Links April 2010


Sam Harris gave an interesting TED talk about whether there are scientific answers to moral questions [1]. One of his insightful points was that when dealing with facts certain opinions should be excluded – it would be good if journalists who report on issues of science could understand this. Another insight was that religious people most strongly agree with him regarding the issue of whether there are factual answers to moral questions – but they think that God just handed the answers to their ancesters rather than making it an issue that requires consideration. He cites the issue of gay marriage as being a distraction from moral issues such as genocide and poverty. He asks “how have we convinced ourself that every culture has a point of view worth considering?”. He asks how the ignorance of the Taliban on the topic of physics is any less obvious than on the topic of human well-being.

Dan Gilbert gave an insightful TED talk titled “Why Are We Happy?” [2]. One interesting fact he cites is that people who become paraplegic are no less happy in the long term than people who win the lottery. He points out that a shopping mall full of Zen monks is not going to be particularly profitable and uses this fact to explain the promotion of natural happiness over synthetic happiness in our society.

Dan Barber gave an amusing and informative TED talk “How I Fell in Love with a Fish” [3]. He speaks about ecological fish farming and how the fish are more tasty as well as the farm being good for the environment. The farm in question is in the south-west of Spain, hopefully there will be more similar farms in other parts of the world soon.

Gary Lauder gave an interesting brief TED talk about road signs [4]. His main point was to advocate a road sign saying “take turns”, but there are already signs in the US at freeway on-ramps saying that 1 or 2 cars may enter every time the light turns green – which is a similar concept. The innovative thing he did was to estimate the amount of time and petrol wasted by stop signs, add that over a year based on the average income and then estimate that an annuity covering that ongoing expense would cost more than $2,000,000. This makes two stop signs at an intersection have an expense of $1,000,000 each. He suggests that rather than installing stop signs it would be cheaper to buy the adjacent land, chop down all trees, and then sell it again.

Alan Siegel gave an insightful TED talk about simplifying legal documents [5]. He gives an example of an IRS document which was analysed with a Heat Map to show which parts confused the readers – the IRS adopted a new document that his group designed which made it easier for taxpayers. He advocates legislation to make legal documents easier to understand for customers of financial services.

Tim Berners Lee gave an interesting TED talk about Open Data, he illustrated it with some fantastic videos showing how mashups have been used with government data [6] and how the Open Street Map project developed over time.

Martin F. Krafft gave an interesting Debconf talk about Tool Adoption Behavior in the Debian project [7]. One thing that I found particularly interesting was his description of the Delphi Method that he used to assemble a panel of experts and gather a consensus of opinion. The post-processing on this talk was very good, in some sections Martin’s presentation notes are shown on screen with the video of him in the corner. As an aside, I think we really do need camera-phones.

The Big Money has an interesting article comparing the Mafia “Bust Out” with the practices of US banks [8].

Mark Roth gave an exciting TED talk about using Hydrogen Sulphide to trigger suspended animation [9]. They are now doing human trials for suspending people who have serious injuries to reduce tissue damage during the process of surgery.

Pawan Sinha gave an interesting TED talk about how brains learn to see [10]. He started by talking about curing blindness in people who have been blind since birth. But he then ended by showing some research into the correlation between visual processing and Autism, he showed that an Autistic child had significantly different visual patterns when playing Pong to an NT child.

Adora Svitak gave an insightful TED talk about what adults can learn from kids [11]. She made some particularly interesting points about the education system requiring that adults respect children more and expect them to do better than their parents – which is essential for all progress in society.

The NY Times has an interesting article on animal homosexuality [12]. In terms of research it focusses on lesbian relationships between albatrosses. But a large part of the article is devoted to the politics of scientific research into animal sexuality. shows you what your web site looks like in different web browsers [13].

Cory Doctorow wrote an insightful article titles “Can You Survive a Benevolent Dictatorship” about the Apple DRM [14]. He describes the way the Apple Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) doesn’t stop copyright violation but does reduce competition in the computer industry. He is not going to sell his work on the Apple store (for the iPad or iPhone etc) and suggests that customers should choose a more open platform. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t suggest a better platform.

1 thought on “Links April 2010”

  1. John Walker says:

    thanks for the link to TED interesting stuff.

    There is pretty big divide( at times an uncross-able schism) within most branches of the religions of the ‘Book'(Judaism , Christianity, and Islam) between ‘literalists’ who do “think that God just handed the answers to their ancestors” and those who might be called ‘interpretives’ ? for whom faith/morals is ” an issue that requires conside
    ration” -conscious and constant choice” . For some ‘faith’ is about -‘absolute final answers’.
    However for a lot of others faith is what is personally needed (for them) to live a ‘ good’ -fully human life, in the midst of uncertainty . Life is full of difficult choices that by their very nature cannot collapse to an final binary state of: true /false.

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