Monday, April 30, 2012

Top Of The Table

If you're an international reader, right now Manchester City/Manchester United is what you're looking at right now and I could post anything I wanted without you noticing.

But just in case, here's a halftime distraction. Name the 100 largest cities in the world in 15 minutes (by lucky happenstance, the exact length of halftime).

One little thing, though: it's the 100 largest as of the year 1950. (I'll give you a free one: Manchester's on the list. I got 76 overall.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Get Off Its Lake Lawn

You probably remember the taxonomy chart from science class (whether or not you can recite it): kingdom, order, phylum, etc. You probably don't remember the tree of life, though, also known as the phylogenetic tree. That's a chart created to try and piece together how species evolved into other species, like a large-scale family tree.

Well, scientists in Norway think they've found something that is further towards the roots of that tree than just about anything else. 20 years ago, a tiny little microorganism was found in a tiny little lake about 30 kilometers south of Oslo. The University of Oslo has been trying to figure out what it is ever since, and they've just concluded that that microorganism is, in fact, mankind's oldest relative. They're giving it a new genus on the taxonomy chart, Collodictyon, and note that of everything that they cross-referenced the organism with over 20 years of searching, they only got a single partial match with something in Tibet. The organism itself hasn't been found anywhere outside that one lake.

The second link in that last paragraph, which goes to Science Daily, will be able to give you the nitty-gritty on what the Collodictyon is made of and all its various parts, as well as its daily life, which basically consists of living in the muck, waiting for some algae to float by, popping up, eating it, and then sinking back into the muck to munch. When they run out of algae, they start eating each other.

I'll leave to you the inevitable humanity's-oldest-relative jokes about who or what else that description might fit.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


You see that little note under 'About Me', where I say I make absolutely zero promises as to what knowledge exactly I intend to impart on any given day?

You'd do well to listen to it sometimes. Today is science-experiment day, and you're going to learn how bowling balls float. As long as they're 12 pounds or less, though. (How many times have we gone to the Steve Spangler well? It's got to have been at least a couple times by now.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cleanup, Aisle Apollo 11

Did you watch the movie Wall-E? If so, you might remember the part where Wall-E leaves Earth and goes up to the space colony where the main part of the movie takes place. The rocket he's on, as it's leaving Earth's atmosphere, plows through a thick layer of space junk, almost so dense as to block out the sun.

That scene is there for a reason: more stuff is being launched into orbit every day, all of it at risk of slamming into each other (and thereby creating more pieces of space junk), and much of it does. And the hell of it is, nobody's ever been able to really figure out how to get it down once they're done using it before its orbit decays and it comes down on its own, possibly on someone's head. (Second pop culture reference: Dead Like Me, the events of which were kicked off when the main character was killed by a plummeting space station toilet seat.) The longer it takes us to figure out, the more stuff goes up, and the bigger risk there is that something crashes into something else, possibly something important.

For example, the International Space Station, which had to dodge a piece of junk last month.

It doesn't take much to cause havoc, given the speeds at which things typically orbit. Anything can wreak havoc if it's going fast enough. Throw a bullet at someone and they'd just be annoyed and tell you to stop it, because it's just a tiny little piece of metal, but shoot it at them and we all know what happens.

The speed of a bullet as it leaves an AK-47 (aka muzzle velocity) is 2,340 feet per second. That's 1,595.45 MPH. This article about a space junk alert from last November is talking about speeds of 17,000 MPH. Get the idea?

Currently, the closest thing anyone can come up with to an actual cleaning job is to either make a given object's orbit decay and take one's chances on where it crashes, or to have a 'graveyard orbit' far above the regular orbit in which the stuff we're actually using lies. At the end of a satellite's life, the last of its fuel is used to boost it up high out of the way of everything else. But that's not really a clean; that's just sweeping the problem under the rug. So we're in that weird 'proof of concept' part of the innovative process when you get a whole bunch of off-the-wall ideas.

You know that part. It's this part.

Eventually it's got to get done, though- it's imperative that we find a way to get that space junk down- so that in mind, Treehugger has compiled nine concepts being kicked around at the moment.

It's not exactly getting to Mars, but you can't get anywhere if there's a traffic jam.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Random News Generator- Cook Islands

You'd think the Cook Islands would be one of those places that gives me nothing and where I'd just rant about the RNG hating me.

The Independent, however, proves you wrong, as currently, there is a legal battle going on in the United Kingdom concerning ancestral land rights. Back in 1898, when the British were colonizing the islands, there was something of a power-sharing agreement going on in the local land rights court, with the British hoping to grab as much as they could from the "lazy" natives but fearful of what might happen if they actually tried to grab it outright. So when the British judge ordered the transfer in 1903 of one 53-acre plot to settlers, he included a clause reverting it back to the natives after the death of the settler.

