June 2006

I haven’t been outside the country (or even the state*) this year, which is completely uncool, inasmuch as I am a world traveler of international renown. If anyone would like to sponsor a trip, I’ll be sure to say nice things about you.

The only part I dislike about traveling is flying in an airplane. This is likely because I always travel serf/plebeian class. And that’s because I’m poor. And that’s because I have no concept of ‘Å“savings’? and so I consequently spend money like I’m in the game of Monopoly. Oh look! It’s another expensive gadget!

Anyway, there are two kinds of evil people in the world, traffic engineers and commercial aeronautical engineers. Both types conspire among themselves in order to inflict the greatest annoyance upon humanity. But I digress slightly. In reminiscing of past travels, I’ve brainstormed ideas to help those of lackeys of Lucifer, airline companies:

Ways That Airlines Can Treat Passengers More Like Cattle

  • No assigned seating (Southwest Airlines, check!)
  • Teach us how to fasten our seatbelts (lift the metal buckle…)
  • Instead of providing emergency parachutes, seat cushions can be used as floatation devices in the unlikely event that a crashing plane lands gently on the water
  • Put us to work assembling McDonald’s Happy Meal toys in-flight**
  • Separate us into groups, the grade A beef gets to go into the corral first and gets better hay

* excepting Cleveland

** Thanks bpixton!

Nerdy kids just want to fit in. Unfortunately, the media is awash in misleading messages about obtaining popularity. Here are a couple common examples of television’s knavish campaigns of disinformation:

1- Magic!
What better social device than a cool magic trick to attract the attention of all the hot girls? How can any woman not swoon at the classic disappearing coin illusion or expertly executed slight-of-hand? You’ll be the hit of the party with your crowd-pleasing mind reading games! (“Go ahead and pick a card, then place it back in the deck. Remember your card, but don’t tell me what it is…”) If you’ve watched the NBC television specials, you’ve no doubt seen master magician David Copperfield woo the ladies with his steely gaze, his smart wardrobe, and his mischievous grin. What screams “sensual” more than sawing a person in half with a gigantic circular saw? Nothing!

2- Karate!
If Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), the formidable Karate Kid taught us anything, it was that skinny, awkward kids could pull cheap shots on bigger dudes and wind up with the gorgeous chick in the end. If you’re ever in a tight spot, remember the wax-on wax-off technique. Failing that, you might hazard a crane kick. Look eye, Daniel-san, always look eye!”

1-Now that Bill Gates has announced that he is stepping down from Microsoft, it’s time to ask, “what has the Redmond, Washington company been up to lately?” They haven’t released the next version of Windows (Vista) yet. They haven’t released a new version of Microsoft Office lately. What have they been doing? In a previous entry on google. I accused Microsoft of doing nothing, of resting on their laurels, so to speak. As it turns out I was slightly mistaken. They do have a http://maps.google.com competitor, http://local.live.com/

2- Penny Stacking

3- Ask A Ninja: Question 22 “Ninja Excuses”

When I first moved to Utah some fifteen years ago, the house that I lived in abutted a large field of shoulder-high sagebrush and tall, yellowish grass. One day, a neighborhood girl excitedly ran out from the field to alert my parents that she had found something unusual among the brush. “There’s a dead peasant in your yard”, she cried with enthusiasm! I was struck by her comment in two ways. First, I thought it odd that she would refer to an indigent person as a peasant, though I discounted this somewhat given the rather affluent circumstances of the community. Second, I wondered why she would be excited to have discovered a dead body (this predated CSI and the Forensic Files). I leapt from the chaise lounge upon which I sat and rushed to investigate the matter.

As it turns out, in a malapropian blunder, what the girl had found was not a peasant, but a pheasant, which is quite another thing entirely. Poking it a few times to ensure it was dead, I shoveled a few turns of dirt on the bird. The mystery solved, I returned to my station in the lounge chair.

