On the Soapbox

Potpourri: Fun Things from the Web

Friday, March 10, 2006
Keywords: Potpourri

To start things off, this is funny in a dark way: The Road to Serfdom, an illustrated guide. (link found on Marginal Revolution)

Scientists are forecasting that a huge solar storm will be coming in half a decade. Putting aside the havoc that something like this would wreak, I think it would be pretty cool. Apparently, the last time there was such a large storm in the 1950's (when there were not so many electronics to worry about), the northern lights could be seen as far south as Mexico. Wow.

According to the TSA, you have the right to fly without an ID. (link found on Schneier on Security)

According to Ask Yahoo!, Tweety Bird is male. So what about all those women who bought Tweety shirts with text like "girl power" and the such?

According to studies, blacks who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God overwhelming vote for Democrats, and whites who believe that the Bible is just a collection of fables still favor Republicans (though not nearly as much as evangelical whites). So I guess politics haven't completely split on religious lines... (yet?)

Finally, CNN recently had an article about "hippie chimps", which is the sort of phrase that makes people scratch their heads and wonder. Anyway, a bit of Googling on the topic turned up this 1995 article from the Scientific American. It's a very interesting article about a species of primates very closely related to us that engages in sexual activity as a very common and integral component of social interaction instead of for reproduction. It's interesting in the sense that it provides a curious contrast to human interactions.

This entry was edited on 2006/03/10 at 21:13:36 GMT -0500.

Potpourri: When Philosophy Meets Science

Sunday, March 5, 2006
Keywords: Potpourri

First, I heard this on the radio this morning; it is about a study that scientists conducted on sensory input: (full story from NPR)

Nitschke was able to ultimately conclude that the brain acts differently when it anticipates a sensation as compared to when it experiences a sensation unexpectedly. Sensory input could be largely based on perceptions of, say, fear or joy, rather than on reality.

I wonder what the philosophers would have to say about this in relation to epistemology.

In other news, earlier this week, it was reported that a study that demonstrated what would appear to be altruistic behavior by infants (18 months old) and by chimpanzees in the form of assisting others. The article contains more details. Because the subjects are not likely to have received moral and social education, this seems to imply that there may be a degree of inherent altruism. So much for Hobbes' view of the state of nature.

The Joys of Blogging

Friday, February 17, 2006
Keywords: Blogging, Me, kBlog, Potpourri

I think that I have been somewhat sheltered from the world these past few years. I used hungrily consume news and keep up with the world in high school, but I stopped doing that at HMC, partly because of time and also partly because the place oozed apathy. Also during these years, I had completely missed out on the rise of the blog, despite my usual desire* to keep myself atop the crest of technology. It wasn't that I didn't have a blog; since 1998, my website has always featured a blog-like section where I would post my latest ramblings on a somewhat regular basis (though it was somewhat different structurally from the canonical blog of today). No, it was because I simply did not believe in it. Over half a decade ago, people were rushing to get Blogger accounts, "blog" was starting to turn into the latest new buzzword/hype, and places like LiveJournal were brimming with people posting daily details of their personal life (it took me a while to finally disassociate blogging from LJ-esque diaries). All this left a me with a sour bias, which is why I never even referred to my now-defunct second-generation blog (which was an awkward mix of a heavily sanitized diary plus some dull commentary) on my old website as a "blog" and why I never paid much heed to the growth of the "blogosphere", both as a word and as the thing itself. Ultimately, I was oblivious to the blog...

...until now. And boy, is the blogosphere addictive or what? There are many precious nuggets that I read every day, such as this little excerpt (source) that I read today about what it means to be a moderate:

Perhaps the best definition of a moderate is someone who does not derive all of their political opinions from one or two first principles and stick to them no matter where that may lead them. Those first principles may be relatively crude ("the moral environment that prevailed in the 1950s should be held onto") or fairly sophisticated ("we must maximize the power of the weak over the strong"), but regardless of their origin, they tend to make people into extremely rigid voters. People who see themselves as trading off a whole bunch of values, will have political opinions that are in general less extreme. They will also be more tolerant of other peoples' viewpoints, because they tend to assume that other people are simply weighting different values differently--rather than concluding that the difference of opinion must be caused by some terrible moral failing on the part of others.

