Moral relativism

One complaint often leveled against atheism is that without a holy scripture to follow, atheists are  left with a set of morals that is inferior because it is relative rather than absolute. This line of argument can be easily refuted by simply pointing out the obvious fact that morality has always adjusted with the times, and that an inflexible moral code is usually worse than one that is adaptable to the time, the place, and situation.

However, there’s a much simpler way to refute the moral relativism attack.

Every holy scripture contains some bits that the religion’s adherents would prefer to overlook. Rather than throwing out the whole book though, the faithful pick and choose the passages they want to follow, carefully interpreting scripture to conform to the moral beliefs they already hold.

In this way, most religious people are also moral relativists. An atheist uses common sense and logic to derive a reasonable code of ethics. Religious people on the other hand use common sense and twisted logic to choose which parts of their holy book they wish to follow, and which they plan to ignore—all the while claiming that their morality is absolute because it originates in a higher power.


Jul, jul, strålande jul

My favorite Swedish Christmas carol is Jul, jul, strålande jul. The choir I sing in, Nota Bene, performed this song at the end of its Christmas concert on Wednesday.

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Jul, jul, strålande jul, glans över vita skogar,
himmelens kronor med gnistrande ljus,
glimmande bågar i alla Guds hus,
psalm som är sjungen från tid till tid,
eviga längtan till ljus och frid!
Jul, jul, strålande jul, glans över vita skogar!

Kom, kom, signade jul! Sänk dina vita vingar,
över stridernas blod och larm,
över all suckan ur människobarm,
över de släkten som gå till ro,
över de ungas dagande bo!
Kom, kom, signade jul, sänk dina vita vingar!

The lyrics in Swedish are quite beautiful, and I would like to share this beauty with my friends who do not speak Swedish. Because I have been unable to find a satisfying English translation to the lyrics, I decided to translate them myself. Here is my rough English translation:

Christmas, Christmas, glorious Christmas: shine over white forests,
heavenly crowns with sparkling lights,
glimmering arcs in the houses of God,
hymns that are sung throughout the ages,
eternal longing for light and peace!
Christmas, Christmas, glorious Christmas, shine over white forests!

Come, come, blessed Christmas: lower your white wings,
over the battlefield’s blood and cry,
over the breaths from the bosoms of men,
over the loved ones who’ve gone to their rest,
over the daybreak of newborn life!
Come, come, blessed Christmas: lower your white wings!


Goodbye, Mama-Papa

My grandfather Lorn died Monday evening on his way back to his apartment after dinner. He was walking back from the restaurant to his apartment in the retirement home where he lived, when he sat down for a rest, and simply died. It was probably a stroke or seizure; he died quickly and without suffering. Lorn lived a long and full life; his 95th birthday would have been next month.

Thoughtful Lorn by Michael A. Lowry
My maternal grandfather Lorn Lambier Howard was always ‘Mama-Papa’ to me.

Lorn Lambier Howard was born on 28 November 1917 in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He came from a family of simple means, but he worked hard and diligently to improve his situation in life. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1936 to 1946 so that he could go to university (thanks to the G.I. Bill). He studied electrical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia and the University of Illinois at Urbana. He obtained his doctorate from Michigan State University in 1959, and became professor of electrical engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. While on shore leave from the navy once in San Diego, Lorn met his future wife Etha Johannaber. They married in 1941 and they had three children. Their first child was my mother Alaire.

When I was growing up, Mama-Papa (as I always called him) was one of my favorite relatives. He was generous, kind, and loving, but also thoughtful, introspective, and rational. His characteristic blend of logic and humanity were an inspiration to me as I grew from boy to man and sought my own identity in life. Here was a man who had built houses as a side job during college, but could also play the piano. He was a true renaissance man, and I always admired and looked up to him.

Music was always important in Lorn’s life. Some of my earliest memories are of the music that filled our home, thanks to the love of music my mother inherited from her father. When we visited my grandparents in Dallas, Mama-Papa would often play the organ or piano. I also remember the winter mornings in Austin, when Lorn would wake us all up playing jazz renditions of Christmas carols on the piano. He could play almost any tune you asked him to, and he was always inventing playful and poignantly melodic improvisations. A few years ago he even recorded an album of jazz standards together with my cousin Lowry, who also wrote a touching remembrance today. I attribute my love of jazz music to Lorn. Although my parents occasionally enjoyed jazz, it was at my grandparents’ house that I heard the widest variety of jazz—played on Lorn’s record player, or by him on the piano. When years later I fell in love with swing and Lindy Hop dancing, it was surely in large measure due to the fact that I was already a big fan of the jazz and big band music to which these dances are danced! Lorn also played the carillon at SMU and Highland Park Methodist Church. I’ll never forget the time when he rang in my birthday on the carillon in the U.T. tower in Austin two decades ago.

Lorn had a keen scientific mind. I looked up to him, and as a boy always wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a scientist. At family gatherings, Lorn often retold the story of the time when, as a young boy, I took apart his alarm clock . Rather than getting angry at me, he took the opportunity to turn it into a learning experience. He sat with me, showed me how the parts of the clock worked, and helped me reassemble it. When he heard me (or another family member) make an unfounded or imprecise statement, Lorn would often quiz me about why I held that particular belief. ”What do you mean by that?” he would ask, or “Why do you think that is?” He never let me get away with making vague assertions. If he suspected that I did not understand what I was saying or lacked the facts to back up my claim, he would ask questions and help me find the answers. It could be infuriating at times, but it was immensely helpful in helping me to form my rational worldview. From Mama-Papa I learned how to think.

Despite his ability to be stubbornly rational, Mama-Papa was nevertheless a very funny man. I remember the time one Christmas when the whole family was gathered at their house in Dallas. Someone had the idea of buying a bunch of plastic dart guns, and the family proceeded to engage in a rambunctious dart gun war throughout their beautiful home. Lorn was a real sneaker, starting down one hallway only to turn back and go around the other way. The laughter and joy that filled that house are among my fondest childhood memories. Lorn and Etha shared many grins, winks, and knowing glances. They had their own humor to which the rest of us were only occasionally privy. Etha’s dry wit contrasted with Lorn’s warmer and more playful humor, and it was a true joy to be with them together.

Despite their differences, Lorn and Etha truly loved each other. It was sad to see the change brought about by Etha’s strokes. She was no longer the same person. The sparkle in her eye was gone, and she was tired and moody much of the time. Despite this, Lorn loved her until the day she died. He also did not give up once she was gone. He continued to find pleasure in life, playing piano for the wine & cheese parties at the retirement home, flirting with younger women (only in their seventies!), and going out for Mexican food with his Dallas grandsons. Lorn was a rational rather than religious man; perhaps it was partly because of this that he strove always to get the most out of life. He fought to stay alive and remain active until the very last day of his life. For example: until just recently, Mama-Papa still played the carillon at his church regularly—a task that required climbing the steps of the church tower. For a man of almost ninety-five who’d undergone three open-heart surgeries and was on his eighth pacemaker, this was no mean feat! Lorn’s perseverance and ability to find motivation and joy in life are yet another source of inspiration for me.

