January 15, 2008

Is Belief a Reckonable Force?

Thoughts to examine. Is belief a force to be reckoned with? Is it possible that belief in something itself can help cause it to come true? And if so, at what atomic level does this force begin and end?
Let's start with some psychology. Game theory suggests, and experiments seem to show that humans (and indeed monkeys as well), when given a choice between two scenarios, would rather be in a 'winning' position than actually have a more beneficial outcome between the two choices. In other words, they'd rather be in a position where they come away with more than their counterparts in the game scenarios.
Now, if we take this and extrapolate it to politics, where the atomic scale is groups of people, is it possible that people have a predisposition to vote for whomever they think is going to win an election? Has belief in 'who will win' become a psychological tool that can be used to sway an election? If so, have we given too much power to the major media outlets? If they say that a candidate has no chance of winning, doesn't that influence his/her chance by itself? If the major media outlets declare that someone is becoming a leader in the polls, is this a self-fulfilling statement?
What about at an individual level? Can belief affect us at the level of just one person? By following the lives of very religious people, one might begin to believe this is the case, as faith seems to drive their life decisions and affect positive outcomes. Or does blind faith drive their expectations and the analysis of the outcomes themselves? One experiment into the power of belief would be the placebo effect, where a sugar pill is substituted for real medication. In some instances, the placebo can have the same effects as the actual medicine, although I've only heard of such success when it comes to pain management.
Perhaps belief itself is not a power in and of itself, but something that can affect comprehension of causality. When an outside influence can be utilized to affect the outcome, people may be willing to push that outside influence to cause the desired or believed outcome, often without conscience effort. Modifying our theory that belief is a force, then, perhaps we could say that the blindness of causality within humans is a weakness that can be manipulated to swing independent forces in our favor. And in that case, the atomic scale of the force of 'belief' would end at the level that irrational thought begins in mammals.

January 08, 2008

What's Important?

It's time for a randomble. As you age, you become more introspective. Sometimes this can be a bad thing, because you tend to beat yourself up about every little thing that you do wrong. Sometimes it's a good thing, because you begin to realize how you've changed over the years...and this may be the key to recapturing your youthful energy.

Hopefully, society is also becoming more introspective. Aside from the news about Jamie Lynn Spears being pregnant (of COURSE you knew about that already), there was a variety of articles decrying that we spent so much front-page space on that story. The Internet is changing the way that we look at media. The blow-back from the Paris Hilton stories (and the MSNBC host that ripped up the Hilton coverage on the air - yay for her!) may have been a sign that we, as a society, are getting tired of our attention being drawn away from what's important.

Who cares what O.J. Simpson is up to, or whether Britney Spears lost custody of her kids? Why is this important to you? Isn't your time and brain power better spent on dealing with the real troubles of the world? Don't we have enough problems of our own to not have to focus millions of dollars of our collective Gross National Product on paying photographers to record the lives of the 'rich and famous'? I say, enough already. As a society, it's time for us to refocus.

On a personal level, let's start with the idiot box in your house....the television. Turn it off. That's right - I want you to commit to watching a (MINIMUM) 1 hour a day 'NO SHOW'. That's an hour blocked out, just as if you were to watch a regularly scheduled daily TV show. And I don't want you to pick up the mouse in its place. No TV also means no Internet, and no rags (magazines) either. Instead, I want you to spend an hour with your family, your friends, or a hobby. It doesn't matter what you do with your time, but here's the plan. Since you're not spending an hour watching Entertainment Tonight, or other drivel on the boob tube, you'll actually activate your mind and disincentivize the producers of the mindless crap that is filling your brain.

In the 1960's, the United States sent a man to the moon. The computing power used to perform this feat can be found in a computer the size of a postage stamp today. The science we used to do it is taught in high schools around the country. We built nuclear power plants, bridges, skyscrapers and had a civil rights turnaround.

Since the 1960's, we've barely done shit. We've created an entertainment industry that has run away with our consciousness. We've self-hypnotized our society with a heap of mindless crap that isn't doing anything for us as a whole except keep us occupied and numb to the fact that our country and the world is falling apart at the seams. We need to wake up.

There's been a lot of technological change over the past 40 years, and we now have more capability than our parents could have ever dreamed. The problem is that we're not utilizing it to solve our problems. Instead, we're using it to keep ourselves busy while we wait for the rest of the world to right itself. Well, the responsibility is yours, not someone else's. Turn off the distractions, and get back to production values that made this country great in the first place.

Maybe I'm just projecting here. Maybe I'm projecting my own personal sense of a wasted 40 years on everyone else. It's possible that I'm dead wrong about the state of American ingenuity and creativity. But, let's take a look at what we produce today, and ask ourselves where we're headed. When I look at how much time we spend discussing mindless drivel and avoiding real problems, I can't help but think it's not just me who's lost his way.

