Jun 172024
 

Here, I picked a few countries for comparison on the Migration Policy Institute’s Web site. Specifically, to compare the ratio of migrant population (i.e., ratio of foreign-born residents) in these select lands.Immigration, of course, is a hot-button issue in the United States, but also in Hungary. Not sure about the UK but here in Canada, despite the fact that immigration represents an extra burden when it comes to, e.g., public health or affordable housing, we here comparatively less.

So how come a populist politician can exploit the immigration issue, never mind in border states of the United States, but also in Hungary where the relative immigrant population is still much lower? How come that the same topic has not become populist fodder here in Canada?

Well, perhaps I am looking at the wrong numbers. Yes, the share of immigrants in Canada is much higher than either in the US or Hungary. In fact, the share of the immigrant population here was already higher in Canada back in the 1960s than it is today in the United States. But look at the growth rate!

In Canada, the numbers went from about 16% back in 1990 to 21% in 2020. That represents a modest 30% increase. In other words, the immigrant situation in Canada today is not that different from the immigrant situation 30 years ago. In contrast, in the United States it went from about 9% to 15%. That is an almost 70% increase! Such an increase in the number of immigrants is certainly noticeable, and that is especially true if the immigrant population is not uniformly distributed across the country but is concentrated at specific locations (e.g., border states, major cities).

And Hungary? The figure went from 3% to 6%. So the relative share of the immigration population doubled in 30 years, in a country that is not used to having many immigrants in the first place. No wonder Mr. Orban can easily exploit the concerns and fears of his country’s citizens, presenting himself as the populist savior of the nation against Brussel’s bureaucrats who, hand-in-hand with the Jew Soros, are engaged in some sinister plan to flood the country with “migrants”.

 Posted by at 2:55 am
Jun 162024
 

Warning: Spoilers follow.

I am not what you would call a Trekkie, but I always enjoyed Star Trek. The original series remains my favorite, but TNG had its moments, as did Voyager, even Enterprise, for all its flaws. Picard was good, and Strange New Worlds has a chance of being on par with the original series.

But Discovery? I am presently about two thirds of the way through its penultimate episode and it’s… just painful. The tension is artificial, the writing feels shallow and preachy and… what’s this with, “We’re on a clandestine, dangerous mission, one misstep and we’re dead quite possibly along with the entire Federation, so why don’t we just stop and talk about our emotions?”

Seriously, I can only watch this abomination in five-minute chunks. I’ll suffer through the end now that barely more than an episode remains but… Oh well. I know, I know, another first-world problem.

Perhaps the least unsuccessful attempt by ChatGPT/DALL-E to illustrate the divisiveness of forced wokeness on television

And then there’s Dr. Who. I find that I actually like the latest season. Ruby Sunday is a delightful Companion, and Ncuti Gatwa has a chance to be ranked among the best Doctors. That is… if the series’ writers let him? Take the latest episode, Rogue. Within minutes, the Doctor falls in love. Same-sex love. The Doctor! The same Doctor who, in the past history of the series, almost never engaged in romantic relationships. Romantic teases, maybe… But not much more, except perhaps with River Song. But now? Instant infatuation, which, sadly, felt like little more than a cheap excuse for the writers to engage in dutiful woke virtue signaling, you know, same-sex kiss and all. To their credit, in the end they somewhat redeemed themselves, as Rogue’s (the love interest’s) feelings towards the Doctor and respect for the Doctor’s humanity led him to sacrifice himself… And save the episode from self-inflicted doom.

Even so, I wish television writers dropped the urge to outdo one another when it comes to virtue signaling. It’s just too painful to watch at times, even if I assume that it is about more than just ticking some boxes in a checklist, meeting a quota somewhere; that their intentions are the purest and their hearts are in the right place. Not to mention that it is grossly counterproductive: the only thing such blatant wokeness accomplishes is a knee-jerk trigger response by those on the political right, who are already convinced (in the words of someone I know) that “these are not normal times” anymore.

And you know where that leads. If these are not normal times, that means extraordinary means are justified. The autocrat wins in the end, presenting himself as the sole savior of all that is good and decent, in these abnormal times.

