About Time

The International Herald Tribune reports that Myanmar’s leaders have just allowed foreign aid workers into the country. I seem to recall a story from a week or two ago about how they were accusing France of sending a warship to take over their country, when France suggested that the ship was actually coming with doctors and food or something like that.

Glad to see that Myanmarians (Burmese?) will no longer have to suffer because of their leadership.

Also: they have pretty fancy rooms in Myanmar, with huge chairs.

That Wacky State

Can you guess the state?

  • Recently had about 100 students arrested, and several fraternties banned, after a massive drug dealing operation was busted at a state university.
  • Recently became the second state in the nation to give homosexuals equal rights.
  • Recently had 2 arrested at another school for selling body parts on the black market.

Okay, so the link gives it away. But this wasn’t really meant to stump people anyway.

Boycott the Olympics

I’ve never liked the Olympics. I don’t like watching sports on TV. I can watch a Sox game because they’re “my” team,” and I’m cool with the Patriots games being on in the background. The Olympics, though, aren’t fun to watch. So without anything against them, I already have no interest.

I’m also really annoyed at the commercialization. Networks pay big money to lock up the contracts for TV coverage. Everything under the sun becomes Olympic-branded, costing big bucks.

But the biggest reason of all? China’s hosting them. Even as they leave communism, they’ve got major problems. They run a firewall system blocking huge parts of the Internet that’s arguably more restrictive than that in third-world military regimes. But with rising unrest about Tibet, China’s cracking down on media coverage even more, including an apparent blanket ban on coverage from Tienanmen Square.

So don’t waste your time. I know I won’t.

Actually, the more I look into it, the more reason I find. They’re banning poor people and the mentally-disabled. That’s pretty scary.

Of course, it’s not all bad: “The Beijing government has issued new mandates that require police officers in the city to act more appropriately. The government has circulated pamphlets urging officers to desist from using foul language, lose their arrogance, and not hang up on people who call to report crimes.”

Yes They Can

There’s a women’s rights movement going on in South Africa.

One thing I think is interesting is that people tend to view this as backwards–they’re just now having a women’s rights movement? But I view it differently. They became a Republic in 1961. It took us centuries from being founded on supposedly-democratic principles before we truly recognized that every person was equal. Forty-five years and they’re already doing it.

And just the other day, Kenyans agreed to a power-sharing deal putting an end to a brutal conflict that had developed there.

Cold War

Anyone who’s learned about the Cold War will be familiar with the chilling fact (no pun intended…) that we came very close to a nuclear war.

But after reading things like this article, mixed with other anecdotes, I’m left wondering how on Earth we didn’t go to war… Accidentally. Both the U.S. and the Soviets, on multiple occasions, “detected” launches of nuclear weapons by the other, and came within seconds of retaliation before someone noticed something out of the ordinary.

Fortunately, the U.S. was very thorough the first time around, and quickly proved that the first “attack” they witnessed was caused by some guy inserting the wrong tape… In the case of the Soviets, the only reason they didn’t launch a counter-attack after their own false alert, it seems, was because the guy who was supposed to press the button disobeyed orders and went with his gut. (And boy are we glad!)

And there’s a further set of coincidences, really. After a flood of nonsensical data, officials discovered some problems. Apparently, one detection system was alternating between reporting some 2,000 incoming missiles and 0 incoming missiles. Because of the conflicting data, they turned to alternate systems, which also reported 0 incoming missiles, and it was traced to a hardware malfunction, with the 2,000 number just happening to match, by sheer luck (or lack thereof), internal checksums.

So they wrote some code to compare results from multiple systems. And not more than a few months later, the problem with the training tape occurred, when one of the systems began reporting more believable numbers of incoming missiles. (Apparently, a steadily increasing number.) The data “made sense,” but, because of the newly-implemented code to compare with other systems, they realized that it was just one system, and quickly isolated it to a case of someone sending “training data” as if it were live data. It’s almost a case of two wrongs making a right–had the first error not occurred, the safeguards wouldn’t have been implemented to catch the second error.

Oh, and there exists a slightly-creepy website dedicated to the Russian who decided to trust his gut over the myriad indications that we were attacking


For reasons that even I don’t understand, I find myself thinking a lot about improving schools. And yesterday was one of those joyous experiences where several different thoughts suddenly overlapped, forming something new.

One of my professors is an adjunct professor who teaches at several different schools. And she was talking about how it seemed to her that a decent number of prestigious schools focus too much on theoretical and abstract concepts, but no so much on real-life applications. This nicely sums up one of the areas in which I’d like to see grade schools improved.

