Sunday, 16 December 2012

Outsourcing responsibility for your own survival

I read about the tragedy in Connecticut yesterday.  It happened the day before yesterday and was yet another case of an unarmed crowd falling prey to a shooter.  Fewer might have died if everyone was well prepared.  And what is an overwhelming response from the public petitioning the White House?  Disarm the victims (criminals and murderers will always get a gun irrespective of whether its possession is legal or not so making guns illegal means just that - disarming the victims).  Among all the petitions demanding stripping citizens of their right to possess and carry weapons (with over a hundred thousand signatures) the only voice of reason was the one here: - this one signed by just three thousand people.

That's a difference of two orders of magnitude in favour of irrational fears and wishful thinking.  What world are we creating?
Carrying weapons was commonplace for our ancestors and no one seemed to have problems with that.  It was normal.  It was healthy.  We survived.  I also do not remember reading about children being attacked and slaughtered by their armed parents or teachers... in fact some of those armed adults needed their weapons to teach those children how to fight and defend themselves.

The only sustainable solution for this (vide Connecticut) and related problems is for the system to stop turning people into helpless victims and start producing self-realized healthy human beings.  And part of being a self-realized human being is to be able to take responsibility for your own life and safety (and lives and safety of those around you).  Being able to fight for survival is part of our biological legacy.  It is part of being complete and this part of human development is as important as developing one's mind, body and spirit.
How can we have a healthy and thriving society without that?  How can one help and care for others if one cannot even help and care for themselves (and it is not only about weapons and fighting but also other skills like first aid)?  How much better the world could be if everyone around you would be a self-realized, fully-developed and independent human being not only capable of caring for themselves but also for those around who are in need of help?  Instead, we now live in a society, where we are not those magnificent beings we could be.  We are sheep.  We are consumers.  We have outsourced most parts of our lives including our safety, survival and independent thinking.  Someone is being attacked?  Stay away and let the police come and save them (no, really, stay away and do not try to fight off the aggressor or you may get arrested and go to prison... the system is jealous about its power and control).  Someone has been injured and is bleeding heavily?  You don't know how to help them so move along and let the health care system save the victim.  It is not a healthy situation.  It is not a sustainable society.

Another thing which comes to mind is the fact that probably the first thing every totalitarian regime does is to take weapons away from the people.  The next thing is usually putting heavy sanctions on the very right to fight / defend yourself and others which makes people defenceless and unwilling to help each other (and thus breaks bonds between human beings which further protects the system as it is no longer "the people versus the system" - instead it is "a lonely and thus helpless individual versus the system").  The same seems to apply to fortified bureaucracies and police/corporate-controlled states for which we are just inventory which needs to be policed. The system does not want self-realized citizens - they do not live in fear and are capable of survival on their own which makes them difficult to control.  What the system wants is a herd of humble serfs living in fear and co-dependence.  Depending on the system not only for your well-being but for your very survival.  Of course protection the system gives you in exchange for your compliance is largely an illusion.  The system cannot protect you and we just saw it again (for a thousand time) in Connecticut - only you can protect yourself and, ultimately, it is only you who is responsible for your own safety and survival.  If only you haven't outsourced that responsibility long time ago and thus became incapable of surviving when the need comes.  Well, at least you will have some part of the system (e.g. the police) take care of the scene and your earthly remains after you have failed the survival test and, as in Connecticut, produce some explanation of what happened so that the rest of the herd can feel that illusion of being safe again.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Be a Good Sheep or Boycott Apple

Do you often confuse an iPhone with a Samsung when you go to a store and want to buy one? Because Apple thinks "consumers" are just a herd of stupid and easily confused sheep: 'Apple filed a suit in the US alleging that a number of Samsung smartphones and tablets [...] mimicked its "trade dress", the general cosmetic appearance of its iPhone and iPad, in a way that could confuse potential customers.'

It took only two days for an American jury to invalidate all Samsung's patent claims which they had tried to use in their defence against Apple's attack (America's sweetheart Apple told the jury that the Korean company was trying to be a monopoly by trying to stop others from using Samsung's patented technology infringed upon by Apple) and to order Samsung to pay over 1 billion US$ to Apple for infringing their patents.  Apparently, there was at least one Apple Fan Boy who owns multiple Apple devices (plus some Samsung TV sets ;)) among the jury.  Legal experts were shocked as they expected the process of the jury arriving at a decision to take at least few weeks since the case was very complex (109 pages manual on how this particular decision should be made written by the presiding judge; 20-page verdict with 700 options to decide about).  Well, apparently justice is swift when the right conditions are met ;).

