Sunday, November 4, 2012

Under-Utilizing Resoures, and the Paradox of Thrift [EBP 3].

Cryptic, yes, but read on.  Source.

My posts often fall into one of two categories: there's something I've learned about and wish to inform/discuss with others, or something that irritates me and I want to rant.  I suppose this post will be a partial mix of the two.

It's hard to say exactly what is happening in the economy right now.  There are constantly indicators which look promising (and Canada's Government makes great strides to ensure you know this), but at the same time we face persistently high rates of unemployment, with the 18-35 demographic particularly hard-hit.  I personally found myself unemployed for the entirety of last year (though for four months, I was a part-time student), and was particularly discouraged when I could not even get a call-back for a job loading and unloading trucks.  Luckily, I found a job.  It's round-the-clock shift work, but I have a steady paycheque, and that puts me way ahead of most of my peers.  That said, shift work is certainly not my ideal career end-game, and I work with a lot of people who are not chemists by education.  I don't want to work there forever and ever, but with the job market the way it is, I can't fathom leaving.

The job market is currently a tough place to find yourself in, and most economic indicators still put us in "challenging" territory.  You'll also hear a lot of corporations and government talking about belt-tightening, reigning in budgets and taking austerity measures [exactly what the first two terms meant, but it sounds fancier].  However, and feel free to correct me, this appears to be the exact opposite of what everyone should be doing.

After gaining a casual interest in economics, I have come across the concept of the Paradox of Thrift.  You see, times are tough, and our base instinct is to save money.  We put off buying that shiny new tech item, new vehicles, and men's undergarments [I'm not kidding, it's an important economic indicator].  So people throw money away into savings accounts, fearing a rainy day.  Corporations too, will keep large sums of money, fearing the worst.  Governments which spent heavily on stimulus cut back on spending in an attempt to balance budgets.  It all seems perfectly reasonable, and it is helping no-one.  After all, saving money only keeps it out of circulation.

When considering the general population, saving seems a little more understandable.  These are individuals, and in challenging economic times it seems reasonable that jobs could be lost and with it, one's entire revenue stream.  It also seems reasonable with corporations, though the problems become more pronounced.  The Guardian has published an article which is very much par for the course when reading about corporate wealth in 2012.  Corporations are currently sitting on historic* amounts of cash.  Some of this is being paid out to investors in the form of dividends.  Unfortunately, since most people invest in companies as a form of savings and not income, this money doesn't end up in circulation.

[* - I have no idea if this figure is historic, I think I heard this used at one point, though it may have been exaggerated or misremembered in my own mind.]

So what does this leave us with?  Governments spent, and are still spending, large sums of money in hopes to kick-start the economy. In my post on Government stimulus, I gave an example of how Government spending can mitigate downward economic trends and help recovery.  I have since learned that this can be somewhat compounded by the Keynesian concept of the multiplier.  When the Government injects cash into an economy by way of spending on public works, the workers now have money which is spent on goods and services, mostly locally.  Those secondary beneficiaries of Government spending are then free to spend more, creating tertiary beneficiaries of the stimulus, and so on.  Keynes [or rather, his protege Kahn, I think], originally estimated that in Great Britain, at the height of the Great Depression, each dollar of government spending would represent two in circulation because increased monetary circulation.

So corporations have benefitted from government stimuli, and are reaping in large amounts of cash.  Now, normally one might assume that the corporations could then invest that money in hiring new employees, who then have money to spend.  This is the way to recovery, and the current reality may be the reason the global economy is still sluggish.

Having just recently graduated, I can see the effects of this corporate stinginess first hand.  I know both people with what I would regard as a more general skill-set [Arts majors who are then qualified to work in almost any business environment], and those with very specialized skill-sets [STEM jobs, Science, Technology, Engineering, Math].  These people, all of them, are capable of generating vast amounts of wealth with their expertise.  This may be through their unique skill sets, their dedication [evidenced by a Bachelor's degree] and work ethic, or all of the above.

So where are these potential wealth generators?  I know, and have heard of, advanced degree holders working at Denny's and Lululemon.  I know a receptionist.  I know several people who are unemployed outright.  I know others who have retreated back into graduate school in order to earn a paycheque [and it's a trend, see this comic]:
As an aside, this is a really excellent comic strip.

When I see this happen, I see an under-utilization of our nation's resources.  These people are ready, willing, and able to do more.  These people are capable of generating new wealth for the private sector. These people can balance troubled government budgets with increased personal and corporate tax revenue.  By sitting on these vast piles of cash, corporations are causing the very uncertainty they are trying to protect themselves against.


P.S.  "Code Red" by Delhi 2 Dublin was an excellent song to listen to while writing that final paragraph.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eggs, and Things [the Media Says] Scientists Say.

An egg.  I usually make mine over easy, but this is okay too.  Source.

It is all over the headlines recently.  Eating egg yolks is as bad for you as smoking.  An egg yolk is equivalent to five kicks to the groin.  The Ministry of National Defense has begun studying mechanisms by which egg yolks could be weaponised.  Scientists postulate the dinosaurs went extinct from eating too many cholesterol-filled eggs.  For the record, I can't believe that any of these statements would be published, but fire up Google, and see for yourself.  I'd like to give my two cents on the matter, and hopefully offer some clarity to my tens of regular readers (by the by, I'm sure you're looking quite dapper in top hat and shined monocle).

The contention of these articles, and the University of Western Ontario's medical study, is that eating eggs (with yolks), and smoking are roughly equivalent in terms of the damage they do to your arteries.  The primary criticism (and I can't believe only this is the primary criticism), is that eggs and cigarettes damage arteries in completely different ways.  Cholesterol (which eggs contain) causes plaques to build up on arterial walls, while smoking inflames arterial walls.  The effect is ... roughly  the same.  I would like to levy a series of criticisms, if you will allow me.

First, from all the reading I have completed on the subject, as well as a lecture from a chemist on the subject, ingesting cholesterol in food does not necessarily directly affect the amount of cholesterol in your blood.  Many of you may have heard of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.  This refers to high-density lipoprotein (HDL, "good" cholesterol) and low density lipoprotein (LDL, "bad" cholesterol).  These represent the way that the body moves lipids (i.e. "fats") around in your water-based body.  HDL is called good, because it is the form your body manufactures when it is moving fat to the liver for utilization, so the higher the rate of HDL in your bloodstream, the better.  Within reason, of course.

