Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday hiatus

This blog is on a holiday hiatus. It will be back in full force the first week of January.

 Kind Regards,
 - Henk

Friday, December 17, 2010

Zuckerberg Time person of the year and why it's a good choice

To clarify my argument and where my starting point lies: I hate and I do mean hate, Facebook. I am not on it anymore and I don't plan to go back to it any time soon. Here is why: I just do not trust the ideas that are lurking in the shadows of the Facebook leadership.

So why does the headline say that it is a good choice? Because whichever way you look at it, Zuckerberg has made an impact on our world that is undeniable. Who else managed to get 500 million people hooked on a website in only a few years? Who else has had a film made about his life before he is even 30 years old? Who else has changed the way we interact so profoundly?

Whether Mark Zuckerberg did this all by himself or not is beside the point: the history books will say he did. Whether he achieved all this through honest hard graft or by bamboozling others out of million dollar ideas is also not relevant because, again, the history books will record his name as the person who changed our world.

It also does not matter whether Facebook survives another year or whether it will do a MySpace, the stage is set and there is no going back. Facebook now represents many billions of dollars of revenue for too many companies (like Zynga) to not have set a precedent. Facebook, by any other name will keep smelling just as sweet.

So yes, I agree with Time that Mark Zuckerberg should be named person of the year. Mind you, in 1938 Hitler was person of the year so it is a questionable honour and one that should be treated with circumspection by those that keep their eyes open...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top Twitter Trends 2010

As I am going to flee from all the Christmas and New Year's hubbub, I will make a hasty contribution to the traditional end of year reviews with a look at the Top Twitter Trends of 2010.

The Twitter blog has this list:

  1. Gulf Oil Spill
  2. FIFA World Cup
  3. Inception
  4. Haiti Earthquake
  5. Vuvuzela
  6. Apple iPad
  7. Google Android
  8. Justin Bieber
  9. Harry Potter & the Deatly Hallows
  10. Pulpo Paul
A list like this is nice but what does it actually say?  On the Twitter blog they say it like this: "These Trends indicate the things that are most meaningful in our lives." As I have had an eventful year with a few pretty dramatic twists and turns, I feel compelled to add a little nuance to this statement because I am not the only one who spends a lot of time on Twitter and has had a tough year. Compared to the death of my father in law, the Vuvuzela is but a minor irritant. And yet, the death of my father in law is not among the trending topics.

Twitter is a filter. Especially when you try to discover trends. Because only that which a lot of people Twitter about passes through that trend filter. The personal aspect does not come into it while the personal aspect is hugely important to the success of Twitter. So only the hugely important issues on a global scale pass through the filter? That makes Justin Bieber of huge importance to human society according to this list - yet I somehow doubt that. So that's not it either.

No, a list like this only reflects what a lot of people Twitter about. No more, no less. It indicates what Twitter is used for by the masses. It is a (technology) news ticker, it is a sports cantina, it is an entertainment news channel. What this list does not indicate and can't indicate is the margins of Twitter use where, marginal though it is much of it's worth is hidden. How we sometimes send each other a supporting tweet in dark times. How help-desks learn to use Twitter to better assist their customers. How we send questions into the time line and get answers from total strangers. In short: Twitter is so much more than what this list of trends shows. I hope will remember that in 2011. Trending topics are all well and good but the real value of Twitter for most people is to be found in the shadow of all that trendy excitement.

Oh, and who the hell is Pulpo Paul anyway? #missedatrend 

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Get out of Afghanistan yesterday!" Scott Atran urges

Today a very short post. Why? Because I heard an interview on the BBC podcast "Arts and Ideas" that is most worthy of the monicker "Second Opinion" and there is nothing to add to what is being said on the programme. You can listen to the whole programme as it is more than worth the effort but the bit I'm referring to is the last interview which is with Scott Atran, an anthropologist who has studied terrorists all over the world in an up-close and personal manner. What he found takes the sting, indeed the entire back bone out of what we are made to believe about Al Qaeda and the Jihad.

Listen to it here: BBC podcasts, Arts and Ideas

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Prop 8: separation of church and state?

And again Proposition 8 is in the news. In August a federal judge ruled that upholding Proposition 8, forbidding same sex marriage, was unconstitutional. Apparently some people, in this case a coalition gathered at do not accept defeat easily and they appealed the ruling.

The site claims they are "a broad-based coalition of California families, community leaders, religious leaders, pro-family organizations and individuals from all walks of life who have joined together to defend and restore the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman." What I find strange is that the supporters of prop 8 seem afraid that the granting of a basic right to all human beings somehow devaluates their right. Surely, when gays are allowed to marry, it does nothing to a heterosexual couple's right to marry?

What frustrates me in this whole prop 8 affair is that tempers get riled up over nothing - as compared to the real problems of human society. And as usual it is a matter of narrow minded people feeling irrationally threatened by the unknown. Off and on I have read a lot about proposition 8 since 2008 and never have I read any supportive argument of prop 8 that held water. Every time the argument was either easily debunked as simply stupid or it was "fine in church but unconstitutional".

I have a deep suspicion that the crux of the matter lies in the word church. Although the site claims to be a coalition of people from all walks of life, it is impossible not to recognise the Christian right wing undertones of every paragraph on that site. If I'm right, and I do believe I am, then it is no surprise that the arguments brought in favour of prop 8 are silly or unconstitutional. A orthodox Christian mindset is not a very practised one in the intelligence department and it is also not a very constitutionally minded one. As soon as a group of people start to step out of the dark ages and says, "You know what, let's evolve and become enlightened, more advanced humans," the Christian mindset gets confused and scared. The rules of the society they live in no longer echo the Bible, which means they have to start thinking for themselves. And no one has ever taught them how to do that. A Christian mindset always has a higher authority to go to when the questions of life get a bit hard. The priest, the bishop, Jesus, God. All higher beings that can be safely let the running of things to. As to the constitution and law: a Christian mindset recognises only one law, and that is the law of God as set down in that hugely controversial, self referential, man-written text: the Bible. So as long as a Christian can transfer laws from the Bible to state or country law, all is fine. But if laws start to conflict with the law of God, the Christian mindset has to adjust the way all those other-thinkers had to adjust for all those centuries.

