Saturday, November 28, 2009

On the dangers of (internal) monologues

[Derailing monologue from Duck Soup (1933)]

And this is precisely why you shouldn't discuss issues you have with real people with their internal representations in your mind beforehand. If I would be able to remember this I could avoid many unnecessarily heated discussions, I'm sure.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Aber er hat doch diese schönen Autobahnen bauen lassen

Daran erinnere ich mich gern. Ein Bilder-Buch für die Biografiearbeit (Thomas Haubold, Beate Wolf. Schlütersche Verlagsgesellschaft, 2009)

(approximate translation: "Such fond memories. An illustrated book for biography work")

Helping elderly people to battle neurodegenerative diseases by rekindling their fading memory. The theory behind is, I believe, that memories that are associated with strong feelings are inherently more robust than less emotionally charged ones. The aim then is to evoke charged memories that are likely to be shared by most people of some generation (kind of like a blueprint of memories. Jung, anyone?)

Target group:
Elderly Germans suffering from said diseases. Probably in their 80s now.

What kind of memories are we talking about?
Oh, you know, just the usual stuff: playing with your favorite toys as a kid, your first day of school, your first kiss, sitting around the campfire with your fellow Hitlerjugend friends. Wait, what?

I'm not entirely sure what to think about this.

[Hinweis: Alle Rechte an der eingefügten Abbildung liegen bei der Schlüterschen Verlagsgesellschaft. Ich verwende die Abbildung an dieser Stelle als Zitat im Sinne des deutschen Urheberrechts]

The scale. It has been tipped.

I am somewhat torn on the file sharing/IP piracy issue: on the one hand, I can understand that it looks like you are benefiting from someones intellectual work without being willing to compensate the artist who enabled you to enjoy it. On the other hand, I really have to think of it as such a huge opportunity to hear all the music, see all the movies that you ever wanted to. Like I said, I'm torn. But as of today, a bit less so.

Let us assume I did not buy any music in a while, maybe for as long as 3 years. Let us (counterfactually, of course) assume that I nonetheless manage to continue to listen to new music. Let us completely factually assume now that one of the most amazing bands I know goes by the name Oi Va Voi and that they released a new album. [1]

They are a fairly well known band, but I realized they are not exactly hugely popular either. It is entirely possible I got this idea when I noticed that their new album didn't show up on a search on pirate bay, and only with few seeders on torrentz. [2] At that moment I decided to buy the music album instead of leeching it off the Internet, and in fact to buy my first mp3 files ever, to support a band I happen to like. As it turns out, this is a pure pain in the ass.

You can easily find their latest album on itunes. Only that I try to avoid giving more money than necessary to Apple. *nervous eye twitching* Apple... *moves on* [3] I read that amazon was one of the first companies to sell mp3s DRM free, which seemed to me a pretty good reason to buy the album from them. But first I had to install the official Amazon mp3 downloader software. Why yes, this makes perfect sense to me. Plain HTTP file transfer through your browser is so, like, early 2006. Whatever, so I install the thing (to be fair, it is quite small, appears to contain no spyware, didn't autoload on system startup and allowed me to disable auto checking for updates). Only then it turns out that I cannot download mp3s from amazon, because I'm in the wrong country. Neither from, .com or .de. Something about "regions" and "licensing". Never mind that I actually have a German billing address for my amazon account, the site probably just checked my IP address and decided that the Netherlands are one of those wrong regions - I might even agree, but for different reasons probably.

Conclusion: it would have taken approximately 30 seconds to initiate the download with the both small and elegant utorrent client (and probably about a day for the actual download, since there weren't many sources, as mentioned before). It is kind of difficult to convince myself that I should buy music if the cost-free alternative is faster, non-intrusive to your system and less likely to cause a burning rage that results in an unnecessarily long and somewhat rambling blog post. Let me introduce the following analogy: Imagine you put a Mars bar in front of a kid and tell him not to eat it. Then you leave the room. Then you come back, bring in a TV on which Mars commercials are running in an endless loop, with ad people happily munching on their favorite chocolate bar. Then you leave the room again, only now you blow some chocolate-scented air into the room. Then you come back and tell the kid that this analogy is going nowhere and that he can eat the candy. But you secretly think buying music on the Internet really sucks.

* * *

[1] One of my favorite songs, from their album Laughter Through Tears: Refugee

[2] I guess you can see where this is going. But I should note that it actually would have been possible to just download the album, so it was not just a pragmatic nuisance that lead to my decision.

