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About Me

I'm a 20 year-old computer science and math student at the University of Toronto. I was born in Toronto, and I live in Toronto. Where I'll die remains to be seen.

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The Volokh Conspiracy
Matt Yglesias
USS Clueless
Consumer Freedom.com

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{Friday, January 17, 2003}


A Tip for Saddam

Yesterday, Saddam declared that "Baghdad, its people and leadership, is determined to force the Mongols of our age to commit suicide at its gates". Instead of fighting, perhaps Iraq should just follow the Chinese, and build their own Great Wall. Take that, new Mongols.
posted by Dan 4:31 p.m.  

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Ted Barlow has dedicated this week to lightbulb jokes. And they are damn funny. Go read them.

Oh, and here's my contribution to whole mess:
Q: How many den Beste's does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: Back when I was working for Qualcomm, a lot of the engineering we did was made possible by the many bulbs that illuminated our working areas. Of course these bulbs were only worth using for two reasons: 1. They weren't made in the EU, where their rigid labour markets and centralized approach to competition (or lack thereof) leads them to develop and adopt inferior technology that is decades behind the US, and 2. They weren't MacBulbs. Sure, you see ads claiming that MacBulbs are in fact 50% brighter than PC bulbs, but that's not really true. Those statistics were collected based on flawed testing methods, since the bulbs were tested in rooms arranged specifically to maximize the MacBulbs' light distribution. And it doesn't matter anyway, since the MacBulbs themselves are based on old filaments that Motorola doesn't want to update, for reasons pertaining to the network effect. And while Apple waits for the new IBM filaments to come out, Intel and AMD are cranking up the luminesence of their current filaments (which are already brighter than their MacBulb counterparts), and creating even more powerful filaments that will continue to blow the MacBulbs right out of the water. If Apple doesn't do something fast, MacBulbs may fast find themselves disappearing. Update: Capitalist Lion points out that I could've just twisted clockwise. Doh!
posted by Dan 3:37 p.m.  


The Need for Really Big Letters

Every so often, a blogger will mention that Saudi Arabia is very nervous because they know once the US is done in Iraq, they could be next. I worry about that, though. Given how much the anti-war movement emphasizes that the coming war in Iraq is "all about the oiilllllll....", how much moreso will that be an accusation when the Saudis get their turn?

At that point, when bloggers are documenting these objections, it will be necessary for even bigger letters than are now available. There will be a need for Saudi-sized letters. God help us all.
posted by Dan 9:58 a.m.  


Quotes of the Day

Historic: "I am become death, shatterer of worlds." - Robert J. Oppenheimer, citing from the Bhagavad Gita, after witnessing the world's first nuclear explosion.

Today: "War might end quickly -- or it might spread to other countries and end with 'the unthinkable.'" - MoveOn.org's reprisal of the 1964 "Daisy" ad.
posted by Dan 3:54 a.m.  


Home, Home on the Range

Quickly, before I do the quotes of the day and go to sleep.

I was reading the Economist, and came across an article about gun control in Canada (subscribers only link). The accompanying picture was of a woman at a firing range. In the background, posted on the wall, was a sticker that read "My Gun Protects Your Freedom". Never thought I'd see that in Canada. What an age we live in.
posted by Dan 3:29 a.m.  


Africa Aid That May Actually Be Working

I couldn't disagree more with those people who insist that the only way to save sub-Saharan Africa is an unending cycle of loans, and the forgiveness of said loans. It is insulting to those countries that we believe we are the only ones who can help them. It is essential we allow the nations of Africa to help themselves; eventually, they'll get it right.

I don't support abandoning food and medical aid. Africa has too many sick and hungry people, and not nearly enough supplies. Administered by international aid organizations, these donations do indeed save many Africans who would otherwise die. (Side Note: Some assistance has been a mixed blessing. Vaccines, for example, have allowed children who would otherwise have died very young to grow far longer than expected. Since African females were used to having many children to compensate for the high child mortality rate, families in Africa ballooned in size as the babies kept coming, despite the fact that most of them were remaining alive. As a result, food, already in short supply, because ever more scarce, forcing starvation upon even more people.)

The highly favourable loans given to the countries, however, rarely have a positive effect. A large chunk of the money ends up in the Swiss bank accounts of the ruling dictators. The rest is usually mishandled, and provides no ROI. As a result, it is impossible for the countries to ever repay the loans, causing NGOs and Bono to insist that we forgive them. And the cycle repeats itself, as the African states continue to lag the rest of the world in nearly every economic category. With an incentive to improve themselves, as opposed to gifts, it is possible for the African sub-continent to fix itself.

