What I'm Reading
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Saturday, April 30. 2005
As you may or may not know, British Columbia is having a provincial election on May 17, 2005. Campaigning is well under way, and each party is eager to get their supporters out to vote.
In either case, this morning I get a phone call. It's a Chinese guy on the phone, asking in Chinese, to speak with my dad. I assume this guy must be one of my parent's friends or relatives from Hong Kong or China because no one else that calls speaks in Chinese. I notice that this guy's Chinese sounds really funny, it sounds like a mix of Cantonese and Mandrain (the two major Chinese dialects, I speak Cantonese). Anyways, I tell him my dad's not home, and he asks for my mom, and I tell him she's not home either. He then asks for me. What the? None of my parent's friends or family from overseas knows my name.
So he starts talking really quickly in his wierd dialect, and I'm having a hard time following since I'm not a native Chinese speaker. I was able to gather that he was talking about the election, and he was asking if I'd vote for a certain party, and if I could come out to help their party office during the weekdays. I couldn't figure out what party he was trying to promote because I don't know the Chinese word for "New Democrats" or "Liberals". I convey to him that I'm not available to help during the weekdays.
He quickly blabs something else, and he's trying to pressure me to do something, but I'm lost in translation at this point. I tell him in Chinese that I don't understand what he's saying. He heard that and thought that I said, "I don't know who you are". So he does his whole introduction of who he is, and what party he is again in Chinese. At this point, I'm getting ticked off because this is going no where. He then tries to make the final sell, he asks if he can count on me voting for his candidate on May 17th, 2005. I say yes just to get him off my back. He then asks do you know where to go to vote. I say yes, again trying to end this. He then says, okay, where do you go to vote? Gah, he wants the address?! I quickly say, I don't know the Chinese name of the address, but I know where to go. He then goes on for a bit more about the directions to my voting station.
I'm frustrated at this point, and ask if he speaks English. He says no, and after some more blabbing the conversation is over.
In either case, I'm a little ticked off by this experience, because it looks like politicians are targetting voters by race.
I'm guessing they just looked through the phonebooks, and saw.... oooo... last name Chan, they must speak only Chinese, and only this wierd Chinese dialect, lets get an asian guy to call up the Chan's, because you know, they'll be SO impressed that we took the time and effort to get an asian guy to call them up..... we're bound to get their vote! This is how we're going to win the ethnic vote, we're so brilliant.
There is no doubt in my mind this is what they're doing. How do I know? Well, I have a hard time believing that they're going to get this Chinese guy calling up Mr. Smith, and speaking to him in Chinese.
Anyways, I think it's stupid that the guy on the phone didn't even know how to speak English. NOT ALL CHINESE PEOPLE ARE FLUENT IN ALL CHINESE DIALECTS. Stop racially profiling us. I am not a brainless robot who will automatically vote for your party because you get some asian guy to talk to me on the phone. I am a political independent, I vote based on party platforms, I do not vote based on what other members of my ethnic race will vote for. I am not part of a ethnic voting bloc. I am not a statistic. Do not forget that I am firstly a Canadian citizen.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened. A few years ago, these two Chinese women knock on my door. They start talking in Mandarin (a dialect that I don't speak), and I figured out that they were Jehovah Witnesses. They gave me pamplets in Chinese which I couldn't read. I told them I didn't understand what they were saying, and if they could speak in English. They didn't speak English. I assume the Jehovah Witnesses sent them to our house based on racial factors. I have a hard time believing that white people are having Mandarin speaking Jehovah Witnesses showing up at the door and trying to convert white infidels using a foreign language.
STOP TARGETTING PEOPLE BASED ON RACE!
Wednesday, April 27. 2005
Last week, Prime Minister Paul Martin made a rare address to the nation. Unlike the American system where the President gives a state of the union every year, Canada doesn't normally have addresses to the nation. The entire transcript of his speech is found here.
In either case, when I read in the paper that Paul Martin was going to give a prime time speech at 7pm, I thought... great, I'm going to get home from work and hear what he says. By the time I'm home, and I turn on the TV, I flip to the CBC, and notice that they're showing short clips of the speech. What the? It looks like Mr.Martin gave his speech at 7pm eastern time, 4pm pacific time. This was a freakin re-run. I was a bit ticked that the prime minister didn't even bother waiting for the citizens of the Western provinces to get home before giving the address. A lot of the analysis I heard afterwards was that strategically, the Western provinces didn't matter to the Federal Liberal party, and the message was geared towards Ontario and Quebec. Strategically, I guess it makes sense. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba combined has 20 Liberal seats. Ontario and Quebec has 96 Liberal seats. British Columbia also has a way of completely destroying parties that are corrupt. Remember what we did to the BC NDP party last election? They were left with 2 seats while the BC Liberal party had 77 seats.
