“Under the skin”

In the spirit of 2014-summaries I’d like to mention Jonathan Glazer’s film “Under the skin”, which was definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and one of the very best sci-fi movies I have ever seen. If you have some winter holidays now, rent it on iTunes or Amazon or something and watch it. It’s very disturbing, but great.

(Also I think it’s a perfect example of that new video Mitchell Stephens talks about.)

“The rise of the image, the fall of the word”

I’ve been trying to read as many books as I can these Christmas holidays since I have plenty of free time and the weather outside is particularly cold,1 so another book that I’ve read is Mitchell Stephens classic: “The rise of the image, the fall of the word.” It’s obligatory reading for anyone studying journalism and new media these days, as it tries to argue for cultural significance of television, or specifically something that Stephens calls the new video. A very interesting book indeed, and although I don’t quite agree with some opinions about montage and fast cutting, Stephens’ book is well worth reading if only for the very insightful analysis of history and significance of the written word, and then later development of film and video.

Continue reading ““The rise of the image, the fall of the word””

Stop using LaTeX, switch to MS Word

A hilarious article appeared in PLOS ONE recently (thanks for the link, Pim). StackOverflow already made some good comments, but here’s my two pennies’ worth.

While I find the study methodologically flawed1 and I have a strong dislike for MS Word for numerous (un)sentimental reasons, I cannot disagree with the fact that LaTeX sucks. It has a complex syntax (take a look at Markdown or reStructuredText for comparison), meaningless error messages, it comes as a ginormous zip file full of obsolete stuff and it’s not exactly easy to customize (even installing new fonts is non-trivial). Yes, it has great syntax for mathematical symbols, very good output file quality by default and good default typographical settings, but it doesn’t stop to amaze me that it’s been around for so long and no one has come up with a better alternative.

Well, I guess we should just embrace MS Word and stop wasting taxpayers’ money, as Markus Knauff and Jelica Nejasmic suggest.

update, Dec. 29th: Also, this:

  1. Copying an already written text is waay different than writing it from scratch, tables are notoriously LaTeX’s weakest point, as is customizing anything, the article doesn’t even touch upon the topic of editing long, complex documents, the list goes on… 

“Where the Conflict Really Lies”

Since it’s Christmas, I feel it’s only appropriate to share some thoughts about a book on philosophy of religion I recently read.

Written by contemporary analytic philosophy’s chief theist and protestant, Alvin Plantinga, “Where the Conflict Really Lies” is a careful and systematic study of the (alleged) conflicts between science, naturalism and religion.1 As far as I am aware, this book is the only such comprehensive and earnest account of what exactly Christianity says about, e.g., theory of evolution and natural selection, among other controversial topics. I don’t feel competent enough to argue about some points and original arguments Plantinga makes about naturalism, I think it’s best I refer the interested reader to a long review by Thomas Nagel, but at the same time I can wholeheartedly recommend Plantinga’s book to atheists and theists alike—to the former, because it’s good to know what you’re fighting against, and to the latter, because it’s good to know what it is exactly that you believe in. And it really is surprising to see how poorly researched are the many arguments made by scientific, militant atheists of Dawkins-kind. Actually, regardless of whether you agree with Plantinga’s religious stance and his strongly theistic point of view, you have to give him credit for defending theism and Christianity in a strongly atheistic environment which analytic philosophy most definitely is. It really is a shame there’s so few serious religious analytic philosophers.

So, whether you want to feel stronger about your atheism or want to get better at fighting off those pesky atheist’s attacks, read Plangina’s book. What better time to do this than Christmas holidays?

Merry Christmas everyone!

  1. Plantinga argues that his points are not Christianity-centric and can be applied to theism in general, although he stays away from “indecisive deism” or agnosticism. And he is himself a Christian, and can’t speak for Muslims or Buddhists, or others. 

The Economist Espresso

In the era of amateur-written “free” news and the terrible decline of quality journalism, The Economist’s new Espresso app is a real gem. It’s an iOS/Android app which delivers a digest of news stories to your phone every morning, kind of like circa or TL;DR, but curated and written by The Economist’s journalists. Top quality short stories with links to longer pieces in the magazine every now and then. Fantastic.

Now I know this sounds like a paid advertisement but no, The Economist doesn’t pay me. In fact I pay them by subscribing to their magazine knowing very well I will never be able to read all the contents every week. Yeah, I’m one of those snobs, but I like to think it’s a relatively easy way of supporting good journalism, which is dying out these days. And if you think about it for a second, it’s not really expensive. Digital subscription to The Economist costs €47 for 12 issues (how much are you paying for your mobile phone subscription again? €30/month? €50?). The New Yorker’s digital subscription costs $60/year, so, ~€48.

Food for thought.

‘I went to jail for my cause. What did you do?’

Peter Sunde writes a guest post for Wired:

Only a few activists left are actually doing things. We’re way underfunded, we’re getting older and we’re getting lazy. We’re trying to work smart while still having a family life, managing our lives with boy- and/or girlfriends, thinking about careers.

A sad piece in which one of The Pirate Bay’s founders shares his disheartened view on the status of Internet-related legislation and general public’s indifference on the subject.1

The sad part is that it all boils down to convenience. In the world of cheap Netflix, HBO, Spotify, Rdio and others, taking the time (and possibly risk) to download torrents just doesn’t make that much sense.2 I don’t really have any statistics to back this up, but I observe the same trend amongst desktop linux users/contributors. When I installed linux for the first time on my desktop computer (late 1998, SuSE 6.0), the alternative was the buggy and ugly Windows 98, or the insanely expensive and also buggy MacOS 8. Now lots of developers switch to OS X, with its UNIX-based environment and excellent hardware, or even to Windows, which, beginning with XP I believe, became stable, fast and relatively fuss-free. There’s simply no need for linux on the desktop, because it’s trying to solve a problem that isn’t there. I’m afraid it’s the same with The Pirate Bay.

  1. I kinda like Sunde, and sort-of sympathize with his cause(s), but I feel like what The Pirate Bay crew tried to stand for in recent years isn’t exactly the same what it represented in the beginning. I feel perfectly fine with using PGP to encrypt my emails, running linux on my home media server, using open formats for documents, supporting government transparency and openness, and yet being opposed to the illegal downloading of TV shows using p2p networks. The fact that people stopped caring that much about The Pirate Bay doesn’t necessarily entail they no longer care about other aspects of Internet freedom
  2. That is, unless you’re one of those unlucky millions that don’t have access to these services. Remember that Netflix, Internet’s biggest on-demand video-streaming provider, is available in only 40 countries, excluding such big and potentially lucrative markets as, e.g., Australia & New Zealand. Spotify’s slightly better, being available in 59 countries.