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Archive for February, 2009

Wow! What a day.

1. From one of the many balconies.

2. Another wow moment.

3. Interesting cactus.

4. The garden.

5. This one feels so Escher to me.

6. I took this while lying on my back on some grass.

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L.A. here I come

I’ll be in Los Angeles for a long weekend. Hopefully, I’ll get some nice pictures in. While it wasn’t planned, my company will very likely be announcing layoffs while I am gone. I’m going to try hard not to let it affect my vacation. I’ll either be coming back to good news or very bad news.

This fabulous photo from mike_s_etc’s photostream.

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On the one hand this video is freaking hilarious. On the other hand it is absolutely infuriating that I live in a country like this.  Thank you Defamer:

I had the good fortune to mistakenly watch this show last night, so let me just describe for you two instances of drama and intrigue, accompanied by copious dramatic music and editing, that went down in this one episode, and which were broadcast out to the world, by choice, to illustrate the dramatic perils the Homeland Security department faces while keeping us safe:

  • A dude coming into America claimed to be an American. Turned out to be true.
  • Somebody attempted to bring a sandwich into the USA.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Television: Homeland Security Thwarts…“, posted with vodpod

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It’s kind of important.

Info on Mt. Rainier, here. This excellent photo is via Seattle rainscreens photostream.

Update: CNN article, here.

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Slumdog Millionaire kids

Last month, it was revealed that the child stars of “Slumdog Millionaire” were still living in “grinding poverty,” despite the enormous success of the film. The Daily Mail reports today Danny Boyle and Christian Colson, the director and producer, respectively of the Oscar-winning movie, are working with a Mumbai housing association to move the children into new “bricks and mortar flats” in the coming months. They will also hire a rickshaw driver to take the kids to school. “These children are special and have won laurels for the country and we want to felicitate them,” said Amarjeet Singh Manhas, chairman of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority.

I have to say I have mixed feelings about the above. I would never suggest helping these children is a bad thing. I just don’t think the film’s producers really understand the culture of the children they are now having a transformational impact on. And I’m not referring to Indian culture but specifically to the culture of the people who live on the streets in Mumbai. For them, every day is about survival. They don’t have the luxury of social niceties like extreme gratitude, and money to them is something other people throw around.

I remember being on a chicken bus in Guatemala and looking at this adorable cute kid sitting next to us. He had one thing in mind and that was to take our bag. I saw him eyeing it the whole trip. A young kid already working to bring money home to his family. In Thailand, my relatives thought that I was rich. And to them I probably was but they had no concept that I shouldn’t share all of the money I owned in the world with them and that doing so would be detrimental to me.

These kids are living a dream life. They have now come to America to see the convenience that they may not have on the streets of Mumbai. They are living like princes and princesses. But at some point, the Hollywood elite are going to lose interest in them. What then? What happens after that? They will have expectations for a life that they cannot possibly fulfill. And of course, this is not new to American culture. We see this all the time with child stars.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the DVD extras on the film Salaam Bombay include a documentary where the filmmakers revisit the street children who starred in the film. It is at times heartbreaking.

I’m glad to hear any comments on this, because I’m not really sure what I’m saying.

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Trivia for the day

I was trying out another trivia place last night (Lockspot Cafe Mondays at 8 o’clock) when I came across what I thought was a very good question. Enjoy.

Name all of the twelve Gods of Olympus (Greek names only). Answers after the jump.

(more…)

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When I read the hype about the cartoon, I assumed it was overblown. Then I saw it, and I couldn’t think of any meaning except to incite violence. That’s how I read it and I couldn’t fathom reading it in the way the cartoonist “intended.” I’m very glad to see Rupert Murdoch has now issued a real apology.

As the Chairman of the New York Post, I am ultimately responsible for what is printed in its pages. The buck stops with me.

Last week, we made a mistake. We ran a cartoon that offended many people. Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted.

Over the past couple of days, I have spoken to a number of people and I now better understand the hurt this cartoon has caused. At the same time, I have had conversations with Post editors about the situation and I can assure you — without a doubt — that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such.

It might behoove our crazy right Limbaugh fans to understand that most people don’t accidentally offend a distinct group of the population on a daily basis, and perhaps that if we did we might want to reflect on why that is. But then that’s assuming that any of this is an accident.

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The Salaam Bombay children

Salaam Bombay took the Cannes film festival by storm in 1988 and made director Mira Nair famous; however, I’ve noticed that when I mention this film and compare it to Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire most people have never heard of it.