So let’s please just stop the forced, virtue-signaling wokeness. It’s not helping to make the world a better, more tolerant place. If it accomplishes anything, it’s the exact opposite.

 Posted by at 6:05 pm
Nov 222023
 

Watching things unfold at OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, these past several days was… interesting, to say the least.

I thought about posting a blog entry on Monday, but decided to wait as I was sure there was more to come. I was not disappointed.

First, they fire Sam Altman, in a move that is not unlike what happens to the Game of Thrones character Jon Snow at the end of Season 5. (Yes, I am a latecomer to GoT. I am currently watching Season 6, Episode 3.)

Then several other key executives quit, including the company president, Greg Brockman.

Then, the Board that fired Altman apparently makes noises that they might welcome him back.

But no, Altman and Brockman instead joined Microsoft after, I am guessing, Nadella made them an offer they could not refuse.

Meanwhile, in an open revolt, the majority of OpenAI’s employees signed a letter demanding the resignation of the company’s Board of Directors, threatening to quit otherwise.

The authors of CNN’s Reliable Sources newsletter were not the only ones asking, “What on Earth is going on at OpenAI?”

As if to answer that question, OpenAI rehired Altman as CEO, and fired most of their Board.

The New Yorker‘s take on the “AI revolution”

Meanwhile, some speculate that the fundamental reason behind this is not some silly corporate power play or ego trips but rather, genuine concern that OpenAI might be on the threshold of releasing the genie from the bottle: the genie called AGI, artificial general intelligence, that is.

I can’t wait. AGI may do stupid things but I think it’d have to work real hard to be dumber than us humans.

 Posted by at 3:43 pm
Nov 172023
 

“I am freer than you”. These were the defiant words of St. Petersburg artist Sasha Skochilenko as she was sentenced for five tiny pieces of paper, providing details about Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.

She used the five pieces of paper in question to replace price tags in a grocery store.

Among other things, she said in court, that [emphasis mine]

[…] I am unable to understand why we need military operations. Why are we doing this? Military actions shorten life. Military actions mean death.
You can call it anything you want. You can say I was mistaken, misled, or brainwashed. But I always stick to my opinion, my truth.
I don’t know anyone other than the state prosecutor who wants to put me in prison.
In fact, I think that deep down even the state prosecutor doesn’t want this. I think he became a prosecutor to imprison real criminals and miscreants — murderers, rapists, pedophiles.
[…]
You are worried about your career […] to give your children or your future children a head start. But what will you tell them? Will you tell them how you sent to prison an ailing woman because of five tiny pieces of paper?
[…]
Even though I am behind bars, I am freer than you. […] I am not afraid that I won’t have a dazzling career or of appearing funny, vulnerable, or strange. I’m not afraid of seeming different from other people. Maybe that is why the state fears me and others like me so much and keeps me in a cage like a dangerous animal.

What an incredibly brave woman. What a morally bankrupt state it is that imprisons someone for this “crime”.

 Posted by at 12:11 am
Aug 112023
 

Howard Hughes was a great example. A captain of industry, a tycoon, whose life ended in mysery, ruined by mental illness no doubt, but wealth and success must have played their part, along with nearly limitless hubris.

There are others, both real-life folks and characters in fiction who fell into this trap. The tycoon Andrew Ryan of the Bioshock computer game franchise. Elon Musk with his increasingly erratic decisions that led, among other things, to the on-going corporate value destruction at Twitter.

We all know the expression, tragedy of the commons. But what to call it when wealth and power destroys a person, one who gave so much real value to the world, one who started off as a visionary, a revolutionary “captain of industry”? I asked our AI friend Claude and Claude offered a perfect answer: call it the tragedy of the tycoons.

I even have the perfect illustration, courtesy of our other AI friend, Midjourney.

 Posted by at 4:03 pm
Aug 222022
 

Looks like classic capers are alive and well, even here in sleepy (usually, when free of trucker convoys) Ottawa.

Breaking news: Perhaps one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century, Yousuf Karsh’s immortal portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, was stolen from the Chateau Laurier, with a cheap imitation hung on the wall in its place.

Wow. Thieves with impeccable taste, thieves who appreciate history, still exist. Perhaps not all is lost in this bewildering world.