Lorn was also one of the inspirations for my love of nature and the great outdoors. In his youth, Lorn had been an Eagle Scout, and years later I followed in his footsteps. I have many happy memories of camping together with my family and with the scouts.

For years now, Lorn had been living on borrowed time. After his heart troubles, he changed his diet and started a regular regimen of exercise. Even so though, no one lives forever, and I knew he would be gone soon. He knew it too. In recent years I heard more sentimentality in his voice, and when we talked on the phone or on Skype, it was clear that he never wanted to say goodbye. I tried to resist the temptation to cut him off and end the conversation; but often he would want to stay on the line just a bit longer. Lorn also opened up to me in recent years in a way he had never done before. He told me stories about his youth, including some of the challenges and doubts he had had as a young man. When I was growing up, Mama-Papa always seemed like an invincible hero to me; it was touching to see the more human side of him, and to switch places with him in a way. Now he was the one telling me of his troubles, and I was the one offering consolation and reassurance.

When one gets to be almost ninety-five years old, most of one’s friends are gone. It’s a lonely stage of life. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my Rummel cousins in Dallas for being there for Lorn. They lived nearby, and often visited Mama-Papa for meals, to help him with his computer, or to run errands. I know they were a source of comfort and camaraderie in the last years of Lorn’s life. They were also there by his side just minutes after he died. After saying a few words, my cousins toasted Mama-Papa’s life with bottles of his favorite drink, cream soda. It was a touching tribute, and I’m sure Mama-Papa would have appreciated it.

I knew this time would come, so in a way I was prepared for it. Yesterday I distracted myself with chores and work. Today though, when I sat down to write this remembrance, the memories of my beloved Mama-Papa came flooding forward, and I was overcome with emotion. I’m sad I’ll never be able to talk with him again. I will miss his warmth, his humor, his common sense approach to life, and his quiet determination to keep on going no matter what obstacles life threw in his path.

The best way I can remember Mama-Papa is to follow his example and be the best man I can be. As I see it, Lorn’s philosophy of life comprised two main parts: thinking and feeling. The thinking part means learning, practicing, and becoming good at what you do. The feeling part entails treating others with love and respect, and trying to make the world a better place. I am reminded of a famous quotation by Neil deGrasse Tyson that sums up this philosophy quite well:
“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Goodbye, Mama-Papa. I will miss you very much.


Religion is laziness

Religion is, at its heart, laziness. First, it is mental laziness—an unwillingness to do the mental work necessary to understand the world as is truly is. Second, it is a moral laziness—an abdication of the responsibility each of us has to securing a bright future not just for ourselves or our own tribe, but for all of the inhabitants of the planet.

“If we long for our planet to be important, there is something we can do about it. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and by the depth of our answers.”
—Carl Sagan


Respect for religion

There has been much discussion lately of purported offences against religion, and of the anger and violence these alleged offenses have provoked. Overlooked in the whole brouhaha though is the shameful fact that erstwhile civilized liberal democracies are talking seriously about the need for ‘respect for religion’—that is to say, censorship and other curtailments of liberty in the name of not offending religion. These retreats from modern liberal principles are couched in the language of multiculturalism—as though religions were esteemed cultural institutions deserving of special deference. Of course, the opposite is true. Religions have received too much respect, and for too long.

In what other area of life do people demand respect without earning it? Imagine an employee who demands a promotion despite being a poor worker who doesn’t get along with his colleagues. He can yell “value my work!” and pound his fists all he wants; but if he does a substandard job and doesn’t get along with others, he will not earn the respect of his coworkers, and he certainly won’t get a raise. It’s always the unintelligent, immoral, and intellectually inconsistent people who feel compelled to resort to shouting and violence to defend their weak-mindedness.

Respect must be earned, not coerced under threat of violence. Not all ideas deserve respect, and the time has come to put religions (and other harmful ideas) in their proper place. If you want respect for your ideas, perhaps it’s time to cultivate ideas worthy of respect.


iOS suggests address book names over dictionary words

iOS suggests corrections for words it believes are incorrect. Usually, this is a great help, because with auto-corect, one can type more quickly than one would otherwise be able to type. However, iOS often makes mistakes, correcting words that are already correct. A common example is that iOS almost always wants to change its to it’s. Enough people make the mistake of inserting an apostrophe in the possessive pronoun its without help from iOS; with iOS, the rate of these errors has only increased.

Recently, I have noticed that when I am typing using the Swedish keyboard, iOS attempts to correct perfectly good Swedish words, replacing them with names from my address book.

Here is an example. A few days ago I posted a comment on a photo that a friend posted of some freshly baked cinnamon buns. I wanted to post the Swedish sentence, “Dina kanelbullar are jättegoda.”

The word dina is the plural second person possessive pronoun in Swedish, and kanel is the word for cinnamon. Both are perfectly good Swedish dictionary words, but iOS nevertheless insists on trying to change them. Sina and Karl are names that appear in my address book.
iOS 5.1.1 suggests Sina instead of Dina.
iOS 5.1.1 tries to replace kanel with Karl.
I could understand this behavior if I were using the U.S. English keyboard, but it happens even when I use the Swedish keyboard as in these two examples. I have been unable to find a setting or option to change the auto-correct word list precedence so that dictionary words are preferred over address book words.


Microsoft’s post-PC future

I think [within a decade’s time], Microsoft will be an enterprise software and services company with a strange, but successful gaming sub-division that will probably be spun off by then.
I agree with MG’s analysis. The trend is clear, but Microsoft has been complacent.

Until very recently, Microsoft has been denial about its predicament. With Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Surface, the company has shown it is capable of making bold bets on innovative products. Unfortunately for Microsoft though, these are probably too little, too late.

Microsoft does a few things very well, and many more things merely adequately. Where Microsoft excels, it will continue to be met with success. However, where Microsoft does a mediocre job—or is timid and complacent—others will take the lead.


Mystics & scientific discoveries

With each major revelation in science, the mystics of the world express enthusiastic interest, and often even try to coopt the discovery, claiming that the natural phenomenon newly described by Science powers the mysteries they hold dear. Unfortunately for the cause of Reason though, these seekers do not pursue—and in fact fear—true understanding. Thus, predictably, they soon retreat from their pseudo-science claims, inventing or embracing novel mystical ideas that are invariably further removed from the reaches of testable observation and reproducibility.


