Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hot American Summer

The following is from an article in the NY times:

The Fourth of July is approaching and with it the promise, or threat, of another long, hot summer...

"It was now the third week in September; the dry, dust-laden air vibrated steadily to the rapid beat of the engine, though so close were the steam and the air in temperature that no exhaust was visible but merely a thin feverish shimmer of mirage. The very hot, vivid air, which seemed to be filled with the slow laborious plaint of laden wagons, smelled of lint; wisps of it clung among the dust-stiffened roadside weeds and small gouts of cotton lay imprinted by hoof- and wheel-marks into the trodden dust."— “The Hamlet,” by William Faulkner

...It serves as a reminder, as if there were any danger of forgetting, that of all the seasons, summer can be the cruelest.

Winter’s punishments fall with blunt directness: short days, frigid nights, the blizzard that brings our activities to a halt. Summer bewitches and betrays. It seduces with gentle breezes and bursts of color, with languorous days and with the lure of freedom and idle hours. But daylight can yield to the forces of what Walt Whitman once called the “mad naked summer night.” Inhibition melts away, like so many protective layers, and our darker selves emerge. The days and nights of unrelenting heat put people on edge. Tempers grow short, nerves fray, pent-up frustrations suddenly erupt...

Please read the rest...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hip-Hop : is the medium the message? or are message and medium independent?

The above discussion analyzes whether political messages in hip-hop are useful. John McWhorter has published a new book entitled All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America.

Having not read the book, my comments are purely based on the full-length video available here.

This discussion, and likely this book, delves into an interesting debate: the value of hip-hop. There is a broad range of opinion. Many approach it at the distance Rock and Roll was approached by previous generations, that is to say with disgust. Such people do not like its sound, its messages and its style. The converse would be those who embrace every aspect of it. Yet there is a middle-ground: appreciation of pure aural aesthetics, verse whit, lyricism, flow etc. and a combination of all of the above. John McWhorter questions the potential of political messages in hip-hop. He notes the repetitive rhetoric hip-hop music contains such as "f*ck the police" and "I sell crack". Missing, McWhorter notes, are some of the crucial issues affecting black people - HIV/AIDS - . Yet hip-hop as an art form is not race-specific. Further, when hip-hop is employed in its common context of the 'hood, it is often used in the form of a reaction rather than for the purpose of making a positive point. In other words, it is an outlet rather than a platform. But then again, it can also be used as a platform... In essence, McWhorter's efforts to distill this artform to such a specific generalization fails to appreciate the overbearing purposes behind the artform. That is that it is multifaceted. His optimistic reverence for activism further filutes his understanding of hip-hop that does focus on the issues he wishes they focused on. He underestimates the impact of media on peoples' opinion and understanding; that to many, our only glimpse into several grave matters is hip-hop.

Does the medium overpower the message? McWhorter thinks so. He believes in the musical merit it contains, but that the message is muffled.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What's in a name?

Cathay Pacific is known for being one of the world’s top airlines. Unlike many national carriers that sacrifice everything from the peanuts they serve you to free checked baggage, Cathay has always been known for its great level of service. OK, enough tooting their horn.

At first I thought the name Cathay was just something that sounded somewhat sleek, something like a cross between café and Cathy. Because this is Hong Kong’s airline, I thought that maybe the name was intended to be neutral, so as not to stir Asia’s spider’s nest of geopolitical positioning.

Was I ever wrong.

Cathay is, in fact, what Medieval Europe called China. This name was created courtesy of Marco Polo, the man who brought spaghetti to Italy, who westernized the word Khitan, the name of a ruling Northern-Chines tribe.

The world’s greatest encyclopedia outlines the etymological progression.

Mongolian/Classical Mongolian: Khyatad (Хятад) / Kitad
Uyghur (Western China): خىتاي, Xitay
Kazakh: قىتاي, Қытай, Qıtay
Kazan Tatar (Central Russia): Qıtay
Russian: Kitay (Китай)
Medieval Latin: Cataya, Kitai
Spanish: Catay
Italian: Catai
Portuguese: Cataio
English: Cathay

It also notes that the word China is almost as old as Cathay, it is just that the popularization has changed over time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The United States of Cuba?

In perhaps one of the biggest “we’l see” moments of the 21st century, Raul Castro has implemented his first socialist-challenging reform in Cuba. Since coming to power in February of this year, Raul has implemented several reforms, mostly involving the lifting of restrictions. For instance, in April, Cubans were allowed, for the first time, to own mobile phones. He has lifted several other restrictions allow Cubans to rent cars, stay in hotels and buy DVDs.

The most recent reform, however, involves abolishing equal pay for all citizens. Raul has proposed a system in which workers would receive bonuses for meeting and exceeding targets. To say the least, this challenges the fundamental socialist framework Cuba has utilized since the beginning of the revolution in 1959.

The world economic system, especially in the period between 1940s and 1990s, was divided between two primary ideologies, capitalism and communism. To be fair, both contained reasonable ideas. On the one hand, communism embraced equality, whereas capitalism encouraged workers, rewarding them the harder and longer they worked. At the end of the day (well actually… of the war), communism did not work, whether due to the inherent selfishness of humans, the incomplete and improper implementation of the system or poor leadership, amongst many other possible reasons.

Consequently, in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, the world witnessed a massive shift towards liberal economies. From the breakaway states of Russia to South America to South East Asia, new markets were opening everywhere. Even China, the only real communist power left, was showing major cracks with its Special Economic Zones, and booming manufacturing centers. It no longer was a bipolarized world, with few exceptions; capitalism was the world’s economic system.