I now have about 20 feeds (and quickly growing) in my RSS aggregator. But perhaps most importantly for me, blogging has allowed me to reemerge from the sheltered bubble of HMC's apathy and reconnect with my old self. I enjoy reading a variety of perspectives and insights on the affairs of the world, and my blog has become a delightful outlet for a lot of my own thoughts. Instead of letting the thoughts that occupy my mind during mundane tasks like showering, brushing, and eating evaporate or get lost on the countless pieces of scrap paper that litter my archives (yes, I do think about free markets in the shower; call me a freak), I can now preserve and express them here. I know I don't have much of an audience here, but that doesn't matter because this is mostly for me, and if I get an audience, that would just be a nice bonus. :)

I thoroughly love this, and I only wish that I had started this blog years ago and that I had paid more attention to the rich blogosphere. Of course, that is not to say that the blogosphere is entirely good; most of the blogs are not that interesting or well-written (that probably includes mine), and most of them are not very thoughtful or carry too much bias of dogma (see the above excerpt on moderation or my own rant about lack of moderation), but there are enough gems out there that all this is much more satisfying than watching yet another movie or the other mundane things that I could do to fill my free time.

Anyway, that's enough of me gabbing on about this topic. I've been blogging and reading blogs for nearly a month now, and I've learned a lot. For one, I have learned that my features wish-list for the blogging system that I use has grown a bit lot. Remember what I said** about kBlog 0.1.0 being nearly feature-complete? Never let a non-blogger decide what features would be nice. I'm currently in the middle of a major overhaul (most of it is stuff that visitors won't notice) of kBlog (version 0.3.0), so that will occupy my free time for a few days, and I'll probably end up doing a couple more versions to add new features after that before finally going for 1.0. I've considered moving to one of the mainstream blogging software packages, but the hassle of installing, configuring, and migrating to something like Wordpress is simply not worth it (and I hate reading manuals), especially since the hassle of hacking up Perl to add some pet features to kBlog would probably about the same, and, most importantly, I'm too comfortable with the control and flexibility of using an in-house system, and for a control freak like me, that means something. ;)

* I started browsing the WWW back in the days of Netscape 1. I used VoIP for the first time in the 90's when AIM added voice to one of its betas. I got a Hotmail account back when it was the Gmail of its era, before it was bought by Microsoft. I first encountered Google back when it was a little-known beta with a very, very crappy-looking logo. I've installed Mozilla-based browsers since Mozilla 0.6, and used Firefox long before it was named Firefox. So I would at least like to think that I keep up with technology. ;)

** That reminds me, I never did get around to posting the kBlog source code. Oh well. I'll post the source when 0.3.0 is finished.

Potpourri (Random Stuff)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Keywords: Economics, Politics, Technology, Potpourri

"Dark Matter" in Economics

As mentioned in the latest issue of The Economist, there is a recently-published economic theory about something called economic "dark matter", which tries to explain why, despite having a huge negative account balance (i.e., our debt to the rest of the world), the US has a net positive flow of capital returns, which suggests a positive account balance. The idea here is that we are underestimating our true foreign account balance, much like how "dark matter" in physics serves as a fudge to account for what appears to be an underestimation of the amount of matter in the universe.

In depth: http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/setser/113810

Ignoring the Facts

There's an interesting article about how people, once they have made up their minds on an issue, will tune out things that contradict that view, hampering rational judgment and discourse. This comes as no surprise. For example, I've noticed this in the debate about abortion, and even in personal interactions (i.e., how one's perceptions of others' actions are very strongly colored by how one already views other people). It's just interesting to see a scientific confirmation of this.

On that note, I wonder if this is how religions work: there are some who tend to attribute positive things that happen to them to God while glossing over the many neutral or negative events. And to be fair, I've also spent quite a bit of time wondering how much of this "filtering" colors the views of atheists.

Google Reader

There's a shocking lack of good RSS readers for Windows. Sage is nice, except that the interface is a bit awkward (probably because it's a Firefox extension). Thunderbird displays the whole page instead of just the content from the feed (plus, I don't use Thunderbird anyway). Opera's reader was okay, except that I don't use Opera. And all the other readers are either bloated, slow, .NET-based (eewww), and/or clumsy in implementation. I was so tempted to just write my own. But I thought that it might be worthwhile to try some web-based readers, so I first tried Bloglines, but the interface was clumsy at best. And then, I discovered Google Reader, and I'm impressed. A well-written software reader would still be better, but this comes close enough.

Google Sitemaps

Although the Google Sitemaps tool has been around for some months now, I didn't know that it existed until today. I'm going to try it out tonight; it looks like it could be pretty useful.

This entry was edited on 2006/01/25 at 17:36:13 GMT -0500.