[3] What's wrong with Apple, you ask? Everything, I answer. I hate them, or rather: company-hate them (that's a special type of disgust reserved for unethical companies, but it's, actually, quite different and less serious than real hate). The itunes software is a piece of crap [3.1], at least on Windows, the user interface of my ipod touch is at best mediocre and lacks a lot of functions that I think should be a no brainer, and they charge money for firmware updates... Seriously, think about that for a moment: they take money for something that pretty much every other tech company provides for free. But here's what really bothers me: No matter how much I dislike Microsoft, at least there's one good thing about them - as a company, it already receives the appropriate amount of hate. Why Apple on the other hand is such a respected company among geeks (at least that's my impression - it might be a particular subset of geeks, but I can't really define it yet) is completely lost on me.

* * *

[3.1] I don't care if itunes works great on Apple hardware. I bought an ipod touch, I am forced to use their proprietary software (unless I'm jailbreaking the little bugger, which I'm about to do) so I can reasonably expect that the software works at least decently under my OS of choice. But it doesn't. Not at all - it crashes, my settings are ignored whenever the software updates, it fails to import some music without any noticeable reason, and so on. [3.1.1]

* * *

[3.1.1] Wheeeeee, nested pseudo footnotes! I am immensely pleased by their existence.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Nationaldichter. Universalgenie. Dirty old man.

Viele Jahre darauf war Goethe bei Schiller zu Gast. Auf Schillers Schreibtisch entdeckte er ein Blatt mit dem Zweizeiler: "Er saß an ihres Bettes Rand / und spielte mit den Flechten."

Später, der Gast war bereits gegangen, fand Schiller den Vers vollendet. Goethe hatte hinzugefügt: "Das tat er mit der linken Hand. / Was tat er mit der rechten?"

[Rainer Schmitz: Was geschah mit Schillers Schädel? - Alles, was sie über Literatur nicht wissen. Eichborn]

Fussnote: Thomas Mann hatte sich, glaube ich, immer als eine Art Nach- und Thronfolger Goethes gesehen. Wenigstens einmal (im Aus-Goethes-Perspektive-Kapitel in Lotte in Weimar) wird der Anspruch auch ziemlich explizit. Aber Zoten wie diese zeigen natuerlich, dass nur Robert Gernhardt als wuerdiger Nachfolger in Frage kommen konnte.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In other news: Kant kontinues to konfuse

Mr. Kant would have you believe that reality is purely noumenal and beyond the reach of our phenomenal consciousness, thereby being inherently unknowable!

I guess I've been spending a bit too much time on Mr. Kant by now, but I can't help overanalyzing the video above... I think it's actually quite unlikely Kant would have held that "reality is purely noumenal", depending on what kind of reality you want to consider, and in fact his whole transcendental deduction seems to aim at building a strong, perhaps necessary connection between that which is knowable through appearances and the noumenal world which is in fact beyond our experience. It seems more like it is based on some Ayn-Randian misinterpretation of Kant. Wait, I just realize, that's probably the point - or at least it makes perfect sense to think of it like that; Attack Ad <--> Republican propagandists <--> Ayn Rand fanboys. There you go.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Glory, jest, and riddle

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Plac'd on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself abus'd, or disabus'd;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless error hurl'd:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Alexander Pope: An Essay on Man.

[more] [even more]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Think of this as the evil dual to 'Ponyo'

Just watched Tideland. What a fucked up movie.

I love almost everything by Terry Gilliam; Brazil is probably somewhere on my personal list of favorites, Fear and Loathing and Twelve Monkeys are both - at least visually - masterpieces, Time Bandits is incredibly silly and great fun to watch at least once, but I'm at a complete loss for words when it comes to Tideland.

Watching it I was either bored or severely creeped out. In fact, "creepy" isn't the right word, since a number of movies I like are in fact just that (David Lynch comes to mind). It's actually more of a deep visceral feeling of vicarious shame or embarrassment ("fremdschämen" is the German word I have in mind), in particular the eerie relation between Jeliza-Rose (a young girl and the main character) and Dickens (a retarded man she befriends), complete with some weird sexual undertones.

