Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coretta Scott King

Correta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr., passed away yesterday. After years of carrying on the struggle without him, Correta Scott is off to join her husband. The world has lost another one of its treasures.

Politics of Information

When politicians get a free hand at editing information freely and widely available; trusted; and in some cases, relied upon -- you can expect the lowest common denominator to rule the day. The lowest of the low in this case, is the self-interest of the politicians involved. The Lowell Sun is reporting on the abuse of Wikipedia by politicians riding the information superhighway from government offices. There are cases where politicians aides are modifying biographical entries to paint a rosy picture of their candidates; or where the entries of rivals are tarnished. As the facts and truth are abused by those entrusted with the public's interest, democracy and the public -- that's you -- suffer the consequences. It just goes to show you -- where you are concerned, they just don't give a shit.

Update Jan. 31/06
It appears that Wikipedia has had enough of the US Congress, and is seeking to ban their IP range from updating Wikipedia. Great idea in my opinion!

The IT Crowd

The IT Crowd is a new British sitcom that's about the IT group relegated to the basement of a company. The first episode is now online, and it looks like they plan on making them all online. Check it out. It's funny in a mostly stereotypical way of IT geeks stuck at the helpdesk.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Q: The Winged Serpent

Q: The Winged Serpent is a classic horror movie from the early 1980s, made by Larry Cohen. The movie is entirely predictable; the effects are, well, 1980s; and the action is nothing spectacular -- but the movie is nonetheless, a great classic of the genre. Exceptional acting is delivered by Michael Moriarty and David Carradine -- making the movie quite bearable, despite the shortcomings.

The plot follows two apparently separate murder investigations. One, ritualistic, the other gruesome, with eye witnesses reporting a flying monster. As unrelated as they appear, New York City police detective Shepard (Carradine), discovers that they are unbelievably related. The ritual murders are being committed to bring back the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl does appear to be back, and is nesting at the top of the Chrysler Building -- flying out to pick off the citizens of New York when its hungry. Not only that, but it has an egg that will soon hatch. Into this mess, stumbles Jimmy Quinn (Moriarty) -- a small time hood, who's heart just isn't in the criminal life -- he's afraid of everything, in fact -- except perhaps, heights. Quinn discovers Quetzalcoatl's nest, and for the first time in his life, sees a way to obtain power. He's going to sell his information to the city for one million dollars.

Like I said, the movie is entirely predictable. The monster does get it in the end -- but you're going to have to watch it to see how. Not a bad movie for a Friday night when you have nothing better to do with your time.

Redeu-ai (Red Eye)

Redeu-ai (Red Eye) is a Korean film that was released sometime in the beginning of last year. I actually watched this film completely by mistake -- I thought it was the Wes Craven movie. When the Korean dialogue came on, I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore. Far from it, I was someplace very creepy -- which I'm not too sure Wes Craven's Red Eye would have delivered.

Redeu-ai has a very simple plot running on top of a story that at times, will seem to be going nowhere, or appear to be very confusing. Don't lose patience with it. Everything is not as it seems. The story concerns a Redeu-ai train that is on the same route as a train that crashed years before. On this anniversary night, the passengers on board -- both real, and not quite real -- will be in for a surprising ride. The night train will merge with the ghost train from the accident years ago, on a collision course to repeat the accident.

The movie is downright creepy. The music, lighting and tone combine to give a good scare without having to employ a lot of blood or violence. The story had some gaps in it, that I just didn't get -- but I blame that on what was probably lost in the translation. What was missing didn't detract from a good scary movie, however. This one comes recommended -- it'll scare you.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Steve Job's Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney Company has agreed to a purchase of Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion in stock. Steve Jobs, current CEO of Pixar and 50.6% owner, will take a seat on Disney's board, and become its largest shareholder. On top of that, Pixar's executives will move in to take control of the combined Disney and Pixar animation studios.

Not too bad for a guy that's been on the comeback trail for the last 8-10 years or so. Jobs has full tyrannical control of Apple and he's about to get the same with Disney. With Jobs having control of a computing maker and a media giant, it looks like the world is about to change forever. Other technology and media companies better get their butts in gear asap, as Jobs is about merge content and technology in a way never seen in North America before. Want to know how cool things are about to become? Check out what's happening in Asia.

While the products and services possibilities are exciting, the big speculation is of how long Jobs will be able to stay out of Disney's operations. Jobs is a control freak. On Disney's board he will see things that he won't like -- things that he will want to do something about -- but only as Disney's CEO. Will it be a year or less before he's offered full control?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Underworld: Evolution

The best and most entertaining movie review I have read for Underworld: Evolution, is by the Star's Geoff Pevere. He starts out with,
While I must admit I had no idea what Kate Beckinsale's character was doing in Underworld: Evolution, holy smokin' mother of mercy did I love watching her work.
And the review just got better.

Underworld: Evolution is a "check-your-brain-at-the-door" movie. This movie picks up right where the 2003 original, Underworld, ends, and pumps the action to high-gear. Beckinsale's vampire and Speedman's hybrid vampire-werewolf, must battle the father of all vampires, a few vampires and lots of werewolves. In the process, many bullets will expended, and lots of blood will be spilt and drank. In a nutshell, a certain vampire and hybrid vampire-werewolf, are on a mission of family planning for the immortal beasts, with the human race at risk. They will also engage in a little activity of their own that probably could have used some family planning as well. (Can vampires get pregnant?)

The action was hard, pounding, and non-stop. The blood flowed freely, although the human body count was actually kept down. The effects, crucial for this genre, was amazing. The werewolves were impressive, and so was super-vampire-dude with the wings. The movie was effects and action driven -- having Beckinsale and Speedman in the movie probably didn't hurt either.

