ESA's Canvassing for Volunteers to "Mars"

The European Space Agency is looking for people that would like to take part in a 18-month long study that would pit half-a-dozen people in close quarters and in almost complete isolation from the rest of the planet, all for the sake of simulating a round-trip to the Red Planet.

The plan is to use this 520-day experiment as a program that will be "as close to a real Mars mission as possible."  The simulation will involve a 250 day trip to our celestial neighbour, followed by 30 days of "field work", and 240 days back to the Earth.

Weightlessness and radiation will not be a part of this test, but isolation, confinement, crowding, lack of privacy, high workload, boredom with available food, and limited communication with friends, family and mission control will be the key factors involved.  I see this almost as a "Big Brother", only you don't get voted out of the house.  What will be interesting is how long it takes for even the best and brightest of us to wear down from this kind of environment.

From what I've been able to find on the ESA's website, an applicant must be:

  • Between ages 25 and 50

  • In good health

  • Highly motivated

  • Fluent in either English or Russian, preferably both

  • No taller than six-foot-one (185 cm)

  • Experienced in medicine, biology, engineering and the like

  • A non-smoker with no addictions

  • Willing to be a medical and psychological test subject

  • A national and resident of a select list of countries — including Canada

Sounds good, right?

I didn't find any hard dollar figures for renumeration, considering how applicants would be offering a significant fraction of their lifespan to this test (1% is significant, I think), but the agency says anyone successfully completing the entire study will "receive fixed compensation that is in line with international standards for participation in clinical studies."

I think this would be a prime opportunity to test some of our species "more enclosed" people.  There are many all over the globe that have shut themselves into their homes (or parents' basements) and spend their days communicating with people online.  While the move to put them in an enclosed area for a year and a half would break their anti-social ways, it wouldn't be much different from the small groups that are made all over IRC and other social networking forums.

Of course, they would have to have a background in engineering, or medicine, or some other such high education dicipline, as the ESA does have a full workload for the people that will be taking part in these experiments.

If I was a few years younger and had some time to kill, I might just apply for this project.  While they do plan on delaying communications 40 minutes when the team "reaches" Mars (to account for the radio delay between the Earth and Mars), I'm sure that people could still make blog entries.  I would be interesting to see how a person's world-view changes over time ... at first we would see them excited with the challenge, but as the months wore on, the communications would take on a different tone completely.

It makes me wonder if we would want our first contact with extra-terrestrial people to happen in space ....

If you're interested in this project, hop over to the ESA's site and apply.  Seats are limited, but it'll be one heck of an item to put on your resume :)

Canada's No-Fly List Comes Into Effect

Today is the first day of Ottawa's new No-Fly list, and it has a bunch of people concerned.  Under the program, the government will compile names of people who pose "an immediate threat to aviation security" onto this list based on information supplied by CSIS and the RCMP.

Transport Minister Jean Lapierre has admitted that Canada's effort will be quite modest in comparison to the programs in place elsewhere, such as the United States, but it has already raised alarms with some groups as Canadian cizitens have been mistakenly refused boarding for their flights.  As of this writing, Canada's list is reportedly "fewer than 1,000 names", whereas the U.S. counterpart has blossomed to more than 44,000.

The U.S. has used a no-fly list for a few years due to the 9-11 atacks in both Washington and New York.  When asked why Canada is still reviewing some security issues, the Transport minister replied that it had to do with legalities.  The government is not willing to implement any form of racial our country-of-origin profiling, which is a bonus, and title=" - Critics Alarmed by Canada's No Fly List">according to a post I found on, there are three reasons a person may be placed on this list:

  • An individual who has been involved in a terrorist group and who, it can reasonably be suspected, will endanger the security of any aircraft or aerodrome, or the safety of the public, passengers or crew members

  • An individual who has been convicted of one or more serious and life-threatening crimes against aviation security

  • An individual who has been convicted of one or more serious and life-threatening offences and who may attack or harm an air carrier, passengers or crew members

Unfortunately, there is very little information about this list online for the moment.  I'm not really concerned whether I'll be on this list at this point, but I do wonder what would happen if someone else with the same name was wanted for some felony.  Would I be prevented from leaving Canada?  I title=" - Finding Work in Japan">hope to be working in Japan before the end of this year, so could the actions of someone else put my employment in jeopardy?

