Monthly Archives: December 2008

The ethics of what we eat

In their book “ The Ethics of What We Eat“, authors Peter Singer and Jim Mason cover a lot of ground in their discussion of balancing our needs and wants for food with the impacts on others. To help guide suggestions on what we should be eating, at the end of the book they outline five ethical principles that they think most people will share.

  1. Transparency: we have a right to know how our food is produced.
  2. Fairness: producing food should not impose unfair costs on others.
  3. Humanity: inflicting significant suffering on animals for minor reasons is wrong.
  4. Social responsibility: workers should have decent wages and working conditions.
  5. Needs: preserving life and health justifies more than other desires.

Based on this, they then look at the main classes of food and determine how well they adhere to these principles. Sadly, little of our supermarket food lives up to these principles. They point out that:

In supermarkets and ordinary grocery stores, you should assume that all food — unless specifically labelled otherwise — comes from the mainstream food industry and has not been produced in a manner that is humane, sustainable, or environmentally friendly. Animal products, in particular, will virtually all be from factory farms unless the package clearly states the contrary.

Remember that it’s not in food producers’ interests for us to know how our food is produced.

With all the potential impacts that food has — on slave labour, animal exploitation, land degradation, wetland pollution, rural depopulation, unfair trade practices, global warming, and the destruction of rainforests — you could easily become paralysed, as in a minefield, afraid to make any decisions. Fortunately, Singer and Mason remind us that ” ethical thinking can be sensitive to circumstances“. You need to weigh up your own interests in food choices, but don’t outweigh the major interests of others affected by your choices. 

It’s all about making better choices, and that comes from some knowledge of potential impacts, and of options. Making choices that promote one or more of the five principles above is a positive step.

Sow stall

Automat soft synth

When I'm writing music, the first soft synth I usually go for is the free Automat by Alphakanal.
I've been a bit slow in getting to the new version (1.01), but it has
even more knobs than before, which is enough to get any synth geek's

Knob quantity aside, this synth has some quality features like three
oscillators with internal and external waveforms, each with its own
multi-mode filter/shaper; an overall multi-mode filter; three effects;
fourteen LFOs, random patch generation, portamento, and more.  And did
I mention it's free? 

Screenshot 1

Screenshot 2

HP-42S nearly on iPhone

The Free42 port to the iPhone is getting closer. Screenshots look nice — see below . I’ve never owned an HP-42S but it’s my calculator of choice on my laptop and my old Palm, and often regarded as the best HP calculator ever released.  I’m making do with the i41CX for the moment.

Free42 for iPhone

Update 12-Jan: It’s now available on iTunes.

Industry trends in a downturn

An article from McKinsey looking at historical industry data in previous downturns, and an indicator of what will happen in this one.  In IT in particular, they point out that…

During recessions, tech spending has historically fallen more than GDP has. Our research (covering economic downturns in 50 countries over the past 13 years) indicates that IT spending typically fell 5 to 7 times farther than GDP, with the most severe declines in hardware (which fell 8 to 9 times GDP) and less severe ones in software and services (3 to 5 times GDP).

They point out, however, that the drop in 2001 was worse because of the IT bubble preceding it, partly fueled by Y2K and web excitement.

Consumer goods is an interesting area in that education is a strong area of increase during a recession, at the same time that people cut back on food away from home, personal-care products, and tobacco (see picture).


Christmas spam

So I received the usual personal letters this year from two schoolfriends, who (or whose wives) continue to send out a friendly update on the ups and downs (almost always ups) of their loved ones over the year. They’re personal because they’re addressed to my wife and I, and start with a cheery “Dear Andrew and Libby”. From then on, disappointment descends as I realise, yet again, that that is where the personalisation ends, because — and you’ve probably worked it out by now — they’re a form letter. Nothing for us in particular? No targeted content, no personal questions about our health and well-being, or that of our animals? No, just paragraphs about marvellous holidays, children’s report cards, renovations, and other minutae of domestic life. Nothing intellectual, god forbid, about a good book they’ve read, their thoughts on the origins of the global financial crisis, their views on the Internet censorship argument, or even to celebrate the election of the most eligible presidential candidate since JFK? No, it’s all common denominator stuff, white bread vegemite sandwich fare, suitable for relative and distant acquaintance alike, with all the subtlely and wit of a cereal packet. Thank you very much for your kind thoughts.

But, there is a way to make this all completely acceptable! It’s called a blog. Post your Christmas message on the Internet, with a couple of photos, a few choice hyperlinks to the holiday destinations, and send the URL in an email. Presto, you have a perfectly lovely, web 2.0, eco-friendly way to spam all your friends with the annual exploits of your nearest and dearest, without the pretention of familiarity and a personal greeting.