So if prop 8 is upheld - which seems unlikely - but if it is it is proof that Church and State are still not separated as they should be in a multi-cultural society. Proof that modern California, like the rest of the U.S. is still a state where the law for every human being living in that state, of whatever religion, race or sexual orientation, is subordinate to a 1500 year old law book recognised by a powerful sub-section of the populace that forces the bitter pill called Bible down everyone's throat using state law as sugar coating.

Friday, December 3, 2010

And again science fiction writers led the way

"Life as we know it is universally based on some combination of carbon compounds, but what if life exists based on another element? For instance, silicon," Spock says in an episode of the original series of Star Trek (series one, episode 25 "The Devil in the Dark"). Spock was not far wrong. Scientists have discovered a life form that can substitute phosphorus, one of the building blocks of life on earth, with arsenic. The research was funded by NASA and it changes the definition of life. Both on earth and elsewhere in the universe. It means life in the universe is no longer dependent on carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. These six building blocks are, or should I say were, the basic elements used to build cells in all known life forms on earth. Now a microbe has been discovered that builds parts of itself out of arsenic. Arsenic is a toxic element to most living organisms. Not to GFAJ-1, a strain of the Gammaproteobacteria. In a lab it was fed on arsenic instead of phosphorus and not only did it survive but it thrived. It incorporated arsenic as part of its biochemistry and happily lived ever after.

"The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction," Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute said. As a writer of many a science fiction story I can not help but feel a slight sensation of vindication. So many discoveries and developments have been predicted by science fiction writers. Yet, still we are often regarded as the dirt under the boot of literature. That will not change with this discovery I think but at least it shows science fiction is a thinking author's game. The imagination we use to create our stories is often based upon that which could be true. That is the root of the popularity of science fiction: no matter how outrageous the idea may seem, somewhere, some day, it might become reality. Apart from the apparent excitement of the story there is an inherent anticipation in science fiction that makes us think ahead about what may be.

The definition of life just changed. This means that life as we don't know it may exist elsewhere in the universe. It means all research done into the chemical make up of planets has to be re-evaluated. Some planets that were deemed not to contain atmospheres conducive to life may on second thoughts be teeming with little green creatures. Creatures that are chuckling at our narrow minds for thinking that life could only be defined by the narrow bounds we put upon it. Only six elements to build with? Pfah! Science has just received yet another lesson in the amount of 'thinking outside the box' nature is capable of. Once again Mother Nature showed us that to define and categorise may be a human hobby, it has nothing to do with her. I bet that Mother Nature loves science fiction stories.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WikiLeaks: the empowered find out what it's like when you're being watched

Cartoon by Brendan Weekers,
On 21 January 2009, US president Obama signed a directive to his department heads saying: "Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known." Not yet two years later he criticises WikiLeaks for publishing US diplomatic cables and his press officer calls it "a criminal act".

WikiLeaks shook the US diplomatic world. Over 250,000 cables from more than 250 US embassies around the world are now in the process of being published. And they reveal some pretty embarrassing stuff about US diplomats and government officials. Of course there is much legal sable rattling and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has an international arrest warrant made out in his name for the alleged rape of two women in Sweden. An allegation he denies, admitting having had unprotected sex with two women but in both cases of the consented variety.

Be that as it may: there is a lot of information out on the street that many high ranking officials would have preferred to keep behind closed doors. Again! These last few years there are many cases of high ranking officials getting a bit of an airing. The UK paper The Daily Telegraph exposed some pretty creative use of the rules for claiming expenses by members of the UK parliament in 2009. It led to resignations, disciplinary actions, a few criminal charges and reform proposals for the way UK parliament works. In short: it exposed a faulty system, shook things up a bit and supposedly it changed the way things work.

Leaks like this do force governments that purport to stand for freedom and democracy to be rather careful in actually acting the way they profess to act. The modern information highway makes back room shenanigans a lot harder to keep in the back room. Whether you agree with WikiLeaks facilitating the publishing of sensitive information or not, the fact remains: diplomats and those in power need to realise that we humble citizens are watching them just as much as they are watching us. I can not deny that there is a certain satisfaction in that. It seems that the era of governing bodies that rely on the ignorance of the populace and the confidentiality of its elite is gone. In that respect Obama had a point, because standing on the side of those that withhold information means standing on the side of those that are inevitably found out. Pity he did not remember his own directive in the WikiLeaks case.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday: bargain basement species

Black Friday, that annual bargain hunting shopping spree has come around again. Shoppers queue for hours to save a couple of hundred bucks on a super-whammo-larger-than-large HD television or snap up a BluRay player for next to nothing. Others wait impatiently at their computer keyboards, mouse at the ready for the moment the online bargains become available.

Retailers both dread and welcome this end of year sale. They dread it because people can get a bit unruly when they spot a bargain, as was proved two years ago when a shop assistant was trampled to death by stampeding bargain hunters. On the other hand, it is the biggest selling time of the year. Thanksgiving seamlessly flowing into Christmas, means that people are in a non-stop present buying mode.

The thought of this makes me sick. How degenerate a species have we become that we are willing to kill one of our own to buy a non-essential piece of junk. How ill is this species which is willing to queue for hours for a TV they don't need while other members of the species, probably around the corner from Walmart, are living on the street and can't even afford the basic essentials of life like food and water.

Black Friday, the Christmas rush, all this "I want, I want," makes me sick to the stomach and thoroughly cynical of the human race. Instead of busying himself with condoms the pope might want to speak out on the values of these Christian holidays and bring back a bit of perspective. Maybe some people might actually listen. Although I doubt it, Jesus had to tear down an entire temple (allegedly) to make people listen and I don't see the the pope doing that. Pity, he might make himself useful for once.

Go on, fight for your HD TV's, trample fellow human beings to death for your bargains, catch pneumonia waiting in line for that 40% off deal. But never, ever try to tell me that humans are a superior species because I will laugh so hard that I might explode.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

And Neelie spoke

Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital agenda, shook the world of Brein and Buma (the Dutch equivalents of the MPAA and RIAA) last week: we can do without you, she indicated. At the very least the role of organisations like Brein en Buma have to be seriously curtailed. "We must ensure that copyright serves as a building block, not a stumbling block," according to Neelie Kroes. Amen to that!

Digital distribution of films, T.V.-series and music is common in many countries. Not in the Netherlands. Other than music there is no media available on digital distribution platforms. There are some obscure websites that offer B- and C-movies with a smattering of just-A-movie thrown in. These sites often charge far too much for their services and their provenance is sketchy. They do not form a secure basis to build your viewing pleasure on.

