Saturday, January 31, 2009

Italy bans ethnic foods from cities

American craziness now has competition -- from Italy. The right-wing-nuts from Italy have decided to preserve their threatened culture, and are moving to ban all non-Italian food from their cities. City councils are enacting legislation to ban the opening of new ethnic food outlets, as the popularity of ethnic foods grow in Italy. The wingnuts have cited culture protection and competition (ethnic restaurant owners apparently work longer hours) to justify their racism.

This is so bizarre, I don't know how to respond to these idiots. Don't they know where their Italian food came from? Tomatoes are from Peru. Pasta from China. Oranges and lemons from the Middle East. What is Italian food? And protection culture? Can you go to any city in the world and not find an Italian restaurant? They're everywhere! If anything, the Italian culture these idiots are trying to protect is no longer Italian -- it belongs to the world now.

The return of the Spanish Ibex

It's the stuff of science fiction -- the dead has been brought back to life! This is sure to scare the crap out of the religious, and worry those who don't like humans playing god. It is all good however. The Spanish Ibex, extinct since 2000, has been brought back to life via the cloning of DNA from frozen tissue samples. The cloned animal died quickly after birth due to physical defects in its lungs.

Still, progress has been made -- and someday, long extinct animals, such as the woolly mammoth and even dinosaurs may be successfully brought back. Wouldn't that be something? Jurassic Park coming alive, complete with running, screaming dino-kibbles!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Russia crazy for the Arctic


The Russians have started to make their moves to secure vast stretches of the Arctic for Russia. Their current leadership seems to know only one behaviour -- aggression -- and so far it has worked for them. Bullying gets them their way. And that's the approach they seemed inclined to take with the Arctic. They are resurrecting military stations, and proposing plans to develop the Arctic. According to Spiegel Online, leaks of a strategic document intones, "It cannot be ruled out that the battle for raw materials will be waged with military means."

The military is key to Russia exerting influence in the region. Already, its aircraft is buzzing off the coast of Norway, in addition to an increase in naval presence in the Arctic Ocean. Russia also speaks of its preparedness for Arctic warfare. Not to be outdone, the Americans and British have held naval war games in the Arctic Ocean; and Canada, Denmark and Norway feebly send their toy navies into the region to assert their claims in the region.

Russia intends to have 1.2 million square kilometres more territory as a result of its proposed border expansion into the Arctic. If they're successful, the economic benefits and the ecological damage will be tremendous. Russia plans to pillage for oil, gas and minerals there. Right now the first obstacle in their way is the UN's Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. If Russia can prove that their continental shelf reaches into the Arctic, their borders will expand. If Russia loses there, escalation in tensions will most likely occur.

Another cold war may be coming.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The next Iceland

Foreign Policy has a sobering list of the next Icelands -- the next countries it is predicting that will face "economic ruin and political meltdown." Canada is not on that list. Neither is the US. However, of the five, a surprise for me is Great Britain, as it is one of the first world countries, and the prediction that it may follow Iceland to total collapse is evidence of just bad the financial crisis is.
The question in Britain is no longer when the economy will enter a recession, but when it will enter a depression, with many bracing for a slump that could rival the 1930s in severity. GDP fell 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, and the European Union estimates it will contract another 2.8 percent in 2009. Unemployment is projected to balloon to more than 8 percent by year's end, and an estimated 23 percent of adult Britons currently consider their debt level "unmanageable."

The British downturn is especially severe because the U.K. is more dependent on its financial sector than most developed economies. All told, British banks currently hold about $4.4 trillion in foreign debt (which, until recently, included a large amount of Iceland's debt). For a $2.1 trillion economy, that's a heavy load to bear.
The other countries on the list are, Latvia, Greece, Ukraine, and Nicaragua. And where does Canada stand? I haven't been able to find any comprehensive reporting of 2008. The last reporting the government has online is for fiscal year 2007-2008. We're carrying a net debt of around $500 billion, for a $1.26 trillion economy -- so our debt-to-GDP ratio isn't scary -- though not where we want it to be either. This will probably increase as the government takes on more debt and output decreases in 2009 -- but still, we're not on the shaky ground that others are on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wearing braids in school now OK for Native American boy

America's south is still fucked up. School rules in the Needville Independent School District requires boys to keep their hair short -- which was a problem for a five-year-old kindergarten student of Native American heritage. His hair is short. His parents asked for an exception to the rules, siting cultural and religious reasons. School officials refused to budge. When the boy attended school with his long hair anyway, he was suspended. It took a lawsuit to force the Texas school district to do the right thing. Why did it have to go that far?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Closing Guantanamo gets complicated

Well here's a surprise. Obama has authorized the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison that the Bush Administration has used to illegally imprison people from around the world on charges of terrorism -- without due process, without trials, and without proof of committing a crime in some cases. The Obama Administration is now looking into each and every case -- an exercise they were barred from doing until Obama became president. What have they found?
[They've] discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them [the 245 prisoners].

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.

Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.

Oh, and it gets worse. It appears that Bush's political appointees still within the bureaucracy, are doing their darnest to make sure that no progress is made in order to cause the new administration to fail.

I think some flogging is probably in order.

Wal-mart's green store

I grudgingly give Wal-Mart credit for doing anything good -- and it looks like I need to give them some credit. Wal-Mart opened its first environmental demonstration store in Burlington a couple of weeks ago, and with their lead, other big box retailers, not to mention the property development industry, may actually take notice. Wal-Mart's scale allows them to dabble in effort like this to trial new concepts, without having to worry about impacting the bottom line. Wal-Mart isn't doing it just for the environment of course -- the driving force is the long term sustainability of their business. Put simply, a green building actually saves money in long term maintenance.

Some of the green features of the building:
  • Geothermal heating and cooling, leveraging 15km of piping under the store's parking lot
  • Daylight harvesting using skylights and sensors to monitor natural light available and adjust electrical lighting accordingly
  • Store is powered by 100% renewable power -- wind and water
  • In-floor radiant HVAC that uses water instead of air vents, requiring less electricity
  • CO2 refridgeration system
  • Heat from refridgeration system reused to heat store
  • LED and motion sensors for lights reduce energy
  • Roof membrane that reflects sunlight to reduce heat gain during the summer
  • Increased roof insulation to reduce energy loss
  • Low flow sinks, toilets and urinals
  • Concrete floors -- no carpets
  • Close to public transport

So, grudging recognition for what they're doing -- but, the Wal-Mart effect on economies and global trade ... well, that still sucks.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

freecomputer20090124

This post is part of the freecomputers project.

freecomputer20090124

This machine comes via some good folks of the FreecycleTO community. The machine itself is from Adina, with the monitor donated by Cheryl and the serial mouse and AT keyboard from Ibrahim. I haven't seen a serial mouse or AT keyboard in ages! Since the machine only has 64MB RAM, I needed a smaller Linux distro. Hadn't heard of this one before, but Google saved the day when it lead me to Dam Small Linux. It's the 2.4.31 kernel in a 50MB footprint. That's right, the entire O/S in 50MB. The machine previously had Windows 98, which I blew away for the DSL install. The install required a little more thinking and configuration choice than Ubuntu or openSUSE, but after one failed attempt, I was successful.