Somewhere along the line, someone crossed out that clause.

It is now 2012, and the descendants of all involved are trying to sort out the mess created by that someone. As you might expect, the descendants of the natives are arguing for the version that enforces the crossed-out reversion clause, while the descendants of the settlers are arguing for the version where 'crossed out' means 'not in force'. The case in question technically involves only June Baudinet (on the side of the settlers) and Ellena Tavioni and the Macquarie family (on the side of the natives), but other similar claims around the island could be influenced by the precedent set here, so the rest of the island is watching with interest.

So no, the British Empire hasn't quite had the sun set on it yet.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

China To Reportedly Stop Repatriating North Korean Refugees

Just breaking... a week ago, actually, but breaking on my news feed anyway. I just came across this article from Shanghaiist, a link in a reporting trail leading back to Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun. According to the report, China has ended, or at least suspended, their longstanding practice of sending North Korean defectors passing through China back to North Korea. One quoted Chinese official, lacking name or location, holds that this is at least partly a response to being kept out of the loop on North Korea's failed missile test earlier this month.

Whatever the reason, though, this is huge. China is, after exiting North Korea itself, the biggest obstacle between defectors and freedom in South Korea or the West. Being sent back to North Korea means certain torture and possible execution. According to the Chinese official in Liaonang province quoted by the Shimbun- a province bordering North Korea- "If refugees are sent back, that's the end of their lives. We can't ignore it." The threat of being caught by China is a big stumbling block in the logistics of escaping North Korea. If the threat of repatriation is gone, that is certain to increase the flow of refugees not only leaving North Korea, but making it to South Korea as well.

Now, China does have a way of saying one thing and doing another. Hopefully, this is not one of those times. However, earlier this month, in the time leading up to the launch, China allowed five defectors who had been trapped in the South Korean embassy in Beijing since 2009 to proceed to Seoul.

The reported change in tone comes too late for the 31 refugees who had been repatriated in March, despite a global campaign for their release. But hopefully, those 31 are the last 31.

Today's Advice Apparently Someone Needs

Do not attempt to get out of a probation hearing by having someone stab you. Your body does not enjoy having hard, sharp, pointy objects going into places where there has been no provided orifice, and it is likely to make this fact known to you through making you scream in pain. Also, odds are you're not going to get out of the hearing, and when the judge finds out, he is likely to be dumbstruck by your breathtaking escapade. This means that, in addition to jail, odds are you will also need some level of medical attention, at which point you will get treated on by a doctor who knows going in that you convinced someone to give you stab wounds to get out of a probation hearing.

There is also, of course, the small risk of your accomplice not being able to stab to wound as opposed to stabbing to kill. If one is not an experienced stabber, this can easily happen, at which point the police may have some fairly difficult questions for your accomplice.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is Your Computer About To Break On July 9?

The FBI's not entirely sure. But they do know that some time ago, some hackers from Estonia ran a malware virus and infected somewhere north of 570,000 computers worldwide. Long story short, they'd make it so that when you tried to go to certain websites, you'd be routed through theirs, and the page hits would make them money. The thing is, once the hackers' servers shut down, your computer's access to the Internet shuts down too.

The FBI got those guys in November and shut down the servers. However, to keep people online, they put up something of a safety-net server to give themselves enough time to get a fix set up and to get the word out to everyone who's been infected to employ that fix. They were going to shut down those safety-net servers on March 8, but evidently, too many computers were still infected for it to be safe to do so, so the date's been pushed back to July 9.

The problem is best fixed online. So you really, really, REALLY want to make sure you're clean before that date.

The first thing you need to do is see if you're infected or not. Go here to find out. If not, great. Go ahead and go about your business (though noting that this may come up again in the future). If you are infected, the FBI suggests you either go here and find instructions to remove it, or alternately, call a guy and have him help you figure out what the heck you're doing.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who's Winning At Life

So the Olympics are less than 100 days away. If you don't know how much I like that fact, you clearly were not around way back at this blog's earliest days, when I ran Olympic articles for the entire duration of the Games. (That probably will not happen this time. Probably. Though I make no promises.)

But that's sports. A huge source of national pride, but... sports. They don't give medals out for the things countries try to strive for on a day-to-day basis. Today we'll see what we can do about that. We're going to take some statistical categories, and list what are the top three countries in each. Pretty simple.

