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Versatile Food : Rice

Advice and rants from the kitchen.

For some reason it seems that people don’t quite know how to cook rice. It’s compounded by the fact that there are a number of products that are focused on delivering “easy to cook rice” in a bag or for microwave etc – as if it were hard in the first place.

There is a brand which I will not name who charge a premium for crap quality rice, sub-par vegetables, and mystery meat. And then suggest in their adverts that it makes a perfect tête-a-tête dinner.

So my blog contribution today will be about how to get rice truly perfect every time, and some ideas of what to make with it. It really is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

1) One essential item

I will not hide that to get rice done perfectly, there is a special tool you need if cooking with a gas hob, that you should be able to find in any home ware/cookware store: it’s called a heat diffuser.

See here: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=heat+diffuser
Prices vary enormously. I bought mine for £2 and it works fine.

This item allows you too cook things over flame for extended periods of time, without burning the food to the base of the pot. It takes the heat from the central point on the gas ring, and spreads the heat evenly over the whole base.

If you use an electric hob, then it probably won’t matter so much, depending on how much control you have over the heat. It won’t hurt to have one anyway.

2) Two requirements for good rice

There are two conditions to meet to produce good rice:

a) For any given volume of rice, you need just under twice that volume of water. So for half a cup of rice, you need to add just under a cup of water. The rice will absorb it all.

b) You need to cook the rice covered, over low heat, using the heat diffuser. Check the cooking time on the packet. Rice is cooked when it is perfectly soft. If it’s al-dente, it needs a couple more minutes.

Anything else is superfluous. My mother insists it is heresy not to put salt in the rice water. Some people believe you must rinse the rice before cooking it. Others like to add butter to the finished produce. And all that jazz.

I generally use Jasmine, Thai or Basmati rice for my every-style cooking. I avoid American long-grain, it’s not my liking, nor is whole-wheat rice, but that’s just me. You really should use Arborio rice for risottos and paella, but the Rice Police won’t descend up on you for switching them. Just know that they have different textures and taste.

One thing however to note: there is a technique which consists in adding surplus water and, when the rice is cooked, getting rid of the excess. That’s like making a beef stew and throwing out the liquid part. Anything you cook by boiling has a vast amount of its nutrients and taste transferred into the water. So don’t use the excess water technique. Ever. (Unfortunately, the silly shapes and lengths of pasta force us to use the excess water technique. I’ll find a way around that one day…)

My method:
-boil enough water for the amount of rice you are going to cook – just under double the volume of water to the volume of rice
-put the rice in a pot with some cooking oil and turn on the heat
-stir the rice and the oil together whilst the pot heats up
-add the boiling water and some salt to the pot, stir so that the rice sits evenly
-cover fully, reduce the heat to lowest and place the heat diffuser under the pot
-check after the time indicated on the rice packet

3) Three ideas for variation

Rice is not just white bland stuff. Think of paellas (yellow for having lots of turmeric), risottos (rich with stock and wine), and stir-fry (augmented with sauces and spices).

a) Try cooking it with a different liquid. Say, chicken stock, or vegetable stock. Or coconut milk. Or part wine, part water. You choose. The rice will soak up whatever liquid it’s in. Just remember: one volume of rice, just under double volume of liquid.

b) Try putting whatever you are wanting to have with the rice in with it at the start. Vegetables are a good candidate, meat should be cut very small or thin as this is the only cooking they will get. Or even just add herbs and spices, mix at start and let cook thereafter.

c) Once cooked, fry it in a wok with stock liquid/cube, one or two seasonings (hoisin works marvels on pork; ginger and chilli with beef is fab, chicken with garlic and coriander is a classic… just try a combination – any combination…) with meat and/or 2 to 4 vegetables of your choice.
Note: add first the items that take longest to cook, for example meat and fibrous vegetables such as whole carrots, and the quicker to cook items last, for example peas, diced sweet peppers, or thinly cut carrots. The rice is already cooked, so add that last, just after any final seasonings.

You could even combine the above three, although I have never tried that myself…

4) Well eat it duh!

It’s as easy as that. Remember to transfer excess rice to a Tupperware and fill the cooking pot with water immediately. Rice starch is like glue once it has set.

Next time, on the Taikedz cooking channel: curries (and how to make it at home for nothing :-p).

The Cost of an Item

The truth that the internet is waiting for the mass market to finally understand is that information by its replicable nature cannot be made subject to a price. We will pay for hard goods and guarantees of service, but the information contained within cannot be taxed.

