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JournalJournal: China's changing

I just read in this article that China is allowing foreign aid workers help in a disaster for the first time ever. This is great! There are some long-standing animosities in that region to this day and I hope this will help the relations in these countries and even give their populace more empathy towards their neighbors.

Now if only Burma's stupid military would get their act together and let foreigners help them out. I don't think this will happen though and many thousands of people are going to die that could have been saved just because the military doesn't want to take even the slightest chance that they'll lose control over their country.

JournalJournal: Coincidences

For a long time I've wondered about the significance of coincidences. How unlikely must a coincidence be before it should be accepted as some act of God/fate/whatever? It seems that if something, even if it can be explained by normal science, can occur at a rate that is absolutely beyond the realm of possibility (based on statistics) then perhaps this could serve as evidence of something bending reality towards its will.

For example: I grew up in Austin, TX and went to a day care during one summer at a place named Kids Computing (back in 1984). Years later I got a job programming in Boulder, CO (in 2001). After a couple of years working there I found that my boss was actually a worker at Kids Computing that summer while he was attending college at UT and we had actually first met when I was 5 years old 1000 miles away. What the heck are the odds of that? Especially when you consider he only worked there one summer, I only went there one summer, there was only about 5-7 staff members and there were only about 30 kids.

Another example would be the woman who hit a hole in one 14 times in 4 months. The odds against that are astronomical--it would be like winning the lotto 3 times in a row (or perhaps even less likely than that, it's difficult to calculate). All of the hole-in-ones had multiple witnesses with many of them occurring in competitions and the 14th in front of a television crew and caught it on tape. This seems like something MythBusters could test by building a ball-launching apparatus to shoot a golf ball with super-human control at the hole over and over again to see how often it could get a hole in one (making subtle changes in aim to get the perfect aim at the hole). If she was able to get a hole-in-one much more often than even this machine then surely it would have some significance, wouldn't it? (assuming MythBusters didn't screw up the experiment somehow)

While it's technically possible for something to occur, isn't there some point at which it's more likely that something is influencing the course of events than to believe otherwise? It's possible that when I flip a coin it will come up heads for the rest of my life. But if that happened, wouldn't that essentially prove that there is something beyond which we can currently explain occurring?

JournalJournal: What a speech!

Wow, that sure was one hell of a speech Obama delivered yesterday. I honestly don't know how he could have handled the situation better, other than delivering the same speech a bit sooner (although I'm sure it took some time for him to write it). I sincerely hope that people that were worried about his religious beliefs and political beliefs that stemmed from his church's influence are heartened and dissuaded from focusing so intensely on a few rants by his pastor's surmons. Many of us don't agree with everything our pastor/minister says all of the time (and if you do you're probably not thinking hard enough or your pastor/minister isn't trying to be thought-provoking enough).

Some say that it's 'only a speech' but they need to consider that politicians are payed to pass laws (or in the case of presidents, guide policy and give the final OK on laws passed by congress). A huge part of this process is communication, both between other politicians and with the public. Obviously judgement plays a roll and I feel that speeches reflect the judgement of the speaker, as would a book written by the person. Obama has by almost all accounts delivered great speeches, as have famous people of the past (Martin Luther King Jr., Gahndi, etc.). Great speeches by great men/women can strongly influence people and have a tremendous affect on policy and the course of a country. It allows them to organize great numbers of people (as Obama already has done) to press for change which, especially in democracies, has a significant amount of power.

JournalJournal: Is a fertilized egg a human being?

I know abortion is a touchy subject so I'm just focusing on one key question. Is a fertilized egg a human being and, implicitly, deserving of all of the rights of a human being? Many people, at least in the US, believe this is the case and are therefore opposed to abortion (and even birth control). They believe this because either a) their interpretation of the Bible and/or b) their knowledge that a fertilized egg may grow within a woman until it is undoubtedly a human being.

To me, there are a few problems with either belief. For one, there are significant differences between a zygote (fertilized egg) and a baby that is born 9 months after conception. A zygote may, in the course of development, split into two separate individuals. This is how identical twins are formed. No person in the world can split in two and be two function people afterwards. In rare cases two separate zygotes my join early in conception, even of the opposite sex, creating chimeras and hermaphrodites. In extremely rare cases a zygote may split and then join back together at a later time. This is also something that is impossible for baby's or any other human to do.