Of course, it being a photograph, unless it was signed or in some other way marked as special, it’s just, well, a copy. I hope the original negatives are in a safe place. Still, gotta love it. In this day and age of Internet scam artists, such old-school crime…

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
Apr 282021
 

So the other day, I made a foolish decision: I objected to a self-described progressive activist’s recurring, disparaging use of the expression, “white people”, on Twitter.

In response, I learned the following, thanks to helpful strangers:

  1. I am suffering from white fragility;
  2. As I am a man, I am suffering from male fragility;
  3. I am wallowing in prejudices;
  4. Even if I am not from the US, there are issues in Canada, too, so…
  5. I am a racist;
  6. I am afraid of being called a racist;
  7. I benefit from systemic racism and need to be educated about it;
  8. And finally, this gem: I should shut up and listen.

OK, just to be clear, I am no more concerned about being called a racist than I am about being called a bicycle, on account of being neither. However, this reaction speaks volumes. In this new, progressive world, virtue signaling is key if you want progressives to like you. Saying disparaging things about white people gets you credit. Extra credit if you yourself happen to be white and practice a little self-loathing in public.

I used to have zero patience for my conservative-leaning white friends and acquaintances who were complaining about “anti-white racism” as they marched off to vote, or otherwise express support, for that stable genius, the Orange Person. But in light of this little Twitter exchange, I am somewhat less incredulous and more sympathetic.

No, I am still not rooting for Trumpists and their fellow travelers in other countries. But I do have a point to make, not that I expect the most vocally self-righteous progressives to listen: If you manage to turn someone like me (I am not exactly a stereotypical raging white supremacist) into a skeptic, do not be surprised if you lose by a landslide in future election cycles. Tone it down please. There is no need to turn into enemies people who dare to criticize excessive rhetoric, who see nuances where you only see black-and-white, who present inconvenient facts even when those being inconvenienced by them are not from the conservative camp. Listen to their criticism, don’t automatically reject their thoughtful objections in self-righteous indignation, in the name of ideological purity.

As for the Twitter exchange, I ended up doing something I do extremely rarely, unfollowing, even blocking some people when the conversation began to veer towards personal insults. (Because, you know, if you run out of thoughtful arguments, name-calling always works. Right.)

 Posted by at 10:58 am
Apr 132021
 

Stereotypes hurt people.

Television, sitcoms in particular, often rely on stereotypes. But it’s not always a Bad Thing. When the stereotype itself is the object of ridicule, kind of holding up a mirror for the audience to look into, stereotypes can actually help turn ours into a better society. The Big Bang Theory is a good example: its Jewish (Howard Wolowitz) and Indian (Raj Koothrappali) protagonists mock not Jews and Indians but our prejudices.

But other stereotypes are more troubling. One notable example, discussed recently, is the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simpsons: a stereotypical Indian-American running a convenience store, speaking with a funny accent.

Yes, I recognize that the line between mocking people being stereotyped vs. mocking people who stereotype others is a thin one. But I think it is drawn somewhere between The Big Bang Theory and The Simpsons. The Big Bang Theory‘s humor is defensible because it does not dehumanize the protagonists. The Simpsons, sadly, doesn’t fare that well. No wonder Hank Azaria no longer wants to be the voice of Apu.

However, when it comes to the point of a Caucasian voice actor voicing a non-Caucasian character, I think we are going one step, no, make that one giant leap, too far.

You see, I thought actors, you know, act. That is, pretend to be something they are not.

But now you are telling me that a naturally blond actress cannot play a brunette? Or a Jewish actor cannot play a German officer?

Or is this concern specifically reserved for, I don’t know, “race”? Or what’s the new catchphrase, people who are “racialized”? (Whatever the devil that means.) Because somehow, the color of your hair doesn’t matter but the color of your skin makes you… different?

And does it go both ways? Are Indian actors forbidden to play Europeans? Are black actors forbidden to play white roles? In any case, who decides what kind of acting is acceptable, and what crosses the line? Heaven forbid, into the territory of “cultural appropriation”?

