Sunday, May 10, 2015

Digital Archiving

Once upon a time, the idea of permanence to our photos was never an issue (you kept the negatives). Nowadays, with phones becoming the de-facto camera for most people, few realize the importance of making backups. Your phone is one flick of the wrist away from becoming an expensive brick - they also stop working for no apparent reason and get stolen every now and again.

Here's how I cope with my digital photos, and my life's digital archives.

Step 1: Delete Almost Everything
This involves discipline. But as a rule, not many photos are worth keeping. Spending a few minutes every time you upload photos to your computer will save you alot of time in the long run and make your archives much more relevant and viewable. I shoot with a DSLR and Cellphone. Either way, I tend to take more photos, then weed out the not so good ones later. It's a simple way to take good photos. Pros do it, and there's no reason why you shouldnt too.

Step 2: Batch Resize All the Things
Full HD 1020p is only 2 megapixels. 4k is only 8 megapixels. That's how insane keeping 20+ megapixel images is.

Step 3: Keep Three Copies (in different locations)
I have no photos from the days of Friendster (the site went down). I have no photos prior to Form 4 (year 10). Yes, Facebook will likely be around for awhile. The same was said about Friendster...and Myspace... My point is, your photos are only safe if you have multiple backups.

Doing all three steps above may sound daunting, but it really isnt. You just need to be systematic in your approach. It's not rocket science, and is completely free. Here's how I do it (with no paid software).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Reality of Life

Reality. Here I stand at 29. Through my meanderings, I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience things both left, right and center. Just over ten years ago I stood on a podium (in highschool) advocating the segregation of boys and girls a (My friends dont believe me when I tell them that). I've also had my share of fun. Drink and erm...botanicals.. meeting many an interesting person along the way. I've had some rough times. I've had some good times. Met a nice female too. I feel that I am finally settling on the middle ground. Exposure to left and right has given me valuable insight and culled many of the prejudices I once had. There is truth in this world. Here is my story. This is a culmination of numerous essays and works over the past ten years. It is what I have learned after making many, many, bad decisions. This is not advice. You are welcome to interpret it however you wish. It is at best, my subjective opinion regarding life based on my experiences.

The Game of Life
It is very simple. Rather than ramble on about what it means to succeed (it means different things to different people anyway), i will ask you five simple questions:
  1. If you were to break a leg and needed a lift to hospital, how many people (excluding family) on your phonebook can you call without hesitation? The people you know will come to your aid and expect nothing in return.
  2. Can you afford one overseas holiday a year?
  3. How many times did you hang out with friends socially in the past month? Not acquaintances. Friends are people whom you know will attend your wedding even if it were 2 hours drive out of town on a week's notice. You may have many acquaintances, but few friends. You know your friends personally, as they know you too.
  4. Are you at an extreme of body habitus? Is your BMI under 20 or above 30? 
  5. Do you eat three meals a day, sleep 7 hours a night, and exercise at least once a week? 
Some things cannot be changed (eg. your height), but you'll be surprised at how much influence you can have over the three things above.

(1) refers to the people within your close social circle. (2) Is one of the definitions of "middle class"  (3) is a measure of connectedness, the antithesis of social isolation. (4) I have been underweight before from an eating disorder. It messes with your life in more ways than you can imagine. (5) Basic health.

Trust your instincts and never be blinded by the temptation. I speak not of sex/porn, or booze, or drugs. There is a far more insidious, dark, force that lurks within all of us. For it is always convenient to take the easy way out, both physically and mentally.
The mental avoidance of unpleasant thoughts is the single worst thing that you could do to yourself.
It is far too easy for..
  • the (physically) weak to tell themselves they do not need to be strong
  • the poor to tell themselves they do not need money to be happy.
  • the isolated to tell themselves they dont need friends (or that others are just too busy)
Yes, money does not buy happiness, but it is very strongly correlated with happiness up to a certain figure where the law of diminishing returns apply.
Yes, the physically weak do stand a chance at success, but their chances for success is far greater if they were physically strong: for sound body = sound mind.
Yes, some people dont need much social interaction (google "introvert misconceptions"), but even the most introverted of us do need friends. The irony is that introverts need close friendships more than extroverts.

