Does reason exist among religious people?

The title should read “[[theist]]”, not “religious”, people, but I sacrificed correctness for impact. I didn’t want the reader to spend time wondering what a theist is (if you wonder it now, a theist is someone who is almost, but not 100%, an atheist: one that disbelieves in all gods, except one).

I recently stumbled across an essay by David Anderson (a very religious fellow, or at least theist), where he asks: “Does Richard Dawkins exist?”. He makes a parallelism between [[Richard Dawkins]]’s arguments supporting doubts about (some) god’s existence (in his book [[The God Delusion]]), and similar arguments against the existence of Dawkins himself.

Apparently, the argument of Anderson’s essay (I’ll sumarize here, for those readers with severe fallacyfobia, who could suffer a seizure if they read the original), goes as follows: Dawkins, in his book, offers some arguments against the assumption that god exists. These arguments are based mainly on skepticism. Anderson (thinks he) applies the same reasoning to Dawkins himself, and concludes that Richard Dawkins must not exist. Since this is apparently ridiculous, Anderson has cleverly shown how stupid we were for believing Dawkins, and how “Hyper-scepticism” is bad. What he fails to tell us is, then, what alternative mindset he recommends… “hyper-gullibility”, perhaps?

I will debunk this theist zealot’s points with three both alternative and additive propositions. The first one is that Dawkins’s existence does not need to be proven to reasonable people (god’s does). However, if it needed to be proven, it could be (god’s can’t). Thirdly, if Dawkins’s existence could not be proven, the validity of the arguments in his (alleged, maybe he doesn’t exist) book would hold just the same (the Bible has no validity if there is no god to back it up).

If you’re not into never-ending dissertations (unlikely, if you read so far), you can skip the first two sections, and head directly to “The existence of Richard Dawkins is irrelevant”.

Dawkins’s existence does not need to be proven

The very essence of skepticism is not to doubt about everything, but about anything that defies our logic, experience or widely accepted principle. We (should) build our ideas by piling up our experiences, such as “things fall towards the ground” or “banks have no scruples”. It is only fair that we should apply skepticism to concepts that defy those ideas, not to the ones perfectly fitting. If my sister told me “I hurled the ball through the window, and it fell on a car”, I would tend to believe her. If she told me the ball suddenly turned upwards and headed for the Moon instead, I would tend not to believe her. Of course, the first claim could also be false: maybe she didn’t hurl the ball at all, or she did, but it landed on the road, not on a car. But it is the second claim (the ball heading for the Moon) that deserves skepticism.

Similarly, it might well be that Richard Dawkins does not exist, but the simplest explanation is that he does. One could have seen him on TV, or read one book allegedly by him. One could have a friend who went to a talk by Dawkins, or an uncle who studied in the same highschool as he did. Yes, the guy on TV could be fake, the book could have been forged, your friend can lie to you about the talk, and your uncle might just have Alzheimer’s. But the simplest explanation is that there is some guy by the name Richard Dawkins. Skepticism would make us place the burden of proof on anyone claiming the opposite. At the very least, we would need some evidence that the notion of his existence is not reasonable. For example: the existence of [[Clark Kent]] could be accepted as reasonable (shy men with glasses working for newspapers are known to exist), whereas that of [[Superman]] would grant some skepticism (flying aliens with X-ray eyes and unlimited strength are scarce in my neighborhood).

On the other hand, god is our Superman here. It does fall (far, far away) beyond what is reasonable, so skepticism is required. Many, if not all, what we experience every single day of our lives would be mistaken if god existed. Obviously, it could well be the case, but it stands to reason that we should doubt it.

The existence of Richard Dawkins can be reasonably proven

I don’t mean so much that Dawkins actually exists, as that there are ways to find out if he does. For example, David Anderson could offer all his money to anyone coming to him and convincing him that they are Richard Dawkins. If I were Dawkins, I would go! I seriously doubt Anderson is such a die-hard skeptic that he’d risk making that claim. On the other hand, I have no problem in imagining Dawkins taking the same vow towards god, and never ever losing the money, of course.

One could find “Dawkins” in the telephone guide of Oxford, England, and visit them all, until one meets the guy in [[Richard Dawkins|this Wikipedia article]]. With god, we have no picture. This should be no problem, as god is everywhere. However, apparently there is no way of meeting him, having a conversation with him (other than a monologue), or even devising any course of action that would result in an outcome if god existed, and in a different one if it didn’t exist. Please re-read this last sentence until you are fully aware of its meaning: it is impossible to even imagine any test that would have one of two results (lets say, “positive” and “negative”) depending of god existing or not. With Dawkins, let’s say it is possible.

The existence of Richard Dawkins is irrelevant

OK, you got me. I confess: Dawkins does not exist. It was all a hoax.

The question is: so what? Dawkins is just a guy presenting some arguments that stand on their own. We do not concur with Dawkins because he exists, but because the arguments themselves convince us. Dawkins’s works, his books, interviews, talks and arguments in general, would have the same validity if they had been produced by a monkey on crack, just as 2+2=4 holds regardless of it being said by Einstein or Hitler.

On the other hand, the Bible (or Qur’an, or whatever “sacred” text) has only meaning as long as one believes there is a god authoring it. Most, if not all, of its content coud be called unreasonable, unfair, outrageous, insane, false or simply wrong, except for the little detail that it’s the word of god. Well, if god wrote it, it must be right. After all, the guy is all-knowing. Religions, and all that is sacred, stand solely on the argument of authority: god said it, so it’s the pure, unadulterated, Truth. Period. Anyone with an IQ over absolute zero can find a [[begging the question|circular argument]] here: god exists because the sacred text says so, the text is sacred because it’s god’s work.

The arguments in The God Delusion would have the same validity (or lack of it), even if it were written by a schizophrenic kid. His talks would mean no less (and no more) if given by a gorilla in disguise. His appearances on video would convey the same message (or misinformation) if they were all computer-generated by a 10-line [[Python (programming language)|Python]] script written by rabid rabbits randomly biting a keyboard.

I suggest the reader think about the effect of knowing that the Bible was actually written by a schizophrenic kid (which, by the way, some of its contents seem to suggest), that all alleged apparitions of the virgin Mary were gorillas in disguise, and that the 10 commandments are actually a 10-line Python script, written by rabid rabbits randomly biting a keyboard.

See the problem with the Dawkins/god, Bible/The God Delusion parallelism?

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The nightmare of tagging multiple photos with digiKam, and a hacky way around it. Part II

Yesterday I posted about how to put multiple tags in tons of pictures, with [[digiKam]]. Apparently, the method I described there does not work (blame it on digiKam, of course). Still, the post makes for an interesting reading (hey, I am the author. What would I say?).

