Thursday, April 27, 2006

Google's SketchUp

Google bought SketchUp -- a 3D modeling tool -- sometime ago, and has a free version available online. The free version allows you most of the functionality of the pro version, except you can't export to the popular modeling formats, create walk-throughs or use in a professional capacity. So what you may wonder? Why is Google investing in a 3D modeling tool and why make it available free to everyone? Well, a couple of things. Google has created the 3D Warehouse -- an online, searchable (of course) repository of 3D models. Google also allows you to export you model creations to Google Earth -- their 3D version of the planet. Google seems to want help in populating their Google Earth with buildings. Makes me wonder how far this will go. Will there come a day when you will be able to fly through Google Earth, dive into someone's home, fly through the rooms, and see what people are up to. Is Google shooting to create a massive virtual world that is accurate and detailed as the real world? What kind of game is that going to be? Of course, Google Earth is already searchable -- so maybe one day when you search for me, you'll have an option to come visit my house to see what's up. Sightseeing meets voyeurism.

Hmm ... I wonder what would happen if you search for the most wanted terrorist?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Why Insurance Companies Suck

A new book about the insurance industry, specifically Allstate, is fighting in the courts to be released. By David Berardinelli, From Good Hands to Boxing Gloves paints a very ugly picture about Allstate. Berardinelli, a lawyer, became interested in Allstate when he was granted limited access to some 12,500 PowerPoint slides produced by McKinsey for Allstate during the 1990s. The slides, which Berardinelli had to obtain a court order to gain access to, sheds light on the deliberate tactics Allstate adopted in order to increase profits and shareholder value. Allstate would rather not have these facts, as presented in Berardinelli's book, make it to the public, as it would tarnish their well crafted image of pretending to care for their clients.

In the 1990s, Allstate hired McKinsey to help them develop a strategy to basically make more money. The strategy McKinsey developed went beyond just increasing efficiencies and fighting fraud. Berardinelli's access to the McKinsey work showed him that Allstate, and by association, other insurance companies that McKinsey also advised, sought to aggressively reduce claim payments. Focus was placed on claims for subjective injuries -- such as emotional distress -- reducing settlement payouts; and, reducing the number of claimants that sought legal advise. In other words, Allstate, and their ilk, systematically went about to thwart their customers and keep the bounty they had extorted.

This should not come as any surprise to those who are awake. The insurance industry has become nothing more than an organized racketeering business. These are people who take your money on the promise that they will be there if you ever need them. They profit from making sure that they keep as much of what you've given them. Yes, there are those who defraud insurance companies -- but which other business treat all of their customers as if they were crooks? (OK, maybe the music and motion picture industries -- so that puts insurance in good company.) It has gotten to the point where we pay insurance companies for a benefit that we're afraid to take as the price for accepting the benefit is too steep. After every claim, the hoodlums just hike up your premiums.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Children Entertainers Executed in Iraq

Recently a couple of children entertainers were executed outside of Baghdad by unknown gunmen, for reasons that can only be guessed at. The two members of the Happy Family Team, Faud Radi, 20, and Haidar Jawad, 25, were returning home when group's identifiable van came under gunfire. Jawad and a female passenger that was hitching a ride, died instantly. Radi was dragged from the van and beaten to death. The reason they were a target? The Happy Family Team receives a small grant from the government for working with schools -- and, they entertain children of all ethnicity and religion.

Intolerance. This is what has become of Iraq. With the previous regime gone, the monsters that were kept at bay are rising, and are uglier than the one they seek to replace.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Damn Stupid RIAA

The RIAA has sued a family in Rockmart, GA, for music piracy, despite the family not having a computer. Is there anyone with functioning brain cells left at the RIAA?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

xXx: State of the Union (2005)

I must confess, I haven't seen the first xXx movie. Which is probably a good thing. If xXx: State of the Union is any indication, it probably sucked as well. What was wrong with this movie? Everything. What was right about it? Nothing -- although it may have succeeded in killing a franchise that should have been killed. The bad news with this movie starts with the choice of lead: Ice Cube. Ice Cube doesn't have cool. He has angry. He's very good at playing a dude with a big chip on his shoulder. Don't get me wrong, I think he does have some acting ability, but apparently the script in this movie just called for him to sneer a lot, show us that he's angry and be there when stuff gets blown up. A lot of things get blown up as you might expect, but even so, moving from one explosion to another to tell a story ... well, that just suck.

Avoid this movie like you would avoid a plague.

Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove (2005)

Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove is a low budget, horror release that I saw sometime ago. As with low budget flicks of this nature, expectations must also be lowered. If you go in expecting campy dialogue, bad acting and no effects, then you stand a good chance coming out the other end with a bit of entertainment -- maybe even a few laughs at the silly attempt.

The story is a take on the old pirate song, sixteen men on a dead man's chest ... yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. Apparently Jolly Roger, the pirate, had his treasure stolen from him by his crew that had him walk the plank. He comes back from the dead, in fine form, but really bad make-up, when his skull is discovered in a ... wait for it ... dead man's chest by a bunch of teens at Cutter's Cove. After offing the captain, the pirate crew went straight and became the founding fathers of Cutter's Cove. To get his treasure back, Jolly Roger must now collect the skulls of sixteen men (or women) from the direct descendants of the traitors.

