What I'm Reading
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Saturday, March 31. 2007
Here's some weekend humour provided by JibJab.com. They've recently released a video that takes jabs at the mainstream media.
Personally, I think I'm going to scream if I hear another news story about Anna Nicole Smith. For goodness' sake, there's a lot more important things in the world that's happening that COULD be covered by the media. Consequently, it's interesting that there is a sizable segment of the population gets most their news from bloggers rather than traditional news sources.
Thursday, March 29. 2007
I just came back from a walk, and I noticed this afternoon that gas prices have moved from $1.10/L to $1.14/L. What's the story behind this? It's trouble in the Middle East between Iran and Britain. These tensions have moved oil prices from $60/barrel up to $66/barrel in under two weeks.
The story is that Iran seized 15 British sailors and marines last week for illegally "tresspassing" in Iranian waters. The British deny this, and argue that their forces were in international waters.
Britain is fairly ticked off now because the Iranians have released footage showing the British sailors being captured, and a video-taped confession by one of the sailors. In the videotape, the sailor admits to illegally entering Iranian waters, and then demands Britain to withdraw from Iraq.
The worry now is that this stand off could eventually result in military action against Iran. This could disrupt oil flow to the world because this takes place in the Persian Gulf, and a quarter of the world's oil travels through there. The Iranians could do a lot of damage to shipping as they have a number of stealthy submarines in the Gulf. In addition, they could impose an oil embargo and cease the flow of Iranian oil to the world. Such events are sure to send economic shockwaves throughout the world.
A part of me wonders if this is the prelude to a war with Iran and the West. Tensions had already been building over sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program. The Americans have already moved an additional aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf to "project power." In addition, they say the best time to fight in the Middle East is around now, during the Spring, when the temperatures are still somewhat tolerable. The last thing militaries want to do is fight in the desert during Summer.
Tuesday, March 27. 2007
Now that I have a bit more free time on my hands, I've been able to follow a few more TV shows. The latest one that I've become hooked on is Futureweapons which airs on the Discovery Channel, Tuesdays at 7:00pm and 10:00pm, and Saturdays at 2:00pm. This show features the latest and greatest in military technology. I used to always watch The Learning Channel (TLC) when they used to have cool series like "When Stuff Blows Up." Now, they've been replaced with shows about brides and home makeovers; it just doesn't seem very burly anymore. So, I've moved over to the Discovery Channel because they have plenty of things blowing up
Here's a few sample clips of Futureweapons:
YouTube has many more clips available. Now this show has some chest hair on it!
Friday, March 23. 2007
Last night, I had the privilege of attending an advanced screening of Amazing Grace. It is a story about a British Parliamentary named William Wilberforce, who found Christ and decided to lead the campaign to end the slave trade in the British Empire. He went against popular opinion, and fought to abolish slavery. Every year he would table a bill to abolish slavery, and every year it failed.
The movie is named Amazing Grace because Wilberforce was heavily influenced by John Newton, a clergyman. John Newton was a slave ship captain for 15 years until he found Christ and saw the evil that he had done; consequently he wrote the famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
Although a lot of the story does surround politics, one would suspect this to be a boring movie, but I thought they did an excellent job of presenting it. They combine a good mix of humour, devious plots, and romance which kept the movie interesting. One of my friends normally doesn't enjoy this genre of movie, but he liked this film a lot.
It was actually quite fascinating seeing politicians debate in the House of Commons because it's really noisy as politicians are booing and shouting, and making witty comebacks in their speeches. If you've ever wondered why the Canadian House of Commons is so noisy, and why some politicians are outright rude, it's because we get that influence from the British system.
The history that this movie covers is interesting because there are many parallels that we can draw from today's world. For example, the Western powers were getting rich because they were using slaves to produce wealth. One highly prized commodity was refined sugar. The British had sugar plantations in the Caribbean, which was run by slaves. As people back in London began learning about how human life was being exploited for sugar, some people stopped using sugar altogether. Others would only purchase slave-free sugar. Politicians at the time argued that ending the slave trade would cause too much financial damage to the empire, and other empires who kept using slaves would become more powerful than Britain.
