repeated experiment might result in concluding that a hypothesis of the board being 125u long is corroborated, even if it is only 100u long. This is a rather extreme example, but you get the idea.
The end result is that this NIH study is a lottery winner. It is a true rarity--it gives corroboration to the 125u long hypothesis, even though that hypothesis is wildly incorrect. Over time, if the experiment is repeated again and again, you'd expect the results to get closer to reality. But that would mean the NIH would have to sponsor yet another study on emotive water with American tax dollars.

Now I'm going to go eat a cold slice of pizza as a reward for actually updating this blog.

02 February, 2008

Huckabee Announces Chuck Norris as both Head of Homeland Security & Secretary of Defense

Presidential Candidate Huckabee, at a rally in Alabama today, announced that if he gets elected President, he would appoint Chuck Norris as both Secretary of Defense and Head of the Department of Homeland Security. I am NOT kidding. I predict Huckabee will now win Alabama's vote.
Update: Here's a link. The link only mentions the sec of def part; but he said in his speech that he'd appoint him to both simultaneously. As soon as I get a news source to verify, I'll post another link.
Correction: Apparently I misheard on cspan. Chuck Norris is just going to be secretary of defense. He's appointing Nature Boy Rick Flair as Head of the Department of Homeland Security. This is still fucking unbelievable, though.

17 January, 2008

Google.org Announces Aid for Climate Change, Poverty, & Other Emerging Threats

This entry was originally posted on the omnistaretools.com blog. It is reposted here for reference only.

Today, Google.org announced its new core philanthropic initiatives: Climate Change, Poverty, & Emerging Threats.
Google.org is the public service component of the Googleplex machine. In the past, Google.org has helped in many different areas, but without a real specific focus. But today (17 Jan. 08), Google.org’s mandate to make the world a better place has decided on a few very specific foci, by zeroing in on five core initiatives.
Predict & Prevent
Google.org’s Predict & Prevent initiative focuses on empowering local communities to predict and prevent events before they become crises by identifying hot spots and enabling a rapid response. The first step of this new program is targeted in Southeast Asia and tropical Africa, with grants given to Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and DisastersGlobal Health and Security Initiative, and Clark Labs.
Inform & Empower to Improve Public Services
Google.org’s Inform & Empower initiative is aimed at improving the flow of vital information to increase basic services for the developing world. The program is at first targeted in India and East Africa, with grants given to Pratham, the Centre for Budget & Policy Studies, and the Center for Policy Research.
Fuel the Growth of Small & Medium-Sized Enterprises
Google.org’s SME support is intended to lower transaction costs in SME investment and to create opportunities to access larger financial markets. The program is initially focused on the developing world, with initial partner TechnoServe.
Develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE
Google.org’s REeSolar
 (pdf), a solar power oriented power plant technology company.
Accelerate the Commercialization of Plug-In Vehicles (RechargeIT)
Google.org’s RechargeIT initiative aims to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use, and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating hybrid electric vehicle adoption. Unlike the other four initiatives announced today, Google.org specifically mentioned that its investments in this area will mostly go to for-profit companies that are working in this area.
Google Giving
It’s refreshing to see a company so dedicated to giving back. Google sometimes has to deal with a number of critics, but their Google.org division seems to be fully intent of fulfilling their mandate of “making the world a better place”.
Posted by Eric Herboso.
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