30 October 2007

The Artificial Child

I've been thinking about Stephen Spielberg's movie Artificial Intelligence. In that movie, a mother and family buy an artificial child and then desert the child when they realize it is defective.

Like many people, I have a desire for children. I believe this desire is a natural instinct preserved through many generations of human evolution. However, children are very expensive. You have to buy a bigger house, bigger car, pay school fees, university fees, and then pay for costs like clothes, food, medical care, etc. The child can distract you from your job and thereby cost you a promotion or lower your salary because you work less to spend more time with the child.

How fantastic would it be then to have access to an artificial child, a child whose features are accurate enough to satiate evolutionary instincts for paternalism or maternalism while still being cheap and disposible? An artificial child is an area of consumer demand that is so far untapped by business. I suggest building an artificial child.

What will this child look like? The child will be just like a human. It will have a head, two arms, and two legs. Whether this child will look like a human child or whether it can be made to look like cute non-humans like teddy bears is yet to be decided. One thing that I think is good is the ability to grow. The artificial child can easily have limbs that grow over time. Of course, it is probably impossible for a small baby-sized machine to grow to the size of an average adult, which is why growth will need to be capped off at a certain point. The artificial child will not be able to grow to adulthood but will remain a child.

There are three inputs to the artificial child: (1) vision, (2) audio, and (3) movement. Vision is what the artificial child can see. The child has a camera where its eyes are and can see its environment. The images picked up will be sent to a computer. Audio acts the same way as vision except the microphone picks up sound. There will be voice recognition software so that the child can understand human speech. Movement comes from its limbs. Parents like to touch their baby and move the baby around. When the customer touches and moves around this artificial child, the movements have to be received, digitalized, and then transmitted to the computer. For example, if the child is picked up, the baby will have to recognize this.

There are two outputs: (1) audio and (2) movement. The child can talk through speakers. The child can move its limbs. It can walk around, point, etc.

How do you coordinate output and input? What comes to most people's minds is artificial intelligence. However, this isn't necessary. No AI is needed for this artificial child to be lifelike. My solution is to take a real child and then monitor its life. Whatever the real child experiences it sotred into a database. Careful attention is paid to the three inputs and two outputs and especially how output reacts to certain inputs. The aim is to make the artificial child mimic the behavior of the real child. The actions or output of the artificial child will depend on probability and the probabilities will come from the real-life data collected from monitoring of the real child.

Suppose you pick up an actual baby. You do this many times. You notice that when you do this the baby receives no resitance from its feet and arms but it does sense touch on its back and bottom. After picking up a real baby hundreds of times you also notice that, say, 70% of the time the baby laughs and, say, 80% of the time it flails its arms and legs around. All this data is put into a database and stored in the memory of the artificial child. When the artificial child realizes that it is being picked up through its three inputs, i.e. there is no resistence to its feet, someone is touching its back and bottom, etc, then the artificial child will recognize this and then with 70% probability will laugh (by playing the audio) and with 80% probability will flail its arms and legs around.

More than one real baby can be monitored and the data can all be averaged out. The more real babies you monitor the better your data and the more life-like your artificial child will be.

It is important for the artificial children to act their age, so obviously if the artificial child is one year old it will not mimic the behavior of a real 10-year-old child. That would ruin the illusion.

28 October 2007

Review of Scribble

I've been playing this game for a few weeks now and I have finally won the whole game!

Scribble is a game in which you have to construct walking paths for little black creatures called blots to walk on. You have to direct them to the ending and stop them from being killed by dangerous things.

Games at Miniclip.com - Scribble

Help the Ink Blots get to the finish flags.

Play this free game now!!

23 October 2007

Review of A Little Princess

Link: A Little Princess (Librivox)

I have pretty much no time to read novels nowadays. It's a pity because I used to love reading when I was little. Now that I'm a uni student I find that I just don't have the time. My bedroom has been rearranged and there is no lamp near my bed anymore, so I cannot read just before going to bed. When I walk around with my backpack I like to travel light and so try not to carry around too many books, which means that I only bring the essentials. Furthermore, I find reading tiring on my eyes. I already have textbooks and lecture notes to read, and so reading a novel is like overworking my eye.

