Friday, March 11, 2005


The term FUD is interesting to me. Since I learned of it I've begun to see it everywhere. Sort of like the VW bug phenomenon. I most often see it in the context of M$ and Linux, but lately it seems to be cropping up everywhere: social security reform, and unfortunately my sentimental favorite computer company, Apple, sued a blogger for revealing info it wanted to keep to itself.

This prompted me to ponder the usefulness and purpose of this particular tactic. It seems to me that the only benefit that derives from FUD is to either temporarily hold on to an edge until you can meet/beat to competition (that is, you've got something in the works but it's not yet ready for primetime) or the entire basis of a thesis is untenable and when you don't have the facts, you need to divert attention from that fact.

In the case of Bush's 'so-called' social security reform, it is obviously the latter. Any reasonable exploration of the facts suggests that social security is not in any danger or at the minimum can be perpetuated with minor adjustments to the system rather than a wholesale give away to Republican benefactors like Wall Street investment bankers. With respect to the Iraq *cough* conflict, I'll say no more than ..... where exactly are the WMDs and what is was the rationale for invading a country whose "leader" was just fine a few president's back when the US was more than happy to provide chemical and biological weapons?

Regarding, M$ and Apple, I detect a little more of the initial argument but just barely. Strange how M$ starts losing market share to that darn upstart Firefox when it finally releases some PR on the upcoming vaporware IE update that will solve every problem that ever existed with previous versions of IE (except for not being W3C compliant, of course) and how the Longhorn , the much *yawn* anticipated OS from M$ will of course be better, superior and more secure than Linux (which gets more user friendly for both business and the average users every single day). These projects were probably in the works before Firefox was generally released and FUD is a useful and effective marketing strategy to hold off conversion to open source versions of software that M$ sells for outrageous prices (but hey, that's just me).

I think what I'm most disappointed in is Apple's suit of a blog that reported news about it's upcoming mini iPod before it did. I've always been a fan of Apple. I grew up with the Mac. I still have my Mac and was/am still amazed at how prescient and innovative it's products were/are. Before I even knew what a modem was my Mac had one that I was just able to plug into the prepubescent incoherency we currently know as the 'NET'. It is a sad day when I feel compelled to chastise Apple for FUD practices.

Let information - accurate information - be free! Let it all hang out and allow the public, using unbiased information, make their choices. Isn't that what a true democracy and/or free market is supposed to do?!

Oooooh Sorry, I forgot. I do not live in this ideal world inside my head. I live in the Hegemonic States of America (HSA).

Thursday, March 10, 2005

My Outer Brain

Well, I did it. I sent an E-mail to several friends letting them know I was blogging on a semi-regular basis. Got some wonderful supportive E-mails and (if you look below) a few comments are beginning to flow in.

One E-mail struck me as particularly funny though. The E-mail I sent invited these few hand picked individuals to visit my blog and welcome them to the crazy inner workings of my brain. The response I received was "What's [my] outer brain like?". I chuckled at the clever turn of phrase and thought I'd leave it at that. But, throughout the day my mind kept returning to this phrase. It wouldn't go away. It rattled around like a loose nut. Banging the inside of my head with ever increasing severity.

I eventually came to settle on two different responses. The first flippant, the second more 'educational'.

What's [my] outer brain like?Response 1: Just a convoluted surface area of neurons with no real relevance to my world.

What's [my] outer brain like?Response 2: My outer brain is a shell or interface. A thin layer of neurons that cobble together electrical signals from deeper brain structures that do the heavy lifting of organizing and filtering information. This thin layer of neurons, while important, do little more than apply a thin veneer of rationality and organization to powerful emotional feelings derived from current incoming information and past experience. This 'outer brain' allows me to communicate with others via effective social constructs derived from eons of evolutionary tinkering. However, the 'outer brain' is not necessary for me to experience the world or to experience emotions or develop my own sense of how the world works. It merely acts as an interface. A way for me to clearly explain what's going on inside my mind to someone incapable of experiencing it themselves. So, as intimated by this title of this blog (in general) and post (in particular), I'll try not to let rational thought and organization get in the way of some very strange thoughts.

Inner brain do your thing!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I finally get it but it's still wrong

For the longest time I've pondered why someone would buy a video or DVD for their home library. After all, how often do you watch a movie more than once. Maybe if it's REALLY good you go to the theater and then rent it again but buy it?! What's the point? Then it struck me one day as I was looking around the ol' apartment that I have a crap load books around. Picture books, science books, novels, political essays. I thought to myself, how often have I re-read any of these tomes? The answer, unfortunately, is not very often. Of the many thousands of titles I've owned in my lifetime I think a fair estimate would be maybe 5% were read more than once. Yet I continue to purchase books rather than borrow then from the library.

