On All Caps

There is just something about all caps that annoys me.

I don’t exactly know what it is. It’s ugly, but not horribly unpleasing. It’s harder to read, but not unreadable.

Maybe it seems angry or arrogant, as if screaming. But all caps doesn’t necessarily sound that way in my head. Maybe it’s just entirely superfluous. But a lot of things are.

Regardless of the reason, I’m always annoyed when someone needlessly uses all caps in some form of design. It’s high up there on my list of typography pet peeves.

On Alignment Tab Characters

One of my pet peeves is the use of tab characters for alignment. Sure, this might have been acceptable in the early days of computing. But it’s really not a good idea any more.

Tabs display differently depending on the settings, since they do not come built-in with an alignment configuration.

Rather, tabs should be used for delimitation. For instance, separating the values in a table with tabs is often superior to doing so with commas.

Tabs should not be used for indentation. This is true of both code and word processor documents. Spaces are much more portable and flexible. The TAB key, on the other hand, is a perfectly reasonable shortcut for an editor to automatically indent code with spaces, or for a word processor to apply the appropriate indented paragraph style.

Multiple tabs should not be used to make tables look “nicer”. It’s the responsibility of the editor to display TSV files in a sane format; using multiple tabs is simply not portable and semantically wrong.

I realize this is a somewhat contentious topic—some people to this day still prefer tabs to spaces for indenting code, for example. My personal view is that indenting code with tabs is utterly ridiculous. I don’t personally see why this is even a debate.

If It Ain’t Broke

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That maxim is not just incorrect. It’s downright destructive.

It’s an excuse for laziness.

Many things are on track to break. Indeed, because of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, most likely everything will eventually break. Often, it is cheaper and better to fix something now, even if it’s not broken, than it is to fix it when it finally breaks. For many things, when it’s finally broken, it’s too late to fix.

Take the case of a person struggling with depression. On the outside, she may appear to be mostly normal. What’s the best course of action: to recommend a therapist, or to do nothing? Of course, one should recommend a therapist, even though she isn’t “broken” yet. By the time she breaks, and commits suicide, it will be too late to find a therapist.

Most of the time, things that aren’t broken don’t break that dramatically and with such severe consequences. But even so, that something is not broken is never a good argument that it should not be fixed.

Most innovation in human history has involved fixing things that are working. During its time, the Pony Express worked for delivering mail. It has since been replaced, not because it was ever “broken”, but because there’s a better way to do it. Imagine a world where we never invented email, because snail mail was never broken.

If all humans were content living in a world that’s imperfect, but still functional, then probably we would still be in the stone age. Could we really achieve a perfect world? Probably not. But that doesn’t give us an excuse not to strive for one. Just because it isn’t “broken” doesn’t mean it’s not worth fixing.

The greatest humans in history, those who have truly made huge contributions to society, basically dedicate their entire lives to fixing things that aren’t broken.

We, as individual human beings, don’t have to become the greatest humans in history. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less true that in many situations, the best thing we can do is fix something that “ain’t broke”.

These Clocks are Still Broken

Tomorrow, some of my clocks will be wrong. But that will not be their fault. They will keep time correctly. That’s what a clock should do. A clock keeps time.

But for some reason, society demands we use the clocks that do their job wrong—the clocks that insist after 1:59 comes 1:00, contrary to the basic laws of arithmetic.

Clocks are not a political tool. Clocks should not be used to nudge our sleep and wake times. If we fail to use daylight to its maximum extent, then what should be changed are our work and school hours, not our clocks.

In a few hours, we change to standard time again. This time, let’s keep it that way.

(Please see last year’s post, This Clock is Broken, for a more pragmatic argument against Daylight Saving Time.)

Why is Valentine’s Day one day long?

Why is Valentine’s Day only one day long? Would that not imply that there is one day for Love? That Love is reserved for a special day, and so on other “unspecial” days, Love is out of season? Does its presence give authorization to withhold Love on other days?