Anyways, I watched portions of the speech, and watched the CBC coverage and analysis of the Prime Minister's speech which was interesting. Normally the CBC is fairly left-wing and pro-Liberal, but they didn't like what the Prime Minister said. I was kind of surprised.
The first point they really didn't like was the fact that the Prime Minister even addressed the nation. As mentioned above, an address to the nation is very rare, and only happens when there is a national crisis. For example, when Quebec was having their referendum on separating from Canada in 1995, or the FLQ Terrorist crisis in 1970. Many people argued that the current Liberal scandal is not a national crisis, it is a Liberal party crisis, and it may be the first time in 12 years that they do not lead government. Therefore, buying up a prime time television slot was inappropriate, as it was pretty much a campaign message for the inevitable election. The other opposition leaders were not given the same amount of air time.
Another point that the analysts attacked was the fact that Paul Martin kept pushing that there shouldn't be an election until the Gomery inquiry is finished. The analysts said that this was hypocritical because last year when the scandal news broke out about the Liberals misspending $250 million, Paul Martin said he wouldn't call an election until the Gomery inquiry finished. He called an election in 2004 anyways, before the inquiry finished.
In my opinion, I think the Prime Minister's address to the nation was a desperate political move. He did not have to interrupt prime time to get his message out because we are NOT in a national crisis, it's not our fault that your party is corrupt. This could have been a plea made in the house of commons, as that is televised as well. I think Paul Martin is just trying to appeal to the public and he's basically saying.... oohhh... the opposition isn't playing nice with us anymore... please make them play with us. Currently nothing's getting done in parliament because none of the opposition trusts the Liberal government. A lot of people don't want an election right now, but quite frankly, a government that isn't even getting anything done is a big waste of taxpayer money. If nothing is getting done, then call for a no-confidence motion and bring down the government, that's what the no-confidence motion is for! The government was designed this way so that deadlocks could be broken.
On a side note, I think it's interesting how minority governments never seem to work in North America. They tend to have a very short lifecycle. Meanwhile, in other places like Europe, they're able to govern just fine with minority governments, and they get a lot done. I wonder why that is.
In either case, I think it's quite ironic that the $250 million that the Liberals used inappropriately was intended to keep Canada unified by brainwashing (via advertisements) Quebecers to vote no on separation. This scandal could be the catalyst that rips Canada apart ironically. The news says that Quebecers are offended that the Liberals thought they could be bought out by money. Furthermore, they're finding out from the Gomery inquiry that the Liberals essentially cheated on the 1995 Quebec referendum. For example, they say that the Liberal government moved 15,000 immigrants quickly through the immigration process, and made them into Canadian citizens who could vote. The rationale was that immigrants tended to vote no for separation. I did a quick calculation, and 15,000 immigrants voting no, equals 0.29% of the vote. That's not a lot, but considering that the 1995 Quebec referendum results were 49.42% YES, 50.58% NO, that could have made the difference. Anyways, with this news, the separatists are gaining strength again in Quebec, and this could be the thing that rips Canada apart.
Paul Martin is also getting flak from U2's Bono. Bono is mad because Paul Martin promised to raise Canada's foreign to 0.7% of our GDP, and Paul Martin has broken that promise.
So much good news for the Federal Liberal Party these days . (Note they should not be mistaken for the Provincial BC Liberal Party.)
Monday, April 25. 2005
For the majority of people, tax season is a time of distress and anxiety. Ironically, for me, it is one of the happiest times of the year. I actually look forward to tax season because of the nice tax return that follows. As a student, I hardly pay any taxes.
Anyways, I submitted my taxes a few minutes ago. This was the first time that I actually did my taxes online. For those who know me, you'll remember that I was a die hard paper-and-pencil tax guy, who refused to do taxes online. For online taxes, I really didn't like the idea of putting in numbers into a magic blackbox, and out the other end is what your tax return was. I wanted to know how each of those numbers were calculated and why, so that's why I did my taxes by hand. I also thought it was dumb how you had to pay money in order to file taxes online, it's especially stupid if I can do my own taxes.
So, I finally bit the bullet and gave online taxes a try. What swayed me was simple economics. By paper, it would take around 6 weeks for my tax refund to come in, as opposed to 2 weeks. That's a 1 month difference, and that's a lot of interest from investments lost. In addition, the faster I get my money from a corrupt government *COUGH* LIBERALS *COUGH* the better.
I started my quest for an online tax service by going to the Canada Revenue Agency site, where they had a list of tax software packages available. I went with the web based ones because I didn't want to bother downloading and installing anything. For web based applications, all you need is a modern web browser to run them. I then looked at which tax service allowed you to file taxes for free.