Objects derive their price from the resources and effort required to produce not one item, but many such items.

Question: how much resources does it take to produce 100 items? How much resources does it then take to produce 10,000 such items?

If the item is a shoe, it will take the resources to produce the fibres, plastic, cotton, process and transform them and make the shoes, along with labour and shipping (I discount advertising costs as this is not part of the production/delivery of the goods). A hundred shoes will cost X to produce; ten thousand will cost arithmetically more – say arbitrarily 100*X.

If the item is a space at a rock concert, that space is guaranteed for a certain time period. After that to replicate again, the band must be re-booked and the venue setup anew, with any energy, facilities and staffing costs being consumed again. If the venue takes one hundred people at N dollars per ticket, then two hundred tickets necessitate two concerts, at least doubling the resources required, and their associated costs come in.

If the item is a piece of information, then by its very nature it is able to be transferred without necessarily being damaged or consumed during that process. This was the marvel of the printing press – instead of months to make a copy of a book via scribes, the book could be printed a thousand times over, identical and cheap, in a day. The Internet is much the same, only that the copying does not remain in-house anymore, and concerns much more than just books. It has gone wild. The same amount of resources is required to produce one item as is to produce infinitely more. If you spread the cost of the resources over the number of items produced, this means that the shoe and the rock concert maintain a steady price over replication or repetition, whereas the digitizable information sees its cost go to zero.

We are consumers. Consumers of food, of gas, of natural resources, of time, of services, and of space in time, in performances. Once consumed, these cannot be retrieved and consumed again.

We are also users – users of music, of software, of books, of information in general. Once used it can be used again and again, over and over. The medium may be consumed in the end, but the information itself can be copied.

Information is never consumed, it is merely observed, used. The original copy of a piece of information is never lost when a copy is made, unless deliberately erased. Attempting to place market rules of the physical world on the digital world is, and will always be, futile. Information can generally retain its attribution, as a part of the information itself, but ownership is volatile and rejectable.

The costs for producing a digitizable piece of information must be re-distributed to associated goods or services/guarantees. Spending resources on anti-piracy measures and lawsuits will always be a drain on resources, not a revenue saver.

The truth that the Internet is waiting for the Mass Market to realize is that there is no such thing as “digital goods” to be mass-marketed.

Writing clearly in a plaintext world

===
Writing clearly in a plain text world
===

In my line of work, there are alot of emails flying around. We do tech
support, which involves writing to customers, writing to colleagues
with whom we're on friendly terms, and other people in the organization
with whom we are less familiar.

Every email sent is ideally logged against a case, in a system that
only manipulates plain text: so colours and formatting are always lost
in the archival version. Welcome to the world of plain text, where there
is no style, no formatting - only text. It is in plain text that I
write this blog post today.

Most of the time in these emails, the trail of thought can be picked up
easily enough. However, when taking over a case from a colleague, or
when for some reason someone switches the format to plain text, a lot
of the meaning is lost, as the meaning was closely tied to the
formatting (coulours, underlines, italics, indentation, tables, etc etc
etc) Email is not publishing, one *must* expect the look and flow of
the text to change frequently, and its structure and meaning must be
able to resist the most common changes.

So what practices guarantee that such information will not be lost
somewhere down the line, allowing email trails to remain readable?
Here's some tips:

===
Write clearly
===

Some things to NOT do in the world of email:

-do not write everything in one line. Make use of paragraphs: in plain
text, this means hitting the return key TWICE

-do not use colour to denote responses. Colour can be lost. One of my
pet hates is "my responses are below in [colour]", especially when I
receive it from someone else who forwarded that message in plain text.

-do not use abbreviations, other than "e.g.", "i.e." and "etc"

-do not use capitals unless there is call for it. There are other ways
of emphasizing text OTHER THAN LOOK LIKE YOU'RE SHOUTING AT YOUR
CORRESPONDENT
  -->tip: it's considered extremely rude in most Internet communities



Some other things to consider:

-make use of punctuation - properly placed commas, dashes, semi-colons
and colons are all helpful in the right context.

-do not fear using words slightly redundantly, especially when a
subject is getting complicated. Mention an item in your phrase, an if
afterwards you want to talk about the item, repeat the name of the item.
Only use "it" or "that" when there is absolutely no possible ambiguity.

