Celebration and Reflection

Happy Christmas! Since the domination of Christianity in Rome, it has replaced the pagan holiday of Saturnalia though now has become just as secular as surely Saturnalia must have been during its decline. Let us celebrate our lives, friends, and families. Let us exchange tokens of our affection in examples of the wonderful progress that humanity has achieved after the brilliant collaborative effort by learned and well-intentioned people of science: iPods, computers, cell phones, DVDs, what have you.

When you have finished, take some time to reflect on the mentalities of those who worked to bring you the iPods or the ability to read this blog: people such as Galileo Galilei, Issac Newton, Allan Turing, James Maxwell, Benjamin Franklin, etc. Then take some time to reflect on the political leaders that have tended to dominate while the scientists progressed to our current state. Surely the scientists had a great deal more to do with our current quality of life than did those politicians and rulers and those rulers who did give us progress did so only through listening to the scientists and technocrats.

As we close 2006, let us all recognise that humanity has tried its very hardest to spite the unquestionably positive phase it has entered in the information technology revolution and revert to: a) the Dark Ages of ignorance by religious fundamentalism and jihad; b) the breakdown of the International political system of diplomacy between cooperative sovereign nation states as seen in the run up to the Great War with the war in Iraq. c) the utter fecklessness of International negotiation and treaty organisations a la mode de League of Nations in performing their vital roles to coordinate and enforce basic regulations for the peace and prosperity of mankind on the planet. I refer of course to the collapse of the Kyoto Protocols or any system to limit and reduce the emission of Greenhouse gases and other factors in the sixth extinction currently taking place. As with the League, the non-participation of the United States in climate protection was the decisive factor in its ineffectiveness. d) the erosion of civil liberties and the enforcement of basic constitutional law with a popular nationalistic, jingoistic mobilisation for war against innocuous innocent bystanders with the ultimate aim of seizing military position, valuable resources, and as some sort of unholy experiment in a backwards and ill-founded ideology disturbingly similar to the Fascism or Communism of Eurasia in the 20th Century. Iraq has lost on the order of 600,000 people as a result of the Invasion, only one order of magnitude below the relative losses witnessed in 20th century conflicts.

As we approach January, let us remember Janus, the god of mirrors, the god of doorways, the god of two faces - one looking forward, one backward. New Years, the modern acknowledgement of Janus is coming soon, and so let us reflect.

So far the twenty-first century since the birth of Jesus, which was to be the payoff for the ~10 millennia of human effort and suffering that went before has been a reminder of the lessons of the previous century. We can either choose to learn those lessons the easy way, through an intellectual study of the past and a willingness to cooperate and act properly as responsible, sentient, civilised beings, or to continue to give in to our racial, sectarian, and nationalistic passions on a clear path toward self-destruction.

That having been said, Robert X. Cringely, one of the technocrats, points out in a much less dramatic way some simple examples of how our resources could have been better applied this second millennium since Jesus. It seems almost non sequitur after all I have said, but believe it or not, this post has provoked my end of year meditation.



A friend of mine this week participated in an Army research study to test the effect of low dose ketamine on functional and cognitive ability. This research may have implications to administering ketamine as a less impairing analgesic for soldiers than opiates. The doses were so low that he experienced none of the effects of anaesthetic levels such as dissociative or out of body experiences to his chagrin. He was quite pleased to have tried this controlled substance in a safe and legal context whilst being paid and contributing to the advancement of medical science. Ketamine perfectly illustrates the deleterious effect of puritanical political leaders and lawmakers on medicine, scientific research, freedom, and safety. To paraphrase Orwell, the 'War on Drugs' is a war by the State upon its own citizens, and has little to do with the destructive impact of drugs on people's lives. Fearful of corrupt local law enforcement, and unable to access proper medical care or quality drugs as ravers and other users have been driven deeper underground. In such a miasma, Scientific researchers are unable to properly analyse the effects of the drug over the relatively large preexisting population of users. This translates to loss of life, poor health, and needless suffering for soldier and citizen alike.

I have previously mentioned ketamine.


Johnny Hallyday

French music legend, Johnny Hallyday, has decided to leave his Fatherland to live in Switzerland. Hallyday's sole reason: he is fed up with the cut-throat tax structure in France. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The power to tax is the power to destroy." The general socialist attitude particularly pronounced among the French is one of contempt for people of wealth. In addition to taxes on income, citoyens are taxed again on aggregate wealth. I am reminded of Ayn Rand's endless ranting novel 'Atlas Shrugged' in which the wealthy and productive captains of industry, disillusioned with the contempt the socialist society has for them and unwilling to watch all of their fortunes nationalised, bankrupt their industries which underpin the economy and escape to a mountain fortress to live in libertarian peace. Charles Bremner's say.

See also the classic Tom Baker 'Doctor Who' episode 'The Sun Makers.'



Yet another illegal drug proves its medical benefits. Psilocybin has been shown an effective treatment for some people suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Psilocybin, or "Magic Mushroom," is a commonly used hallucinogen which greatly influenced thinkers like Terrance McKenna and is an important sacrament for many aboriginal Americans. This relatively safe substance should be decriminalised the world over along the Dutch model. Additional funding should be granted to studying the potential medical uses for this and other criminalised substances.

New Scientist article on Psychedelic Medicine.



This weekend I saw Gibson's 'Apocalypto.' I came away extremely impressed. I was very surprised to learn that this is in fact a Disney film. How often does Disney sponsor works of such brutal violence or cultural awareness? I guess it takes Mel Gibson, the man who made 'The Passion.' The film displayed all the best features of a Hollywood epic in terms of elaborate sets, costumes, soundtrack and exquisite cinematography and yet was very unorthodox in its subject matter: a Mayan civilisation with dialogue from its now dead language and its sacrificial victims. While not much is explained about the theology, outlook, rich science, and technology of this civilisation because it is told from the perspective of a fringe hunter gatherer, living a traditional tribal lifestyle in the jungle. The film is aesthetic, visual, visceral, forcing the viewer to evaluate and relate to this completely foreign society and civilisation on purely emotional and instinctual level rather than an intellectual one. If nothing else, I took from it a much deeper appreciation for traditional human lifestyles and the warrior, hunter gatherer within all of us, whose role is largely destroyed in modern society. However, be assured that if all our our technology disappeared in a civilisation ending event, such is the life to which we would return.

If you cannot tolerate violence do not see his film. A lifetime of brutal violence and human suffering is displayed in a mere 2 hours. However, it was not as extreme as Gibson's 'Passion of the Christ' which enthralled so many Christians.

I reject the harsh criticisms I have read or heard about this movie. Mel Gibson is a very sick man, but a genius film maker all the same. For a better understanding of Gibson and his controversial work, I highly recommend the South Park episode, 'The Passion of the Jew.'


Carl Jung

Man's relation to God probably has to undergo a certain important change: Instead of the propitiating praise to an unpredictable king or the child's prayer to a loving father, the responsible living and fulfilling of the divine will in us will be our form of worship and commerce with God.

His goodness means grace and light and His dark side the terrible temptation of power.

Man has already received so much knowledge that he can destroy his own planet.

Let us hope that God's good spirit will guide him in his decisions, because it will depend upon man's decision whether God's creation will continue.

Nothing shows more drastically than this possibility how much of divine power has come within the reach of man.

-Carl G. Jung, Letter to Elined Kotschnig, 1956

Documentary 'Matter of the Heart' on Carl G. Jung.

