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Blog » 2005 » February

28 Feb 2005

Progress in Togo

Filed under: Africa — paulcook @ 1:30 am

Good news in Togo, as reported by, for example, Reuters: the former president’s son, Gnassingbe, has bowed to West African and domestic pressure, and stepped down as president. He had already announced that elections will occur within sixty days, and these are now going to be organised by a different interim president.

However, the interim president replace Gnassingbe is NOT the original speaker of the National Assembly, Natchaba, but rather the deputy speaker, Bonfoh. As a result, protests are continuing on the streets. These include a women’s march, dressed in red, a pro-government march of women in white (Ukraine, anyone?), and continuing battles with police in opposition cities, featuring barricades of burning tires, tear gas, and at least one protester shot in the leg.

Of course, it is far from clear that the elections will be free and fair. But it is still a huge triumph that the coup has been partially overturned, thanks to concerted and swift action, both internally and from surrounding states. Truly, fantastic news for Africa’s new commitment to good government.

27 Feb 2005

Spam -> baked beans?

Filed under: Digital revolution — paulcook @ 2:34 pm

Is it just me, or has spam become much less pervasive over the last few months?

I used to get more spam than non-spam email, but these days it’s just a few re-mortgage notices, cut-rate software sales and 419 scams a day. This is far down from the peak a year or so ago!

Either it means that the efforts of big service providers to cut down on the sources of spam are working, or I’m doing something very right. I take a few precautions to prevent spam:

  1. I use this great free service, www.spamgourmet.com, which provides you with temporary email addresses. For example, [email protected], after removing the SPAM and etc. I can make this up on the fly, as I’m entering my email address into any online service. Then the first 3 (in this case) emails that go to that address get through, and thereafter everything else is automatically trashed. This means that I get the registration password sent by email, and however many more emails I want, but then more beyond that can be assumed to be spam, and are silently thrown away.
  2. I make sure, as far as possible, that my email address doesn’t appear in plain text, anyway on the web. Hence the obfuscation of the address above. For example, the homepage of this website has my email address, but it’s created by a complex JavaScript code, and not just written in plain text. Some spammers use bots that scour websites looking for email addresses, and this makes that very hard to do.

24 Feb 2005

AIDS and abstinence in Uganda

Filed under: Africa — paulcook @ 10:54 pm

One of the most controversial issues in AIDS prevention education is whether to promote abstinence or condom use more strongly. The abstinence side of the argument has received a lot of support from the Bush administration, as well as some religious NGO’s, while many other NGO’s and donor countries have taken a more neutral or pro-condom approach.

One of the purported successes of the absitence model is Uganda, where HIV prevalence has been decreasing in recent years, due to a slowing rate of new infection compared to the death rate of those currently infected. The Ugandan government has emphasised the abstinence part of the ABC of the “Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condomise” approach that most countries use, which no doubt helped the Ugandan president get along as well as he did with Bush, during a visit to the US last year.

Now, however, a recent study from Columbia University, reported on in IOL: Africa, suggests that in a long-term study of 10 000 adults, only the condom message has actually resulted in dropping infection rates.

Another argument, in my opinion, of spreading funding around to as many different approaches one can find that could plausibly help. And, of course, a challenge to funders wishing to attach personal moral agendas to aid meant to solve a different problem …

21 Feb 2005

Global warming and ocean temperature

Filed under: Noteworthy news — paulcook @ 12:54 pm

In the aftermath of the Kyoto Protocols coming into effect, an article on a new study: IOL: Science & Tech. This huge new study has found that ocean temperature is extremely well correlated with increasing greenhouse content. Of course, the energy capacity of the oceans far exceeds that of the atmosphere, so this is serious indeed.

Experiences: rain and reign

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 12:48 am

I was driving along the 110 and 10 freeways this evening, in pouring rain. And loving every minute.

I went to a screening, as part of the Pan African Film Festival of Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death, detailing the running of the Congo as King Leopold II of Belgium’s personal rubber plantation. Terrible history (10 million deaths during his reign, from a population of 20 million), mediocre movie.

It’s been raining a lot the last few days, with even a little thunder, which I also love. Normally it’s just a nuisance, but driving at night, when you’re not in rush, in pouring rain, is just priceless.

The lights of the city are reflected in a million permutations on the windscreen, before being endlessly reshaped as the windscreen wipers pass. With KROQ on the radio, at full volume, and the warmth of the car, I feel as though I’m in a different world.

