Native Revolt: A European Declaration of Independence

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

I do not know who Fjordman is — a conservative Scandinavian, I’d assume — but he makes some frightening points in Native Revolt: A European Declaration of Independence:

Filmmaker Pierre Rehov tells how a friend of his is a retired chief of police who used to be in charge of the security of a major city in the south of France. According to him, 80% of the rapes in the area were made by Muslim young men. In most cases, the parents would not understand why they would be arrested. The only evil those parents would see, genuinely, was the temptation that the male children had to face from infidel women.

The Great Apple Video Encoder Attack of 2007

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Cringely foretells The Great Apple Video Encoder Attack of 2007:

Maybe you have wondered, as I have, why it takes a pretty robust notebook computer to play DVD videos, while Wal-Mart will sell you a perfectly capable progressive-scan DVD player from Philips for $38? In general, the dedicated DVD player is not only a lot cheaper, it works better, too, and the simple reason is because it decodes the DVD’s MPEG-2 video stream in hardware, rather than in software. They won’t run a spreadsheet, true, but DVD players are brilliant at doing what they are designed to do over and over again. And if the expedient here is a $7 MPEG-2 decoder chip, it’s a wonder why such chips didn’t appear long ago in PCs.

Well they are about to, after a fashion.

Chest presses, not breaths, better CPR

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Chest presses, not breaths, better CPR:

A study in Japan showed that people were more likely to recover without brain damage if rescuers focused on chest compressions rather than rescue breaths, and some experts advised dropping the mouth-to-mouth part of CPR altogether. The study was published in Friday’s issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

Perhaps more importantly, bystanders are willing to perform chest compresses on a stranger.

Tokyo’s Irish fans parade for St. Patrick’s Day

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Tokyo’s Irish fans parade for St. Patrick’s Day:

For a city with far more Sakamotos than O’Sullivans, Japan’s capital still manages to go all out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Although many Japanese know little about Ireland — some even confuse it with chilly Iceland — the small European nation has nonetheless attracted a band of die-hard fans halfway around the globe.

A week earlier, Kyoto had its own St. Patrick’s Day parade, complete with Irish Setters and an Irish Wolfhound.

Turning fantasy into a reality that helps others

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Turning fantasy into a reality that helps others tells the story of “Lucifer” Chu, who has made millions and is now directing an effort to translate MIT’s Open Courseware into Chinese:

At 18, Chu began working as a part-time columnist for a local computer magazine and in his spare time translated fantasy and science-fiction novels from English to Chinese.

His life was set to change in the late 1990s, when he first began reading the English editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings. On hearing that a movie version of Tolkien’s trilogy was in the pipeline, Chu approached a local publisher and offered to translate the works into Chinese for a minimal fee.

The deal was that if the translated works sold less than 10,000 boxed-sets, or 40,000 individual copies, Chu would donate his translation services for free. If, however, sales surpassed the 10,000 mark he would receive 9 percent of the retail value of each book.

It was a gamble, but within weeks of the release of the first of director Peter Jackson’s big-screen trilogy in December, 2001, Chu’s translation had become a national bestseller.

The number of boxed-sets sold in Taiwan to date stands somewhere in the region of 220,000 and Chu is now worth in excess of a cool NT$27million. And all because he preferred to play video games, read fantasy novels and doodle in his notebooks rather than pay attention in class.

Radioactive Boy Scout

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Thiago Olson is a new Radioactive Boy Scout:

For two years, Olson researched what he would need and scrounged for parts from eBay and the hardware store. Flanges and piping? Check. High-voltage X-ray transformer? Check. Pumps, deuterium source, neutron bubble dosimeter? Check, check, check. “I have cross-country and track, so during those seasons I don’t have much time to work on it,” says Olson, a high school senior in Michigan. “It’s more of a weekend project.” Last November the machine finally delivered the hallmark of success: bubbles in the dosimeter. The bubbles indicate the presence of neutrons, a by-product of fusion — an energy-releasing process in which two hydrogen nuclei crash together and form a helium nucleus. Fusion is commonplace in stars, where hydrogen nuclei fuse in superhot plasma, but temperatures that high are hard to achieve on Earth. Still, the prospect of creating all this energy while forming only nonradioactive helium and easily controlled neutrons has made harnessing fusion one of the most sought-after and heavily funded goals in sustainable energy.

