Why the SPF 45 Minimum?

Is it just me, or is sun-block cream really big business?  Until five years ago, SPF 15 was recommended if a person was going to spend more than half an hour in direct sunlight.  For a while it was 30 … now we're being told that SPF 45 lotion should be the minimum we use for protection from our sun's UV rays.

The differences in the Sun Protection Factors are often misunderstood.  SPF 15 will filter out just a bit more than 93% of all UVB sunlight, whereas an SPF 30 will filter out 97%.  So SPF 30 is not "twice as strong" as SPF 15, rather, it will only allow half as much UVB penetration.

Though despite all the warnings we've heard, many of us go without adequate coats of the slippery goop.  I've avoided the stuff pretty well over the last decade, only occasionally being forced to apply mixtures of titanium-dioxide and zinc oxide to my skin.  But after hearing the recommendation for SPF 45 products for this summer, I started asking myself "has the ozone depleted further?"  Oddly enough, no.  In fact, the ozone layer has been on the mend for quite some time, albeit slowly.  Many sources believe it will be several decades yet before we're naturally protected with pre-1970 levels.  Antarctica is the last continent on earth without protection from the sun.

Thinking that the amount of pollution we eject into the atmosphere might offer some protection, I investigated the matter but found no real data to say our greenhouse effect was doing us a favor by obstructing some of these potentially dangerous rays.  Perhaps Dr. Roger Angel's title="j2fi.net - Blocking the Sun for $100 Billion a Year">proposed sunshade could act as an artificial buffer ….

2007 is a low point in the Sun's Solar Cycle so the planet will have less chance of being hit by coronal mass ejections, and though the Earth's magnetic field is gearing down to switch polarity for the first time in 780,000 years, it plays little role in UVB protection (but a much bigger role on protecting us from everything else the sun belts out).

So why the SPF 45 minimum?

I've searched through some of the sunscreen manufacturer sites as well as some dermatologist pages, but can't find anything aside from doom and gloom stories about the potential damage to DNA with prolonged exposure to short-wave UVB radiation.  While the concerns for genetic damages leading to various forms of cancer is certainly an issue, could this be just another ploy to scare us into buying the (moderately) more expensive product?

Wireless Power Comes Closer to Reality

The cordless cord is a little closer to becoming a reality now that researchers in the US have successfully tested a mechanism to deliver power to devices without the need for wires.  In the journal Science, the expiramental system was used to power a 60w light bulb two meters away from the power source.  Dubbed "WiTricity", these phsyics exploits could be used to charge several devices and notebooks.

According to Professor Sir John Pendry of the Imperial College of London, "there is nothing in this that would have prevented them inventing this 10 or 20 years ago."  One of the reasons this wasn't invented back in the 90's is the lack of wired devices.  Now, before mentioning all the things we used to plug in to our TV sets and the newly popular computer systems, the number of portable devices requiring power were much fewer than we see today.  It seems that everyone today has their own cell phone, iPod, PDA or other portable electronic device that requires a nightly charge.

The experimental setup involved two 60 cm diameter copper coils, a transmitter attached to a power source, and a receiver placed 2 meters away and attached to a light bulb.  Measurements showed that energy could be transferred with 40% efficiency across the gap, and the bulb would even glow when obstructions such as wood or metal were placed in the way.

What's really cool is that this system makes use of resonance, a phenomenon that causes an object to vibrate when energy of a certain frequency is applied.  When two or more objects have the same resonance, they exchange energy without having an effect on their surrounding environment.

In this setup, both coils were made to resonate at 10 MHz, allowing a couple of "tails" of energy to flow between them.  Using these low frequency electromagnetic waves, which are about 30m long, also has a safety advantage.  Typically when transmitters operate at higher frequencies like 2.4 GHz, then it radiates a mixture of magnetic and electric fields.  This is in part because the wavelenth is much shorter than the 10 MHz spectrum, and is a characteristic of what is known as the "far field".  At a distance of less than one wavelength the field is almost entirely magnetic.

