Friday, March 31, 2006

When MSM Steal from Blogs

Here's a quick little post on the MSM stealing from blogs -- one a radio show, and the other, AP. When AP was contacted about the issue, they commented that because the source of their article was a blog, there didn't feel there was a need to give credit. Simply put, MSM isn't afraid of bloggers, because bloggers don't have the financial muscle to launch lawsuits. That's why stealing from bloggers really isn't theft. I suppose the copyright notification on most blogs doesn't mean much.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Our own creative land

Tonight I attended the Hart House Lecture 2006, Our own creative land: Cultural Monopoly & The Trouble With Copyright, by Michael Geist. I often visit Geist's blog, and find his arguments in support of user rights in the copyright landscape well thought-out, well informed, and most refreshing. User rights in copyright seems almost like an afterthought in laws, government and especially in the whims of corporations which seek to bilk earnings from the efforts of artists -- beyond what artists may wish -- and definitely beyond what is good for society. In his lecture, Geist looks at the new creative frontier being shaped by the internet and digital technologies, and what that means to the traditional copyright stakeholders -- and more importantly, what it should mean to new copyright stakeholders -- which includes you and me. Geist proposes a copyright solution for Canada that leverages the Creative Commons Licence model, but is also uniquely Canadian. He suggests that we should break from the entropic pack being driven by America, and instead create a copyright system that fosters a culture of sharing. It's a noble goal that Geist puts before us. I just hold no expectations that the current government will want to alter the current tryst with the US for something in the Canadian public interest.

Geist was a pretty good speaker -- and with his parents in the audience tonight, I'm sure he made them proud. Unfortunately, he was stuck with bad sound in the Hart House Great Hall. I could hear him, but his words were all muddled due to the echoes in the room. The acoustics sucked. It was so bad, some dweeb beside me had to hold on to his head to prevent it from falling off.

I dropped five bucks at the lecture so I could obtain the accompanying book(let) of the lecture. Since it's copyrighted with a Creative Commons licence that allows me to share it, I think I will digitize the whole thing and upload it. Soon. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Early Warning Conference

Dealing with the disasters of recent years, the world has learned one thing: early warnings save lives. From the South-East Asian Tsunami to the Katrina's visit on New Orleans, better preparedness for the impending disaster would have been the best preventative measures that could have been taken. The UN took the lead and convened a World Conference on Disaster Reduction -- held in Hyogo, Japan, from Jan. 18-22, 2005. Although disaster preparedness has been an interest of the UN for sometime, it was probably the SEA tsunami that really motivated the nations of the world to do something. Whether the interest continues is another story. For our sake, the interest better continue, as there appears to be no end of disasters promised for the future.

This year, the third International Conference on Early Warning is being held this week in Bonn, Germany -- and the focus is on less talk, and more action. An interesting read coming out of the conference is the UN's Global Survey of Early Warning Systems [PDF] -- a look at just where the world is in preparedness for natural disasters. Other news from the conference is the relative strides that some of the third world nations seem to be taking in addressing education and early warning strategies. All promising in a world that seems to throw up a disaster every day.

Makes me wonder, with all the problems we have trying to survive and keep each other alive, why do we keep trying so hard to kill each other.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Stephen Lewis: Race Against Time

Stephen Lewis's Race Against Time 2005 Massey Lectures are being re-aired this week on CBC's IDEAS. If you missed the lectures before, you can now listen to them all online or on your radio as they are aired each night. Last night's is available on demand from the website.

Stephen Lewis is the very articulate UN Secretary-General's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and a commissioner of the World Health Organization's Commission on Social Determinants of Health. He is however, beyond those titles granted to him in a bureaucratic organization -- he's a man with a passion for his Africa -- an Africa he remembers from his younger days when he traveled the continent after dropping out of University to find himself in life. He is eloquent in speech, and it is at times painful to listen to him recount the horrors HIV/AIDS have visited upon his Africa -- and the further horrors that have resulted due to our disinterest in the welfare of our fellow people.

Have a listen to yesterday's lecture, and I dare you to remain unmoved.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Shooting Dogs (2006)

A new film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide is being released this Friday. Shooting Dogs tells the story of the Rwandan genocide, when the Hutu majority took to the streets of Rwanda and mostly hacked to death 800,000 Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers, from the perspective of two outsiders: a Catholic priest and a teacher. The movie, which debuted in Kigali on today however, is being released amid some protests. The movie is apparently quite graphic in its treatment of the genocide, and that has reawakened the traumatic experiences of some of the survivors -- especially those that played extras in the movie.

I feel for those that survived -- and are perhaps reliving the genocide due to the film. The movie isn't for them however. It's for us -- the rest of the world -- us that sat idly by and let it happened. Us that continue to sit idly by, while it continues to happen elsewhere. We've learned nothing -- we have felt no lasting pain from what happened in those 100 days in Rwanda. When we're not part of the solution, every single one of us are part of the problem.

Bangladesh Extremism

Bangladesh could prove to be an excellent study of how Islamic extremism rises in countries -- and how inaction against it could lead to a rapidly destabilizing force taking hold. Bandladesh suffers from poverty, ignorance -- it is a place where hope probably hasn't made a visit in many years. Natural disasters seem to strike the country on an annual basis -- so much so, that the world has grown tired of Bangladesh's cries.