There's a possibility that this is intended by Gilliam, or at least, a tolerated side effect for those who are not part of the movie's primary audience. I actually have the suspicion that it works differently for male and female viewers - Tideland could simply be the most warped chick flick ever made. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing having seen a terrible movie by one of my favorite directors.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Misintrepreting Kant

Not quite an argument against the existence of god, but against the reasonableness of religion.

(1) Assume god is transcendent, i.e. lies beyond the boundaries of pos­sible knowledge. Then any attempt to understand (and codify) god's demands about human behavior are futile; nothing meaningful can be said about god, therefore nothing meaningful can be derived, e.g. commandments, or even guidelines for a good life according to god's will.

(2) Assume god is not transcendent. God then belongs to the same realm of spatio-temporal beings as humans. God might be a particularly powerful or wise being of this kind, but will not be different from us in principle. Observing god's laws (i.e. following the rules of a religion or religious philosophy) is then a similar matter to following the rules given by another human we consider particularly wise or powerful; while we might follow this person's rules, it is hardly a moral necessity to do so, depending solely on our own judgment whether we consider the rulemaker to be wise or powerful enough to make following his or her rules advisable, for the time being.

It appears to me that religions (and those that believe in them) need to think of god as (1), but, for the purpose of rulemaking, treat god as if (2) was the case.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Critique of Pure Happiness

EDIT: New working title: "Large pile of irrelevant thoughts. Projected to grow over time.", or "Random thoughts on life, and the attempt to impose some form and order on them".

This is intended to be a collection of thoughts that I believe to be somehow connected, and that I believe are in some way linked to the question how life and happiness work, even though I'm not entirely yet sure why I actually believe that. I will come back to it later and add more points to the outline here.

I'm sure it will be almost completely incomprehensible at the moment. I just decided to dump the ideas that I've thinking about here, instead of to my personal notes. During the last weeks, a number of ideas stacked up in those notes, listed there with the intention to be expanded on the blog, but in reality, they just remain there unfinished. Perhaps putting them here (equally sketchy at first) will add a bit of pressure to actually come back to them and work on them again.

  1. Methodology, i.e. how to answer the questions. (1) Establishing a system of necessary truths. (2) Observation-based argumentation, purely empirical. (3) Axiomatic system, formalizing (my own) intuitions as first principles. ==> Which intuitions are strong enough. ==> Once a system as in (3) exists, intuitions can be evaluated.

  2. All actions vary wrt their degree of influenceability. NB: every action influences every other action; consequence: desires and actions that are "easy", i.e. are under full conscious influence, affect those that appear almost uninfluenceable (i.e. happiness), and vv.

  3. Evaluation of events, considering that evaluation of memories changes over time. Q: Is there a right evaluation? If so, which one: during the event, or the current one?

  4. What follows from introducing "Happiness" as an axiom?

    • 'goal-dependent perception & reasoning' (TERM. The way of thinking that reduces the influence/understates the importance of experience that is detrimental to happiness).

  5. The 'diary test' of (daily) happiness.

  6. What are the different kinds of politeness (in the widest sense): friendliness (based on a feeling of compassion and/or connectedness) vs. politeness #1 ("Tokyo politeness") vs. politeness #2 (opening doors, letting others pass first ==> chivalry?). What is their influence on our state of mind? Do all people have the need for politeness, or the same type of politeness?

[First posted: 08.11.2009 -- Last Edit: 03.12.2009]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

So eyn freylekhe Wagner!

Tunes I heard being played by Amsterdam carillons:

  • Overture to Tannhäuser (Carillon inside the cupola of the Paleis op de Dam/Royal Palace)

    Wagner, in the middle of Amsterdam... really? Where's your sense of historic justice, Dutchmen?

  • If I Were a Rich Man (Zuiderkerk carillon, if I remember correctly)

    This one is obvious: Mayor of Amsterdam = Job Cohen ⇒ carillons playing Fiddler on the Roof.

    (jup, what you just heard was the ripping sound of my karma being cut in half...)

    You kind of have to appreciate the contrast between item #1 and #2, no?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's never too late to invest in pesticides

Somehow I just can't decide which of these two is the more lovable creature.

Contestant #1
"He reported trying to grab hold of the fish, but it was very slippery, and it forced its way inside with alarming speed."
- Wikipedia: Candiru
- Victim quotes

Contestant #2
"The fish is able to use the parasite just like a normal tongue."
- Wikipedia: Cymothoa exigua
- Picture of the isopod and its host

Don't you just love Mother Nature's twisted sense of humor?