What follows is typical of the campy horror genre. Lots of blood and heads without bodies. As people get murdered by someone in a pirate's costume, the local sheriff runs around bagging bodies and wanting to call in the FBI. The mayor meanwhile, wants the sheriff to solve the problem on his own -- and is hiding some secrets. Two high school grads, that may be suspects in the murders, must dodge the sheriff and overcome their own lack of intelligence to solve the case before it's too late. Lucky for them, there's the internet and a convenient website with all the answers.

Programming the Universe by Seth Lloyd

On Wednesday, I attended Programming the Universe, a lecture by MIT Professor of Quantum-Mechanical Engineering, Seth Lloyd, to promote his new book ... wait for it ... Programming the Universe. The lecture was hosted by the Perimeter Institute for Theorectical Institute, and while most of their public lectures tend to be held in Waterloo, this was one of the few that came to Toronto. For a lecture of this caliber, it was unfortunate that the location chosen was the Bloor Collegiate Institute -- a local high school. I'm sure a lecture hall at one of the local universities was free that night. The location did nothing to help the lecture, and at worst, was a distraction.

Lloyd is a pretty good speaker. He has a sense of humour that was maybe lost on some of his audience -- but would probably get a lecture hall of his students to react. Unfortunately, he brought his classroom lecture style to an audience that was peppered by idiots. Lloyd invited questions -- asking to be interrupted if the audience didn't understand. The idiots of the audience saw this as an open invitation to interrupt with some of the most inane questions.

Seth Lloyd is at the forefront of research in quantum computing -- the branch of science that uses the quantum properties of atoms to process information. His research has led him to conclude that the universe itself is digital. At the lowest levels, particles are processing information, and as the universe ages, more information is getting produced. In effect, everything is part of the greater sum, and the greater sum is a universe that is a gigantic information processing entity. Everything is computing. The particles that make up you and I are working away processing information -- although that information may be completely meaningless. Yet this processing in his view is what is responsible for reality as we know it. Everything is connected, everything interacts, and from that processing, reality is produced. Lloyd believes that looking at the universe as an information processor at the lowest levels, is key to understanding the origins of the universe, its evolution, and where its going. Eventually, he expects that this view of the universe may help in creating and understanding a unified theory of everything.

When you think of the universe as a computer, and you understand that the information processing occurring at a fundamental, quantum level, is very, very simple, you might think, so what? What's the big deal? Isn't looking at the quantum information processing of the universe just an analogy? And you would be right to ask such a question. When you realize however, that at at a fundamental level, all complex computer programs really just build on the routines of previous, simpler programs, leading all the way back to the fundamental on/off switch, you start wonder. At least I do -- on a philosophical level. What the universe is, will be, becomes something very difficult to contemplate. I am not conceited enough to think that we are the paragon of its evolution -- but we're certainly a part of it, a small part perhaps -- and a small part that is observing the whole in wonder, and seeing ourselves in it, are left with many unanswered questions.

Related topics:

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Logic of Ignorance

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, writes in the UK Telegraph, on why intelligent design is the logic of ignorance. He invokes Darwin in referring to the id freaks as savages who view what they can't understand as creations of god. Nature is chaotic and the process of evolution has random changes injected into each iteration of life. That explains the complexity of life just it explains the flaws (or differences if you prefer to be nice) that show up in life. If life was designed by some intelligence -- and let's face it, they mean god -- then why are we not perfect? Was the intelligent designer not so intelligent after all? Or is it simply that the proponents of intelligent design are idiots?

You know where my vote goes ...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

A friend lent this Hong Kong surreal-comic masterpiece a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to seeing it. Kung Fu Hustle was released in 2004, but didn't make general North America release until the early fall of 2005. Kung Fu Hustle is the follow up release of Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer (2001) -- follow up, in that Shaolin Soccer was the film that garnered him widespread North American exposure, even though he's quite known in his native China. Kung Fu Hustle was written, directed and starred Stephen Chow.

[Spoiler Warning]

The movie starts off by establishing the Axe Gang -- they carry axes and use them -- offing a rival gang -- including a dance sequence by the Axe Gang that reminded me of a Michael Jackson music video. It then introduces the would be hero, Sing, who is wandering through life, making no progress and up to no good. Sing decides to extort a debilitated neighbourhood called Pig Sty Alley for his own financial gains, but quickly runs into problems that brings the Axe Gang crashing the party. Pig Sty Alley, run by Landlady and Landlord ... and is no push over.

The Axe Gang's first foray into Pig Sty Alley leads to their embarrassing defeat at the hands, feet, and kung fu, of three retired martial arts experts living in the neighbourhood: Donut, Tailor and Coolie. Beaten and pissed, the Axe Gang brings in hired help in the Harpists -- two kung fu hitmen who's deady weapon of choice is an ancient Chinese harp. The Harpists catch Donut, Tailor and Coolie by surprise, and while the trio puts up a good fight, are defeated. Pig Sty Alley has other surprises however, as the Landlord and Landlady are also kung fu masters. They off the Harpists, then go after the Axe Gang.

