Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tenant Mix of Shopping Malls

Yesterday, I went to Beauty World Shopping Center to see my family doctor. The waiting time was considerable, so I walked around the complex.

The major tenants were tuition centers, a large supermarket, reflexology shops and maid agencies. The mix of shops was insightful.

I recalled the tenant mix of Ten Mile Junction, a 'failed' shopping mall, now primarily occupied by tuition centers and a large supermarket. Apparently, such businesses do not really require a considerable flow of passing customers, and are instead able to draw in their own customers. Hence, the low rent of such 'failed' malls is attractive.

If we were to study the tenant mix of modern, bustling shopping malls, there would no doubt be sizable differences. This implies that the business models of such tenants is more dependent on high customer traffic.

It is interesting to be able to learn much from just the directory of tenants.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Food Wasting

A person orders a plate of food. He eats some, and discards the rest. Is this action of food wasting ethically wrong?

As queer as it might sound, I don't really believe that anything egregiously wrong has been committed. I would instead ask, what's wrong with it?

We might say that wasting food is wrong as food is precious. In the scenario, some food cannot be used for useful activities, since it is wasted. Yet, on closer analysis, this is flawed. Once the food has been served, the entire bulk of food is deemed useless to all other parties. In other words, whether the person consumes the whole meal or wastes the whole meal does little to affect other parties (assuming that not eating the meal does not cause the person to consume another meal, in which case waste has occurred).

However, we might then argue that the previous argument is flawed, since it assumes that we have no control over the servings of food. To provide an example, if we intentionally order five steaks while knowing that we can only consume two, then we are guilty of the crime of wasting a precious resource. This is a useful argument, but it is generally false. On most occasions, people do not order food knowing that it will be wasted. They might, however, order servings of food which would later turn out to be greater than their capacity to consume it. However, this is not morally wrong, as the intent is not to waste food, and the waste was only the result of a faulty sense of reckoning.

Hence, I conclude that it is generally not wrong to have discard leftovers after meals. Of course, there are many possible counterarguments, of which I can think of at least three, but I unfortunately have little time to address these points here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Man Who Did the Impossible

Standing on the top of a very high hill, the man vowed to do the impossible. He then went home.

As he was going home, he met a Greek philosopher with curled golden locks, and who wore a toga. The philosopher said "Fie Fie", and promptly ran away. The scene was surreal.

The anachronism of an ancient Greek philosopher appearing in modern times, while speaking (apparently) fluent Shakespearean English, jarred the man. Clearly, this was some sort of divine sign, with a deeper meaning to be deciphered.

The man then reflected upon the vow he had made earlier. He had vowed to do the impossible. On hindsight, it was impossible to do the impossible, for if it could be done, it would be possible and not impossible. Also, by definition, it was impossible to do the impossible!

Being clearly frustrated by this, the man decided to assault the writer of the story, whom had written him into a difficult situation with no good resolution possible. Due to damage taken to the head, the writer was unable to complete the sto

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Good-Enough Random Number Generators from Complex Systems

Given a sufficiently complex system, it might be possible to create a good-enough random number generator.

Of course, the definition of a complex system is lacking. In my usage, a complex system is one where it is extremely difficult to predict the next state of the system, as there are too many variables to consider. Such systems tend to exist in the real world, where there are many chaotic factors.

In particular, I believe that something that is inadvertently created by many users is considerably complex. For example, the number of web users online, or the number of students on campus at any moment, are both figures that are complex and difficult to predict.

One possible way to implement a good-enough random number generator from a complex system is as follows:

Using a number (for example, three) of seed words, google the seed words. Access the first document of the results, and analyze the document. Use the total number of words in the document, modulo by a small base, as the random number.

For repeated number generation, take the fourth, first, and fifth most frequent terms of the document as seed words for the next query, following the same procedure for repeated searches.

While it is possible that the same seed words would appear after some number of searches, the dynamic nature of the web (documents continuously being created and destroyed), the results would vary from search to search. Furthermore, the Google server being used might vary from time to time too.