If there is a soul, when does it attach to the zygote? If it is at conception, then does this soul split in two so that each identical twin has identical souls or does a single soul somehow control both twins? Does a chimera have two souls or does one somehow disassociate with one of the zygotes when this occurs?

Another problem I see with believing a zygote to be a human being is the frequent occurrence of their death. For example, there are many women who have great difficulty of becoming pregnant. By pregnant, I mean that the zygote has attached itself to the uterine wall. This doesn't mean that they are unable to form fertilized eggs however. In fact, many can form them at the same rate as any other woman (one or two per month) but they simply can't attach to the uterine wall. Would it be ethical to form a human being month after month with the full knowledge that they have no hope to survive? Should their passing be mourned as any other fetus would be mourned if there was a miscarriage?

It seems to me that people who view zygotes as human beings do so when it is convenient for them. When they want to fight abortion or contraceptives they view it as the intentional destruction of human beings. However, when they consider an infertile woman (who may, in fact, not be infertile just unable to become impregnated), they don't consider it to be the intentional destruction of human beings even though the result is identical to a normal woman who is taking a contraceptive pill. And when it comes to technical problems, such as chimeras and identical twins, they throw up their hands and act as if this isn't contrary to their view for some unspeakable/unknowable reason.

While faith is often viewed as the antithesis to logic, I disagree. I believe one can have faith without obvious contradictions (in this case, their conception of what a human is). One thing I can guarantee: if your concept of a human is that of a being similar to the people that you see on a daily basis, a zygote is about as different as you can possibly imagine and your concept of human would have to be very general to be able to include both under the same term.

One other question: if it is a human being, how far are you willing to go to save it? One potential problem that can occur is the zygote may impregnate itself into the fallopian tube of the woman, threatening the mother's life. The zygote has no chance to develop into a functional person and must be aborted. However, if research was done it may be possible to move the zygote to the uterine wall where it could develop. Would such research be worth it?

JournalJournal: New Hampshire primary results

I, for one, am happy about the results in New Hampshire. Not so much because of the specific people who won, but because it will keep the races close. There actually may still be a contest by the time we have primaries here in Colorado. Woohoo! I've been here since '96 and have never voted in a national primary when the winners hadn't already been determined.

JournalJournal: Disussion on who's the best candidate for president in '0844

I guess it's time for another discussion about who's the best candidate for president in '08. I have a feeling that whoever gets elected will be far superior to what we've had for the past eight years. On the Democrat side:

My favorite was Joe Biden. He has decades of experience, is a great orator, is well-versed in both history and constitutional law (teaches a class on the subject at a university I believe) and I always find his interviews on Charlie Rose and Meet the Press honest, intelligent and insightful. Oh well, now on to who is still in the race:

I haven't made up my mind yet. Obama obviously has great charisma and is also a great orator and can deliver great speeches. He has a great intellect, but most candidates this year do anyway. I don't honestly know how good of a cabinet he will form though and am afraid he will be playing too much catch-up when he enters office. I remember that similar concerns were present when Bush Jr. was first elected and those concerns were allayed by mentioning how he would be surrounded by experienced officials. Ummm, yea, I don't think many people are going to bite on that in the general election (with very good reason). If he were to appoint Joe Biden as Secretary of State or Vice President I may consider it.

The big problem with Clinton is that she is so polarizing in the electorate. I know at least one person who would vote for anyone other than Clinton. Why? I'm not sure, but I know many others feel that way. Personally, like Bush Jr, I'm afraid she would have a rather secretive administration without enough public insight on how decisions are made. Generally speaking, I view her as being much too hawkish as well and have no doubt that she would be as willing as Bill Clinton to send our troops into skirmishes around the world at the drop of a hat (remember Black Hawk Down anyone?). I don't think Bill would now as he has surely learned from his mistakes, but I don't think he will try to overly sway her decisions on specific events around the world. As for getting bills through Congress I'm sure she would be rather effective as she has been a moderate senator and has been able to get support from Republicans on various issues. I'm not against making compromises, but I'm afraid she would be too willing to allow earmarks and other provisions to keep lobbyists happy.

I don't have much of an opinion on Edwards either way. He comes off a bit phony to me and it's difficult for me to believe that he cares as much about the poor as he proclaims. Both he and Clinton are hedge-fund managers (I believe, need to double check...) and I really feel that those funds need much stronger regulation. I guess I'll need to revisit the debates now that Biden is out and get more informed.