With the defeat of the Harpists, the Axe Gang tricks Sing into freeing the Beast -- a number one, undefeated kung fu master -- who's set against Landlord and Landlady. The Beast was driven mad by his martial arts study, and was locked up in an insane asylum. Landlord and Landlady soon realize they are no match for the Beast, but in their fight with him, Sing gets involved, and the Beast unwittingly unleashes Sing's blocked qi. It is then up to Sing to defeat the Beast and the Axe Gang, single-handedly.

The plot moves like the kung fu in the movie. To the uninitiated, there will be a resounding, WTF? This is not the martial arts of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. There is no grace and art in the sparring -- it's pure chaos. The martial arts is stunning and frenetic. But if you're a fan of the genre, you will find there is beauty in chaos. The film leverages a lot of special effects -- especially for the fight scenes and cartoon-inspired lunacy. Chow borrows and pays tribute to martial arts classics, Looney Tunes cartoons, the Matrix trilogy, Spider-Man and a host of other movies in Kung Fu Hustle. This comedy masterpiece is hard to characterize -- other than it being an action-comedy, which does come close to describing the film. It's definitely a must watch. I now regret not having seen it when it was in theatres a few months ago. It would have been even better on the big screen.



You can find more clips on YouTube:

Scott Adams on Respecting Beliefs

Scott Adams has a great post on respecting the beliefs of others. He tells us that respect is a short straw that should be used, but not equally across all beliefs. He supposes that if a belief is leading to good things happening in the world, and if the people who have those beliefs aren't going around threatning others, then maybe they should be respected. Even so, respect of beliefs should be tempered by a good dose of mockery.
The only thing that keeps most people from acting on their absurd beliefs is the fear that other people will treat them like frickin’ retards. Mockery is an important social tool for squelching stupidity. At least that’s what I tell people after I mock them. Or to put it another way, I’ve never seen anyone change his mind because of the power of a superior argument or the acquisition of new facts. But I’ve seen plenty of people change behavior to avoid being mocked.

I agree with this. Some beliefs are frickin' stupid and should be made fun of.

Update: April 20, 2006
  • Scott Adams raises a question about the 4 billion losers on this planet -- you know who they are -- they're the ones that don't in your god -- how do you explain yourself to them?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mr. Obiang Goes to Washington

The Foreign Policy has a blog entry on Equatorial Guinea's president and dictator in charge, Obiang, visit to Washington. He was accepted by Secretary of State Rice, who welcomed him to America. Why would America accept a dictator's visit in Washington? Well, for starters, Equatorial Guinea may have an estimated 10% of the world's reserves of oil, and many US companies have been pouring money into the country. While Obiang could care less for democracy, tortures his people and funnels state funds to personal US bank accounts, he plays nice with American's wishing to stick a needle into his country's oil veins to bleed it dry.

Is it just me, or does this strike other people as being just wrong?

America's Secret Plan to Invade Canada

Damn Interesting has the scoop on America's secret plan to invade Canada. The plan, titled Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan – Red, would see the US launch a preemptive strike against Canada. The plan would have the American armed forces take control of out coastal ports, the Great Lakes and the hydroelectric power plants at Niagara Falls, first. Then an invasion would be launched, targeting Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. The plan is not to defeat Canada, but to gain control of the country for incorporation into the US.

The American invasion plans were drawn up in the 1930s, by the newly minted US Army War Plans Division. Not to be outdone, Canada also had plans to invade the US. Ours was drawn up in the 1920s. Damn Interesting has the details -- and it's an amusing read. Thank god our two nations have been getting alone famously for a long time. Think of the energy, money and lives that would have been wasted if we hated each other.

Friday, April 14, 2006

How You Treat Others Says A Lot About Your Character

When powerful people are total asses, it reflects on them, regardless of whether they notice -- or care. You'd think that this bit of common sense would not be lost on the bigwigs when they interact with the common folk. After all, isn't treat others as you would have them treat you an axiom? Somewhere along the way of becoming a bigwig however, many seem to lost the common sense that they were probably once gifted with. (One would hope that they don't all start off as complete bastards.)

In CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character, USA Today promulgates the adage of just being nice to people, especially those that may be perceived from our social measures of success, to be in lower stations of life. The article lectures to those rarefied business types who need to be reminded that it is the common folk efforts that makes them a success and keeps them where they are. It is a good article, that speaks to niceties that seems lost on many. It is a lesson not just for the elevated, but to all of us.

What is driving me crazy about the article however, is the need for it. That there are people who feel they are above others is known to me. I've experienced it. That those people feel the need to not just show total disregard for others, but to go out of their way to show that disregard pisses me off. Is the air up there so thin that you really do suffer brain damage? Or do you use so much perfume that you can no longer tell that your shit does actually stink? There isn't much separating the elite from the hoi polloi. The artificial constructs that keep those few towering above the rest are easily brought down. They come down on a regular basis, and once you've hit rock bottom, it's the rank and file that are there to collect your pieces. You become invisible people once you've hit the bottom.