DSL had some trouble recognizing the Ethernet card in the machine -- some no-name brand -- so I swapped it out for one in another machine I picked up from SH last night. It worked wonders. The card was recognized, and it automatically connected to the internet through my router.

One thing to note on this machine -- I think the BIOS battery is dead. The clock keeps being reset to 1997 every time the machine restarts. This may be an annoyance, as security certificates on the internet uses the computer clock to determine expiry.

DSL moves pretty quickly on this older Pentium machine. It comes with Firefox and a few other apps, including a smaller Office offering, consisting of Ted Word Processing, Siag Spreadsheet and a few other apps. It works fine and is suited for someone who just wants internet access and just a little productivity. DSL's GUI interface is easy to use -- and should work for most people. If more apps are needed, they can be installed via the MyDSL Browser.

Configuration of freecomputer20090124:
  • Pentium 166MMX, 64MB RAM
  • NEC CD-ROM Reader, CDR-1600A
  • Quantum Pioneer SG 2.1A 2GB HD
  • 16-bit Soundcard
  • Modem (I didn't check the speed -- but who uses a modem today?)
  • 2 USB ports
  • Monitor: ViewSonic E771 (17"), Model: VCDTS21532-4M, S/N: AY01103679
  • Default user: dsl
  • Root password: Dabydeen


Update:

OK, it was a nuisance. Every time the computer started up, there was a CMOS checksum error that required going into the BIOS, saving settings and exiting, so the computer could start. So I replaced the CMOS battery. I took the new battery off one of the motherboards given to me by Narender. Now there is no CMOS error, the time and date are holding after shutdown. Oh ... and I had to fix the BIOS so the date would rollover into the new century. That damn Y2K bug!

Update: Feb. 28, 2009

I dropped off this machine to Harold last night. It will be used at his church or donated to one of church patrons.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Selling the do-not-call list

How fucking stupid can the government get? They're selling our do-not-call list online. $50 for all of Toronto. That's good, clean data of people and their associated telephone numbers. But, the government had our interest in mind. They've asked that purchasers not use the numbers for nefarious purposes.

More proof that the government selectively seeks out and employees idiots!

Bush's last minute changes

Out with evil, in with good. As Obama was taking the oath of office on Tuesday, his chief of staff was readying a memo to send to all federal agencies -- stop. Stop the publishing of all Bush's last minute regulations, until they've been reviewed by Obama's team. Want to know what Bush was up to in the last minute? Last minute rule changes:
  • Exemption for factory farms for reporting pollution emissions from animal waste -- took effect as Obama was being sworn in
  • Reclassification as hazardous waste as fuel, allowing it to be burned
  • Opening 2 million acres of public lands for leasing to oil companies for development
  • Allowing federal representatives to approve projects without considering impacts to climate or endangered species
All-in-all, Bush signed 157 regulations in the last quarter last year.

Bush

Out with evil, in with good. As Obama was taking the oath of office on Tuesday, his chief of staff was readying a memo to send to all federal agencies -- stop. Stop the publishing of all Bush's last minute regulations, until they've been reviewed by Obama's team. Want to know what Bush was up to in the last minute? Last minute rule changes:
  • Exemption for factory farms for reporting pollution emissions from animal waste -- took effect as Obama was being sworn in
  • Reclassification as hazardous waste as fuel, allowing it to be burned
  • Opening 2 million acres of public lands for leasing to oil companies for development
  • Allowing federal representatives to approve projects without considering impacts to climate or endangered species
All-in-all, Bush signed 157 regulations in the last quarter last year.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The result from the latest Israeli-Palestinian fighting

Launch attacks. Brace for the retaliation. Escalate the violence. Get world attention. Start the propaganda war for the hearts and minds of world opinion. Let the cry-track play between the spates of artillery fire. After the death toll reaches an acceptable horrendous level, negotiate a ceasefire. Rewind. Repeat.

The result from the latest situation war between Palestine and Israel:
  1. 22 days of fighting -- mostly Israel bombing the hell out of everything
  2. 1,300 lives taken in Gaza -- close to 60 per day
  3. 412 of the dead are kids
  4. 5,450 are wounded in Gaza
  5. 1,855 of them are kids
  6. 13 Israelis die
  7. 500,000 people are without access to clean drinking water
  8. Sewage and sanitation systems are gone
Nothing positive was accomplished. It wasn't really worth it. Hamas and Israel both share the blame.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The one-state solution

Well, if this doesn't beat it all -- former poster boy for terrorism, Muammar Qaddafi -- has written an opinion piece in the New York Times, proposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian hatred. I've thought about this one before two, but wouldn't have been able to put the case forward as simply as Qaddafi does. Many believe in a two state solution -- if only Israel and Palestine would see reason. But they won't. And even if they do, the regional players would do their best to fuck it up. Qaddafi rips apart conventional wisdom of pulling the two warring tribes apart, and instead, proposes an interesting idea. Force them together.

It's not such a far fetched idea, as Qaddafi points out.
Assimilation is already a fact of life in Israel. There are more than one million Muslim Arabs in Israel; they possess Israeli nationality and take part in political life with the Jews, forming political parties. On the other side, there are Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli factories depend on Palestinian labor, and goods and services are exchanged. This successful assimilation can be a model for Isratine.

Of course, for either side to concede to this compromise would mean those support conflict would lose -- and neither side is going to want to be seen as a loser. So the chances of this happening -- of peace happening -- is simply impossible.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Papua New Guinea women kill male babies for peace


In Papua New Guinea, the women of two villages, where the men were constantly engaged in war, decided it was time for peace. So, for the past 10 years, they went about systematically killing all male babies born in order to ensure there would be no warriors in the future to wage wars. Now that the truth is out, the women are hoping that the remaining men will lay down their weapons and talk peace with each other.

What are the chances of that happening?