Podcasts app for iOS

With the new Podcasts app for iOS, Apple has created a one-stop-shop for finding, downloading, and enjoying podcasts. Podcasts have long been a bit neglected in the iTunes and Music apps, and the new aspires to obviate the podcast features of these earlier apps. It’s a promising first release. Even though the app still needs a bit of work, Podcasts offers capabilities that many users will find compelling.

The Podcasts app is divided into two parts: the Library and the Catalog.

The Library
You can think of the Library as ‘your podcasts’. It lists the podcasts present on the device. There is a distinction between subscribed and unsubscribed podcasts. This is a distinction is important because you cannot download episodes of a podcast you have not subscribed to, even if episodes of that podcast are present on your iOS device. The interface does not make the distinction between subscribed and unsubscribed podcasts very clear, but there are a couple of ways to tell. For unsubscribed podcasts, only episodes present on the device are shown. For subscribed podcasts, all recent episodes are shown, whether or not they are present on the device, and a small download button appears next to the names of episodes that have not been downloaded. Also, if you tap the little gear icon in the upper right corner, a menu of options appears in which you can choose whether to subscribe to the podcast or not.

The Catalog
This is where you go to find new podcasts. The Catalog is essentially the Podcasts section of the iTunes Store, without the distractions of Movies, TV shows, Books, Audiobooks, and Music. The Catalog hosts exclusively free content. This means when you’re browsing for content in the Catalog section of the Podcasts app, you don’t have to think about how much things cost. This is the first app from Apple that has let you subscribe to podcasts right on your iOS device. This means it is no longer necessary to use iTunes on a Mac or PC, or to download individual podcast episodes from the iTunes app for iOS. Just view the details of the podcasts in the Podcasts app, click subscribe, and download the episodes you want. Unsubscribe later if you find that the podcast is not your thing. You can also enable automatic downloading of new episodes, meaning there will be new stuff for you to listen to each time you open the app. Great!

Two apps in one
Initially, I felt that the new Podcasts app blurred the distinction between downloading and streaming. However, this impression was a misleading one. In fact distinguishing local (already downloaded) content from content that has not yet been downloaded is quite simple. In both the Library and the Catalog, if a podcast episode does not have a download button next to it, the episode is present on the device. The user interface and layout of the controls is quite inconsistent between the Library and Catalog though, and there are some obvious oversights. For example, when viewing a podcast in the Library, there is no way to switch directly to that podcast in the Catalog. Similarly, there is no way to quickly switch from a podcast in the Catalog to the same podcast in the Library. One gets the impression that the Podcasts app is two separate apps in one: a new app for viewing locally-stored podcasts, combined with the Podcasts view of the iTunes (iOS) app. The marriage of these two views is done in a somewhat inelegant way. It really feels like two apps.

It the iTunes app for iOS, there is a Downloads that displays all the items that currently being downloaded. The new Podcasts app lacks a Downloads view. Interestingly, if you start a download in the Podcasts app, the iTunes app’s Downloads view does not show the download. However, both the iTunes app and the Podcasts correctly show which podcasts have been downloaded and which have not.

User interface & controls
The design of the Podcasts app is a departure from the simplicity and consistency that have marked most of Apple’s other iOS Apps (iPhoto being a notable exception). The default view in the Library is a scrollable list of square tiles, each displaying the photo of a podcast (the photo that would be called the ‘cover art’ for music albums). The scrollable list of square tiles is a bit reminiscent of Windows Phone. Tapping on a podcast’s photo takes you to the list of episodes for that podcast. Tapping an episode begins playback.

Following the trail blazed by iPhoto (among other apps), the Podcasts app eschews platform-wide UI consistency in favor of a tailor-made skeuomorphic design. Gone are the standard flat white-on black playback controls. In their place are metallic buttons arranged in a mostly familiar layout. I write ‘mostly familiar’ because there are some changes. The button to skip backward 30 seconds has been replaced by a button to skip back only 10 seconds. In addition to the skip-back-10-seconds button, the Podcast app adds a new button that skips forward 30 seconds—quite useful for skipping ads. The back button behaves a bit differently than before in one situation: when playing the first episode in the list. In the Music app, tapping the back button in this situation stops playback and returns to the list. In the new Podcasts app, it does nothing.

Swiping up on the cover photo reveals even more controls underneath, along with an animated Dieter Rams–inspired facsimile of a reel-to-reel tape player. The timeline has been moved here, so it is necessary to slide the cover photo out of the way first before one can scrub forward or backward in the track. Interestingly, the timeline contains what appear to be back and forward skip buttons, but both of these buttons are non-functional. Under the cover photo, you’ll also find a control for adjusting the playback speed, as well controls for sharing and setting a sleep timer. The latter is particularly useful if you, like me, listen to podcasts in bed.

The Podcasts app shares the same underlying library as the Music and iTunes apps, so any podcasts downloaded in the Podcasts app are visible in the Music app, and any Podcasts download in iTunes will be visible in Podcasts. However, when you’ve listened to part of an episode, the place where you left off is not synchronized between the Podcasts and Music apps. This is a first break with the past. I surmise that Apple intends to move Podcasts into their own separate domain, distinct from other media. This initial release of the Podcasts app at once represents a first step in this general direction, and gives clues to the direction Apple is heading in the future. It’s clear to me that the Podcasts section of the Music app will disappear in a future iOS update. Most people accept that iTunes on the Mac and PC has become too big, trying to accomplish too much in a single app. There are rumors that Apple will break out some features into distinct apps. This process has already begun on iOS with the Podcasts app.

Performance & stability
The Podcasts app is polished and offers capabilities in a single app that previously required using two apps. However, the app is not without problems. First of all, the user interface is quite sluggish. When scrolling, there are jerks and lags. I found similar results on both the iPad 3 and the iPhone 4S. It’s surprising to see such poor performance on Apple’s latest hardware. The Podcast app also appears to freeze at times. I observed that if I launched Podcasts when it was not already running, the list of podcasts appeared immediately, but was non-responsive for about 5 seconds while the list reloaded. It appears that the app refreshes the list of podcasts at launch, and does not accept any user input during this operation. In addition, the app crashed while I was using it on several occasions, and at one point, even caused iOS to restart.

It’s clear a lot of attention went into the new Podcasts app. The skeuomorphic tape deck UI might be off-putting to some user interface purists, but I found it mostly inoffensive. The amount of tape on each reel changes depending on the playback position; the reels spin and the tap jiggles periodically; and the tape guide moves out of the way when one jumps forward or backward in the episode. It’s elegant and pixel-perfect, and the attention to detail that went into it is remarkable. However, there is a trade-off between eye candy and performance. That pretty spinning tape deck requires memory, meaning less is available for other apps. This means more delays reloading apps and web pages when you switch back and forth between apps. The animations probably also impact battery life. Obviously Apple feels that the pretty UI elements are worth the cost to performance. Considering app’s responsiveness and stability problems though, I wonder if the right things were prioritized during the app’s development.

