Apple Event Update

So Apple had their big event on September 5th and it held a fair number of surprises. I was close in my prediction that the iPhone wouldn’t be left out of the party, while I was hoping for some new features to be opened up I guess a price cut and the Wi-Fi Music Store will suffice. Everyone else has chimed in with their opinion on the price cut so I guess I will to. I’m actually happy that the price cut occurred. Sure I wish I’d purchased my iPhone AFTER the cut, but I’m trying to keep the long run in mind. In the long run it benefits all iPhone owners for there to be more iPhones sold. More iPhone’s sold means greater product support and enhancements down the road. Look at the iPod, they sell the crap out of those and they keep making them better. If the sales weren’t there Apple would abandon the product and it would go the way of the Newton.

Regarding the new nano. I think its pretty cool, now if I could only justify having one. Here’s the problem, I now use my nano in exactly two situations: Walking the dogs or going to the gym. In those two situations I basically start up my podcast playlist and leave it until I stop, meaning I don’t mess around with the interface at all and if I’m going to watch video it will be on my iPhone. This means that my current nano works just fine and I have no “need” (beyond gadget lust) for the new nano. Sad, I know.

My last comment on the Apple event is about the Starbucks partnership. I think this is a bit of genius. Starbucks sells a lot of music through their Hear Music label. One of the biggest reasons iTunes is so dominant is the convenience of the purchasing transaction. Being able to walk into a Starbucks a within a few taps be able to buy whatever you hear is going to be a tremendous phenomenon.  

Until next time, thank you for your time.

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Republican Debate

Tonight I watched the Republican Debate in New Hampshire as aired by Fox News. I have to say I rather enjoyed the debate. It thought most of the candidates were considerably more energetic than I’ve seen in previous republican debates. First let me throw out there that I’m pulling for Obama. I think it would be an incredibly interesting race if Obama and Paul got their respective nominations. Both candidates are HUGE internet/youth favorites and I think both are speaking their minds much more honestly than any of the other candidates out there.

Back to the debate, I think Ron Paul took it just for shear audacity. He’s not afraid to get up there and show the anger and frustration that I think a lot of America feels right now. He’s challenging the hawks on their claims about the consequences of a withdrawal from Iraq and for that I salute him. Being the aspiring skeptic that I am I can’t help but raise an eyebrow to many of the doomsday prognostications given by those who vehemently oppose the withdrawal of troops.  I think the argument made by many of the candidates tonight, that we can’t leave out of a sense of honor or to save face, is just insulting to the american people and the troops serving. How many soldiers and civilians must die and how much money should we spend to save face? Is there not MORE honor in admitting our mistake and taking the steps to correct it?

McCain says a date of withdrawal is a date of surrender. Who exactly would we be surrendering too? Can someone answer that? We are standing in the middle of a civil war, one which we set the stage for granted, but in that situation I don’t see getting out of the way as surrender, I’ve yet to hear an argument based on evidence and not rhetoric that indicates otherwise. Also, if you leave after MISSION ACCOMPLISHED how can it possibly be a surrender?

Finally, I’d like to express some frustration with Fox News, specifically the Hannity & Colmes that followed the debate. During H&C Fox is running the U-Vote “system” or whatever that gives the public the ability to vote for who they believe won the debate via SMS message. Results of the voting are being displayed in real-time during the H&C interviews with the candidates. Lo and behold the underdog, the crazy candidate Ron Paul took an early, dramatic lead with 30+% of the vote, outpacing his nearest competitor Giuliani by more than 2 to 1. To put what happened next in context keep in mind that throughout the broadcast Hannity has been repeating that “every vote counts”.  During one of the regular voting result updates Hannity flippantly attributes Paul’s lead to “That must be the Paulites out there redialing over and over again”. So this leaves us in one of two places, either we are to believe that the vote is inherently broken and that we should disregard the results OR that not EVERY vote counts, only the votes for the more mainstream conservative candidates, and that the outlying 30+ PERCENT of the votes should be disregarded as nuts. Way to support democracy there Hannity.

Thats all I got tonight, thank you for your time.

Logical Fallacy of the Week

This weekend I watched the debate between Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens. The topic of the debate was ostensibly the existence of god and the value of religion. The debate originated from Hitchens’ wildly popular new book: God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I won’t go into the proceedings too much but I definitely recommend checking it out, it was pretty amusing.

How does the debate relate to the Logical Fallacy of the Week? Well debates are fertile grounds for logical fallacies, especially when your debate includes someone like Al Sharpton (yeah I know thats an ad hominem (which I’ll cover another week) but I never said I was perfect). The logical fallacy I’d like to focus on in this post is:

The Straw Man (dun dun dun!!!!)

Description:

The Straw Man is a fallacy I generally see used in the course of intellectual dishonesty. The Straw Man is the act of taking a weaker interpretation of your opponents’ argument than what was actually meant. By doing this you set up an argument that is easier to refute than the argument actually put forth by your opponent.

