30 August, 2007

Total war honesty

There was a program over the radio recently, something about the new techniques the military employs to train soldiers to turn the “killer instinct” on and off quickly. Or may be it was about the proposed techniques, that some concerned armchair strategists are demanding to be implemented. Not sure about that, but the purpose described was to allow soldiers to enter a building, see who's inside and, if they see movement, make a decision whether to kill whomever was moving, or recognize that “it's just a few kids” and, correspondingly, do nothing.

I think this is a logical extension of the “humane weapons” concept that is being circulated recently. Precision bombs, guided missiles, no collateral damage, etc., etc., etc. Although, somehow, non-combatants are still being killed, mistaken for guerrillas, or just because the precision guidance wasn't as precise as expected. Lots of reasons, lots of scary pictures on the Internet, lots of demands to improve the tactics... Like the aforementioned training.

The scary pictures on the Internet or TV are, perhaps, the driving factor behind this. Nobody really cares to think about how wars were fought when there was no TV and no photography, although it is fairly obvious from the science of History that, well, the purpose of wars was to kill your opponents by any means available. The nobility might have enjoyed a privilege of being held for ransom, but as for the regular folks ― vae victis!

And somewhere between the invention of TV and the Internet, I think, the public must have become quite scared by all these gory pictures, which normally only the actual combatants would see. Being unaccustomed to that, the public got shocked and demanded change. The best change would be, of course, to stop wars completely, but that is unrealistic until globalization is complete, hence all the fuss about precision weapons to calm the domestic populace.

But it doesn't work too well. Of course, technology has to balance between price, effectiveness and the “preciseness” but, more importantly, civilians tend to wander right into the kill zone, rendering collateral damage reduction technology useless. Then the general public starts worrying again, demanding more effort in that respect and politicians are happy to give out promises, until the vicious cycle repeats and people begin whining again: “How could we support this horrible, horrible thing! But we thought we were only going to kill bad people!”

So what would the Wise Monarch's solution be? I guess he'd just stop pretending and would honestly say: “We're going to go there and kill everyone”, and than actually go and do it. Why waste money researching precision weapons if civilians are going to die anyway? Why screw the soldiers' psyche by demanding two conflicting modes of behavior simultaneously? As an extra bonus, “regular people” would know what the war is and, although would be less likely to support it, but if they do, there won't be any second thoughts or flip-flops. And they won't have the uncomfortable remorse afterwards. Not that the Monarch needs any support – you know, being an absolute ruler and all – but a good king should always try to make his subjects happy. Makes coups less likely ;)

27 August, 2007

Pharmaceuticals strike back.

After the wise monarch had issued an edict intending to promote searching for cures instead of treatments, the cunning pharmaceutical companies have come up with a novel trick: they are promoting the idea that obesity is a disease and therefore can be cured -- or at least, you know, treated :p -- with pills. The Wise Monarch understands the general need for selling people stuff and does not mind most of the marketing tricks.

His Majesty, however, is appalled by the recent attempts to advance the obesity-is-a-disease-so-it's-not-your-fault-just-buy-these-pills-thnx paradigm. Oh, they are really smart, those guys, first hinting on the effect and now providing the people with a feasible explanation. "Fatness spreads, now why would that be...", -- the subconscious keeps thinking for a month, -- "must be some reason to it... Yes! A virus! That explains it!"

Well, two can play this game. If obesity is a disease, and obviously a fast spreading one, then the Wise Monarch has no choice but to declare a state of emergency, global quarantine and isolation of the affected* and the expropriation of all drug research facilities in order to find the cure ASAP.

Achtung! The future of our species is in danger! It is no time to profit from erection enhancers until this horrible disease is wiped out once and for all!

*Free and unlimited access to treadmills is to be provided in the isolation facilities.

25 August, 2007

The good conspiracy.

Mrs. Grundes and I were recently discussing how some people like to brag they go to expensive beauty salons to have fancy procedures performed on their faces/hair/etc., but it seems like a complete waste of money. Perhaps the salon owners should even give these people a discount in exchange of not advertising the fact of using the beauty services.

On a second thought, however, not many people spend their last dollar in the beauty establishments, so it seems like these salons do a useful service to the society. As well as many other things that seem like a waste of money, like glamping, for example. Certainly, the money (which actually represent limited resources available on the planet) could have been used on something useful -- like researching the secrets of eternal life or, at least, finding out how to control a thermonuclear reaction.

But of course, it isn't possible to just take the rich guy's money he has no use for (well, it is possible, but so far these methods have led to nowhere). Instead, the fancy salons, the glamorous camping, the diamond-covered cell phones, etc. work as tools for wealth redistribution. Resources move from under the fat cat's mattress into other people hands, improving the diversity of decisions on how to use the resources. At the very least, they will be used for educating the non-rich children, which decreases the probability of the sad future described in this book.

