Monday, August 29, 2005

Wine country living

I went to the Sonoma and Russian River valleys this past weekend. It was really quite picturesque, and the weather was awesome, especially for those who prefer it a little warmer. I was expecting a huge amount of traffic on the way in, so when I turned onto 37 to cut over to 121 and Sonoma, I wasn't surprised by the monstrous back-up. I assumed that the traffic was for wine country and a ferocious number of tourists on that fine August Sunday, but I was wrong.

Apparently, the Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix was scheduled for this weekend, and we had hit the colossal traffic jam right as people were arriving for the show. It took us an hour to cover the seven miles from 101 and 37 to just past the racetrack on 121! It was completely infuriating. From what I can see on the web, this track isn't a traditional oval track, but as we were bitching at the traffic after we realized what was going on, we imagined those thousands of people watching cars turn left for three hours and were perplexed.

Anyway, Sonoma was pretty deserted, strangely. I usually hate crowds, but in wine tasting and tourist spots, you'd be surprised at how the unexpected lack of people is really disconcerting. I mean, who wants to be the only sucker eating in an empty restaurant, right? After talking to the cashiers, I think even the wineries were a little disappointed by the tourist turnout.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

LOLZ L0S3R U just got pwned!!one!1! Gman 4tw!

Now, I don't personally know all that much about Interfax China or the internal Chinese government bureaucracy, but if this story is true, then my mind is boggled: "The Chinese Government unveiled a new system Tuesday to prevent individuals from playing online games for more than three consecutive hours, which must be installed for every online game in the country."

According to the article, some Chinese agency called the Audiovisual and Internet Publication Department of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) is developing a system that would keep track of time played v. time offline, and would severely cut game progression after three straight hours of gaming. The article goes on to say that the system will begin "compulsory deployment" later this year or next year in "all massive multiplayer" online games.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

In My Own Backyard

I don't normally read the newspaper in the morning, to avoid destroying trees and creating unnecessary clutter, but I always look at the headlines of one of my favorite newspapers and pick it up if there's something particularly interesting. My favorite 'paper by far, is the San Jose Mercury News, but as I am content getting my news through the internet, I'm too cheap to pay for a subscription. On the other hand, my other favorite paper, the Palo Alto Daily News is one of those free ad-driven local papers that carries stories that one wouldn't normally see elsewhere. Kudos to them, huzzah!

A bit to my shame, I usually end up not reading the important news, like the City Council's recent decision to patch up potholes or ban beagle-baiting or whatever. But this morning, I read some sensational news about a teacher, Bill Giordano, who was just arrested yesterday for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old student in the 1990s.

So I picked up the newspaper and started reading. Now, I don't have middle school-aged kids, but if I did, they would most likely be attending Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto. Mr. Alleged-child-molester was the athletic director there! Like, OMG, gag me with a spoon!

The shocks don't end there! Apparently, revelations about area teachers have been popping up like zits on a prom-goer all year:
  1. On February 28, a teacher in Campbell pleaded no contest to possession of child porn.
  2. On June 8, a Homestead High School teacher (in my home town of Cupertino!) was sentenced to four years in prison for having sex with three of his students.
  3. On July 6, a Redwood City private school teacher was arrested and later pleaded no contest to having sex with a student.
  4. On August 19, a Palo Alto Fire Explorer's leader was charged for alleged "relations" with three teenage girls in the program.
  5. The instant story: Bill Giordano - accused of a two-year, 28-count, affair with a then-14-year-old girl on his basketball team (and baby-sat his kids for corn's sake).

Madness! Sheer madness.

P.S. In composing this 'blog, I ran into an irksome issue re: hyphenation of ages. So sue me, my job involves a lot of word-crafting. From some grammar website (read: accuracy not verified, but it seems plausible):

Hyphenate ages when they are adjective phrases involving a unit of measurement: 'Her ten-year-old car is beginning to give her trouble.' A girl can be a 'ten-year-old' ('child' is implied). But there are no hyphens when outside of such an adjectival phrase: 'Her car is ten years old.'

Thursday, August 18, 2005

State endorsed violence

I'm not talking about war or contact sports. I read this CNN article about a bill recently passed by the North Carolina legislature (overwhelmingly evidently) that would (1) require the courts to provide abused spouses with information on how to obtain a permit for a concealed firearm and (2) add protective orders to the list of things a Sheriff should consider in granting a waiver of the 90-day waiting period.

Basically, the North Carolina government is saying to abused spouses, our system is inadequate to protect you, so you are entitled to carry lethal force with you at all times. The gun rights advocates that pushed the bill say they're interested only in giving the message that abused spouses are able to protect themselves "when police can't protect [them.]" I don't care what nuance gun rights advocates slather on this bill, the average person that hears the court say, "We're required to tell you how to apply for a concealed firearm," will draw very different conclusions. They will hear a figure of authority saying, in essence, a gun is the preferred method of dispute resolution because the legal system doesn't work.

