Thursday, May 31, 2012

Everest's Revenge

Mount Everest is a popular mountain to climb, largely because it's the tallest on Earth. It's not considered the most difficult- there are mountains in the Himalayas with higher death rates, with Annapurna rating highest- but because it's the tallest, it's the most popular. In recent years, it's been very popular. There have actually been traffic jams at the summit, as due to the weather, people have to make their attempts in similar timeframes, often having to wait for one group of climbers to get off the summit before they can take a turn.

This link, showing a photo from Outside Magazine and reprinted by the Daily Mail, shows just how bad it's been getting; the photo shows a line of 150 people, only a fraction of the 600 that were on the mountain at the time. It's as if you took everyone in line at a videogame console launch in Manhattan and plunked them on, well, Mount Everest. People seem to be getting the impression that climbing Everest is something that isn't incredibly difficult to do.

And they're starting to pay the price. Just because it's a popular mountain doesn't make it an easy mountain, and just because there are a lot of people around doesn't mean Mother Nature isn't just as ready to swat some of them off her throne. Which is precisely what happened to four climbers the day after the photo was taken, who got caught up in a windstorm and tumbled down the mountain.

The feeling among experts and locals is that people have simply lost respect for the task they're undertaking. The Guardian article linked above quotes one German climber that ultimately turned back, Ralf Dujmovits, encountering several people that never should have been on Everest in the first place, including an 80-kg (175-pound) French journalist who had burned through her oxygen supply before even having reached the hard parts, and one American climber who for some reason was hell-bent on dragging his bicycle to the summit.

The small timeframe during which one can feasibly summit, combined with the seeming ignorance and/or defiance of the death zone- the point above roughly 26,000 feet at which there isn't enough oxygen to sustain human life (Everest's summit is 3,000 feet higher than that)- means there's only so many people that can be up on the mountain at once. You bus climbers in by the barrelful, and odds are some of them aren't coming back down. Spend too long on Everest, and frostbite becomes a factor as well.

And now there's a new risk: global warming. Rising temperatures on Everest have made for unstable ice, which leads to lost grip, which leads to plummeting climbers. Switzerland's Eiger- its north face the most notoriously deadly climb in the Alps- requires low temperatures to be able to climb it, because the north face has too much loose rock to be climbable without ice freezing the rock in place. Everest may see the ice itself come loose, breaking away in big chunks and potentially slamming into an entire line of climbers there because they had to wait for the warmest weather available to make their attempt.

You're not outrunning that on a bicycle.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Random Widget Update

Just a note that the flag counter on the right side of the page has been dumped. In its place is a spiffy little globe from Revolver Maps. It has the effect of resetting the hit counter- the hit counter you see, anyway. I still have the full tally in the administrative functions, with stats in better detail. The flag counter was nice, but I never felt like it was doing enough to note exact locations, especially outside the US and Canada. I have that with the globe. I think it also highlights the recent hits, which helps me better see if a piece I've written on a specific region wound up drawing in any locals.

So... have fun with your new toy.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dispatches From Oiba Peivki

Thomas Stedman Whitwell was a British architect who lived from 1784-1840. His main claim to fame was laying out a planned community and going in with cotton mill owner Robert Owen on buying the land for what would become New Harmony, Indiana in 1825 (Owen gets top historical billing). His goal was the same as a lot of architects who let their heads get a little too big: the utopian community, infused with the peace-bringing power of perfectly-laid-out infrastructure.

A lot of cities have been laid out with aims like this, way too many to list. (Though Wikipedia will try.) A couple key names are Fairhope, Alabama, Ruskin, Florida and Zion, Illinois. Most are laid out with some sort of religious motive, and most are designed for small populations. Sometimes they work out, though 'utopia' always has this pesky way of eluding all involved. Sometimes they don't, and the community dies off, often due to the factor that any community wanting to be utopian really has to rely on: the townspeople in it. If they're not getting along, kiss your utopia goodbye. If they turn out to not like the master plan for the utopian community, they will start fighting that plan. That's what happened in New Harmony, which ended up only hanging on to its utopian drams until 1829, before becoming a regular old community.

Replacing money with "time money" will tend to do that.