In my all time favorite movie, Cloud Atlas, several actors play as many as a half dozen different roles, in different eras and cultures. These include a Korean actress playing, in one storyline, the role of the wife of a 19th century San Francisco lawyer. Another Korean actress, in a male (!) role, plays as a bellboy in 1970s San Francisco. Hugo Weaving plays the role of a sadistic female nurse in early 21st century Scotland, but also the role of an authoritarian Korean politician in 22nd century New Seoul. And so on.

You can guess which of these roles were criticized by some. “Yellowface” we were told, as if Cloud Atlas had anything to do with Hollywood’s racist past from many decades ago. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Rather, what that movie told me with its choice of actors and roles is that skin color, this so-called “race”, matters as little as the color of your hair or your eyes. It means nothing. We are all members of the one and only human race. And just as a blond actress can play the role of a brunette or a male actor can play in a female role, a black actor can play as a white person while a person of European descent can credibly play a Korean. Because these superficial differences in appearance mean nothing.

The suggestion that a white actor cannot lend his voice to an Indian character in a cartoon is preposterously backward. It seems designed to maintain racial discrimination. It, to use that fashionable phrase again, promotes and preserves racialization, instead of helping us progress towards a post-racial society in which all human beings are judged by the strength of their character, and the color of their skin matters no more than the color of their hair.

 Posted by at 4:17 pm
Mar 262021
 

So I learned today that J. K. Rowling writes hate-filled drivel on Twitter (her last post is from December 4 but never mind), and that forgiving Einstein for being a man of his times when he wrote about the white and Chinese races in the 1920s is the same as forgiving the Nazis.

Makes me sympathize more than ever with Principal Skinner.

This intolerant cultural orthodoxy that is promoted by virtue signaling champions of progressive tolerance not only fails to protect those who actually need it most (last time I checked, capitalizing Black has not reduced violence against black people, introducing a multitude of made-up pronouns has not eliminated transphobia, and preaching against white supremacist mathematics education—yes, this really is a thing!—has not brought potable drinking water or meaningful jobs to indigenous communities here in Canada), it also creates a backlash by feeding the trolls who promote actual racism and hate.

Here is a recent example: a tweet by the Mayor of London and the reaction. The tweet said, in part, “There’s no good reason why 65% of people working in science and engineering should be white men.” In one of the responses, we read “Fixing it? That deems it to be broken, in an 85% white country I would have expected the white % to be higher.”

The commenter obviously doesn’t know how to use a calculator, otherwise he would have pondered how 42.5% (assuming half of that white 85% are males) of the population can have 65% of the science and engineering jobs, whereas the remaining 57.5% gets only 35%. Which means that if you’re a white man, you have a 2.5 times better chance to get a job in science and engineering. But aside from the obvious innumeracy, there is this greater problem: by his careless choice of words, the Mayor of London may have made things worse.

And unlike Principal Skinner’s dilemma, this should have been easy to fix. Just say, “There’s no good reason why only 35% of the people working in science and engineering should be women or come from a non-white background” and right there, he’d have avoided feeding the trolls who promote the idea, ever so popular among frustrated, unsuccessful white men, that they are the victims here of identity politics. More careful words would have helped keeping the focus on the second part of the message, which describes genuine action to address the problem in a constructive, dare I say progressive way: “So far we’ve helped 10,000 young Londoners learn these subjects so they can follow their dreams.”

So how about if we stop vilifying J. K. Rowling* and others who do not flawlessly conform to the ideals of some narrow-minded progressive orthodoxy, stop condemning historical figures who lived decades or centuries ago for having failed to live up to the standards of the present, end “cancel culture” and instead start supporting policies that actually help those in need, even if it means sacrifices such as (gasp!) higher taxes?

Naw, why bother. It’s so much easier to just condemn people as racist misowhatever somethingophobes. Makes you feel good!


*Since I wrote this blog entry, I also learned that Rowling is an anti-Semite. How do we know? Why, those gold-loving goblin bankers in Harry Potter, with their obviously Jewish appearance, hooked noses and all.

I kid you not.

 Posted by at 2:13 pm
Apr 152020
 

Just as things are beginning to look ever so slightly hopeful with infection rates at least stabilizing, conspiracy theorists are now having a field day.