Do not succumb to temptation. It will ruin you.

Body First
Working 7-day, 13 hour shifts, I now truly understand what it means to take care of yourself. Not eating or sleeping or even taking a 5 minute midshift break has a very real impact on my performance and alertness. Despite the long shifts, I eat two proper meals a day, and stay well hydrated and sleep as much as I can. I am also studying for exams at the moment. It is impossible to have mental focus without adequate exercise.
Your Body Is A Temple
I'll keep it very simple:
  1. Sleep enough.
  2. Eat enough.
  3. Strength + Cardio
It's stupid how much your life would improve if you ate three meals a day - yet it is something many people do not. I notice this doing very demanding shift work. Getting 7 hours of sleep on the other hand is more challenging. Cardio exercise once a week is a reasonable goal. You could swim / jog / bike it doesnt matter. Anything that gets your pulse up and keeps it up for half an hour is enough. Strength training builds your muscles and increases your metabolism: This is what drives a healthy appetite and increases alertness.

My message to you is this: Dont give up until you have at least tried. I know of many people who would bitch and whine about not having enough time to eat or being easily awoken by sounds - yet spent no effort to overcome their sleep deprivation or bad eating habits. Very often, I hear the same things:
  • I dont have enough time
  • Sound from traffic etc wake me up at night.
  • Im just a poor sleeper and have been all my life.
  • I am getting enough exercise because I walk to work.
  • Why should I bother putting in the effort? Look at X and Y, they seem to be fine...
Never give yourself excuses. See Temptation^ above. Ask yourself: "Have I even tried?"

If you were to break a leg and needed a lift to hospital, how many people (excluding family) on your phonebook can you call without hesitation? The people you know will come to your aid and expect nothing in return

Think of a friend (not acquaintance). Now, using your fingers, list ten points about said friend. Any ten points you can think of. Non physical things about their character/person.
Eg. Bob: Likes burgers; Has 3 kids; Dreams of owning a burger stand; Likes crime movies; Loves lasagna; Birthday sometime in July; Last met him over beers at Christmas; Talking about trip to Peru; Wife enjoys acting and plays; Big fan of Pacific Rim the movie.

It's more difficult than it sounds. I have only 3 friends who pass this simple test. They are my close friends whom I cherish.

Hanging out with people and getting to actually know them does take effort. It is very easy to make excuses (to yourself) as to why you dont know people as well as you should. It could be as simple as downplaying social events (eg. birthdays), or telling yourself that others are busy (before even asking).

I cannot stress this enough. See Temptation^ above. There are no excuses. Ask yourself: "Have I even tried?"

Ask yourself: If I were to drop dead today, who (other than family) would attend my funeral?

Different people have different needs. Extroverts for example need more social interaction and people around them. Hence I am leaving this open to the reader. Only you know how many friends you need. Ask yourself the important questions above. Are you satisfied? Or do you find yourself making mental excuses to feel good about yourself? Eg. Telling yourself you dont need friends or that you have enough. Only you know the answer. Answering dishonestly will be to your detriment.

This is something I cannot comment on as it is different for everyone. The bottom line is that you should aim to be at least middle class, which is defined as a person who can afford one overseas holiday a year with no difficulties. Ie. Having disposable income. Just because you have the money to spend does not mean you will have the time to travel, or people to travel with. Either way, do your best at whatever it is you are doing, and aim for the sky.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Freedom of Speech and Religion: Hypocrisy, Luke Skywalker, and The Charlie Hebdo Shootings

Charlie Hebdo was a failing tabloid style newspaper. Infamous for controversial cartoons that mock everyone from the political left/right, and every religion under the sun. It was barely hitting 60000 copies a week and on the verge of bankruptcy.

You see, freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. While everyone has the freedom to speak, others have the freedom to not listen. I would be one of those people. I find many of CH's jokes repugnant and offensive, not to mention subtly racist and insensitive. I wouldnt spend money on an english CH.

