Time to Buy a Car

For almost five years, I've relied on my feet and public transit to get me from place to place.  This was for several reasons, including a vehicle's return on investment and my environmental responsibilities.  I could never justify owning a vehicle in Vancouver as everything I need is either within walking distance (within 12 km) or easily accessible via public transit.

However, it's time to change this.

In just over a year, Reiko and I will be married and living in Canada.  With two people using a vehicle, the cost of ownership is now a little more in line with what I prefer to see.  Also, in the event that we have children in the first few years of marriage, it would be nice to have a vehicle to get from place to place.  I would never want my Reiko to go through the hassles of bringing a stroller and a child onto a transit vehicle ... it's just way too much trouble.

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed far more ... how should I put this ... "stupid white guys" on transit.  I'm sure we all know the type.  These are the people that have more braun than brain.  They curse more in 30 seconds than Eminem does in an entire album.  They make women uncomfortable with their idiotic come-ons.  And they lower the average intelligence level of the entire bus or train by a solid 50 IQ points.

I can't stand these fools anymore.  Seriously.

In the last few days I've seen these fools get on the bus with the smelliest slices of pizza you could imagine.  They talk with their mouth full, spewing forth explicit language and partially digested globs of filth.

You'll never see anyone but a dumb white guy do this.  I try not to judge people based on their appearance, but seeing these idiots makes me uncomfortable to be caucasian.  I've seen drunken asians and delerious aboriginals carry themselves with more self-respect.

So to that end, I'll be in the market for a decent hybrid car in the next few months.  I'll have to talk it over with Reiko, of course, but having a car here and at the ready will be one less thing we would need to worry about after starting our lives together in Canada.  It would also give me one less thing to actively ignore.

I stopped fighting when I was 12 years old.  It was no longer worth the hassle of getting hauled into the principals office and being sent home after the phone call to my father.  But it's awfully tempting to stoop to the same level as these fools and forcibly evict them from a moving bus.

Planning the Great Adventure

HD 209458b Some good news has come out of NASA this week, where scientists are able to determine the molecules found in the atmospheres of some known exoplanets (worlds outside our own solar system).

This is great news for any young scientists planning on creating an incredibly fast satellite that might be sent off to another solar system in search of habitable worlds.  If we can determine the chemical compositions of atmospheres from light years away, then we can be sure to aim highly advanced space probes in the right direction.

I am consistently impressed by the incredible genius of the people at NASA and observatories around the globe.  Only a few years ago people would have laughed when someone theorized that planets might exist outside of our solar system.  Now we know of 182 that circle nearby stars.  If we can determine the likelyhood of habitable worlds, then we can begin to work on the machines that would let us study these worlds for both life, as well as their viability as a colony site.

That is, of course, assuming that the world in question doesn't already have a sentient species in place.

I believe that we will find sentient life out in the cosmos.  Hopefully they will be just as curious about us as we are of them.  And hopefully we will have learned from our past mistakes with indigenous peoples of this world, before making the same mistakes somewhere in the expanse of space.

Flying Cars only Two Years Away?

This is pretty cool.  I was watching "Future Cars" on Discovery tonight and they happened to have a piece on the SkyCar produced by Moller International.  According to the site, these are darn near ready for production.

This does raise the question, though ... is the general public ready for travel in three dimensions?  I've seen some crazy accidents that were completely avoidable had someone been paying attention.  Could you imagine the blind spots on a vehicle that could navigate not only on the X and Y axis, but the Z as well?

One of the nice things about this vehicle, though, is the sticker price.  These are likely not affordable by the people who buy Porsche and BMW SUV's while being too short to see over the dash.  Then again ... this would be Darwin's theory in practice, right?  Survival of the fittest will quickly weed out the people who do not have spacial awareness. :wink: 

But I am interested to know what kind of licencing will be necessary for this.  I'm sure that we would need to have a basic pilot's licence, but what would we do about air traffic?  Could these even be used in cities that have large airports?

I would love to have one of these, personally.  I'd love nothing more than to fly between Canada and Japan with Reiko (following the coast, considering the 750 mile range) every time we both had some vacation time.  Eventually when we're married, this vehicle would give us the option to either visit her family, or to visit the east coast of Canada where she could take in the sights of Nova Scotia and PEI.

Flying cars have been the stuff of science fiction since Henry Ford introduced the Model-T.  I look forward to what the future brings if the general public will have access to vehicles such as this.

The highway of the sky is about to open.

Canada's Million Dollar Coin

Now this is interesting.  I happened to hear a rumor about the Royal Canadian Mint commissioning a one million dollar coin a few weeks ago, and now it seems that the speculation was true.

