Friday, July 27, 2012

Humans - competition or co-operation? (Why are we always fighting?)

Pre-clarification: In this article, a 'common enemy' does not always mean a corrupt individual or human organization. The term is used in a broader sense that includes, but is not limited to, ideas that one doesn't agree with, impending natural disasters, after-effects of recent natural disasters, and (if possible) even an invasion by aliens.

There seems to be something strange about human beings in general - they always put aside their differences and band together to fight a common enemy. But take that common enemy away, and they will pick the differences back up and fight among themselves.

And in this "fight among themselves", a new "common enemy" is created based on one difference or a set of related differences - and those on one side of this particular difference would put aside all of their other differences and band together to fight the other side of the particular difference.

If you assume that in each fight one side always loses within a reasonable amount of fighting time, and a compromise will never be reached, eventually human beings would fight their way into destroying themselves. Why? Because each one of us is different from the rest - even in ever-so-slightly ways.

Thankfully, we are also wired for co-operation when our survival is at stake. That's kind of the problem too: we only co-operate with other humans, putting aside our differences, if our survival - or something of such value - is at stake. Simply put, the inability to survive becomes the "common enemy" in this case, causing humans to band together and fight for their survival.

The problem with large stable populations of humans is that their survival is no longer perceived to be at stake, and so they have not much need to co-operate other than what's just enough to smooth over the everyday life. This gives them no common enemy to band together - and that makes them susceptible to picking up differences among themselves and starting a competitive argument. Once such argument reaches popularity, sides are formed and a new "common enemy" is created for each side opposing the other.

The most elegant solution, or perhaps the only one, to this problem - in my opinion - would be to educate human beings and make ourselves understand that the survival of our species is always at stake no matter how much stability we may perceive. Our survival is threatened by ourselves, and hence we should maintain co-operation at the highest levels to fight the real common enemy - our tendency to compete over differences.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Present evidence, and faith becomes unnecessary.

A question many atheists often get asked by religious is, "What would it take for you to become a believer?" where believer usually means believer in a god or a religion.

But there is a fundamental problem with this question.

Before I get to the problem, I wish to make it clear that what the religious mean by belief in this context is nothing other than faith - which is to believe in a given statement even if there is nothing in reality that supports the truth of that statement. In other words, faith is belief in a proposition not backed by evidence, and when the religious talk about belief they often mean faith.

That should point to the problem here. Intellectual atheists, or more accurately, skeptics demand evidence for claims you make about reality. If you make a claim, a skeptic would ask you to present evidence for this claim. A skeptic would verify the authenticity of the evidence, and also verify whether the evidence does indeed support your claim instead of doing nothing, or worse, refuting it.

That's where the problem lies. To ask a skeptic what it would take for him or her to become a believer, would be to ask him to put aside his skepticism and make an exception for whatever it is that the religious is calling him to believe in. But the dilemma is, it takes evidence for the skeptic to accept the claim you make - which in this instance would be to believe in god, or more specifically to believe that god is real. The claim you make here is that your version of god is real, that this god exists in reality.

(For simplicity, I will not touch on "belief in a religion", but this can just as easily be extrapolated for that as well as beliefs in a myriad of things usually demanded of skeptics.)

A skeptic would naturally require evidence supporting your claim as he would any other claim. Assume a hypothetical scenario where you as a believer are able to provide evidence supporting your claim. Contrary to what you think, this would not make the skeptic a believer.

Instead, it would demonstrate that faith itself is not necessary.

If you are able to present evidence to support your claim that god is real, you yourself need not be a believer - because evidence speaks for itself. The skeptic will continue to remain a skeptic, but he will simply accept your claim that is now backed with evidence. You on the other hand, will no longer need to be believer, and by seeking evidence you have entered the road to skepticism.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

SingTel pulls a stunt with severely handicapped 4G data plans

To see a comic gist of my post below, click here!

In a stunt move, SingTel just announced new mobile plan specifications that are taking effect from 1 July 2012. All customers re-contracting or signing up for new 3G or 4G plans from next month onwards will have much smaller data caps applied to them if they are paying $99.90 or less. The data caps are announced to be three to six times smaller than current ones.