Such a random number generator would be difficult to analyze and to predict the results of. However, it might be possible to control the results if the adversary were to be able to control the first seed words. For example, a search for a set of hapaxes would lead to a single document result, which could be planted by the adversary. Subsequent results could then be controlled in the same manner.

It would be interesting, though, to analyse the statistical qualities of such a random number generator. If any patterns were discovered, it could be indicative of a sort of pattern in online documents/search engines.

PS: The numbers in the random number generator are actually "nothing up my sleeve" numbers. They are the digits of PI. In base ten, of course.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Very Evil Scientist

The very evil scientist cackled as he put the finishing touches to his vile invention. He then pushed the button.

An ant was crushed by a heavy anvil. It was a sad occasion.

Delighted, the very evil scientist decided to proceed with the next phase of his plan, which was to modify more ants to feel pain.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Organ Trading

There are two weighty arguments against organ trading. They are:
  1. People might be coerced into trading their organs.
  2. Wealth becomes the sole deciding factor of whether someone gets an organ.
I do not believe that the first argument is totally valid. Firstly, the problem lies with coercion, and not with the trade of organs. To clarify, coercion is an external circumstance, and hence it is not indicative of any intrinsic ethical flaw in organ trading.

In other words, stop coercion, and there would be no problems. While my statement might sound foolish, it is not unfounded. People can be coerced into many things- into selling their apartment for pennies, into forced sex, into committing murder or suicide. The key issue here is not to prevent organ trades, but to ensure that coercion is prevented. Admittedly, this is in practice extremely difficult, but it is not something to dismiss as impossible.

The second concern is less obvious, but is of greater validity. To illustrate, consider the case of a patient A, who is of average wealth but due to die in a month if no organs were available. Patient B has a year to live, but has enormous resources. Under a free-market system, if both were to buy organs, and if supply was insufficient, clearly B would get the organ, although he might be considered as being less deserving. Hence, the key problem with organ trading (under a free market framework) is that wealth becomes the key deciding factor in organ allocation, which is ethically unjustified.

I would argue that this is a valid problem, but one which only exists if we were to adopt a free-market approach for the organ trade. Some, such as Mr Wang, have proposed an alternative trading framework for the organ trade. In such a framework, organs can only be sold to a central agency, who (on the list of patients on the buying list) to allocate the organs to, based on its own priority queuing system. Hence, organs would not be prioritized to the wealthy, but rather to whoever has the highest priority. Of course, to prevent abuse, the priority system would have to be transparent and publicly disclosed, and the priority system could possibly include factors such as urgency of transplant, potential usefulness of the organ to the patient, or even desert(as I have previously suggested in an ethics paper).

By breaking the direct link between buyer and seller, the system also effectively eliminates cases of coercion, as one would not be the direct and immediate recipient of the organs sold (barring the grim case of mass coercion, where one coerces many people to sell their organs). Also, as the central agency has direct participation in the trading process, abuses of the system are likely to noticed more quickly.

However, while the proposed trading system does plug many important gaps existing in the free market organ trading system, there are still some practical and ethical items to address. The most obvious would be the authority of the agency. Life is precious, and hence such a central trading agency must be held to the highest of standards, otherwise it would be worse than not having it. On the ethical side, arguments on the exploitation of the poor, or of using the poor as organ repositories, would also merit attention.

In short, the issue needs to be revisited at greater depth.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Island of the Lovers of Life

Once during my travels, I came across an island which was little known to civilization. This island was populated by a small tribe of natives, who were all, by some queer coincidence, capable of conversing in English.

The natives were all exceedingly friendly, and from their behavior and actions, I could tell that these people led a life unfettered by the tainted moralities of the allegedly civilized world. They lived with simplicity, communing with the wonders of nature. According to the head tribesman, the tribe lived by the philosophy of "Loving all life, and harming not a single plant, animal or living thing".

Of course, their lifestyle was considerably harsher than that of a modern civilized person, as evidenced by the thinness of the tribe members and the various oddly shaped scars that each member bore on their bodies.

They invited me to a meal, and I gladly accepted. At that point of time, I could not have anticipated the horrors that awaited me.

