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I've seen a lot of discussion about what schools could cut to save money. A lot of them are looking at cutting music, art, or sports, which is the wrong decision because those have been demonstrated to help people excel in later life. Instead of making cuts based on whether things are traditionally considered core areas, we should look into whether or not we need to have the same core areas that were developed a long time ago, back when people didn't even know how to make transistors. We're better and we know more now than we did then, we should act on that.

One thing I'd suggest we consider cutting is history. "Lies My Teacher Told Me" gives an excellent account of how primary and secondary history education is actually counterproductive to people understanding how history works--or even having their facts right, for that matter--but beyond that we should ask why we should teach history at all. Obviously, knowing this stuff doesn't matter directly, since it all happened already and there's nothing any of us can do about any of it. If I push people far enough, they'll admit that it has more to do with helping people understand how other people behave. Alright, now that makes sense, but could we try not doing things in the most roundabout way possible??

Instead of teaching children about ancient Sumerian dwellings so that they'll be able to negotiate a refund from a particularly stubborn customer service agent, why not just teach them psychology? When I started to take psych classes in college, I found it incomprehensibly bizarre that we didn't all learn this stuff earlier. Definitely, knowing about psychological immunity would have been more useful at every stage in my life than learning about when the first transcontinental railroad was built. If they taught me developmental psychology, I would have had a better idea at every stage of my life of what advantages and disadvantages I had over people at any stage in their lives. The possibilities are endless, compared to history, where they are nonexistent (unless we invent a time machine and come up with a reason to use it).

Girl Names
I think it's cool when girls' names are spelled with a "y" where there'd normally be a different letter. These names, though, seem to be limited to variations of things that "Katie" can be short for, except maybe there's someone named Lauryn because Chrome spell check doesn't seem to have a problem with that name. Anyway, if I had a daughter, I'd totally name her something like:

-Elyzabeth/Elizabyth (Does Elizybeth work too?)
-Yxplosion (Why the hell not?)

Here are other names that, according to Chrome, are actually already names:

I suppose I could also name her Explosyn, or maybe even Explozyn. That would score really well in Scrabble. Which do you like best?

Also, can any of you think of any others?

EDIT: Oh right, I know someone named Robyn.

GMO Controversy--and World Hunger--SOLVED
So people complain about eating GMO foods because they haven't been tested enough, although it's being tested plenty as we speak because we're eating it, and we have doctors collecting patient data. Unfortunately, for privacy reasons, this data that could save our lives is not shared with corporations that could benefit from this information. Furthermore, it is considered unethical to give something that has not been sufficiently tested to people, despite the fact that this is the only real way that we can truly test any product.

World hunger is not due to a lack of food being grown, it's due to the fact that people in impoverished nations do not have the money to have food shipped to them from other corners of the globe (although globes don't have corners, because they're round), and any agro firm with the resources to produce food and ship it for free would never be able to do it. Firms that are large enough to do something like this on a large enough scale to actually make a difference are generally publicly owned, and have boards of directors and stuff like that, so if somebody tried to make the firm spend so many millions if not billions of dollars that they could not make back would be stopped by the chain of command and the stock holders, and the decision would be reversed.

Firms do, however, spend money on research and development. If a firm decided to ship untested foods to third-world countries where people are starving, they could justify the costs by testing the people who eat those foods. Obviously, it's more ethical to give people food that might kill them than it is to let them starve to death, which will definitely kill them.

This program should be implemented, as it is both ethically and fiscally sound, and could yield great benefits to the entire world. It's a short-term solution that has the potential to produce a long-term solution, and it's being done in the name of science.

A lot of people complain, or cheer, about the health care bill that's in the process of maybe being passed.

Whatever, it's a step in a direction, or something. I agree that universal health care would be cool because then I could get free custom orthotics and then put them in my ski boots so I could ski faster (I tried to get Blue Cross to do this for me, but they only cover orthotics if I have diabetes), and I could get an MRI every week just for fun. I'd also get all sorts of vestigial organs removed, just so I could keep a collection of jars of what used to be parts of my body.

As it is, there are some nice things. I no longer have to, for example, take bullshit online classes every semester just so that I can stay on my parents' health insurance plan. Once I'm 27, in 2015, I will have no incentive to buy health insurance at all if I can manage to make little enough money to fit into the right income brackets. I will, of course, buy health insurance once I get sick or injured, but I'll be able to do things like jump off a 3-story building without having to pay insurance and then, if I break something as a result, I'll join a plan and make them fix me up. True, health insurance will be more expensive because of this, but once I'm fixed up I can drop my coverage until the next time I get injured.