I say my thank yous and pleases to just about everyone. I engage in idle chitchat with people who I have an interest in, regardless of whether my title artificially tries separate us. I try to engage those who provide a service to me -- be it the mail guy; the folks who pickup the garbage; the people who serve me in restaurants; and especially the people above me. I thank the woman who picks up my garbage from work every night. She does hard work, and I'm usually there late, when she comes around. I appreciate her work. I talk to the guys who deliver the mail when we're walking the hallways or riding the elevators -- just idle chitchat, because they are an important part of the team that keeps our business humming along ... they are a part of my team, and like everyone else, they do at times have interesting stories. I don't see this in many people though. For many, the rank and file are invisible people. They bustle about, unnamed, unseen and ignored, unless they crash into and interrupt the lofty.

Google Calendar

Google has launched Google Calendar (Beta), and for those who already have a Gmail account, it's a great addition to the Google suite of online productivity tools. I haven't explored the calendar fully as yet, but for starters, the site seems to work a heck of a lot better with Firefox than it does with IE. Even with the site working well in Firefox, I did have problems with it -- little nuisances that adds up to make it not ready for prime time as yet.

For instance, after I created an event (added a calendar entry), I was allowed to edit it, but the site refused to save my edits. Guests can be added to an event by email invitation, yet that functionality doesn't seem to be up as yet -- can't save. Which tells me that integration with Gmail isn't there as yet. The promise however sounds great. From what I see, you can invite a guests, and then allow them to further invite guests of their own. Great if you really are trying to arrange an event.

Google also seems to be trying to integrate discussion functions into the calendar. There is comment functionality ready for events. I'm only assuming that this means those you invite (or others) can add comments to your events.Integration with other services seem to be mostly misses so far. Mapping integration is there, but all it does is allow you to look up maps via Google Maps. It would be great if you can specify the map URL in the event so that guests don't have to do the look up on their own.

Google Calendar also has functionality to give a user multiple calendars. From there, you can specify how you want your calendar to be shared, who you want to share with, and to what level. With a public share, you can then make your calendar available via an XML feed or in iCal format -- which is cool if you want to integrate it into a website. By sharing you calendar, it also allows other Google Calendar users to subscribe to your calendar. If you share your calendar public however, you should be aware that it means it will be available via Google search for anybody. Google Calendar also seems ready to import calendar entries via a CSV or iCal file. Those using Outlook or other popular calendaring programs would find this useful ... however, it would be nice to have support for calendar synchronization with other programs, as well as devices.

Google Calendar is currently in beta. Hopefully they'll integrate it well with their other online offerings to provide a solid suite of productivity tools. While Microsoft gives away a lot with Outlook, I hate being tied to a client. Google's offerings are open, especially with their parsing everything to XML. I suppose Windows Live is already getting there as well, which only means great things for consumers, as we'll have choices.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Science vs. Norse Mythology

The stupidity of Creationism and Intelligent Design's argument for equal representation with Science in schools, is beautifully rendered in this cartoon by Tim Kreider of The Pain. In the cartoon, Kreider compares Science and Norse Mythology on a number of fronts, in order to illustrate just how ridiculous the whole argument is. Once, a long time ago, there were some people who actually believed in the Norse explanation of how things came to be and how the laws of nature worked. By extension, there are a bunch of people, who actually believe literally, the verses that were written down thousands of years ago, and they propose to forego the intellectual progress that has been made in the last few centuries for the truth as it was written. Why stop at Christian, Muslim or Hindu mythology? Why not go further back to Norse?

In the cartoon, Kreider compares Science and Norse Mythology's take on creation, cosmology, and the origin of man. The result: absolute hilarity!

Mired in a Culture of Debt

AlterNet is sounding the warning for the American economy. America has become a nation of borrowers, and that doesn't sit too well with a whole lot of people. Unfortunately, for the people who matters, this doesn't seem to be a problem. Those that matter are in Washington, and they recently voted to raise America's debt ceiling.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Internet, Media Outfits Could Bid For Spectrum

Investor's Business Daily is running a speculative piece on the new media companies potential answer to AT&T's threat to start charging extortion fees to allow bandwidth-hungry content through their pipes. The answer: create a wireless broadband network by purchasing spectrum about to go on sale. The telcos already charge internet subscription fees to customers connecting to the internet -- in some regions, offering tiered prices: the faster you go, the more you pay. However, they've noticed that the new media companies are making a killing with the traffic running across their network, and want a piece of the action. Never you mind that they've done nothing to create those customers, and are already being compensated for the use of their networks. If billions are to be made, it shouldn't go just to those creating those innovative services. What the telcos are suggesting is the introduction of speed bumps to slow you down, then express lanes for those who pay extra. Guess what? Those costs will be transferred straight to the customers.

North America is already falling behind Asia and Europe in adoption and innovative services. This plan of the telcos would relegate the internet in North America back to the early 1990s.

Found via the Networking Pipeline blog.