Here I’ll describe a new way to acomplish what the previous method couldn’t. If you want to know what on Earth I’m talking about, read the The problem section of the previous post.

Fairy tale-like solution

I found out how to implement a solution much like the one in the Fairy tale solution section of my previous post. Question: what is the next best thing to a single keystroke to tag a file? Answer: a single mouse click.

Following our ideal method, we will do a visual scan of all photos, one by one, succesively tagging (or ignoring) each file in which a certain person appears (or doesn’t). The tagging will be done by a single mouse click (right hand always on mouse), and the photos will advance with space bar strokes (left thumb always on space bar).

To do so, one must go to the first picture in the set, and maximize it. Next, open the right panel, and go to the Captions/Tags tab. Find the tag of the person you are dealing with in the tag tree, and place the mouse over it. See the following screenshot (click on it to maximize):

I assure you the fabled person A is hidding somewhere within those Cuban trees

Now, place your left hand on the keyboard (to hit the space bar), and let the fun begin. Each time person A appears in a photo, left-click with the mouse (never ever move the pointer from the tag. Space bar will make the photos advance wherever the mouse pointer is). When it doesn’t, ignore and go on. When you reach the last pic, rinse, and repeat for persons B through Z.

With this method I tagged 197 pictures in under one hour yesterday. A bit over 3 pictures tagged per minute does not look too impressive, but the 197 pictures contained 9 different persons (9 tags to apply), each one of which appeared in roughly 30 pictures. This means I did 9 slide shows of all the pictures, applying a total of more than 250 tags.

Linearly scaling method

The above method is very fast with respect to each tag applied. However it scales up quite badly, because it is slower the more pictures one has to tag (obviously), and also the more different tags one is applying (one full scan of the picture set per individual tag to apply). The dependency with pic count is unavoidable, but let’s see if we can devise a way to reduce the impact of the latter.

We begin by grouping all the potential tags (say, all people who appear in the set of pictures) within a single parent tag (see following screenshot):

A’s friend, C, is somewhere over there, as well. Do you C him?

Now, we can follow steps similar to the ones above, for the fairy tale method, but for each picture we will apply tags for all people appearing in it. This will make tagging each picture slower, but will require a single pass. Doesn’t a single N-times-slower pass take as long as N fast passes? Yes. But recall our single pass here will not take N times longer (assuming N people to tag for). A lot of pictures with no people on it will be just as fast to (not) tag as in the method above, plus most photos will feature one or two people, and very seldom will all N people appear together, so this single pass will not be N-times slower than our N passes above.

[Update]: After writing this post, I put the second method here to test, and tagged almost 1300 pics in one hour!

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The nightmare of tagging multiple photos with digiKam, and a hacky way around it

[Update and big fat warning]: apparently, renaming or moving files does mess with the tags the image already has. A way around this, and maybe a generally good idea (use your own judgement on that one), is to make digiKam save the tags as [[metadata]] into the picture files themselves. On the con side, tagging your pictures will actually modify the files (maybe you don’t want that), but on the pro side, the tags will travel along with the files, no matter what name or location they have (even to other computers, which may or may not be what you want).

[Update #2]: apparently the metadata approach doesn’t work either. It seems that each time a tag is assigned, the metadata is immediately saved (which is great), but only the tags digiKam is aware of at that moment. Also, digiKam is not immediately aware of the tag metadata of the pics it’s showing (you have to tell him so, I think). Let’s say you tag a pic as “A”. Metadata for “A” is saved. OK. Now, you change the name of the file, and digiKam loses track of it. You rename back, and digiKam thinks the picture has no tag (the metadata is obviously still there, inside the file, but digiKam doesn’t read it until you tell it to). Now, you assign tag “B” to the picture, expecting the file to end up with both tags: A and B. Tough luck. The split second you tag the file with “B”, it is written to the metadata (OK), but only tag B is written (the only one digiKam is aware of at that moment), so tag “A” is lost. In two words: the following post is full of crap. If a third word is allowed, let me say that digiKam is too.

First off, let me admit that my problem might have a simple solution. Maybe my goal is much simpler to achieve than I think. But what I am doing seems fairly common to me, and a pain-free recipe to do it escapes me.

The problem

I use [[digiKam]] to manage my photo collection. A very handy (and basic) function of digiKam is to tag photos. I tag photos with three criteria: where it was taken (e.g. “Donostia”), the event it can be framed within (e.g. “Wedding of A and B”), and a tag per person that appears in it (e.g. “John Smith”, “Jane Doe” and “Janet Johnson”). It involves some work, but afterwards I can really easily find say, all pictures in which John Smith and Jane Doe appear together, in any place but Donostia. Why I would want to do that is anyone’s guess, but that’s offtopic.

Every time I have a batch of photos (say, a wedding or some holidays), I sit down in front of my computer, and tag evey one of them. Tagging by event is a breeze (99.9% of the time, the whole batch of pics belongs to the same event), and tagging by location is also simple (each pic has a single location, and many, if not all, share that location). However, tagging by person is a bit trickier. Each photo can have many (or no) people appearing on it, plus it takes a bit of attention to spot all people appearing.

When tagging by people, two approaches can be taken:

  1. Parse photo by photo, tagging each one once per person appearing on it. Don’t move to the next photo until tags for eveyone appearing on current one have been asigned.
  2. Parse whole batch, once per person. You pick a person, select all pics where she appears, then you tag all of them simultaneously. Repeat for each person.

I have found that, for large amounts of pictures, the second approach is fairly superior. However, it is not problem-free. Firstly, multiple selection is only possible in a grid view. That is, pictures are presented as [[thumbnails]], aligned in columns and rows. Even in the largest possible size for such pictures, often times there are many photos that are too small to spot all people in them. Secondly, having selected some dozens of pictures out of some hundreds, and mistakenly unselecting them by clicking where you shouldn’t, or failing to hold the Ctrl key when clicking (or whatever error whose probability to happen increases with the amount of pictures to tag) is just painful.

Fairy tale solution

I realized a hybrid method would be advantageous, but that’s where the problem comes: I find no simple way to accomplish it. I would like to be able to do the following comfortably: inspect the photos one by one, tagging each one in which person A appears. When all are tagged, repeat for person B, and so on. Right now this approach will take longer than either approaches above, because it borrows the worse characteristics from both (one-by-one tagging of method 1, scanning all the photos repeatedly, once per person, from method 2). The reason for that is that asigning a single tag to a single photo is cumbersome. You right-click on the photo, then select “Assign Tag” from the menu that appears, then choose a tag from the drop-down menu (and submenus if case be).