De France en Anglais

A French 24/24 news station broadcast in English will be a very important advancement for humanity. Like it or not, most of the World's power and wealth is tied up in the hands of English speakers. France must reach out to anglophones if they wish to maintain relevance in the world. The French people have an important and unique perspective to share with the world, but it is not enough to be self-riteous, smug, and otherwise complacent. Unless they engage the rest of the World in the Universal Language, they will continue to be ignored by the wealthy but ignorant unwashed masses of America and elsewhere with potentially devastating consequences à la mode d'Iraq.

This issue highlights the sad state of English proficiency in France, a situation resulting as much from misguided governmental policy as cultural pride. France has a centuries old responsibility to play a leadership role in the World. Such responsibility now demands a nationwide fluency in English. Même si les Anglais sont les ennemis culturels, la France doit bien connaître son ennemi.

Genetic Diversity

New genetic data reveals what most of us already know intuitively, genetic diversity is much more varied and complex than previous studies and textbooks would suggest - statements like "We share 99.5% of our genes with one another." Previous studies did not properly measure the level of copies or deletions among individuals. The existence of high genetic variation makes sense given the large differences seen among humans, but similarly reflects the overall health of our species. Genetic diversity can be thought of as genetic wealth. Genetic poverty, a lack of diversity, comes from intense stress, isolation, or bottlenecking of a population which surely has occurred in the past for almost every species alive today. Indeed, the eugenicists of the twentieth century had their priorities completely backwards. This new understanding of genetic diversity will also help to better treat genetic diseases which are rapidly becoming the limiting factor on human health as infectious disease and malnutrition wane.

Income Distribution

Most socialists view income equality alone to be a positive contributor to social welfare. I disagree with such an evaluation in theory, but among for example wealthy European nations, I agree in practice having preferred the lifestyle and culture I have experienced there to that of any other place.

This FT article gives a spattering of inequality statistics which helps to put capital distribution into some perspective.


Autistic Savants

The line between extreme mental capability and extreme handicap is a very thin one. I recommend this documentary "Brainman" featuring particularly Daniel Tammet who is lucky enough to be both extremely capable in memory and calculation while remaining relatively well adjusted to society and able to communicate his thought processes normally. The documentary features the real Rainman as well as Cambridge Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, a renowned authority on autism and second cousin to legendary comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen.


Advance in Genetic Engineering

While many lament and fear the development of genetically engineered crops or animals or even people, the potential benefits far outweigh the costs. The latest example is the cotton plant. Cottonseed contains a toxin, gossypol, rendering it inedible to animals. Cotton farmers harvest as much mass of useless cotton seeds as useful cotton fiber. New genetically engineered cotton does not contain gossypol in the protein-rich seeds, thus making the seeds edible by animals and humans alike. This will have the potential to greatly increase the food supply, especially for some of the World's poorest. Cottonseed may prove a culinary delight as well.

Aside: While the spread of new engineered genes into the native populations is something generally to be avoided, let us not forget that almost all crops and livestock are the result of the slow process of genetic engineering through artificial selection, or breeding. Very few human engineered crops fare very well against the time-tested rigors of the Darwinian wilderness.



Perhaps one of the most important inventions of the 20th Century was the development of effective contraception technology especially the birth control pill. The hormone-free male version of this pill currently under research could make women much healthier with minimal impact on male health and long term fertility. Let us hope that this drug proves safe and effective.



It is amazing how much crime and human destruction occurs owing to the illegality of certain substances. This article from the BBC shows that now poisoning, fraud, and abuse of animals can be added to the normal crimes of trafficking, possession, and sale of a controlled substance. Moreover, consumers of the recreational "champagne" drug, cocaine, are now ingesting carcinogenic additives. Traditionally, cocaine was cut with caffeine. Now it seems dealers whose objective is to maximise profits and whose product is unregulated and untestable because of illegality are moving on to more pernicious cutting agents, ie Phenacetin.

While I would be someday interested in trying traditional coca tea or chewing coca leaves especially in the mountains, ingesting processed cocaine whose dosage is about 1000 times higher is very unhealthy causing cardiovascular and brain damage. Processed cocaine is also extremely addictive. The hydrochloric acid in processed cocaine destroys nasal passageways, mucous membranes, and sinuses.

Despite such drawbacks, adults who are educated about the risks of cocaine should have the right to buy it from licenced distributors and consume it at their discretion. At the very least, laws worldwide should be made to reflect the policies of Bolivian president and former coca farmer Evo Morales: Yes to coca, no to cocaine. As with most illegal drugs, legalisation of cocaine would dramatically reduce crime by lowering the price, legitimising the producers and distributors, and lowering the associated health risks by ensuring a clean supply. Cheap processed cocaine would likely reduce the demand for cheaper more destructive forms of the the drug including crack and freebase.

The ongoing war by the US in Columbia against FARC which includes the use of chemical weapons against farmers and their crops is simply immoral.

In the wake of Milton Friedman's passing, let us remember that human freedom to control one's own life, beliefs, and economic behaviour also includes the freedom to alter ones own body chemistry or mental processes. With freedom comes responsibility. Irresponsible self-destructive personal behaviour affecting only the user and those emotionally affected by the user is no grounds for a general government interdiction on drugs.


DARPA Challenge

DARPA, the defense research agency responsible for the creation of the Internet, presented the Grand Challenge the last two years where a vehicle had to negotiate 132 miles of rugged terrain in under 10 hours. After no entrants finished the first year, several automated vehicles finished the second year giving great promise for the future of cheap, efficient and safe autonomous vehicle transit. It is impressive how such low budget competitions can through hype and prestige induce enormous advances in technological development. I highly recommend watching this inspiring Horizon documentary on the races.


Milton Friedman

Every economist whose blog I read had something to say about the passing of the legendary economist, Milton Friedman. Since I can add nothing substantive to this discussion, I am providing links to download his PBS television series 'Free to Choose' as well as his appearance on Charlie Rose.


Web 2.0

I actually hate this term coined by software publishing mogul, Tim O'Reiley, but I like the concept. Cyberpanopticon provides a link to a useful compendium of popular Web 2.0 sites.

Secondly, one of the sites listed was for the Google Web Toolkit. With this toolkit, coding Web 2.0 AJAX sites is much easier through Java wrappers. I only just discovered this, but I plan to spend significant time making use of it.


Traffic and Externalities

In addition to carbon emissions, one must not also forget about the negative externality of traffic congestion and increased accident liklihood with regard to automobiles. The issue is explained in this great post from Economist's View, one of the many blogs I read as noted in my 'Suggested RSS and Podcasts.'


Energy Transfer Using Electromagnetic Resonance

This technology could be very effective at further improving our lives by freeing us of wires over moderate distances.


Refunds for Windows

It seems it is possible to bypass pernicious OEM agreements and receive a refund for preinstalled Windows software on Dell or similar systems. This could give you significant savings on your next purchase of a computer.


Healthcare and Human Rights in Prisons

The Fyodor Dostoevsky quote from this post is again pertinent. The ruling in this case to compensate prisoners who were not given proper access to treatment for opiate addiction while in prison was a sensible decision by the court (relative to the unspecified amount of compensation).

One could argue that the provision of extremely expensive noncritical care , such as brain surgery, is above and beyond the financial responsibility of a state which does not already provide universal care. However, where socialised medicine exists, such as the UK, all prisoners deserve the same level of medical care as everyone else including drug treatment programmes. To deny medicine or access to care to a prisoner is a violation of human rights and compensation is due in such cases.



Knowing many people with life-threatening Type 1 juvenile diabetes, I hail the development of artificial pancreas technology.


Google Radio?