Redhat Turns JBoss to Shit

Got to love news like this. It appears that Loud-mouth Fleury won't be marrying Crazy Ellison in this lifetime. While Oracle had expressed some interest in buy JBoss, apparently the deal fell through because JBoss CEO, Marc Fleury, just can't keep his trap shut. Which is the very reason why Oracle's purchase of JBoss would have been such a great match. The entertainment of the Larry and Marc show would have been too much to pass up. While Fleury likes to think of himself as a real-world Neo, from the Matrix, Neo is all made up. Ellison flies a Mig, drives fast sports cars, races boats and thinks he's an old school Japanese warrior. Ellison would have kicked Fleury's ass any day!

Unfortunately, the match was never meant to be. On Monday, Red Hat, the company that turns open source to shit, according to Loud-mouth Fleury, settled with Fleury for $350 million to acquire JBoss -- quite a shocker, since Fleury's loud-mouth lost him the $500 million deal with Oracle.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Venus Express

After a 153-day excursion through space, the ESA's Venus Express space entered Venusian orbit today. It is the ESA's first attempt to study the planet, and will be the first mission designed to peer beneath the thick clouds of Venus. The Russians and Amercians have been to Venus, but the last mission was NASA's Magellan, which ended in the mid-1990s. Earth and Venus are quite similar, yet hundreds of millions of years ago, Venus took a different evolutionary path that saw it trapping the heat from the Sun and the output from Venusian volcanoes. Today, temperatures hit highs of 466-degrees-centigrade, with atmospheric pressure hundreds of times greater than Earth's.

Venus is currently 78 million miles from Earth and a signal from Earth would take 7 minutes to reach Venus Express. Venus Express therefore had to enter the Venusian orbit by executing preprogrammed maneuvers on its own. The initial capture orbit is large, and it will take the next few weeks for Venus Express to reach its ideal orbit. Scientific operations are slated to start at the beginning of June, when the spacecraft is in the proper orbit, and will last an initial 2 Venus days. If the spacecraft survives that long, its mission may be extended.

Update: April 12, 2006
Here's an ESA video made sometime ago that introduces the Venus Express mission.


Update: April 13, 2006
  • Click for an ESA video promoting the science behind the Venus Express mission.
  • Click for an ESA video that compares Earth with Venus, and speculates on the science we could learn from the Venus Express mission.


Update: April 15, 2006
The first images are in from Venus Express, and were taken during the initial capture orbit, of Venus' south pole. The images are low quality, as they are taken from some distance from Venus, but they reveal a spiral structure over the south pole -- similar to one found over the north pole.

The Right to be Intolerant

The Christian Legal Society, an association of legal professionals in the US, is a national group formed to fight tolerance policies that protect homosexuals from hate. Their argument is simple: the policies that intend to end discrimination against homosexuals is discriminatory against conservative Christians who wish to express their hatred of homosexuals. They see the broad acceptance of homosexuals in society as an attack against religion.

Makes me wonder just what would Jesus think of the whole debate ... after all, here was a guy known for being open and welcoming of everyone. He was something of a liberal in his thinking.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Video Sharing Services Compared

The DV Guru has a post comparing ten video sharing services that have cropped up in the wake of Flickr's success with digital photos. The site compared Vimeo, Eyespot, Jumpcut, Ourmedia, vSocial, GoogleVideo, Grouper, Rever, VideoEgg and YouTube -- looking at the quality of the hosted videos, the site's interface, community features, functionality and the ease at which the hosted videos could be embedded into blogs. Garnering high ratings from DV Guru are Vimeo, YouTube and Jumpcut. DV Guru also mentions a few other services that weren't included in the review. These might warrant a look at as well. They are: Motionbox (coming soon), CastPost, ClipShack, Dailymotion, and Dabble. To the list, I also want to add Veoh. I haven't used the service myself, but it looks like it could compete. The only reason I haven't used it is because, like Google, it requires you to download a client -- a client that seems to work only on XP.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Miscellaneous

