Monday, February 28, 2005

The New HR

I was out with my youngest tonight for tea. I was helping her with some Law homework, and reviewing an HR written offer letter she had composed for class. I quote to you a sentence from the offer letter she wrote:

"Canadian Hubcap Association reserves the right to exterminate your summer employment without notice for due cause at any time during the contracted period." - BEK.

Watch out world, the new HR is being developed! ;-) I suggested a few alternatives for her composition, including turning every paragraph into a single sentence to make it 'sound' more legal.

Out of Context

Tempted by the succulent delight coffered across the table, she was roused to implore:

"Are those your berries?" - LW.


Surprised by her petition, he indelicately suggested that they were no more than a mouthful of carcinogenic flavour.

Dark Matter Galaxy Discovered

Artist's impression of the galaxy from The Register.
Brits have discovered what may be a dark matter galaxy, VIRGOHI21, in the Virgo constellation, using the Lovell Telescope. The discovery was confirmed using the Arecibo Telescope. The galaxy was observed by the radio telescopes, as there are no stars present -- just mass that is rotating like a galaxy. The astronomers that discovered VIRGOHI21 were observing in the radio spectrum to detect hydrogen atoms. What they found was a mass of hydrogen a hundred times that of our Sun -- yet, at the speed that mass was rotating, there should be a lot more mass. Previous objects have been observed but were subsequently found to contain stars, or be the remnant of two colliding galaxies. VIRGOHI21 was observed back in 2000, and it has taken this long for astronomers to study it for other explanations.

Current thinking places dark matter at a 5:1 ratio over ordinary visible matter. There should be more of the universe than we're seeing. Current theories of galaxy formation also predicts a lot more galaxies than we observe. Finding evidence for a dark galaxy is an important discovery in an answering so long, unanswered questions. The verdict is still on whether VIRGOHI21 is a dark galaxy -- but so far, it fits the profile.

BTW, the image on the right -- I found it on the Register. It's an artist impression of the dark galaxy. That took imagination, you've got to admit. ;-)

For related information, see the following:
  • Is Cold Dark Matter Still a Strong Buy? The Lesson from Galaxy Clusters [PDF]
  • A Microlensing Search for Cold Molecular Clouds in Virgo [PDF]
  • The Dark Matter Crisis [PDF]
  • Sunday, February 27, 2005

    NASA's World Wind

     World Wind 1.2
     Features  Download  Manual 
    SRTM + LandSat 7: Mt. St. Helens, WashingtonNASA's World Wind is a visual treat.  Leveraging the images of the LandSat satellite and radar data from the Space Shuttle, World Wind allows a visual, 3D experience of Earth that is unprecedented.  You can literally go anywhere on the planet, down to a resolution of 15m.

    World Wind starts you off with the Blue Marble view of the planet -- a true colour image of the entire planet as seen from NASA's Earth Observatory.  From there, you can zoom in on the planet, taking advantage of the LandSat 7 images taken between 1999 and 2003.  The images are continuously being refreshed as new images become available.  Radar data is incorporated to allow you to experience the planet's topography from any direction, and NASA is also working on incorporating data to allow you to dive into the ocean.

    It doesn't end there however.  NASA has incorporated GIS data from a number of sources to make World Wind quite data rich.  You have access to weather information, such as temperature, rainfall, barometric pressure and cloud cover.  World Wind will also display country and region borders, place names and historical references.  The features of this application is stunning.

    The download is huge, and as you use World Wind, it downloads images and information of the regions you visit, storing the information on your computer.  The more you use, the more information it stores -- so be warned, it could end up clogging your machine.  Since the application renders maps in 3D, you will also require a fairly recent machine with a good graphics card.  It's fun though, so check it out!

    Mercury -- Our Preferred Poison

    Read the Discover magazine article on how we're slowly poisoning ourselves with Mercury.

    Click for Discover article

    Related links:
  • What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish -- 2004 EPA and FDA Advice For: Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers & Young Children
  • United Nations Global Mercury Assessment report
  • The Poisoning of Minamata
  • Reduced Levels of Mercury in First Baby Haircuts of Autistic Children [PDF]
  • Mercury Contamination of Aquatic Ecosystems [PDF]
  • Friday, February 25, 2005

    Martian Ice Sea

    Mars pictures reveal frozen sea
    New Scientist is reporting that the Mars Express spacecraft has detected a frozen sea, not far from Mars' equator and just below the surface. The sea of ice is estimated to be about 800 x 900km and 45m deep. More information can be found in soon-to-be-published article: Topographic Control of Hydrogen Deposits at Mid-to Low Latitudes of Mars [PDF].

    $1,00o hidden in EULA

    PC Pitstop hid $1,000 in the End User License Agreement (EULA) for their latest software to prove a point -- people don't read EULA when they install software. At least one person did though, because they found $1,000 in the EULA. Previously, 3,000 people had downloaded and installed the software, but never read the clause in the EULA that offered $1,000. This story was slashdotted.

    Cinequest

    If you're into films, especially the innovative stuff that usually only shows up at various film festivals, you'll want to check out Cinequest Online -- the online face of Cinequest San Jose Film Festival. Cinequest Online makes available full features and shorts -- including the films that have been previewed at the San Jose film festival.

    To view the full features, you will have to register to the site and download a secure delivery plugin for your browser. It's quite painless, but you should know that the plugin, once installed will automatically connect to Cinequest's site and download Cinequest latest release -- which can be quite large. Why the plugin? The movies are in a secured format -- so it can be distributed illegally. It works.