In the debate Sharpton makes the tired argument that if atheists/agnostics do not believe in god or some higher power then they can not possibly be moral as there is no one to judge them. Hitchens responds to this by pointing out some of the many very morally questionable acts and decrees that are laid out in the bible. He further argues via example that many crimes and atrocities are committed by people of faith, even in service to their faith. Now here comes the good part, Sharpton comes back with this:

“So you are saying no crimes have ever been committed by atheists?”

And there was much puffing of his chest. This, friends, is a Straw Man argument. Sharpton took Hitchens’ argument:

That godly people are very capable of immorality and that the source of their morals (the bible) is rife with god-approved atrocities

and presented it as the obviously ridiculous and simplistic claim that atheists don’t commit crimes. Sharpton does this because it is very easy to refute such a claim, far easier than addressing Hitchens’ actual argument.

Beware of the straw man, while it is very easy to pick out it often will score cheap points with your audience. I am of the opinion that if your opponent tries this you call them on it on the spot. Inform your audience about what your opponent is doing and how it is an attempt to mislead the audience. This will hopefully result in putting a mental asterisk next to those points your opponent earned and may even sour the audience on his future arguments.

That’s all for now, thank you for your time.

Ups and Downs

Happy Labor Day everyone! As some already know I play quite a lot of poker, No-Limit Hold’em to be specific. I play online mostly with a semi-regular home game with my brothers-in-law. This weekend was pretty special for me as I won my first tournament on Full Tilt Poker. Now before anyone gets all excited it wasn’t for real-money (yet) and it was a 90-player Sit-n-Go but it was still a milestone for me that I’m proud of.

While it’s true that play money games are not realistic at all, the tournaments, especially when you get down to the last couple tables, do up the overall skill level quite a bit. Everyone is striving for a goal and by the time you get to the final table you’ve invested a couple hours so its decent practice in tournament strategy. I’ve been getting pretty deep in these tourney’s pretty consistently so it was really a good feeling to go the distance and win one.

This minor triumph gave me the boost I needed to try another live tournament at a local poker room (my first live tournament was a $100 buy-in multi-table with rebuys, so as a first tournament for me it was a disaster). I ended up at The Silks card room at our nearby horse track. After spending about 4 hours at the track waiting for the tourney to start (since the first event I wanted to enter got canceled) I lasted all of an hour, never winning a single hand. While kind of depressing its something you have to get used to in poker. You have to be able to deal with the ups and downs because after all, whatever skill you gain, whatever experience you bring to the table, all you are doing is modifying variance. You can’t control the cards that come out, sometimes you get hit with the deck and can’t lose while at other times it feels like everyone at the table can see right through you. The difference between a good player and a bad player is how you handle the two situations. When you are running good do you maximize your winnings? When you can’t get a hand to save your life are you minimizing your losses?

Thats all for now, thanks for your time.

September 5th event to be iPod focused, but don’t forget the iPhone

So it looks like the consensus of the web is that the September 5th Apple event will be dominated by the iPod. The reasoning is sound given that the iPod is overdue for an update, video iPods have been on clearance and Apple Stores haven’t been getting new shipments of video iPods in a while.

I think we need to consider something else though as well, which is that the iPhone is also in need of an update. Thusfar we’ve received some bug fixes (which aren’t even detailed in release notes) and no new features (with the exception of Web Gallery, but thats not even an option unless you have a .Mac account). The iPhone hacking community is having a field day adding applications left and right. If Apple wants to maintain any control over the device they need to start adding some value and quick. I haven’t hacked my iPhone, yet, but if Apple delays in updating the device for much longer I’m going to have to look elsewhere for my feature expansion.

What might these features be? You got me, see my other post about the built-in hardware features that are just waiting to be unleashed. I would be really happy if 3G were enabled and something like the Mail app was updated to include a “Mark All as Read” feature. Flash support would be pretty great as well.

Now I’m going to disclaim here that this is purely conjecture and not based on any “insider info”. I figured confirmation bias being what it is if I’m right I look amazing, if I’m wrong most people will tend to forget it altogether. Thats all for now, thanks for your time.

Logical Fallacy of the Week

Well, being an avid listener of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast I’ve become fascinated with logical fallacies. Once you become aware of them you start to see them everywhere: advertising, news broadcasts, political speech (practically a minefield of logical fallacy), even in my own thoughts. So I decided to share this little fascination I have by trying to post and explain a new logical fallacy every week. So here goes…

This week’s logical fallacy is a classic:

Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Translation:

After this, therefore because of this

Description:

Arguments containing this fallacy usually sound like “After I did A, B occured. Therefore A is the cause for B”. The fallacy here is that the person making the argument is assuming a cause and effect relationship between A and B simply because the two things occured one after the other. You will often hear this fallacy used in defending an action lacking in evidence: “I performed a special dance and it started raining, therefore rain dances work” or to associate a predetermined target with a universally agreed negative: “We never had a robbery in the neighborhood before the neighbors moved in”.