Whitwell, though, had another idea cooking right alongside New Harmony: renaming every city in the world. You see, somewhere along the way, Whitwell decided that travelers were getting needlessly confused by the fact that a whole lot of places had the same name. Sure, it might make the Simpsons writers' lives easier, and it gives rock-ribbed Republicans the opportunity to potentially name everything in the world after Ronald Reagan, but come on. There's a Portland, Oregon AND a Portland, Maine! Who can tell them apart? And I can't even tell you how many people have gone on a trip to San Jose, California and wound up in Costa Rica.

Well, Whitwell was going to fix this problem. He was going to give every city in the world its own unique name.

Let's go over the basics of how this was supposed to work (the full rules couldn't be found, but we have the basics). You start with a city's latitude and longitude, measured in degrees and minutes. (Go on Google Earth and look at the coordinates of any point. Let's say a latitude reads 42° 17' 33" N. That reads 42 degrees, 17 minutes, 33 seconds.) Each of those individual numbers- the 4, the 2, the 1 and the 7- gets converted into a letter of the alphabet.

According to The New Harmony Communities by George Browning Lockwood (copyright 1902, free in e-book form!), the name construction works out roughly as follows:

*Every city name is two words.
*When converting latitude numbers, convert to a vowel when possible.
*When converting longitude numbers, convert to a consonant when possible.
* If the city is south of the Equator, insert an S somewhere into the first word. If the city is north of the Equator, leave the S out.
*If the city is west of the Prime Meridian, insert a V into the second word. If the city is east of the Prime Meridian, leave the V out.

The conversions are:
0 converts to A and B.
1 converts to E and D.
2 converts to I and F.
3 converts to O and K.
4 converts to U and L.
5 converts to Y and M.
6 converts to EE and N.
7 converts to EI and P.
8 converts to IE and R.
9 converts to OU and T.

The rest of the rules are apparently based on making the result something that can be uttered by human mouths. A few of the sample conversions given seem to allow some movement up or down on the conversion scale in order to get a more usable letter. Everyone that tells this story seems to love latching onto the conversion given for New York City, listed at 40 degrees, 43 minutes N and 73 degrees, 59 minutes W: Otke Notive. One location in New Harmony, the Feiba Peveli Institute, carries the name that this system gave it. Given the latitude and longitude for my local post office, Watertown, Wisconsin became, as best as I can tell, Oiba Peivki. Or at least it would have had Watertown not been founded two decades after Whitwell came up with this. Just from looking at the name, a traveler was supposed to be able to tell where the city was.

Remember, this was supposed to be a simpler, easier to understand way of doing things. At least in Whitwell's head. The fact that Feiba Peveli is the only use it's actually gotten is a testament to the fact that everyone else figured that it's actually simpler to just use the names that people have been using and go with it, and those that heard of it have just politely ignored the suggestion. (How many of you still call what is now the Willis Tower the 'Sears Tower'? I know I do.)

Besides, you've seen all those stories about people not being able to find their home state or other well-known places on a map. If they can't get that, how are they going to get latitude and longitude right, let alone translating latitude and longitude into what looks like some ambiguously foreign language?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Random News Generator- Wallis and Futuna

Oh, yes, this is how you come back from a week off. Why did I put these guys in the list in the first place?

First off, let's note where Wallis and Futuna is. Wallis and Futuna is a French territory in Polynesia, though it isn't part of French Polynesia or even anywhere particularly near it.

Here's a map of the South Pacific, linked due to size. Go north from New Zealand, find the yellow blotch. That's Fiji. Just north of that is Wallis and Futuna. Go east from there and find the big pink blotch. That's French Polynesia. The total population is about 15,000 as of 2009.

The whole idea behind the Random News Generator is to show that there's stuff going on in the world beyond the generally agreed-upon hotspots. The thing is, though, you do need at least one person in the area saying something about what's going on in town in order to find out these things so they can be spread around to others.

