25 August 2011

Welcome to Book Club

Welcome to Book Club. Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else. Including books.

Fight Club film poster brad pitt edward norton
Fight Club film poster. Admit it: You saw the film before you read the book. You probably don't even know there is a book.

  • The first rule of Book Club is: You DO NOT TALK ABOUT BOOK CLUB!

  • The second rule of Book Club is: You DO NOT TALK ABOUT BOOK CLUB! You'll get teased.

  • The third rule of Book Club is: No condensed versions.

  • The fourth rule of Book Club is: Only 2 guys to a book. That's the maximum, and obviously it could be 2 persons of any gender matched in any combination of 1 or 2 persons to a book.

  • The fifth rule of Book Club is: One book at a time, fellas.

  • The sixth rule of Book Club is: No shirts, no shoes, no Kindle or e-book reader of any other variety. You're supposed to kick back with a Martini cocktail, or if you are a teetollar, a relaxing cup of tea or an invigorating brew of coffee.

  • The seventh rule of Book Club is: Books go on for as long as they have to. In the meanwhile, Hollywood might produce a film version of the book. You may be tempted to watch it. Don't. Books go on for as long as they have to and you're not allowed to watch the film of the book unless you've finished the book.

  • And the eighth and final rule: if this is your first time at Book Club, you have to recommend a book. I'd recommend one on Game Theory.

17 June 2011

Nerd rant: Gnome 3


I've been a loyal Linux fanboy since discovering that it's free, fast, and runs on most older systems. I've been less of a fanboy since being able to afford more modern hardware and attempting to do something other than playing mp3 or video files on my desktop computer, especially with the great job Microsoft did with Windows 7.

Albert Einstein, who may have enjoyed Gnome 3. I do not.

My main reasons for preferring Linux over Windows are:

  1. User control and freedom. I could plug anything I want into anything else and it usually worked after a bit of tweaking and a few blue sparks.

  2. Consistency and standards. This is part of the Unix design philosophy. I knew, if I had a document or a file from one brand of Linux, that it would run on a different brand of Linux too. It would mostly run on Windows as well.

  3. Aesthetic and minimalist design. This must be because Linux comes from a command-line interface culture. There was no clutter on the desktop with prior versions of Gnome and older versions of KDE. As a complete novice, I could find most information I needed in the man files or by going on a click quest through the window system. But, other than with Windows, I had User control and freedom to decide where my buttons were, what size they were, how many there were and even what they did.

What's wrong with Gnome 3

Their design approach is fundamentally flawed because it is inappropriate for a desktop computing environment. Gnome 3 looks like the worst in mobile operating system interface designed forcefully jammed onto a desktop.

Dude, where's my right click?

A traditional free software application is configurable so that it has the union of all features anyone's ever seen in any equivalent application on any other historical platform. Or even configurable to be the union of all applications that anyone's ever seen on any historical platform (Emacs *cough*).

Does this hurt anything? Yes it does. It turns out that preferences have a cost. Of course, some preferences also have important benefits - and can be crucial interface features. But each one has a price, and you have to carefully consider its value. Many users and developers don't understand this, and end up with a lot of cost and little value for their preferences dollar.
[sic] from the Wikipedia entry on Gnome.

Emacs *cough* does a great job, because I can use it in virtually any context. I can use it as a plain text editor, a fully-fledged IDE, an email client, anything else I can think of but (most importantly) I do not need to use it at all. I don't even need to install it. This loose-coupling (as Object-Oriented slaves would know it, Unix developers would know it as orthogonality) is a solid design principle because it helps me on the user end to avoid the butterfly effect on my own computer.

It turns out that you do not have certain preferences with Gnome 3. Not only do you not have the preferences on the interface, but they simply are not there. Does this hurt anything? Yes, it does. It takes away the benefits of using Gnome 3 and since this is supposedly the best value for preferences dollar I can get from the free and open source world, I would rather spend real money and get a working operating system that gives me more preferences. Such as Windows 7. I'm not quite prepared to spend money on a Barbie computer from Apple yet, but even Windows is better!