In the U.S. it has become quite normal to view films and episodes of your favourite T.V.-series with the help of a small box coupled to your T.V. This could be a Google-TV, an AppleTV, a Boxee box or any other device offering Internet connection. These boxes can use services like Hulu or Netflix to obtain the chosen material. Legal and convenient. Especially when your DVD or BluRay collection is threatening to swamp you.

Here in the Netherlands this is not possible because Brein and Buma are in the way. Instead of convenience and service I get a long, patronising video at the start of every legally bought DVD warning me against piracy and the dangers of stealing movies. I bloody well bought this DVD! I'm not the one you should be warning! Stop bothering honest people, Brein, and let me watch my movie. You know what, never mind. I'll go on the Internet and download the movie. That gets rid of all your stupid moralising BS. And no, Brein, that is not illegal: in the Netherlands it is legal to obtain and own a copy of legally bought media by any means, including downloading. And if I can prevent watching your stupid warning videos by doing so, I will. And there you have the counterproductive principle demonstrated.

As we have seen in the music industry, making films available through digital distribution is the way to reduce piracy. It turns out that most people are willing to pay for their media consumption but the price needs to be reasonable and the threshold to procurement must be low.

Of course illegal downloading will not disappear completely when you start offering films through legal networks. But the question then rises how much this remainder of illegal downloading hurts the industry.  The answer to that question can only be given when some other questions are resolved first: Would people who download films illegally have bought the film if it were not available on illegal networks? How many of these illegally downloaded films are actually watched and keep a bum out of the cinema seat? How can the rising number of cinema visitors be explained if illegal downloads are that harmful? Could it be that downloading films might be the best promotional tool the film industry has ever had?

Brein and Buma fight a battle on bureaucratic grounds. Rules are rules and rules have to be implemented no matter how the world is changing. There is no thought on the how and why of the rules. How does the process work and change? What real effect does illegal downloading have? The law is there to protect a process not to blindly implement when the process changes.

Neelie Kroes seems to have understood this. At least I hope that thought is behind her speech. She seems to understand that the world is changing and that there are now technological opportunities that give the old laws long grey beards. It is time to air out the old copyright laws, give them a bit of an overhaul. It is time for media distribution 21st century style!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Only tulips and wooden shoes for tourists, no more weed

We Dutch! We are so quirky. We speak funny, especially when we try to speak another language. We walk on wooden shoes when picking the tulips from our neatly kept front gardens and we smoke dope all day. Our claims to fame in a nutshell.

And we like to keep it all to ourselves, the weed that is. The tulips and wooden shoes we export like crazy. But the weed is for our own private use: the government will not make an exception for Amsterdam in its plans to introduce passes for the use of coffee shops. Coffee shops are the shops where weed is sold, besides coffee. These passes are introduced to keep tourists from stocking up on weed just before the trip home.

I suspect the main reason for this is that every time any one of our dignitaries visit a foreign country, fellow dignitaries bombard them with recriminations for the laxness of our drug laws. They are accused of perverting the brains of all those foreign innocents falling victim to the easy availability of weed in our country.

So I imagine an uncomfortable silence falls when our new prime minister, visiting the Palais de l' Elysées in Paris, is asked over an after dinner cognac, to curb the amount of weed flowing into France through Maastricht. The uncomfortable silence may of course also have to do with the fact that a French dinner is invariably fortified by a few bottles of magnificent, yet innocent claret. If we had a real strong willed and brave prime minister he might retort with a subtle pointer at the amount of brains that are fried by French wine all over the world. But alas, we have lacked such a prime minister for quite some time now.

No, instead our government decides you have to prove you're Dutch to be able to buy weed at a coffee shop. Weed is for the Dutch, tulips and wooden shoes are for tourists, wine is for everyone. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Beatles on iTunes finally; not everyone is amused

The Beatles are on iTunes. I for one am glad of that. I won't succumb to the hype and buy their entire collection immediately but it is good to know that one of the most influential and iconic bands in the history of pop music has finally arrived in what is arguably the most popular music store on the planet.

But not everyone is amused. Mark Mulligan, an analyst at research firm Forrester, wrote in his blog that it wasn't that big a deal. "The fact that securing the content of a band old enough to be most young music fans' grandfathers is a sad reflection of the state of the digital music market," he wrote. "The digital music market needs new music products, not yesteryear's hits repackaged," he clarified. I disagree. It is a sad reflection on the state of license holders and their narrow views that it took this long in the first place.

A couple of years ago I went to a Paul McCartney concert. It was a birthday present from my sister and I looked forward to it. I have never been a Beatles fan, being just a few years too young to have first hand experience of the hype and just old enough to have seen it all falling apart in less brilliant solo careers, or so my hard rock and post-punk self thought. The Beatles are a band who I came to appreciate much later in life. Also recognising then the achievements of some of the solo work of Paul McCartney and John Lennon.

What struck me about the Paul McCartney concert was the generation spanning audience. Literally every age group from toddler to geriatric was there and pretty evenly spread, percentage wise. And more importantly: they were all enjoying themselves. Mark Mulligan should think again. What he says means that old things are not to be regarded as worth anything. So let us burn all Rembrandts, Van Goghs and lets replace the Mona Lisa with a digital art installation by an art school student. No more Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart, in digital form on digital distribution platforms. Let's not make e-books of Shakespeare, Dickens, George, Austen. They're all old hat and according to Mark Mulligan's argument they should be replaced by bright young stars. Whose work of course is all of it brilliant and worth looking at, listening to or reading. I know, let's replace the Beatles with Susan Boyle.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Robot on stage: the end of the line for actors?

A life like robot has taken to the stage in Japan, the BBC reports. The android actress' name is Geminoid F. Not a name that portrays well on a theatre poster I guess. The robot plays the part of an android caretaker to a woman who is terminally ill. Geminoid F recites poetry in the play and she never leaves her chair. Her movement and speech are directed by an actress back stage. So no autonomy yet.

So why is this news? Although this may be a first in the hallowed halls of theatre, robots controlled by humans have been part of the film making industry for donkey's years. This particular robot does look quite human but only at a glance. The resemblance fades away as soon as the robot moves any of its parts. It looks wooden and lacks a lot of je ne sais quoi. If anything it shows up the intricacies of the human face. A smile is more than just the curling upwards of the lips. The whole face, the eyes smile as well. This trick the robot has not mastered.

