Sunday, August 27, 2006

WoW not so wow

I was shopping for a headset with a microphone on Saturday, and while I was waiting at the checkout I saw they had on sale a two week trial of World of Warcraft for $2. I've heard mixed things about World of Warcraft, but for me the sticking point has always been the price. About $90 bucks for the game and then $20 or so dollars a month is more than I am willing to pay for a game of that sort. $2 for two weeks though is within the bounds of what I think is a reasonable price.

So after installing, which took a while (I hadn't realised it was a full dvd), it had to update, which was a 465MB download, I finally got to play. The game play is quite repetitive and there's not enough story to keep you interested. The other big problem is travelling between places. The whole wondering around the countryside takes forever, and making my character run in her underwear is only amusing for a few minutes at most (If I have to watch a person run around all day, it's going to be a woman. And it's not like it makes a difference game play wise)

I'll probably play a bit more over the next two weeks, but I don't think it's the great game so many people seem to claim it is.

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Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: Six Feet Under (Season 1)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Limits and Morality

One of my housemates has a habit of getting somewhat philosophical when he gets drunk, and recently this has got me thinking about a few things a bit more than I would usually.

The most recent position he put forward was that the ultimate aspiration/achievement is the freeing oneself of all limitations up to and including morality and the laws of physics. This is achieved through enlightenment, which apparently you only get when it happens, and is not able to be worked towards. Of course, you know you've been enlightened because that's part of the knowledge you get with enlightenment. And no one else can verify this, because enlightenment comes from within, and cannot be taught or worked towards.

He acknowledged that this is very much like traditional religious faith, and occasionally he has delusions of being the antichrist. We have very different notions of truth (For me, truth is the external reality, observable by all). He thinks truth is something internal, individual, and not able to be directly compared with others truth. And that this internal truth outweighs any other evidence if you feel it to be true enough (very much along the line of Stephen Colbert's Truthiness).

But the thing I've been thinking about the most is the whole freeing of all limitations. My thinking crystallised on watching a trailer for the next season of Battlestar Galactica, which was "Somethings you just don't do, colonel. Not even in war."

The idea I have is that being moral takes two steps. The first step is deciding what is good and what is bad. This should always be under consideration, and open for debate, etc. But the second part is then saying, these things I consider bad, I will not do. You limit the things that you are willing to do, based on what you think is good or bad. People will disagree with the what you might think is good or bad, but the restricting yourself to only doing good things is an important part of being a good person.

One other important aspect is that these limits are self imposed. You have decided not to do these things. Being forced to do things by others is still not good. The society you live in and your experiences will obviously have a strong effect on what you choose as good and bad, but ultimately it is your own choice what your actions are.

This idea of good people limiting their action came up on an episode of Penn Jillette's radio show about why should America obey the Geneva conventions, and one of the callers put in a similar idea, that because America wants to be the good guys, they need to live up to a higher standard of behaviour, one that includes not torturing prisoners, not attacking civilians, etc. This again is the idea "I want to be a good person, therefore I will not do bad things".

It does come to mind that this leads to a rather passive idea of good being the avoidance of bad rather than a goal in and of itself. You could look at it a bit like the Hippocratic oath "First do no harm", start out by not making things worse, then actively try to improve them.

In conclusion, I think that to be a moral person one needs to place limitations on themselves.

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Writing time: 25 minutes
Time since last post: 5 days
Current media: Learn Japanese Podcast
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Sunday, August 20, 2006

The London Terror Thingy

A bit over a week ago it hit the news that the poms had busted a group of people who were planning on blowing up some planes in mid air. The plan allegedly involved using a binary liquid explosive smuggled onto the plane in component form and mixed up on the plane. Since then the governments have enforced a stupidly high level of security at airports, A huge number of people have either had flights delayed or cancelled, and the media has gone on another fear mongering frenzy.

My initial reaction was that the heightened security and so forth was a massive overreaction, which I still say is the case. There are several reasons for this.

First, there is the way this plot was detected. This was achieved through old fashioned crime detection techniques. It did not need any of the extra powers governments have said they needed to detect this sort of thing and all the extra security added to airports wouldn't have done any better than the security a decade ago. So if the tools we had before we did any upgrading due to terrorism are working, what justification is there for extra powers that come at a great cost to our civil liberties.

The second reason has come from some articles I've come across on the nature of binary explosives, and in particular the chemicals that were supposed to be used in this plot. Binary liquid explosives are popular in movies (see Die Hard with a Vengeance for an example) but are not as practical in real life. The chemicals that were alleged to have been used are especially impractical. One of the reactants is very reactive, and difficult to safely store, and has a very strong odor, making it very hard to get onto a plane (a shampoo bottle is not a safe container for this stuff). The other chemical is not as troublesome, but the mixing process is. Firstly, it's a very exothermic reaction, and the completed explosive is very sensitive to shock and temperature. To make enough of it to sufficiently damage a plane requires a significant amount of time, and even if you try doing it in the bathroom so the person sitting next to you doesn't ask what it is that you're mixing up, after an hour or two in there, someone going to complain to the crew. Premixing isn't going to work either, because of the sensitivity of the final product. (The main source for this is the Interesting People mailing list, the actual message is here. There is a followup that describes an binary explosive used in demining here.)