Forming out of this mess is a new fanaticism to the country -- one based on the Koran, that lectures on intolerance, hate and violence. The disaffected have given power to this fanaticism, and it's reaching out with claws to rake what little promise of a future the country may have. Islamic terrorism is becoming fashionable in the country -- a way of getting on the public soapbox. As frightening as suicide bombers are, they are not as frightening as the government's denial. If anything, the government is actually making it easy for the fanatics to suceed. Instead of exploding the bombs a safe distance from the public, the government is surpressing those that anger the fanatics. And the population is letting it happen -- having tolerance for it.

Right now the action is all domestic, but sooner or later they will start exporting it. If it doesn't become our problem today, it certainly will be ours tomorrow.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sycophants Beware

My wife read me Helen Henderson's column in this past Saturday Star's Life section, titled: We stoop to conquer. Henderson introduced me to a new word this weekend: sycophant -- defined as,
A servile self-seeker who attempts to win favor by flattering influential people. [Source:]
In her article, Henderson queries her readers:
Are the yea-sayers in the ascendant these days? Is the world steeped in the cult of the crony?
I sometimes wonder the very thing. In my day-to-day, I regularly encounter those that fear authority, or are looking to curry favour, and in response, kowtow and display stomach-churning reverence. The problem isn't the weasels' alone. It's those that bask in the weasel's adoration and fear. I know I'm sometimes guilty of holding my tongue -- usually because the survival instincts kick-in -- but too often have I been advised to curtail my tone or in one form or another, cripple the strength of my arguments in order not to offend. Offense goes two ways. To offend, one has to generate offense and the other has to take offense. Too often, for the sake of diminishing any chance of giving offense, words are corrupted, ideas perverted. The result is any thing but communication -- and the sycophant wins!

Questioning authority is good. Authority should encourage questioning -- seek it out. Only in an environment where debate is healthy; opinions invited; and risk taking the norm, will the best be achieved -- be it in at work, at play or in the world in general. [PDF]

The Conscious Collective

This is a plug for my daughter's graduating class design show. She'll be bringing home a Bachelor of Design degree from York/Sheridan, the culmination of four years, countless hours and a whole lot of stress. The result -- her's and her peers -- will be on display from April 8th-12th at the Steam Whistle Brewery (255 Bremner Blvd., Toronto). Family and friends can visit on Saturday, April 8th, at 5PM, and the doors will open to the public from the 9th-12th, 12PM-9PM. Check it out!

Friday, March 24, 2006

FireGL V7350

Bloody hell! -- as a Brit would say. Overusing the word ultra, ATI has announced their forthcoming graphics card, the FireGL V7350, slated for graphics workstations. The graphics card will increase colour depth to over a billion colours, and be able to support desktop displays over 5000 pixels wide. In the V7350 configuration, the graphics card will support 1GB of high speed memory, and run at speeds exceeding a 3GHz Pentium processor by seven times!

All for a measly $1,599.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Atheists a Threat to America

A study by the University of Minnesota has found that atheists are the most distrusted group in America -- ranking below Muslims, recent immigrants and homosexuals. Not surprisingly, the intolerance was directly related to exposure to diversity, education and political beliefs. East and West Coast Americans were more tolerant, while the Midwest Americans were more likely to be intolerant.

Update: March 27, 2006
On a related topic note, check out this image. Don't get me wrong ... I'm not anti-religion ... or necessarily an atheist ... I just don't believe in stupid people and I'm anti-stupid.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How to destroy the Earth

Destroying the Earth would be a very hard thing to do. It's been around for a while -- before us, and will be here after us. However, that won't stop people from thinking about ways to making it all go ka-blooey. At Things of Interest, there is a list of ways ending it all. Check out the site for the descriptions, but be warned, the details are gruesome ... although it will excite your average psychotic physics-geek.
  • Fissioned -- feasibility rating: 2/10
  • Sucked into a microscopic black hole -- feasibility rating: 3/10
  • Blown up by matter/antimatter reaction -- feasibility rating: 5/10
  • Sucked into a giant black hole -- feasibility rating: 6/10
  • Meticulously and systematically deconstructed -- feasibility rating: 6/10
  • Pulverized by impact with blunt instrument -- feasibility rating: 7/10
  • Hurled into the Sun -- feasibility rating: 9/10
  • Ripped apart by Jupiter -- feasibility rating: 9/10

ID Madness in Britain

As the intelligent design madness spreads to England, it faces opposition from academics and intelligent people -- as well as from the clergy. In an interview with the Guardian, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, backs the yanking of creationism from school curriculums. Williams problem: the confusion intelligent design is creating by teaching creationism as a theory. Intelligent design could end up weakening religion.

