# If you discover a cure for cancer, do you have a moral obligation to share it with the world?

Philip on October 11th, 2009

Suppose you are a mad scientist performing experiments in your basement and you discover a drug that cures cancer. Do you have a moral obligation to share it with the rest of the world? What if you just sit on it and keep it to yourself, is that evil? Can the government intervene and force you to share your cure? What if you decide to sell it, but only at $1 million per dose? This is one of my favorite hypothetical scenarios because it really brings out some deep philosophical questions about morality, about what makes a person good or evil, and about if and when it’s moral to forcibly override someone else’s free will to make them do the right thing. Before I go into my answer to this question, I want to discuss how I perceive actions that people can take. An action can be good, bad, or neutral. A doctor saving someone’s life would be a good action, a murderer taking someone’s life would be a bad action, and someone witnessing a crime but doing nothing to help the victim would be a neutral (in)action. Instead of a simple duality between good and bad, I have added in a “neutral” category because there is a huge difference between pulling the trigger yourself and standing by and not stopping somebody else who pulls the trigger. ## Chess — Sibling Rivalry Philip on October 10th, 2009 We’ve got some nice sibling rivalry today, and I figured I would gloat. I dominated my older brother Chris in the game below. 1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bf5 5. O-O Nc6 6. c3 Qd6 7. Bf4 Qd7 8. Be5 Nxe5 9. dxe5 Ne4 10. Qd4 O-O-O 11. e6 Qxe6 12. Qxh8 Bh6 13. Qxh7 Bd2 14. Nbxd2 Nxd2 15. Nxd2 Qxe2 16. Rfd1 e6 17. Qxf7 Be4 18. Qxe6+ Kb8 19. Nxe4 dxe4 20. Rxd8# 1-0 Tags: , , , , , ## Double Or Half? Philip on October 4th, 2009 Today’s post is going to be a riddle; I figured it was about time for another one. You and I both have envelopes filled with money. My envelope contains either double or half the amount of money that’s in yours. If you want, I’m going to let you switch envelopes. Should you stay, switch, or does it not matter? The riddle itself isn’t actually the riddle (you’ll see what I mean in a minute). I’m going to solve this riddle for you in two different ways. Solution 1 Suppose your envelope contains$100. That means my envelope contains either $200 or$50. If you switch, half the time you will gain $100, and half the time you will lose$50. The expected value that you will end up with is $125. It is therefore in your favor to switch envelopes because, on average, you will come out$25 richer. Assuming that little x is the amount of money in your envelope, and big X is the amount of money you get when you switch, below is the simple calculation:

$E[X] = \frac{1}{2}(2x) + \frac{1}{2}(\frac{1}{2}x) = 1.25x$

## What comes after death?

Philip on September 27th, 2009

How did you feel in, say, the year 1810? Whatever your answer, that’s exactly what it feels like to be dead. There, I’ve solved the mystery of the afterlife.

I hate to break it to you, dear reader, but you have been dead for the past 13.5 billion years. It was only very recently that you became alive. Throughout the vast majority of all time, throughout all of the vast history of the universe, all of us, you, I, everyone, has been dead.

Other than “What is the meaning of life?”, the mystery of death is considered to be the greatest unknown question. In fact, a lot of people assume that this question simply can never be answered because nobody can come back from the dead. But people come back from the dead all the time!

I submit to you that “dead before life” is the same as “dead after life”. Why shouldn’t it be? Every time someone is born, they go from being dead to being alive. All of us know exactly what it’s like to be dead, because we each have experienced it.

It feels like nothing.

It feels the same as being unconscious, or being asleep, or being put under the gas to have your tonsils removed. Without consciousness, you cannot feel. The eight hours you spend sleeping at night passes in an instant, just like the previous 13.5 billion years, and just like the billions of years that will come after you die. It’s all the same; it’s all nothing.

## What Do Women Find Attractive in a Man?

Philip on September 20th, 2009

This is a post specifically for my female readers (obviously). Men of course are free to participate in the discussion, I just don’t want them wildly speculating about things they can’t answer. Anyway, for you women, what qualities do you find attractive in a man?