LIFE EXPECTANCY (according to the 2011 CIA World Factbook)
Gold: Monaco
Silver: Macau
Bronze: San Marino

GLOBAL PEACE INDEX (according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, 2011)
Gold: Iceland
Silver: New Zealand
Bronze: Japan

MOST UN PEACEKEEPING TROOPS (2010) (not quite as noble as the other categories, but felt like tossing it in)
Gold: Bangladesh
Silver: Pakistan
Bronze: India

CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX (according to Transparency International, 2011)
Gold: New Zealand
Joint silver: Denmark
Joint silver: Finland

INCOME EQUALITY (according to the CIA's Gini Index; low numbers are better)
Gold: Sweden
Silver: Montenegro
Bronze: Hungary

EMPLOYMENT RATE (according to OCED, 2010)
Gold: Switzerland
Silver: Iceland
Bronze: Norway

GENDER EQUALITY (according to Global Gender Gap Report, World Economic Forum, 2011) (PDF)
Gold: Iceland
Silver: Norway
Bronze: Finland

Gold: Norway
Silver: Australia
Bronze: Netherlands

GLOBAL COMPETITIVENESS INDEX (according to World Economic Forum, 2011-12)
Gold: Switzerland
Silver: Singapore
Bronze: Sweden

BIOLOGICAL FOOTPRINT (according to Global Footprint Network; the statistic used here is 'ecological remainder', which measures how well countries live within their nation's ecological means)
Gold: Guyana
Silver: Gabon
Bronze: Bolivia

Gold: Italy
Silver: Spain
Bronze: China

ACCOUNT BALANCE (according to CIA World Factbook, 2011)
Gold: China
Silver: Saudi Arabia
Bronze: Germany

NATIONAL STABILITY (according to Failed States Index, 2011)
Gold: Finland
Silver: Norway
Bronze: Sweden

Of course, plenty of nations have gotten a gold medal in something or other, as this map indicates. Just, not always good things.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cloud Yells At Old Man

In what has been called a proof-of-concept, a team of researchers out of Princeton and Purdue Universities have created a firewall device for medical devices, which they've dubbed MedMon, for 'medical monitoring'.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, technology has advanced to the point where pacemakers need to have firewalls. Last year, at the Black Hat Security Conference, one Jay Radcliffe demonstrated how it's possible to hack a continuous glucose meter, as well as an insulin pump. (Radcliffe, it will not surprise you to learn, is a diabetic.) The glucose meter had no way of knowing where its data was coming from (after all, this isn't a thing the manufacturers were even thinking about when they produced it), which meant Radcliffe could screw with its readings remotely. The insulin pump, thanks to a malicious script, could be remotely shut off.

There is an entire paper on this from 2010, 'Killed by Code: Software Transparency in Implantable Medical Devices'. You can see it here.

MedMon is designed to detect these outside signals, and if it finds anything malicious, it puts out a jamming signal to block it and protect the wearer.

You might think that this is all a little over the top. After all, has anyone actually killed anyone like this? Almost certainly not. But does that mean someone won't try it in the future? After all, now people know it can be done. Proof of concept is about doing something; proving it can be done. Everything after that is just finding easier ways to do it.

Ask yourself this: how many people in the world have medical implants? How many people of significant importance have them? And how many people want those people dead?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Internal Programming Note

So let's catch you up as to where I am on the soccer book. It's been playing a sizable part in the fact that posts have been shorter than normal lately, and it's likely to continue to be that way for the next month.

As of now, the book sits at 275,689 words. That's kind of a lot. It's longer than any of the Harry Potter books, for instance. (The longest Harry Potter book, Order of the Phoenix, came in at 257,045.) But then, the book that has since its publication been quickly considered to be the Bible of the sport, 'The Ball Is Round' by David Goldblatt, comes in at one hell of a lot more than that. (The exact word count is unavailable, probably because math ran out of numbers. Suffice to say it comes in at a gigantic 907 pages, not counting bibliography, acknowledgements and index.) The club count stands at 1,022.

I estimate I'll be ready to start trying to get this thing sold on May 25th. I'll be going to a game, Chicago Fire vs. FC Dallas, on May 23rd. The next two days, I've set aside for final spit-shining. By the end of that period- May 25th- I'm planning to call it. Over those three days, the blog will sit dormant.

In at least one sense, the end can't come a moment too soon. I'm hitting some serious roadblocks trying to find new teams to talk about at this point; it does the book no good to talk about boring clubs who are just going to sit there eating up pages without contributing anything. They can't all get in. It doesn't help that I've managed to exhaust most of the sources I've gone through over the course of writing the book.