Pope Discovers Sex

In his first encyclical, released today, Poop Benedict the Roman Numerals declared that Christians should love more -- not just the spiritual love bit, but erotic love as well. The poop has problems with the commoditization of sex in society, preferring the days when the Vatican could maintain the world's largest library of pornography. He encourages more bondage and discipline in today's erotic love, in order to provide more than just instant graticifcation -- going so far that one, with a slight leap, could conclude that Benny is after a sexual position being named after him. The encyclical wanders off into a place that will be confusing to most devout Catholics, in addressing spiritual love -- love that encourages us to be charitable to our fellow wo/man.

I don't know about you ... but having a priest talk sex, just sounds a whole lot dirty and scary to me. There are some things that the church should avoid -- like people's bedrooms.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This Opinion Brought to You by ...

Listen up sheep! You're being manipulated! You think that the opinions you read are coming influence free? Think again. On top of the Bush Administration paying off a commentator to say nice things about their education policy -- the big one that I had heard of previously -- there are more examples of the practice, where opinion articles are submitted to editors for publication without full disclosure of who's hand it is that is manipulating the puppet. Yes sheep, opinion writers really aren't the dogs you thought they were -- they're actually wolves.

Going Broke to Stay Alive

Just how much is a life worth? Here in North America, the price can easily be calculated, and most of us can't afford our own lives. That's the sad tale chronicled in BusinessWeek's Going Broke to Stay Alive. When cancer victims go to our health care systems, insurance providers and governments, they inevitably find out that while everyone is sorry to hear they're sick, no one is sorry enough to help pay the bills to keep them alive. The promising cancer drugs that may extend live from a few months to a couple of years are beyond the reach of most -- including those with insurance plans and property to mortgage. Why are the costs so high? Drug companies claim that they need to recover the money they sunk into R&D -- but economics 101 teaches us that there is a happy medium. Drug companies know they've priced their products out of reach of most patients -- but if they lowered the price, the would obviously reach more paying customers. Sell more for less, and surely, they would recover their R&D investment. But that's the price of a life. They really don't care about the lives their products are supposed to save. They've got patent protect on their drugs and there are no threats. When does the welfare of a country's citizens become the interest of the governments there to serve them?

Old American Century


Check out this site. It's got some great anti-empire America posters.

Universal Geometry

Many have contended that humans, and perhaps other species, have an innate sense for numbers. [PDF] Our conceptualization of numbers may be independent of the language [PDF] we use to express them -- although higher number concepts may have developed alongside the development of language. Now in a paper recently published in the journal Science, researchers working with a remote Amazonian tribe, the Mundurukú, have reached the conclusion that geometry may also be innate in humans. The Mundurukú do not have the language to describe geometry, yet in tests, they've proven their ability to understand and use geometric concepts -- and fair no better than participants in similar tests in the US.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Wee Free Men

A number of sites are reporting on a Variety report that Sam Raimi is set to direct Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men. I'll believe it when it's happening. Too often these rumours have amounted to nothing. (But it would be so nice, wouldn't it? Especially with the success of recent fantasy films. And with Pratchett already working on the third book of the series ... trilogy anybody? Oh ... wait ... I'm waiting to believe this.)

WTF Canada?


cbc.ca is reporting a Tory minority government. There are still votes to be counted, but it's over.

'Killer Coke'

Coca-Cola apparently turned a blind eye to being harassed and killed at bottlers' plants in Columbia. Right wing paramilitaries were apparently trying to break the back of the union -- and threatening and killing employees of Coke bottlers who were union members, was one way of reaching their end. The bottlers' of course, prefer not to deal with unions, as they could then fire full-time employees and replace them with cheaper part-time staff. That's the allegation anyway, and after reading 'Killer Coke' or Innocent Abroad?, it makes me wonder about Coca-Cola's innocence. Regardless of whether the bottlers' supported the paramilitaries or not, Coke did nothing about the problem. In fact, they may have benefited from the union's woes. Even so, Coke didn't lift a hand to do anything wrong.

On the other hand however, Coke didn't make much effort to do anything right either. They claim, according to the article, that they took out newspaper ads condemning the action of the paramilitaries. So what? That's advertising. The fact that Coke seems to forget is that there's a new tide coming in out there -- it's called social responsibility. The absence of wrongdoing doesn't equate to benevolence -- the presence of active participation in doing the right thing, does.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Infinity: The Most Fascinating of All Ideas

This afternoon I enjoyed a great science lecture -- part of the Royal Canadian Institute's Science on Sundays in Toronto. The lectures are hosted every Sunday at University of Toronto's Macleod Auditorium, the Medical Sciences Building, at King's College Circle. Today's speaker was Miroslav Lovric of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, McMaster University. His topic: Infinity: The Most Fascinating of All Ideas.

Lovric's a pretty good speaker, and did the topic justice in bringing it to a general audience. He stayed quite high level, and used a number of examples to illustrate inifinity's beauty, the paradoxes it raise and the importance of studying it. Goldbach's conjecture for instance, raised by Prussian mathematician Christian Goldbach in 1742, states that,
every even integer n greater than 2 is the sum of two prime numbers.
Certainly, this may be just a mathematical exercise, but to date it still hasn't been proven, and not for the lack of trying. Some really bright minds were tested against this conjecture -- but for over 250 years, it has stood unproven. Xeno's paradoxes are equally illustrative of the power of infinity -- and great party tricks if you want to baffle some uninitiated minds. Of course, some of Xeno's paradoxes -- that of Achilles and the tortoise for instance -- remain unbroken for some time, until the mathematics was found that explained it (in this case, geometric series was needed). My favourite of Xeno's paradoxes is the arrow paradox, which essentially asserts that there is no such thing as motion. All really cool stuff -- and topics I encountered years ago in first year Calculus, but which has now faded somewhat with time.