I’ll admit that posting images has been annoying up until now. Basically, I’d create the thumbnails in photoshop and then hand-code the html for the blog entry (sometimes I’d use a multi-image thumbnailer windows freeware application.) Now that I have WordPress, I figured that there would be a plugin to speed up the process. As it turns out there are a couple such programs. The best among them interface with the opensource Gallery. I installed Gallery, created my first album and then installed the WPG2 WordPress/Gallery plugin. Unfortunately, after tinkering with the plugin for a while, I could not get it to function properly, so I spent another half hour and wrote my own. Basicially, the process now is to upload the original photos to a new directory in my images folder, create a new album in Gallery, mass-import all the files in that new directory and then add a single tag with the album id to a blog entry. Voila! I get a thumbnailed mini-gallery built into WordPress.

Life is better now. :)

I stopped by the Utah Arts Festival over the weekend and snapped a few pictures. Enjoy!

Utah Arts Festival 2006
Click the image for the complete gallery

Thought of the day: can bloggers get press passes to events like this?

I wanted to comment on a book I read recently, Blood Diamonds, by Greg Campbell.

In his book, Greg exposes the best kept secret in America — that the lovely engagement rings grooms give their brides fund terror and savage war in Africa and likely aid in terrorism throughout the globe. That the United States, through purchasing a majority of the world’s diamonds (70%) is directly fueling this epidemic conflagration. The masterminds of this fraud? The De Beers Group (the company, not incidentally, plead guilty to price fixing diamonds in the United States in 2004). Here are the facts:

  • Starting in 1938 the De Beers company poured money into a amazingly successful “Diamonds are Forever” campaign which convinced a generation that the only acceptable engagement ring was one with a diamond on it.
  • Using their monopoly, De Beers keeps prices artificially high by limiting the yearly supply of diamonds into the market.
  • Other De Beers’ marketing efforts helped to engrain the “tradition” of spending two to three months salary on a ring

Were those their only sins, the diamond cartels would only be culpable of massively hoodwinking the public and monopolistic price fixing of these otherwise worthless shiny rocks. Unfortunately this is not the case. In a 2002 report, Liz Stanton, Center for Popular Economics Staff Economist, lists Ten Reasons Why You Should Never Accept a Diamond Ring from Anyone. Among those ten are these few, highlighting the reality of the horrors that is the diamond industry:

  • Conflict Diamonds Fund Civil Wars in Africa
    • There is no reliable way to insure that your diamond was not mined or stolen by government or rebel military forces in order to finance civil conflict. Conflict diamonds are traded either for guns or for cash to pay and feed soldiers.
  • Diamond Wars are Fought Using Child Warriors
    • Many diamond producing governments and rebel forces use children as soldiers, laborers in military camps, and sex slaves. Child soldiers are given drugs to overcome their fear and reluctance to participate in atrocities.
  • Small Arms Trade is Intimately Related to Diamond Smuggling
    • Illicit diamonds inflame the clandestine trade of small arms. There are 500 million small arms in the world today which are used to kill 500,000 people annually, the vast majority of whom are non-combatants.
  • Slave Laborers Cut and Polish Diamonds
    • More than one-half of the world’s diamonds are processed in India where many of the cutters and polishers are bonded child laborers. Bonded children work to pay off the debts of their relatives, often unsuccessfully. When they reach adulthood their debt is passed on to their younger siblings or to their own children.

Quotes from the book:

Diamonds maybe a girl’s best friend, but diamonds are paid for in blood. In the mines of Koidu, Sierra Leone, “a mixture of RUF militants, adult and child conscripts and local miners has turned every possible diamond site into a pile of mud”. The illicit diamond trade has led to war, suffering and violence in Angola, the Congo and Liberia. In Sierra Leone this trade has left a trail of summary execution, torture and indiscriminate machete attacks.

Diamonds are hard to track and easy to smuggle. Once hidden they are undetectable by airport sniffer-dogs, maintain their value in the market and are hard to identify, making it extremely difficult to know where your diamond earrings, ring or necklace were mined. In the UK, diamonds often name Switzerland as their country of origin – diamond mines in Switzerland?