That appears to not be happening, or at least, not to the extent that it can be found online. News out of Wallis and Futuna seems to come at about the rate of one or two tidbits a month, such as the fact that they've elected Vetelino Nau to lead their national assembly, or that they supported Francois Hollande in the recent French presidential election, or the news in January that they couldn't attend the Pacific Arts Festival on the Solomon Islands due to lack of funds, or the comment from a politician in New Caledonia suggesting that they take Wallis and Futuna on as a province because, according to him, France barely cares. Going on Google News and typing 'Wallis and Futuna'- the usual method for finding RNG stories- merely returns a lot of unrelated stories where the name is simply a keyword placed in a long list of other geographic keywords meant to drive up the hit counter.

So on that, and with really nothing better to go on, here's a video on the area from last year celebrating their 50th anniversary of being a French territory.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The One Supposedly Easy Thing In Politics

There's a step in the American electoral process that comes before the primary. Maybe you've taken part in it, maybe you haven't, maybe you don't even know about it, but you can't just walk up and say 'I want to be on the ballot'. Before you can do so, you have to gather signatures from people who would support your bid for election or re-election. The number of signatures required is ridiculously low- a couple thousand people is all- and so while it's technically a barrier to entry, it's not really much of one if you're at all organized in the absolute slightest. Even candidates deep in enemy territory, even candidates who have ticked off their constituents and are about to be thrown out of office with torches and pitchforks, can at least turn up enough people to get them on the ballot so they can be slaughtered on schedule. The only way it ever knocks people out of the race are if they make a beyond-gigantic screwup, get more or less defrauded out of the race when opposition supporters tally the signatures, or if they're so minor and so unknown and so utterly unorganized that their "campaign" is incapable of even this most simple of tasks.

Thaddeus McCotter, a House Republican from Michigan since 2003 and therefore a person who has undertaken this task a minimum of five times prior, has somehow managed to prove incapable of this most simple of tasks. He could hand in 2,000 signatures- which he did- and at least 1,000 had to be ruled valid- which were not. As a result, McCotter now has to attempt to win his seat back via the write-in ballot, throwing the door open out of nowhere to a Tea Partier named Kerry Bentivolio- who now can sleepwalk to the Republican nomination- and two Democrats, William Roberts and Syed Taj, that did manage to get the signatures, as well as more prominent names who may now opt to take on McCotter via the write-in route as well.

The heck of it is, had McCotter just completed this one simple task, the rest of the campaign would have been easy sailing for him.

Now, this isn't entirely unprecedented for someone prominent to fail to get the signatures. In fact, we don't have to leave this election season. In the Republican Presidential primary, potential nominees made it look somehow difficult. Five different candidates failed to get the signatures required to make the ballot in Virginia, which has also seen a Senate hopeful, David McCormick, miss out. Three candidates made at least partial failures in Illinois. Rick Santorum failed to get on in DC and Indiana and made a partial miss in Ohio. Jon Huntsman Jr. failed in Arizona. Newt Gingrich failed in Missouri.

And then there's the third-party effort made by Americans Elect, which somehow managed to get on the ballot (in 29 states) and then failed to get a candidate to put on that ballot.

Usually it's not anywhere near this hard. But maybe it's best they fall off the ballot here. If they couldn't even get this right, how can you expect them to handle something as complicated as holding public office?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rapid-Fire Book Club: We're Back (A Dinosaur's Story) Edition

Show of hands: who actually watched that movie? Anyone other than me remember that that movie even existed?

Anyway, the book draft is done, with a final word count of 300,861 words. That's kind of a lot. That's six of those NaNoWriMo projects laid end-to-end, with the added burden of actually trying to write something good as opposed to just writing anything at all. Ultimately, 1,076 clubs made it into the draft, encompassing 219 national entities. The last club in was Albion Rovers of Scotland, notable for being the first club to employ Jock Stein, regarded as the greatest manager in Scottish history. Congratulations, Wee Rovers, you are Mr. Irrelevant.

There will, of course, be an editing job yet once I find out what needs editing. (I have my suspicions- in a piece of writing of that size, there's always going to be something that needs work- but luckily the nature of this particular piece of writing makes them pretty easy to do upkeep without tearing half the book apart.) And of course there's the tiny issue of trying to get the thing published. But the most major bit of writing is behind me, leaving me free to come back to the blog.

