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.