So cholesterol is involved in carrying fat around in your body.  Does that mean that eating cholesterol will increase your blood cholesterol?  Let's take a quotation directly from Wikipedia.  I am not saying that Wikipedia is infallible, but this statement supports everything I have read on the subject:

"... most ingested cholesterol is esterified and esterified cholesterol is poorly absorbed. The body also compensates for any absorption of additional cholesterol by reducing cholesterol synthesis. For these reasons, cholesterol intake in food has little, if any, effect on total body cholesterol content or concentrations of cholesterol in the blood."

So there you have it, ingesting cholesterol does not directly affect your cholesterol blood levels.  Though, hang on a moment.  The study did find that the ingestion of egg yolks correlates with high cholesterol.  This is a fact, and I will not dispute it.  However, it correlates, meaning egg yolk consumption usually goes hand in hand with high cholesterol.  It does not say that egg yolk ingestion causes high cholesterol, but if it does, it shouldn't.  So, why would this be the case?  Well, the doctors running the study did not bother checking for external factors that may also influence blood cholesterol.  This would admittedly be difficult to do for over 1000 people.  So, here's my hypothesis: perhaps when people are eating egg yolks, they're not just eating what is pictured at the head of this article, perhaps they're eating something that more closely resembles the following.

So maybe, just maybe the blame does not belong to the egg yolks, perhaps it is what is eaten alongside the egg yolks.  Perhaps a patient's blood cholesterol levels are high because of all the extra lipids the body is forced to deal with when one ingests such a feast, and not the cholesterol in the egg yolks.  And maybe the media likes to run with a catchy headline, and might not want to do all the fact checking they should.

So eat eggs [, damn it].  According to (a thoroughly wonderful site), two fried eggs have 137 calories, 16% of your daily recommended fat (you do need a certain amount of fat to live well), and 19% of your daily recommended protein.  It's a good start to your day, just not alongside everything pictured above.


P.S.  I swear to various deities, if I hear ONE more person say "Well, first they said eggs were good for you, then eggs are bad, I just don't know what to believe!"  Think critically, and read the full article.  Not just the headline.

P.P.S. Edit on 2013-11-25, link to the article.  What an article.  Though admittedly, I'm just guessing that people who order an egg white omelettes are probably watching their fat intake.  It's a wild, crazy guess. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

R&D, the Other, Better Stimulus [EBP2]

John Maynard Keynes, the reason for stimulus packages. Source.

It's been too long a time since I've last posted, and you have my apologies.  I assure you they are many, and quite well reasoned.  Now that's out of the way, let's take a long, rambling walk through my thoughts.

The impacts of the 2008 recession can still be seen and felt throughout the developed world, co-dependence and international trade ensuring that we all go down together.  Admittedly, we here in Canada are doing quite well when compared to our counterparts in Spain, where youth unemployment is over 50%.  At least most of us are only underemployed, here.  Now, when faced with this economic crisis, governments did what they usually do, they utilized fundamentals of Keynesian economics.

Keynes, not long ago in terms of world history, hypothesized that recessions were ultimately caused by a lack of demand for products and services.  Without any demand, a company's revenue would fall, and necessitate the firing of staff.  Now these former employees would be out of work, and not able to spend money, decreasing revenues elsewhere, until you have a recession.  People by and large have accepted this interpretation to be true, and it is generally accepted that the only way to put a stop to it is with government stimulus.  This is a way to pump a large amount of money into an economy.

Say the government needs some buildings put up, or some roads repaired.  It hires workers to do the construction.  Those workers then have money, and are able to maybe spend a little at the bar, and on some fancy new electronics.  Now the bar owner has a little more money to spare, as do the factory workers making the electronics, and they can afford to spend a little more on luxuries.  This, simplistic and not at all well-developed example, is how government can stop, or at least mitigate the downward spiral into a recession, and help its population out.

Now, spending on infrastructure is great.  We need it, the population needs money, it's about as win-win as it gets in a global recession.  And that's exactly what most of the western world did, but a lot of that world is still hurting economically.  However, one nation seems to be leading the pack, and the rest of us might be able to learn from them.

I speak of South Korea (because the North isn't doing so well).  Foreign Policy ran an article on the "winners" of the Great Recession, and South Korea came out on top.  What did they do, you might ask?  They took their research and development budget, 3.4% of their GDP (a figure which is competitive with the best in the world), and increased it to 5%.  We can debate the true cause until we are blue in the face, but they were the first country to emerge from the recession, and the average household income has increased for the past 11 quarters (three months under three years).

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, a popular astrophysicist, is fond of promoting funding to NASA whenever he has a captive audience.  He notes that not only does it inspire a generation of youth, but it also contributes to the economic growth and well-being of the United States.  I honestly think he presents a biased view at least in part.  I am currently a professional chemist, and I cannot recall being drawn to science by viewing the space program as a child.  That fact aside, Tyson is absolutely right about R&D spending being good for the economy.  Most of the consumer electronics you use today are a result of the space program trying to make computers lighter so that they could reduce payload costs.

When money is pumped into R&D, it develops new technologies and processes.  The company or body responsible now has an automatic, albeit temporary, monopoly because everyone else is now catching up.  The new product or service will make money for the company, and the government in the form of new tax revenues.  In fact, Dr. Tyson points out that NASA spending actually makes the government money.  Further, in a post that is as-yet unpublished, I point out that the Government of Canada gets increasing dividends the more it spends on the National Research Council.

Gerhard Herzberg, a Canadian Nobel Laureate, would agree.  He was a big fan of basic research - research for the sake of gaining knowledge, not necessarily with any economic or technology in mind.  He told a story in a short publication on the subject, which I will repeat [poorly] here.  A small team of Canadian scientists received funding from the government once upon a time, and they used the funding to investigate a very particular physical process.  This investigation led them to believe they could make a new, better balance (like a scale, but fancy and science-y).  They did, they made a bundle of money when every standards/measurement body from all over the world ordered this state-of-the-art balance, and the government made a tonne of money in tax revenue.

When governments spend on infrastructure, it's necessary, and a recession is a great time to do it.  However, at least in the latest recession, I would argue we could have spent a lot more on R&D than we did.  Canada has the National Research Council, an existing body into which we could have pumped funds.  The evidence suggests that governments tend to make back what they spend in R&D through increased tax revenue.  R&D spending can develop entirely new economies, and spin-off companies can hire not only scientists, but general labourers (the very people construction projects are meant to help) and support staff.  The government makes money, Canadians make money, and Keynesian economics would suggest that Canada will be all the better for it.


