Major Quake in Mozambique

Just got an alert on a major earthquake in sourtheast Africa. The USGS originally pegged the quake at 6.9 magnitude, but has since increased the estimate to 7.5, a serious quake either way.

No reports in the news as yet, but they will be coming.

UPDATE: A quick review of the available datebases turns up no major queakes n the area. There have been a few smaller ones but this is not an area associated with large quakes, at least until today. The hypocenter depth is reported as 10km, which is a default value they use for quakes too shallow to resolve any finer than that. Lets just say it was shallow. The quake hit just after midnight local time, when residents would have been asleep. I don't know much about the region and what its standard housing looks like, but it would be a surprise if it is especially earthquake resistant.

The Epicenter looks to be far from major population centers, but it is along a river, which usually means the presence of villages and towns.

It is still night there, so reports will be slow in coming.

UPDATE2: Reports from areas outside the immediaete area of the quake indcate that the shaker was widely felt. The "Association of Zimbabwe Journalists" reports that people in that country were reporting the tremors via text messaging, but that they had heard no reports out of Mozambique. Other reports indicate the quake was felt strongly in Maputo, over 300 miles away from the epicenter.

UPDATE 3: First reports of serious damage drift in. (More Here) These are just rumors at this point, and will probably remain "just rumors" until daylight. Power is out and communications are usually similarly effected. All these reports are coming from hundreds of miles from the epicenter.

Update 4: A few large aftershocks now:

MAP 4.2 2006/02/23 02:40:55 -21.498 33.515 10.0 MOZAMBIQUE
MAP 5.3 2006/02/23 02:22:08 -21.282 33.231 10.0 MOZAMBIQUE
MAP 5.4 2006/02/23 01:23:42 -21.313 33.385 10.0 MOZAMBIQUE
MAP 7.5 2006/02/22 22:19:09 -21.215 33.337 10.0 MOZAMBIQUE

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Posted by Bird on February 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (3)

Culture , Science

Some bad news and bad answers

A couple of news items to ponder...

First, the BBC reports that the number of children born "out of wedlock" in the UK has climbed past 40%. Of course, in other European countries the number is higher still, and so far these societies have not collapsed, but I cannot help but see this as a sad and unfortunate trend.

Secondly Scientific American magazine responds to a WashingtonPost column by Richard Cohen on the value of Algebra. Apparently Cohen doesn't see any value to it, and wonders why young people should be put through the torture of learning it. SciAm responds...

A day after his column appeared, the National Academy of Sciences issued a survey of 200 multi-national corporations that indicated that 38 percent were planning to shift an increasing amount of their research to countries like India and China that maintain solid educational systems. Surprisingly, the report concluded, lower labor costs were not the major factor in making these decisions. Instead, their plans were triggered by the availability of high-quality educational institutions and the resulting pool of scientists and engineers.

No one in Hyderabad or Shenzen is calling for getting rid of secondary algebra requirements.

Why? The math is simple:

No algebra=No calculus=No science=No technology=We're totally *&$#FRTDG!!!!!

Yup! I work in Silicon Valley and native born and educated Americans are a becoming a distinct minority here. A media and entertainment industry that celebrates ignorance and sloth has helped breed a culture that celebrates ignorance and sloth. I have a gut feeling that the "digital divide", and a host of other "divides" will develop along some unexpected paths in the coming decades. American youngsters may find themselves sorted early into "those who will design and create" the future" and "those who will consume the work of the first group, and pay for it, btw." Some people will be in the creative class and the rest in the consumer class. The consumers will have a comfortable, "Homer Simpson" sort of existence, and the creators will call the shots.

Where do you expect the mass of Americans will end up?

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Posted by Bird on February 21, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (4)

Culture , Education

So you think your job is lousy...

Gerard Van der Leun takes a look at the "career" of a 5th grader and finds that it is not the sort of job most of us would tolerate. My own 5th grade son whole-heartedly agrees.

Day in day out, week in week out, year in year out ... you trudge off to this room crammed to the brim with bird's nests, flash cards, trilobites, pilgrim hats, Indian headresses, drawings and paintings in which the proportion of the head to the body is never right, but looks for all the world like an exhibit by demented Fauvists with no drawing skills whatsoever and a very garish color sense. Twice a day, everybody in this room is let out. Is it any wonder they run screaming into the sunshine?

And you have no veto whatsoever over your co-workers, your working conditions, your hours, or your choice of when to do what tasks. Everyone does the same tasks at the same time for 55 minutes and then it is on to something new.

Did I mention the fact that you can't quit?

And judgment. Oh, the judgment. Constantly tested. Constantly graded. Constantly up for criticism with your single allowable plea being, "Guilty. But with an explanation."