The similarities in the films are startling. Salaam Bombay‘s main characters are Bombay’s street children. The hero of the story is also a chai boy. But India is an altogether different character in this film. It’s not the tech capital that it was  in last night’s Oscar winner.

As I watched the kid stars of Slumdog Millionaire go up on stage last night, I thought about the special features on the Salaam Bombay DVD. Usually director commentaries are a bore, but perhaps because Nair is a professor she has a way of giving out interesting information that you actually want to know about the film. There is also a commentary done by the cinematographer which I also enjoyed. But most importantly, there is a special documentary revisiting the children of the film.

The experiences are wildly different. The child who played the chai boy has not really gone on to make anything else despite his awards for Salaam Bombay. You get the idea that classism is rife in Bollywood and this award means little. The girl in the film is married though Nair expresses a wish that she did not marry. There is a backstory there clearly. And one of the street kids in the film was adopted by the cinematographer and now is also a cinamtographer in L.A. where he enjoys surfing. He seems just like any American and you wonder if he even remembers the hard life he led for those few years. What will become of the Slumdog Millionaire kids? If the Salaam Bombay children are any indication, it will be an uphill battle.

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Why “screw that?” Because sometimes you read something so ridiculous in a recipe that you have to curse.

One of the great things about making tarts these days is that you can create an absolutely beautiful specimen without putting a lot of effort into it. I give you the removable tart bottom. This little invention means that I can make tarts that look like the above. And I did exactly that last night. It’s a pear and almond tart. Very nice.

Nonetheless you’ll find the ridiculous instruction in recipes to “roll out” tart dough. These people are seriously f—ing masochists! Tart dough has a much higher ratio of butter to flour than pie dough, consequently it’s almost virtually impossible to roll out without achieving some sort of frustration. It cracks. It needs tons of flour otherwise it will stick to your rolling pin and your rolling surface. If you somehow manage to do this without problems when you lift up the dough to put it in the tart pan it falls apart.

And that’s when you realize the incomprehensible truth. It doesn’t matter. There’s so much butter in those dang things that you just press it together in the tart shell and it becomes one cohesive dough once again. So why bother? I mean seriously, why freaking bother? Instead of rolling, smoosh up your dough into the shape of a log then refrigerate for as long as the directions tell you. When its fully chilled, slice it into even discs. Press them into the tart shell and they will mold together as if they were one all along. So rolling tart dough? Screw that!

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In light of UBS’s decision to pass on data about secret Swiss bank accounts, I thought I’d post this excerpt from Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, a book about Antigua. I always think of this passage when I think of Switzerland. Cuckoo clocks be damned.

(These offshore banks are popular in the West Indies. Only tourism itself is more important. Every government wants to have these banks, which are modeled on the banks in Switzerland. I have a friend who just came back from Switzerland. What a wonderful time she had. She had never seen cleaner streets anywhere, or more wonderful people anywhere. She was in such a rhapsodic state about the Swiss, and the superior life they lead, that it was hard for me not to bring up how they must pay for this superior life they lead. For almost not a day goes by that I don’t hear about some dictator, some tyrant from somewhere in the world , who has robbed his country’s treasury, stolen the aid from foreign governments, and placed it in his own personal and secret Swiss bank account; not a day goes by that I don’t hear of some criminal kingpin, some investor, who has a secret Swiss bank account. But maybe there is no connection between the wonderful life that the Swiss lead and the ill-gotten money that is resting in Swiss bank vaults; maybe it’s just a coincidence. The Swiss are famous for their banking system and for making superior timepieces. Switzerland is a neutral country, money is a neutral commodity, and time is neutral, too, being neither here nor there, one thing or another.)

The cuckoo clock scene starts at 1:35 from The Third Man.

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A little late

It seems that now Republicans all of a sudden care about preserving white house emails.

A California Republican congressman has called on President Obama to put in place a system that ensures all White House emails be preserved even if official business was done through private e- mail accounts.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the senior Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, made the request in a February 18 letter to White House Counsel Greg Craig.

Issa specifically mentioned the new administration’s brief use of Gmail accounts after Obama was sworn in last month, as they waited for the official White House e-mail accounts to become active.

“As you know, any e-mail sent or received by White House officials may be subject to retention under the Presidential Records Act (PRA),” Issa wrote Craig in the letter.