    Thursday, February 24, 2005

    Innovation Blowback

    McKinsey Quarterly reports on where global companies should be focusing their offshoring efforts in order to compete in the future. The article can be summarized as follows:

    InevitableTraditional OffshoringInnovative Offshoring
       
    Emerging market businessBig business from developed marketsBig business from developed markets
    Competes locallyInnovateEnters to emerging markets to serve
    Learns to innovateLeverages emerging markets for cheap labourLearns and innovates
    Eventually enters developed marketsServes developed markets, including value segmentsLeverages emerging market businesses to innovate
     
    First competes in value segmentsCompetes in emerging markets and in value segments of developed markets
    Transformation needed 
    Competes with business already in developed markets  


    In other words, western companies in developed markets have traditionally viewed emerging markets in "imperialistic" terms, exploiting their cheap labour for price gains. However, they have also been instructive and inspiring to the emerging world's companies. These companies are rapidly responding with "disruptive product and process innovations" that threatens to eventually gain significant market share in developed markets. How so? The emerging world's businesses have been a hotbed of innovation in manufacturing. They have developed and mastered manufacturing driven by "localized modularization", where a product is developed in modules, with the production of modules farmed out to loosely controlled suppliers that have achieved great levels of efficiency, quality, process and cost advantage due to their specialization. In turn, the emerging world's businesses that benefit from these local business ecosystems have optimized price, service and processes, to service a local market that is price conscious and bear allegiances to no brands. Western businesses should be wary, as the emerging world's business will eventually move to service the developed markets as well.

    What should western businesses in the developed markets do? McKinsey suggests that they should not just offshore production, but they should offshore their business -- they should enter emerging markets to serve consumers there. Cutting their teeth in the trenches of the emerging world be very instructive for western businesses and prepare them for a new wave of competition coming from the emerging world's businesses. The argument is very compelling. There is already evidence that western businesses need to adapt. It was only a few years ago that the likes of Samsung and LG were developing products for western brands. Today Samsung and LG own entire markets. There are numerous other examples, and numerous emerging world businesses that want to be next Samsung or LG. For those giants sleeping in the west that haven't woken up, it may already be too late.

    For related reading, check out the following links:
  • The Architectural Attributes of Components and The Transaction Patterns of Detailed Design Drawings -- A Case Study on China's Motorcycle Industry [PDF]
  • Innovation blowback: Disruptive management practices from Asia -- the McKinsey report is also reprinted at CFO.com
  • Hotel Rwanda

    Hotel Rwanda
    I went to see Hotel Rwanda tonight despite my better judgment. I knew what kind of film it was going to be. It was quite the unhappy experience. I try to avoid serious, unhappy movies, but I highly recommend this movie and will probably brave the unhappiness again.

    The movie explores the horror of genocide in Rwanda -- when the Hutus rose up against their Tutsis brothers, sisters, and family and began hacking them to death in the streets, in their homes -- focused on removing all Tutsis from existence. When it all came to a halt 100 days later, over one million people -- adults and children, lay dead. The movie conveys the atrocity in one of the most horrific scenes -- an early morning drive in the fog is suddenly interrupted by a road that seemed built of potholes. When the van is stopped, the realization hits -- the entire road is covered with dead bodies. One child is shown, eyes closed, hands around her ears, trying to hide from the horror that claimed her life.

    The other horror however, was the rest of the world. When the massacre started, the west started pulling its peace keeping troops out. The world ignored the escalating violence. It wasn't just governments. People just didn't care. It was just another bunch of third world people killing each other. As the UN officer in the movie told the hero (and I paraphrase), "You're mud. You're dung. You're nothing. You're not even niggers. You're Africans." He was expressing his helplessness. He was expressing how the world regarded the genocide in Rwanda. When the world needed heroes, there were none, because the people being slaughtered were not even considered to be people.

    I won't say more about the movie. It depicts yet another tragedy of the human species -- our capacity for hate delivered without restraint. It's a sad story that defies description. As the BBC Steve Bradshaw, who was there, said about the inability to articulate what happened: "The problem is, there isn't much conflict in mass murder, not much scope for lyricism, dramatic tension, and above all there are very few heroes." It's hard to tell the story and capture the scope of the mass murder. The film however, did a good job -- it focuses on one of the few heroes -- Paul Rusesabagina -- who made his first class hotel a refuge and in the process saved over 1,000 lives.Paul & Tatiana Rusesabagina

    Some links that the official movie site provided:
  • Rwandan Radio Announcements -- disseminating hate propaganda and encouraging the genocide
  • The Triumph of Evil -- a PBS documentary
  • International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda -- UN site
  • Wednesday, February 23, 2005

    Genes, Race and Medicine -- Part 1

    Does Race Exist?
    This month's issue of Discovery magazine kicks off a three-part "Learning Series" of articles looking at the way genetics and race influence medical science. Science has already concluded that there is no genetic basis for race -- it's social. Yet, the evolution of the human species has left geographical imprints in DNA that manifests themselves in racial differences. DNA record contains the history of population movement, and by studying our genetic history we will gain new insights into diseases -- some of which may lead to novel new treatments.

