Saturday, March 31, 2007

Terry Jones on Humiliation

Terry Jones, he of Monty Python fame, writes about humiliation in the Guardian. Specifically, he targets the humiliation of UK sailors at the hands of their Iranian captors and shares the outrage being expressed in the British press. Jones compares how the west has treated Arab prisoners in recent Middle East conflict with the treatment being experienced by the sailors. He is outraged -- mad -- at what's being done. Faye Tuney is forced to wear a black headscarf and her picture is allowed to posted around the world; the sailors forced to talk on Iranian TV; they're allowed to write letters home!

Jones believes that the UK sailors should be treated the way a civilized nation treats prisoners of war -- the way the US (with British help) has been treating prisoners. He suggests that perhaps the prisoners should have bags over their heads, with their mouths duct-taped; that they should be given "the privacy of solitary confinement;" that they should be held for years with no charges; that they should be allowed to partake in physical exercise, such as taking up stress positions which they have to maintain for hours on end; that they should forced into “compromising sexual positions, or having electric shocks to their genitals” -- with pictures of such activity circulated around the world.

Since Iran is not treating the UK prisoners with such civility, the Iranian people should be made to suffer -- sanctions, or better yet, a full scale invasion by GW’s forces is what is called for. They’re asking for it.

Gotta love the western media’s hypocrisy.

[You can see the videos of the UK Sailors on Iranian TV here.]

Friday, March 30, 2007


From the unimaginable small femtometer to the unimaginable large light year -- the universe is both incredibly small and incredibly large -- defying our ability to come to terms with its size. Nikon has a cool flash animation that depicts this dilemma very well. Turn the volume up, click the link and ponder your place in the universe.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tron and US National Security

27-years after being released by Disney, the scifi movie Tron, is coming under the guns of the US Homeland Security department. The film, part of which was shot at the Shiva nuclear fusion research facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is what the US government is interested in. The government contends that the film contains scenes which disclose sensitive nuclear information -- never mind the fact that the Shiva facility was dismantled in 1981. Using the Patriot Act, Homeland Security dweebs have sent out National Security Letters to Disney and video retailers across the country, requesting any and all copies of the film, in every form, to be sent to them.

Yes folks, if it wasn't evident before, it certainly is now: the US Homeland Security department has lost their collective fucking minds.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hexagon on Saturn's North Pole

The Cassini spacecraft has sent images back of a weird, six-sided hexagon that covers the entire north pole of Saturn. The hexagon shape was first imaged by the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts, and is 25,000 km across -- a size that could hold about four Earths -- and 100 km deep. The hexagon has a system of clouds that is whipping around in it, as can seen in movies made from the Cassini images.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Children of Húrin: J.R.R. Tolkien's Latest

Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is set to be published in April, after being worked on by J.R.R.'s son, Christopher, for about three decades. There's scant detail about the book, other than the little excerpts that has previously been released from J.R.R.'s drafts. The story is set way before the events of the Lord of the Rings -- in the First Age -- and deals with the human hero, Húrin, who is cursed by the Dark Lord Morgoth. The book is eagerly anticipated by Tolkien's fans, who are now speculating on the motion picture rights. More can be found at Wikipedia.

Americans ...

Americans, read this: US News Media's "War on Gore"; this: Executive Branch Secedes from the Union; and seriously, start thinking about this now: Impeach Bush Now.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jewelled Rice & Roasted Eggplant Dip

I'm not one to cook from recipes. I have difficulty keeping up with too many instructions. I'd much rather just start in the kitchen and see where the dish takes me. Sometimes I totally screw things up -- but mostly, things sorta work out. Tonight however, I decided to try a recipe, and more or less, stick to it.

I had seen a couple of Persian recipes for dishes served during Naw Ruz celebrations in Chatelaine's April 2007 issue. The pictures looked enticing, and I wanted to taste the food. So, when the opportunity presented itself to cook dinner tonight, I went for the Jewelled Rice and Roasted Eggplant Dip (served with pitas) -- click the links for the recipes. The result was pretty good. I enjoyed both dishes -- and my wife must have, as she had seconds.