Expanding Medicare coverage seems to be a step in the wrong direction. As it is, I'm paying way too much of my paycheck towards social security, and with today's life expectancies, I'll probably never get to see any of it. Making a stronger effort to lengthen the lives of those who are no longer able to contribute to society--but whose maintenance is expensive to those who still do--is pretty counter-intuitive.

Finally, we get to abortion. I still feel that we need laws that require people to get abortions if it can be demonstrated that they will not be able to properly care for their children, for reasons financial or otherwise. While that's not the sort of thing that would totally fit in a healthcare bill, it bothers me that Medicaid gives people an incentive to make bad decisions by offering free healthcare to those who chose to have children despite not waiting until they could get a job that would earn them enough to raise those children. We shouldn't reward people for bad behavior.

In all seriousness, though, what really perplexes me is that there's fines for employers who don't offer health plans for their employees. The biggest problem with health insurance today is that most people get their insurance through their employers, meaning that they can't easily switch their coverage if they don't like it. As a result, insurance companies have little incentive to provide good plans since consumers do not get to choose and therefore there is no competition in the market. Employer mandates are a step in the wrong direction, the easiest way to fix healthcare would be to make it illegal for employers to provide health care for their employees. If this happened, peoples' salaries would go up (because they are no longer forced to give a portion of their paycheck to a specific insurance company) while insurance rates would go down (because insurance companies would have to try to offer the lowest possible rates and the highest possible quality of service in order to compete for customers) while quality of insurance coverage would go up.

So I've been annoyed, recently, at how difficult it is to transfer colleges. Every college I'm applying to needs me to mail them official transcripts from every college I've attended. The colleges all have different processes and prices for ordering transcripts, and although my official grades can be accessed online, college admissions boards refuse to accept this, instead vying for difficult to obtain, less secure, more archaic, more expensive, less sensible physical documents. I actually wrote to Evergreen State, who advertises themselves as being forward-thinking and open-minded, to ask them if I could just email them the passwords to all my college accounts to look at my transcripts there. I didn't see why they needed the records from the databases to be printed out and then mailed when they could, more easily, access the databases directly. Furthermore, it would be more difficult for me to tamper with a university's databases than it would be for me to tamper with a physical document. Sure, official transcripts are sent in sealed envelopes and often printed on security paper, but envelopes can be re-sealed and documents can be forged. If I had the ability to hack into a university database and tamper with the records, the official transcripts would be as erroneous as the grades reported on my online accounts.

I also don't see how colleges decide what the fees for their transcripts should be. The prices expose how dreadfully inefficient the entire system is. UCB, for example, where I only attended two summer courses but for whatever reason it's still absolutely critical that the admissions boards receive transcripts from them, charges around $16 per copy. I suppose that, if the transcripts were printed ON WHALE SKINS using GOLD INK, the price could come to maybe $10/copy, which would still mean that the University of California system wastes, loses, or embezzles around $1 out of every $3 that they receive. It's aggravating that they complain about budget cuts when they are so goddamn inefficient with money. If they ran their budgets more tightly and reasonably, and used fewer whale products...

Anyway, I don't get how people are ass-backwards enough to place so much value on physical documents when such things are completely unnecessary today. A police officer could, for example, look up my driving record using my California State ID, but that doesn't change the fact that, if I was driving with my California State ID and not my driver's license, I would get in trouble.

Google Voice
Google invited me to test Google Voice. I can do some neat things with it, allowing for features such as this one.

I can also specify if I want the link to have the calls get forwarded to my regular cell phone number or have them go straight to my voicemail, which I can get by calling my Google Voice number from my cell phone or by entering a PIN when I call it from any other phone. My number, by the way, is (510) 47-FORCE. Google lets you choose what number they assign you, and you can search for available numbers by choosing which area you want to be associated with to assign an area code, and by searching for specific words that you want your number to say. I played around with a few words before realizing that FORCE works really well and that I managed to get an extremely easy to memorize number, which is important in case the person I just met doesn't have his or her cell phone available to store the number at that time. It's simple enough that it doesn't have to be written down.

Ubuntu netbook Remix 9.10
All Your Base
So I've been using Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10 for a few days now. I first ran it off a flash drive on Monday and later that night I installed it to my hard drive. By midnight, I had managed to render my computer unbootable (I talk about this at the end of the article, but a less adept and confident user would never have made the mistake I made), and it took me five hours to get it working again. Needless to say, I'm hooked, I understand why people use Linux, although I also understand why a lot of people don't use Linux. It's mostly for the same reasons.