There is no shortcut that one can assign to some tag, or, even better, a single-key shortcut for “assign to this photo the last tag I have assigned to the previous one”. If there was, my hybrid approach would be really fast: take person A, appearing in picture 1. Tag pic 1 with “A”. Then go picture by picture (a single hit of the space bar), either ignoring the pics where person “A” does not appear, or pressing the “apply last tag” shortcut (a single keystroke) where she does.

Hacky solution

Of the tools that digiKam offers, which one can modify a photo in a way that the contents are not touched, yet we can group them afterwards based on that change? Easy: rename (F2 key). When you press F2, a rename dialog appears, with a field where you can enter the new name for the currently selected pic. The good thing is the field is already filled with the current name of the photo. So, if you want to rename a photo to, say, the same name but with a trailing dot, all you have to do is press the sequence: F2 + . + Enter.

Now, how on Earth would the renaming help? Well, we could use the above “trick” to quickly rename all pictures in which person A appears, making all of them have the same name, but with a trailing dot added. Then, we could Alt-Tab to a terminal, cd to the dir where the photos reside, and execute the following ([[Z shell|zsh]] syntax, translate to your favorite shell):

% mkdir totag
% for file in *.; mv $file totag/`echo $file | sed ‘s/.$//’`

That will put all files ending in a dot inside a subfolder called “totag”, renaming them back to their original name (chopping off the last character, which would be the dot). Don’t forget the fact that these files happen to be all in which person A appears. Recall as well that digiKam keeps track of the tags applied to each photo by its [[md5sum]] (OK, I made that up, but it must be true), so moving files around and/or renaming them (both things are one and the same, actually) doesn’t mess with the tags. (see warning at the top of this post).

So, once all pics with person A reside in folder “totag”, we can Alt-Tab back to digiKam, go to that folder, select all pics, and tag them all at once. After that, Alt-Tab to the terminal, and execute:

% mv totag/* .

The real beauty of using a shell for that (even with the apparently complicated command with the for loop above), is that you can reuse the commands trivially. For person B, once all relevant photos have been renamed with a dot, Alt-Tab to the terminal, hit the Up arrow twice, then Enter, and you will move and rename all files again in just three keystrokes (two of them being the same key hit twice). Alt-Tab to digiKam, tag all pics in the “totag” dir. Alt-Tab to the terminal, Up+Up+Enter (which now executes the mv), and you have the files in the main dir again.


Yeah, I bet right now you are considering whether my idea of what is “simple” or “comfortable” is seriously off. I’d still vote for the “Reapply last tag” shortcut in digiKam. It would make a three-keystroke step (F2+.+Enter, to rename) a single keystroke one (reapply last tag with shortcut), plus would make the steps involving the terminal unnecessary. But reality is a bitch, and we don’t have such a shortcut. I could either just rant about it on my blog, or go ahead and find a solution myself. I chose to do both :^)

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Los piratas también comen

Ya me perdonaréis que escriba dos posts seguidos sobre el mismo tema. Además en castellano, cuando procuro que el lenguaje del blog sea el inglés, simplemente por mayor alcance entre los lectores potenciales. La verdad es que muchos “artículos de opinión” me salen más naturalmente en el idioma de Cervantes, y además en este caso voy a responder a una columna publicada en una revista en castellano.

El caso es que ojeando el suplemento Mujer Hoy del periódico, concretamente el ejemplar de la primera semana de 2010, me encontré con un artículo de Julia Navarro titulado “Los escritores también comen“. En él, la señora Navarro hace una apología de la remuneración “justa” de los autores (concretamente escritores), y critica (por supuesto) la distribución de contenidos por medio de redes [[es:peer-to-peer|p2p]]. Como en el artículo se hacen una serie de argumentaciones falaces, y como los comentarios en la propia página me parecen un lugar exiguo para comentarlas todas, he decidido hacerlo aquí. Si lo considero apropiado, le haré llegar un link a este post mediante un comentario en (no es que piense que lo vaya a leer, pero bueno).

La señora Navarro comienza exponiendo su postura:

Perdonen que vuelva sobre el asunto, pero el debate está en la sociedad porque a muchos no les entra en la cabeza que “piratear” el trabajo ajeno debe ser delito y se han puesto de uñas ante la nueva legislación que cortará el acceso a internet a quienes se descarguen contenidos sin previo pago. Y no se me ocurre mejor manera que explicarles cómo se escribe una novela o cómo las escribo yo.

Tras esto, explica en dos párrafos el proceso creativo de un libro, y argumenta que tras cada obra hay un ser humano que ha trabajado para parirla y merece una remuneración.

Empecemos por la propia introducción: la Sra. Navarro confunde las modificaciones legislativas que el PSOE quiere hacer (¿o a hecho ya?) sobre el cierre de páginas web “piratas” por parte de una comisión gubernamental, y no jueces independientes, con la [[es:Ley Hadopi|Ley Hadopi]] de Sarkozy, que versa sobre el corte de la conexión a internet a usuarios “piratas”. No la culpo, porque en este circo mediático yo también confundo a veces de qué se está hablando. En todo caso, las críticas a la nueva legislación a la que quiere aludir la señora Navarro no tienen que ver con la “justicia” de cerrar o no páginas web, ni con si queremos “piratear” sin cortapisas, y evitar “previos pagos”. A ver si se entera ud., Sra. Navarro, que la ley lo que pretende es obviar las garantías de defensa justa de los acusados. Ya existe una legislación que contempla el cierre de cualquier sitio web que vulnere la ley, mediante decisión judicial (de manera cautelar si hiciera falta, es decir, antes de un juicio), y acompañada de juicio. Pero todos los juicios que en España se han celebrado en este sentido, han sido ganados por la defensa. Es decir, que el juez siempre ha negado la razón a la SGAE y a sus colegas (de ud.) autores acusadores. Lo que pretende la nueva ley es que, dado que un juicio justo no da la razón a quien interesa a la SGAE, digo al gobierno, sea una “comisión” (dependiente de la SGAE, digo, del gobierno) la que decida los cierres, cortocircuitando la via judicial (ya sabe ud., la separación de poderes que dice la Constitución, que es un libro también).

Sigamos por el desarrollo. Argumenta la Sra. Navarro que, dado que escribir (“crear”, como dicen los pretenciosos artistas), cuesta un esfuerzo, los artistas merecen una retribución:

Imagino que lo mismo les sucede a quienes escriben una canción, un guión o una serie de televisión. O a quienes ponen voz a esa canción o interpretan un libreto. Ese esfuerzo para crear no es mayor ni menor que ejercer la abogacía o limpiar la vía pública. Cada trabajo tiene detrás a un ser humano que merece recibir una retribución.

