Friday, January 2, 2009

Pandora, Anyone?

If you are on Pandora, add me ( or let me know your email address so I can add you.

On a side note, how am I supposed to customize my damned station if it won't play songs I dislike!? I think it's psychic.

Starting My Think Tank

I have always believed that my dream job would be to work in a think tank. As a corollary, if I were rich, I would want to bankroll a think tank, recruit some of the brilliant people I know with diverse talents, and be the project manager, doing what I believe I do best: fix things. While I was driving up to Tulsa yesterday (I do my best thinking on long drives, for many reasons), I started wondering why I needed to wait until I had money to start working on the think tank. Sure, I wouldn't be able to pay anyone salaries, including myself; I wouldn't be able to actually implement most or any of the proposed solutions; I wouldn't have resources for face-to-face meetings or any helpful tools. Maybe no one would pay any attention to what we develop, but is it possible to start working towards solutions now, without money? It seemed to me that it is possible and I should start now, while I have some free time.

To that end, I've started coming up with a list of what I need to do to get things rolling. The first couple of steps are to get a discussion forum running and to try to recruit some people to help in the whole thinking business. Then I/we will need to start developing standard procedures for selecting problems to be discussed and how to address a problem once it has been selected. After that, it will just be a matter of discussion, research, thinking, more discussion, arguing, more thinking and research, more discussion, and hopefully coming to some sort of consensus. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it shouldn't hurt to try, and maybe it will do some good.

So now I'm off to send an email or two about getting a discussion board up, then start drafting some invitation emails for people I think might be interested.

My Opposition to New Year's Resolutions

We find ourselves at the time of Earth's rotation about the Sun where most people come up with things they'd like to change during the next rotation; the vast majority of these changes are subsequently abandoned, probably before Luna completes one rotation about Earth. Several years ago, I began to feel uncomfortable about New Year's resolutions. At that time, the cause was very likely something as base as a disappointment with my past performances and a dislike of the expectations placed on me. Within the past couple of years, though, I've developed a more nuanced dislike for the concept. Although I'm sure it was only so that I could rationally justify my dislike, I feel that I have a few reasonable points against the tradition.

To be clear, I am not complaining about individual or specific resolutions, rather the tradition of using January 1st as a motivator for resolutions. I will admit that actively contemplating what might be wrong in our lives is a useful exercise. I will also admit that some people actually succeed with their New Year's resolutions; however, I believe these people would have succeeded with their resolutions if they had started at any other time of the year.

My first complaint is that New Year's resolutions encourage people to delay enacting changes in their lives. It seems that when people think of something they want to change, they put it off until January 1st. Now, don't get me wrong, I am definitely not a concrastinator; I have taken procrastination to limits that should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. But when it comes to improving yourself or your life, I think that delay should be avoided whenever possible. Many times, including some recently, I have heard people comment on things they would like to change, but that they were going to wait until New Year's Day. This means that, despite their realisation of a problem, they fully intend to keep up a bad habit for a period of time. New Year's, in these cases, is encouraging them to keep doing things they would like to stop. That, to me, seems to be a negative consequence of the tradition.

My second complaint is that these resolutions are extremely ineffective. Doing a quick search (i.e. go do your own research if you want reliable figures), it seems that over 90% of New Year's resolutions fail. When people try something and fail, it discourages them, making them less likely to try again. I believe that many of the resolutions would not be made were it not for the pressure of the tradition. So if any of those 90+% of resolutions might be made some time later when the person has really decided that they want to try to change, because of past failures during New Year's attempts, they will be less likely to try later when they are actually more likely to succeed!

So, in my estimation, the entire concept of New Year's resolutions encourages people to maintain bad habits until the 1st, at which time they attempt to quit cold turkey, fail when the 'magic' of 1/1 fades, get disappointed in themselves and their ability to change, and, thus, become less likely to ever successfully change in the future. If you want to change something, change it. If something is wrong and you know how to start fixing it, do it. Don't put it off until next Monday, after the holiday, or New Year's; just start working on it now.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

25 Random Facts

The Rules:

- Come up with 25 things about you, it does not matter what you pick as long as they true.
- You then have to tag 25 people, including the person who tagged you.

I'm ignoring the second rule. If you want to post about yourself, I'd be glad to read it, otherwise you wouldn't be on my friends list.

1) I had two full sets of adult teeth. One full set was pulled once.