Besides the adverse psychological impact of the state endorsing gun ownership as a dispute resolution instrument, advocating gun-toting among people who (a) are in highly-charged and emotionally-stressful situations, (b) have already been subject to violence, and (c) have a specific human target already in mind is colossally stupid.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Elevation of Creationism

As usual, this entry is prompted by something I read that piqued my interest. BBC Editorial on Creationism in America. I'm not going to write a personal diatribe about the zealously right wing strand of American politics that has risen to power, almost unopposed, in the past decade. Instead, I just want to point out two things about Creationism.

First: Generally, should Creationism be considered on the same footing with Evolution? The article points out that el presidente Bush considers the Theory of Evolution and Creationism as two separate "schools of thought." I guess that's technically true under a certain definition. Mr. Bush has a disconcerting and irritating tendency of saying technically-true things that completely miss the point of why the issues are important.

OK, back up. What are we supposed to be teaching in school? I like to think we're supposed to teach our children facts, as best we can possibly ascertain, that allow them to understand and function in our society. "Facts" are sometimes the product of opinion (e.g., historically based sciences like history and evolutionary biology), but should always be backed up by firm evidence. Under that rationale, the only "schools of thought" that should be taught at our schools are those that are backed up by firm evidence.

Now the question becomes whether either Evolution or Creationism are backed up by "firm evidence." I think any reasonable person would agree that Evolution is backed up by firm evidence. As to the specific criticism of the formation of the cell, that's point two and I'll get to it. The question is whether Creationism is backed up by "firm evidence." I could be wrong, but my experience suggests that the Creationism that people want to teach is backed up only by the written tradition of Eurasian monotheism. I don't hear about people saying, "Hey, let's teach Native American creation myths where people were brought into existence by a large raven" (no offense to Native Americans intended). It is this favoritism towards a single creator that immediately discredits the Creationist movement and belies its religious motive.

Even if Creationists wish to teach each competing creationist myth in existence, which would probably better be dedicated to a whole separate course and taught by anthropologists rather than biology teachers, they haven't crossed the threshold question: does an oral and written tradition constitute "firm evidence"? In my opinion, it clearly does not. Some people point to archaeological finds in the Holy Land as evidence that parts of the Bible are supported by scientific evidence. I do not dispute that certain historical aspects of the Bible are most likely true. I do dispute the incredibly inductive reasoning that because some parts are true, ergo the whole must be true. What is missing is a logical, systematic theory that binds the separate parts together in a seamless way (i.e. can fill in logical gaps) that does not rely on pure conviction or faith divorced of reason to support its arguments.

Because Evolution, as a complete theory of creation, has systematically complete support through fossil and chemical evidence, it deserves to be taught as fact until proven wrong. Conversely, because none of the creationist myths in existence, by their nature, are backed up by firm evidence, they do not deserve equal footing with Evolution in our science curriculum. If people want to teach Creationism, cancel yet another music class and put in a new social science class called Creationist Myths of the World (and fight the ACLU and atheists while they're at it).

Second: The BBC article points out that prominent Creationist intelligentsia attack the theory of Evolution with pure skepticism about the formation of the cell. They say that such a complex structure as a cell could not have formed without divine intervention. A similar line of critique arises with the formation of the eye's lenses and focusing muscles. These are strong arguments for those with strong faith in God but little faith in nature.

However, for a biological spin on creation, I would suggest for the receptive The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I'll probably update this section later, as I'm running out of time, but I will say this - in the primordial soup that existed in the dawn of Earth, organic chemicals such as proteins and nucleic acids would have formed from their monomers, and through the trillions of possible combinations that would have formed, self-replicating forms would have quickly dominated. As resources became more scarce, those self-replicating forms that were capable of breaking down other forms to use their components would have become more dominant. Any forms which could code for protection against those cannibalistic forms would then proliferate. One form of protection might be the utilization of a chemical barrier, or membrane to protect the self-replicating sequence within. An arms race would ensue over the subsequent BILLIONS of years, leading to, quite probably, the complexity of cellular life as we know it. Hence we come directly to a key point of Dawkins' book: we are merely souped up vehicles for the self-replicating sequences within our bodies. It's somewhat startling to the uninitiated, but quite logical. Yes, according to this theory, even you are only the latest "Pimp My Ride" episode of the great television-in-the-sky.

Boy, this blog entry went a little long. The point is, Bush has a nasty habit of speaking wayward truths and Creationists pick at Evolution in an attempt to veneer their beliefs with the stamp of scientific legitimacy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

50 hours of gaming!

I saw this Reuters article on Yahoo! news: "S. Korean man dies after 50 hours of computer games" and after reading it intently, I came away with one burning question: What game was he playing when he died!? What game could possibly hold one's attention so well that the body's signs of exhaustion are ignored?

I've got to get me some of that.

I read the article and saw that he took "brief naps" on a "makeshift bed"! That's cheating, in my book. I remember staying up for 42 hours straight without even napping during finals (bad idea, btw) when I was in Houston and feeling well enough to go out for Mexican food! Sanity reigned and sleep ensued, but I seriously doubt that 8 more hours would have led me to heart failure. Then again, I was a spry 19 years old at the time of that fiasco and this Korean guy was 28... Hmm.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Crucifying Pandora

Tomorrow, August 6, is the 60th anniversary of the tragic nuclear attack on the city of Hiroshima. That act made my nation the first and only one to have deliberately used a nuclear weapon as an act of war. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that it was a tragic mistake. The use of the second weapon on Nagasaki compounded that mistake.