Overall, Apple’s new Podcasts app for iOS is impressive. Like several recent iOS apps, Podcasts shows that Apple is not afraid to try new things. The app introduces several new UI ideas while borrowing some from elsewhere. Apple obviously wants to help users manage their content more easily, without having to switch back and forth between apps. The dual pedigrees of the Podcasts app is still very obvious though, and some work remains to make the app feel unified and consistent. Even with its problems, Podcasts has now supplanted another app on the first page of my home screen. When I want to download or listen to podcasts, I no longer use any other app—I go to Podcasts. It’s clear that this app is a work in progress, and we can no doubt expect that Apple that will fix the more serious problems soon.


Charles Carreon under attack again

Futurama character Bender repeatedly states in the show his desire to “kill all humans.” This is obviously intended as a threat against Charles Carreon.

I don’t expect it’ll be long before Carreon adds Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, John DiMaggio, Fox, and Comedy Central to his lawsuit.


Stuck in the village

In an article entitled Endorphment: Why Some Breakups Are Much Harder Than Others, Jeremy Sherman hits nail on the head. Breakups are the most painful when they are accompanied by a perceived drop in one’s value. This is part of the much larger topic of self esteem. One of the biggest challenges for therapists is helping people to build up their self esteem. Without confidence, erstwhile successful and happy people become their own biggest obstacles.

My own theory is that this is rooted in the human ancestral environment, where overconfidence was much more costly than it is today.

Blows to one’s ego are Mother Nature’s way of telling us: “Yeah, you’re not good enough.” We know this intuitively, just from how they make us feel. More specifically though, the crushing emotional defeat of a breakup serves to jar one’s sense of one’s own reproductive value down to a more realistic level. In the ancestral environment—small villages numbering no more than a few hundred people—our options were truly limited. There, it probably made sense not to be overconfident the next time. Better to pair up with someone a notch or two lower than us on the scale than to miss out entirely.

Even today, it makes sense to be sanguine about one’s prospects. However, most of us now live in a world of unprecedented opportunity. Large cities, freedom of movement, and inexpensive transportation now mean that the global village provides us with millions of options. However, we are still stuck with brains that evolved in villages. Thus, even a person living in a city of millions can feel hopeless after a breakup. (Are there data on how community size affects the pain of a breakup? It would be interesting to know how malleable this facility is.)

In short, people today usually have more options than their post-breakup emotions lead them to believe.

Concomitant with the rise of cities and easy transportation though came worldwide communication, and ubiquitous depictions of beauty, wealth, and happiness in entertainment and advertising. These ideals—much higher than the median, and out of reach for most people—cause disappointment by preventing people from setting realistic expectations.

It can be a challenge to find the right balance: to be hopeful and confident, while still setting realistic expectations.

Self-esteem comes from many sources:
  1. Physical health, mobility & fitness
  2. Engaging friendships with people we respect
  3. Rewarding, interesting work & the respect of our colleagues
  4. Fulfillment through study, practice, exercise, or hobbies
  5. Romantic relationships & the approval of our lovers
The advice I give my friends (and that I too try to follow) is this: when your self esteem takes a hit in one of these areas, try to concentrate for a while on the other areas. After a breakup, it’s tempting to wallow in self pity and desperately seek the approval of one’s lost love. However, as anyone who’s been in this situation knows, this course of action is counter-productive and ultimately more damaging to one’e ego. It’s much more effective to refocus one’s attention on the areas where one has more control. The satisfaction from a long run or a good read isn’t as quick or immediately satisfying as the infatuation of a new love, but it’s reliable. Moreover, consistent low level satisfaction is not only more reliable, but also ultimately more satisfying, than a roller-coaster of elation and sorrow.


The Rat & Paedophile Pub

“That’s a rough joint, Jon. That’s a rough joint. I will say, their Sunday brunch is surprisingly good.”
–John Oliver, The Daily Show, 11 June 2012. (Here’s a direct link to the “Err a parent” segment of the episode, accessible by iOS users.)

The new MacBook Pro

The ‘next generation’ MacBook Pro is the direction laptops are headed. As usual, Apple is leading the industry.

Because of the high cost of the Retina display and integrated flash storage, the product is currently positioned as a new product, and will cost more than the more traditional MacBook Pros, which will still be offered.

This is a clever compromise that makes revolutionary changes available to those who are willing to pay a premium for them. However, within a few years, the new MacBook Pro will, MacBook Air before it, become a mainstream product. Manufacturers who fail to follow Apple’s lead will be left behind.

Update: John Gruber agrees.


It’s just company policy

Apple has not been straightforward about the reason it stopped Rogue Amoeba from offering iOS-to-iOS audio streaming in Airfoil Speakers Touch. Apple’s Phil Schiller explained to a customer that Rogue Amoeba had been doing something improper. Rogue Amoeba’s response to Mr. Schiller makes it clear that Mr. Schiller was being less than completely honest. Mr. Schiller attempts to justify Apple’s actions by knowingly conflating two different things:
  1. accessing AirPlay streams in general (a capability Apple allows), and
  2. accessing streams sent from iOS devices (a capability Apple—still without explanation—does not allow).
There’s an old saying:
Of course there’s no reason for it. It’s just company policy.
If Apple wishes to prohibit something just because, the company is entitled to do this. Apple should not, however, then attempt to rationalize its decision. Schiller’s argument—superficially plausible but factually inconsistent—makes the company seem petty and unreliable.

I believe Apple would do well to be more forthright; but of course sometimes the company has secret reasons for a given policy. In such cases, though, the company should at least not be dishonest with its partners and customers. Lack of clarity in AppStore guidelines and policies is an ongoing problem for iOS developers. Misleading and disingenuous communications from Apple do not help resolve this problem.


Dear Apple

Dear Apple:

Please stop asking us for our passwords when we just want to download free content.

Please stop asking us to approve the download of age-restricted content. Either require us to provide actual proof of our age, or eliminate these pointless and annoying alerts altogether. In any event, once you’ve received our approval, remember it and don’t ask again.

Please make things easier for folks with more than one Apple ID. To begin with, improve the process of installing updates for apps that were downloaded with multiple IDs. If you want to really make the world a better and more connected place, add support for signing in with multiple IDs simultaneously, and make it possible to transfer purchases from one ID to another. Or better still, create an iTunes Marketplace where folks can sell their purchases to one another.

Your devoted fan,


Be the change

What do extreme feminists, communists, and religious fundamentalists have in common? They all have view of humanity that is disconnected from reality. Their fatal flaw is that they pretend that people are what they would like them to be, rather than acknowledging them the way they are.

