Bees Overseas

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

In Bees Overseas, Michael Tsai notes that “Spelling bees are a particularly British and American phenomenon”:

The orthography of some Romance languages, like Spanish, is so regular that one can easily figure out the spelling of a word just by hearing the way it sounds. English, on the other hand, contains Latin, Greek, Germanic, and other roots, not to mention whole words borrowed from other languages. That’s why an American schoolchild might get stuck with tricky words like ursprache and appoggiatura.

In French-speaking nations, they test grammar. In China, they have dictionary contests:

Chinese kids join dictionary contests, where they look up words as fast as they can. Unlike English, you can’t completely decipher a Chinese character’s pronunciation just by looking at it, and characters can have many components. Thus there are several ways to find words in dictionaries. Students can look for the character’s radical, or semantic, root and search by the number of strokes in the character. If they know what the word sounds like, they can choose instead to look up the pinyin, or Romanized version, of the character. A third way involves a sort of Dewey Decimal System of words: By examining the strokes in the four “corners” of the character, expressing each corner as a number (a square is a six, for example), they can then use the resulting four-digit code to find a word in a special dictionary.

The Rush To Test Drugs In China

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

The Rush To Test Drugs In China is in full swing — a peculiar form of labor arbitrage, n’est-ce pas?:

China’s immense patient populations suffering from cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses, and a whole range of infectious diseases have captured the attention of drug and medical device companies across Europe and America. They are expanding research and testing facilities in China, not only because costs are low and it is relatively easy to recruit patients, but also because Beijing insists new drugs be tested locally before going on sale.

Many Western drug companies have had research bases in China since the 1990s. But the past 12 months have seen a flurry of new activity. In May of last year, AstraZeneca PLC committed $100 million in new research spending, much of it earmarked for cancer. In November, Novartis announced plans for a $100 million research and development center in Shanghai. And Eli Lilly & Co. has 35 trials under way involving thousands of patients. The company will enroll twice as many patients this year as in 2006—some in trials that would be hard to fill in the U.S., says Dr. Steven M. Paul, Lilly’s executive vice-president for science and technology. “We can do these very safely and quickly in China.”

Trials run by western companies bring big benefits to China. Patients gain access to “cutting-edge medical products,” says Beat Widler, head of clinical quality at Swiss pharma giant Roche, which invested more than $50 million on its Chinese operations last year. At the same time, he adds, Chinese doctors, nurses, and research staff “improve their understanding of trial methodology.”

Yet working inside China’s sprawling, often under-supervised health-care system may raise complex ethical questions. In the past, Chinese medical authorities have greenlighted risky experiments, including stem cell injections and treatments that involve altering the patient’s genes. Moreover, people recruited into trials don’t always understand what they have signed up for, but they rush to join because it may be their only chance to see a doctor.

Spain: Immigrants Welcome

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Spains says, Immigrants Welcome:

Over the past decade, the traditionally homogeneous country has become a sort of open-door laboratory on immigration. Spain has absorbed more than 3 million foreigners from places as diverse as Romania, Morocco, and South America. More than 11% of the country’s 44 million residents are now foreign-born, one of the highest proportions in Europe. With hundreds of thousands more arriving each year, Spain could soon reach the U.S. rate of 12.9%.

And it doesn’t seem to have hurt much. Spain is Europe’s best-performing major economy, with growth averaging 3.1% over the past five years. Since 2002, the country has created half the new jobs in the euro zone. Unemployment has plummeted from more than 20% in the 1990s to 8.6%, within shooting distance of the 7.2% euro zone average. The government attributes more than half this stellar performance to immigration. “We are very thankful for all these people who have come here to work with us,” says Javier Vallés, economic policy chief for Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero.
For now, Spain is keeping the welcome mat out. Besides providing muscle for construction, immigrants care for children and the elderly, allowing more Spanish women to take jobs outside the home. They do backbreaking agricultural labor and take minimum-wage positions in restaurants and hotels. “Spanish workers don’t want these jobs,” says Marta Martín, who has recruited immigrant employees for the Madrid-based hotel chain NH Hoteles. And the government says immigrants’ tax and social security contributions exceed by more than 20% the cost of public services they use.
To fill jobs, Spain looked abroad. Immigration rose from 57,000 in 1998 to more than 600,000 for each of the past two years. The biggest influx, about 800,000 since the mid-1990s, came from Ecuador, followed by Morocco and Romania. Spain, unlike France and Germany, places no restrictions on immigration from the EU’s new members in the old Soviet Bloc. Many from other countries arrived under the radar: An estimated 25% to 35% of the current immigrant population is illegal. But Spain has been generous with amnesty, granting legal status since 2000 to more than 1 million who could prove that they were employed.