  • Selling the Promise of Youth -- BusinessWeek's March 20th cover story provides a great summary for baby boomers heading into their second life -- and the message is, you better have money if you want the quality of that second life to be the same as the first. Money, and the willingness to take some risks on unproven anti-aging treatments being sold. If you've got money, there's lotions, potions and promises galore awaiting you. The problem is, most are not recognized by mainstream medicine, and are not necessarily approved by government regulators. As one of the new age salesmen puts it however -- they promise a better quality life, followed by a rapid decline in health leading to death -- rather than the slow aches and pains to the grave. Thus far, there is no fountain of youth -- and trying some unproven drugs just might hasten your trek to the afterworld. Me, I'm waiting for the day my brain can be digitized!
  • Is the MBA Overrated? -- Does an MBA really give an advantage? It has become a requirement for those looking to climb the corporate ladder, but I'm not so sure about it myself. I don't have an MBA, although it is one of those things I hoping to accomplish eventually -- but I'm in no hurry. I've had the pleasure of meeting quite a few MBA grads, and not one has left a lasting, overwhelmingly positive impression. Their MBA didn't seem to make a difference. Especially in those that went straight from an undergrad to their MBA. As BusinessWeek points out in this article, their research is anything but conclusive when looking at the top ranks. Those who reach the pinnacle most often do not have MBAs. Goes to show you that there's only so much that book-learning can give -- the rest needs experience.
  • A New Spark Plug for Cadillac -- Cadillac is looking to fix its brand image, so they've brought on board Liz Vanzura -- the ad executive that gave new life to VW and the Hummer.
  • Making It Work By Not Doing It All -- BusinessWeek profiles Xerox R&D chief, Sophie Vandebroek, a woman who seems to have achieved the perfect balance in work and life. Read her story ... it's inspiring.
  • It's Hard Out Here For a Lobbyist -- Governments don't respond to people, they respond to lobbyists. Check out this profile of the people who pull the strings and are the masters of spin.
  • Here Comes Lunar Power -- Forget wind and solar power, both of which depend strongly on the weather. Check out instead, lunar power. Predictable, stable, and always there, the tides and turning turbines to create electricity.
  • Spreading the Gospel -- BusinessWeek has an excellent article on the power players of outsourcing. There is an inner circle, and most are former employees of GE and McKinsey.
  • Renovating Home Depot -- BusinessWeek's March 6th cover article profiles Home Depot's chief, Bob Nardelli -- a CEO who is going against the grain of management trends, and embracing a hardnosed military style. Out are small teams and collaboration, and in is a military organization. Hierarchical, with decision making coming from the top. It's an organization ruled by fear, with a focus on the details of operations. In the short term, Home Depot has achieved great financial results, but how long will they be able to keep up the pressure on staff? Especially with a strong competitor like Lowes, who's also building out.

Nuking Iran

More and more, it's looking like America is readying to strike against Iran. Either that, or the increased rhetoric is the Bush's Administration attempt at cooling Iran, and perhaps bring them to the table for talks aimed at defusing their nuclear ambitions. The one problem with playing chicken is, you could lose -- and when the game is being played by mad men, not only do they lose, but so do every single last one of us. America has military plans to take out Iran if necessary -- just as they must have plans against North Korea. It would be crazy for them not to. Having plans and executing them are two quite different things however. Admitting those plans to the public, as the Bush Administration has done with the New Yorker report (does anyone really believe that the report was a scoop?), demonstrates that behind the scenes talk with Iran, brokered by third parties, are heading nowhere. America is sending a message to Iran. The nuclear option is in the war plans to be used if needed against Iran. I believe the Bush Administration is more than willing to execute on those plans. I also believe the current Iran leadership is more than willing to "martyr" their citizens to secure their position as victims on the world stage. Their response to a nuclear strike will undoubtedly be violent and will be against non-military targets -- and they, and a whole lot of other people will see such a response as being justified. The games these people play will be the death of us all.

Update: April 15, 2006
  • Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has again lashed out against Israel, calling it a permanent threat to the Middle East and promising soon that it will be soon liberated. This comes on the heels of the news that Iran has enriched uranium.


Update: April 16, 2006
  • The Independent has an inside view of Iran. While Iranians are proud of the scientific accomplishment of enriching uranium on their own, most are concerned about their president's push to obtain nuclear weapon capability. Ahmadinejad is picking up the rhetoric and appealing to patriotism, making it difficult for his opponents to question his dismal domestic record. More and more, Ahmadinejad is sounding like just every other politician. When failing, they deflect issues, and set themselves up to champion something that can't be questioned. In this, Ahmadinejad shares a lot with Bush -- except this is Bush's last term, and he has absolutely nothing to lose. That makes playing chicken with Bush very dangerous, as chances of him moving are slim.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Last night I watched John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. I don't remember seeing this when it was first released ... or subsequently over the years, when I watch way too many horror movies. Prince of Darkness is a strange mix of religion and science for a horror movie. The movie tries to create a union of science and religion, leveraging the "sub-atomic" -- or quantum level, as the bridge between the two. Reality as we know it breaks down at the quantum level -- things don't make classical sense, and that's where the movie decided, that God and the Devil reside.

The movie follows a group of college students, led by a professor, who are called to investigate secret container of green liquid that's been hidden in a church for years. Apparently, the container is a prison that was either created by, or found by, Jesus, some two thousand years ago, to imprison the son of Satan. That prison is slowly being breached however, and the son of Satan wants to reach into the negative reality and bring his father back into ours -- a reality he was cast out from, some time ago, by God. The movie infers that God, Satan, Jesus and their ilk, are just aliens from outer space -- and religion, specifically Catholicism, is nothing more than a myth created by the Church to keep the container a secret.