2) I juggled fire with a guy on a unicycle in a street performance in Victoria, BC, Canada.

3) From the age of about 6 or 7 on, I went to and from school alone and spent the afternoons alone until my mom got home from work. I read a lot and had a particular fondness for unexplained phenomena (ghosts, Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, etc). One day, I was reading a book on ghosts that had pictures. One of the pictures showed an 'apparition' coming down some old stairs. At the top of the stairs was a dresser with an old, porcelain basin and pitcher. Our house looked exactly the same - stairs, dresser, and porcelain basin and pitcher. I wouldn't go inside the house until my mom got home. To this day, I sometimes still get nervous on stairs.

4) The news came to interview me once for being a good student. I was skipping school at the time.

5) I'm a hopeless Romantic.

6) I never consumed a full alcoholic beverage until I was 30. I still haven't smoked, other than hookahs.

7) Other than one time in first grade, I've never struck someone in violence. That time I don't remember, but my dad said that I told him someone was picking on me and he told me to hit him. Apparently they had to pull me off the kid the next day.

8) I have very small wrists and fingers for my size.

9) When I was really small, I drank gun cleaning fluid, ate potting soil, and swallowed a quarter. All at different times, of course.

10) I have recurring dreams that I can fly if I concentrate.

11) I can't stand sarcasm.

12) I am atrocious at Scrabble and crossword puzzles, though I have a relatively expansive vocabulary.

13) I used to weigh about 300 pounds (vs current 195).

14) I can't stand talking on the phone, and phones ringing make me cringe.

15) If I don't get enough sunlight, I am unable to sleep before 4 or 5am.

16) When I was born, I was horribly jaundiced and either had a blood transfusion or almost had one.

17) I once went three days with no food or water and three more days with only water. I don't recommend it.

18) I want to believe, ala Fox Mulder. This does not mean what most people say. It's not that Mulder, or I, believed all the wacky theories he put forth; it's more that he wants to find something out there that is true, and keeps looking, throwing out weird ideas and trying to prove them true. It's more an ongoing search for something to believe.

19) Chocolate, cheese, and wine are some of my comfort foods. There are a few other alcohols that are up there as well.

20) One day at the pizza store, I pulled a pan out of the oven and it slipped out of my grips. The pizza was cooking at 750 F. First the metal pan hit my arm and flipped over, dumping the hot pizza onto my arm. Then the sauce from the pizza drenched my arm. My entire left forearm was swollen at least one inch. The next day, it was completely healed.

21) I'm a pacifist.

22) Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Batman are my idols.

23) I like blades (knives, swords, axes), nice clothes and accessories (tailored suits and shirts, nice watches, ties, cuff links), and extreme weather (snow, ice, rain, wind, lightning, thunder, frogs).

24) I love traveling and meeting non-Americans, probably because I love to learn new perspectives and cultures. I plan on leaving the country in about a month, or less, and never living in this part of the country again, or maybe even anywhere in the States. Who knows, I might not ever settle anywhere!

25) I can kill you with my brain.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Update: Trading, Writing, and Traveling

Yes, I know it's been quite a while since I've updated. There's not a lot going on for me lately. Well, I have a few very important things going on, but they are either boring or not for me to be discussing with the random public :)

Most of my time since October has been spent trading (currency, EUR/USD, for those that don't already know). It's going decently well, though I really need more capital to be able to do anything substantial. I'm working on doing that just now, gathering some more capital from a few individuals. I'd rather not involve others; if I had enough capital on my own, I would do it on my own. But, it is what it is, and I need to get capital, so I have to deal with other people's money. I think that's what I dislike the most, the responsibility and just general stress of dealing with someone else's money. Oh well.

A couple of months ago, I finished my most recent writing project. The Star Wars Rebellion Era Campaign Guide ( will be coming out next summer. For the foreseeable future, it will be my last writing project. I honestly was fairly burned out before I began this project, but I couldn't pass up the offer to work on my first book. Hopefully, my name will be on the final cover, which would be nice. I think my word count was about 10% of the total book, though I probably shouldn't talk about what parts I actually wrote, as the contents haven't been released.