P.S.  Not proofreading; too tired.  If anyone finds any mistakes, message me and I'll do my best to fix it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Evidence-Based Practices. [EBP1]

He's right, darn it. Source.


Admittedly, the blog has been neglected.  I blame my new bicycle.  If it were not such a pleasant machine, I would be more than happy to spend my time inside, telling the internet how I feel about things.

I have, however, been thinking about possible writing topics.  I would like to begin discussing evidence-based practice and practices, but I am not sure about the most efficient method by which to proceed.  I believe that I shall make a series of it, rather than having a giant article outlining all the evidence-based practices (EBP) I find interesting (the composition could take days, or even weeks).  According to Wikipedia, an EBP is one which relies upon reliable, repeated data gathering rather than one which follows rules, single observations or custom.

I'll attempt to elaborate here, though I will disclose that you should take what I say with a grain of salt.  I am not an expert, nor am I fully awake at the moment.  A practice following rules is a simple concept, like crossing the street at marked intersections or crosswalks as opposed to illegally jaywalking.  A practice following custom would be simply doing something "the way it has always been done".  An anecdote from a friend springs to mind.  An elderly man used to dispose of charcoal ash in a garbage can full of paper because that was the way he had always done it, meaning it was his custom to do so.  His garage eventually burned when hot coals and old newspaper did what hot things and newspaper usually do together.  This would be an hilarious example of a practice based upon custom rather than evidence (because although disposal safely happened previous to this incident, there is considerable evidence that newspaper will readily combust).

I would argue the trickiest counter-example above is the "single observation".  Not the trickiest concept, but the hardest to ignore.  Here, I recall a radio interview with a researcher studying the effects of yoga on weight loss objectives.  He found a trend that the human metabolism tended to slow for yoga practitioners, and that those who do not change their eating habits are at risk of weight gain.  Naturally, since it was a call-in show, the phone lines were inundated with calls from yoga practitioners who had lost weight.  The researcher had not said that yoga stopped weight loss, but that was how people heard it.  He ended up sounding like a broken record when explaining that he noticed a general trend and not an absolute rule.  In short, counterexamples do not disprove general trends, it just proves that outliers exist.  Similarly, anecdotal evidence does not necessarily imply a rule or trend exists.  For example, you probably shouldn't eat your ground beef rare just because that's the way your Uncle Jimmy does it, and he's never had a problem.

In fact, some EBP fly in the face of common sense.  A statistical study in Australia suggests that mandatory helmet laws for cyclists actually increases the number of cycling-related injuries.  It would seem that mandatory helmet laws greatly decrease the number of cyclists on the road, largely because we are a vain people and our hairstyle is important to us.  It has been hypothesized that as the number of cyclists on Australian roads decreased so much that motor vehicles became less accustomed to dealing with them, which caused a higher incidence of accidents.  Personally, I always wear my helmet to prevent brain trauma in the event of a crash.  However, this study leads me to believe that mandatory helmet laws are a bad idea, because that is what the evidence suggests.

I'll leave you to think about that last point.  If you weren't aware, the chief coroner for Ontario recently presented a report calling for mandatory helmet laws, because every cycling-related death in the past five years has involved head trauma.  It's an interesting dichotomy to think about, but based on the evidence, I'll continue to argue against helmet laws, but I'll wear one myself.


Edit (2014-01-11):
Title says it all, really.  Source.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

All Natural Ingredients, No Preservatives*

The picture is pretty self-explanatory.

I'd like to briefly touch on some marketing that makes me bristle ever so slightly.  This movement towards "all-natural ingredients that mothers can actually pronounce!"

First off, I would like to direct your attention to the picture which heads this post.  You'll notice an asterisk [*] where it says that no preservatives have been added to the ham.  An explanation below on the packaging explains that there are no preservatives other than those "natural ingredients" listed.  I find this ridiculous.  The salt, vinegar, and lemon juice will contribute to preserving the meat.  This is, of course, where ham originated as an edible.  Smoked, salted meat resisted spoiling during the long winter months, guaranteeing our forefathers meat protein during long, cold winters that predated refrigerators.

This brings me to the "smoke flavour".  This product appears to want to give the appearance of transparency, in that poor, barely literate mothers will be able to wrap their feeble minds around what has actually been put into the meat they will feed to their darling children (because won't somebody please think of the children?).  However, I would argue that this is not transparent at all.  Sure, mothers can pronounce "smoke flavour", but what is the smoke flavour exactly?  Are any of the ingredients in this flavour carcinogenic [cancer-causing]?  Is the flavour a distillate of actual smoke, or is it purely fabricated in a laboratory?  Does it contain sodium nitrate or nitrite?  It would be nice to know.  Actual smoked meat contains high[-er than normal] levels of these nitrogen-containing compounds, and doctors recommend against a diet high in said compounds.  Further, what is "spice"?  It can be pronounced, sure, but what is it?  Dishonest, that's what.

I'd also like to inquire as to the exact point at which we stopped trusting preservatives.  It seems that everyone wants to boast a preservative-free product.  Even beer marketers tout a preservative-free brew, despite the fact that the beer uses hops as a preservative.  However, there is a reason that preservatives are used.  Without the use of preservatives in our current food system, food-borne illness would be much more prevalent than it is now, and these are potentially life-threatening illnesses.  It's a similar situation to fire retardant materials.  Yes, the materials are toxic if you make a habit of snacking on couch cushions.  But without fire retardants, houses (and further, cities) are essentially very large tinder boxes.  In fact, I've heard people decry the retardants because they eject halogens (nasty fumes).  This is, of course, the only way scientists have figured out to keep a material from burning.  You know what else causes nasty fumes?  Fires.  Think about it.

To keep this post from being longer than it has to be, I'll more or less end with one further detail.  I'm certain that this product contains ascorbic acid.  If television marketing is to be believed, an ingredient like ascorbic acid on a food label would cause housewives everywhere to throw out the product, and run out into the streets, arms flailing wildly to warn other housewives of the danger of this unpronounceable item.  In actuality, ascorbic acid is vitamin C, and would be present in the lemon juice.  It's good for you, but those three syllables don't exactly roll off the tongue.