However, by calling those attacks mistakes, I do not mean to condemn or necessarily even criticize the multitude of people involved in those attacks. Bounded by circumstances and emotions and with limited knowledge of the full effect of their decisions, I am convinced that those involved for the most part made responsible and reasonable decisions. With hindsight, many lived to express their regret for their involvement in the program - Oppenheimer and Einstein foremost among them.

What really cheeses me off are those who insist on ascribing upon the entire endeavor in general an intentionally evil agenda.

True, designing and creating a weapon of unparalleled destructive power sounds rather sinister, but the increased power of weaponry is not inherently evil when it is done to protect the lives and livelihoods of those one loves. From the first caveman who attached a rock to the end of a stick to those scientists that designed the neutron bomb to kill people without destroying materiel, man has always been compelled towards more destructive power in order to wield the bigger stick. I personally think the whole self perpetuating cycle is dangerously unbalanced, but it is flat out wrong to call those involved evil or inhuman - indeed, it is a very human impulse.

And yet, just today I read one accusation ("It was just against humanity") that the only reason America dropped two different types of bombs (the gun arranged uranium "Little Boy" and the plutonium implosion "Fat Man") was to test them on humans and catalog the aftereffects. I find this sentiment to be narrowminded and reactionary.

Conveniently, the writer neglects to mention that those two bombs were the only two that America had available. The writer neglects to mention that with each passing day hundreds of Japanese and American soldiers were dying in the endgame of a war for no purpose other than Japanese pride and bargaining position. The writer neglects to mention that Harry Truman was weighing an invasion with an estimated one million allied casualties and multiple million Japanese casualties. The writer neglects to mention that these weapons had never been used before, and as a result those in charge had no possible conception of their full effects. The writer neglects to mention that much of the knowledge of why dropping the bombs was a mistake was gained through the study of the effects of the bombs on their victims. Would she rather the US occupation authorities ignored those effects?

Pandora bitterly regretted opening that Box; many scientists in the Manhattan Project regretted their involvement as well. The moral of the Pandora myth is that woe and sorrow are often unleashed by those who have committed no greater crime than to be human. Those who shrilly persecute the Pandoras of this world are lazy, arrogant and ignorant.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Apostrophe usage in possessives

Mrs. Jones and her husband, Mr. Jones, and their three children are together called the Joneses.
Mrs. Jones's cat, Fluffy, has a bad habit of scratching the Joneses' couch.
The Joneses have another cat, Mr. Tibbles, who is better behaved.
The cats' litterbox is located in the bathroom near the children's playroom.

This exercise has been brought to you by the noble apostrophe.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Apple HQ obliterated by The Man

Sometimes news stories can be a whole lotta fun. Just this morning, I saw that the astronaut, Steve Robinson, who conducted minor repairs on the Discovery shuttle this morning most likely went to the same high school as a very good friend of mine! What a small world.

But what got me writing was this CNN article. Apparently, Microsoft has had a bad photo of the plot of land at De Anza Blvd. and I-280 in my hometown of Cupertino, CA on its Virtual World website. The newsworthy aspect of the story is that particular parcel of land is now the Apple Computer campus (with the very geeky new road: Infinite Loop).

I would merely have laughed off the story and continued on my merry way, but a closer examination of the picture shows a landscape that I don't remember. Microsoft claims the picture is "outdated," but I can personally attest that prior to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, that site was a Motorola site with a couple of very large buildings on it. After the earthquake damaged those buildings, they remained on that site for several years, empty and condemned. I know personally because my dad taught me how to drive in the abandoned parking lot.

As the picture shown has no hint of condemned Motorola buildings, nor does it show the sprawling Apple campus, I can only conclude that the picture shown either (1) was taken during the very brief window in time when those condemned buildings were taken down to build the Apple campus, or (2) was taken before the Motorola buildings were even constructed (which must have been a very long time ago), or (3) is a complete fabrication as the CNN article coyly suggests. As 1 would take incredible timing and 2 would seem to undermine the utility of having a "Virtual World" project because of the obsolescence of such old data, I am left with a tantalizing possibility of number 3.

A charitable person would go with possibilities 1 or 2, but 3 is so much fun...

I'd better write something...

I usually don't have much trouble thinking of some weird thing which captures my attention, but I often don't really know what to write! I was thinking I could write about my conviction that a certain character in the Harry Potter books will turn out to be truly evil rather than the hoped-for good, or about the Bad News Bears movie and the continued plunder of my youth...

But as I thought about what I'd say on either of those topics, I realized that I tend to get a verbose about the most trivial little things. If you've read my previous blog posts, I'm sure you agree. I realized that even I, myself, wouldn't want to read what I was thinking of writing about those subjects. On the other hand, perhaps it is the destiny of this blog to explore the little things, the bumps in the road, that catch my fancy, even if only fleetingly.

When I find something I'm interested in writing about, I'll let you know. Toodles.