Plus, there is no right click context menu!

It also turns out that some features (gnome keyring for one) get installed no matter what you chose to install on your computer. This gnome daemon is supposedly part of gnome, which I chose not to install, but it's still there. I presumed that I could unfuck my desktop by not installing Gnome at all, and opting for a traditional, configurable windowing system that allows me to join or separate all the features I'd like to see. The difference is that I am the one in control, and I may decide which preferences are available and which are unavailable. This is what preferences are about: catering the UI for my individual needs, which may be completely different from the next person who installs the same windowing system, but the option must be available.

How to unfuck your desktop if you were unfortunate enough to be hit by the plague that is Gnome 3

After installing and reinstalling about 4 different Linux distros, I realised that the main problem was not the Linux distro after all, but the horrendous retarded brain child that is Gnome 3. The first step to unfucking your desktop is DO NOT INSTALL GNOME 3. The second step is to use a windowing system that had the revolutionary idea of giving you more options instead of the beaurocratic idea of taking your options away.

A few of my favourites are:

  • XFCE. What Gnome 3 could have been if they didn't take this minimalism idea too far. It looks like the real Gnome, with some interesting additions like a quick link bar at the bottom. Bonus: it doesn't look like a mobile phone.

  • Openbox. My current favourite. What Gnome 3 should have been if hiding overwhelming task bar options from users was the main idea. It is based entirely on a right-click context menu idea and it is a thing of beauty. Bonus: it doesn't look like a mobile phone either.

My suggestions for future Gnome development

  • User oriented development instead of "expert" driven design. With both Gnome and the new Unity for Ubuntu, I get the idea that some CEOs decided that the future of computing is in pads and hand-helds, so obviously it's a great idea to go after Android. Both projects have the mentality of 'this is how it's going to be, if you don't like it, tough'. Perhaps this works in the long run, but in the short run there's a large segment of Linux users who are used to having more options, not less. It appears that the only user testing (if any) in this development loop was done with fellow developers to see with what they can get away with, instead of seeing how they can solve usability problems in real user environments.

  • Stick with established, tried and tested design hueristics instead of reinventing the wheel. There are a few that are readily available, my personal favourite being the Unix design philosophy heuristics but the shortest and sweetest is Nielsen's usability heuristics.

Less is not more. Less is less, and more is more. If you want to go for less, keep the following in mind:

Einstein's Razor

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. ~ Albert Einstein.

05 March 2011

Media Appeals Tribunal has fallen and it can't get up

If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed. - attributed to Mark Twain.

Since the last Media Appeals Tribunal update on this blog, the Press Council of South Africa held a few public hearings which are designed to garner the general public opinion on the role of the council. Public attendance was poor, as can be expected from any kind of public hearings that are held during working hours.

Mark Twain
Mark Twain. I'm not sure what his ideology was, but it involved satire and drinking so I like it.

The Red Brigade has issued a warning regarding the ideology (or is that idle-LOL-agy?) I am propagating on this blog (they haven't managed to identify this ideology, and neither have I to be honest), but then only Red Brigade ideology and nothing else would make the Red Brigade happy. Due to their misconception that I am trying to advance an ideology that they do not approve, they have given my No Media Tribunal campaign a Cold War shoulder. This groupthink is part of why their group is ineffective.

It also shows that the press is more cognisant of its role as a potential soap box for ideology than its purpose as a source of information, which is the way I'd like it to be. It also shows the inability of particularly ineffective groups to decouple ideology from a medium that is regarded by many as more valuable when it is viewed as free from ideology. Why do we trust Wikileaks more than Fox News as a source of news?

I have been following the press council hearings by proxy, and unfortunately it appears to me that most journalists are more concerned with providing a soap box for some group's ideology than with doing their jobs. This becomes more apparent if one counts the amount of grammatical errors in news headlines on some South African news syndicate web sites. It also explains headlines like this:

Man tells how dog helped him survive

You can find the full story here:
Man tells how dog helped him survive.