Today, slavery is technically abolished, but we continue to exploit people for the sake of cheap commodities. We do this by purchasing blood diamonds, oil from shady regimes, sneakers produced in sweatshops, coffee from wage slaves, etc. In defence of these activities, we argue that there would be too much financial damage to our economies if we stopped exploiting others. In some ways, things never change.
On the positive side though, the film does show us the transformational power that can be achieved by one righteous man. It also illustrates the power of democracy, as one man used the political system to end a great injustice. One man was able to end the slave trade without firing a single bullet or resorting to violence; this is a testament of the power of democracy. I can only imagine the good that can be done today if we had politicians who have clean consciences, clean hands, and righteousness.
One thing that could have improved the movie would be more scenes of how the slaves were actually being treated during this era. They vividly describe them with words, but I think it would have made a bigger impact if they showed it. However, the film is rated PG, and if they want to keep it family friendly, then there's probably no way they could do this.
Overall, a very good film, and an amazing story about a very dark era of humanity. I encourage everyone to go see the film. I wouldn't be surprised if this movie shows up in history classes around the world.
March 25, 2007 markes the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade brought to you by William Wilberforce.
Wednesday, March 21. 2007
Way back when I was a wee lad in high school, we were required to do community volunteer work. We had to do anywhere from thirty to fifty hours of volunteer service a year depending on what grade we were in.
The organization that I volunteered for was the Victoria Literary Arts Festival. They had administrative tasks that had to be done. Being a computer geek, I fit into this position fairly well. After two years of good work, I began assuming more responsibilities. By this time, their webmaster quit due to health issues. I offered to take over their website because I was starting to learn about building websites, and this would be an awesome way to gain experience and to help build up a portfolio of work.
I gave the whole website a facelift, and optimized it. Traffic to the website increased every year, and it was a great communication tool for the festival. They were very grateful for my technical expertise, and all was well for a while. I managed their website between 1999-2004.
On the festival's tenth anniversary, the Governor General was recognizing this organization's accomplishments, and I was invited to an exclusive dinner party at the Governor General's house. This was one fancy event. Top hats, monocles, the works. I had to buy a new suit for the event. It was an open buffet, and there was a giant pile of candied smoke salmon. It was heavenly.
The dinner party's conversation was fairly funny though. Here I am with a room full of social elites, award winning authors, and literary buffs debating and talking about books that the festival was featuring, and I hadn't read any of the books. Boy did I feel out of place. I was the tech guy I didn't read any of the poetry! In either case, the festival director was taking me around, introducing me to authors and people, and I tried my best to say something intelligent when someone asked what I thought about a certain book.
This was the peak of the festival. Dining with the Govenor General, piles of smoke salmon, this was the life. Then, things started to unravel. Every November, I would be contacted by the festival director about updates to the website. One year, no one contacted me. I checked the website, and the domain name had expired because someone didn't renew it, and to my shock, someone had bought the domain, and replaced the site with a porn site. It's as if the festival just vanished. I never had closure, and I never knew what happened.
A few weeks ago, I read that the annual FolkFest was not going to happen this year because of budgetary reasons, and this got me thinking about the Victoria Literary Arts Festival again. So, I started investigating, and ultimately I found an article in the Times Colonist entitled, "Writers Fest Scales Down To Survive." That's a good sign right?
The Victoria Literary Arts Festival has survived -- but this year's edition comes closer to a novelette than a novel. Late last year, the writers' festival nearly collapsed in the face of the board's resignation and faltering leadership. Now, the Victoria Literary Arts Festival (VLAF) is back for an eleventh season, albeit in abridged form....This year the annual festival has been reduced to two days from last year's four. Its budget is slashed to approximately $35,000 from $150,000. While previous Victoria literary festivals undertook the expense of flying in dozens of international writers, the 2004 version has trimmed costs by inviting mostly Victoria and Vancouver authors, including P.K. Page, Marilyn Bowering, Bill Gaston, John Gould and Patrick Lane. Money was also saved by offering smaller honorariums to authors and having board members pick up duties formerly carried out by paid VLAF staff (there are no paid staff this year).