Before you answer, I’d like you to keep the following three things in mind:

1. Be specific. If I hear another woman say that she’s looking for a man “who knows how to have a good time,” or a man “who enjoys having fun,” I might just leap off the nearest ledge. That’s a non-answer: it’s safe to assume that everybody prefers having fun to being bored.
2. Be honest. When it comes to affairs of the heart, it’s easy to confuse one attractive quality with another. Take Alizee, for example. She is an unbelievably hot, slutty, young woman who dances really well. Because of this, a large number of men mistakenly think she’s: a good singer, intelligent, passionate, kind, etc. She may be, or she may not be, but there is no way to tell from watching her on TV, and it certainly isn’t why she’s attractive. In other words, look inside yourself and make sure you are honestly describing what makes a person attractive, not the qualities that you ascribe to them because they are attractive.
3. Explain why. If I tell you that Bridget Reagan is hot because she has wonderful breasts, that’s a good start, but why are her breasts wonderful? Why do breasts even matter? Let me explain: perfect breasts are like a perfect steak. You want to savor every minute of its succulent taste. If it’s too big or too small or too well done or too raw, it just isn’t the same. It has to be just right and just soft enough to caress with your tongue. That’s the kind of detail I’m looking for.

Okay! Thanks in advance to all women who take the time to enlighten us!

PS: Readers might also be interested in my other post, Do Men Enjoy Sex More Than Women?

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## The Monty Hall Problem Explained

Philip on September 14th, 2009

For those of you who are interested in going even further with probability, check out my followup post: The Monty Hall Problem Revisited: Delving Deeper

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## On Getting Fat

Philip on September 7th, 2009

I was fat when I was a kid. In elementary and middle school my belly was like a basketball and sometimes poked out from beneath my shirt. I would lay on the couch watching TV and go through boxes (yes, plural) of microwaved Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies. I really didn’t care about my weight because, well, I was a kid.

My mom finally made me take up a sport when I entered high school, so I started running cross-country because that’s what my brother did. I remember my very first day: I barely made it a quarter of a mile before I was heaving and felt like I would die. The rest of the team disappeared over the horizon.

I really don’t know why I didn’t just quit right then and there, but I kept on going and over the weeks and months I got in very good shape. In fact, I ended up playing basketball, soccer, and running track and field as well. My best mile time was 5:35.

Even in college, although I didn’t play any sports officially, I kept running and lifting weights and playing frisbee for fun. Plus, being in good shape for the ladies is never a bad thing, either. Those eight years of my life, high school and college, were easily my healthiest. I stayed right around 160 pounds with a 33 inch waist (and I’m 5’11″ tall).

During those years I also developed a philosophy: I was convinced that only idiots would ever allow themselves to become fat. I hated hearing women complain about being fat and ugly. “Get off your lazy asses and exercise!” I would think to myself. How hard was it to exercise one hour every day? I really believed that fat people deserved to be fat because they were lazy, and that they deserved all the scorn and disrespect afforded to them by skinny people.

But then something happened to me. I graduated, got a job, and suddenly started living in the real world. The real world where I no longer had time to exercise every day, where I no longer had time to cook for myself healthy meals three times a day. You know that old joke about college, “Studying, friends, sleep. Pick two.” That’s much more applicable if you replace “studying” with “working” once you enter the real world. There just isn’t time for exercise or “being healthy”.

It’s also much easier and cheaper to eat unhealthy. McDonald’s has a dollar menu, for crying out loud. Am I really going to spend my hard-earned bingo winnings on healthy foods and lots of time preparing them?

As icing on the cake, I also bruised the meniscus in my knee and couldn’t run even if I wanted to. I finally felt my body getting old. I wasn’t an invincible teenager anymore. My back was sore, my arms were sore, my legs were sore. Every time I worked out something ended up hurting. When I exercised (if I exercised) I felt like an old man.

It took about a year, but I gained 20 pounds and went up to a size 36. I didn’t realize it was happening at the time; summer came and went and suddenly I didn’t fit into my pants anymore. For the first time in my life, I had to buy new clothes not because they were old and worn out but because they didn’t fit anymore.

I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen to me? Me! The super-fit young man who could eat anything and everything and never gain a pound!

It was life, that’s what happened. All good things must end. I might have lost my old figure, but I also gained an entirely new philosophy: it wasn’t fat people’s fault.

