Gross National Happiness

I'd just like to make you aware of the idea, if it's not already familiar to you, of maximising ‘Gross National Happiness’ as a way to run your country. Cf. maximising ‘Gross Domestic Product’, which certainly causes some people unhappiness at least some of the time.

Matthieu Ricard says: ‘We cannot expect the quality of life to simply be a by-product of economic growth, since the criteria for these two are different’. Damn straight.

Disregard the obvious ‘what about the people that become happy from others‘ unhappiness’ faux-argument you'd make if you were discussing this at the pub. Kick those people out of the country. (The unhappiness-wanting ones. Not the faux-argument at the pub ones.)

Anyway, the government/leaders of Bhutan have used gross national happiness in their decision-making process since the 1970s. What an awesome country.

(P.S. I do have to say that putting ‘Gross’ and ‘Happiness’ in the same term is a bit funny.)


Roast pumpkin pea soup with peas

This my favourite meal for maximum taste/cost ratio. You need

  • Split green peas (2 cups)
  • Pumpkin or sweet potato (around 300g)
  • Frozen peas (cup or two)
  • Two large onions
  • A head of garlic
  • 5–10 Cardamom pods

Preparation is easy but cooking time will take a little longer.

  1. Fry, in butter if your morals allow it, the onions and some chopped garlic (say three or four cloves) until tasty. Optional: add a splash or two of sherry or white wine.

  2. Add the split peas and fry quickly then add six cups of boiling water and the cardamom pods. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for however long it takes to get the soup edible.

  3. Meanwhile, cut up the pumpkin into bite-sized pieces and roast (i.e., coat with olive oil and lightly salt) with the remaining garlic cloves. (Remove excess paper from the garlic cloves but do not remove from their shells.)

  4. When the pumpkin is soft, add it to the pea soup.

  5. When the garlic is mushy, smash into a paste, removing their skin, and stir well through the soup. The readiness times for the garlic and pumpkin may or may not align.

  6. Finally add frozen peas and cook for a few minutes until they pop in your mouth. You may want to fish out the cardamom if you don't like flavour bombs in your soup.

Serve with lemon pepper, if you like, and—of course—buttered crusty bread. (Serves six, probably.)

Those pesky kids at Google

John Gruber linked to a report that Microsoft has recently paid billions of dollars to Nokia to have its OS in their upcoming phones.

Google earns money on Android apparently by licensing its apps and tangentially—but lucratively—through ads shown through Google search and other services. Microsoft typically has been in the business of licensing Windows to earn its money, and you'd think they'd like to do something similar with Windows Phone. But it seems that instead of having Nokia pay them for the privilege, Microsoft had to outbid Google for the reverse: ‘invest’ in Nokia for future profits via the Windows Phone platform.

You could argue that Microsoft's business plan here is

  1. Spend lots of money building Windows Phone
  2. Pay people to use it
  3. ???
  4. Profit

Let's assume there's a little more of a rationale behind it.

One could hardly argue Windows Phone sales were spectacular to date. The number of phones that Nokia sells is larger than most (see the Symbian chunk of the Horace Dediu's graph of mobile platform marketshare), so there's huge opportunity here for Microsoft to cement Windows Phone in the market. The partnership with Nokia gives the platform a real future, and may even allow Microsoft—if they're smart—to extend the platform to the tablet space, where its OS offering is strikingly unappealing.

Without this Nokia deal, Windows Phone could easily have turned into the next Palm Web OS—great technology and original design without the critical mass to keep it alive. (But HP seem to know what they're doing with Web OS, now, so it's certainly not down-and-out.) Despite the costs for Microsoft, I think it was essential that they pay this gamble just to keep themselves in the game.

It's hard to state just how profound Google's effect on the mobile industry has been. Imagine where we'd be if Android had never come to life—the tablet market would be even more dominated by the iPad, and Palm's Web OS and Windows Phone would be the big contenders against Apple's iPhone. In this scenario, Microsoft would probably not be stuck in this unappealing situation of paying people to license their OS.

Google sure have thrown a spanner in the works.


iPad New Yorker app

The New Yorker app for iPad is probably my favourite experience on the iPad. The interface for the magazine works really well and perfectly suits the long-form essays plus other assorted stuff contained in the publication.

I have one major technical complaint with the application, which is that each issue is some 150MB and while it's downloading the app cannot be used for anything else, and it doesn't (obviously, perhaps) continue downloading in the background if you exit the app. So going into the application and choosing to read a new issue results in putting the iPad out of commission for some ten minutes while the issue gets pulled down.

(I don't understand why these magazines come to such large file sizes. Text and images shouldn't be so large; I'd prefer movies and lengthy audio to stream and cache themselves only after you choose to watch/listen to them. I very much hope these apps aren't using pre-generated bitmaps for the text; PDF files would be a far more sensible approach, here — especially in the not-too-distant future when the iPad moves to sup.-300 DPI screens.)

Anyway, it's good stuff, and imminent subscription services should make the whole thing much more affordable and convenient. I hope Condé Nast will be able to add background downloading in the future and it'll be all good.

My second more worry-some complaint is the in-app ads. Don't get me wrong: the magazine has always had ads and in the past they haven't bothered me.

In the February 7 issue, the magazine contained 42 "pages/articles" which are swiped horizontally for navigation. Short pieces scroll vertical, and longer articles are broken into discrete vertical pages. Of the 42 pages, eight were long-form (paged) articles, seven were single-screen ads, and the remainder (27) were various forms of content (including table-of-contents, cover page, etc.). Of the eight paged articles, three had another ad mid-way through. To recap:

42 pages / 8 long articles/ 8+3=11 ads

I found this a perfectly acceptable ratio of ads to content. They were infrequent enough to actually notice during the reading of the issue.

When I purchased the joint Feb. 14/21 issue, however, I noticed almost immediately a huge uptick in the number of total ads. Because it's a double issue, it's larger than the previous issue I described above; it contains 67 "pages", with eleven long-form articles, and twenty-eight ad screens. For the long-form articles, there were nineteen more ads within (sometimes two or three per article). To summarise:

67 pages / 11 long articles / 19+28=47 ads

The problem with the ads is that they're more intrusive than for reading a paper magazine; it's easy to turn physical pages, but swiping repetitively is a tedious process.

The huge increase in the number of ads detracted significantly from the enjoyment of reading the magazine. I sincerely hope that this increase was, for some reason, related to the fact that it was a double-issue and this large ratio won't continue in subsequent issues.

Community memory

Regan Forrest has a recap on our post-colonial tendency in Australia to lose track of our community history. Good stuff. It does boggle the mind that great floods in Brisbane in the 1970s would be forgotten a generation later.


Writing about my real work

I sort of feel like this isn't the best place to discuss what I'm actually thinking about in terms of my "real work" that I supposedly do as an engineering researcher.

(Much like I've offloaded my LaTeX writing, such that it is, to another place.)

So if you would like to know what I think about things like forces between magnets, elliptic integrals, sports engineering, robotics, noise and vibration control, and so on, consider taking a look here in the future.

I've always thought that frequent writing helps keep my brain in tune although I'm not great at keeping up with it. Being able to focus into different areas helps a little, I think.