I'd like the Canadian government to make the No-Fly list available to citizens in some online format.  It would naturally need to be secure, since we wouldn't want to go to a site and see a list of a thousand people that couldn't fly for whatever reason, but I would be willing to enter a secure https connection and enter some personal data such as my SIN and earnings from last year in order to get a Yes or No answer regarding my status.  This way, if my name did raise an alarm, I could get in touch with the proper authorities long before my flight is be slated to take off.

Is Your Inbox Empty, Too?

On May 30th of this year, one of the ten biggest spam artists in the world was arrested in Seattle.  One week after being indicted by a grand jury in Washington, and charged with fraud, money laundering, identity theft, and breaking Federal anti-spam legislation, Robert Alan Soloway was taken into custody. Soloway's arrest followed a large joint investigation by the Washington State Attorney General's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Internal Revenue Service Department of Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS).

Is this why my inboxes have been relatively empty for the last few weeks?

Just a month ago I would receive at least two dozen emails a day promising such things as Viagra, hair growth treatments, pre-approved $700,000 mortgages for ridiculously low rates, and a plethora of other products and services in an effort to lure my dollars.  I would often also recieve at least one email claiming to be from some bank or PayPal saying that my account had been put on hold due to "suspicious activity" in an effort to get my personal data recorded on some site in Russia or other unregulated Asian nation.

But all these have stopped.  Since Soloway's arrest, I have received less than 30 spam emails with my five accounts. 

Soloway has been a colossal Internet pest for years, sending giant amounts of spam, filling mailboxes and mail servers to overflowing with unsolicited and unwanted junk email. Criminally, he fraudulently marketed spam services as legitimate 'opt-in' services, fooling innocent users and then offering no customer support or refunds. Soloway used hijacked computers and open proxies,and therefore repeatedly violated the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act of 1984 and the CAN-SPAM law of 2003.  But is it possible he's been the primary source of the emails reaching me?

I still get those messages from some African nation asking my assistance in unlocking a few million dollars and offering a small cut in return, but even these have slowed down.  Perhaps the arrest of this one man has scared some of the others into hiding.

Not a Truck

Well done, America.  Ted Stevens must be proud. :)

Why Survey Results Often Suck

Today I was reading The Province while waiting for my laundry to finish when I read a rather stupid article that left me thinking "Why was this even published?"

The article was written by Janice Tibbetts, of the Canwest News Service and was titled "Majority want minorities to adapt culturally".


A telephone poll was conducted between June 12th and 14th by the polling firm Ipsos-Reid, with 1,002 adults responding.  The survey found that 58% of Canadians believe minorities should try to fit the traditionally Canadian mould.  The remaining participants felt that it should be a priority to encourage the 58% to accept groups, regardless of their culture, customs and language.  What I don't understand, though, is that 82% of the respondants believe that "Canada's multi-cultural makeup is one of the best things about this country."

If a small majority believe that we should all be culturally the same, then how does this fit with the mould?  Personally, I'm glad that there are so many different cultures, languages and customs found in the various parts of Canada.  What better way to appreciate the diversity of the world without ever leaving home?  With such diversity, we Canadians have an incredible resource at our disposal in the people that are not from the same places our ancestors left.

The term "minority" is also getting to be highly offensive.  I don't know if these people have looked around lately, but "minority" no longer means non-Caucasian.  Caucasians are now the minority in most of the major cities across Canada.  The only places where they are still a majority is in government and on the executive boards of big business.  But even that won't last more than another generation.  We need to stop fretting about what makes us all different and instead focus on what makes us the same.