During that stretch run, I attended Wednesday's MLS contest between the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas (Chicago won 2-1). If you've never been to a soccer game, suffice to say that a soccer crowd of 11,947 can easily drown out a baseball crowd three times that size. Easily. On the way to the game, I stopped in at Powell's Bookstore on the campus of Illinois-Chicago, and grabbed two books for a total of ten bucks:

*Aaronovitch, David- Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History
*Harmon, Larry- The Man Behind The Nose: Assassins, Astronauts, Cannibals and Other Stupendous Tales (you know Larry Harmon better as Bozo The Clown)

Good to be back here.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Internal Programming Note

Lately, in an effort to concentrate on the book, I've had to do shorter pieces here, as I've noted. In addition, I've had to be able to get them posted more quickly, as every minute I'm blogging is a minute I'm not spending working on the book.

However, in doing so, what's been put out here has not been me at my best. It's been me trying to keep the blog active, really for the sake of keeping it active. I haven't wanted a situation where the blog appears to have been abandoned. And as more and more of my time has been allocated towards the book than towards here, there's been a dip in quality. If you've noticed, know that I've come to notice it as well lately. I apologize for that. And I need to take some sort of corrective action; if I'm trying to get into journalism as a career, material like what I've been putting out recently isn't helping.

The original plan has been that I would have the book draft done by the end of the 25th, this coming Friday, and that the 23rd-25th would be spent totally on research and completion of the draft. I'm going to amend that plan. I need to get my efforts focused on one project or the other, and as one has a time limit and the other does not, for the next week it should really be the book. So instead of a three-day hiatus, it's going to be a seven-day hiatus. Just take the week, make the final push on the book, and make it the best damn book I can possibly make out of it. Then when I come back, I'll be able to get back to business here and my normal, usually higher standards.

See you in a week.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fun With Dick

I am going to be intentionally vague. A couple months ago, a guy gave a TED talk. Because I don't wish to use his real name, we'll call him 'Dick'. The talk Dick gave was partisan, said nothing that hadn't already been said a million times before, didn't really say it all that well, and just really was not up to standards. TED didn't want to post it- they only post so many talks, opting to host a 'best of' selection on their website, and this was decidedly not 'best of'. Dick threw a hissy fit, went to the media and made a scandal and a half about it screeching about censorship. Yesterday, TED posted the talk just to get Dick to shut the fuck up.

I am not TED. So Dick goes straight down the memory hole. His talk will not be posted here, the topic will not be posted here, his real name will not be posted here. He's lucky he gets to be Dick and not, say, 'Skeezix'. And I think it's safe to say that TED will not be inviting Dick back. Believe me, I watched the thing. You're not missing anything.

It's just really unfortunate that something as nice as TED has been hijacked and dragged into just one more screechy political yakfest. I've seen some people say they liked TED... until this happened and now they've lost respect for TED. Not Dick, the jerk that was angry for not being told his speech was just the best thing ever when it clearly wasn't. TED's the one that somehow lost respect.

Just for those of you that have seen the talk, but not too many other TED talks, here's an example of the standards TED usually asks in order to get posted. This is Tali Sharot, talking about how our brains are hardwired to be optimistic. This is what a TED talk should be.

Now go away, Dick.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Attention Chicago Cubs Fans

Check out what the Ricketts family is spending your ticket money on: a race-based ad campaign against Obama, described as a plan to "do exactly what John McCain would not let us do".

I suggest finding a refugee team until they either stop or sell the Cubs. I'm shacking up with the Brewers until this is over. I'm not giving my money to a team that's going to use it on something this sick and revolting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Do You Have Money Tied Up In Greece?

If so, first off, what the hell is wrong with you. Second, if you do, you may not much longer whether you want to or not, as the banks there are starting to see a run. About $894 million was withdrawn from Greek banks on Monday. That's over 700 million euros. Compare with total deposits of about 165 billion. Which may still sound like a decent supply of money compared with the withdrawls, but remember that when a bank tells you their total deposits, they don't actually have that much money on hand, or even close to it. Remember that a lot of it gets loaned out and invested (or "invested"). The bank depends on having enough money actually on hand to be able to accommodate anyone who withdraws their money. If they can't do that, the bank collapses.