Olson’s apparatus won’t work for generating commercial power because it takes more energy to run than it produces. But he has succeeded in creating a “star in a jar,” a tiny flash of hot plasma. “The temperature of the plasma is around 200 million degrees,” Olson says modestly, “several times hotter than the core of the sun.”

The original radioactive boy scout was David Hahn, who built a crude breeder reactor in his backyard in 1994.

The Great Global Warming Swindle

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Despite its provocative title, The Great Global Warming Swindle seems reasonable. Watch the video.

(Hat tip to mon père.)

Why Apple is the best retailer in America

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Why Apple is the best retailer in America:

Saks, whose flagship is down the street, generates sales of $362 per square foot a year. Best Buy stores turn $930 — tops for electronics retailers — while Tiffany & Co. takes in $2,666. Audrey Hepburn liked Tiffany’s for breakfast. But at $4,032, Apple is eating everyone’s lunch.

That astonishing number, from a Sanford C. Bernstein report, is merely the average of Apple’s 174 stores, which attract 13,800 visitors a week. (The Fifth Avenue store averages 50,000-plus.) In 2004, Apple reached $1 billion in annual sales faster than any retailer in history; last year, sales reached $1 billion a quarter.

Trading with the Enemy

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Trading with Dubai often means Trading with the Enemy:

The open secret is that Dubai buys far more than it keeps. More than a quarter of its $23 billion in annual nonoil imports are reexported, and Iran gets the biggest share. Interviews with private businesspeople and U.S. officials, along with court documents, reveal a simple scheme. Companies located around the world sell goods — from cigarettes to medical devices and PCs — to buyers in the U.A.E. Dubai traders repackage the items and send them along by air or ship to agents in, say, Tehran, Pyongyang, Damascus or Islamabad.

Smoking out the offenders is tough. Outside of free zones foreigners are not permitted to own a majority of a business in Dubai, and local partners aren’t subject to export-control laws. These realities leave bureaucrats in Washington pessimistic. “Whenever there are third-party transactions, there is only so much you can do to follow the path of the transaction,” admits a U.S. Treasury official.

Smuggling isn’t new to the Persian Gulf. But the system really took off around 1987, when the U.S. imposed its first trade embargo on Iranian goods and services in response to Tehran’s sponsoring of terrorism in the Middle East. By the time the 1995 oil sanctions took effect, it was a well-greased mechanism. Virtually all trade and investment with Iran was prohibited in 1997, though the ban on caviar, nuts, dried fruits and carpets was lifted in 2000. The penalties — fines of up to $250,000 for individuals and ten years in the slammer — should have deterred violators.

Yet it didn’t take long for U.S. products to seep through the cracks. As long as a decade ago, more than a quarter of the roughly $1 billion in American goods exported to Dubai ended up in Iran, estimates the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a nonproliferation advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Last year U.S. companies sold $3.4 billion worth of goods to the U.A.E.; export licenses have jumped 47% over the last five years. “When you blow off the dust, the Dubai region sometimes means Iran and Libya,” says Paul DeBenedictis, chairman of the American Business Council of the Gulf Countries.

Superstimuli and the Collapse of Western Civilization

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Eliezer Yudkowsky discusses Superstimuli and the Collapse of Western Civilization:

At least three people have died playing online games for days without rest. People have lost their spouses, jobs, and children to World of Warcraft. If people have the right to play video games — and it’s hard to imagine a more fundamental right — then the market is going to respond by supplying the most engaging video games that can be sold, to the point that exceptionally engaged consumers are removed from the gene pool.