According to the article, this almost pure gold coin will weigh in at 100 kilograms (about 220 lbs) and be the size of a large pizza, which I assume means a diameter of approximately 45 cm (18 inches).  This is almost laughable, as there has never been a coin minted on the planet of this size.

Of course this is only for the people that already have it all, and I think it's a great way for the mint to continue turning a profit every year.  There aren't too many crown corporations that can claim this, so it's nice to hear.

I am curious to know how many of these might be made.  If I ever win more than fifty million dollars in the lottery, I might just have one of these made.

Documenting the Coming Century

PBS is currently airing a program called 22nd Century to showcase some possible future technologies, and I really hope that these shows are used in educational settings to foster discussion on technology's role in our social evolution.  The first of three possible pilots was aired in January, and is available for viewing on PBS' site.  Depending on viewer responses, the show with the most positive feedback will be turned into a series.

The first pilot was quite enjoyable.  Some of the most intelligent proponents and opponents were showcased in this episode and they explained their case.  Rodolfo Llinas had the opportunity to discuss some of his incredible work with nanowire bundles being wired directly into brains, Steve Mann had the opportunity to show his wearable computer glasses (the Eyetap), and Bill McKibben  had a chance to discuss some of the concerns that arise when we're too connected.

I must apologize for all the links, but when discussing subjects such as this I can go on and on ...

When I was still a student, the thought of connecting myself directly to a computer was appealing.  Having the ability to quickly access information stored on computers anywhere in the world and make use of that information without the distractions of going to a computer or opening a book would have been a dream come true.  Learning a language in minutes and having the ability to have incredibly complex calculations solved in the space of seconds by sending the question to a computer only to receive the answer moments later would be euphoric.  Just imagine how easy it would be to communicate with any person anywhere on the planet!  Just imagine how simple it would be to instantly tally up the cost of your groceries before getting to the checkout!  The potential uses for this ability is endless.

Exciting, indeed.  But what must we forfeit in return for these benefits?

Over the last few years I've come to learn that humans would not be a very happy lot if everything was perfect.  We thrive in imperfect conditions.  What challenges would we have if everything was automatic?  Would we get bored of life?  How would we regard people who weren't "plugged in"?  Would we consider them sub-human?  Would we even be human ourselves?

I can't claim to have the answers to these questions, and since many of my ideas on the subject are very close to Mr. McKibben's, I'd recommend that people buy his book, Enough.  The arguments are structured a million times better in that book than I could ever hope to write on this site.

I look forward to the future episodes of this new documentary.  Hopefully it will inspire some of our youth to examine the potential benefits and consequences of our increasing dependance on technology.

Any Room for a Gaijin?

Over the last few months I've been doing some leg work in order to find employment in Japan.  I'll be getting married to a Japanese woman in just over a year, so it only makes sense that I get myself a job over there in order to provide, right?

When I talk to people here in Canada about finding work in Japan, I'm told that it will be relatively simple.  As a foreigner, I'll have my choice of careers where native English is a key skill that can set me apart from the rest.  Well ... that's what I'm told.

When I discuss this with people who are living in Japan (not only my fiancee, but other people from various parts of the globe), I'm told that it's not half as easy as one would think.  Not only is there the legal paperwork to get out of the way (work visas are apparently quite limiting and requires that I have a sponsor before actually getting the position in the company), but there's also the rather large corporate culture differences.  I've spoken to more than one programmer who worked in Japan for over five years, and spent the first three running errands and cleaning toilets instead of writing code.

Could I do the same without feeling frustrated by the lack of mental stimulation?  I'm really curious to know just how common this scenario is.

I understand that immigrants to any nation typically do the jobs that nobody else wants to do.  Because an immigrant moves to a country with goals of a better life for them and their children (usually), should I expect the same type of scenario?  Either way, I'll be over there in a matter of years.  Sooner if I can manage it.

Does anyone have any experience with this?  I'd be interested to know what difficulties (if any) you've faced.

From the Earth to Jupiter in 400 Days

Does anyone else get excited when they visit the NASA website?

New Horizons Jupiter Fly-by

New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever made.  It's currently traveling at 69,200 KM/h (43,000 mph) and will increase to about 83,700 KM/h (52,000 mph) once it accelerates through Jupiter's gravity well.  As of this writing, the probe has been traveling for 395 days toward the gas giant and it will make its closest approach in another nine.

From Earth to Jupiter in just over 400 days ... that's amazing.

Ever since I was a young boy I've wanted to do something with the space program.  I know that I could never be an astronaut, as this body isn't really designed for that kind of thrashing.  But being an engineer and solving the complex problems that are presented with sending vehicles into the vacuum of space would be even more exciting.