The first dish was a brown, hard lump of a strange item which I assumed to be some native vegetable. It was malodorous, and I lost all my appetite. It reminded me of some highly fermented dishes I had previously encountered during my travels.

I declined the first dish, and instead drunk the clear, syrupy beverage that each tribe member seemed to be taking in. It was an extremely sweet drink, almost as if it were made entirely of sugar and water. It was difficult to consume, but I downed it nonetheless.

The next dish was slightly more appetizing, consisting of a slab of some meat, which the tribespeople described as being "meat of dead animal". The dish was seasoned only with a light pinch of salt, and lacked all other seasonings. The dish was fine, but the taste could have been greatly improved by the addition of other seasonings. However, at the time, I dismissed it by assuming that such spices did not grow on the island.

The last dish was one where I realized the utter horror that I had been staring at and had not previously recognized. Three tribe members carried out the corpse of an old man, and presented it on the eating spot. The corpse showed signs of being cooked, and in fact clear cuts were made on the corpse to cleanly divide the flesh into neat slices, presumably for easy consumption.

I did not know whether fear or disgust overtook me then, but I vomited on the spot.

As the tribe members began consuming the meat, I froze in fear. Was I to be the next meal? Then, I suddenly made a fearful realization.

The thinness of the tribe members, as well as the strangely shaped scars on their bodies, could only have been due to one grim fact. This tribe practiced cannibalism, and the scars were caused by the periodic removal of flesh for consumption!

I must have fainted then, for when I awoke I was on a vessel out at sea. Some contrivance of fate must have occurred to whisk me out of the unspeakable danger that I had been exposed to.

A people who loved all life! In hindsight, it was clearly a deceptive title conjured to obtain my false confidences, although I sometimes wonder why the tribespeople resorted to such a ruse when brute force would have sufficed. Still, this was a question that I had no intent of finding the answer to firsthand.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Seatbelts and Personal Choice

An urban legend tells a story of an anti-seat belt law advocate ironically dying in an automobile accident. Some might find this funny or amusing. I would not.

I believe that there is a legitimate case against making seat belts compulsory. However, my argument is not from grounds of efficacy (which I am ill qualified to argue from), but rather, from grounds of personal liberty.

Indeed, seat belts save lives, and this is difficult to refute. However, this fact has no bearing over the issue of personal liberty. Ultimately, wearing a seat belt should be a choice left to the individual. The individual has to weigh the benefits and costs of wearing a seat belt against the benefits and costs of not wearing a seat belt, according to his own priorities. This final statement is of utmost importance, and is the key to my arguments.

Fundamentally, each person is different, and no two people will see eye to eye over every matter. Similarly, the weights each person assigns to different things will be different.

If someone, based upon his priorities, truly believes that the inconvenience of wearing a seat belt far outweighs the chance of death or disability, then he should not be forcefully compelled to wear a seat belt.

We might shout, "But a life is by far more important than convenience!". Indeed, most people would prefer life over convenience. But then, should the preferences of the majority dictate one's personal matters?

Indeed, the key concept of freedom is that each person is free to run his personal matters according to his personal preferences, no matter how queer and abnormal the preferences seem. We should not seek to make choices for others based on our own non-universal preferences.

In fact, I believe that the last statement is one which is extremely important. One of the major problems with humans is that we tend to believe that we know more than the next person. In our arrogance, we believe our non-universal preferences to be universal and seek to impose it on others. This ought to be corrected. Others should be left to their own devices, even if such devices are clearly idiotic.

Before I end, I would like to clarify a few items. Firstly, the paragraphs above are meant only to introduce the point of personal choice and liberty, and do not represent the entire case regarding seat belts. Secondly, the issue of seat belts is not entirely a personal matter, and does in fact involve other people (although, to a minor degree), hence the arguments from choice cannot be fully applied to the issue. Lastly, I would like to state that I personally do choose to wear seat belts.

The issue of seat belts is of considerable personal interest to me, and I might revisit the issue at a later time to more fully express my views over the matter.