Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Greg Palast's "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy"

I almost didn't read this book because the cover contains a quote by Michael Moore (he describes the book as "Courageous reporting.") Although I think I'm quite left of centre politically, I cringed through a number of scenes in Fahrenheit 911, and wasn't too impressed with him after having watched Michael Moore Hates America. However, the book came well recommended, and not being one to judge a book by its cover, I started reading The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast.

The book's subtitle is "An investigative reporter exposes the truth about globalization, corporate cons, and high-finance fraudsters". Britain's Tribune Magazine called Palast "the most important investigative journalist of our time." On some level, I was reminded of books by Noam Chomsky (the New York Times said he "is arguably the most important intellectual alive today,") although Palast's writing style is much less dry and perhaps a little too familiar for some readers (he likes to emphasize by using such adjectives as "fucking".)

I recommend the book: even with its swearing, length (~350 pages), and occasional feeling of disorganization. I suppose it's sometimes difficult to nicely put together so many depressing facts about our political and economic leaders.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Icy street

We recently had icy rain in southern Ontario, and I'm very glad I didn't experience anything like this:

When I was in Spokane in winter a number of years ago, I remember wondering about the strange sounds that the car tires made. From what I remember, tires had to have chains put on them during the winter-time. Sounds like a great idea.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tupper's Self-Referential Formula

Thanks to the Minding The Planet blog, I just came across this incredible formula discovered/invented/pulled out of a hat by Jeff Tupper (who possibly works at the University of Toronto - I couldn't find much info on him.)

(Quick formula/graph lesson: Everyone remembers the formula for a parabola (y=x2), right? When plotted on graph paper, it resembles a smooth letter "v" extending upwards forever.)

So, why is the above formula (or inequality, to be exact) so amazing. Well, if you plot it on a very, very, very tall piece of graph paper, and look way-y-y up, you'll see this:

An image of the formula is found in the graph of the formula! (Wow!!) I'm a math geek so this kind of thing excites me.

Had these types of problems ("Roughly sketch the graph of this self-referential formula.") appeared in high school math class, I'm sure a lot of us would have done better.

I wonder if this could be applied to cryptography, ie. create a function which graphs a secret message somewhere in the x-y plane.

Formula images thanks to:
Weisstein, Eric W. "Tupper's Self-Referential Formula." From MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resource. http://mathworld.wolfram.com/TuppersSelf-ReferentialFormula.html

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Train Man

I've started watching Densha Otoko (Train man) with my wife again. This time, I've forced my parents to watch it with us. I think they're happy I did. This Japanese television mini-series is based on the (possibly) true story of a Tokyo Akihabara-area anime otaku who befriends a (I don't want to use the word "normal" but I will) normal, and much more socially comfortable, girl.

My wife and I fell in love with the show when we were living and teaching in Japan. I can't remember how we found out about it, but I'm very glad we did. At times it is almost too heart-warming, and that (besides its extreme unbelievability to some) may be its only flaw.

In Canada, it may only be available as a somewhat illegal download. Its movie form (which I haven't seen yet and which is pictured at left) is available in the West, as well as some manga comic books.

A recent Wired article talked about it, and I wholeheartedly recommend the show to anyone with a media player and a heart, regardless of size. I can be as cynical and cold as the next person, but this show never fails to bring a strange wetness to my ocular area.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Listening to Kandinsky

I don't know anything about art, but when I saw some Kandinsky prints a few years ago, I knew I liked them. Perhaps it had something to do with music. I recently discovered that Kandinsky claimed to be a synesthete.

Synesthetes are a bit like superheroes, in that they have special powers. Kandinsky could apparently hear certain aspects of his art (shapes, colours, etc.) He could also paint sounds, like "middle C" for example. That's pretty cool.

I certainly don't have this power, but tonight, as I was clicking through various Kandinsky images on the web, I heard a kind of buzzing in my head.

It could have been the sake (お酒) I was drinking, but I don't think so.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I received my first real phishing emails the other day. (I say "real" because they were apparently from one of the financial institutions I deal with.) Yahoo threw them into my bulk folder (yay Yahoo!), but I just had to look at them. The emails asked me to click on a link to update my account details.
The emails included my bank's logo and some text, all of which were in the form of an image, so if I happened to click anywhere, I would have been redirected to the fake web page. When I hovered over the image, I could see that it linked to a site whose URL started with the exact text of my bank's website. Had I quickly glanced at it, rather than closely examine it, I could have been fooled. The URL was in fact extremely long, finally ending in a different domain name. I reported the phishing emails to my bank and received some canned response. I'm not sure what, if anything, they can do.

The message: Be very careful when handling emails apparently from companies you deal with. Make sure links are valid. And don't ever give up your account information on request. Your safest bet is to read the email, close it, go to your bank's (or other company's) website as you normally would, log in, and see if you're asked to do anything. If not, ignore the email.

Happy surfing.

Oil painting

Inspired by my wife's new hobby (and prompted by her prodding) I started my first oil painting tonight. This is the first "coat" (I don't know the lingo yet) ;-)
Oil painting of flower
After adding some highlights, I'll post the final product.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Baby hatches

(This doesn't have to do with chicks or poultry.)

Discovery Channel News recently reported that a hospital in Rome accepts unwanted babies through a private (and comfortable) hatch in the wall. Apparently, this is a renewal of an age-old practice (the baby hatch was formerly called a foundling wheel) and is becoming more and more common, especially in Europe.

We've all heard horrible stories of newborn babies found in the most unpleasant of places. This offers desperate mothers a nicer option.

I couldn't find any mention of baby hatches in Canada, although a hospital in my former country of residence is looking into setting one up. Jikei Hospital in Kumamoto Prefecture will call their hatch a stork's cradle, and will no doubt be plastered in cute cartoony bird and baby drawings. (Don't get me wrong, I love manga in advertising. I'm tired of seeing real people in ads.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Guilty until proven innocent

I recently had a talk with a good friend of mine about the law and the familiar maxim "Innocent until proven guilty". We quickly came to the realization that the accused person should be granted the option of complete anonymity until such a time that he or she is proven guilty. This is not to say that the trial should be closed to the public. It should definitely be open to ensure that the judicial process is running fairly. An open system with a "hidden" defendant would probably be a difficult thing to set up, but it seems to be necessitated by the maxim.

If a verdict of innocent was found, the defendant could then decide to make the proceedings public or not. If a verdict of guilty was found, then the case could be made public by the court