-keep the phrases as simple as possible. Emails should not be treated
as epistles, but as technical documents, whatever the subject. They
must inform, and not say anything more than you intend

-rather than including an image in the flow of the text, save it as a
file and attach it to the mail, saying "see attachment picture.jpg" or
"c@ picture.jpg"


The following are some stylistic conventions harking back to the days
when plain text was the only option. It is still true today when
writing on a number internet forums, comments under blog posts, etc

===
Underlines, bold and italics
===

This is _underlined_ text

This is /italic/ text

This is *bold* text

So when you really, *really* want to emphasize something, use /special
characters/ to replace the formatting. Only use it to surround no more
than one or two words. Only emphasize what is _necessary_

===
Quoting
===

If you're going to quote more than a full sentence, it is better to
put the text in a block quote.

/==
This is a block quote. It is recommended to use it when there is a
significant amount of text.

There may even be several paragraphs.
==/

In this way you quote from documents and other exterior sources.

If you are going to quote from someone else who previously wrote in
the same thread, use ">" characters at the start
of each line

> These lines were forwarded
> from a previous message

In that way, it is possible to immediately identify quoted messages,
and it is not lost when the colour coding is gone.

===
Other structures
===

It is good practice to have well structured text, but some of the
structure tools used in rich text editors get
completely lost in plain text.

Use text-based bullet points instead of automatic ones.

# like so
# and so
# and so, too

Or maybe you prefer
-this kind
-the dash
-less garish

###
This is under a new section, separated from the above, but still under
the same title.

And finally, all the way through this note, I have been using the
encapsulating "===" around titles. You should do so too.

=============== Thank you for reading. Now start writing in a cleaner fashion with your new knowledge.

The film industry on aritifcial life support?

The film industry is soon going to go the way of the dinosaurs if they don’t adapt. With file sharing showing no signs of abating, especially not in a recession, it is clear the industry needs a new business model to be found and adopted – lest the remaining funds be constantly tied up in the courts.

So here’s an idea for them:

Back in the day when the internet was for scientists and the Compact Disc more or less accepted as a music distribution medium, films were making money through cinemas, retail stores, rent outlets and TV airtime.

This can still be exploited today: supposing these institutions keep their raison d’être, any individual film could have artificially limited “outlet credits”

For example, cinemas: depending on the number of seats per room a cinema has, it can purchase a license to show a film, that license being part of a class specified for that cinema size. So far, any cinema can do this. Now what if the license holder only makes a certain amount available for a given film, week on week?

Cinemas will need to pick and choose carefully for which films they bid for. Reviews and attendance will determine what kinds of prices people are willing to pay at which cinemas. Smaller cinemas can compete with eachother for the biddings due to the classification of licenses.

As a side note, cinemas may also want to think of giving movie goers added experiences and incentives to grace their screens, what with HD TV and home cinemas gradually entering more and more households…

I’d even go so far as to say that through this mechanism, more thought will be given to what films are allocated a budget – both at the pre-filming and screening stages. I believe that’s where the industry is bleeding the most money, to be quite frank: careless budget-giving, so billions are spent on movies with bad scripts, un-honed acting and tacky direction.

The same artificial life support can be applied to renting, retail, and TV airing.

So long as the institutions remain extant.

Privatized Public Services

I will talk politics, economics and society. All in one, with a touch of insanity, I’ll admit. This is a rarity, but expect to see more of it.

I was listening to Radio 4 today, news time, and the presenter was interviewing various Labour MPs about where the party should be going now, what it needs to do get back on its feet – and someone mentioned the “part privatization of the Royal Mail” should be scrapped and it should become, once more, nationally owned.

Specific politics and policies aside, this struck a chord with me.

Corporations vs State Services

The idea of the privatization of public services annoys me. I have an admittedly rather simplistic view of companies as opposed to nationally owned entities.

For me, a private company is first and foremost an organized means generating money, whilst a state run service is one that is deemed a fundamental part of the running of a very, very large community (id est, a country), focused on ensuring the provision of said service. In any sane world, both organizations would strive to make the lives of people better out the the conviction of their moral fibre (the kindness of their hearts might be a bit much to ask). I think we can all agree that most of the time, this is not so.

Private corporations are out to make money – that’s what they are set up for – to cater for the desires of the people by providing them with goods and services, in return for cash. State services should, ideally, be focused on providing the service, using the money taken in from fees to continue and expand the service.