P.S.  I'm just a touch sleep deprived, you may need to forgive me on how this post turned out.
P.P.S.  The ham was delicious.  I would definitely buy it again.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Montreal Protests.

Protesters in Montreal wearing masks.  The practise has since been made illegal.  Source.

It would appear that there is a bit of a kerfuffle just east from where I write this post.  Across la belle province, students are organizing and protesting the provincial government's proposed increases to the cost of post secondary tuition, currently the lowest in the country for Quebecois students.  As a disclaimer, I will admit that I went to school in Ontario (where tuition fees are higher, but not the highest in the country), and that each province has a different paradigm.  However, I would still like to offer my thoughts on the matter.

I have seen my share of outrage over student fees in the past six years.  As with the changing of the leaves, and the tang of wood smoke in the air, the appearance of the "Drop Fees" movement/protest is a sure sign that autumn has arrived in your university town.  I originally agreed with the original premise of this, but after gaining some experience and perspective, I came to learn that the dropping of student fees effects an equivalent drop in student services.  Nothing else changes, but the student experience suffers.  The problem with this group is that they have given no thought as to how the fees should be lowered, or how the loss of funding can be realistically be recouped.

It is my feeling that this is the same spirit from which the anger in Quebec stems.  It appears shocking at the surface; the Quebec government will see tuition raised by 75% over five to seven years (depending on how the "negotiations" go).  However, this is a 75% increase in an artificially low tuition.  According to the fine fellow running This Geographical Life, the tuition in Quebec was originally made low to combat the trend where only the wealthy and/or English were receiving a post-secondary education.  I would agree that this was a noble and necessary effort.  The problem now is that the former issue is largely solved.  The Quebecois are as educated as the average Canadian (or so I assume, due to economic accessibility), and the University of Quebec has enough branches to make learning geographically accessible.

Now, this alone is not a reason to raise the price of an education.  The debt situation in Quebec is.  The province is roughly $180 billion in debt.  The tuition hike is but a small part of a strategy to balance (or at least, "make less scary") the budget.  It may be a tough pill to swallow, but Quebec is spending in an unsustainable manner, and the consequences of maintaining such low tuition rates could have far worse consequences than having fewer degree holders around.

However, the protesters do not want to hear that.  Though it does not appear that the protesters are just students any longer.  Other groups have joined the protests with their own agendas (separatists, anarchists, hippies), and many appear to be short sighted and lacking in impulse control.  Further, we also see those who appear to be everywhere in Canada these days, people that wait for a large enough crowd to gather so that they can break things.

I will leave you with two excellent points made to me recently.  One, from my cousin.  He posits that if you genuinely feel that a university/post-secondary education is going to benefit your career, get a student loan.  Most loans can be paid off within a year of making a salary that one can earn after obtaining a degree.  If you are going to school for the sake of going to school, perhaps you should reconsider that philosophy degree.  The second point I will leave you with refers to the picture at the top of this post.  It was given by someone I heard on the radio, but I do not remember the name.  The recent banning of masks in a protest is perfectly acceptable.  If you truly believe in a cause, and you truly believe the cause is just, you should be willing to associate your face with your protest.


P.S.  I also listened to a radio interview where the caller (Quebecois) waited tables to pay for tuition.  And rent.  And expenses.  Without loans.  The only other time I've heard of that being possible was when my parent's generation attended university.  I was dumbfounded.

Edit: My cousin has expressed an interest in clarifying his statements.  The un-edited message I received follows:

So, I wrote this long reply to your blog post to have it turn out to be too long. If you'd like to post it, go ahead. Here:

Good cousin, I'd like to clarify my quote and perhaps my feelings on the drop fees people and working through school as well.

Firstly, I like OSAP. I know a lot of people are booing and making faces at me right now, but that's unfair. You'll never get such a reasonable loan in your life. Especially when you're 18 years old with zero money and zero collateral. First, OSAP only charges you up to a fixed amount. If you require more than that, they give it to you in a grant and you don't need to repay it. Secondly, they run your name and specifics through a massive database of grants and scholarships. It requires no effort on your behalf, they simply give you free money. I myself as well as many others have found this out first hand. Thirdly, OSAP doesn't charge interest until you finish classes. That's at least three years (probably more) of compound interest you don't have to pay. Fourth, if you don't have a job when it comes time to repay your loans they fall all over themselves to give you more interest relief. I took a year off of school and OSAP sought me out several times to offer interest relief. It was great. Fifth, when they do charge you interest, it is quite close to prime. Prime plus one if memory serves. Again, very reasonable. Lastly, say your parent's make too much money but give you none for school, you merely have to wait a couple of years or live a year on your own to prove you're not dependant. After that they throw even more money at you. OSAP is not out to make money off of you, they are there to make education accessible to you.

Having established that OSAP is actually quite reasonable, it's a bad idea to work your way through university (I can't speak for college). In fact, attempting to do so will lower the quality of your education. My main point is this: your earning potential prior to university is AT LEAST half of what it is afterwards. This means that you'll pay for university at least twice as fast if you pay for it after you graduate than before. In addition to this, university is a 40-60 hr per week job. If you're working a second job then it's eating into either your study time or your social time: both incredibly important to your education. You need time with your friends so you don't go crazy and learn social skills. You need to actually do your readings. You need to actually think about your topics rather than just telling your prof what the prof wants to think. You need to discuss the subject matter with your colleagues (this is where most of the learning happens). You need to sleep, otherwise you won't remember what you've learned and you won't learn it well. If you're working then you're learning less, enjoying your education less, and spending at least twice as much time paying for it. I know you can factor in interest and you end up paying more overall, however assuming double your earning potential is the bare minimum. Even with a "worthless" philosophy degree you should be able to make $20 an hour FULL TIME vs. 10-15 part time. Do yourself a favour and get a loan.

In terms of those drop fees people, I think they're looking at the wrong factors. School is expensive, but in my experience as an arts student, rent and food are the highest costs. Tuition, books, student fees, have been fairly reasonable for what I've received. Universities aren't there to make profit, they're there to do research. Buildings cost money. Staff cost money. Professors need to be paid, though I've found out they don't make especially high amounts of money from the university, their money comes from grants and publications. If you can, do publish a undergrad science text book. What the drop fees people need to do is what the profs do. Target grants, loans, and provide opportunities for students to earn money (not through waiting tables but through something related to their field). They could also search out ways to provide affordable housing and food. IE: they need to stop whining and be proactive.