Hoping for change



I was at work today, having warmed up my lunch, watching the speech streaming across the internet. The video couldn't keep up, but the audio did -- so I heard, even if I couldn't watch properly. I can't imagine what it must be like for an American to listen to that speech and understand what a remarkable accomplishment it was for their country. It was an historic event, a black man being elected to govern the United States -- and it's even more powerful a statement for who the man is that was elected, and the campaign he ran. He probably had the whole world watching. Today, I'm actually jealous of the Americans. It's probably the only time I will be.

Did you watch the speech today? Where were you when it was being broadcasted? Many kept up to today's events in the US via the web, and watched the ceremonies online -- so many in fact, that internet traffic spiked. The full impact on the internet will probably not be known until the data has been analyzed. It was remarkable however, that a few minutes after the speech was completed, I was actually able to find the entire transcript on the internet.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Of antibiotics and globalization

Here's an interesting one from the Economist -- there's a link between those who pop antibiotics and globalization -- and that link is the amount of anxiety and intolerance for uncertainty that people have. Looking at Europe,
the Dutch, Germans, Scandinavians and Baltics consuming few antibiotics, but lots being guzzled in the Mediterranean. The main users are Greece, Cyprus, France and Italy, with Spain almost as high once illicit sales without a prescription are counted.
That's a bad thing for those in the south of Europe, who love their drugs, as it is leading to drug resistant, infectious bacteria. These people don't trust authority figures to do the best for them -- so when their doctors tell them that antibiotics will do nothing to fight a cold virus, they demand antibiotics anyway. Similarly, these people don't think that globalization will lead to greater economic growth. In a poll of Europeans last year, the northern Europeans were more optimistic of globalization leading to economic growth than their southern neighbours, who were generally pessimists.

Saudis marry little girls to pedophiles

Saudi cleric Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's top religious asshole, has proclaimed that Saudi Arabia is a nation that welcomes pedophiles.
"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."
How else do you interpret that statement? Child marriages to old men -- to pedophiles -- who supposedly promise not to abuse the children sexually until they reach puberty -- is a common practice in Saudi Arabia. Just last month apparently, a judge heard a case, and refused to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man. Her father handed her over to a friend as payment for a debt. WTF? Isn't it illegal to traffic in human beings????

This shit makes me so angry, I can't even find the words to express it. Where is the fucking anger from the Islamic community over this? A picture of Mohamed is enough to get them on the streets screaming for fucking murder, yet here, when a powerful and ultra-conservative Islamic sect sponsors the abuse of little girls by pedophiles, not a fucking peep out of them. If you're not a part of the solution, you're all a part of the problem!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

freecomputer20090117

This post is part of the freecomputers effort.

freecomputer20090117

I've rebuilt the first machine (see the January 17th update below) with Ubuntu 8.10. openSUSE was slower than expected on the 256MB RAM. The Ubuntu distro installed pretty fast, but desktop load time doesn't appear to be faster than openSUSE. That's besides the point however. What I was looking for was really usability of the O/S on older hardware. And it appears that there are moderate performance gains from Ubuntu over openSUSE. Whoo-hoo!

Ubuntu comes preloaded with Firefox, a slimmed down version of OpenOffice.org, GIMP, a bunch of tools, games, and assorted goodies to keep most people from wanting to install more apps. The distro also provides a quick and easy way to keep the O/S up to date. An icon provides notification when new updates are available, and quickly downloads and installs them without much user interaction required. An internet connection is of course, required.

Hardware configuration of freecomputer20090117:
  1. Dell Optiplex GX110, Pentium III, 256MB RAM
  2. LG 52X CD-ROM, GCR-8523B
  3. Maxtor 6.51GB HD 90651U2
  4. Monitor: ViewSonic 21" P815, Model: P815-2M, Serial: QE73404067
  5. Logon: freecomputers // Password: Dabydeen


Updated: January 17, 2009 -- for what was undone by the above, and who supplied the hardware.

The first computer is done. I picked up hardware this weekend from some good folks donating what they no longer needed, via FreecycleTO. Friday night I dropped by Narender's place and got a whole bunch of drives, a few motherboards and a 486/66, with 20MB RAM -- which I won't be able to do anything with, other than pilfering the power supply. Today, I dropped by Adina's grandfather's place, and picked up two desktops and a 19-inch monitor. It is one of her donations that got the first conversion. It's a Dell PIII, with only 128MB RAM, so I added another 128MB from one of the motherboards Narender gave me, and set to work. openSUSE is now fully loaded -- and it was the easiest install ever. The only tricky part was the drive partition, but after that, openSUSE just loaded and configured itself from the DVD I created via the openSUSE torrent. The great thing about this install was that a host of applications were also installed at the same time: Firefox, OpenOffice.org, Planner, Inkscape, and a bunch of utilities and games. There's enough there that most general users will not want anything else. I used the GNOME interface, although KDE ships on the ISO as well -- I don't think it matters to the general user.

At 256MB RAM, the machine is slow, making it ideal for web browsing and emailing only. The office applications can be used, but not for heavy lifting. The motherboard maxes out at 512MB RAM, so it handle a bit of an upgrade, but it won't improve much. Watching streaming videos for instance will be a nuisance. Regardless, someone who can't afford to purchase a computer, will shortly get one.

Updated: Feb. 4, 2009 -- this computer has been delivered to a new home. It's now a second machine for Kathy, which will deal with some of the competition for computing time with her sons.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gotta love this error message: You've funded EVERY loan on the site!

I initially invested $100 into Kiva loans -- Kiva, the non-profit that facilitates micro-loans between lenders and those in need of loans in developing countries. Of the $100, $40.17 has been repaid.
Kiva puts a lower limit of $25 increments to loan. So I could now loan another $25, dipping into my available $40.17 credit. Which is just what I tried to do, however, Kiva lenders have managed to exhaust the system. Every loan on the site is now fully funded. According to Kiva, this week alone, over $1MM was lent -- at a rate of a loan every 20-seconds. Totally cool. And sorta restores a little faith in humanity. Maybe we will make it after all.

Update: 7:13PM
Okie-dokie -- I just checked out Kiva again, and new folks were fundraising. I've sent $25 to Men Theary -- a 28-year-old from Battanbang province, Cambodia. She's raising funds to buy fertilizer and rice seeds for her farm, and to add to her handbag inventory (she's also a professional tailor).