I was under the impression that the new data caps should only be affecting 4G plans, but I was shocked to find out that if I re-contract my current line and purchase a new phone in September, my data cap will drop by a dramatic factor of 6 from 12 GB to 2 GB even if I stick to a 3G plan. I find this unfair and also it makes a conversion to 4G utterly pointless. The fact that SingTel's 4G network rollout is expected to be completed by early 2013 means there will more than 9 months of fallback to 3G network in places where I'm most likely to be. Not to mention, the rollouts inside MRT tunnels and underground stations usually come very late.

If I am on a 3G network, 2 GB should be sufficient for me as in most months I barely come close to 1 GB of usage. However, if I switch to 4G network with up to 5 times the speed of a 3G network, my data usage habits can change considerably. I could be watching YouTube videos with the same responsiveness as I can on my home computer with a cable broadband connection. (The frequent need to wait for buffering has deterred me from watching videos on my phone.) I could surf the internet more and enjoy higher quality content. This can easily tip my data usage over the 2 GB cap and inflate my bill (which apparently will no longer have the "No Bill Shock" protection).

iPhone users have it worse. Thanks to Apple's decision to never ever have an FM Radio hardware inside (just as they decided to never ever have Adobe Flash), iPhone users have to depend on internet streaming radio apps (MeRadio, etc.) to listen to their favorite radio stations. These apps can easily use a lot of data in streaming local radio broadcasts, which Android users can get at absolutely no data usage using their built-in FM Radio hardware. (On a sidenote, it really is a wonder how most people go for iPhone's sex appeal, despite the sorely lacking hardware and Apple's immense desire to dictate what the market should get rather than give what the market desires.)

A suggestion made in HardwareZone was to continue on the current 12 GB data plan without re-contracting, and travel to Malaysia to purchase a new phone at a cheaper retail price. This should be possible as I know of someone who continues to use a then-expensive-now-cheap plan that had been obsolete for probably a decade or more. This is probably what I am going to do, given that the worth and value of SingTel's plans are going to be lost from next month onwards. What about you?

Links: News article, HardwareZone rant and rave.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Are desktop computers being phased out?

The other day I was having a conversation with a lady with a family about some furniture stuff, and I mentioned needing a table for my computer. She assumed it's a laptop and suggested using the small night table available in my room. Then I broke it to her that it's a desktop and it's gonna need a bigger table. This was the comment she had to that (approximation only, not exact words):
"Desktop? Why are you using a desktop? Those things are for little kids to play with! You should be using laptop. Everyone is using laptop now. Only small children play with desktops."
I wasn't happy with her comment, and retorted that I'm a computer science student and I built the desktop myself and has interest in building it myself. She was like "Oh OK" for a while but 5-10 minutes later, she repeats the exact same comment about kids. Like hello?!... I just changed topic and never mentioned about the computer again.

Then it got me thinking. Just about one and half years ago when I built my desktop, I went to Sim Lim Square for buying all the parts required. At that time the floors of the specialized tech shopping mall had been more or less teeming with desktop-related stuff along with some laptop shops and some other accessories stores. (The bottom floors however are more or less dedicated to phones and digital cameras.)

But recently about a month ago I went to Sim Lim Square to get an upgrade for my desktop RAM. And I noticed something very peculiar. The landscape has changed a lot. Now there are a lot of shops selling laptops and mobile tablets (Android/iPad), but only a few shops on the top floors dealing with desktops and desktop parts - at least half of them being in obscure corners.

Though I have no statistics to show, it seems to me that among the general public, the demand for mobile computing is going higher while that of desktop computing is dropping. Laptops had already been almost as powerful as desktops for years, but now they are having their prime-time before they make way to mobile tablets that are slowly taking over (these things are still sorely lacking in capability to replace the good ole' Windows laptop).

However, I don't think desktop computers are going to be completely off the market. Though they would be much less favoured by the general public, they won't be gone for good. I would expect hardcore gamers to either buy high-end desktops or build one themselves as laptops are simply not powerful enough for them and cannot satisfy their cooling demands. High-end or mid-range desktops could (also) be purchased or assembled by those who require them for specialized applications or has interest in building them. They can also be ordered in bulk quantities by offices and businesses that only require desktop computing on their office desks.

And of course, there will always be little children to play with the low-end ones.