My last point is somewhat unrelated but I think important: too many people in Canada have university educations. I've heard this from plenty of sources, including the president of Dalhousie University on Cross-Country Checkup with Max Rex Murphy this past summer. It seems like the general consensus among Canadians is that a university education is a life necessity these days. I think university is great, but if that's our only option then there's something wrong. I've seen the signs of this throughout the past six years in university. My profs and the older generation talk about when university was for the love of a subject. My experience is that most of my classmates, myself included, were in school because they thought it was a necessity for getting a job. No one seems to care what they study, just that they'll get a good job in the end. Hence the glut of business and engineering degrees. It only follows that if too many people are going to school then it's going to be too expensive to keep education affordable. If we're paying for only a few keen people to go to school we could send them free of charge.

Of course, one can't say an educated population is a bad thing, so what happens now? If we make school more expensive it becomes elite rather than accessible. If we make school harder to get into then it will be full of the most competitive people, not necessarily smart people. What this says to me, is there needs to be an alternative. Does this mean college is broken? Does it mean we need something else? I dunno.

I'll leave that up for discussion. What I posit is this: we need to go to university for love of the subject. Not for money. Not for career opportunities. Stop worrying about money and learn something you love. If you aren't interested, go to college. What the drop fees people need to be fighting for are things like better college opportunities, housing co-ops, or community gardens. Heck, they could even fight for better bursaries and grants (though I think they're already pretty adequate in Ontario at least). They shouldn't be whining to drop fees, they're just drawing bad press and fighting a loosing battle (and poorly at that).

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bev Oda, and Canada's Government.

Bev Oda, looking particularly shady.  Source.

I am irritated, and I'd like to share the reasons with you, my dearest monocled and top-hatted readers (well, that's how I imagine you anyway).  Recently, Bev Oda, member of the Parliament of Canada had news break regarding questionable spending of taxpayer funds during a stay in London.

It seems that the five star hotel in which she was slated to stay (she was attending a conference being hosted in said hotel) did not suit her.  Instead, she decided to stay in the Savoy hotel, a favourite of the rich and famous staying in London.  To give an idea of the expense, a stay at the Savoy is $665 a night, and I hear one's morning orange juice costs $16.  Further, rather than using a cab, she decided to use a thousand-dollar-a-day limousine service for three days.

This is not the problem, however.  Frankly, I would be fine with that.  The problem is that used taxpayer's money to do so.  I am certainly glad that the expenses were discovered and subsequently repaid by Oda.  My primary concern is the thought processes that must have been involved in deciding that a) a five-star hotel with car service isn't to your liking, and b) that the taxpayers should pay for you to do so.

Actually, this would not normally bother me as much as it does.  My face has been thoroughly palmed because this is not the first wrong thing that Bev Oda has done.  Note that I do not mean she did something incorrectly, but something morally wrong.  In February of 2011, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) released a report to Oda dictating that a charitable organisation by the name of Kairos should receive a government grant.  It would seem that the report sat on her desk for quite some time before a decision was reached.  However, when the report was released, it was reported in the House of Commons that CIDA had declined to fund Kairos based on its views of Israel.  But that wasn't the truth.  CIDA wanted Kairos to receive the grant, the Minister and/or Party didn't.  In fact, the document had been altered:

It's one thing to decline to fund Kairos, but to lie in such a manner is unethical and a breach of public trust.  In fact, the investigation pursuant to this triggered a motion of no-confidence in Parliament, and an election.  The Conservative Party then won a majority, and continue to govern the country.  I would argue it was due to the surge in support for the NDP and a split left-wing vote, but that is neither here nor there.

What leads me to borderline hysteria in all this is that the Conservative Party, or "Tories", campaigned on the basis of being an accountable government.  After the sponsorship scandal of the Liberal government of the 90s had been unearthed, voters were rightly displeased and wanted what the Tories offered.  So now, after being elected on the premise of offering accountable, ethical government, the Tories are acting in a very unethical manner.

I know, I heard the scoff.  I was talking about Bev Oda, and now I am complaining about the Tories as a whole.  Why might that be?  Well, news is also trickling out about the purchase of F35 fighter jets.  The Tories publicly reported that the purchase would cost $15 billion.  Honestly, I support this purchase, and I feel it would be good for the Canadian Forces to have such tools at their disposal.  However, the bill for the fighters will come to $25 billion.  It is also being gradually revealed that the Tories knew this, and yet downplayed the cost to the House of Commons and thus the public.


What else is in the news?  The so called "robocalls" scandal.  It would seem that a Tory was responsible for automated calling which attempted to mislead electors, sending them to the wrong polling station.  The calling list matched the Tories' list of non-supporters.  And this comes after the scandal from the election before that in which the Tories used creative accounting via loopholes to funnel money and result in a de facto increase in advertising spending (which, of course, is carefully regulated).  Of course, the money was repaid to taxpayers, but only after the votes were tallied.

I can only hope that voters have the attention span to remember this when the next election comes around in three years.  It will certainly be interesting.  NDP support is rising, and they have the benefit of being the only party who have yet to disappoint Canadians.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Google's Privacy Policy, and "Listen"

The Google logo.

This will come a little late, but I have recently discovered a lovely application that really illustrates my feelings on the updated privacy policy by Google.  Please bear with me, this promises to be disjointed and lacking proper flow.

I've heard a lot of concern lately over Google's new privacy policy (we'll call it the policy henceforth).  I'm honestly not sure why, other than the fact that it's a change and change is inherently ominous and terrifying to most people.  My understanding is that each Google product/service had a separate privacy policy with unique rules.  Google saw this as a problem, and created a universal policy to govern all of its products and services.  This is particularly useful/important for Google, because it often shares data between services.  A new, unified policy would make this easier (practically and legally) to share data and ultimately make for a better end-user experience.  It also enhances transparency, since data-sharing has long been standard practice for Google.

So why the data sharing, you ask after adjusting your top hat and monocle?  Google wants to ensure the best end-user experience possible, and to do that it must get to know you a little bit.  Their go-to example is a search for "Jaguar".  Do you want to know about the car, or the cat?  Google can better guess what you want to know based on your past searches, or perhaps what news feeds you've subscribed to using News or Reader (other Google services).  Frankly, I feel secure with my data in the hands of Google.  They have a long history of refusing to hand over user data to law enforcement agencies, so I highly doubt they make a habit of handing it out to anyone.

