Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Little Suspicious

The results from the Belarus elections have come in and they are curious to say the least. All 110 seats contested were won by pro-government candidates. This sort of massive victory is the sort of thing Saddam managed to pull off and Mugabe wishes he could have.

The president is saying the elections were free and fair, but the opposition naturally rejects the claim. International observers are still evaluating the situation before declaring their opinion of the matter.

It seems the era of tin pot little dictatorships still has a while to go.

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How did this happen?

Recently there's been a few reports of modern day pirates, but recently there's been a group who've managed to do rather well for themselves. Somali pirates have managed to board and take a cargo ship carrying among other things 33 72-T tanks that are reported to be bound for the Kenyan military, though some have suggested other final destinations.

Now, since I've never really been put in charge of anything like this, I can't say I know all the ins and outs of organizing the transport of 33 tanks, but I'd definitely make sure to arrange some security for the damn boat, especially if I knew it would be traveling through waters known to be prone to pirates.

Fortunately the pirates don't seem too interested in the tanks (not that surprising giving the price of gas and the notorious fuel inefficiency of tanks), but are just holding the crew for ransom.

This has not gone unnoticed by the international community. Both the US and Russia have a warship following the pirates, as does a third country not identified. It seems some people want to keep an eye on the tanks.

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Writing time: a little bit of time.
Time since last post: Error+++Divide by cucumber error+++Reboot Universe and try again+++
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One Tough Chick

I like to think that I have courage of my convictions, but I know that I am fortunate in that life has rarely tested me to any sort of extreme.

Malalai Kakar is the ideal I'd like to meet, but I know I fall short. She is a police officer in Afghanistan. She gets death threats delivered to her door, carries an AK-47 with her on the way to work, has gunfights with the Taliban, is raising six kids, and is an inspiration and leader for the small but growing group of female police in Afghanistan.

Malalai deserves recognition for her courage and dedication. She does a tough job in a place I'd be scared to visit, let alone live. The best word I can think of to use here is hero.

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Writing time: 22 minutes (I got a little distracted along the way)
Time since last post: two days
Current media: Robot Chicken

PS: I didn't think I'd ever link to an article by Marie Claire.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A wedding

Today I attended a wedding. This was the second wedding I've attended, the first being my Aunt's wedding way back in 88, about which I mainly remember that the reception was held at a vegetarian restaurant, and even at that age, I was not a fan of vegetarian food.

This wedding was of one of the Korean teachers from my school. About half a dozen of the foreign teachers went (all of us who'd been there for more than a two months). The ceremony was held in a big wedding complex. It was about four floors tall with halls on each floor and a timetable for each hall. The wedding was split into two parts. The first was a short ritual for the big crowd, which was followed by a private ceremony for just the family while the other guests went off to have a meal. The public ceremony was quite short, only about ten minutes, and then there was about half an hour of photos and videos. It was kind of a mix of Korean and western weddings. The hall seemed to have an anti camera field, as only a few of my photos turned out ok, and others had the same problem.

Photos of the event can be found here.

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Writing time: a little while
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Current media: Star Trek Voyager

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I can't wait for this to be finished

Japan makes a lot of crazy shit, and a lot of the time it's just crazy. But sometimes the crazy stuff is actually just crazy awesome. This is a case of the latter.

Japan are planning to hold a conference to organise building a space elevator. If just the name isn't cool enough, the actual idea is. A massive cable attached to a satellite up in space with an elevator system attached, allowing us to move stuff to and from space at a fraction of a price it takes to send up a rocket.

It's not a new idea. A Russian came up with the idea in 1895. Arthur C Clarke was writing about it as science fiction in 1979. We just happen to be living in the time when it may just be feasible. We truly live in remarkable times.

The space elevator is one of those ideas that will change the world once it is realised. The new possibilities it will open up are amazing, and those are just the ones we can think of. Just like the wheel, fire, the assembly line, the computer, and all those other inventions that completely reshape the world we live in (can you imagine a world without fire?), so too will the space elevator.

This obviously won't be finished tomorrow, but it's exciting to see people seriously looking at this as something to do, and not just a nice idea for stories.

The one down side to the whole thing is the consequences if it falls down. Not a pretty scenario. I should hope that doesn't come to pass.

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Any Fundamentalist is Bad

Today I read a story about a group of fundamentalists causing havoc in their city. People forcing women off buses because they weren't wearing sufficiently modest clothes. Preventing men and women from socializing, to the point where men and women walk on opposite sides of the street, self-proclaimed morality police who go so far as to prevent the sale of mp3 players, even assaulting women who had the audacity to divorce their husband.

The city in question is Jerusalem and the fundamentalists in question are Haredi Jews. I say this not to cast aspersions on Jews, but to point out that fundamentalists of all creeds tend towards the same means and ends. Violence and isolation aimed at preserving some idealized status quo.

Hopefully, such actions will be condemned as strongly as similar actions from those of other creeds have been, but I think further coverage will be minimal since Israel is on the nominal good side in the current scheme of things. This is a double standard which I don't foresee being dropped anytime soon.

Ideally it would be the forces of intolerance and fundamentalism would be the ones being put on notice regardless of which particular creed they followed. Unfortunately, that is not yet the world we live in.

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Writing time: n, where n is an integer greater than zero and measured in a yet to be specified unit
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Current media: Star Trek Voyager

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Extended Stay

Last week my boss asked me if I would extend my contract for two months for various recruitment related reasons that are a bit more convoluted than I particularly want to go into.

This caused me some serious thought as I was kind of looking forward to finishing my contract and going traveling. Some of my classes can be quite frustrating, while others I enjoy.

I was initially reluctant, having seen the hassles others have gone through to get a new visa.