The first one I came across was T1Filer which allowed you to file taxes for free if you made under $25,000. Great. So I checked it out, and I really didn't like it. The first thing is, it asks which forms you'll need. I didn't know off hand, so I ended guessing which forms I needed. Then it asks you to fill in the dollar amounts for these different forms. Some of the questions they ask are very vague, and the help section was awful. It also didn't provide any useful instructions about what to put in those boxes, even though the government publishes those instructions. The whole user interface was clunky. At the end of finishing my taxes, I noticed there were some errors with my tax return because the questions they asked weren't very precise. It also didn't provide any tips of how to optimize/maximize your tax return. So, I stopped using this one because I didn't trust the results it had generated.
The next one I checked out was UFile which was the one I ended up using. The price was right because if you earn under $20,000 a year, it's free OR if you're a post-secondary Canadian student, it's FREE. The tax service was a web based system. It had a very intuitive user interface. Each field you fill in has additional help if you need it, and extra help if you need to look up something in the official government tax instructions (very useful). It doesn't ask you what forms you need; rather, it asks interview questions like if you were a student last year, and it'll pick the forms that you'll need. It was a very easy to use system. It took me less than half an hour to finish my taxes. Furthermore, when you finish your taxes, it optimizes them for you, and gives you tax tips and adjustments in order to maximize your tax return. I learned a few tax tricks that I wasn't aware of before.
So, I finally decided to switch from pencil-and-paper tax filing to online tax filing. Using UFile was a breeze for preparing taxes. If you want your tax return quickly, online tax filing is definitely the way to go. If you're a student or if you make less than $25,000 or $20,000, there's no reason why you shouldn't file online because it's free. A reminder that taxes are due next week, so if you haven't started, you should do them now. I have an excuse for doing them so late, I had final papers to write . If you've never done taxes before, it might be good to do them manually using the old fashion pencil-and-paper method as you develop an understanding of what's going on. How else would you know if your tax software screwed up your return or not?
P.S. If you do your taxes online, make sure you print out a paper copy of them just in case you get audited. Also, make sure you keep a digital copy of your tax files, and make sure you keep them somewhere safe.
Sunday, April 24. 2005
Today was an exciting day at church, as it was the day we set aside to finish off our building's mortgage once and for all. Some background information, ten years ago, our congregation finished building a lovely new multimillion dollar church. At the time, the mortgage was $2 million. Part way through, we hit a few bumps trying to pay the thing off as people left the church because of various reasons, but there was still a mortgage to pay. There were other rough times where the future of church was in question. We were paying off the interest, but none of the principal (which is a huge waste). Interest payments were around +$60,000 a year. As a fiscal conservative, interest payments to me is money down the drain; it is money that could be spent in more productive areas.
Anyways, this last fiscal quarter, we had $33,000 left to pay on the mortgage. Before today, there was $25,000 in the mortgage fund. After today's offering, we exceeded our target and we can now finally pay off this 10 year old mortgage.
This is cause for celebration.
In my opinion, it is a miracle from God that we were able to pay this thing off. I think we average at around 80-100 card-carrying members in our church, and that is a remarkable debt-load to carry. Paying off $2 million in principal + a LOT of interest in 10 years is amazing. In addition, there were some seasons where we were just averaging 30 people a week at church. But, those times are behind us now, and there is growth.
Anyways, hopefully we can focus using our money on ministries, missions, and the poor as we don't have to pay interest any more. Exciting times.
Saturday, April 23. 2005
I was reading through some articles and came across this interesting belief quiz. It asks 20 questions about your beliefs, and in the end, it matches you with the religion that fits your beliefs the most. They currently have a list of 27 religions that they try to match you with.
After running the test, they give you a percentage that represents how closely you match a belief. They say that a score of 100% doesn't mean the faith has a 100% match of all your beliefs.
Anyways, after running the test, my top three are: Orthodox Quaker (100%), Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (99%), and Eastern Orthodox (97%). My bottom three are: Taoism (21%), Nontheist (23%), and Secular Humanism (23%).
No surprises about the bottom three results I think. The 100% match with Orthodox Quaker is surprising in my opinion. The Quakers are considered pacifists who believe in non-violence, to an extent that they did not participate in World War 2 if I remember correctly. I am by no means a pacifist as I believe there are times when force is reluctantly required.
I think there is an overall theme that matched me with the top three beliefs above. One of them being the notion that salvation is a free gift from God, and salvation is not earned. The other thing probably would be formal rituals not being required for salvation, but rather a relationship with God. I put heavy weightings on those beliefs.
