What I'm Reading
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Saturday, March 19. 2005
I'll start this article by venting a bit, you'll all be happy to know that the horde is over at my house again.... gah. Anyways, it's getting to the end of term and I'm knee deep in term papers and research. So, don't be suprised if some of my blog entries are a tad light on content; however, I will still try to do the three blog entries per week as promised. Now, onto our feature presentation.
Last week I was reading Slashdot, and came across this article, "13 Things That Don't Make Sense." It essentially discusses big modern problems that scientists can't explain. It was an interesting read for me because it collects problems from various branches of science. For me, it was nice to learn a bit about other fields. It's a nice break from computer science. For the nit-picky people, YES there are more than 13 things that science can't figure out.... it's just a summary of some of the most interesting problems.
Here's an excerpt:
The placebo effect
DON'T try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away.
This is the placebo effect: somehow, sometimes, a whole lot of nothing can be very powerful. Except it's not quite nothing. When Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin in Italy carried out the above experiment, he added a final twist by adding naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, to the saline. The shocking result? The pain-relieving power of saline solution disappeared.
So what is going on? Doctors have known about the placebo effect for decades, and the naloxone result seems to show that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical. But apart from that, we simply don't know.
Benedetti has since shown that a saline placebo can also reduce tremors and muscle stiffness in people with Parkinson's disease (Nature Neuroscience, vol 7, p 587). He and his team measured the activity of neurons in the patients' brains as they administered the saline. They found that individual neurons in the subthalamic nucleus (a common target for surgical attempts to relieve Parkinson's symptoms) began to fire less often when the saline was given, and with fewer "bursts" of firing - another feature associated with Parkinson's. The neuron activity decreased at the same time as the symptoms improved: the saline was definitely doing something.
We have a lot to learn about what is happening here, Benedetti says, but one thing is clear: the mind can affect the body's biochemistry. "The relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome is a wonderful model to understand mind-body interaction," he says. Researchers now need to identify when and where placebo works. There may be diseases in which it has no effect. There may be a common mechanism in different illnesses. As yet, we just don't know.
It's interesting that they point out that the mind can affect the body in its healing. I think this is true as they say patients who are happy tend to heal faster than sad patients. I also recall a study where they said people who are religious also healed faster than non-religious people. Healing could very well be associated to our state of mind.
The article has twelve other things that scientists can't figure out that I haven't pointed out. So, have a read.... it's chalk full of useless facts.
Wednesday, March 16. 2005
A few weeks ago, a kid from church that I know approached me and asked, Chan, am I a geek? Instantly I thought to myself.... great, I've become the authoritative source on geek culture, how flattering. I chuckled because I thought this kid must be playing a joke or something. This guy is as far away from being a geek as possible. However, the kid wasn't chuckling, he was serious.
So I decided to entertain this kid's request, and applied a quick and dirty test to see if he was truly a geek. The conversation kind of went like this:
Chan: Do you have a girlfriend?
I'm thinking this kid has already failed the geek test.
Chan: Do you play on any sports?
Kid: Yeah, I play on a hockey team.
Wrong answer again.
Chan: Do you know what D&D stands for?
Kid: Uhhh.... no.
Meanwhile in the background, one of the uber-geeks overhears me asking this, and proudly blurts out, D&D stands for dungeons and dragons! I roll my eyes. (I'll let you guess who answered this question.)
Chan: Do you watch any sci-fi TV series such as Star Trek?
Kid: Uh... no.
Chan: Do you do any sort of programming on a computer?
Congratulations kid, you failed the geek test badly. You're not a geek. He seemed kind of suprised. I'm thinking.... if this kid can be labelled a geek, then I must be the ultimate geek of the universe or something.
For those of you who wonder how geeky you truly are, there is a Geek Test available. It takes about 20 minutes to finish, and it is kind of entertaining. I passed this around at work once, and my boss scored very high. She totally blew my score away. My friend Myron scored suprisingly low, only 14.9% - Geekish Tendencies, which is the lowest rank you can get on the test.
Anyways, you're all probably wondering what I scored. I scored 33.3% which is a total geek.
Here are some of the things that gave me points:
After reading this list, there are two words that best describe me right now. Chick magnet . In either case, have a go at the Geek Test and post your scores in the comment section below.
Monday, March 14. 2005
When I hear about pirates, the first things that come to mind are, pirates with eyepatches, wenches, dubloons, cutlasses, and parrots. Either that, or your garden variety software/music pirate. Well, apparently modern day pirates still exist. This article entitled, "Pirates Seize Gas Tanker in Malacca Straits", kind of caught my eye.