As I woke up this morning out of a dream in which I was living in the 1940's listening to World War II broadcasts, I suddenly realised how absurd it was that that radio stations archives were not readily accessible to everyone on the Internet. Audio does not take up tremendous storage capacity, so radio broadcasts should be accessible back to the origins of radio, and playable today contiguous with the other programmes of the day just as it would have been heard at the time of original broadcast. This could be done easily with RSS or Podcasting. I call on the major information indexing services Google, Yahoo, and the dying Microsoft to implement this technology as soon as possible for their own benefit and the enrichment of all humanity. Furthermore, the audio data must be downloadable in compressed audio format such as mp3, not some absurd streaming format.

Let's get with the programme.



You can watch the film version of Orwell's 1984 streamed in low quality or download the book here. If you have never seen the film or read the book, you should do both.


Vita Vinum Est

Yesterdays post about caloric restriction relates to today's post on the health benefits of vino rosso. Resveratol, a chemical in red wine affects one of the key ageing genes, SIRT1, to slow the process of ageing and extend lifespan in mammals. Besides being healthy, red wine is also very pleasant to drink bringing physical, mental and social well-being.


Caloric Restriction

Caloric Restriction, the limiting of caloric intake while maintaining normal levels of all other vital nutrients, has been shown to be the only reliable method to significantly extend an animal's lifespan by slowing the process of ageing. A new NY Times article about CR explains the idea fairly well. This is a short FT article from June.

Many people have begun CR diets in an attempt to extend their best years. The Caloric Restriction Society is an organisation which promotes and supports CR.

As touched on in the NY Times article, CR research has the potential to reveal many of the genetic pathways for senescent processes, and in turn, new anti-ageing drugs may come from such research.


Foreign Aid

I am a firm believer in the moral imperative of wealthy nations with immigration controls to assist the World's poorest. Unfortunately, when foreign aid distribution is administered by wealthy governments, the worthless inefficiencies of bureaucracy usually squander all the resources.

This NY Times article about condoms for Africa via Cowen illustrates the point. I propose governments begin to divert such funds to well-established, efficient, and successful charitable foundations such as Bill and Melinda Gates run by true captains of industry.


Software Disapproval

I cannot say for Windows at this point, but the new Mac version of Firefox 2.0 has crashed on me 5 times or so in the last 24 hours during normal use. While the recovery of a session with tabs compensates for this slightly, it does not bring back, for example, the text in the box in which I am typing this. I almost lost a gmail as well were it not for gmail's excellent autosave draft feature.

Indeed, I did lose a nice post I wrote yesterday in Spanish concerning Bush's backstabbing of North Americans with his signing of an order to build the Wall. The thrust was that his alleged pro-immigration position was the last shred of dignity the man had left which he has now utterly demolished.

Back to Firefox, I approve of the built in spell checker, which mostly eliminates my need for the google toolbar plugin.


Recommended Documentary

For anyone who does not understand Karl Rove, the evil genius behind every Bush election victory and the victory of many other Republicans, this documentary is for you.

The Economic Burden of Reproduction in a Wealthy Society

This article in the LA Times laments the fact that families and children place a difficult burden on most families. It concludes:
Forming a family and having kids is the most personal of decisions. Yet it's a decision that has profound benefits for society as a whole. Americans do need to make the right choices for their families. But they shouldn't have to choose between economic security and getting married and having kids.
Oh YES they should! The increased cost of having children in a wealthy society is the only thing keeping population in those societies at bay. It is arguably the best reason to support economic development in poor nations.

If a ravaged planet and Malthusian population crash is what you seek, then the socialistic reproductive subsidies suggested by the normally sensible Mark Toma are policies you should seek. It is far more sensible to strive for the population growth rate of China, Europe, or even the US than that of India for economic, humanitarian, and environmental reasons.

Toma is correct in calling for more educational subsidies, but for the average prospective parent, any new subsidies should be offset by additional taxes or penalties to having more children.

Possible Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease

In research by Gary Wenk on Alzheimer's model rats funded by the US Government, a synthetic cannabinoid agonist with anti-inflammatory properties was shown to improve memory and orientation. The study reveals further medical uses of cannabis, a plant whose usefulness has been understood for millenia.

Do not Abuse Your Children

In the West, the tendency has been moving away from parents beating their children. While this is a positive step in a civilised society which has lost touch with the harsh realities of survival in the wilderness, many parents have substituted verbal and mental chastisement and abuse for physical punishment. While no marks are left and the effect is more subtle than a corporal attack, mental scars do result such as impaired verbal, speech, and brain development.

The culture and legal system currently dictate that one may not physically abuse their children, but unusual deference is otherwise given to the parents in raising their child. Most natural families are not nuclear, but are more tribal, with extended family having at least as much to do with raising the children as the biological parents. Therefore in natural families, children tend to be more protected from the excesses of their parents than modern families whose dominance has resulted from advances in transportation and housing technology and the economic drive to migrate to maximise buying power.

I therefore reject this modern notion of "Don't tell me how to raise my kids!" Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes, most often without realising them. Qualified reproduction may be a human right, but abusing your progeny is not.

Bottom Line: Neither physically nor verbally abuse your children.

(I do not nor would I suggest a legal mechanism to enforce restraint in verbally abusing one's children. I aim simply to educate.)

C++ Connectivity in Eclipse part 2

As a follow up to one of my first posts, I suggest this related article for anyone who wants to code C or C++ in a powerful,versitile, user-friendly and multi-platform software development environment.

New Berry Juice May Be Available Soon

Indian scientists have designed a way to extract the juice of the sea buckthorn, berries which are very high in antioxidants.


The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get...Richer

The majority of socialists I have met have no understanding of economics. This post by Mankiw illustrates the fact that relative income inequality owing to a freer-market economy does not create poverty, but in fact eliminates it. The poor in the US are significantly wealthier than the poor in Europe - at least on paper.

I would argue that the social welfare of better quality of life, better designed cities, richer culture, and cleaner environment of Europe is not reflected in the financial markets and GDP calculations, but the point remains that income inequality is not itself a bad thing if it owes to an unfettered, competitive market system.


Woman Adopts Child

Madonna Ciccone has jumped on the bandwagon of celebrity adoption of African children. While I honestly do not appreciate her music nor acting and the trendiness of this adoption is easily mocked, I greatly respect the act of adopting an orphan child. Moreover, I will go so far as to say that given the millions of orphans and the huge income discrepancies between the developed and undeveloped world, adoption of orphans from poor countries by typical families from wealthy countries is a moral imperative. If Madonna fans begin to seriously consider doing this themselves this adoption and the surrounding media hype will be a very positive development for humanity.

Richard Feynman: The Douglas Robb Memorial Lectures

If you have never heard Feynman lecture on Physics, you are in for a treat. These are streaming Real Video files of Feynman lecturing at the University of Auckland, NZ. I must credit Timothy for providing me the link. I detest streaming media, especially from Real, but as Timothy chastised me once, "Beggars can't be choosers." These lectures are superb.

More on Robot Games

Previously, I posted on Robo-Basho.

A recent post in Robots-Dreams features an interview with Robotic Amusements founder Joseph Johnson. His goal: inspiring youth to pursue careers in science and engineering.


The Destruction of Language, Expression and Thought

Mark has posted an excellent summary and commentary on John McWhorter's new book 'Doing Our Own Thing.' There I left a poorly written comment.

Aside: The wikipedia entry on McWhorter is suspiciously scant for such a famous writer. I could have off the top of my head written a better biography.


Talent and Meritocracy

The latest issue of the Economist has a survey of Talent. I recommend 'The Battle for Brainpower' and 'Meritocracy and its discontents'

Dynamic Capitalism

Yesterday, Edmund Phelps was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics joining all the other Americans who were granted the Nobel Prizes in hard sciences this year. Today, he has an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal contrasting the social market system of continental Europe with the more dynamic free-market capitalist system of North America and UK. He argues that even under a Rawlsian system (social utility function) where consideration is given only to the lowest-earning rung of society, the dynamic system is still preferable i.e. free markets make everyone wealthier.