So Geminoid F does not pose a threat to human actors yet. And I am guessing the price for such a robot is not going to make it an economical extra or stunt person either. Although you never know in Hollywood. Imagine: instead of launching clothes filled with sandbags from the core of one of its many explosions the next Michael Bay movie may launch animated robots. A bit of a waste of money in my view, but most Michael Bay movies are that anyway so no great change there.

(A bit more on this story here: SkyNews.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teens who text a lot live unsafe lives, a study claims

A study done by the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland shows that teens who text a lot (more than 120 messages per school day) and who spend a lot of time on social networks (more than three hours a school day), are more likely to lead unsafe lives. Unsafe, in the eyes of the researchers means they drink alcohol, use drugs and OMG, have sex! The calamity! High school students who drink, smoke weed and fool around with each other. This must be the end of the world.

At first my reaction was to laugh. I looked at the calendar, no it was not April fools day. So was this research real? What got my goat most was the blatant reversal the researchers allowed themselves. They warned parents that excessive - in their eyes - texting and social networking caused all these debaucheries. Which of course is total poppycock to put it mildly.

I remember my high school days, although they are some time ago. We did not have social network sites and mobile phones. They were not even a gleam in the eyes of their unborn inventors. Yet I do remember the socially more active specimens of my age group being a tad more precocious than some. They smoked, drank and screwed around at 16. Others did not. Live and let live. Had a study been done in those days they would have shown much the same results percentage wise. You see, there's one line in the report that gave the game away: "Many of the 19.8 percent of teens who reported hyper-texting were female, minority, from lower socioeconomic status and had no father at home". I went to two schools that had a large percentage of students that would fit the above classification and you know what? They would also fit the reports findings to a tee. And yet, as stated, no texting, no social network sites. Might there be another cause for the findings of the report?

Teens are teens. They explore the boundaries of what is possible. They experiment. That's what teens do, even have to do. That's their purpose in life. Let teens be teens. True, as a parent there has to be a certain measure of control and awareness but there also has to be a certain allowance of freedom. In the end most of them will turn out to become well adjusted members of society if they are given the chance. If there is no or little parental control teens may fly off the hook. It happened in ancient Greece, it happened in medieval England, it happens now. This report in my view grossly over-hypes the blame social technologies have in what is the normal behaviour of certain groups of high school kids.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Move over old-skool gamers, it's the final level for you

(created with the South Park Avatar creator)
(With the launch of the Microsoft Kinect, all three major gaming platforms now have a controller that is motion oriented. In other words: the gamer needs to get off the couch and put his or her hind quarters into gear. The success of the Nintendo Wii is well known but it seems that both the Playstation Move and Microsoft's Kinect are overnight successes as well.

I am an old-skool gamer. I don't have much time to game anymore but when I do I like to sit or lie on the couch and immerse myself with near religious passivity into a fantasy world of choice. So this development of control schemes that require more physical activity than moving my thumbs and index fingers is worrying to me. Soon video games will cause loss of weight, lowered blood pressure and development of musculature reminiscent of an Olympic athlete. That's not going to do a geek's image any good.

It's the last days of Rome for the old-skool gamer. The grossly overweight, snacks and soda popping gamer is a dying breed. A cultural exponent of the twentieth century is on its last legs in this first decade of the twenty-first century. All that will be left is a small niche of humanity that perseveres as the stereotype old-skool gamer, mainly found among those that play their games on PC's. Most probably roaming the World of Warcraft.

But as all geeks know: one just can't stop progress. It's only a matter of time before a motion based system is developed  for PC's and then even the last vestiges of old-skool gamers will have fallen. Once the drivers have been downloaded, the patches installed and autoexec.bat's and config.sys's been edited, there will be no stopping the onslaught of health for the PC gamers.

It is sad. I gain some solace from the existence of that one South Park episode that stands as a proud monument to a lost culture. The culture of the old-skool gamer.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

E-paper E-readers not up to snuff yet

Yesterday I had the chance to have a quick look at a couple of E-readers. They were the Oyo e-reader, the Samsung E60 eReader and a couple of BeBook E-readers (Neo, One and Mini). Also yesterday I had a go at an iPad in an Apple store. In my humble opinion E-readers are not up to snuff yet.

The first thing that struck me was the antiquated user interface of all the e-book readers I looked at. Punching number keys to navigate through menu's felt like warping back to the 90's. Or if a touch screen was available I had the greatest difficulty in getting the device to respond to my at first ginger and later more insistent pawing of the menu items. The loading of books, even short ones took ages. Granted, once a book is loaded it is ready for you at start-up but as more and more of these devices are becoming multifunctional, chances are you will be switching tasks quite often.

Then there was the turning of pages. It was like adding special effects to the book. A white screen flashed, went dark, waited a couple of seconds and there was the new page. And the pages contained too little text to be able to put off turning the page for long. So this dramatic effect would be a often repeated. If I wanted a book written by Michael Bay this might work but to have these effects crop up in "Pride and Prejudice" is nothing less than disastrous.

The ergonomics of many of the devices was also less than ideal. True, they are light and compact but this also means less text per page. I do not want to turn the page too often, it breaks the flow of reading, especially taking the afore mentioned special effects into account. Some of the buttons lacked positive response and all but the Samsung felt cheap. More toy like than serious reading tool.

I own an old iPhone (3g) and I played with the iPad yesterday. I am not going to say that these are the ultimate E-readers. But I am going to say that they are the yard stick to which the also rans are going to be measured in terms of usability. And the also rans fall short. Way short! Granted they are a lot cheaper than the Apple products but that is beside the point if they do not provide enough of the function they were intended for in the first place. What use is a car that's cheap that has square wheels?

Sadly I can not compare these E-readers or the iPad to the Amazon Kindle simply because it is not available in our country so there is no where to test it. I also have not tested the Sony ones yet although they are available over here. The experience may be slightly better. But boy does it need to be a lot better to win me over!

I remain a fervent proponent of E-books and E-reading in general. I do believe it is the future of publishing and reading. But the developers of the technology behind it need to shore up their breeches, grease their elbows and get to work. There's a lot to be done before it all becomes comfortable enough to compete with books or the iPad/iPhone on a long term basis. Once the fad has worn off I mean.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Proposition 19: either legalise cannabis or ban alcohol

2 November 2010 California votes on a proposition to legalise marijuana en make various activities linked to the growing and selling of marijuana a legal, controllable and taxable undertaking.