In either case, this does give me some closure. It's a shame that they just disappeared though.
Monday, March 19. 2007
I was reading over the highlights of the new 2007 federal budget that the Conservatives just released today. One of the items of interest is the government's approach to greener cars. This has interested me in the last little while because:
a) Have you seen gas prices so far this year? $1.10/L and it's not even summer yet when gas gets even more expensive.
b) The environment is the #1 issue in Canada now.
c) Green cars have some pretty spiffy technology on them.
From the article:
The Conservatives introduced plans for rebates of up $2,000 from the government on the purchase of new fuel-efficient vehicles and a levy on gas guzzlers.
For example, the buyer of a 2007 Toyota Prius or a Honda Civic Hybrid could get $2,000. Both of those vehicles consume 4.5 litres of fuel or less per 100 kilometres driven, according to Natural Resources Canada's fuel consumption guide.
At the other end of the spectrum, new passenger vehicles that consume more than 13 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres will be hit with a $1,000 levy. Trucks will be exempt. The rate of the levy will rise to $4,000 on vehicles with fuel consumption ratings of 16 litres per 100 kilometres or higher.
The rebate plan will cost the government about $160 million over the next two years, while Ottawa expects to collect $215 million from the levy over those years.
I was curious to know how well my car stacks up against green cars in terms of fuel economy. I found this great U.S. government website that lets you compare cars in terms of fuel economy. The Honda Civic Hybrid gets twice the mileage on a tank of gas compared to my car which is absolutely amazing.
In the next few years, I will most likely purchase a car, and these sort of green tax incentives from the government makes it a bit easier to go green with my car.
Thursday, March 15. 2007
The #1 most frequently asked question that I get these days is: "Chan, now that you've finished your master's degree, what are you going to do now?"
To end any speculation, I'm declaring that I will not be pursuing further education or a doctor's degree in the near future. I've been in university for over six years non-stop without any sort of breaks or vacations. I blitzed through graduate school in two years when the average master's student takes about three years. It's time to convert some of that sacrifice to reward. Basically, I'm very ready for the real world, and I'm looking for a job with a career path.
What kind of work am I looking for? I'm looking for web development jobs, since my passion is in building useful applications for people. Last time I checked, the web is pretty darn useful . What does a web developer do? We build websites and web applications. It takes web developers to build things like MySpace or YouTube for example. I do the behind-the-scenes stuff for a website, like making sure a webpage loads fast, or writing code to load information from a database and push it out to a webpage. I also do the front-end stuff, like making a webpage look clean and pretty.
So, I'm in a transitionary phase right now. I finished my Master's in mid-February, and I finished working at my job early this month. I've been at my last job for almost 5 years, so this is quite the transition. I collected my last paycheque today, and now we sail into uncharted waters.
Another comment that I get a lot these days is, "Chan, it must be so relaxing now that you have so much time." Not quite. Although it's nice not having to work 7 hours in the office, go to classes, and come home to do homework, I am keeping myself busy. I've got two websites that I'm building for non-profit organizations, so these projects are keeping me sharp and busy during this down time.
Also, I've been working on my portfolio which is used to show employers what I've been doing for the last few years in my academic and professional life. The old resume has been updated. I haven't touched it for a few years considering I haven't been job hunting for a long time.
Today, I fired off the opening volley of job applications to prospective employers. My goal is to apply to three jobs per week. They say 90% of students who went through the co-operative education program finds permanent work within 6 months of graduation. Lets hope I'm not part of that special 10%.
One of my friends, Pablo is currently also seeking work, so we have a little competition going. I will be keeping score of the number of applications and interviews that we get each week. The prize is to be determined.
Here's to greener pastures!
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