Monday, January 24, 2005

The Surrealist Compliment Generator

May your shit always sport dog on the bottom of your shoe. Just for a bit of fun, or a much needed chuckle on a Monday morning. You'll have a different compliment every time you reload the page in your browser.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Where are the suckers?

Every day, and I mean every single day, I get one or two spam messages offering me a partnership from some unknown in Africa: help us transfer $30 million to your country and we'll give you 20% of the take. Of course, all you have to do is give them all your personal info, including the number of your bank account. Needless to say, you don't see the color of their money, and your own all of a sudden disappears.

I'd really like to know what kind of people believe that you get something from nothing, and why they believe that some strange person in Africa has heard of them. Yet the RCMP states that Canadians have lost over $30 million to these scams in the last ten years. The Nigerian scam, for instance, was the third largest industry in Nigeria. Worldwide it wracked up over $5 billion.

Why are these scams still working? Are the people who get taken in the same who believe they'll win the lotto or get all the coins from the slot machine if they put in enough? Or is it simply the still naive belief that people are fundamentally good (yeah, right)?

Regardless, I suspect I'll continue getting those spams. This time it's Zaire, not Nigeria, but you know what? It's the same damn difference.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Kindness, Beauty, and Truth

"I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves -- this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts -- possessions, outward success, luxury -- have always seemed to me contemptible."

These words were written by Albert Einstein, who ironically also said: "This topic brings me to that worst outcrop of herd life, the military system, which I abhor... This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism -- how passionately I hate them!"

You can read a larger portion of his essay here. Also read a fascinating essay, entitled Einstein's Third Paradise, by Gerald Holton (Mallinckrodt Research Professor of Physics and Research Professor of History of Science at Harvard University), a study of Einstein's journey as a scientist through the analysis of his spirituality. The essay is part of an exhibit on Einstein from the American Institute of Physics.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Need a Quote?

Just found a site on the web called Brainy Quote. There are other sites that provide something similar, such as Bartleby, but I like this one for several reasons:

  • The pages are not busy, easy to read
  • They're from authors and celebrities, from olden to modern times
  • It gives information on the person quoted, including a biography, from the Brainy Encyclopedia
  • It links to dates, from Brainy History, and countries, from Brainy Atlas
  • And here's a quote from Aldous Huxley:
    "Thought must be divided against itself before it can come to any knowledge of itself."

    Very cool site.

    Monday, January 17, 2005

    More on the Tsunami

    Scientific American has put together a series of links documenting the tragedy as well as articles on other earthquakes/tsunamis that help understand how unpredictable these occurrences can be.

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    Currently Reading...

    Okay, I admit it, the book scared me. Not because of the content, but because of its near 800 pages and the four-inch thickness of it. Quite an investment in my reading time -- would it be worth it?

    The story has captured me. Susanna Clarke has written this story has a scholarly tome, complete with footnotes, as if she were only relating, or dissecting, a piece of English history. Most of the basic facts (such as the war with Napoleon) are true. There's only one exception: the story is about English magic, the magic of Merlin and Faeries. She does it so well that you end up doubting your past knowledge of English history: Could the war against Napoleon have been won with the help of magic? Has this been a deeply held secret only now revealed?

    Clarke has developed her main characters so well that they are totally believable. We admire Mr. Norrell but don't like him. We despise Drainwright and Lascelles, but are amused by them. We hold our breath, wondering what Lar, the King of the Faeries, will be up to. Johnatan Strange fascinates and frustrates.

    Here is an excerpt from a review by Claire E. White, from the Internet Writing Journal:

    Written with a dry, very British sense of humor, the narrator delivers the history with an intimate, confiding, tongue in cheek tone which works very well indeed. One buys into the fictive dream and, after about 30 pages or so, historical fact and fiction have merged. In fact, Ms.Clarke's world is so vividly-imagined that it seems quite real. This impression is reinforced by the numerous, droll, detailed footnotes which assist those who have forgotten some of the more arcane or obscure magical historical tidbits.

    The book has been called Harry Potter for adults, and in the fact that it deals with magic and has a sly humor behind the prose, that is somewhat true. But Ms. Clarke's entertaining style and worldview call to mind more the work of Neil Gaiman and P.G. Wodehouse than of J.K. Rowling. Ms. Clarke's words are accompanied by the marvelous pen and ink drawings of Portia Rosenberg. Susannah Clarke has produced an immense book, both in sheer heft and in terms of literary value. It is an extraordinary achievement.

    I could not agree more.

    Thursday, January 13, 2005

    The Happy Freaking Ray of Goddamn Sunshine

    Just found this blog and it put a smile on my face: The Happy Freaking Ray of Goddamn Sunshine

    Dan Wheeler has a style all to his own; he takes the mundane and makes you laugh about it. Well worth the visit.

    Thursday, January 06, 2005

    Tsunami blogs

    The CBC website has collected blogs and other personal sites that talk about the tsunami or give updates of what's going on through the collection of news articles.

    Livejournal has a pretty impressive mpg representation of how the tsunami spread.

    Wizbang! has photos and videos of the tsunami.

    Wednesday, January 05, 2005

    Devastation

    If you still haven't any idea of the devastation created by the tsunami in Banda Aceh, these two pictures will make the point.
    Here is what Encarta gives as information on the mosque:

    The black domes of the Grand Baiturrachman Mosque rise above Banda Aceh, the capital of the special Indonesian region of Aceh. The mosque was built in the late 19th century and expanded in the mid-20th century. Aceh has a total population of 4,213,400 (2000 estimate), with most people living in rural areas.
    (© 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation)

    The mosque is still standing, but there is nothing left of the city. Nothing.

    Some villages along the coast have disappeared so completely, it's impossible to know how many people have died. Over 500,000 people in Aceh alone will have to live in camps until they can rebuild their lives. All they can do now is mourn their dead and their vanished.

    If you haven't already helped, do so. Now.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/asia_earthquake/helping.html

    Tuesday, January 04, 2005

    Want a bigger brain?

    Learn a second language. Researchers in England found that people who learn a second language early had denser grey matter than those who spoke only one language.

    "The scans revealed the density of the grey matter in the left inferior parietal cortex of the brain was greater in bilinguals than in those without a second language.

    The effect was particularly noticeable in the "early" bilinguals, the findings published in the journal Nature revealed."

    The research also concludes that older learners will have more difficulty in learning a second language (that light brain again).

    There are other reasons to learn a second (or a third) language. It gives you an insight on how other people think, what they feel, how they look at life. It's hard to hate someone once you understand them. Charlemagne once said: "To know another language is to have a second soul."

    2005 has been designated as the Year of Languages in the US. Ironically, when you read the contents of the website, they're talking about people learning English as a language:

    "Educators across the country recognize that there has never been a better time to focus public attention on the personal, professional and cultural benefits of gaining proficiency in English as well as other languages.

    I'm not sure if this is an indication of the numbers of immigrants to the US who are not learning English, or of the decline of the Americans' proficiency in their own language.

    Nervertheless, learning a new language is an exciting, challenging endeavour. I recommend it to anyone who wants to exercise their brain.