[Insert your own Mexican immigration joke here.]

At Hyundai, Branding Is Job 2

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

At Hyundai, Branding Is Job 2 — because they’ve already got the quality, but nobody knows or cares:

The South Korean auto maker is desperate to convince consumers that its cars and SUVs are worth premium prices. Its impatience to see results is understandable. Hyundai’s quality is actually ahead of Toyota’s in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study, and behind only Lexus and Porsche. Consumer Reports just tapped two of Hyundai’s new vehicles as “Most Impressive” among five 2007 models it recently singled out. But only 23% of all new-car buyers last year even bothered to consider a Hyundai. That compares with 65% for Toyota Motor Co. and more than 50% for Honda Motor Co.

It sounds like Samsung vs. Sony a few years back.

Bigger than Hogzilla

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I recently noted that an 11-year-old boy, Jamison Stone, killed a half-ton feral pig, with a pistol. (The boy had the pistol. The pig was unarmed.)

My advice then was simple:

If you have to shoot the beast eight times and chase it for three hours, might I suggest using the high-power hunting rifles you brought along? For the pig’s sake.

I don’t know if you’d call that a negative comment, but Jamison and his father now have a website up, called Bigger than Hogzilla, and they’re posting all kinds of wild-eyed negative comments they’ve been sent. For example:

Just a quick question, You attend a Christian college and yet kill so freely. Does not the Old Testament say ‘do unto others’ I have To ask the question, if said boar ran for 3 hours, Would it be ‘do unto others BEFORE ‘or ‘AS they would unto you?’ To experience the kill is exhilarating ( I know from hunting boars in Australia myself ) But, is it worth the moment to take a life as it is to spend an eternityin damnation for breaking one of the original commandments “thou shall not kill”. I have accepted my eternity, have you?

I think the Old Testament voices more concern about eating a pig than killing one.

Anyway, I was shocked that anyone would hunt a half-ton beast with a pistol, even a powerful .50 caliber one, like the Smith & Wesson Model 500 Revolver. I’m still shocked.

If you want to know more, you can try reading Jamison’s Dad’s letter. Somehow Jesus is intimately involved in hog hunting. He works in mysterious ways…

Jaquet-Droz Automata

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

In the 18th century, famed watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz built three automata, life-size clockwork dolls, to demonstrate his amazing technical skills.

Most amazing of the three is The Writer, a little boy capable not only of writing a note with pen and ink, but of writing any text up to 40 characters long:

The text is coded on a wheel where characters are selected one by one. He uses a goose feather to write, which he inks from time to time, including a shake of the wrist to prevent ink from spilling. His eyes follow the text being written, and the head moves when he takes some ink.

In some sense, such an automaton is an early computer.

(Hat tip to Fogonazos.)

Why Apple TV is a dud

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Brent Schlender explains Why Apple TV is a dud:

  • Apple TV’s most highly touted feature is its weakest one: It requires an HDTV, but the video you download is so low-res that it looks as fuzzy as plain old broadcast TV.
  • Apple TV’s coolest feature is one that wasn’t even intended: the screensaver, which plays an ethereal slide show of your digital photos.
  • There’s no way to order a movie directly from the iTunes store via your TV, even though Apple TV has its own connection to the Internet. Instead, you have to download it to your computer first.
  • Apple TV lets you show photos only from a single computer, even though photos are the one source of HD content everyone has, and are easy and legal to share over a network. That is especially odd, because Apple TV does allow you to share digital music from multiple PCs.