Yet one state had always held out, a seemingly perpetual thorn in the side of capitalist America. Unlike other communist states, formed out of revolution with clear communist ambitions, Cuba’s revolution is (yes, it is still considered to be ongoing) one that was founded on the premise of ousting a corrupt government that had more or less sold the country to America. It wasn't until the educated leaders of the revolution, namely Che and Fidel, reacted to American hostility (caused by the losses its companies suffered stemming from the revolution) by implementing a Marxist socialist system. (Some have suggested that Fidel and especially Che always had socialist designs for Cuba, however, it is unproven).

Is this newest reform going to end 49 years of revolution? Can a socialist country that has survived the fall of communism, boast higher literacy rates than the United States, have total universal health care and one of the most self-sufficient Agriculture systems in the world continue to survive with economic liberalization pressures coming from every angle?

…“We’l see”

More on Cuba

Monday, June 9, 2008

An Assault on Hockey

CTV, owner of TSN has bought the rights to the CBC’s (Canada’s national broadcaster) Hockey Night in Canada theme song. Their winning bid, the product more of emotion than actual fair competition, has given them exclusive rights to playing the classic song in their coverage.

This is the second aggressive attempt by CTV to oust CBC from broadcasting hockey. Their other move was to win exclusive broadcast rights to hockey during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Unfortunately for TSN, the song has no bearing on the quality of a hockey broadcast.It is also unfortunate that viewers widely perceive TSN’s hockey coverage to be vastly inferior to that of CBC. Perhaps it is the incoherent ramblings of TSN’s Pierre McGuire, his abilities to choose the most random players as his Monster of the Game (read player of the game). The incredibly lackluster analysis, that utilizes “experts” who have themselves had little actual hockey experience, unlike CBC’s veteran team of coaches and players. Whether one considers production value, whit, color commentary or play-by-play, TSNs subordination is evident. When one thinks hockey commentary, do they think Don Cherry? Or Pierre McGuire… Hockey is Canada’s national sport, it needs to remain nationally broadcast by our nation’s broadcasting corporation.

(for more, click here)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Best Show on Television

"In March 2008, Presidential hopeful Barack Obama was quoted in US Weekly Magazine as saying that The Wire is the best show on television"

Obama was interviewed as saying the same thing here. He notes his favorite character as being Omar. Omar is a rogue gangster, who robs drug dealers to earn his living. He is a tough yet three dimensional character, being one of the most feared thugs on the street, and a homosexual.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The $100 Laptop

I have always been somewhat skeptical of the idea of one laptop per child. Creating a cheap enough laptop so that every child in the world might “join the 21st century” and profit from the benefits from having a laptop. MY skepticism I think stemmed from grade 8 high school, when the School Board provided out school with brand new computers, complete with DVD players, high-end computer processors and large displays. A rough estimation at the time led us to conclude they cost upwards of $2000 (for a non-government consumer). Though the idea of using such computers was conceived for the purpose of improving education, they were never used, and so went to waste $2000 (multiplied by around 100, for the number bought).

My second level of criticism arose from the notion that the laptop would use wireless Internet. But where would a child in remote Cambodia have access to wireless internet?

Well, I was pretty wrong… my first time seeing one in use (on the bus) really led me to reconsider my previous held opinion. Not only did it look pretty cool (the guy was reading documents on it like one would with a $2000 tablet computer) it helped underscore the ideas it represents.

In fact, the $100 computer represents perhaps the embodiment of a new era in technology as a whole. It is an amalgamation of some of the newest ideas in technology, especially with regards to such things as peer-to-peer networking and open source programming.

Open source represents something approaching a democratization of software development. It is the idea that a program is created “open” so that anyone might be able to view the code, and create their own off-shoot programs, or improve on the existing program. The advantage of this is that rather than spending millions on a giant team of engineers, the entire world becomes your team…for free. Windows would be an example of a non-open-source program, whereas Firefox would be an open-source product. Windows Vista has been considered one of the greatest technological regressions of the 21st century, as noted by This perhaps a reflection of their inability to compete with programs such as Apple OS/X with regards to its open-source core, allowing its flaws to be dissected and then fixed in real-time, rather than by one team of engineers, releasing service packs etc. several months later. Another example of open-source, is Wikipedia, in that it provides articles that can be edited by anyone. Though this sounds sketchy, in that any unqualified person might write their own article, this platform ensure that these articles are in a sense, peer-reviewed. On an analysis of Wikipedia compared with the Encyclopedia Britannica, it was discovered that the accuracy of Wikipedia is the same or better. (An article on the study)

The brilliance of open-source is that it does not limit knowledge to one single origin. One might distill open-source to technological democracy, rather than its old oligarchic dominance by a small set of giant companies (ahem, Microsoft).

Peer to peer networking embraces a similar idea of sharing something for an overall improvement. Rather than ideas, a peer-to-peer network enables computers to benefit from the cumulated bandwidth of a group, rather than the limits of one central server. An example of this is the SETI at home (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) which capitalizes on the leftover bandwidth of member computers (those who signed up to their website) rather than rely on one super computer to crunch data. Check it out HERE.
The $100 computer uses an idea stemming from this, called mesh networking, to enable Internet for students even in the most remote regions of a country.

The rising market-shares of Firefox, linux based programs, Wiki applications etc. underscore the future of open-source. Bit torrent, SETI at home, the importance of Peer-to-peer networking. In sum, Social Production (as open-source and other similar ideas are called, vs. Market Production) is the future.

However, there is one speed bump. Intellectual Property laws and the monopolizing corporations etc. are limiting this innovation. Not that law is bad, it is just that the evolution of technology is moving at a faster-pace than jurisprudence. It is, however, more likely these corporations and laws that will be required to mold themselves to the new wave of decentralized social production, as this new methodology proves its capability to compete with the biggest companies in the business.

And the $100 laptop? To say the least, it is an investment in the future.