Quick Roundup 258

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Today's will be terse as I'm running late, but need to get in early ....

Yet Another "Scientific" Study of Human "Irrationality"

Allen Prather takes a layman's look at an animal behavior study whose motivation is based on the faulty premise that some aspect of human behavior that doesn't fit into the preconceived notions of socialists is therefore "irrational". Here is one of his reactions: "In other words, if I own something, I should not consider it more valuable than my neighbor's stuff?"

[Oh! And I just had a complete power outage for about two minutes! Firefox's "restore session" feature rocks -- and I never use the word "rocks" -- so that should tell you something if you're using anything else to browse the web....]

The study attempts to examine something it calls the "endowment effect", which sounds like a plausible-enough phenomenon if applied to situations where someone possesses some object of marginal value and declines a trade for another object of similar marginal value.

But even this "effect" is not necessarily (or even usually) an example of "irrationality". To allude to a poorly-presented and questionable example from the news report which I will grant the benefit of several doubts: If I were randomly given an object (e.g., a coffee mug or some chocolate) I did not (at least initially) hold in high value, and then was asked to trade it for something else I did not care that much about, there could be plenty of perfectly rational reasons for not wanting to trade it subsequently.

If I receive a coffee mug, maybe that causes me to I remember that I need one for the office. If the chocolate, maybe I realize I haven't had any in awhile and am looking forward to eating it. Or perhaps, given the chance to examine one object, I have concluded that it is worth keeping, and not worth my time to examine another object.

It is interesting to see this behavior in primates, but that says nothing whatsoever about whether the effect is "irrational". Indeed, if anything, the study provides some evidence that this "effect" has survival value and that to value one's own property, as Allen points out, is rational.

Slaying the Pop CD, Resurrecting Classical

I haven't had the chance to read this article about how the Internet is helping people find and enjoy classical music, but it started out very interesting.

Between 1980 and 2000, classical music more or less disappeared from American network television, magazines, and other mainstream media, its products deemed too elitist, effete, or esoteric for the world of pop. On the Internet, no demographically driven executive could suppress, say, a musicology student's ruminations on Gyorgy Ligeti's Requiem on the ground that it had no appeal for twenty-seven-year-old males, even if the blogger in question -- Tim Rutherford-Johnson, of The Rambler -- was himself twenty-seven.

News bulletins were declaring the classical-record business dead, but I noticed strange spasms of life in the online CD and MP3 emporiums. When Apple started its iTunes music store, in 2003, it featured on its front page performers such as Esa-Pekka Salonen and Anna Netrebko; sales of classical fare jumped significantly as a result. Similar upticks were noted at Amazon and the all-classical site ArkivMusic. The anonymity of Internet browsing has made classical music more accessible to non-fanatics; first-time listeners can read reviews, compare audio samples, and decide on, for example, a Beethoven recording by Wilhelm Furtwangler, all without risking the humiliation of mispronouncing the conductor's name under the sour gaze of a record clerk. Likewise, first-time concertgoers and operagoers can shop for tickets, study synopses of unfamiliar plots, listen to snippets of unfamiliar music, follow performers' blogs, and otherwise get their bearings on the lunar tundra of the classical experience. [some formatting changes, bold added]
This will strike a familiar chord to fans of such Internet radio sites as Dismuke's.

Interestingly, the ability the web confers on some to escape from the stifling confines of modern culture (be it the squeezing out of unusual music or the distasteful ridicule of pretentious know-it-alls) should be considered alongside the ability it confers to others to behave like barbarians. The Internet, like any other technology, is neither a panacea nor something to be completely feared. It merely presents numerous unexpected opportunities.


This cartoon reminds me somewhat indirectly of a recent humorous run-in with a captcha at another blog.

No time to elaborate now, but I had to conclude that either I am a human who can't understand instructions or a badly-programmed computer!

-- CAV


: Corrected some typos.


Amlan said...

Hi Gus,

Just a suggestion but an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is an investment that pays off fast. You can get the small ones for around a $100 or so and they are great for those short little blackouts. They can also be configured so your computer goes into hibernation for longer outages - saves all your work and saves wear and tear on the computer.

I'm being selfish by making this suggestion - I don't want you to lose any work and thus deprive me of a great blog that is really fun and educational.


Gus Van Horn said...

Well! Thanks for the kind words and, more importantly, for being so greedy!

I had no idea that UPSs had become so cheap!

If I don't get one before Christmas, I know what kind of hints I'll be dropping!

Jim May said...

I second the UPS option. I was in the middle of purchasing airline tickets -- lots of forms, web pages etc. to step through -- and when I was about 75% done, the power went off for a second. It did it again, once second per minute, for the next five minutes. Thanks to my trusty backups, I didn't lose a thing and the computer never noticed a thing.

Make sure to allocate the plugs wisely; I have the main machine, its monitor and the router and cable modem all on battery backup. It would do me no good to have my machine survive the glitch but my connection go down for crucial minutes during something like, say a fantasy football live draft ;)

Better UPS units will have some outlets on battery, some only on the surge protection; from what I understand, UPS's give you much better line conditioning than mere surge suppressors do.