Bodies respond strongly to electric fields, but does not respond to magnetic fields.  As far as western science is concerned, we have zero response to magnetic fields in terms of the amount of power absorbed.  This results in a low-to-nil health risk for humans and other animals.

Wireless power transfer is hardly a new idea.  19th century physicist Nikola Tesla experimented with long-range wireless energy transfer.  His most ambitious attempt was a 29m high aerial known as Wardenclyffe Tower in New York, which failed when he ran out of money.

Eyes on Darfur

Amnesty has launched a website showing recent satellite images of Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, allowing internet users to monitor some of the more high-risk areas for signs of violence.

Ariela Blatter, a director at Amnesty International USA, says they're "hoping that by shining a light, that we will deter the abuse from ever happening."  Let's hope she's right.

Eyes on Darfur is a website that offers clearer, more up-to-date photos of various high-risk locations in Darfur.  No other conflict-torn country has ever had this level of public documentation available for the world and while it may not deter power hungry villians, this will give billions of us the opportunity to voice concerns with our governments.  Sudan has threatened to cut off the supply of gum arabic (a key ingredient to things like soda) to the world if we continue to insist they're ignoring to the genocide, mass rapings and forceful evictions that go on in that area.  I think we can all agree that going without a bottle of Pepsi on a hot summer's day is a small price to pay to bring this issue to light.

The images are made by commercial satellites rented by Amnesty International and are as current as one day old.  For the moment, Amnesty is not able to post live photographs.

Blatter said the images will allow users, as well as analysts, to determine whether a villiage is about to be attacked or has already been subject to violence.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur, Sudan, since militants began battling the army and a government-backed militia (the Janjaweed) in March 2003.  Estimates of at least 2.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes and live in refugee camps.

It's important that Sudanese and international leaders around the world know that the online world can see what's happening in Darfur.  Blatter noted that there is a button on the website that allows users to directly alert the U.S. government about which villiages they are watching.  It's the hope that by having people watch Darfur, Sudan and the international community will feel pressured to bring about change.

"The picture is worth a thousand words, but it's important that it's carried by a million voices," she said.

I couldn't agree more.

What Is the Significance of Six?

This could be the "big unanswerable question" for future generations as they look to the heavens.

The universe was a pretty simple and static place a century ago when Einstein was first heard of.  Common wisdom at the time had it that all creation consisted of an island of stars and nebulae known as the Milky Way, and we were surrounded by infinite nothingness.

We now know space contains countless other galaxies rushing away from one another as a result of, what could be, the big bang.  We like to think we're pretty smart, and that many of life's hard questions are being answered, but our ancestors may have no way of finding out about the Big Bang or the expanding universe.

According to a paper by Laurence Krauss and Robert J. Scherrer, in another hundred billion years the only galaxies left visible in the sky will be the half-dozen bound together gravitationally in what's known as the Local Group.  What's more, is that this cluster of galaxies (which we're part) will likely not expand any further and collapse into a large starry ball.

Without being able to see galaxies flying away, future astronomers will not know if the universe is expanding and will instead think the universe is much as we imagined it 100 years ago.  According to the paper written by the authors, "obervers in our 'island universe' will be fundamentally incapable of determining the true nature of the universe."

Sad news, indeed.  Anyone who enjoys science fiction may have grown up with the idea that as we learn more about the universe, we learn more about ourselves.  Instead, what we see here is that no matter how advanced a civilization might become, they my never know the true scale of the universe.

Worse than that, it makes you wonder what we should think about what we've already learned.  If future generations (albeit several billion generations from now) may create incorrect theories of the universe, whose to say that our is correct?

“There may be fundamentally important things that determine the universe that we can’t see,” Dr. Krauss said in an interview. “You can have right physics, but the evidence at hand could lead to the wrong conclusion. The same thing could be happening today.”

As with everything in physics recently, this is the direct result of dark energy's effect on the universe.  This is the theoretical force that is accelerating the cosmic expansion which seperates the galaxies at an ever increasing rate of speed.  The cosmological constant is the fundamental reason for this expansion.

