Sunday, July 31, 2005

Ten Worst Song Lyrics Ever

Includes such gems as:

"And if you want love
We'll make it
Swimming a deep sea
Of blankets"

"Between the parted pages and were pressed
In love's hot, fevered iron
Like a striped pair of pants"

Office Guns

OfficeGuns have step-by-step instructions for creating high-powered weaponry from common office supplies. The Super Maul (pictured) is capable of firing a pencil at 34.4 metres per second with a range of 16.2 metres.

German Tree Swastika

This 60-square metre swastika was created in the 1930s by planting Larch trees among Pines. It was only visible a few weeks a year when the colour stood out and has now been cut down by German officials.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Random Urban Dictionary Definition

Sandy Kane:

any old ex-stripper/street hooker with retarded looking "lemon-stung eyes" - or any toothless-Times Square skank-whore turned AA qualifier-turned-fakeTV-celebrity who lights her tits on fire and tries to be funny like ha ha i'm a funny stand-up comedianne look how fucked up I am.....

I got "sandy kaned" last night.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why Piracy is Good for Microsoft

Microsoft has announced that Windows users will have to prove their copy is genuine to be able to update the software (excluding security updates). They recite the usual 'poor us; naughty pirates!' rhetoric, but it seems to me that piracy is a major reason that Microsoft has maintained its OS monopoly for so long.

Software produces what economists call network externalities: the more people who use a product the more valuable it is. The most obvious example of a network externality is in the phone service - not very useful if you're the only one using it, but helluva useful if everyone is. Operating systems produce such externalities through compatibility issues and the fact that if everyone uses the same OS you don't need to learn a new one when you use a friend's computer.
Given that there are reasonable free substitutes, you would expect many (more) people to opt out if they had to pay for Windows. This would loosen the network-externality-based grip that MS has on the OS market and make switching from Windows more attractive for those people who do pay for the software. As more and more people decide to use Linux, the exodus would gather pace and the MS monopoly would erode. Piracy stops this from happening, since if Windows is as free (as in beer) as Linux, there is little incentive for the average user to make the switch.

Of course, it may be that the extra market share MS enjoys through piracy would be outweighed by the lost revenue from customers who would have paid for their product if they had to, but managed to get a pirated copy instead.

So, is MS's move to not offer updates to pirating scallywags foolish? I think it's probably a good idea if we consider it as a form of price discrimination rather than an effort to stamp out piracy. To be able to price discriminate, MS needs to sort customers by their willingness to pay. Some people are not willing to pay anything, but are nonetheless valuable customers since they contribute to the network effect. MS should let them have Windows for free. But if they do that, they will be giving it to otherwise-paying customers for free as well.

By offering paying customers a better product than non-paying customers they can, to an extent, get around the problem. Those who want the updates (an imperfect proxy for those with a higher willingness to pay for windows) are charged, while those who don't much care for updates or can find a way of getting them without paying (an imperfect proxy for those with a lower willingness to pay for windows) get it free.

They would only lose those (non-paying) customers who value Linux more than un-updatable windows and would gain money from those who were previously pirates but value the updates at more than the price of the software, and so would pay up.

There is no reason MS couldn't have done this, and much more, years ago. The fact that they haven'’t leads me to believe that they see things the same way I do.

Drawings by Barnaby Ward

Freakin' cool, eh! I'd totally hit that.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Economic Sociology

The Boston Globe has a nice article on Economic Sociology. I think the time is such that we can ignore a lot of the disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences. Sociology, economics and anthropology (and cultural studies, human geography and so on ad nauseam) are, to an extent, looking at the same things from different angles. It seems rather foolish for sociologists to ignore the insights of economists because they work under different assumptions. I suspect a lot of the antipathy among sociologists towards economics is ideological. It seems practically compulsory to be lefter-than-thou in sociological circles and people in general seem to misinterpret economics as the study of $$how-to-make-money$$.

From the article:

While economists continue to probe into social life, a growing academic subfield known as economic sociology is doing just the opposite--bringing tools and concepts from sociology to bear on the economy. We cannot understand how people earn, spend, and invest their money, economic sociologists argue, unless we understand social relations. If, as economists contend, incentives and choice are everywhere, so are social conventions and personal connections.

''The economy is social. It's a set of social relations. The economy is as social as a family or religion," says Viviana A. Zelizer, a Princeton University sociologist who studies how cultural attitudes and consumption patterns influence each other.

A leading figure in economic sociology, Zelizer is sharply critical of the dichotomy she calls ''hostile worlds," which juxtaposes ''a world of rationality, efficiency, and impersonality, on one side" with ''a world of self-expression, cultural richness, and intimacy on the other--with contact between the two worlds inevitably corrupting both of them." Real human beings, she argues, don't divide their rational and emotional, or personal and commercial, lives that way.


''Most people are trying to maximize economic goals and social goals at the same time. It's not like on Monday they try to maximize their wealth and on Wednesday they try to maximize their social status. It's all mixed up together," says Granovetter.