I did make some modifications to the recipes. For the Roasted Eggplant Dip, I had no tomato paste, so I ignored it. I completely forgot the garlic, so it wasn't included. And since I had no saffron, it was nixed as well. The Jewelled Rice saw some changes as well. I substituted long grain brown rice for basmati rice; I had no idea what barberries were, and didn't have cranberries; instead of chicken thighs, I used breasts; and since I had no saffron, I used tumeric in its place. The recipes both call for about an hour to get the whole meal ready. Yeah right. That's if you have a huge kitchen, and have helpers. From my experience, you'll need to have two hours if you want to eat this meal.

Palestinian Loss

Palestinian loss of land 1946 to 2000If wonder why the Palestinians carry such disdain for Israel? Before WWII, there was no Jewish state. After WWII, Israel was carved out of Palestinian land. Remember, most of the Middle East and Africa was still occupied as colonies of European nations -- so they could do as they damn well please. And they did. It may be that they felt some remorse for what the Germans did to the Jews. They didn't feel enough remorse however, to welcome Jews into their own countries. Canada was one of those nations that didn't want the Jewish exodus to land on our shores. Our shame. The map of Palestine today -- our shame as well.

There's obviously no going back now. But acknowledging the past mistakes is the only way of making the future peaceful. [Source:]

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Evolution a Jewish Conspiracy

They grow them really stupid in Texas. And I don't mean GW alone ... the whole place is awash with stupidity ... and at the highest levels of their society. This one comes from AlterNet -- reporting that the chairman of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, Republican Warren Chisum, is distributing a memo penned by Ben Bridges, that references "indisputable evidence" that science, from the Big Bang to Evolution, is all just a Pharisee religious conspiracy trying to undermine Christianity.

The memo suggests that creation science -- an oxymoron used by morons -- which can't be taught in schools because it has a religious agenda, is the same argument that can be used to remove evolution science from schools.
Indisputable evidence -- long hidden but now available to everyone -- demonstrates conclusively that so-called "secular evolution science" is the Big-Bang 15-billion-year alternate "creation scenario" of the Pharisee Religion. This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic "holy book" Kabbala dating back at least two millennia.
The memo, which makes torturous use of italics, then went on to provide a number of links to the "indisputable evidence" published at the Fair Education Foundation, Inc. -- a place very far Texas, where they be cuckoos who believe,
The Earth is not rotating...nor is it going around the sun.
The universe is not one ten trillionth the size we are told.
Today's cosmology fulfills an anti-Bible religious plan disguised as "science".
The whole scheme from Copernicanism to Big Bangism is a factless lie.
Those lies have planted the Truth-killing virus of evolutionism
in every aspect of man's "knowledge" about the Universe, the
Earth, and Himself.
Umm ... yeah, OK. The memo exhorts members of the Texas House of Representatives to join Ben Bridges, and his looney friend Marshall Hall, in supporting a bill to challenge science as religion, and therefore get it booted out of Texas schools. Frankly, I support their efforts. Here's hoping that reality will leave the state, as it is apparently "causing incalculable harm to every student and every truth-loving citizen."

Speaking of reality -- who the hell elected these idiots? Oh ... nevermind. <-- italics, so I can be taken seriously.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007



Finally, Americans have an opportunity to apologize to the world for having a jackass for a president. If you're an American, head over there and say you're sorry. If you're not an American, head over there and accept what you've been waiting for.

Monday, March 19, 2007

300 (2007)

I saw Frank Miller's 300 last week. What a ride! The movie is based on the graphic novel by the same title, and was a no apologies live action rendition of the panels created by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The acting was superb, the story was a well crafted and the cinematography, simply out of this world. Greece from the movie was a Greece of the legends, when the gods walked amongst us mere humans. Make no mistake, this movie is not the stuff of the History Channel -- it's for the SciFi Channel.