One way to encourage this sort of self-sufficiency is to ensure that producers will have access to a market for their goods. That is where African Growth and Opportunity Act comes in. The act provides 35 African countries with duty free access to the huge US market. The current bill, signed by President Clinton in May of 2000, is set to expire in 2008. Today, President Bush requested that congress extend the termination date. I can think of nothing that could help Africa more.

So while I would never have voted for him (not that I could, being Canadian and all), and I don't approve of many of his actions since taking office, I must give credit where credit is due. Mr. Bush: Good show.
posted by Dan 3:16 a.m.  


Calling all Catholics

It appears that the Pope is concerned that women in some countries have a little too much freedom. To compensate, he has broadcast a communique, reminding the faithful that they must do their best to counter this injustice, and make things right again. Oddly enough, the one country where he probably doesn't have anything to worry about is the US, where his plans to stop abortion, euthenasia, stem-cell research and cloning are going swimmingly. If only those Catholics in Europe could be so enlightened.

The Pope should be attempting to push the Church towards modernization, rather than reminding them of "the good old days." The guy is a dinosaur. My only comfort is that I know what happened to the dinosaurs.
posted by Dan 3:00 a.m.  


Hate the Sinner, Hate the Sin, Love the Album

As more and more seemingly clueless celebrities come out against a possible (sorry... impending) war on Iraq, the knee-jerk reaction of the blogosphere to this phenomenon puzzles me. To be sure, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, Sheryl Crow, John Le Carre, Barbara Streisand et al don't really know what they're talking about. They either shout really loudly about how war is evil, without providing alternate solutions, or they propose ideas so poorly thought-out that it amazes me they were able to put pen to paper in the first place. The problem is, people seem to be reacting in an equally ill-considered manner.

I have come across a number of bloggers (Lileks being the most recent) who have discovered a celebrity railing against the war, decided they didn't like the politics, and consequently felt that the best course of action would be to wash their hands of any of the celebrity's work. Frankly, I don't understand why. There is no reason to deprive one's self of an enjoyable nugget of entertainment simply because you think the source is deluded. Especialy since it usually isn't that difficult to detach the artist's work from the artist themselves. With actors, that's the whole damn point. Authors, you should probably be paying more attention to the characters they create. Musicians are tough, since their views are often expressed in their music. Most likely, though, if you didn't notice before, then you probably won't notice now (perhaps because nothing was there.) In general, a celebrity's views, as ill-informed as they may seem, do not have to tarnish their otherwise entertaining work.

In short, my message is this: If you love Barbara Streisand's music (for whatever reason; I won't judge you) then go right ahead and listen to it. And when she goes on TV and makes an ass of herself by spouting gibberish, then go right ahead and laugh at her. It is possible to do both. You have the power.
posted by Dan 2:20 a.m.  

{Thursday, January 16, 2003}


I've Got Mine

According to CNN, within hours of it's availability on Amazon, HP5: OOTP hit the number one spot on the best-seller list. It's nice to know that in this crazy world we live in, it is still possible for one person to make a difference. It's just easier with a couple million.
posted by Dan 2:09 p.m.  

Look: WARheads

While I have never really believed GWB when he claimed to have not made up his mind on Iraq, I also never really believed that there would be a war without some evidence of Iraqi WMD. I believed (and continue to believe) that Iraq does possess a formidable arsenal of several different WMD (though probably not nuclear... yet...), but to your average American (a category where I certainly do not fit... I'm an average Canadian...), "I think so" didn't, and doesn't, seem to be good enough. The discovery of 12 warheads in "excellent condition" is therefore a troubling development. At least for Sadaam.

The discovery of warheads itself is not so odd. Indeed, we have known they possessed such devices for a while now. The problem is, Iraq has claimed that they are no longer interested in WMD, a position that seems incongruent with their upkeep of the requisite delivery systems. It is unlikely that this particular find will spark the conflict (mainly because the war won't be sparked... GWB, with advice from military planners will give the go-ahead when prep is complete...). Nevertheless, this discovery does not bode well. At least for Sadaam.
posted by Dan 1:58 p.m.  


Quotes of the Day

Damn blogger. Down for maintenance when I tried to post yesterday's quotes. So here they are.

Historic: "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint Exupery

Today (Er, Yesterday): "The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive .... The only person left outside was a teenage boy who was lying flat on his back in a flowerbed outside number four." - J.K. Rowling, opening passage of Harry Potter 5: Order of the Phoenix
posted by Dan 1:44 p.m.  