    This first part of the Discover series looks at the genetic study of African Americans. Africans contain the most genetic diversity today, as it is the site of the human species oldest genes. As Georgia Dunston, geneticist at Howard University in Washington, puts it, "Eleven hours of the total 12 hours on the evolutionary clock was spent in Africa. There's where most human variation occurred." You would think that with such a rich variation and potential available to us, we would be studying the genes of Africans more -- unfortunately, as it is now well known, race is a medical barrier to Africans -- and other non-Europeans, in the world.

    The article is a very good read. It briefly delves into the history of race in science, and focuses on the work of Georgia Dunston.

    Further reading:
  • Genomic Medicine -- Georgia Dunston presentation [PDF]
  • Genetics for the Human Race
  • Sunday, February 20, 2005

    Bite Your Tongue

    CIO Magazine reports on the most annoying workplace clichés as determined by 150 senior executives polled by Accountemps. We've all done it -- it is a part of business language. More and more however, it's also infecting our everyday speech. You know the language -- it's the annoying consultant talk. I've become so bad that it actually makes sense to me when I talk that way. In fact, I sometimes find myself struggling to say something just using simple language. To those I've annoyed, I'm sorry -- I don't know if I'm going to stop -- but being aware though, I just might start doing it on purpose! ;-) Here are the top 15 annoying words & phrases: 1) at the end of the day, 2) solution, 3) thinking outside the box, 4) synergy, 5) paradigm, 6) metrics, 7) take it offline, 8) redeployed people, 9) core competency, 10) win-win, 11) value-added, 12) get on the same page, 13) customer-centric, 14) generation x, and, 15) alignment.

    SGR 1806-20

    SGR 1806-20
    On Dec. 27th, astronmers observed what is being touted as the largest explosion recorded in human history. The explosion came from the other side of the Milky Way, about 50,000 light-years away. It originated from the surface of the super-magnetic neutron star, SGR 1806-20 -- an object about 20 km across, that makes a complete revolution in 7.5 seconds. For a brief moment, the star released the amount of energy the Sun releases in 100,000 years. The explosion was observed on Earth as gamma rays that bounced off the Moon and hit our atmosphere. Astronomers say that if SGR 1806-20 was around 10 light-years from us, the radiation would have been strong enough to trigger mass extinction.

    For more information, see the following:
    Massive Stars in the SGR 1806-20 Cluster [PDF]

    Friday, February 18, 2005

    PeopleSoft Support

    I read this short article on Tomorrow Now, the application support firm that supports PeopleSoft and JDE apps, that was recently purchased by SAP. Many companies spend an incredible amount of money on maintenance for their PeopleSoft apps. Significant dollars can be saved by by outside support. Of course, Larry has hinted that he might just sue if SAP takes too many of his clients -- but Larry threatens everybody at least once.

    Thursday, February 17, 2005

    Palmisano the Transformer

    Transform Your Business?
    InformationWeek has a pretty good article on the ascension of Sam Palmisano to the helm of IBM, and his plan to extend on the work of Lou Gerstner by turning IBM into a company focused on "business-performance-transformation-services." So what is it? If you believe IBM's propaganda, it's business-process-outsourcing taken to the extreme -- and I was tempted to say 'xtreme' -- but I resisted.

    So what's xtreme-business-process-outsourcing? (You know, the thing with temptation ...) From IBM's perspective, it's the ability to take over any and all functions of a client's business, and leverage IBM's technology, business and innovation abilities to transform the client's business into something more than it was -- either achieving cost savings, performance gains, both, or simply relieving the client of the everyday drudgery of running their business so they can concentrate on what differentiates them from their competitors. But is this really transformative? No. This is a mere extension of business-process-outsourcing. The real transformative part comes from IBM extending their service offerings into the client's core differentiating functions to help them achieve success and dominate their markets.

    Sneaky bugger, that Palmisano. That amounts to pretty much having the ability of taking over a company, without taking on the risks of owning the company. It's nothing short of devious genius. For CEOs without the courage to deal with their own inefficiencies; without the courage to transform their organizations, this may seem like sweet relief. Just be wary of promises that seem too good to be true -- that Palmisano, I think he's bent on world domination.

    Wednesday, February 16, 2005

    Happy Birthday

    Belated anyway ... to Galileo Galilei, born in Pisa, Italy, on Feb. 15, 1564. Galileo did a lot of things to be famous for -- like studying sunspots, the moons of Jupiter and being incarcerated by the Catholic church for looking up into the heavens and not seeing god -- like that was his fault.

    Tuesday, February 15, 2005

    "CIO, How Does Your Garden Grow?"

    CIO Magazine
    That is the question posed in an article by CIO Magazine's senior editor Megan Santosus. The answer, believe it or not, is to tend to the soil. Not that Santosus is suggesting a healthy dose of farm fertilizer mind you. She does have a point. Currently in the IT industry, "low morale [is] as ubiquitous and insidious as spam." Over the years, the business has pushed CIOs to do more with less -- and when the heroes of IT delivered, they now face the thanks of being outsourced. To paraphrase Santosus, "What can CIOs do to improve morale?" Or to bring it down a few levels, "What can IT Management do to improve morale?" Don't give your staff bullshit -- no matter how appealing tending to the soil may sound. Give your staff your time. Spend time with them to understand what bothers the hell out of them. Chances are there are things you can do something about -- even while there are others way out of your control. Everybody is realistic -- they know you can't take away all the uncertainties, and you can't solve all the problems -- by trying will go a long way. If you care, you would try. If you don't, you'll stand on a pedestal and fertilize the problem -- which will do nothing.