Esto, Sra. Navarro, es simple y llanamente falso, y dejar una pluma en manos de alguien que no lo sepa podría ser considerado imprudencia temeraria. Como ud. bien sabe, en un mercado libre capitalista (que es el que me dicen que nos rige en España, y creo que a ud. también), el precio de los bienes no está marcado por lo que cueste el producirlos, sino por lo que el comprador está dispuesto a pagar. Por poner un ejemplo absurdo, a un insomne puede costarle tanto dormir como a ud. escribir un libro, pero ello no significa que el insomne “merezca” una retribución por sus esfuerzos. Es más, y hablando de ejemplos, yo voy a seguir el suyo y le voy a hablar de mi vida como “pirata”, que diría ud.

Todo empieza con una crítica, una noticia, un anuncio… Digamos que un amigo me dice que cierta serie de TV es muy buena. La busco en una red p2p, y la encuentro. Mi conexión es muy lenta, así que tengo que ser selectivo con lo que bajo, porque tarda mucho. La pongo a bajar, y tras semanas, la tengo entera. Bien, esto es el primer paso, pero no siempre el último. Hete aquí que me la he bajado en inglés, porque prefiero las versiones originales, y porque hay más gente angloparlante compartiendo ficheros. Mi dominio del inglés es bastante aceptable, pero unos subtítulos vendrían bien. Me pongo a buscar subtítulos (para cada uno de los 25 capítulos de cada una de las 5 o 10 temporadas de la serie), y a seleccionar entre los que encuentro (no todos están igual de bien). Ahora tengo un problema: la sincronización no es perfecta. Los subtítulos salen 2 segundos antes que los actores hablen. Bueno, me hago un programilla que toma un fichero de subtítulos y lo adelanta o atrasa un tiempo arbitrario. Por amor al arte. Cuando lo termino, veo que atrasar 2 segundos los subtítulos no es suficiente, porque además lo que en el subtítulo son 10 segundos, en el vídeo son 10.5 segundos (la velocidad de reproducción no es idéntica). Bueno, modifico mi programa para permitir también “estirar” o “encoger” el subtítulo, y lo uso para adecuar el subtítulo al vídeo. Tras innumerables pruebas, veo que atrasando 2.3 segundos y estirando por un factor 1.0525 los subtítulos, estos encajan. Ya terminé el capítulo 1 de la temporada 1. Cuando pruebo el capítulo 2 veo que esos mismos factores de atraso y estiramiento no me valen. Resulta que para el segundo tengo que adelantarlos 1.1 segundos, y estirarlos un factor 1.063. Y suma y sigue.

Tras sudar un poquito subtitulando 250 capítulos (con un programa que yo mismo programé), pienso que, ya puestos, puedo recodificar el poco optimizado vídeo en [[es:DivX|DivX]] a [[es:x264|x264]], que permite mantener la calidad de imágen con un tamaño menor de fichero. Además, decido cambiar el contenedor de [[es:AVI|AVI]] a MKV ([[es:Matroska|Matroska]]), porque este último permite añadir varias pistas de audio, o varios subtítulos diferentes, todo en un mismo fichero. ¡Incluso el mismo video ocupa hasta un 5% menos en MKV que en AVI, sin variar el codec! Pero recodificar un video no es cosa de 5 minutos. Intel me agradece que me gastara dinerito en un procesador capaz, entre otras cosas, de recodificar video a una velocidad aceptable. La compañía eléctrica me agradece el gasto que mi ordenador hace cuando recodifico esos vídeos durante decenas de horas. Y nadie me agradece el tiempo que he gastado aprendiendo sobre codecs y vídeos y leches, para llegar a la conclusión de que vídeos x264 en contenedores MKV son buena opción.

Tras subtitular y recodificar los vídeos, veo que los nombres de los mismos son desafortunados. Contienen espacios, comas y signos de interrogación o exclamación, cosa desaconsejable en un nombre de fichero. Además no incluyen los nombres de los capítulos, sólo los números. Bueno, pues me hago un viaje a la Wikipedia, y busco los títulos de esos capítulos, y gasto un tiempo renombrando todos los ficheros.

Ahora que tengo los capítulos de esa serie que me gusta en un formato compacto, de buena calidad de imagen pero poco tamaño, con los subtítulos sincronizados y con nombres más cómodos y sensatos, ¿qué hago? Pues decido ser buen vecino, y compartir el resultado de mi trabajo. Lo cuelgo en la red p2p donde lo obtuve en primer lugar, anunciando que es una versión “mejor” (perdón por la soberbia) de la otra (la que yo bajé). Claro que, dado que mi conexión es asimétrica (como todas en España) tardo en subirla más de el doble de lo que tardé en bajarla. Dado que mi conexión es lenta, eso supone semanas o meses. Pero lo hago, por amor al arte.

Y tras este esfuerzo, que lo es, y tras hacerlo todo por amor al arte, porque la serie me gusta y quiero compartirla, y porque mis buenos sentimientos hacia otros usuarios de p2p me llevan a devolver el bien que ellos me hacen cuando ellos comparten lo que tienen conmigo… tras todo eso, ¿recibo una recompensa? ¿Recibo una “justa retribución”? Pues no, lo único que recibo de gente como ud. es insultos, llamándome “ladrón”. Incluso mi gobierno, en vez de loar mi actitud de defensa de la calidad de la cultura (me he esforzado por mejorar la experiencia de quien disfruta de esa serie) de manera desinteresada, me criminaliza. Me amenazan con cortarme la conexión, como en Francia. Me dicen que quiero todo “gratis total”. Por favor, reflexione dos veces antes de volver a insultarme.

Como broche final, pasemos a la postdata:

Sólo les pido a los piratas que piensen por un momento en qué sucedería si los demás consideráramos que su “trabajo”, el que hagan, debe de ser gratis total. Seguro que no les gustaría. ¿A qué no? Pues a quienes escriben, cantan, interpretan y crean tampoco nos gusta.

Esta argumentación es trístemente ubícua; la usan mucho. El problema es que es tan torticera que merece no una, sino 3 respuestas:

1) Si por “piratas” se refiere a usuarios de p2p como yo, la redirijo a los párrafos de más arriba y le contesto que mi “trabajo” ya es “gratis total”, ¿no lo ve? Mi trabajo como “pirata” consiste en distribuir contenidos y mejorarlos con un esfuerzo que nadie agradece, excepto de la manera que yo más aprecio: haciendo ellos también ese trabajo con otra serie, película o canción, y haciendo que yo lo pueda bajar. Quid pro quo, que diría el Dr. Lecter. Y sí, no solo me gusta, ¡me encanta! Es maravilloso no cobrar por un trabajo, si ello implica que los demás tampoco cobran por el suyo. Crea un ambiente de buen rollo que debería ud. probar alguna vez.

