According to my numbering system this is blog entry number 1000 – at least on my own blogging system (at blog.ojb.co.nz) but it will be lower than that on other blogs I post to. My first blog entry was just over 6 years ago on 2003-04-04 and I have spent a lot of time writing stuff since then. I have also just reached comment number 2000 on my own blog and I am close to posting tweet number 1000 on Twitter. My podcasting activity has almost stopped but I do have a plan to get that going again soon.
So what’s my point? Well I often wonder whether the time I spend on these activities is really worth it. Its not that I would be doing something non-geeky if I didn’t blog – I would be doing other similar stuff instead, like adding new pages to my web site – so its more a choice of which geeky activity I spend most time on.
I do find blogging quite valuable because I have to think about and research the topic I am discussing. I admit I don’t spend a huge amount of time either researching or thinking, but that’s just the nature of most blogs. I do hope that my blog is more realistic and better researched than most, but some of my political and religious opponents might not agree on that!
I use this blog to present opinions and I don’t say anything here if I can’t back it up with reasonable evidence, but I certainly don’t aim for the same level of support as I have in the skepticism section of my web site, for example, where I have extensive footnotes and sources for its contents.
The text file which contains all of my blog entries is over 18,000 lines long which means its a similar size to a typical book, so maybe you could say I have written a book over the last few years. According to my hit counter (again, on my main blog site) the blog has been accessed about 1 million times since then, so you could also say that its a fairly well read book too! I should point out that a lot of those hits are from automated web services, but a good proportion are from real people!
The most disappointing aspect of my blogs is that they don’t get enough comments. There is one person (who uses the name SBFL – and I thank him for his input over the last few years) who makes a lot of comments on my main blog and a few others who regularly comment on the others, but overall only a small proportion of visitors actually comment.
Considering the controversial nature of a lot of my topics I’m surprised more people don’t feel as if they have to disagree and point out where I’m “wrong” in a comment. On the other hand the blog is like a record I write for myself, so the comments aren’t really necessary. Sometimes I go back and read through some of the older entries and its interesting to remember the issues at different points in the past.
I think I have finally figured out the most annoying attribute of the people I frequently get into serious debates with – in other words the people who are wrong! Before I say what it is (if you haven’t figured it out already from the title) I want to list the type of person who annoys me most (at least from the perspective of their beliefs and opinions – I want to make it clear that I don’t necessarily dislike these individuals as people).
Actually, there was one person yesterday who scored on several of the key areas. He sent me an email supporting a 9/11 conspiracy theory, a dismissal of global warming, and support for a conservative political agenda. All he needed was to send something in support of fundamentalist religion and he would have had a perfect score!
So yes, those are the things I most often debate against: fundamentalist religion, failure to accept reasonable scientific theories, support for conservative politics, and believing conspiracy theories.
None of these beliefs necessarily have to be wrong, but in fact they are wrong, at least they are wrong to the extent that a reasonable person would look at the evidence and say they are almost certainly untrue. But it wasn’t always obvious they were wrong. A few hundred years ago, before modern scientific theories such as evolution were established, believing in the Biblical myths might have been reasonable. Before the incidents which occurred on 9/11 were investigated it wasn’t unreasonable to suspect a conspiracy. Before recent data was released global warming did look doubtful. And before they have been tested and found to not work conservative political theories might have seemed to make sense.
So its not so much that these people believe silly things, its more that they believed things which made a certain amount of sense at some point in the past but failed to realise when they no longer made sense. So they continued believing the idea even after the evidence shifted against it.
Sometimes the idea is hopelessly out of date. For example, evolution has been a virtual certain fact for many years now, maybe for 100 years but certainly for 20 to 50. So there is little excuse for most people to still believe creationism.
Other times its a little bit less obvious. Global warming was very uncertain 10 years ago but the evidence has just gradually got better. I can almost excuse someone for not noticing that what they previously thought (for example if they denied the truth of global warming) no longer makes sense. The same applies to conspiracy theories about recent comparatively events like 9/11.