“The use of personal e-mail accounts, such as Gmail to conduct official business raises the prospect that presidential records will not be captured by the White House e-mail archiving system. Consequently Gmail users on the President’s staff run the risk of incorrectly classifying their e-mails as non-records under the [Presidential Records] Act.”

This is the problem Republicans face today. Even when they bring up a perfectly reasonable idea, they have absolutely no credibility whatsoever in the matter. And it will be like this for a long time.

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It seems that every female tennis player is “disappointed” that Shahar Peer was refused entry into the United Arab Emirates because she is from Israel. Well cry me a river over that disappointment. I have to say I am utterly disappointed in the character of all of these women for their refusal to stand up for their own.

Venus Williams says her fellow players had no intention of boycotting the Dubai Championships after Israeli Shahar Peer was denied a visa.

“There are so many other people involved. Sponsors are important to us,” said Williams.

“We wouldn’t be here without sponsors. We can’t let sponsors down.

“Whatever we do, we need to do as a team – players, sponsors, tour and whoever – and not all break off in one direction. We are team players.”

I’m sorry but if you’re waiting for sponsors to do the right thing you’ll be waiting a long time. They only care about money. Here’s some more of that tragic disappointment.

Olympic champion Elena Dementieva was Peer’s opponent in Auckland when a group of about 20 peace activists staged a protest outside the venue.

“I feel very sorry for her,” said the Russian.

“I played her in Auckland and there was some kind of demonstration during the match.

“I just feel sad for her. She really cares about what’s going on between Israel and Palestine and it’s just a very tough situation.”

Speaking in Dubai, former world number one Ana Ivanovic of Serbia said: “It’s very unfortunate, I feel very sorry for her.

“Shahar is a friend of mine and I feel sorry she’s not here. It’s always a pity to mix politics and sport. But the WTA is looking into it.”

The WTA. Yes. I’m not going to hold my breath seeing as this very same thing happened last year and they did nothing.

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Impressive

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Germany, Britain, China, and India, Spain, South Korea.

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Time calls Slashdot overrated

I was interested to find Slashdot made Time’s list of the top 5 over-rated blogs:

Reading Slashdot these days is like visiting the IT guy at work. He’s infuriatingly smug and cares passionately about stuff you don’t care about, and views your lack of interest as further confirmation of his intellectual superiority. Enjoy.

Tell me about it. I’m sorry but those guys on Slashdot are assholes. I first became aware of this when I visited their site over a question on how to print extra wide web pages. A guy posted the question because he wanted to print some origami samples from a web page. I give you the stunningly ridiculous conversation:

Q. “I’m an origami folder, and I have some diagrams stored as web pages on a cd. I’d like to print them out (since folding in front of a computer monitor is not the easiest of tasks), but the web pages have all of the steps laid out horizontally. I’ve tried using Mozilla, Opera, Netscape, and even IE (on a windows platform), but I can’t seem to find a printing engine that can handle wide web pages. Am I missing something? Hasn’t anyone ever tried to print wide web pages before? What I’m asking is: Do you folks know of any utilities (or browsers) that I’ve missed that can handle printing wide web pages?”

A. Can’t you just set the paper orientation to Landscape and click Print? What is so hard about that?

A. This is pretty lame. A stupid question was asked and posted by an editor. Everyone (at this moment) giving…

A. …or are Ask Slashdot questions slowly degrading to crap?

Are you f—ing kidding me? Don’t you think the first thing the guy tried was printing to freaking landscape? That’s supposed to be tech advice?

This is actually a legitimate question and I ran into the same problem myself which is why I happened on the web page in the first place. I guess what I find hilarious is that the so-called experts A) don’t even get the question, B) don’t offer usable advice, C) clearly don’t know the answer and D) accuse the questioner of being an idiot so that they can save face. Some web pages just aren’t meant to be printed and a web browser can be a poor tool for that purpose.

And just in case anyone is intersted, my page was an organizational chart about 10 treeviews wide. The solution was to change to landscape, change the paper size, and adjust the % of normal size or select scale to fit. In my case, I also had to print to many pages because the font was way too small. I then taped the results together.

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No, not really. But not implausible.

Picture and the history of South Carolina’s flag is at Wikipedia.

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We often get this at trivia and it’s always confusing. Habitable building or tallest structure? I found this entry in Wikipedia both informative and complex.

While determining the world’s tallest structure has generally been straightforward, the definition of the world’s tallest building or the world’s tallest tower is less clear. The disputes generally centre on what should be counted as a building or a tower, and what is being measured.