I find this quite humorous. Science doesn't want ID, and religion is afraid they'll takeover!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Families that Hate

Jon Carroll writes an excellent opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, re: the American Family Association's hate agenda against gay and lesbians. Carroll's words are a passionate defence of families under attack by the American Family Association -- single parent and couples who are gay, and adopt. More voices like Carroll's are needed to silence the hatred; to defend those who cannot defend themselves; to protect the children who are in happy homes today.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Business Erudition

Here's some stuff that kept me awake a few weeks ago. Old news ... but still a good read.
  • The New Middle East Oil Bonanza -- the oil rich Middle East states have about US$1 trillion locked away in foreign investments -- most of it difficult to trace, because they have highly diversified their portfolios via a complex network of investments. It's estimated that Middle East dollars are funding up to 45% of the current US account deficit. The investments aren't just foreign however -- there's huge spending at home as well. More progressive states, such as Qatar, are realizing that if they want to maintain their authoritarian rule, they have give their population something, and not let them be lured into fanaticism. They've got the money, but can they make it work?
  • Yahoo's Boulevard Of Broken Dreams -- Yahoo! really wanted to become a media company, very much in the traditional sense, and went about trying to create content for its site. Unfortunately, most failed in one form or another. The biggest problem? The media companies are increasingly seeing the online players as competition.
  • Open Season On Open Source? -- With Oracle's latest play at acquiring open source software vendors, questions are being raised about whether open source is about to sell out. And, would that really be a bad thing? Can for profit and open source coexist? Sure. As BusinessWeek points out, open source software companies may be on the block, the open source community isn't.

Crichton Appeals for Patent Sanity

Image Source: Bioethics
  • The Earth revolves around the Sun.
  • The speed of light is a constant.
  • Apples fall to earth because of gravity.
  • Elevated blood sugar is linked to diabetes.
  • Elevated uric acid is linked to gout.
  • Elevated homocysteine is linked to heart disease.
  • Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.
Actually, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.
So write Michael Crichton in yesterday's New York Times. Patents have gone wild in the US. There hardly seems any logic in their application at times. Crichton is actually referencing a case that's heading the Supreme Court shortly. Thus far, the company that owns the patent on the fact mentioned, has vigorously defended it in the courts -- and won. Patenting facts, especially those that occur in nature -- in all of us for example -- puts society in a precarious position, where a few maintains control over what can be studied to benefit society as a whole.

Crichton makes an appeal for sanity in the patent process in his New York Times essay -- for the sake of all of us, the courts need to rule in favour of the societies they serve before it's too late.


Here's yet another example of how no good deed ever goes unpunished. This is this is the case of Stephen Heller, once an office temp at law firm Jones Day, who found incriminating evidence that Jones Day had warned client Diebold, that they were engaging in potentially illegal actions by using uncertified software in automated ballot boxes in California. Diebold went on to use the software anyway, which may have had an impact on the 2004 federal election. Jones Day didn't warn the state. Heller found the documents, brought it to the proper authorities, and the law got involved. Diebold was fired, and settled criminal charges out of court by paying a stiff fine.

Now, two years later, after the dust has settled, Jones Day has brought three felony charges against Heller. Seems like there's a personal price to pay in the US for standing up for democracy. Is this truth, justice and freedom? Is this the American way? More and more it is becoming the American way. The tools of the state are being horribly misused by Jones Day. They're exploiting the courts. The case should be dismissed and Jones Day should be punished.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

CRIA's Own Study Counters P2P Claims

Michael Geist writes on his blog about a recent study released by the CRIA with little fanfare. Reason: the study counters the wailing from the music industry on the harm P2P users have been causing. Apparently, it's not that bad. For the people who downloaded music from P2P services, only 1/3 of their music actually comes from P2P sources. They mostly buy the rest. As well, the largest P2P users aren't teens or university students -- it's the 35-44 age group. The study goes on to emphasize that P2P music downloaders frequently buy the music they've downloaded -- or, have increased their purchasing due to new music they're exposed to via P2P services. Seems like trying before they buy isn't harming the industry at all.

Judge tells DoJ "No" on search queries

On Friday, Nicole Wong, a Google Associate General Counsel, posted on the Google Blog that Google has won its case against the US government. You may recall that the US government had requested user search queries from Google in its efforts to resurrect its case to censor the internet -- especially to protect children from pornography. Google claimed that the government's request was going too far, and possibly violating user privacy. The court agreed with Google.

For now anyway.

Escape to Canada (2005)

My wife and I caught the late show of Escape to Canada, last week at the Bloor Cinema. Escape to Canada is a hilarious documentary about a serious subject in troubling times. The documentary started out asking about Canada, and came back with the resounding musical score, "boring, boring, boring, boring, ...." That is what Canada is. Boring. However, something remarkable happened in the last five years: Canada became sexy.
Canada's Summer of Legalization!

Canada became sexy to the rest of the world -- and especially to ourselves -- due to our perceived liberalism, tolerance and freedom -- in stark contrast to George W. Bush's United States, which moved farther right during the same time. We defined ourselves over the last few years with our general acceptance of gay marriage, legalization of marijuana and the opening of our borders to US soldiers escaping from duties in Iraq. In other words, we defined ourselves on how very different we are from America -- and relished every act of doing so. The film follows the summer of legalization theme with these three stories, through the last few years, across Canada, contrasting with American reaction to the same topics -- and American reaction to the Great White North's departure from the course laid out by big brother. While some loved us, the vocal hated us -- especially the US government.

