Knowledge is Never Useless

Friday, May 17, 2013 at 07:10 PM

"When am I ever going to use that?" Is a question that I heard a lot back in high school, but I still heard it disturbing often throughout my time in college. Sometimes, it's about something that is abstract, like mathematics; sometimes it's something that seems to have little bearing on one's chosen career, such as literature for an engineer or science for a classicist. I have mentioned before why history is important, but today I'm going to talk about knowledge in general. Specifically, why all knowledge is useful, and there is never a piece of knowledge that you will "never use."

Let's take our "literature for an engineer" as an example. Obviously, nonfiction literature has its uses in engineering, but what about pure fiction? Maybe a book like Lord Foul's Bane or Wuthering Heights. Surely, these must have no practical application in engineering! Wrong. Books expose you to new ideas and ways of thinking, and even works of fiction (creative falsehoods) will expand your viewpoints and allow you to think differently than you have before. The same, of course, goes for learning science and the scientific method even if your job and life are never involved with actual science. Learning that material causes you to be able to think in new, different, and sometimes innovating and exciting ways. Ways you never would have thought of before.

In fact, all knowledge is like that. Whether or not you can use it immediately in your life (often times, you actually can, unless you get into really esoteric stuff), it becomes added to your brain's manifest, the ideas it draws upon to think and both comes up with novel ideas and to solve existing problems. It helps you think, and the more you're exposed to, the greater your ability to think, and the greater your ability to appreciate other ideas that you may not have

 
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"The Cloud" Part II

Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 07:43 PM

Last week I talked about the dangers and cautions that are associated with the cloud. Now, in my addendum, I mentioned that there are plenty of awesome things about the cloud. Today, I'm going to talk about those things.

First of all, if you can find a cloud-based storage medium that you find decently covers all the dangers that I outlined in my last post, cloud-stored data can be pretty awesome, as many of you already know. Being able to access your documents from anywhere, and work on them anywhere and have that update for every device is incredibly convenient. The cloud is the new flash drive, and is more convenient because you don't need to remember to carry around a physical object, just your log in information.

But what is even better is cloud-based software. Now I mentioned the other week that some always-online DRM is pretty shitty, vis-a-vis The Sims. However, Steam uses cloud-based DRM, and because of the cloud nature of it, you can play your games anywhere you can install the client software. Still DRM, but not as intrusive or clunky. Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, et al are all cloud-based, and they offer things you could never have done a decade ago—watch as many movies and TV shows as you'd like, instantly, for $8 a month, do whatever it is that Spotify does (I don't use it). Content distribution via the cloud, even with DRM, need not be intrusive or horrible, and can actually offer the customer much more than conventional means ever could.

And now we have the final frontier: completely cloud-based software. Software that may store things on your computer or device, but only temporarily. This software does everything it needs to from the cloud, and, as such, the user experience is uniform across all devices and systems. Not only that, but everything done in the software carries over when you

 
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"The Cloud"

Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 05:24 PM

"The Cloud" or "Cloud-based" is a phrase you hear quite a lot about services and products now, and it's a somewhat interesting trend. The principle involves moving both data storage and processing of your device—be it a computer, phone, console, whatever—and on to server farms which you have no ownership of. While some of it certainly makes sense, as it may be content that you don't own (for example, Netflix), or processing that your device can't handle, it's dangerous to depend entirely upon external devices to deal with everything, including your data. For example, the new Chromebooks are almost entirely cloud-based, to the point where you can do almost nothing on them when they are not online. There are hints at always-online DRM on new consoles and devices, which would prevent you from playing a game that you own (purchased), unless you were connected to the company's servers. While many people resent the DRM scheme (in part because many resent DRM in any form), most people seem to be accepting the cloud without a second thought, which is harmful, because it merits one.

When you save things to places that are not your computer, quite often you forfeit part of your ownership rights—take, for example, the IMAP email protocol. Now, the alternative, POP, is somewhat terrible, but what IMAP does is store all your emails on the receiving server, and then allow you to view them from any computer, anywhere. This leads to the government and other organizations not really considering your emails as either your property or as a completely private communication. And while that is just emails, what about your data? So many people save their important documents to Google drive, or Dropbox, without a second thought as to ownership of the medium. But that's far from the o

 
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Ill Internet Repute

Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 08:02 PM

Earlier this week, Gerry Rogers (Canadian) was removed from the House of Assembly for refusing to apologize for comments other people made on a facebook group that she had unknowingly become a part of. As those who manage to keep current with the ever-increasing pervasive insanity of facebook and its policies know, if you have a facebook account, you can be added to any group without your knowledge or consent, and must take steps the remove yourself. Now, it seems the people here did not understand that, and demanded that she apologize for things she never said nor supported nor even knew were said. She quite rightly refused. Now, if this were to happen in the U.S., I would like to think that it would be moot due to freedom of association, but I'm not sure. I'm neither a lawyer nor a politician (though I hear there's a lot of overlap between the two). The central point in this, though, is how much responsibility must we take to look after what may be said at, about, or around us in an online world where our real names and identities are increasingly prevalent?