2) Obtener contenidos de redes p2p no es “gratis total”. Pagamos unos precios abusivos por las conexiones a internet, que son la vergüenza de Europa en cuanto a velocidad y precio. Pagamos por los equipos informáticos, por los routers y modems de conexión, y por los medios de almacenamiento de lo que bajamos. Todo eso cuesta dinero. Pero es más, ¡incluso nos hacen uds. pagar un canon! Pagamos por un porcentaje extra por impresoras, CDs, DVDs, discos duros, tarjetas de memoria para cámaras… ¡todo! Y lo pagamos todos, “pirateemos” o no. En mi grupo de investigación de la Universidad del País Vasco yo hacía las pequeñas compras, como CDs o DVDs, y aunque este material nunca vió una canción de Bisbal ni un libro de ud., aunque en ellos solo guardabamos información relativa a nuestra labor investigadora, ello no impedía pagar hasta un tercio del precio final en concepto de “canon”.

3) Ud. no quiere cobrar por su trabajo. A ud. le lleva meses escribir un libro, pero no quiere cobrar un salario durante esos meses. Quiere cobrarlo de por vida. Y no en concepto de “esfuerzo para escribir” sino en concepto de “derecho para usar”. Le voy a poner yo a ud. una situación inversa a la que ud. propone: le pido que piense por un momento que el médico que le salvó a ud. la vida con 15 años al extirparle el apéndice le pide durante el resto de su vida (de ud.) un pago diario por poder seguir respirando. Al fin y al cabo, sin su actuación, ud. estaría muerta. Y al taxista que la llevó a su última entrevista de trabajo, ¿le pagó solo la carrera? ¿O le paga una fracción de su salario todos los meses, porque le debe a él el haber sido contratada? ¿Paga al fontanero que arregló su fregadera por cada día que su cocina no se innunda? ¿O le pagó solo por mano de obra y piezas?

3bis) Si ud. quiere negarse a escribir un libro hasta que alguien le pague 1000 o 2000 euros al mes mientras lo escribe, está en su derecho. Nadie la puede obligar a trabajar “gratis”. Lo que ud. no puede hacer es impedir que terceros hagan copias y compartan dicha obra una vez publicada, simplemente porque eso no le reporta a ud. beneficios. Comprenda que el p2p no compite con el creador, sino con el distribuidor. El e-mail ha hecho que Correos tenga mucho menos trabajo. Es más eficiente usar un medio electrónico para hacer llegar un mensaje, que escribirlo en un medio físico y pagar a alguien para que lo transporte. La Wikipedia ha hecho que las ventas de enciclopedias tradicionales bajen. Es mucho más eficiente buscar algo en un medio electrónico que en uno físico. La Wikipedia no cuesta un dineral, no ocupa un espacio vital, y está mucho más actualizada. Al igual que las cartas físicas con el e-mail, es razonable pensar que las copias físicas de obras culturales (CDs, libros) podrían desaparecer (o palidecer) ante la distribución electrónica (p2p). ¿Apoyaría ud. que el gobierno legisle en contra de usar el e-mail, con la excusa de que Correos pierde dinero? ¿O detrás de Correos no hay seres humanos que merecen retribución? Reflexiónelo, por favor.

Comments (4)

Los trajes de Camps y la desfachatez humana

Ya lo sé: hace casi un mes que se archivó la causa contra [[Francisco Camps]] por los trajes que supuestamente le regalaron como posible soborno. El tema está pasado, y se ha escrito suficiente sobre él. Pero bueno, a mí me apetecía comentar algún detalle de la decisión judicial, sobre la que leí en El Diario Vasco, y de ahí lo cito.

La Sala de lo Civil y lo Penal del Tribunal Superior de Justicia de la Comunidad valenciana (TSJCV) ordenó ayer […] el archivo definitivo de la causa abierta por cohecho contra el presidente de la Generalitat, Francisco Camps […] por recibir múltiples regalos, trajes y complementos en su mayoría, de empresas del caso Gürtel, la presunta trama corrupta dirigida por Francisco Correa […]

Hasta ahí, la exposición de la situación.

La resolución del TSJCV deroga el auto dictado en mayo […]. El juez consideró «una realidad muy probable» que los investigados no hubiesen pagado los trajes, pese a que ellos mantienen lo contrario, y descartó que los regalos fuesen un simple detalle social por las personas de que se trataba, el valor de los objetos, la reiteración con que los recibían y el probable interés del oferente por ganarse su gratitud.

Bueno, quizá había indicios en mayo que provocaron ese auto, pero ahora se ha visto que no los hay… sigamos leyendo:

El auto del tribunal señala que, aunque los cuatro imputados hubiesen recibido los regalos, no existe delito alguno porque ni Camps ni los otros investigados, pese a ocupar los más altos cargos del Gobierno, podían desde sus puestos hacer favor alguno o asignar de forma directa concesiones a la trama de Correa, ni consta que interviniesen en las adjudicaciones por valor de más de seis millones de euros que organismos de la propia Generalitat dieron a estas compañías entre 2005 y 2007.

La sala, en contra de lo mantenido por la Fiscalía y el instructor, considera que lo descrito en el artículo 426 no se puede aplicar «de forma automática» a Camps, Campos y Betoret, […] porque para que se produzca el delito deben recibir las «dádivas» en consideración a «actos propios de su función». […] Dice que este «nexo causal» entre regalo y función no existe porque no eran competentes para realizar las adjudicaciones y la trama corrupta, por tanto, no tenía nada que agradecerles o por qué agasajarles, aunque de hecho lo hiciese.

Ahí está la madre del cordero: el nexo regalo-contraprestación.

Es decir: 2 de los 3 jueces (el tercero votó en contra) consideraron que si un empresario corrupto reconocido, regala algo al político corrupto honrado, y recibe algo a cambio de la organización a la que el político pertenece, pero no directamente de dicho político, entonces no existe “soborno”. ¡Qué correcto y justo suena, y qué pila de mierda más gorda es! O bien estos jueces son tontos y no pueden ver, o simplemente no quieren ver, pero algo pasa con ellos.

Está claro que un entramado empresarial corrupto como el del caso Gürtel nunca da duros a cuatro pesetas. No llegaron a donde están por hacer regalos y no cobrárselos luego. Es obvio que cuando un corrupto declarado hace regalos a gente poderosa (generalmente políticos), lo hace para granjearse su “simpatía”, y deja inmediatamente de gastar dinero en balde si no recibe nada a cambio (nótese la mención que hace la noticia a la “reiteración con que los recibían”). Para un empresario corrupto los sobornos son parte de su libro de cuentas: me gasto X en sobornar al alcalde para que me deje edificar y así ganar Y. Si la ganancia Y es menor que el soborno X, entonces se decide no dar dicho soborno.