    One suggestion that the article makes, via the words of Paul Glen, author of Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead the People Who Deliver Technology, is, "A leader's job in creating an environment in which motivation thrives, involves helping employees make sense of the work they do and the contribution they make to the organization." Great advice when you think about it. We all deliver value everyday in our jobs -- actually, I hope most of us do. If the value we delivered could be quantified, we'd all be able to see how much we really mean to the bottom line. At the end of the day it's not money or job security that makes people feel good -- those are nice things, don't get me wrong -- but at the end of the day, knowing that you did something worthwhile -- that is what's most fulfilling.

    Either that, or I'm fertilizing the problem.

    Other articles of interest from this issue of CIO Magazine:

  • Flex/Time -- how to innovate while managing costs; lessons from CIOs.
  • A New Way to Manage Vendors -- with all of the outsourcing and buying packaged applications rather than building, you've suddenly got quite a few vendors to deal with. How do you do it?
  • The End of the World

    This is a riot! The end of the world, from a Californian perspective -- although there is definitely something about the accent. This came to me from windspike, who appears to be an REM fan. (Be patient, it takes a few minutes to load, but worth it.)

    Monday, February 14, 2005

    The Amazing Cat Collection

    Click here!

    Sunday, February 13, 2005

    Donnie Darko

    Donnie Darko: Original
    I haven't posted on the movies I've seen in quite some time now -- that doesn't mean I haven't seen movies, it just means that there were a lot of other things I wanted to cover. Recent movies I've enjoyed, include: Johnny Mnemonic, Sideways, and the Incredibles, to name a few.

    Last night however, I watched Donnie Darko, the original. The Director's Cut is now being released on DVD, and I hear that it may have messed with the good thing the original was. The original is a great piece of work. Part teenage angst and comedy, SciFi and Horror, and quite possibly a commentary on our culture and society, Donnie Darko defies categorization. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie Darko, a borderline-schizophrenic who becomes obsessed with time travel while blurring the worlds of reality and his hallucinations, guided by a man-sized, reptilian rabbit. Donnie knows the world is going to end fairly shortly and he seems to be the only one who knows. It scares him as he's afraid that when he dies he will be alone -- not alone in dying, but alone when after it all comes to an end. The movie moves at its own pace and doesn't make it easy for the viewer. There are no explanations for the subtleties and curve balls thrown. It's a movie that will leave you stunned (or annoyed) at the end. It's thought provoking, will leave more questions than answers and beg for a discussion, while leaving no threads of conversation for you to start with. Brilliant.

    Nuclear Now!

    Nuclear Fission
    I was a staunch green during my youth. I wasn't awake to the fact that the world is a very complicated place, and while I'd rather do the right thing, I also didn't want to give up on all the conveniences that the modern world had afforded me. I'm now very much of the opinion that nuclear power is the way to go.

    The nuclear industry has progressed since the 1970s. There is always the danger of meltdown, but the new designs are fail-safe -- see my post on pebble-bed reactors. The problem of storage of nuclear waste is also huge -- but spent nuclear fuel could be reused -- which is an environmentally sound thing to do. Enriched nuclear waste could also be used to make weapons, but I think this can be overcome -- I think using enriched uranium to power commerce is a much more appealing idea that using it to threaten neighbours. The world will wake up to this. The US, Russia, Europe, China, Japan, Korea, India and Brazil already think this way. Yes, there will always be nuclear weapons -- but enriching uranium isn't a catalyst for proliferation as many would think. Getting rich is better than dying. The nuclear waste that has to be stored doesn't have to be stored in perfect containment for eternity. The perfect solution will take a long time, and will probably need technology we haven't invented yet. We should today implement safe, secure and temporary storage while we develop permanent storage. If we do that, we can start taking advantage of nuclear energy in a greater way today and lower our dependence on dumping carbon into the atmosphere.

    Wired magazine has a great article on the advantages of nuclear energy today, and its cost advantage over fossil, wind and solar power. Check it out.

    Saturday, February 12, 2005

    Sunset

    Sunset
    I took a few photographs of the sunset today. It was brilliant in the sky. Check them out at my photoblog or via my webshots gallery.

    Tsunami reveals India's past

    Granite Lions
    On a different note, the withdrawing tsunami waves have cleared away sand that had buried two giant granite lions for centuries in India's ancient seaport of Mahabalipuram. Locals also reported seeing a temple and several rock sculptures just before the tsunami struck, as the sea withdrew, revealing the seabed.

    Effects of Tsunami

    The Royal Navy's survey ship, HMS Scott, presented ocean floor images this past week that shows the Indian Ocean earthquake's damage to the ocean floor. The earthquake, which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, was caused by the collision of the Indian and Burman plates, 40 kilometres under the ocean. The Indian Plate was pushed under the Burman Plate in the collision, causing ridges to rise up to 1,500 metres high. The ridges remain unstable, and have collapsed in places, scarring the ocean floor.

    HMS Scott was dispatched to the region in a non-military role to collect data that could be useful for the Asian countries in the region of the tsunami epicentre and the world in general. The ship is equipped with a modern multi-beam sonar suite that was designed to allow it map the ocean floor around the world.

    Related links: [This got to me via Slashdot.] [The presentation, 38MB and in Powerpoint format, is available here.] [For more updated information on the tsunami recovery efforts, click here.]

    "Raze the Earth!"