In short: companies focus on earning money, the service or goods being a means towards it; whereas a state service should focus on providing the service, the fees perceived being strictly for maintenance and debt repayment. Does this mean that the growth of the state service should be set at zero, neither wavering upwards or downwards? No. But if the State starts behaving like a corporation, the we’re heading into very murky waters.

Privitzed Train System – Consequences

Privatization of public services, to me, is fundamentally a bad idea. I have long decried and will keep on moaning about the quality of public transport in the UK, and more recently about the state of the roads in Britain. Such services as the upkeep and the provision of transport and communication lines should not be assigned to privatized entities.

The mere model itself is that of money making, and if they find they need to cut corners, they will. The idea of a self-regulating market does not apply, for the simple reason of the fundamental necessity of serving the public. Also, privatization prevents competing corporations from sharing information and responsability: coordination of trains, upkeep of tracks in grey zones, ticket purchasing, etc etc are not services realized to their fullest potential.

Also, there’s what I will call director-bloat. Where under one organization (the State) there would be one set of directors, under several companies there will be as many more directors, each with their own differing visions of which direction the overall service should move, and thus getting nowhere (and I will not develop on the extra salary burdens each high position imposes).

Users of the service generally can’t pick and choose in this market – mostly for reasons of coverage in the transport sector, and in other sectors like postal services, private companies charge an arm and a leg; and sometimes even the Toothfairy’s due whilst they’re at it.

Moving public services over to the state would be a good bet – it works very well in France – but some people voice concern over the control the state would have – especially in Britain, with its ever growing surveillance culture. Move too many fundamental services into the hands of the state and some fear some Dawn of the Kafka Courts, and an unsavoury Brave New World.

And yet, I still think centralization of the public services is necessary and desireable.

State-Guided Private Monopoly

Now I get wacky. I conjured this up this morning. But there’s method in the madness.

A centralized state run service is, in essence, the corporate equivalent of a monopoly. It is an organization that is the main or sole provider of a service, nation-wide, and backed by government money – whose information is probably accessible to the government as well. Scary, right?

But how about this: a corporate monopoly (not state run), with government trading rules specifying how much the company can charge for any given service, and explicitly guidelining a limit growth rate of the company, monitored monthly. The rules and rates are revised yearly, adherence to data protection and privacy law enforced by an independant body.

You’re quite probably asking: what on Earth for?

Centralization As I have been arguing/ranting previously, I believe the centralization of public services is desireable and necessary. These services form the back bone of how a country is run, and if competition is let free in this base system, we all suffer from it

Privatization I intentionally specify a corporate monopoly, so that the service provider and the government do not pool resources. The last thing we want is to give an already surveillance-power-hungry state more ammo.

Controlled growth In state run services, growth can be controlled from the fact that resources can be allocated and de-allocated, whereas in corporate climates the resources must continue growing if the company is to survive. Combining Centralization with Privitzation can introduce the worst of both worlds, (widespread reach and cash seeking), so a special programme would need to be introduced – check and balance. The organization needs to grow, but this cannot be left at the cost of service guarantee, quality, and affordability.

So which services do I think would be candidate for such a programme?

  • Road and rail infrastructure maintenance
  • Public rail and wheel vehicle transport
  • Medical treatment centres – this one can be difficult, given the sometimes high costs of certain treatments
  • national postal services
  • landline telephony and basic broadband provision
  • education and child care

Charities

One sector I can also see benefiting is charity. There are so many charities, each with their own agendas. In principle, this is fine, but again, there is duplication: Save The Children and Barnardos are working for the same cause. MacMillan Cancer Care is running alongside British Heart Foundation. Water Aid and Just A Drop probably run very similar programmes.

Did I mention Director Bloat previously? Surely this is not helping maximize the potential of what we give.

But what do you think?

ContactPoint – the UK’s infamous Child Database goes live

So the UK government has launched the new Child Database, “ContactPoint”

I obviously don’t know the specifics of its implementation (nor the generalities for that matter) but I can bet you that within a month or so, someone will demonstrate how it can be compromised. Let’s hope that someone is a professional and well-intended security expert.