So, according to this constant, as the universe expands there is more space.  The more space, the more force is being exerted on the galaxies, pushing them faster and faster away from us.  As the approach the speed of light (which would be an interesting thought experiment), the galaxies will disappear from our skies.  Thier ever lengthening wavelengths dimmed to the point where normal background radiation from our own galaxy blocks them out completely.

If the models play out, in the very distant future, this ever-expanding dark energy will absorb all the life from our universe.  Though luckily, and I use the term loosely, future generations of astronomers will never learn this bit of information.  Instead, they'll wonder why the universe consists of only six galaxies.  Like Einstein, they may worry instead that their galaxy could collapse into a ultra-massive black hole and propose some kind of cosmic repulsion to prevent it, but they will have no idea to know if this is correct.

Naturally, we don't really need to know about dark energy to see that the universe is expanding.  Hubble proved the universe was expanding long before we ever knew about this elusive property.  Eventually, the galaxies will just be too far away to be seen under current means, setting the stage for cosmic ignorance.

For the moment, we have some 100,000,000 years or so to record our observations of the universe, and to develop the technologies required to help us learn more about the wonderful gift of existence.  For the moment, we don't know what we don't know.  But we'll learn and, hopefully, record it for future generations.

Translating Images? Whoops!

I'd like to apologize to everyone who tried to view some of my images or download files from non-English translations of this site, as it appears this functionality has been failing for a little bit of time.  Seeing as how more than 70% of my site traffic is not in English, I should have noticed this a few months ago, so I can't really give any excuses for my lapse in site management.

All the language translation done on this site is by Altavista's BabelFish engine.  When you click on one of the flags in the upper portion of the side-bar, you're actually making use of a great little WordPress plugin written by Davide Pozza.  I've been using his Global Translator plugin since January and it's been a great boom for the reach of this website.  What I find absolutely incredible is the number of visitors from countries that I had never imagined accessing this site.

As of June 1, 2007, this site is read in mostly Spanish followed by English.  I'm really curious to know how well the BabelFish machine translation works.  If you happen to be reading this entry in something other than English, please let me know what you think.

Now, all that said, if you also happen to be using Global Translator and you've noticed that people are having trouble downloading .zip, .rar or other files, here's how you can correct the issue.  Everything you need to change is in the translator.php file.  For those who do not want to manually edit the file, you can find a zipped version of the file at the end of this post.

First, we'll add a definition to the file.  Shortly after the comment block, you'll see several lines that start with the word "define".  They'll look something like this:  define('FLAG_BAR_BEGIN', '<!--FLAG_BAR_BEGIN-->');

Add this right afterwards:

define('EXT_EXCLUDE', '.jpg|.png|.gif|.zip|.rar');

If you have any other links or file types that also pass language pointers, feel free to add them here.  For exampe, if you have a link such as http://blog.org/ko/images/picture.bmp, you will want to add .bmp to the definition above.

Next, in function gltr_translate find the following line:

$line = preg_replace($pattern, $repl, $line);

You will want to add a condition around this to make it read:
if (strpos($line, EXT_EXCLUDE) > 0) {
  $line = preg_replace($pattern, $repl, $line);

This will ensure that lines with extensions found in EXT_EXCLUDE are not updated to have a language pointer in place.

Now, all this said, it wouldn't be too hard (in theory) to make this something configurable in the Admin screens, but it's outside the scope of what I was trying to solve at the moment.

For anyone that hasn't tried Davide's plugin and would like to offer their site in multiple languages, I'd strongly recommend Global Translator.  As of this writing, version 0.6.1 is out, which has support for caching, Google Translation, BabelFish Translation, and a few other great little features.

You can download my edited translator.php file here.

Note:  This file is for Global Translator version 0.6.1.

A New Ocean to Explore

I'm clearly in the wrong field.

A radio wave of unknown origin was recently detected on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and may be the result of an ocean hidden beneath the moon's surface.  This comes from evidence collected two years ago when the Cassini-Huygens probe plunged through the atmosphere of the planetary body.

Here on Earth, radio waves can occur naturally during lightning strikes.  These flashes of highly charged electricity cause electrons in the atmosphere to oscillate at particular frequencies to release the waves.  From here, the waves bounce back and forth between the surface and ionosphere.