There is an important point to be made here about the understanding of technology, and those who make legislation and pass judgement needing a thorough understanding of it, but, as that is something that is unlikely to happen, we need to look at the issue of what could be considered our "online reputation." I have previously expounded upon the virtues of anonymity, and the death of it on the online world, but this isn't necessarily about that. What we're considering here is an area where you have voluntarily exposed your identity, and now may need to worry about, not what you say or do,

 
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Some Words on Bioshock Infinite

Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 07:13 PM

First off, let me say that I cannot sing enough praise for Bioshock Infinite, because, on the whole, it is a fantastic game. That being said, there are some small issues I had with it, but one of them was not its violence. In many reviews, I've seen people lamenting the violence in Infinite, claiming that it detracts from the meaning or weight of the game. This, quite frankly, is a load of shit. The common thread that I see is that people wish there was either (a) no violence at all, or (b) a nonviolent option. Both of these things would detract from the game as a whole, because the violence is woven into the story of the game itself. It's not a simple story with a shooter tacked onto it. The two are woven together such that they cannot be disentangled without serious repercussions to both. The violence in-game is a direct result of the story, there is simply no way you would be able to navigate the story the game trances and never get in fights with the Columbia militia, or the Vox later in the game (oh, right spoilers. No more, I promise). Removing the violence would make the game ring somewhat hollow, for both story and character reasons.

The thing many seem to neglect is that you are playing as a character in this game, Booker DeWitt. Unlike in previous Bioshock titles, where you were a named character, but had no written personality, allowing you to insert yourself into the character, Booker has a history (which is incredibly important to the game), and a definite character. And that history and character do not lend themselves to nonviolence. Maybe if you didn't care about the character development or the integration of Booker into the game story line, you could try to hack in a nonviolent means of combat, but anyone who played it expecting total cohesion would be lost by the disconnect between Booker's actions and his personality. Just because you may not lik

 
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Prolific Piracy

Monday, March 11, 2013 at 07:37 PM

This may be an unpopular opinion to have on the internet, but I'm not a huge fan of piracy. This does not, however, stem from any sort of unnatural sympathy for corporate monstrosities like the RIAA or the MPAA, but from the motivation of my peers (ha, peers. Torrent joke) when it comes to downloading. See, I have a job, and that job makes me money, so when I want some form of entertainment, be it a movie or music or a game, piracy is not something I tend to resort to. With games especially, regardless of intrusive DRM (which is actually why I've been a console gamer as of late), I pony up the cash. I'm buying a game (singular), and it's supporting the game developers. When it comes to movies or music, it's a bit more difficult, because digital distribution hasn't always caught up to things. So many movies and TV shows are rather unobtainable legally online, at least without having to end up paying for a bunch of other shit I don't ever want, as this comic by The Oatmeal illustrates very well. But my point is, that if the media is there for me to purchase (basically, if someone has made the architecture), then I will opt for paying for it rather than attempting to find it via other means. The problem is, this is not necessarily the case with all my compatriots.

I don't mean to sound elitist here. Not everyone has spare money to do this, or may have other issues (though I run linux—just getting netflix or amazon instant to work right is a trial). But, given the choice, many people I know will still opt to download media rather than pay for it. Some will attempt to justify it it some way (Penny Arcade comic), but I think that it simply comes down to not wanting to pay for it. And I have a guess as to why: it's digital.

When you go to the store and

 
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Humanity is Not Unnatural

Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 09:20 PM

One of the things I see a lot in environmental arguments is the repeated phrase that "humanity (or human actions) is destroying nature," or that our actions are "against nature," or even, as some put it "unnatural." What people who argue this point seem to completely disregard is the notion that any other species can perform transgressions against nature, separating "nature" from "humanity" with an artificial divide that only reflects their own human-centric nature. Creating this divide allows them the conceit of ignoring simple facts about other species. Examples such as birds changing "nature" to their whim via nest-building, or insects and worms destroying trees and plants, or even the the tent-caterpillar decimating whole forests. They ignore ants that literally farm other species, like humans with cattle, and change their own environment so immensely it's a wonder naturalists don't view them, too, as a threat to nature. But it's ok, because that's "natural." By adding this artificial division, they allow themselves to call out the changing of the environment by humanity as wrong, but will praise such similar modifications by any other species as natural and good. This division is arbitrary, absurd, and intellectually dishonest.

The idea that other species, albeit to a lesser degree to humanity, modify nature as well begs the final question: whether being human-centric is inherently wrong. In nature, every species must put its own well-being and survival at prime import, with everything else becoming secondary. In order for any species to survive, it must be selfish and put its own needs and wants above all else. Historically, we have used our highly-evolved brains to master and subvert our surroundings, allowing us to best any other living crea

 
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Other's Crimes Are Now Your Responsibility

Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 06:57 PM

You know what's awesome? How the government doesn't understand computers very well, and how they love to throw their weight around. What I'm referencing now is the story of a programmer who wrote gambling software that he sold to clients outside the U.S., who is being charged for "promoting gambling" (earlier charges of money laundering and operating an illegal enterprise we dropped, but not before a SWAT team stormed his house and threatened him and his wife). This is utterly preposterous. Holding a person guilty for the crimes of his clients is ridiculous at best, but that is what the government is attempting to do in this case.

