Archive for August, 2009

18th August
2009
written by simplelight

One of the promises of the internet has always been the collapsing of the pipeline between content creators and content consumers. We have already witnessed this phenomonen in the newspaper industry as the cost of distributing news fell from over $100 per subscriber per year to fractions of a penny.

As internet technology improves the same will happen to movies and television. Vuze, formerly Azureus, is a Silicon Valley startup that is at the forefront of this trend. By utilitizing peer-to-peer Bittorrent technology, Vuze has inverted the usual relationship in video streaming between scale and performance. Most internet streaming video degrades less than gracefully as more users watch a given stream. With peer-to-peer technology, the more people who watch the same show as you, the better your quality will be. Not only that, as more viewers join the network, the cost of delivering a high definition video stream to your TV, iPod or laptop declines to zero. With millions of concurrent users at any one time on the Vuze HD network (as of July 2009), you can be sure that someone will be watching what you are.

Just as the newspaper empires took over a decade to crumble, it’s likely that the large production studios will defend their fortresses for as long as possible. But in the long run, creative producers and quality content will gravitate to the cheapest distribution network. Consumers will pay less for their television shows, and the people who create the shows we watch will keep more of the profit.

17th August
2009
written by simplelight

I have been meaning to write an insightful post on the healthcare crisis but have been swept up in a more significant event: the invasion of a family portrait by a squirrel at Banff.

Squirrel Invades Photo

Don’t miss the inevitable post-event coverage

16th August
2009
written by simplelight

If you’ve always found using floats in CSS to be mostly trial and error then this Floatorial might clear up matters a little.

13th August
2009
written by simplelight

Website for international flower delivery: Flora 2000

13th August
2009
written by simplelight

The WSJ has an interesting article on Safeway’s healthcare plan:

Safeway’s plan capitalizes on two key insights gained in 2005. The first is that 70% of all health-care costs are the direct result of behavior. The second insight, which is well understood by the providers of health care, is that 74% of all costs are confined to four chronic conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity). Furthermore, 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is preventable, 60% of cancers are preventable, and more than 90% of obesity is preventable.

8th August
2009
written by simplelight

While I was at Stanford in 1998 I took a course called “The Making of the Western Mind”. It was the first time the course was offered at Stanford and the new course had been approved only after the professor secured the support of the provost at the time, Condoleeza Rice. It was offered to both undergraduates and graduates and attracted students from the Stanford law school, the business school, and the graduate engineering programs.

It was one of the best courses I ever took at Stanford and received the highest student ratings ever in the Stanford humanities department. It was fortunate I took the course when I did because it was the only time it was ever offered as it was discontinued immediately.

I was not surprised then, to read another account of the suppression of western civiliation study in American universities:

For six years, I [Robert Koons, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin] was involved in efforts at the University of Texas at Austin to create a program in Western Civilization and American Institutions. Our vision was to offer to all undergraduates a sequence of Great Books seminars, beginning with the Bible and the works of ancient Greece and Rome, and culminating with the classics of the American founding. We sought approval of a certificate through which students could satisfy eighteen of their forty-two hours of general education requirements.

We made considerable progress. Perhaps as a result of that progress, we faced opposition from the major humanities programs (especially English, history, American studies, and religious studies), beginning in the spring of 2007. A New York Times article on September 22, 2008, “Conservatives Try New Tack on Campuses,” accelerated and consolidated that opposition, because it included our program and a quotation from me.

So, even though we secured a “concentration” for our program (a step below but toward a major), introduced a new field of study on campus, raised over $1 million, and hired four postdoctoral teaching fellows, the life of the program was brief.

In November of last year, I was dismissed as director, and in the spring the administration and faculty replaced our program with one on Core Texts and Ideas. The new program lacks any list or criteria for “core texts,” and the goal of a required sequence of courses has vanished.

Our program was rightly perceived as a threat to the monopoly of what I call the Uncurriculum, which prevails at UT and at most universities today. It is the absence of required courses and of any structure or order to liberal studies. The Uncurriculum dictates that students accumulate courses that meet a “distribution” standard—a smattering of courses scattered among many categories. Even within majors, the trend has been to eliminate required sequences.

The perfecting of the intellect and the formation of character through the attainment of what John Henry Newman called “liberal knowledge” have given way to engorgement with miscellaneous information. The suggestion that higher education should have something to do with acquiring moral wisdom is invariably met with the sophomoric query, “Whose ethics?” As Anthony Kronman has so well documented in his book The End of Education, nothing in the Uncurriculum encourages students to think through the great questions of life in a systematic manner, with the great minds of the Western tradition as their guides and interlocutors.

The Uncurriculum free-for-all gives undergraduates only the illusion of choice. In reality, the Uncurriculum model is entwined with the interests of the professoriate. If there are no courses students are required to take, there are no courses that professors are required to teach. [...]

There was an interesting comment from a member of the faculty steering committee regarding the naming of the new center:

Tom Pangle emphasized that the proposed name of the new school was a major source of his objections to the school per se. As he told a Daily Texan reporter, these, these words, American, Western, and Civilization were just too “right-wing.”

If the words ‘American’, ‘Western’, and ‘Civilization’ are now right-wing (!) then what constitutes the left-wing these days?

7th August
2009
written by simplelight

A sobering thought: I have about 0.8% chance of dying next year and that probability is doubling every 8 years.

[A] startling fact was first noticed by the British actuary Benjamin Gompertz in 1825 and is now called the “Gompertz Law of human mortality.”  Your probability of dying during a given year doubles every 8 years.

Surprisingly enough, the Gompertz law holds across a large number of countries, time periods, and even different species.  While the actual average lifespan changes quite a bit from country to country and from animal to animal, the same general rule that “your probability of dying doubles every X years” holds true.  It’s an amazing fact, and no one understands why it’s true.

There is one important lesson, however, to be learned from Benjamin Gompertz’s mysterious observation.  By looking at theories of human mortality that are clearly wrong, we can deduce that our fast-rising mortality is not the result of a dangerous environment, but of a body that has a built-in expiration date.

All this reminds me of the cat, Oscar (pictured below) who, according the New England Journal of Medicine can apparently calculate double exponentials with great accuracy in his feline head.

Oscar

6th August
2009
written by simplelight

ghm9tsyieq

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6th August
2009
written by simplelight

Finally signed up for Feedburner to be SEO compliant. ghm9tsyieq