So I call for more exotic services, more gold-plated utensils, more excess, more expensive useless crap! Golden toilets may seem like a waste but they give the money a chance, so why shouldn't we give this chance to the money.

/Certainly better than a revolution. ;)

23 August, 2007

The mysterious invasion of the van people.

I have noticed it only a couple of months ago, but it probably had started somewhat earlier (but not much earlier because I am as perceptive as Sherlock H.).

Certainly, there was a couple of small RVs practically always parked at the same spot on a quiet street, but just a couple. Not 5 or more I see now being reparked every few days, plus 2 or 3 Starcraft-type vans with satellite dishes that live either on the street or spend the night at the Safeway parking lot. All quite used, but in working condition.

Weird, isn't it? I don't think it is an annual migration - I haven't seen them in the previous 5 years I live in this neighborhood. And probably not a convention either - they don't last for so long. Obviously, the housing proces don't matter for them, so they may be just enjoying the weather, but I suppose there are places with the same climate but cheaper restaurants and hotels (for an occasional shower). They all have Californian license plates, so it's not like they just stayed at the first spot they found after a cross-continent travel.

So what brings the van people here to San José? What are they up to? Are they waiting for something to happen? These are the questions I ask myself, but have no answer.

/must go now, there's an RV sale at the fairground.

21 August, 2007

The Simpsons as a reality show

Remember this episode?

Well, here's an actual note at a Hawaiian Walmart:

Interestingly, that place seems to have an aura of strandedness: I've waltzed in to get a thread and a few needles, smartly payed for them at the electronics department, thus avoiding the huge lines at regular check-outs, only to hit the wall with no exit within the Pharmacy department. Had to walk back and skip a few isles to get to the exit, which, of course, spoiled the overall hurricane-like shopping performance... But since I doubt there's anyone who watches all security cameras at once, this little blunder will stay secret.

16 August, 2007

Who is really behind the stem cells research opposition.

I think everyone should support this research. In fact, I think it is strange those who would benefit the most are not actively supporting it. Some examples:

  • Motorcycle makers. I can see the slogan already: "Just get a really good helmet, the rest we'll fix™. Guaranteed*". Every motorcycle could come with a full body replacement insurance, wouldn't that be great? All other extreme sports and activities providers should join. Of course, the ability to get a replacement for practically any body part would remove that certain chic that the extreme sports enjoy now, as the probability of death would be way lower, but I'm sure that between chic and parachute sales any self-respecting corporation would choose the former. Any day.

  • Departments of defense throughout the world. Training good soldiers is a long and expensive process, and I'm sure it would be quite a break-through if the same soldier could last virtually forever, getting new replacement organs. It'll be only the question of logistics: how to get the wounded off the field before irreversible brain damage. Recruitment would become much easier as well and draft avoidance would go down (where applicable).

  • Churches. Currently opposing the research, they might soon realize it is in their interest to actually support it. Why? Because with the wide availability of body replacement technology and the consequential proliferation of extreme sports (and wider enlistment), most deaths would become sudden and unexpected -- and therefore more scary. Certainly, many would wish to have some assurance for what's to follow -- just in case.

So who can be possibly against it? Doctors? No, they will still be needed to oversee the treatments and to detect problems for which the treatments are required. Nurses? They'll still do the actual administering of treatments, guided by doctors. Then who?

Possibly, the makers of the wheelchairs and such. They get to loose most of their business, but I'd expect them already to invest into stem-cell-based treatments, so they'd just move into an adjacent category... Just like tobacco companies bought food companies when they started to feel the heat.

It would seem the only group is teachers. And babysitters. Because longer lives might mean less babies, hence less work for them. They must be lobbying the parents who, not thinking about the benefits, lobby in turn the government. Therefore, here's a simple solution: just offer some pension guarantees to teachers and babysitters and there shouldn't be any more opposition to this promising new research.

15 August, 2007

Rated C for Conspiracy

I've been listening to a radio ad of some crappy new movie ― not sure what its name was ― and generally let is pass right through the vacuum between my ears, but I did catch an end of a sentence: “...not a minute without the parents”, or something like that. I'm not sure what it was supposed to mean and even if got it right, but it anyway allowed me to discover another conspiracy. The conspiracy of movie ratings, which is vast enough to cover other media, like TV or computer games (the latter being an unfortunate side-effect, or perhaps a decoy).

See how more and more material becomes “inappropriate” for children? Like an occasional glimpse of a woman's breast might traumatize them for life? Or someone's ass kicked in a mildly brutal manner? Clearly, there are scenes and ideas that should be kept away from people under a certain age, but then again, if it isn't appropriate, then don't allow children to watch it at all. Instead, movies get a rating that does allow children to watch it but ― here's the trick ― only if a parent is with them, too. I think that is the purpose of it: instead of going alone, a child has to bring an adult with him. A very real adult who will have to a) pay for the full-price ticket and b) will consume an ungodly amount of popcorn, which isn't free, either.