How does a consumer product become so involving that, after 57 hours of using the product, the consumer would rather use the product for one more hour than eat or sleep? (I suppose one could argue that the consumer makes a rational decision that they’d rather play Starcraft for the next hour than live out the rest of their lives, but let’s just not go there. Please.)

A candy bar is a superstimulus: it contains more concentrated sugar, salt, and fat than anything that exists in the ancestral environment. A candy bar matches taste buds that evolved in a hunter-gatherer environment, but it matches those taste buds much more strongly than anything that actually existed in the hunter-gatherer environment. The signal that once reliably correlated to healthy food has been hijacked, blotted out with a point in tastespace that wasn’t in the training dataset — an impossibly distant outlier on the old ancestral graphs. Tastiness, formerly representing the evolutionarily identified correlates of healthiness, has been reverse-engineered and perfectly matched with an artificial substance. Unfortunately there’s no equally powerful market incentive to make the resulting food item as healthy as it is tasty. We can’t taste healthfulness, after all.

The now-famous Dove Evolution video shows the painstaking construction of another superstimulus: an ordinary woman transformed by makeup, careful photography, and finally extensive Photoshopping, into a billboard model — a beauty impossible, unmatchable by human women in the unretouched real world. Actual women are killing themselves (e.g. supermodels using cocaine to keep their weight down) to keep up with competitors that literally don’t exist.

And likewise, a video game can be so much more engaging than mere reality, even through a simple computer monitor, that someone will play it without food or sleep until they literally die. I don’t know all the tricks used in video games, but I can guess some of them — challenges poised at the critical point between ease and impossibility, intermittent reinforcement, feedback showing an ever-increasing score, social involvement in massively multiplayer games.

Yudkowsky leaves us “with a final argument from fictional evidence”:

Simon Funk’s online novel After Life depicts (among other plot points) the planned extermination of biological Homo sapiens — not by marching robot armies, but by artificial children that are much cuter and sweeter and more fun to raise than real children. Perhaps the demographic collapse of advanced societies happens because the market supplies ever-more-tempting alternatives to having children, while the attractiveness of changing diapers remains constant over time. Where are the advertising billboards that say “BREED”? Who will pay professional image consultants to make arguing with sullen teenagers seem more alluring than a vacation in Tahiti?

“In the end,” Simon Funk wrote, “the human species was simply marketed out of existence.”

Florida Girls Lift Weights, and Gold Medals

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

The New York Times has a content-light article, Florida Girls Lift Weights, and Gold Medals, about how the Florida school system has embraced girls’ weightlifting — sort of.

It mentions clean & jerk, one of the two lifts contested in weightlifting, and bench press, one of the three lifts contested in powerlifting. Both are popular lifts for football players — perhaps they’re mixing and matching sports down in Florida?

These Boots Were Made for 22 M.P.H.

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

These Boots Were Made for 22 M.P.H. looks at a zany Russian invention that never made money — gasoline-powered piston boots — and the difficulties the Russian economy faces:

And, in contrast to the United States, venture capital firms and start-up companies in Russia have not congregated near technology universities. Russian computer programmers, successful in Silicon Valley, are best known at home for hacking.

“Venture capital firms are starting to work here, but as a rule, if something comes to their attention it is an exception,” said Igor R. Belousov, a Hewlett-Packard executive who coordinates the company’s research at Russian universities.

Meanwhile, natural resources account for 80 percent of Russia’s export revenue; crude oil and natural gas alone account for 65 percent.

To encourage foreign companies to invest in cities rich in scientific talent, Mr. Gref’s ministry is setting up technology parks with tax breaks in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and Novosibirsk.

(Emphasis mine.)

Victor Davis Hanson on 300

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson on 300:

There are four key things to remember about the film: it is not intended to be Herodotus Book 7.209-236, but rather is an adaptation from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, which itself is an adaptation from secondary work on Thermopylai. Purists should remember that when they see elephants and a rhinoceros or scant mention of the role of those wonderful Thespians who died in greater numbers than the Spartans at Thermopylai.