I’m not a fan in principle of the movie Hackers but there is one probable kind of attack that could be carried out: the basic yet sometimes effective “oh my God [some boss] is gonna kill me if I can’t get so and so report in, gimme access to a computer…. remotely.” It’s called social engineering, and it is basically exploiting the weakest link in any security system: the human (I am not making this up – it’s stated at The Register and CNET and other sources… just do a web search)

You actually come to wonder: how much can we trust the Web when it comes to centralized databases of information? Admittedly, no system is perfect. Even without ContactPoint, many children’s lives are at risk from nearby, unscrupulous individuals – however has the government really thought out what making this information accessible on the web will do? (by “making available on the web” I mean “using technologies linked to a public network in some way no matter how seemingly insignificant”)

We already trust the internet with our money – that’s a convenience that the mass of users has accepted, by cause of convenience. Surely the secret services use internet technology to relay information from one point to another. We know for a fact that the FBI’s data centres are available to the outside world: when Gary McKinnon “hacked” various US Defense sites he alleges looking for weak security – namely computers where the password was still just “password” or plain blank.

So how’s the record for the British Government on information security? Grim.

I might have been generous stating that it would take a month to compromise the data. I might be disappointed in hoping it’s a security expert who exposes this. I am almost certain to be right that the weakest link will be human in nature.

Business on the New internet

The New Internet is upon us. Faster connections, bigger hard drives, cheaper hosting, online storage, highly interactive user-driven web sites… The Web 2.0 paradigm is ubiquitous, and nearly every connected individual has at least one online presence, be it a blog, social network profile, personal home page, or even simply a private email address.

The New Internet knows no boundaries. The New Internet rejects shackles, allows users to bypass regulations, allows surfers to obfuscate their identities. The New Internet is driven by users, where users provide content and exchange information, provide software, patch software, share software. The founding Ethos of the White Hat Hacker is gradually being rediscovered by the main stream once more; the Ethos pushing the boundaries of law in favour of user freedom, and battling the Renegade Hackers, known as Crackers, or Black-Hats.

The revolution is gaining speed. The New Internet threatens the old models of business. The New Internet is democratic to the extreme, liberal and community driven. The New Internet promotes the Equality of each and every individual in the world. The New Internet is a platform for absolute freedom – for better or for worse.

But enough rhetoric.

The New Internet dictates the New Face of eCommerce, and observes four realities:

  1. That which can technically be copied will effectively be copied.
  2. If a resource is meant for the public, it will be made available without constraints.
  3. If a user can obfuscate their identity, they will.
  4. The User Base, the population of the New Internet, dictates the direction of the online market.

Business models that forget these basic realities about the New Internet will fail.

Marketable goods must correspond to at least one of these properties:

  • tangible Item
  • reliable Guarantee
  • enjoyable Experience

Only these can be sold online, for only they have meaning in the Real World on their own. Anything that can be copied and/or provided by oneself cannot be sold.

Multimedia is digital. Multimedia Business will undergo a revolution. This is how I see Business on the New Internet:

Literature

With the advent of the electronic books, printed books will become collectibles. The will to save paper and to carry vast quantities of literature in a lightweight format will outweigh the need for printed copies in day-to-day life.

Novels, newspapers, manuals and magazines will all be available in electronic form.

Radio

Radio guarantees broadcast of highly intelligible communication even in the most cut-off areas of the World and Space.

Communication expert, guarantee of wireless communication, and provider of background information and entertainment, the Radio lives on relatively unaltered.

Music

The Artists will retain ownership of their works. Companies will pay for licenses to publish the work of Artists, along with works from other artists, in any format.

Published Collections with glossy Cover art, and witty commentary become the sold goods. Concerts are the main marketable commodity.

Graphic art

Photographers and painters release their work under Non-Commercial Creative Commons licenses. Their work is found on the Net, and companies hire the best and brightest of them to forward their image.

Originals sell. Signed prints are the marketable goods. Art by Commission returns.

Cinema

The View-and-Leave model is over. High-definition screens and high-bandwidth provide home cinema experience.

Affordable Event Cinema houses allow web users to determine viewings, and provide film-relevant events and entertainment after viewings.

High Event Cinema going is a mix of experiences; tours of actors, producers, artists and technicians accompany the live showing of films, followed by conferences with the artists – composer interviews and concerts, talks with graphic designers, technology seminars and all associated trades take place.

Television

High-transfer rates on the Net removes broadcast station monopoly. Stations are backed by advertising, content is provided online. On-demand viewing provides always higher-quality image and sound, and 100% uptime, no load wait.

Extra hardware for audio and visual quality are sold or leased, guaranteed uptime is the marketed service.