The movie was rated 18A, and so it should. The violence -- and when isn't there violence when you have 300, well-buffed, mostly naked (except of the leotards and capes) men shouting, sweating and wielding long spears, arranged against a well armed, uncountable throng -- was unstoppable. Hordes of attackers from the Persian empire threw themselves at the spears, swords and grunts of the Spartan heroes. There were monsters, immortals (who died), giants, mutants and 7-8-9-ft. Persian king-god -- but none were out of reach of the Spartans. Lest you think the movie was just chock full of violence -- it was actually -- there was also politicking intrigue, with spineless schemers, selling their own freedom for gold. The Battle of Thermopylae never looked better!

Of course, they all die. As they must when you go to see a Frank Miller inspired movie. If you've seen Sin City - Unrated (Two-Disc Collector's Edition), you know what a treat you're in for. A visually stunning film, made to appreciated for what it is. Naturally, the critics have all panned the film. Which is a good thing. This film isn't for critics.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mining the Oceans

70% of the world is covered by oceans. That leaves only 30% of the planet to be plundered for the $225US-billion annual mining industry, which feeds our insatiable modern lifestyles. If David Heydon of Nautilus Minerals gets his way however, the 70% of land hidden under the oceans is about to be razed for the treasures that were long beyond our reach. Gold, silver, copper, zinc and other base metals are just sitting on the ocean floor, if you buy into the snake oil being sold by Heydon. The price of getting to the treasure was of course an obstacle, but not anymore. Nautilus has raised hundreds of millions by going public, as well as obtaining seed investment from the mining establishment: Placer Dome, Epion Holdings, Anglo American, Teck Cominco and Barrick Gold. They have also cobbled together the technology and the expertise to be able to launch a drilling project off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

The Solwara Project, off Papua New Guinea, is focusing on areas around dead black smokers for exploration -- active black smokers are too hot and sulfurous to be mined. The implications to the environment are not understood, as the mining process has never been tested. Nautilus comments on the environmental concern of the Solwara Project on their website leave much to be desired.
As part of an environmental study, the volcanic structures and other features that are of interest to the exploration scientists are being carefully assessed. Environmental authorities and mining regulators are being kept fully appraised. Marine biologists from James Cook University (Australia), University of Toronto, Canada and the college of William and Mary in Virginia USA, were on board the DP Hunter and documented over 3000 geological and biological observations during the first phase of ROV exploration, which included over 65 dives. Materials collected and observations recorded will form part of an environmental baseline study and the ongoing environmental program of the Suzette field. Nautilus proposes to form a panel from the science community to manage the large data sets gathered from this leading edge program, to allow this wealth of data to be available to the broader scientific community for the good of science.
They've basically said nothing here. They will keep the science community apprised of their operations, and will provide them with reams of data -- but, so what? There is no mention of how, if any feedback from environmental concerns, would be taken into consideration. Nor is there any guarantee that any findings by the science community will be independent. Most studies into black smokers are today being funded by Nautilus. The company has already bought the answers it will need to justify its operations. Nautilus claims their operations would be benign, but there's no basis for that assertion.

Dredging the seafloor will have tremendous impact to the environment and life there -- and the oceans remain at the base of the world's food chain. If Nautilus is successful in generating a return from their operations, it will be the gold rush all over again. Nautilus has already discovered some unique life around the dormant smokers it's targeting to destroy. No one knows if that habitat is the only place where that life is being supported -- nor how robust the life there is. There are fears that the process to mine the ocean floor, consisting of dredging, them pumping the contents to the surface for processing, before sending the waste water back down into the ocean, would result in oceanic smog -- which, when carried on ocean currents, would be akin to acid rain that renders vast areas inhospitable to life. In response to these fears, Wired quotes Heydon as saying, "The environmentalists think that we're running out of ore on land, so now we're going to rape and pillage the sea. It's just a reaction -- it's not thought through." Yes, thought through -- that would seem to be the problem here -- and Heydon would have us trust him to think things through for us.

Today, the international laws governing the oceans of the world are in murky waters. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is fairly new in its adoption -- and faced stiff opposition for ratification by the US over the issue of mining the deep seabed. The nations of the world are still determining the details, such as the rules for seabed mining; the process to monitor and enforce rules; and how violations will be dealt with. In this environment, Nautilus is foraging ahead with little opposition, and a whole lot of spending to obtain support or silence.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

RIAA Teaches Morals

After years of celebrating sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and more recently, sex, guns and thug life, the RIAA is apparently now seeking to teach our children morals. That is apparently the reason why the RIAA is cracking down on music pirates on campus. Read more via Boing Boing.