I now listen to novels with my MP3 player. I purchased an LG UP3 MP3 player from oo.com.au for only $40 and it's amazing how many free public domain audio books you can find online, especially at Librivox. Why pay for anything when there are so many great free things?

A Little Princess, written by Frances Hodgeson Burnett, is about a wealthy little girl named Sara Crewe. Her wealthy father puts her in a boarding school. Miss Minchin, the headmistress, treats her well because of the father's wealth. But then when the father dies, Sara is treated badly. It's a sad and really sweet story at the same time. I have read Burnett's biography and learned that she herself lost her father and had to endure poverty. This story then is probably an autobiography to a degree.

I forgot to mention that another reason why I like to read audio books is for privacy. A big tall young man reading A Little Princess on the train is not attractive, but when listening to an audio book using earphones, people just assume you're listening to music, and they can't hear what you're listening to.

14 October 2007

Vanguard LifeStrategy High Growth Fund

Link: Vanguard LifeStrategy High Growth Fund

One investment fund I am interested in now is Vanguard LifeStrategy High Growth Fund. Its MER (management expense ratio) of 0.9% is kind of high for an index fund, but it provides very good diversification across domestic and foreign shares, listed property, and (although the InvestSMART page doesn't say so because it is not up-to-date) it also invests about 3% in emerging markets.

InvestSMART even says that 70% margin lending is available.

20 Timeless Money Rules

Link: 20 Timeless Money Rules

Here are 20 rules about money, all of which I pretty much agree with. The rules are all illuminated with cool quotes from famous people.

Rule 3 says I should have an emergency fund. I keep about $500 in a savings account that gets about 6% per year, but I find that it's quite easy to withdraw out from this account. What I plan to do in the future is save up $10,000 and then buy a shares ETF. Buying an ETF gives me liquidity so that I can get the money as I need it. It also allows me to keep the money in shares thereby fulfilling Rule 2. I will buy the ETF through a discount online broker, and so I will need a password to log in. I will write this password on paper and then put it somewhere that is hard to get. This artificially creates illiquidity, which is necessary for self-control.

13 October 2007

Review of Mortgage Meltdown

Link: Mortgage Meltdown

Because it is tangible, many people have the impression that property is a safe investment. Also, the recent property boom suggests to many people that property will continue to go up forever and that they need to get in fast to ride the wave and cash in. The ABC's Mortgage Meltdown shows that things are not so rosy. The boom in international property has been described by The Economist as "the biggest bubble in history." The lesson to be learned is to be conservative. Don't gear too much and diversify into other asset classes like domestic shares, international shares, emerging markets, etc.

Image: Jory'z Shotz

10 October 2007

Review of Silversphere

Link: Silversphere

Silversphere is a puzzle game. You control a silver sphere and you must find ways to reach a blue pool-like vortex to win the level. I have managed to get to level 16 so far, but it took me 75 minutes to do it. Below are the password I have managed to get so far:

2. Metallic
3. Linear
4. Fortress
5. Active
6. Islander
7. Gauntlet
8. Lateral
9. Obstacle
10. Guidance
11. Pathway
12. Sandbar
13. Patrol
14. Capture
15. Confusion
16. Consequence

09 October 2007

The Virtues of Child Sponsorship

I've been reading a New Internationalist (i.e. Communist) article titled Why You Should not Sponsor a Child. They say child sponsorship is horrible because of a number of reasons. Chid sponsorship is expensive because of all the letters and photoes that need to be sent back and forth as well as other paperwork. But what this paper ignores is that giving money to aid organizations is not something many people are comfortable with because they do not know how much of that money is going to corrupt politicians or aid workers. By sponsoring a child you get to see the child and see how his body size changes over time (to see whether he is being fed well). You can even visit the child and see in person how the child is doing. This I think is a good way of checking to see if the aid organization is actually doing something other than funneling the money into buying Ferraris. Through child sponsorship the aid organizations are accountable to the donors.

Child sponsorship may cost more but these extra costs are monitoring costs necessary because of the corruption of human nature. Communist is more cost-effective than democracy. If the communist government wants to build a hospital it gets it built straight away. Any objectors will be shot dead. Democracy is tougher. To get a hospital built you have to negotiate with different state governments, zoning regulators, and so on. You need approval from the voters. It's expensive and costly. But it's more transparent. It fosters confidence in the system. Child sponsorship is the same. It is no wonder then that New Internationalist, the communist site, is making this argument against child sponsorship.