As for the 58% of Canadians that everyone who enters this country should shed their cultural heritage in exchange for a big screen TV and a bag of Doritos ... go back to where you (or your ancestors) came from.

Happy Father's Day!

Today, being Father's Day in Canada, I'm wondering how long it will be before I start hearing the words "Happy Father's Day" directed towards me.  I've wanted to have kids for a long time, and I look forward to both the challenges and the rewards that come with being a parent.  Though I am quite curious to know how my kids might turn out.

I'm not worried about what they'll do for a living, or if they'll strike it rich with some grand invention.  So long as they're happy and stay out of trouble, then I'll have successfully lived up to my end of the bargain.  I'm more worried more about what habits and traits they'll pick up from me.

We all tend to pick up traits from our parents, some good and some bad.  Most of the time we can laugh at ourselves as we see children emulate the people who play the strongest roles in their lives.  Often times it's the subliminal things that we don't even think about that we pick up.  Small sayings, habits, biases, anger management (or lack thereof) ... the list is almost endless.

As I get older, I'm beginning to see more of my father in me.  We cough the same, we sigh the same, we have the same non-verbal communication style, we even stopped paying attention to "new music" around the same age.  Heck, as I edge ever closer to 30, I just can't understand how kids can listen to some of the stuff that's being put on CDs ... it's horrible.  I'm almost afraid of what hidden habits and traits I might have unconsciously learned about parenting.

When I'm forced to dicipline my children, whose voice will I hear?  Mine or my fathers?  When I'm teaching them how to be a responsible member of society, will I use the same examples my father did?  Will I use the same tactics when helping with homework?  Will I be able to stand back and let my kids make their own mistakes, stepping in only when they're about to hurt themselves or others?  Will I be able to encourage my children just the right amount so that they strive to hone their skills and talents, rather than think I'm just saying something because I'm their parent?

Considering how many things I've picked up from my parents without ever realizing it, I'm sure I'll do just fine.  Like most kids, I grew up saying that I'll raise my children differently, and this is probably true in some cases.  But after everything we've been through, and all the years we've shared, I'm glad I had the family I did.  It certainly prepared me for the life that I've had, and the lessons learned will continue to guide me throughout the future.

What To Do About Loud Neighbours?

I'm sure we all have that "one loud neighbour" that seems to make their existence known at every opportunity, but I'm starting to get a little irked by the one that lives next door to me.

A six-lane street that is often packed with cars sits less than 40 meters from my back door.  The Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is less than five kilometers away and flights are in and out often enough that we can't go 5 minutes without hearing the roar of a jet.  Then, to top it all off, there is usually an ambulance or fire truck barrelling down Granville (that six-lane street) every 15 to 20 minutes.

Suffice to say, this is not the quietest part of Vancouver.

Now, I am a deep sleeper.  I enjoy getting seven hours of solid sleep, and all of these sounds can be completely ignored while slumbering next to my wide-open window (when the weather cooperates).  My young neighbour (early-to-mid 20's), however, seems to have some unique property to her excrutiatingly annoying voice.  I have often wondered if she could be put to work talking to the comatose.  20 minutes of listening to her would make anyone want to wake up and shout "SHUT THE @$#% UP!!!".

Of course, she can't be that bad ... she does have two boyfriends (seriously).

So here's my problem.  This person loves the night life.  And with two different guys to choose from, she's out five nights a week.  Tuesdays through Thursday, she typically gets home at 1:30 am, shouts and laughs all the way from her car to the front door of her house, then goes inside.  Friday through Sunday, she gets home between 2:30 and (like today) 4:00 in the morning.  Again, she's shouting and laughing all the way from her car to the front door of her house.  Whatever guy managed to win some of her time that day is next to her making less noise, but playing a part in the disturbance.