Pet Food Recall

Menu Foods of Streetsville, Ontario, maker of private label pet foods for mass retailers, as well as Procter & Gamble, is recalling 60 million container of wet pet food, after reports of sickness and deaths. The pet food were sold between December and March, and are probably on shelves at home -- or still in stores. Below are the brands being recalled.
  • Cat Food: Americas Choice; Preferred Pets; Authority; Best Choice; Companion; Compliments; Demoulas Market Basket; Fine Feline Cat, Shep Dog; Food Lion; Foodtown; Giant Companion; Good n Meaty; Hannaford; Hill Country Fare; Hy-Vee; Key Food; Laura Lynn; Li'l Red; Loving Meals; Main Choice; Nutriplan; Nutro Max Gourmet Classics; Nutro Natural Choice; Paws; Presidents Choice; Price Chopper; Priority; Save-A-Lot; Schnucks; Sophistacat; Special Kitty; Springfield Pride; Sprout; Total Pet; My True Friend; Wegmans; Western Family; White Rose; and Winn Dixie.
  • Dog Food: America's Choice; Preferred Pets; Authority; Award; Best Choice; Big Bet; Big Red; Bloom; Bruiser; Cadillac; Companion; Demoulas Market Basket; Fine Feline Cat; Shep Dog; Food Lion; Giant Companion; Great Choice; Hannaford; Hill Country Fare; Hy-Vee; Key Food; Laura Lynn; Loving Meals; Main Choice; Mixables; Nutriplan; Nutro Max; Nutro Natural Choice; Nutro; Ol'Roy; Paws; Pet Essentials; Pet Pride; President's Choice; Price Chopper; Priority; Publix; Roche Bros; Save-A-Lot; Schnucks; Springsfield Pride; Sprout; Stater Bros; Total Pet; My True Friend; Western Family; White Rose; Winn Dixie and Your Pet.

Frozen Water Under Mars' South Pole

Researchers using the MARSIS radar instrument on board the Mars Express spacecraft have found a huge deposit of frozen water under Mars' south pole. If the ice was convert to water and placed on the surface of Mars, it would be enough to cover the entire planet 11 metres deep. A striking find -- which gives more support to evidence that water once flowed on the surface of Mars. Millions, or even billions of years ago, Mars may have resembled a young Earth, and had possibly supported life similar to that of Earth. The hunt continues.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Trouble With India

I've read a few arguments that compared the waking of the two sleeping giants: India and China, and which one will be able to capitalize and sustain the transition from third world, sprawling chaos, to developed nationhood. The advocates of democracy stress that no where in the world is there a successful country built from single party rule -- and only with freedom, can a country be successful by all measures of what success is: economic strength, social justice, freedom, etc. Thus far however, no one would argue that China is realizing successes while India continues to struggle.

The latest issue of BusinessWeek carries a cover article that explores what is troubling India. There is much. Most notably, an infrastructure that is totally lacking and in need of investment; and rampant corruption that is bilking resources and time from much needed investments. India's growing prestige in the world is coming mostly from its technology and related services sector. These are businesses that don't need infrastructure investment. Then there is China, which has grown due to its manufacturing prowess -- requiring huge infrastructure investment. China is catching up to the developed nations, while India struggles, and the gap between the rich and poor widens. With infrastructure and manufacturing investment, India's poor would also benefit from the growth. In China, decisions flow from the top. While there is no doubt corruption, there is no debate on what should be done. Not the case in India, where the sprawling bureaucracy moves at a lazy pace.

Will a democracy prevail over the new single party rule China is modeling? Can both models be successful? Only time will tell.

Surfing Anonymously

ComputerWorld is running a fairly good summary on how to use the internet anonymously. Even the noobs know that there is no such thing as anonymity on the internet. Every site you visit is capable -- and most are -- collecting and tracking some of your surfing habits. This site you're on for instance, captures where you're coming from, what site you came from, and which link you click on when you leave -- along with a few other technical bits of information, such as OS, screen resolution, etc. (Why? Cause I find it of interest to know where people come from.)