Think about it. Getting fat is a slow and steady process that takes a lifetime. Nobody wakes up one day suddenly fat. I’m 180 pounds right now and 26 years old, and if I eat just 50 extra calories a day, that’s 2050 calories instead of 2000, just an extra half a banana, or half a cup of coffee, or half a slice of bread, or one bite of a cheeseburger, I’ll be a 336 pound walrus by the time I’m 56 years old. Don’t believe me? 50 cals x 365 days x 30 years = 547,500 calories of fat, and its 3500 calories per pound, which comes out to a gain of 156 pounds.

Being healthy is a full-time job, and not everyone has time for it. A lot of fat people are also poor people, who have to work multiple jobs and eat at McDonald’s not because it tastes good but because it’s cheap and all they can afford. Some people suggest that we should force fat people to pay extra health-care premiums to make up for the fact that they’ve made unhealthy choices. Really? Do we really want to hit those poor people when they are down?

(I don’t believe even smokers should have to pay extra premiums. My former roommate was a smoker, but that was because her mom bought her cigarettes when she was 12 and kept buying them for her for the next 10 years. Should we punish the young lady because she had an irresponsible mother?)

I’m not actually fat, right now, I’m at a pretty healthy weight. However, I can see my fat self on the horizon. I’ve tried many diets in the past, but currently I’m trying out the “2000 calorie diet,” which simply means making sure not to eat more than 2000 calories per day. We’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, try to show a little more respect for fat people, please. You never know what their circumstances are; it might not be something as simple as shoving boxes of donuts down their throats like many people seem to think. Getting fat can happen to anyone, and I can almost guarantee that it will happen to you one day.

## When Does It Become Racism?

Philip on August 30th, 2009

What if I said that I hate black people, but it’s not because of the color of their skin, it’s because they play rap music deafeningly loud at 3 AM and I can’t get to sleep. Is that racism? I don’t think so. Believe me, if some white guy was playing Mozart ridiculously loud in the middle of the night, I would hate him too.

One could argue that I’m using a racial term, “black,” to arbitrarily describe a group of people, “loud music at night players,” which is in no way related to being black, and so that makes me a racist. I would disagree. If someone were to ask me what kind of people, in general, play rap music really loud at night, what am I supposed to say? I’ve never had any problems with Asians, Guatemalans, golfers, Canadians, short people, women, scientists, gays, swimmers, politicians, or Trekkies keeping me up at night with their loud music. “Black” is the best term to describe such people.

If a basketball coach allows only people 6 feet tall or taller to try out, is that short-ist? If a company decides to hire only college educated employees, is that dumb-ist? If an advertising agency decides to photograph only incredibly beautiful women, is that ugly-ist?

Maybe, but who cares? This is not some discrimination conspiracy out to get you, it’s just common sense. Of course there are some short people who are excellent basketball players, and some high school dropouts who are brilliant geniuses, and some ugly women who can sell products, but if you are trying to efficiently find the right person for the job, you go to the highest concentration of talent.

In every city there is a Chinatown, a Little Italy, the “white” part of town, the “black” part of town, etc. Why do you suppose everybody isn’t intermingled like the great melting pot we are supposed to be? It’s because people like hanging around their own race better than others. But, this isn’t racism! It’s culture. I like to be around people who like the same foods as I do, the same music as I do, the same TV shows as I do. So does everybody else. These racially separated neighborhoods that arise are completely natural. It’s because race, in general, affects your culture. I dare you to (honestly) take a look at the neighborhood you live in: is it not mostly homogeneous with people like you? Does this make you a racist? Take an honest look at your friends, too, while you are at it. Are 74% of your friends white, 14.8% Hispanic, and 13.4% black? If not, I could easily accuse you of being racist, since those are the demographics of the US.

If you find yourself only attracted to white people, does that make you racist? It’s not really a choice, after all, it’s just who you happen to find sexually appealing. Do we call gays sexist towards women, and lesbians sexist towards men? If a woman decides to walk home at night with another woman instead of with a man because she feels safer that way, does that make her sexist? According to Bureau of Justice statistics, men account for 86% of violent offenders. Maybe it’s not sexism but rather common sense for women to avoid men at night. If I choose not to live in the Bronx, does that make me a racist, or does that simply mean that I am fully aware that the crime rate of the Bronx is 50% higher than the rest of New York City?

