03/01/2008

Around the news

Posted by – March 1, 2008

According Hey, I like Int64s!to the Dutch online news site Nu.NL, Flemish kids (as in “Dutch-speaking Belgians”1) are the worst bullies in Europe (Dutch language-alert). The original article (at the Belgian paper ‘De Morgen’) quotes a survey done by the British Council. Unfortunately, I’m unable to find the actual (English) survey on that site, so you have to believe my amazing Dutch translation skills:

Fifty-five percent of (Flemish) teenagers between the age of 12 and 18, say that physical appearance, like height, weight and clothing are the main reasons for bullying other kids.

Via the BBC, I read that a research suggests that vitamin E can increase the risk of lung cancer: unsurprisingly, the results of the research suggest that the risk increases with smoking (original article).

If you’ve followed the (technology) news the last couple of days, you’ve probably read that Microsoft unveiled Windows Server 2008, which now comes with a minimalist installation (Windows Core Server) for admins who wish to assign specific roles to their Windows server: no GUI, just the plain command-line [Slashdot thread]. There’s also an interesting article at (Microsoft infamous Open source portal) Port 25, titled ‘How Open Source has influenced Windows Server 2008′. More XML settings files, more modularization and well, more Unix-like stuff. Personally, I can’t wait for Microsoft to adopt and embrace the best-ever editor, vi (or rather Vim).

1 The term “Dutch-speaking Belgians” refers to an extraterrestrial race called the ‘Flemish’ who in and or around 1800 landed close to the city borders of Brussels and started their own country which we now know as ‘Belgium’.

02/18/2008

The, Surprise

Posted by – February 18, 2008

Microsoft’s move to open up the (file) specifications for its Office applications quite surprised me. I don’t think it has hit Slashdot yet, but it made it to the ‘frontpage’ of ZDNews. Brian Jones (Program Manager for Office) made the announcement late last week. All files are available in PDF format and, they’re actually quite readable.

The news that Toshiba is going to announce the end of the HD-DVD format is another surprise: Well, not nearly as much as the one above. Rumour has it that many movie distributors decided to go for Blu-Ray. The final nail on the HD-DVD coffin appears to have been Walmart’s decision to exclusively sell Blu-Ray discs.

02/12/2008

And then for…

Posted by – February 12, 2008

And then for something slightly different: More of the same! You guessed it: Yesterday morning, I was surprised to find we were a bit snowed in. When I say snowed in, I mean that I have to use force to open up the front door. I think, Debert weather station reported 26 cms and it really looks like that much. This makes for slightly nice pictures, if it wasn’t so cold outside. The bad news is that it is supposed to be snowing overnight (and in the morning) again. The good news is that the snow will change to freezing rain and eventually to rain tomorrow night.

With that out of the way: Via Kottke, I found this map of New York, er, an imaginative map of whatever was New York if it was still in the hands of the Dutch powers. I don’t think I have to remind the reader that New York used to be in the hands of the Dutch and that (after many wars and battles with the British empire) they traded it for portions of South America. What you say? You really like the fictional flag for this ‘Dutch republic’ (taken from the original creator’s blogpost)? Is that the Japanese ‘Rising Sun’ in the flag? Oh dear.

And last but not least: Newsweek reports that Amsterdam is to close down its Red Light district. The most surprising part is that the main driving force behind the campaign (to close down the district) is a member of the Labour Party. Socialists closing down the Public Sector in Amsterdam? What will the British think of this?

02/08/2008

You failed

Posted by – February 8, 2008

Via FailistanCrooks and Liars, I saw The Daily Show’s coverage of Romney’s CPAC speech: the speech contained so many platitudes, cliches and stereotypes that it had me laughing.

Europe is facing a demographic disaster. That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life and eroded morality.

So, there you have it, Europe: take that and eat some more of that ‘pain de francais and freedom fries with that’.

Update 1: Slightly related, “‘Euros accepted’ signs pop up in NYC” (via Reuters).
Update 2: RawStory has a longer clip of that Daily Show segment.
Update 3 (02/13/07): This also reminds me of Romney’s other gaffe when he was asked about on his sons support for the military and nation (video). The question was asked by Nancy Griffith and the clip circulated for a while in the media.
Update 4 (02/21/07): Jon Stewart (at Larry King’s) discusses Romney’s comment (YouTube video: approximately at 4:00).

02/07/2008

That’s not a calf

Posted by – February 7, 2008

Earlier Minke whales caught by Japanese ‘research ship’this morning I read that the Australian government released (graphic) pictures of the Japanese whale hunt in the Antartic seas. I thought this was quite unique: normally, I expect these pictures to come from organizations like Greenpeace (they released images of the hunt a week ago, actually). Then I read that Australia’s new Environmental minister is no one else than Peter Garrett: if you remember the band ‘Midnight Oil’, everything should fall in place (for completion sake, here’s the video of their hit song, ‘Beds are burning’). I assume that the previous Australian (conservative) government was also against the whale hunt, but I’m pretty certain not as public and openly as it did today. Australian papers were outraged about the (shocking) images of the hunt: for example, the Daily Telegraph is encouraging Australians to sign an online petition which they hope to present to Japanese authorities later this month.