Greece appears to be on their way to self-fulfilling-prophecy themselves out of the euro: talking about the possibility of leaving the euro, mass withdrawls from already-beleaguered banks, and now talk about possible printing of the drachmas Greece got rid of so they could enter the euro.

By the way, it's ten days to go on the book draft, and there's a sprint to the finish line coming up so plan accordingly as far as content. (This post, for instance, would probably be about four paragraphs longer if I wasn't eager to get back to the book.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Underage Gymnasts To Work As Greeters

One name you might remember from the Beijing Olympics is Ai Weiwei. He's the guy who designed the main stadium, the Bird's Nest, then distanced himself from the Olympics because of China's human-rights abuses, then got an impromptu bonus lesson on China's human rights abuses firsthand.

I'd just like to take a second to let you know that he's reacquainted himself with Olympic host cities, because British surveillance cameras are a fair sight better than the Great Firewall of China. He has designed a pavilion at London's Serpentine Gallery, alongside two Swiss architects whom he worked with when designing the Bird's Nest, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

He had to work with them via Skype, because he's still stuck in Beijing under charges of... hang on, what did they charge him with again to punish him for not listening when China told him to stop telling the foreign media about the human-rights abuses? ...ah yes. "Tax evasion".

Monday, May 14, 2012

I Am Not Giving You Hints In The Post Title; Nice Try

I present to you today a seemingly simple task. Think back to the Dr. Seuss book 'Green Eggs And Ham'. I'm pretty sure you read it, or had it read to you, at some point; it's Seuss' best selling book. The book, just in case you weren't aware, was created using only 50 different words. Seuss and his publisher, Random House co-founder Bennett Cerf, had $50 riding on a bet that said Seuss couldn't do it.

Cerf never did pay up.

In any case, today, your seemingly simple task is to think back to Green Eggs And Ham, and name those 50 words within 5 minutes. And remember, you're all but gifted the first four.

Why only seemingly simple? I got only 37 of them.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Let Us Now Praise Total Assholes

People have been having rocks thrown at them by a total asshole. The 34-year-old asshole began his reign of terror by walking up to some tourists, with rocks in his hands, and began to screech at them. The tourists scattered before the asshole could throw the rocks.

Later on, the tourists ran into the asshole again, who was eating an apple. When they came too close, though, the asshole produced a rock and threw it at the tourists. No one was injured.

After that, the asshole proceeded to a hay bale, inside of which he hid more rocks. Anyone unfortunate enough to happen across him saw him produce a rock from the hay bale and had it thrown at them.

This behavior went on for months, because the asshole has nothing better to do than be an asshole for the sake of being an asshole.

Tragically, his assholish behavior is being praised by scientists. Because the asshole is a chimpanzee in Gavle, Sweden's Furuvik Zoo named Santino and the behavior is showing evidence of foresight, which they thought was strictly a human thing, as well as deception. A debate is underway as to whether he planned to be an asshole or if he just happened to have the opportunity to be an asshole when visitors showed up.

There may be experimental parameters set up in the future, so as to encourage Santino to continue to be an asshole for science.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Please Stop Predicting Mayan Doomsday Even Harder

You are hopefully aware that the world will not end this December, despite some people's best efforts. You are hopefully aware that the Mayan 'Long Count' calendar terminating on December 21 does not portend the end of the world.

According to an excavation of an ancient Mayan city, Xultan in Guatemala, that took place last year, now you can be aware that the Mayans didn't stop their calendar in 2012 at all; the calendar found stretches some 7,000 years into the future (though if that's 7,000 years counting from now or from when the calendar was made is unclear from the article). And if they were projecting anyone's end days, they weren't projecting ours. They were projecting their own- or trying desperately to project anything but their own. The calendar found dates to about 75 years before the collapse of Xultan, after the Mayan culture had already started falling. The whole point of a Long Count calendar, or any other cycle-based calendar, was to show that no matter what cataclysm befell a people, tomorrow will still start on schedule. The world will still go on.

That's what the Mayans were trying to tell themselves. Things will be okay. Remember that back then, following lunar cycles was a fact of day-to-day life. They based their economy around it; their crops around it. The National Geographic writeup describes it as their equivalent of the stock market. They were trying to find the point where the market bottomed out and started recovering.