''We need theories that will actually give us some closure on how people do all these things together," he says. ''I think that's the big challenge in social science for the 21st century--to understand how those things all fit together."


Age-Maps: Two Photos of the same person at different times spliced together.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Opposite of Shoplifting

In Culture Jamming News:

Shopdropping is an ongoing project in which I alter the packaging of canned goods and then "shopdrop" the items back onto grocery store shelves. I replace the packaging with labels created using my photographs. The "shopdropped" works act as a series of art objects that people can purchase from the grocery store. Because the barcodes and price tags are left intact purchasing the cans before they are discovered and removed is possible. In one instance a store employee even restocked the cans to a new aisle based on the barcode information.

Shopdropping strives to take back a share of the visual space we encounter on daily basis. Similar to the way street art stakes a claim to public space for self expression, Shopdropping subverts commercial space for artistic use.

Jamais at WorldChanging is reminded of another subversive-artsy-pranky-thing from way back:

Among the best pranks ever performed were the efforts of the Barbie Liberation Organization, which was supported by the organization ®™ark. In 1989, the BLO purchased hundreds of Teen Talk Barbie dolls (of "Math is hard!" and "I love shopping!" infamy) and Talking Duke G.I. Joe dolls (prone to shouting "Vengeance is mine!"), swapped their voice electronics, replaced them carefully in their boxes, and returned them to store shelves. As a result, Barbie demanded to hear the lamentations of her enemies, and G.I. Joe sought assistance for planning weddings. As the subsequent BLO statement put it, "The storekeepers make money twice, we stimulate the economy - the consumer gets a better product - and our message gets heard."

I always thought it would be cool to replace Barbie dolls with proportionally more correct ones, cellulite and all. Perhaps they could get ever-saggier over time and eventually lose control of their bladder and take on that unmistakable smell of piss and biscuits.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hilarious Japanese 'Smoking Manners' Ads

There's 42 of these, pretty darned funny.


Windows Vista / Longhorn Screenshots

Microsoft have confirmed the next version of Windows will be named Vista.

Some screenshots of a Beta Version have apparently been leaked.

Does anyone NOT know who the drug celebrities are?

Just Wondering.

There doesn't seem much point in name suppression in this information age we live in.

Friday, July 22, 2005

TradeMe Auctioning Warship

The HMNZS Wellington (F69) is parked outside Te Papa in preparation for being sunk off Wellington's South Coast as a diving attraction, later this year.

Trade Me has exclusive rights to auction everything inside her before she is sunk. The 45-tonne main gun is not for sale, but everything else is - including brass shells and red buttons for firing torpedos (torpedos not included).

Longhorn to be Released as Windows Vista?

From C-net's Microsoft Blog:

Rumor has it that Microsoft plans to use Vista as the official name for the next version of Windows, which has been known by its codename, Longhorn.

In addition to the rumors on various Microsoft enthusiast sites, the company has also registered the domain name, as noted by Windows watcher

The company won't comment, but it is expected to make some sort of Longhorn-related announcement Friday morning.

Vista is a fucking horrible name.

Potato-Powered Web Server

It's no longer running on potatoes, but a single AAA battery which they say will last several years. Freakin' cool nonetheless.

This is an actual potato-powered Web server, currently online here. After the great SpudServer joke, I thought it would be interesting to see what an actual server capable of running on potatoes would look like. This server is very, very slow (around 0.2 hits/second), so you may have trouble connecting.

The CPU is a Microchip PIC16F876 running with a 76.8 KHz clock and a nominal 1.5V supply voltage (somewhat outside the manufacturer's specifications). At this speed and voltage, it draws 20 microWatts (0.00002 Watts), or roughly 100,000th to 1 millionth the power of any Intel 386 board I know of. It connects via SLIP at 4800 baud.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Scotty's Ashes to be Launched into Space

The Ashes of James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty on Star Trek, are being launched into space. Not quite sure if that's as cool as Hunter S. Thompson being shot out of a cannon, but plenty cool enough.

The Future of RSS: Not Blogs

From Feedforall:
Blogs vaulted RSS into the limelight but are unlikely to be the force that sustains RSS as a communication medium. The biggest opportunities for RSS are not in the blogosphere but as a corporate communication channel.

Even now, businesses that were initially reluctantly evaluating RSS are beginning to realize the power and benefit of the RSS information avenue. The inherent capacity for consumers to select the content they wish to receive will be the driving mechanism for keeping advertisements to a minimum and content quality consistent.

Google Moon

In honor of the first manned Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969, we’ve added some NASA imagery to the Google Maps interface to help you pay your own visit to our celestial neighbor.

Link. Zoom in all the way for a bad joke.

Porn Causes Brain Damage

From the Guardian:

According to Dr Judith Reisman, pornography affects the physical structure of your brain turning you into a porno-zombie. Porn, she says, is an "erototoxin ", producing an addictive "drug cocktail " of testosterone, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin with a measurable organic effect on the brain.