I ran without a UPS for four years in Los Angeles, where the power is clean and reliable, but where I am now (with SoCal Edison instead of Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power), it's always doing weird things. My UPS units never made any noise in L.A., but now signal line glitches regularly.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh! The UPS will save me from everything BUT losing my cable.

There is a word for that: "Comcastic!"

Dismuke said...

"Interestingly, the ability the web confers on some to escape from the stifling confines of modern culture (be it the squeezing out of unusual music or the distasteful ridicule of pretentious know-it-alls) should be considered alongside the ability it confers to others to behave like barbarians. The Internet, like any other technology, is neither a panacea nor something to be completely feared. It merely presents numerous unexpected opportunities"

I am afraid I must disagree here. I don't think it should at all be considered alongside the ability it confers to others to behave like barbarians. Such people are going to behave like barbarians regardless as to whether the Internet exists or not.

To use a different example other than the Internet, would you say that all of the benefits of skyscrapers and airplanes must be considered alongside the ability they conferred on the barbarians to bring about the horrors of 9-11? Of course not.

I can come up with any number of unique contexts in which an airplane might be properly regarded as a negative. But all of them are irrelevant when considered alongside the ENORMOUS value of being able to travel great distances rapidly and economically. If one values the quality of human life, then one must regard the ability to travel in such a manner as WONDERFUL.

The same with the Internet. If one believes that it is ideas that move the world and animate history, then one has to regard the Internet which has liberated the free flow of ideas on an unprecedented scale as one of if not THE most wonderful developments of our lifetimes and, indeed, of human history to date. In the long run, it will make the can of worms that Gutenberg opened up in the face of darkness, ignorance and stale, evil ideas and traditions look like child's play.

True, the Internet can be used for malicious ends by barbarians and criminals - and the only thing that needs to be considered in such instances is how to stop such people and how to protect one's self from them. The fact that a potential for such abuse exists is NOT something that is anywhere near equal in terms of importance to the tremendous potential for GOOD that presently exists and which currently is but in its infancy.

Once very common critique of the Internet that someone threw in my face in a debate recently is that, because it is open to any Tom, Dick and Harry on the street who can now publish whatever nonsense they wish, there exists a lot of garbage on the Internet and sometimes people can honestly be taken in by inaccurate information. And that, of course, is true. I myself have swallowed information when doing research online that turned out to be nonsense. Those who make this argument basically state that the Internet lacks the "fact checking" and the built-in "filters" provided by alleged "experts."

Again, this is true. But to that all I have to say is: "Dan Rather." "CBS News" "Sixty Minutes." "Forged Documents." And, of course, there is the New York Times which has distorted and outright lied in the name of advancing a political agenda from the days of Walter Duranty on down to the present.

Observe that, more often than not, the people who denounce the Internet on such grounds tend to be jealous and bitter elitists from either the Old Media or from academia who resent that their former importance and prestige is no longer what it once was and are miffed that they are no longer the "gatekeepers" of information and the truth. "Who is Gus Van Horn to comment on political events and build up an audience? Heck, he doesn't even have a journalism degree."

In the long run, the fact that ignorant fools can publish on the Internet works in an odd way to the reader's advantage as it demands one to, out of necessity, become careful and skeptical about what one reads. It is a lot less difficult for an intellectually responsible person to be taken in and hoodwinked by some random Joe he has never heard of on a blogspot site than it is to read the New York Times and just assume that what it says is true on grounds of its historical prestige.

If one believes in the power of ideas, then the only time one should fear bad ideas is in a context where good ideas do not have an opportunity to become known. Considering the philosophical corruption of the orthodoxies that have controlled academia and the media for many, many decades, we have had plenty of reason to fear the further spread of bad ideas - and we have watched it happen. Yaron Brook has talked about the intellectual crossroads that Western Civilization finds itself in right now - and what is so wonderful is that the Internet has come along at just the right moment. It provides a platform where good ideas CAN compete with bad ideas and where they CAN be made easily available and be promoted to anyone who is interested in the truth. I could go on and on and on with examples of how revolutionary it has already been, let alone will be in the future. I can't think of ANY "negative" that might exist that can be put even remotely alongside the incredible avalanche of values that has been unleashed before our very eyes.

Gus Van Horn said...

Excellent rebuttal to a point very badly made on my part. Indeed, your reply provides in itself an example of your point that the Internet demands more of its readers.

On balance, the importance of the Internet clearly does lie in how it improves human life, and how criminals misuse it is not that important.

However, insofar as the Internet affecting the culture on an intellectual level, many overestimate it. For example, in the realm of spreading political ideas, many (e.g., Glenn Reynolds in An Army of Davids) overestimate its ability as a vehicle of lasting social change. (This mistake is rooted in large part in a failure to rasp the importance of philosophical ideas.)

My point, which would have been better made in a different context, is that the Internet is ultimately only as good as its users.