Similar reason, I think, is behind the campaign for “children-safe” TV ― while it works indirectly in this case. Because after all the media storm about the “indecency” on TV, some parents are more likely to watch TV with their children, hence the more mature and profitable audience for the ads. A catch-22-type coincidence here is that people who are gullible enough to really believe in that “indecent-TV” story are perhaps especially likely to buy whatever the ads tell them. And I was wondering why o why do they show car ads during Yu-Gi-Oh!

As for the video games, I don't see an immediate benefit of overly restrictive ratings and attributing kids' behavioral problems to the games. So it is probably done to make people more comfortable to the whole idea of censorship or perhaps it has even started by itself, which would mean that enough people did in fact become comfortable enough. Either way, make sure you watch Nickelodeon, just in case the FCC may need to know about inappropriate material!

P.S. I find it especially amusing how the broadcast (i.e. the type you watch for free via a piece of a wire) TV is censored. Less is allowed there vs cable, presumably precisely because of the ability to catch a broadcast off a piece of a wire... like if the products of the public school system could think of that. The purpose must be that the children don't get a mental shock after seeing a little of something that fed most of them for months or even years, but at the same time they do allow absolutely terrifying horror movie ads to run. These ads scare me, and I have to ― I kid you not ― close my eyes while they are on.

08 August, 2007

Where does water go?

A friend of mine has recently suggested that at least some of the water shortage our civilization experiences may be caused by the fact that our bodies consist mostly of water and, as the population grows, more water gets trapped. Let's see how much water can get statically bonded -- not only in human bodies, but in other civilization-related containers.

  • Human bodies. With about half of the body weight being water (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_water) and assuming the average person weight of 60kg (with Americans being averaged out with Vietnamese), our mortal shells hold 6*10^9*0.03=1.8*10^8 cubic meters of water in total.

  • Public Water Supply. If there is a 4cm pipe at least 10m long per each (of the, say, 2 billion) persons who have running water in their homes, then we'll have 2*10^9 * 10 * (2*10^-2)^2 * 3.141592 = ~0.24*10^8 m^3 of water. At least the same amount of water lurks in inter-house pipes, so we get 0.5*10^8 m^3 in total

  • Toilets. With 4 liters per tank and assuming one toilet per each person of those 2 billion (public/office restrooms may drive this figure even higher), we get 8*10^9*10^-3 =~ 0.1 * 10^8 m^3 [Hmm, not too much. I was expecting a tad more.]

  • Cattle. 1.3 billion heads (cattle-today.com/), 400kg each, assuming the same water content as humans, and assuming most of the population is a direct product of our civilization, 1.3*10^9*0.2=2.6*10^8 m^3.

  • Piggies About a billion, say 200kg each, 10^8 m^3 of water.

  • Pets Say, 200 million dogs, 10 liters each, on average, and same number of cats, 5 liters each: 300*10^6*0.01 = meager 0.03 * 10^8 (less than in toilet tanks!)

  • Agriculture 14 billion tonnes of "stuff". I assume this includes watermelons/tomatoes/oranges/etc. -- which consist mostly of water. But, being conservative let's assume it is still a half, so 7*10^9 = 70 * 10^8 (aha!)

  • Beverages Beer, ~120*10^6 m^3 per year, so, assuming there's always a 10-day supply in storage, 120*10^6 / 36 =~ 3 * 10^6. Juices and wine being included in Agriculture, let's suppose consumption is the same for carbonated non-alcoholic drinks (Coca/Pepsi-Colas, etc.) -- another 3*10^6. Milk -- 300*10^6 annual production, under the same assumption as for beer/sodas, 10*10^6 m^3 of static water. In total, about 0.2 * 10^8 m^3 of water is kept in beverages.

  • Cars [fetched the manual] About 7 liters of coolant + a liter or two for windshield washing. 6*10^8 cars, 0.06 * 10^8 m^3. meh

  • Other containers: Blood donation in the US are 15*10^6 of half-liter units annually, so it isn't that much static water. Ice rings or pools (especially the Olympic-sized ones) -- may be quite a bit of water, but they aren't many. What else... poultry? Well, doubtfully more than in pigs.

    Lots of water is used in paper production, but I would assume not much of it ends up in paper. Paint and Perfume may be worth looking into, but I doubt there's more water in paint than in beverages. Potentially, a lot of water may be held in bodies of domestic cockroaches, miscellaneous agricultural pests, lab mice, etc., but doubtfully it will increase the final figure by more than twice.

    In conclusion, the amount of water held by the civilization statically is about 10 cubic kilometers. Which could power the Amazon river for about a day!

    On the other hand, lake Baikal holds 23.5 thousand cubic kilometers of fresh water (20% of world supply). Must. Grow. More. Pigs!