Some of us might consider this a good thing. Not Reisman: erototoxins aren't about pleasure, they're a "fear-sex-shame-and-anger stimulant". Reisman's paper on the subject The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind & Memory & Subverting Freedom of Speech has helped make her the darling of the anti-pornography crusade, and in November last year she presented her erototoxin theory to the US senate.
Pdf of the paper.

As Mind Hacks rightly points out:

Pornography does physically affect the brain. In fact, everything we experience physically changes the brain in some way.

What Reisman is trying to do, is portray this physical effect as 'damage'. Furthermore, she argues the damage could be so severe, that an affected person would not be rational enough to engage in 'free speech' (notice the leap?).

Unfortunately, her self-published paper The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind & Memory & Subverting Freedom of Speech is highly selective when reviewing the published neuroscience research.

Many of her arguments are based on one-reference claims, and some only on what she calls "extensive documentation". One unmentioned implication is the fact that, if sexual arousal from pornography causes 'brain damage', then so will real-life sex!

Some of her arguments are just plain farcical. For example, she uses a statement by an aesthetician that "No nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling" to conclude that "all sexual images 'arouse' responses by viewers, including sexualised images of children." (p5)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Microsoft Promises Better Performance From Longhorn

Microsoft says their next version of Windows will:
  • launch applications 15 percent faster than Windows XP does
  • boot PCs 50 percent faster than they boot currently and will allow PCs to resume from standby in two seconds
  • allow users to patch systems with 50 percent fewer reboots required
  • reduce the number of system images required by 50 percent
  • enable companies to migrate users 75 percent faster than they can with existing versions of Windows.
  • Pokernomics

    Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame is turning his data-analysis attention (and mad skillz) to the world of online poker with Pokernomics.

    Understanding Successful Poker Play

    How much more succesful can a player be if he knows the odds? What are the best betting strategies for getting the most money out of a winning hand? Are there simple betting strategies that can be used to win money even with losing hands? To what extent does position from the button and position relative to other players matter? Does having a big stack of chips allow a player to bully others and win more of their money? Do people lose big after winning a big hand, or does success follow success? These are some of the many questions we would like to answer.

    Our goal is to understand the factors that make players succesful at poker. Many people have written books on poker theory, but there has yet to be a systematic analysis using actual data on what works and what doesn't. University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt hopes to change this and perform the first large scale analysis of poker.

    How are we going to do this?

    Every day, over 187 million dollars are wagered at online poker tables by over 2 million players worldwide. Recently, companies such as Poker Tracker have made keeping records of one's own play extremely easy. Individuals can now store tens of thousands, even millions of their own hands on their computers almost effortlessly. We at are requesting that people send us their hand histories for analysis. We are particularly interested in analyzing the game of Texas Hold'em due to its immense popularity in the world of online poker. With the right dataset, we are confident that we can answer the questions above and many more.

    What's in it for you?

    Everyone who sends in at least 10,000 of their own hands will receive a free analysis of his or her poker play. We will identify the strategies you use that earn you the most money and will pinpoint your frequent mistakes that cause you to lose or prevent you from making as much money as you could have. We will tell you which starting hands you play best/worst. We can even tell you if you earn more or less at different times of the day, at tables with different stakes, or against certain kinds of opponents.

    In addition, players who send in over 30,000 hands will get an autographed copy of Steven Levitt's book Freakonomics delivered to them. Players who send more than 50,000 hands will receive both an autographed copy of Freakonomics and a free freakonomics t-shirt.

    Films Listed by Use of the Word 'Fuck'

    From Wikipedia:
    1. Nil by Mouth (470) (128 minutes: 3.67 fucks/min)
    2. Casino (422) (178 minutes: 2.37 fucks/min)
    3. Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat (347) (113 minutes: 3.07 fucks/min)
    4. Another Day in Paradise (327) (101 minutes: 3.23 fucks/min)
    5. Summer of Sam (326) (142 minutes: 2.29 fucks/min)
    6. Twin Town (320) (99 minutes: 3.23 fucks/min)
    7. Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen (313) (106 minutes: 2.95 fucks/min)
    8. Narc (298) (105 minutes: 2.83 fucks/min)
    9. The Big Lebowski (281) (117 minutes: 2.4 fucks/min)
    10. Tigerland (276) (100 minutes: 2.76 fucks/min)

    Racial Disparities in Taxicab Tipping

    We collected data on over 1000 taxicab rides in New Haven, CT in 2001. After controlling for a host of other variables, we find two potential racial disparities in tipping: (1) African-American cab drivers were tipped approximately one-third less than white cab drivers; and (2) African-American passengers tipped approximately one-half the amount of white passengers (African-American passengers are 3.7 times more likely than white passengers to leave no tip).

    Many studies have documented seller discrimination against consumers, but this study tests and finds that consumers discriminate based on the seller's race. African-American passengers also participated in the racial discrimination. While African-American passengers generally tipped less, they also tipped black drivers approximately one-third less than they tipped white drivers.

