Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them. - Laurence J. Peter

Friday, March 31, 2006

Paris Burning, Once Again

A lot of bloggers and pundits predict a collapse of France within the next few decades, arguing that French demographics (lots of old people and a low birth rate) are incompatible with France's socialist policies (35-hour work weeks, guaranteed government pensions and early retirement ages) and that the whole situation is made much worse by growing ethnic and religious tensions (caused by the huge unassimilated immigrant minority). I suspect schadenfreude plays a part in this prediction.

But Claire Berlinski at the Washington Post, writing about the latest riots in Paris, says that France is ruled by the mob, and mobs don't make very good governors.
The issue is fear of a real overhaul of France's economically stifling labor laws. While some of the suburban hoodlums have joined in these protests -- after all, a riot is a riot -- it is clear that unless this overhaul proceeds, the immigrants are doomed. If so, last year's violence will seem a lark compared with what is coming.

Remembering Fabrizio

Publius Pundit remembers Fabrizio Quattrochi. Fabrizio Quattrochi was kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq in 2004. They wanted to make another grisly propaganda movie out of his death, but at the moment of execution he struggled, shouting, "I will show you how an Italian dies!"

Ramit reviews Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki is a great book in my opinion. A friend recommended it to me, and I've gone on to recommend it to friends of mine, and I've given it as a gift.

Ramit doesn't feel quite the same way.

This book is like the kid you hated in high school, but he let you cheat off his test a couple of times so you kind of like him. I have grudging respect for this book, but every time someone raves about it, I usually just want to punch them in the face.

Update: reader Phil emails this review by real-estate investment author John Reed, exhaustively attacking Kiyosaki:
Rich Dad, Poor Dad contains much wrong advice, much bad advice, some dangerous advice, and virtually no good advice...Kiyosaki is a liar and a charlatan and a danger to his readers.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Google Calendar

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to Google, asking them to add calendar functionality to GMail.

You're welcome.

Progressive Training

Steve Pavlina, yet again, has a fantastic post on personal development. This is about how to improve any skill through progressive training.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Berlin Brain-Computer Interface

This is cool.

A computer controlled by the power of thought alone has been demonstrated at a major trade fair in Germany.
The machine makes it possible to type messages onto a computer screen by mentally controlling the movement of a cursor. A user must wear a cap containing electrodes that measure electrical activity inside the brain, known as an electroencephalogram (EEG) signal, and imagine moving their left or right arm in order to manoeuvre the cursor around.
Users can operate the device just 20 minutes after going through 150 cursor moves in their minds. This is because the device rapidly learns to recognise activity in the area of a person's motor cortex, the area of the brain associated with movement.

Khadafi on Iraq

"Saddam is still to be considered the legal president of Iraq because he was not overthrown by the people but by the occupation forces.
It is dangerous to send troops to eliminate heads of state who are not appreciated, because tomorrow it could be the turn of Castro, Kadhafi or Mugabe, or even China and North Korea." - CNN
So Khadafi says that he is just as legitimate a leader of Libya as Saddam is of Iraq? I agree.

Apostasy is a crime in Afghanistan

An Afghan man who converted to Christianity from Islam is to be executed unless he reconverts.

Update: The case has been dismissed. Dean Esmay has an optimistic view of the issue

Monday, March 20, 2006

Snorting coke

I always imagined that this blog would be my means of discussing such hefty subjects as philosophy, politics, technology and finance. But this video of a guy drinking a glass of coke through his nose just cracks me up.

I'm not proud of this.

Compliment the chef

Many times, I've had great meals at restaurants. I should have asked the waiter to pass my compliments to the chef. That would totally make the chef's day.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Parachuting dogs

For Iraq, a special flak jacket was developed for dogs used in dangerous situations. Costing about a thousand dollars each, the Kevlar protective vests protect the dogs from stab wounds, shell fragments and some bullets...There are also attachments on the vest to enable the dog to be dropped by parachute, or hauled up via a rope. - Strategy Page

Friday, March 17, 2006

Latigo Flint

I've never linked to the weblog of Latigo Flint, a shocking and unforgivable mistake. I'll rectify it as best I can by not only linking to Latigo Flint's weblog, but also to many of his works that I think enriched my life the most.

Orlando Bloom = Bad Wingman

Sam Elliot's Beer

Beginning To Suspect Something

A Good Way To Be A Hero

One Tough Customer

Latigo Flint's New Years Resolutions

Ever Maintain The Aura And Mystique

Another Good Way To Be A Hero


Fire Season

Girls Can't Resist

Illogical Tourniquet Placement

Natches Murphy

A Tough Way To Forget

Larson Silkhammer

World's Weariest

Salsa Bars and Unholy Wraiths

The Haunted Bassoon

Claw of the Otter--Silent Glory Beneath the Eddies of America

The Legend of Latigo Flint and a Mongoose Named Corduroy Junction

Inventing Parachutes

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ending tyranny in our world

Bush reiterates:
It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
See? He's not all bad.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why is the universe life-friendly?