By the fifth grade, you've been in this dead end job for about seven years. If you're lucky, your pay has gone from a dollar to ten dollars a week. Get straight A's and you might get a bonus of one day at the local "Magic Kingdom." Then it's, "Okay, break's over. Everybody back on their heads."

I don't know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst jobs in the world. In fact, the more I think about it the more I want to lie down with that kid in the middle of the living room and say, "I just can't do it any more either." It took me about 30 years to get to that point. I guess I'm not as smart as I was in the fifth grade. In fact, I'm sure of it.

Oh boy, I can relate. I would have forgotten most of the horrors of those years except that as a parent I get to re-live them through my children on a regular basis. I've visited school to watch my kids endure experiences so embarrassing/humiliating/stressful that I was unable to function when I returned to work. The saddest thing is that objectively these are some of the best schools around and I now the teachers are good, well-meaning people. Some of it is the unpleasantness of that phase of life, and the emotional cruelty that children visit on one another.

For those that can manage it homeschooling is a popular option. I would wonder that those kids are not able to develop important social skills with their peers ("toughen-up", perhaps) except that the few home schooled ids I have met seemed pretty solid emotionally and quite adept socially.

No surprise to me that the subject of Van der Leun's essay is a 5th grade boy. Schools in this era, at least in this country, are very hard on boys, including the smart one (some would say"especially the smart ones") and its at about 5th grade that a guy figures out that the system is rigged against you. For survival purposes we teach them a strong defensive cynicism and give them a tough shell, and hope that they can make it through the years until age 50 or so when they can be re-awakened and made fully human again.

Posted by Bird on February 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


A not so secret technique for decision-making

According to new scientific results, you make better decisions, big decisions, mind you, when you accumulate the facts and then let your unconscious mind chew on it a bit. It's called "sleeping on it", and have sworn by the practice for years, and know others who do too.

The study says: "The scientific literature has emphasized the benefits of conscious deliberation in decision making for hundreds of years.

"In contrast, the notion that unconscious thought is fruitful hardly developed beyond the status of "folk wisdom".

But the study found that people can think unconsciously and that for complex decisions unconscious thought is actually superior.The team argued the problem with conscious thought is that the brain can only focus on a few things at the same time, which can lead to some aspects being given undue importance.

Lead researcher Dr Ap Dijksterhuis said: "The take-home message is that when you have to make a decision, the first step should be to get all the information necessary for the decision. Once you have the information, you have to decide, and this is best done with conscious thought for simple decisions, but left to unconscious thought - to 'sleep on it' - when the decision is complex."

Jonathan Schooler of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver told Science the study built on evidence that too much reflection could be detrimental in some situations. "What may be really critical is to engage in [conscious] reflection but not make decision," he added.

An idea worth pursuing is still a good idea the next morning, but many a folly dressed up as a good idea looks very different after a bit of "unconscious reflection." Quite a few scientists, I expect, have ascribed to this bit of "folk-wisdom" and never questioned it.

Posted by Bird on February 18, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Culture , World

More on cartoon madness

The news gets more sad. This on-going violence suits someone's purposes. Someone decided that a wave of hysterical violence was useful and has made efforts to see it happen and sustained. i just don't see where the purpose involves the West, at least anymore. Perhaps at first the attempt was to frighten Western leaders (and newspapers), but does anyone really think that a violent street protest in Nigeria is going to scare the U.S. or Europe into submission?

The on-going restlessness seems aimed at a Muslim audience, though I wonder what the message really is? Perhaps it is the local Muslims who have been friendly to Western ideas and culture who are being threatened? Perhaps the message is, "open a McDonald's franchise and we will burn you out."

In Nigeria, the target seems to have been local Christians.

Some were deliberately targeting the city's Christian minority, they said.

"At least 10 churches, some hotels, more than 20 shops and over 10 vehicles were burned by the protesters," one resident told Reuters news agency by telephone.

Another resident said "most of the dead were Christians beaten to death on the streets by the rioters", according to the Associated Press news agency.

One would laugh at the absurdity of it all, that people, feeling insult that their supposedly peaceful religion has been portrayed in a cartoon as violent, would react with widespread violence, if it were not so sad.

Speaking of cartoons, here's an animation from a Dutch artist depicting an anonymous Muslim (not the Prophet, please note). The title "Gevoelig" means "sensitive" in Dutch, or so I'm told. (This via Michelle Malkin)

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Posted by Bird on February 18, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Culture , World

The power of a few lousy cartoons

Been away for a while, so I have not had a chance to comment on the cartoon frenzy in the Islamic world. A few observations...