A successful Nigerian 419 scam and its unwitting victim

This story is unbelievable. Can someone be this naive? No, stupid -- greedy. I'm not sure whether to feel sorry for 22-year-old John Rempel, who fell for a Nigerian 419 scam, and got bilked out of $150,000, which he borrowed from friends and family. He was contacted via email about a $12.8 million inheritance in his name -- and things then spiralled out of control.
"They're in it now because of me," said Rempel, 22, breaking into sobs. "If it wasn't for me, nobody would be in this mess. You think things will work out, but it doesn't. It's a very bad feeling. I had lots of friends. I never get calls anymore from my friends. You know, a bad reputation."
What kind of friends did this guy have? Apparently very dumb ones. And so was his family that went along with all this. Does anyone in his circle surf the internet? Does anyone know how to use Google?
They met Rempel the next day with a suitcase. They said it had $10.6 million in shrink-wrapped U.S. bills. Rempel wanted more proof. His new friends pulled out one bill and "cleansed" it with a liquid "formula," which washed off some kind of stamp. Rempel was told that process made the money "legal tender."

"I was like holy crap, is that mine?" he said. "They said 'yes sir, it's yours.' It all sounded legit."

[Sigh] OK, I feel sorry for him. It's the photo. Read the whole story here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Crazy about atheists

You've probably heard about the atheist bus campaign in the UK. It's apparently offending a lot of people who are totally insecure in their religion and sin on a regular basis. Think about it. The bus with statement, "There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," plastered on it would probably be getting a lot of attention from god -- whichever one(s) you believe in. God's everywhere apparently, and sees everything, and such an affront would surely be noticed. But apparently, god doesn't care, because there's been no smiting. Back in the days of yore, god apparently carried around a lot of anger, as there was a lot more smiting back then. Nowadays, it appears god can handle the affront. The insecure and sinners can't seem to handle it however. How else do you explain the preference to not travel around on those buses -- or drive them? After all, a bus giving the proverbial finger to god is sure to get some divine attention -- and who wouldn't want some divine attention? Well, the people who truly have something to be afraid of -- the insecure and sinners.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

We'll be OK

If there is ever a moment for Harper to shine, it's now. The nerd of Parliament Hill needs to save the Canadian economy -- at least that's what the people are saying. What people really mean is that they want the government to act like they're doing something. Consumer confidence is down. Pessimism is hard to combat with the constant bombardment of financial and economic bad news from the US. We need a little bit of optimism. We're in a recession, but our financial systems are not busting at the seams the way it is in the US. We were never as adventurous as the US. We're Canadians -- we're boring. We were prudent with our regulations, cautious with our investments and not harebrained. Have we lost jobs? Yup. Are we going to lose more? Probably. But it's not going to last. We will not dip as low as the US. We will not scrape bottom. We will recover faster than the US. And right now, we need the government to help us believe that this will be the case in their words and actions, so it becomes self-fulfilling. [See Canada's economic and financial data at Statistics Canada, and Canadian economy stats at NationMaster..]

What am I listening to?

I've no idea what I'm listening to right now, but it's pop, from south-east Asia -- maybe Tamil. My wife and I were in our favourite restaurant last week for our date night. This CD -- whatever it is -- was playing in the restaurant. The combination of the atmosphere of a familiar place, hip music -- that we didn't really understand -- good food, familiar staff that already know what we'll be drinking and just being in love, must have made the music sound really good. We remarked to the guy who was serving us that the music was good -- and I wanted to know what it was. I couldn't read the writing of course, so I asked if he could make me a copy. He said next time we were in, he'd have a copy for us.

Tonight, we arrived for our usual supper. My wife had picked up a bouquet of flowers for the Ganesha altar they have at the entrance. We were seated, ordered the karahi chicken and fish masala, and the guy who was serving us (same as last time), came out with the original CD that was playing last week, and gave it to us. Not a copy, as I was expecting -- but the CD he showed us last week. Slightly unexpected and totally cool.

So this post is to thank the guy who has been serving us for the longest time -- for the rest of the really friendly staff at the Bombay Bhel Thornhill. Thank you. We'll most likely be back next week.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Hill of shame

On the idyllic Parash Hill, just outside of Sderot, there are spectacular views of a nature reserve, the Mediterranean sea and Gaza City in the distance. From this spot, Israelis come these days with binoculars and zoom lenses, not the catch an elusive bird, but to delight in the thrilling and relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israel forces. Sderot is within striking distance of Hamas' Qassam rockets. The town has endured its fair share of bombings. Now, it's time for revenge.
An eye for an eye (Exodus 21:24). But not an eye and a life for an eye.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Killing the oceans slowly

I've posted on this topic before -- and this special report from the Economist, does nothing to make me feel better about the slow suicide the human species is committing. The state of the world's oceans is horrifying. We piss, shit, dump garbage, toxins, chemicals, nuclear waste, and more into our oceans -- and on top of all of that, heavy amounts of CO2 from our consumptive society, is making the oceans 30% more acidic since the industrial revolution. We pillage the ocean using modern, destructive fishing techniques, that scours life off the ocean floor, and dredge entire species out of the depths and onto our plates.

Our collective appetite for destruction knows no end -- as despite the dire warnings from countless experts, and the usual crowd of treehuggers, who, let's face it, have much more foresight than the general public in denial -- we have more plans to plunder the oceans. Oil and natural gas must be everywhere under all that water. Precious metals are there just waiting for the modern prospector willing to go kilometres under the water. And life -- unique, undiscovered and never before tasted by humans -- lie in the dark depths, waiting for our harvest to cure baldness and erectile dysfunction.

When we've finally done to the oceans what we've done to the land, we'll sit back and gaze at the wake of destruction in wonder -- and wonder we will, just what the fuck were we thinking, as we draw our collective last breath, choke and die.

Mostly, my species is such a disappointment.

If we were ignorant of the destruction we wrought, we'd have an excuse -- a poor one, but an excuse nonetheless. But we're not ignorant. We know. We know what we do is wrong. We know that short term thinking is unforgiving in the long term. We know the wrongs we do to the diversity of life on the planet. We know we're killing ourselves slowly. But with false optimism, we think someone else in the future will figure a way to get themselves out of the mess. We fail to see that we are the future, and we are the ones that need to figure a way out of the mess.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Uncultured Project -- Fighting Global Poverty


I'm Shawn - a 27 year old Canadian from Toronto. Before starting this project, I was a graduate student on scholarship at Notre Dame University. My life took a turn after I met Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (author of the book "The End of Poverty") when he came to give a speech at Notre Dame. That speech inspired me to withdraw from grad school, liquidate my savings, and begin this journey to try and make the world a better place - one meaningful difference at a time.
How totally cool is this? Check out more about Shawn on his website, the Uncultured Project, and his YouTube channel. It's a noble ideal, unfortunately, it seems like Shawn is running out of money, and won't be able to continue the project for much longer. But, cool idea nonetheless. For those who care to make global poverty a thing of the past by helping the poor help themselves, check out Kiva and Canadian Food for the Hungry -- both of which continue to receive support from my family. Hey, if Shawn could afford to give up a chunk of his life to make a difference, the least you can do is part with a few dollars.

