What I'm Reading
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Tuesday, September 30. 2008
Ahoy matees! While growing up, there was always this question in the back of my mind of, what will I be when I grow up? We all had to take a course on career preparations in high school wasn't very useful. One of the things that we had to do in that course was fill out an electronic questionnaire, and it would give you a list of careers that you may enjoy doing. Mine came back as systems analyst, which is quite possiblely the most glamourous of all careers. However, recently I discovered that there's a career that I thought had become extinct like the dodo bird, pirate. It turns out that piracy in the high seas is still a very viable career path!
Check out this story entitled, "U.S. Warships Close In On Pirates With Soviet Tanks Off Somalia." It seems like pirates these days are after military hardware instead of ye olde dubloons. Awesome.
U.S. warships closed in on a ship carrying a cargo of battle tanks, seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia, after the captain died of a heart attack. The pirates are demanding a $20 million ransom. Somali pirates seized the Faina, a Belize-flagged vessel with a crew of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and one Latvian, on Sept. 25, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said. It was carrying at least 30 Soviet-designed T-72 tanks to Kenya.
The Faina's Russian captain, Vladimir Kolobkov, died after the pirates seized the ship, Nikolsky said. He added that there are currently about 50 armed pirates on board, and confirmed there are about 20 crew. [...]
``Two big warships are patrolling around us and several planes flew at low altitude overhead, but they didn't hurt us,'' Omar said. ``In case they try to take any military action, we will fight against them until the last one dies.''
The U.S. has several ships in the area shadowing the Faina, which is anchored off the Somali coast near the port city of Hobyo, near two other pirated ships, Lieutenant Nate Christensen said by telephone from Bahrain.
In a statement yesterday, the U.S. Navy said the destroyer USS Howard was within visual range of the ships. Christensen wouldn't say how many naval ships are now in the vicinity or say if any special forces are on board. French naval commandos two weeks ago freed a French yacht that had been taken by Somali pirates.
Anyways, pretty crazy eh? Looks like there are some a lot of unsafe waters out there which are prone to pirate attacks. Who would have thought? Anyone know where to sign up to join the crew of some mighty pirates? Y'arr.
Sunday, September 28. 2008
I came across this article in the Post Gazette entitled, "Eyebrows raised over city school policy that sets 50% as minimum score
- 1+1=3? In city schools, it's half right."
Pittsburgh Public Schools officials say they want to give struggling children a chance, but the district is raising eyebrows with a policy that sets 50 percent as the minimum score a student can receive for assignments, tests and other work.
The district and teachers union last week issued a joint memo to ensure staff members' compliance with the policy, which was already on the books but enforced only at some schools. Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President John Tarka said the policy is several years old.
While some districts use "F" as a failing grade, the city uses an "E." [...]
they said, the 50 percent minimum gives children a chance to catch up and a reason to keep trying. If a student gets a 20 percent in a class for the first marking period, Ms. Pugh said, he or she would need a 100 percent during the second marking period just to squeak through the semester.
"We want to create situations where students can recover and not give up," she said, adding a sense of helplessness can lead to behavior and attendance problems.
"It's not grade inflation. We're not saying, 'Give people passing grades,' " Ms. Pugh said.
But the policy strikes some teachers and parents as rewarding bad work and at odds with the district's "Excellence for All" improvement campaign.
"Clearly, some people will not be pleased with this policy," Mr. Tarka said. But he added, "We stand by that decision."
Judy Leonardi, a Stanton Heights resident and retired district home economics teacher, said she objected to the notion that a student could "walk in the door, breathe the air and get 50 percent for that."
"I don't think it sets kids up properly for college, for competition in life," she said.
To Ms. Leonardi, a 20 percent score means a student isn't trying or needs more help with the material. Automatically putting 50 percent in the grade book, she said, doesn't help the student in either case. [...]
Superintendent James Lombardo said he's in favor of implementing the idea, partly as a fairness issue. He noted that a failing grade carries far more mathematical weight than any other grade if the "E" or "F" has a range of zero to 59 percent.
"I guess I laud the Pittsburgh district for recognizing some of the foibles of our numerical system," he said, adding low percentage scores sometimes are given to students because of their attitude or work ethic, rather than their level of accomplishment.
Continue reading "Your Minimum Grade is 50% In Pittsburg"
Wednesday, September 24. 2008
So the McCain campaign has been doing very poorly as the gap between him and Obama has now increased to the double digits now. But this can't be good news. Apparently John McCain was scheduled to appear on Letterman, but canceled about an hour before the show started because he was going back to Washington to help save the economy. Turns out that wasn't entirely true, and it looks like McCain snubbed David Letterman.
David Letterman responds in kind:
I know Letterman and Leno tries to be as apolitical as possible on their shows, but Letterman must have been pretty mad judging by this. P.S. Myron, viewer discretion is advised, it does contain a 2 minute appearance of your good friend, Keith Olbermann.