Was this sexy outing of Canada simply a momentary lapse? Was it just our way of protesting American conservatism? Was it just our way of telling the Bush Administration to piss off and leave this sovereign nation alone? It's too early to tell. Gay marriage looks like it's here to stay. Or is it Mr. Harper? The legalization of pot for general use was struck down, and it's again illegal, with the pot industry being attacked by overzealous police organizations conforming to US anti-narcotic policies. While we continue to harbour AWOL soldiers from the US, we've yet to grant them official asylum. With the recent election of the "Prince of Bore" to lead Canada -- and his seemingly terminal fixation with George W. Bush's buttocks, one has to wonder how long we will remain sexy. How long will independent political thinking continue in Canada? Already, US money and influence is giving fringe voices in Canada's conservative movement, a platform to vocalize their hatred -- something very un-Canadian, even for the conservative groups.

Watching the movie, I could feel the patriotic thumping of my heart. If they had handed out Canadian flags at the screening of the movie, I'd be waving it madly in the theatre. Canada is the Land of the Freer, unless Harper's government, the influx of immigrants from conservative nations, and American influence, screw it up for us -- all potential dangers that the documentary sounded a warning on. We should be proud of our open and free society. Gay marriage hurts none of us; marijuana use hurts none of us; and not wanting to fight in first-strike, unjust wars, hurts none of us. They define Canada as a tolerant, independent nation. I'm proud!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

English Language FAQ

Those who enjoy the English language, will probably find the FAQ over at the Oxford dictionary site, quite the place to get lost in. The FAQ is a database of questions that have been sent to the Oxford Word and Language Service team. Delving into the FAQ, you'll find answers to some typically asked questions, such as:
  • What is the longest English word? (Clue ... the name of my site is up there.)
  • Are there any words that rhyme with orange? (Nope.)
  • What comes after once, twice, thrice? (Ooops!)
  • What is the feminine equivalent of a misogynist? (There is one.)
  • If palindromes are words which are the same spelt backwards, what is the word for a word which is another word spelt backwards? ('rats live on no evil star')

Trapped in the Closet

Scientology is not a religion. It's a cult. I need to preface with that because, Tom Cruise, scientologist looney, has blackmailed Viacom into pulling the South Park episode, Trapped in the Closet, from being aired again. In the episode, one of the South Park characters, Stan, is believed to be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard by scientologists -- and he tells Cruise that his acting is OK, but not that great. Upset by his failure in the eyes of the prophet, Cruise locks himself in a closet and refuses to come out. It's a hilarious episode, and this reaction is from a humorless Cruise.

Too bad it didn't spawn any cartoon protests, including the sacking of embassies.

Update: March 19, 2006.
Trey Park and Matt Stone responds to the scientology thrust with a parry. In a written statement, the South Park creators showed their evil fighting spirit.
So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun! Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!
Signed: Trey Parker and Matt Stone, servants of the dark lord Xenu.

To really understand why scientology must be laughed at, read the Wikipedia entry on Xenu. Then mock them. They deserve to be mocked. As far as religions go, these guys are outcasts. They give religion a bad name.

Update: March 20, 2006.
An Illustrated History of Scientology [PDF], Second Edition, L. Rick Vodicka.

re: Gay Marriage

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." -- Jamie Raskin, Professor of Constitutional Law from Washington's American University
This has been floating around the internet. Read more at Snopes.

How to Design a Good API and Why it Matters

Joshua Bloch, Principal Software Engineer at Google was the keynote speaker at Library-Centric Software Design workshop last October: his topic focused on API design and why good design matters [PDF]. His presentation is pretty matter of fact, clear-cut, and speaks to developers. Good API design does really matter, because once an API has been released for consumption, modifications become an increasingly difficult task over time. Making sure the design is good up front then, would be a very good thing to do. Bloch offers realistic advise for developers, on how to go about designing good APIs -- not just the technical stuff either, but also the soft and more important advise, as the technical minded usually gets caught this most unexpected trap.

Another good read from the workshop: Libraries and their Reuse: Entropy, Kolmogorov complexity, and Zipf's Law, by Todd Veldhuizen of Open Systems Laboratory [PDF].

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Terrorism by Grammar

Read a humorous ... and not so humorous article penned by Terry Jones, regarding the first casualty of war: grammar. Jones takes aim at the war on terrorism, asking, just how does one perpetrate a war on an abstract noun? War on terrorism is like "bombing murder" or trying to "annihilate mockery." What does it really mean?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Drums of My Flesh

This is a plug for my uncle's latest book: Cyril Dabydeen's Drums of My Flesh. Cyril is my father's brother, and though he's not as famous as another, more distant uncle -- he has held his own in the literary circles. Cyril is a poet, a short story writer and a novelist. Drums of My Flesh is his latest, and is a full length novel devoted to a familiar topic: Guyana. His writing pulls a lot from his past, growing up in Guyana. The topic isn't one that really interests me. I left at a young age, and don't really know the country as an adult. For me, home and country is Canada -- although it isn't my childhood. But if you're up for exploring a culture not quite your own -- or if you're Guyanese and want to revisit your past, Drums of My Flesh may not be a bad place to start.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Beowulf & Grendel (2005)

I saw Beowulf and Grendel this past weekend with my wife. For whatever reason, this movie is not receiving a lot of attention, though it is a beautiful and well made retelling of a classic. I've never read the original -- I got introduced to the story via a comic book a long time ago. For a review from someone who knows the original however, check out aka.alias. The movie trailer can also be seen here.

