I prefer you to read my blog through Findory.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Cell phone banking in South Africa

USATODAY.com - Africa's cell phone boom creates a base for low-cost banking:

Each account is linked to an ATM card — upgradable to a MasterCard debit card — that can be used nationwide, and that can be used to deposit and withdraw money. The founders also envision the creation of a network of traders who will be able to make transactions in remote areas.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hydrogen economy vs. peak oil

My post about peak oil made me think about our energetic future. Maybe it isn't so apocaliptic. Read these Wikipedia articles:

Update: Purdue University researchers say they've found a way to make hydrogen for fuel cells that could lead to self-charging batteries.

Does neuroscience refute ethics?

Fascinant article in Mises Institute, although I don't agree with its conclusions: Does Neuroscience Refute Ethics?:

moral dilemma: Should one smother a crying baby to death to protect the lives of many when enemy soldiers are approaching? Here they compared the activation patterns in the brains between those who approve (utilitarians) and those who do not (deontologists).

For those new to philosophical jargon, utilitarians believe that morality is a matter of promoting the greater good, while deontologists argue that there are absolute moral principles that can never be violated regardless of the consequences. Hence according to utilitarians, one should kill the baby to save everyone else, but according to deontologists, one should not, since murder is simply wrong.

Greene et al. observed greater activity in brain regions associated with emotion when subjects disapprove of baby killing in this case, and greater activity in brain regions associated with 'cognitive control' when utilitarian judgments prevail. Cognitive control processes, moreover, can work against the social-emotional response, resulting in more utilitarian judgments--greater tendency for baby smothering. In one brain region (right anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), activity increases for participants who made the utilitarian choice, but decreases for those who made the non-utilitarian judgment. Again, emotions drive individuals to reject choices that, while violating moral principles, result in more aggregate welfare.

The shock comes from the conclusion drawn by these authors: 'The social-emotional responses that we've inherited from our primate ancestors . . . undergird the absolute prohibitions that are central to deontology. In contrast, the 'moral calculus' that defines utilitarianism is made possible by more recently evolved structures in the frontal lobes that support abstract thinking and high-level cognitive control.' To put it bluntly, the old emotional brain represents the view of the deontologists, who believe in universal rules of morality, whereas the new rational brain embodies the utilitarian view.


Greene mentions with approval the fact that Peter Singer, the famed utilitarian professor, donates about 20% of his income to charity. But if we must act on utilitarian assumptions, why stop at modest contributions? Why only 20%, why not all? If we really must perform the moral calculus as the utilitarians urge us, the only rational thing to do is to donate everything we have and starve to death.

[...] it is often precisely the altruistic urges that are primitive, and drive the irrational behavior of so-called progressives. By contrast, universal principles derived from cultural selection avoid the individual bias that taints the utilitarian analysis. The instinctual altruism of doing visible good, for instance, is replaced by an impersonal system of coordinating resources, namely capitalism, which, not surprisingly, is the favorite target of those who can get no satisfaction of their primitive altruistic urges.

Maybe the answer is that we must be altruistic until reaching the Kaldor-Hicks efficiency, donating that money in the bank you don't need:

Under Pareto efficiency, an outcome is more efficient if at least one person is made better off and nobody is made worse off. This seems a reasonable way to determine whether an outcome is efficient or not but in practice, it is almost impossible to make any change without making at least one person worse off. Using Kaldor-Hicks efficiency, a more efficient outcome can leave some people worse off. Here, an outcome is more efficient if those that are made better off could in theory compensate those that are made worse off and lead to a Pareto optimal outcome.

Mmmm... but this apply when you are rich. What can you do now?

I think this is the best idea: Save 10% of what you earn for your future, for your retirement, for you, for being rich one day.

And also donate another 10% to charity.

About peak oil and the future of the cities

The Morning News - James Howard Kunstler, by Robert Birnbaum. There's so much in this interview that I don't know what to quote, so I quoted the intro:

A simple statement but a nightmarish one: we can no longer expect to have more energy, only remorselessly less energy. An intense chat with author James Howard Kunstler about the chaos that will rattle our society once the energy disaster takes hold.

India rebels making porn films

BBC NEWS: India rebels 'making porn films':

Rebels in India's north-eastern state of Tripura are making pornographic films to raise money for their separatist campaign

I would buy a porn film of Bin Laden... This world is going crazy.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bush Administration censores MTV ad

Censoring MTV...For its Politics:

The following PowerPoint illustrates an ad, (digitally rendered), one that puts into context the tragedy of 9-11 with real threats to humanity.  According to our source, the commercial ran once.  The Federal government intervened and pulled it off the air. The information in it is correct so the why is unknown. Repeated requests for information went unanswered.

No proof of Iran WMD

No Proof Found of Iran Arms Program:

Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.

Did de Bush Administration already know it, as with Irak WMD?

Anti-ageing gene

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Scientists probe anti-ageing gene:

Scientists in the United States have discovered a gene that can keep mice alive for 30% longer than normal.

Ajax Office

Paolo Massa Blog: Forecast: Ajax Office available in less than one year:

My little forecast: I think that in less than one year there will be a Suite Office usable "inside" your browser, entirely written in Javascript and , using the DOM model of XHTML.

UPDATE: AjaxOffice is now on sourceforge.

Say good bye to Microsoft Office hegemony.

Friday, August 26, 2005

1 billion urban squatters

Fascinating article in Reason magazine:

Since 1950 the population of the world has increased from 2.5 billion to 6.1 billion. Many of these newcomers earn less than $1 a day—far below the U.S. poverty standard—and live in sprawling megacities such as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in India, and Nairobi in Kenya. They are frequently beset by bad governments and corrupt officials. How do they survive?

Investigative reporter Robert Neuwirth gives the answer in his fascinating book Shadow Cities. About a fifth of Rio de Janeiro’s residents, half of Mumbai’s, and two-thirds of Nairobi’s live as urban squatters, a category that includes an estimated 1 billion people around the world.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

McDonald's sign

A very funny story.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Automatic door

we make money not art: Automatic door... Japan style:

The door is segmented into multiple strips and opens minimally according to the shape of the individual, animal or object that has to pass through.

Google to offer gratis wi-fi?

Business 2.0: Free Wi-Fi? Get Ready for GoogleNet.

launched a Google-sponsored Wi-Fi hotspot in San Francisco’s Union Square shopping district, built by a local startup called Feeva. Feeva is reportedly readying more free hotspots in California, Florida, New York, and Washington, and it's possible that Google may be involved. Feeva CEO Nitin Shah confirms that the company is working with Google

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Assurance contracts

Assurance contracts - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Assurance contracts operate as follows:

In a binding way, members of a group pledge to contribute to action A if at least N-1 other members also make the same pledge. If N members sign the pledge (perhaps by a certain expiration date), the action is taken. If the quorum is not reached, the parties are not obligated to carry through on the action.

The binding mechanism may be a contract enforced by a government, a contract enforced by a private organization (e.g. a mediator, a protection agency in an anarcho-capitalist society, etc.), an escrow organization (in such cases, the "binding contract" is "signed" by depositing funds in advance, which are later either disbursed according to the contract, or refunded), etc.

An interesting idea.

By the way, I'll be on vacation until Sunday the 21st. Don't expect any post before this date.

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