January 06, 2008

Sweeney Todd: Comical Horror Done Proper

I just got back from watching Sweeney Todd. A few things you should know. I'm a fan of musicals, Johnny Depp, and the director, Tim Burton. I was not disappointed. The movie, right from the get-go, had the air of a Burton horror. The direction and the use of color (and more so the lack thereof), the camera work and the scenery were all fantastic. There was not a chink in the armor of the film, from the costumes to the washed out and ghostlike face of Depp to the wonderfully ghoulish meat pie shop with bugs all about.

It looks like they chose wisely for most of the cast, as well, with Alan Rickman (who will forever be known as Professor Snape) as the evil judge for us all to hate, we find ourselves identifying with a psychopathic killer and his sick, twisted beau (Helena Bonham Carter). Depp plays a wonderful sociopathic barber, and turns out a fairly good duet or two. Also memorable is Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford. Unfortunately, Sacha Cohen did not seem to find his own in this movie, though he was given plenty of screen time to attempt it. Perhaps he was trying to ham it up, but the sense of humor of the Borat star did not exactly mesh with the undertone humour necessary for this film.

The comical mix of horror and insanity of this film makes it watchable through the blood and gore mixed in. Perhaps if Freddy Kruger used more subtle humour and sang a ditty every now and again, he'd be more welcome in my DVD collection. In any case, Sweeney Todd will certainly be taking up room on my shelf when it is released.

January 02, 2008

Killing SPAM with GMail

Someone posted a feature of GMail that is very interesting, and it turns out, very useful. The tip boils down to this. Your Gmail username will accept email addressed to it, or to any version of it with +'sometext' at the end of it. (E.g. If your email address is joeshmoe@gmail.com, it will accept email addressed to joeshmoe+family@gmail.com.) That's it. That's the whole key. What makes it useful is that Gmail will allow you to filter email based on the full email address. So, in concept, you could do the following:

1. Use a different codeword (sometext in the example above) for each addressee or class of addressee that you'd like to give your email address. Let's say +closefriend for your closest buddies who would never sign you up for SPAM. And let's say +spam for people who will DEFINITELY sell your email address.

2. Now filter your email based on the distinctive email addresses you've handed out, tagging, deleting, forwarding and archiving it according to how much you care about it.

3. Never use the root address that you have on your gmail account. So, if any mail comes into joeshmoe@gmail.com - you delete it. This prevents SPAMMERS from working around the filter by removing the +codeword on your email address. (Well, it doesn't prevent them from doing it, but it does make it pointless).

4. In the end, only the people you want to communicate with will be coming through in your email box. They'll be identified because the email they send you will contain the codeword you gave them. Use different code words when you sign up at various websites and you'll know which bastards have sold your email address off to someone else. Then you can stop doing business with them, send them emails with dirty looks, etc.

5. There is one more thing you need to do. In the Google interface, go to Settings and click on the Accounts tab. From here, you'll need to add the email addresses you're using, so that you can send mail as 'them'. This will enable you to hold ongoing conversations and still have the reply button work like it normally does. Once you add these other email addresses (e.g. rgautier+spam@gmail.com) to the interface, you can send mail as these users. You can also set one as your default 'from' address.

January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's 2008, and a lot of things will change this year! If not personally for me, then certainly for the United States. President Bush will be replaced, either for better or worse. The stock market is going to have to absorb a great deal more loss in the financial markets.

But, some things aren't likely to change. For example, Mike Huckabee doesn't look like he'll become less of a manipulative politician. In today's paper I noticed the little manipulation he pulled on the press with the Mitt Romney commercial he's 'not going to air' and that promptly got more air and Internet time than he would have been able to afford on his own.

The media at large will continue to be as manipulatable as they always have been. There are so few 'real' newsmen left who actually research and report on the news, and the rest of the press is driven by levels of fame and press releases. The real news is buried on page 5 and we'll continue to know more about Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy and Lindsay Lohan's hot new beau than we know about what's happening to our soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last night, we went to First Night Alexandria / New Years Eve edition. We'd been on July 4th last year, and had fun except for the rain. This year there wasn't any rain to deal with, but there certainly was a crowd. Even with a large auditorium at the Masonic lodge and a distribution of the crowd to a number of events, seating wasn't always an option. We also dealt with the cold a little bit, but the fireworks show was nice and the colors were just right for the New Year celebration. They gave away 4 million dollars to 4 lucky people, who apparently weren't in the auditorium when they called the lottery numbers. I didn't see the chance to buy lottery tickets, so I guess I missed out on my chances to win.