Occasionally, I have woken up and shouted "SHUT UP" ... but this seems to only make matters worse.  You see ... thanks to the design and placement of the houses around here, sounds echo quite a bit in this neighbourhood.  So if someone shouts somewhere, it sounds like it's coming from several directions and is heard by the whole block.  This neighbour doesn't like to be told to keep her voice down ... I still remember the argument she had on her front lawn the day one of her ex-bf's asked her to keep it down at 1:30 am.  So upon hearing someone tell her to go without speaking (even if only for the 30 seconds between the car and the house), she spent the next 10 minutes shouting "Who said that?" and "Come out here!"


I have never understood why some people deem it necessary to use a large number of decibels when less will do.  I would understand if this neighbour was partially deaf, but that's not the case.

Now, just for the sake of clarity ... I am not spying on this neighbour.  I have lived in the area for two and a half years, and in that time I have rarely ever seen my neighbours.  Most of them are so quiet that unless you happen to be outside at the same time as they are, you'd never even know the house was actually occupied.  This woman, however, seems to make it a habit to let the entire world know where she is at any given time with just the sound of her voice.  I wish she'd just shut up and use Twitter instead.

Does anyone else have a neighbour like this?  Has anyone ever successfully made these loud people aware of the disturbances they cause?  At this point, I'm willing to try almost anything.

Fermilab Physicists Discover "Triple-Loop" Baryon

I know that just by talking about particles, 99% of the people reading this will likely move on, but I can't resist.

A new baryon particle has been identified at Fermilab as part of the DZero experiment at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  This new heavy particle, Ξb (pronounced "zigh sub b") baryon, is also known as the "cascade b" and made of a down (a strange and a bottom quark).  This is the first baryon formed of quarks from all three families of matter.  Its discovery and the measurement of its mass will provide a new understanding of how strong nuclear force acts upon quarks, the basic building blocks of matter.

There are six types of quarks, and they're grouped in pairs:  up and down, top and bottom, strange and charm.  This particle has a strange quark, a bottom quark and a down quark.  Particles with three quarks, such as this one, are called baryons (from the Greek "barys", meaning heavy).  The most common baryons are protons and neutrons.

This particular baryon was created in a particle accelerator and has a very short lifespan.  After travelling just a few millimetres at just under the speed of light, it decays into other forms of matter.  Scientists are able to detect that it had existed by examining the more stable decay products left behind.

Pluto Loses More Ground

It's certainly been a busy day around the world.  Mahmoud Abbas title=" - Abbas dissolves Hamas Fatah Government">dissolved the Hamas Fatah government and declared a state of emergency in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.  The Windows version of Safari has some title=" - Security Flaws Found in Safari Web Browser for Windows">pretty alarming security flaws.  The title=" - Space Station Computers Partially Restored">International Space Stations computers went down, knocking out navigational control and life support.  And Pluto lost more ground to other bodies in the solar system.

Since I've never agreed with Hamas' platforms, seldom cared about Apple software, and with the ISS computers are being restored by some of the most skilled people on (and off) the planet, I'd much rather discuss Pluto's continuing slide from the small amount of fame it has achieved in the last century.

An Artists Rendering of Eris and DysnomiaWhen the International Astronomical Union redefined planets last year, it created a new subcategory called "dwarf planets".  Pluto was placed into this category along with some other Kuiper Belt and Scattered Disk Objects and was thought to be the largest of them all.  However, researchers have recently determined that this is not the case.

Using the Keck Observatory and Hubble telescope, two astronomers were able to calculate the mass of another dwarf planet, Eris, by calculating the movement of its moon, Dysnomia.  Armed with this information, they determined that Eris had a mass 27% greater than that of Pluto.  That said, this dwarf planet is 1/360th the mass of Earth.

Eris and its moon Dysnomia are the most distant known objects in our solar system, sitting almost 100 Astronomical Units (the distance between the Earth and the Sun) away.  It was the discovery of Eris that prompted the IAU's redefinition of a planet.  Had Eris been included in the previous definition (anything large enough to be round), it may have increased the number of planets in our solar system to 15.