I'm going to put this in a more concrete manner for those of you (looking at you, gov't) who don't really seem to understand it. Let's say I'm a gun manufacturer. I make a gun that is perfectly legal, and sell it to a store which sells guns, legally. Now, that store sells it to a person, also legally, who them uses it to kill someone. Who is at fault? You'd have to be batshit insane to try to blame the manufacturer, and even blaming the store is kind of shaky. But that's what's happening here. This programmer licenses his software to a company located and operating outside the U.S., where gambling is legal (which, seriously, why the fuck is it illegal so many places in the U.S.? There is no good reason that isn't some bullshit moral argument), who then sub-license it to another company, who may then use it within the U.S. The man who wrote the software is not, and should not be at fault. However, now we get to the meat of it, and probably the real reason he's been charged: the offered plea bargain.

He was offered a plea bargain where he would plead guilty to some of the crimes (which he was not guilty of), and then write in a back-door to his so

 
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Videogames Do Not Cause Massacres

Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 08:27 PM

It's been a few weeks since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, and, naturally the finger-pointing has begun. In reality, it began much closer to the end of the tragedy, but out of respect for those families who were impacted I haven't brought it up yet. However, the neighborhood of Southington, Connecticut (close to Newtown) will be holding a trade-in even for "violent videogames." This in itself wouldn't be so bad, if not for the bit where they claim "that there is ample evidence that violent video games, along with violent media of all kinds, including TV and movies portraying story after story showing a continuous stream of violence and killing, has contributed to increasing aggressiveness, fear, anxiety and is desensitizing our children to acts of violence including bullying." Well, this is more or less an outright lie. I have nothing but sympathy for those whose loved ones were killed in this event, but it benefits no one to attempt to pin the blame on other things. People like the shooter do these terrible things because they are deranged, not because of violent media, in particular videogames. This issue, of course, has been covered before, with every other shooting that has happened since the advent of videogames delving into the mainstream. Before that, it was rap that was blamed, before that, rock & roll.

But why do we do this? Well, it's the generations that don't partake in or understand the media which they assign the blame to—it's a lack of understanding and a need to place the blame for this type of incident on something tangible, something that we can alter. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. While this shooter was a fan of games like Call of Duty, many previous ones, notably the Virginia Tech shooter, never played videogames. Eve

 
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Windows 8 Review

Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 03:39 PM

So, I've been thinking a bit about today's bloc post. See, I was going to review Windows 8, but then I felt that I wasn't really a review blogger. Then I realized that this is my blog, and I'll blog about whatever the hell I want. So, here's my review of Windows 8.

On Friday, I found myself in a Windows store. I went there to torture employees, because I'm not allowed in some Apple stores anymore, and I can't stand everything about them anyway. So, I went about my business messing around with the devices, and starting by asking some basic UI questions of employees. Now, I find this next sentence very difficult to say (or write): I actually like Windows 8. However, this statement needs a very necessary qualifier: I like the Windows 8 user interface. It's clear that a lot of effort went into it—it's both aesthetically well-rounded and surprisingly easy and, dare I say, fun, to use. This isn't to say that it's completely intuitive. I spent a decent amount of time making futile gestures trying to bring back the URL bar in IE, for example. But when things work, you feel like a wizard. Unfortunately, the things I like about Windows 8 stop there. It's time for what I do best: pointing out flaws.

The Windows 8 default interface is simply shitty on anything that isn't a touch screen. If you're thinking about buying a Windows 8 computer that isn't a touch screen device, or thinking about updating your existing system to 8 (because DirectX 11 will only be on 8, for example), don't. Windows 8 is designed for touch screens to the point of being harder to use than any previous Windows OS's with a mouse. This isn't the only UI problem, though. Many applications (including Office) revert back to the traditional Windows desktop (sans start bar) to open. This change is jarring and ill-b

 
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Scientists Aren't Fortune-Tellers

Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 07:07 PM

So, who knows what happened on Monday in Italy? That's right, six scientists were convicted on manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake. When I first read this, I had no words to express the breadth and depth of my outrage and disappointment. Even now, I struggle. Let's repeat this verdict to really let it sink in:

Six scientists were tried and convicted of manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake that ended up killing people.

How did any court make this decision and not realize how outrageously idiotic it was? Do we try police detectives for failing to stop crime from happening? Do we convict programmers for failing to stop hacks before they even happen? Science is not fucking magic. It can't predict the future. All science can do it make reasonable guesses based upon our current data and understanding. And, this may come as a shock to you, Italy, but seismology isn't the most precise science, because it's pretty fucking complicated. The scientists who didn't order the evacuation of that town were following protocol, because the slight tremor didn't seem to pose enough of a risk to warrant it. There are 18,000 earthquakes that register on seismographs every year. Do you want to evacuate every time one does? No. So we have to make projections. Sometimes those projections are wrong, because the Earth is all kinds of unpredictable—honestly, it's a goddamn miracle that we can even predict a portion of earthquakes. Science is never certain. Science cannot tell you the future. And, when things go wrong, you cant blame science and those who practice it any more than you can blame the Earth for not behaving the way we expected it to.