    The finding that African-American passengers tend to tip less may not be robust to including better controls for passenger social class. But it is still possible to test for the racialized inference that cab drivers (who also could not directly observe passenger income) might make. Regressions suggest that a "rational" statistical discriminator would expect African Americans to tip 56.5% less than white passengers.

    These findings suggest that government-mandated tipping (via a "tip included" decal) might reduce two different types of disparate treatment. First, mandated tipping would directly reduce the passenger discrimination against black drivers documented in this study. Second, mandated tipping might indirectly reduce the widely-documented tendency of drivers to refuse to pick up black passengers.

    Erotic GI-Joe Fan Fiction

    Fan fiction is odd. I wonder who writes it.

    At that moment, they had suddenly realized that even though they each were on different sides of the whole G.I. Joe/Cobra thing, they were still able to experience something wonderful between them.

    That something is known as raw and untamed erotica ... and they were enjoying every minute of it.

    A few minutes later, after he had placed his stiff...


    Tuesday, July 19, 2005

    Change Text Size in Firefox

    Every now and then, I find a firefox trick that changes my life. This is one of those times. Ctrl + will increase the text size to ease your squinting eyes, Ctrl - will decrease it.

    More Dunedin Street Art

    There's a photoblog dedicated to Wellington street art

    Monday, July 18, 2005

    Rod Donald is an Idiot

    Commenting on the free-trade deal signed with Singapore, Brunei and Chile today, Rod Donald said:

    "Exactly why we would want a free trade deal with Chile, a country that produces lots of meat, fish and fruit, is beyond me."

    "It is an energy-wasting exercise in futility to ship identical goods back and forth across the Pacific."

    That is such a bullshit argument. Just because New Zealand and Chile produce similar goods doesn't mean that NZ doesn't nevertheless have a comparative advantage over Chile in certain specific areas. If importing beef (for example) from Chile while exporting lamb was really an 'exercise in futility' then it simply wouldn't fucking happen. New Zealand Importers are not going to buy Chilean produce simply because they can, but only if it is more efficient to do so. Protectionism is rationally indefensible. Read this.

    To be fair, I'm not totally opposed to the Greens. I support stronger carbon taxes (or actually, I would propose a different scheme, but that's another post entirely), which would make international trade (via increased transport costs) relatively less attractive. The Greens could oppose free-trade on the grounds that importers and exporters don't pay for all the use of the environment and is therefore socially inefficient (although that would apply to domestic trade aswell), but opposing it on the grounds of protecting our jobs or some other such nonsense is just short-sighted and ignorant.

    Polynesians tried to outrun malaria?

    From the NZ Herald:

    New Zealand researchers excavating a 3000-year-old cemetery in Vanuatu say it may offer clues to why mysterious voyagers who sailed through Melanesia - creating the Polynesian race - travelled so fast.

    One possibility was that they were trying to outrun the worst form of malaria - not realising they were carrying the parasite in their bloodstreams, says New Zealand paleo-pathologist Hallie Buckley.

    Early analysis of the first skeletons found late last year has shown the people had a heavy burden of disease-causing organisms, in particular parasites that cause malaria.

    Futurama Movie

    Comedian and voice-actor extraordinaire Billy West says in a videoblog that there will soon be a Futurama movie going straight to DVD, with the possibility of a second one.

    You can't see me, but I'm literally jumping for joy.

    Pirated Harry Potter E-book and Audiobook available

    Didn't take long. That'll learn her for not releasing an e-book. Dead-Tree Publishing is so 20th Century.

    Linux for NZ Schools

    The Ministry of Education has signed a deal with Novell for the provision of the SUSE desktop operating sytem at $99 per copy, about the same as Windows. "If schools want to have a Linux desktop now they can have one from a major international corporation with the support that brings rather than a free copy of (Linux distribution) Mandrake," the ministry's ICT consultant, Douglas Harre says.
    I think this is great news. With the big developing countries (India, China and Brazil) picking up open-source software in a big way, it seems like the computing standard of the future and teaching our children to use it is probably a rather good idea.
    I'm not sure what the problem would be with using the free distros for desktop PCs (as opposed to severs). They are, by all accounts, getting more and more reliable and user-friendly. If schools (and other state-funded bodies) can save money then surely it's worth looking into.

    Sunday, July 17, 2005

    "Religious Dieting" on National Radio Tonight

    National Radio's Touchstone has a feature on the religious dieting movement at 5pm tonight.
    From the website:

    This spiritual awakening has been promoted by books like What Would Jesus Eat?, and The Makers Diet and by faith-based diet programmes like Weigh Down. The Maker’s Diet was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 16 out of the first 17 weeks following its release last year. Weigh Down offers 30,000 workshops across the USA, and thousands more internationally.

    The authors of these contemporary books and programmes say that coupled with the teachings of the Bible, they offer a solution to both the spiritual and health maladies plaguing modern society.