Ubuntu Netbook Remix is a bit slower than Moblin, which surprised me, since the benchmarks I read about showed them performing at about the same speed. I feel like, most of the time, they do, but UNR is a bit slower to boot up (40 seconds as opposed to 10) and it seems to be slower at starting up. It also doesn't have that nifty home page that we saw on Moblin that gave you the calendar and your social networking updates when your computer first starts up. That being said, I like the UNR home menu system a lot, the clutter-based layout keeps everything organized and easy to access:

Moblin allowed for a few select programs to be accessed even more easily but the rest were a bit of a pain in the ass to get to. All in all, UNR is a more full-featured OS than Moblin, but I'm sure Moblin will find its place among those who have much smaller hard drives and can't really be installing all kinds of crap anyway. That being said, I've only given 4GB to UNR (I'm not ready to get rid of XP yet) but can still access all of the files from the other partitions through this OS.

Read the rest of this review, which includes more screenshots and two relevant comics from xkcd.Collapse )

So last night I decided to download and test three operating systems on my netbook, because I would feel uncreative for sticking with XP. I'm going to test Moblin 2.1, Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10, and Chromium OS. In this post, I discuss Moblin.

Moblin is a variant of Linux built by Intel and optimized for the Atom processors. Naturally, I am enticed by anything that's optimized for anything else, so I had to give it a try. It was easy enough to download the image file from the Moblin website and follow the instructions to install it on my USB stick. In Windows, all you have to do is install one other program (W32DiskImager, which you can also download from the Moblin website) and then run that program to put the image file on your flash drive. Then, all I have to do is boot up my computer with the memory stick in it, press F12 before it starts loading Windows, and tell it that I want to boot from my USB drive. Moblin gives me three options once it boots up: run Moblin, install Moblin on my hard drive, and run Moblin on my hard drive.

As I type this, I'm running Moblin from my flash drive, and the hard drive light on my computer hasn't come on once. I could keep running Moblin from my flash drive until the cows come home, but I don't have any cows, and besides, it won't save any of my personal data unless I install it on my hard drive. I can install programs and they will work for this session, but once I turn off my computer I'll have to configure it all over again.

This brings me to my first gripe about Moblin: configuration. There's a handful of settings that can be changed in the application list, but it's a bit out of the way and only lets you change a handful of options. I can change the mouse sensitivity and acceleration, the sleep timer, and a few other things like that, but every time I change a setting and close the window I go back to the desktop and have to navigate back to the settings folder of the application menu. I'm sure that I can change more things using the Linux terminal, but I don't really know Linux that well and, while I probably should take the time to learn this kind of thing (especially if I want to be running Linux on my netbook), I'm annoyed that they didn't put anything right in front of me. Also, Moblin doesn't seem to be able to get my laptop speaker to work, although the headphone port works.

While I don't like how difficult Moblin is to customize, there are some things I like about the interface. The buttons are large and the layout is simple, so it's easy to do the sorts of simple tasks that you would use a netbook for (mainly, browsing). Here's what Moblin looks like when you start it up:


The taskbar at the top goes away when you're on a different screen, but it's always sitting there at the top so you can just slam your mouse up there and go to what you want. The buttons are, from left to right, myzone (the screen you see), status (lets you see which accounts (Twitter, Aim...) you're signed into, as well as what people are nearby), people (lets you see who else is online in any of the services you're signed into), internet (lets you see which pages you have open in the browser so you can select one or type in a new URL or Google search), media, pasteboard, applications, zones (lets you see what windows you have open), and the last four are bluetooth battery sound and networks. Clicking that ^ on the bottom of the screen closes the window and takes you back to whatever screen you were on before. There's a desktop that can have multiple windows open, but right now I'm using the web browser, which is full-screen, but I can put my Empathy (the default chat service, although you can install Pidgin if you like) window on top of this.

The rightmost column lets you see updates in your social networks. I can add my and Twitter username and password, but it doesn't give me the option to add other networks such as Facebook. There might be a way but, once again, Intel didn't put it right in front of me, which is a problem.

The Moblin Application Installer (the [+/-] button) lets you add applications form a set approved list with one click, and that works well. I tried, however, to install Google Desktop, which wasn't on the list, and I was able to download and run their version for Fedora, but Moblin asked me for the Super User password because it wasn't on the list. I was never told what the Super User password is (I had to search for it, turns out it's moblin), this is the sort of thing Moblin should have let me choose from the start. Anyway, Google Desktop didn't work, I can get the window to come up but it won't do a search in Moblin's web browser, nor will clicking the "preferences" link open up Google's preferences page. I installed Firefox, and Google Desktop works fine with that, so this isn't really much of an issue once I address it properly.