Anyways try out the belief-o-matic, and feel free to share your results. It takes less than 10 minutes to do.
They have a funny disclaimer for the quiz: Warning: Belief-O-Matic™ assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul.
Wednesday, April 20. 2005
Minutes ago, I handed in my term research paper. It took about two weeks to write the whole thing. The paper was 9500 words long, or 29 pages double spaced, or 11 pages in academic journal style. When I started writing the paper, I challenged myself to write 1,000 words a day or else I wouldn't finish in time .... and it seems like it all worked out. The paper was due at midnight.
I'm encouraged that my supervising professor said that he intends to get this paper published for a major conference, so that's pretty exciting. I've never had anything published before.
My professor advised me to learn LaTeX which is a type-setting system that is widely used for academic papers. I'm glad that I learned it, because it made writing this long paper easier. The last major paper I wrote at the undergraduate level was done in Microsoft Word, and it was a nightmare because it wouldn't number my sections or figures properly. LaTeX takes care of all the numbering, labelling, and formatting, which allows you to concentrate on writing content.
The mark-up language that LaTeX uses is loosely similiar to HTML, which made it easier for me as I had a few weeks to learn it. Here's what it kind of looks like:
Notice in the example that we don't have to number the headers, like 1. Introduction. The system takes care of that for you which is nice. A lot of journals also have LaTeX style files, which basically takes the content you have written, and transforms it into the look that they want. This has some really nice advantages. Journal A might prefer documents that are 8pt in font, and headers should be Arial, while Journal B might prefer documents that are 6pt in font, and headers should be wing dings. So, all you have to do is link the code above with their style files, and you get a paper with the journal's required look. The advantage of this is, you don't have to change your content at all. Very useful when you're submitting an article to different journals.
I also like using LaTeX because it's a plain text format, so I can use my favourite text editor, VIM. People who have used VIM before know how it's WAY faster to work in VIM than Microsoft Word. With a plain text editor, I also didn't have a spell checker which was actually kind of nice, as strange as that sounds. It forced me to brush up on my spelling, and it made me less dependent on spell checkers. This was nice because I've noticed that my spelling has been slipping a bit these last few months.
Anyways, thank God that I made the paper deadline. This concludes all of my work for this academic season. I can finally return to a normal bedtime. So sleepy.... I've been pulling several consecutive late nights on this paper.
In either case, I will be returning with better quality blog articles now that I have my papers out of the way.
Monday, April 18. 2005
I was scanning through the headlines, and came across this Wired article entitled, "U.S. Military's Elite Hacker Crew." My initial reaction was, where do I sign up?
The U.S. military has assembled the world's most formidable hacker posse: a super-secret, multimillion-dollar weapons program that may be ready to launch bloodless cyberwar against enemy networks -- from electric grids to telephone nets....
One expert on cyber warfare said considering the unit is a "joint command," it is most likely made up of personnel from the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, the four military branches, a smattering of civilians and even military representatives from allied nations...
Verton said the unit's capabilities are highly classified, but he believes they can destroy networks and penetrate enemy computers to steal or manipulate data. He said they may also be able to set loose a worm to take down command-and-control systems so the enemy is unable to communicate and direct ground forces, or fire surface-to-air missiles, for example...
Dietz knows a thing or two about information warfare. He led NATO's "I-War" against Serbia in the mid-1990s -- a conflict that many believe was the occasion for the U.S. military to launch its first wave of cyber attacks against an enemy. One story widely reported, but never confirmed, described how a team of military ops was dropped into Serbia, and after cutting a wire leading to a major radar hub, planted a device that emitted phantom targets on Serb radar.
Pretty cool in an extremely geeky way. Could you imagine being able to legally hack for your country?
By the way, hacking is not as glorious as Hollywood portrays it. Movies like Hackers or Swordfish give a very distorted picture of what hacking involves. Hackers do not skateboard around in flashy outfits trying to hack the gibson. Hackers do not draw viruses. Hackers do not get the ladies. Hacking (as I've heard) involves countless hours finding exploits in systems, reading through code, and programming.
Anyways, it is interesting how information warfare is being integrated into modern warfare tactics. I guess disrupting enemy networks can be a huge problem. For example, do you remember how big of a pain it was when the CIBC bank system went down, and no one could withdraw money from ATMs? That was a simple programming error, could you imagine if some military force wanted to intentionally attack a bank system?
There were some funny stories about information warfare when the Iraq war started. A lot of American hackers claimed to be "patriots" and decided to help the war effort by hacking Iraqi targets. The FBI officially told them to cut it out. The most famous hacking exploit was when a hacker hacked into Saddam's e-mail account.
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