For the Republicans:

It's hard for me to imagine voting for a Republican this time around given how they handled the legislative and executive branches for so long. Why anyone would trust them now is almost beyond belief. Now onto the specific candidates (can't hold their party against them too much):

I think Ron Paul is interesting but not qualified to be president. If he were elected I doubt that he would be able to get much passed through congress given his almost complete lack of support in Congress. I think people tend to overrate the power of the President. Regardless of what he says he's going to do when elected, if he can't get the bill through Congress it simply isn't going to happen. I agree with him that earmarks need to be curtailed but I suspect his sincerity since he has been applying for (and receiving) many earmarks for his local district.

I used to have a lot of respect for McCain. However, he has brown-nosed the Bush administration in recent years so much that I've nearly lost all of that respect. I don't think he would be a bad president per se and would probably be much more reluctant to go to war than Clinton, I just am upset with how much he has changed since he first ran for president. Still, if it comes down to a vote between McCain and Clinton it will be a difficult choice for me since I really don't want to vote for a hawk (while McCain doesn't want to abandon Iraq, I strongly doubt he would have placed the troops there in the first place had he been president at the time).

Mike Huckabee would probably be the only other Republican I would even dream of voting for. We simply disagree on too many issues for him to be a viable candidate for me. I respect his intelligence and at least he has some years of experience being governor (although so did Bush Jr). I do find it funny that he keeps mentioning how the roads in Arkansas improved under his governorship. Umm, any road work AT ALL would have been an improvement--I've driven through most states in the country and Arkansas had, by far, the worst roads I had ever seen (back around '90-'93). And I think claiming the schools improved is kind of silly too since they were required, by LAW, to fund their schools more. That's like saying 'well the crime rate dropped because I was forced to keep criminals in jail'. Yea, props to you for following the law. Unfortunately for him, it seems to be next to impossible for a Republican to win the primary without promising to not raise taxes, ever, for whatever reason (or even re-establish taxes for rich oil companies that had recently been reduced).

JournalJournal: Continuing debate on who's best for president

This is a continuation of a thread I started here (as Shaun and Just Curious).

Here is the list of things that I found ridiculous in the post and explained why previously:

• (Detroit is) about as deadly as the entire war torn country of Iraq.
• FDR...led us into World War II. Germany never attacked us: Japan did. In context, this was implying that WW2 was a war of choice on our part as the recent war in Iraq is. Umm, ya... I don't recall Iraq declaring war on us or bombing our shipments of supplies to our allies (our bombing our allies for that matter).
• He mentions the war in Vietnam as a precedent. Well, I think virtually everyone believes that war was a mistake, or at least the way the war was carried out was a mistake. He's quite right that the war in Iraq is similar, though (dividing the nation, requiring a lengthy stay by a huge number of troops, being unbelievably expensive, etc.)
• put nuclear inspectors in Libya, Iran and North Korea without firing a shot No, the inspectors where already in North Korea for over a decade and where recently kicked out, shortly after the invasion of Iraq.
• It took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Davidian compound. Umm, we don't really have Iraq (we have most of it granted, but NOT Falluja and Samarra). Also, that's not counting the amount of time it took to get troops and equipment over there. That's also completely ignoring cost, on which count the comparison is ridiculous.
• We've been looking for evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq for less time than it took Hillary Clinton to find her Rose Law Firm billing records. We (meaning the US or the Coalition?) have been looking for chemical weapons since the end of Gulf War 1 (remember the chemical inspectors). They were eventually kicked out, but reinstated a few months before the second war. I don't recall how long it took to find these billing records, but on that count have they found the military records on Bush yet?
• It took less time for the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines to destroy the Medina Republican Guard than it took Ted Kennedy to call the police after his Oldsmobile sank at Chappaquiddick, drowning Mary Jo. The Guard was mostly destroyed in the first war. In the second, they retreated/disbanded once the government broke down (after suffering enormous casualties I'm sure). Nobody denies that the US has a very powerful military, though. The question is how quickly can we secure the peace. If we simply wanted to 'destroy' the Taliban, we could have just dropped some bombs on their officials and areas where they were fighting other tribes and let the other tribes take over. The hard part is ensuring a long-lasting peace and establishing law and order without the need for a huge standing military to enforce it.

I'll get back to the latest posts from Pete on the next journal entry.