Updated: Jan. 13, 2009
  • See a Kiva video here.

Resurrection of old hardware

I've decided to do something about the inspiration that hit me over the holidays. I was rebuilding a machine for a friend of my wife's, and really enjoying myself, the hands on mucking around with figuring out the the hardware problems and reloading the O/S and apps. It reminded me of a post I saw last year on FreecycleTO, from a guy who was rebuilding machines from donated parts and donating it back via FreecycleTO. Old machines were getting a new lease on life, and those that really needed a machine -- any computer -- was getting one gratis. Inspired, I posted the following on FreecycleTO:
I'm looking for old computers and computer spare parts -- stuff that you have lying around that could be used to put together working machines. I've idle hands, and I would like to keep old machines out of the dump, give them a new lease on life and help those who otherwise be left behind in the information age. All rebuilt machines will be loaded with open source software and donated to needy homes.
I wasn't expecting the quick response I got, but I got responses. Monitors, HDs, and other assorted hardware was being promised. Hopefully, I will getting some stuff picked up this weekend, and will start removing the dust, assembling working machines and going nuts with Linux.

So, does anyone know of a good Linux distro for typical home users? According to zegenie Studios Linux Distribution Chooser, I should go with openSUSE, or, for slightly older machines, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Freespire, Kubuntu or Fedora. What would you recommend? Remember, this is heading for a home user who may have limited computer experience.

Freecomputers:

- freecomputer20090117 - delivered to Kathy
- freecomputer20090124 - delivered to Harold
- freecomputer20090202 - delivered to Ida
- freecomputer20090218 - delivered to Harold
- freecomputer20090221 - delivered to Harold
- freecomputer20090226 - available

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Something different on Bloor West Annex

My wife and I were at a small, local bookstore yesterday, specializing in African, African-American, West Indian, and even a little on North American natives. A Different Booklist is a small bookstore, carrying both fiction and non-fiction, with a healthy selection of children's books, and a smattering of related videos and magazines. You'll definitely not find these books in your local libraries in Toronto -- nor will you have much luck at the bigger bookstores. It's a small operation, just behind Honest Ed's, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for something different.

If you're in that area, you may want to have lunch at the Roti Palace, coffee at the Future Bakery, catch a movie at the Bloor Cinema, and drop by BMV for books on the cheap as well.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

World Heritage in Danger

Content warning: following some of the links in this post will expose you to some harrowing images that you may not be able to forget. Please use caution in following the links.

The Garamba National Park, Congo -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 and also having the dubious privilege of being on the World Heritage Sites in Danger since 1996 -- is home to the endangered northern white rhino (which may have gone extinct in the park), along with other animals, and refugees and armed rebels. The park's 4,920 km² is patrolled by park rangers who are losing a battle to preserve the park in the midst of heavy fighting between Ugandan rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and forces from Uganda, the Congo and South Sudan. The leaders of the LRA are wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court -- but not for the disaster they're making of Garamba National Park. There aren't courts set up to try and execute bastards such as Joseph Kony, who currently leads the LRA, for the crimes against nature that is being committed.


Recently, in response to the hunt for their leaders, the LRA has taken to launching attacks against the park rangers of Garamba, and the neighbouring villages of the park. Not only have the rebels been bathing in the rivers of blood from the wild animals they slaughter for food in Garamba -- they've now taken to use the animals and civilians as weapons of war. The message is clear -- if the LRA is pursued, they will lay waste to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, as they have been doing to people in areas they operate. Garamba is just not a park that belongs to the Congo -- Garamba is a piece of the planet that belongs to everyone in the world -- everyone here today, and everyone that is to come. As the LRA persists in their rebellion -- and let's face it, they're not fighting for some romantic and just cause -- they're just criminal thugs -- the world takes a prosaic approach to ending the irreversible destruction they leave in their wake. We spend billions to fight proxy wars, prop up dictatorships, endorse the lesser of evils in failed states, and send navies to battle fishermen off the Somali coast -- but we can't afford to assassinate people who are literally, destroying pieces of the world forever.

What's wrong with our priorities?


I realized for a lot of you, empathizing with the destruction of nature -- especially in a place as far off as Africa -- may be a bit of a struggle. Who gives a shit, right? Want to know about the kinds of people it takes to make it in the LRA? Read about the 139 female school girls that were abducted by the LRA to become sex slaves. Joseph Kony himself may have made wives of some of the 27-50 abducted girls, out of the 60,000 abductees the LRA is estimated to be responsible for. The boys, and girls not found to be attractive, are given guns, join the army and are taught to kill.
"The first thing, you're beaten. The beating is to initiate you into the army. The second thing, you're forced to kill someone. The more you abduct, the more they give you a rank." -- Grace Akallo, a survivor.
The human toll is unimaginable -- and I don't mean to distract from it -- it's important -- but so is the toll being paid by the forest, the savannah and the animals, that have no voice. It's harder to convince a world to care for nature, when the world doesn't care about the people either.


Final note: the LRA would not be able to sustain itself without external support. Take a wild guess who has been the LRA's patron? Answer: North Sudan. The North Sudanese government that has laid waste to everything alive in Darfur.

Ann Coulter's wind

Ann Coulter speaks:
... it is pretty clear from the last election the voters want Republicans to be Republicans.
Ann Coulter is alive? And she matters to the conservatives? The Republicans lost the election. It's pretty clear the voters didn't want the Republicans -- no matter who they they are.

In other news, John McCain is back being himself. If he was himself during the election, he could have been a contender.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The country George W. Bush destroyed

Yeah, but Americans, you voted for the idiot - twice! You wanted stupidity. You begged for it. You heaped praise on stupidity, because he was just like you! You deserve the shit your country is now in, because you all contributed to making the shit decision. You're the greatest democracy the world has ever seen, and you exercised your democratic privilege to shit all over yourselves. Quit your whining. You wanted George W. Bush. Too bad the rest of the world has to pay for your choices as well.

Would the real pirates please stand up?

I've posted about this before ... the Somalian pirates are opportunists -- driven by economic necessity, pure criminality and, some desire to seek justice from the nations in the world that's been raping their coastline for years. The Huffington Post has an article on the stealing of fish and the dumping of nuclear waste along the Somalian coastline. Now, the nations of the world have a new source of terror to fight against, and navies are racing to the scene from many nations, including the US, the Europeans and the Chinese.

Sometimes, there is no justice in this fucking world.