So everyone should examine their beliefs and establish if they are outdated. Or maybe they should just listen to me and I’ll tell them what’s true!
Recently I have heard a lot of news stories about how many newspapers are failing and how others, which haven’t failed completely (yet), are downsizing their workforces to try to survive. Why is this happening and is it a problem?
Why its happening seems fairly obvious: first, electronic media (and the Internet especially) are becoming more popular as news sources, and second the global financial crisis has reduced advertising in papers making it harder for them to be profitable.
The replacement of conventional media with new electronic forms is inevitable and the financial crisis has really just hastened the end for old media. Conventional newspapers will die, and probably sooner than most people think. There is the view that many people still prefer to read from real paper but that view ignores technologies which will soon become mainstream, specifically electronic paper which can potentially be “like paper but better than paper”.
So conventional newspapers are doomed but that doesn’t mean that they can’t operate in the same way as they do now but output their material to electronic media instead of paper. The question is, will they do this in time.
Another issue seems to be the increasing commercialisation and globalisation of newspapers. This has become obvious quite recently here in new Zealand. There is only one “major” paper left which isn’t owned by a big overseas company – that is my local paper, the Otago Daily Times. Maybe its just coincidental but its the only major paper in the country which has increased its reporting staff and, while it is suffering from reduced circulation, it is affected less than other papers.
So overseas ownership might be an additional factor leading to the demise of papers. I certainly enjoy seeing big international corporations failing but that ignores the problems associated with that failure.
I think that any overseas investor who invests in a company which deliberately moves here to exploit our economy deserves to lose everything. I don’t feel too bad if that happens because I don’t like greedy parasites. The problem is, of course, that we now rely on these companies to provide news, and to employ most of our news professionals.
Its generally accepted that foreign ownership produces a newspaper which is really totally focussed on profit. But its not quite that simple because newspapers are there to report news and they (even the foreign owned ones) do a reasonable job of this. Also, the locally owned papers have to make money too, so its not a simple dichotomy.
But its unlikely that a big global corporation which buys a New Zealand newspaper is really doing that so they can produce a good news source. Far more likely they see it as a revenue source. Local ownership is far more likely to be focussed on quality outputs.
I have commented many times in the past that I don’t think globalisation and foreign ownership are good things in most cases, and I think newspapers are another example of that. So maybe we don’t need paper and we don’t need newspapers. Actually I think we do need newspapers because they are often the primary source of information.
One thing is for sure though: newspapers need to change and adapt. Ideally I would like to see all the traditional foreign owned papers fail and be replaced with something better but that might be too idealistic. Whatever happens its certain that the combination of new technology and a major recession is sure to create a significant change in this area and it will happen quite quickly.
A recent proposal to introduce more security for domestic flights in New Zealand doesn’t seem to be getting much support from the public. Last year a crazed individual tried to hijack a minor domestic flight but I can’t think of any other times that the security of a domestic flight was a concern.
Of course everyone would like assurances of increased security for air travel but you don’t get anything positive without some negatives. Having negatives doesn’t mean the new actions aren’t worth having, we simply have to look at the balance of factors.
Most people seem to think that the new security already in place for international flights is too great a price to pay (in convenience and cost) for the extra safety it provides – at least that’s the conclusion I see from anecdotal evidence. Surely domestic flights are even less in need of added security – the public support for this was shown by a recent Herald poll where over 70% thought extra security was unnecessary.
I agree. In fact, I think we try far too hard to protect people from the hazards of modern life in general. Maybe if I was the victim of one of those hazards: a terrorist attack, hijacking, car accident caused by speed or alcohol, etc, I might feel differently but I don’t think so.
There are some things worse than having our freedom affected by external problems (like terrorists) – for example restrictions on our freedom from within our own culture – like the type of laws which try to protect us from every little potential hazard.