In terms of absolute height, the tallest structure is currently the Burj Dubai, although it does not currently hold the official title of “Tallest Building in the World” until the building is officially opened. The current official holder of the “Tallest Building in the World” is held by Taipei 101. In addition, there are dozens of radio and television broadcasting towers which measure over 600 metres (about 2,000 feet) in height. There is, however, some debate about:

  • whether structures under construction should be included in the list
  • whether structures rising out of water should have their below-water height included.

For towers, there is debate over:

  • whether guy-wire-supported structures should be counted

For buildings, there is debate over:

  • whether communication towers with observation galleries should be considered habitable buildings.
  • whether only habitable height is considered.
  • whether roof-top antennas should be considered towards height of buildings; with particular interest in whether components that look like spires can be either classified as antennas or architectural detail.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the organization that determines the title of the “World’s Tallest Building,” recognizes a building only if at least fifty percent of its height is made up of floor plates containing habitable floor area.[1] Structures that do not meet this criterion, such as the CN Tower, are defined as “towers.”

More here.

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The United Arab Emirates has refused to grant a visa to a female Israeli tennis player, preventing her from competing in the Sony Ericsson World Tennis Association Tour in Dubai, the WTA said in a statement Sunday.

Shahar Peer would have been the first Israeli athlete to participate in a professional sporting event in the UAE, CNN Sports Correspondent Pedro Pinto said.

The governing body of women’s tennis said it was “deeply disappointed” that Peer was being denied entry to the country hosting the tournament, but it did not cancel the competition.

The move runs counter to WTA policy, which says no player should be barred from competing in a tournament for which she has qualified.

Dubai could lose its WTA membership next year over the ban on Shahar, according to the governing body’s rules.

That would mean professional players could compete only in exhibition matches, the results of which would not count in pro rankings.

Dubai is a pretty big tournament. I’d like to see UAE lose their standing over this. And how about having some athletes show their support their fellow players? Roger? Rafa? It seems to me if one of those guys chose to pull out of the tournament over this, it would actually have demonstrable affect. I might also add, that Peer is a high-calibre player that deserves better than this.

Update: Here’s some more information from CNN.

Scott, meanwhile, confirmed: “Following various consultations, the Tour has decided to allow the tournament to continue to be played this week, pending further review by the Tour’s Board of Directors.

“Ms. Peer and her family are obviously extremely upset and disappointed by the decision of the UAE and its impact on her personally and professionally, and the Tour is reviewing appropriate remedies for Ms. Peer.”

Scott said Peer’s visa refusal has precedence: Last year an Israeli men’s doubles team was denied entry to Dubai. He said the Emirate cited security reasons following recent unrest in the region.

“At that time I was in Dubai. I made it clear to the authorities, the representatives of the government, that next year when our top players wanted to play this very prestigious tournament all of them had to be allowed to play,” Scott said.

“They had a year to work on it and solve it. We’ve spent time through the year discussing it. We were given assurances that it had gone to the highest levels of government,” Scott said.

“I was optimistic they would solve it. And we’ve made crystal clear to the government, to the tournament organizers that there could be grave repercussions not just for tennis in the UAE but sports beyond that.”

Looks like UAE called the WTA’s bluff. Now it remains to be seen whether the tour will actually stand by their words.

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Has Lola seen this?

I was feeling so disco-ey after Hooked on Classics that I looked up disco on google. This was number three: Finnish guy teaches how to disco.

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Remember Hooked on Classics?

Get ready for some cheese.

From wikipedia.

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It’s always a surprise when I travel to see American fast food restaurants in places like France and Germany. Perhaps it is even more of a surprise to find them in Asia, a place with plenty of cheap food available that is superior in taste.

I love the Asian food bar. A place where you can get good food fast, cheap and you don’t have to worry about tipping. This article shows the Chinese are losing interest in American fast food.

Reporting from Shanghai — Down an alley from a KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut in Shanghai, Li Hong sat inside a dingy little storefront that serves full-course dinners for a dollar.

Her tray was filled with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, a chicken leg and rice, plus soup. A Western fast-food meal would have cost her three times that much, said the young woman, who works as a sales clerk. “Why should I go there?” she said.

In the U.S., fast-food chains often thrive in tough times. But not so in China, where Western quick-service food isn’t the cheapest stuff in town and, in target markets like Shanghai, there’s too much competition. Plus, a growing number of consumers see it as unhealthful.