    They stress the importance of returning to a diet consisting of natural, unprocessed foods — foods that Jesus Himself could have eaten and foods that the Bible recommends.

    Dieting For Him examines the phenomenon of religious dieting from academic, medical and participant points-of-view, and highlights the danger of modern man’s obsession with controlling and manipulating the world’s resources.

    Sounds pretty interesting. It never ceases to amaze me how much utter bullshit people will buy into.

    Get Your Bacon On

    A fairly extensive gallery of Francis Bacon paintings for your aesthetic pleasure.

    Saturday, July 16, 2005

    Kiwi Kids are h4x0r Kids

    NZ Herald:
    New Zealand children are among the world's greatest "cyber athletes" and this country is one of a dozen that lead the way in using computers in education.

    Professor Heppell, described as an "online learning guru" in Britain, said other countries in the leading group included Thailand, Hong Kong and Norway - countries which shared New Zealand's ability to be "agile" due to their relatively small size.

    But it was New Zealand's investment in information and communication technology that kept it at the forefront of a new learning age. "In terms of outcomes and investment New Zealand scores incredibly high in the OECD. Whichever party is in power, they have to keep doing that."

    Professor Heppell also said creativity and ingenuity among New Zealand children was almost unrivalled when it came to technology and "that's probably the most precious thing in the world".

    Parents were generally a passive generation, receiving media, but their children were cyber athletes.

    Friday, July 15, 2005

    Labour's New Billboard:Still Shit

    This isn't as ugly as their last one, but you still have to look for a few seconds to get what the fuck they are on about. There's no instant recognition of what it's advertising and will probably fail to communicate anything at all to the vast majority of people. National 1 - Labour 0.

    Fujitsu creates flexible electronic paper

    Technophiles Rejoice! From the Press Release:
    The new electronic paper features vivid color images that are unaffected even when the screen is bent, and features an image memory function that enables continuous display of the same image without the need for electricity. The thin and flexible electronic paper uses very low power to change screen images, thereby making it ideal for displaying information or advertisements in public areas as a type of new electronic media that can be handled as easily as paper.

    Fujitsu say they plan to bring the new technology to market by March 2007.

    Firefox 1.0.5 Out

    Capill Sentence Too Short?

    Nigel at KiwiPundit says:
    Nine years for what Capill did is too short in any case, but the absence of any non-parole period in the sentence is a massive miscarriage of justice. Surely Phil Goff now must change the law again. Sentencing laws that allow a child rapist to spend just three years in prison cannot be allowed to stand.
    I'm not normally a proponent of longer prison sentences; someone who makes a bad choice shouldn't be punished for the rest of their life, and longer sentences aren't a very effective deterrent since criminals by their nature tend not to think of consequences; but the Capill sentence (not that I think he will be out in three years), and child sex offences in general, do seem overly short. I believe the recidivism rate for child-molesters is quite high compared with other crimes and the impact on the victims is obviously devastating. In a case like this, however, it is extremely hard to separate the extreme disgust at such a horrific crime and what is best for society.

    RFID: It's the work of Satan

    Privacy advocate and Christian dumbshit Katherine Albrecht thinks RFID tags, which emit radio signals to let you keep track of things, are the Mark Of The Beast -mentioned in the book of Revelations - which the Antichrist will use to keep track of us. At least she's not a stupid as some guy who, in total ignorance of his own religion, once told me he thought tattoos were the mark of the beast.

    Junk-Food Ads and Children

    Some new research by Wellington Medical School shows that 60 percent of advertising near schools is for food and 70 percent of that is for what the Ministry of Health calls unhealthy. The health lobby are claiming this is a major factor in the obesity 'epidemic'.
    On National Radio this morning
    Mark Championan advertising wonk, claimed this could not be so because advertising never creates demand within a product category, but merely changes consumers' brand choices within a category.This is probably true, but I would expect that in the eyes of children, healthy and unhealthy food are pretty good substitutes. They will compare the percieved value of KFC and Sushi and make a choice between them. Healthy and unhealthy food can probably be assumed to be in the same category, so Champion's argument is probably wrong.

    Thursday, July 14, 2005

    Microscopic Medicine

    Pretty, pretty pictures from the BBC:

    Tiny kidney stones, so small they are nicknamed, “bladder sand”. The concentric ridges show successive layers of calcium oxalate crystallising to form the grains. The oldest bladder sand recorded was found in a 7000-year-old Egyptian mummy. Image taken by microscopist Spike Walker.

    Anderton on Education

    Jim Anderton says he would like an education portfolio in the next government.
    "I am not going to promise free education, what I am saying to people is that we are going to get student debt down by an incremental step. To pay the loan debt for students who graduate and stay in New Zealand for three years," Mr Anderton said.
    I like the idea of incentivising the tertiary education system. Another option would be to drop the current subsidies slightly and give similar refunds (scholarships by another name) to those who perform well. Higher education has strong positive spill-over effects for society and should thus be subsidized, but anything we can do to stop lazy bastards from using that subsidy merely as a way to put off work for a couple of years would be a good idea.