In discussing the topic of infinity, Lovric brought up a lot of topics that could all spawn their own lectures -- everything from mathematics, history and astrophysics. I've listed some of the more interesting topics below with links for exploration at your leisure. Infinity is fascinating, and Lovric's presentation will hopefully serve to whet a few appetites. I especially liked the Sanskrit description of infinity or asankhya he quoted:
... the sum of all drops of rain, which, in 10,000 years, would fall on all the worlds.


Related links:

Darfur's Death Dealers



The government of Sudan continues to show a complete disregard for anything and everything. Not only are they sponsoring the killing of their own in Darfur, but now, they're bidding to wrest leadership of the African Union -- the organization that probably has the best chance to maintain peace in the hell that Darfur has become. Currently, the AU has troops maintaining something of a ceasefire in Darfur, even though sporadic violence continues. Funding for the peace keeping mission is set to run out in March, at which point, unless further funding is found, the AU will most likely be handing over their mission to the UN. The Sudanese government opposes the possibility of having the UN enter Darfur. Wonder why they want control of the AU?

Searching for Nemesis

I must admit, I've never heard of this before. There's a theory out there, that perhaps the Sun is part of a binary star system, with the theoretical companion dubbed Nemesis. The topic came up recently, when astronomers presented findings of debris disks around two nearby stars, some 60 light years away. The debris field around the stars look strikingly similar to that of the Kuiper Belt, in that they terminate sharply -- which got the thinking started. It's theorized that the Kuiper Belt's outer boundary, could be a result of shaping from a passing star in the Sun's distant past -- a possible companion to the Sun. This binary theory has some following. The Binary Research Institute plays hosts to believers. While they admit that there is no observable companion candidates, they propose that the companion could be a brown dwarf or a black hole. I haven't delved deeper into their science, but if nothing else, it makes for an interesting conversation piece.
These two bright debris disks of ice and dust appear to be the equivalent of our own solar system's Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy rocks outside the orbit of Neptune and the source of short-period comets. The wide disk on the left, which is oblique to the line-of-sight, surrounds HD 53143, a K star slightly smaller than the Sun but about 1 billion years old. The narrow disk on the right, which is tipped nearly edge-on, encircles the star HD 139664, an F star slightly larger than the sun but only 300 million years old. The sharp outer edges of the narrow belt may be telltale evidence for the existence of an unseen companion that keeps debris gravitationally corralled, in the same way that shepherding moons trim the edges of debris rings around Saturn and Uranus.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dr. Caligari

I saw Dr. Caligari back in early September last year -- only now am I getting around to posting about it. You'd think I'd forget quite a bit from back then, but this little bit of weirdness kinda stays with you. This movie supposedly picks up a couple generations after the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari ends. For those not in the know, the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1919 silent art film from Germany that has a lot of critical acclaim. I can't comment on it, as I've never seen it -- but it did spawn a remake last year, that again, I haven't seen either.

This 1989 film picks up with the granddaughter of Caligari -- a doctor as well, who practices at the Caligari Insane Asylum (CIA) for people who are mostly insane when they enter -- and definitely insane when they leave. The bad doctor likes to dress in a hot-pink PVC dress, use a phallic-looking syringe and talk to her grandfather's brain that she keeps preserved in a jar. In this asylum, a Mrs. Van Houten, suffering from bizarre hallucinations, is handed over to Dr. Caligari for treatment. Of course, if Mrs. Van Houten wasn't completely insane before, she's about to be. The hallucinations get far worse -- one of them involves a wall that has a giant tongue -- it has to be seen, but only if you're over 18 -- not that it's pornographic or anything -- close, probably, but it's just way-way-too bizarre.

Dr. Caligari's experiments on her patients involve extracting synaptic fluid, with which she hopes to transfer personalities. Her end goal is to be able to get some of her own grandfather's synaptic fluid into her, so she can gain his genius. Whatever. The film uses lots of weird angles, bright colours and overacting. I'm not sure if it's good. It kept me watching it, but I think that's mostly because I wanted to see just what weirdness was going to come next. I wouldn't characterize this film as enjoyable. It's pretentious and weird for the sake of being weird. A warning -- this film was made by Stephen Sayadian -- who's only other films seem to be porn. Dr. Caligari appears to be his only mainstream movie, and the only film of his that he credited himself using his real name. He must have been proud.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Nanostupidity

Definition:
Nanostupidity
nano-stu-pid-i-ty
n.pl. nano-stu-pid-i-ties

   Nano-sized acts of stupidity that tend to go unnoticed unless scrutinized under the electron microscope of a sharp observer and cynic. This type of stupidity is far more resilient, powerful, and destructive than regular everyday stupidity. It produces disproportionately larger effects than would be expected from nano-sized acts.

   Nanostupidity is usually produced in large and regular amounts by those in positions of power -- such as heads of states, corporate psychopaths, really-really sane scientists and gods. The production of nanostupidity tends to go unnoticed by the casual observers who are typically cocooned in the fluffy clouds of regular everyday stupidity.

[ant: nanointelligence] Due to the nature of nanostupidity, its opposite carries the same definition. Once produced, it's quite inescapable.

[syn: nanobetise, nanoimbecility] You may also know of induhviduals who's names are synonymous with nanostupidity.

[pref: nano Greek nannos, little old man; suff: stupidity Latin stupidus, to be stunned]

If you have examples of nanostupidity, let us hear them via the comments.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

C.K. Prahalad

C.K. Prahalad, for those who don't know, is a business guru -- or a Business Prophet, as BusinessWeek recently declared. The University of Michigan professor and business strategy consultant, is originally from India, but now works, lives and operates out of the US. He and colleague Gary Hamel coined the idea of "core competence," and lectured on its importance to business. If you've ever used the phrase -- or ever had your fill of hearing it used, misused and abused in business meetings, you now know who to thank. Prahalad has also been lecturing on the new face of innovation -- innovation that occurs when those within the walls of the corporation turn to their customers to "co-create" products. This idea goes beyond just making something and then polling folks to see if they'd buy it. It suggests a deeper relationship with customers -- getting intimate and becoming partners.