On the other hand few people would want no security at all, so it is all a matter of balance again. I’m sure the politicians who introduce new restrictive laws think they are doing the right thing and achieving the right balance but I think most of them are wrong. There is such a thing as “too safe”.
I tend to ridicule people who believe conspiracy theories. I’m not saying that there are never any real conspiracies because some times people do conspire against the majority. But when a significant number of people think there is a conspiracy and start looking at the details the conspiracy is usually revealed for what it is.
There is one event that I think is the result of a conspiracy though, that is the story of Jesus. Yes, the whole thing is an invention of a group of conspirators who went on to found the most powerful church on Earth. But that’s not what I want to talk about here.
I have just seen evidence for what I think could be another conspiracy, and its related to something almost as controversial as Christianity! Yes, I mean global warming.
I just heard a radio program which said there could be some positives from global warming because when the Arctic ice sheet melts there will be vast areas of Greenland and the Arctic Ocean which will become available for oil exploration and exploitation. Estimates indicate about a quarter of the world’s oil might still be there.
So who have the most to gain from the exploitation of this area? Well it won’t be the people who live there, that’s for sure. It will be the big companies who are currently indirectly responsible for most of the global warming gases now! The same companies who have been denying that global warming exists for years!
It sounds all too convenient, don’t you think? Multinational companies have always been prepared to sacrifice whatever is necessary to maximise their profits. The environment and the best interests of the local people are of no consequence to them.
So there’s the conspiracy: oil companies (and others) ensure as much global warming occurs as possible so they can melt the ice and get to more oil which is currently inaccessible. Then they produce oil from those sources and it is burned melting more ice. Who knows, maybe Antarctica is next!
Note: I’m not entirely serious about this theory, but I do think the Jesus story is very suspicious. My current belief is that it is fake but I am prepared to accept the possibility that its loosely based on a real person.
I have been an IT professional and have created computer programs, web sites, and databases as a job for many years now (more years than I really want to remember) so you would think by now that I would know what is good practice and what isn’t.
For example, you would think that making last minute changes to how a critical part of a program worked the day before it was due for installation for the user to test would be considered a bad idea, but yes, that’s what I’m doing now!
When I’m working on a major project I often come up with “brilliant” ideas at the most unexpected times. I figure it will only take an hour or two to add that new feature so why not? Of course, it usually takes a lot longer than I initially figured, plus the new feature often has some weird and unexpected interaction with an existing function which stops working.
In the end the system usually ends up being better as a result of these great ideas because in most cases they generally are good ideas. But I know when I demo this system tomorrow there will be a few things which unexpectedly don’t work.
But that’s why this is a beta! The beta designation is an excuse for all sorts of poor functionality, slow performance, and missing features for other people’s software so why shouldn’t it be the same for mine!
I am generally fairly positive about Apple and its products and services, especially compared with other technology companies like Microsoft. But even Apple stuffs things up some times. Recently I had an experience with Apple that’s similar to some I have had with other companies. I’ve ranted about HP’s and Vodafone’s horrible service in the past so, to avoid being accused of being an Apple fan boy, its only fair I should criticise Apple as well. And just as an added bonus I’ll throw in a criticism of Adobe in the same blog entry!
So what was this negative experience I had with Apple? Well if you want to extend the warranty on your Mac to three years (why can’t a premium product like a Mac have a three year warranty without buying an extension?) you have to buy it and register on the Internet. This process has always been awkward because you have to jump through too many hoops and the wording is confusing and it usually takes several tries to enter the numbers they actually want.
The latest time I tried this it didn’t work even when I got all the numbers right (three attempts) so I called the local dealer who had just installed one of those annoying “press 1 if you want…” systems. The person I transferred to wasn’t there but I was then transferred to someone in Auckland who transferred me to someone else who said he could do nothing and to call the Apple free help line.