The movie wouldn't be called Prince of Darkness unless the container broke and released the spawn of the Devil on our unsuspecting heroes. That happens slowly, and our heroes have to do battle with each other as they begin to succumb to evil. There is some gore, but a lot of the horror comes from the clever use of the camera and music. This isn't a bad movie, and is worth watching if you're a John Carpenter fan ... or find yourself drawn to such movies on Friday nights.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Thief Lord (2006)

Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord went straight to video -- not sure if that was the intention when the filming of the movie started, but after seeing the film, I have to agree -- it was a wise decision to send it straight to video. The film, like the book, is meant for children. That doesn't excuse the filmmakers from not investing more into the film however. The movie could have been more imaginative, more exciting, ... more adventurous. The result however was dull. The acting was fine, but the execution of the story was just a long, drawn out yawn. The story plodded along uninspired, seemingly unaware that there was an audience watching it. Stick it in the DVD if you want something safe to keep the 10-year-old set occupied while you make dinner -- but don't try to watch it -- the filmmakers didn't leave anything in the film for parents.

Homeland Security

People shouldn't be afraid -- but in America, maybe they should. A couple of Homeland Security officers pulled over at an elementary school to read a map. They were parked in the bus loading zone. A teacher asked them to move, they said they were Homeland Secuity and would move when they were ready. Next thing you know, they're handcuffing the teacher. What's up with that? Where's the accountability? How long before you can't tell the good guys from the bad?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Phoenix Rising?

The Spitzer Space Telescope may have found evidence for planetary formation around neutron stars. In observations of the pulsar 4U 0142+61, located some 13,000 light-years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia, Spitzer found an orbiting disk of about 10 Earth-masses, located about 1.6 million kilometres from the star. The disk resembles the protoplanetary disks that are found around young stars, that are thought to lead to planet formation. If Spitzer did find a protoplanetary disk around the pulsar 4U 0142+61, it would represent a first: planets rising directly from the ashes of a star that went supernova.

Pulsars are type of neutron star that are formed as a result of the gravitational collapse of a massive star. When a massive star goes supernova, it collapses under its own gravity to a point where thermonuclear burning ignites the star in a massive explosion -- the supernova. Matter is ejected from the star at speeds in the order of 10,000 km/s. What remains after some supernovae is a neutron star -- a star made up of just neutrons, with a mass of up to 5 times that of our Sun, locked into a radius of up to 20 km. As you can imagine, this is an extreme star. One teaspoon of the stellar material for instance, would weigh about 2 billion tons. Pulsars are also sources of intense radiation. They rotate anywhere from hundredths of a second to 30 seconds, hurling radiation into space. If planets form around pulsars, the chance of life as we know it taking hold would be impossible.

Related reading:


Video source: NASA.

A Sigh of Relief

We can all now breathe a collective sigh of relief. Finally, a majority of Americans believe that global warming is actually real, despite the best efforts of the Bush administration to steer them right. In fact 71% of them are so convinced of the fact, that they think they should personally make an effort to make things better. Great! Wish they were there with the rest of us some years ago when we were trying to collectively do something about global warming. Wish they had made some noise when the White House refused to support the goals of the Kyoto protocol. Wish ... I wish!

The poll results [PDF] also show that while Republicans continue to be evil, self preservation may actually be kicking in -- as they want to do right by the environment now that they've realized they've got skin in the game.

Freenet 0.7 Alpha 1

Just a quick plug ... Freenet 0.7 Alpha 1 was released a couple of days ago. For those who don't know what this is, here's a brief introductory from the release:
Freenet 0.7 represents a major new approach to peer-to-peer network design. To protect the network, and the user's anonymity, Freenet users will now have the ability to connect directly to other people that they know and trust, together forming a "global darknet" making it extremely difficult for any third party, whether a government or another powerful organization, to determine that a user is participating in Freenet, let alone what they are doing with it. This new version is a complete rewrite of the Freenet software, representing numerous other improvements, including:
  • Freenet now operates over UDP rather than TCP
  • Freenet can transparently operate through firewalls
  • Freenet's core architecture and algorithm has been redesigned for simplicity and efficiency
A new and even simpler API allowing the rapid development of third party software that interacts with Freenet The new Freenet employs a simpler and more flexible routing model than previous versions, which in the future may allow diverse applications ranging from efficient search, to near-real time instant messaging and chat between anonymous participants. Initially Freenet 0.7 will be a "pure darknet" model, in that all connections must be trusted, however future versions will permit a mixed opennet/darknet approach where the user can opt to allow untrusted connections to their node, which will improve connectivity and convenience at the expense of security.

What's Happening to Boys?

While there has been a definite focus on the lack of career opportunities and upward mobility for girls, there is apparently another growing trend: boys are becoming slackers. "Girls are driven," according to Judy Kleinfeld of the University of Alaska -- contrary to empirical evidence. Boys lack direction, lack motivation. Females have apparently been surpassing males in academics, as their attendance in post secondary has grown. Against this competition, boys have stagnated.

In her Boys Project, Kleinfeld explores what may be responsible for the decline. One of the most intriguing theories is the cultural change, as the traditional definition of manliness changes. In the past, there was no question about what it meant to be male. There wasn't allowed to be any questioning of it in fact. Men were in charge. The possibilities open to them were endless. As women's roles in society changed, men seemed lost, unable to land on a stable definition of what it means to be male. How can "being in charge" still be a definition of a male, when women can be in charge as well?