To me, this is a story about an elderly gentleman who fell in a valley and could not get up. His dog was nearby and helped him survive, because the poor man fell and could not get up. But apparently I am wrong.

The Plight of Smiling Dog Men who keep on falling and cannot get up

Apparently, it is not enough to note that smiling dog man fell and could not get up. Most South African readers of this bulletin may not be aware of this with their White Privilege and Protestant Work Ethic (of which the press has the duty to remind us of at any opportunity, particularly the Privilege part but preferably not in such a way that we may construe a causal link between the two), but there's a large contingent of disenfranchised old smiling dog men out there who have no voice in the press.

Therefore, self-regulation of the media is not enough when it results merely in monitoring the factual accuracy of news reports and thereby ensuring that journalists are doing their jobs properly.

Nor is it enough to evaluate news reporting in an objective manner by evaluating complaints against the Bill of Rights, the Press Council constitution and against the information available to the journalist by a respected panel of experts.

Nor is it enough to point out that appeal to the Press Council is voluntary and there is no need to even bother with it if you feel that your case has enough merit for legal action. This is the course that Gold Reef City took against Carte Blanche.

Nay, nay, the Press Council should also ensure that we're aware of smiling old dog men in general who have fallen and cannot get up and that it's most likely due to the injustices of the past that smiling dog men keep on falling and cannot get up, as causation is easier to establish in social sciences than in others, you see.

Ideology schmideology

I would prefer a Press Council that conducts language proficiency tests and critical thinking skills evaluations of all journalists. The level of each of these should be indicated at the bottom of each news bulletin that the journalist in question gets published.

Journalists who score too low should be sent on courses to improve both their writing skills and their critical thinking skills. These ratings should be evaluated twice a year, and the scores should be updated accordingly. Anyone who uses the terms disenfranchised, media diversity, ideology or demographic representation and thinks this has any bearing on journalistic standards or the purpose of the Press Council (which is outlined in their constitution, by the way) should be sent on history and economics courses to purge their skulls of the dump that Karl Marx took in their skull cavities.

That would be great, but the purpose of the Press Council is not to do the jobs that educational institutes should have accomplished by the time journalists are let loose in the field.

Volunteer's Dilemma: Game Theory for Noobs

The Volunteer's Dilemma in Game Theory is best described by a corny mathematics joke.

A mathematician, an engineer and a chemist are at a conference. They are staying in adjoining rooms. One evening they are downstairs in the bar. The mathematician goes to bed first. The chemist goes next, followed a minute or two later by the engineer.

The chemist notices that in the corridor outside their rooms is a rubbish bin that is ablaze. There is a bucket of water nearby. The chemist starts concocting a means of generating carbon dioxide in order to create a makeshift extinguisher but before he can do so the engineer arrives, dumps the water on the fire and puts it out. The next morning the chemist and engineer tell the mathematician about the fire. She admits she saw it. They ask her why she didn't put it out. She replies contemptuously "there was a fire and a bucket of water: a solution obviously existed.

What's the deal with the Volunteer's Dilemma?

If nobody volunteers, the worst possible outcome is achieved.

It only takes one person to volunteer, but everyone sits around waiting for someone else to be the volunteer.

Elizabeth Hurley Liz Hurley Cannes Film Festival
Elizabeth Hurley who thankfully volunteered to star in a new television version of Wonder Woman as Veronica Cale.

06 February 2011

Chicken: Game Theory for Noobs

Chicken in game theory refers to a game where opponents are heading towards each other on a narrow road. The first opponent to chicken out loses, while if neither chicken out both end up losing their lives.

Ronald Reagan Mikhail Gorbachov Cold War discussions chicken brinkmanship game theory

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachov having a staring contest.

Who is silly enough to play chicken?