Hopefully you will enjoy learning about all the ways we human beings can be wrong in how we think. Thank you for your time.

SciFi’s ‘Eureka’, more than meets the eye?

After watching the the most recent episode of ‘Eureka‘ on the SciFi channel I have to say the show has graduated to a notch above guilty pleasure. In Episode 8 of Season 2 titled “E=MC…?” the creators throw another crisis at the residents of Eureka with most of the geniuses becoming idiots. The intriguing part comes with the ultimate conclusion of the mystery. As it turns out chicken that was consumed by most of the town contained a chemical that inhibits brain function. When confronted with the problem the farmer supplying the chicken repeatedly exclaims that the chicken is perfectly safe because it is organic and natural. I think the show creators were lobbing a subtle skeptical lesson at the audience with this one, just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily mean its good for you.

There is a lot of scientific evidence showing many types of herbs and plants are harmful to humans. Even vitamins if misused can be dangerous, even lethal. Billions of dollars are spent each year on alternative medicine in the form of homeopathy, vitamin therapies and other various quackery which result in many documented (and surely many more undocumented) cases where the treatment did more harm than good. I’m not going to sit here and stump for the medical industry but I will say that whoever has the evidence will have my ear and so far many alternative treatments simply have no good scientific evidence.

I was pretty impressed with the skeptical “moral of the story” that the writers were able to slip in. I think the show has more to offer than its hit-or-miss comedy and special effects. I’m proud to recommend it. Thanks for your time.

More potential for the iPhone

Medallia Blog: Fun with the iPhone accelerometer

Follow the link for a very cool hack for the iPhone, tapping into the built in accelerometer. Apparently the built in sensors are being pretty under-utilized for simply distinguishing between two different orientations. As the video shows the possibilities are really interesting.

I think “untapped potential” is a great label for the iPhone. This isn’t to say that I think the iPhone is anything less than amazing though. I’ve had pdas, smartphones, and internet tablets (n800 ftw!) and the iPhone is really the evolution of all those devices. Is the iPhone the most full-featured mobile communications device in the market? Probably not, however I do believe the iPhone has the most potential for making usable, always connected internet access in your hand more mainstream. My parents want an iPhone, my in-laws want iPhones, people who don’t own computers want iPhones. Yes, its a 1st gen product and there are strong competitors, however I don’t think any of them have the ability to bring about the kind of massive shift in mobile computing that the iPhone can bring about.

One item that I don’t think is getting enough press is the rumor that the iPhone is based on a platform that has GPS, 3G, Flash and Java built-in. Given the software-heavy nature of the iPhone it seems reasonable to believe that some if not all of these features could be “turned-on” via software updates. There again we have a BIG difference between the iPhone and its competitors. Most phones will never be connected to a computer in their lifetime. Of those that are occasionally connected for modem use or contact syncing will almost certainly not have their firmware updated. The iPhone is different, the iPhone will be almost universally connected to a computer fairly often in order to sync up with iTunes. This means that the iPhone can be updated much more frequently than any traditional phone, giving the folks in Cupertino the ability to slowly release/enable features as they are tested or as capacity becomes available.

I think that will do for my first iPhone post, thanks for your time.

Now this is a toy…

Farting Fun: Loopwing Wind Power Generator Set Generates Fun, Looks Like A Weapon – Gizmodo

This is awesome, its a DIY kit to build a toy wind-power generator. The wind generator charges a small toy car that you can drive around. I realize this is a diminutive version of Al Gore’s wet dream but it is cool nonetheless.

Ambient Orb power-usage hack reduces energy consumption by 40% – Engadget

Ambient Orb power-usage hack reduces energy consumption by 40% – Engadget

I used to have one of these. Actually I probably have it out in the shed somewhere. The Ambient Orb is an orb of frosted glass that is lit from within by an led that is capable of a large range of colors. The orb used a cellular pager system to receive data like stock quotes and weather. When the orb received this data it would pulse in different color shades corresponding to the data; stock goes down it pulses red, stock goes up green, etc.

Ambient also offered a developer system whereby you could create your own data “feeds” that you could subscribe your orb to. At the time a friend and I were working on an enterprise patch management system. We had the neat idea that we could distill all this patch status data down to a continuum representing the overall threat to a computer network. We could then generate one of these orb data feeds using this continuum. The end effect would be that a network admin could have one of these slick little orbs sitting on his desk and would know at a glance how safe his network was by the color the orb was displaying. Cool eh?

After some work with varying success (I don’t think Ambients’ network was quite up to snuff yet) we got distracted and moved on. Even though it didn’t work it was still a good idea.

Thanks for your time, MJ