The Seeds of Revolution

If anything could destabilise the French state and lead ultimately to la 6eme République, it is the restriction of tobacco consumption. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has announced just such a move in new policies designed to ban tobacco consumption in certain public locations. Vive la Revolution!


Software Recommendation: Parallels

Having yesterday upgraded my RAM, today I installed Parallels on my MacBook Pro. Then I installed virtualised Windows. I am so impressed right now at how fast windows is working, how easily it was installed, and how well integrated the virtualised Windows interacts with the host OSX. This site describes the setup process.

Parallels will also virtualise Unix/Linux. That is my next step.


What is Life?

Is each individual cell of a complex organism equivalent to the entire organism. Genetically speaking, yes. This has now been demonstrated. An entire mouse has been generated from a single non-reproductive blood cell. An egg cell was also used, but eggs are not themselves viable nor reproductive. This finding makes it clear that there is nothing particularly special about an embryonic stem cell from a philosophical point of view. Real scientists have known this for years despite what religious or political forces may imagine. In 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life' there is the song 'Every Sperm is Sacred.' This parody of absurd religious thinking now should to be changed to 'Every Cell is Sacred.'

People should have the right to reproduce as they see fit assuming they have paid their dues/taxes to society and are not through recklessness creating a malformed or diseased offspring in an artificial way. Scientists should have the right to experiment with whatever cells they want to which are created artificially and have no possibility of causing human suffering.

David Friedman

David Friedman, son of legendary economist Milton Friedman, has a blog.(feed) He does not post very frequently, but they are usually very thoughtful. I think it is fair to label him a libertarian anarchist, but that really does not say much. I was introduced to him originally through reading his book "The Machinery of Freedom" which imagines how an anarcho-libertarian society could be possible. Though it is not reality based in my view, it is thought provoking. He is not afraid to question anything. This recent post well illustates the type of thinker he is. His questions and ideas have very important social relevance and should not be seen merely as "on the fringe." I admire too the way this established author is composing a modern text.


Another Blog

My esteemed friend, Mark, has a new blog. (XML feed) It promises to be very insightful.


Neuroeconomics Again

Will Wilkinson (good alliterative name) of the CATO Institute writes a poignant article on the topic of Neuroeconomics. It suggests that a Paternalistic System would correct irrational behaviour of individuals at little cost to rational actors, and therefore significantly increase social welfare. He cogently argues that despite the scientific evidence, a laissez-faire approach is still preferable given the technology and political structures which exist. I believe Wilkinson is correct, but I am open to the possibility that continued improvement of technology will enable changes in human organisational structure and physiological monitoring such that laissez-faire will no longer be a social optimum.

This came to me via Tyler Cowen's reaction to Hare's work on psychopathy upon which I have commented. This controversial post is also relevant.


Holding Government to Account

Very often, there is a vacuum of accountability at the upper echelons of Political and Fiscal power. This WSJ Opinion piece correctly argues for the SEC to hold San Diego city council members criminally responsible for their actions in defrauding and underfunding the city pension fund. Government fiscal irresponsibility should be considered tantamount to corporate accounting fraud.


This article in wired argues that psychopathy deserves more respect and sympathy as is currently granted other mental disorders such as schizophrenia. I have known a few psychopaths in my day, and have witnessed how quickly the rest of society will shun them once the word gets out about their condition. Indeed, we all know how "psycho" is used in common parlance as a derogatory term.

However, let us not forget that psychopathy, which implies a lack of empathy for other people, can make a person potentially dangerous. Unfortunately, many such people also tend to rise quickly in corporate or political situations and so their destructive potential can be multiplied. Organisations should put significant effort into preventing people with such untreated conditions from gaining positions of authority over others.


Blog Recommendation: Cyberpanopticon

My friend Timothy has a blog that seems is shaping up quite well. I think it will focus primarily on International Relations, History, Science, and Law.


Sic Semper Tyrannis

The only way for the US to regain any sort of credibility in the World as a force for freedom, progress, and development rather than as a tyrannical empire and gross violator of human rights would be to hold those with power responsible for their actions and inactions and to compensate to the extent possible those who have been adversely affected by the illegal policies of the past five years.

To that end, the US congress should begin by exercising their responsibilities under their constitution with regards to removing a failed executive.


Mineral Slime

It is pitiful that despite all humanity has accomplished, burning dead plants is still the dominant energy source for developed economic activity. Advancing technology it seems has been lowering the costs of discovering and mining new sources of fossil fuel more than it has been developing alternative sources absent of negative externalities.

The latest oil discovery in the Gulf exemplifies this phenomenon. I was able this weekend to purchase petroleum at about 0.50 USD per litre. While on paper, the financial markets and economy are given a boost by this phenomenon, this masks the real destruction that finds like this have on a properly quantified economy which incorporates environmental and welfare statistics. The true cost of that petrol to society was something more like 1.50 USD per litre. In reality, new oil discoveries are like a methamphetamine addict getting their hands on a new bag of meth. While they may consider themselves much better off at the time, the long run consequences are dire and their behaviour in consuming it is irrational.

Nearly every sensible economist agrees that heavy carbon taxation is desperately needed worldwide to counter the negative externalities created from burning hydrocarbons. For a while, even good economists where questioning the true existence of a global warming phenomenon. Those days are past. The scientific evidence is irrefutable. The necessity is clear, but the political action has yet to be taken.

Congratulations Sverige

My friend Diana is very happy about the situation in Sweden. The conservative coalition has toppled the Socialists after years of old, overgrown domination and unsustainable economic policy. Of course for any Americans reading this, Swedish conservatives are sort of like left-leaning Democrats. Republicans do not exist there except maybe in the mental hospitals where they belong. But I digress...

From this Economist article, it seems regulations and taxation will be loosened up slightly, but no radical changes to the Swedish system will occur. Still, for all of my Swedish friends, may the new policies bring you enhanced opportunities, health, and wealth.

In related news, the Piratpartiet scored less than one percent of the vote. For a one-issue party in such a critical election, we should not be surprised, but I am nonetheless disappointed at such a poor showing. Copyright protections are desperately in need of reform worldwide, and Sweden is a great place for the movement to begin.


Basing Laws on Science

This article in the FT considers research at the University College London which explores neurological development and the neurological basis for behaviour.
The study has implications for the use of anti- social behaviour orders for juveniles and in determining at what age we should be criminally responsible.
In a broader sense, this type of research should have implications into the stage at which a person should be considered self-sufficient and independent. To have an age arbitrarily set at 16,18, or 21 above which one's parents are no longer responsible nor legally authoritative is potentially dangerous. For example, the age of sexual consent in Canada is 14. Rights and privileges ought to be based on some sort of merit, neurological or otherwise.

Perhaps the argument works both ways. Above the age of 18, it is well known that mental acuity starts to decline. This may explain why older voters are more likely to vote for war criminals like Cheney and Bush. Perhaps such people should lose their voting rights.

The Economic blogsphere is currently enamoured with this New Yorker article about neurology and risk behaviour.


Fascinating Science

It appears some sheep depend on a retrovirus to reproduce.


Software Recommendation: Desktop Manager

Since now I have a MacBook Pro, I now can run all the great OS X software I have dreamed about. Desktop Manager brings the multiple desktop feature of KDE or GNOME to OS X with some very nice transition eye candy. Switching between desktops happens as easily as scrolling the mouse to the edge of the screen. Increase productivity while being entertained. Now I am joining the ranks of all those annoying people telling you how great their Mac software is that you have no chance to run.