“Western fast food is still not cheap enough,” said Yee Mei Chan, a group-account director at Millward Brown’s office in Beijing.

Photo via my flickr photostream. Taken in Japan.

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A friend once told me that if I wanted to brought down from my temporary high of Barack Obama’s election and what it said about America, to just look take a look at the Department of Homeland Security’s website. It did the trick.

This is perhaps an even more potent tonic. How can you defend a country full of people like this?

Darwin still making waves 200 years later

A century and a half later, the legacy of history’s most noted naturalist continues to make headlines.

After a contentious debate, the Texas Board of Education is set to vote in March on how evolution should be taught in the state’s public schools. Last week, actor-comedian Ben Stein backed out of giving a commencement speech at the University of Vermont because of student complaints about his views challenging the theory of evolution.

The most recent Gallup poll on the issue, conducted in May, found that only 14 percent of Americans believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. Forty-four percent believe that God created human beings almost overnight within the past 10,000 years, and another 36 percent believe that God guided humans’ evolution from animals over a much longer period of time.

“The problem is, there are a number of fundamental people on both the left and the right extremes,” said Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, which seeks to find common ground between scientists and the clergy.

Yeah, those extreme scientists. Who do they think they are explaining the world, finding cures for diseases and all. I sure wouldn’t want to be in a room with one of those crazies.

Evolution is only contentious because American fundamentalists make it so. There are plenty of religious countries around the world where you don’t see these statistics.

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How is that not welfare?

I’ve been trying to ignore this ridiculous story of one Nadya Suleman who has had 14 children through in vitro fertilization, but this exchange keeps gnawing at me:

In segments of the interview that ran on the TODAY show on Monday and Tuesday, Suleman had said that she does not get welfare despite the food stamps she gets or the government payments for three children with varying disabilities — a son who is autistic, another child with ADHD and a third who is developmentally delayed in learning to speak. She also said she is able to provide for her children.

Tuesday night on Dateline, Suleman said that she is also in debt.

“How much in debt do you have now?” Curry asked.

“Probably 50. Close to 50,” she said.

“Thousand dollars?” Curry responded.

Suleman nodded.

“How is that not like welfare?” Curry pressed on.

“Oh, no,” Suleman protested. “These are student loans. You consolidate the loans, you pay it back. We don’t pay back welfare.”

This is not that uncommon of a phenomenon. A middle class person bemoans the poor and the poor’s dependence on public funds when they themselves are also are living off the public. Does Suleman outright say that she doesn’t like the poor? No, but the mere fact that she is distancing herself from them despite accepting food stamps and public assistance tells a lot. What a pathological lack of self-reflection. We have seen this earlier this year in another “pop news” story, that of Joe-he-ain’t-a-plumber.

I get angry when I read things like this because the poor get a bad rap. The same people who call them lazy, deserving of their position and bloodsuckers are the ones who wouldn’t bat an eyelid about taking public assistance if they fell on hard times. Yet even in such cases, wouldn’t dare acknowledge the similarity of their predicaments. Others are undeserving, but we are different.

Lastly, Suleman is doing herself any favors by talking about how she will get out of her financial predicament through consolidating loans. As the mortgage crisis shows, willfully getting into enormous debt that you cannot repay is not good for you or the rest of the country.

Photo via Susan Campbell’s blog.

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Regarding the “personal triumphs” of Kate Winslet’s character in the Oscar nominated The Reader:

What, exactly, was the Kate Winslet character’s “personal triumph”? While in prison for participation in an act of mass murder that was particularly gruesome and personal, given the generally impersonal extermination process—as a death camp guard, she helped ensure 300 Jewish women locked in a burning church would die in the fire—she taught herself to read! What a heartwarming fable about the wonders of literacy and its ability to improve the life of an Auschwitz mass murderer!

I have to admit I’m a big fan of Ron Rosenbaum’s Slate columns — especially when the subtitle includes “The worst [fill in the blank] ever.” This is an engaging analysis about the Hollywood trend to make implausible happy-end Holocaus stories. I recommend it highly.

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What is it about animals in distress that tugs at our heart strings in a way human suffering often doesn’t? I suppose it’s because we believe animals are not at fault in their demise and they don’t have the resources that humans have to get out of their situation. While Australia burns, I find these images of koalas heartbreaking.

Koalas in Australia that are approaching humans out of desperation after suffering through four days of temperatures in the 100s (40C).

Via Americablog by way of ABC Adelaide.

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