JournalJournal: Map project

This is a starting point of discussion for a map project that I'm in the early stages of development. It would consist of a GUI client that would be distributed to users who would, in turn, provide updates for the central map database. One technique of update would be for them to receive aerial photos over which they would trace roads, deliniating speed limits, road type, intersections, etc.

If aerial photos aren't available or are out of date, perhaps users could provide new information for their local area using track information from their GPS. The GUI would facilitate this by uploading the NMEA from the GPS and plotting it over the existing map, where the user would make any necessary corrections (with tools to shift the track left or right so that it lies in the center of the road, smoothing the track, etc.).

I think this will be a fun project and anyone who is interested should post a note here. Once the GUI is somewhat stable, I plan on posting it to sourceforge. If transmitting the aerial photos breaks copyright, we might have to rely on the user to get the photos themselves or rely on them using their GPS.

Another way of getting info into the central database would be to provide a tool to trace over scanned photos. This would be identical to the aerial photos, except that it would need to be oriented correctly first using a couple of guide points on the map. This would be a handy way to get trails onto the maps which aren't visible from aerial shots and generally aren't already in the public domain (at least not in a vector format as far as I can tell).

A tricky issue is choosing the language and toolkit for the GUI. I love QT, but it isn't free in Windows (except for an ancient version which I suppose may work). I'm currently leaning towards C#, giving me an excellent chance to learn it :). Until mono is done, this would restrict the program to running in Windows. By leaving as much code as possible in a library, hopefully this won't pose too much of a problem.

JournalJournal: Record for longest good link in slashdot story!!

This is a silly thing to post on, but I can't believe that all of the links from this slashdot story still work after almost 5 years!! Take a look at the story. Even the ftp links work. Absolutely unbelievable.

JournalJournal: Video of Ball laser experiment

(this is a follow up to this post)

Unfortunately, Ball ran the last test of the laser last night (the test on Sunday and Tuesday were so successful that they didn't need to do any more tests). Apparently, there wasn't enough dust in the atmosphere for it to be very visible last night, explaining why I never saw it. Instead, I just took some shots of Boulder and the moon. They told me they were going to release a photo of the experiment to the media soon and probably post it on their website.

JournalJournal: Tags expired

I had an unpleasant experience earlier this week. When I got back to my car after work on Monday (12/1), I found a \$50 ticket on my windshield for having expired tags (they expired on 11/1). I never received a notice in the mail and completely forgot about it until seeing the ticket. After fuming about it for a day, I decided to contest it (the fine seemed rather disproportinate compared to my annual registration fee of \$27). Turns out, if you update your registration immediately and contest soon after the ticket, they'll drop the ticket on the spot! Certainly worth a short bike ride to the municipal courthouse.

FYI -- always contest, even when you're guilty!

JournalJournal: The deaths of Qusay and Uday Hussein

I must admit that I am glad that those two men are no more. While it would have been preferable to capture them alive, based on the detailed report by the military it seems that that outcome was almost impossible to achieve. They risked the lives of at least four men to retrieve them from the home twice without success when they could have easily blown them away from the outset using rocket and/or other munitions. With any luck, there will be a reduction in the number of seiges of Iraqi homes now that they clearly have better intelligence than before and will help speed up the transition of power back to the Iraqis themselves.

JournalJournal: My opinions of today...

Well, I spent way too much time writing posts today, but it helped me clarify my thoughts on some issues. (Namely this, this, this, this and this). I especially enjoyed writing the last post as it really does fully describe how I feel about the US government and also was a good edification for the person I was writing to. Okay, that was conceited, but I'd love to provoke someone to give a reasoned response to my little essay.

JournalJournal: Continuing thoughts on the war

Well, now that most of the fighting is over (for now), it looks like the military has mostly done it's job superbly, with the notable exception of failing to protect Iraq's hospitals and museums soon enough.

I bet that within a month Iraq's infrastructure will be close to where it was before the war started. That is, assuming that protesters don't kick the US forces out first. I'm concerned that some religous leaders there may encourage their congregations to fight the US before they have a chance to put a proper government in place, rebuild their infrastructure and police/military forces leading to an era similar to Afgahnistan in the early to mid 90s.

JournalJournal: More opinions about the war...

To my surprise, a kid (I presume in junior high or high school) in the Philipines I was chatting with last night is for the war in Iraq! He thought Hussein was "stubborn." Given the protests going on over there, I thought nearly everyone was against it.

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