Like many of the people at NASA, I grew up watching Star Trek and imagining myself cruising through space in a star ship capable of faster-than-light travel.  Seeking out life and new civilizations and studying the cosmos up close.  Of course these dreams are centuries ahead of our time but, with a healthy and active imagination, children can imagine anything.

I do believe that the future of our industrialization relies on space.  What better way to preserve our world than by mining asteroids for raw material and sending the refined ores and minerals back to earth?  Of course this would mean that we would pollute space instead, but how many will argue that the vacuum is already littered with trace elements and debris?  There have already been many case studies and reports written on the benefits of constructing a space elevator to make orbital placements much more cost effective, as well as making it easier to send materials or passengers back down to the earth in an efficient manner.  Could this truly work for us?

If I'm lucky, I will live long enough to see some of the great strides we humans will make into space.  There are lots of problems that need to be solved here on Earth before we can truly venture out to new worlds, but with steady focus and determination, we can grow as a global society and explore the galaxy together.

WordPress Global Translator and FireStats

 Update:  For those of you interested in getting Global Translator 0.6 to work with FireStats, go here.

 I've had several requests from people who use Omry Yadan's FireStats and want to use Davide Pozza's Global Translator Plugin, as the two plugins tend to behave poorly together.  For anyone that hasn't used these two together, what happens is the wrong source page is sent to the Google Translation service, and readers receive either a 404 or a white blank page.  This appears to be a mod_rewrite issue that only affects Global Translator.  Luckily, there is a very quick and dirty fix that will resolve the issue.

First off, I'd like to say that this fix has been tested on both WordPress 2.0.x and 2.1 with FireStats 1.1.0 through to the current 1.1.5 Stable and Global Translator 0.4.1.  I have not updated to the most current version of Global Translator because this one suits my needs just fine.

Now the fun stuff.

There are only two lines that need to be changed in the translator.php file found in your /wp-content/plugins/global-translator/ directory, and in the translate function.

$url_to_translate = BLOG_HOME . '/' . $url;
should be changed to:
$url_to_translate = preg_replace('(it|ko|zh-CN|pt|en|de|fr|ja|es|ar|//)', '', $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI']);

And below that:
$resource = $translator_base_url . $language . '&u=' . $url_to_translate;
should be changed to:
$resource = $translator_base_url . $language . '&u=' . BLOG_HOME . $url_to_translate;

These changes eliminate the $url variable's use from the translate($lang, $url) function, but the second variable should not be removed from the definition.  This is not a complete solution to the matter, but it's a quick solution that will work for the majority of sites.

Keep in mind that you need to use "Date and Name based" permalinks and your .htaccess file should be updated acccordingly (this is done by WordPress automatically if the appropriate permissions have been granted).  All of this is outlined in the Global Translator instructions, but it's a critical component that I've seen missed elsewhere.

For anyone that has not used these plugins, I highly recommend them.  The Global Translator is a great way to help foreign visitors enjoy your site (despite the occasional inaccuracies in machine translation), and FireStats will give you a great idea of where your readers are coming from and what browsers they're using.  This last point is important if you are designing sites to be optimized for certain browsers.

If there are any questions with this change, just drop me a line.  I'll be sure to offer what help I can.

Update: 

As requested, here is the modified translator.php file that I use on this site.  Please note that this is from version 0.4.1 rather than the current release.

Before using this file, please make sure that your site has the "WordPress should compress articles (gzip) if browsers ask for them)" checkbox cleared.  This can be found in the Options menu, under Reading, down at the very bottom.  Several users have reported that after this is cleared out, Global Stats will work without fail on their site.

Enjoy,

Amazon's Typo? Or Intentional 'Glitch'?

Today I was reading on SlashDot about a promotional problem that Amazon encountered just before Christmas of last year, and their subsequent method of recovering lost earnings from this problem.  At first I found their solution to be wrong, but as I continued thinking about it, I realized that Amazon is partially right to pursue their course of action.

The jist of the problem is this:  Amazon advertised a "Buy One, Get One Free" DVD promotion, and the online shopping cart would glitch when the order was placed, effectively allowing a buyer to get two DVDs for free or a small fraction of the actual cost.  Shortly thereafter, Amazon sent an email to customers asking that they either return the unopened merchandise to them or their credit cards would be charged for the proper amount.  People who did not respond to Amazon's request had about a month before the company started putting through (what some consider) to be unauthorized charges on their cards.

When I first read this, my initial reaction was: "No.  If Amazon screwed up their pricing, then Amazon should take the hit."  But then I started thinking about this from a legal point of view.  In many countries, this would be considered theft.