Labour Mobility

Diana makes a great point about the need for loose restrictions on human migration. In general, resistance I have seen to immigration in the United States and Europe comes partially from irrational fears or ignorance of basic economic principals. However, the primary motivation I have observed stems from blind racial, sectarian, and nationalistic passions. Such idiocy should have been abandoned in the 19th century. Nation-states themselves are merely artifacts of the Congress of Vienna and need to be completely rethought in the 21st century. They only serve to deepen the imbalances and poverty that already exist.

Japanese Language and People

I know you all enjoyed the Russian Language and People Series. I was thrilled to find Japanese Language and People has been released on UKNova. If you do not have a membership to UKNova, you will have to contact someone who is.

The Decline and Fall of the Microsoft Empire

I have previously adulated Bill Gates on this blog. Now, I am going to slam his ailing behemoth. Last night I tried to sign into my hotmail account which I have had for over 7 years. To my surprise, I had not signed in for over 30 days and so my account along with the massive 10 MB or so of junk mail that was straining Microsoft's servers were summarily deleted. I can reactivate the account, but why? I already lost everything I would have wanted to keep. There may be some accounts I signed up for whose passwords I cannot remember, but until it becomes an issue I would rather have nothing to do with such a worthless organisation which currently only stifles human progress.


Another Blog to Read

Having moved from Sverige to Nagasaki, my friend Diana has a new blog (site feed). I cannot say enough good things about her.


Robo Basho

I know the creators of a new robot arcade game, Robo Basho, by the company Robotic Amusements. It is a brilliant creation which demonstrates the amazing talents of these two individuals from conceptual design to mechanical, electrical and software engineering. Robo Basho is fun for all ages.

Here is the YouTube video featuring the inventors.


California's Political Progress

With the recent move to limit greenhouse gas emission, California will serve as a positive example of responsible governance to the rest of the United States and to the rest of the world.

Economist Article, Le Figaro Article


An Upper Limit on Fertility Treatments

Usually I am very loathe to support government limitations on the medical services patients may seek. However, medical procedures designed to create new life directly affect people other than the patient, ie the children who are created. This alone justifies government intervention. The power to add more people to society also implies reactionary or limiting powers by the society over the creators in the context of maximising social welfare eg population engineering in Asia.

In reference to this article, for a morbidly obese mother to take radical medical action to become pregnant is unethical and abusive towards the child. For the NHS to be expected to finance such services is absolutely detrimental to British society. The demand of well-educated, hard-working labour to immigrate to Great Britain more than compensates for an otherwise negative population growth rate. Therefore, there is no reason for the government to finance such dangerous and expensive measures to add more children to the population.


The Economy of Europe

The NBER has a very good research summary by Alberto Alesina. It presents a nice overview of the history and state of the European economic culture.


Must Have Firefox Extensions

Some like Opera, but with its extendable capabilities, Firefox is the best web browser currently available in my estimation. Here are some tools to multiply Firefox's effectiveness:

Adblock: This plugin is very effective at blocking most ads. It greatly enhances the surfing experience.

Flashblock: Some pesky ads or even intended content for pages like Google Video use Macromedia Flash, my arch enemy. This user-friendly extension allows total control on when you view this Flash.

PDF Download: Adobe Acrobat PDF files can be quite annoying when your browser opens them by default, slows the system, and hogs memory. This extension gives you the choice every time. Usually I choose to download rather than open.

Google Toolbar: The Google Toolbar comes with a lot of unnecessary features, but the one I use most frequently is the spell checker which works better than any other web spell checker available. The 'Send with Gmail' as default mail application is also helpful. PageRank is nifty.


International Intellectual Property Law and the Cranberries

It is generally understood among economists that the United States Intellectual Property law is too strong and thus hurts overall social welfare and creates incentives such that every savvy Internet user is now a criminal because in regards to media, the protections are largely unenforceable. In the dark and barbaric world outside the Faterland, US IP is even less respected by the general populace despite WTO TRIPS standards and other bilateral agreements. Indeed, Russia's accession to the WTO has effectively been blocked by the US over this issue.

Currently, the most glaring example of the IP dispute is the Russian music pay site allofmp3.com which offers tracks or albums of music at cut-throat rates without nasty DRM. Ironically, calls my the RIAA and other IP unions to eliminate the site only furthered its popularity and reduced the sale volume of retail sites like iTMS.

To give a personal example, I love the Irish group 'The Cranberries' (discography torrent). Their song 'I Don't Need' has only been on a couple of compilations or singles and so is difficult to find. I even went so far as to pay $1 for the DRMed version of it on iTMS last year, but since this limits you to 5 systems, after transferring my music library several times, the track no longer worked. This is really a hassle so in order to skip all the nonsense and support a developing nation, I signed up to allofmp3. It was easy; they accepted Visa, and the 320 Kbps track cost $0.30. Here's to maintaining the status quo.

Podcasts and RSS Feeds

I have utilised the Bulk Upload feature of Google Base to upload all the RSS feeds to which I subscribe in addition to the Podcasts which I had already uploaded. I even added some Bling with the pictures. My preferred feed reader is the Google Personalised Homepage. I strongly encourage everyone to use it. I hope that readers will find both the GPH engine and my RSS feed content to be very valuable resources as I do.



A good friend just accepted a position in Connecticut for ACORN: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Their priorities and politics are not completely in line with my own, but I have always greatly respected his hard work and dedication to bring about a better World. Hopefully, he can further this work at ACORN.

Sensible Drug Policy

I will have a great deal more to say on the topic of drug policy. I have already expressed that government policy ought to be consistent among different drugs and should allow private enterprise some flexibility with drug employment policies despite cultural norms. Conversely, it is my belief that governments should restrict drugs only to the extent necessary to reduce any externalities they might produce. This can usually be accomplished through reasonable taxation to offset medical costs and benefit society as a whole and through restricting public use to designated or licenced locations. A recent NY Times opinion article addresses this topic in the context of cannabis and the Dutch model. For those without NY Times Select access, this is an adequate synopsis.


Zhong Guo's Population Control

China is the only place that has taken the radical yet necessary steps to halt population growth. Through the one China policy, China is now below the replacement rate of fertility, common in Europe, but phenomenal for a developing country. Unfortunately, given cultural biases, female children are less common than male owing to deliberate abortions or neglect by parents disappointed by a daughter and inwardly hoping to try again for a boy. Statistics are examined in a new study by Qu Jiang Ding and Therese Hesketh in a recent British Medical Journal article (full pdf)

The male:female ratio in Zhong Guo is now 1.23, the highest anywhere. The female-devaluing cultural problem exists elsewhere in Asia. From the article:
"[M]any other Asian countries that have declining birth rates and traditional preferences for male babies are seeing serious sex imbalances: 1.19 for Taiwan, 1.18 for Singapore, 1.12 for South Korea, and 1.20 for parts of northern India."
Any discussion of population control is controversial especially among religious fundamentalists, but I would propose that governments contending with such issues should impose progressive taxation on children born, with higher rates for males. Without doing a thorough welfare analysis, such a system could allow for determined parents to have more than one child while controlling population and mitigating sex ratio imbalances. Age old cultural preferences are a bit harder to change.


Romance of the Three Kingdoms

'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms' by Luo Guangzhou is widely acknowledged as one of the best epic works of Chinese literature. It is set in one of the most dynamic periods of Chinese history in the third century AD.

The Chinese 58 hour, live action, high budget, television production of this epic has become available with English subtitles on the torrent networks. It reminds us that when the Chinese set their collective consciousness to a task, the rest of the world can only watch in awed silence.