The following sums up what just happend quite well (just substitute Global for American): "Today's verdict should not be viewed as a win for Apple, but as a loss for the American consumer. It will lead to fewer choices, less innovation, and potentially higher prices. It is unfortunate that patent law can be manipulated to give one company a monopoly over rectangles with rounded corners, or technology that is being improved every day by Samsung and other companies."

It is sad when a company focuses on using legal tricks to hamper their competitors' progress instead of trying to be better by offering better products but when a giant corporation like Apple does this then it is just a crime against humanity.  Slowing down technological progress and thus lowering the quality of life of everyone on the planet should be punished.  Boycott Apple.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Can a True Buddhist Continue Teaching Buddhism

I have just watched Neuroscience and the Emerging Mind: A Conversation with the Dalai Lama featuring, apart from the Dalai Lama, Larry Hinman of the University of San Diego, V.S. Ramachandran of UC San Diego and Jennifer Thomas of San Diego State University.  It was meant to be a scientific and philosophical discussion of human consciousness.  The introduction was quite promising (they started talking about neuroplasticity, memory, mirror neurons etc.) but, unfortunately, I feel that, ultimately, the potential of having these four speakers gathered in one place was wasted - mainly because of the language barrier.  There was one thing, however, which made me think.  The Dalai Lama mentioned a difference between what he calls the traditional Buddhism (created in India and preserved by the Dalai Lamas and their followers) and many variations of Buddhism which emerged later (and also Hinduism).  The difference lies in the traditional Buddhist belief that there is no soul or self (as the Dalai Lama said, the Buddhist belief in "soulless").  This immediately raised the following question in my mind:

If there is no soul, if the self is just an illusion, why put so much effort into fighting the suffering?

Since it is just the self that experiences suffering and the self is just an illusion, there is no suffering at all as there is nothing real to experience it.  If there is no suffering, there is no place for compassion and altruism - the two things Buddhism (and the current Dalai Lama) talk about and try to promote.  Why would the Buddha decide to help people end their suffering by showing them the truth about the non-existence of the self when there is no suffering and no people?  The act of a true Buddhist believing in what he/she teaches and yet continuing his/her teachings seems absurd when viewed from this (Buddhist?) perspective.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

"The Divide" Embodies Ideals of Atheistic Capitalism

I have just watched The Divide and it made me think about the new socially created reality the western world is preparing for humanity.  It is a secular world without God where human beings are no more than animals fighting for resources, survival and pleasure.  It is a world where the measure of success is survival and power over others no matter the cost as long as it is not "the successful" who has to pay it.  It is a world ruled by fear where altruism, empathy, sense of justice, mercy and goodness of heart are nothing more than a sign of weakness and an object of ridicule.  It is an ugly world with no room for ethics, no appreciation of aesthetics, a world deteriorating into a primordial goo of barbaric hedonism and savagery.  Fallen creatures (or should I say beasts) inhabiting that world are no longer civilised... they have no manners, no style, no higher needs, no beauty in them.  Do we really want to enter this brave new world?  Do you want your children to live in a world depicted so thoroughly in The Divide?  Do you want them to become such creatures themselves?
The microcosm of The Divide shows what it means for an average human being to attain complete freedom promised by Atheism where there is no God serving as a mirror reflecting our deeds back unto us and showing us what we are and what we can become.  Sure, there may be exceptions - there may be some people who, in spite of being atheists and materialists, would not turn into ruthless savages even when subjected to the most extreme conditions.  But an average member of the subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, when persuaded to believe that there is no God, no soul, no further existence after death, will be smart enough to understand that there is only one true value in life and that is his/her well-being.  The only rational goal is to survive for as long as possible and to experience as much pleasure as possible and let others pay the cost.  Watch the film and, irrespective of your current belief system (i.e. whether you are an atheist or a theist), ask yourself a very cynical question: "Is our race ready to live in a world without God, in a world where faith is no longer a safety net for the law and social pressures?".  When viewed from such perspective, the divide between atheist and theist beliefs becomes something else.  It is no longer a question of what is true but a question of what truth do we want everyone to believe in.

As an aside, for a true atheist and materialist, the truth is what they believe in (metaphysical questions, like the one about the existence of God, are by definition unverifiable using the scientific method - the only verification would be possible post mortem and in their world view there is no post mortem) which means that if such a person chooses to believe in the existence of God then that belief becomes the truth for them.

Richard Dawkins Scared of Evidence

Another example showing dogmatic (not to say fanatical) attitude of an infamous militant atheist Richard Dawkins.  This time Richard was not interested in fighting theists or religion but scientists whose research did not agree with Richard's worldview.  Here are some interesting excerpts (the whole can be read here:

We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.
The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I’m don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked. “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about. The camera stopped.