Iranian cleric porn

A hidden camera that caught an Iranian cleric committing adultery is making its rounds on the blogosphere ... especially in Iran, where the MSM works in concert with government censors. Let's hope the woman in the video doesn't get the blame, take the fall, and is executed for being caught on video with a fat-assed mullah.
Many remember how last year—ironically in the same province of Hamadan—a medical student was arrested by the “Morality Patrol” for sitting with her fiancé in a public park. When her family was finally allowed to visit her 48 hours later, they were asked to remove her lifeless body. Police claimed she had hanged herself in the temporary detention centre, and the state blocked an investigation by warning that any discussion “would only give the enemy’s propagandists their much-needed opportunity to attack us.”

The punishment that this cleric received was 100 lashes and banishment to another province. Hardly justice, but the embarrassment this is causing the religious freaks in Iran is more important.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Of saints and sinners

dhammal
I've heard of Sufism, but knew nothing about it, until my introduction via last week's Economist. It's an article that I highly recommend you read if you think Muslims and Islam equates to the Taliban. You couldn't get further to the other extreme if Islamic belief than Sufism. Some of the outlying Sufis celebrate with revelries that are nothing short of bacchanal. Yes, I said that. An orgy of dance, and music, and colours, and hashish, and yes, even sex. And Sufism is big -- bigger than the stupid Wahhabis.
The stringent, legalistic creeds of the Taliban and other revivalists are on the rise in South Asia, but only a minority follow them. Most of the 450m Muslims in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh—nearly a third of the Islamic world—practise a gentler, more tolerant faith, in which pre-Islamic superstitions are still evident. It is strongly influenced by Sufism, an esoteric and, in theory, nonsectarian Muslim tradition, which is strictly followed by a much smaller number of disciplined initiates.

This all reminds me of growing up in Guyana. One of my best friends as a kid, was a boy a few years my senior. He was a bit of a big brother for me, and we spent a lot of time hanging out -- him looking out for me, mostly. I never saw him at the Hindu temple my family would go to, but I new he was off at the mosque, as he was Muslim. During the Hindu holidays, we'd be sharing the treats my family made -- and during the Muslim holidays, it would be the treats his family made that we would be sharing. I never thought of him any different from me. He just went to a different temple was all I thought of, if I gave it much thought that is -- and I didn't. It's a shame what the Taliban and the Wahhabis have done -- a shame for the Muslim friends I knew, the Muslim friends I know and the Muslims who are in my family. The world now thinks Muslims are terrorists. Muslims need to take back Islam from the Taliban and the Wahhabis.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Angels

What the hell is up with the Economist? The latest issue (Dec. 20 - Jan. 2) has a three-pager on angels -- yes, people with wings that work for god and are constantly looking over people's shoulders. A serious discourse that brings your regular non-believer, up to speed on just how scary the friggin' world has gotten. Seriously, folks, we're not just talking regular superstition here -- like not shaving during the playoffs -- we're talking full blown flabbergastery! The non-medicinal, hallucinatory inducement of the divine. People w-h-o s-e-e t-h-i-n-g-s!!! The article points out that 75% of Americans believe in angels -- 45% in Israel, and somewhere in the 30s for Canada, Britain and Australia. A qualifier for the Canadian statistic comes from Ipsos Reid, in a survey published in December 2008, in which, 37% of Canadians believed in angels with certainty, while 30% said they believed somewhat. That's a whopping 67% of Canadians! The prairie and Atlantic provinces believed the most, with over 75% signing up for god's messengers.

Sigh.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Free and open source

Who says you can't do everything with Open Source software? The Trinidad & Tobago Computer Society (TTCS) has created a great CD with over 100 free or open source software applications geared towards home users (they say business, but probably small business only). The CD image is available for download online, or you can order a copy directly from them. It's packed with some really cool stuff, not all are my first choice for open source app, but it will do for the layperson who just can't afford to buy software.
You can use your web browser to read detailed information about each program on the CD: what the program does, its key features, useful related websites, view a screenshot, find links to the program's website and to download/install the program from the TTCS OSSWIN CD.
The only thing not included in the image is a free version of Windows -- but you can't blame them, since such a thing is not available -- legally, anyway. You don't need to download the image -- just take a look at their suggestion of software solutions, and google for a direct and latest version, download.

There are many lists of essential open source software out there, this one pretty much tops the list of lists.

Monday, January 05, 2009

As the Arabs see the Jews

This fascinating essay, written by King Hussein’s grandfather King Abdullah, appeared in the United States six months before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In the article, King Abdullah disputes the mistaken view that Arab opposition to Zionism (and later the state of Israel) is because of longstanding religious or ethnic hatred. He notes that Jews and Muslims enjoyed a long history of peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, and that Jews have historically suffered far more at the hands of Christian Europe. Pointing to the tragedy of the holocaust that Jews suffered during World War II, the monarch asks why America and Europe are refusing to accept more than a token handful of Jewish immigrants and refugees. It is unfair, he argues, to make Palestine, which is innocent of anti-Semitism, pay for the crimes of Europe. King Abdullah also asks how Jews can claim a historic right to Palestine, when Arabs have been the overwhelming majority there for nearly 1300 uninterrupted years? The essay ends on an ominous note, warning of dire consequences if a peaceful solution cannot be found to protect the rights of the indigenous Arabs of Palestine.

I've read this essay before, and it's a good read. The conflict between the Arabs and the Jews really started after the Jewish state was imposed on Palestine after the second world war. King Abdullah of Jordan puts it all into great perspective. Today the Arabs have fallen to old ethnic hatreds -- but really, was it, is it, only the Arabs that hate the Jews?

The essay was written in 1947, and is very much relevant today. When I read today of the hotheads -- both Palestinians and Israelis, protesting and getting confrontational with each other and amongst themselves, right here in Toronto, I lose hope. There will never be peace unless one completely obliterates the other.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Lead poisoning in Thiaroye Sur Mer


First, it took the animals. Goats fell silent and refused to stand up. Chickens died in handfuls, then en masse. Street dogs disappeared. Then it took the children. Toddlers stopped talking and their legs gave out. Women birthed stillborns. Infants withered and died. Some said the houses were cursed. Others said the families were cursed.

When an investigation was finally launched in Thiaroye Sur Mer, a town outside of Dakar, Senegal, what they found weren't the usual scourges of Africa -- what they found was lead -- lead from years of car battery recycling, that had contaminated the soil. Much of lead battery manufacturing and recycling has moved to the developing world, where regulations are lacking, and the locals are ignorant of the danger lead poses to their health. As we continue to buy more cars in North America, Europe and in the rapidly growing economies of the world, the poor will make, recycle and die for our love of cars.