This is why I believe child sponsorship is good. If you live in Australia and want to sponsor a child, go to the sites below:

Plan Australia
World Vision Australia
Compassion Australia (Christian)
The Salvation Army
Child Fund

Update 23/12/2007: I've been reading about some crazy ecologist named Paul Ehrlich who believes that food aid should stop completely and people in poor nations should starve to death! What an evil person. Anyway, Ehrlich predicted in the '70s that there would be a massive famine that would hit the world and that millions of people would die. In reality, worldwide poverty went down. The world has more than enough food to feed everyone. The problem is politics. Even if food is shipped from rich countries to poor countries, the government in poor countries often don't care and won't bother to deliver the food. This is another reason why I think child sponsorship is important. Suppose you give $100 to some aid agency. That aid agency may buy $100 worth of rice and then dump it on an airport in Sudan and then nothing happens. If you sponsor a child, that aid agency has to move its butt into the country, into the forests or into the deserts, to find the child so that they can give food and make sure the child writes back to the sponsor. Growing demand for child sponsorship will make aid organizations search for more children.

One-Click Charity Sites

I click on each of these links every day. I remember simply by using Memo to Me, which sends me an e-mail every morning with a list of the links below. When company advertising shows up, you should click on their links to show your support for what they're doing.




How Wealth Actually Destroys People

"And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." --Matthew 19:24

Based on the graph above, there seems to be a strong negative correlation between wealth and total fertility rate. Correlation does not suggest causation, but we can imagine how wealth can lead to lower fertility. Basically, if you are poor and only earn, say, $5 an hour at work, then taking care of a child for an hour will mean that you don't get to work for an hour, hence you lose $5. For a rich person who can ear $1000 per hour, taking care of children is expensive because that hour you take care of the child could have been spent working.

There are many other explanations as well, such as welfare and child labor, but it seems clear that as you get more wealthy you breed less. Attempts to bribe parents to produce babies in France and Australia has increases fertility rate, but the increase is usually small. Australia's fertility rate increased from 1.7 babies per woman to 1.9 babies per woman after the Government started to pay $2000 to couples to have babies.

This trend seems to apply even within countries. For example, those who are wealthy within a country tend to breed less than those who are poor. Many people claim that AIDS was natural justice by God designed to punish those who engaged in pre-marital sex as well as homosexual sex. This fertility outcome could be interpreted similarly. Wealthy populations who we will assume are sinful because they tend to engage in the sins of pride and gluttony, are being destroyed by God and replaced with the poor people.

Chess: The Subtle Sin!

Never mind the well-addressed question Should a Christian play dungeons and dragons? A better question would be:

Should Christians play chess?

It has an obvious theme, in the traditional White against Black sides, good versus evil. The symbology of the good guys is obvious:

King - Secular Leader, but with the Church close on his side (King's Bishop)

Queen - All the King's secular forces combined into a powerful tool of his administration. Starts at his side, to show His dominance. Straight and Diagonal movement shows the ability to apply to all problems and situations.

Bishop - liaison between Man and God, the administration of the House of the Lord on Earth. Keeps to one color, to show that the church has limitations in its applicability, BUT there are TWO Bishops, one for the Church, one for the Congregation, and between the two of them, they can get anywhere. Shows the transparent MYTH of Separation of Church and State.

Knight - The Special Forces, able to attack from unseen angles, and retreat across obstacles. The 90-degree component seen by many to symbolize the duality of God's Might and Man's Will.

Rook - Portrayed in most modern sets as a castle, examination of early structures leads many to conclude it is actually a church, historically. Either way usually exemplifies a building made of Stone, and "On this stone I shall build a church."

Pawn - All the multitudes of Man, serving God best by stepping blindly forward.

Of course, the Black side, the Evil, has the same components. Considering that the Dark One has his followers and his Bishops, we know what God has stated about False Religions: "As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."

This makes it seem that someone playing chess, especially on the White Side, is acting out a morality play, attacking the forces of Darkness and crushing them under his heel. There lies the trick that ensnares millions of innocent souls every year.