{Wednesday, January 15, 2003}


Enough is Enough

In a comment on one of Robert Prather's posts concerning Iraq, a person far more intelligent than I informed Robert that they had figured out who the real terrorists were. (Hint: Here's the country's name in scrambled form: AUS.) The proof? 3000 Iraqi children who die every month as a direct result of the radiation left behind by American troops who used anti-tank shells made of depleted Uranium. Unfortunately, almost every single part of that argument is wrong, in one way or another. Yet those who would decry the US as the creme de la creme of terrorist states use this argument ad nauseum. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to set aside these allegations as best I can.

To begin, it is essential to understand what exactly depleted Uranium is, and why it is used at all. In the process of enriching Uranium for use as fuel, one by-product of the enrichment step is depleted Uranium Hexaflouride (dUF6). Through a re-conversion process, the dUF6 is tranformed into depleted Uranium metal. This form of the element is about 40% less radioactive than the naturally occuring forms, yet maintains an important physical property. The density of Uranium, and depleted Uranium specifically, is quite high (twice that of lead, at about 22000 kg/m3.) For this reason, depleted Uranium is used in armour piercing anti-tank shells, as the high-density, and fairly high hardness of the metal makes the shells extremely hard to stop.

These shells were employed during the 1991 Gulf War to great effect. The one draw back is that the depleted Uranium was left behind in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq.

Knowing that a radioactive substance dots the deserts of Iraq, it must be determined what effect, if any, this will have on the surrounding population. According to a WHO report on dU, it is not necessary to monitor conflict zones (where dU was used) in general, though it does mention that children in conflict zones could be at a higher risk, due to possible hand to mouth activity. Luckily, the majority of the shells fired in Iraq were used in the uninhabited deserts, rather than in the middle of population centres. Therefore the hand to mouth activity is minor, if it happens at all.

The greater concern must be over the possibility of the emitted radiation having harmful, and potentially deadly effects. On this matter, the report states "For the general population it is unlikely that the exposure to depleted uranium will significantly exceed the normal background uranium levels." So even assuming that the radiation sources are sufficiently close as to constitute exposure, it most likely doesn't matter anyway.

As well, the report says that the primary organs damaged by dU are the lungs and kidneys. The lung damage is primarily from ingestion of dU particulate, so for the situation in Iraq, it does not really apply. Damage to the kidneys has been observed in workers exposed directly to dU over extended periods of time, but this damage has been non-fatal. Knowing this, it seems unlikely that the amount of radiation emitted by dU in the Iraqi deserts could cause anything near the scale of death that the commenter describes. This is especially true when one considers the fact that the majority of anti-tank shells were fired in Kuwait, in the attack that repelled the invading Iraqi army. Yet there has been absolutely no mention of any Kuwaiti children dying as a result of dU radiation. Odd indeed.

The oddest part of the 3000/month figure is the absudity of that kind of death rate at all. According to the CIA world fact book 2002, the Iraqi national death rate is 6.02 deaths / 1000 people, per year. With a population of approximately 24 000 000, Iraq therefore loses about 144 000 people per year, or 12000 people per month. Therefore, according to the most recent blame-America figures, a full quarter of all Iraqi deaths are children dying from dU. Seems a bit odd. Unless of course 1.5 of those 6 / 1000 deaths have been added to the Iraqi rate, bumping it up from an expected 4.5. Alas, this is not the case. According to the 1990 CIA factbook, the Iraqi death rate at that time was 7 / 1000, even though life expectancy was actually higher by one year. So if we accept that the real Iraqi death rate should be 4.5 / 1000, then we have here the case of a country that in 10 years, reduced its death rate by about 35%, despite a drop in life expectancy, a full-scale war, and nearly crippling sanctions. Right.

It is sad that such a large portion of the anti-war movement insists on repeating emotional arguments that have been shown to be false. It seems as if the most vocal supporters of the movement are incapable of producing concrete reasons against an invasion, and merely slip into an echo chamber. Going to war cannot be taken lightly, and honest, open debate is critical to the decision-making process. And that can't happen without an honest, open anti-war movement.
posted by Dan 2:55 p.m.  


Quotes of the Day

Historic: "Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws." - Plato

Today: "I went to her side to see if there was anything I could do, and there wasn't. She had been shot through the head." - William Franklin, husband of Linda Franklin, the FBI agent who was standing next to her husband when she was shot and killed by the DC sniper.
posted by Dan 4:31 a.m.  

{Tuesday, January 14, 2003}


Ever Wanted to see John Ashcroft Break it Down?

I know it's been my dream for some time. Anyway, go see this video right now. Then do as they say.
posted by Dan 10:47 p.m.  