In case you are wondering, we “know” that SARS-CoV-2 was manufactured (or at least released) by that Wuhan “bioweapons” lab, as its intended purpose was to weaken China’s strategic opponents, in particular the US military, so that they can mess with Taiwan. And even more blatantly, they did so using in part funding from the United States, according to information that was “just revealed”. And all in the service of some demonic Chinese plot to achieve some nefarious goal, such as the subjugation of the renegade province of Taiwan.

Like all good conspiracy theories, this nonsense is also based on a carefully picked set of selected facts. So much so that it reminds me of those old Soviet-era Radio Yerevan jokes.

Meanwhile in the real world…

  1. We know that SARS-CoV-2 is “not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus”. [Andersen, K.G., Rambaut, A., Lipkin, W.I. et al. The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nat Med 26, 450–452 (2020).]
  2. The funding provided in part by the NIH was never a secret in the first place. The funding source is explicitly listed in research published by scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And while the research was indeed about SARS-related coronaviruses, its aim was (and remains) to help prevent or mitigate the illness, not cause it. In fact, some of the recipients of this grant went so far as to warn us that their “work provides new insights into the origin and evolution of SARS-CoV and highlights the necessity of preparedness for future emergence of SARS-like diseases.” [Hu B, Zeng L-P, Yang X-L, Ge X-Y, Zhang W, Li B, et al. (2017) Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus. PLoS Pathog 13(11): e1006698.]
  3. Yes, the two nuclear powered US aircraft carriers usually patrolling the Pacific are presently in port because of COVID-19 cases on board. Yes, China is parading their toy carrier in the region. But an amphibious assault ship, the USS America, is also in the region, and in case “amphibious assault ship” sounds less impressive than “aircraft carrier”, it may help to note that the USS America is similar in size to China’s Lianoning and unlike its Chinese counterpart, it is a modern warship commissioned in 2012, not something built upon the hull of an unfinished 1980s Soviet carrier that was once sold for scrap.

None of this matters to conspiracy theorists, of course. If they want to believe that it was all some evil Chinese plot, they will do so, damn the evidence. (Sadly, I think it is a safe bet that they get at least some help from Russian troll farms. Unfortunately Putin’s regime has not stopped spreading disinformation about health care, epidemics, pandemics, vaccines and now, the origins of COVID-19.)

So to all the conspiracy theory fans out there, please keep this in mind: Conspiracy theories serve a single purpose. They turn us: individuals or entire nations, against each other. They are the means to sow discord. Just when the world has to act in unison more than ever, they pull us apart. Conspiracy theories are weapons: dangerous in the wrong hands even when used unintentionally, but deadly if used purposefully.

Please… listen to the actual science. Don’t believe every piece of garbage you hear.

 Posted by at 12:14 am
Mar 202020
 

I have been working from home pretty much exclusively for much of my life, certainly for the past 25+ years.

To many, it is a new experience. I think I can offer a few useful words of advice. A few lessons I learned.

  • Always get up in the morning. Working from home does not mean that you can sleep until noon. Keep a regular schedule.
  • Always dress. Do not sit down to work in pajamas or a nightgown. It’s okay to wear clothes such as those half-torn pair of jeans that you’d no longer wear outside. But do dress. Also be mindful of personal hygiene. Working from home is no excuse for stinky breath or smelly feet.
  • Create a dedicated workspace. Let your family know that when you are sitting there, you are, in fact, at work. Tell them to respect that and allow you to focus on the work that you do, without unnecessary distractions.
  • Indeed, do not let yourself get distracted. Sure, it’s okay to take a break and watch that press conference on COVID-19, or perhaps even watch half an episode of your favorite Netflix show. Kind of like taking a break at the water cooler, chatting with colleagues. But then get back to work!
  • Do not consume alcohol while working. You wouldn’t be sipping whiskey, Mad Men style, in the office either, would you?
  • Do eat regular meals. Have a lunch break.
  • Don’t be a workaholic: When you are done for the day, you are done for the day. Working at home does not mean an obligation to work through the night or through the weekend.

OK, enough patronizing advice. My apologies. Not sure what I was thinking. It’s time for me to get back to work.