Me: 'So tell me a little bit about Inter Milan.'
Source: 'Oh, absolutely. Yakyakyakyakyakyakyak.'
Me: 'Okay, now tell me a little bit about Alianza Lima.'
Source: ' okay, let me see what I've got on them... okay, I got something for you.'
Me: 'All right, now tell me a little bit about Goyang Kookmin Bank of South Korea.'
Source: ' shot who in the what now?'
Me: 'All right, fine, what about Nikao Sokattack of the Cook Islands?'
Source: 'Okay, seriously, fuck you.'

So that's about where we sit right now. (The last club to actually get in was O'Higgins of Chile.) It is good in a way that I'm going this deep- I mean, we're at the point where if I don't cover these clubs, who will- but it's exhausting as hell.

Just to keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baby Factory: Made In Honduras Edition

I didn't think I'd actually be making another post with that title. I really, really hoped I wouldn't be making another post with that title.

Honduras has dashed my hopes and dreams.

Because after their supreme court banning the sale and use of emergency contraception in any form, the legislature is now poised to pass a law enforcing it, banning the morning-after pill and permitting prison sentences of up to six years for not only the women who take it, but also the doctors who prescribe it. They had previously banned the pill in 2009, and when appealed to the supreme court, the court ruled that the morning-after pill is equivalent to an abortion, which is illegal in Honduras under any circumstances. The legislature, emboldened, is now looking to strengthen the ban.

The websites getting to this before I did tend to remind their readers that Honduras has a huge prison overcrowding problem. Honduras Weekly, going a step further, has declared the country the "Prison Fire Capital Of The World".

That's what taking the morning-after pill would get you if this passes.

Also making the rounds is an online petition urging president Juan Orlando Hernandez to veto the legislation. As of this posting, it sits at 642,182 signatures. I know online petitions don't always do much, but it's worth a shot.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I Now Own 'Words On Computers'

Seeing as Fark is one of my regular haunts, it is very relevant to my interests when founder Drew Curtis gives a TED talk.

And when I see a TED talk that is relevant to my interests, odds are I am about to make it relevant to your interests as well.

So here is Drew Curtis, relevant to your interests, talking about patent trolls.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Here's The Item Up For Bids

Gonna pour time into the book today, so you get a quiz.

The Olympics are a couple months away, so on that, name all the cities that have bid for the Olympics, winter or summer, since 1896; or at least, all the cities that made it to the vote. Because what fun would it be to just do the cities that won? You have nine minutes.

(My score: 57 out of 86. That includes missing six cities that did in fact host the Games. I missed a couple cities I really should have gotten.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shutting Down The Baby Factory

The recent flood of legislation and proposed legislation rolling back the rights of women coming from the Republicans- dubbed the 'War on Women'- is pretty well-documented by this point. Typically when something is as well-covered as that, we steer clear of it here.

But as bad and as threatening as it is in America, there's something in Nigeria far, far worse. Earlier this month, officials raided an illegal orphanage that has been dubbed a 'baby factory', where women were made to give birth to children that were then immediately taken away with the aim of selling them. Seven women between the ages of 18 and 20 were rescued by authorities, one of which said she had been lured in hoping to be able to get an abortion, but was offered money to stay and have the child. The article notes that this is not a unique occurrence in Nigeria, noting two other baby factories broken up in the past year.

Setting aside the sheer horror of their mere existence, the end result is something Nigeria can ill afford. Overpopulation has reached such extreme levels in not only Nigeria but the rest of sub-Saharan Africa that some households see as many as 50 people sharing one toilet, one kitchen and one sink, households known as 'Face Me, Face You'. Tanzania, Malawi and Rwanda, among other sub-Saharan nations, are considering legislation increasing abortion rights if for no other reason than to bring the birth rate down and ease the pressure on scarce resources. (Not to mention that some women are just getting abortions one way or another whether it's legal or not, often dying in the process because the abortion they did get was conducted unsafely.)

In order to do that, though, they must also change attitudes concerning family planning. Part of it is due to the simple fact that many of the children don't survive, and the more children they have, the better chance they have that some will survive and continue the family line. However, it's also due to the fact that among many, prestige among mothers is directly proportional to the number of children. According to the New York Times article linked earlier, some cultures only give mothers a say in village meetings after child number 11.

Put that in perspective. You know how much we all got disgusted by Octomom, Nadya Suleman? In some parts of Africa, she would have been celebrated; after all, that got her up to 14 children. Not to mention the Duggars. Their kind of behavior is the exact thing that many African families aspire to.

