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Archive for February, 2006

Spring Break

Spring break (‘reading week’) was last week. Like all students [snicker], I spent it working on things like quantum field theory and galaxy dynamics. Here’s a roundup of a few things that happened this past week:

  • Last Friday my office computer somehow got hacked into and was being used to scan for open ports. I noticed this when I returned from my lab and saw CPU cycles getting eaten up while niced. In my experience this is normally a sign that Mozilla’s Java plugin has gone haywire but this time it was caused by a port scanning program called ‘madscan,’ which for reasons unbeknownst to me was able to be run as root. A quick check with our sysadmin Gord and everything was promptly rectified.
  • Several of us helped Matt and Trina move the following Monday, they’re going back to Truro (though he will be back to complete his thesis). Nice clean move, and this time only one flight of stairs to go up and down. Lots of boxes, especially little ones which for some reason were the first ones to get put away (I’m not sure that’s the best way to proceed). Also (I didn’t see it) but I think Matt temporarily trapped himself in the moving van when he packed himself into a corner. I might be wrong about that but I’ll pretend it really happened because it’s funny.
  • I decided to give Cedega a try to see just how well I could play Civ IV under Linux. After two striaght days of installing, reinstalling, being asked first to insert disc 0 (how on earth does a message like that show up?), then downloading a bunch of DLLs, then having to deal with rogue XML parsers and downloading more files to parse correctly, then fiddling endlessly with Cedega’s settings, then finally paying attention to the correct install procedure given in a forum posting, I finally got it to work. Very nicely, in fact (haven’t tried multiplayer though). Then I did the same thing with Steam and Half-Life 2, which works nicely too (I get decent frame rates with everything turned up) except sometimes the floor you’re walking on is invisible so you can’t always tell if you’re going to fall, and sometimes a NPC’s head will vanish for no clear reason, leaving you talking to a headless being… Anyway, I got Diablo 2 to work right immediately and SimCity 4 doesn’t work at all. 3 out of 4 ain’t bad, less dual booting now. Maybe my next computer won’t have Windows at all.
  • Paco beat Topalov at Linares yesterday. Holy Evans gambit! Paco’s rated 150 points lower than the WC, but he’s a brilliant attacker with black and doesn’t get enough respect. I’m glad he won.

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A Canadian university has ruled against Wi-Fi on the campus because administrators are worried about possible hazards to student health. Lakehead is located at the head of Lake Superior in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and president Fred Gilbert wonâ��t allow Wi-Fi, “until he’s satisfied EMF (electric and magnetic fields) exposure doesn’t pose a..

read more | digg story

There seems to be some indication that this is actually true (see the comments on digg) so I feel really sorry for the students at Lakehead, what with their school being run by clowns and kooks. Actually Fred Gilbert seems to be rather very much the wrong person to head a university and not just a harmless kook, as it appears he tends not to pay attention to Lakehead’s students and has a reputation for arrogance (disclaimer: digg comments should be taken with the same grain of salt that a report from p2pnet should).

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For those outside the faith, the depth of the church’s dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn’t sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland – and that U.S. history books were wrong.

read more | digg story

Everything I need to know about Mormons I learned on South Park… well, to be fair it’s not like Mormonism makes any less sense than every other bloody religion on the planet. That’s one down, 50000 more religions to disprove now.

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Update: Deutsch resigns

The Bush appointee who said the Big Bang was ‘opinion’ has resigned. It came out yesterday that he had lied about graduating from Texas A&M, although noone’s saying whether or not this is the reason he resigned. As the above link correctly points out, Deutsch was a small fish; there’s a much more serious issue about the administration systematically trying to suppress science, and it’s not clear how far it reaches:

For a president that paints himself as a champion of national security, the NASA incident is a major blow to Bush’s credibility. This isn’t the first time either, with George Deutsch now joining the ranks of Michael Brown, the embattled former director of FEMA, and Harriet Myers, Bush’s Supreme Court nominee who was subsequently withdrawn. Congratulations, Deutsch, this is a pretty elite circle!

The NASA censorship scandal was originally about partisan figures compromising the science, and it still is, but now it’s also about something much deeper and much more troubling. I don’t know how many others there are out there like Deutsch, but it shouldn’t be hard to find out. Journalists, it’s time to make some phone calls!

In the meantime, NASA needs the authority to remove the rest of those who are interfering with the scientific process for partisan gains. Although NASA’s credibility has tragically taken a big hit here due to political interference, the real victim is the science. And, when the science suffers, we are all affected.

Well said. I wonder how much of the spotlight will be on his resignation, and how much will be on the broader issue of scientific research being infiltrated, compromised, and suppressed by political ideology by this administration.

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George Deutsch, 24-year-old journalism major turned NASA public affairs officer (who also happens to be a Bush appointee), says that the Big Bang is “not proven fact; it is opinion … It is not NASA’s place [to] make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.”

read more | digg story

(Above from digg.com. Below from me.) I joined digg specifically so I could post this infuriating story to my blog. I will only say that this type of thing is eventually going to seriously compromise US dominance in science and technology (just like ID vs. evolution). If the mainstream opinion is that science is merely ‘opinion’ and deserves to be treated on an equal (or inferior) footing with religious dogma, then it will hurt the public education system to the point where the country will have problems maintaining the same level of scientific advancement that has given it such an edge over the past century.

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Culture clash and free speech

Now that the story about cartoons viewed as denigrating to Islam has exploded, it’s time for me to add fuel to the fire. Muslims in the mideast are demanding an apology from the Danish government for this. It is absurd, however, that the governemnt should have to apologise. To do so would be equivalent to being forced to submit to one specific religion, which is anathema to the concept of freedom of religion, and would inappropriately chill both free speech and freedom of the press. The fact that images of Mohammed are banned in Islam is irrelevant because the newspaper that published these cartoons is not obliged to uphold Islamic principles, either lawfully or morally, because it is not located in a nonsecular Muslim nation and the cartoons were not, I do not think, produced by Muslims themselves (even if they were, they have every right to violate their own religion’s principles). Therefore for Muslims to request an apology from the Danish government is like trying to impose one religion’s views on a completely different society (one that nominally respects free speech). Whether or not the images were mocking, insulting, provocative, questioning, etc is completely irrelevant. What matters is that the Muslim world cannot force its values on Western societies. The newspaper had every right to publish these cartoons, for any reason it saw fit, and while Muslims are entitled to protest, and boycott the newspaper, they are not entitled to extend the reach of their anger by asking for an official apology. For the Danish government to cave in would be terrible; it would essentially be saying, ‘Yes, we’ll do as you want. Our newspapers will not violate your religious principles again.’ This is critical: apologising would be sending the message that our free speech rights are subordinate to the values of a society that does not respect those rights, and would empower more extreme elements of the Muslim world (not necessarily terrorists). Kudos to the European newspapers that reprinted those images, for standing up to unacceptable demands from the Muslim world.

Organized religion (all religions) only represent threats to a free society, whether from within or without.

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