Happy Halloween, Gangam Style!!!





Happy Halloween!!!!

Wordless Wednesday: Kali


The Hindu goddess Kali wishes you a Happy Halloween!!!  
(So do I.)

My (Not Really) Famous Cookies for Halloween!!!

Not my cookies,
merely a close
representation.
I almost forgot to mention this, but I will be handing out cookies again tonight.  Last year, all of the kids  loved getting chocolate chip cookies to eat while trick-or-treating.  What surprised me was that all of the parents loved their kids getting cookies during the evening's escapades.  Not one parent looked suspiciously at the cookies, refused the cookies, or ask for all of my identifying information to give to the police when their child ended up in the emergency room from poison.  All in all, I felt very positive about the entire experience.

So, this year I will again bake chocolate chip cookies this afternoon (though I am thinking about making oatmeal raisin cookies instead).  Then tonight I will again act against the fear mongering in society and give the cookies to kids as they walk up to the front door.

Of course, part of me thinks it's silly to feel like a rebel for baking cookies.  But another part of me wonders how we came to a time when it is an small act of rebellion to bake cookies and hand them out to children.

Movie Review: "The Dark Knight Rises"

Holey Moley, Batman!  What a movie!!!

Okay, I grew up watching the corny Adam West Batman TV show, where I learned to love the Caped Crusader.  I mean, here's a guy who doesn't have super powers, hasn't altered his DNA or genetics through a scientific experiment, and doesn't have special government spy training.  But Bruce Wayne takes on crime intelligently, using his brain power to out think the bad guys while sporting cool Bat technology.

Plus, the show helped the phrase, "Holy cow!" become famous.

I watched all the Batman movies, starting with "Batman" in 1989.  I love the ones with Michael Keaton and I try to forget all the others.  Actively try to forget, that is.  But then came "Batman Begins", and Christopher Nolan hooked me into the series again.   From Bruce Wayne falling down a well to how and why he became Batman, Nolan took the Batman legends and stories, then crafted a trilogy that balances the darkness of Gotham and the human spirit with the hope brought by Batman and (strangely enough) the human spirit.

In an era of badly-done remakes and poorly planned sequels, the Nolan Batman trilogy exceeds all expectations to rise above the crowd, each movie fitted together like a hand-crafted wooden puzzle.

Okay, enough gushing about the Batman trilogy, and on to reviewing the final movie, "The Dark Knight Rises".

The movie begins eight years after the last one ended.  Bruce Wayne stopped appearing in public as Batman, opting instead to be a recluse in Wayne Manor.  Alfred still works there, tending to Bruce's needs and acting as his interface to the world.  I will not say more about the plot of the movie, but you can read a great plot description here at IMDB.

What I want to talk about are the other parts of the movie.  The acting surpassed by general expectations.  I knew that Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne) could portray both anger and brooding well, but I was surprised at his emotions during the movie. Anne Hathaway (Selena Kyle/Catwoman) stole the show as a martial artist/thief/realist, a multi-dimensional character that was so believable I forgot it was Ms. Hathaway before the movie was half over.  But Tom Hardy, as the veritable Bane, vibrated with calm destruction, a certainty about himself and the world that gave me goosebumps, since that certainty included a knowledge of how evil people will be given the proper circumstances.

Other than the actors, the special effects enhanced the movie without taking over every scene.  The score helped create the environment for the movie goer, adding to the sorrow, the suspense, and the angst when appropriate.  The dialogue sounded like normal conversations, never like a movie script.  And the cameramen or director left out all of the new and annoying camera tricks that make me motion sick.

For those who haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch the entire Christoper Nolan Batman trilogy.  It is definitely worth your time.


Music Break: "Oppen Klingon Style"

Yes, someone took "Oppen Gangam Style" and put a little Star Trek into it.  The lyrics (found here) are actually in Klingon and the dancers are dressed in various Trekkie costumes.

Enjoy!!

New Ratings for Online Games

I've started and deleted this article four times since last Thursday, because it just did not sound right.  I know that sounds lame, but I try to write posts that have life and character, and the first 4 attempts felt like a badly-written public service announcement. So here's my last attempt.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board - called ESRB - just added a new category to their ratings guide called Interactive Elements.  Basically, the good people at ESRB want to help the general public evaluate online games using these three categories:

  • Shares Location:  The game may share your location with other players.  For example, in Team Fortress 2, some servers show the country of origin for the players.  

  • Shares Information:  The game shares personal information (such as email address) with third parties. I suggest reading the fine print on games that have this icon to learn what information is shared with whom.