Recently, Prahalad has been increasingly vocal on another front -- the dismissed masses at the bottom of the pyramid. Where most see poverty and the lack of a market, Prahalad, and other like-minded thinkers see a vast untapped market, teeming with populations of unrecognized potential, creativity, innovation and hunger. The underserved are striving to serve themselves, and in the process, are concocting business models totally foreign to today's multinationals. Weened on a starvation diet, these innovators are serving the underserved with efficiencies unreachable by global conglomerates -- and making a healthy profit, even while they give some services away to those who can't afford them. And guess what? The underserved market is much, much greater than the markets served by conglomerates. Simply put: there are a whole lot more poor people than there are rich, and those pennies add up. Those innovators serving those at the bottom of the pyramid are doing more than just eking out an existence -- they are successful -- and slowing they just might be changing the face of the multinational conglomerate. That's globalization for you.

What is perhaps most important to know about Prahalad is that he's a man originally from one of those backwards developing economies -- and he's a firm believer in globalization. This would come as a shock to most of those anti-globalization wackos that haven't an inkling of what economics means -- and would rather preserve the pristine poverty of the developing economies so they can go there for vacation and enjoy the temporary pretence of being a native. It would come as a shock to find out that the poor have aspirations -- they want all the trappings that we take for granted -- including the creation of their own multinationals that will one day redefine what globalization really means.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Good Advice

Guy Kawasaki has some very good advice -- for people in general, and those "with nothing to do." Looking back at his life, he has proposed the following, that is very well elaborated at Kawasaki's site:
#10: Live off your parents as long as possible.
#9: Pursue joy, not happiness.
#8: Challenge the known and embrace the unknown.
#7: Learn to speak a foreign language, play a musical instrument, and play non-contact sports.
#6: Continue to learn.
#5: Learn to like yourself or change yourself until you can like yourself. #4: Don't get married too soon.
#3: Play to win and win to play.
#2: Obey the absolutes.
#1: Enjoy your family and friends before they are gone.


This message was brought to you by the letters D and H, that apparently have even less to do than bloggers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Math Will Rock Your World

BusinessWeek is running an article in this week's issue that contends Math Will Rock Your World. The revolution is happening, and a handful of really smart people are at the forefront of translating everything into numbers around the world. This is nothing new -- it has been happening for some time. Starting first in science and engineering, jumping to businesses via finance, and from there, moving into IT, where mathematics promised to make sense of the vast amount of data businesses had been collecting in their data warehouses. More recently, mathematics has entered the process intensive fields of manufacturing, supply chain management and slowly, into marketing. More and more, mathematics is being used to make sense of non-numerical data -- or data not easily reducible to numbers. Algebra and geometry are finding new applications in proprietary algorithms to help bring intelligence to advertising, biology, and just about every aspect of your new digital life -- especially since there's no end of data being gathered on your behaviour. Of course there is cause to be concerned. Think of all the invasion of privacy issues. Do you want to be dissected and predicted in so many ways? Especially if the accuracy just isn't there. The potential dangers have of course, never stopped the world, so expect that the course will be stayed as long as the promises continue to be made and the benefits of the horizon remain enormous. The pitfalls are many -- but so are the potential benefits.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ten Years and Three Billion Miles ...


Image courtesy of John Hopkins University.

Tomorrow at 1:24PM, NASA will launch the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto. New Horizons will travel for just over a year to encounter Jupiter for a gravity assist that will place it at the 2.5 degree inclination that it will need to reach Pluto. On its way to Pluto, it may fly by escaped Kuiper Belt bodies that are located inside the orbit of Pluto, but all should be quiet as it spends the next 8 years after Jupiter to get to Pluto. New Horizons is targeted to arrive at Pluto in July 2015.

Upon arrival, New Horizons will study Pluto and Charon, before venturing out into the Kuiper Belt to study its inhabitants. At this point, NASA is expecting the mission to last 5-10 years.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stardust Capsule Return

It's official, the Stardust sample-return capsule arrived safely back on Earth this morning after traveling over 4.5 billion kilometres on its seven year mission. The capsule was released by the Stardust spacecraft at 12:57AM last night and entered Earth's atmosphere four hours later. At 5:10AM, it landed at the US Air Force Utah Test and Training Range. You can imagine that researchers are probably extremely happy. The analysis of the returned samples will undoubtedly occupy them for years to come. I'm looking forward to some of the initial theories of the origin of the solar system that will published based on the analysis.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

CDRs Suck

Yup, they're cheap -- and because of that, they've proliferated. It's got to the point where I have so many CDs, I don't even know what's on most of them anymore. I archive stuff just because someday I may be looking for it, and it will be easily accessible, instead of searching, finding, downloading or purchasing all over again. But what happens when a few years down the road, I pop a CDR into the drive and there's nothing there? You got it -- nothing. Well, I'll probably scream and fret, then either search, find, download or purchase all over again. The problem is, CDRs only have a limited lifespan -- 2-5years according to physicist and storage guru, Kurt Gerecke, of IBM. Gerecke suggests that you may be better off to just archive on magnetic tape instead, if you want to make sure your data is there.

I have a better idea. External USB harddrives. Cost per megabyte comparison, external harddrives are a whole lot cheaper than CDRs to begin with -- and a heck of a lot safer for your data. I did a quick search on Froogle for some prices and did the comparison. Check out what I found below. Wow! The prices below are probably steep -- you can probably find media cheaper locally. There are two types of CDR referenced: archival and regular. Archival is gold plated or something like that. Whatever.