Is overall affection enhanced or diminished by the presence of one Valentine’s Day and 354 days that are not Valentine’s Day? Is Valentine’s Day a prison for Love, confining it from the rest of the year? What has Love done to deserve such confinement? What crimes has affection committed to necessitate such isolation?

Is perhaps this contrary to the ideal of unconditional love, if love is conditional to the day of the year? Who really benefits from Valentine’s Day—the common man, or business owners?

Perhaps next year, consider to abolish celebration of the Feast of Saint Valentine. Consider whether it is really worth it. Consider critically its benefits and drawbacks.

Tradition is prone to error. It is our responsibility as humans to question tradition. Make an informed decision about which traditions are truly beneficial and which traditions are mistakes.

Do not fear to be alone—change needs a leader. Be one. Discuss the merits of Valentine’s Day with your other; keep a level head and avoid falling victim to the bias of tradition.

“It’s always been this way.” is not an argument for preservation. Who really benefits? What is harmed? Is increasing the wealth of the 1% really worth the imprisonment of Love, the confinement of affection?

The Real Problem with GMO

Regardless of the extent GMO harms human health (which I personally believe to be minimal), it is undeniable that there are many benefits of GMO to humanity. For instance, GMO crops have increased yields and increased pest resilience. Benefits range from economic (less money needed to grow more crops) to environmental (less chemical needed to kill crop pests).

But I have a serious issue with the GMO market—how it is patented, and who profits from it.

First of all, patenting an organism is absurd. A company like Monsanto makes a minor change, such as adding or removing a single gene, to an organism whose genome was developed over billions of years of evolution. Allowing such a company to patent the product is nonsensical.

But Monsanto patents seeds on a regular basis, and legally pursues those who use the seeds without paying Monsanto. This includes seeds generated from crops found to have Monsanto genes. Effectively, “buying” seeds from Monsanto is really more like renting them. Monsanto controls what products of the crop can be sold or reused by the farmer—seeds, evidently, cannot.

The free market has proven to be an amazing system for promoting innovation. For private corporations to create and sell their GMO products is not a bad thing. But this is not really the case with modern GMO companies. They demand control over a farmer’s produce. This is not in the spirit of a free market. The farmer loses the freedom to do what he or she wills with what he or she produces.

On top of the absurdity of patenting what is 99.9% a creation of nature, the seed patent system takes freedom away from farmers.

That is the real problem with GMO.

This Clock is Broken

Daylight Saving Time was invented a hundred years ago. It worked a hundred years ago. But is this still the case?

In our modern, computerized world, designing systems around arbitrary clock jumps is a huge drain on innovation and productivity. In 2007, the US Government changed the dates that DST started and ended on, breaking uncountable pieces of software and wasting thousands of person-hours tracking down resulting bugs.

It’s clear that computers hate Daylight Savings Time. But what about for humans? Is there a tangible benefit for us?

The common arguments for Daylight Saving Time don’t stand up to rigorous scientific studies. It turns out that DST does not save energy in today’s world. Electricity consumption is now tied more to temperature than sunlight, and the original argument that evening sunlight will lower incandescent bulb use is now irrelevant.

China, India, and Russia, three of the largest countries in the world by economic size or population, have all tried and abandoned Daylight Saving Time, because it simply does not make sense. The proposal has caused so much harm to farmers that the province of Saskatchewan no longer observes Daylight Saving Time.

Contrary to its name, Daylight Saving Time does not have anything to do with saving daylight. A clock that abruptly changes by one hour twice a year does not actually alter sunrise and sunset. The natural length of the day (obviously) remains unchanged no matter what we do to our clocks.

The idea behind Daylight Saving Time is to modify human schedules to better use the daylight. It attempts this by throwing the clock off from its natural course. But this is the wrong use of a clock. The purpose of a clock is to record time. DST is breaking a useful tool that works to solve a “problem” that many don’t agree is even a problem.

Instead of fiddling with our clocks, why don’t we change our schedules? Why don’t we change working hours or school hours, so we directly fix the problem of human activities not being in sync with sunlight?

In a few hours, we change to Standard Time again. Let’s stay here this time around.