One of the things that had me leaning towards renewing was my travel plans for after I finished, which had several rather cold countries at the start and traveling there during February is more appealing than doing so in December. Staying on will also give me a bit more money. Also, traveling alone for Christmas wasn't that appealing.

So now I'm going to work an extra two months and finish at the end of January. I think I'll stick around in Korea for a week or two after that to do some final sight seeing like the DMZ, and then take a ferry across to Russia and a long train ride to Moscow.

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Uganda Becomes Less Fun

Uganda's ethics and integrity minister has a new proposal to help his country cut down on traffic accidents. He's calling for a ban on miniskirts.

Apparently wearing a miniskirt is like walking around naked and Ugandan men are mentally weak and can't help looking at these women when they should concentrating on their driving.

Fortunately, this is just one of the evils the minister for ethics and integrity is dealing with.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: too long
Current media: The Hollowmen

Friday, September 12, 2008

I hope this doesn't set a precedent

The nation of Jordan has decided to get a little bit tricky when it comes to dealing with international critics of its state religion. Back in 2006 they amended their Justice Act to allow the prosecution of those who affect Jordanians by electronic means, even if those people aren't in Jordan themselves. Now, prosecutors are using this to go after people in other countries, by filing charges and getting warrants for these people, and the asking Interpol to extradite them to Jordan.

Fortunately, so far no one seems to be playing ball with Jordan, as the people they asked to be extradited are mostly from western democracies, who won't extradite someone for exercising their freedom of speech. But if any of those people go on holiday to the middle east, they might not be so lucky.

Another rather worrying aspect of this is that even though the amendment was made in 2006, they are going after people whose alleged crimes were in 2005. This is a rather worrisome retroactive application of a criminal law. Nullum crimen sine lege, nulla poena sine lege is a very old and very good legal maxim. No one should be punished for a crime if there was no law at the time the act was done.

This also raises again the rather complicated issue of who has jurisdiction over the internet. With this law Jordan is claiming that anything that can affect the people of Jordan electronically falls within its jurisdiction, which essentially means the whole of the internet is subject to their laws. This is all very good, but what does Jordan do if say Israel claims the same thing and starts prosecuting anti-Semites in Jordan (I'm reasonably sure there must be some who have internet access) and asking for their extradition. My prediction is Jordan would tell them to go to hell. The only sensible way to handle internet jurisdiction is that each country looks after those in its territory and leaves the rest of the world alone.

Were it otherwise anyone defamed by something on the internet could simply choose the country with the most advantageous defamation laws and bring their case there to their benefit. And can countries that guarantee freedom of speech keep that guarantee while allowing its citizens to be prosecuted by countries with strict restrictions on speech like China. Overlapping jurisdictions do not work.

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Writing time: 32 minutes
Time since last post: a few days
Current media: The Middleman

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Today at the start of one of my classes, one of the kids gave me a small box wrapped in black paper. This is not the first time something like this has happened, and as I usually do in this situation I thanked the student in Korean and put it aside to look at later. When I opened the box I found that it contained two pairs of socks. Certainly better than a kick in the pants.

Previous scores from students include some hankies from a student in Japan when the kids school was closing down, a box of tea from a student who recently went to China for a month (that's going to be shipped home to my mother and grandmother (I'm pretty sure my student won't find out)), various snacks and candy, and once an elaborate decorative egg bauble thingy, which again is something I doubt I'd ever get for myself, but in all of these cases it's more the sentiment of it than the actual item.

There's actually a teachers day over here, where students and parents used to give gifts to the teachers. It mainly applies to regular school teachers, but it does overflow a bit into the English academies. However, people went quite overboard in trying to get the teachers to give the most attention to their children (I've heard of cases of teachers getting new cars or huge amounts of cash) to the point where the Government has actually made teachers day a day off for school children, so they can't go to school and give their exorbitant gifts to their teachers (although why they can't give them a day later I don't quite get).

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Writing time: 12 minutes
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Current media: Still Star Trek Voyager

Well what do you know, the world's still here.

Despite various doom and gloomers, the Large Hadron Collider, also known as the LHC, at CERN was activated today, and did not destroy the Earth by creating a new big bang or creating a micro black hole that would suck in the whole of the Earth.

The LHC is a massive feat of engineering, and will certain let us explore new aspects of our universe which have not been seen before. I really don't get those who think that these things are unwise or dangerous, especially those who think suing over the matter is the best way to resolve the uncertainties.

Anyway, well done to all those at CERN for a job well done.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Euler or Broke

Two weekends ago via XKCD I found out about Project Euler. It's a series of maths/computer programming problems to be solved. It's proved an interesting project to while away my hours. I don't think I've played Civilization IV since I started on the problems.

I think though I've now reached the point where I've got most of the low lying fruit. The first problems were easy enough, but now they're taking a lot longer to solve. It also seems to be a test of the strengths of your language of choice. So far I've been using a Matlab clone. On one problem it wasn't giving me the right answer despite everything I did to refine my code. When I put the same algorithm into Mathematica, it gave me the correct answer right away. That really annoyed me. I'm not sure if I make a full switch, since that'll take a fair bit of learning to get up to the same speed on Mathematica as I'm at with Matlab, although it seems to make a few things a lot easier. One problem can be done in one line of Mathematica that took me about 60 lines in Matlab. Admittedly it was a rather crude algorithm but still, that's a big change, and it ran a lot quicker too.

There is no doubt though that I will not complete all the problems any time soon. Problem #202 seems well beyond me (take a look for yourself if you think I'm wussing out), and there are more, tougher problems on the way.

I have learnt a few things along the way, and it's been good to flex the old maths muscles again.

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Writing time: 19 minutes
Time since last post: Too long
Current media: The Colbert Report