  • Users Interact:  The game allows the players to interact with each other through online chats, user-generated content (e.g. mods), or online messaging (typed messages).  To be honest, the ESRB description makes it sound as though you'll be exposed to something horrible by all the "unfiltered/uncensored" content.  But my own experience is that most mods are marked as to their content by the mod creator, and while some people might use vulgarities when chatting during a game, they will clean up their language if a kid is on the chat.  My daughter plays Team Fortress 2 occasionally, and the only time someone used a vulgarity she told them that she was 10 so they needed to watch their language.  The person apologized.
The symbols for the Interactive Elements are:
Shares LocationShares Information Users Interact

Book Review: "Imagine: How Creativity Works" by Jonah Lehrer

Imagine: How Creativity WorksImagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I feel very disappointed in Jonah Lehrer, author of "Imagine: How Creativity Works". Several weeks ago, he admitted to faking quotes from Bob Dylan. Okay, this is not exactly correct. A Bob Dylan fan discovered the fake quotes, asked Mr. Lehrer about where he obtained the quotes, and Mr. Lehrer lied about his source. When the Bob Dylan fan pushed, Mr. Lehrer finally admitted his "mistake". It's sad, because the Dylan fan thought the quotes were original and was excited about getting more dialogue from Bob Dylan. And while the quotes reflect Bob Dylan's philosophy, if Mr. Dylan never said the words in that order, then it's not a quote. Later, Lehrer admitted to faking more reference material in the book.

I stopped reading the book at that point.

I have debated with myself whether or not I want to finish reading the book, or whether I should burn the book and never read anything by the author again. I finally decided that I might read the book someday, but that day is not today and probably won't be tomorrow. And I definitely will not buy anything from Jonah Lehrer again.

I feel betrayed. When someone writes and publishes a non-fiction book, I expect the book to contain non-fiction, unless the author creates a fictional story to illustrate a point. Make that an acknowledged fictional story, not something created then sold as truth. I also wonder about the publisher; how did the publisher's fact-checkers miss so many lies?

To make the situation less tolerable, Lehrer tried to use the excuse, "I felt under pressure to produce." Welcome to the world, Mr. Lehrer. We all feel pressure to produce, but that doesn't give anyone the right to cut corners to the point of cheating.

I give this book only one star.


View all my reviews

Monday Music: Matt Mulholland and His Looper

Hello, friends!

Well, it's Monday night and I've yet to find time to finish a post.  So I decided to share a favorite music video of mine - Matt Mulholland doing a great cover of  "Teenage Dream" by Katy Perry.

I'll see you tomorrow!


We Think We Are Free...

I happened upon a new book this week.  Well, it's not a new book; rather an old book that I had not heard of before.  "They Thought They Were Free" by Milton Mayer discusses what happened in Germany before and during World War II, but from the point of view of the people of Germany.

Reading a quote, I felt chills go down my spine.  The similarities between then and now are disturbing.  I momentarily thought about summarizing what I read and relating it to today, but you don't need me to do that.  So without further ado, a quote from "They Thought They Were Free":
What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing. 
"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it. 
"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
...
"Those," I said, "are the words of my friend the baker. ‘One had no time to think. There was so much going on.’"
"Your friend the baker was right," said my colleague. "The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think? 
"To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head. 
"How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might

Pluto Moons Threaten NASA Probe

In a completely unexpected move, Pluto's moons recently began to threaten a NASA probe.  NASA launched New Horizons seven years ago, to travel across the solar system to study Pluto.  Everything looked okay, but now researchers and scientists wonder about all the debris left behind the moons and in Pluto's orbit.  After all, New Horizons, traveling at over 30,000 mph, can be either crippled or destroyed by something as small as a grain of sand.

Is this debris just a happenstance?  Or is there something more sinister going on?

Some people wonder if Pluto feels as though he's getting treated as a secondhand planet in the solar system.  Neptune led a protest group, saying "Look, I'm not saying that certain planets treat Pluto badly. But when Earth discovered his last two moons they couldn't even give them proper names. I'm just sayin'."

Neptune then released his controversial "Moon Discovery Timeline", which we present here in a simplified form:
1976 - Charon
2005 - Hydra
2005 - Nix
2006 - Pluto gets sucker punched demoted to a dwarf planet.
2011 - S/2011 P 1
2012 - S/2012 P 1
After the release of the timeline, the protesters began to sing, "I'm Your Moon" and "Kumbaya".