A Japanese anime version of this epic is also accessible.


The Rights to Medicine

I contend that the status quo of overly restrictive regulations on access to medication impinges on the rights of patients and often their quality of health. The issue relates more broadly to the insane so-called "War on Drugs."

Susan Okie, MD has written a Perspective article in the 'New England Journal of Medicine' relating to a May ruling by the DC Circuit, US Court of Appeals. I agree strongly with the decision of one of the justices:
"The prerogative asserted by the FDA — to prevent a terminally ill patient from using potentially life-saving medication to which those in Phase II clinical trials have access...impinges upon an individual liberty deeply rooted in our Nation's history and tradition of self-preservation."
                                                            -Judge Judith Rogers

NEJM Interview on the subject.

In a related story, a study has been released showing the potent and imediate efficacy of the popular "street drug" ketamine as an anti-depressant. Currently, a severely depressed and potentially suicidal person who procures and uses ketamine could face years of imprisonment for using this "controlled substance."

Progress in Prostate Cancer

Last year, University of Wisconsin researches found that pomegranates, in addition to being very tasty, helped to combat prostate cancer. Today, Calypso Medical Technologies won approval from the FDA for a device which tracks the exact location of a prostate tumour, improving the targeting, efficacy, and safety of radiation therapy.


Progress in the European Union

Tobacco Smoking is the greatest drug plague facing humanity at this time. Tobacco Smoking affects not only the smoker, but anyone around who must deal with second hand smoke or the presence of a person wreaking from its recent consumption. It is perfectly rational that employers should be able to have employment policies which deny jobs to smokers just as heroin and methamphetamine addicts may similarly be denied jobs. I applaud the European Commission's recent decision in this regard.


Google Email Hosting

Everyone knows and likes gmail, however did you know that google is also freely hosting the email accounts of other domains. My small business has started utilising this service and I recommend it for everyone who wants the power and convenience of gmail for their other email accounts. Like everything google does, the service is still in "beta testing."


American Torture of Prisoners

"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
           -Fyodor Dostoevsky
Channel4 4-part documentary (torrent) on torture. The American Military's treatment of prisoners is illegal, inhuman, immoral, and ultimately self-destructive. Those responsible for its authorisation or execution should one day be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in an international criminal court.



I have loaded all the podcasts to which I subscribe to Google Base. The page will be updated regularly.


Worth a Read

Brad Delong's latest post really is 'Worth Reading.' In fact, most of his posts are.


The Running

For those who wish to track and improve their long distance running, CoolRunnings is a useful website. In a brilliant use of Google Maps technology, Gmaps Pedometer allows the plotting of running routes complete with elevation mapping and rough calorie estimation. As with American food labels, a calorie here actually refers to a kilocalorie.

If you happen to own an iPod Nano, you can benefit from the new accelerometer technology regardless of whether you own a pair of Nikes.


Powers of Ten

'Powers of Ten' is a 9 minute documentary produced 1977. It is an excellent and concise exploration of the meaning of exponential scales, and relative sizes. As a child, I saw this film in a Smithsonian Exhibit and it left an indelible impression. I was pleased today to see the torrent on TorrentSpy. Enjoy!


Something to Watch

Google Video has improved itself by adding more free content, most importantly 'Charlie Rose.' This might not last. I strongly recommend watching this interview with Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates by Charlie Rose.


Proposal for a Hydrogen Engery Grid

Scientific American has a wonderful article about a potential future technology for clean and efficient energy distribution.


Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, one of the most respected and admired investors and the second wealthiest person on the planet is in the process of transferring 85% of his ~ $44 billion to charity. One of the charities is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Observe the modesty of Buffett through his home.

previous post


The Politics of Food Burning

I posted before about the corn to ethanol question. This week the NY Times has an article focusing on the effect this trend is having on the Midwest. For all its strengths, the article does its readers a disservice in not properly structuring the issue within the framework of the overall social need to do away with inefficient farm subsidies.

Robert X. Cringely

Robert X. Cringely writes the weekly column, 'I Cringely' (RSS) and produces the weekly podcasted television interview programme 'Nerd TV.' Cringely, a technology expert, has friends in high levels at major firms who provide him with insider information.

This week Cringely proposes that Asymmetric Internet will create more troubles for itself than ISPs anticipated with their tiering schemes owing to necessarily encrypted BitTorrent traffic. One thing is clear: the Net Neutrality issue is a very complicated one which the US Congress is unqualified to legislate for the public good.


Agricultural Subsidies

Ahead of the next round of WTO trade negotiation in Genève, Suisse next week, the OECD released a report on the total amount of subsidy given to agricultural subsidies by all OECD member nations. €225 billion. The distortion created by these subsidies significantly harms farmers in undeveloped nations for whom agriculture is a comparative advantage and poverty is normal. WSJ outlook.

L'Expérience française

I would like to recommend to non-native French speakers the BBC 2 series, 'The French Experience.' There are English subtitles and it is more a lifestyle and cultural education than 'French in Action.' A lack of knowledge of the language is not an issue. The episodes are only 15m so they are ideal for watching while eating breakfast for example.


Richard Dawkins

As an Evolution follow up, Oxford University's Charles Simonyi Chair Prof. Richard Dawkins articulately explains the modern theory of Evolution, and has made considerable effort in addressing the Creationist threat to society. Dawkins, an atheist, is in fact particularly scathing of Religion in general, comparing it to a virus. For me, this goes too far. Nonetheless, I believe he is someone well worthy of attention.


The "Theory of Evolution" describes for all intents and purposes a scientific certainty as nearly as one exists. Charles Darwin through persistence and brilliance elucidated undeniably and nearly completely the existential mysteries of sex, competition, the variety and complexity of life on Earth and in turn our own ancestral origins.

The "Theory of Intelligent Design" is simply not science, and is designed as a means to confuse and manipulate ignorant, weak-minded individuals from understanding the truth of their origins and that of all complex life. It is quite sad that in the 21st century, Scientific Authorities waste their valuable time responding to such nonsense. They are compelled as a reaction to the moves by rulers and politicians in many countries to teach or promote the so called "Intelligent Design" theory. Not surprisingly, the infamous George Walker Bush promotes the teaching of I.D. in schools. Any political or educational leader is not deserving of authority who seeks to poison or befuddle the minds of the masses, particularly the young, with ignorant, fundamentalist dogma to the detriment of a proper understanding of firmly established scientific fact. Any religious doctrine contradicted by undeniable scientific evidence must be either revised or dismissed as mythology and tradition rather than lauded as fact. Furthermore, it is the moral responsibility of society's leaders to ensure basic science is taught to all and taught correctly.

The 7 part PBS series on Evolution does a good job of properly explaining Charles Darwin's elegant theory. Those like me, annoyed by the mere mention of I.D, should not watch the last part as it focuses on the backward Fundamentalist Creationist beliefs of large swathes of the US population.


Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Last Week, Bill Gates stepped down from Microsoft or M$ for short. This has been lauded as an intelligent move to breathe new life into the ailing former monopoly. More importantly, it gives Bill Gates the time needed to spend the vast sums of wealth he has accumulated over the years. Despite the recent decline of Leviathan, Bill Gates has by all measures done an excellent job at doing what the vast majority of companies are designed to do: maximise profits for their shareholders. I have faith that Bill Gates will use his extraordinary talents to do more good with his life and his foundation than he caused setbacks with his Evil Empire.

