Links July 2009

Katherine Fulton gave a TED talk about the future of philanthropy [1]. She started out well with an overview of some of the technical methods, but I felt that the ending was lacking. At the end she made an emotional appeal for people to be philanthropic, it seems to me that you can’t easily convince people to do such things so it’s best to try to develop the tendencies that people already have in that regard.

My friend Rik van Riel is a member of the Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists, and the Non-Religious lending team in Kiva [9]. Kiva is one of the philanthropic organisations that Katherine Fulton mentions.

Seth Godin gave an inspiring TED talk about “tribe” leadership [2]. His use of the term “tribe” differs from the common use in that he only refers to a cultural group rather than kinship (the more common definition of a tribe). So his definition seems to be best described as followers of a meme – although it doesn’t sound cool that way. He has some great ideas for how to motivate groups of people which should be useful for anyone who wants to influence people to get things done.

Phil Zimbardo (who is well known for the infamous Stanford Prison experiment) gave an insightful TED talk about the psychology of evil [3]. His main point is that largely good or evil actions are determined by the environment. A secondary point he makes is that people should be taught that they can be heros by merely deciding to refrain from following a crowd into evil or doing small things to help others. He suggests that “super heros” give children bad ideas about heroism. He also co-wrote an interesting paper the Banality of Heroism [4]. It’s published on the site.

Steven Pinker gave an informative TED talk about the decline of violence throughout recorded history [5]. This is clear evidence that people who are nostalgic are wrong. One interesting part of his lecture concerned changing standards in society towards violence. One issue is that the claims that society has a problem with violence are in part based on changing standards, it used to be that genocide was well regarded by most people (he cites the Bible for an example of this) but now society is increasingly intolerant of violence so things generally seem worse.

Steven Pinker also gave an interesting TED talk about his book “The Blank Slate” [6]. He describes some research that reveals the innate traits that are programmed into people and discusses some of the implications.

CNN has an interesting article about a drug that prevents the cravings that recovering alcoholics experience [7], of course that is only part of the solution to the problem of alcoholism – but it is a significant part. According to research by Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and published in Lancet 1 in 25 deaths worldwide can be attributed to alcohol [8], so it seems that many lives could be saved by this new drug use (the drug was previously prescribed for other ailments).

Google is about to release a new distribution of Linux with a new GUI that is designed for running the Chrome browser on Netbooks [10]. This will be interesting to see, hopefully they will have developed some new way of making a GUI take good advantage of low resolution screens such as 800*480 in the EeePC 701.

Cory Doctorow writes about the issues relating to unauthorised distribution of pre-release movies [11]. When movies are shown for review cinemas are being forced to confiscate mobile phones from the viewers which will supposedly prevent unauthorised copies being made. But apparently most movies are leaked by insiders before the reviewers even get to see them. Also for the duration of the movie the phones are not stored in a secure manner which allows a variety of personal data to be accessed by security guards and anyone else who gets to play with the phones.

The Pope has written an encyclical criticising “excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care” [12]. It’s good to see a religious leader take a stand on a moral issue.

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