Playing doctor

computer guts ...
12:05AM: It's been a while since I've had the chance to play with hardware. I'm no longer up on the latest and greatest, since I don't upgrade my computers on such a regular basis anymore. My most recent computer is about 3-years old. And it was assembled by a local computer store -- nothing special -- other than being prone to crashes when the harddisk is being maxed out. My previous computers, which died horrible deaths -- the server was smoking apparently, when I was in Newfoundland in 2007 -- all had dual processors, full SCSI, not an IDE drive in sight. Back when they were built -- 2000 -- the specs stuffed two full towers with the latest gear.

So, here I am, just after midnight, tearing apart a friend's old machine to fix it. It went into a coma recently, with the only sign of life, a annoying clicking, and a BIOS message proclaiming a hardware error and refusing to proceed further. The clicking was coming from a 40GB IBM Deskstar moving on to a well deserved afterlife (P/N:07N5640, S/N:YMMJ1210 -- being sold on eBay for the ridiculous sum of US$82.99). At first I thought the hardware problem was more than just disk -- thought maybe it was the IDE controller as well. The machine has both a controller on the motherboard and a Promise PCI card supporting two additional channels. I haven't seen a Promise card in years. Before I went nuts on SCSI drives, I expanded storage using Promise cards! I'm such a geek.

So I swapped out the 40GB Deskstar for a 160GB Western Digital that I had sitting around with my computer junk. (I can't bear to part with some of my computer junk, and low and behold, some of it is coming in useful.) I rummaged through my old CDROMs, and found an OEM CD of XP that belong to some long dead computer. I know Windows isn't used in afterlife, so I feel fairly safe in using disc and serial number. Being an old disc, it was the first release of XP -- no service pack release. So I googled for the latest XP service pack, and while I was downloading the 324MB SP3, I came across this great site telling me all about slipstreaming. Totally cool! Never knew that before. So I tried it -- and it worked! I now have an updated XP disc that will save me quite a bit of time.

12:38AM: The 160GB Western Digital is currently being formatted by XP setup. 70% complete, right now.

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking of something I came across about a year ago. I was looking for furniture donations on the local Freecycle site, when I came across a guy who was looking for computer spare parts. He was assembling computers from the donations being given away, loading up an OS (Linux if I recall) and some open source packages, then giving the computers away again, via Freecycle. Not a bad thing to do -- especially for people who couldn't afford a PC. I'm thinking, but I live in a condo and don't have a garage.

3:05AM: XP finally loaded. Other two drives in the computer (Maxtor 120GB each) are full of crap. I'm going to blow one of them away and reload XP on it. There's no need for three drives in the machine. Also, WGA hates me. I used the S/N before on an older computer that is no more. MS now wants me to buy it again. WTF? I already paid for it - and I'm only using it once!

5:38PM: I'm reloading XP on one of the 120GB Maxtor's that I just blew away. Repartitioned the drive -- just one partition, and I'm now formatting it the long way with NTFS. Currently at 7%.

6:26PM: Formatting completed, and XP loaded. Now booting up for the first time in order to spend another hour installing Windows. According to the setup screen, this is "exciting." OK, maybe the first time. Years and many reinstalls later, you just want it to go real fast and don't give any surprises.

7:47PM: XP full loaded. The second 120GB is hanging in the case from the power cable. It's working. The tedious work of cleaning up the drive, loading applications, etc., now starts. Now, it's just time. This will probably take me the rest of the week to complete, as I'm back to work tomorrow.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Defaming religion is a freedom of expression

The reason why the UN doesn't work: the Defamation of Religion resolution, which was allowed to pass by a vote of 86 in favour, 53 against and 42 abstentions. This nice piece of smoldering crap came courtesy of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, with support from Venezuela and Belarus, and basically urges UN members to change their legal and constitutional systems to prevent the "defamation of religions," asserting that "Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism." Yes, irony completely lost on these assholes.

You may recall that the resolution on freedom of expression, initiated by Canada, was vastly watered down last spring, at the behest of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Islamic states, with support from Belarus and China.
Mindful also that article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Politicial Rights provides that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities and may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but that these shall be only such as are provided by law and are necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, or for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health and morals, and that article 20 provides that any propaganda for war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law,
These bozos, while supporting freedom of expression, also didn't support it, and wanted to ensure that if they needed to, they could restrict free speech. In this resolution, as with the defamation of religion resolution, there was no protection offered for freedom of religion -- freedom to choose a religion and freedom to change religion.

Rather ironic, when you think about it, that these idiots are calling for the protection of Islam, while they continue to persecute those that choose to worship other gods -- even other flavours of the state sponsored Islam -- or changing religion from Islam. Allowing crap like this to come spewing out of the UN just give critics of the world body more ammunition. When the UN can be used as a tool to take away human rights and freedoms, it loses credibility. The world stage is no place for dictatorships and religious states. You can't have a democracy that is a religious state -- one respects the freedoms of everyone, the other doesn't.

Here's how the voting went late last year:
In favour: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Bhutan, Bolivia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Comoros, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Dominica, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe.
Against: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States.
Abstain: Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Nauru, Nepal, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Zambia.
Absent: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati, New Zealand, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Solomon Islands.
Interesting read: Combating defamation of religions -- Report of the Secretary-General, Oct. 21, 2008

Friday, January 02, 2009

How a sea slug ate some algae and turned into a plant


Where can I sign up for some algae?!

Mary Rumpho of the University of Maine has discovered how the sea slug, Elysia chlorotica, runs on solar power. The slug does it with photosynthesis! Remember high school biology teaching you that only plants can convert solar radiation to energy? Well, Elysia chlorotica, very much an animal, does it as well, by harnessing the genes from algae that it eats -- a phenomenon known as kleptoplasty -- stealing genes. By just eating algae for two weeks, the sea slug can live out the rest of its life without ever eating again -- which is only one year. Totally cool! Now where's my algae?

For more on the life of the solar-powered sea slug, go here. And for the abstract of the science paper published by Rumpho and colleagues, see PNAS. (Full article is not available, because, mostly, the scientific community is saddled with a dictatorial publishing system that denies knowledge to the public that funds science.)

Hamas goes boom

Israel kills Hamas leader and his family with one-tonne bomb
The blood of Sheikh Nizar Rayyan and the blood of other martyrs will never be wasted and the enemy will pay a heavy price for the crimes it has committed. -- Hamas official
That was the response from Hamas after Israel targeted one Hamas' leaders. A 1 tonne bomb was dropped on the four storey apartment building where he lived, killing Rayyan, two of his wives and four of his children. Of course, this will continue to get worse before it gets better. Israel doesn't want peace, and the Palestinian leadership doesn't care about their people.