Friday, September 19. 2008
Came across this game called the "Munsell Hue Test." It tests your colour perception. You're given a a bunch of shades of colour, and you have to arrange them in order of its hue. It'll rate which colours you're good at perceiving, and which colours you're weak on.
One thing that could affect your score is how good your computer monitor is.
Check it out!
Tuesday, September 16. 2008
Yesterday was an absolutely historic day in the stock markets as two financial titans fell; Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, and Merill Lynch was sold to Bank of America. Panic ensued, and the Dow dropped 500 points. As a recap, this chain of events started with the subprime mortgage meltdown. Greedy banks were basically giving home loans to a lot of people who simply couldn't afford them. Interest rates moved up, and people couldn't keep up with their mortgage payments anymore, so people defaulted on their loans. You multiple this situation a couple million times, and you have this blackhole in the financial markets where a ton of money has disappeared. Now the government is trying to step in and bail out these banks which are failing, which ultimately means the taxpayers are picking up the tab. It's quite a dire situation since America's debt is already huge, and it's only going to get bigger.
There are two main things that really tick me off about this situation.
This morning I just discovered that one of my stocks in the solar business dropped about 50% in value because they had a business connection to Lehman Brothers, and because Lehman is going bankrupt, the company is going to be losing money. This was quite an unfortunate revelation, and it shows how there's going to be a lot of indirect ways for people to get financially hurt because the large banks are failing.
This morning, Cramer had some dire warnings of other financial organizations that are on the brink of failing as well, such as AIG and Citigroup.
This evening, it looks like the government is bailing out AIG by giving it an $85 billion loan.
You may be asking, why do banks fail? Well, generally this is how it works. You and I deposit our money into the bank, and we assume that money is going to be safe. The bank makes money by loaning that money out to people. Typically a bank might take all of their money, and loan out somewhere between 80-90% of the money it has. They try to loan out as much money as they can because money sitting in their vaults isn't going to generate as much money. This works well in theory, as long as the people you're careful in who you loan money to. There will always be the possibility of bad loans, where someone can't pay back, but you weigh your risks. The problem arises when you have way too many bad loans, and you've basically lost your money. Now when you and I go to the bank to withdraw cash, the bank says, uhhh..... we don't have your money, we lost it. Epic fail for the bank.
There's an excellent 45 frame comic called "The Subprime Primer," that explains exactly how subprime mortgages got us into the mess. Very entertaining to read, and very informative. (Caution: some foul language).
Sunday, September 14. 2008
About a month ago, I decided to start watching 24 because I finished catching up in every other show that I followed (The Office, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes). Everyone kept saying that I'd love 24 since it covers everything that I find fascinating: (geo)politics, intelligence, and computer hacking. I probably would have started a long time ago, but during academia, I had no time, so I had put it off. Many years later after the initial premier, I started from the beginning, season 1.
I was amused that the first season revolved around a plot to kill the first African-American senator that was running for President. When I saw Kiefer Sutherland, aka Jack Bauer, I instantly pointed the finger at him saying, he's going to try to kill the senator! Why? Growing up, every movie that I saw Kiefer Sutherland in, he was always casted as a racist character from the South and/or KKK Klansman. (See the movie, A Time To Kill). My gut reaction was, aha! Jack Bauer is a racist, and he wants the senator dead because he's African-American! Mystery solved. Unfortunately, I let my stereotypes cloud my judgment, and season 1 didn't exactly end the way I had predicted, but oh well.
In either case, I finished season 1 quite readily, and I just finished season 2 today. Verdict is in, I'm officially hooked. I would also like to dub Season 2, the torture season. It seems like you couldn't get through an episode without someone getting electrocuted or mutilated in some manner.
Looking back, there are a few things that are kind of distracting.
An unfortunate side-effect of watching 24 is that it's rekindling my interest in working in intelligence. That dream got sidetracked a couple years back (long story), but perhaps I'll get another stab at it later. I've been advised not to go for that career until later in life.
Anyway, I'll be starting season 3 tomorrow. Lets see which American hating ethnic group will be after America this time!
Friday, September 12. 2008
During my time in academia, there was an astronomical rise in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs); the king of them being World of Warcraft (WoW). It was always tempting to play, but there was no way I could maintain my grades if I got sucked into one of these games, because they're massive time sinks. Part of it was also that everyone I knew was playing WoW, and I hate jumping onto bandwagons as I like going against the mainstream.
Even though I had a self-imposed embargo on not playing MMOGs, I actually did a lot of research into them. I was fascinated by the economies that developed in the games, and how sophisticatedly groups could organize complex strategies, etc. One game that stood out for me was Eve Online; a space game where you fly a ship. It was refreshing to find this game because it wasn't yet another World of Warcraft clone.
There were a few intriguing features in this game.
Fast-forward to now. With a rapidly crumbling social circle, I decided to take the dive and try out Eve Online because I had some time and they offer a 14-day free trial.
Continue reading "Eve Online"
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"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn."
--C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), British Author
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