Gandhi famously said “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.” This hopeful and inspiring vision perfectly encapsulates my moral system. Individuals should treat others with respect and consideration in all areas of life and must consider the larger effects of their actions, not just their own selfish desires. Society should exhort individuals to aspire to a high standard, and must find ways to do so while still respecting individual freedoms.

I do not believe that it is possible to build such a society though, if we begin from a flawed understanding of ourselves. Some, including the aforementioned extremists, would rather bury their heads in the sand than acknowledge the world’s imperfections. Human nature is what it is—a mixed bag of traits that can inspire both admirable and abhorrent behavior. Women and men alike have selfish tendencies that do not lend themselves to the endeavor of building a just and harmonious world. Men’s warlike nature and desire to control women are particularly destructive obstacles; this is why empowering women is one of the best ways to increase justice in the world. However, we cannot hope to make the world a better place if we pretend that we are something we are not. We must understand our strengths and our weaknesses if we hope build a society of actual people rather than imaginary ones.

To be the change we wish to see in the world, we cannot shrink from the world, or pretend that it’s already perfect. Rather, we must confront the world in all its beauty and ugliness, and face unafraid the challenges that face us.


Reproductive value and the marriage bargain

Two recent blog posts on Psychology Today piqued my interest once again in human sexuality and evolutionary psychology.

First came Heidi Reeder’s article a few weeks ago, Sex with friends: are there benefits? In the comments, I gave voice to some of my thoughts, and I penned a blog entry of my own on the subject. Then today I read a thoughtful piece by Jeremy Sherman, entitled Single mid-life female seeks romantic solution. His thoughts mirror the conversations I’ve had with many female friends. As I’ve grown older, I have observed that my options have changed and I’ve been forced to update my expectations accordingly. However, my experience is quite different from that of my single female cohorts.

Reproductive value can be roughly defined as one’s subjective value to the opposite sex on the mating market. In humans, average reproductive value for men and women varies differently by age. Women mature earlier than men, but have fewer years of fertility. Men have a lower peak RV, but have their years of fertility spread across a longer portion of their lifetime. Figure 1 shows my rough estimate of average reproductive values (arbitrary scale) for women and men.

Figure 1. Reproductive value (RV) versus age for women (♀) and men (♂)

Women’s reproductive value (RV) drops off precipitously in their mid-to-late thirties, due to declining fertility. At the same age, men’s RV reaches a plateau and only begins to taper off gradually a few years later. Because women have a more limited range of fertility, they are in higher demand during this period. This is why women’s RV has a higher peak than men’s. On the other hand, because men have more years of fertility, their curve is flatter and more spread out.

I wonder though: do both men and women have about the same total reproductive value over their lifetimes?

Imagine that the area under the curves represents the total amount of reproductive value over time.

Figure 2. Total reproductive value over a lifetime
In Figure 2, the pink shaded area represents a woman’s total reproductive value from puberty until menopause, and the blue shaded area represents a man’s total reproductive value from puberty until infertility. What if the areas under the curves are approximately the same? What would the significance of this finding be?

One way to look at it would be a new appraisal of the institution of marriage. In a comment on Dr.Reeder’s blog entry, I wrote:
Marriage is essentially a compromise and a set of trade-offs. When a young couple gets married, the man earns the woman’s youth in exchange for remaining faithful to her and her children after her fertile years. 
 The above graph provides a graphical representation of this bargain. In essence, we can view marriage as a contractual exchange of each person’s remaining total RV. One could also use graphs like this to gain insight into relationships and conflicts. For example, if the above view is an accurate representation of reality, one would expect that relationships would work best when both partners have approximately the same RV, and that having the same total remaining RV would also be significant. One could also conjecture that incidences of infidelity would be instigated by the partner whose RV (or RV potential) is higher. For women, this should occur more frequently early in life; for men, it should be more common later in life.

Fascinating stuff.  It would be fun to find a rigorous way to actually measure RV and test these theories experimentally.


Game of Thrones just keeps getting better

Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister
Last night’s episode of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones was a good one.

I was particularly impressed by the opening scene between Tywin Lannister and Arya Stark. Such clever writing, and good acting!

The characters are well developed and complex—with conflicting emotions and motivations. There’s none of that black-and-white nonsense typically found in fairy tales and fantasy stories. These characters seem like real people.

Just great television.


Mac Pro status update

On Tuesday some electricians performing unannounced work in the building cut the power to my apartment. This caused the boot drive in my circa-2006 Mac Pro to fail. After several days’s work, I’m glad to report that mt Mac Pro is now happy again: freshly reinstalled & restored from backup, updated & configured the way I like it, and—most importantly—backed up again.

I have abandoned Boot Camp and moved my Windows environment to a VMware image file on my boot drive. My original reason for creating a Boot Camp partition—playing Windows games—turned out not to be as compelling as I had predicted. I discovered pretty soon after creating the partition a couple of years ago that my Mac and its graphics card were already too outdated to play most of the best new games well. I realized that I that had not booted into Windows in more than a year. A dual-boot configuration like Boot Camp is great if you need it, but it’s a hassle otherwise. I got rid of the Boot Camp partition mostly for reasons of convenience:
  1. Because it is now just an ordinary file in the file system, I can now back up the Windows VM’s disk image alongside all the other files on the volume.
  2. I can suspend the virtual machine—something that’s not possible when running a Boot Camp volume in VMware Fusion.
  3. I can move the VM from one disk to another easily.
I’m still waiting for the Synology DS-1812+ to ship from OHC in Glattbrugg. I ordered it Tuesday and paid for it by bank transfer today. I received no response to an emailed query into the status of the order today, and I find the a bit disconcerting. I’ll chase them tomorrow if I don’t see some progress by midday.

Update 2012-05-14 12:00 UTC: The Synology DS-1812+ arrived today. I put my disks in and created a new RAID 5 array. (I’ll switch to RAID 6 when I acquire a new batch of drives.) I’ll do some function and performance tests later in the week. So far, so good.


Mockery and misrepresentation in the debate over reproductive freedom

In a new Funny or Die video that’s been making the rounds on Facebook in recent days, “Kate Beckinsale, Judy Greer and Andrea Savage spread the message that the one thing women really want in their vagina is the government.”

Republicans, Get In My Vagina!

Of course, the video is funny. However, I watched it again, imagining myself in the position of a principled opponent of contraception. It struck me how dismissive and offensive the video seemed when viewed from this perspective.

This video misrepresents the motives and glosses over the arguments of the opponents of contraception. Of course, in the debate over contraception and abortion, each side mocks the other to gain political points.