While this is a regular occurence on Earth, the discovery of such radio waves on Titan could be noteworthy for two primary reasons.  The first involves data already collected about Titan that suggests little or no evidence of lightning to trigger the waves, which would mean that something else must be creating these waves.  These waves are also unusual because the moon's surface is incredibly dusty, which makes it a poor reflector of radio waves.  To this end, the waves must be bouncing off something beneath the surface.

According to a member of the team that runs the Huygens' sensor, the wave "could have been reflected by the liquid-ice boundary of a subsurface ocean of water and ammonia predicted by theoretical models."

Of course, much of this is theory.  Scientists at the ESA are now checking to see if there was perhaps an error in the probe's data.  Personally, I hope it all checks out.  If we can find yet another ocean to explore, we can put some of the incredible machines produced by Stone Aerospace to use.

The universe is teasing us with glimpses of the wonders that await future generations, and I can't wait to see what's out there.

Finding Work in Japan

Nine months ago when I started this site, one of the primary subjects I planned on covering involved the trials and tribulations when finding work in Japan, while still living in Canada.  Although I haven't written anything about the subject thus far, it's time I start sharing some of the things I've learned, and some of the plans I have for future endeavours.

So first a little background:

I'm currently engaged to a great person who lives and works in Japan.  She's 100% Japanese and has an incredible grasp on the English language.  We'll be title="j2fi.net - Wedding Date Set">getting married on May 1st, 2008, and staying in Japan for at least the first few years after the wedding.  Because so much is involved in planning and preparing a wedding, and it would be very beneficial to have employment before and after the big day.  I also want to be living and working in the country at least six months beforehand, which gives me a December 1, 2007 personal deadline.  Just to add some fun to the equation, my primary employer of five years knows that I plan on leaving at some point, so we've arranged my last day with them to be July 13th, 2007.  This date was a few months earlier than I had expected … but what fun is life without a little pressure?

Since returning to Canada from my last trip this past Christmas, I've been looking for work in Japan as well as devising some possible options that would grant me a little freedom in the country should I not immediately find work.  Since I'm still in Canada and writing about "Finding Work in Japan", it's clear that my current efforts have yielded little fruit.  But, like anything worth having in life, some things are worth trying harder for.

I am a computer programmer and database architect by trade, and I love the work.  Over the last two years I've been moving more towards database design and administration because title="j2fi.net - A ZetaByte By Any Other Name …">I absolutely love data, and turning that data into useful information for people.  If I can, I'd like to find work in Japan doing the very same thing.

How To Find Employers:

As with everything in life, you need to know who to talk to.  There are five options available to most of us, and I have them sorted from most promising to least promising (in my own opinion, of course).

  • People you know.  This is the most promising option as it involves talking to people who know (and hopefully like) you for ideas on how or where to go during your search.  This may very quickly result in an ever expanding network of contacts of people who know people who know people, where you can always come recommended.  This can be perfect if you're not exactly sure what type of job you're looking for.  This method tends to work best anywhere in the world, not just asia.

  • Placement Companies.  Here you're dealing with professionals that will advise you, guide you, and match your skills and goals with the requirements of their contacts (usually for free).  This is perfect if you know exactly what you're looking for, but even if you don't, these people can help you determine what you want in a career.  One of the things I've recently learned is that you must really understand the local job market in Japan.  Some great agencies to work with are Panache IT Solutions and Robert Walters Japan.

  • Internet Job Banks.  One would think these are the perfect places to find work anywhere in the world.  However, with (potentially) the entire planet as an audience, employers often recieve too many resumes per offer.  That said, it's often a good idea to register with a few just to see what kind of jobs are available.  GaijinPot and title="DaiJob.com - Work in Japan (English)">DaiJob are two of the best I've found when looking for work in Japan.  Both sites offer pages in English.

