Thoughts

Fukushima

As you probably know, there have been disturbing incidents at several reactors in Fukushima, Japan lately. I’m not sure how the mass media in your country handle the issue, but those here in Germany are certainly going completely insane over it, to an extent that even Germans start to think they might be in danger.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a terrible incident and I don’t support nuclear energy (mostly because storing nuclear waste worries me). Nonetheless, as educated human beings, we should approach such events factual, not emotional.

So what is radiation? I’m no physicist, but I know that radiation is not some rare, deadly poison – it’s everywhere. Sure, in very large doses, it can damage your health, so can pretty much anything on this planet. As Paracelsus put it:

All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous.

So it’s the dose we should talk about, not the fact that there is radiation near Fukushima, because radiation is everywhere. XKCD posted a very nice chart comparing radiation doses from various sources.

So how much radiation is there around Fukushima? Greenpeace published their monitoring results. The problem with data is that we have to find some we can trust. I consider Greenpeace a sufficiently trustworthy source on this matter.

Now we can get ourselves an idea of how bad the situation in Fukushima is. When looking at the Greenpeace data right now, I see some dark red bubbles north west of Fukushima. Since that colour indicates the highest readings, we can infer that 11 µSv/h is the highest radiation dose around Fukushima. So that’s 264 µSv/day and 96.36 mSv/year. According to the XKCD chart, this is twice the allowed dose for US radiation workers, which is 50 mSv/year.

That’s certainly not good. But how bad is it? Another look at the XKCD chart reveals that the lowest yearly dose clearly linked to increased cancer risk is 100 mSv/year. That’s awefully close, so these people might in fact suffer from an increased cancer risk if exposed to this amount of radiation for a whole year. And how big would that cancer risk actually be? Probably lower than that caused by smoking, according to Nature News.

That was the worst region in the area, how about those south of Fukushima, further away (about 1/3 on the way to Tokyo)? The readings say 0.4 µSv/h, which is 6.9 µSv/day and 3.5 mSv/year. I don’t think that’s a dose to worry about.

I’m no radiation expert, so both my data and my analysis could be wrong. If you’re sceptical, do some research on your own and see what you can find out. And, as Douglas Adams wisely put it in (and, in fact, on) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Don’t panic.

The illusion of privacy

There is quite a ruckus about privacy problems in communities such as Facebook and Battle.Net lately. The problem is apparently that the provider made data available to a group of users that wasn’t supposed to see it.

My opinion: If you have something to hide, don’t entrust it to strangers. This is true for both Facebook and Battle.Net: You don’t have the slightest clue who has access to which part of your data under what circumstances. And even if you do, that could change any time – they could suddenly decide to show it to the government, companies or simply anyone. That happens frequently.

Out of these options, I certainly prefer the last one, merely because it is the only one that seems to make people aware of privacy issues. Some people might think that every Facebook employee or the government will always act in their best interest and never do them wrong (history certainly proves this wrong, but people love to believe in crap). However, if everyone can see what someone is hiding, that person suddenly becomes aware of that and tries to stop it.

For that reason, I’m quite thankful that Facebook does it the way they do: They’ve probably done more for privacy (by raising awareness) than they ever did against it.

The same goes for Google: They collected wifi data, so what? The people whose data was collected were broadcasting it. Instead of informing potential and actual victims of this problem, the media blamed Google for collecting the data – publicly available data. It gets worse: The German government wanted Google to hand the data over instead of deleting it – the same government that wants to secretly search personal computers.

I’ve got another one for this case: If you have something to hide, don’t broadcast it.

Bottom line: Trusting strangers with your data and trying to ignore it will not get you better privacy, it will effectively eliminate privacy. Everyone has to solve their own privacy issues.

About Flattr

Content creators have to be paid for their work – that’s been a prominent problem for the past few years. While the entertainment industry clings to dying business models, a few geeks from Sweden have come up with the, in my opinion, best solution to this problem. Flattr is one of those brilliant yet simple ideas making you wonder why you didn’t come up with it.

It works like this:

  • You sign up with Flattr and pay them at least €2 per month
  • You click on Flattr buttons installed by content creators on their blogs and such
  • At the end of each month, the amount you pay is equally divided among the Flattr buttons you clicked

Your financial situation doesn’t change a bit when clicking a Flattr button. When I see a donate button on the website of e.g. an open source project, I have a weak desire to donate a few bucks. But then my reasoning sets in: “Do I like it that much?” “Didn’t I plan to save money?”. When clicking a Flattr button on the other hand, I don’t lose any money. I lose my monthly amount anyway – even if I didn’t click any buttons, it’s given to charity.

You only pay for things you like. When you go to the movies and didn’t like what you saw, you’ve already paid the entrance fee and seen the commercials – you can’t take it back. Nor can you reasonably reward a movie you liked a lot other than spreading the word. This might have lead to an entertainment industry that produces a lot of cheap crap and focuses on marketing.

Nonetheless, Flattr is, in my opinion, not there yet. For instance, there is no mechanism to give a larger portion of your amount to one thing: Imagine there is a Flattr button on each article in a blog and there is a single one on the GNOME website. You can only click each button once, so the blog can get flattred more often, although GNOME was certainly much more work. Another question is how Flattr can be combined with social networking sites: Imagine you follow someone interesting on Twitter, but he doesn’t have a blog – how to flattr that?

Well, Flattr is still in it’s beta phase and it does look very promising so far. I really hope it spreads, it might boost great things like open source software and independent games.

What’s wrong with Nintendo?

Both the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii are great devices, and currently amongst the most interesting to program for. This becomes evident from the fact that there is quite a large Homebrew community producing excellent applications such as Colors!.

You’d think that Nintendo does everything they can to turn their products into popular development platforms in order to attract new developers and offer software beyond games, for which there is evidently a demand. They don’t. They don’t even make money from it, other people do. What does Nintendo do? They spend money on ridiculous restriction mechanisms that are cracked in an instant.

It’s quite obvious why they do it: If the console can run Homebrew, it can run copyrighted material as well. However, they shouldn’t solve this problem by trying to lock their customers out of their own devices, that’s mental (although sadly quite common these days). I believe to have the right to run whatever kind of software I like on a device that I own.

Nintendo’s Shop Channels are certainly a step in the right direction, but they’re still doing it wrong:

  • You can’t transfer software you once purchased to another console, even if it breaks. Why not bind the software to the Wii/DS account instead of the piece of hardware? If this was the case, I would have bought tons of SNES titles on the Wii Shop Channel, but I won’t spend a cent on software if I’m that likely to lose it soon.
  • They do not offer much software, let alone much besides games. I’d suggest opening up the Shop Channel to independent developers and offering a software card so that pre-Nintendo DSi owners can use the software as well. Nintendo could keep a fair share of each developer’s revenue for themselves, naturally not charging for free applications.

Please Nintendo, stop fighting Homebrew and start selling it!