Please Move the Deer Crossing Signs!!

Hopefully, this is a fake call to a radio station.  But I have the sneaking suspicious that it really happened.


Basically, a woman wants the state department of transportation to move the deer crossing signs so that we can encourage deer to cross on less traveled roads.  And I quote:
"They can direct the deer population to anywhere they want to by moving that deer crossing sign." 

Amanda Todd is Dead.

Amanda Todd was a 15-year-old teenage girl living in Canada.  On September 7, 2012, she posted this video of herself, silently telling the story of her bullying through note cards.


On October 12, 2012, Amanda Todd killed herself.  I'm not repeating her story here, but you can read about it yourself on SourceFed, or just google "Amanda Todd" and pick a story.  What I want to tell you is the story about a friend of mine who also committed suicide.

I first met Traci Birmingham in seventh grade.  We were is almost every class together, including working as assistants in the dean's office.  Traci and I became best friends; she slept over at my house several times.  Then one day, Traci showed me a piece of paper that said, "Sign here if you hate Kay Yoder".  Everyone I knew signed it, including Traci.

I stopped talking to Traci after that; I felt so hurt and confused.  I even stopped attending school; I missed something like 30 out of 45 days.  No one really noticed, though, because I maintained a straight A average despite the absences.

It wasn't until 11th grade that I spoke to Traci again.  We were in the same classes again.  One day, she approached me and apologized for what she did.  For a brief moment I felt like throwing her apology back at her, but I learned that grudges hurt me more than they hurt other people.  So I accepted her apology and we became friends again.  We talked in school, and I remember wishing her happiness after we graduated.

The next time I heard of Traci Birmingham, it was of her death.  She went to Emory University, here in Atlanta, and killed herself at the age of 19.

I grieved for Traci; I knew that she had a horrid home life, there is a reason she always slept over at my house and not the other way around.  I also knew that there was nothing I could do that would have saved her, because I did not know that something was that wrong until it was too late.

But Amanda Todd put out one of the biggest cries for help that I have ever seen, and
NO ONE HELPED HER.  

No one told her that she was valuable, and that what happened will eventually fade from importance.  Or tried to be her friend, or simply listen to her and say, "I understand.".  No one took the time to see, really see Amanda, really see how she was feeling and really see that she was so depressed that she felt like living was harder than dying.

No one told her that living can be harder than dying, but living will be worth the effort as she grows up.

Now, she will never grow up.  But maybe, just maybe, Amanda Todd can still change the world.

Maybe someone will remember Amanda and then reach out to another person in distress.

Maybe someone will remember Amanda and choose the nicer, kinder path over the mean one.

Maybe we as a society will decide to listen to each other a bit more, care a bit more, and support each other.

Otherwise, Amanda Todd will have suffered for nothing.  

Freaky Friday News: October 12, 2012

An artistic rendition of 55 Cancri e, the Diamond Planet
Credit:  Haven Giguere 
Hello!  Welcome to today's edition of the freaky news of the week.
  • First up, it's a story about a man and his car.  In December 2010, a 31-year-old man in southern Germany went out drinking for the night.  When he woke up in the morning, his car was gone.  He searched and he searched, then he reported the loss to the local police.  Fast forward to this week, and viĆ³la!  The police find the car, parked about 4 km (or about 2.5 miles) from where the man thought he left it.  
  • Moving on to space, SpaceX's Dragon capsule flew up to and docked with the International Space Station successfully this week.  So begins the next chapter of our journey into space.
  • Also in space, scientists think Voyager I traversed the heliopause, the boundary between our heliosphere and the rest of the universe, earlier this year and is now the first man-made object outside our entire solar system.  As a Star Trek fan, I wonder if this is the first step towards the making of V-ger.  
    Artistic drawing of what happened with Voyager I.
    Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • My last bit of space news is rather expensive.  Scientists think they found a planet that's twice as big as earth and has approximately 8 times the mass, with a third of the planet being composed of diamond (see the picture at the top of the post).
  • Credit: www.FreeClipArtNow.com
  • In health news, the November issue of Consumer Reports contains an investigation into arsenic and rice products.  Sadly, there is measurable amounts of inorganic and organic arsenic in a variety of rice products, from rice baby food to instant rice to rice cereals (such as Rice Krispies and Rice Chex).  Currently, the FDA neither measures nor limits arsenic in foods, though three members of Congress have stated their intentions of changing this.  Regardless, I strongly urge you to read this article and check out your kitchen.  (In January, Consumer Reports found arsenic in grape and apple juices - you can find that report here.)  
  • A women in Minnesota lobbed the first lob in what is certain to be the legal blitz over the contaminated injections of pain medication.  I cringe over this lawsuit, because I wonder if it is truly necessary.  If the pharmaceutical company that created and sent out the shots steps up and pays for everyone's medical bills and compensates people for lost wages (if necessary - some companies already pay people sick leave), then why sue them?  The woman who filed the lawsuit doesn't even know if she is contaminated; she is suing them preemptively. Ugh.
  • This story does have a funny tangent.  Governor Scott of Florida accidentally gave out a phone number to a sex hotline when attempting to give out a number for people to call for more information about meningitis. 
  • Apple got its hand caught in the metaphorical cookie jar.  Instead of designing a new interface for the clock in iO6, they stole the design of the Swiss Federal Railways station clock, a national icon in Switzerland.  For people who doubt this statement, I've included a picture of the Apple clock and the Swiss clock so you can make your own comparisons.
    Apple iO6 Clock vs Swiss Railways station clock
    By the way, I find this amusing and infuriating because Apple sued Samsung because Samsung's cell phones have rounded corners. Simultaneously, Apple goes out and steals a design that's been patented since 1944. Talk about hypocrisy.
  • My last story contains a nominee for the Darwin Awards.  A 32-year-old man in Florida, Eddie, won a bug eating contest, then promptly passed out and died.  No one knows why, since the other contestants are okay.  What do you think?  Darwin award nominee or simple tragic accident?         