On a related note, today I read this article describing the way Angelina Jolie is spending her time. Normally I would not even click on any link with her name, but today the spirit moved me. I was very pleased to read about the large sums she has given to charity and her attempts to use her celebrity to divert attention away from her lover and child to raising awareness about the plight of sub-Saharan Africans. The article also stresses the important point that the press corps of this World is completely inept and self-serving. Most developed countries allow in their constitutions protections for the press. However, a press that cares more about one actress' healthy baby more that the plagues of disease, poverty, and internecine conflict affecting hundreds of millions of people deserves no such fundamental legal protection for they only serve to further impoverish society.

Language Series - Russian Language and People

This 20 part series produced by the BBC durring the Soviet Era is worth watching.


Better Living through Chemistry

The Washington Post is not quite the McDonald's of news reporting (i.e. USA Today), but is more like the IHOP. Poorly written and investigated though it may be, this article investigates the use of prescription mental performance enhancing drugs on college campuses.

*Update* - This NYT article explores the dangers posed by the use of over the counter "Energy Drinks" especially among young athletes.

Destruction of the Middle Kingdom

Zhong Guo has expanded its economy "miraculously" owing to its utter lack of environmental protection. The developing stage of economic progress has always been the dirtiest e.g. 19th Century London. Nevertheless, the levels of pollution occurring now in China are globally unprecedented and are restraining China's progress. Moreover, China does not bear the full cost of the pollution it creates.


Net Neutrality II

Economist Tyler Cowen has a reasonable argument in favour of 'Net Neutrality.'

Lynne Kiesling points to a potentially better middle ground.


This BBC article could be sensationalistic reporting taken way out of context. I pray that flag officers in the US military who control $0.5 trillion to wage global warfare and martial occupation would not be so fanatic, inhuman, and ignorant as suggested by the quotes contained therein. Either way, maybe now that there has been a particularly shocking event of self-disciple, devotion, or desperation, Americans can "galvanise" and take the mass psychic action needed to stop the illegal and unethical mistreatment of military prisoners. I would not presume to dream at this stage for all out prison reform where needed. From what I understand, Scandinavia is the only place which treats prisoners humanely.

Regarding treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo, besides the obvious physical and mental torture, prisoners are also force-fed. In a clear breach of medical ethics, doctors and nurses carry out these procedures as authorised by the military. Accusations have been made that unqualified soldiers are also performing the forced tube-feeding on hunger striking prisoners.

Economist Article


Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is an interesting topic. It has generated a great deal of furor recently as a grass-roots movement against lobbying by Internet companies trying to offer preferential treatment to certain content providers. Even Google supports net neutrality. The bundling of goods and services has been a standard business practice for as long as commerce has taken place. There is an argument for net neutrality for someone like me who realistically only has one choice for broadband service, i.e. DSL. However, broadband services are a competitive business. Cable, telephone DSL, power companies, fiber optic services, and wireless services are all part of the mix. If you as a customer cannot get the content you want fast enough from your provider, then you have the right to switch providers and use someone else who will give you the quality of service you demand. I have a feeling that ending net neutrality will actually drive competition, broadband penetration, and improve services overall. I have yet to hear a coherent economic argument which shows that net asymmetry necessarily reduces social welfare. Rather, I see net asymmetry as a potential driver behind the next generation of Internet services: HDTV over IP.

Net asymmetry is only a proposal at the moment. It could be a good thing. If a firm starts providing their customers unacceptable service, they will vote with their wallet. Customers will always have the ability to continue to pay for net neutral service where competitive ISP markets exist.

Software Recommendation: FileZilla

I am by no means an expert in the ftp protocol or ftp software. I used to use a cracked version of CuteFTP, but it is proprietary. FileZilla's name derives from the open source Mozilla Project, but I do not think it is directly associated. If you are not using Mozilla Firefox as your web browser, you probably should be - especially if you are still using M$ IE. Filezilla is free and open source. With a clean interface, it accomplishes everything the average user would want out of an ftp client. I have not used the server, but I believe it to be similarly useful.


Google Spreadsheets

Google Spreadsheets is still in the alpha phase so not particularly useful, but you can sign up for it and test it. It has not been advertised so I thought I would fill the gap.

*Update* - BBC article


Google Genetics

November 2005 Sunday Times article about Google's ambition to assist genetic research science. Google is well equipped to contribute to this information science.



Frontline has made a very good two parter about AIDS: part 1, part 2. Live Science today published this article which was my impetus for this post. Science Daily summarises an article quantifying the effectiveness of HIV medication: 'Three Million Years of Life Saved.'


The Power of Nightmares

I watched 'The Power of Nightmares,' a 3 part BBC series, in the fall of 2004 when the series was aired on the BBC. It should be aired widely throughout the Islamic World and USA. It has yet to be shown on US television. The first two parts aired in the U.K. just days before the atrocious reelection of G.W. Bush. Given the continued war crimes, erosion of civil liberties, manufacturing of public consent, and trampling of privacy that have occurred since then, these documentaries are as relevant now as they were then.

Despite never airing in the US, the series has been available in the US via BitTorrent since the original UK air dates. This highlights the importance of mass file distribution mechanisms. Had every person in the USA downloaded this series as soon as possible, the election would have turned out differently and the world would currently be far safer.

A must see for everyone.
BitTorrent Link
Google Video Links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3



This past weekend I spent in Warszawa, Polska. Poland was one of the worst victims of the Second World War and the 20th Century. Blitzkrieged by Deutschland, and "liberated" by the Russians, Poland lost 6 million people, half of them Jews. Today the Jewish Polish population is virtually extinct. Warsaw was over 85% destroyed by the end of the war. Afterwards, oppressed by insanely inefficient Communist rule, Warsaw made some recovery. Today it is a bustling national capital in one of the largest EU member states. The city is clean; the people are very good hearted; there are many modern buildings and the economy is developing rapidly. Polish emigrants are among the hardest working and most productive. Fortunately their EU membership gives them labour mobility.

Poland is intensely Catholic. During my visit, the new German pope Benedict was still on his tour of the country. I stayed on Aleja Jana Pawla II (Pope John Paul II Avenue). I was impressed by the number of churches and cathedrals, statues of 'their pope,' Vatican flags flying all over the city, and posters and tabloids with Pope Benedict's face that probably frightened many small children. Poland will likely join the rest of Western Europe after several more generations with a fading of Catholicism. For now, Poland is a very positive example of the strength and healing that religion can have on traumatised societies.

I was only there for a few days, but I now have a deeper appreciation for this country and its people - reminders of pain, disaster, and the absolute worst of human capability, but a deep source of dignity in the present and hope for the future.

Economist Briefing, CIA Factbook, BBC Profile.

Meanwhile on Planet Earth

40 million people are infected by HIV. 5 million new infections occurred last year. 18 million children have been orphaned. 28 million people have died from a largely treatable and preventable disease. In developing countries, only 1.3 million of those infected are receiving medical treatment.


NASA Software

Many people know about Google Earth. Fewer have heard of Google Moon and Mars. However, not very many people have heard of NASA World Wind. World Wind is not as useful for city data or driving directions. It does provide a more sophisticated 3D engine, more satellite data, and more choice than Google Earth in terms of modding. It is also Open Source. In addition, World Wind comes with Moon, Mars, and Sloan Digital Sky Survey engine with a similarly large selection of satellite data. All of these programmes require a high speed internet connexion. In an unfortunate move, NASA WW is only available for M$ Windows; Google Earth has a Mac beta.

Using the NASA Mars engine, one realises the incredible scientific value that Mars probes have brought us despite the failures. It seems clear to me that funding to Mars and Moon probes should be increased. Robots made of silicon and metal can perform reasonably well in those environments. The logic escapes me of diverting resources from useful science to send human being to Mars probably to die.