That's when I had my epiphanie. I buy them not just to read but as concrete symbols of my values, hopes and goals. I enjoy it when people come over for the first time and browse the bookshelf. I enjoy it when someone asks to borrow a book. It gives me validation and also possible insight into common interests. The books, then, are less for me than about me. The same arguement could be said about purchasing DVDs, video's, CDs or any other medium of communication that involves communicating one to many.

However, after this brief revelation, my hope took a nose dive with another horrible revelation. Unlike books, which seem to have settled into a relatively stable form during the past centuries and do not require any specialized equipment to access their contents (beyond a basic understanding of language), videos, DVDs etc. will always become obsolete.

As an analogy, how many new computers have 3.5" floppies, let alone 5.25" floppies. Yet, I'm betting that in the back of your closet there is a box of 5.25" floppy disks that you will never be able to access again.

That infomation is esstentially lost. Similarly, how many people still own an 8-track tape player? I'm betting there were some pretty good tunes on those babies that you will never be able to get access to again. 8-tracks were replaced by smaller cassette tapes, tapes by CD's and already, a new fight is beginning in the industry over competing standards for HDCD or blue-ray laser CD/DVDs. Even within an established medium there are competing, incompatible formats (what the hell is the difference between DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD+RW anyway?). The only thing I know is that handing someone a DVD or CD today does not guarantee that the person will be able to access the information. You will need to spend time transferring LPs to tape, then tapes to CDs and so on again and again, lose access to that information or buy a remastered version of the something you've already purchased. There will always be newer, better, tech that holds more, has faster access, higher fidelity, greater resolution. The humble book just continues plodding away easing communication without special tech. Behold the book! I bow before this simple yet effective form of communication.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Idealism and Reality

We lowly humans often tout our ideals to others. The ideals of a nation (e.g., all men are created equal), the ideals of our state (Esse Quam Videri - to be rather than to seem; the state motto of North Carolina), ideals of community (e.g., traditional family values) or even our own personal ideals (e.g., to live and let live). Ideals have power. They set the bar against which our behavior, laws, economic and foreign policy are judged and to which, for those who have the capacity, implement these ideals.

The unfortunate reality, however, it that these ideals are rarely met and the most common explanation that I've been able to perceive for this failure is that "they are ideals to strive for but that we are flawed beings and achieving them is next to impossible". This explanation seems to emanate from the lips of religious folks and atheists alike. Scientists and lay people. As a person with a scientific, biological, evolutionary bent, this explanation is often couched in terms of a conflict between the ideals and our evolutionary past which is not necessarily conducive to achieving these goals. Crunch!

That is the sound of the reality of our evolutionary predilection for distrust of the unknown, ingroup, outgroup tendencies and our selfish genes slamming up against the ideals developed over hundreds or thousands of years of philosophical thought that attempts to answer the question of "What does uptopia look like?".

From my perspective, though, all is not lost. While I tend to agree with evolutionary explanations of why we behave the way we do, it is important to remember the naturalistic fallacy. Just because a behavior evolved to solve a particular adaptive problem does not make it right.
The interesting thing about evolution, idealism and reality is that they need not be mutually exclusive. We evolved the capacity for thought and from that our ability to dream for a better future. To create these ideals that seem to be the sin qua non for day to day living. Understanding our evolutionary past does not harm us or prevent us from achieving these ideals but instead provides a framework or starting point for developing effective strategies to achieve these ideals. Ignoring our evolutionary past will almost certainly result in a failure to achieve the ideals we hold so dear. Embracing it, understanding where our past could make achieving our ideals more difficult and developing strategies that circumvent or take advantage of our evolutionary predispositions to achieve these ideals is much more likely to move us closer to achieving these ideals. Don't fight our evolutionary past. Understand it and work WITH it. Ideals and reality need not be different.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Ashamed and goaded

Ok Ok. I've tried this blogging thing before (starting in 2002) but it never got off the ground. One the technical side, there were no good blogger clients then, I was using a 56K modem and publishing via the web took too much time and just seemed like too much trouble. On the personal side, I was torn between being excited about leaving my mark (however insignificant) but then I thought it was really self-indulgent, geeky, and although I considered myself a bit of a technophile at the time, the fact that I couldn't get my blog client working to my satifaction grated on me and filled me with self doubt about my status as a true geek. If I couldn't get this stuff to work then how much of a geek was I? Self loathing and "cutting" ensued.

Well, I recently found out that a friend of mine started a blog and that too grated on my sensitive, easily bruised ego. How dare he successfull start a blog when mister geek boy could not! AArgh. The end result is that I'm giving it another go.

I don't know if I'll be nearly as adept at witty commentary as this friend of mine but I hope to at least spark an occasional involuntary twitch of the corners of the mouth every now and then.