PositionHow the other side portrays it
Opponents of contraceptionContraception results in the killing of human life, and should be restricted because killing human life is murder.Women’s sexuality is scary and needs to be controlled.
Proponents of contraceptionA fertilized egg or embryo is not the same thing as a person. Contraception leads to better & happier families.Free love for everyone!

It’s unfortunate that open and honest debate about the issue is drowned out by a cacophony of hyperbole. The debate should not be about freedom or where life begins, but what makes a person a person.

Religious people often define personhood as anything with human DNA, but this is problematic for a several obvious reasons:
  1. Many things contain human DNA that cannot be called persons:
    • the millions of cells lost by a person each day
    • viruses that copy parts of a person’s genetic materal
    • any part of the body that is amputated for medical reasons
    • a brain-dead human whose body is kept alive by machines
    • human sperm and eggs that do not meet in fertilization
    • etc.
  2. Non-human creatures may exist that deserve to be considered persons:
    • higher primates, cetaceans, and perhaps other animals on Earth
    • intelligent life beyond our planet
    • artificial intelligence
Even if we side-step the question of whether a fertilized human embryo deserves special consideration, it  obviously is insufficient to claim that anything that contains human DNA is a person.

It makes more sense to consider the qualities of an entity that bestow it with personhood. These qualities might include things such as:
  • intelligence
  • self-awareness or consciousness
  • ability to sense the external world
  • ability to manipulate the external world
  • ability to feel emotion
  • ability to communicate
  • ability to reason
  • ability to feel empathy for others
Such criteria resonate with most people. We know intuitively that what makes us special among the animals is our intelligence and self-awareness. It’s important too that we be able to apply the criteria to non-human entities. Imagine how we’d feel if we met intelligent aliens on another planet only to find that they did not consider us actual persons because our DNA was different from theirs!

Many people like the false comfort provided by absolute rules. The Catholic decree that personhood begins at the moment of conception is a good example. The notion is patently false, but it conveniently eliminates the need to do the hard work of considering the many shades of gray between non-person and person. People who take this sort of absolutist view are pretending that the world is the way they would like it to be. We cannot base policy on wishful thinking. There are always shades of gray, and learning to deal with them maturely and reasonably is a part of life.

Of course, allowing women to control their reproduction has many other side-benefits, and restricting these freedoms has many unintended negative consequences; but these are largely beside the point in the underlying moral debate about personhood. Contraception (and up to a point, abortion too) is not inherently immoral because it does not destroy a human person. Supporters of contraception should not shy away from this important argument. When Democrats cast the debate in terms only of women’s freedoms, they miss the whole point of the opposition, and give the impression that they’re at worst heartless, or at best dismissive.

I’m sure the mockery of this video will score political points. However, it will also offend those who feel the message’s authors are being disingenuous. Those who support contraception should defend it because contrception is moral, not just because it’s expedient or convenient.


Positive customer service experience with Amazon

I recently read Vanessa Woods’ book Bonobo Handshake: A Memoir of Love and Adventure in the Congo. If you haven’t already read this book, I can highly recommend it. It’s part history lesson, part love story, and part research paper—an engaging and thoughtful read!

This was my first ebook purchase from Amazon.com, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I read the book mostly in the Kindle reader on my new iPad, but I also read a few chapters on my iPhone when I didn’t have my iPad handy. I found the reading experience with the Kindle app very enjoyable. The text was very readable, and rendered crisply on the high-DPI retina displays of my two iOS devices. The Kindle app remembered my place in the book, even when I resumed reading on a different device.

I did notice a few minor annoyances though, and I took the time to report one of these to Amazon:
In the “Bonobo Handshake” ebook, the floral ornaments in the chapter headings (as well as the small ornaments between sections) are rendered poorly:
1. They are tiny and do not scale well on high DPI screens such as the iPad 3;
2. They lack transparency, causing the background of the ornament graphic to clash with the page;
3. They contain ugly visual artifacts of the image compression algorithm; and
4. They are displayed only in black-on-white, so they appear jarringly out of place when viewing the book as white text on a black background.
To my surprise, I received a reply almost immediately. Following the link in the email, I soon found myself in a web chat with a helpful fellow at Amazon named Dinesh. After I explained exactly what I was referring to by ‘floral ornaments’, he was able to see the same problem. He thanked me for bringing it to his attention, and offered to refund the purchase. I explained to him that I didn’t think this was necessary, and that I just wanted to bring it to Amazon’s attention so that the author’s work could be presented in the best possible way. Dinesh thanked me again, and told me that he would inform the appropriate team.

He then did something that I didn’t expect: he granted me the original purchase price of the book as a ‘promotional credit’—in his words, to make up for the inconvenience, and to thank me for taking the time to provide feedback. I was already happy that what many would no doubt consider a very minor nitpick had even been taken seriously. I was positively delighted that Amazon valued me enough to compensate me for my input.

I am quite impressed by this experience, and I will be shopping at Amazon.com again soon.


Sex with friends

In a recent Psychology Today blog post, Heidi Reeder addresses an issue that’s been much talked-about in recent years: sex between friends.

The idea that one shouldn’t have sex with one’s friends seems odd under even the most cursory scrutiny. If not friends, who? Strangers? If you meet someone interesting and jump into bed before you even know the person, how smart is that? Shouldn’t you establish a sort of basic friendship first?

An objection often raised is that introducing sex into a friendship will inevitably cause hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and estrangement. The same could be said though of any sexual relationship. Sex inspires strong emotions.

The things is, sex isn’t the problem. Emotions are not the problem. The problem lies in how people react to their emotions. If people treated one another with respect, and communicated their thoughts and feelings, all manner of strife could be avoided.

If two people respect each other, they will be honest with each other, and will therefore also trust each other. Without the dishonesty of deception or hidden agendas, the misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations that can often lead to hurt feelings will largely be avoided.

Friends who have known each other a long time are obviously more likely to have a high level of mutual respect. However, even relatively new acquaintances can treat each other with respect. Some people are just naturally more trusting and respectful than others. One’s baseline level of trust hugely influences how one treats others. E.g., if you basically expect others to be trustworthy, you will be more honest with the people you meet. Both genes and past experiences surely influence this basic level of trust of others.

Whether in friendships or committed relationships, most of the emotional hurt arising from sex is actually due to poor communication.

Here’s a good set of rules to follow:
1. Ask for what you want but make it clear you will respect the other person’s answer.
2. Don’t do anything that would be disrespectful of the other. If you’re not sure, ask.
3. Don’t assume that sex means deeper emotional commitment or exclusivity.
4. Likewise, don’t assume it’s just a bit of fun.
5. Talk it over and don’t be afraid to speak from your heart.