 Posted by at 12:12 pm
Jun 102018
 

The other day, I came across a wonderfully false analogy from a conservative writer. In an attempt to explain why conservatives despise Planned Parenthood in the United States, he asked how people on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum would feel if gay conversion therapy was offered in publicly financed clinics throughout the country.

I felt compelled to respond. Because if “gay conversion therapy” actually worked, I personally would have absolutely no objections to such clinics being offered to any gay person wishing to change their sexual orientation, even funded by government.

As things stand, however, “gay conversion therapy” is bogus, junk science, as nonsensical as creationism or belief in a flat Earth, almost as harmful as anti-vaxxers. Its real purpose is not to “cure” gays (which it cannot do) but to perpetuate bigotry and the marginalization of homosexuals in certain religious communities.

For this false analogy to work, abortions would have to be junk science, too, with clinics not actually being able to terminate unwanted pregnancies, but successfully perpetuating bigotry and hatred towards women with such pregnancies. But that is not what abortion clinics do. Rather, for better or for worse, they deliver exactly what they promise: ending unwanted pregnancies. This may be found objectionable on moral or religious grounds, but again, to draw the proposed analogy you would have to show how folks opposed to “gay conversion therapy” actually want gays to remain gay against their will on moral or religious grounds.

Because that’s what abortion opponents want: They want pregnant women to remain pregnant against their will.

 Posted by at 3:19 pm
Apr 172018
 

This stunning young lady is none other than future First Lady of the United States, Barbara Bush, back in 1943.

Alas, Barbara Bush is no more. She passed away today after a prolonged illness.

She was genuine, she was funny, and she was noble. Her husband for more than 70 years, George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush were clearly a loving couple until the very end.

And she even appeared on The Simpsons.

May she rest in peace.

 Posted by at 8:10 pm
Mar 242018
 

I just read that Elon Musk nixed Tesla’s and SpaceX’s Facebook pages.

Much as I admire Musk, I will not follow his example. I am not planning to delete my Facebook account.

Facebook is not the problem. It is a symptom.

The actual problem is much broader. The Internet that brought us together is also responsible for creating fragmented communities, echo chambers if you wish. When our primary source of news is like-minded people, memes and links we exchange with each other, often uncritically, without checking their veracity, there is a problem. It makes no difference if the content delivery vehicle is Facebook, Twitter, plain old e-mail or anything else.

I am not going to give up the opportunity offered by Facebook to stay in touch with old friends, with classmates I have not seen in years if not decades, with other people I would not even know were it not for the Internet. This is priceless.

But when I want to get informed about the world, I do not turn to Facebook. I do not forward memes. I might give a perfunctory “Like” to something that appears in my feed, but I do not believe it without checking first. And most importantly, I use other sources to keep myself informed.

Yet I fear the problem is even greater than this, and once again, ditching Facebook may be precisely the wrong answer. I recall what it was like when I was growing up in Hungary in the 1960s, 1970s. We had one national television channel. (OK, make that one-and-a-half, because there was a Channel 2, but with only a very short broadcast day in the evenings, initially, only a few days a week. And on Mondays, both channels were off the air.) This means that we all watched the same things. No matter which part of the country, which walk of life you came from, you knew the same television personalities I knew, you heard the same jokes, you watched the same drama.

It was probably never quite like this in North America, where there were always a multitude of channels since the dawn of television. Still, back in the old days, “multitude” meant maybe a half dozen choices if you were in a major metro area. So the shared cultural experience was still there. Not anymore. And never mind television, with hundreds of cable and satellite channels and numerous online alternatives. On top of that comes social media, with its propensity to create microcommunities.

Again, the problem is not that you stay in touch with your circle of friends. That’s great! The problem is that your circle of friends becomes your primary source of news and views about the world. You reinforce each other’s beliefs, making it harder and harder to contemplate alternative viewpoints.

So keep Facebook. Do stay in touch with old friends or distant family members. But for heaven’s sake, don’t use Facebook to inform yourself. Ditch the memes. Stop sharing anything other than cute cat pictures. And be the most suspicious when you see something that you are inclined to believe. It’s not the lies and deceptions you hate that are the most dangerous; it is the lies and deceptions that you are most likely to believe that will fool you. This is something state-sponsored Russian trolls know all too well.