Video games

The console rules the roost. PC gaming is online and requires subscription for advanced experience. Subscriptions are linked to bank accounts, not readily available emails or copiable and subvertible product keys. In-game time sinks, real or perceived, are removed to maintain game reputation.

Software

The best engineers lead projects and know limitations and capabilities of software. They lead and direct open-source programmers who provide code on an allegiance basis.

Home software is free; commercial software runs businesses, and guarantee fixes and customization – bespoke tailoring of base-package solutions.

Support is the main revenue stream.

Security

Online accounts are hosted by security services, staffed by White Hats. They monitor accounts and pro-actively battle Black Hat intruders.

DRM will fail, but document privatization of documents will prevail. Private documents require a server for decoding. Stronger algorithms protect documents. Privatized documents survived where DRM failed, because DRM servers could be shut down at the whim of providers. Companies have functional interest in keeping authentication servers up. Companies providing DRM content did not.

Is your business ready for the New Internet?

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The Core of Social Networks

Social Network – what is the main activity of a social network site?

There are innumerable kinds of sites on which a social network can be built, but only so many are social networking sites per se.

Basically, any site that requires the user to have a profile can become a social networking site. The prime nature of the site however dictates how much of a social networking site it is, as opposed to an interests-sharing facility.

Blogs – blogging sites (e.g. LiveJournal, Blogger, …) are used by people who enjoy writing and/or sharing opinions. Whether it be about the days events in a mundane life, a tech review, articles about your latest recipes, deliberation on the latest film, or even a political platform, it’s where Text is. Profile owners’ main activity is writing. Most users’ activity is reading. You can build a small social net in such an environment for the sake of keeping up to date with the latest banter, but there’s hardly much “social networking” rather than “intellectual networking.” It’s a high tech way of subscribing to a massive letters-to-the-editor column.

Media Share – media sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube, …) also offer the possibility of social networking, but most activity is browsing and watching. Maybe one will subscribe to another user’s feed to keep up with their postings because they often have something of good quality. Maybe they have their own podcast to share with the world. Who knows. But it’s not really a “social net” – rather the next best thing after TV. Pick and choose your channels, and say what’s in this hour’s show guide.

Dating Sites – okay, here’s a social net, with a particularity. It’s definitely focused on the person you’re dealing with – but it’s not so much a social net than an interactive directory. I assume most of the people you would add to your list will be forgotten within the week, with only really a handful being kept in the long term, in which case they’ll move to…

The email list – the social net per excellence, the first ever on the web. In my view a social network utility is just that – a utility. The Social Networking Utility (let me call it a SNU if I want) does little more than provide a framework for interacting with people. With email, the main function is staying in contact with people, and interacting directly with them. The only actions ever performed (apart form maybe adding a contact) are reading emails directed at you, and writing emails to specific contacts.

A social network for me is a way for me to keep up to date with my friends. This includes sending them messages, and from time to time seeing photos of their latest antics. In the messages section, coordinating calendars is the next step up. Whereas in emails one merely states the happening of an event, an Event Signpost can be set up. This is true with sites like FaceBook and MySpace (on the latter, musicians can setup gig dates and advertise these; on the former, nearly any kind of event is possible).

The main activity on a social networking site should be interacting with contacts. Bloggers write articles. Sharers generally post content without a thought of anyone in particular in mind. Daters search, chat, and move on. MySpacers are busy customizing and adding content to their profiles. FaceBookers are busy biting eachother digitally, or throwing pixelated poo at each others profiles. Nice. SNUsers send messages and organize events.

But what bugs me most is this: the concept of the social net is all in the structure – in the protocol. Never mind if you’re signed up for an author’s site. Never mind if your profile is mainly concerned with music videos. Who cares if your profile is always up to date with the latest info on you (well, apart from those looking for a person like you…). Between these different kinds of profiles, there should be a standard means of communication and search.

If you’re a photographer on Flickr and you want to discuss a project with your pal on YouTube, and get some cool concepts in the plan from an artist on Deviant Art – there should be a means to a) contact all of them at once and b) setup an event to all at once. Maybe you want to host a party for all your artist friends, whether they’re on one socialnet, another, or even if they are on none and they just have their profile. Why could’t you keep this list of friends of all SNUs in the same place?

Well that’s what I am hoping to set out to solve with the PUMP (Private User Message Protocol), a messaging protocol project, and SOUP (Simple Online User Profile), my profile buiding/sharing project which together are intended to rule the net as the ultimate SNU.