Truth in advertising

There’s been a lot of talk about how unrealistic standards of beauty depicted in the media affect people, particularly women and girls. There’s plenty of evidence that people are affected by the images they see, and that men and women judge themselves and one another in part based on these images.

Reaction to this has included legal measures, including an Israeli law banning very thin models from advertising and a French law mandating warning labels on airbrushed photos.

This got me thinking: why isn’t there similar outrage over unrealistic standards of prosperity, power, and  happiness in the media? Most images in the media depict unrealistically wealthy, powerful, and contented people.

If laws are to be consistent, these unrealistic depictions must also be regulated, labeled, and curtailed. Take, for example, an advertisement for an expensive watch, car, or necklace. The warning label at the bottom might read:
Warning: the lifestyle depicted in this advertisement can be attained only by extreme luck, and placing money above humanity—sacrificing ideals like loyalty, friendship, fairness, and love.
The cost of this product could feed 1,400 starving children for a year. If the all of the present population of the world lived as extravagantly the person depicted in this ad, the resources of an estimated 10,000 Earths would be required. 
The happiness depicted above is an unattainable illusion—a carefully trained facsimile for which the model was handsomely rewarded. No true or lasting happiness accrues with the purchase of this product.
I welcome more truth like this in advertising.


New iPad capable of 4G only in North America

The day it was announced, I ordered the new 3rd-generation iPad from Apple’s online store. I chose the Wi–Fi + 4G model. After a few weeks, my new iPad arrived at my door. Unfortunately, since receiving the the new iPad, I have learned something quite disappointing: 

The so-called iPad Wi–Fi + 4G does not support any 4G network outside of North America.

I did not remember reading anything about incompatibility with 4G networks in Europe when I purchased my iPad, so I went back to the Swiss online Apple Store page to see what was written there.
Figure 1. Selecting an iPad model on the Swiss online Apple Store.
Two types of iPad are listed: Wi–Fi and Wi–Fi + 4G. Next to the heading Wi–Fi + 4G are the logos of two of the mobile telephone carriers in Switzerland: Sunrise and Swisscom. Swisscom has been testing 4G networks in several locations across the country. I chose the Wi–Fi + 4G model specifically because I hoped to take advantage of Swisscom’s 4G network as deployment progressed beyond the testing phase.

The low-contrast, difficult-to-read fine print in gray explains that the device can be used only with HSPA, HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA networks. It mentions that the device can be used on 4G networks in the USA and Canada. However, the fine print does not clearly state that the Wi–Fi + 4G iPad cannot be used on 4G networks outside of North America.

Swisscom’s web page again obfuscates the truth by repeating the misleading branding iPad Wi–Fi + 4G in large blue type, and indicating in the small print that the device will actually use HSPA+, not 4G. Most consumers probably do not know that HSPA+ is not true 4G, and Swisscom does not clearly state this.

Figure 2. iPad branding on the Swisscom online shop

The actual maximum transfer rate of 42 Mbps is mentioned in the small print. Lower down on the same page though, Swisscom touts its 4G network, and even mentions speeds of up to 100 Mbps—this again despite the fact that the iPad cannot take advantage of this network.

Figure 3. Description of Swisscom’s network including 4G, from the iPad page on Swisscom online shop

At the bottom of the page, the actual maximum transfer rate of 42 Mbps is mentioned again, along with an admission that the iPad is incompatible with European LTE (4G) networks. The text does not, however, clearly state that the iPad is incompatible with Swisscom’s 4G network.

Further confusing matters are the additional details that appear if one clicks the Find out more button.

Figure 4. Wireless network details of the new iPad, from the iPad page on Swisscom online shop
Once again, the acronyms of the various 3G technologies are listed, along with superlatives describing the speed of the network; and once again, most consumers probably do no realize that these terms describe 3G, not 4G, technologies. The truth is revealed only in fine print that rendered in such small and dim text that it is almost illegible: 
4G LTE is supported only on AT&T and Verizon networks in the US, and on Bell, Rogers and Telus networks in Canada.
Yesterday, I called Apple and arranged to exchange my “Wi–Fi + 4G” iPad for the Wi–Fi–only model. The representative I spoke with was very helpful and understanding. He apologized for the confusion caused by the wording on the web page. When I asked if this was a common misunderstanding, he said that it was. He explained that many, many customers were now calling in to complain and to ask for refunds or exchanges. I am sure that the iPad 3 will be a big success for Apple, but this mistake will no only disappoint customers; it will also cut into the profitability of the product.

It is misleading to brand the new iPad Wi–Fi + 4G outside of North America. Both Apple and carriers like Swisscom should update their marketing messages to be absolutely clear about the capabilities and limitations of the new iPad.

Update 1, 2012.03.22 10:00 CET: The courier (TNT) picked up my “4G” iPad a few minutes ago. The replacement Wi–Fi iPad is backordered, and it looks like I will have to wait two more weeks before it will even ship. Considering that I already waited three weeks to receive the first iPad, it’s disappointing to have to wait again for the replacement. I know Apple is having trouble keeping up with demand. If many people are sending back their 4G iPads to exchange them for Wi–Fi models, this is surely putting an even greater strain on supplies.

Update 2, 2012.03.22 15:00 CET: I went by to the Apple Store on Bahnhofstrasse this afternoon to see if I could obtain a replacement more quickly there. They had the so-called 4G model in stock, but were out of the Wi–Fi one. I may return tomorrow morning try my luck again. I prefer not to wait another three weeks.

Update 3, 2012.03.22 17:45 CETThe iPad 3’s lack of support for 4G outside of North America is generating quite a bit of discussion online. Some carriers have opted to remove the “4G” from the branding entirely since the device does not support 4G in their region.


Excellent exemplars

Oksana Grishina
Yesterday, I shared a photo on Facebook depicting a female body builder in a striking pose, along with the caption “Strong is the new skinny.” This elicited many positive responses, but also provoked some criticism. A friend complained that a female body builder was a poor example to be setting for young girls.

A few week ago, I wrote about realism versus idealism in depictions of women, wherein I discussed the diversity of depictions of women throughout human history, and objected to the argument that it would be beneficial to replace ideal depictions of femininity with average ones. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to take a moment and read it. It’ll give you some background into my thinking.

I’d now like to elaborate on the conflict between holding up examples of excellence as ideals to be followed, and respecting individuals whether or not they come close to meeting these ideals.

People should be valued regardless of how they look, how clever they are, or what talents they possess. It’s also right however to honor excellence—both in the qualities that people are born with, and the ones they acquire through practice, study, hard work, and determination.

Many feel strongly that earned excellence is more worthy of praise than innate excellence. It’s hard to find fault with the idea that people should be rewarded for hard work and devotion; but all gifts—both natural gifts and those won through diligence—contribute to the richness and beauty of the world.