In the end, the International Astronomical Union decided on a definition that excluded Eris, and by extension, Pluto.

How Do You Relax?

It seems the last two weeks have been pretty hard on my health.  With the seemingly endless list of things to accomplish, my blood-pressure has shot through the roof.  Though, when I force myself to examine things rationally, there really isn't all that much I need to do.  It really just comes down to two things:

  • I have 4 weeks left with my current employer, so I need to finish everything there

  • I have no prospects for working in Japan, where I need to be in a short period of time

So suffice to say, with the highly elevated blood-pressure, the ability to think clearly has been lost.  Discussions with people at work have become incredibly difficult as I seem to be insanely defensive, despite the fact they're just saying "hello" in passing.  The slightest thing seems to destroy my ability to concentrate on work.  And, if that's not enough, the only way for me to accomplish anything of value while hammering out code is to have Xzibit or 50 Cent spittin' out some lyrics on my headphones, which only makes me seem even more anti-social than normal.  Not that there's anything wrong with that ....

Previously I could get around all of this by relaxing at home for an evening.  This would often involve reading a book, or watching some documentaries, or some repeat episodes of American Dad and Family Guy.  Daily Show and Colbert Report have been part of my daily unwind regimand for a long time now, and Dance Dance Revolution is a big part of my gaming (despite the fact that I'm white and almost 30), the physical exertions involved with that used to be a great stress relief.  But these things aren't working anymore.  If anything, my frustrations are only destroying the enjoyment of these passtimes.

So what do you do to relax when everything you enjoy just adds to the stress?

I've already cut back on the coffee, and I'm loathe to go back to food as the universal "feel good" solution.  There has to be something that doesn't involve pills or some weird philosophy (I'm looking at you, Scientology) to help me regain focus.  Maybe it's time to get back into golf ... only this time I won't destroy the clubs and toss them in the pond ....

Sudan and the UN Agree on Peacekeeping Plan

Two weeks after threatening to cut off the world's primary supply of gum arabic if the global community didn't lay off the situation in Darfur, it appears the Sudanese government has conceeded to some ground to the UN.

In the last four years, local rebels have taken up arms against the Sudanese government accusing it of decades worth of neglect.  Shortly thereafter, the pro-Sudanese militia (the janjaweed) was released to quell the usurption, which then led to the horrific events that have left upwards of 2.5 million people displaced, 200,000 dead, and countless innocents raped and otherwise scarred for life.

So, it was good news today when the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced some "positive conclusions" in an effort to resolve the conflicts.  These comments came after two days of highly charged meetings between the UN, AU and Sudanese government in Ethiopia.

This agreement marks the final phase of the three-stage UN plan to send troops to the embattled Darfur region, where a severely under-funded African Union force is already in place.  Since he committed to the plan last November, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has delayed acceptance of the first two phases and has since backpeddled on his approval.  The most contentious arguments have revolved around the Sudanese president's demand that only African soldiers contribute to the new force.  The UN and AU have pledged to seek African troops initially, but has refused to limit the force to just those nations.

According to circulating media reports (a.k.a. hearsay) the intended force will consist of anywhere between 17,000 and 19,000 troops who are mostly, although not exclusively, from Africa.  Sudan has reportedly also agreed to allow upwards of 3,700 police into the country as proposed in the UN-AU plan, which had previously offered support from two African and two non-African nations.

I hope this is the beginning of the end for the unacceptable treatment of people in the country's Darfur region.  Arrest warrants were issued by the International Criminal Court for two Sudanese officials back in April.  Both Ahmad Harun, the minister of state for humanitarian (HAH!) affairs, and Ali Sushayb face 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  While there is no earthly punishment fitting for allowing the wanton slaughter and rape of countless innocents, I hope the ICC can capture these two and bring them to justice.

That said, many more of the Sudanese government shouldn't be far behind....

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