Effective and Inexpensive Weapon!
Who would have thought that major Islamic societies could be so thoroughly unhinged by a handful of poorly executed cartoons in a Danish newspaper? One might be justified in saying that never has so much mayhem been instigated by so flimsy a provocation. Perhaps our own military planners, stunned by the evident effectiveness of this tactic, are right now gathering the best American cartoonists in a secret defense installation to develop highly virulent,"military-grade" cartoons. We have allowed the Danes to get a lead in the cartoon race, but we can respond. The cartoonists of America can out-insult any feeble Danish effort!

Just imagine what a Ted Ralls treatment of the prophet would accomplish. Whole civilizations will be brought to chaos.

Concern About Idolatry?
The "rationale" for the Muslim reaction, if such a thing can be though to be rational, is that visual depiction of Mohammad in any way is forbidden on the grounds that the Prophet must not be mistaken for God. (I wish I could find the original quote on that, sorry.) As one of the "people of the book" (Judaism, Chistianisty and Islam. All descended from Abraham) I understand the concern about idolatry; it's an issue in Christian circles as well.

It does seem to me, however, that the Muslims have got it backwards. It is usually God who is not to be pictured or reduced to an image or object. Allowing the prophet, who Muslims believe to be fully human I'm told, to be depicted in drawings should be a way of making that distinction; a way to prevent overly idolatrous worship of the man. Holding his image so holy that it cannot be viewed seems to accomplish exactly what they had hoped to prevent. The Prophet is elevated to the status of God (or "a god"), sequestered in the Holy of Holies. This outrageous pubic reaction to a few quick drawings does seem a symptom of an idolatrous worship of the prophet, rather than the God he spoke for.

On the other hand, the concern about idolatry could work this way. If devout Muslims collected images of their prophet, as Orthodox Christians collect icons of Christ, they might begin to worship the image, a blasphemous idolatry. This risk, however, is only meaningful to very devout believers. There is no concern that a bunch of atheistic Danes are going to be worshiping cartoon idols. If we are to take this rationale seriously, we must believe that the rioters in Pakistan and Syria are desperately concerned for the souls of those Danes. This I doubt. Or perhaps they worry that good Muslims will acquire the cartoons of Mohammad and begin to worship them rather than Allah. This too I strongly doubt.

Someone was Insulted
This leaves the more realistic explanation; what angers the crowds is a perceived insult. Someone they hold in great esteem has been insulted (they perceive) and they are angered. This is not an unusual reaction, and deliberate insult to religious figures is old hat, except the intent of the Danish artists was not necessarily insult. Rather the original purpose of the cartoons was to challenge the self-censorship of Europeans aware of the Muslim ban of visualizations of Mohammad. Again, the idea was to just draw the Prophet, and some of the artists did no more than that. A few did add a bit of political "bite" to their drawings, but as insulting cartoons go, this was low-grade material.

The real "insult", it appears, is not to the ancient Prophet, but to the contemporary Muslim authorities who have pronounced their ban and found it flaunted by the Danes. These cartoonists have overtly defied the authority of the Imams, and that is the provocative act that has triggered riots. Not for a moment do I believe that the people in the street are so very concerned about the defiance of a few Danes. They neither knew nor cared much for several months. The Muslim leaders in Denmark and elsewhere in Europe, however, do care about defiance in their turf, and have apparently worked hard to organize this bit of global street-theater to cow the Europeans back into line.

Not As Crazy As They Seem
That Muslim leaders could imagine that their edicts were binding on non-Muslim democracies seems the very hight of hubris, until you realize that until this incident it had worked, They have declared what must-not-be-done and even the godless sinners in European and American newspapers have obeyed. Even the Christians and Jews, supposedly powerful in America, have not accomplished that! We can scoff at the ranting of Islamic triumphalists, who see a new Caliphate on the horizon, but they making progress towards the capture of Europe and the American press dare not oppose them. A handful of Danes have dared to stand in opposition. Now we'll see if the rest of the West wakes up.

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Posted by Bird on February 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Large Earthquake in the Banda Sea

Just got an alert about a large quake in the Banda Sea, which is the body of water between northern Australia and Indonesia. Preliminary analysis is calling it a 7.7 mag event, which ought to put tsunami danger into some minds. I'll look for the official tsunami warning.

Despite the size of the quake it is about 200 miles from anywhere, so tsunami ought to be the biggest threat.

Update: Just noticed the depth of the hypocenter is at over 200 miles, which is very deep. if true (early estimates can be off.) This is probably why the Tsunami Warnimg centers are not getting very excited.