Men, of course. Grown men. Chicken or brinkmanship is also used as a metaphor for contests where there is very little to gain and much to lose. It's basically the proverbial pissing contest or my dad is bigger than your dad, with bigger risks.

Many are of the opinion that an arms race is an example of chicken, though this is often not the case, as there may be more at stake than pure pride. During the Cold War, for example, the arms race was designed to bankrupt the Russian government, in addition to being a preventative measure against Russia's arms.

Game theory often analyses situations in terms of what could have been had different strategies been followed. In the case of an arms race, it is frequently the case that not having a considerable military capability leads to conflict. That is, not having weapons often leads one to be forced into conflict while having military capability often prevents conflict entirely. Like the saying goes, speak softly, but carry a big gun.

What is the optimal strategy for winning chicken?

The optimal strategy for winning chicken is not to play chicken at all. That is, to chicken out at any moment. With the game of chicken, if you chicken out you always win in the sense that you don't lose anything in real terms. If you don't chicken out, you only win if the opponent does chicken out.

Better to play games that are worth winning, like the lottery.

05 January 2011

Free Rider Problem: Game Theory for Noobs

The Free Rider problem is similar to the Tragedy of the Commons in that a common resource is shared. It's a game theory problem slightly in reverse, as with the Tragedy of the Commons, everyone kept exploiting a commonly held resource until it was spent. With the Free Rider problem, a resource is paid for by an entire community, but a few individuals do not contribute their required share. The free riders thus gain from the communal resource without contributing to the communal resource.

A few Free Rider examples

  • Chickens are kept on enclosed pastures, or free range. However, chickens do not contribute to the labour performed. According to Karl Marx's labour theory of value, chickens that do not contribute to labour are not a commodity that creates value. In the Marxist sense, labour is the only commodity with value that adds value. Chickens are thus not only free rangers, but also free riders.

  • Military protection and indeed any social security benefits are rarely used by those who pay for them. Those who pay taxes, and by extension for social security and military expenditure, are often berated for being greedy, money hungry or inhumane. However, without them, where would be no social security because those who live on such benefits do not pay for them. People who live on social security are free riders.

Day old chick chicken free rider free ranger cock sucker
A day old chick. Just look at this cock sucker.

The Free Rider problem is not a big issue in times of surplus when nobody has to be concerned with real scarcity or the optimal distribution of resources as conjectured by the Coase Theorem. It does however become a problem when beggars become choosers and would like to have your cake and eat it too. Eat a chicken tonight, just to keep them in their place.

How do you deal with the Free Rider problem?

Most problems in game theory are solved the cold-hearted, calculated way. This means the Free Rider problem is solved by convincing free riders that it is in their best interest to contribute their fair share to society. Of course the most obvious way to do this is to stop social security and welfare programs and military spending, but promises of a free lunch tend to win elections. Military spending is also a multi-headed beast, with some real benefits and some real disadvantages over and beyond getting returns on investment. Industries resulting from military research, such as the information technology industry, more than pay for themselves. The absurd amount of money (and the resulting inflation) spent on military budgets could be better spent, on cosmonaut programs, for example.

01 January 2011

Defining race and ethnicity in South Africa, part 2

This is part 2 of a 2 part series. You may find the full series here:
  1. Defining race and ethnicity in South Africa.

  2. Defining race and ethnicity in South Africa, part 2.

Since my previous post, Defining race and ethnicity in South Africa, there's been a bull in the China shop. You can tell by the large amount of bull shit that has since gathered. Please consult the comment section of that post to get a firm idea of how we got here. This is a reply from Sentletse, who claims that We are not all Africans black people are!, to my post. I'll quote from him in bold and give my comments in plain text.

Neanderthals existed in Europe. If you say Homo Sapiens drove them to extinction, then you agree with me that it was Homo Sapiens that migrated from Africa, not Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Therefore the Out-Of-Africa theory is rendered invalid as it is premised on the view that it was Homo Sapiens Sapiens who migrated.