A third factor is a few of the things I've heard about the people arrested. There was no great knowledge of chemistry, no detailed plans of what was to be done, no plane tickets had been bought, and some didn't even have a passport (more info here).

The media has had a field day with the sensational aspects of these events, but haven't looked at all the details that mean it's not as bad as they were saying. Over in America, CNN spent a whole day scaring its viewers about how vulnerable they were.

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Writing time: 41 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: Bullshit!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


For all you Steven Colbert fans, have a look at the Threatdown Generator.

In real world news, a cease fire has commenced between Lebanon and Israel. And about bloody time. Israel this time has really responded with much more than necessary force. Bombing civilians, hospitals and refugee camps while trying to get to Hezbollah will not make you friends in the Lebanese community. Nor will it get you friends in the peace loving community.

Israel is in a tough position. The nations neighbouring and around Israel know it's history, and know people who were affected by it's creation. They also know people who have been attacked by Israel. This is not Israel's first prolonged engagement with countries neighbouring it. There have been about 20 or so conflicts of various lengths since the creation of Israel. Israel has generally done well in these conflicts, such as the gains made in the 6 Day War.

Israel appears to have generally tried to play the role of the good guy, just trying to protect itself from others. This is partly true, it's neighbour don't particularly like it. But if you play the good guy card, then you limit your options if you don't want to lose that appearance. Good guys don't kill innocent civilians. Good guys don't bomb refugee camps.

I think Israel needs to change it's strategy. For as long as it's existed, Israel has believed a good defense involves a good offense. This has some truth, but doesn't consider the larger picture. Every time Israel kills someones family member, they make more people in the region dislike them. What Israel should do is draw a line in the sand (it's borders, for example), and say "no one crosses this line". They then set up on fine defense along that line. This shouldn't be hard. Israel knows their stuff. Nothing crosses the line, be it tank, jet or missile. But they don't strike back. Pure defense.

This has several positive factors to Israel. First, it allows them to keep up the good guy image with the rest of the world. Second, it makes it harder for neighbouring countries to maintain anger against them. Once you get a generation or two that have never had to worry about Israel striking out at them, they're much less likely to strike back at Israel.

The downside to such a scheme is that it will be unpopular with those who want the fight to continue.

Anyway, that's my idea on how Israel should proceed.

End Post
Writing time: 3 hours (I'm pretty sure I didn't take the whole 3 hours. There was a bit of reading up on the conflicts Israel has been in, and listening to a few podcasts. and answering phone calls)
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: silence. A few podcast played while I was typing.
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Monday, August 14, 2006

Buy or Rent?

Buying a house is a huge deal. The amount of money needed to buy a house is more than I've had in my entire life, total (well maybe not an absolute dump in the middle of nowhere, but nothing worth living in).

There are people out there who advocate that buying a house is better than renting, because if you are renting your just making someone else's mortgage payments, so why not make your own payments and have an asset at the end of the process. Plus there is the security of owning your own home, etc.

Recently I've been thinking this is not the way to go. The big reason for this is interest. The interest on an average home loan is a bit more than the actual amount borrowed. Yay compound interest. So for every dollar of house you get, you pay another dollar to the bank. This is the killer. Let's say I rent a house, and I manage to save an amount of money equal to my rent each week. This is about the same ratio of interest to principle. 1 dollar to the house provider, one dollar to savings. At the end of the process, assuming the payments are about the same size, the home owner has paid a certain amount of money and got a house worth about half that amount of money. The renter has paid the same amount, doesn't have a house, but does have cash of about the value of the house. Plus they will have all the interest on that cash. And remember, interest on the mortgage was about as much as the principle. And even if the interest rate for savings accounts is a lot less than the interest rate for mortgages, it's still going to add up. And that doesn't even consider the possibility of investing the money somewhere where it will earn you even more money.

Now this analysis ignores a few factors, like rates, inflation, increase in the value of land, insurance, etc. Without thinking about it too much, I think these other factors would tend to balance out.

So it looks like I've got a long future of renting ahead of me, and hopefully my savings will grow as I go along. Of course, to do that, I need a god damned job.

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Writing time: 16 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: silence

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Coffin Too Small

I got back from Rocky on Friday. I got a plane back. The plane I caught was not a jet plane, but propeller based. A bit smaller than the jet I got up there, but the flight time was the same and everything else was pretty much the same.