As usual, anything to do with drugs becomes a controversial subject, especially in the US. Proposition 19 is no exception. The nay sayers think it will be the end of civilised society when proposition 19 is approved. Ay sayers think it will pull the rug from under a lot of illegal activities.

I live in the Netherlands, where marijuana is, if not exactly legal under all circumstances, tolerated by the authorities and it can be legally purchased for personal use. So my view on this whole thing is rather liberal. As a matter of fact I see no difference between alcohol or cannabis. One of the arguments of the nay sayers is: "What if your doctor or nurse is high?" Yes, well, what if he or she is drunk? Another argument against prop 19 is that it would lead inevitably to addiction to hard drugs. This is nonsense. Marijuana is less addictive than alcohol. The only reason people who smoke marijuana can become addicted to hard drugs is that the only place they can get marijuana now also happens to be the place that sells the hard stuff because it is both illegal. Pulling marijuana out of the illegal circuit may lead to less addictions to hard drugs in the long run.

In the Netherlands both alcohol and cannabis are freely available, although you need to find a specialist shop for the latter while alcohol is available in practically every food store. Do I see stoners lining the pavement? No. Do our doctors and nurses walk around with their heads in the clouds? No. Do we have substantially more people addicted to hard drugs here than in the U.S.? No. In other words, I think the arguments of the nay sayers are ludicrous. They also deny that the population of California are responsible adults who can think for themselves. Like alcohol, the usage of cannabis is down to a person's own responsibility. Drink driving kills people. Alcohol addiction wrecks families. Yet, the vast majority of people who drink alcohol do so in a responsible manner and know their limits. It will be the same with the use of cannabis when it becomes legal.

There is no valid reason to ban cannabis while at the same time allowing alcohol. Ban them both or don't ban either. And we all know what happens when you ban alcohol...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

History and the war in Afghanistan: when will we learn

According to U.S. military and intelligence officials, drawing from the latest assessment of the war in Afghanistan, the military campaign to dislodge the Taliban has failed. This comes as no surprise: When was a war against guerilla's ever won?

Take a look at history, both recent and ancient. It is rife with examples of guerilla's outlasting the martial efforts of superpowers. So rife in fact that winning such a war has become statistically impossible. It seems that the US military are finally admitting that, again, the statistics are bolstered with a win for the home team.

Last week I read that schools in the UK are considering dropping history from the school syllabus. Way to go to prevent young people to learn from mistakes made in the past. Mistakes like trying to fight against those that are defending their homes and who know the lie of the land better than anyone and above all: feel they have nothing to lose. Way to go to waste more young lives in future wars that are doomed to have no other outcome than a withdrawal and leave a shattered people to pick up the pieces, both at home and abroad. A war like this leaves only losers.

When will military advisors, who brief powerful leaders, ever learn to read a bit of history before beating the drums of war? You can fly in as many bombs as you like, you can throw as many soldiers against the mountains or the jungles or the deserts as you like, the guerilla is going to charge, run and hide until you are blue in the face and when you run out of steam, they will still be at it. It's like mosquitos in summer, no matter how many you swat, every night that buzzing whine in your ear will return.

History is more than just knowing names and dates. History can be used to teach us something. We can take advantage of it to better ourselves. We learn as children that if we touch a burning stove it hurts. It seems however that as soon as we become part of a powerful nation's elite, we forget the ability to learn from past mistakes. Politics begin to dictate military decisions and we rush headlong into a situation where there is no escape from other than with a severely bloody nose. And we do it time and time again.

When will we ever learn not to squander young lives in hopeless wars? We send people into space and we set up Large Hadron Colliders for God's sake! We are smarter than that! The ultimate question is: When will we learn to use our brains to find other solutions to our problems than fighting wars?

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. 
  - Sun Tzu

Friday, October 22, 2010

To watch Simon Cowell or not to watch Simon Cowell

Photo courtesy of
Rodolfo Belloli 

Google TV, Apple TV, Boxee and others are offering a way to watch Internet content on our living room TV's. I jumped on this bandwagon early on and cancelled my cable subscription some 3 years ago. But that may be a little radical for most people. No more live sports, no more reality TV and no more Idols-alikes. One person's boon is another person's bad dream.

For now, Internet-TV will be complementary to normal TV instead of a replacement for the majority of people. This may change as soon as the major players in the main stream TV world start dumping their - in my view - trash on the Internet. And that will happen. How could Simon Cowell resist being part of the largest network humanity has ever seen?

And yet, could it be that the mixing of the waters could bring forth a wondrous elixir? Could it be that due to the freedom which is - still - inherently part of the make up of the Internet, there is going to be room for content that caters to more than just the lowest common denominator?

Already there are shows that are commercially viable which buck the commercial trend. Look at the shows on Leo Laporte's network. They cater to a niche audience and they are commonly one and half or two hours long. Shows like that would never survive on regular commercial networks (indeed TechTV did not). Yet the shows make enough money for Leo Laporte to build a company on them.

The one important factor in all this is freedom. As long as the Internet remains free from government interference, as long as the large media companies do not take hold of the Internet wholesale, there will be a chance for 'traditional' and 'quirky' to live together.

I do not see overall Internet governance happen any time soon. If only because of the vast amount of hackers that will find loop holes in any regulatory technology governing bodies may throw into the fray. I foresee a bright future where Simon Cowell may be available on my living room TV but where I have enough alternatives to not have to watch his vitriolic, public scamming, mainstream bilge.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Android or Apple: open or not open, that's the question

(Photo by Milan6)
Steve Jobs and Andy Rubin (Android creator) have a bit of a tiff. The crux of the tiff is the openness of Android and the closedness of Apple's Os's. The mud is flying both ways. Steve Jobs pointed out that Android is so fragmented that in effect it is as much a closed system as Apple's OS's are. Meaning that only technically proficient users can make use of the open aspects of Android. Many Twitter voices said much the same when Rubin responded with a tweet that contained a line of cryptic install code. Most users will read that tweet with the words "Say what?" on their lips.