My recent experience that put this in perspective was my acquisition of the Listen application for my phone.  I have been doing a lot of commuting lately, and have been listening to podcasts to stave off boredom.  Google Listen keeps a list of my podcast subscriptions and will download new episodes directly to my phone, and keep only as many as I wish.  In order to easily facilitate this, it may be managed via Google Reader.  Reader, for those who do not know, is an RSS feed manager.  Put simply, it allows you to read the headlines/new developments from your favourite websites.  If you want to read the article, you click the headline.  If you do not, you scroll past it, and all is forgotten.  Since I already use Reader on my browser (Chrome, of course), and my phone, I was able to seamlessly integrate Listen into my web-based experience.  It was fantastic, it was easy and all because Google shares data between its services.

To close, I will say that you really shouldn't worry about Google sharing data between services.  However, if you do, Google is notoriously transparent and allows you to manage your information via your dashboard.  Also keep in mind that you probably use Facebook, and they definitely do not allow you any control over your personal information.  So go ahead and Google.  Also use Google+.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Joker Effect, Batman, and Game Theory.

The Joker, as envisioned by Doug Mahnke.  Source.


I am not entirely certain how many times I will ever say this, but I stumbled across a truly fascinating paper in the Journal of Theoretical Biology (thanks, Reddit!) recently, and would like to share the results as best I can.  Not being a theoretical biologist or an avid practitioner of game theory, my understanding may be somewhat limited, but it is exciting nonetheless.

To begin, I will explain game theory as best I can (having background in neither biology nor economics, and having been awake for 23 hours at this point).  Game theory was originally envisioned as a tool for economics.  This predictive mechanism assumes that complicated, real-world situations may be reduced to a "game", a situation with clear rules and rewards.  I have heard through my travels, conversation and the Colbert Report that game theory has been used to predict elections, the collapse of the Soviet Union and various other seemingly unpredictable events.  In an interesting twist, it became clear to scientists that not only could the theory be used for economics, but [bizarrely] seemed to fit biological systems perhaps better than those for which it was designed.

In order to effectively model biological systems and how populations could grow and change over time, evolutionary game theory was developed.  In this system:

1.  A population is considered.
2.  The individuals' strategies are evaluated according to the "rules" of the game.  These individuals are then assigned a fitness (this fitness function is not unlike that present in genetic algorithms).
3.  The fitness of the individuals are considered, and the population increases by one, the new individual likely being a member of the fittest group.  An individual could also change strategies, rather than adding another.
4.  This new population goes back to step 1.

Thus, successful "players" will become increasingly significant in terms of the population, and less successful players will be overtaken.  The paper by Arenas et al. [J. Theor. Bio., 279 (2011) 113-119] utilises this in order to evaluate the performance of individuals in the game.

The game considered is known as a public good game.  There exists a value for the public good, and there are at least two player types in these games.  Cooperators contribute to the public good at some cost to themselves, while defectors are free-riders.  They consume public good while contributing nothing.  You could think of them as taxpayers and non-taxpayers.  With only these two players, defectors often overtake cooperators, a straightforward result since the defectors are not at all burdened. However, the real world, and most real systems are not this simple.  It is assumed that this is due to the presence of other players.

Batman, the ultimate cooperator. Source.
Here, we introduce the Joker.  Where we may consider the Batman to be the ultimate cooperator (great contributions to the public good at tremendous self-cost), and corrupt officials/organized criminals to be defectors, we may introduce a character which introduces new and interesting dynamics.  The Joker, as in his universe, does not personally consume public good, nor does he contribute to it.  However, he destroys large chunks of public good because some men want to watch the world burn.  The introduction of a Joker character over the course of a full simulation can lead to one of two ultimate scenarios.  In the event that Jokers are wildly successful and/or effective, they will overtake the simulation leaving only chaos and anarchy in their wake.  Since this does not appear to happen (either in the Batman universe, or ours), it would appear the scenarios leading to this eventuality are based upon poor assumptions.
The alternative result is that which would more closely mirror reality.  Here, it is assumed that Jokers will never fully overtake cooperators.  This is due to the fact that cooperators thrive off the public good they produce, ensuring at least a small population of them at any given time.  Let me attempt to describe what would happen to a cooperator-defector game with the introduction of a Joker.

1.  As stated above, defectors outnumber cooperators.  This drain on the public good is ultimately detrimental to all parties.
2.  The Joker is introduced.  The threat to the public good makes defectors ultimately unsustainable, and their population share crashes.
3.  A small group of cooperators survives, doing very well on an individual basis (i.e. high fitness), this leads to expansion of their population share.
4. The increase in cooperators leads to an increase in public good, which allows for defectors to emerge from the woodwork, and begin to claim population share at the expense of cooperators.
5.  Repeat.

This scenario ultimately avoids the cooperators being crushed/exploited by the defectors.  In the end, cooperators do much better than they would without a Joker.  As an interesting note, this scenario has been documented in nature.  In the presence of predators, cooperation is actively encouraged where it would not exist otherwise.  Picture a flock of smaller birds chasing away a raptor, even where they would not cooperate otherwise.  Even in humans, it seems that only through the presence of destructive agents (common enemies, perhaps) that we can disregard our differences and get along.

I shall now leave the question that was ultimately posed by the paper.  Who is the true saviour of Gotham City?  Is it Batman, or the Joker?


P.S.  Please point out any grammar/spelling/logic errors.  Proof reading takes time and effort, and I'm going to bed.
P.P.S Edited 2012/07/28, finally gave it a once over.  Also, if I ever become a supervillian, I'll model myself after the Joker.  You know, for the greater good.

Monday, March 12, 2012


A Canadian $1 coin, for those of you unfamiliar. Source.


I recently learned about a study performed by the Canadian government in the 1970s which is incredibly interesting and yet comparatively unknown.  Information appears to be sparse, but I wish to tell you what I've found.  It's rather interesting, and could have dramatic positive consequences.  The best I think I can do for now is to link you to the Wikipedia article, which I assume will grow and change as more information is published.

Mincome is the name of a project set in motion by the governments of Canada and Manitoba.  The objective to see what consequences a guaranteed annual income (GAI) would have on a given workforce.  The payment of the GAI would be reduced by some fraction for every dollar earned by a family.  It was assumed, I would say fairly, that without a pressing economic incentive to work, many people would simply choose not to do so.  However, this is why we experiment, for hypotheses are still just guesses.

