All entries for February 2005

February 28, 2005

Time Is Short!

The last two weeks of term are always hectic, with enough tests and coursework deadlines to keep anyone busy. Research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that we often overestimate the amount of time we’ll have available in the future to complete a given task; perhaps a reason for never ending procrastination.

If your appointment book runneth over, it could mean one of two things: Either you are enviably popular or you make the same faulty assumptions about the future as everyone else. Psychological research points to the latter explanation. Research by two business-school professors reveals that people over-commit because we expect to have more time in the future than we have in the present. Of course, when tomorrow turns into today, we discover that we are too busy to do everything we promised.
Gal Zauberman, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and John Lynch Jr., PhD, of Duke University, also learned from paper-and-pencil questionnaires that that this expectation of more time “slack,” a surplus of a given resource available to complete a task, is more pronounced for time than money.
The authors suspect that’s because every day’s a little different: The nature of time fools us and we “forget” about how things fill our days. Money is more “fungible,” freely exchanged for something of like kind — such as four quarters for a dollar bill. Write Zauberman and Lynch, “Barring some change in employment or family status, supply and demand of money are relatively constant over time, and people are aware of that. Compared with demands on one’s time, money needs in the future are relatively predictable from money needs today.”
Zauberman and Lynch continue, “People are consistently surprised to be so busy today. Lacking knowledge of what specific tasks will compete for their time in the future, they act as if new demands will not inevitably arise that are as pressing as those faced today.”

Full article here

Of course the moral of the story is that it’s better to get important things done now, given that you’re unlikely to have a huge surplus of spare time in the near future. You’re no more likely to be ‘in the mood’ for work a week from now, plus you can avoid much stress and pressure. It sounds so logical, yet so hard to actually do!


February 24, 2005

Firefox 1.0.1 beta now available

You can download the new Firefox 1.0.1 beta from here. An unofficial changelog can be found here. I'm still using one of the MOOX optimised builds, so havn't given it a go just yet.

Any Internet Explorer users new to Firefox, might want to stick with the latest stable release which can be downloaded from here.

Why leave Internet Explorer you ask?

Firefox allows amongst other things:

  1. Popup Blocking
  2. Tabbed Browsing
  3. Enhanced Privacy and Security
  4. Easy customisation
  5. Easy setup and migration from other browsers

February 23, 2005

Snow

Snow really shouldn’t cause so much excitement, but I couldn’t help but smile when looking out of the window after waking up. It brings back nice memories of vicious snow fights and of listening to local radio hoping for an announcement that school has been cancelled.

I happened to find a couple of pictures taken outside Arthur Vick from last year on my web server.


February 21, 2005

Economics Summit 2005

The 2005 summit began on Friday evening, culminating with a lecture from John F. Nash on Saturday evening with a talk. The speakers were from varying backgrounds and presented interesting and informative view on a range of issues.

The speakers were:

Paul Geroski – Chariman of the UK Competition Comission
(Lecture on the workings of the Competition Comission)

Jimnah Mbaru – Former Executive Chairman of the Nairobi Stock Exchange
(Lecture on the role capital markets can play in helping economic development)

Geoffrey Dicks – Chief UK economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland Financial Markets
(Lecture on the role of Economists within financial institutions such as RBS)

Ray Rees – Professor of Political Economy at the University of Munich
(Lecture on natural disasters and the role of insurance companies)

Marcus Miller – Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick
(Lecture on the applications of game theory to debt negotiations, with particular focus on Argentina)

John F. Nash – Winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economic Science
(Lecture on the topic of ‘Ideal Money and Asymptocially Ideal Money’, the text of which can be found here)

Well done to all the organisers and hopefully we’ll have an even better line up next year.


February 20, 2005

Can Africa be helped?

A reply I wrote to a post on one of the forums I frequent on the topic ‘The reasons Africa is in such a mess’:

The problems facing the region are immense. The harsh climate, disease, conflict, cultural practices and corruption have all contributed to the current situation. It's true that money can only help so much at the current time. Still, it is only money that can lift the population out of poverty in the long run.

I don't think the problems are insurmountable, nor is it optimal for our own future wealth to dismiss such a large body of people as a lost cause. The government could focus only on its narrow sphere of interest, but we certainly have the funds and expertise to help others too. The question is, to what extent? Some say that domestic issues are priority, but our public services will never function so well that they no longer need additional work. I.e. the NHS will always be particularly efficient and the transport network will never be particularly reliable. Putting domestic issues first is to totally cut ourselves off from the international community on issues outside of commerce.

There are issues which can be resolved only by Africa itself and there are things richer nations can do (e.g. the removal of barriers to trade & cessation of spurious loan conditionality). Legal, political and economic institutions took hundreds of years to develop in this country and until they are of adequate quality abroad, greater aid will prove ineffective. Sadly, said institutions are difficult to alter once in place and can't simply be imported from abroad. In wealthy nations trade and commerce provided huge incentives for the development of trust networks, state guarantee of private property, informal contracts and the legal system as a whole. This is why encouraging commerce between nations and within nations (e.g. though micro credit schemes) would be a good first step.