Then the Islamist gunmen came. They were offended that their prophet had been satirized by the tabloid. People died. And now, with all the publicity, CH is due to sell 5 million copies in 16 languages not just french. This does not even include viral digital distributions. Welcome to the internets - behold the Streisand Effect

France has had a long tradition of separation of church and state. The centuries of bloody chaos that preceded the enlightenment and renaissance taught them one thing: The separation of church and state. It also taught them the value of freedom and civil liberties.

Those civil liberties would ultimately result in the CH shootings.

You see, freedom of speech is a double edged sword. The Islamists have always been tolerated in France under the protection of free speech. They openly preach their religion, proselytize their kids, and spread their ideals. As a reminder, the bog-standard (Sunni) interpretation of Islam followed by a majority of Muslims include the following beliefs:
  1. The punishment of apostasy is death
    1. Children born into the faith have no option of ever leaving the faith.
    2. People who convert have no option of leaving the faith.
  2. Polygamy is permitted in all mainstream sects
    1. ...and, depending on the particular school of jurisprudence, encouraged.
  3. Gender biased laws, on the pretext of "protecting women".
    1. clothing
    2. inheritance laws
    3. family laws and family court
Muslims will give all kinds of reasons to justify the above, but that is the bottom line. Those beliefs not only violate the French (and just about every first world country's) constitution, but offend many other citizens. Note that the Muslims are a minority in France.

Regardless. Their beliefs are tolerated in France because of the free speech ideal.
  • The Islamists held protests on the streets held rallies calling out for sharia law.
  • The Islamists openly preaching their faith to anyone who would listen.
  • The Islamists segregated their children from society to proselytize them with religion.
  • The Islamists openly called others Infidels/Kafirs.
True to the spirit of free speech. They were tolerated.

Could you imagine what would happen if a  Jedi/Sith/Christian/Jew/Atheist/Scientologist/Pastafarian started preaching/proselytizing/protesting publicly in [name an Islamic country]?

The Islamists are calling for an erosion of the freedom that they are using to spread their ideals. The two shooters in the terrorist attack were both second-generation French born Islamists. If upon immigration the Islamists did not have free speech and could not indoctrinate their children sent to mandatory secular school until they are 18, the outcome could have been very different.

This is hypocrisy to the n'th degree. It's so glaring I wonder why more mainstream media is not reporting it...perhaps out of the fear of being non-politically correct or being labelled racist.

When Free Speech becomes Hate Speech
  • (1) [Luke Skywalker] is a fucking faggot.
  • (2) [Luke Skywalker] is really evil deep down inside. Those who say he is good fell for the conspiracy. [Darth Vader] is the one true master.
  • (3) *Draw a funny cartoon of [Luke Skywalker] on his knees in front of [Darth Vader] with his pants down (implying he's giving Darth a blowjob)*
  • (4) [Luke Skywalker] spreads a dangerous ideology. He needs to be silenced. His followers need to be killed or chased out of the country. We the Sith cannot tolerate this. [Darth Vader] will lead us to victory!
  • (5) We should rally against the followers [Luke Skywalker] and guide them towards the right (our) path.
  • (6) Let's march and demonstrate against the evil teachings of [Luke Skywalker]
  • (7) The followers of [Luke Skywalker] are infidels and heretics!
  • (8) The followers of [Luke Skywalker] are infidels and heretics! Death to the infidels! Especially since they offended the teachings of our beloved [Darth Vader]
  • (9) We the Jedi and the Sith must unite and kill the cartoonist who drew our beloved [Luke Skywalker] and [Darth Vader] in a dispicable sex act.
The Jedi [Luke Skywalker] and Sith [Darth Vader] are obviously placeholders. Replace them with [ your choice of character ].

Remember, your ideological opponents will be replacing him with people like Richard Dawkins (yes, you atheists are not exempt!), Siddartha, Lord Ganesh, Muhammad, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Jesus, Superman, L Ron Hubbard, Gandhi, Hitler, Moses, Lord Xenu, Joseph Smith or heck... Jenna Jameson.