When disasters happen, people always want to pin the bla

 
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Everyone Else Sucks (or do they?)

Sunday, October 21, 2012 at 08:31 PM

Quick: do you know what astrological sign you are? How about your Myers-Briggs personality type? How much stock do you put in either one? Do you like being in your sign/type? How about those other people, who aren't it. They're the worst, am I right? Well, fuck you, because astrology is demonstrably bullshit, and identifying and iconifying yourself with semi-random groupings and disregarding others is just as stupid.

I know that I've touched upon the idea of groupthink before, and this kind of stacks on top of that. This comes down the idea of groups or teams, and the fact that just about every human alive needs to identify with them, and vilify all others. We see it around us everywhere: political parties, sports teams, careers, etc. all give us some identifying trait. "I'm a Republican," or "I'm a Sox fan" (because fuck the Yankees). Even better, these statements typically come up in defending the group you see yourself as a part of (although many Republicans/Democrats seldom agree with everything their party stands for), and attacking the other group. "I'm a physics major, because it's the only real science." "I'm INTP, man, ENSJ's are the worst." That sort of idiocy. We feel the physical need to identify with a group, and dehumanize other groups that may be "competing." Why? Because evolution.

Evolution, being the crafty motherfucker that it is, ingrained our brains with all sorts of useful quirks. I've talked about Dunbar's Number before, which is basically both the number of human beings that we can conceptualize as people, and also the approximate number of humans that would be in our primitive tribes. Now, all these tribes would usually be competi

 
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Religiously Political

Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 06:05 PM

Complete this sentence: Religion is to politics as oil is to _____________.

Give up? If you're like many of our outstanding politicians in the good old United States, you would have (in that case, the answer is water. Because oil and water don't mix). At the risk of sounding repetitive, I'm going to again quote the first amendment to the United States Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Before we hit any possibly ambiguous commas, we already see the phrase "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." Well, what does that mean? It means that every goddamn law that is passed by congress cannot hold any religious value. It means that passing legislation on things like gay marriage or abortion or (not) teaching science (to name a few) violates the first amendment. If your stance on an issue comes from religion, great, more power to you. However, if you then push that religion-based stance on an issue upon everyone else in the country (especially those who are not part of your religion), that's undeniably wrong. Stop being a bigoted fuckwad and assuming that your morality and religion should be forced upon everyone. Yet all these politicians continue to bring God and religion into damn near everything they do. In the presidential debate this week, Mitt Romney decided to go on an unrelated tangent abo

 
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Science is Not "Anti-Religion"

Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 05:18 PM

So, the other day in videotaped remarks, a wonderful member of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology claimed that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell" (Boston Herald), with the intent to convince people that they do not need a savior.

Oh, so another Republican is being a horribly fundamental religious idiot again and—wait, the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology? Something has gone terribly, horribly wrong.

you can have whatever kind of silly beliefs you want, I don't begrudge—well, I do begrudge you for them, but I stand by your right to have them. But if part of your job involves being on a committee that is about making decisions on matters of science, you need to understand some fucking science. And, more to the point, you need to stop and realize that science is not against yours or any religion. If you feel threatened by it, it's because you either don't understand it, refuse to understand it, or want to desperately cling to antiquated and contradicting beliefs. Let me briefly explain:

Science, when it is done right (which it usually is, because science has a thing called "oversight," where other scientists check the results of each other to make sure that everything is right to the best of our knowledge), it about finding the truth. It's about finding answers to the questions of the universe. Sometimes they're simple answers: why do things fall? Gravity. Why do the planets orbit the way they do? Also Gravity (That's Newton in a nutshell, by the way). Sometimes the answers are more complicated: Why are there so many diverse species? Why are there ones that are now extinct? Why

 
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Don't Use the Bible to Back Your Bigotry

Monday, September 24, 2012 at 05:17 PM

Oh man, heated words in the title. Bible and Bigotry. However, I'm not advocating that the Bible promotes bigotry, but that bigoted fuckheads try to back up their own bigotry by way of the Bible. Because they're bigoted fuckheads. I'm not going to quote any specific examples here (though there are many), instead, I'm opting to point out the ridiculous fallacies that these people fall into while attempting to use millenia-old religious text to purport their decidedly current hateful worldview.

Citing explicit rules from the Bible, usually Leviticus. Man, this is a favorite of these people. They like to point out their isolated passages and then claim that the Bible outlaws such behavior/speech/existence. Well, I, unlike many of these morons, have read the damn book, and Leviticus has more idiocy than your typical Apple convention. Here are a few choice passages:

"Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee." (Leviticus 19:19)

Oh, great. We can't mingle things—livestock, crops, or clothing. Sounds perfectly reasonable and not at all arbitrary. Let's keep going:

"For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him." (Leviticus 20:9)

Alright, a bit more strict. If I talk back to my parents I get straight-up murdered. Do you people kill your kids when they talk back? I'd love to see that defense in court.

"Only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the LORD do sanctify them." (Leviticus 21:23)

The bits before this on

 
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Newton and Leibniz

Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 09:19 PM

In an extraordinarily rare occurrence, this blog post actually ties in with a comic, in fact, the comic sharing this post's name. Since only some mathematicians and physicists, philosophers, and historians know what the deal with Newton and Leibniz was, I've decided to talk a bit about both the whole calculus debacle and the people themselves. Because knowledge is awesome.