For them, it bottomed out right around zero. For us, well... now you know why Greece has regressed to a barter economy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Random News Generator- Tonga

Nothing all that earth-shattering coming out of Tonga right now, though don't mistake that for nothing important happening. A French company, Alcatel-Lucent, has won a contract to lay undersea fiber optic cable from Fiji to Tonga. What this is going to do is connect Tonga to a larger network, the Southern Cross Cable, which links Australia to the United States. That is, amazingly, a connection Tonga does not yet have. Undersea cables litter the bottom of the ocean; in fact, some are now just sitting there rotting as newer cables are laid and the old ones decommissioned. But none of those cables connect Tonga; as noted by Lord Tu'ivakano, Tonga's Prime Minister and Minister for Information and Communication, until now, they've been relying on satellite connections.

In other words, after the estimated 14-month project is completed, Tonga is finally going to be formally connected to the same Internet as everyone else.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Recalculating Edition

Haven't added to the book club for a while, because of the little thing about me trying to write one and having to go through the soccer books I have on hand instead of reading anything new.

But I did find time to pick up one. I actually had to pick between two: Maphead: Charting The Wide, Weird World Of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings (who you'll recall as the guy who rattled off that beyond-insane Jeopardy winning streak), or Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest For Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs (who has three books on my shelf already in which he reads the encyclopedia front-to-back, lives for a year according to a literal interpretation of the Bible, and performs a mish-mash of other assorted experiments).

I went with Maphead. Drop Dead Healthy will probably be the book showing up in my house next.

After I'm done writing mine, that is.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

That Was Only Supposed To Be Made-Up Evil For Comic Effect, For God's Sake

China... hi. How you doing? So we've been arguing a little lately, because of our trade deficit and your relationship with North Korea and your recent military buildup and the status and treatment of dissident Chen Guangcheng and the occasional piece of tainted goods you send out, such as cabbage with formaldehyde on it.

We've had discussions over these things. We've been arguing a tad.

But you know what we really, really should not have to have a discussion about? This...

(AP) SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea has seized thousands of smuggled drug capsules filled with powdered flesh from dead babies, which some people believe can cure disease, officials said Monday.

The capsules were made in northeastern China from babies whose bodies were chopped into small pieces and dried on stoves before being turned into powder, the Korea Customs Service said.

The next paragraph in that article mentions that the customs officials don't want to say who the hell did this or where the dead baby flesh came from. Why won't they say? "Possible diplomatic friction with Beijing." Seriously. They're afraid you might be mad that someone has a problem with someone in your country chopping up dead babies and selling the flesh.

Fortunately, we have a Korean documentary team from the network SBS, who has already done the legwork and turned up a hospital that takes "mostly" abortions and stillborns- note the keyword "mostly"- and has a medicine company they're instructed to contact any time that happens. After that, choppy choppy. The documentary's set to air in South Korea on August 6; they've supplied a preview transcript here, albeit in Korean.

Seriously, China, what the hell? Besides the place the traffickers, the hospital workers in on this and especially the medical company are the going when they die.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Japanese Robot Update, Uncanny Valley Department

Would you like a bald, naked, vaguely human-shaped phone with its very own heartbeat?

Of course you wouldn't. But Japan has come up with one anyway.

Also it demands hugs.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bling Fu Panda

We've spoken here before on some of the dangers of being a lottery winner: primarily, a loss of perspective and an inability to handle the money. However, before you can handle the money, you first have to get the money from the lottery people. The lottery people are going to want you to do a photo-op where you're holding a gigantic check and shaking hands with lottery officials.

Unfortunately, that's one of the single worst things you can do if you're hoping to live comfortably afterwards. Every time a what-to-do-if-you-win-the-lottery article comes out, you're told up and down to keep the news as private as you possibly can, lest you be inundated afterwards with relatives you never knew you had, business start-ups that Just Need A Small Investment, and every parent within driving range who has a child who needs cancer treatment. You're told every time that when you add up all the amounts people are asking for, it's going to come out to more than you won, and even when the money runs out, they're still not going to stop showing up because, after all, you won the lottery. You're set for life, right?

The statistic that one out of every three lottery winners go broke or bankrupt within five years just does not compute.