    I'm sure that's exactly what Bush is thinking -- "Raze the Earth!" The man reminds me of Saruman, who turned evil in the Lord of the Rings, and decided to burn the trees to make machines of war. Bush doesn't like the Endangered Species Act, and wants it replaced. In his new budget, he's lowered the amount of money available to protect endangered species by $3 million. Now a survey by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has found that scientists working for the Fish and Wildlife Service have been directed to alter their findings over the years to lessen the protection available for plants and animals.

  • The survey results can be found at the Union of Concerned Scientists website.

  • Save the Environment, Plant a Bush.

    Firefox Noticed

    Firefox has been acknowledged by both Yahoo and Amazon. Both companies have ported their toolbar software for the fledgling browser. Maybe Yahoo and Amazon see a potential, and maybe they're worried that Google, being very prominent with Firefox users, stand to gain the most. I doubt anyone in Redmond will be working hard however to make any Microsoft services available to Firefox.

    Out of Context

    You can't pay for entertainment like this. It was verbal ballet over Japanese -- with a lingual coryphée, and her inspiration. I give the following out-of-context deposition:

    She said, "Inside, open wide, deep throat. Sounds like a good place to start."

    He suggested, "You can have some, I can lift my broccoli off it." She replied, "Is your broccoli spicy?"

    X-Ray Vision

    Cassiopeia A, Supernova remnant
    On my ride home early tonight with my youngest daughter, I read this short article from Discover magazine -- it's a little summary of the events that lead to the spectacular x-ray images being produced by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The magazine includes some stunning images, which can be found online at the Chandra photo album -- high resolution images are available. Noteworthy in the article was the story of Riccardo Giacconi, who, as a young physicist, tried to convince NASA to send a Geiger counter into space. NASA refused, but the Air Force bought the idea. Giacconi told them that they could test if the Moon gave off radiation. That first Geiger counter in space didn't record any radiation from the Moon, but it did detect a strong source of x-rays from Scorpius constellation. Sco X-1 as the source would come to be known, would later turn out to be a neutron-star binary about 1,000 light-years from Earth. Giacconi documented a concept for the Chandra telescope in the 1960s, but it would take 36-years before NASA would launch the telescope. In 2002, Giacconi won the Nobel prize for his work -- work that revealed just how powerful gravity is in the universe.

    Friday, February 11, 2005

    Machines Of Loving Grace

    I was just driving my daughter home from school, and listening to Golgotha Tenement Blues, by the Machines of Loving Grace. It's a cool song.

    Thursday, February 10, 2005

    Valentine's Card

    Heart
    I was recently purchasing a Valentine's card for my lovely wife, when the deep discount being offered by Carleton Cards caught my eye -- "2 for $7.00" the sign declared. This just may be me, but -- why would you want two Valentine's cards? Seems to me that if you're picking up two cards, you intend to use two. Is the other one for next year? Won't she remember? Or are there two ladies in your life? And if that's the case, don't you think you have issues? It made me wonder.

    In case you're wondering, I passed on the deep discount.

    Omar Khadr

    Omar Khadr is imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay by the US, who picked him up in Afghanistan for killing a US soldier. Omar was 15 then. Now he's 18, and the US still hasn't brought charges against him -- or to the other prisoners held there as a matter of fact. His mother and Canadian lawyers (Omar is Canadian) made an appeal yesterday in a press conference for the US to release him and for the Canadian government to do more. His lawyers claim that Canada is helping the US and is doing nothing to get Omar out. It's a sad story. Quite the tearjerker to see Omar's mom and grandmother crying at the press conference.

    But the facts please. Omar's father, Ahmed, was a known associate of Osama bin Laden, and he died in a shootout with Pakistani police in 2003. A brother, Karim, was wounded in that shootout and has returned to Canada. Another brother, Abdullah, has been accused of running a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and his whereabouts are unknown. Yet another brother, Abdulrahman, is also in Guantanamo prison.

    While Omar's mother makes her tearful plea, I'm left to wonder -- why was Omar in Afghanistan? He is Canadian. Shouldn't a Canadian teen have been in high school, learning math, science and playing video games? His lawyers and mother have appealed to Canadians for public pressure on the Canadian government to do something to help. I say no. If you're going to play in the public arena, then explain what your son was doing in Afghanistan. Why was he there with his brothers and father? What were they doing?

    On a more pressing question however -- how the hell did these people make it into the country? And why are they still hear? Are immigration officials hired for their sheer stupidity? Do they work hard to turn away real immigrants and refugee claimants and work just as hard to let questionable characters in?

    Muslim Chuckle

    I read this quick little blurb in BusinessWeek today, and it gave me cause for a chuckle. Apparently the Muslim fate forbids the paying of interest or riba. So if you're a devout Muslim, you're screwed. No bank loans for that house you've had your eye on. In Muslim countries, this is not an issue, since they cater to such craziness (and before anybody wish to flame me for being intolerant -- bite me! I'm intolerant to all religions!). In the US however, Muslims are at a disadvantage -- or were -- because a little bank in Chicago is starting to cater to Muslims. For mortgages for instance, the bank purchases the property, then sells it back to the home owner on the installment plan or Murabaha, at a price that includes the projected interest cost. The chuckle? That small bank that's being innovative in catering to their Muslim clients is Devon Bank -- owned by the Loundy family, who just happens to be Jewish.