I am hoping to begin traveling again by mid to late January, though that depends on getting capital fairly soon and trading going at least slightly well. I'll be going back to Asia first, starting in Korea and then branching out from there. The most likely secondary candidates are Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, China, then down into Thailand, India, and the surrounding areas. Of course, that's all tentative, but it gives you an idea. I have so many places I didn't get to in Asia, and so many regions to see, other than Asia. I'll keep you updated, of course.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Psychology of Monogamy

I was having a conversation earlier that prompted me to think quite a bit about jealousy and sexual monogamy. As is typical, this drove me to start doing research, introspection, and analysis of many related issues, probably far more than I should. Our little journey starts with the question: why do some of us want monogamous relationships? From there, we quickly move to other questions, e.g. are our reasons valid; what are the reasons for our reasons; is there an appropriate answer for everyone or even in general; is it something we should fight for or rail against; what are the relationships between sex and self-worth; how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie-Roll Pop?

I'm not saying that I am against sexual monogamy; on the contrary, I have some sort of desire for it. I just want to be able to justify my desire in the issue, or at least be forced to admit to myself that I have an unfounded desire. Perhaps a truly healthy relationship doesn't need sexual monogamy, or perhaps a truly healthy relationship becomes sexually monogamous without any thought on the issue; maybe you fantasize about sex with others, but not really have a strong desire to carry through on it. But why? There has to be something to curb the desire, and is that something a thing to be sought and cherished, or just a factor for some people but not others?

Let's start with one point that is not really up for debate, at least not here: most humans are genetically and/or psychologically driven to have multiple sexual partners. If you disagree with this, can you just [bracket] the idea for now and pretend I'm right? It doesn't seem like this desire is biased towards men, either; apparently women want to have sex just as much as men. Go figure.Don't lie to yourself that your partner is never going to see someone they want to get funky with, or that you never will. It's natural to see a really sexy person and think about sex with them; it's part of the word, after all. We can't honestly be upset with someone for fantasizing a bit when Alessandra Ambrosia and/or Daniel Craig shows up on the screen. By corollary, we can't honestly be upset about fantasies involving equally sexy no-names on the street. Sure, we can be dishonestly upset about such fantasies, but be honest about your dishonesty and realize that it's unnatural to be upset about something so natural.

If we take the above paragraph as true, which you implicitly agreed to do by continuing reading, expecting a partner to not think about sex with anyone other than you is to expect them to be inhuman or dishonest. Assuming your partner is a human, which may not be true in some locations (Baaaaahhh), you are expecting the latter - your partner to lie to you and feel guilty about themselves. That's great if you thrive on a relationship of guilt, dishonesty, and delusion, like 90% of people and statistics. If, however, you want an honest relationship and still want to consider monogamy, you need to expand your inquiry.

Desire to have multiple sex partners, or at least fantasies about such are natural. "So, necessarily, we should embrace that point and follow through on it! To do otherwise would be unnatural! Right?" Wrong! Maybe we should embrace the point, but the inclusion of the word 'necessarily' throws a wrench into your monkey. Catching a cold is natural, but that doesn't mean we should, necessarily, embrace colds, seek them out and breath deeply the sneezes of others. "So that means we should, necessarily, fight the urge and be monogamous! Right?" What did I just tell you about the word 'necessarily'? Quit throwing things at monkeys (unless it's poo) and think rationally. Breathing is natural and I, for one, do not want to fight that urge, except maybe when sneezing is involved.

Being 'natural' doesn't tell us what we ought to do, though it might give us a starting point. If we have an urge, we ought to have a reason to resist that urge. If we have no reason, we might as well embrace it. What are the possible reasons for fighting the urge and embracing monogamy? I'm no expert on the topic, of course, but a few psychological rewards seem to be commonly cited. I'm going to cover one reason or theme of reasons, then quickly dismiss it/them because I can't relate at all, nor sustain any interest in the topic. Monogamy can cater to feelings of dominance or ownership. I do not respect such desires, so I'm not even going to entertain this as a valid justification for monogamy. It might be a reason, but it's definitely not a justification in my book. At least I'm honest!

Another reason cited is that monogamy gives us a sense of safety. I suppose this is based on the idea that if our partner isn't sleeping with anyone else, we don't have to worry about our partner leaving us. I really don't see a strong connection here, though; it feels more like the delusional attitude I discussed above. Remember that your partner is going to think about sex with someone else no matter what, so you better have more than just sex supporting your relationship, or you're either just fuck buddies or you're probably not going to last long anyway. If your partner is going to leave you because of sex, you were either in a rather narrowly supported relationship to begin with, or you had some other serious issues the two of you should have discussed; sex wasn't the reason, it was just the catalyst. If your partner is leaving you for more reasons than just sex, then we're talking about more than just sex, aren't we?