The actions of the leader [the topic starter] brought to our attention together with the thousands of officials whose corruption has helped seal the fate of the African public, are selfish, but are simply the result of their institutional and incentive structures. Given the choice between accepting bribes/siphoning away government funds and trying to support one's family in a highly uncertain environment in which you know someone else is likely to be after any cash available, is obvious. Such people are not inherently more selfish or unaware of the plight of others than you or I. They're simply looking out for themselves. We do precisely the same thing every day, only there are systems in place limiting what we can get away with.


A parent's primer to computer slang

Here is a gem of an article from Microsoft:

Key points for learning leetspeek

  • Numbers are often used as letters. The term "leet" could be written as "1337," with "1" replacing the letter L, "3" posing as a backwards letter E, and "7" resembling the letter T. "0" (zero) will typically replace the letter "O."

  • Characters of similar appearance can be used to replace the letters they resemble. For example, "5" or even "$" can replace the letter S. Applying this style, the word "leetspeek" can be written as "133t5p33k" or even "!337$p34k," with "4" replacing the letter A.

  • Letters can be substituted for other letters that may sound alike. Using "Z" for a final letter S, and "X" for words ending in the letters C or K is common. For example, leetspeekers might refer to their computer "5×1llz" (skills).

  • Rules of grammar are rarely obeyed. Some leetspeekers will capitalize every letter except for vowels (LiKe THiS) and otherwise reject conventional English style and grammar.

  • Mistakes are often uncorrected. Common typing misspellings (or typos) such as "teh" instead of "the" are left uncorrected and may be adopted to replace the correct spelling.

Full text is here.


February 18, 2005

Why can’t you be happy all the time?

Here is a fairly interesting picture on the issue of happiness.

(via makeoutcity.com)


February 17, 2005

Kyoto Protocol

Yesterday, the Kyoto Protocol which aims to halt global warming came into operation.

From BBC news

Some 141 countries who account for about 55% of greenhouse gas emissions – have ratified the treaty, which pledges to cut these emissions by 5.2% by 2012. However, the US and Australia have abstained for economic reasons, and developing countries such as China and India are outside its framework.

This article from Tech Central Station (found via Freedom’s Fidelity) however takes a different view of the treaty, defending the decisions of the USA and Australia not to participate at the current time.

Two different but complementary paths for addressing any future climate change have emerged from the Buenos Aires Climate Change Conference. The Europeans and activists have been pushing the first, which envisions steep near term reductions (next 20 years) in the emissions of GHG as a way to mitigate projected global warming. On the other hand, the United States has been advocating a technology-push approach in which emissions continue to rise and then GHG concentrations and emissions are cut steeply beginning in about 20 years. Over that time, the US sees the development of new energy efficient technologies, the creation of low cost methods for capturing and storing carbon dioxide both as emissions and atmospheric concentrations, and the invention of low carbon energy supplies. Such an approach has the advantage of fostering economic growth in the developing countries, lifting hundreds of millions from abject poverty over the next 20 years.

Will countries that have abstained now, really be willing to cooperate in 20 years time? That figure appears rather arbitrary. Should we fail to see any major breakthroughs in that period, one sees them claiming that yet another 20–30 year time span will prove pivotal to innovation.

Still, the vast majority of counries have agreed to the terms laid down and both domestic and international observers will hold the USA and Australia to their own emissions reduction plans even if they aren’t aligned with those agreed by the majority.

Human creativity and continuous technological progress are cites as reasons why we are capable of making use of natural resources in the first place. Such traits have enabled mankind to solve pressing issues in the past and partial reliance on their ability to do so in the future is far from irresponsible.


February 16, 2005

Internet Explorer 7? – Unlikely

Nick Fink of Digital Web Magazine is advising users not to be too optimistic about Bill Gate’s comments at the 2005 RSA Conference about a new version of Internet Explorer for Windows XP SP2 users.

Bq. The release has only been identified as a security update, which means the rendering engine could still be identical to that in IE6 ("Internet Explorer 7.0, designed to add new levels of security to Windows XP SP2 while maintaining the level of extensibility and compatibility that customers have come to expect."). That said, I think it may be Fall before we see any new IE7 (non-beta) and I am not so convinced that it will be a standalone browser at all much less offer any improved standards support.

Looks like the Firefox developers have little to worry about.

From microsoft.com: Gates Highlights Progress on Security, Outlines Next Steps for Continued Innovation


February 13, 2005

New MSN 7 beta leaked

The latest beta version of MSN 7 has been leaked on the net today.

This updated version (7.0.0604) allows you to:

  • Display profile pictures alongside contact names
  • Leave ‘offline messages’ for contacts
  • Display songs you’re currently playing in Windows Media Player
  • Set a default sign in status

MSN Messenger is looking particularly good nowadays and I’ve been temporarily tempted away from Trillian 3.0 Pro. You can find file mirrors here.


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