    Last Week's Subway Erudition

    BusinessWeek Feb. 7, 2005
    My cover to cover marathon through the latest BusinessWeek magazine provoke some interest in the following:

  • Wal-Mart Bank? -- Wal-Mart has introduced a no-fee Discover card that offers 1% back, and in the past few years, has quietly made alliances with some financial service providers. In the past, they've expressed an interest in getting into the bank business. Their plan is most likely to do what they've done in the retail business -- target lower-income consumers and drive prices down.

  • Girls in the Lab -- American kids lag behind other nations kids in science and engineering, then Harvard University's President declares that girls just don't have the innate ability. Dismissing half of the population is not the smartest thing to do -- that's throwing out half the brains of the nation. But how can girls be encouraged to get into the sciences? How can the sciences be made cool? Well, one way is to start having more role models. Women still aren't hired equally as men in the science and engineering fields, and there's one simple reason -- discrimination.

  • Fakes -- BusinessWeek's cover article is about the big business the manufacturing of fakes has become. It's estimated that worldwide trade in counterfeit products is about 5-7% that of global trade -- or as much as $512 billion. What used to be a small time illegal business has grown to mean big business for organized crime and terrorist groups. Not only is that a danger, but counterfeiting has enter the pharmaceutical business and is pumping out fake and sometimes deadly copies of real drugs.

  • Procter & Gadget -- here's a trick question: how do you get people to buy more of the same old crap? Procter & Gamble, Gillette and S.C. Johnson & Son have it all figured out. Take your old crap, but it into a nifty little disposal gadget (might as well fuck the environment while you're at it), multiple the price by a hundred-fold -- and voila! You've got a hot seller on your hands! Gillette has done it with the Mach3 razors. They stuck a battery into their disposal blade shavers (since they own the batteries anyway) to make it vibrate so they could sell more. Does it make for a better shave? What does it matter? Procter & Gamble has done it with their SK-II product that sprays makeup on -- forget the cheap sponge -- you want to cover your faces properly ladies! I suppose ripping consumers off is good business -- so good in fact that Procter & Gamble and Gillette have decided to merge.
  • Wednesday, February 09, 2005

    Governor General Visits a Curling Club

    Breaking News!!! The Governor General of Canada will be visiting the Royal Montreal Curling Club today -- at noon! This is a historic occasion -- mainly because the curling club has been around since 1807 -- but who cares about that -- it's historic because Adrienne Clarkson's visit will cost taxpayers several million dollars as she takes the long way to the curling club. Her voyage started out a several weeks ago when Clarkson set off on a military jet to Vancouver. From there, she circled the globe in a couple of loops, stopping off for gas at several exotic locales, gracing the locals with some of her gas, and eventually arriving at Montreal on the weekend. When the press asked her why she didn't just drive from Ottawa to save taxpayers money, Clarkson commented that she was saving taxpayers money -- she was staying at her official B&B.

    New Photos

    My wife and I had an adventure this past weekend. Road trip to Port Perry! OK, maybe not much of an adventure -- but lunch was great! And so was the photography. Check out the photos I took via the thumbnails below, or see smaller versions on my photoblog.

    Click for main gallery.Extra photos

    Testing Darwin

    Discover, Feb. 2005
    Discover Magazine's latest issue chronicles the adventures of the Digital Evolution Laboratory of Michigan State University and their Avida evolution software. If you buy into evolution -- like most sane people do -- what the folks are doing at the lab is downright fascinating. If you don't buy into evolution, you will come up with a new set of crackpot ideas for disproving their work. At the lab, the researchers use Avida to produce digital organisms, capable of replicating themselves tens of thousands of times in minutes, with code that can randomly mutate, just like DNA, with each replication. The researchers can track birth, life, death and mutations across generations of digital organisms. It's evolution at warp speed -- no intelligent designer required!

    Avida is important because it's not a simulation of evolution. It's actually an instance of evolution. Code is created, replicated, and mutated -- natural selection is happening within the computer, based on the researchers playing god with the digital organisms environment. Not much different from DNA -- where code is created, replicated and mutated. Along the way, the researchers are finding some surprises in the way evolution works -- such as organisms evolved to add numbers do so, but in some really crazy ways; or that evolution isn't a smooth linear process, but rather a process regularly punctuated with spurts of change. With Avida, researchers can observe millions of generations of random mutation and natural selection, and they're making tremendous progress in understanding how evolution works.

    One of the things that creationists (especially the unintelligent 'intelligent design' crazies) love to dangle in front of sane scientists is that they refuse to believe that complex systems could have evolved. They stress that complex biological systems aren't just the sum of their parts -- taking a part away renders the whole non-functioning. What Avida has shown however, is that the complex systems could evolve from simple precursors -- and the simple precursors were useful in the primitive organisms. In the evolved complex organism however, taking away the simple precursor renders the whole non-functioning. As well, Avida has shown, as Darwin had believed, that there are many different paths to produce the same complex system.

    On the subject of diversity, Avida has also shed some light. The diversity that is found in global ecosystems is also generated by Avida when food supply is balanced (not too much, not too little). The organisms that evolve also specialize, and tend to evolve much faster than when the food supply was great. It appears that diversity increases the chances of the entire ecosystem surviving and succeeding. Which begs us to question what we're doing to the global diversity of life.