    The Critic on Ex-Gays

    Ryan Brown-Haysom has a nice article in this weeks Critic on the ex-gay movement, religious nutjobs claiming they have successfully changed their sexual orientation:

    Last semester, Masters student Michael Tarry told a meeting of the Christian group Student Life that he had successfully changed his sexual orientation. “I used to be gay”, he told the group, “and now I’m not”. While Tarry’s claims attracted a handful of vocal protesters and a flurry of letters to Critic, they are merely the local irruption of a much wider discourse on the nature and origins of sexual preference. In this country and overseas, religious groups claim to turn gays straight, provoking a backlash from gay rights groups who claim their methods are exploitative and damaging. So what do “ex-gays” prove, and what difference does it make?

    Capill Gets Nine Years

    Graham Capill was sentenced to nine years in prison in the Christchurch District Court today.
    Earlier today it was revealed that Capill had sent an email to his supporters claiming that his sex with an eight-year-old girl was consensual.

    Space Invaders Crop Circle

    Not too sure if this is real (as in a real fake, not a photoshop fake), but it's pretty cool either way. Should this inspire you to play some Space Invaders, you can do so here.

    Oh, the Irony

    From Stuff:

    [Winston] Peters yesterday said the Government was holding "voters to ransom" by keeping the country guessing [on the election date].

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005

    John Maynard Keynes has a Posse

    I love stock markets because they are a great laboratory for studying human nature. They show us that people can behave irrationally even when they have incentives not to. In investing, unlike in most areas of life, there's a neat and incontrovertible measure of performance - share returns - against which we can judge rationality or irrationality.
    So, here are some lessons of stock markets that might have a wider application:

    1. Groups perform worse than individuals; Brad Barber (all of whose work is fascinating) has found that investment clubs under-perform individual investors (pdf).

    2. People over-react to long streams of information (pdf).

    3. People are overly optimistic about things they believe (wrongly) they know well

    4. Expert opinion herds together (pdf) professional investors buy the same stocks as each other, regardless of their real merits.

    5. What people choose is strongly influenced by the way the choice is presented, rather than by purely rational considerations. Richard Thaler (whose work is compulsory reading) and Shlomo Benartzi have found that even highly qualified professionals choose a pension fund weighted towards bonds if they are offered lots of bond funds, but an equity-weighted pension if they are offered lots of equity funds (pdf).

    Becker and Posner on African Aid

    Nobel Prize winning economist Gary Becker on aid to Africa:

    The G8 nations are rich enough to easily afford the increased aid committed to Africa. Perhaps for this reason, some of the activists denounced the aid as too small and miserly. But that these countries can certainly "afford" to spend more does not mean that much greater aid will help the millions of poor Africans. Indeed, it is doubtful whether more aid will speed up economic growth, given both Africa's experience with aid during the past half century, and the evidence from other poor nations that internal reforms that produce sizeable and persistent growth are the only really effective way to reduce a nation's poverty.

    Despite receiving cumulative aid of more than $500 billion during the past several decades from rich countries and international organizations like the World Bank, Africa has had the slowest growth in per capita income of any continent. Slow growth is not the inevitable result of being poor since the per capita incomes of poor nations grew since 1960 about as fast, and perhaps a little faster, that the per capita incomes of rich countries. Obviously, the abundant aid to Africa in the past did not guarantee rapid growth, This aid may even have made growth harder by encouraging greater corruption, by reducing the need to consider drastic economic reforms toward freer economies, and by making it easier to waste resources on grandiose and unproductive projects, such as the Eldoret International Airport in Kenya that almost nobody uses.

    And Richard Posner on the same blog:

    I do not favor foreign aid, debt relief (which is simply another form of such aid), or other financial transfers to poor countries, in Africa or anywhere else. Countries that are not corrupt do not require foreign aid, and foreign aid to corrupt countries entrenches corruption by increasing the gains to corruption. Foreign aid to Zimbabwe, for example, will simply prop up dictator Mugabe.

    Foreign aid makes people in wealthy countries feel generous, but retards reform in those countries as well as in the donee countries. Obviously from a world welfare as well as African welfare standpoint Europe and the United States should not impose tariffs on agricultural imports in order to protect their rich farmers. Eliminating tariffs would do more for Africa than giving them an extra $25 billion a year to squander. (It would also increase the wealth of the countries that eliminated their tariffs.)

    Bloody Muslims

    Ruth at Chaos theory blogs about some racist arse-hat blogger saying:
    There are no Muslim contributions to civilization, unless you think murder, rape, no music, no art, no alcohol, no pork, mutilating girls and repressing women are contributions. Muslims have never created anything of value. Everything Muslims have of value was stolen, including so-called contributions to science (which all came from India, mostly from Hindu scholars, before the Muslims slaughtered them), as well as the oil stolen from American companies which got it out of the ground for them

    The Mother of All Private Prisons

    There's some heated debate over at DPF on comments by Corrections Minister Paul Swain, ruling out private companies being contracted to run prisons.