Pirates briefly seized a chemical tanker in the Malacca Strait, releasing the boat and crew but holding the captain and chief engineer for ransom. The latest act of piracy in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes underscores security concerns for that region.
Around 35 pirates armed with machine guns and rocket launchers seized the Indonesian-owned chemical tanker on Saturday before disembarking with the ship's captain and chief engineer.
The attack took place as the ship was sailing from Kalimantan on Borneo Island for the Indonesian port of Belawan in the Malacca Strait, one the world's busiest sea ways.
Almost all of China and Japan's oil imports and more than a quarter of global trade pass through the Strait, an area plagued by pirates.
If you're wondering where the Malacca Strait is, it's located in South-East Asia.
Hmmm... looks like your standard pirate is now outfitted with machine guns and rocket launchers, but I'm sure they keep some things traditional and old school like the poofy blouse dress shirts.
I also wonder what kind of ships pirates use these days. If it's anything like the historical pirates of the caribbean, then they should have ships on par with today's naval fleets. I'm sure pirates will have carrier battlegroups which consist of battleships, destroyers, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a few submarines, and a tanker ship.
Anyways, I'm a tad suprised that pirates still exist in this day and age. How come my career counsellor never told me about this profession? It sounds a lot more exciting and lucrative than a career in computer science! Well.... off to the Malacca Strait to try and find the pirate's cove. Yarr! I better pack a few parrots and papayas. (Pirates love papayas.)
Saturday, March 12. 2005
Today I was reading through metafilter.org for random news, and saw an interesting article about creationism. This was interesting because I've never actually looked closely at the scientifical data to support creationism. Same with evolution, I've never looked closely into it. This is probably because I didn't pursue biology classes in high school, which is why I never came across evolution, and well... I don't expect creationism to be taught in school.
Anyways, the metafilter article linked to a site called s8int.com which had many creationist articles and topics. My first impression of this site was, hmmm... this site kind of looks sketchy and not legit, and some of this stuff seems like conspiracy theory stuff. But hey, whatever, should be interesting to look around.
They had an article that caught my eye entitled "Ancient Atomic Knowledge?" They were essentially theorizing that there were ancient advanced civilizations who understood how to harness nuclear energy. Interesting idea, conclusive...no.
One of the things that they used to support their view was a nuclear reactor that was found underground in Gabon, West Africa, and it was not man-made.
"Surprisingly, this uranium mine's nuclear reactor was well designed. Studies indicate that this reactor was several miles in length. However, for such a huge nuclear reactor, the thermal impact to its environment was limited to 40 meters on all sides. Even more astonishing is the fact that the radioactive wastes have still not migrated outside the mine site. They are held in place by the surrounding geology.
Faced with these findings, scientists consider the mine to be a "naturally occurring" nuclear reactor. The Oklo reactor has been documented for its importance as an analogue (a structural derivative of a parent compound) in the disposal of nuclear fuel wastes. But few people are bold enough to go one step further.
As a matter of fact, many people today know that the reactor is a relic from a prehistoric civilization. It's probable that two billion years ago there was a fairly advanced civilization living at a place now called Oklo.
This civilization was technologically superior to today's civilization. Compared to this huge "natural" nuclear reactor, our current nuclear reactors are far less impressive. The question is: why did such a highly advanced civilization disappear? That's something to ponder about...
Thirteen nuclear reactors existed in prehistoric periods along the 200-metre mine bed, and they were comparable to the modern nuclear reactor in power and heat combustion. This mine had the capability of enabling self-sustained nuclear chain reactions...." This discovery, that shocked the entire scientific community in 1972, has already been forgotten by people today."
I thought, okay, this has got to be a fake. A nuclear reactor is a complex engineering task, and you're telling me that they exist naturally in nature? That's insane, wouldn't this thing have melted down, or spit nuclear waste all over the place?
I looked for other sources on the Oklo Mines (where the nuclear reactor was found), and I actually found other references to verify that this is NOT A FAKE. The U.S. government has a site that describes the nuclear reactor at Oklo. It actually has a very good explanation of how this could happen. A second independent source (wikipedia) also confirmed the existence of the Oklo nuclear reactor.
I don't know if an ancient civilization built that reactor, but it's interesting to know about anyways. That's your useless fact for the day
Thursday, March 10. 2005
If you were in Canada this week, you may have wondered why so many flags were flying at half mast. Well, the country was mourning the death of four RCMP officers who were killed during a marijuana grow operation raid.
The CBC Edmonton has a write-up about the events surrounding this tragedy. It is entitled, "4 Mounties Killed In Drug Raid."