As society changes -- evolves if you will -- from one that needs the brute and authoritarian leader, to one where the skills of collaboration and community are the keys to success, are females simply built better to succeed? In this new world, are women and men with the skills of the diplomat and the tendency to compromise going to be the ones who succeed? In the measures of this new world, are women simply smarter? Only time will tell. Give it a century or two.

Sudan wants no part of UN

The government of Sudan continues to paint itself into a dark corner with recent attempts to prevent Jan Egeland, UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, from visiting a Sudanese refugee camp in Chad. Currently the hell that is Darfur is patrolled by the ill-equipped, ill-trained and overwhelmed African Union forces. They are supposed to be there to quell the Khartoum sponsored militias that are raping and killing what is left of the Darfur population. The AU troops have been anything but successful, and the UN has been pushing for Sudan to allow a UN peace keeping force into Darfur.

This latest episode just reinforces an already well understood situation. In its slow killing off of blacks in Sudan's Darfur region, the Khartoum Arab dominated government wants no foreign witnesses -- and definitely no intervention.

Monday, April 03, 2006

New World of Games

The latest Wired Magazine carries a cover story on the evolving world of video games. Whether you've been keeping up with video games or not, this report may hold a few surprises for you. If you're a gamer, you probably dismiss the critics of video games -- and if you're a video game critic, you probably don't have the time for the gamers wasting their lives away. Regardless of how you feel about games, there may be positives to game play.

By playing games, gamers hone their creativity, sense of community, self-esteem and problem-solving skills. Games allow for a different form of problem solving for instance. Instead of learning from rote, gamers typically forego the manuals and leap straight into the game. Using trial and error, and empirical evidence obtained through game play, gamers rapidly learn how to master a game. Far from the first video games, today's MMORPGs requires a lot more than just rapid fire thumb movements. MMORPGs are more real life -- and difficulty. Nothing comes easy. Gamers must use creativity to get ahead or build communities within the game. Building the community is more than just constructing virtual buildings -- it requires interaction with other players. On some level, I'm sure the larger MMORPGs are great observation opportunities for sociologists. It's watching society take shape rapidly -- simulating what took the human species quite a long time to accomplish. The sense of community and the emotions felt by the players are real. Far from being antisocial, games are turning out to be more social for some players than their real life probably is. And I'm not sure if that is a problem. When economies are developing within these virtual worlds that tie into the real world, how long is before we do enter the Matrix?

One of the more promising near term impacts to the real world from gaming comes from HopeLab, a not-for-profit game company that is developing Re-Mission -- a game specifically targeted at children fighting cancer. HopeLab is hoping to give children a psychological edge in their cancer fight, by sending them into their bodies in a typical FPS game. There the kids do battle against their cancer, picking up power-ups and equipment along the way. It's certainly a positive way of getting kids to deal with their cancer -- and it probably translates into a positively on the physiological front as well.

For those who think games are all bad, you probably should chill a little. As Wired points out, there was a time when rock and roll was bad; comic books were burned before they could rot kids brains; the telephone spelled the end to social interaction; movies led girls astray; the waltz was fit only for females of questionable virtue; and novels corrupted the minds and morals of youth.

Iran Tests Torpedo

Iran has successfully tested a new torpedo in recent military exercises. Dubbed the "Hoot," Iran brags that the torpedo is designed specifically to avoid radar detection, be fast, and carry multiple warheads. If the boasts are true, the Iranian torpedo could be based on the Russian VA-111 Shkval -- current holder of the speed record. The US 5th Fleet is based in the region, and Iran was very open who the target for the missile is.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Read @ Reddit

  • Dr. Eric R. Pianka, Ecologist and 2006 Distinguished Texas scientist, recently advocated the efficient elimination of 90% of the world's population via the use of airborne Ebola, in a speech before the Texas Academy of Science. The Citizen Scientist reports that he received a standing ovation by his peers after the speech. Chilling, yes. But I wonder ... what would motivate a person who's apparently a brilliant scientist, to make such a assertion?
  • Mark Spencer invented Asterisk ... and unless he's squashed like a bug, his invention is poised to disrupt the entire telecom business and make him richer than Bill Gates. Read more at Unusual Business Ideas That Work.
  • CBS News has a feature on the science of sexual orientation. For the intelligent, none of what's in the report is anything new. For the stupid, you won't learn a damn thing by following the link. You're in denial and prefer to hate.


Update: April 4, 2006
An update on the Pianka story referenced above. Apparently this is all part of an alleged smear campaign by Forrest Mims, Chairman of the Environmental Science Section of the Texas Academy of Science -- who wrote the questionable story referenced above. I thought something was fishy when Mims couldn't produce a direct witness to his claims. Pianka apparently didn't advocate the death of billions by airborne Ebola. He simply warned that human population growth is leading to wide scale deforestation, and the planet has a way of keep things in check. One such way is diseases ... and if we're not careful, something like an airborne Ebola virus could wipe us all out. Unfortunately, the news has been picked up by a great number of nut jobs with their own agenda, and the perversion has spread to the MSM. No one it appears wanted to ask Pianka what he said ... no one that is, until KXAN.
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