Gone is the mundane jostling of LA traffic; rather each car seems to be an island of its own, drifting through the night behind the veil of the rain. Best of all, sometimes a car on the other side of the highway will hit a deeper puddle, and send a plume of spray against and over the dividing wall of the freeway, glowing in the light of the headlights around. Looks like nothing so much as liquid moonlight.

Oh, and thanks Greg for the use of the car!

20 Feb 2005

I HATE Internet Explorer

Filed under: This website — paulcook @ 4:17 pm

Those of you who have trawled through the home page of this website will know that I mention that this site looks best in anything other than Internet Explorer. Up to now, all that meant is that my pop-up backgrounds under the links at the top of the page popped-up a lot more slowly for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE), but they did eventually work (which, I might add, took a lot of effort, thanks to IE’s really bad implementation of CSS standards).

Now I’ve started adding a button to the top right of the image at the top of the page, as well as a page title “Langabi.name”, on another light green background that blends in to the image. Clearly, blending in to the image requires variable transparency (or, in jargon, an alpha channel). My previous blended background, behind the menu bar, was added to each image seperately, but this time I wanted to do things a little better. So I fired up Jasc’s Paint Shop Pro, and created the images as PNG’s, which support alpha channels, and provide great compression. Piece of cake, open it up in Mozilla’s Firefox, looks great, smooth functionality.

But not in IE.

Those of you who are using IE will notice just a huge light green blob across the top of the image. That’s because, alone amongst the whole world, IE does NOT support alpha channels in PNGs. That’s right, no variable transparency. So after all that, if I want IE support I’m going to have to manually edit each of my page top images, and add that colour blend in.

Moral of the story? If you’re using IE, get Firefox.

19 Feb 2005

Blog relocated AND upgraded

Filed under: This website — paulcook @ 6:43 pm

Since the last time I posted, I have not only upgraded to Wordpress 1.5, but have also moved the blog onto a different server, moved the database from its different server to the same one as the new blog server, and changed the database management system from PostgreSQL to MySQL.

So, basically, nothing is the same anymore. Except how everything looks, that’s much the same. So why do it all then? Well, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a lot faster now that the webserver and database server are the same machine, rather than being on opposite sides of the US.

And why change database? My opinion is still that PostgreSQL is still a superior database, in virtually every respect. Wordpress, however, is written for MySQL, and while there exists a port to PostgreSQL, it’s just more of a nuisance. So I’ve been forced to compromise. Rather like running Windows XP on my laptop…

17 Feb 2005

Kyoto Treaty takes force

Filed under: Economics, Noteworthy news — paulcook @ 12:57 am

Yesterday, Wednesday 16 February, marked the entry into force of the Kyoto Treaty, designed to control and reduce the global emission of greenhouse gasses.

Of course, the most noteworthy part of the whole thing is that the US, producer of about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gasses, is not a signatory. Nevertheless, it’s great to see the EU, most notably, committed to controlling emissions.

There’s lots that could be said, and perhaps I will if people are interested. But for now, I’ll comment on the three most commonly used criticisms of the treaty: developing country exceptions; effects on economic growth; and effectiveness in reducing emissions.

15 Feb 2005

Supercomputing in your living room

Filed under: Digital revolution — paulcook @ 12:22 am

Just read an article in the Economist, confirmed by many other sites, like say Eurogamer.net. It’s about the new processor released by Sony, IBM and Toshiba, called the Cell. It’s got a central processor that sends “packets” of code and data to each of the eight actual processing centres on the chip, or to nearby other Cells if multiple chips are included in the setup.

All this means it’s not aimed (at this stage) at PC’s, as it will only run code that has been split into this “packets”. So supercomputers with customised code are an obvious application.

But the other application is the Playstation 3. It looks like there may be 4 Cells per Playstation. Here’s the punchline: if it were released today, that would put each individual Playstation 3 in the top 500 supercomputers in the world.

Ah yes, remember the days when the rumours required (insert “Axis of Evil” country of choice) to have hundreds of Playstation 2’s to have a supercomputer…

10 Feb 2005

Knots and different dimensions

Filed under: Physics, Studies — paulcook @ 11:53 pm

It seems that most of the time these days, I being asked to think about things in a different number of spacial dimensions than 3 (up-down, left-right, forwards-backwards). Now, some properties follow through to additional dimensions quite easily, but I was thinking recently about one that doesn’t: knots — it’s a great example of the tricks that dimensions can play on one.

What’s a knot? Take a piece of string (an object extended in one dimension). Form a loop and feed it through the loop. The knot so formed cannot, by continuous deformation of the string, be “undone” without moving an end of the string back through the loop.

But knots only exist in three spacial dimensions.