There were earlier reports of an unspecified number of RCMP officers shot and wounded in what was described as a "very serious and very tragic" situation.
At one point in the violent standoff, police had requested military assistance, according to a spokesperson for the military.
Major Scott Lundy says the mililtary dispatched two armoured vehicles, an ambulance and about 20 soldiers but the unit was told to stand down.
Solicitor General Harvey Cenaiko declined to release any specifics but said police were unable to make radio contact with four RCMP officers on scene.
Cenaiko confirmed RCMP officers were executing a search warrant on a suspected grow operation near Rochfort Bridge, about 130 km northwest of Edmonton.
CBC Calgary also has an article entitled, "Roszko killed officers then himself: RCMP." The gunman was carrying a high powered assault rifle.
The National Post is running an article called, "Eternal Gratitude: A nation mourns."
It was with a magnetic sense of duty that between 8,000 and 10,000 police officers -- at least half of them wearing the red serge and stetson of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- were drawn here yesterday to bear solemn witness to the largest memorial in RCMP history...
An RCMP honour guard of more than 100 officers stood at attention yesterday, as the ceremonial Guidon was laid down across the drum head. It was a heart-wrenching ritual in honour of the four fallen RCMP constables who died last Thursday, a policing tragedy unparalleled since three members of the Northwest Mounted Police were killed in the Duck Lake Massacre of 1885...
In a setting not unlike the Remembrance Day ceremonies held each November in the same building, the four slain constables -- Peter Schiemann, 25, Lionide Johnston, 32, Anthony Gordon, 28, Brock Myrol, 29 -- were eulogized both separately and together, by pastors, a father, a twin brother and dignitaries including Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and Prime Minister Paul Martin.
This hits somewhat close to home as I have a number of friends who are in the crime-fighting business, and infact one of them is finishing up his RCMP training now.
There probably are political implications of this tragedy. The previous week, the Liberal party was having their convention, and Paul Martin was touting his plan on decriminializing marijuana. I personally don't understand why they are so hellbent on trying to pass this policy. I was talking to my friend Adam who's a crime-fighter, and he can't comprehend why the government is pushing this policy. It sounds like people up and down the organization chain of law enforcement are grumbling about decriminalizing marijuana.
In either case, this is a very senseless loss of life. A salute to those who have fallen in the line of duty.
Wednesday, March 9. 2005
A few months ago, I was watching the MTV Icon Awards for Metallica. They were basically paying tribute to Metallica's contributions to music. A bunch of celebrities and bands were on hand to perform and speak. One of the wierdest set of presenters was Rob Zombie accompanied by Jolene Blalock. For the non-geeks, Ms. Blalock plays a Vulcan named T'Pol on Enterprise... and last time I checked, Vulcans don't listen to Metallica.
Anyways, the best part of the show was the stand-up comedy act that Jim Breuer did. Mr. Breuer has a very interesting act because he's a heavy metal stand-up comic. He has a live band perform with him during his routine. This isn't your normal everyday Jerry Seinfeld routine. Jim paid tribute to Metallica by doing a Metallica inspired rendition of the child's classic song, "If You're Happy And You Know It."
I looked for months to try and find Jim Breuer's Metallica act, and finally I have found it.
Download "If You're Happy And You Know It" by Jim Breuer. [Please right click and go save link target as...]
Monday, March 7. 2005
This last week was the general elections for the University of Victoria's Student Society (UVSS). As usual, the campus was plastered with left-wing propaganda from the candidates demanding things like free education, and abortions for all. (Yes, this is a heavily biased opinion editorial.) Election period always brings out a very cynical side of me because there's always talk about representing student views, when infact a very small minority puts these people into power. This got me thinking about all the propaganda that the UVSS and protesters spits out.
Whenever it comes to protest season (ie, the weather gets warm enough), the UVSS naturally rallies its students for free education. They have a few slogans that they use, but the one that seems to carry most weight is, "Germany has free education, so why don't we?" So, in this article, I will tackle this demand for free education.
I call this propaganda because the UVSS is providing a very one-sided picture of what free education is, I think they've oversimplified it. My arguments are based on a Time Europe Magazine article entitled, "What Price Education." The UVSS seems to think that free education is this wonderful academic utopia that Germany has built; however, this Time Europe article paints a very different and bleak picture.
Continue reading "Debunking UVSS Free Education Propaganda"
"That was the difference between her and the idiots of the world. They were all trying to look smart and keep their social standing. Whereas Valentine didn't care about social standing, she cared about getting it right. Getting he truth - when the truth was gettable."
--Orson Scott Card, Ender In Exile
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