The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.
Richard Dawkins has long proclaimed his conviction that “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it to us are fakes and charlatans”. Enemies of Reason was intended to popularize this belief. But does his crusade really promote “the public understanding of science,” of which he is the professor at Oxford? Should science be a vehicle of prejudice, a kind of fundamentalist belief-system? Or should it be a method of enquiry into the unknown?

Like Rupert Sheldrake, I dream about science being a method of enquiry into the unknown - i.e. free from aggressive fundamentalists like Dawkins.  Unfortunately, I fear that the majority of people nowadays calling themselves scientists do not behave like open-minded geniuses and would feel at home in the ranks of Spanish Inquisition.

If you are interested in Rupert Sheldrake and his research there is an interesting video of his speaking at Google Tech Talks in 2008 entitled The Extended Mind: Recent Experimental Evidence.  The part where he recounts his meeting with Dawkins starts here:

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

How to achieve anything you want legally?

How to do anything you want without breaking the law? One of the top media industry lobbyists inadvertently shares his secret with us in this (hilarious but only for those with at least average IQ - all the others will just swallow his rhetoric and become brainwashed so be advised in case you suspect you may belong to that less fortunate group) three-minute interview of which the most interesting parts can be read below.

When asked by PCWorld how it all started, Valenti says it was when the VCR appeared.  Then he describes his and his colleagues' heroic efforts to fight off all the actual or potential thieves and reminisces that the best solution was, I quote, "to have the courts declare that VCR machines were copyright infringing." and then go to the Congress.  Unfortunately, they were not well prepared back then and the whole scheme failed even before reaching the Congress.  Have you already got the answer to the question posed in the title of this post?  I am sure you have but just for the entertainment value, here is another clue on how to legally make everyone do what you say:

"PCW: Why can't people who legally purchase DVDs make one backup copy? How come the same fair use rights that let you make a backup copy of other media do not extend to DVDs?
Valenti: That question has nothing to do with fair use because a DVD is encrypted and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act says to circumvent an encryption violates that law."

So now you see.  As Valenti explains, the whole thing has nothing to do with fair.  Fair is not what the media corporations are interested in.  Another thing worth noting in the above excerpt is that in order to make something illegal, you have to cook up a bill (something like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act mentioned before), go to the Congress (in case of the US of A at least), pay up and have it become the Law.  To make it easier (i.e. cheaper) though, especially if you try to make illegal something which is legal, it is advisable to attack the problem from a different angle.  You should approach the problem like this: "So what if making backup copies is fair and legal?  We are not trying to make it illegal.  You can make copies to your heart's content as long as you do not try to circumvent an encryption.". Of course the act does not mention one important detail: "... and from now on we, the media corporations, are going to encrypt everything with our toy encryption methods which can be easily decrypted by a 12 year old but we do not care because encryption is just a trick to turn something legal into a crime".  And they did just that.  Our friendly lobbyist even shares some of the details with us here:

"Valenti: Keep in mind how the DVD came into effect. The DVD was a result of voluntary agreements by the hardware people and by the copyright people. And everybody decided they were going to make machines that only took encrypted DVDs and then they would be decrypted in the machine--all done."

Then he proudly adds:

"Valenti: And guess what? It's proven to be a bonanza for the DVD machine manufacturers and for the copyright owners. That was done the right way."

A bonanza for everyone involved in that intrigue?  But what about culture? society?  What about justice and fairness towards the consumer?  Apparently, all those things do not matter.  Are we sure that it is the people who "illegally" share content with others and not the media industry who should be called pirates?

To crush any possible opposition to his vision, Valenti continues by comparing DVDs to lawnmowers and stating that any failure of the former is the customer's fault and thus the customer should buy a new one at a full price, like Valenti's wife has to do with a lawnmower each time she runs over it in the driveway.  What about the fact that, as the media industry has been trying to persuade us for years, it is all about buying a licence to use the content and not about the physical medium?  Apparently their view on this changes when there is more money to be made.  What about the fact that, sooner or later, all DVDs fail and their longevity is estimated to be somewhere between 2 to 15 years (depending on the manufacturing process)?  Since it depends on the manufacturer and the manufacturers were, as we saw Valenti saying earlier, part of the club (i.e. the conspiracy orchestrated by, to quote Valenti, "the hardware and the copyright people"), how is it the consumer's fault?  I am beginning to think that, contrary to what Valenti suggests, his wife may not be guilty of all those malfunctioned lawnmowers. 