My point is. When does free speech no longer apply and when does it become hate speech?
(1), (2), and even (7) are opinions. Anyone is free to voice an opinion. Free speech covers that. Note politeness is not the issue. One could have called Luke Skywalker a 'homosexual who enjoys anal penetration' or a 'fucking faggot' it does not matter. Either way, it is an opinion. Whether people want to listen is another issue. Also remember if Luke Skywalker were alive he can sue you for defamation/libel. Dead people or their families cannot sue.

(4) and (8) are obviously hate speech. It incites violence and hate towards real people - the followers of Luke Skywalker.

(3) is a drawing of Luke Skywalker. It's satire/comedy. Crude? Yes. Insensitive? Yes. Offensive? Yes. But is it hate speech? No. For the simple reason it does not incite people to violence against the Jedi's. People will laugh at the Jedi leader, but it does not inspire people to attack the Jedi's. Some will argue it actually makes the Sith look immature/childish in their criticism of the Jedi.

(5) and (6) are covered by freedom of speech and freedom of association.
 "If freedom of expression can be sacrificed for criminalizing incitement and hatred, why not for insulting the Prophet of Allah?"- Anjem Choudary, leader of banned UK Islamist group.
The answer is simple. Mocking/ridiculing belief systems is not hate speech so long as you are not inciting violence against the followers of said belief system. It is the reason the preacher has the freedom to ridicule/mock the western way of life and the "infidels". Freedom of speech cuts both ways. You want freedom of speech to preach and ridicule the western way of life in the UK? Well guess what, your opponents have freedom of speech to call BS and mock/ridicule your beliefs too.

(9) is hate speech...duh.

...But but the Jews/Christians are immune to criticism!
This is a classic red herring, but I will address it anyway because it keeps popping up in the discussion about Charlie Hebdo.
No They Are Not.
There is legislation protecting Jews from Anti-semitism in most of the western world, especially in countries formerly colonized by Germany and where Jews were actively persecuted during the war. This is to protect them against discrimination and hate speech. I stress, ridicule and satire is not hate speech. The Jews are still regularly the target of jokes, some of which are very crude.

I watch plenty of western comedies and talk shows, and it is not uncommon to see Jews being the target of jokes and ridicule - more so than Muslims, from my anecdotal experience.

South Park (now in season 18 and counting) ridicules Jews in almost every single episode, and depicted their prophet Moses as a a ridiculous flame. They also portray the JudeoChristian God as an ugly hippopotamus, with Jesus being inept and comical at his job. Yes, a long-running TV series regularly portrays Jesus as an idiot and mocks Jews in almost every episode.

...and depicts Christian Priests as gay child-rapists.
Guess what. 18 seasons later the creators of South Park are still very much alive.

Charlie Hebdo satrirized everyone. From The President to the pope to Jews to Michael Jackson. To say that Jews are immune to ridicule or that muslims are being targeted is simply not true.

...but Some Things Are Taboo Right?
I still cannot criticize the 9/11 attacks or the holocaust. That muslim comedian was arrested for supporting the CH terrorists where's the free speech in that?

Common misconception. You can make jokes about the 9/11 twin tower attacks. You can make jokes about the holocaust. This happens regularly on Comedy Central (daily show, southpark, colbert). Believe it or not, it's completely legal in the United States. You can even make a documentary about the 9/11 attacks being a conspiracy and sell it legally for profit (as the creators of Loose Change, a brilliant conspiracy theory, would attest to). People will be offended and hate you for belittling the deaths of the 9/11 or holocaust victims, and it is their right to do so. In the same way, Muslims have the free speech to express their anger at the publication of a caricature of their prophet. I cannot stress this enough. There must not be a double-standard.

Neither the people hating the holocaust deniers or the muslims hating the cartoonists are guilty of hate speech. Being offended does not mean that hate speech had occured.

  • if a US soldier said: "Let's shoot the next asshole that cracks a joke about the 9/11 attacks".
  • if a Jew said: "Let's kill those holocaust deniers"
  • if a Muslim said: "Let's kill those cartoonists who drew our prophet"
That would be clear cut hate-speech. To this day, while the Jews despise the holocaust deniers and are deeply offended, they have not been calling out for violence. The same cannot be said for the muslims. Unfortunately, some asian people (even hindus wearing turbans) have been shot in racist attacks post 9/11 in the states. That's how dangerous hate speech is people. It's no joke. There can be no excuse for it.