A new book by James N. Gardner, BIOCOSM, offers a new theory as to why the universe is life-friendly (i.e. has physical constants and conditions that can and have given rise to life). He's written an article too, and here's my take on that.

Why is the universe life-friendly?

Probably the most common non-theistic answer is that there are lots of universes, maybe infinite universes, with varying physical laws and constants and numbers of dimensions, and so this universe just happened to be lucky in that it managed create Earth, where life could form.

One problem with this idea is that it violates the mediocrity principle.
The mediocrity principle, a mainstay of scientific theorizing since Copernicus, is a statistically based rule of thumb that, absent contrary evidence, a particular sample (Earth, for instance, or our particular universe) should be assumed to be a typical example of the ensemble of which it is a part.
How can we come up with an explanation for the life-friendliness of the universe that doesn't violate the mediocrity principle?

Suppose universes reproduce. To the best of my understanding, that's not so wild. Some scientists surmise that black holes spawn baby universes all the time. My brother's friend said he knew a black hole who had three universes while still in high school.

Suppose the physical properties of a parent universe are passed on to the baby universe, much like DNA is passed from parent to child in life reproduction. In that case, in any given group of universes, the kind of universes that reproduce most frequently will become more common than the infertile ones. What kind of universes reproduce the most? As I see it, there are two major factors that we know of (there are possibly a lot that we don't know of):
  • how long the universe survives (i.e. the amount of time it has to reproduce)
  • how often it reproduces
First, take how long the universe survives. There are a few ways for a universe to die: heat death, contraction, etc. (Dying, for a universe, might as well be defined as "not doing anything interesting, and certainly not reproducing"). If long-surviving universes are evolutionarily favored, we might expect to see lots of universes where the Big Bang's energy was just enough to avoid rapid collapse, but not so much as to blow everything so far apart that nothing interesting ever formed. And we do see lots of these universes, and by lots, I mean one. As Stephen Hawking said:
Why is the universe so close to the dividing line between collapsing again and expanding indefinitely? In order to be as close as we are now, the rate of expansion early on had to be chosen fantastically accurately.
The point is, this idea answers Hawking's question. The universe's rate of expansion is so fantastically tuned because it has been selected for over many generations of universes.

How often does a universe reproduce? As I understand it, there are two related theories as to how a universe reproduces. One is that black holes spawn baby universes. Another speculative idea is that extremely advanced, intelligent civilizations spawn baby universes, possibly with carefully designed black holes, which were built for experimental or recreational purposes, or some other purpose. And thus intelligent life is the means with which universes reproduce.

If universes reproduce with black holes, we might expect to see lots of black holes, because universes with black holes are selected for. And we know this universe does have some black holes, so that holds up. If universes reproduce with intelligent life, we might expect to see the conditions for intelligent life (which we do), and we might expect to see lots of intelligent life. We know of one form, and we're looking for more.

That's my ghetto take on Gardner's theory. You can read it in his words here.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Ten things about yourself that might surprise you

A month ago, Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You To Be Rich wrote an interesting post called Ten things about yourself that would surprise you.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bonus day

March 23, 1944: Nick Alkemade of the Royal Air Force...was a tail gunner in an AVRO Lancaster bomber. While returning from a bombing mission the aircraft was attacked by German Junkers JU-88. Alkemade was trapped in the turret after the bomber caught fire. His parachute was in the cabin area. Alkemade jumped from the aircraft, preferring a quick death to being burned.

He fell from 18,000 ft, all the while thinking of his ultimate death. He relaxed his body and fell in a slightly head down position.

His next recollection was looking up at the stars through some pine trees. He could not believe he was okay. He moved each arm and leg and soon realized he was not even hurt badly.

Completely grateful of being alive he smoked a cigarette, before even getting up. He thought about what had just happened to him.

He realized that the pine trees, with their pliable branches, slowly reduced his descent rate to one that was survivable. In addition, the soft snow cover reduced the landing forces even more.

He finally stood up. His leg was sprained and would not support his weight.

A short time later, the Germans captured Alkemade. The Gestapo did not believe his story of jumping without a parachute. They thought he was a spy. Finally, after inspecting the parachute harness and finding the burned parachute at the crash site they believe him.

Alkemade died on Jun. 22, 1987. - (from

Sunday, March 05, 2006


"At the age of 24 I began setting clear, written goals for each area of my life. I accomplished more in the following year than I had in the previous 24." - Brian Tracy (via NevBlog)