Steve Job's argument seems a little far fetched though even if it is effectively true. Android is in effect a closed system to all but die hard code monkeys but that is a side effect of its distribution strategy: everyone can and more importantly may add to it, distribute it and use it if they have the skill. In Apple's case the OS being closed is part of its basic underlying philosophy. The OS is closed to protect users from fiddling with the innards and messing up the works. No one is allowed to touch it apart from the hallowed hands of the Apple coders. Result: a stable and homogenous system. However to attack one another over this seems a little pointless. Customers are better informed than ever thanks to the Internet so in most cases potential buyers know what they let themselves in for. And in any case: both platforms offer enough functionality out of the box to please most customers, no fiddling required.

The big question is: do we want our platforms to be open? The iPod, iPad and iPhone are locked into the tightly controlled world of Apple apps. However there are a couple of hundred thousand apps to choose from. There is an app for most functions you might want to use an apple device for. In practice there are only a limited amount of apps one really uses. The fact that the platform is closed is not relevant to the user. My washing machine isn't an open platform but it performs its duty perfectly.

Android is an open platform. Anyone can program for it, anyone can put it on his or her hardware and any program can be written and changed by anyone and finally the apps can be distributed through any website the distributer wishes to use. The result is a platform that is indeed open but Steve Jobs does have a point: it has become so fragmented that it is almost impossible to talk about a platform anymore. Android runs the risk of becoming one of those platforms where certain programs only run on certain iterations of Android. Like its Linux forebears the text terminal and cryptic code typing to get things working are never far away. Yet it has the huge advantage of welcoming everyone with a little programming skill to try and code for it. Through democratic filtering by users the easily usable and most functional apps will float to the top and become standard elements of the Android OS.

In both cases the bottom line is: does a device perform the function its user wants it to perform. And for both platforms there are a lot of users who will feel right at home, whether the front door is wide open or whether it needs a key. So bury your hatchets guys, the world is big enough for both of you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Desktop, laptop, handheld: a liberating tech evolution

I am old enough to call a Sinclair ZX81 my first computer. It was a small, flat, black slab of plastic with a membrane keyboard and a weird piggybacked block sticking out of its rear. This block was the memory extension that gave the 8bit computer a whopping memory capacity of 16Kb.

How things have changed. And they are about to change again: we're moving into the handheld age. Computers are becoming truly pocket-portable while remaining fully functional. Add screen agnostic connectivity and the work and play computing device can be carried in our pocket anywhere we go. The one remaining issue would be the input device. It is hard to keep a device truly portable and make it so that typing a 1500 word piece on it can be done comfortably. But I have no doubt that out of the box thinkers are already working on that. Input systems like Swype are an indication of that.

Processor speed is also lagging a little still. But remember the early laptops? They were hardly more than a pocket calculator in a barely portable box with a screen the size of a postage stamp and a whopping big battery. Not anymore, they are sleek and run as fast and as smoothly as all but the fastest desktop monsters. Monsters that only 1% of the population really needs anyway. Already 1GHz snapdragon processors are the norm in smart phones. Multi cores are coming and so are GHz bumps. Count on it: within 5 years a handheld computer is as fast as the average laptop is now.

What will this enable us to do? Will it change our world?

You bet it will. Where laptops and desktop computers are still something of a special item which the average person has to switch on with a degree of conscious choice, the handheld device, i.e. mobile phone, is switched on and used almost without thinking about it. It is much more an extension of our body.

Also: for the average person buying a desktop or laptop computer is a once in a couple of years occurrence. Again a much more conscious decision. Mobile phones are replaced much more often and easier, especially when contracts are involved. This is going to become even more noticeable when the cheaper strata of the mobile phone market becomes populated with smart phone like devices. Something that is already happening. The 'trow away' or 'burner' phone will become powerful enough to do much more than just call and SMS.

The phone is with us at all times and it has penetrated every demographic layer of the populace. These devices becoming more powerful will have a much greater impact than making the desktop or laptop computer more powerful.

Mobile phones, excuse me, handheld super-computers, will detach us from wires attached to walls, wires that keep us in our seats all day. Where the smart phone is still an 'also have' device the handheld computer will become the only computing device we need, freeing us from our desks at the same time.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The global warming debate hotting up again but it's moot

'Harold Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, has resigned from the American Physical Society. His reason for resigning his long standing membership of this scientific club is the fact that they adhere to the global warming theory without giving doubters the chance to remonstrate. "Global warming is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life," he writes in his resignation letter.

Reading the comments underneath the article on the site which reports on this, nicely illustrates the division of opinion on this subject. Is the earth's warming caused by us humans or is it just part of the natural cycle it has been going through for billions of years? Is the earth warming up? Is it linked to the sun's activity? If so, why is it warming up while the sun seems less active? Do money matters influence the results of research into this issue? Is there a big global warming conspiracy going on? The comments go every which way but agreement is not to be found.

It may be a waste of energy to find answers to the questions and resolving the controversies. If the earth is warming up because we pump out too much CO2 in our quest for a comfortable living, then we are in a heap of trouble because there is no way we are going to change the lifestyles of billions of people overnight - and 'in the long run' is too late if the global warming theories are correct. And if the earth is warming up because it is part of its natural cycle of climatic change we are equally in a heap of trouble but there may not be much we can do about it. 

Conclusive proof either way is still a long way away. But why wait until our esteemed scientific collective settles its bickering and arrives at a consensus? Fossil fuels are running out - or at least the exploitation of them is becoming less economically viable by the minute. Demand for energy is rising with new economies adding massive amounts of people wanting to spend their new found wealth on electrical-power-hungry gadgets. And the production of energy is far from being a clean industry anyway, quite apart from belching out CO2, the gas that gets the blame for causing global warming.

So the whole global warming discussion is moot. We need to change our ways no matter what. We need to find methods of clean energy production, we need to cut our energy needs and we need to harness our population growth. The earth - warm or cold - can only sustain a certain amount of us and our waste and we as a species are putting demands on her she can't sustain even if you take CO2 production out of the equation. "The times they are a-changin'," Bob Dylan sang. They are, they must!

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Why Windows Phone 7 may have a chance

Let's begin with a little perspective. The mobile phone OS market is ruled by Nokia's Symbian with 41% of the market. Next comes RIM (Blackberry) with 18% followed by Android, 17% and Apple's iOS at 14%. Microsoft (5%) is just one of the rest that can be found in the last 10 or so percent. So they are not a big player at the moment. (Source: business insider.)