Imagine my horror when this turned out to be an Indian help center! Now I don’t want to say that anything based in India is useless. In my experience almost all help desks are useless, no matter where they are based. The experience on this occasion was particularly frustrating though. After about 30 minutes, half of it on hold listening to horrible music, I still didn’t know if the registration was completed.
So Apple messed things up totally, but there is one big difference between them and the other incompetent companies I deal with: Apple make great products! Having to put up with the silly modern business practices like Indian help desks is worth it because Macs are beautiful. Imagine having to go through that sort of process to register something ugly like Windows!
And what about Adobe? The most annoying thing about them is the silly multiple versions of Creative Suite. Web Standard, Design Premium, etc, etc. What does it all mean? When you go to their site to order CS4 there is a list of the versions and they are links. When you click the link you don’t get any further information about what that version actually includes. Why not? Its as bad as all the ridiculous versions of Vista. Why would Adobe copy one of Microsoft’s most incompetent marketing tricks? I sure don’t know!
From the title you might think I feel a but betrayed by Apple but that’s not really true. I do love Apple products but I know they are a private company, and probably have just as many clueless managers as many others, so I shouldn’t have too high expectations!
But wait, there’s more! I just saw an ad on TV about a new network called the XT network. They were saying how fast it was going to be and gave a web site. I visited the site which took about 5 minutes to load! What kind of gross incompetents advertise fast networking then setup up a sluggish web site? More idiots!
The podcast “Skeptics Guide to the Universe” (aka SGU) often presents thought provoking material. In a recent discussion I realised there is a factor which exists in many peoples’ deductive process which might be leading them to wrong conclusions. That is that many bad examples of evidence supporting an idea don’t equal one good example.
Its an extension of one of the skeptic’s mantras: many anecdotes do not equal data. In other words, when you see piles of interesting factoids that is not the same as one really good source of information.
So where does this apply? Well almost everywhere actually. It applies to believers in the paranormal, religious people, and deniers of scientific facts (many people belong in all three categories, of course).
So let’s look at some examples. There are thousands of reports of UFOs but every one of them is either lacking in details, can be better explained by a conventional phenomenon, or has been shown to be a hoax. If there was one really good example with real physical evidence that would be far better than the thousands of weak anecdotes.
Some of the best examples of UFO events have been ridiculously easy to explain in conventional terms. The famous Roswell Incident would be a classic example of this. Look at the facts and its hard to believe anyone ever took the story seriously.
The same applies to religious beliefs. It doesn’t matter how many people think Jesus is real to them, how many silly stories about miracles there are around, or how many unsubstantiated stories exist in an old book, that still doesn’t mean as much as a single piece of real evidence. And all the alleged “real evidence” like the Shroud of Turin has been shown conclusively to be fake many years ago.
Which brings me to another point. Belief systems where the best evidence is revealed as fake should be treated with great suspicion. The Shroud of Turin is supposed to be good evidence that the Jesus myth is true. But it is fake, which throws a lot of doubt on the Jesus story too. Then there’s the fake burial caskets, the fake entry in the historical writing of Josephus, the list goes on. None of these prove Jesus didn’t exist but they should be ringing serious alarm bells to most people.
So the SGU is right again (as it usually is). Lots of poor quality junk does not equal one single piece of good objective evidence. Believers in UFOs, ESP, gods, alternative medicine, creationism, and other junk should re-examine their beliefs with that in mind.
Many people believe the wrong thing because the truth (or as close to the truth as we can get because nothing is ever 100% certain) is too complex. Its either too complex for them to understand at all or it just requires more effort than they are prepared to expend.
A classic example of this is having religious and other superstitious beliefs instead of logic and science. If you wanted to understand the origin of the universe, which is easier: God did it; or the subtleties (and uncertainties) of the Big Bang, inflation, quantum physics and relativity? Being able to sum up the whole topic in one sentence “God did it” is certainly easier.