    For the record, I agree with David and others on the right that there is no reason private companies shouldn't run prisons for profit given adequate quality monitoring (though I doubt that would be any harder than for a state-run prison). Profit-seeking firms have a motive to do things efficiently and don't suffer the same degree of moral hazard an organisation as large as the Government does.

    But my real reason for the post is to point out a fascinating historical example of a proposed private prison, the Panopticon (yes, the blog name is inspired by it) of the Utilitarian Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

    (image lifted from Wikipedia)

    The Panopticon was designed such that guards could watch prisoners without prisoners being able to tell they are being watched. Since at any moment the prisoners could be being watched, they will, according to Bentham, behave themselves at all times with minimal guards required.

    In addition, there would be a governor (Bentham wanted to do this himself) appointed by tender, to oversee the guards. The Guards would in turn watch the governor and the whole thing would also be open to the public to come in and have a wander around. This open structure would ensure that everyone would be on their best behaviour and do their jobs properly.

    Bentham anticipated many of the techniques of Scientific Management, detailing the prison design right down to the position of the governor's toilet so he would have to look at the prisoners at least once a day.

    Being the Utilitarian he was (although that's a bit like calling Martin Luther a Reformist), he didn't believe in punishment for it's own sake and thought the primary aim of prison should be rehabilitation. This would take the form of labour, which would teach the prisoners discipline. He conceded they needed exercise, but rather than waste all that energy walking, he thought they would be better off running in a giant hamster-wheel to power various stone-working and corn-milling machines of Bentham's (along with his brother Samuel) design. The governor would keep any profits from the labour, which would bring down the tenders, with the possibility that the governor may actually pay the Government for the privilege of running it.

    Prisoners would be looked after by giving the governor a financial incentive to keep them alive. The governor would be given some amount of money each year and have to pay back 100 pounds for each one that dies.

    The prison was very nearly built in Britain, but ultimately didn't happen.

    Should you want to know more, I recommend the excellent book by Janet Semple, Bentham's Prison - A Study of The Panopticon Penitentiary (1993), which includes details of the structure, Bentham's thought and the political dealings involved.

    Bleeding Obvious Story of the Day: Workers Surf the Net to Waste Time

    C-Net News:

    A Web survey involving more than 10,000 employees, the report found that personal Internet surfing ranked as the top method of cooling one's heels at work. It was cited by 44.7 percent of respondents as their primary time-wasting activity, followed by socializing with co-workers (23.4 percent) and conducting personal business (6.8 percent).

    The average worker admits to frittering away 2.09 hours per day, not counting lunch, according to the report. That's far more time than the roughly one hour per day employers expect the average employee to waste, the report said. The extra unproductive time adds up to $759 billion annually in salaries for which companies get no apparent benefit, the report said.

    Dawkins: Universe too queer to grasp

    From the BBC:

    Professor [Richard - Author of 'The Selfish Gene' ] Dawkins ... in a session called Meme Power, explored the ways in which humans invent their own realities to make sense of the infinitely complex worlds they are in; worlds made more complex by ideas such as quantum physics which is beyond most human understanding.

    "Are there things about the Universe that will be forever beyond our grasp, in principle, ungraspable in any mind, however superior?" he asked.

    Because different species live in different models of the world, there was a discomforting variety of real worlds, he suggested.

    ...[O]ur brains thought about things in order to help us navigate our "middle sized" world - the medium scale environment - a world in which we cannot see individual atoms.
    He concluded with the thought that if he could re-engineer his brain in any way he would make himself a genius mathematician.

    You've gotta love Richard Dawkins, this is a view I've held since my days as a Philosophy student, but I could never express it as eloquently as that. Why should we expect to be able to understand the niceties of things that never enter into our concrete experience?

    The idea of Bounded Rationality is also quite enlightening when considering the frailties of the human mind.

    Stealing Unproteced Sex

    Everything worth having is indeed apparently worth stealing.

    From stuff this morning:

    A Christchurch man who put a prostitute's life at risk by deliberately taking off his condom has become the first in New Zealand to be prosecuted under a new unsafe-sex law.

    ...the prostitute would not have consented to him taking the condom off so he did it without her knowledge.

    Christchurch District Court Judge John Bisphan fined Morgan $400 and ordered him to pay $130 costs. Morgan had pleaded guilty to the charge, which became law as part of the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act.

    When I read the headline "Unsafe sex fine is a legal first" I thought the nanny-state had reached a new level. I can't imagine what David Farrar would have had to say about the legislation of a mutually consensual bedroom.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2005


    In a moment of meta- PoMo zen, while procrastinating by perusing the academic journals I stumbled across an interesting journal article, Rethinking Procrastination: Positive Effects of "Active" procrastination Behaviour on Attitudes and Performance, in the June issue of The Journal of Social Psychology.