Or, failing that, what some Nigerians try to force.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

12 Fake Things Exposed Lately

1. Fake photos of piles of hail reaching up to a man's shoulders.
2. Fake Democrats, running in Wisconsin recall elections.
3. Fake debt collectors.
4. Fake Arab shiekhs.
5. Fake karaoke.
6. Fake fake fur.
7. A fake veterans' charity.
8. Fake butt injections.
9. Fake Angry Birds.
10. Fake Kobe beef.
11. Fake Buddhist monks.
12. A fake Chinese police academy.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Citizens United 2.0

It's in all likelihood a longshot. Given the politicization of the current Supreme Court, I would not expect much from this particular group of nine- or, more to the point, this particular group of five that is the majority of this group of nine.

But there will be a chance to reconsider the Citizens United decision, as the Court has agreed to take up a case out of Montana, American Tradition v. Bullock, that essentially argues that Citizens United only applies to federal-level elections and not state-level elections. This will be argued with the benefit of knowing just what has happened concerning campaign financing in the wake of the Citizens United decision.

Again, though, given the current split and the current mindsets, don't get your hopes up. Unless a seat happens to become vacant between now and then, of course.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, James Sandecker Of The Movie Sahara!

Something serious, and something not-so-serious today.

First off, normally you'd entrust the duty of making a general-election electoral map to 538. I would too. But they haven't hit general-election mode yet. In their absence, most of the media seems to have decided that they need the race between Obama and Romney to be close, for drama purposes and thus ratings. So they'll make some speculative map that pretty much ignores any and all polling done and will force a map that has things neck-and-neck.

So last night, I took the polling that's actually been done so far and has been compiled by 270ToWin and RealClearPolitics- which, granted, is very limited- and made this map from what the most recent polling available for each state has actually said, no matter how ridiculously ancient said polling may be. (South Carolina's last poll, for example, came in December.) Some states remain blank; that indicates no polling whatsoever, though none of the unpolled states appear in doubt. Obama, given just the polls supplied so far, is showing a 334-153 lead in the Electoral College. Awarding the unpolled states as you'd expect them to go would put him up 350-188.

It is, granted, rough. I've said before, I'm no Nate Silver. But it should at least help get away from the forced neck-and-neck narrative. It's better to know where things actually stand.

That's the serious. The not-so-serious comes from Jennifer Lewis of Flavorwire (via Neatorama), who has given us a calendar of fictional-character birthdays. She doesn't promise you'll get anyone good with your birthday. Just a fictional character of some sort. I, for example, drew Ro Laren, a recurring character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I have never watched once.

And had I been born six days earlier, I would have drawn this guy:

Which for me wouldn't actually have been too bad; I remember playing this game to death back in the day. But for you, probably not so much. And I certainly lost out to my brother, who ends up with The Joker.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tickle Something Else

In 1990, in response to plummeting elephant populations, the trade of African elephant ivory was banned internationally by way of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, (CITES). (Asian elephant ivory was banned in 1975.) By all indications, the ban has had the desired effect: being unable to sell ivory has meant the market for it collapsed, as was quickly apparent judging from this archived New York Times article from 1990.

The populations of a few southern African nations- Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe- but that's it. Even there, the four had to fight with the rest of the continent, who were aiming for a total ban. And the trade of them is extremely limited. In the southern nations, ivory seized is stockpiled by the government, and occasionally sold off under CITES surveillance to raise
money. South Africa, for instance, held one such sale in 2008, and even then it was only the ivory of elephants who died of natural causes and elephants who had to be put down by park rangers for non-poaching reasons.

What is Gabon doing with the ivory they seize? They're going to burn it. Ivory on the market, in their eyes, is ivory on the market, period. If ivory is available, someone will want it.

Kenya has been meaning to take their poachers to court, but more often they end up having to just shoot them dead on the scene.

Meanwhile, Cameroon is stepping up their efforts to deter poachers, handing out historically high fines and prison terms to 17 poachers caught in March. Or at least, they're trying to deter it. Cameroon has been struggling to cope with a recent spike in poaching, spurred on by Chinese demand, thought to be in response to South Africa's 2008 sale. Which helps explain Gabon's decision to burn the ivory: ivory on the market is ivory on the market. No matter where it comes from or how.

There's also the issue of the occasional rich guy with nothing better to do, if the Zimbabwe hunting safari undertaken by Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., sons of Donald Trump, last year is any indication, under which they've recently come under fire for using an unlicensed operator. The Trumps took several photos of themselves posing with their various kills, photos which are drawing additional controversy because this is not the turn of the 1900's anymore and nobody's impressed by you 'bagging' a leopard or a crocodile or a cape buffalo or an antelope or holding up an elephant tail. Their claim that all the meat from the kills was donated to local villages is undercut by the fact that, where they were hunting, there were no nearby villages.