Blogs of Note

  • Who Would Jesus Hate? -- described as providing "anecdotal evidence of how religion is on the wrong side of every social issue."
  • Fugetaboutit! -- hilarious site from a "48-year-old shrinking Italian comedian." Take the tagline for instance: "I saw the face of Jesus in my lasagna ... briefly."

ChomskyTorrents.org

If you're going to pirate movies online, why go for the crap Hollywood puts out when you have options like those listed at BitTorrent site, ChomskyTorrents.org? The site describes itself as
a gathering place for torrents with progressive and radical content. As for now, it preserves a special place for the work of American dissident Noam Chomsky, as the domain name suggests.
I didn't know Chomsky was a dissident -- but I suppose that's one way of describing him in the current American environment.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Crazy American

Check out this post over at Sanity's Bluff. This guy is sometimes sane. Right now though ... he's friggin insane.

Update:
The above post has been removed by the web_loafer over at Sanity's Bluff and has been replaced with something more effective than the original hatred.

Armed 8th Grader Shot by SWAT

An 8th grader that was brought down by the police when he pulled a handgun in class, forced a fellow student into a closet and threatened the police. Jen has more on her blog, including some scary statistics.

Quickie

Here are some sites to lose some time in. Warning: you won't get the time back once you've lost it.
  • iWebTool - great set of online web tools. Especially useful is you've got a site.
  • OldVersion.com -- just because sometimes, you need older versions of software, this site keeps them around. Old works. Newer isn't always better.
  • iRate Radio -- use the masses to get new music you may not have ever heard of. It's a collaborate filtering system for music lovers.
  • Rocketboom -- one of the better vlogs out there. It's actually funny. Check this episode out.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Moonglow Observatory

Fred Bruenjes is living my dream. Check out his site, Moonglow Observatory.

Stardust@Home

From the people who brought us SETI@Home, comes Stardust@Home. The project will build a large, virtual computer, from participating @home computers to serve as a large microscope. The computer microscope will be scanning the aerogel collector from the Stardust mission to find interstellar dust. Stardust, as you may recall, visited Comet Wild, and collected samples from comet. What the Stardust@home researchers are looking for however, is interstellar dust that was collected by Stardust's Interstellar Dust Collector -- not cometary dust. While there should be no problems finding cometary material -- only about 45 interstellar dust grains are expected to be found. To scan the aerogel, 1.5 million pictures will be taken of the 16-inch diameter foam, with each picture covering an area smaller than a grain of salt. @Home computers will then scan these images looking for the trails left behind as dust particles slammed into the aerogel. Those who find the dust grains will be given the opportunity to name them.

Stardust will be ending its seven year mission this weekend, when its reentry capsule collides with Earth's atmosphere on January 15th, at 09:56:39 UT. Your only chance of viewing the capsule reentry, is if you live on the west coast.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Milky Way Galaxy is Warped and Vibrating like a Drum

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have presented a hypothesis to explain the warping of a thin disk of hydrogen gas that extends across the Milky Way galaxy. When the Milky Way is viewed from the side, the hydrogen fas appears to undulate above and below the galactic plane -- as if the gas was a ripple moving through the galaxy. Long dismissed hypothesis had suggested that the sister galaxies of the Milky Way -- the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds -- could be creating the warping effect due to their gravitational influence. That was dismissed however, as the Magellanic Clouds are not massive enough. Together, they make up just 2% of the hydrogen disk of the Milky Way. The new hypothesis revives the old with a twist -- dark matter. The results of computer simulations suggest that if the Magellanic Clouds were moving through a dense halo of dark matter, then their gravitational influence would be magnified to the point where they would be responsible for the warping of the Milky Way. Interestingly enough, if this is the case, then the warping is not static, but is really a slow ripple that is undulating through our galaxy -- described by Professor Leo Blitz as looking "like the Milky Way is flapping in the breeze."

How's that for cool?

Google DRM

Google has followed suit with other web media players and are entering the video delivery service seriously. They've developed their own DRM, which will be first used in their video delivery service -- on which they're planning to host pay-per-download content from media companies. Google is also throwing their version of a media player out to the masses as well. This time around, Page and Brin seems to be following the pack instead of leading it. I guess this should have been expected, since they're getting such push back by television networks for planning on indexing their shows. I supposed this is one way of getting to index content.

Reading Oodles

Here are a few news items that kept me awake on my travels yesterday:
  • The race is on between Toyota and GM -- GM, just to stay ahead as the world's largest automaker, and Toyota to take the crown. It's no secret, GM is in deep trouble. Despite reporting increased sales in 2005, reports indicate that they may fall behind Toyota in 2006.
  • If you work in a large business, this time of the year probably has one huge irritant for you at work -- performance reviews. The past practice of measuring and ranking individuals against each other is falling out of favour for a softer approach -- an approach that recognizes and encourages collaboration, risk taking and passion.
  • e-Book readers take 2: Sony, iRex Technologies and Jinke Co. are all racing to release their version of eBook readers for another go at it. You may remember that eBook readers have been out before, but they never took off. This time, manufacturers have better technology and most importantly, content; they're signing up publishers and are hoping to recreate the iPod + iTunes magic. Would you use one though?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Butter Chicken