Another Beowulf movie is slated for 2007 -- and I'm looking forward to seeing that one as well -- although I expect that one will be more of a Hollywood film than this outing of the story was. The reason I'm looking forward to the 2007 version is Neil Gaiman -- who's been attached as a writer to the movie.


Well, it's official -- not long after Bush departed from the former Taliban stronghold, Harper showed up sniffing. The bad-boy from the wild-wild-west spent two days in Afghanistan, shoring up the morale of troops and telling them that Canada will stay -- and not leave at the first sign of trouble. Canadian troops are coming under increased fire from insurgents -- so much so that their rebuilding efforts now include a combat role. This didn't seem to phase Harper, who wandered around being macho. Unconfirmed reports even boast that the Prime Minister burped and farted, just like a real man, for the troops.

Yeah, yeah -- whatever. While the headlines are applauding Harper, who stayed longer than the few hours Bush was there, the cynic in me has a different story to tell. Harper wasn't there for the troops -- he was there for himself. Harper is set to meet with Bush and Fox in Mexico at the end of this month. The brown-nosing has started. Harper's trip was to send the message that Canada isn't about to leave the US alone in the war in Afghanistan. Harper is determined to show Bush he's tough guy, the same as Bush. I just hope that when he returns to Canada on April 1st, he doesn't bring back a stench.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Is God All in Your Head?

Belief, Biology and the Human Brain: Is God All in Your Head? An Evening with Dr. Michael Persinger and Dr. Robert Buckman.
Presented by the Toronto Secular Alliance.
I paid 8-bucks to attend this lecture last Friday evening at the University of Toronto -- and now I wished I hadn't. First off, Buckman was great as bookends to Persinger -- I just wished it was all Buckman. The guy has wit. Persinger on the other hand was a complete bore. The man seemed to believe credibility comes from using big words to sound smart, complete with boring graphs and charts that most in the audience wouldn't have understood. He wanted to impress upon the audience that his research into using geomagnetism to make the brain feel an illusionary presence, was the evidence needed to debunk all religious belief and the existence of god. Fine. I don't doubt that the human brain could be manipulated into experiencing an illusion. But did he really have to bore us in the process? At times I felt that Persinger was pressing the audience with his evidence to buy our belief in his work. I didn't need the selling. I believe. Just like I believe that the brain can be manipulated into experiencing illusions with some really good ganja. The leap to his conclusion however, is one that requires faith.

How can you debunk the existence of god by saying that with subtle manipulations of the brain, the illusion of a presence can be generated? Can the artificial presence and god not both exist? Can they both not be true? What if Persinger's lab has done what organized religion never could -- made first contact with the gods? What if god really is in our heads -- literally? We don't know the answer to any of these questions, and Persinger's science doesn't lead to conclude answers, even though he may want you to go there. The simple fact is that science and belief aren't on the same spectrum.

Where Buckman went, which made a whole lot more sense, was in attempting to explain the human need for, and the brain's capacity for, belief. Buckman put it quite simply. The world is a scary place, and belief helps us cope. The questions science is trying to answer are: 1) Why do we believe? and, 2) How do we believe? There is nothing wrong with having beliefs. What we do with our beliefs however, does matter. Beliefs could lead either to collaboration or aggression. The vocal audience I fear, wasn't there to hear that message. They seemed more interested in the debunking of religion.

I suppose I shouldn't have expected any less -- but expected more. The event was organized by the Toronto Secular Alliance -- a student organization made up of atheists, skeptics and freethinkers. This was my first encounter with those that label themselves as skeptics and freethinkers. If those in the vocal part of the audience were representative of atheists, skeptics and freethinkers, we're in a bit of trouble -- as we've just got another group who's more than willing to tell people who don't share their thinking, that they are wrong.

I'm not a firm believer in anything. On the good days, I think I'm too intelligent for god. I don't believe in the gods that organized religion sell. On the same token, I don't know what's out there either. I'm certain however, that the universe is a whole lot stranger than what our limited imagination can concoct -- and if we're labeling what created the universe as god, we're probably in for a surprise when we get to the answer. Faith is important to people. Faith brought us together, just as it tears us apart. It's part of the human condition. I don't choose to tell one person what they should or shouldn't believe -- unlike those in the audience. I will however stand up against organized religion, and the power of the few over the many. Just like I feel the need to stand up against the simple-minded atheists, skeptics and freethinkers in the audience -- because like Persinger, they didn't seem interested in just understanding the human need for faith or the mechanics of it -- they wanted to destroy it. If the human brain has the capacity to have faith -- whether that faith is held in some higher power or the human species -- there was probably a biological need for it -- and Buckman provided hypothesis for that need.

In these trying times, we need to be able to cope. As extremes battle for dominance, the last thing we need is the emergence of another extreme. The best thing for the world is the dominance of the moderates. Unfortunately, the moderates are usually the last ones to go for dominance -- it's not a character trait.

(Extreme moderation anyone?)

Taliban at Yale

Via Cox & Forkum: Yale has admitted Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, former deputy foreign secretary of the Taliban, to the school. Read more in the Wall Street Journal. Hashemi rose to prominence in the Taliban regime due to his language skills (he speaks English, Pashto, Persian and Urdu), and traveled the world as their ambassador. In that capacity, he defended the Taliban's policies of intolerance, subjugation and violence. He now claims that his heart wasn't really in it.