A similar reason, possibly another facet of the same reason, is that sexual monogamy helps you feel special somehow, that your partner favours you over all others. But, just like with the feeling of safety, this needs to be rooted in more than just sex. A healthy relationship likely includes everything other than sex and sex (in most cases), so I'm not saying the sex doesn't matter; I'm just saying that your partner abstaining from sex with others shouldn't be the source of a sense of safety in your relationship or the sole reason for feeling special or favoured by your partner. These should be rooted in a wide array of commonalities, attractions, and trust. Sex might be a part of this equation, but it seems like there needs to be more to reasonably justify sexual monogamy. If you have a sense of safety and a feeling that your partner considers you to be special without sexual monogamy, do you need the monogamy? It seems you would need something else at that point to justify the monogamy.

How do we make feelings of safety and specialness important enough to sex to have them justify sexual monogamy, or can they? Are there other justifications for sexual monogamy? How do we continue this chain of thought? I'm sure there are multiple answers that will suit different people, but I don't feel like I have reached an answer for myself. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

HDR Photography

A week or so ago, my iGoogle page featured a 'how to of the day' about HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography. I like photography and dabble a very tiny bit in it, but nothing serious; I use my little digital camera that I bought two years ago, without much adjustment of exposure or anything like that. I sometimes take some decent pictures, but I know people that put my skills to shame. Likely, I will never be a fantastic photographer; however, I am quite good at post-processing. 

HDR appears to take multiple exposures of the same picture, overlay them, and take different contrasts from each picture to create a composite with a much higher contrast ratio throughout the entire picture. I haven't really looked into the actual mathematics or process behind it, so I could be completely off-base, but that's the impression I get.

When I read the article, I was definitely intrigued by the idea. I went out the next day with the intent of taking several samples for HDR processing. That night, I played around with the recommended freeware HDR program and my samples. While some of the results were interesting and evocative, none were clean enough for my tastes. Dissatisfied, I left the pictures alone, until this morning. I've been distracting myself from other tasks (or faffing around, I believe is the term?) by playing with the pictures some more.

The results of this morning's "research" have been fairly informative. I learned that the basic forms of the algorithms are somewhat bland (perhaps I should increase the exposure bracketing?). The only truly impressive transformations are made by the Mantiuk algorithm with "Contrast Equalization" enabled (I'll label this "CE" in the future); all the other transformations are fairly mundane, though the Reinhard 2005 algorithm seems to do the best job with these mundane transformations. The Mantiuk algorithm with CE, however, kept producing a large amount of dithering. After playing with different types of photos, I learned that it doesn't seem to handle solid colours or subtle gradients very well. When I found a picture with a lot of detail and very little in the way of solid colours, it worked much better.

Through much experimentation, Frey Labs are proud to present the following samples for your consumptive entertainment. If you look at the sky in the top left of the HDR versions, you can see the dithering I was discussing above.

The original rose photograph with no exposure adjustment (click for a larger version):

HDR version, Pregamma 1.0 Mantiuk CE 0.1 Saturation 0.8

HDR version, Pregamma 0.9 Mantiuk CE 0.1 Saturation 1.4

I can play around with the settings to get different results and, of course, do further post-processing in GIMP or Photoshop, but these are the raw output of qtpfsgui 1.9.2. For the best results, you want a lot of detail and very little solid colour. A contrast factor lower than 0.1 will produce ghosting. Contrary to what you might think, lower pre-gamma settings do NOT make the image darker; the tone mapping will create the same brightness with CE turned on, no matter the pre-gamma setting. Lower pre-gamma settings create richer and brighter colours, while higher pre-gamma settings create some washed out Burton-esque results.

The how-to says you need a tripod or stable surface for taking the exposure-bracketed photos. While you don't need one of them, I definitely recommend it. Qtpfsgui has an "Auto Align" feature when you first choose the photographs for the HDR process. The first option, "hugin's", crashes on my system, but the second option, "Median Threshold Bitmap", has worked well for me so far. 

The how-to said that cloud detail is significantly amplified by HDR, but I do not have any samples with which to test that. I will continue playing with my other samples later and post any interesting results.