It's not me you have to be afraid of however. For quite some time, some folks, up to know good, have been collecting bits of information from you, in the hopes of finding information they could covert to cash -- the criminal elements of the internet. If you live in a country where there is no freedom, your surfing habits could land you in a great deal of trouble. Increasingly, this is becoming the case here in North America, where governments want to know if you've been taking too keen an interest for instance, in Islam and bomb making.

If you're therefore motivated to keep your surfing habits to yourself, the article makes for a good read. If you're not so sure, surf over to BrowserSpy and see just what you're exposing when you click on an innocent looking link.

Viacom Sues Google

The first salvo has been fired. Viacom has sued Google over YouTube's turning a blind eye to users uploading copyrighted content belonging to Viacom. Viacom's properties include MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central -- yes, so much for those Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert clips. In a statement, Viacom claims that YouTube was "destroying enormous value" in allowing Viacom's content to be available freely on the site. And there you have it -- the problem with this lawsuit -- that YouTube is destroying value belonging to the content owners. YouTube has about 70 million users and even more viewers. Their reach is enormous. You want to become a hit, get your video on YouTube and you stand a good chance. I seriously doubt that Stewart and Colbert would have built such a fanbase, if it wasn't for online sharing of their video clips. Even Microsoft is admitting that piracy does have its merits -- it gets to people who may not otherwise consume your creation, and once you reach them, if your content is valued, you will convert them to customers. Even if they don't buy, your brand is strengthened. So what's with Viacom?

Viacom is looking for $1B from Google, and for them to filter all Viacom content from YouTube. What short term thinking.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stereo Eclipse

NASA's Stereo A and Stereo B spacecrafts, launched in the fall of 2006, are on a mission to study the Sun. The spacecrafts have each taken up position in Earth's orbit around the Sun -- with Stereo A being 1 million miles ahead of Earth in orbit, and Stereo B being 1 million miles behind Earth in orbit. The orbits have been planned to afford the spacecrafts the ability to create stereoscopic images and videos of the Sun -- specifically, coronal mass ejections.

On Feb. 25 however, Stereo B made a cool video. In an exercise to calibrate its CCD detectors, the spacecraft made a movie of the Moon transiting the Sun. A couple of remarkable things show up on this video. Since the spacecraft is further away from the Moon than we are, the Moon appears smaller than the Sun -- unlike how we would see it on Earth. Secondly, because the spacecraft's cameras see in the extreme ultraviolet, the colours of the Sun are just plain alien.

Check out the video below.


ReactOS Start Menu
Windoze ... freeware! Check out this free open source effort that aims to build, from the ground up, an implementation of a compatible Windows NT operating system. That means when completed, the ReactOS will be able to install and run native Windows drivers and applications. Regardless of whether this actually ever makes it out to general release, you have to give these folks kudos for having fortitude, with just a little bit of crazy.

SCO Wants Mommy

After the trial ...
SCO picked the fight with IBM and just about the every other software vendor that dabbles in Linux. Now it's crying foul because the entire industry, even Microsoft now, is growing tired of its belly-aching and wants nothing to do with it. In the latest of the worst joke thus far this century, SCO is now claiming that IBM soured SCO's relationship with a number of computer juggernauts and caused it severe market and revenue distress. Sounds to me like somebody's crying for mommy. How about SCO taking responsibility for its own litigious strategy that took a company that was already in decline and made it the walking dead, trying to feed of other companies that actually have products customers want to buy? That dose of reality may be too much for McBride of course.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

20 Must-Have Firefox Extensions

If you use the Firefox browser, you know what a great browser it is already, and some of the advantages it brings over the competition from Redmond. If you use the browser, you may already be aware and using, some of the nifty, cool and useful extensions that are freely available. There are many lists out there with the "best of" extensions, but couldn't we always use another? Here's ComputerWorld's take on the 20 must-have extensions. You may already be using a few.