Microsoft's phone OS's have historically been plagued by bugs and hang-ups so their track record of producing a reliable phone OS is not great. The debacle with their Kin devices does not help to induce a happy glint in the eyes of prospective phone buyers.

So it is pretty easy for analysts to predict Windows Phone 7 will flounder. Yet I think Microsoft may have a chance. They will not become the market leader overnight, that is certainly true. But they do have a very striking OS if the pre-release video's and screen shots are anything to go by. And striking is good in a market that is slowly congealing into a standard way of doing things. There are always those among us who want to distinguish themselves and Microsoft may just offer the OS to do that.

Apart from the look and feel of the OS there is another factor that may help Microsoft. Although Nokia is the world leader with their Symbian OS, they will not remain that for long I think. Their new version of the Symbian OS is clunky and not very slick. As a matter of fact it looks like Symbian is going the way of the old Microsoft Mobile OS's. Building a patchwork of features on a once successful OS without looking around you what is happening in the marketplace. The stubborn adherence to their own OS instead of adopting Android for at least some of their smart phones is going to become the death knell for Nokia.

Although both Android and iOS are a long way from Symbian in terms of market share they are miles ahead when it comes to OS quality and ease of use. And this will filter down to the buying public's consciousness sooner rather then later and things can change awfully quickly in a market where every couple of months new devices are presented, and more importantly, bought!

With the possible demise of Nokia - regarding smart phone market share, I don't predict Nokia as a company to go out of business any time soon - there will be a vacuum in the market that needs filling. The obvious beneficiaries will of course be RIM, Android and iOS but the freshly made over kid on the block may have a good chance of muscling in on the action.

Fresh looks and a shift in the market may be the reason why Windows Phone 7 has a chance in a fiercely competitive market. The one thing that will determine how Microsoft will fare in the market share stakes by this time next year is how well the OS performs. It will be put under the microscope, be dismantled layer by layer and squeezed and prodded by almost every tech blogger out there and if it turns out that the pretty face is hiding a monster, Microsoft will remain an also ran. My thoughts go out to Steve Ballmer, who's bonus was already cut due to the poor performance of the mobile OS department of Microsoft. He must have some pretty sleepless nights in the run up to his new OS's release. It would be a sad sight to see him putting his archetypal presenting skills to use selling match sticks in the street if Windows Phone 7 fails.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bill Gates at TED and how got it wrong

Scanning Google news my eyes fell on a remarkable headline: "Bill Gates says vaccines can help reduce world population." I clicked the link and it brought me to the site and I read the piece.

It left me astounded! That a link on Google news could lead me to such utter nonsense. What deducted from Bill Gates' speech at TED was that he and the world's health organisations are planning to cull 10 to 15 % of the world's population to get the CO2 emissions down. I could not believe that Bill Gates, one of the greatest philanthropists in human history has an evil plan like that up his sleeve. So I decided to watch the TED talk by Bill Gates. And this proved that may have a brain behind it but they forgot to switch it on in this instance. based their conspiracy theory on one element of Gates' speech. Bill Gates showed an equation which described CO2 output. The equation is: CO2=P x S x E x C wherein P is people, S is services per person, E is energy used to create and power these services and C is the amount of CO2 produced per unit of energy.

Bill Gates went on to state that to get the CO2 to zero, which is the target for us to be able to survive, one of the factors needs to go to zero. He spent a short time per factor to explain what they were and where these factors were heading, ending on a long talk about the last factor, CO2 which was the main hub of his talk.

Obviously the factor 'people' is going up. We're at 6.6 billion and heading towards 9 point something billion. What Bill Gates then said is what got in a twisted knickers situation and I paraphrase: healthcare and vaccines may get the world population growth down to 8 point something billion. From which deducted that Bill Gates and health care organisations are planning to cull 10 to 15 % of the population on earth. But that is not at all what he is saying. What he is saying is that people in poor areas where child mortality is high tend to have large families (something professor Jeffrey Sachs explained). So improve the living conditions and general health of people and the population reduces on a voluntary basis.

The problem is that a headline like the one NaturalNews chose, in which it is inferred that there is a large conspiracy to cull human beings, catches the eye and tickles the imagination. Further thought is drowned in the fear mongering of publications like this. While what is really the case is that hyper intelligent people like Bill Gates and many others (just watch some TED talks to become convinced) are becoming more and more aware that humanity needs to change its ways, that humanity can change its ways and that humanity is willing to change its ways. These thinkers are the leaders to follow, not the nincompoops at publications like Shame on them!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ashamed to be Dutch

Coat of Arms of The Netherlands
(Source: Hans-Ulrich Herzog, Flaggen und Wappen,
Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut, 1982.)
Today a months long deadlock in forming a new Dutch government has been broken. An agreement between coalition parties seems to have been reached. And the two centre-right parties VVD (liberals) and CDA (Christian Democrats) have bowed deeply for the far right wishes of the PVV (Freedom Party). This has made the country I was born in - but no longer feel anything but loathing for - a right wing, a-social country. This government will do nothing but make me feel deeply ashamed to be Dutch.

Quotes like "We want to give the country back to the working Dutch citizen." are a clear indication that social outcasts, people who have had a tough time and those that just don't fit the mould will face impossible living conditions. This also means that artists, writers, intellectuals, people who enrich society but may not be classed in the 9 to 5 category will have to move elsewhere. I am one of them. A country where I already do not feel at home anymore will now actively make my life impossible.

Geert Wilders, PVV party leader, showed his intentions when during a speech by the three party leaders he confidently took the stage and took all his time to speak. This while he is not a full member of the coalition, he has a back seat role. His party has been added as a "support party" to make up the numbers in an otherwise minority government. His confidence shows he feels himself to be much more important than he should be, he is a dangerous man: his party's manifesto declares that the first article of our constitution should be changed. It should no longer read as an article of equality and granting basic human rights to anyone regardless of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It should instead read that The Netherlands has a society based upon Christian, Jewish and Humanist principles. A man who wants to change our constitution into a limiting fundamental law that excludes people on the basis of race and religion has just been made part of our government.

The Netherlands had just entered a period that carries strong echoes of 1930's Germany. I hang my head in shame for being Dutch.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sleep safely at night, ET-nanny is watching over us

In this story on AOL news, former US airforce officers claim that back in 1967 UFO's were responsible for disabling nuclear missiles. 10 missiles went from operational to unlaunchable while UFO's hovered over the base. Of course the officers were sworn to secrecy - rather unnecessary as they already operated on 'above top sectret' level - and the whole incident never happened as far as officials were concerned.