I'll see your multiregional model of the origin of modern humans and I'll raise you Mitochondrial Eve.

I don’t contest the notion that we all evolved from a common ancestor Homo Sapiens. My argument is that the evolution of Homo Sapiens to Homo Sapiens Sapiens and ultimately modern human beings didn’t occur in Africa. Therefore you can say that the origin of white people was in Africa. No white person evolved from Homo Sapiens in Africa. This all occurred outside the continent. Don’t confuse the origin of Homo Sapiens and the origin of modern human beings.

If Homo sapiens sapiens did not evolve in Africa, then Africans (of any ethnic or racial description) must have migrated back into Africa from somewhere else. Regardless, early human origins have no bearing on who may call themselves African. Suggest that the earliest homo sapiens remains are found in China. This would only suggest that Africans may have migrated here from China, but it is not necessarily so as most hominids of the time were too busy trying not to be eaten by sabre-tooth tigers to invent writing and leave detailed records of their family tree or even a fossil record of themselves. The bones of their oldest known grandfather doesn't make them Chinese, they're still African for the same reason that any other African is African: they were born in Africa.

The Lemba people originate from Judea. They’re not African. They may have dark skins, but they’re not African. Indians also have dark skins and they too are not African.

lemba people
Hear that, Lemba dudes? Being Zimbabwean, speaking a Bantu language and being black are not enough to make you guys Africans. Sorry. That Judean holiday you took 2 500 years ago is paying dearly now.

If they are Homo sapiens with the same common ancestor as modern-day Africans, how did they get to Judea?

Being black, being on the African continent for 2 500 years and speaking a Bantu language are not sufficient to be classified as African by your standards?

Being Homo sapiens sapiens, that did supposedly not originate in Africa, but migrated to the African continent, only counts for some Africans to be classified as African if they have black skins and speak a Bantu language, but not if they took a scenic route by means of Judea?

But being born in the Caribbean, say in Jamaica, and being a black nationalist that adheres to the Roman Catholic faith like Marcus Garvey did, leaving most of your writing in English, and dying in London makes one more African?

OOA theory is widely accepted. But the presence of Homo Sapiens fossils in China certainly invalidates this theory. See this table on the link which confirms that Homo Sapies fossils were found in China.

That link merely shows a list of fossils found in China. It does not imply, nor tries to imply, that the fossils found there are the oldest known examples of such fossils. It is only a table that categorises fossils found in China according to species in the genus Homo.

The oldest known human fossil remains are from Ethiopia. I hope they weren't buried by a Rabbi, not even a black one, because that would make them un-African in your view?

The only flaw of the multi-regional hypotheses as widely recorded is that it is based on the assumption that evolution elsewhere was from Neanderthals and Homo Erectus. Genetic evidence disputes that. But we can update that hypotheses now to say that such evolution did occur outside Africa as well but that being evolution from Homo Sapiens not Homo Erectus.

There is no assumption that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved from Neanderthals. It is widely considered that Neanderthals died out, largely thanks to the appearance of Homo sapiens sapiens. For genetic evidence, see Mitochondrial Eve.

Homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens are effectively synonyms as these are the last remaining species of the genus Homo. It is a misnomer to suggest that the various species of the genus evolved from each other, as they are thought to be cousins stemming from the same common ancestor. There are also various speculations as to who the common ancestor is, but you'll find that Homo erectus is thought to be the common ancestor of Homo sapiens sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo heidelbergensis. These latter species are not considered to have evolved from one another (except perhaps neanderthalensis from heidelbergensis, which makes heidelbergensis the common ancestor of neanderthalensis and sapiens), they are all considered to have a common ancestor in Homo erectus.

By the way, the earliest known fossils of most of those, including Homo erectus, are all found in Africa. Like I said in my reply in the comments of my previous post, how far back is far enough? You'd like to trace African ancestry way back, but not far enough to include Homo erectus, which is thought to be the common ancestor of all Homo sapiens, and not recent enough to include Homo beings who went to Judea, learnt a thing or two from the Jews, learn to fear the God of Abraham, still speak a Bantu language and are as black as night, as Africans?