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006)

Superman II - The Richard Donner Cut was released last year by Warner Bros. to coincide with the release of the new Superman movie. This cut is a re-edit of the original 1980 movie by the movie's original director, Richard Donner, who had a different vision of the movie than the producers. I don't remember the original that well, although I do remember it being more campy than this release, which is more serious in its treatment of the Superman character. For details, check out this extensive entry in Wikipedia.

Christopher Reeve's Superman was the film Superman I grew up with, and is a Superman I'm glad was replaced last year. I'm not a Superman purist, and most of those would probably prefer Reeve's incarnation. Don't get me wrong, I like the films, but after seeing it recently, I realized that, 1) I saw the films as a kid, and, 2) special effects sure have come a long way, thankfully. Special effects are an artifact of their time, but the interpretation of the Superman character isn't. What I couldn't get over this time around was the painfully awkward Clark Kent. Did Superman's alter ego really need to be such a stereotypical nerd? That being said, there was much more of Kal-El in the movie than there was of Superman. This cut did allow for introspection, instead of being superficial, as the original had been. I had also forgotten how large glasses were in the 1980s. (Most of my 1980s photographs have long been hidden.)

If you haven't seen a Christopher Reeve's Superman flick in sometime, I recommend watching this latest cut. It'll take you back.

Sheitan (2006)

When a group of friends exit a dance party after a drunken fight and are invited to spend the night in the country, you know the ride is not going to be what they expected. Sheitan is a French horror flick from Tartan Films that delivers a confusing and perverted mess. The four friends are seduced to the country by Eve (Roxanne Mesquida). Thai (Nicholas Le Phat Tan) and Bart (Olivier Bartélémy) want to go because they're both vying for Eve's attentions. Ladj (Ladj Ly) is going because he's hoping to hook-up with Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti). Their expectations will hardly be met at the farmhouse in the French countryside.

The weirdness starts on the dirt road to the farmhouse. Blocked on the road by goats, the group meets Joseph (Vincent Cassel), who is introduced by Eve as the housekeeper. Joseph is an over-the-top character. Couple of things you're sure of are: he is completely mad, and he has an unhealthy interest in Bart. You realize very quickly that Eve has led the foursome into a trap that some may not leave alive. Joseph's wife, Marie, who you don't see much of, is pregnant. Mary, Joseph and Eve aren't the only references to Christian mythology -- this is all taking place on Christmas eve -- but you're not given the entire story to make sense of their use. Joseph is definitely in league with the Devil, but other than the goat and a dream sequence, you're told exactly what's going on. Joseph makes dolls -- lots of them. As you're taken around the house, you're not entirely sure if some of those dolls weren't made from pieces of previous guests to the house, as Joseph's latest creation seems to require Bart for its completion. The Devil wants a child in payment for making Joseph invincible, but what does making dolls and using Bart for their creation has anything to do with this?

The movie is pure insanity. There are a number of minor characters to take the weirdness up a few notches. But it's also confusing. I'm not sure if there was something lost in the translation, but this didn't quite go down right with me. The reasons to watch this film: the performance of Vincent Cassel -- the man is nuts; and, you like freaky horror movies from the 1970s, because this is just like them.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Crabs and Human Evolution

You'd be amazed by what parasites can tells us about our evolution. A group of scientists that had previously published findings on human head lice, just published recent research that looked at the co-evolution of human pubic lice (crabs) with humans. The findings are interesting, raise more questions than they answer -- but provide a different lens through which human evolution can be studied. Pubic lice (Pthirus pubis) has at least a thirteen million year history with us -- going on the evolutionary journey with the distant ancestors of today's great apes and the ancestors of humans and chimpanzees. Somewhere on the journey however, Pthirus pubis became extinct on the human/chimp lineage. Then about three and half million years ago, Pthirus pubis from the gorilla lineage, reappeared on our hominid ancestors. What happened?

Pthirus pubis is only shared via close contact, which implies that our hominid ancestors shared more with the ancestors of gorillas than had previously thought. Today's gorillas are confined to forests, while early hominids were thought to have taken to the open savannah. Was that the case in the past however? Were there savannah based gorillas or forest dwelling hominids? Carl Zimmer has more on the story and speculation on his site.