But its not creationists I want to criticise this time (well I always want to criticise creationists but I’ll avoid the temptation this time) its another one of my favourite opponents in debates: global warming deniers.
I noticed an article at Slashdot a couple of days back which claimed “A report from The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research says that Antarctic ice is growing, not melting away”. Of course, this immediately lead to a pile of posts saying things like: see global warming is fake, global warming scientists treat it like a religion, this is proof warming isn’t happening, etc.
Luckily there were a few entries later on which clarified the whole issue. The most interesting thing about the whole debate was how superficial the deniers’ analysis was and yet in some ways they couldn’t be blamed because the issue is actually quite complex and counter-intuitive in some places.
So the first question is: is the claim true? Well it is and it isn’t. The detail is that the sea ice in some parts of Antarctica is thickening and this isn’t anything new. But in other areas it is reducing rapidly. So the claim that the Antarctic ice is growing is misleading at best.
But even if the sea ice was growing would this disprove global warming? Actually it wouldn’t because paradoxically warming in Antarctica can lead to greater precipitation as snow. In many areas it is too cold for snow to form in most conditions and only an increase in temperature can lead to greater amounts of snow falling.
Another factor worth considering is that sea ice isn’t such a big concern as land ice. Because sea ice floats in the sea (it has only a slightly lower density than water) if it melted sea levels would not be greatly affected. If land ice melts it flows into the sea and does increase the level. So the state of sea ice isn’t necessarily a major concern by itself anyway.
Then there is another claim made by deniers. That is that the global temperature fluctuates naturally over time and it is either useless trying to reverse this tendency or the warming is natural and not caused by human activity.
It is true that temperature has fluctuated a lot in the past but the critical point here is how quickly it is happening this time. All indications are that it is happening far faster than on any previous occasion. If the temperature changes too quickly we cannot adapt easily and that will lead to major global disasters.
Finally there is the claim that warming might be happening and could be caused by humans but who cares: we all want higher temperatures don’t we? Yes, some people do but many don’t. There are areas already affected by drought which are only going to get worse as global warming becomes more established. Plus there is the point that its great to have warmer weather but is it worthwhile if a large number of our cities are flooded?
So my recommendation to deniers is to look into the facts a bit more deeply and to look at the big picture, not just individual details, even if they do fit what you desperately want to believe.
My family are watching a rather silly movie on TV and I have realised why I don’t really watch much TV any more. The movie is “the Patriot” from 2000 starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. The thing that I find annoying about this movie and many others is the formula which seems to be used in creating them. I’ve only watched about 30 minutes of it so far but its already apparent what’s going on. Its so boring that I’ve decided to write this blog entry instead. Of course, there are so many ads playing during the movie that I would have plenty of time to write it during those as well.
So what are these formulas used in these movies? Well there is the simplistic good guys and bad guys stuff. People don’t seem to like complex characters with good and bad characteristics because then they would have to think about their actions instead of just recognising stereotyped puppets.
Another is the classic sequence which excuses the brutal behaviour of the hero. Inevitably he is the victim if some evil act by the bad guys early on (in this case his young son was shot and killed) so that when he goes on a killing rampage later on its seen as OK.
Then there is the patriotic speech, with plenty of references to god and country and accompanied by a stirring sound track, just to make it even more obvious to the audience what sort of emotion they should be feeling during that scene.
And finally there’s the combat scenes. During these the previously competent bad guys suddenly can’t hit the side of a barn and all their military training seems to disappear. The good guys can blast away and take out a bad guy with every shot. Also the bad guys all die straight away but the good guys can be shot a dozen times, then still run around and blast a dozen more bad guys before finally succumbing to their wounds. Its stirring stuff!
I don’t mean to pick on this movie in particular because, as I said, this is a well used formula in most Hollywood movies but this one annoyed me more than most for some reason. Well I guess this is just another evening of TV I will avoid.