Why was there a photo of one of them holding up an elephant tail? As Donald Jr. tweeted, “@imyourlawyer mutilating a corpse? A villager cut the tail off as part of their traditions from the old ivory hunters I went with it.”

Donald is correct about it being an ivory hunter tradition; the tail was proof of who killed what. But that merely obscures the point here... the old ivory hunters.

At least they didn't take the tusks.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's A Start

This is a rundown of LGBT rights in Africa. With the exception of South Africa, no sovereign nation on the continent permits same-sex adoption, same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships, or gays to serve openly in the military. (A few small islands- Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Reunion- have some of these rights by way of being territories of France and the United Kingdom.)

Same-sex sexual activity is legal in 17 countries for both genders, or at least legal by way of lack of legislation concerning it; 10 more allow it in the case of females only, though some of them are debating outlawing that as well. In the places where it's illegal, penalties range from prison sentences of varying length- a few mandate life in prison- and Sudan, Mauritania, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia, it carries the death penalty. (There is also anti-gay legislation pending in Uganda, though the proposed penalties remain up for debate.) Only Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Gabon, the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Mauritius, South Africa, and the Seychelles have signed a UN declaration acknowledging gay rights, and not all of these countries themselves permit those rights for both genders.

What I'm trying to say is that South Africa just held the Mr. Gay World contest, with three of the 22 contestants coming out of Africa- the host nation, Namibia and Ethiopia. Zimbabwe's representative was forced to withdraw following threats on his family. Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana's representatives couldn't raise the money needed to travel to South Africa and also withdrew. (Tanzania being one of the countries carrying a life-imprisonment punishment for homosexual activity.)

New Zealand won, by the way.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How To Make a Ukrainian Egg

It's Easter today, so we ought to have something Easter-related. Specifically, let's do some egg decoration.

No, not that PAAS stuff. We're doing Ukrainian eggs today. The really intricate and complicated ones. They're called pysanky.

You're going to need a couple things to create one:

*Dyes, of course (there are specific dyes you need for the purpose)
*A lit candle (you will need an open flame)
*A stylus called a kistka
*Varnish, if you're going for the shine

You probably do not have a kistka, so head to to see what one looks like. You can also decide whether to spring for the syringe and egg blower (if you want to try and suck the innards out of the egg). That site can also give suggestions for a lot of different designs you could try.

What you'll see in this video is basically a beginner's class, with a really simple design. But it's the one that best walks you through the actual process as opposed to going 'here's an egg I made earlier'. And a lot of the videos do that; this is a very time-consuming project.

He doesn't show how to get the yolk out of the egg, so this second video shows that process. This person, though, does it before designing the egg, which will make the egg more fragile throughout. No yolk means less structural integrity means it's that much easier to crack the egg.

Also, I must note the just-breaking news of the death of 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace. Wallace was 93. RIP, Mike. Being a tough interviewer- particularly that tough- while still maintaining respect is getting to be something of a lost art.

Friday, April 6, 2012

We Have Another SOPA


Then after you're done meeting it, kill it with an axe.

Random News Generator- Sierra Leone

If you've ever heard the phrase 'blood diamond', you may already be aware that the phrase relates to diamonds from Sierra Leone that, through consumer purchase, helped fund a civil war that lasted from 1991-2002 and left over 50,000 people dead. In 1995, the open-air mine chiefly responsible for these diamonds, the Koidu mine, was awarded to South African mercenary company Executive Outcomes. EO fought on behalf of the ruling government for a time during the war, taking the mine as payment. Since then, the Koidu mine changed hands several times before its current owner, Koidu Holdings, took control.

It's no longer 'blood diamonds' per se, but what it is isn't all that much better. I'll let Mariana van Zeller explain further about the Koidu mine, as she reported in a 2009 Valentine's Day episode of Vanguard on (pre-Olbermann) Current. You'll want to skip to 14:44, which is right when the warning pops up telling you that you're going to be seeing graphic images of war and that you may want to hustle the kids out of the room. (It's a two-part episode, by the way. The first half of the episode involves Kaj Larsen traveling to Colombia to tell you why roses aren't such a hot alternative.)

Koldu Holdings, which sells about 60% of their finds to Tiffany's, is now considering an IPO in the Hong Kong market, which would open themselves up to Chinese investors. The Reuters article explains that while Western investors are put off by diamonds' market volatility, they're just the kind of thing that excite the Chinese.