Tvashtar's Plume

Tvashtar's PlumeThis image of Io was taken by the New Horizons spacecraft from a distance of 2.5 million kilometres away.  It shows the plume from the Tvashtar volcano, near Io's north pole, which extends to 290-kilometres from the satellite's surface.  New Horizons is currently going snap happy as closes in on Jupiter, on its way for the planned encounter with Pluto in 2015.  Click the thumbnail for the larger image and check out the alien volcano!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Designing Change

Drishtee Kiosk, by telecentrepictures on flickr
Limited thinking would view the poor as a burden to society, but if you buy C.K. Prahalad's bottom-of-the-pyramid theory, the 4-plus billion impoverished people in the world are a vast untapped market. If you're motivated solely by profits, you may limit your understanding of Prahalad's theory to bringing consumerism to the poor -- but if your aspirations are to close the inequalities that exist between those that have, and those that have don't, then this vast untapped market represents an opportunity to make a difference, even while eking out profits. The poster child for tapping into those at the bottom is Grameen Bank, with their micro-financing to aid those in developing nations towards self-sustainment.

Helping the poor help themselves is a novel idea that is taking off in philanthropy. It's not just about throwing endless sums of money at the vacuum of need -- but about wisely investing in the poor, so they can create an economic environment where the cycle of poverty can be slowed and even stopped. I've just found out about an organization, like Grameen Bank, that is investing in the poor, for a profit. Jacqueline Novogratz's Acumen Fund takes the micro-financing approach with venture funds, looking for businesses, business models and designing solutions to tap into the unmet needs of the poor -- and along the way, sometimes bringing home a small profit for their efforts that is then reinvested. What a virtuous cycle.

Acumen's $20 million investment portfolio is focused on health, water and housing, with seed money coming from some well known philanthropic organizations. Its website boasts some great success stories, such as a $325,000 loan to A to Z Textile in Tanzania, in which it lost $32,500, but got 5,000,000 Tanzanians mosquito nets to protect against malaria infection. A to Z Textile expects production to ramp up to 7 million nets. That impact, for a $325,000 investment. BusinessWeek tells the story of Acumen's equity investment in Drishtee, a startup in India, that rolls out information kiosks in rural India, complete with a computer, internet access, digital camera and fax machine. Drishtee offers the kiosks as franchise operations, allowing locals to own the kiosks that provide village access to health information, government resources and other necessities of modern India. Women it turned out made better franchise owners than men, as they open earlier and close later, but lacked skills and most banks in India do not lend to women. Acumen has invested in training village women in the basics of business and is working with an Indian bank to offer a guarantee to the bank's loans to women franchise owners -- aiming to prove to the bank that women are safe investment bets.

Jacqueline Novogratz, an American woman, making a difference to the lives of the poor women of India -- I like the female symmetry in this story -- noteworthy, since today is International Women's Day.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

International Women's Day

International Women's Day (IWD) is marked on March 8, every year. It's a day set aside across the world to recognize the achievements of women everywhere -- although it is marked differently by different countries. In some countries, IWD is celebrated like Mother's Day or Valentine's Day -- whereas elsewhere, it's a day marked by the reaffirmation of the equal rights of women; a recognition that there is much more that needs to be done before there is no longer a need for the IWD. If you are female, this day should mean something to you. If you're male, this should also mean a whole lot to you, for you at least have a mother -- and may have a sister, wife, daughter or female friend -- and unfortunately, the world continues to do them a disservice because of their gender.

Here in Canada, women have greater rights than in most countries of the world -- aligned more or less with the status of women in other developed nations -- yet, there is much more work that needs to be done. The Status of Women government agency, which the Harper government has done quite a job taking apart, marks 2007 with the theme of Ending Violence Against Women: Action for Real Results -- which speaks volumes on how much still needs to be done in Canada.  If the theme alone doesn't shake your awareness, check out some of the publications on the Status of Women site.  The topics are deplorable.  As a Canadian, it is the responsibility of everyone of us to take action to end discriminatory practices, behaviours, and policies in our country.  As a citizen of the world, everyone of us needs to lend our voices to call for the elimination of discrimination against women -- for the plight of women in most parts of the world is reprehensible.
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