You probably know Newton as the Physicist/Mathematician who invented calculus and all-around badass (he was also a theologian, but that's because he came from a wealthy family, and that's just what you did). He basically set classical mechanics into motion (I'm choosing to ignore prior works that also did this, namely those of Galileo and Kepler), and revolutionized thinking, giving rise to a whole new philosophical crisis. He was also undeniably bat-shit insane. He was heavily into alchemy, poked shit into his eye socket to figure out optical properties (oh, right, he's also the father of optics. Dud was a fucking boss), and had all sorts of bizarre eccentricities. Even so, he published the crazy-well-known work Philosophić Naturalis Principia Mathematica, usually just referred to by Principia (pronounced "Prin-kip-ee-ah," because it's Latin, motherfuckers), in which he described the hitherto-nonexistent (or was it?) body of math known as calculus.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is the proud bearer of the "More Awesome Name" award, and was a German mathematician and philosopher (because back then those two were sort of combined. Because that makes sense, more philosophers today should have to learn some goddamn math). He had a decent amount of philosophical influence (you may have heard of his "Principle of Sufficient Reason" (and it's parody in Voltaire's Candide)), and also published a body of work describing the hitherto-

 
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Anonymous Absolution

Sunday, September 16, 2012 at 04:55 PM

Quick quiz: What do facebook and Google have in common, besides a social network? They both have a vested interest in knowing everything about you, and having you use their services for everything possible to further that end. In fact, you can log in with facebook or Google to many sites out there, throwing around your real identity like it means nothing. For many of you, this is just how the internet is, and how it always has been. So, to preface this blog post, I'm going to take a little trip back in time with you, to around the year 2005 (yes, that recently). Just seven years ago, the internet was a very, very different place. Myspace was a thing back then, for example. But that's beside the point. The real thing I'm going to toss out here is how the web acted socially.

For those of you old enough, and who were active online back then, you'll remember forums. They were "the thing" for a while before facebook dominated the social scene, and they would allow people with common interests to join up and discuss things in a community. They still exist, but they're not nearly as prevelant as they were. And, best of all, you never gave them your name. You supplied a username, oft-times an email, and that was it. Then, you could talk with everyone from behind the veil of semi-anonymity. If you were so inclined, you would use the same username across many sites, but there was no obligation. In fact, there were many places that would simply allow you to be anonymous in your postings (some places still do).

Flash forward to today: people use their real name everywhere. There is legislation out there in the works to try to pin your name to everything you ever do online. There are bastions of anonymity (e.g. 4chan), but many are looked down upon as either decadent or downright wrong. People cry out that anonymity allows for cyber-bullying and other such things, as well as the lulzsec fiasco and the continuing

 
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Innovation Doesn't Happen When You're a Dickwad

Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 06:23 PM

While it's been some time since the whole patent debacle involving Samsung and Apple, I'm going to touch on it because of a recent comment by Steve Wozniak. In case you don't know, Wozniak was the actual innovator behind Apple, and the co-founder of the company. He also had something to say about the patent dispute: "I hate it. I don’t think the decision of California will hold. And I don’t agree with it—very small things I don’t really call that innovative." He also said "I wish everybody would just agree to exchange all the patents and everybody can build the best forms they want to use everybody’s technologies." Hopeless idealism aside (he doesn't seem to realize how much of an asshole Apple is, they would rather stifle competition than actually innovate), he makes a good point. First of all, I thought that Lotus v. Borland had settled that you can't copyright a user interface. Second, attempting to sue competition out of existence because their product has similarities to yours, when you both manufacture the same type of product is sheer idiocy. You don't see HP suing Dell over the similarities between their laptops, or vacuum cleaner companies suing each other for similarities. Mostly, because these companies understand that other companies also make products like theirs. Apple's attitude is frankly childish, and destructive to the market (MAD notwithstanding, but it's already swinging into effect with counter-suits from the andriod market). But back to Wozniak's point: innovation and good technology.

When you can't make something one way because of patents, or you have t

 
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All-Natural, Using Up Nature

Sunday, September 9, 2012 at 06:05 PM

So, very recently a study came out claiming that organic fruits and veggies aren't any healthier than their non-organic counterparts. Now, I see this as the nail in the coffin for any redeeming qualities in organic foods, but I'm sure many of you disagree. Well then, let's go over why buying organic is stupid.

Well, first and foremost, organic foods are nearly universally more expensive. "Well, duh," you say, "you're paying more for better food." But, are you really? Can you taste the difference? Well, most people claim to be able to, but why don't we apply some science to this connundrum? Well, in an actual blind experiment (read: not your "oh, I know this one's organic, so I think it tastes better" ordeals), it turns out that organic food is actually less tasty than "normal" food. Fancy that. Similar experiments have been done, and I'm going to mention one of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! experiments where they asked people to identify, by taste, which food were organic (result: no one accurately could), and where they split non-organic fruits in half, and informed people that one half was organic and the other non. In that case, these shoppers would nearly universally pin the "organic" one as being tastier. It's the same idea as with wine. When told that a cheap wine is more expensive than it actually is, people believe it to be tastier. However, most people can't tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine in a blind taste test. What I'm getting at here is that it's basically a confirmation bias, or a form of the placebo effect.