The customers knew that Amazon had a pricing glitch in their system.  Some may have even taken gross advantage of this glitch ordering dozens or hundreds of Box Set DVDs for a fraction of their actual cost.  Many legal systems make it the obligation of the consumer to advise the retailer of this error and ensure it's correctness.  If the consumer does not let the retailer know, then the store does have the legal right to go after the consumer for the remainder of the proper balance within a short timeframe.

I'm forced to agree with Amazon regarding their recovery policy.  Customers would have seen immediately that two or more DVD Box Sets were incredibly under-priced at the Check-Out.  Why didn't these people say "Wait a minute?  This is only going to come back to haunt me if I take advantage of this." ?  Where is the moral compass of the people who may have abused this error?

There are way too many people who think that the world owes them something for nothing.  The loudest shouters are usually the ones who knowingly break laws and agreements for their own personal gain thinking that "big giants like Amazon should take it up the rear" when a mistake is made.  But Heaven forbid someone does the same to these people in a sale.

Some conspiracy theorists believe this was just a tactic by Amazon to boost their bottom line during the busy Christmas season.  However, I see no pattern to this.  Web-based companies have made mistakes before.  We're all human, and are not impervious to the occasional typo.  While it might have been prudent to have someone test this on the live web server, consumers should know the difference between right and wrong.

Just because we can do a thing, does not mean we must do a thing.  Greed will only consume us.

If There Was Ever a Crew In Need of Shore Leave ...

I feel so bad for the crews manning five Japanese whaling vessels.

It seems that since leaving port the crews have had to deal with super cold weather, constant hassling from a small group of environmental terrorists, and now a fire on their primary ship.

First, I'd like to say "WTF!?!" to the environmental terrorists that have been harassing the people on these vessels.  They call themselves the "Sea Shepherd Conservation Society", but I think it's a typo on their part.  I think they meant to call themselves "Unemployable Jackasses From Mars".  I use the term "terrorist" as a descriptor because of the tactics they employ.  I can't believe this is a Canadian organization ... it just doesn't make sense.

I can understand that people may not be happy with whaling, considering how we (humans) have been hunting these creatures for centuries to harvest not only for food, but lamp fuel, mechanical lubricant and a host of other uses.  We've brought some species right to the brink of extinction in our carelessness, but we've learned from our mistakes and many species are begining to make a slight comeback.

Do these life forms deserve to have some kind of protection from us?  Absolutely.

Does this give other humans the right to be retards?  No.

There are ways to accomplish goals in this world, and there are ways to make yourself look like an idiot to the world.  I admit that I look like an idiot quite often, but even I have my limits as to how far I'll sink in the eyes of my peers.  The fishing vessels that were being harassed were operating on legal permit from their government.  If the Sea Shepherd's want to raise a stink, they should discuss it with our politicians and request some form of dialog be opened with the offending government.  If these "conservationists" want to send a vessel out to monitor the actions of these whaling vessels to ensure the legal limits are not breached, and no other endangered species are accidentally captured or killed, then so be it.  But observe.   Don't assault crew members with bottles of acid.

I often wonder where these groups get the money to make all these global trips.  Filling an ocean-going vessel with enough fuel to chase five Japanese cruisers around the Antarctic isn't cheap.  You'd think the SSCS would send some more intelligent people instead.

I'll admit that it's not easy to get governments to listen to the people they've sworn to serve.  They have lots of people shouting at them, and only so many hours in a day.  While working with governments it's often wise to show some form of restraint to ensure your messages are better heard.  Being stupid will just destroy any credibility you may have once carried.

It's also important to look at why certain countries are whaling, and try to offer solutions to their needs.

Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Japan are some countries that still whale.  But these countries do not go out and slaughter these creatures en masse.  Each country has their own imposed limitations.  Greenland and Japan still eat whale meat.  Iceland collects less than 40 in the name of science.  Norway also gets a few under the guise of science.  While these numbers are still higher than the zero that many conservationists would like to see, it's a much better sight than the horrid slaughter that took place by many of the European nations up until the early 20th century.

I'm not saying that we should go out and take the life of whatever animal we choose so long as we benefit from it.  Heck, I still have a hard enough time eating meat twice a week knowing that something died to give me nourishment.  But while the earth seems to shrink all the time, the planet is still large enough for most of us.  Rather than make yourself look inept on a global scale by sending your dullest, it may be better to work with the systems in place with your brightest.  It's not perfect, but only through open and frank discussion can differences in opinion be ironed out and a compromise met.

I only hope it happens before potentially irreversible damage is caused.

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