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Archive for April, 2009

Number 1000

April 30, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

Inability to Change

April 28, 2009 Leave a comment

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!

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Do We Need Paper?

April 27, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

Too Safe

April 26, 2009 1 comment

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”.

Latest Conspiracy

April 24, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

Why Do I Do It?

April 23, 2009 Leave a comment

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!

Et Tu, Apple

April 22, 2009 Leave a comment

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!