 
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Presumptuous Party Problems

Monday, August 20, 2012 at 05:37 PM

Let's pose a question: what is the singular worst thing about the United States political system? Is it the corruption? The corporate involvement? The obscene amounts of money in politics? These are all tremendously shitty, but I'd argue that the biggest problem is our two-party system. The black-and-white idiocy that has done nothing but strengthen its hold on politics for decades. Let's look at some reasons:

When did "Republican" become synonymous with "religious" and often "intolerant" (e.g. anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-women, etc.)? When did being "more conservative" become a thing that someone says to claim to be a better candidate? Let's look at actual conservatism. Being politically conservative means that you aim for as little government interference as possible. So, are you gay? Do you want to marry? Sure, whatever. Do what you want, we don't care. Conservatives are also supposed to believe in laissez-faire, and hold off from making many laws that stick their fingers into business. What can we think of that republicans were pushing for recently? Oh, right. SOPA. Fuck that. Anecdote time: if you can't tell by the things I say and do, I'm conservative. I'm also an atheist, find a lot of the shit that the government has been helping corporations accomplish repulsive, and have no beef with women (I'm a classical feminist‐I see women as being equal) those of differing sexual orientations than I. But I can't call myself a Republican, because they don't really agree with my views, despite claiming to be conservative. If they actually were, they shouldn't be meddling with our lives so much, and they should be keeping their goddamn religion out of politics, like actual conservatives.

Of course, I'm not only going to pick on the Republicans. The Democrats are just as bad, what with acts like the NDAA, or the ACTA support. Admittedly, they stay close

 
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The Magnanimity of Mars

Monday, August 6, 2012 at 02:36 PM

Last night (or rather, this morning), NASA's Curiosity rover touched down on Mars. There were many people, myself included, who watched the event unfold, albeit at a 14-minute delay due to limitations concerning the speed of light, via live streaming at NASA's website. However, there were many more people who didn't even know that anything happened. And make no mistake, this is a big deal. Not only is it the most complex landing that's been attempted, but it also is the largest rover we've put on Mars, and in the best place to study, due to the ability we now have to greatly narrow the landing site's uncertainty.

Why is this? Well, first off, people don't seem to be nearly as interested in space exploration as they should be. When you bring it up, most don't care, and the more vocative among them tend to talk about how it doesn't help cure cancer or make jobs or whatever pet cause they decide to adopt at the time. These people are wrong. Space exploration certainly creates jobs (it's just STEM jobs, which these people don't want), and, as for the "curing cancer" and that sort of bullshit, these people are completely unfamiliar with how science works. You don't just decide on an end goal like curing cancer, and do it. There have to be advances. And, better than most other fields of study, space exploration tends to advance the fuck out of science. You know what would make it better? Actually funding NASA. And don't give me that "private space exploration" bullshit. That's commercial, and therefore profit is still the bottom line. NASA is there for science, and as such it can do a lot more to advance science than these private firms. And NASA isn't that well-funded, despite what you may think. It takes up less than 1% of our national budget. So let's spare them some mon

 
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Fashionably Silly

Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 06:53 PM

It was suggested of me to write a bit about the fashion industry, and, while I've covered designer products before, I'm going to take a slightly different stab at fashion this time: that is, the idea of anything being "in fashion" year-to-year.

While I understand that some things which are fashionable are also good-looking (a suit never goes out of style), there are also some horrendous things created in the name of fashion. When we look back upon the nineties or eighties or seventies, or really any decade, we always criticize their fashion (e.g. legwarmers, shoulder pads, etc.). What we don't do is look at our own styles and question their ridiculousness. But rest assured, they are ridiculous. Wearing your pants somewhere around your crotch region, or crocs, or v-neck shirts on guys (or many of the things hipsters wear), all look atrocious. "But Austin!" you may cry out, "That's just your opinion!" Yes. Yes it is. But I challenge you to try to tell me why those things look good in any way, besides that everyone else buys into it and wears it.

The biggest problem with current fashion, of course (and I'm targeting women more than men here, I don't mean to be sexist, it's just that the fashion industry seems to have a more deep-set footing in your gender), is the "current" part of it. Fashion has to change on a year-to-year basis, because they need to sell you more clothing. Well, not everything can look good. You can't change styles year-to-year without repeating (which they

 
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Walled Gardens Lack Exotic Flora

Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 08:25 PM

So, recent news is that Gabe Newell is apparently calling Windows 8 a catastrophe. I don't necessarily disagree with him, and that's because Microsoft is making that bad decision of following Apple's lead, in making all software available through an app store (well, all software that runs on the "metro" interface). This so-called "walled garden" approach is never a good answer, for the reason I stated metaphorically in the title.