Quotes of the Day

Historic: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." - Galileo Galilei

Today: "International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between states, the noble exercise of diplomacy: These are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences." - Pope John Paul II, commenting on the correct way to deal with Iraq.
posted by Dan 3:07 a.m.  

{Monday, January 13, 2003}


Oh No! I'm Mad at PETA!

Pardon the title. It seemed clever a few seconds ago. Say it fast and it's half-clever. Nevermind.

Anyway, poor jokes aside, there are some things about PETA that just ruffle my feathers. Not that I don't believe that animals deserve to be treated "ethically" (though I often disagree with the ethics employed), it's just that some of the techniques they employ are, ahem, misleading. One such device is the "WWJE" campaign (that's "What Would Jesus Eat".) And much like the "What Would Jesus Drive" debate that seemed to engulf the blogosphere a couple months back, this attempt to justify one's position with a specious appeal to the saviour of billions is rather weak.

I came across the campaign while I was looking at AskCarla.com's question of the week. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with AskCarla.com, here is PETA's description: "Carla Bennett, PETA’s Kindness Consultant, is here to answer all your questions—whether you want to know about the rights and wrongs of the circus or simply where to buy nonleather shoes!" Actually, I even have a beef with that description. Why the hell would PETA put "rights and wrongs of the circus" when there is absolutely nothing about the circus that they like, beyond the occassional lion-tamer fatalities and elephant stompings. Stupid humans...) Anyway, someone asked Carla (or so they would have us believe. There's no name or any kind of address. Hmm...) "Was Jesus really a vegetarian?" (More suspicion; I didn't realize that there were actually people dumb enough to think that Carla knows Jesus personally.)

Carla responded as follows: "Many biblical scholars believe that Jesus was a vegetarian. Jesus’ message is one of love and compassion, and there is nothing loving or compassionate about factory farms and slaughterhouses, where billions of animals live miserable lives and die violent, bloody deaths. Jesus mandates kindness, mercy, compassion, and love for all God’s creation. He would be appalled by the suffering that we inflict on animals just to indulge our acquired taste for their flesh. We all have a choice. When we sit down to eat, we can add to the level of violence, misery, and death in the world, or we can respect God’s creation with a vegetarian diet."

Intrigued (by the possibility that I may have hit blog fodder), I followed the link to JesusVeg.com, so that I might discover other reasons that Jesus must have been a vegetarian. I was hoping that the site would be filled with biblical references, all clearly pointing to Jesus's clear standing as a veggie. Alas, I was disappointed. The site simply repeated the answer Carla gave (word for word), and then proceeded to run for its life, attempting to bat down passages that seem to suggest that Jesus may have eaten meat. As well, there is a lot of running from other biblical passages that don't relate to Jesus at all. The responses to the passages were often misleading (consider this Q&A,) and one even admitted that if a person were stupid enough to interpret anything in the bible literally, then Jesus may not have been a vegetarian after all.

As PETA sites go, this one takes the cake. In addition to the usual preachy prose, the arguments take advantage of some people's most deeply held beliefs in underhanded, and evasive ways. To me, that doesn't seem particularly ethical.
posted by Dan 5:47 p.m.  



Welcome all to our new blog, based right here at the University of Toronto, in Ontario, Canada. Before we begin our formal postings, we thought that a bit about ourselves might be interesting. I (Dan) was born and raised in Toronto (though where I'll die is still a mystery to me...) I'm currently in my third year of an Hon. B.Sc. in computer science and math here at the U of T, and I'll probably be doing a Ph.D. in CS once I'm done. Peter was born and raised in Calgary, but came to Toronto for the fun and exciting Engineering Science program (which basically means that Peter has agreed to take courses that are far too hard to actually be taken...) To summarize: we're both really big geeks.

Aside from our more technical interests, we are both captivated by the intricacies of global politics. That's why this blog is basically going to be a mouthpiece for our half-assed observations and analyses. As to not betray our geek roots, however, there will also be the occassional post about recent science, with an emphasis on topics that somehow relate to the wonderful world of computers. That should appease the tech-gods.

One last feature we will have (which will always be the last post before bed) is the quotes of the day. One quote will be a quote from history, that we happen to like. The other will be a quote from the past day that stuck out for one reason or another. Since I'm about to go to bed, here are the very first U of T Blog quotes of the day:

Historic: "In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite." - Paul Dirac

Today: "The claim that we admitted developing nuclear weapons is an invention fabricated by the U.S. with sinister intentions." -Rodong Sinmun, one of the DPRK's state newspapers.
posted by Dan 2:16 a.m.