Webster’s definition of racism is: “The prejudice that members of one race are intrinsically superior to members of other races.” None of the examples I have given above fit this definition. It’s possible to prefer one group of people over another without thinking they are superior. Although some racism still exists, of course, I think people are far too quick to point the finger at anybody who expresses a dislike for a certain type of people. In politics, for example, racism is often used as the trump card against one’s enemies in order to instantly win an argument. Is the phrase, “I hate politicians,” racist? I might be overgeneralizing, but I have yet to come across an honest one.

EDIT: By the way, the South Park episode, The Death Camp of Tolerance, does an excellent job at explaining prejudice and tolerance and the differences between being racist and simply not liking somebody.

## Simon R. Green’s “Nightside” Series Review

Philip on July 26th, 2009

I discovered Simon R. Green’s “Nightside” series after reading Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” and looking for something similar. The idea is that there is a secret city underneath the city of London where it’s always 3 AM and anything (I mean anything) goes. Imagine Las Vegas to the umpteenth degree. It’s a fantastical world filled with magic and science fiction, and one man in particular: John Taylor.

In the first book, this private eye begrudgingly takes a case which brings him back to the Nightside which he left when he was younger. John Taylor has a special gift; he is able to find things. This makes him a perfect private eye, but it’s his attitude that makes him so entertaining. Probably the best poker player in the world, John Taylor has a confidence and an ability to bluff that over time makes him a legend in the Nightside.

The plot isn’t really important. What’s important is the fantastic characters that Simon R. Green comes up with. Suzie Shooter, a maniacal, gun toting, fully female badass, Walker, the mysterious authority figure who runs things, in as much as anybody can, Razor Eddie, punk God of the straight razor, and the list goes on.

Because of the nature of the Nightside, Simon R. Green does not limit himself to only fantasy or only science fiction. Some might consider this a copout. Most fictional worlds depend on a set of rules that the characters must abide by. In fantasy, there are usually limits to the amount of power a magical spell has, and in science fiction, there is usually a limit to what technology can do. In the Nightside, there are no limits. Simon R. Green basically writes down whatever the hell he feels like.

This is annoying at times because there is no coherence to his novels, but if you are looking for coherence you’ve come to the wrong place, anyway. These novels are rapid fire thrill fests that will keep you turning the pages (all 250 of them) until the very end. You never know what will happen next, or how the story will end, but you know you will be able to finish it by the end of the weekend. Since the weather became nice, I’ve been taking his novels down to the park nearby. It’s the perfect way to relax at the end of a long week.

The plots are incredibly linear. Think “Hobbit-style”. The main character goes from one place to the next, separated by chapters, and nothing is ever really interwoven. In fact, chapters could be removed, added, and rearranged, and the story wouldn’t really change. Again, if you’re looking for something “deep” you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for something FUN, there is nothing better than this series.

So far, the series is nine books, and it’s unclear how many more there will be. For the most part, they can be read in any order on their own, as the plot doesn’t carry over from one to the next. However, for books two through four, I believe, the plot slowly escalates towards the cataclysmic Lilith War. In perhaps the best literary war since the Dominion War in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Simon R. Green weaves quite a tale and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Once the Lilith War is over, you don’t really have to keep reading. The books are still fun, but they don’t pack the same punch. I don’t think Simon R. Green intended to continue the series afterwards, but it was so popular I imagine his publisher pushed him to write more books.

Do not read these books if you’re looking for something serious, or something that “makes sense”, or an epic, or hard fantasy, or hard science fiction. If, on the other hand, you have an open mind and are looking for something new, there is quite simply nothing else like it in the world. Well, nothing except Simon R. Green’s other series. His voice is impossible to miss. The Nightside series is not quite as good as the Deathstalker series because Deathstalker is more serious, with more history, and a larger world, but sometimes I need to take a break from 700 page novels and just enjoy a good read.