    Cooperation -- it's a foundation of human society, but it's not unique to humans. The article tells the story of the bacteria Myxococcus xanthus, that travel in swarms of 100,000, hunting down, killing and devouring E. coli and other bacteria. When run out of prey, they gather together to form a stalk, with the bacteria at the top forming spores that are carried away to a new location to begin again. The bacteria that's left behind, dies. Why the cooperation? Why didn't cheaters evolve? This is something that the researchers are still pondering. If their digital organisms evolve to cooperate, they could suddenly be harvested to solve real world problems.

    Why sex? Asexual reproduction works, yet sexual reproduction dominates the higher species. Sex has been introduced to the digital organisms, but the outcome is far from conclusive. Sex allows organisms to share code, and is a way of avoiding annihilation from lethal mutations -- yet, because code is shared, mutations are shared, and sexual organisms carry more mutations than asexual organisms. Why did sexual reproduction dominate our global ecosystem?

    It's a fascinating subject -- one that creationists aren't entirely happy with. The Avida program is available for download for anyone who wishes to create their own universe of digital organisms, and many creationists have downloaded it in hopes of finding a flaw. So far, nothing.
  • Testing Darwin [PDF] -- Discover's cover article is also available in PDF format.
  • Caltech's Digital Life Laboratory
  • Download Avida at SourceForge.
  • Evolutionary Learning in the 2D Artificial Life System "Avida" [PDF]
  • Avida: A software platform for research in computational evolutionary biology [PDF]
  • Ab Initio Modeling of Ecosystems with Artificial Life [PDF]

  • Avida

    Tuesday, February 08, 2005

    Microsoft Patents Latitude/Longitude

    Microsoft is apparently trying to patent the use of latitude & longitude in URLs. Where will the stupidity end? See the patent application here.

    Another Reason to Love Alberta

    University of Alberta is following up their computer science course on virus writing with a new offering to their CompSci students -- writing email spam and spyware. The University claims that they're teaching students how to create viruses, spam and spyware in order for them to learn how to combat such nuisances. Hmm ... good intentions ... sure ... but if I was a pissed off employee who knew how to write viruses ...

    Monday, February 07, 2005

    Meshed Motes

    Startups are flourishing and the big IT firms are salivating at the prospect of the next big thing. What is it? Wireless sensor devices (motes) combined with mesh networking. Motes are tiny devices that packages some sensor hardware, with wireless networking capability and application software. They can detect changes in temperature, pressure, moisture, light, sound, magnetism, motion, radiation, etc. With wireless technology and low power consumption, these devices can reside anywhere for years, without servicing, just monitoring. Mesh networking give the devices their independence from the central computer, human hands and power needs. With mesh networking, the devices belong to the collective. They wake whenever they have something interesting to report, broadcast for a fraction of a second and return dormant -- consuming on a tiny amount of power. Instead of sending their information all the way back to the central computer, they simply relay it to the nearest mote, which in turn sends it to the next mote, etc. Think of tiny sensors in their own private internet. Manufacturers are hoping that someday they'll have nanoscale devices that can operate in a mesh network. Once they've been perfected, the machines will take over. Read more in InformationWeek.

    Out of Context

    In an effort to make sense of the mad-mad world, I seek pertinence in the abstruse vernacular of the infamous anonymous -- the lunch-time confabulation of the BC intelligentsia. More often than not, I'm left to excogitate meaning from such remarks:

    "Will Andy be higher on the list than me?" said she.
    To which he replied, "No. I think Andy will want to watch."

    Brunch at Meggie's

    Yesterday I went down with my lovely wife for brunch at Meggie's -- a restaurant that I was introduced to by JD -- she of the perpetual 'out of context.' Meggie's has a great all-day breakfast menu, and yesterday I had one of their standard fares -- consisting of pancakes, scrambled eggs and their famous garlic fries -- amazingly tasty fries, made with real chopped garlic. My wife was more adventurous -- she chose to enjoy an omelette of fresh berries, soaked in rum and drizzled with icing sugar. She said it was pretty good. Sounds ... interesting, but not for me. Meggie's is a great restaurant, with a great atmosphere that could probably be mistaken for ambience. It's highly recommended.

    Meggie's is located at 174 Eglinton Ave. W -- just a block west of Yonge. If you're trying for brunch on the weekend, I suggest making reservations: 416-483-9954.

    Saving the World One Child at a Time

    He may one of the world's most hated man -- but that's probably the territory of the world's richest man. He also wants to save the world, and is putting his money up for the cause. As much as I despise Gates for going around and clobbering innovation like a 500lb gorilla, I also admire him for the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Not only is the foundation giving away hundreds of millions, it is focusing its efforts on eradicating curable diseases and Gates is giving generously of his personal time and clout to make it happen.

    At the end of January, the Gates Foundation gave US$750 million to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) over 10 years to pay for vaccines for children in developing countries. That is on top of the US$750 million the Gates Foundation gave to startup GAVI in 2000 -- and the personal time and effort the Gates' gave to harangue Big Pharma into putting in the effort to develop vaccines for the third world. The Gates Foundation also seem to be inspiring nations. Norway has committed US$290 million -- and the UK has committed US$1.8 billion over the next 15 years to GAVI. Big Pharma suddenly has a market in the third world for vaccines. Instead of developing and selling first to the industrialized nations to recoup development costs -- and process that keeps much needed drugs from the third world -- the likes of GlaxoSmithKline and Merck are now trailblazing some of their new drugs in the third world first.