The funeral for Mal's mother was more religious than Mal's at the beginning of the year. It was led by a minister instead of just some guy from the funeral director. There was a more religious bent to the reflection from the minister.

One thing that got to me was that the coffin seemed to small for her to fit in. I remember thinking something similar at Mal's funeral. Perhaps if I'd been able to go to the viewing of the body (morbid as that seems) I'd be able to see if they actually fit without problem in the box. Admittedly it doesn't really matter to them if they are squashed into the box, but it is a little undignified.

Also, for something due to be cremated, the box seemed quite sturdy and elaborate. If I ever get to the point of specifying such things, I'm to go in the simplest, plainest box possible, cremated and my ashes then sent either into deep space or the sun (I'm not sure which yet. Both have a certain eloquence). I don't know if I'd want some sort of memorial plaque thingy (instead of an actual thing on the earth with my ashes). Graveyards really depress me, and is not a place where I'd want to spend a great deal of time in, even if I was a pile of ashes.

Mal's father handled this funeral a lot better than he did Mal's. He was aware of what was going on and even had a few drinks at the wake. At Mal's funeral he had a fit outside before the event and was taken back to his hospital unconscious before the service started. This was good as it prevented further distress for the family.

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Writing time: 26 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: He Died With A Felafel In His Hand (the movie)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rubbish In Rubbish Out

Note: This is based on stuff I wrote during job search training today. I'm sure I've previously mentioned how unproductive such activities are. I'll note in the text chronological shifts

What is the point of this? After 1 day of job search training I am less motivated and more morose than I have been for some time. I've been through this process before. I know all the stuff they're spouting. I also know the biggest thing hold me back right now is the lack of references, which they can't really help me with.

The moroseness is worrying. I think two weeks of this will not leave me in a good frame of mind.

I'm not sure if part of this is due to the death of my mothers mother-in-law (step grandmother) (almost in law, but close enough). She's been on a steady decline for the past year or so. She's had a few strokes and slipped into a few comas over the last few months, so while the passing was not wanted, it was really just a matter of time.

A few weeks ago I visited her with Mum and she was stuck in her bed unable to get out or even sit up. She was also unable to speak in complete sentences while I was there.

(abrupt change in flow due to taking a break)

It's definitely the job search training. While popping over to Coles to get a drink I was much more cheerful while walking around. Now I'm back in the training and the depression is seeping in again.

While at Coles I saw an old lady with a shopping bag with a ration card printed on it. I thought it was worth mentioning.

Anyway, back to the previous topic.

Seeing someone be unable to move or communicate is really one of the sorrowful states of being. I do not want to end up in that condition. Hopefully by the time it's a serious risk for me brain implants will be around so I could still use a computer to communicate

(that ends the stuff written at job search training, now in real time)

Hopefully I will survive job search training.

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Writing time: 46 minutes
Time since last post: 7 days
Current media: Not much

Another Note: I do realize that Garbage In, Garbage Out is the usual phrasing for the concept referred to in the post title, but the job search trainer used it, so it reflects the overall futility of the job search training program.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Scary law

I was reading slashdot today, an article about a guy getting arrested for taking a photo of some police officers arresting someone else. One of the posts pointed out this gem of a law from Montana.

45-7-302. Obstructing peace officer or other public servant

The first clause says that it's a crime to interfere or obstruct criminal investigations, preservation of the peace and government functions. Understandable. Government functions might be pushing things if it's interpreted widely.

The third clause just establishes the penalty. No more than $500 and/or 6 months in prison. Although 6 months in prison is a lot harsher than $500, jail time is probably for the more malovent justice obstructors.

The second clause is the scary and very dangerous part. It is not a defense if the officer in question is acting illegally in trying to accomplish their duty. This is bad. This I would go so far as to say, is unconstitutional in America. This law makes it an offense to demand that the police abide by the 4th and 5th ammendments. For example, if a cop comes to your house and wants to do a search but doesn't have a warrant, if you insist that they have to get a warrant before searching, you're now obstructing justice, and the fact that the cop was trying to do something illegal isn't going to help you when you try and plead your case.

It's also bad because it allows a group of people to ignore certain aspects of the law. One of the keystones of modern democracies is that the law applies equally to everyone. This law states that peace officers can ignore certain laws. This is a bad precedent. No one should be exempt from the consequences of breaking the law. Especially not the group of people entrusted with enforcing the law.

There is also the fact that when officers use illegal means to get evidence, that evidence, nor any evidence derived from it, can not be used in court. This does mean some people will get off charges where the police have not acted properly. This is needed to stop the police abusing power. There have been incidents where people have insisted that police get warrants and so forth before they would divulge information to the police, and these have usually had people in government deriding the people who insisted on the police following the law. This is not a good approach from those in power.

Ultimately, people have certain rights that should not be denied except under extraordinary conditions. This law from Montana makes it harder for individuals to defend their rights, and because of that is a bad law.