So, what do the Japanese think of all this publicity? Well: the Institute for Cetacean Research claims that the Australian government is using emotional propaganda to get their message through: these two whales on that photo, they’re not a mother and her calf:

“The photographs taken by the Oceanic Viking and which major Australian newspapers published today shows two minke whales, but they are not a mother and her calf as claimed by the media. Our research program requires random sampling of the Antarctic population, and therefore there will be a range of sizes.”

Oh. Really.

Sarcasm aside, this reminds me of a game I played a couple of weeks ago: ‘Harpooned (‘Japanese cetacean research simulator’)’. It’s a shoot-em-up game which allows you to pretend that you’re in charge of whale research and use your harpoons to collect scientific data and, as an extra, produce whale burgers too. If you don’t think that whale hunting is mindless yet, maybe this game will change your mind.

Update: Oh yes, and this for the Trekkies among us.

1 The Australian Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has an excellent website about marine life and endangered whale species..

02/06/2008

Moo (and other stuff)

Posted by – February 6, 2008

Earlier today, the WordPress developers released a fix for a security issue in the xml-rpc code. There’s no need to completely upgrade your installation: upgrading overhere is sort of painless and that’s not because of the fact that my host provides automatic upgrades. Bored as I ever am, I finished up a couple of update shell scripts, which, if I have time, I could poke online one of these days. This is actually so basic, that, well, maybe you just should stick to your command-line typing skills. If your host allows you to use wget via SSH, consider yourself extremely lucky.

Other stuff: over here, milk is getting a couple of cents more expensive a liter (70 cents 5 cents1 I believe, which is more than a couple). I’m not sure why I mention it here but maybe this is related to my hunt for moo-cows (I mean, my Internet hunt for the origins of the word moo-cow). I think I’ve mentioned ‘super cow powers’ before, haven’t I?

There were a couple of things that attracted my attention the last (couple of) days: First, I found this neat 3D animation of the replication mechanism of HIV (YouTube). And related to that, LiveScience reports that soundwaves can be used to attack (any) virus:

Normal cells should not be affected by the virus-killing lasers or sound waves because they have resonant frequencies much lower than those of viruses. Moreover, it is unlikely that viruses will develop resistance to mechanical shaking, as they do to drugs.

And last but not least is this Horizon episode (BBC/Video at Google): What on Earth is wrong with gravity? The documentary goes into details about the missing links between Newton’s (mechanical) laws and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

1 I’m a bit confused here too: but I think the correct amount was actually 5 cents.

01/27/2008

18 characters and counting

Posted by – January 27, 2008

Via nu.nl, I found out that the countries that form the EU our slowly moving forward with the introduction of the Single European Payments Area (SEPA). SEPA is a framework for a unified payment system that (should) make European cross-border payments easier for businesses and citizens. According to the SEPA site (ECB):

The goal is to turn the individual national retail payment markets into one pan-European market. For customers, SEPA means that payments to any person in the euro area will be quick and uncomplicated.

Notice that the European banking industry is in charge of the project and they have set a list of time lines and milestones for the next couple of years. Milestones include (for example) changes to account numbers and deprecation of the PIN (number) system for bank cards. Account numbers will now adhere to the IBAN standard and include a country code, the bank number and a checksum number. (You can apparently test your new bank number right at the IBAN site1). So, if your ABN AMRO bank number was 123456789, your new number will be NL69ABNA1234567892.

The SEPA site also offers detailed migration plans from all EU nations. Interestingly, the Dutch migration plan is listed here (PDF). Also, of interest is the country’s ‘migration concerns’ document which lists 10 points of concerns including the inevitable question that there’s a need for ‘guarantees that prices will not go up’.

Update: Google News link on latest SEPA news, or if you’re technologically inclined, a Google alert.

1 Quoting from a movie here: IS IT SAFE, IS IT SAFE!

2 This bank number example came straight from the Dutch migration plan.

01/26/2008

Rambo vs. Norris

Posted by – January 26, 2008

The more I watch the US primaries, the absurder it gets. You’re probably familiar with the fact that Chuck ‘I’m on the Internet too’ Norris is a supporter of Huckabee (actually, the other day, even the local paper published a photo of them). But hey: Sylvester Stallone supports John McCain! It’s like, uh, the return of bad 80s movies where, uh, good is good and bad is evil. USA! USA! USA!

It’s not that the Democrats are doing better either: Earlier this week Obama and Clinton, well, you have to see it for yourself. Can you say messy? I must say that I think that Bill Clinton lost a lot of credibility the last couple of weeks.