    70% of the world's children live in the 75 poorest countries. They are the targets of GAVI, and the impact has been positive. GAVI reports that nearly 700,000 future deaths have been prevented thus far -- a result of over 350 million doses of vaccine shipped for diphtheria, yellow fever, Haemophilus influenzae type B, hepatitis B, tetanus and pertussis. Their goal however is to reach 90% of the world's poor and save 10 million lives by 2015.

    Sunday, February 06, 2005

    Ice Fog

    Ice Fog
    WTF? I just saw that on the weather forecast on my blog. Never heard of such a thing. I was out with my wife today -- galivanting to Port Perry, and the fog was incredibly thick. In fact, it lingered the entire day, then thicken into the evening -- turning into ice fog. Curiousity got the better of me, so I looked it up. Ice fog is fog, but instead of being composed of supercooled liquid water, the water molecules have frozen into tiny ice crystals, which hang in the air. It was so bad at times today, that the Sun disappeared from the sky. When it did appear, it was white, and looked just like a full moon -- with a well defined circumference. Quite the sight.

    Saturday, February 05, 2005

    Retail Ecosystems

    On my way home from work on Friday, I read a short article from McKinsey Quarterly, regarding retail trends -- specifically, the move from being product focused to retail ecosystem focused. This is a bit of old news -- the report was written in 2000 -- but you can already see the predictions bearing fruit -- both successes and failures.

    What is a Retail Ecosystem? You'll find the phrase being used to describe many things, including the technologies being employed by retailers, to specific technology niches, such as RFID. Being a business strategy article however, the authors use the phrase to describe the move by retailers to focus on offering consumers "packages of interrelated products, services, and information." A hardgoods retailer for example, would expand its consumer offering by getting into the product installation business; or the tool rental business.

    How does it work? Retailers build on their established relationship with consumers -- brand, product assortment, service, etc. This is not just diversifying -- this is diversifying into interrelated businesses. A retail ecosystem could focus on specific purchase occasions, lifestyle segments or life stages -- it basically tries to fulfill the purchase needs of its target consumer group.

    What are companies creating retail ecosystems? It simply means more money for them at the end of the day -- "stronger top-line growth, enhanced margins, and closer customer relationships" -- results from owning a larger share of consumer spending and increased traffic. Growth in their established business of most retailers is either stagnant -- if there is growth, it is slow. For double-digit growth, retailers need to create an entirely new revenue stream that leverages on their established business infrastructure and doesn't require the same capital expenditure as would be required by a new business. The business infrastructure they could leverage includes physical retail locations, supply chain networks, supplier relationships, business expertise, etc. Consumers don't fare too bad in this deal either. They get "a very tailored range of products and services, increased convenience, a more satisfying overall shopping experience, and, in general, lower costs."

    Who are building retail ecosystems? Quite a few well known companies: Wal-Mart, Loblaws, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Kmart, Seven-Eleven, Carrefour, Best Buy, Circuit City, and many, many more. These companies have recognized that to succeed, they must stop focusing on promoting the brands of others, and promote their brand. The way to do that is to increase the breadth and depth of their assortment and deliver the goods where it's needed, when it's needed.

    For some interesting related reading, check out:
  • The New Operational Dynamics of Business Ecosystems: Implications for Policy, Operations and Technology Strategy -- Iansiti, Levien.
  • Same-Sex Marriage

    Politicians should be held accountable to the public. They also need to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which supersedes public opinion. On the subject of same-sex marriage, the Liberals are skirting a fine line in trying to do the right thing and not lose popularity. Same-sex marriage isn't a big deal. The marginalized views and conflict encouraged by the media is making this out to be more important than it really ought to be. Gay couples should be allowed to be married if they want to. It's nobody's business. Just it's nobody's business if a black person marries a white person -- although, not so long ago, many people thought it was public business in preventing mixed marriages. You'll still find some of those people around today, and they're most likely on the side of those that oppose same-sex marriage.

    Intolerance makes for some strange bedfellows.


    If you'd like to know what your politicians have been up to on the subject of same-sex marriage, check out the Canadians for Equal Marriage site. Plug-in your postal code and see what your MP thinks and how s/he has voted historically on the subject. If you have a moment, drop your MP an email of encouragement to vote for tolerance.

    Wednesday, February 02, 2005

    Photos

    My photo blog.
    I joined the line this past weekend to get the car washed. It was a line. A long one. In Barrie of all place. I was bored. So I took some pictures.

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    Tabs

    Ever wonder where tabs came from? You know, the little pieces of paper that protrudes from file folders, index cards and the like? Technology Review has a brief history on the tab. It's an invention that's been around for sometime -- hundreds of years in fact, but it fell out of favour with the introduction of page numbering of books. Its modern discovery was made by James Newton Gunn, who received a patent for his invention in 1897 and promptly sold it to the US Library Bureau. Today, tabs live on -- in digital format in the many applications you use everyday.

    Captured GI

    Apparently some Iraqi militant website had this image posted of a captured US soldier. Doubts were raised however, after the US reported that none of their soldiers were missing. Apparently, somebody bought a toy soldier, photographed it and posted it on the web. What would be incredibly funny however is if this hoax is actually a hoax. Something tells me that this photograph was made by a Bushie to make fun of the Iraqi militants.


    I don't know

    Obviously god has been trying to send this guy a message for sometime now. Why is he fighting it? Perhaps, being on the inside and everything, he has an idea of what he has coming. Or maybe it's just me.

    Probably not.
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