As much as I like several things about the interface, I've decided that this isn't the OS I'm looking for...yet. It seems pretty fast, and will probably boot up quickly if I install it to my hard drive, but it's too difficult to configure the way I want it. Also, while I like the big buttons, they can be a bit problematic when I'm working on this small screen. I'd expect that a later release would fix some of the problems, such as my sound problem or the problem where Moblin keeps losing my wireless network for no reason, but right now it's just not ready. I'm sure the function to see what people are near me will be useful once the new Wi-Fi protocols that let people easily set up computer-to-computer connections (rather than having to set up ad-hoc networks), and maybe if I learn a bit more about Linux I'll figure out how to configure it the way I want, but right now I'm not as impressed as I would need to be.

Perhaps, after testing the other operating systems, I will find that Moblin is a lot faster than the other options out there, but right now it doesn't really impress me. It seems to run faster off my flash drive than XP runs off my hard drive, but that could be for a lot of reasons, including the fact that flash drives are solid-state. Maybe I'll come back to this with some more Linux knowledge and set it to be the perfect OS for this netbook, but right now I'm done testing it.

I'll post my next review when I test my next OS. Until then, I can't really rate Moblin on any sort of 1-5 scale or anything because I don't have enough points of comparison. If anybody knows of some good ways to test things like performance speed and power efficiency quickly and objectively, please let me know.

The trouble with deciding what to do or who to hang out with
Suppose someone put two cards face down in front of you. The person tells you to choose one of the cards to turn over, and if it's higher than an eight, you win.

While picking one of the cards might result in a different outcome from picking the other card, it really doesn't matter which card you pick. From a statistical point of view, both cards are equally good choices because they are equally likely to be higher than eight. Still, if you choose a card and it turns out to be eight or lower, you will feel bad for making the wrong decision, especially if the person then turns over the second card to reveal that it is higher than eight.

This is a lot like the problem I have when I try to decide what to do or who to hang out with, except at least with cards you can know what number you drew. With things like enjoyment, there is no way to measure and be certain. Say, for example, that you are sitting in a room and you feel cold. This does not necessarily mean that the room is cold, there are plenty of other explanations for why you feel cold. It could be that you've been sitting still too long, it could be that you haven't eaten enough, there could be a breeze, maybe you aren't wearing enough layers or the right system of layers. In this situation, you could still determine whether or not the room is cold by asking another person if they feel cold or by taking out a thermometer. Then you run into the problem of defining "cold," since your concept of warmth will shift based on how much clothing you consider to be an acceptable amount of clothing to wear at that time, what time of year it is, what temperature the room has been for the past few days...

Feelings are even more difficult because you cannot use measuring devices or other people to aid your judgement, since you are the only one who will experience your own world.

This is why I hate making decisions.

If the person only gave me one card to turn over, I could at least complain about not having enough choices, shifting my focus from winning the game to fighting the establishment of the game itself, and if I turned over the card and it was an eight or lower then it would be the fault of the dealer and not me. I would not have to feel responsible for the bad outcome, and I could instead rant about how the system itself set me up for failure without giving me any say in the matter.

Figured out What to do Next
So I've figured out what I'm going to do. I realized that all of this wanting to go and lead wilderness for the next couple years before I went back to school was really just me procrastinating. I was worried because if I didn't pick a subject that was interesting enough, I would get bored and stop paying attention because it's so boring. I was also anxious because I knew that whatever I picked would be a bunch of work, especially for something technical like physics, computer science, or engineering, which are all really interesting to me. The other problem is that, because so many things are interesting to me, then picking one would mean saying no to the other ones, which also wasn't a decision that I wanted to make.

So I rephrased the problem: how can I procrastinate more effectively?

I'll major in psychology.

There is no field of study that anybody could possibly go into where knowing psychology won't help. I need to know a bunch of psychology just to know how to handle myself, not to mention deal with other people. Imagine being able to come up with a routine and setting that you can stick to and that optimizes your performance, or being able to walk into a job interview and tell what the interviewer wants to hear by looking at what he has on his desk.

I'll also do the a minor in some hard science. I'l probably want to go to engineering school. Psychology will help there too, because the problem will always be limited by how you look at it.


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