The biggest problem with an app store is that it restricts development. Ignoring the 30% cut that Microsoft gets of all sales through the store (Apple does the same), everything that appears in the store has to be approved. We see this issue in Apple's app store, where they remove apps for arbitrary reasons, or don't allow any apps that might do something similar to what they already made ones for. One of the reasons Android is popular is because, while it has the Google Play store, it also allows you to install apps from anywhere. You write or download an Android app, and you can run it. One of the better things about Windows was that there was no dearth of applications for it to do just about anything—because anyone could write them, put them online for you to download, and you could run them. Yes, this led to there being more malware for Windows, but in this case I'd argue the benefits outweigh the detriments. When you close off that avenue, you've destroyed one of the valuable things about Windows—its openness. You've begun restricting users and keeping them from being able to do what they want with a product that they purchased from you, and that seems just downright silly. Yes, you can switch to Linux, and

 
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The Price of Cooperation

Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 07:19 PM

We are, by nature, social creatures. Except for the occasional outlier, the herd instinct runs in us, and being part of social groups is almost as vital to us as food, water, air, or shelter. This was great evolutionarily, as living within social structures helped us immeasurably to grow and develop, but it also betrays us in some sneaky, underhanded ways. I'm referring to a phenomena known as groupthink.

If you don't know what groupthink is, allow me to briefly elucidate you. Groupthink is a psychological event in which members of a group begin valuing group synergy and protection above all else, including basic morailty. We see this in extreme cases when small groups of people do terrible things and seem to think that they're well-justified. Groupthink relies not only upon the slavish dedication of each member of the group to the idea and protection of the group over all else, but also upon the wonderful phenomena of rationalization. Many fiascos have been attributed to this, such as the Bay of Pigs, which history buffs will recall as a stupid idea. But it's not reallt the big things that should ultimately worry is, it's the fact that the potential for groupthink is present in every one of us. In our social circles, we believe that each person is a unique and interesting gem, worthy of any biography. Conversely, we believe that others outside these circles tend to be drab, dull, boorish people who aren't nearly as interesting as us. But think: each of us believes this. We can't all be interesting if some of us are blase, and vis versa. We can blame Dunbar's Number and other such psychological effects, but we have to acknow

 
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Novelty Doesn't Last

Monday, July 16, 2012 at 07:34 PM

So, it turns out that 3D is faltering. In fact, it's been phrased that the "3D bubble has burst." I, for one, am not at all surprised. Because 3D, at least in its current incarnation, is stupid, and it was only a matter of time before people began realizing that. Current 3D technology is only barely better than those silly red-blue anaglyph 3D glasses, and those were in the vogue for a bit before dying out, too. The problem is with novelty. As a species, we tend to latch onto things that are novel. That's cool, new things are typically interesting and different. So investigating them is certainly warranted. However, many executives and other such people don't seem to understand the difference between novelty curiosity and a long-lasting interest. Hell, even most people normally can't seem to effectively ascertain the difference, and are surprised when interest wanes. And I'm not just talking about 3D movies here.

Novelty is everywhere, and governs our actions all the time. As I said, as a species, we like new things. However, those new things often fail to be sufficiently interesting or beneficial or whatever else to keep us occupied after a time, and, as the saying goes, "the novelty wears off." We see this with relationships, with the so-called "honeymoon phase," or in new purchases, which lead to aptly labeled "buyer's remorse." New doesn't mean better, or more interesting, or more fun. It just means new. But people are consistently surprised when they grow bored or disinterested of these new things. We need to get better an distinguishing between new things that are beneficial, and new things that are simply new. 3D is not really beneficial; it costs more, it's shitty quality, makes everything darker and blurrier, and requires silly glasses and a precise viewing angle. Until it gets better, it's simply "new." H

 
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Blerg About the Derg

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 03:19 PM

What is the Derg, besides a funny sounding werd? The Derg was an Ethiopian communist regime that ruled until 1987. Why am I talking about the Derg? Because fuck you, that's why.

The Derg were formally known as the Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, and originally were a group of junta (such a great word. Learned it in seventh grade and haven't had a serious context to use it in sense. Until now) who seized power after the dictator/Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1975. Originally popularly supported, they quickly fell out of the good opinions of the public when the mass executions began. Oh, did I mention they did those? Yeah, between 1975 and 1977 there was an era known as the "Red Terror." During that, all political opponents to the Derg were gathered and summarily executed. Even better (well, worse), during 1985 there was a famine in Ethiopia which garnered much charitable support (notably from Oxfam and Live Aid) which went to use by the Derg to displace millions of citizens and kill anywhere between fifty and one hundred thousand.

The Derg fell out of power in 1987, but the leading members of this junta group remained in authority positions in the new regime. Due to both the fall of the Soviet Union and the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, the new regime fell out of power in 1991. Finally, in 2007 several leading members of the Derg were found guilty of genocide, and were executed in 2008. And now you know a little more about the Derg. And I wrote all this just because it's a silly sounding word.

 
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Negating Net Neutrality

Monday, July 2, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Some people may recall that I mentioned a news story about various ISPs being total dickwads, and going all "anti-piracy" on their users. Now, I'm not here to advocate piracy, but I certainly don't agree with these anti-piracy measures. This so-called "six strikes policy" is rife with issues, like most internet litigation. But there's one, big, fucking huge flaw.