I don't know ... I'm ready to forget or forgive. How about you?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

How Islamic Inventors Changed the World

The Independent has a top 20 list of the Islamic inventions (and their inventors) that changed the world. The list was culled from the 1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World. In summary:
  1. Coffee came from an Arab named Khalid, who was tending goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia.
  2. 10th century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham, was the first person the realize that we see because light enters our eyes. He invented the pinhole camera, and is credited with shifting physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.
  3. Although a form of chess was played in ancient India, the chess we know today, comes from Persia.
  4. Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer, Abbas ibn Firnas, made several attempts at constructing a flying machine. In 875, at age 70, he stayed in the sky for about 10-minutes before crash landing. A crater on the Moon is named after him.
  5. Arabs combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics to create soap -- the soap that we still use today. In 1759, a Muslim brought shampoo to England, when Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths was opened in Brighton.
  6. Islamic scientist Jabir ibn Hayyan transformed alchemy to create modern chemistry in the 800s. His processes and apparatus are still used today, such as, liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. He invented the alembic still, giving the world intense perfumes and alcoholic spirits.
  7. Muslim engineer al-Jazari, invented the crank-shaft, central to most modern machinery, to translate rotary motion to linear. He also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons; devised some of the first mechanical clocks; is considered the father of robotics; and invented the combination lock.
  8. Quilting was most likely was imported to the Arab world from India or China -- but it was from Arabia that it traveled to Europe during the Crusades.
  9. A lot of European architecture borrowed from Arab architecture -- allowing buildings to be taller, more complex and stronger.
  10. 10th century Muslim surgeon, al-Zahrawi, invented many of the modern surgical instruments still in use today, such as, scalpels, bone saws, forceps, and fine scissors for eye surgery. He also discovered that catgut could be used for internal stitching and medicine capsules, as it naturally dissolved away. As well, 13th century Muslim medic, Ibn Nafis, described blood circulation 300 years before William Harvey did -- while other Muslim doctors invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.
  11. The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph. It would take another 500 years before it arrived in Europe.
  12. The technique of inoculation was devised and used in the Muslim world and was brought to Europe by the wife of an English ambassador in 1724.
  13. The fountain pen was invented in 953 for the Sultan of Egypt.
  14. The modern numbering system came from India, but the style of the numerals is Arabic, and first appeared in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry, as well as the foundations of modern cryptology came from the Muslim world. Muslim mathematics arrived in Europe hundreds of years later.
  15. In the 9th century, Ali ibn Nafi, came from Iraq to Cordoba, and brought with him the concept of the three-course-meal.
  16. Carpets came from the Arab world to Europe.
  17. The modern cheque came from the Arabic saqq -- a written promise to pay. It was used in the Muslim world in the 9th century.
  18. In the 9th century, Muslim scholars accepted that the world was round, and calculated the Earth's circumference to 200km accuracy. 500 years later, Galileo realized that the world was round, and got in big trouble for it.
  19. The Chinese invented gunpowder, but the Arabs refined and weaponized it. In the 15th century, they had rockets and torpedoes.
  20. The concept of having gardens as a place of beauty and meditation is an Arabic one, that was brought to Europe in the 11th century.
When you read a list like that, you can help but wonder ... just what went wrong with modern Muslims? Yes, I know, the answer is complex ... but ...

Milosevic Dead

Serbia's shame -- Yugoslavia's shame -- one of the monsters of our modern times, is dead. Slobodan Milosevic's body was found in the detention centre at the Hague, where he was standing trial for the genocide he was responsible for inciting and perpetrating.

I remember when I was in university, this animal was considered a hero by some Serb students. He was held up as the man who protected all Serbians. Turned out that Milosevic's protection meant the destruction of everyone who wasn't a Serb. Even as the reports came out of the atrocities the Serbian army was committing in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. He may be dead, but I hope Serbians never forget their shame. They made this man. They gave him power. They are guilty for letting him loose on innocents. (Yes, the Bosnians and Croats weren't that nice either -- but Serbia was the first to start beating the drums of war.)

Update: March 12/06
  • Reuters has a report on the reaction to Milosevic's death. The reaction in Serbia is mixed, with hardline nationlists using the victim complex to their advantage -- suggesting that Milosevic was a martyr to the greater Serbian cause.

Black Holes Don't Exist

Researchers have come up with an alternative to black holes -- the remnant of supermassive stars collapsing on themselves at the end of their life to create a rip in space-time -- a singularity. Black holes, can't be directly observed, but indirect observations have put one in the centre of just about every galaxy out there. Still, there isn't a complete explanation for them. There are still unanswered questions, such as:
  1. Matter crossing a black hole's event horizon is destroyed by the singularity at the centre of the black hole. Quantum mechanics however, states that information can never leave the universe.
  2. Matter falling into a black hole is stretched by a black hole's gravity so that to outside observers, time stops. This violates quantum mechanics.
These questions seem to have an answer in dark energy stars (also known as gravastars) [PDF] -- stars that would appear to be, and behave just like black holes, but without violating quantum mechanics. In models of collapsing massive stars, where quantum mechanics isn't allowed to be violated, a thin quantum critical shell is created that doesn't contain a singularity, but an energy-containing vacuum. The size of the quantum critical shell depends on the mass of the collapsing star. As material from the collapsing star passes through the shell, it's converted to energy, feeding the vacuum. Unlike a black hole however, this phase transition of particles would actually cause material to escape from the vacuum due to anti-gravity. Models predict positrons, gamma rays and infrared radiation should escape -- or result from escaping particles decaying.