Evil has, mathematically, as much of a chance to win as Good. The only restriction between the colors is that White moves first. In reality, The Good side should have more power than the evil, for the Lord has said, regarding HIS believers: "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." Unfortunately, the 'powers' given to the individual units of a chess set are evenly matched by their direct opponents.

Anther problem is the power of the Queen. She is clearly portrayed as the King's wife, but granted greater power and maneuverability. She travels and works independently of the King, if nominally at his 'bidding.' This directly conflicts with MANY biblical verses, to wit:

"...and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee."
"But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."
"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church."
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord."
"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing."
"Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands."
A further heresy implicit in the play of Chess, is that of returning lost souls to play. If a simple pawn makes it unmolested to the final rank of the enemy's side, he can be transmuted to any other piece of the game. In this manner, lost pieces can be regained. The bible clearly shows that there is only one event of importance following an individual's death, and that is the judgement. After that, the soul is sent Heavenwards or dropped into the Lake of Fire. Reincarnation is the devil's idea.

In addition to problems with the rules, certain conventions of game play are offensive to any True Christian that has seen the Truth. It is possible, if care is not taken, to move the Knight in such a manner that the outline of a Pentagram is described on the board, an incontrovertible sign of Satan.

Most frighteningly, throughout most of the game, the mechanism of capturing a piece results in removal of the lost piece. In the final move, of EVERY chess game, the King is not captured. Instead, the losing player lays his King down on the board, mimicking a ritualistic HUMAN SACRIFICE!

Does it still sound like a simple 'Game?'
Continued at http://elephanticity.250x.com/xianches.html

Experts on Home Renting v. Buying

Denis Orrock, the general manager of InfoChoice, crunched the numbers based on sales and rental figures for the average home in a mid-ring suburb of Sydney and Melbourne.

Disregarding rates and maintenance costs for the homeowner, and tax for both the owner and the renter, over a five-year period renting comes out tops by a margin of $38,000 in Sydney and $7170 in Melbourne. However, if the house grew in value by an average of 8 per cent a year, rather than 6 per cent, the homeowner would be in front by $40,206 in Sydney and $47,818 in Melbourne.

The final outcome will depend on personal circumstance, the property you buy or rent and the relative returns of property and shares over the life of your investment.

However, Australia's most vocal renter, IBISWorld chairman Phil Ruthven, is in no doubt about the best course of action. Ruthven says it takes exactly double the rate of household income to buy the average Australian home today compared with 20 years ago.

With average household income approaching $108,500, and the cost of an established home about $475,000 across the country, it takes 4.4 times average anual household income to fund the purchase. In 1987 it took 2.2 times average household income to buy a home, while a multiple of three is generally regarded as affordable.

But that's only half the equation. Using national averages again, the average rent is under $300 for an established home, or $15,600 a year, which equates to 3.3 per cent of the value of the average house.

"Why pay an interest rate of 8.3 per cent to buy the same house before you even start repaying the capital? [Renting's] a no brainer," Ruthven says.

Property enthusiast Edward Chan of Chan Naylor Accountants suggests a better strategy is to buy a home with an interest-only loan. "Interest-only is similar to paying rent but the capital [value of the house] is increasing in the background. It's better than paying rent," he says.

"I'd go as far as saying it's better to buy your own home and pay interest only and use the amount that you would otherwise put towards the principal to fund a negatively geared investment property. It's better than paying down the mortgage - I've done the numbers."

Ruthven says that investment returns are better elsewhere. He estimates the net capital gain on the average house is about 5 per cent a year after deducting maintenance, rates and selling costs, compared with long-term net returns from shares of 12 per cent.
Source: Wake up to a New Australian Dream, Brisbane Times.

With Environmental Apocalypse Near, Reproduction is Futile

If the environmentalists are to be believed, in the future there will be rising temperatures, loss of wildlife, and no energy. The future is bleak. Many people probably don't care. "It's not my problem," is what I hear people say, usually with a shrug. Why is it then that so many people have children? These children will be the primary victims of today's gluttonous consumption. Many parents say they love their children, they want to make their lives as good as possible. But how is this consistent with environmental apathy?