Motherfucking Net Neutrality, dumbasses

When your anti-piracy measures include throttling connections or internet disconnections, this is a problem. If they want to get all litigious on our asses with their "lost profits" (which is totally false—Avengers was both the most-pirated movie of all time, but also grossed the highest of any motion picture), or whatever other sputtering excuses the RIAA/MPAA are making now, I can get litigious right back: we live in a world where the UN has declared internet access to be a human right, and doing away with that would be a nice violation of our rights (oh, wait, America is too good for the UN). But shaky legislation aside, it's more about the principle of it. ISPs should not be allowed, for any reason, to treat any citizen's internet connection differently—this is what leads to preferential treatment or throttling services (or outright blocking) that might compete. This is not a good path. Even if the intentions are pure (which they fucking aren't, and everyone knows that), there is a phrase that reads something like "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." We're on that road, and it's not paved with intentions of any sort of good, but of th

 
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See the Logic Lacking in the System

Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 08:28 PM

Sometimes people show me things. Sometimes these things make me sad. This is one of them. In case you don't want to read the article, it can be summed up thusly:

Some Lousiana Christian schools want to teach "intelligent design," or "creationism," or whatever they feel like calling it. They want to be able to teach the literal word of the Bible in science class, regardless of the allegorical nature of the Old Testament. So, they decided that if they can prove that humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time, then (a) evolution is wrong, and (b) God made everything in seven days. How do they do this? By saying that (a) The Loch Ness Monster ("Nessie") is real, and (b) is a plesiosaur. This allows them to teach that all scientific evidence and theory is wrong, and the Bible is right, as always.

Now, this post isn't about exposing intelligent design as non-science, or making fun of religious people. This is about the process that led these troglodytes to this erroneous conclusion. Now, I know logic isn't necessarily the strongest point for most Americans, but this really takes the cake. Each step here defies pretty much every logical rule in regard to science. Now, to be fair, many religious zealots don't have the firmest grasp of science (they seem to think it's out to get them for some reason), but if they're going to try teaching it (albeit a warped, misguided, brainwashing version of it), they should know a little about the process. Like that showing that humans and dinosaurs have co-existed at any point would not disprove evolution, it would just show that our current time-line of species inhabiting the planet is wrong. Or that showing that a dinosaur exists today does is not the same as showing that we co-existed with dinosaurs 65 million ye

 
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This is not the "Post-PC Era"

Monday, June 25, 2012 at 04:59 PM

It seems everywhere I turn, someone on some "tech" site is busy describing the "Post-PC Era." This was brought up anew with Microsoft's recent announcement of the surface tablet, which even more people are heralding as Microsoft's foray into this so-called "Post-PC Era." But what, exactly, is this supposed era? Well, it's what it sounds like: a time when people don't use Personal Computers (PC's) anymore (and, in this case for all you idiot Mac fanboys, a Mac is a PC. Get over it) anymore, instead opting for smartphones and tablets and the like. Well, this is bullshit, because it's not happening now, and not happening anytime soon.

This statement seems to be lost on industry leaders, who are all desperate to wiggle into this new buzzword in the tech sector. Apple started it, with the late Steve Jobs deciding that the world is done with PC's (because with Apple, they decide what the consumer wants, not the customers), and then trying his damnedest (something that the company is still doing in his absence) to make the Mac OS into the iOS. Which, needless to say, is stupid, because a laptop and a smartphone and/or tablet are very different things. Of course, other manufacturers are following suit—HP had the TouchPad, Microsoft is moving in the the Surface, and making Windows 8 great for touchscreens and tablets, but shitty for normal computers. This doesn't make sense, but they'll bring up figures to try to argue with me, such as the fact that smartphones are selling like hotcakes, or that the tablet market keeps getting bigger. But consider this: people buy new models of pho

 
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Small Sodas for your Own Good

Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 07:51 PM

So, today I read an article about how New York is trying to ban big sodas (as in large-sized soft drinks). While the legality of this is definitely disputed, the morality of this is equally, if not more, important. And, since I'm such a fine moral compass (ha!), I've taken it upon myself to explain why this is a load of shit—both legally (disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer) and morally. Because it is.

First of all, I'd like to point out that this is really skirting the line, legally. And for two reasons. Yes, I know that New York has gotten away with this sort of behavior before, what with the banning of trans fats, but that doesn't make it right. To explain, let me tell you a story. A story about a drug called laevomandelonitrile, or laetrile for short. Supposedly, it was a drug to be used in the treatment of cancer. However, there is an organization called the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who noticed that this claim seemed to be lacking in substantiated evidence. In fact, clinical studies showed no such effect. So, naturally, the FDA claimed that this drug was not for use in cancer treatment. 27 States, however, decided that it was perfectly fine and legalized it. The federal government, understandably pissed and completely within its constitutional rights (federal laws supersede state ones), did something about this. Now, this may not be the same as a drug, but it's still the states putting laws into effect regarding the domain of the FDA. Again, I'm no lawyer, and I doubt this would hold up well in court, but, well, fuck, New York is stupid. There's also the technicality law that it more likely to hold up in court, regarding states making laws which affect commerce between states. Some argue that this ban will affect inter-state commerce (due to cup sizes, etc.). While this is sillier, it seems like

 
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