  • Newspaper Classifieds and Company Web Sites.  Here you are essentially talking directly to the employers looking for people.  This is good because you are targeting a specific audience.  If the current job market has lots of offers for a few demands, then go for it.  If not, you'll be in competition with so many people that you'll feel as though you're wasting time.  Also, if you're looking to work for a Western company, many will not post any skilled positions in the local papers.  The Japan Times publishes their classifieds on Mondays.

  • The last option is to print out countless resumes and mail them off to companies, not knowing if they're looking for anyone.  This is usually a waste of time and resources unless you're in a market that typically has high turnover.

In the past six months, I've been working almost exclusively with internet job banks.  I have no idea how many jobs I've applied for from Sapporo to Osaka and everywhere in between, but it's clear that I'll likely not find anything this way.  99% of all employers want people to already be in the country and legally entitled to work.  This involves having a Work Visa, which can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to obtain.  Some employers will help people get the visas from the government, others will not.  So knowing ahead of time what the company will and will not help you with is important.

Also, when you receive a work visa, you are limited to work only for the position it's written for.  That is, if you were awarded a working visa as an instructor at a language school, you could not take that visa and work as a software engineer (though working at another language school would be acceptable).

One of the options I had considered for some time was to obtain a Working Holiday Visa, which is good for one year and we can do until 30, then find work while in the country.  While this seemed like a great idea on paper, it carries an incredible amount of risk.  The solution is not completely unworkable, but the risk involved is just too high considering I have a wedding to plan and pay for.

Over the next few months I hope to provide some useful tips, links and other bits of information for anyone that is looking to live and work in Japan.  There are several online that discuss things from an American perspective, but Canadians tend to have a different set of rules to follow.  Hopefully I can help provide some direction.

How To Save Lots of Money on eBay

I really like eBay.  The convenience of shopping for things that might not be readily available in my area is one benefit, and being able to score items for a decent price is another.  I joined back in 2002 and have made purchases for items ranging from a $3 copy of a Star Trek book I hadn't yet read and couldn't find anywhere, all the way up to the $1400 I paid for the notebook I'm writing this entry on.

So, after five years of bidding and selling (rather unsuccessfully, I might add), I thought I might share some of my experiences with how you can go about saving a great deal of money on eBay.

1. Know exactly what you're looking for, and the maximum amount you're willing to pay.  Then find that item and bid that maximum, knowing that you will not spend one cent more on that listing.

This lets you stay ahead of anyone that's going to raise the bid amount with the little $5 and $10 increases, unless someone really wants it and outbids you.  If I had a dime for every auction I had ever lost where the selling price was less than $5 above my maximum, I probably wouldn't be trying to save money with eBay purchases.

2. Make sure the auction ends during a time that you can't keep an eye on the last-minute bidders.

Finding a deal on a sweet cell phone or LCD monitor early in an auction is quite common, as most of the time these items really sell during the last 15 minutes on the auction block.  Everything leading up to those 15 minutes is just for people who hope the item slips under everyone's radar.  More often than not, the items I'm bidding on will end either when I'm on my way home from work, or when I'm in the middle of a very boring meeting.  By keeping myself away from last-minute bid increases, I prevent myself from going over my maximum (see above) and potentially paying the equivalent to retail for something that likely doesn't have a warranty, anyways.

3. Bid on the item you want before checking out the other auctions.

The world is often "first-come first-serve", so why not extend this to internet auctions, too?  By bidding on the first item you see, you can kick yourself 5 minutes later when another auction for the same item has free shipping.  Now you have the dilemma of bidding on this item as well and potentially winning two of the very same thing (which wouldn't be bad if they looked good in a pair), or using one of your two semi-annual bid retractions.  Use your discression here.  If the item you want is a popular thing, say … a top-end Nokia phone, consider bidding on this second auction as well and hope fate will spare you the injustice of winning both items and paying a stupid amount on shipping for something you later found locally.  Otherwise, stick with the first auction and lose it in the closing minutes when you're unavailable to re-enter a bid.

4. Trust that sellers know what they're selling.

My favourite auctions are for electronics that come with pictures ripped right off the company websites and re-assuring words in all caps like "MINT" or "NIB" (often meaning "New, In Box").  If you happen to win these auctions and the seller has a rating under 20, you might find that "mint" actually refers to what happens to a chocolate mint left on the dash of your car in the middle of summer, and "NIB" actually means "Nothing Isn't Broken".  These auctions are usually characterized by final selling prices being less than the cost of shipping.