No More Oil at 2057

At the moment most of my money is put in Australian shares and the energy sector makes up about 5 per cent of the ASX200. If energy companies fail, what effect would this have on my investments or my super fund?

On Wikipedia is a graph of US Oil Production and Imports. Oil production in the USA peaks at about 1970 when 9.5 million barrels were made. At 2000 that had reduced to 6 million barrels. Taking these two points and performing a simple linear extrapolation, I calculate that US oil production will end at 2057, which is 50 years away.

If you sell your energy stocks before 2057 and put it into another sector, that is no guarantee you'll be safe because almost all industries are reliant on oil. For example, mobile phones are made from plastic whose production and transport is reliant on oil.

Christians Should Embrace the Terrorists

Link: Should we Kill Muslims?

Christians should embrace the terrorists. This is what Reverend David Murray says.

In his sermon, he teaches that the passages in the bible about the slaughter of Canaanite men, women, and children was an act justified by God because of the sins of the Canaanites. The pastor argues that given the wickedness in today's Western society (divorce, pornography, abortion, pre-marital sex, etc) then we ourselves deserve to be slaughtered and instead of hating the terrorists we should thank them.

"And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them." --Deuteronomy 7:2

07 October 2007

The Internet as Cost-Efficient Education

I've just been looking at Children International. One of the things that saddens me most in this world is child poverty. Many people who give money to these children put money into things like education, but I am skeptical about the effectiveness of traditional education. Kids may go into classrooms with a teacher and not much learning can happen. I believe that the most productive education involves the child learning the very basics of literacy and numeracy before the child is given access to Broadband Internet, which allows the child to learn for himself or herself anything that comes to mind.

Update: Looks like someone has already come up with my idea. See the $100 Laptop by MIT. Also see the Wikipedia article about the $100 Laptop. It will have Internet access, but I don't know if it will be free. I'm starting to want one if it's so cheap because I use a desktop computer and don't actually have a laptop.

Compulsory Euthanasia for Old People

In most developed country there is a problem with ageing population. The problem is that old people suck out lots of money from government funds. We have costs of health (e.g. Medicare) as well as pension costs. The problem is made even worse because developed countries tend to have lower fertility levels, which means less people work, which means lower tax revenue. Immigration can easily fix population decline but it is uncertain whether it has much effect on age distribution.

One solution that will defintely work is simple killing of old people. When an old person is, say, fifty, they will be required to die by taking a tablet. This of course would be very unpopular. Even young people may not agree to it because they would dread the thought of having to die once they grow old.

Another solution would be to take away welfare and let those who can't take care of themselves die. Once against this is very cruel and by bringing it up I am only playing devil's advocate. But many people argue that foreign aid should not be given because "we need to take care of ourselves first." So if people within a country can refuse assistance to those outside a country, why can't those who are capable of taking care of themselves refuse assistance to those who can't take care of themselves?

06 October 2007

Bogle an Active Investor?

Some people have blamed Bogle for being against ETFs (exchange traded funds), many of which have lower management expense ratios than traditional index mutual funds. But I have read an old article in BusinessWeek about how Bogle has most of his money in actively managed funds rather than passively managed funds. See Where Vanguard's Heavy Hitters Put Their Money.

Liberal Party's Nationalistic Profiling

They used it as an instrument of fear very successfully during the Tampa incident, but now the Liberals, in a desperate attempt to lift popularity among a working class that has rebelled against Liberal IR laws, are having a go at Africans, claiming that they will reduce the number of Africans coming into Australia because they were having problems integrating.

First of all, why integrate? Most marriages end in divorce, most people don't save up enough to retire, most people don't get into university, and so on. If you are forced to do what the majority is doing, you are going to turn out to be a loser.

Another problem I have with this idea is that it profiles people based on nationality or continent. It may be that African people as a whole are less likely to integrate, but does that mean all Africans should be punished for it? Some say yes. But consider this. Men are more likely to commit crime than women. Therefore, should all men spend one year in prison? Poor people are more likely to be involved in crime than rich people. Should poor people be locked up? Suppose we wanted hard-working people in Australia. Billionaires are more hard-working than non-billionaires. Therefore, if you are a millionaire, does it mean you should not be allowed in?

Judgment needs to be made at an individual level otherwise anyone can be accused of anything.