Invention giving sight to the world's poor



Joshua Silver started on a remarkable quest in 1985 -- provide vision for the world's poor that desperately needed glasses, but couldn't afford to eat, let alone pay for prescription lenses. It would take the physicist of Oxford's Department of Atomic and Laser Physics, over a decade to create a solution that is both cheap and easily adaptive -- allowing the curvature of the lenses to change without specialized knowledge or equipment. The solution: tough plastic lenses holding membranes containing fluid, which can be adjusted by adding or removing fluid using a syringe attached to the arms of the spectacles. To add or remove fluid, a dial is turned on the spectacles.

Already, 30,000 pairs of spectacles have been distributed in a trial to the poor in Africa and Asia. Silver has ambitions of helping the UN achieve its Vision 20/20 programme by distributing 1 million more next year and ramping up to 100 million per year in a few years. By 2020, there could be over a billion people with Silver's invention. Totally cool, unless it gets squashed by the established industry's self interest. Here's hoping it doesn't. And I think Silver deserves a Nobel for this invention.

Additional reading: WHO's Action Plan -- Prevention of avoidable blindness and visual impairment [PDF]

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Oh Canada ... just kill 'em before you skin 'em, please

This one makes me proud to be Canadian – new rules for the seal hunt! No, the seal hunt won’t be curbed. No, we’re not going to slow it down – there is $13MM and 6,000 rural jobs on the line, after all – which works out to be around $2,100 per rural job – a lot of money, eh? No, nothing radical – the new rules: make sure the seals are dead before you skin them. Yup, club ‘em once, club ‘em twice – hell, club ‘em a third time just to be sure. And why the third club on the head? The Europeans threatened to ban our seal pelts. As good a reason to make sure a seal is dead as any I suppose.

EU Biodiversity Action Plan Fail

Valuing Biodiversity
Back in 2000, the Europeans took a stand against the continued loss of biodiversity. They set themselves an ambitious target – halt the decline by 2010. Well, the problem with targets and the associated due dates is that sooner or later – you have to break your promise, because you haven’t really been working on them. That’s the case with the Europeans and their biodiversity promises according to a recent interim report [PDF]. Already, 50% of the species and up to 80% of the habitat types that are of conservation interest have “an unfavourable conservation status.” To blame: agriculture and energy crops. Not only will the Europeans not achieve their goal, but while they preside over the plan to save their biodiversity, things will get worse.

By 2050 we will be faced with an estimated further loss of 11% of the natural areas that still existed in 2000. Almost 40% of the land currently under low-impact forms of agriculture could be converted to intensive agricultural use. An estimated 60% of coral reefs could be lost by 2030 through fishing, pollution, diseases, invasive alien species and coral bleaching due to climate change. This loss of biodiversity and ecosystems is a threat to the functioning of the planet, our economy and human society. The annual welfare loss generated by the loss of ecosystem services by 2050 in a 'business-as–usual' scenario has been estimated at 6% of global GDP. Sigh …

Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Consumer and Technology Companies

Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Consumer and Technology Companies
A business and climate change report has been released by Ceres, covering 63 of the world's largest consumer products and information technology companies in 11 industry sectors -- and providing a snapshot at where businesses are, and where they're going to on the climate change front. Being the largest companies, those represented have huge operations that are major energy consumers and greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters. On the same token however, they are brand powerhouses whose equity in the public mindset is heavily dependent on their actions that impact the public well being. For these companies, inaction on the climate change issue would be detrimental to their brand -- and buffing of their green credentials can only lead to positive result.

The report is a whopping 316-pages long, but provides food for thought on where businesses are, where they're going to, and where there are opportunities for those who want to get a strategic leap ahead of the pack. Take a look, but whatever you do, don't print out the report!

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I greeted the new year last night by going to bed early. I don't get staying up to midnight watching others party on the streets around the world -- Torontonians freezing their collective asses off at Nathan Phillips Square, or those watching a giant ball in Times Square, NY. So, unlike most nights, where I do stay up late past midnight, cause I am a night owl, I celebrated in my contrary ritual of going to bed early. I went to bed early -- it's a once in a year event! I did wake up at 12:30AM, went to the bathroom, came back, wished my wife a happy new year and broke into a gentle lullaby of snores.

This morning, I was roused from slumber with the great smells wafting up the stairs and into the bedrooms. My wife, a habitual early riser, was down in the kitchen, breaking eggs, tossing flour and creating a lovely smelling breakfast. Not sure how I made it down the stairs -- I think my nose led the way, with my feet sluggishly padding the air behind me as I floated down to the kitchen table. Fresh pancakes, wonderful eggs with cheddar cheese, garlic and a variety of Italian spices, and a fruit salad made of assorted melons, peaches and kiwi. Since we're not all coffee drinkers, there was freshly brewed tea. It was lovely.

After breakfast, we read the first part of Ben Gadd's Raven's End -- a gift from my wife's stocking that came from the most unexpected little bookstore, Cafe Books, in Canmore, Alberta. We haven't done much reading as a family in a while. It used to be a regular occurrence for us, but as we all seem to have packed agendas these days, the reading together has grown infrequent. It was enjoyable though and I was parched at the end of the reading. The story is probably geared towards children, but the nice, light reading is a great way to lazy through the first day of the new year.

I'm needing a coffee now, and I'm hoping one of the local coffee shops are open today. We'll soon be heading off on another annual ritual for new year's day -- a family walk in what constitutes the woods in the city. It's -6°C out there currently, with the sun shinning brightly and the sky quite blue. A great way to start off the new year.

the Green Reel Environmental Film Festival

If you live in the GTA and looking for something green to do in January, check out the Green Reel Environmental Film Festival in Vaughan, Jan. 16-17. There will be films, as well as a market for you to drop some money. Films are $5 each, $12 for a day pass and $20 for the two days. The event will be held at the City Playhouse Theatre, on 1000 New Westminster Drive.

There are a few films I'd like to check out ... I've already seen Sharkwater, but in the evenings, the also have Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden? and Garbage Warrior. Even if you see the evening screenings, you'll get your money's worth with the two day pass.

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Sir Terry Pratchett


In honour of his service to literature, Terry Pratchett will receive a knighthood from her royal poo-poo-ness in the new year. Way to go, Sir Terry!
Folks,

There are times when the phrase "Absolutely, totally, gobsmackingly, mindbogglingly amazed" just doesn't cover it, but I find that in the Queen's New Year Honours list I am now a Knight, for services to literature. This means that fans, while not calling me Sir, must now refrain from throwing things. Regrettably, no sword is included in the box. :)

What more can a modest Knight say?

Happy New Year, which on Discworld is the Year of the Pensive Hare.
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