Is this likely to result in more money for the city of Koldu? Considering that there's a diamond mine in town and that, as van Zeller reported, the locals live in one-room houses about the size of your bathroom and have to resort to candlelight during the evening, no. No, it won't. In fact, it may make things much worse. Koidu Holdings is aiming to quadruple the output of the mine over the next few months, from 10,000 carats a month to 35,000-45,000, and is eyeing Chinese riches as an incentive to do so.

Go back and watch that clip again. Did you catch the part about people taking eight-hour shifts shoveling dirt and mud in 90-degree weather for 30 cents a day and two cups of rice?

Quadrupled. Within the next few months.

Consider cubic zirconia.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Everything Is The Hunger Games

Ever since The Hunger Games hit the big time, just about every journalist on the planet has invoked it in some way or another. Myself included. However, doing so has often been something of a shoehorning, a lazy attempt to get clicks by tying whatever it is you're writing about to the hot movie of the day.

So let's give all those lazy writers clicks and see if any of them have actually invoked The Hunger Games properly. Just remember: the actual book/movie is about teenage children being taken from their parents and forced by the government to fight to the death on television as a demonstration of government power.

TRIBUTE: "A real-life Hunger Games", Blaine Harden, Los Angeles Times

Well, if you're going to invoke the Hunger Games, North Korean labor camps are actually a pretty damn good comparison. Harden chose to compare them not because the camps reminded him of the movie, but because the movie reminded him of the camps. He talks about how children, born in the camps and forced into hard labor under starvation conditions, are also made to betray their families on pain of execution. By the North Korean government, of course, as a warning to other North Koreans to not cross the North Korean government lest this happen to you, and your family, and pretty much everyone you care about in life.

The comparison works (aside from the televised part; North Korea denies the camps' existence in front of the outside world) and it's actually really worth a read if you're not familiar with the camps.

TRIBUTE: "Warning: Hunger Games Ahead", Dan E. Burns, Age of Autism

Not so much here with the good comparisons. The article promotes a 'Give Autism A Chance' luncheon in Austin, Texas, which seeks to show potential employers that people with autism are capable of being productive, even excelling employees. Which, while a noble aim that I am in no way trying to slight... the Hunger Games? Really? The entire justification for invoking the franchise is, quote, "Will it be “Hunger Games” for our kids as adults, or can we bend the future?" Which is really pretty weak even before you factor in the whole children-burying-axes-in-each-others'-skulls aspect.

TRIBUTE: "Harper's Hunger Games: What The Budget Says About Canada", Kimberley Love, Meaford Indpendent (Ontario)

This article concerns the budget presented by Jim Flaherty, Canadian Minister of Finance, which Love sees as going too far over to the right and, well, making Canada look too much like the United States. (Americans in the audience ought to cringe right about there.) Considering I'm an actual American, and knowing the budget Paul Ryan is trying to put through, I sympathize, but again: battle to the death, like, with axes and bows and arrows and stuff. Let's not go crazy here, Kimberley.

TRIBUTE: "Is your company like 'The Hunger Games?'", Dave Logan, CBS Money Watch

Logan's article is about how companies that set goals deliberately too high place their workforce under so much pressure that it turns into a stressed-out blame game when they inevitably don't meet the goals they knew all along they weren't going to meet. At that point people throw each other under the bus and try to be the last person standing, or at least the person who gets the least blame. Just like the Hunger Games.

Dude. Nobody's dying, Dave. You barely even allude to anyone getting fired, which if you wanted to push the metaphor could at least work as a corporate substitute for dying. I could maybe see where you're trying to go if you played up the aspect of people getting fired for not meeting those goals, and corporate would work as 'the government' in this case, but you're still really kind of stretching things.

TRIBUTE: "Playing the Hunger Games at home", Karrie McAllister, The Daily Record (Wooster, Ohio)

The first two sentences: "Please don't think there is any more violence than normal in our kitchen. I can assure you the only bloodshed is by myself, mis-slicing an onion. And the only things that truly go from alive to dead are the meat and vegetables we eat." So right there we're not off to a great start. Then you keep going and you find McAllister is writing about her kid wanting a snack from the kitchen while she is preparing dinner and her steering said kid towards something healthy if he can't wait a half-hour. That's it. That is literally it.

Ah, the local paper. Why are you dying off? Can't think of any reason at all.

And finally...

TRIBUTE: "Are We Preparing Realtors For The 'Hunger Games'?", InmanNext

Dear God, I should hope not.
Preparing real estate agents to be rated reminds me of the “Hunger Games.” It appears everyone is getting into the “game” of finding the best agent.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Far Too Many Resources Devoted To Far Too Small A Problem

Making it two straight days of televised music, today I present a bit of a quandry. You see, last year, in order to promote Spring Training coverage, MLB Network cut a promo ad. As you do in such situations. And they have background music, which is clearly from some song or other.