A Look at Modern Feminism

Feminism - a word that brings up pictures of women burning bras while marching to get equal rights.  While we in the United States have moved forward in terms of the ability to choose what to do with our lives, we need to remember that we are the minority.  The vast majority of women in the world face horrors every day that boggle the imagination.

This week in Pakistan, a 14 year old girl was shot for wanting to get an education.  Malala Yousafzai spoke out about the Taliban and their denial of education to girls in 2009, blogging for the BBC about her experiences.  Last year, Malala was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize and she won  Pakistan's National Peace Prize.  But the Taliban did not approve of her participation in the movement to education women, and they sent Malala several death threats.  On Tuesday, they delivered on their death threats, and promised to try again if she lives.

But there is more injustice out there.  Today is the United Nations' Day of the Girl;  they published a report called "Marrying Too Young, Ending Child Marriages" that documents the prevalence of child marriages in Third World countries.  One in three women are married before the age of 18, with some married as young as age six.  

In 2011, there was an estimated one woman raped every 17 seconds in South Africa, and that number does not include the number of babies, toddlers, and preschool-aged girls raped.  You see, there is a pervading belief in some African countries that if a man has intercourse with a virgin, he will be cured of any disease, including HIV.  This belief has led to atrocities that I will not repeat here.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is just as bad.  In 2011, the American Journal of Public Health released a report that estimates over 400,000 women were raped over a 12 month period in 2006-2007.  That works out to be 48 rapes per hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a 52 week stretch.

In Russia, women are viewed as commodities.  In China, baby girls are not as valuable as baby boys, and now they have an excess of 35 million more men under the age of 25 than women.  In India, women from poor families in arranged marriages may still be burned to death by their in-laws if their dowry is not large enough or they do not produce a male offspring soon enough.  In Turkey, a woman will still be stoned to death by her family for being raped; the stoning to atone for her "sin" and restore family honor.

So why bring up all this up?  Because this week I read an argument over whether or not various religious groups contained more misogynists or less misogynists that other groups.  Mind you, I felt embarrassed even reading this argument because the women were being hateful and distrustful towards men and treated the men on the threads in almost exactly the same manner that the self-same women complained about being treated.

But then I started to think about it.  I started to think about how I take for granted my rights to get an education, from kindergarten to my bachelor's degree.  I also take for granted my right to own property, to drive a car, to walk wherever and whenever I want, to choose my own clothes, to choose when I had children, to have my own bank account, ...  More importantly, I have the ability to move through my society and not be afraid.

And I began to wonder, how many women in America appreciate our rights?  How many of us understand the price paid to get our rights?

But more importantly, where do we go from here?

Hash Tags and Ciphers and Keys - Oh, My!!!

At the beginning of September, I discovered a website called Coursera that allows anyone with an Internet connection to take courses from major universities online.  Reading through the list of courses, I found a course about a subject that I find fascinating - Cryptography!!!  Sadly, the Cryptography course began almost two weeks earlier, but then I noticed that Coursera would let me sign up for it anyway.