Throughout this review I have kind of danced around the idea of what the books are about. I’m not really sure what to say. Yes, they are detective novels about a private eye on a case trying to solve a mystery, but to say that’s what the books are about is simply untrue. The case that John Taylor is working on in each novel is nothing more than a plot device by which Simon R. Green can write down all the crazy thoughts that pop into his head, and it’s these crazy thoughts that make the book worth reading. Here’s a good example: John Taylor never hails a cab because you never know when one of them might eat you. Say what? Exactly. Hungry, man-eating cabs are completely normal in the Nightside.

The Nightside series is about being immersed into a world. It’s a great series for the same reason that Harry Potter is a great series. The worlds are completely different, but there are so many little details that you feel like you are actually there. As for the world of the Nightside, I like my original analogy about Las Vegas. Volcanoes? Pirates ships? Strip clubs? All these things are completely normal for Las Vegas, but incredibly tame for the Nightside. If you are easily offended by sin, you won’t like the Nightside, but if you like being immersed into different worlds, pick it up and give it a read.

There is also a great fan site that is worth visiting for more information: http://www.bluemoonrising.nl/

## The Internet Is Safe

Philip on July 19th, 2009

I spend a good portion of the day online. Not just for work, but for play as well. I often prefer online socialization to real-life interaction, and the reason is simple: it’s safe. I don’t mean safe in the sense that I’m afraid I might die if I go outside. What I mean is, nobody can bother me online.

If somebody tries to email or chat with me that I don’t like, I can simply ignore them or even block them. If I’m reading a blog that I disagree with, or I come across one of those stupid sites that starts playing music, I can simply close the window.

In real life, on the other hand, there’s often nothing you can do. If your neighbors are playing rap music extremely loud at 3 AM, what do you do? If your roommates don’t wash the dishes or take out the trash, what do you do? If some drunk guy in a bar tries to pick a fight with you, what do you do?

The idea that the internet is unsafe is simply a lie that is believed by people who fear what they don’t understand. People are terrified of viruses, hackers, identity theft, child predators, and porno pop-ups. Parents try to limit and monitor what their kids do online. Nevermind the fact that many kids have become millionaires on the internet. I’m not even kidding: http://www.makeyougohmm.com/20070830/4762/

It’s important to understand that in any circumstance, whether online or in real life, it’s the people that are dangerous. Microsoft Windows is safe unless you are stupid enough to click “Run file…”, hackers can’t actually get into your computer unless you write down your password on a Post-it note, porno pop-ups can be disabled easily with your browser’s pop-up blocker, and you are safe from identity theft unless you email your username and password to hackers so that they can “verify your account”. And don’t even get me started on child predators.

That seems to be the hot button issue with online chat rooms; child predators. Don’t let your kids go online because somebody might molest them or kidnap them! The simple fact is, nobody can molest your kid, or hurt them in any way, through the computer over the internet. In order for anything bad to happen to your child, he has to be mind-numbingly retarded and actually go meet some stranger in real life.

Do you remember that famous anti-marijuana TV ad, the one where kids get high and then take their dad’s shotgun and blow their brains out? In the words of Bill Maher, “Only in America is the villain in this ad not the guns or the bad parenting, but the pot.” It’s the same thing with the internet. How is it the internet that’s the villain, and not the child predator himself or the bad parenting? Remember the good old days when parents used to tell their kids not to talk to strangers? Take some personal responsibility for your own safety, for crying out loud.

The truth is, real life is far more dangerous than the internet could ever be. There are drunk drivers, murderers, muggers, drug dealers, bullies, prostitutes, shady politicians, fast food, earthquakes, and germs. The most dangerous thing that could ever happen to you online is that you are somehow lured out into the real world.

Remember, the internet is just a communications device. Before the internet, child predators used ancient technologies such as the telephone and snail mail. It’s people who are dangerous, not technology.

People seem to be very keen about the government protecting them from things lately. Things like censorship on television and radio just boggle my mind. Has nobody heard of simply changing the channel? As always, the solution is not censorship, but education. Instead of preventing your kids from going online, teach them about not meeting strange people in real life. Instead of blocking websites that contain bad words, simply teach your kids not to use bad words. As far as I’m concerned, if something can be easily ignored then it poses no danger at all. And, let’s not forget, nothing can be more easily ignored than the internet.

Grooveshark is awesome and I thought I would just include a song for no reason