But that's the thing. For the past year- and this spring as well, when they've used it again- nobody has been able to identify, with certainty and proof, what song that is. The song has gone without a positive identification all this time. There have been leads (most commonly the song 'Get Ready' by the Daylights), but none have led to a positive ID so far (partially because 'Get Ready' appears unavailable anywhere and is thus not able to be verified one way or the other). Considering how readily the Internet's able to come up with the most obscure tracks from the most obscure artists, this is a little astonishing. So I present it here in hopes that maybe a reader can step in and help figure it out, because I can't name it either.

Here's the audio of the ad.

While you're at it, here's another ad from the same set, this one with video as well, that nobody's been able to identify either:

If you can figure out either song- but particularly if you can figure out the first- the Internet will thank you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Primary Day

If you live in Wisconsin, it's primary day. Get out and vote. If you live in Maryland or Washington DC, same goes for you. Go vote.

If you don't live in those places... well... oh, boy, this is awkward... um... hey, did you know the 'Cliff Hangers' song from The Price Is Right is an actual song? Its actual name is 'On The Franches Mountains' and it was created in 1967 by the Jura Orchestra, nine years before Cliff Hangers was introduced.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Awesome Guy Of The Day

I'm going to hand you over to TreeHugger and the Times of India to tell you more about this guy, but I'd like you to meet Jadev Payeng of India. 31 years ago, at age 16, Payeng went to a sandbar, noticed some snakes who had died due to the heat brought on by lack of tree cover, and started planting tree seeds.

At age 47, he is still planting. Because of his efforts, Payeng has created a 1,360-acre forest, a forest now bearing the name Mulai Kathoni- 'Mulai's Forest', after Payeng's nickname.

He did this all by himself. 1,360 acres. By himself. (For a comparison, another area of 1,360 acres is Grass Lake near Antioch, Illinois.)

And somehow nobody but the locals even noticed until 2008... who actually wanted the thing cut down because it was attracting elephants (among other animals, including some endangered species). The Indian government is, quite naturally, siding with Payeng, and there are now plans in the works to turn it into a wildlife preserve.

Sorry it took so long to get around to noticing you, Jadev.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's April Fools Day

As the headline states, it's April Fools Day again, and you need to be on your guard for pranks. Here, though, you will find safe haven. I do not take part and probably never will.

I mean... I'm trying to practice journalism here. The way I understand journalism, it is to a large degree as much of a creative art as other pursuits such as more general writing or painting or sculpture or music. There are as many different ways to tell a story as there are storytellers. Writing a piece is the selection of one of a nearly infinite number of possible combinations of words, meant to invoke, or not invoke, any of a myriad of possible responses from the reader. Creating a video report does the same thing, but combined with any of a near-infinite number of images, each to be combined with a different part of the writing, and that's plus the editing, or even deliberate lack of editing. And then there are the photos. Interviews. What information is to be presented, what information is to be sought, and how do you present it or seek it.

And that's not even getting into the different personal styles of each individual journalist. What is your preferred method of reporting? What topics do you prefer to cover? Do you present your personal viewpoints, or leave them out? How much do you insert yourself into a story? What subjects do you seek out? Do you go easy on a subject, or do you apply pressure to them? How much pressure? Do you apply equal pressure to everyone? If not, who do you press and who do you go easy on? Do you leave the audience to think things over themselves, or do you make your intended message subtle, pronounced, explicit? How much detail do you go into on a topic, or do you prefer to just cut straight to the point? And what of your ethical code? What do you consider to be in bounds and what do you consider to be out of bounds?

Again, it's really something of an art form.

But no matter how you go about practicing the craft, there are two basic principles that every serious journalist must follow at all times, no matter what else they do.

1) Any serious journalist must attempt to give their audience the best understanding of a given topic that they possibly can.
2) Under no circumstances is a serious journalist to leave their audience dumber than when they started. Especially not deliberately.

Participating in April Fools Day violates principle #2. The byline for this site is 'Be less stupid'. If I were to pull an April Fools prank, I would be making you more stupid. So I refrain from participating. And I would hope that more established journalists do the same. A journalist is supposed to be someone you are able to trust, at all times. That's the ideal, at least, that a journalist is supposed to shoot for. Why would any journalist worth their salt show themselves as untrustworthy on perhaps the one day of the year they're needed the most, a day that is essentially a celebration of brazenly lying?

Be careful out there today. You never know who might not have such qualms about such things.