The Second Opinion Tribune has a healthy dose of sceptics elixir mixed in with the virtual ink with which its stories are written. So to say that we at TSOT believe in everything we read would be overstating the facts. However we at TSOT also have a healthy dose of imagination. And we love to speculate on 'what if' scenarios.

So, what if this report is true. What if ET decided to play nanny and put a stop to our mucking about with military toys that are way beyond the level of our mental development. After all, the way we play with weaponry is a bit like letting a 4 year old play in a muscle car with the engine running.

Of course the military takes the view that anything unidentified entering its bases should be shot at first and asked questions of later. Or rather, shot at, buried and never talked to or about ever more. But I think that if this story is true it may be the best news in centuries: ET is watching over us! We may muck about as much as we like but when the 4 year old threatens to launch the muscle car into traffic causing an almighty wreck, ET-nanny will turn the key and switch off the engine before it is too late.

We at TSOT don't believe in God but we do believe that with many billions of star systems beyond our little moon, the idea of little green men roaming the galaxy has a far greater chance of being a reality. So let's believe this story if only to be able to sleep peacefully at night. Safe in the knowledge that even if we have only just outgrown our monkey brains and still behave like primitive beasts at times, nanny will prevent us from making too much of a mess of things. Even if she only does it to prevent her the extra work of having to mop up after us.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Is Britain in trouble?

Mont Python's The Life Of Brian, crucifixion scene
(Photo courtesy of the BBC)
A Cardinal who has visited the UK a couple of times called the UK a third world country.

The universities of Oxford and Cambridge come joined sixth in a league table that rates the world's universities.

The financial crisis hit the UK hard. There are signs of economic recovery but the same article warns against over confidence. The UK is not out of the woods yet, economically speaking.

Then there is the problem of binge drinking and carousing, turning many of the UK city centres into zombie horror film sets as soon as the clock strikes twelve. Complete with blood spattered zombies, partially clothed, stupified victims and Christian zealots battling it out with the zombies. The latter in a profoundly non-violent way of course.

Is the U.K. in trouble?

Maybe Britain is going through a bad patch. A sort of mid life crisis. Historically speaking Britain has only just laid down the riches of a brilliant career and settled down into relatively quiet retirement. Gone are the days of successfully striving against European competitors for domination of the world's seas. Gone are the days of conquering and colonising. Gone are the days of large scale industry and economic boom. Instead the U.K. has had to settle down to a largely domestic life. And that is a difficult transition for an old sailor.

But Brits are made of stern stuff. They're island folk and island folk tend to shrug off hard times. Their history is full of stories of survival against all odds. Even their literature reflects this. Read Dickens, Stevenson or Defoe (two of these authors were Scottish by the way). They show an island spirit geared towards shrugging off bad weather. An example of this can be found in an initiative launched by a (again Scottish) company: James Donaldson and sons LTD. This company, instead of celebrating its 150 years in business by throwing a flashy party, donated £150,000 to a new charity which was used to launch The Donaldson Leadership Academy. This organisation helps children who have not had an easy start in life to reach their true potential. Initiatives like this help the younger generation of a society to take another look at their future and re-evaluate their prospects.

Britain may be going through a bad patch but historical precedent and current initiatives seem to point to it rising above such matters. The stiff upper lip and British sense of humour will probably safe the day. As Eric Idle sang in the direst of situations: "always look on the bright side of life!"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Robots with feeling

In an article in PCWorld an artificial 'E-skin' is described that may soon help robots feel. It can also be used to make prosthetic limbs with feeling abilities. The skin consists of semiconductor nanowires and works with low voltages. It can detect pressures low enough to be able to wash your precious China cups.

This is science fiction coming to life. Finally all those Asimov robots can become reality. Although Philip K. Dick's 'Do androids dream of electric sheep' (basis for the film 'Blade runner') paints a much darker future of course.

So robots will be able to feel in the near future. Or at least in one sense. In the other sense, the sense of feeling emotion, they are still wholly lacking. For how long though? It seems there is a drive towards trying to recreate life. Mary Shelley proved to be more than a little prescient when she wrote 'Frankenstein'. Mankind is trying very hard to recreate a being that can be called living. We have mechanical devices taking over heavy labour, building the objects that we crave. And robotic research is constantly striving to construct robots that are ever more self sufficient. Artificial Intelligence seems to be the hardest stumbling block but there is little doubt that with the advances in computer processor power and ever smarter algorithms a thinking computer is only decades away. If that.

And yet, and yet... Will we allow robots to become our overlords? Will robots want to be our overlords? Science fiction is full of stories that paint a dark future. I even write them myself. But is that picture a true one?

For a dark future ruled by malicious robots to come true we will have to create robots that either have no feeling and act purely on logic principles or robots that have actively malicious intend towards us. So as long as roboticists have read the Robot series by Asimov to learn the Three Laws of Robotics and have read 'Do androids dream of electric sheep' for the warning it contains, we may be safe. The only thing we need then is enough compassion and tolerance to accept our new earth-citizens. In that regard it may be that the greater problem lies with us, not with the robots.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fat is like religion

The anti-fat fad. We have been bombarded with anti-fat commercials for many years. Science and pseudo-science have invented a multitude of ways to lose weight. Obesity is a problem in many wealthy cultures and vascular diseases resulting form too much fat are the number one killer in our luxurious society. However as with any form of extremism: lose the nuance, lose the plot.

In an article in the online Wall Street Journal, Melinda Beck explains that not all fat is bad and not all slimming is healthy. It turns out that fat cells are much more than just storage bags for the excesses of our over-sumptuous living. They are active communicators with our brain and with regulatory systems in our body. It turns out that battling fat in one part of the body where it is seen may force the body to store its fat elsewhere where it isn't seen, say around the heart and liver. It also turns out that those are bad places to store fat.

Fat is to the body what religion is to society. A little may be good, it regulates and keeps one going in lean times. Become too radical in battling it or too indulgent in allowing it and the whole kit and caboodle stops functioning correctly. There is a golden mean where the body functions just fine with a little bulge here and there. They're not called love handles for nothing. Enjoy the weekend!