A rebel’s best friend? “Diamonds are forever” it is often said, but lives are not. We must spare people the ordeal of war, mutilations and death for the sake of conflict diamonds” Martin Chungong Ayafor, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Panel of Experts.

Osama bin Laden has also benefited from conflict diamonds, according to the Washington Post. The Liberian government were indirectly funding the Al Qa’ida network with the proceeds from conflict diamonds. A Global Witness letter to Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, stated, “Al-Qa’ida has derived millions of US dollars from diamonds mined by the RUF and carried out in the co-operation of the Liberian government with President Charles Taylor receiving commission on these transactions”.

further reading:

diamond link 1 diamond link 2 diamond link 3 diamond link 4 diamond link 5 diamond link 6 diamond link 7 diamond link 8 diamond link 9 diamond link 10 diamond link 11

I just finished reading The Search, by John Battelle. John talks about the meteoric rise of Google.I remember the pre-Google times, when searching for something on the Internet meant wading through oceans of either 1-completely unrelated trash or, even more onerous, 2-slightly related, but paid links masquerading as relevant links.

Along came saintly Google and revolutionized the world wide web overnight. At last, in their clean GUI, you had lightening fast, super-accurate search results. At last, ads were few and clearly delineated as such. No more “portal madness” like the likes of Yahoo or their clones. No more having to go to domain specific search engines for your queries. It was one stop shopping. And it was, and is, cool.

Since then, nearly every month, Google turns out something extremely cool: Gmail, Gtalk, Google maps, image search, Google Earth, Google analytics, to name a few. What has Microsoft, the other large software company, done during that same time? Absolutely nothing. at all. it’s pitiful, and shameful.

Google has risen so fast as to make all other search engines just about worthless. In fact, the company name itself has become synonymous with searching on the Internet — “I’ll Google it and find out”. No space seems untouched by Google’s growth. Even now, the sacrosanct Microsoft office suite will be encroached as Google acquires online versions of office productivity software.

With rapid growth comes a potential departure from their informal motto: “Don’t be evil.” Of late, Google has been criticized for their complicity with the Communist-run government of China. In order for Google to enter China, Google was required to heavily filter their search for Chinese, filtering out pro-democracy sites and the like. Then there was the stink of Google bowing to a few Scientology lawyers and yanking anti-Scientology sites from their index. It’s all rather spineless and deplorable.

I’ve not even begun to talk about the dangers of a Google monopoly, privacy considerations, etc. I’ll speak more about those later.

Things that should go away

  • Pay phones. It costs 50 cents to make a local call. That’s insane.
  • Landline phones (VOIP phones ok) — who (under 40 years old) even has one of these any more? why?
  • Newspapers — (good for washing windows and lining litter boxes and starting fires… not much else) — does ANYONE read a newspaper anymore? why?
  • Monthly usage quotas on cellphones — If crappy Cricket can get it right, why can’t Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile?
  • Written letters, and probably the US Postal service — They’re slow. They’re expensive. If you need to ship something that can’t be digitized, use FedEX.

Things that should stay

  • Pens/pencils & paper — good for doodling. Better than most graphics tablets. Cheap.
  • Printed books — Because it’s hard to curl up with a laptop in bed.

1- Useless Facts:

  • Two-thirds of the world’s eggplant is grown in New Jersey
  • The longest one-syllable word in the English language is “screeched.”
  • No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.
  • “Dreamt” is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt.”
  • Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable.
  • Tigers have striped skin, not just stripped fur.
  • “Stewardesses” is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand.
  • The pound sign (#) is called an octothorpe.
  • The first message tapped by Samuel Morse over his invention the telegraph was: What hath God wrought?.
  • The first words spoken by over Alexander Bell over the telephone were: Watson, please come here. I want you.
  • The first words spoken by Thomas Edison over the phonograph were: Mary had a little lamb
  • The three words in the English language with the letters uu are: vacuum, residuum and continuum.

2- Earth Sandwiches
3- Scary Bears

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