As he notes, “You get the feeling that Apple didn’t create this thing because it was insanely great but in order to freeze competitors out of downloadable video.”

Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I haven’t seen Adam Sandler’s Mr. Deeds, but I did just watch the 1936 classic, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, starring Gary Cooper, and I can see why it’s considered a classic.

I particularly enjoyed this bit of trivia:

This film introduced the words “pixelated” and “doodling” to the world, both of which feature prominently in the court hearing scene.

The quotes, in context:

John Cedar: Suppose you just answer, Miss Jane. Now, will you tell the court what everybody at home thinks of Longfellow Deeds?
[pause; then Jane whispers to Amy; Amy whispers back]
Jane Faulkner: They think he’s pixilated.
Amy Faulkner: Oh, yes, pixilated.
Judge May: He’s what?
John Cedar: What was that you said he was?
Jane Faulkner: Pixilated.
Amy Faulkner: Mm-hmm.
John Cedar: Now that’s rather a strange word to us, Miss Jane. Can you tell the court exactly what it means?
Board member: Perhaps I can explain, Your Honor. The word “pixilated” is an early American expression derived from the word “pixies,” meaning elves. They would say the pixies had got him. As we nowadays would say, a man is “barmy.”
Judge May: Oh. Is that correct?
Jane Faulkner: Mm-hmm.
Amy Faulkner: Mm-hmm.
Longfellow Deeds: That may make you look a little crazy, Your Honor, just, just sitting around filling in O’s, but I don’t see anything wrong, ’cause that helps you think. Other people are doodlers.
Judge May: “Doodlers”?
Longfellow Deeds: Uh, that’s a word we made up back home for people who make foolish designs on paper when they’re thinking: it’s called doodling. Almost everybody’s a doodler; did you ever see a scratchpad in a telephone booth? People draw the most idiotic pictures when they’re thinking. Uh, Dr. von Hallor here could probably think up a long name for it, because he doodles all the time.

I also recorded and watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington — which I did not realize was originally meant to be a sequel to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town:

Columbia and Capra intended to make a sequel to this movie, starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, entitled “Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington” , based on the story “The Gentleman from Wyoming” (alternately called “The Gentleman from Montana” by both contemporary and modern sources) by Lewis Foster. This story was instead turned into the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), directed by Frank Capra and starring Arthur and James Stewart.

The parallels are obvious, especially if you watch the movies one after another.

Incidentally, neither political party gets mentioned in Mr. Smith, and his home state is never named either.

The BIG cat who likes getting wet and wild

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

One could call six-year-old Odin, The BIG cat who likes getting wet and wild:

Six years old, and at the prime of his life, Odin lives at the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Zoo in Vallejo, near San Francisco. He is about 10ft long from nose to tail, and is an excellent swimmer.

How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century opens with “a dark little joke exchanged by educators with a dissident streak”:

Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green.”

Weitz Brothers Making Elric

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Apparently the Weitz brothers will be making an Elric movie:

So his adaptation of The Golden Compass is already being hyped by studio New Line as the new Lord Of The Rings (rather inaccurately if you ask us, since the books share little in common). But that’s not enough fantasy limelight for the guy who, up until now, was best known for small-scale comedies like American Pie and About A Boy. Nope, along with his brother and former co-director Paul, Chris Weitz is going to take on the biggest fantasty-literature property as yet untouched by movieland: Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga.

There must be some way out of here

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

I only just got around to finishing off the third season of Battlestar Galactica, and I must admit that it took me a while to pin down the music from the final episode, Crossroads.

It was Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which, like most people, I know best as a psychedelic Jimi Hendrix song.

The version in Crossroads is by Bear McCreary, the series’ composer:

The song and lyrics that Tory, Tigh, Tyrol and Anders hear is Bob Dylan‘s “All Along the Watchtower“, as adapted by veteran series composer Bear McCreary. The vocals for this version are performed by McCreary’s brother Brendan McCreary, aka Bt4, with former Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek playing various guitars and sitars. There is no explanation given in the show as to why this particular song is heard, nor where it comes from. According to a conversation McCreary had with Ronald D. Moore, the version heard in the episode is meant to have been recorded by a Colonial artist rather than by Bob Dylan himself.