Looking from the outside, dark energy stars and black holes would have the same external geometries. They would have an intense gravitational pull on objects and accretion discs would form around them. The anti-gravity due to the vacuum inside the shell would have a powerful effect, suggesting that it might be responsible for the apparent accelerating expansion of the universe. Further, extremely small dark energy stars could be responsible for the effects we see as coming from dark matter. Small dark energy stars would gravitationally influence the matter around them, but would be invisible to observations. The most startling prediction of this new model happens at the other end of the size scale. The energy within the dark energy star is related to the collapsing star's size. Calculations show that the dark energy in our universe today is what we should expect from a massive dark energy star, the size of our universe. The implication being, that our universe itself may be inside a dark energy star.

Which begs the question -- just what is on the outside?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Testosterone Overload

Whether it's the ultrasound machine or infanticide to blame, the problem is real in Asia -- there are disproportionately more males than females -- opposite of what you would find in the developed nations of the world. What are guys to do who are sexually frustrated? Add that to other problems in the region, such as runaway economic growth, but a large population of poor and you have to start to wonder. With no women to keep them busy, men tend to get themselves into a whole lot of trouble -- such as finding extreme nationalism -- and that would be a problem for all of us.

Read more in Foreign Policy.

Stoooooooo-pid Americans

No sooner had I finished reading Damien Sorresso's post on how idiotic Americans are, that I came across the video embedded below. Sorresso's post refers to three polls completed this week that confirms most Americans are idiots.
In every poll, a majority of Americans believe that the Biblical creation story is the literal truth about how humans came into existence. And according to the Harris poll, 55% of Americans think that evolution, creationism and intelligent design should all be taught in science classes. According to the Zogby poll, a staggering 88% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 think that intelligent design should receive "equal time" in the classroom. All three polls also showed that the usual suspects are most likely to believe superstitious religious crap over science: Southerners, Republicans, those with no education beyond high school and old people. So if you're a Southern Republican over 55 with no higher education and you don't subscribe to creationism or intelligent design, congratulations. You're a statistical anomaly.

Scary. But those are just words -- text. Watch the video. It's real.

The Case of Pete Panse

This is bizarre ... a high school art teacher has been suspended, and may be fired, for suggesting that his students who want to prepare for college level art, may want to take some figure drawing classes on their own time. Figure drawing classes of course, have nude models. And that's the problem. Apparently the school board of Middleton, NY, thinks that to have a such a conversation with his students "could construe as being of a sexual or personal nature...or using [his] position as a teacher to put students into any situation reasonably likely to make them feel uncomfortable because of the injection of sexuality into...the substance of [his] comments”. These were senior students -- students that had completed grade 9, where they had already been exposed to art history, featuring numerous nudes.

WTF?! Has anyone on the school board ever open an art text?

A social worker finally snaps

Not sure if this is authentic -- yes, you really can't trust the internet these days -- but this one sounds authentic. This is a rant from a social worker that finally had enough of the 60-hour weeks and $35K salary. I must caution you before providing the link however -- what follows will be very disturbing. If you've led a sheltered life -- don't like swear words -- you shouldn't click the link.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Multi-touch User Interface

Described as, "bi-manual, multi-point, and multi-user interactions on a graphical interaction surface," this nothing but cool! Multi-touch interaction allows for a system to sense more than one finger at a time at a touch-screen. The multiple fingers could belong to one person -- or more than one in the case of an interactive wall or tabletop. Play the demo (follow the link for a higher quality demo) to get a sense (pun intended) of the possibilities multi-touch allows for in a user interface. The technique demonstrated here is force-sensitive with a sensing resolution better than 0.1-inch at 50Hz. The technique relies on what is called frustrated total internal reflection -- the same idea behind the biometrics technology.

How cool is that?! Check out Jeff Han's site for more cool!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Alien Rain

Quick! Hide the women and children! Leave Aunt Petunia out on the veranda! The aliens are coming!

That at least is the conclusion of some, to explain the red rain that fell over the Kerala district of western India for about two months in the late summer of 2001. The believers supposition is that a meteorite went ka-bloomy over Kerala, shedding microbes that mixed with the rain as it fell. The rain was so red that it coloured people's clothes pink. Initial analysis found the particles in the rainwater to be 50% carbon, 45% oxygen, with traces of sodium and iron, but with no DNA. The idea of alien rain isn't that far fetched. Some believe that life on Earth took hold after just such a seeding by interstellar biology.

There non-believers, of course, and their idea is that the whole thing is just "bullshit." And since this is India we're talking about, I can only conclude that they must mean it was some sort of religious experience.

I am standing up at the water's edge in my dream / I cannot make a single sound as you scream ...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Largest Ever Galaxy Portrait

NASA & ESA have released the largest, most detailed portrait of a spiral galaxy: the gigantic Pinwheel galaxy (M 101). The fullsize original weighs in at over 450MB. The photograph was taken with the WFPC2 camera.