The surreal vision painted by Valenti continues.  He argues that paying customers cannot be trusted and if "allowed" to make one copy, they turn into thieves and make two and give one of them to other potential thieves and soon there will be millions of thieves spreading billions of copies all over the net.  I am rather surprised that he does not even once mention the good old big scary COMMUNISM while painting that gloomy and terrifying picture of the world not fully controlled by his club (i.e. the corporations and billionaires who own them).  Valenti goes on mentioning that they (i.e. "the copyright people") are trying to buy the best brains to make it even more difficult for the customer and so on.  Then, in a truly arrogant fashion we saw in everything he said, he reveals what is in the working:

"Valenti: Right now we are holding meetings to try to see if the [information technology] and [consumer electronics] industries and the MPAA can work together so everybody is playing by the same rules of the game."

As you can see, like in case of DVDs and the Millennium Act described by Valenti earlier, there is no place for customers or consumer organisations in setting the rules for the world.  Valenti and his pals are the ones who set the rules and we are just here to follow them.  And what rules might those be?  Maybe the industry will decide it is time to be even more aggressive like in the scenario referred to below:

"PCW: Does the MPAA plan to follow the RIAA's lead in financing the development and testing of software programs that would sabotage the computers and Internet connections of people who download pirated music?
Valenti: We're not involved in anything that sabotages anybody. We're working with some of the best brains in the high-tech industry to do everything that we can legally to protect ourselves.
We're not going to do anything that's illegal, that's for damn sure."

The last sentence should be clear to us now.  They are not going to do anything illegal.  When you are rich and powerful and want to achieve something illegal legally go to the Congress and make it legal (possibly supplementing the law with the abuse of technology making changes to the legal system easier, faster and cheaper).  And, as the title of this post suggests, you can achieve anything you want that way.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Who will save the forgotten music

I was just listening to Janacek's sinfonietta when my thoughts drifted away from one of my top secret projects and, in my mind, I saw a vision of all the pieces of classical music ever created, one by one sliding into oblivion and dying.  The process is slow but it is happening even now, as I am Swyping these words on my Android phone.  The most well-known masterpieces are still with us, still far from being forgotten, but most of classical music is not being played anymore.  It is all over again the vicious circle of marketing probing customers' demand, selecting musical pieces for which  the measured demand is highest (i.e. the most popular (or, in other words, the least forgotten) music is being selected), and feeding this selection back to the customers.  The music which has not been selected is effectively being slowly erased from our collective memory (and less and less is being selected with each iteration of this cycle as yesterday's less demanded becomes today's least demanded since the previous least demanded have been filtered out from the today's selection list).  How many of you had ever listened to Janacek before Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 appeared?
What could be done to save dying music (and bring all those forgotten pieces back to us)?  I think I have found a solution which would be quite easy to implement (certainly easier than bringing down capitalism with its monetary system and switching humanity to the resource-based economy (which, I hope, will happen someday)).  Hiring a good director and a full orchestra to prepare and then perform even just one piece is incredibly expensive but importing a score into a computer programme and charging a computer with the task of performing such music is very cheap and quick nowadays (I am sure most of us have used a midi player at least once in our life).  Of course settling for just that is nothing new and would not be enough as computers are notorious for their mechanical and dull music performance.  However, if we go one step further and throw machine learning methods into this then we should be able to teach our computers how to give unique and inspired musical performances.  We have all the needed elements.  Machine learning methods have become quite powerful and the data - I.e. recordings of the best and worst performances together with their complete musical scores - is there.  Each performance is different which means not 100% faithful to the score.  It is these fluctuations what makes one performance unforgettable and another just dull.  Finding patterns in these fluctuations and being able to generalise these patterns and apply them to any score is, from my perspective, just another exercise in supervised learning.  Seems like an interesting machine learning project with possible commercial applications (think about economical impact on production of classical music considering the huge savings on live performers and production time).  Too bad there are only 24 hours in a day and I cannot realise all those ideas which appear in my mind every day.  Maybe I should start publishing them in hope that someone will be inspired and see them through ;).  Let us hope the music will be saved.  It would be so nice to be able to browse through and listen to all those now forgotten masterpieces (most of them never recorded) somewhere on the Web.
Apropos inspiration.  I just realised that the chain of events which led to my reading the novel which resulted in my listening to the sinfonietta which in turn made my thoughts wandering and ended up  in my writing this blog post, all that started with my dear friend Yoshi who I should probably thank for this moment of contemplation.  It is good to have friends who can inspire us, without them our life would not be full.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

UnloadTab - a really useful add-on for Mozilla Firefox

It is not the first time UnloadTab seems to have disappeared from the web. Fortunately, I had it installed on one of my computers. Here is a direct link in case you need it:

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Megavideo/Megaupload Killed by New Global Police: Masters Happy, Slaves to Pay

The oligarchs (some (not me, I am too nice for that ;) ) would say: capitalist/corporate pigs) ruling the US of A do very well even without any SOPA. Without a trial, a US judge just killed a Hong Kong-based company last week and "deported" (some would say: kidnapped) non-American citizens living outside his country from (supposedly) sovereign countries to the US so that they can stand trial there and pay for their terrible crimes against American media corporations (apparently some of their customers/users (i.e. not the arrested people) were sharing content without authorization from the copyright holders (youtube anyone?)). Are you feeling like you are a character in a dystopian novel right now? I know I am. Now let us wait for SOPA to be enacted (I am sure it will... under this or different name... in a few months or after a decade... they will not give up).

Follow this link in case you are curious and want to see for yourself the results of work of the new Global Police (formerly known as FBI):

Below some interesting excerpts. The last one shows that many legitimate (even according to the US law) users and companies were hit by this action. I would argue, that the combined loses of those (unimportant, powerless and poor - at least when compared to the oligarchs) people are much higher than the alleged loses of the American media industry whose interest was represented by the US judicial system and the US politicians. Who is going to fight for justice for those slaves? Certainly not the system built to police them.

This proves that offshore operations can still be reached by the long arm of the U.S. law. Also, none of these folks were Americans as far as I can tell. Dotcom is German and Finnish. The lot of them will be extradited to the U.S. to be tried for what are essentially crimes against the state. Citizens of the world, beware!This, to me, is the most interesting situation since the days when the leader of Panama, Manuel Noriega, was dragged out of his bed and thrown in a Florida prison for trafficking drugs.

Web organisations have raised concerns about possible effects of the Megaupload case on the future of file sharing, cloud storage, and Internet commerce.[60][61][62] Various commentators including John C. Dvorak, Glenn Greenwald, and Julian Sanchez have written on the topic as well, particularly as it relates US government powers to take down a web site without a trial, even without new laws like SOPA.[63][64][65][66] In fact, the U.S. Dept of Justice was able to rely on PRO-IP, a law passed back in 2008, in order to shut down Megaupload.[67]

People who used Megaupload for personal and business storage, such as large audio and video files for family and work, have also voiced their complaints about the fact that they no longer had access to their files on the service.[68][69] Examples cited in the media included staff at public interest group Public Knowledge who used it for large files, and Android cellphone software writers who described it as "one of the best ways to distribute [software] ... There are a number of similar sites for this use, but Megaupload was always the fastest".[68]

Friday, 20 January 2012

Biologists on Biology and Computer Games

Today, I had an amusing discussion with two of my friends - both of them having background in life sciences (biochemistry, molecular biology, computational biology) and one of them being an avid player of computer games. The argument started when I laughed at the idea by the creators of Assassin's Creed (a computer game) that all memories of our ancestors are stored in our DNA and can be accessed by future generations. My friend started arguing that it was not impossible and recalled the fact that our DNA does change. When I pointed out that the rate of such changes is incomparably slower than the rate of acquiring new memories, the second friend came to rescue my first friend by mentioning epigenetics. Too bad my friends had to leave early as there is nothing more entertaining than a good argument when adrenaline starts to flow and both sides want to prove to the other that they are right no matter what ;). That argument is over now but there is no reason why more people could not join in and present their views here ;). What do you think guys? Is it possible that not only all your memories but also all memories of your ancestors can be stored in just one gamete (this is what my friends argued for)? In other words, is our use of the brain for storing memories (with estimated 0.15 trillion synapses in the cortex alone - now, since our DNA (including epigenetic information) supposedly stores memories of all our ancestors, do not forget to multiply this by 10 000 to 15 000 to take into account all past generations since homo sapiens sapiens appeared... and I will not mention here all future generations as we would potentially end up with a theory claiming that each individual gamete has an infinite memory storage capacity ;) ) a huge waste of energy and space? Could most of our central nervous system be replaced with just one egg or sperm cell? Think about the huge saving on hats alone! And by what means would the memories be passed onto someone's descendants after that someone had already produced their offspring? What evolutionary pressures would contribute to developing such a memory storage? And what about huge epigenetic changes caused by environmental factors other than memories ;)? Maintaining memories whilst still fulfilling the commonly recognized goal of epigenetic changes would require existence of a kind of epigenetic steganography ;). I still think the idea is ridiculous but please, do share your thoughts, I promise I will try not to laugh even if you decide to join my two friends' camp.

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