International Fight League and Jeremy Williams

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

This past weekend, I decided to catch up on some episodes of the International Fight League that I’d recorded.

The IFL puts second-tier MMA fighters onto teams — with names like the Southern California Condors or the Tokyo Sabres — offers them salaries and benefits, then stages regular events pitting two teams against each other, like scholastic wrestling teams.

Anyway, I was watching when they started showing a profile piece on one of the fighters, Jeremy Williams, who seemed like a remarkably nice guy who had gone through some (undefined) bad times and turned his life around by finding Jesus, getting married, etc.

He also seemed vaguely familiar.

When he quickly submitted a guy with a beautiful triangle choke, I immediately recognized his style. Wait, is that Jeremy Williams from Chris Brennan’s school? He was older, and his hair was different, but it was the same guy I kinda-sorta knew from back in the day.

So I looked him up, started reading about him, then came across this:

On May 5, 2007 in Laguna Niguel, California, Williams died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Wow. I was not expecting that.

Rest in peace, Jeremy.


Monday, May 28th, 2007

The SmartCode is an attempt to provide a zoning code compatible with New Urbanism or Traditional Neighborhood Development:

The Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) has the following physical attributes:
  • The neighborhood is a comprehensive planning increment: when clustered with others, it becomes a town; when standing free in the landscape, it becomes a village. The neighborhood varies in population and density to accommodate localized conditions.
  • The neighborhood is limited in size so that a majority of the population is within a 5-minute walking distance of its center (1/4 mile). The needs of daily life are theoretically available within this area. This center provides an excellent location for a transit stop, convenience work places, retail, community events and leisure activities.
  • Streets are laid out in a network, so that there are alternate routes to most destinations. This permits most streets to be smaller with slower traffic as well as having parking, trees, sidewalks and buildings. They are equitable for both vehicles and pedestrians.
  • Streets are spatially defined by a wall of buildings that front the sidewalk in a disciplined manner uninterrupted by parking lots.
  • The buildings are diverse in function but compatible in size and in disposition on their lots. There is a mixture of houses (large and small), outbuildings, small apartment buildings, shops, restaurants, offices and warehouses.
  • Civic buildings (schools, meeting halls, theaters, churches, clubs, museums, etc.) are often placed on squares or at the termination of street vistas. By being built at important locations these buildings serve as landmarks.
  • Open space is provided in the form of specialized squares, playgrounds, and parks and, in the case of villages, greenbelts.

Conventional Suburban Development (CSD) has quite different physical attributes:

  • Sprawl is disciplined only by isolated “pods,” which are dedicated to single uses such as “shopping centers,” “office parks,” and “residential clusters.” All of these are inaccessible from each other except by car. Housing is strictly segregated in large clusters containing units of similar cost hindering socioeconomic diversity.
  • Sprawl is limited only by the range of the automobile, which easily forms cachement areas for retail, often exceeding 50 miles.
  • There is a high proportion of cul-de-sacs and looping streets within each pod. Through traffic is possible only by means of a few “collector” streets that, consequently, become easily congested.
  • Vehicular traffic controls the scale and form of space, with streets being wide and dedicated primarily to the automobile. Parking lots typically dominate the public space.
  • Buildings are often highly articulated, rotated on their lots and greatly set back from streets. They are unable to create spatial definition or sense of place. Civic buildings do not normally receive distinguished sites.
  • Open space is often provided in the form of “buffers,” “pedestrian ways,” “berms” and other ill-defined residual spaces.

Elephant herds found on isolated south Sudan island

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Elephant herds found on isolated south Sudan island:

International wildlife experts have located hundreds of wild elephants on a treeless island in the swamps of south Sudan, where they apparently avoided unchecked hunting during more than 20 years of war.

“We flew out of a cloud, and there they were. It was like something out of Jurassic Park,” said Tom Catterson, working on a U.S.-funded environment program in south Sudan.