While some families were offered the GAI payments in larger urban centers like Winnipeg, one site was chosen as an "isolated" experiment.  This was the town of Dauphin, Manitoba.  All ten thousand people, including seniors and those unable to work, were offered a GAI.  This strict universality was key to the experiment, as nationwide GAI policies had been suggested beginning in 1971.  It would seem that theoretical examinations had suggested GAI would be beneficial to a nation struggling with poverty.  The project began around 1974 and continued to 1979, when funding was cut due to a pressing economic crisis.

The results were interesting, to say the least.  First however, think about this for a moment.  If you were guaranteed not a good, but a living wage to do nothing, what would you do?  If the results from Dauphin are to be believed, around 98% of you would choose to work.  The male workforce shrank by a mere 1%, along with reductions of 3% for wives, and 5% for unmarried women.  However, these numbers are not just uniform reductions.  This was a time when secondary school diplomas were not as widespread as they are today.  In rural communities where labour was required on the farm, teenage boys would often choose the farm over grade 12 due to financial concerns.  Married women which left the workforce often did so when a child was born.  This departure from the workforce was not permanent as far as I know, but women did choose to stay at home longer with their child or children.

It is also important to note that a host of benefits resulted from the GAI experiment.  Health care costs were reduced by 8.5%.  One article on the subject (to which I have lost the link), mentioned that a large fraction of hospital visits could be considered medical consequences of poverty.  This was in part due to a reduction in work related accidents, fewer car accidents and fewer instances of domestic abuse.  It has also been speculated that without the economic disincentives, people who were sick would choose to recover more completely before returning to work.  I would also hazard a guess that a host of stress-related illnesses decreased, but I can only guess.

After the project's cancellation in 1979, the information was gathered together, boxed up, and not considered again until relatively recently.  It would seem that the GAI experiment resulted in a happier and healthier workforce.  My [limited] knowledge of psychology would suggest that this results in higher quality work and lower crime rates.  I certainly look forward to learning the results of the detailed reviews of the data.  And frankly, I think the social and economic benefits could potentially outweigh the costs, particularly when Canada pays for the health care of its citizens.


P.S.  I've been working 12 hour night shifts, and haven't the time for proof-reading.  Please be kind.

One Thousand Views.

A picture of the aftermath of the Tunguska event, an explosion resulting from a meteorite or comet hitting Earth.  Source.

To you, my non-spambot, monocled followers, I offer sincere thanks.  My blog has reached over a thousand pageviews.

Though I am now gainfully employed, it would seem that my last [surprisingly busy] month of unemployment was certainly not fertile ground for blogging.  I have also hit a wall in which I have run out of things to talk about that:

1) I know enough about to write an informative blog post, and;

2) I think people would actually be interested in reading.

My blog, lacking of a clear vision and direction, will [hopefully] continue to inform on topics I find interesting (though will likely be less exhaustive), update on developments in previous blog topics, and present absurdly long, detailed arguments for opinions which I hold (now that you know how I feel about beards and Sens Army).  In lieu of an informative blog post, please accept the link in the caption of the above picture, because who wouldn't want to learn about an unexplained explosion?

Spam-bots, that's who.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rocket Mass Heaters.

Not actually a rocket mass heater, but the best picture I could find. Source.

My blog has been host to a lot of ranting posts lately, giving lots of opinions but not necessarily new or interesting information.  In hopes that my blog does not devolve into a constant series of complaints and opinions, please adjust your monocles and top hats, and discover the fascinating world of rocket mass heaters!

Imagine, if you will, a woodstove.  These usually consist of a combustion chamber (usually somewhat decorative), and a chimney that goes upwards, perhaps winding so as to distribute heat evenly in the upper levels of a home, and then exiting vertically from the roof.  The problem with this setup, even with more efficient models, is that it is rather wasteful.  The hot exhaust gas from the roof is a carrier of heat that could have been used in the home.  Further, the smoke that is usually generated represents not only pollution, but also impure combustion.  This post on garbage incineration discusses this issue as well.  Smoke contains, among other things, carbon monoxide and carbon particles, pollutants that could ignite under the proper conditions and concentrations.  For the record, I am not suggesting that the world will explode if everyone used woodstoves (though you can get chimney fires this way), I only intend to highlight the wasted combustible material.  Below I shall post the solution to this waste.  I usually try to avoid linking to non-public-domain sources [aka "Wikipedia"], but this page gives the best illustration of the physics involved that I could find.
The primary advantage to this setup, known as the rocket mass heater (RMH), is the "super rockety reburn combustion chamber."  It traps the ash and smoke in the same place as the heat of combustion, leading to the burning of the impure combustion products.  Not only does this generate cleaner exhaust, but there is no lost heat in the form of smoke.  The second benefit of this design is that the exhaust usually snakes through a large mass.  This is usually cob, but others have been made using sand and brick designs.  The larger this mass, which is often formed into a bench, the more heat can be captured from the exhaust.  The mass can then retain and radiate heat hours after combustion has stopped, keeping the heated space warm.  Of course, more efficient burning means less fuel is needed overall.  It would seem that many users report needing less than one cord of wood for a winter where they would usually burn 3-5 with a conventional woodstove.

Naturally, home heating is only one of many possible functions.  Greenhouses may be heated efficiently with such a design, and the picture leading this post shows a makeshift hot water heater.  Designs without the large mass and featuring a hole at the top of the combustion chamber are known as rocket stoves, and are a very efficient way of boiling water or cooking food.  On a personal level, I am very curious as to how burning switchgrass or biochar might work.

I have only scratched the surface of this topic, and it appears that it is a fairly new idea, given the size of the Wikipedia article on the topic.  However, I actively encourage you to seek out information on the topic, I am certain it could lead to a more sustainable future, and endless fun in the form of do-it-yourself projects.


P.S. Thanks to my darling girlfriend, the brewer of the Turkish coffee that fueled this post.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Scotiabank Place, Sens Army, and that idiot wearing an out-of-town jersey.

Scotiabank Place located in Kanata, Ontario Canada.  Source.

A long while ago I wondered if I should blog about my feelings on hockey.  I decided no, that I wanted to discuss more thought provoking matters.  However, after watching the Ottawa Senators beat the Tampa Bay Lightning (a surprising and entertaining contest, it was) this past Thursday, I have decided that I would like to share my thoughts in hopes of hearing the opinions of others.