Comprendo que la presunción de inocencia debe primar, y que cualquier político debe ser considerado honrado hasta que se demuestre lo contrario. Pero de eso a chuparse el dedo hay un trecho. La Ley debería prohibir TODO regalo a cualquier cargo público, simplemente por la posibilidad de que sea un soborno.

¿Y por qué no solo excluir los regalos que generen contraprestaciones, en vez de todos? Pues por una razón que la estulticia de la presente sentencia deja en evicencia. Quede claro que lo que sigue es un ejemplo, sin ningúna relación con la realidad. Si el empresario (llamémosle “Bigotes”) quiere sobornar al político (llamémosle “Camps”) dándole un regalo (llamémosle “trajes”) y recibiendo una contraprestación (llamémosle “adjudicaciones de servicios”), simplemente se necesita un segundo político (llamémosle “Adjudicator”) que sea capaz de dar dicha contraprestación al empresario. Entonces Bigotes regala a Camps los trajes; Camps regala a Adjudicator una muñeca hinchable, o lo que sea que a Adjudicator le ponga; Adjudicator adjudica los servicios a Bigotes y ¡todos contentos!

Bigotes tiene la adjudicación a cambio de los trajes. Camps tiene los trajes a cambio de una muñeca hinchable, y Adjudicator tiene la muñeca a cambio de las adjudicaciones. Pero la belleza del esquema estriba en que jueces gilipollas como los del TSJCV nunca encontrarán indicios de delito en tales actividades. ¿Por qué? Porque si bien es cierto que Camps recibió los trajes de Bigotes, no estaba en su mano hacer las adjudicaciones, y por lo tanto no dio nada a cambio a Bigotes. Igualmente puede que la adjudicación de los servicios fuera incorrecta, y quizá algún día se revise y eche atrás (aunque probablemente no). Pero nunca se considerará resultado de un soborno, porque no hubo ningún soborno: Bigotes regaló algo de forma desinteresada a Camps, y recibió una adjudicación (justa o no) de otro señor. ¡Viva la aplicación ridícula de la ley!


Microsoft produces crap, AMD eats it

It’s old news, but I just read about in in the Wikipedia article for the [[Phenom II]] processor.

Apparently Phenom processors had the ability to scale the CPU frequency independently for each core in multicore systems. Now, Phenom II processors lack this feature: the CPU frequency can be scaled, but all cores must share the same frequency.

Did this happen because of technical reasons? AMD thought it was better to do it? No. As Wikipedia says:

Another change from the original Phenom is that Cool ‘n Quiet is now applied to the processor as a whole, rather than on a per-core basis. This was done in order to address the mishandling of threads by Windows Vista, which can cause single-threaded applications to run on a core that is idling at half-speed.

The situation is explained in an article in, where the author mistakes an error on Vista’s account with an error in the Phenom processor (bolding of text is mine):

In theory, the AMD design made sense. If you were running a single threaded application, the core that your thread was active on would run at full speed, while the remaining three cores would run at a much lower speed. AMD included this functionality under the Cool ‘n’ Quiet umbrella. In practice however, Phenom’s Cool ‘n’ Quiet was quite flawed. Vista has a nasty habit of bouncing threads around from one core to the next, which could result in the following phenomenon (no pun intended): when running a single-threaded application, the thread would run on a single core which would tell Vista that it needed to run at full speed. Vista would then move the thread to the next core, which was running at half-speed; now the thread is running on a core that’s half the speed as the original core it started out on.

Phenom II fixes this by not allowing individual cores to run at clock speeds independently of one another; if one core must run at 3.0GHz, then all four cores will run at 3.0GHz. In practice this is a much better option as you don’t run into the situations where Phenom performance is about half what it should be thanks to your applications running on cores that are operating at half speed. In the past you couldn’t leave CnQ enabled on a Phenom system and watch an HD movie, but this is no longer true with Phenom II.

Recall how the brilliant author ascribes the “flaw” to CnQ, instead of to Vista, and how it was AMD who “fixed” the problem!

The plain truth is that AMD developed a technology (independent core scaling) that would save energy (which means money and ecology) with zero-effects on performance (since the cores actually running jobs run at full speed), and MS Vista being a pile of crap forced them to revert it.

Now, if you have a computer with 4 or 8 cores, and watch a HD movie (which needs a full-speed core to decode it, but only one core), the full 8 cores will be running at full speed, wasting power, producing CO2, and making you get charged money at a rate 8 times that actually required!

The obvious right solution would be to fix Vista so that threads don’t dance from core to core unnecessarily, so that AMD’s CnQ technology could be used to full extent. AMD’s movement with Phenom II just fixed the performance problem, by basically destroying the whole point of CnQ.

Now take a second to reflex how the monstrous domination of MS over the OS market leads to problems like this one. In a really competitive market, if a stupid OS provider gets it wrong and their OS does not support something like CnQ properly, the customers will migrate to other OSs, and the rogue provider will be forced to fix their OS. The dominance of MS (plus their stupidity), just held back precious technological advances!

Comments (2)

Comment on a Fox forum comment on Obama

Silly title for the post, I know. Bear with me.

Through the “random hot post” feature in WordPress, I read Fox forum post criticizing Barak Obama (I would’t expect that in a Fox forum!). In short, it says that the claim that women are worse paid than men for the same job is a myth. For a longer explanation, read the whole article

The thing is that I tried to comment there, but I couldn’t (when hitting “Submit comment” a [[HTTP 404|404 error]] appears). Bad page coding or anti-leftist filter? I don’t know, but I’m writing down my opinion here. Because I can :^)

I didn’t expect such right-wing ideas in a Fox forum [/irony]

I partly agree with the reasoning of the post, fair is fair. But the writer absolutely fails to stick to the logic he proclaims. There are two issues, that he correctly differentiates:

A) Whether men and women have different salaries “on average”

B) Whether men and women have different salaries “for the same job”

The writer seems to accept that while it is true that men earn more in A, in the more “fair” comparison B, the salaries are equal. I am not going to comment on B, because I have no data. For the sake of argumentation, I will assume that it is true that in the B comparison salaries are equal.

Now the writer tries to convince us that the comparison in A is unfavorable to women because:

a) women tend to not choose jobs with higher salaries.
b) women can not sacrifice themselves to their job, because they have to be good mothers

Let me disagree. The fact that, on average, men have better jobs does not imply that women do not choose them. Actually, it is more probable that what it means is that those on charge (men) do not choose women for those jobs. This is discrimination.

And about the point b, it is hard to make it enter some people’s skulls, but women should be “good mothers” as men should be “good fathers”. A home/family is a hard work for BOTH parents, and there is no sacrifice a man could do for his job that a woman should not be allowed to do. Maybe men are more willing to make sacrifices to their job (condemning their partners to stay home in the process), and maybe men are more allowed to do those sacrifices. This is discrimination.