Butter chicken -- it's not one of my favourite Indian dishes -- chicken tikka masala is. A few restaurants I've been to, make chicken tikka masala real spicy -- which is the way I like most of the foods I eat. Tonight I went to the Indian Garden for dinner. It's a restaurant at Yonge & Eglinton (NW), that I've had lunch at on a semi-irregular basis, once I was introduced to it by a friend from work. I'm familiar with the owner, who tonight, being the only diners in there, had a chance to chat with at length. He has a thriving take-out business from his regulars, so staying open to cater for the few sit-down diners, is worth his while. He was telling me of his struggle as a restaurant owner in Toronto. For starters, he's got a bad location. There are just a couple of restaurants on the west side of Yonge on Eglinton, while north on Yonge and east on Eglinton, plays host to a multitude of restaurants -- thereby attracting a lot more visitors. His food is great though, especially his butter chicken -- which I have tried at the lunch buffet -- and which got quite the favourable review by the Toronto Star. His butter chicken is ranked number 2 [PDF] in Toronto. It was therefore great to hear that he's planning on opening another restaurant -- this time in Barrie -- to bring his piece of India to one of the fastest growing cities in Ontario -- by the end of January. I hope the people in Barrie are ready for some great Indian food, especially the number 2 ranked butter chicken in Toronto. And, if you happen by either restaurants, be sure to saw hello to owner, Kunal Minoch -- quite a friendly host.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Student Blogger to be Flogged

Not literally, but given the choice of the original punishment, which was loss of scholarship and one year suspension, the student would have preferred to be flogged. The student in question attends Marquette Dental School in Wisconsin, and apparently posted some negative comments on an unnamed prof. He was quickly taken to task on his blog posts, even though the school encourages anonymous feedback (including critical feedback) from students on profs. How stupid can they get? Check out John McAdams' post. And here I thought academia encouraged free thinking and open debate.

Anansi Boys

I finished Neil Gaiman's latest, Anansi Boys, the other night. (It was a Christmas present.) Wow! I'm a BIG Neil Gaiman fan, and I was looking forward to this book ever since I found about it -- not that it has been hurriedly digested, sort of now waiting for more from him -- although I hear next out may be the late 2007 release of Beowulf. I started reading Gaiman back in the early 1990s, somewhere in the early issues of the Sandman. If you like his writing and aren't familiar with his early works, I highly recommend the series. Gaiman deals with his usual topics -- gods, myths and fantasy.

"God is dead. Meet the kids."

Anansi Boys picks up the Mr. Nancy character from American Gods, but quickly puts him aside, 6-feet under to be exact, to bring his sons, Fat Charlie and Spider, to center stage. Fat Charile and Spider discover each other after many years of separation -- Fat Charlie didn't even know Spider existed -- and have to come to grips with each other and the legacy of their father. Fat Charlie grew up in England after his mother left his father in Florida, and has more or less a normal, if rather embarrassing and sad life. Spider on the other hand, seems to have inherited powers from his father and lives in-the-now like a rock star. The only thing the brothers share in common is their bloodline. When Spider enters Fat Charlie's life, Fat Charlie's life goes from embarrassingly bad to worse. Thrown into the mix are travels to the beginning of the world; four old ladies from Florida that practice witchcraft with whatever is available; and another god that's out to get the brothers now that their father is out of the way.

Anansi Boys is imaginative and funny. Gaiman took one of the most beloved characters from African/West Indian myths, and brings him to life wonderfully. He managed to write Anansi Boys just as it would be told by Anansi himself.

Anansi, in myth is a god a trickery and wisdom. As a child, I used to read a lot of the myths from West Indies -- that's where I grew up. Brer Anansi's stories were the best. In the stories I read as a child, he never took the form of a man, but remained a spider. This novel took me back to my childhood a little -- and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Related reading:

Glass Trap

No matter how awake you are, watching Glass Trap will put you to sleep -- guaranteed! Glass Trap is a cheap, sucky, poo-poo of a film. It's supposed to be scary, but it doesn't even try. The actors seem to forget that they are in a b-movie, so they overact -- and they take their lines really, really seriously. In a b-movie, you're supposed to turn up the cheese. There is no cheese, until cult-actor Martin Kove shows up as the specialist to save the day. He says his lines, and watching his face, you can see he's laughing at how silly they are. Which is what the movie is.

This cheap, straight-to-video crapper is all about ants. Really BIG ants. Radioactive in fact. They accidentally show up at an office building on the weekend, and start working at converting the building to their nest. The effects were pathetic -- the ants looked like a kid designed them. The only bad thing was they weren't allowed to eat everybody who came to work that weekend.

Oh, and there's a couple of lingerie models on a photoshoot on the building's rooftop. Absolutely no reason for them to be there other than it's a b-movie, and you apparently need to have a couple of models running around and screaming. Nether did much of anything, come to think of it. There wasn't even belting out good screams.

Movie sucked. Don't watch it.

Dracula III: Legacy

Dracula III: Legacy, the third installment coming Wes Craven's Dracula 2000, went directly to video -- for a reason. It was poo-poo. It was shot back-to-back with Dracula II: Ascension -- or shot as one movie that was split -- and maybe I should have seen the second movie before seeing the third, but I doubt that would have helped very much. The storyline was passable -- it's a vampire story -- as long as you have the right elements, you can't go wrong. The movie couldn't decide if it wanted to be tongue-in-cheek or serious. It tried to be both. Which didn't work for me. You're either one or the other, not both. It confuses the viewer. I'm sure I laughed and cringed in the wrong parts. It was a bit embarrassing watching the actors trying to deliver their lines -- especially Rutger Hauer, who played Dracula. (I personally think Hauer has been dealt a bad hand by Hollywood -- he's a very capable actor -- he just doesn't get the good roles.) The action, the effects and the cinematography were OK. Nothing special, which is in keeping with the straight to video destination of this film.

Wes Craven kept his hands quite clean from this movie -- and still there were too many cooks already in the kitchen for the movie. This should tell you what kind of movie this is, and when you should be watching it: Friday night, when you practicing at being an insomniac.