Elizabeth Warren
The best examples of excellence arise when a person with natural gifts takes full advantage of them, and through dedication and hard work develops them to their full potential. Professional athletes, virtuoso musicians, erudite writers, and ingenious engineers all contribute greatly to the intellectual, artistic, scientific, and financial wealth of the world.

Unfortunately, it often happens that people fortunate by birth do not seize the opportunity. Instead of developing their gifts, they choose to squander them, resting comfortably on their laurels, and doing only the minimum necessary to get by. This is a shame! Through laziness, they rob themselves and the world of the erstwhile fruits of their true potential.

Carol Greider
There is a natural tension between valuing excellence, and valuing every person. I am sure that some people find it intimidating or discouraging that the standards (of beauty, intelligence, wit, or skill) seem unattainably high. This is not cause however to lower the standards—to set the bar lower to a level that more people can achieve. On the contrary: standards of excellence are not meant to be met by everyone! Each person should instead be encouraged to do his or her best, not accept limits imposed on him or her by others, and to live up to his or her own true potential.

But let’s get back to the original photo that raised this issue. I don’t think any single image of femininity should be held up as the one true example every girl should follow. It would be silly to pigeonhole all girls into a single destiny. Some girls will want to follow the example of a talented musician. Others will find more appeal in following a gifted scientist or a well-spoken public official. Young girls should be presented with many different images and stories of exemplary women who have achieved excellence in many different walks of life. Girls should listen to their hearts, choose their own examples to follow, and aim high. When it comes to physical appearance and health, focussing on strength rather than merely skinniness is a positive development!


Chivalry & fertility

Not too long ago, it was considered de rigueur when a man was courting a woman that he would offer to pay for her. Nowadays, there is considerable diversity of opinion about this question. The egalitarian position is that because both men and women work, they should both bear the costs equally. Chivalry need not be dead, some argue—but it should brought up to date for the modern world, with partners taking turns treating each other.

However, even modern women in well-paid professions often expect the man to pick up the tab. This expectation does not usually manifest itself as an express principle. More often, it is an attitude made clear indirectly. Women are more generous with their affections to men who are generous with their treasure; men who pay are rewarded in kind.

Are the men and women who maintain this state of affairs simply old-fashioned? Not necessarily. It occurred to me that there’s an economic justification for male chivalry:

Women have fewer years of fertility, so their time spent in courtship is more valuable. By offering to pay, the man is honoring the woman by placing a high value on her time—a tacit acknowledgement of the scarcity of this resource.


The nice guy paradox

A friend of mine asked me the other day how I made so many female friends. He saw me with two or three different women in the course of a few months, and (I gather) made an untoward and hasty assumption about the depth of my intimacy with these women. This is a common refrain. I have many female friends, but the vast majority of them are just friends.

It has also happened that women that I have become intimate with have been intimidated (and even scared away) by the fact that I have so many female friends. They too make assumptions, and probably feel threatened—or at least not valued as much as they would like—because I am friendly with so many people. I’m open about my friendships, and I don’t hide much about my life from the new people I meet. I never really saw the point of being secretive or distant. It just isn’t my style.

There’s an old saying: ‘men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love.’ It’s an oversimplification of course, but it contains a kernel of truth.

Another saying, phrased as a rhetorical question, asks ‘why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free?’ This started out as a humorus explanation of why men are often reluctant to commit to a single woman, but instead indulge in comparatively promiscuous relationships.

Well, the other night, as I was preparing dinner for her, a female friend of mine wondered out loud “how is it possible that you’re single, Michael?” This, too, is a tired old refrain.

It occurred to me though that I knew the answer.

The nice guy paradox is that while women always say they want to be with a nice guy, the nice guys often end up with many female friends, but no committed partner. Jerks, on the other hand, seem to be able to write their own checks when it comes to women.

In the original view of the analogy about cows & milk, buying the cow represents committing to a single woman, and the milk represents sex. The parable asks, why should a man commit to a single partner when he can have sex without commitment?

A new viewing of the analogy recasts it from the woman’s point of view. As in the original version, buying the cow is analogous to committing to a single man. But here, the milk represents love. Why should a woman enter into a committed relationship with a man if he is already giving her love?

This insight illuminates some of my past experiences. It helps to explain why the asshole technique works. (Of course, the original explanation from supply and demand still holds.)

I love all of my friends, and I don’t plan to change who I am just to improve my success in the dating game. However, I’ve become more and more aware of the importance of not giving too much of myself to people whom I’ve just met.

This isn’t about playing games or pretending not to be interested. On the contrary, I think it’s very important to express interest openly and directly. What it is about is putting oneself first, and not giving another person more love and openness than one gets in return. This may sound trite and obvious, but for some reason it has taken me a while to let the lesson sink in.

Being a man is fun, scary, wonderful, and fascinating. One of these days, I’ll figure it out!


Forced sterilization for transgender Swedes?

A friend brought to my attention the fact that in Sweden, to change one’s gender under the law, a person must submit to sterilization, forever forgoing the possibility of having children.

At first I didn’t see the logic behind such a law; a moment’s reflection, however, made it clear why some people want to force this terrible choice on transgender citizens.

The existence of gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgender people threatens the idea of a simple binary division of humanity into two genders. One can understand why this idea makes some people uncomfortable. People may aspire to be open-minded and not prejudicial; but in reality, people like the comfort of knowing at a glance what to expect from someone. People expect different behavior from men and women, for example. I imagine many women would feel uncomfortable sharing a toilet, shower, or dressing room with a person with fully functional testicles, regardless of the gender with which that person identifies. Testosterone affects attitudes, desires, and behaviors; so this reluctance is understandable. People who don’t fit into society’s predefined categories are scary to many because they challenge long-held and cherished assumptions. To grant rights to another, one must often be willing to give up some of one’s own rights.


AmEx Feedback

I recently applied for a Delta SkyMiles American Express Gold card, enticed by the offer of 30,000 free miles. However, when prompted for my feedback regarding the card, I was straightforward:

“The Delta SkyMiles Gold AmEx is being pushed very heavily right now, by both Delta representatives, and folks standing at stands set up in airport terminal buildings. Even though I did find the offer compelling and opted to apply, I found the campaign a bit too pervasive. Especially in light of recent news about Americans’ destructive and unsustainable credit card spending habits, the ubiquitous push to get people to sign up for a high interest rate AmEx card seemed a bit distasteful and capricious. I have made enough purchases to get the free traunch of miles; I’ll be honest that I intend now to use the card only within my budget, paying off the bill in full every month. Furthermore, a free companion travel voucher will be of little use to me, and this inducement will not be enough to overcome my general objection to paying a yearly fee for a card that already imposes a significant merchant fee. For this reason, it is likely that I will close my account before the end of the first year.”