  • Gym class was universally an utter waste of time. I suppose it got me moving a little bit. But watching football or basketball on TV, I realize that I still don’t understand the finer points of the game. How come this never came up in gym class? And, perhaps more significantly, I’ve been exercising a bit. I lift weights a few times a week, and am looking forward to nicer weather so I can take up jogging again. (Yes, I should just go to the gym and use a treadmill. But it’s not the same.) Why didn’t I do this in gym class? Why did we spend so much time on badminton? Why is there an “n” in the middle of badminton?
  • I can’t speak for others, but trigonometry was among my least favorite classes ever. Furthermore, I’ve never applied it anywhere. The only time it came up in subsequent classes was when we integrated trigonometric functions, and at that point, no one had any clue what we were doing anyway. But why not replace a math class with zero practical applications with a finance course? Not until I took a finance course here in my sophomore year did I truly learn about things like compound interest and the time value of money. Every person in America needs to know this. You have $1,000 sitting in your bank account. How much will you make if you put it in a one-year CD at 4.25%? And you graduate and go to buy a $250,000 condo, taking out a 30-year mortgage. What will be your monthly payments at 6% interest? What if you get 4.5%? What if you get stuck at 8%? And, when you’re done with that, how much do you pay over the lifetime of the mortgage? (Hint: at 6% annual interest, you pay almost exactly $1,500/month, for $539,000+. That means that your interest is more than 100% of the principal.) You can bring up usury laws, and the fact that national banks, et alia, got themselves exempted from them, and segue into credit cards. Why did no one teach me to balance a checkbook? (Okay, it’s easy. But still…)
  • I want to learn either the guitar or the piano. And I suspect that, if you went to middle or high school, you’d find lots of people who shared my interest. What the heck happened in music class? How did I pass music class without understanding how to read music, and without being able to play anything other than the recorder in 5th grade?
  • What are geography classes teaching people? Why, when I graduated high school, did I still have no clue where Iraq was on the map? Similarly, what the heck happens in  civics and such? Why wasn’t I made to read the Declaration of Independence? Why don’t I know the Amendments cold? I think I should be able to yell “14th Amendment!” to any high school graduate and have them talk about its exact meaning, including due process and equal protection. 22nd Amendment? What President was it enacted in response to? When (ballpark) was it ratified? What states refused to ratify it? (Hint: Massachusetts was one of two.) What’s required to add a Constitutional Amendment?
  • Why are we so reliant on calculators? Last semester we were looking to bring a Presidential speaker, and contemplated opening it to the public to make sure we filled the crowd. A friend pulled out a calculator. “If we charge $5 a ticket, and get 100 people…” He plugged the numbers in. “That’s $500 to defray the costs.” Not until I called him on what he’d done did he even realize the absurdity of using a calculator for 5 x 100. But it’s not that he’s stupid. It’s that we’re all so dependent on them. All the time I’ll start to plug some numbers into a calculator and solve it in my head before I finish typing it in. I think higher math classes need to give Math Minutes again. The kids might think you’re nuts for doing it in calculus class, but it’s necessary!


I don’t consider myself a ‘hardcore environmentalist,’ but I’m not sure there’s anyone on the planet who wouldn’t agree that this is absurd.

It could be easily fixed, too, if someone (Indonesian government? UN? Environmental groups?) were willing to pay a bit. Hand out nets, and offer a nominal amount of money for each pound of garbage pulled out of the river. 5 cents a pound? Figure that they can get at least 100 pounds of garbage in a big net, in probably twenty minutes of work. You just need to drag it behind you until it’s full.

I’m sure that pulling all the garbage out of the river won’t instantly cure it of its problems. (Currently, even fish can’t live in it.) But I’m also pretty confident that pulling all of the garbage out of the river would be an improvement over leaving it in…

Yes We Can!

I didn’t think it could be done, but I just got choked up watching a music video on politics, the Yes We Can Song.

Yes we can heal this nation.
Yes we can repair this world.
Yes we can.

We know the battle ahead will be long, but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

Bringing Down the Web

Engadget (but strangely, no mainstream news sites?) is reporting that a fourth underseas fiber cable has been pierced in the Middle East.

People are now starting to draw the conclusion I draw the second time: something fishy is going on. (Err, no pun intended there…)  Underseas cables don’t get cut that often, but for four of them to get cut in a week, and all to a war-torn region?

Someone is pretty clearly trying to cut off the Internet to that part of the world, and they’re doing a pretty good job. Fortunately, the Internet has always been designed to route around failures like this, but it seems like they’ve taken out a huge chunk of the backbone to some parts of the world. There was an earthquake to that region, too, though. But still, I’m suspicious.

Of course, some are saying that the fourth line wasn’t actually cut, but apparently just suffered technical issues not related to the underseas line itself. But still, I’m calling shenanigans. I’m just not sure which motive is at play: are they resisting Western influence? Trying to prevent technology? Obsessed with censorship? There are multiple motives, just as there are many, many possible culprits.

Although I have to hand it to them: those underseas cables look incredibly resilient, and I can’t imagine that too many people know where every single one is located.