 Posted by at 8:54 am
Mar 112018
 

Very well, having grown up in a police state of sorts myself, I know I should not take these things lightly. There are plenty of political prisoners in China, and now that Xi declared himself president for life, I expect things to get worse, not better.

Still… I could not help myself, I was laughing out loud as I read the story of an elderly Chinese woman who took revenge of a fortune teller because contrary to his predictions, she did live to see 2018 after all.

According to the South China Morning Post, Mrs. Wang ran into the fortune teller in a park and in her anger, she started vandalizing his stall. But then, “[a] police officer intervened and asked the fortune-teller to apologise to Wang for causing mental suffering.”

Thank you, Mr. anonymous Chinese police officer, for doing exactly what a sensible person should have done. Good to know that common sense is still alive and well in some parts of the world.

 Posted by at 5:33 pm
Sep 082017
 

Jerry Pournelle, the noted science-fiction writer, political pundit and early computer enthusiast, is dead at the age of 84.

Pournelle was a long-time collaborator of science-fiction giant Larry Niven, with whom they co-wrote some amazing science-fiction novels, like The Mote in God’s Eye or Oath of Fealty, not to mention their take on Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno, and its sequel, Escape from Hell. Novels he published under his own name included the memorable Janissaries or West of Honor.

Pournelle was well known to readers of the once legendary BYTE magazine. His Chaos Manor column, in which he reviewed software, hardware, new technologies, was very popular.

Pournelle was a political conservative, one of the intellectuals behind Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (aka. “Star Wars”) space defense program. He was a thinking conservative, not blinded by ideology; his views were based on facts and reason.

I corresponded with Pournelle a few times, going back to the late 1980s, when I exchanged e-mails with him on BYTE’s long-defunct dial-up bulletin board, BIX (the Byte Information Exchange). Later, I was an on-and-off subscriber to his Web site and blog. I wasn’t a regular reader, and certainly didn’t always agree with him, but I liked to read his views.

Pournelle suffered a stroke in 2014 and it certainly slowed him down. Even so, he never stopped writing. His passing is not exactly a surprise, but it still came a little too soon. May he rest in peace.

 Posted by at 9:43 pm
Apr 212016
 

Her Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada (and a bunch of other countries that I care a great deal less about as I don’t happen to live there) was born 90 years ago today.

She is my favoritest Queen. May she enjoy many more happy birthdays in good health.

 Posted by at 10:23 am
Jan 272016
 

I was never a fan of conspiracy theories. Most popular conspiracies are highly improbable: maintaining complete secrecy would require thousands of people to cooperate for many years.

But just how improbably are conspiracies, really? Well, now there is a quantitative estimate, thanks a paper by David Robert Grimes. Grimes used several specific, high-profile cases of actual conspiracies to estimate the likelihood that a conspiracy is revealed by a participant. He found that while the probability that any individual participant betrays the conspiracy may be quite small, the likelihood that the conspiracy is revealed over time nonetheless approaches unity over the years, as demonstrated by the following diagram:

The parameter p in these curves represents the probability that any given participant will break his silence in a given year.

So then, this is it… by Grimes’s calculations, if the Moon landing had been a hoax or if similarly, vaccination or climate change were both just vast conspiracies, these would all have been revealed with a very high likelihood in the span of no more than a few years.

None of this will deter conspiracy theorists, I am sure. If all other arguments fail, they’ll just declare Grimes himself to be a member of the conspiracy, too. Well, for all you know, I may also be an agent of the secret cabal, using my blog to lure the unsuspecting into believing that man walked on the Moon, that vaccines save lives or that anthropogenic climate change is actually happening…

 Posted by at 5:28 pm
Jan 202016
 

One of the blessings of being self-employed is that I don’t need to read IT job advertisements on a regular basis.

But for those friends of mine who do, I just came across this gem that helps translate the common buzzwords and catch phrases that appear in these ads:

Don’t let any of this deter you from going after that position… just tamper your expectations.

 Posted by at 6:22 pm