Second, in an eerie way, the film captures the spirit of Greek fictive arts themselves. Snyder and Johnstad and Miller are Hellenic in this sense: red-figure vase painting especially idealized Greek hoplites through “heroic nudity”. Such iconographic stylization meant sometimes that armor was not included in order to emphasize the male physique.

So too the 300 fight in the film bare-chested. In that sense, their oversized torsos resemble not only comic heroes, but something of the way that Greeks themselves saw their own warriors in pictures. And even the loose adaptation of events reminds me of Greek tragedy, in which an Electra, Iphigeneia or Helen in the hands of a Euripides is portrayed sometimes almost surrealistically, or at least far differently from the main narrative of the Trojan War, followed by the more standard Aeschylus, Sophocles and others.

Third, Snyder, Johnstad, and Miller have created a strange convention of digital backlot and computer animation, reminiscent of the comic book mix of Sin City. That too is sort of like the conventions of Attic tragedy in which myths were presented only through elaborate protocols that came at the expense of realism (three male actors on the stage, masks, dialogue in iambs, with elaborate choral meters, violence off stage, 1000-1600 lines long, etc.).
Fourth, but what was not conventionalized was the martial spirit of Sparta that comes through the film. Many of the most famous lines in the film come directly either from Herodotus or Plutarch’s Moralia, and they capture well, in the historical sense, the collective Spartan martial ethic, honor, glory, and ancestor reverence (I say that as an admirer of democratic Thebes and its destruction of Sparta’s system of Messenian helotage in 369 BC).

Baby Elephant

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Today’s dose of cute comes from this Baby Elephant:

In this photo released by The San Diego Zoo, A one-day-old African elephant calf peeks out from underneath his mothers legs at the San Diego Zoos Wild Animal Park Monda, March 12, 2007, in San Diego. The male calf, the first of three African elephant calves expected in 2007 at the park, was born at 9:14 p.m. Sunday. The mother, Litsemba was one of seven African elephants rescued by thepPark in August 2003, when officials in Swazilands Big Game Parks felt they had two options, kill a number of their elephants or export them to a zoo willing to care for the pachyderms.

Why Singapore is Superior Despite So Many Faults

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Why Singapore is Superior Despite So Many Faults — from a military perspective:

The city of Singapore was founded by the British in 1819, on an island at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. The British considered the local Malays rather too laid back, and brought in thousands of Chinese and Indians to work the booming port city. Within six years, the population exploded from a few hundred, to over 10,000. Two years later, Chinese became the most numerous ethnic group. They eventually came to dominate the rich port of Singapore, providing administrators, as well as traders and laborers. The British kept the key jobs, but otherwise ran a meritocracy. When Malaysia, which Singapore was a part of, became independent in 1963, many Chinese in Singapore protested being ruled by the Malay majority. The Malays also resented the more entrepreneurial and economically successful Chinese. Although most Singapore residents wanted to be part of Malaysia, it didn’t work out. In 1965, Malaysia basically expelled Singapore, which become a separate, mainly Chinese, country. Over the next three decades, the Singaporean economy grew an average of nine percent a year, and Singapore became the wealthiest, on a per-capita basis, nation in the region.

With so much to defend, the Singaporeans developed, early on, a strong military. This was prompted by Britain withdrawing its garrison in 1971 and, in effect, telling the Singaporeans they had to defend themselves. Singapore asked Israel to help it develop a force similar to the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). That is, a large reserve force, with a small active force to handle training and any immediate military needs. The two countries have been close allies ever since.

Thus Singapore has an active duty force of 60,000, most of them reservists undergoing training. There are only about 20,000 full time, professional troops. In wartime, there are 300,000 trained reserves who can be mobilized, plus nearly has many who have had military training, but are no longer in reserve units. Like Israel, Singapore can mobilize a force that can defeat any of its neighbors.