First DreamHost disappointment

I will simply copy&paste an e-mail interchange between [[DreamHost]] and me, with a few extra comments (some data substituted by “xxxxx”):


Dear Iñaki,

Our system has noticed what seems to be a large amount of “backup/non-web” content on your account (#xxxxx), mostly on user “xxxxx” on the web server “xxxxx”.

Some of that content specifically is in /home/xxxxx (although there may be more in other locations as well.)

Unfortunately, our terms of service ( state:

The customer agrees to make use of DreamHost Web Hosting servers primarily for the purpose of hosting a website, and associated email functions. Data uploaded must be primarily for this purpose; DreamHost Web Hosting servers are not intended as a data backup or archiving service. DreamHost Web Hosting reserves the right to negotiate additional charges with the Customer and/or the discontinuation of the backups/archives at their discretion.

At this point, we must ask you to do one of three things:

* You can delete all backup/non-web files on your account.

* You can close your account from our panel at:
(We are willing to refund to you any pre-paid amount you have remaining, even if you’re past the 97 days. Just reply to this email after closing your account from the panel).


* You may now enable your account for backup/non-web use!

If you’d like to enable your account to be used for non-web files, please visit the link below. You will be given the option to be charged $0.20 a month per GB of usage (the monthly average, with daily readings) across your whole account.

We don’t think there exists another online storage service that has anything near the same features, flexibility, and redundancy for less than this, so we sincerely hope you take us up on this offer!

In the future, we plan to allow the creation of a single “storage” user on your account which will have no web sites (or email). For now though, if you choose to enable your account for backups, nothing will change (apart from the charges). If you want to enable backup/non-web use on this account, please go here:

If you choose not to enable this, you must delete all your non-web files by 2008-07-16 or your account will be suspended.

If you have any questions about this or anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.

Thank you very much for your understanding,
The Happy DreamHost Backup/Non-Web Use Team

My answer:

Dear DreamHost Support Team,

I fully understand your point. Though apparently sensible, a detailed analysis shows that the policy you cite from the TOS makes little sense.

Right now I have a 5920 GB/month bandwidth limit, and a 540 GB disk quota in my account, both applied to web use. My current use in this regard is less than 4 GB disk space (0.7% of my quota), and my estimated bw use at the end of the present billing period will be around 0.2 GB (33 ppm (parts per million) of my current (and increasing) bw quota).

Now, on the other hand, I have some 50-100 GB of data (less than 20% of my disk quota!!) that I want to keep at the servers (for whatever private interest, that I do not need to disclose, but I will: backup and data sharing among my different PCs). Keeping this data up to date could cause between 1 MB and 1 GB worth of transfers per day (30 GB/month at most, or 0.5% of my bw quota).

All of the above raises some questions:

1) Why on Earth am I granted such a huge amount of resources that I will never conceivably use? Maybe just because of that: because I will never use them?

2) Why am I prevented of using my account in the only way that would allow me to take advantage of even a tiny part of those resources?

3) In what respect is the HD space and bw used up by a backup different from that used up by web content? Isn’t all data a collection of 0s and 1s? How can a Hosting Service, ISP, or any other provider of digital means DISCRIMINATE private data according to content?

4) Regarding the previous point, how is DH to tell if I simply move the backup dirs to the folder? I have to assume that if I make my backups visible through the web (which I can prevent with file permissions), then it makes them 100% kosher, since they become “web content” that I am allowed to host at DH?

It seems to me that you are renting me a truck to transport people, then frown at me if I take advantage of it to carry furniture. Moreover, you are advising me to keep the truck for people and rent small vans for the furniture.

[snip irrelevant part]

Believe me, I am willing to be a nice user. I just want to be able to use the resources I pay the way I need.


Their answer:

Hello Iñaki,

1) Why on Earth am I granted such a huge amount of resources that I will never conceivably use? Maybe just because of that: because I will never use them?

Some people will. Admittedly, very few do, but to be perfectly blunt, overselling is actually a vital part of our (and ANY) web host’s business model:

2) Why am I prevented of using my account in the only way that would allow me to take advantage of even a tiny part of those resources?

That’s an exaggeration, to be honest. Anyone can use up to the entire amount of their bandwidth and space, providing they use it for the purpose intended. If we ever open DreamStorage, you’d be welcome to use that space for backing up your data.

3) In what respect is the HD space and bw used up by a backup different from that used up by web content? sn’t all data a collection of 0s and 1s? How can a Hosting Service, ISP, or any other provider of digital means DISCRIMINATE private data according to content?

Well, just as we have…there’s a ton of data in a non-web-accessible directory. That’s a pretty good tip that something’s up. By your argument, we couldn’t take down someone for copyright, or even child porn violations, as it’s just “a collection of 0s and 1s”, and who are we to “discriminate”? Our Terms of Service, which you agreed to 2008-02-22 at 3:39pm. If you didn’t agree, this simply wasn’t the service for you.

4) Regarding the previous point, how is DH to tell if I simply move the backup dirs to the folder? I have to assume that if I make my backups visible through the web (which I can prevent with file permissions), then it makes them 100% kosher, since they become “web content” that I am allowed to host at DH?

Honestly, we’re not going to let you off on some weak technicality. If you don’t wish to comply with the ToS, we’ve even allowed you the option of receiving a prorated refund, regardless of how far out from your 97 day guarantee you are. We have no desire to lose your business, but your truck analogy is almost there. We’re offering you trucks for transporting furniture…and we’re doing it at a nice low rate. But we do require you actually use them. We count on the fact that very few people are going to be moving furniture 24/7, but if someone wanted to use it to it’s fullest, they could. However, that doesn’t mean you get to rent the truck, park it somewhere, and use it as a free self-storage unit. We want the truck if you’re not using it for it’s intended

[snip irrelevant part]

Let me know if you have any other questions.


Jeff H

My final answer:

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the kind answer! This kind of support is what gives DH an edge over other hosting providers. Keep it up.

What I say in my second point is not an exageration. It’s the plain truth: if not for backups, I will never use 1% of my quota. I mean *I* won’t. Don’t know about others, just me.

It seems a little unfair that some guy with 500 GB of HD use and 5800 GB/month of bw use is paying 8$/month as I am (I don’t recall the exact amount), while I am using 4 GB and 0.2 GB/month. Then I want to use 80 GB and 30 GB/month and I have to pay an extra 16$. That’s a total of TRIPLE that of the aforementioned guy, while I’m still using 6 times less HD and 200 times less bw.

I would love to pay for some resources, and administer them as I like, be it for web, backup, svn, or whatever. What I meant with my third point is that 100 MB of my backups “hurt” the system as much as sb else’s 100 MB of web content, so I can’t see the reason to make the user pay a separate bill for “backups”. Just make ftp traffic count against the disk/bw quotas and that’s it! You could then stop worrying about “fair” use.