And then, of course, there are the people just looking to straight-up steal the money. They see a name, they see a face, they know who to pursue, or alternatively, whose family to threaten. The name, you can't do all that much about unless the place you live allows you to accept the money anonymously. The face, though, is another matter. Lottery winners in China over the years have come up with an idea: to protect themselves, they show up to the photo-up in disguise.

So if you were about to ask, 'What sequence of events led a man to decide that accepting a lottery prize in a giant panda costume was a good idea?', there's your answer.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hatching Schemes

Do you remember Richard Hatch? The winner of the first season of Survivor? If you don't, the short version is that when he went on the show, he was a corporate trainer from Rhode Island, and that after he won the $1 million prize, he somehow failed to report his winnings to the IRS. His winnings that were announced on national television in what was not just a high-rated show but an American cultural event. After he was brought to trial for it, he attempted to go back and amend his old returns to reflect the winnings, only to find that you don't get to do that, or at least, you don't get to do that after they've already hauled you into court.

He served 51 months in federal prison. Which just proves that you can be an evil genius and still be really, really stupid.

Why do I bring him up? Well, first off, he's got this going:

Second, Hatch isn't being a very good spokesperson. First, when ordered to amend those old returns by a judge- the ones he tried to go back and amend after being brought to trial- he kind of didn't. The judge is still deciding whether to send him back to prison, but in any case, he's facing a 25% wage garnishment as a result. Hatch has asked that the garnishment be reduced to twenty-five US dollars for the month of January, claiming that since his release, he's earned only $500. The judge remains unamused.

Please note that this is a man who, in the All-Star edition of Survivor, smuggled matches onto the island in his ass, and is the reason why Survivor contestants are now strip-searched.

In conclusion, former corporate trainer.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kinshasa VICE

The winners of the 2012 Webby Awards were recently announced. Spoiler alert: I didn't win. Also I never bothered to nominate myself.
The full list of winners is viewable here, but let's skip to two categories in particular,  'Documentary- Individual Episode' and 'News and Politics- Individual Episode'. We linked to one of the Documentary nominees back in December, VICE'S report on bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, with Thomas Morton reporting.

That didn't win. VICE did, however, take the News and Politics trophy, for this report by Jason Mojica and photographer Tim Freccia, profiling life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In case it's not clear, if you don't know about VICE yet, they're putting out some amazing stuff. The tone is pretty much ''s hard news division', so expect that- there's a 'NSFW' section and everything (spend enough time at VICE and, let's face it, you will see naked boobies)- but if that's not an issue for you, you'll see some outstanding reports if you're willing to dig through the odd college-student-ranting-type article and gratuitous set of boobs to get to them.

For example, taking from recent reports, here's Paige Aarhus reporting on a Kenyan secessionist movement. Here's Sharif Elhelwa filing a report after noticing an Al-Qaeda flag (yes, they have a flag) flying over a courthouse in Benghazi, Libya. Here's Andy Capper reporting on the homeless situation in Barcelona. (Capper in particular is pretty much VICE in a nutshell. If you look through his most recent stuff, it includes the Barcelona report, as well as several pieces containing graphic material from violence in Nigeria and interviews with ex-Liberian warlord Joshua Blahyi, and then further down you have quite a few contributions to the NSFW section.)

But back to the Webbys. The story that did win the Documentary prize comes from the Guardian, called 'Abandon The Knife'. The story concerns Kenyan girls who are fighting back against the long-standing practice of female circumcision. As a reward for winning, it is presented below. It's 32 minutes, so spare some time.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Name The Country

In suspending a foreign company's licenses for several coal-mining projects, one country's chief financial official was quoted as saying, "People demand the government does everything possible not to let one country dominate (the economic balance)." This country is particularly keen on limiting Chinese investment, fearful of how much China might end up influencing the country if they got too much economic control over investment in the country; the worry here is that China will bring far lower prices for the coal than they could get elsewhere.

The country has been at odds with China before and knows acutely how far China will go to press the issue should things come to blows. However, that does not prevent the legislature and the voters from wanting to take measures to stand up to the much more powerful Chinese, even if some of those voters are mining for and selling gold to China on the black market.

What country am I talking about?