Nah, I’m hardly ambitious….. :-p

A reason behind religion

In the course of trying to plan out a novel, I am trying to create and document a religious form for its inhabitants. Originally this was supposed to take a non-mythological form, all based around rational thinking. But the more I reflected on it (and this is the domain of theological psychology; my thoughts being further prompted by a printed article in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10875666), the more I realized that without the dogmatism of something unquestionnable, such as the Will of God for example, there is an inherent possibility to throw each and every rule out the window at any given point. This can be for the better or the worse, but the point is not there.

A “faith” based in the scientific methods cannot form a religious community: it forms a democratic one, in which the majority voice of the people wins it over the rules their predecessors have laid down; whereas in a properly religious community, any decision of what is right or wrong can be deferred to the Supreme Being(s).

Up the Faction Ladder

As a community grows larger it becomes harder to moderate the interactions between the disparate groups within (which I will call factions). The larger the community, the more sparse any interaction between an individual and any other becomes. There are a select few who will be the most frequently contacted, and this grouping around any one individual becomes a faction. Whilst within a faction, a level of mutual and self-initiated respect is upheld by each and every individual, this becomes less so as the group grows.

As such, each faction appoints (or is appointed) a leader (implicitly, the leader in a group of friends is the most popular person), and each collection of factions elects a leader to the rank above (think from community to neighbourhood representative), to moderate at different levels the interactions between the now dispersed entities. This deference of responsibility goes up and up, until we reach a point where we need an authority that everyone agrees cannot be questioned. That authority is “God” or “the gods” or “the Natural Order”. The interpretation of how to behave in the light of such Truth is the basis of our sense of morality, the practical derivative which we use to guide us through our actions, and keep the group as a whole running relatively smoothly, with the idea (and system) of justice present to smooth out the creases.

In a religious society, the morals are defined and passed down through the generations as truths not to be questioned, rules not to be broken. They are firmly engrained into our belief system (thanks or due to our parents) and as per this definition, anything that is different is a “wrong” way of doing something. This exclusiveness is what has allowed small communities to develop through time into vast states, even Empires, united under a relatively homogenous way of thinking (at a very broad level mind you). It is, as anyone should be quick to point out, also the source of many woes.

On the other hand, science allows for the questioning of the model at hand, which is constantly updated with the latest information, refactored to take into account as many facts of the world around us as can be perceived, and also allows us to infer new possibilities that can reside hidden in the cosmos, attainable only by the power of our minds.

The argument against a faith based on science

So, to come back to the original problem: why can there not be a religion based on scientific principles?

Democracy is based on the aforementioned ideal of encompassing every known truth about the state of the world, by deciding that the desire that is expressed most widely is the one to adopt at any given time. Bis repetita placent. The problem here is that each person has their own reality, their own values derived through the ancestors to its current form and influenced by the world around us. As each person evolves socially and experiences the world around them differently, each person therefore splits back into their factions, leaving a heterogenous, divided collective of factions, decreasingly united by the number shared of moral values as we zoom out to the larger communities; values which, by the nature of their not being scientifically quantifiable, can only in social analysis carry equal weight.

The result is that no one set of moral values can be applied to a group of people, short of creating a dogmatic rule – one solution is religion, which speaks to the heart, another is political system, which speaks to the mind; and whilst any leader in a political system may be questioned by virtue of their being merely human, the Supreme Being(s) itself/themselves/Himself cannot. The closest a person can come to this is by becoming a dictator, and even that person cannot keep the illusion of the divine for long.

In both cases, such ruling dogma can be seen as a tool for a purpose: to maintain cohesiveness amongst a large group of free-radicals who would otherwise be in a state of chaos; and as a tool it can be wielded for both beneficial and degenerative purposes. The ideal would be a benevolent dictator: one who would remain unquestioned – not merely by the awesomeness of their power, but also in the belief that what they are doing is truly and sincerely in the interest of all.

Such a belief is maintained in a religious community. Those who hold faith in their religion do not question, because they earnestly believe in the benevolence of their Supreme. In a political system? I do not believe there can be such an individual, because it would be hard for all people to believe in a powerful human being’s earnest good will, since it would require a purity unheard of to hold out against the temptation to abuse such power.

In conclusion, and to wrap up with Apalmia once more, I am going to have to give the Apalmians some supernatural Supreme Beings at some point, if only for the sake of being able to give them a certain level of homogenous identity which would not be short of drone-like had there not been some deity involved.