Motion Denied Because You're An Idiot

Go on over to the Smoking Gun for this doozy. A Texas bankruptcy judge has quoted from Adam Sandler's Billy Madison in a recent ruling -- dismissing the case before him for being "incomprehensible1." In the accompanying footnote, the judge explains:
1Or, in the words of the competition judge to Adam Sandler's title character in the movie, "Billy Madison," after Billy Madison had responded to a question with an answer that sounded superficially reasonable but lacked any substance,
Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I've ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response was there anything that could even be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Deciphering motions like the one presented here wastes valuable chamber staff time, and invites this sort of footnote.

Now I'm going to have to find me a situation to use that quote in!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Children born of rape come of age in Bosnia

During the Bosnian war of 1992-1995, a wave of babies were brought into the world through rape. The rapes were conducted by Serbian paramilitaries on Croatian and Muslim women. No one knows how many were brutalized by the Serbian military -- but estimates put the figure as high as tens of thousands. In the town of Tuzla, in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina, mothers would arrive at an orphanage to give birth, then quietly slip away -- leaving the babies behind. Those babies are now coming into their teens, and while some have found their relatives to take them in, many remain without identities, in a country where ethnicity matters.

The country is now having to acknowledge some of the horrific acts committed by all sides in the war. The war crimes in the Hague and the movie Grbavica, about Muslim girl who comes to the realization that she was born from rape, are causing public dialogue. There is hope -- but I can't help but think that the regions troubles are far from over. It's so easy people to slip back into old hatreds.

Read more in the Globe and Mail.


Is this America?

Criticizing the government is a high art in the free world -- epitomized by the United States, where both sides of the spectrum coexist in a chaotic harmony: those that stand proud to be an American and love their country no matter what; and those that take their right to criticize their country and make it into a lifestyle; sometimes the entire spectrum exists in the same person. It's one of those things that is very American.

I posted a few weeks ago about the US Homeland Security harassment of Dwight Scarbrough, for exercising his very American right, of criticizing his government. Now comes a similar tale. This one again features the mysterious officers from Homeland Security, who seem more interested in cracking down on criticizing of the government than protecting the citizens they are to serve.

George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman's Association, has been selling anti-FEMA t-shirts to express his displeasure in FEMA's less than stunning response to hurricane Katrina. He was recently slapped with a $75 fine for selling his t-shirts on federal property -- which is ironic, as federal property is the property of the people. Barisich denies the claim. He said he gave one to a fellow Katrina victim when he was picking up canned goods from a charity relief tent. The officers apparently threatened him with arrest if he refused to accept the ticket.

US Homeland Security: what brave souls those officers were. Six against one t-shirt selling 49-year-old. I guess they're practicing for when they run into some real terrorists.


Video of the Feb. 3, 2006 protest rally outside the Danish embassy in London. Some of these people should be sent back from where they came from. They certainly haven't integrated well -- if they did, they'd realize that the freedom of speech that allows for people to burn flags (and in this case, incite terrorism) is the same freedom of speech that allows caricatures of religious figures. I agree, Muhammad does need defending -- but not from the Danes, of all people -- Muhammad needs defending from the likes of Osama bin Laden, who murder in his name.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Doom (2005)

How do you make a movie out of a first person shooter video game? Well, make the plot really simple to begin with. Soldiers are sent to investigate, secure and more importantly, kill monsters -- on Mars. To further make the plot simple for viewers, make all the characters one-dimensional. If you want to provide any kind of depth, do it with the absence of a back-story, but keep hinting that there is one. Being a first person shooter of course, you'll need lots of guns, including one with the ever so subtle name of B.F.G. Put that all together, and you've got an action movie with no brains. (Not that brains are required.)

If you want said movie to be a potential hit, add a BIG name star -- preferably one with a really expressive face brow eyes head. For Doom, that star was the Rock -- an actor who can't lose the stupid name he granted himself to star as a wrestler. I like the Rock. For a tough guy, he can actually act, and he doesn't suffer from a speech impediment that was a result of steroid use or too many shots to the head. If you don't believe me, check him out in Be Cool. He's hilarious -- stole the movie from John Travolta. In Doom, he plays Sarge, a military guy who follows orders blindly -- even if it means he must kill hundreds of innocents. He's got orders. It's a dumb role, but he played it with quite few facial expressions. Had me laughing every time he made a face.

The Boogens (1982)

The Boogens suffers from a very bad title. I mean really, do you think you're going to be scared by watching a movie with that title? Sounds like cheese. It's not that bad however. It wasn't irritating, had OK acting, 80s effects, and a story to kill a little bit of time with.

The story follows some miners sent to reopen a mine that was closed a long time ago, when a whole bunch of miners died in a cave-in. At least, that was the story of how they died. In reopening the mine however, the new miners set lose the monsters that lurk in the tunnels below the entire town. They come up from the mine -- but also the basements of people's homes and drag them away for food. It takes a while for our main characters to figure out what's going on -- and not early enough, as we get to see a few of them serve as munchies before the smarts start to kick in. Nothing is sacred -- even the little dog gets taken care of.

If you need something to pass a Friday night, this one will fit the bill.

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