Now imagine if:
  • A US soldier says: "I support the shooting of the turban wearing gas attendant he deserved to die because of different views from our freedom loving 'Murica.
  • A Muslim said: "I support the Charlie Hebdo shooters"
  • A Jew said: "I support the eradication of holocaust deniers by Mossad death-squad"
  • A Golden Dawn thug says: "Yeah, those stupid immigrant chinks and arabs who got beaten up yesterday deserved it for taking our jobs"
That is hate speech. It's directly promoting terrorism/violence. It is not covered by free speech!

I always thought that prophets in the Muslim faith were holy, and that idol worship was forbidden. It does not make sense. Why would they get so upset over a depiction of the prophet Muhammad, but not the prophet Moses, or the prophet Jesus? Both Moses and Jesus are mentioned in the Quran and are considered Muslim prophets too. Why all the emotion over one but not the others? If there ever were evidence of idolatry this would be it.

The Charlie Hebdo shootings are quite possibly the biggest threat to free speech this year.

Surprisingly, this is not because of intimidation - the french have already shown much bravery and not caved into the demands of terrorists. CH had no choice but to publish an image of Muhammad the following week. Otherwise, the terrorists would have won and set a precedent: That violence can silence criticism of the [insert-belief-system-here] belief system.

What I fear would happen is an erosion of free speech. Increased state censorship. Increased digital surveillance. Increased stereotyping (of brown people, for "random" searches) and further division of the community.

The Price of Freedom
Is eternal vigilance.

I am of the opinion that (1) to (9) are inappropriate in facilitating discourse and believe that civil discussion on whatever issue is the most appropriate way to resolve conflict. There needs to be greater awareness of logical fallacies (such as red herrings above) and a higher standard of truth and reasoning in discussions. Every side needs to be aware that freedom of speech comes with the freedom to be ignored and ridiculed. Being able to say whatever you want also means that other people can say whatever they want about you.

This is what ultimately distinguishes a civilized society from an uncivilized one. Freedom of speech and freedom of belief go hand in hand.

Why You Should Not Buy Charlie Hebdo
Or equivalent publications.

Being offensive for no clear reason is a negative thing. Yes, freedom of speech may cover these publications, but ultimately they do not add anything constructive to the discourse on a particular topic. Keep in mind, offensive publications include other media too, including the publications of the religious/political right. These people are a direct threat to free speech as they will incite more censorship and surveillance. Avoid supporting:
  • Media that offend other people for the sake of offending, without any reasonable/logical justification.
  • The far right. This includes the more racist publications of parties like the Golden Dawn in Greece, Islamist magazines calling for an end to the civilization supporting their publications, PERKASA in Malaysia, and pretty anything coming out of the Westboro Baptist Church. You get the idea.
One can use free speech to call [Luke Skywalker] a stupid faggot-faced cunt. But I wouldnt buy a magazine or newspaper that calls him that for no apparent reason other than to offend. Similarly, it's not illegal to have very strong views on immigration and suggest that immigrants (who are mostly of a certain color) should be deported, but I will not buy said magazine or newspaper - I will also go out of my way to call bullshit on their arguments. Remember, freedom of speech works both ways. You have the freedom to ignore and criticize/satirize/ridicule other people too. Charlie Hebdo was heading towards bankruptcy for a reason.

The Bottom Line
Think of the countries in the world where a minority can express a view that the majority finds offensive but tolerates it. Would you like to live in said country? That's what is at stake here people. Freedom of speech is a civil liberty we must not take for granted.
I am not Charlie.
I am not Islamist
BOTH sides are offensive in my view....but it is their freedom of speech and they must be allowed to continue, unless they preach violence - then arrest them / deport them / detain them.

The Price of Freedom Is Eternal Vigilance
- Wendell Phillips, Slavery Abolitionist, on January 28, 1852