So there you have it.  The four basic rules to save lots of money on eBay.  You've probably figured out that I don't win very often, and since rules 1 through 3 have me losing … well … constantly (which is why I save lots of money).  I've never had number 4 happen to me, but I've met several people that have dealt with this.

If you have any suggestions for successful bidding on eBay, I'd be happy to give them a try.

History Channel's Promising "Universe" Series

With the onset of summer, new documentaries tend to be little more than repeats we haven't seen before.  Though luckily, the History Channel is premiering a new series entitled "Universe".

The premiere episode, "Secrets of the Sun" aired on Tuesday and was chalk full of interesting information about the star at the centre of our solar system.  What I enjoy most about these shows is that no matter how many documentaries are made on a particular subject, I can always learn something new and reinforce already learned information about the universe around us.

Like many of the newer documentaries coming out, the show had a fluidity that made it easy to follow and incredibly enjoyable.  Spots with very respected scientists, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, were well placed and the animation was right inline with what I'd expect from the History Channel (a.k.a, the show is not a showcase for computer animation, but instead an edutainment platform).

I look forward to watching all the episodes released this summer, and hopefully we'll get to see some episodes regarding topics such as gravity, black holes, and the creation of galaxies.  I'd strongly recommend it to anyone that enjoys seeing more of the universe around us.

Who Are They Kidding?

Palm’ Foleo Mobile Companion

Sometimes I wonder how some products make it out to the market.

It seems that Palm has once again missed the mark with their latest product, the Foleo.  This device is dubbed a "mobile companion" and will connect to a Palm-based smartphone such as the Treo 680 or 700wx.  It comes with a 10" screen, a full sized keyboard, and has apparently been in development for the last five years.

I wish Palm would take a hint from the automotive sector and not release all of their concept devices.  This thing makes the Edsel look like a Mustang Shelby.

It's Palm's hope to bridge the gap between a notebook and a PDA.  But considering the size of the Foleo, I doubt anyone will seriously drop between six and seven hundred dollars on the unit.  When I first heard that Palm had a new device out that was between a notebook and a smartphone I was kind of excited.  I envisioned something akin to HTC's Advantage X7501 device with a 5" screen, WCDMA and GSM capabilities, and a great battery life.  Instead, we get what's shown in the image above.  A quazi-laptop computer running a stripped down verison of Linux that doesn't even have the same software capabilities of the smaller Treo.

So what the heck are we supposed to do with this?  Looking at the specs, the only good thing that comes with device is the Opera web browser.

Palm has cautioned users that the unit has not been tested with all smart phones, and can't guarantee that the Foleo would work with any specific device other than those made by Palm.  You know how tight deadlines can be for those 5 year projects.  Breaking from form, this unit does actually come with a WiFi connection in addition to Bluetooth, so this will allow people to use hotspots.  Of course, if an executive that reads and writes lots of lengthy emails is at a location with a hotspot, they would likely have a real computer to use.

Currently, Palm is trying to work something out with other vendors such as RIM, Symbian and Apple (should they ever open their platform).

Early adopters have also been warned that the Foleo will not be able to immediately view video clips, or work with high-end multimedia like you'd find at HomestarRunner or YouTube.  There is no video viewer planned for this release, or MP3 capabilities, either.  However, the company suggested that users who require these functions can find them on the Treo smartphones.

So to summarize, Palm is releasing a mobile-companion that has fewer capabilities than the $100 notebook to a very narrow market segment that uses the Treo over RIM's BlackBerry or other vendor solutions and expecting that, over time, us consumers will write the software and functionality into the platform much like we did for the first Palm devices 10 years ago.  The biggest selling feature for this unit is the 5 hours of actual usage, though anyone who would need to read or write emails for more than 4 hours a day probably doesn't use smartphones or wannabe hardware devices.

Final Result on the Foleo:  No Dice.