Communication Security

With internet privacy threatened by the FBI, NSA, and DoD, communication MUST become something that people can do privately and securely. Already for instant messaging, I highly recommend using GAIM with the RSA encryption plugin.

Today, a new Swiss cellphone has been announced which provides live time voice encryption between 2 units. This is a first generation product and so needs to be polished, but it is a step in the right direction.


The Wealth of Networks

Available for free as a pdf download, The Wealth of Networks has been added to my 'To Read' list.

Free Advertising for Skype

The Internet is a medium for any kind of data at potentially unlimited speed. I hope that companies which seek to make money by charging clients to have telephonic conversations will not exist in the near future. Unless and until the antiquated voice only telephone system is absorbed or canabalised by ISPs and the Voice over IP network has acheived critical mass, we still have to live in both the insular sphere of VoIP and the primitive analogue voice-only network and its 10 digit numbers. Unfortunately, the regulatory powers governments have over the old telephone networks, which have not been usurped over the Internet, have created incentives for politicians and soon to be obsolete bureaucrats to delay the transition process as much as possible contrary to the role of a socially progressive government. What else is new?

Well, today Skype has taken the lead in VoIP by offering a free outgoing calls from their VoIP network to the antiquated telephone network within the US and Canada, originating from IPs in the US and Canada. Of course, if you can arrange a proxy you can call from anywhere, free to the US.

Skype actually sent me an email about thier new offer this morning which I instinctively ignored as spam until a friend of mine pointed out its real advantages. I therefore post this sort of advertisement for their new service to help create awareness and perhaps generate momentum for the VoIP movement.



Singularity is the concept that we are approaching a threshold in which superintelligent machines will emerge, create even more intelligent machines in an accelerating process effectively marking the end of the relevancy of human intelligence. There was recently a Singularity Summit at Stanford. Big names in futurism were present. Unfortunately I have not yet been able to locate a video of the summit. Also, the author of this blog was present at the summit and has some worthwhile material.

The Great Library of Cyberspace

The New York Times has a very good article about the current movement towards the Great Library of Cyberspace. It is no surprise that Google is the leader in this field, but there is yet much work to be done. The Great Library is the availability of all public human produced media (text, audio, video) instantly searchable and downloadable over the internet to anyone anywhere on Earth. The article fails to mention the next phase which will be the inclusion of all genetic data from every species, and some day perhaps every person depending on how personal privacy laws evolve.

Stuck in the Muck

On this page, I would generally like to avoid being mired in US politics. However, this morning two things struck me.

Firstly, Republicans in congress are attacking Freedom of Speech and access to information. The proposed new amendment would also make this site, Blogger, inaccessible to students and library patrons in the United States presumably as a defence against sexual predation of children?!

Secondly, this morning I watched U.C. Berkeley Economics Professor Brad DeLong's latest installments of Morning Coffee. I am pleased to see him defending immigration as well as leaning towards a 'Balanced Budget Amendment.' On the immigration front, the Krugman articles to which he refers sadly require payment to view online.


Syndication - Part 1

For neophytes, the on the right represents a link to a syndicated version of this page. A newsreader programme, which now includes Firefox and Thunderbird, or the Google Personalised Page, can then read this page in a standardised way, presumably along with other pages. Other types of syndication are and . The formats vary, but basic newsreaders treat them all the same way. Part 2 will elucidate the powerful simplification that syndication allows.

Software Recommendation: µTorrent

I am a longtime fan of the BitTorrent client Azureus. It has the advantages that it is written in java and so will run on any OS platform and is extremely flexible with a plethora of plugins available. I had seen µTorrent before and I liked its interface and its simplicity. However despite its claim for using few resources my initiall experience with it did not live up to expectation. In addition I use the SafePeer plugin for Azureus and wanted to stick with a program available under Linux. That all changed last weekend when I gave µTorrent another shot on my new computer. This time it did live up to expectation. µTorrent, available only for M$ Windows, runs off just a single 154 kB executable; no other files exist for the programme. It has a very clean interface and so far after normal use (right now downloading 5 GB of files) has not exceeded 6.4 MB of memory usage on my system (currently 4.6 MB). Azureus, in contrast, typically occupies 80-120 MB of resources on my system. µTorrent is my new favourite BitTorrent client.


Thinking of Buying a New Desktop?

I came across this interesting link to a Tom's Hardware article via Slashdot. The dual core Pentium D 805 currently costs about $130! I am tempted to get one myself.

'The Pentium D 805 is a budget CPU, but it puts lots of processors from AMD and Intel to shame. Although it is not based on the latest 65 nm core, this CPU remains stable even when operating at amazing 4.1 GHz. The Pentium D 805 ascends to the throne as the new King of overclocking, knocking out the AMD Opteron 144.'


Children of the Corn

Ethanol, CH3CH2OH, has served mankind for millennia as the overwhelmingly most popular drug in existance. Now Americans are hyping an idea promoted by special interest corn farmers for decades that the solution to the "energy crisis" is to ferment corn en masse into ethanol to fuel their polluting and pitifully inefficient automobiles. This idea is often justified on the basis that such measures will act as economic sanction against foreign entities the US opposes while closing the carbon cycle. For anyone who finds the ethanol fuel idea compelling, at least read this and this. You may start to suspect along with me that this is media hype which is distracting the populous from addressing the real climactic and economic issues facing them.

Tonight I listened to an NPR Science Friday interview with Michael Pollan, who was promoting "The Omnivore's Dilemma." He primarily discussed the nutritional emptiness and gross energy inefficiencies in the modern Western diet, the overdependence on the corn monoculture, and also addressed the ethanol question.

On a related note, this is a Science Friday interview with George Olah regarding the potential use for methanol, CH2OH, to be used as an effective basis for a renewable-hydrogen-methanol economy. I just know I wouldn't drink the stuff.


True Comedy

People always look at me funny when I say I think Stephen Colbert is even funnier than John Stewart. This video of Colbert's appearance on at the White House Correspondence dinner is some of the boldest and funniest comedy I have ever seen. It originally aired on C-SPAN. The fact that this was allowed to happen by the administration further illustrates their ineptitude and incompetence. However, you do know you live in some measure of civilisation when the court jester does not lose his head for this. This appearance was generally downplayed in the mainstream media since Colbert turns his acerbic wit on them too. As DeLong always says "Why, oh why can't we have a better press corps?"

This is a must see for everyone.

Google Video Link

Language Skills

As a 5th Generation American currently living in the USA among other such people, my language skills are severely limited along with my opportunities to practice languages I have studied.

I would like to share a torrent found on BitMe. This is French in Action, a series funded by the Annenberg CPB project, Yale University, and WGBH Boston. This is an "immersion" course, entirely en français, which effectively utilises the power of video to provide dynamic and varied content in an entertaining and well paced fashiong, making for a highly effective learning tool. En plus, J'ai apprécié bien le rôle de Mireille. You can stream these off the Learner.org, but I recommend torrenting it (laws and licenses permitting). I have a strong aversion to streaming media. Trusted acquaintances can hit me up for access to BitMe.

I have explored several online translation dictionaries. So far for French-English-Spanish, WordReference.com is the best. For Mandarin Chinese, zhongwen.com is a powerful resource.


Berkeley Lecture Audio

I came across this tonight via digg:
Berkley's course audio now on iTunes
This seems like it will be a good complement to MIT Open CourseWare. We are only a few years away hopefully from fully open-source cyber Universities where only grading, discussion section, and question taking are services for which money would need to be charged. As tax-exempt non-profit institutions of higher learning for the greater social good, all Universities, should aim for this goal. An ambitious Angolan youth in the backwoods, for example, should within a generation be able to reap in large part the classroom benefits of an elitist Western education.