Did I dare attempt a university level cryptography course almost two weeks late?
Would I be able to keep up or would I be hopelessly lost?

As you can probably guess from the fact that I am writing this blog post, I dared.  And then I immersed myself in watching the video lectures and attempting to do the homework.

Cryptography is a course from Stanford University, taught by Prof. Dan Boneh.  According to the description:
Cryptography is an indispensable tool for protecting information in computer systems. This course explains the inner workings of cryptographic primitives and how to correctly use them. Students will learn how to reason about the security of cryptographic constructions and how to apply this knowledge to real-world applications. ...
The course will include written homeworks and programming labs. The course is self-contained, however it will be helpful to have a basic understanding of discrete probability theory.  
So I've spent the past five weeks learning the history of cryptography, the evolution of encryption algorithms, the introduction of hashing and hash tags, how to generate keys, and how much I've forgotten about discrete probability theory.

The most important thing I've learned is...

When it comes to encryption algorithms, do not roll your own.

One of the most common methods used to protect wi-fi networks, WEP, is horribly insecure.  It would take me about 5-10 minutes to break into a WEP protected network.  The sad thing is that WEP is based on an ISO standard and went through the entire ISO review process. And it STILL is completely insecure.

But throughout the lectures and homework, I found myself smiling.  Why?  Because I enjoy learning and stretching my brain.  The entire cryptography course required brain work, but the professor had informative lectures and the homework was doable, if sometimes difficult.

And now?  I'm signed up for "An Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python" starting next Monday, "Think Again: How to Reason and Argue" in late  November, and "Cryptography II" in January.

Beware!! It's the Marietta Zombie Walk!!!

Brains!!!!

Art: "COOL!" by Philo Yan


The other day on Google +, I met a very talented artist named Philo Yan.  She said "Hello" and sent me a link to her pencil drawings.  I must admit, I love how she uses color to capture the moment.  I asked her if I could share my favorite one, a frog hanging from a small branch.  Philo nicely agreed to my request, so here is the picture, "COOL!".

A blue poison dart frog hanging from a small stick

Cool color coded dudette, 
Awesome colors look at that! 
Hanging loose, fancy free, 
On a little tiny tree, 
Grassy greens, 
Trickling streams. 
KatFrog shares this post, 
Such a generous host!

To see more of Philo's wonderful drawings, visit here.

To FB or Not To FB, That is the Question...

Here's part of the header for my Facebook timeline.
Lately, I've read a lot about Facebook and the problems facing both the company and the website users.  I wonder if I really want to maintain a Facebook account, given the continually changing security, advertising schemes, and odd "experiments" such as Facebook asking people to rat out their friends.  I decided that I need to look at this entire problem in a new light, so  I am creating a list of pros and cons.

Pros for Staying at Facebook:

  • My lovely friends and family - I have a LOT of friends and family on Facebook, mostly people who I want to keep in touch with, but who I would not be connected to otherwise.
  • My Blog - Facebook allows me to publicize my blog and (hopefully) the novel I'll be publishing next year.
  • My Writing - Covered in my blog.
  • We Grok - I started a small company where I help people with social media.  I think I need to stay on Facebook if I want to sound and be authentic.
  • Cobb County School District Unofficial Community Page - I started this page for residents in Cobb County to discuss the school district.  I love reading people's different opinions and views on local topics.

Cons for Staying at Facebook:

  • Security - Facebook sucks at security in general.  No, they are not the worst company in history, nor are they the best when it comes to keeping their users' information private.  
  • Changing notifications - Facebook keeps changing notifications on a random basis.  I dislike the random nature of the changes the most, because I never know when a change occurred until I discover that someone sent me a message that I never received.
  • Snitches - Facebook did an "experiment" for a few months where they asked people to verify the real names of their friends.  
  • More Snitches - People have been using Facebook to "tattle" on their friends in real life.  I realize that Facebook cannot control this behavior, but I still find it repulsive.
  • TMI - This acronym stands for "too much information", and sometimes that's how I feel about Facebook.  
  • Trolls, Trolls, and more Trolls - I find more trolls on Facebook that anywhere else.  If you don't agree with my opinion, either learn to say so nicely or just keep your mouth shut.
Laid out like this, I realize that I will stay on Facebook, regardless of the security problems, TMI, and trolls. It all boils down to the people in my life.  I have too many family members who use Facebook, too many high school and university friends, and too many people I know in Marietta to let the cons keep me away.  Of course, if everyone wants to move to Google Plus, I'd be willing to friend you there. :-)