But that’s pointless ranting on my side. Thanks for the attention. I will consider what to do in the light of the information you provided me.


I just want to point out how ridiculous their answer to my third point above is. DH tells me that they should be able to discriminate my data according to content (or use), because the opposite would supposedly allow me to break the law with copyright violations or child pornography. To follow with the truck metaphor, I am renting a truck from them, to carry furniture around. Since I don’t use up all the space in the truck, and I have a fridge I want to move, I put it into the truck. Now DH wants to patrol what I carry in the truck, and tell me that the fridge is not allowed, because it is not “furniture”. When I complain, and say that what I carry in the truck they lend me is none of their business, they answer that it is, because I could well be using the truck for drug smuggling. That’s really lousy reasoning. If I use the truck for carrying something illegal, then the police will sort it out, not the renting company. It is the general Law that will tell me what I can use the truck for, not the renting company.

Comments (11)

Is my theory bullshit?

This post tries to sketch a rule of the thumb to quickly check whether an idea/theory/belief is utterly useless or not. I have admittedly adapted it from the [[Bertrand Russell|russellian]] definition of [[Science]]. Recall that utterly useless ideas are not necessarily wrong. They are just that: utterly useless.

There is a single basic question you have to ask yourself when you invent/encounter a flashy new theory or idea like [[Psychokinesis|telekinesis]] or [[homeopathy]]:

Can I imagine any conceivable way of refuting this theory?

If the answer is “no”, then the theory is bullshit.

If you accept this, you are bound to abandon the theory if someone comes up with a valid experiment at which your theory fails (if someone challenges your telekinetic powers and you can not shut her mouth, you must accept you don’t have telekinetic powers).

On the other hand, if you don’t accept the above premise, you must, without excuse, believe in any other theory that can not be proved wrong, such as the [[Invisible Pink Unicorn]] or the [[Flying Spaghetti Monster]]. Failing to do so will undoubtedly qualify you as an absolute hypocrite.

Now, the long explanation…

Proving something true is theoretically impossible, but proving something wrong is trivial: if I say that all swans are white, no matter how many white swans I see, I will never be sure that the theory is true. On the other hand, after the first black swan I see, I will conclude without doubt that the theory was wrong.

Thus, “proving” some theory is usually equaled to designing an experiment in controlled conditions, where a result is expected from the theory, and we get precisely that result in the experiment. Obviously, we could have obtained a different result, and our theory would have been proved wrong. It is precisely the fact that a different result could potentialy refute our theory what makes the desired result confirm it. It follows that, if there is no conceivable circumstance under which the experiment could have failed, our theory can not be disproved, and therefore can not be “proved” through absence of refutation.

Take for example a [[precognition|seer]] who claims to be able to see the future. Her theory is not necessarily bullshit: one can devise a test, failing which would mean that she is wrong. For example, one can ask her to “see” something that she can not access by normal means, and that she can not guess by chance, for example the next lottery winning number. If she guesses correctly, the theory is temporarily accepted. If she fails, the theory is dropped.

Not it comes the funny twist: any argument that tries to make the precognition theory above survive after a failure (e.g. “I do not control when I can see the future”, “I only see abstract visions that I have to interpret afterwards”, and so on… you know the thing), automatically turns it into bullshit. Directly. And that because of the little rule of the thumb I present above.

Comments (2)

Prisoners, queens and why we should bother about them

There are two concepts that I find very interesting, and that apply to many situations, from everyday life to international politics. One concept applies to prisoners, and the other to Royalty, but their long arms reach much farther.

The “royal” concept is that of the Red Queen’s race, taken from Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking-Glass (aka “Alice in Wonderland II”). This race is one in which runners must run the fastest they can to stay in place. To move, they’d have to run twice that fast.

The other concept is that of the prisoner’s dilemma. The dilemma is a game with the following rules (taken from Wikipedia):

Two suspects, A and B, are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal: if one testifies for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both stay silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must make the choice of whether to betray the other or to remain silent. However, neither prisoner knows for sure what choice the other prisoner will make. So this dilemma poses the question: How should the prisoners act?

The “ideal” solution would seem both to stay silent, but if you look closely, whatever the other player chooses, any single player is better off by betraying. So, any rational player should choose to betray, even though this leads to both betraying, and gives an overall lower payoff (higher punishment for both).

Now, for the third part of the title of this post… why should we care? Well, it seems to me that we can find all around us cases of Red Queen races caused by sub-optimal solutions to prisoner’s dilemmas. For example, it is quite apparent the rise in SUVs and all-terrain vehicle sales. People here in Europe seem to start following the silly North-American custom of buying the biggest vehicle available, regardless of usability and needs fulfilled. One of the pseudo-reasons given by sellers is that SUVs are safer. Why would that be? Well, because if a small car and a SUV crash head-on, the passengers of the latter are much more likely to be less hurt than the ones in the former. This sounds rational… but is utter crap. I don’t claim that people buy these vehicles for that reason, but it helps.

Now, let’s analize the scenario: it is true that in a SUV/small car crash, the SUV is better off. However, SUV/SUV crashes are worse for all passengers than small car/small car hits are. From that information, it is apparent that we are facing a prissoner’s dilemma (not counting the fact that SUV/wall hits are also worse). Buying a SUV would be betraying, and buying a small car cooperating. The buyer of a SUV hopes that all other players/buyers get small cars, so that her option gives her an edge over the others. However, if we all think the same, we’ll all buy SUVs, and then we will reach a betray/betray equilibrium, when a coop/coop equilibrium would be better for all. We’d be running a Red Queen race, only to end up in the same place: all with SUVs, instead of all with small cars… but all with equivalent vehicles (and actually worse, overall).

Another similar situation would be that of the arms race. We all know the story: two or more countries/factions increase their weaponry, not to be overwhelmed by the other country/faction, in a potential war. Now, no matter what country A does, country B will be better off stocking more weapons: if A stays unarmed, B can beat it. If A arms itself, B has to arm itself not to be beat. However, Both countries being armed (betray/betray) is immensely worse than both countries being unarmed (coop/coop). In both cases the war is deterred by the offensive/defensive equilibrium, but in the former the risk for a catastrophe is much higher.

We are fooled by governments and army leaders, assuring us that other countries will play the “betray” card (and arm themselves), so we should play it too. However, think of the fact that in their countries, the other citizens are told exactly the same about us by their government. An no-one seems to explain that the betray/betray solution is sub-optimal, and that coop/coop solutions could exist.

I have no solution for these issues… but, dear reader, maybe you could find it if you thought about it. Please, do.

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