Men^Suddenly In Black

I saw Men Suddenly In Black last night. Had me splitting my sides in laughter -- quietly of course, cause I didn't want to wake anyone up. Men Suddenly In Black is a Hong Kong film, and a very dark comedy. It concerns the misadventures of four men who are not getting any, or getting enough of it, at home. It's battle of the sexes. Tin, Cheung, Chao and Paul have gained fourteen hours of freedom from their oppressive wives, who are off to Thailand to say hello to the Buddha and take in some shopping at the flea market. The boys decide to make good use of their 14-hours by going out on a mission to party -- that is, get totally drunk, spend all the money they were saving and have lots of sex. They're going to take full advantage of their freedom because they deserve it, damnit! -- and to honour the memory of Uncle Nine, who sacrificed himself to his wife, when, some ten years ago, the wives stormed a party the boys were having. They all escaped, but Uncle Nine stayed back to get caught and take the blame. Ever since then, Uncle Nine has been locked at home, with no sex, no porn and no fun.

Naturally, things go horribly wrong for the misguided heroes of the movie. At the airport, the wives have second thoughts about their trip, as they have this bad feeling that their men are about to go whoring in their absence. So they drive back into town to find them -- along the way, they pick up some instant cameras to take pictures when they catch their husbands cheating, as they will need evidence for the divorce. The women take on their mission with a lot more practice than their men. The movie follows the hilarity around Hong Kong as the husbands and wives spend 14-hours battling it out. Great movie for laughs.


Friday, January 06, 2006

Dream Machines

BusinessWeek's latest carries a cover article on the latest innovations coming out of the auto industry. Design certainly seems to be playing a big role as auto manufacturers try to differentiate themselves -- however, is it just me, or does there seem to be a deficiency in the innovation effort targeting energy conservation and effects on the environment?

Latest Art

I'm posting this here (despite having already posted it at my temp blog for my art) because I'm just so damn happy with it. It took me hours to get this done. I'm afraid to think of how many hours it might actually be. Click on the thumbnail to see it really big.

It was finished this afternoon while out with my wife, enjoying a coffee at the local Second Cup. I think that's where I did most of the pencil crayon work. There always seem to be a cup of coffee or tea when I was working on it. I'm kinda curious to see how it would look as a print. I'm not sure of the right paper to use, as there was definitely a grain to the paper in my sketchbook, and that comes through in the scanned image. I did a little retouching to remove some of the paper grain, but it doesn't quite remove it all. Not that having the paper grain there is a bad thing, mind you.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

International Advertising Festival

My youngest and I caught the 2005 Cannes International Advertising Festival yesterday at the Bloor Cinema. It was close to 2-hours of watching commercials from around the world. There were some the challenged the cultural boundaries, some that pushed the boundaries of good taste -- some that were very serious, some that were just bad -- and the best, were the ones that made me laugh out loud. At $5 a ticket to get it, it was also the right price for advertainment.

You can find some of these commercials (and others) hosted online at the following sites:

One of my favourite commercials:

Thinking Dangerously

The World Question Center has kicked off 2006 with their annual question, suggested by Steven Pinker, professor of Psychology at Harvard University.
   What is your dangerous idea?
   The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?
The question was posed to some of the most prominent minds of our world, and what came back was 119 responses, totaling 75,000 words. I haven't read the responses yet -- just browsed -- but what I've found thus far is certainly tantalising. My appetite has been whet -- I'll just need to save the reading for when my brain is ready for it. The responses tend to be very philosophical in nature and quite interesting.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Definitely Not Sheep

aka.alias takes on the Vatican and the papacy. Read her posts: A Man To Canonize and With All Due Respect.

Mother & Child

There is so much need in the third world -- especially for those that have little to no value there. Take a pregnant woman and her soon to be born baby, for instance -- a little bit of help can ensure that mother and child survive the childbirth experience. Ninja Poodles has more. And I don't want to hear about the "surplus population" -- it's only been two weeks since Christmas -- and you have/had a mother, and you were a baby.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Most Insidious Mind-fuck Ever

Addiction is defined more or less as:
a state of being dependent on a certain substance, which is harmful or dangerous for the physical or mental health of the person, for his social well-being and economical functioning of the subject
Many parents would have problems with their kids watching too much television -- why then, do parents not see a problem with their children's addiction to the Neopets site? It's a question that I can't think of an answer to. It makes no sense. Neopets, for those who don't know, is a site where primarily children, go to and spend a lot of their time tending to virtual pets. In the process, they play interactive games -- some are just plain gambling -- to earn points that they could use to take more care of their pets. It's a neat way to sucker young kids in and get them hooked. Hand them a cutesy virtual pet, then watch as they get drawn in to take care of those pets -- lavish love on them; buy them toys and treats; and give them a part of their lives. Cause if you don't, the pets might suffer.

If you charged parents for this big waste of time, the whole thing would come crashing down really fast. Give it away for free, and most parents are probably just happy that their kids aren't out surfing porn. (Although, its messaging functionality implemented, Neopets could be just as dangerous as chat rooms.) So how do you maintain a site like Neopets, with millions of users and daily visits? Advertising, as Wired Magazine reports. Just not any kind of advertising however. Advertising so good, that Kalle Lasn, editor in chief of Adbusters magazine declares, "It's the most insidious mind-fuck ever." Neopets excels in what it describes as "immersive advertising" -- where the advertising and the content can't be distinguished. Kids get a chance to play games that are branded by sponsoring companies. Advertisers and businesses love this because they can establish a brand relationship with kids at a very young age -- an age when they not have the maturity to identify advertising so carefully hidden.