And last but not least, I read the parts about the US’s economic stimulus package too: it mentioned sending people cheques (600 dollars per adult, I believe) and I thought by myself that this was just another short-term solution to keep the US economy afloat until the elections. The problem, of course, is much more complex.

12/28/2007

Bird’s eye view

Posted by – December 28, 2007

You may have heard about the death of Benazir Bhutto, who was prime-minister of Pakistan in the Eighties and Nineties. The shocking thing I thought was the fact that this was the second assassination attempt after she returned from exile. I’m not sure what to think of the tributes around the world: she and her husband were trailed by aplenty of corruption charges.

Earlier I read an article about some correlation between cities and the amount of intelligent people living in those cities: the article concluded (if I recall correctly) that the amount of libraries and newspaper circulation helped lift up those statistics. So: if you parents tell you to go to the library or read the paper, maybe you really should listen. If you thought the Internet was going to make you smarter then you’re probably wrong.

And then there was this (well-linked) article at Rolling Stone about the quality of sound in the music industry. I thought this was old news (I’m positive that I’ve read this story somewhere earlier).

12/22/2007

Tulip

Posted by – December 22, 2007

Yesterday A tulip shaped island?(I think), the International Herald Tribune posted an article about Dutch plans to create a tulip-shaped island in the North Sea. The plan was brought up by the Dutch Innovation Platform (Dutch-only) with the goal to showcase the Dutch expertise in water management.

The idea is also mentioned at Wired’s, to be exactly, right here. The posting (it’s a blog, get it?) fires a couple of potshots at the idea, and for this, the author got (quite) some flak and history lessons with the usual bits of chauvinism.

That said, the idea is actually refreshing but not new: Earlier, Dubai decided to create 2 palm-shaped islands, which (naturally and intentionally) can only be seen from high above. With the rise of the (online) availability of satellite pictures (having become commodities, as you will), this is probably going to be an upward trend. This also brings me to the ever-mentioned claim: ‘The Great Wall of China is the only human-made object visible in space’. It’s not (See also this article at space.com).

12/04/2007

Not so, so.

Posted by – December 4, 2007

It appears that the US NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) watered down the Iranian threat saying that ‘it has high confidence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 but that it was continuing to enrich uranium‘. This (of course) goes against all the signals that the current Bush administration has been sending to the press. Even at this stage, the President says that we should see this report as a ‘warning signal’. I recall other warning signals.

Earlier, Schreiber testified for a federal committee and promised fireworks: in short, his allegations suggest that a former Canadian Prime Minister improperly acquired large sums of money. There’s a another side to the story: for years Schreiber has been fighting extradition to Germany, where he’s wanted for tax evasion.

We had a major storm heading our way last night and the snow outside looks a bit strange this early. I expect this snow to be hanging around here until Spring 2008.

12/02/2007

On snow and games

Posted by – December 2, 2007

Yesterday, we were hit by a snowstorm that apparently took everyone by surprise: After finishing shopping in the local mall, we walked and drove through the very first winter storm to hit our area. This comes right after the Weather Office’s prediction that this year is going to be the coldest Winter. Worst yet: Right on the road to the mall, for some explicably stupid reason, I decided not to bring my camera.

CBC had many reports about the elections in Russia: the most memorable report was the one about the pro-Putin youth group Nashi (BBC link only). It looks like Putin’s party will be winning which will (apparently) make him a prime minister at the end of his presidential term. If that doesn’t sound absurd.

And the last thing I want to bring attention at is the GameSpot incident. In short: a games editor/reviewer gives a game a bad review and is fired afterwards. A good summary can be found at Virtual Fools. I generally don’t read online game magazines because I don’t agree with the superfluous rating systems each of them uses: additionally, I’ve always had my doubts about magazines that review computers games and have the games’ ads prominently on display, simultaneously.

11/27/2007

Pray, tell, rain

Posted by – November 27, 2007

I read that sm_corona_virus.jpgthe Orthodox Church of Cypres has ordered priests to pray for rain on December the 2nd of this year. It appears that this is a routine that has been done before, most recently when a comparable drought struck the island 9 years ago.

BBC also reports that scientists have created a detailed map of Antartica. The images come (primarily) from the Landsat spacecraft and there are plans to make the data available for use in software like ‘Virtual Earth’ and ‘Google Earth’. You may want to view the results right at LIMA, that is, if you can get through the bottleneck (yeah, yeah, it’s a popular site this week).

And last but not least, an excellent (long) article about retrovirusses at The Newyorker. The article discusses the influence virusses had (and have) on our body’s immune system and cancer, and (particularly) about how retrovirusses have become part of our DNA. There’s some interesting commentary about new approaches to tackle HIV (a retrovirus), for example, by accelerating its life cycle (the faster a cell reproduces the more errors it makes, eventually passing non-threatening DNA to future generated cells.). Mind-blowing read. You can read the follow-up discussing over at MetaFilter.