In fairness, I have nothing against the actual team or coaching staff of the Ottawa Senators, nor the physical reality of Scotiabank Place.  I have yet to find a bad seat in the stadium, and I find watching a live NHL game is quite enjoyable there.

Having said this, I have a few issues to discuss.  First and foremost would be the "Sens Army".  Army?  Really?  Nevertheless, the moniker is not the choice of the fan, but I take issue with how they conduct themselves.  Quite often during hockey games, the organ will play a tune after which the audience is encouraged to clap twice in rapid succession.  Having been to many Leafs-Senators games, I had noticed that the local fans frequently chant "Leafs suck!" in place of clapping twice.  This was, I thought, quite acceptable practice when the Leafs were visiting Scotiabank Place.  However, the chant does not only happen when the Leafs are in town.  While at the Lightning game, "Leafs suck!" was not only chanted, but proudly displayed on banners during the game.

Really?  Could these fans not simply be proud of their team or, more appropriately, speak ill of the Lightning?  Is it necessary to constantly express your disdain for the Toronto Maple Leafs?  I would like to speak on behalf of all Leafs fans when I say "we know".  We get it.  We understand that we are your sworn and most hated rivals, but I assure you that when Leafs fans go to the Air Canada Centre, they go to loudly cheer their team and taunt the visitors (or so I assume, feel free to refute this).

Further, and to bring Habs fans into the mix, yes, your favourite team is Montreal or Ottawa, and your second favourite is whomever is playing against the Leafs.  Let me say now that it was amusing the first time I heard it, but by the tenth time it had lost its novelty.  Now, when I hear it and watch a grin cross the face of the speaker, I do not get upset or irritated because you hate my team so.  I am irritated because the joke is old, childish and stale.

To introduce a rather technical matter, I would like to address the booing of Dion Phaneuf at Scotiabank Place.  Yes, Leafs fans boo Daniel Alfredsson every time he touches the puck, but the reason is not his captaincy.  Rather, it is the following hit laid on Darcy Tucker (0:15 of the video):

In fact, subsequent to this event, I have seen Alfredsson hit several players from behind without taking a penalty.  My hypothesis for this is that it is assumed Alfredsson "is not the kind of player" who engages in dishonourable hits.  He is, but officials are lenient with players who are "not that kind of player."

I am not sure if this sort of behaviour arises because the Senators are a young team.  Yes, I know that the Senators were a team in the early 20th century, but it was not continuous.  The team turns 20 this year, and perhaps there has not been enough time to breed pride, but only nonreciprocating hatred.  Or perhaps it is that all fans over the age of about the team likely abandoned the Habs or the Leafs to cheer for the Senators.  In either case, I would like to believe that at some point genuine Senators fans will overtake the Leafs haters and I will no longer have to listen to the tripe that has become commonplace.  For example, when Leafs fans visit Scotiabank Place, the common and spontaneous chant that arises is "Go Leafs Go", not "Sens Suck".  They [we] arrive primarily to cheer their [our] team, not to berate the other.

For the record, I am also aware that the plural of the word leaf is leaves.  However, the Toronto Maple Leafs are named after the Maple Leaf regiment of the first World War, and the plural of the proper noun "Maple Leaf" is to use the suffix -s.  The name of the sporting squadron then becomes Toronto Maple Leafs.

As a random aside, I would also like to comment on the person wearing the garb of the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Place, and his ilk who wear garb of the Sabres, Canucks, and even Leafs when the Lightning are playing.  Are you lost?  Are you caught in a mental haze in which you forgot who was playing?  Those fans with jerseys from a different conference are most confusing.  Yes, you are proud of your team, but you are in the wrong place, and you look like an idiot.

Finally, I will admit that the Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967.  The Senators have won just as many Cup titles in that time.  Maybe a little more pride and a little less hatred would allow the City of Ottawa to keep a franchise in town.



P.S.  To you, the silent majority who are legitimate Senators fans who are proud of your team, I apologize.  It is my sincerest hope that your brethren act more like you.

P.P.S. I have since softened my stance on out of town jerseys.  I've talked to a couple people who engage in the practice, and the prevailing line of reasoning is that they are going to a hockey game, so they wear a hockey jersey.  It just so happens that the jersey they own is that of their favourite team and/or player.  I suppose I'll accept that, and it doesn't necessarily make the person an idiot.  I'm going to leave my previous statements above, unaltered, in the interest of transparency, but I will also be leaving my Leafs jersey at home when they're not playing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The .xxx domain.

Promotional logo for the .xxx domain.  Source.


As of December 6th, 2011, the .xxx domain has been available for websites with adult content.  A domain is like .com or .org, for those that may not know.  In the spirit of my holiday posts, I shall keep it short and simply offer my two cents on the matter.


This development has me somewhat miffed.  Frankly, it should not have taken this long for .xxx to exist as a domain. From what I have read, it seems that conservative influences existed when the original list of top level domains was created, and it was felt that having a .xxx domain would legitimize internet pornography.  Naturally without an official label, pornography never made it onto the internet, and this most marvelous series of tubes maintains only the highest of moral standards.

Wait a second.  Hold on to your monocles and top hats, people, I have just received some horrifying news.  There is porn on the internet!  Done locking your doors and barring your windows?  Good.  Let us continue.

Had pornography been given an official domain from the start, it would have been far easier to sort everything out from the beginning.  Content filtration would be especially easy, as one could simply block all .xxx domain access in business or family settings.  I would like to believe that pornography would migrate to its domain, and .com could be used for the commercial arm of adult entertainment companies, but I think it is far more likely that it will continue to be a mess for the foreseeable future.

Of course, the groups originally opposed to the .xxx domain have gotten their knickers into a twist over the development.  From what I have read, the main opposition is that reputable domains are purchasing their corresponding .xxx domain to protect against defamation.  There is also the less sensible argument that the amount of pornography on the internet could double, with companies having a .com and a .xxx domain.  I believe this is needless hysteria, but there it is.  I also believe that organisations like Harvard University purchasing its corresponding .xxx domain is an example of an established practice of buying related domains to protect against defamation, and should not be a big deal.

To sum this all up, I'd like to direct you to an article from the satirical news site The Onion, saying that most of our problems could be solved by stopping and thinking for two seconds.