So just what are we going to do about it? Apparently, parents don't seem to care much -- and don't see the danger in it. Neopets finds nothing wrong in what they do, and in fact, it is their business model. As adults, we are aware of the many dangers that are out there for our children. The choices we make today, will in part, be reflected in the adults our children become. We're already seeing a generation coming that has been weened on consumerism. It is up to us to educate ourselves and our children, to help them make the right choices for themselves -- to bring awareness of the world as it really is.

BTW, Neopets CEO, Doug Dohring, is a devout Scientologist, and uses scientology teachings to run his business. I'll let you decide if you should be concerned or not.

Related reading:

Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, a man out making a difference for the better, for a whole lot of folks stuck in hellish poverty in the third world. Read more at aka.alias.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Thud!

I received Terry Pratchett's Thud! for Christmas, and finished it a few days after I started it. That is how Terry Pratchett's books are consumed in my house -- hungrily and repeatedly. We have just about everything the man has written, and I've read most twice -- while my wife may have read some of his books three or four times. So if this short blurb on his latest book portrays me as gushing, you'll have to forgive me and be forewarned: I'm a fan.

If you are a Pratchett fan, you've most likely already read the book and you'll find nothing new here. I'm not going to give anything away, other than the plot -- enough to whet a fan's appetite. Before I get there however, for those who are not fans or have never heard of Pratchett, a bit of an introduction is in order.

Pratchett is a comic-fantasy writer from England, who's famous for his creation of the Discworld series. He's written a few other smaller series, and has collaborated with a number of other writers and artists. Discworld however, remains his most notable creation, and thus far, there are some 30+ books in the series. Thud! is set in Discworld.

What is Discworld? Discworld exists in some parallel universe to ours where the laws of nature have been replaced by the laws of magic. The Discworld is a circular, flat world, that rides on the backs of four elephants, which in turn ride on the back of a giant turtle that is traveling through space towards some destination. In this world, there are wizards, witches, dwarfs, trolls, vampires, werewolves, etc. Everything possible is there -- including the planet Earth, which was created by accident by the wizards of Unseen University. With over 30 novels to invent Discworld, Terry Pratchett has managed to weave quite the complex tapestry for his stories to inhabit. You can however, pick any of the novels up and read without the benefit of the history.

Thud! features the City Watch of Ankh-Morpork -- with Commander Vimes in the thick of things as tensions between the city's dwarfs and trolls rise. It's coming up to Koom Valley Day -- a day, some hundreds of years ago, when the dwarfs ambushed the trolls -- or it could have been the other way around -- in Koom Valley. A deep down dwarf has arrived in Ankh-Morpork, and is stirring up some old hatreds in the dwarfs. When he is found dead, all the dwarfs know the culprit is a troll -- and they're building up to take matters in the their own hands. The trolls aren't about to take that sitting down, and are preparing to meet the dwarfs in the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Vimes knows things aren't as simple as they look -- things just don't smell right. He's going to get to the bottom of things -- and he has to, before his city erupts in a riot. First however, he has to introduce the first vampire into the ranks of the City Watch, and be home by 6PM to read Young Sam from his favourite book, Where's My Cow?

As usual with Pratchett, his stories are funny -- filled with offbeat, subtle humour. Underneath all of that however, there's something serious. If you're a Pratchett fan, you know what to expect. If you're not, be warned -- you will find a lot of our world in his novels. Humour is used to explore the social, political and philosophical underpinnings of our world. It's a handy mirror, showing just how absurd some things really are.

Panorama

I just created these panoramas from some pictures I took while out walking with my wife yesterday. We went to a park not far from our home -- to walk in the snow and to take some pictures. Today it rained. Most of the snow is probably gone, or has turned to ice.

The panoramas were created by stitching together photographs I had taken. I didn't put too much thought into the photography. I snapped, turned, snapped. The inspiration came to me from the work my daughter was doing using Photoshop. Me being lazy of course, I had to find the easy way of stitching the images together. I googled the web and found a number of software, including the GNU licensed Panorama Tools, and a not so open front-end, PTGui. PTGui is available on a 30-day free trial for those who want to give it a go. (There is also a GNU license front-end to Panorama Tools, called hugin.)

You can see the results of the stitch by visiting my Webshots gallery. Each stitch took about 45-minutes to process -- I went for the highest resolution, which also required close to 2GB of temp space -- then another 15-minutes for cropping and processing in Corel Photopaint -- for images 10-20MB in size. Total time I spent on this: 4-hours!!!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

100 Things Now Known

BBC News Magazine runs a weekly feature called, 10 Things We Didn't Know This Time Last Week, that is published weekly. They ended 2005 with a list pulled from the weekly lists to create 100 Things We Didn't Know This Time Last Year. The list is pretty quirky. Some of the things that caught my attention:
  • Mohammed is now in the top 20 names chosen for boys in the UK. Should we be worried?
  • Baboons can tell the difference between English and French. Apparently some French baboons got transferred to an English zoo, and now they can't understand a damn thing.
  • Apparently, 1 in 10 Europeans are conceived in an Ikea bed. I can see the new commericals already.
  • Did you know air comes out of your ears? I didn't. 20-years ago, a Chinese factory worker discovered that fact, and can now blow up baloons and blow out candles with his ear.
  • I didn't know that the length of men's fingers can be indicative of how aggressive they are. The shorter your index finger is to your ring finger, the more aggressive you are.
  • Lance Armstrong's heart is almost a third larger than the average man's. Wow!
  • It takes 75kg of raw materials to make a mobile phone. Maybe we should be stopping this gadget binge we're on. Where does all the old phones go?
  • Spanish Flu that killed 50M people in 1918/9, was known as French Flu in Spain.

2005: The Year in Science

Discover Magazine wound down 2005 with its January 2006 issue look back at the Year in Science. They have a pretty good list of the top 100 science stories of the past year. Check it out -- there is something there for everyone.
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