    The authors distinguish between "Passive" and "Active" procrastinators, the former being those who are 'paralyzed by their indecision to act and fail to complete tasks on time.' The latter 'prefer to work under pressure, ... make deliberate decisions to procrastinate' and concentrate on other productive tasks.

    In an empirical study (based on self-reporting of subjects, so in my eyes slightly dubious), they conclude that active procrastinators and nonprocrastinators 'share similar characteristics and are significantly different from passive procrastinators.' Nonprocrastinators and active procrastinators are also more likely to experience positive outcomes.

    P Rocket

    From Boing Boing:

    A pair of suspected drug dealers were arrested after being caught with a rocket loaded with about $150,000 of methamphetamine in the trunk of their car. The suspects had rigged together a system that would pop open the car's trunk and launch the drug-bearing rocket when they pushed the cigarette lighter on the dashboard.

    The Market for Unprotected Sex

    The June issue of Journal of Political Economy has an interesting article by Gertler, Shah and Bertozzi entitled Risky Business: The Market for Unprotected Commercial Sex.

    The Abstract:
    While condoms are an effective defense against the transmission of HIV, large numbers of sex workers are not using them. We argue that some sex workers are willing to take the risk because clients are willing to pay more to avoid using condoms. Using data from Mexico, we estimate that sex workers received a 23 percent premium for unprotected sex. The premium represents a value of one life year of between $14,760 and $51,832 or one to five times annual earnings. The premium jumped to 46 percent if the sex worker was considered very attractive, a measure of bargaining power.
    The implied value-of-life estimates are based on wage differentials - the extra money prostitutes require to take the risk of unprotected sex. They are essentially trading off between money and their life expenctancy. This, to an economist at least, reveals how they value their own life.

    The upshot of all this is that programmes to make condoms more available are unlikely to be as effective in reducing the spread of HIV as educating both sex workers and clients as to the risks of unprotected sex.

    Interestingly, in some situations the client will want to use protection while the sex worker doesn't (presumably for reasons of comfort). In such cases the sex worker will actually offer the client a discount of twenty percent to forgo condom use.

    It would be interesting to see the similar research in a region with a higher HIV rate (i.e. Africa) and a region where people seem to be more risk averse (i.e. the US). My guess would be that in Africa the higher risk of infection would be at least partly offset by the lower opportunity cost of sex work. Women in most of Africa simply don't have that many options and so would rationally take full advantage of every opportunity to make money, so we may not see a much higher premium for unprotected sex. Of course there are many variables to consider, so that is really little more than a stab in the dark.

    The article makes a lot of intuitive sense and the methodology seems pretty solid. Thankfully, the mathematics is kept to a minimum with only a bit of statistical regression. Have a look at it next time you're at a place of Higher Learning.

    Polynesians - Made In Taiwan

    The Economist reports on some research which suggests that Hawaiki of Maori legend is in fact Taiwan:
    Present day Taiwan has a population of 23m, but only 400,000 are descended from the island's original inhabitants ... Those 400,000 speak - or, at least historically spoke - languages belonging to a group known as Austronesian, which is unrelated to Chinese, but includes the Polynesian tongues. Indeed, small though the aboriginal Taiwanese population is, it accounts for nine of the ten linguistic sub-families of Austronesian. Hence the supposition that Hawaiki might be Taiwan. To check this out, [the researchers] decided to look at variations in mitochondrial DNA...[and] found three mutations shared by Taiwanese, Polynesians and Melanesians (who also speak Austronesian) which are not found in other Asians.

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    Those Crazy Libertarians Part 2

    Following up on my previous post about the gun-toting Libertarianz Party, I would like to point you towards the animation, entitled An Introduction to Liberty, they are using to advertise in cinemas. You can download it here (12.6 Mb mpg).

    My main problem with Libertarianism isn't that it's wrong, but that it's just so mind-numbingly unimaginative. The aforementioned film, or as Libertarianz so eloquently call it
    '"edu-vert" (educational advert)', is a case in point:

    Can't you just tell what's coming next? Yep, that's right:

    Actually, I didn't expect them to bring hats into it, but I've heard people spew the whole 'taxation is theft' thing so many god-damned times.

    There are many fine arguments for minimising government intervention, but anyone who insists on moral absolutes such as liberty or equality is spouting hollow emotive bullshit, which is the antithesis of reasoned debate.

    MC Frontalot

    He's got a +1 bag of Nerd-Core Hip-Hop.
    And some mp3s.

    Those Crazy Libertarians

    From The New Zealand Herald:

    Libertarianz party plans 'guns and fun day'
    Libertarianz party candidates Julian Pistorius and Helen Hughes are organising a 'Guns and Fun Day', to be held next Saturday.
    The event will include paintball, clay target shooting, rifle shooting and barbecues.


    Some rather nice graffiti from Dunedin.
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