All entries for February 2005

February 11, 2005

Are we all the same?

Charles Bourne of Cool Links recently posted a link to edge.org. The organisation recently asked a number of professionals the question "What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It”. There number of replies is extensive and I’m still working my way though them bit by bit.

I particularly liked this one from Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University

I believe, first, that all people have the same fundamental concepts, values, concerns, and commitments, despite our diverse languages, religions, social practices, and expressed beliefs. If defenders and opponents of abortion, Israelis and Palestinians, or Cambridge intellectuals and Amazonian jungle dwellers were to get beyond their surface differences, each would discover that the common ground linking them to members of the other group equals that which binds their own group together. Our common conceptual and moral commitments spring from the core cognitive systems that allow an infant to grow rapidly and spontaneously into a competent participant in any human society.

She goes on to say that we interpret superficial differences between individuals as an indication of an inherent difference in character, though suggesting that society is capable of overcoming such tendencies.

The passage brings to mind coverage of the Tsunami disaster. I noted on this blog that the rapidly rising body count did little to induce sorrow or a desire to help. Numbers may have little effect on feelings, but thinking about these people in terms of their similarity to us, does. They are people who would have had similar thoughts, fears and aspirations to those we experience every day.

The passage also brings to mind the plight of those in the developing world for whom hunger, sickness and uncertainty about the future are par for the course. It’s easy to take a self righteous stance in relation to poor nations, the corruption plaguing them and the religious/cultural practices that don’t aid their path towards prosperity though we’d probably act no differently in similar circumstances.

Differences between groups shouldn’t be dismissed as irrelevant, but it’s doesn’t hurt to recognise our inherent similarities to both those we interact with regularly and those a million miles away.


February 08, 2005

Studying irrelevant topics

Jeremy Hiebert quotes Aaron Campbell on the motivations students have when pursuing an education. He notes that what often keeps students going whilst on the treadmill of education is pressure from external sources as opposed to an intrinsic interest in the subjects at hand. Similar reasoning could be applied to our choices of subject here at university. Work is rarely easy, but having to study things that are of no interest whatsoever must be incredibly demoralising. We all succumb to these influences to some extent. It could be considered foolish to pursue a university education in a given subject without considering what doors would be opened or closed in the future as a result due to the views of others. Some level of compromise is clearly required.

Students are motivated inwardly to learn. Like all people, they're driven in some form or another to pursue what interests them, be it video games, sports, nature, books, or the proverbial 'sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll'. What propels many students through the educational institutions of society is not these genuine interests, but rather those motivational factors applied from without: pressure from parents and society, fear of failure, the power of authority. If a student is lucky enough for his or her intrinsic interests to be aligned with what school offers, fine. But for a significant number of students, much of what school offers is a grinding chore. In many school settings, there is little outlet for students to pursue what truly interests them. In this sense, their interests are supressed, their creativity stiffled, and their freedom curtailed. Is it no wonder so many behavioral problems exist?

February 07, 2005

Music, Film and Book Recommendations

Chris Anderson of ‘The Long Tail has posted an article on using social networking applications for getting recommendations.

In other words, the assumption that there's a correlation between the people I like and the products I like is a flawed one. To use an analogy, Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, famously uttered this truism (now known as Joy's Law): "No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else." The same might be said of recommendations. No matter who you are, someone you don't know has found the coolest stuff.
Compounding the problem, the people whose recommendations I trust in music are different from those whose recommendations I trust in movies. Gadgets are yet another group of mavens, as are games and books. Indeed, although I have dozens of "trust networks" (usually formed by reputation and experience, not personal relationships), most of them have nothing in common with each other, and almost none of them I consider friends. Some of them aren't even human—they're software.

Like the writer of the article, I rarely have the patience to work though websites such as epitonic for promising and relatively unknown talent. Similarly, given the wealth of records constantly being released, it would be costly and time consuming to purchase new releases at random in the expectation of picking up a gem. The same reasoning can be applied to media such as books and film.

This is why journalist reviews and non-professional reviews (e.g. from amazon.com & various mp3 blogs) are a godsend. They allow others to carry out the time consuming distillation of information whilst providing readers with what is truly important. Sure, casual book, music and film reviewers will recommend things that aren't to your taste, missing alternatives out altogether at times but a trusted source will surely be right more often than not.


February 03, 2005

A new way to transfer files!

Sending large files between two parties can always be problematic given the limits placed on attachment sizes by ISPs and Webmail services. Typically, the only solution is to burn files onto CD.

Here are two free services that help people get around this issue. Dropload and YouSendIt allow users to share files up to 1 GB in size with another individual.

The process is as simple as entering the recipients email address, and selecting the file to be sent. The speed at which the recipient is able to download the file from the remote server is of course dependent on his or her connection speed. Similarly, the faster your connection, the quicker the file will be uploaded to the servers.

1. Dropload (100mb file limit)

Dropload is a place for you to drop your files off and have them picked up by someone else at a later time. Recipients you specify are sent an email with instructions on how to download the file. Files are removed from the system after 7 days, regardless if they have been picked up or not. You can upload any type of file, mp3, movies, docs, pdfs, up to 100MB each! Recipients can be anyone with an email address

2. YouSendIt (1 GB file limit)

These free services should prove particularly useful for many.

Thanks to LifeHacker for the pointer


February 02, 2005

Markets producing deserved outcomes

There's an interesting discussion going on between various parties in the blogosphere on the notion of markets producing outcomes that are deserved by the parties involved. The debate was sparked by Elizabeth Anderson on the left2right blog who refutes the idea that incomes are 'deserved', thus making taxation to some extent unfair. The various trackbacks on that post provide further reading. To summarise the general consensus on the issue, here is a quote from Hayek's 'Law Legislation and Liberty' provided by Stumbling and Mumbling.

The idea that we have morally deserved what we have earned in the past is largely an illusion. What is true is only that it would have been unjust if anybody had taken from us what we have in fact acquired while observing the rules of the game.

February 2005

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