Whether the term “Africa” was invented by Romans is neither here nor there. We have the term, which is in specific reference to this continent.

Agreed. The term African refers to that which is of or related to Africa. Nothing more, nothing less. Which means it is not descriptive of a particular race, nationality or ethnicity.

That Mbeki referred to the Berber people as African doesn’t make that the gospel truth. He was wrong. The Berbers like the North African Arabs do not originate from Africa. They’re said to have reached North Africa around 2000 BC or so.

There was a study was done in respect of the origins of the Berber people. Here’s an excerpt:

"Looking at the relevant mutations in and around the lactase gene in human populations, we can gain insight into the origin(s) and spread of dairying. We genotyped the putatively causal allele for lactose tolerance (–13910T) and constructed haplotypes from several polymorphisms in and around the lactase gene (LCT) in three North African Berber populations and compared our results with previously published data. We found that the frequency of the –13910T allele predicts the frequency of lactose tolerance in several Eurasian and North African Berber populations but not in most sub-Saharan African populations. Our analyses suggest that contemporary Berber populations possess the genetic signature of a past migration of pastoralists from the Middle East and that they share a dairying origin with Europeans and Asians, but not with sub-Saharan Africans."

The fact that Berbers share genetic material with Europeans (who knows of which race) and Asians (who knows of which race) does not cast any light on their origins. It merely suggests that Berbers did not share their genetic material with other Africans. For all we know from your excerpt above, and the out-of-Africa theory, the Berbers in North Africa were the origins of the genetic material and the ancestors of the Europeans and Asians of similar milk loving ethnic groups came from Africa. Which suggests, once again, like you have admitted, being black and being African are not the same thing.

The African Diaspora is relevant. Here we’re not trying to prove who practiced slavery before who, but to demonstrate that the term “African” has always been used exclusively in reference to black people for the greater part of our history.

Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey is African purely because he is black like a Lemba. Howewer, unlike most Lemba, Marcus wasn't born in Africa, did not speak a Bantu language as far as I know and died in London. Being black is not enough to make Lemba people African, but it's enough to make Marcus Garvey more African than Lemba people or some white devil who dares call himself African.

With the notable exception of the Lemba people, who are too black, who speak a Bantu language, but because they've only been African for 2 500 years and weren't shipped off to work on plantations overseas, can't be African.

And the notable exception of the Berbers, who are excluded because they like milk more than sub-Saharan Africans, they are not black enough, they have cousins in Europe and Asia and they don't speak Bantu-languages.

And the notable ignorance of the etymology of the word Africa and the native African Semitic people to whom it first applied.

That some lone white guy in 1707 called himself “African” doesn’t mean he is. Afrikaners are descendants of the Dutch, French and Germans. I’m not sure what makes them African there. That they created their own fanagalo doesn’t make their origins South African. You have a stronger argument to want Afrikaans at least be described as an African language than want Afrikaners described as African.

The fact that some lone white guy called himself African before some lone Zulus decided to call themselves Zulu, speaks a fanagalo that originated in Africa just like Zulu did, did not want to go somewhere else just like Zulus don't want to go anywhere else, managed to convince all his pale-faced, pink bottomed friends to speak the same fanagalo and call themselves after their native continent contradicts your statement that nobody who wasn't black (except the Berbers, who aren't African in your view) wanted to be called African before 1994.

I'm not sure what makes anyone African in your view, because being black doesn't cut it, speaking a Bantu-language doesn't cut it, being lactose tolerant doesn't cut it, being born in Africa doesn't cut it, sharing genetic material with milk lovers in the Middle East, Asia or Europe doesn't cut it, being in Africa since Paleolithic times doesn't cut it, but being born in Jamaica and starting a nationalist movement overseas does?

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