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Posted by Bird on January 27, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Current Affairs , World

It's gut-check time

Joe Katzman's essay on the dark cloud that is Iran is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. It's a powerful piece that ought to send a shiver up ones spine. I hate to say it but I buy his reasoning; the prospects are not good at all. Perhaps I am conditioned to accept his reasoning, because in discussions of the threat behind nuclear proliferation, for nearly 25 years now, the common example of the "rogue state" who would actually use weapons despite likely self-destruction has been Iran. India, Pakistan, even North Korea, all seem to be too interested in self-preservation, or insufficiently belligerent, but people have an easy time imagining the Iranians doing something enormously destructive. After considering the scenario for years the reality is easier to recognize. This feels like the days before Katrina came ashore; a long predicted disaster is finally here,

I personally believe that we're very likely to see at least 10 million dead in the Middle East within the next two decades, with an upper limit near 100 million. I do not believe pre-emptive action will be taken against Iran. I do, however, believe the extremist mullahs in Iran mean exactly what they say. They are steeped in an ideology that believes suicide/murder to be the holiest and most moral act possible. ... That class of "true believer" imams and revolutionary guard types have been quietly consolidating their control over all sectors of Iranian society over the last few months, and I do not believe anyone in the world today has both the will and the capability to stop them. A key pillar of The Bush Doctrine is about to fail.

For all the anti-west propaganda from the region, Muslim weapons most often get used against other Muslims, and I expect that the nukes will as well, but the impact will be tough to contain. Joe is not convinced that the Iranian people understand the terrible danger they are in, nor will they in time to take action. I'm not convinced that the Imams have such a tight grip on power. The French have taken steps today to wake them up. We ought to do the same.

Still, like Joe I don't see anyone, the U.S. included, taking strong action before the weapon is developed. Having a bomb is a bad thing, but its using a bomb that gets you wiped-out. This is why Joe's shocking casualty statistics might be right. We'll keep on talking, and threatening, until the Iranian leadership is either overthrown or tries to use their new weapon. Then we, and others one would hope, will be there, either to give aid to the new government or try to clean up the mess.

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Posted by Bird on January 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (8)

Technology/Software Biz

Would you buy a car from a start-up?

Something new at the Green Car Congress. Cool looking car; the Aptera. Very high-tech, high-concept, futuristic, and green, diesel-hybrid propulsion, three-wheel aero design; all good. Its a two-seater, which is a bit limiting, but there are loads of times when one or two people need to go somewhere nearby, even in families, and hauling a big SUV around to make short trips is not efficient.

The car looks like a spacecraft, which is a "statement" of sorts.The vehicle will get 330 mpg (!) say its designers, which is even more of a statement! Even at $20, there are people who will buy it just to make that statement, but I wonder how big the market is beyond that. The Aptera is being built by a new start-up firm, Accelerated Composites, which is another reason to be cautious. I can believe that some sort of very efficient personal vehicle like this will be common in the future; one big car for the family trips and one or more smaller vehicles for fuel-efficient, easy parking and less polluting travel when alone. Since the major auto manufacturers are not likely to deliver it, the job will fall to others. Perhaps these folks will get the ball rolling.

Vehicles of this sort tend to turn up on our local roads; there are a bunch of those "make a statement" sort of purchasers in this area, so I'll be keeping my eye's open for an Aptera.

Update: Added the link to Accelerated Composites and found a high-resolution representation of the design (in other words, an "artists-rendition". The prototype is not complete.) Look at the side view here. How bout that little airplane tail? Here's another view. Wonder where they'll put the license plate?

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Posted by Bird on January 19, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)


Quickie-rooms and an instant park

A bunch of great items over at Inhabitat. The first concerns a regular item both there and here, pre-fab housing. These are prefabricated rooms. They look great and are easy to add to your home or as stand-alone room on your property, or can be combined with other units to create a small guest house.

I work in a small, home office that resembles these units, in that it is glass enclosed on three-sides. My room is a converted porch, that has great light (not always a good thing trying to see computer screens) but can be a bit cold, even here in CA. Still, if you value quiet and privacy, but don't want to sit all bay in a dark box, this looks like an attractive option.

For city-dwellers who need an occasional rest in a green spot, but don't want to walk all the way to the nearest city park, here's a solution that takes the idea of a "green spot" and "occasional" very seriously. These folks are of the mind that having rented the use of a metered parking space, they ought to be able to use it as they please. They have set up a temporary park in a parking space; metered nature! This is in San Francisco, which has many wonderful parks and terribly limited parking, so my guess is that the residents would not find this a good trade.

Finally, on the subject of small spots of nature, scroll down to this item about a very-mini-garden, one small enough to be used as a cell-phone fob. I hate to see nature fetish-ized in this way, but I have to admit is cute. Before you rush to purchase, however, read the comments.

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Posted by Bird on January 19, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)