Town Bans Santa

This story sounds like something out of the Onion – the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania is banning Santa on the basis that he is an illegal worker:

The people of Hazleton, PA are proud to announce a citizen-organized public awareness campaign called “No Santa for Hazleton.” The campaign will use Santa Claus’ status as America’s most-loved illegal worker to demonstrate Hazleton’s new “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal aliens.

Hazleton has been at the forefront of the War on Immigration since this past summer, when, in response to a surge in illegal immigration, the city passed its “Illegal Immigrant Relief Act.” The public response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Mayor Lou Barletta’s heroics gained the town national attention, including appearances on 60 Minutes and CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight. Following Hazleton’s example, over 30 other towns across America have passed or are considering similar laws to drive out illegal immigration and labor.

This might be funny if it wasn’t so ignorant. And let’s not forget the Easter Bunny, as well. Lest we forget that laws have their maximum effect when focused on made up characters.

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Defeating the ‘N-Word’

When I was driving home today, I heard a conversation on NPR with Paul Moody talking about how he wasn’t going to use the ‘n-word’ in his comedy routines any longer. This in the wake of the well publicized Michael Richards tirade.

This all made me think of an incident when I was in college. A group of us were hanging out with a young black guy from Baltimore in one of the common areas of the dorm. At some point a couple of hillbilly baseball players got some alcohol in them and starting dropping the n-bomb within earshot. More than likely they were trying to get some type of reaction from him which they thought would be great fun.

Finally one of the guys who was sitting around talking to him asked uncomfortably “Doesn’t it bother you when people use that word?”

His response was priceless. He smiled and said: “It doesn’t bother me at all. I figure he is saying a lot more about himself than he is anything about me.”

Simple, eloquent and to the point. And I have never forgotten the lesson.

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High Tech Passport Failure

It seems the UK version of the high tech passport has failed the first hurtle — a writer at the Guardian and a tech expert managed to crack the passport security with relative ease. Seem those who hatched the security scheme made the rather naive mistake of going to great lengths to secure the communications between the RFID reader and the passport, but used information that is available on the printed passport as the ‘key’ to unlocking that communication. Just dumb.

Fatally, however, the ICAO suggested that the key needed to access the data on the chips should be comprised of, in the following order, the passport number, the holder’s date of birth and the passport expiry date, all of which are contained on the printed page of the passport on a “machine readable zone.” When an immigration official swipes the passport through a reader, this feeds in the key, which allows a microchip reader to communicate with the RFID chip. The data this contains, including the holder’s picture, is then displayed on the official’s screen. The assumption at this stage is that this document is as authentic as it is super-secure. And, as we shall see later, this could be highly significant.

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The Depressive Brain

I came across this fascinating article that indicates that the brain structure of people with depression is structurally different that the brains of people who don’t experience depression. It seems that depressive people have an area of the brain which handles negative emotions that were 20 percent larger than normal.

Makes me curious where they go with this observation. Is this something that can be screened for an monitored appropriately? How strong an indicator is this of depression (after all, there were only 49 people in the study)? How will this influence future treatment of this condition? More to come, I’m sure.

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Let The Price Gouging Begin!

I predict that this well timed incident by BP will have gas prices at or near $3.25USD by the end of today in the Cincinnati area (currently gas is around $2.98USD). I further predict that big oil’s goal is to have the price at the pump flirting with $4USD just in time for the Labor Day/end of summer driving push — just as they manipulated prices up to the current $3USD range last year in this same period.

Clearly an industry that is in need of regulation (and also clearly not something that will happen with the current administration).

Back Again

It has been a bit quiet here for the last two weeks or so because I have been on vacation.  Just got back last night and still a bit jet lagged.  Finally got around to uploading some of the pictures to flickr, but still need to go about the task of inserting titles, descriptions and tags.

Things should pick up this weekend (or next week) as I recover from the backlog.

Google Sketchup

Today Google has released Sketchup, a 3D drawing desktop application. From the little demo animation that they have on the linked page, this looks like the rare combination of a very powerful, yet easy to use tool for creating 3D renderings. Renderings can also be used in conjunction with Google Earth, presumably as some sort of a layer or overlay.

Unfortunately, the Mac version of it is ‘coming soon’ even though the pre-Google acquisition product already ran on OS X. I’ll have to wait for the Mac release to get into this any further. I hope that the delay is something a simple as switching over the branding and a few other minor tasks it truly will be available RSN.

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Critical Thinking Is Not Optional

Graham Glass has an excellent anecdote about a lesson he learned in high school regarding critical thinking.

…Once the pleasantries were out of the way, he started the first lecture, which was about the composition of the atmosphere. Everyone started taking copious notes. He told us that Nitrogen was 78% of the air we breath, with Oxygen accounting for 21% and the remainder taken up by Argon, Carbon Dioxide, and other gases.

He then proceeded to explain that Nitrogen had a pink color and a slightly sweet smell. Like good students, we continued to record this valuable information into our study notes. After several more minutes of lecture he stopped, and then exclaimed “are you students morons??!!”. Needless to say, this caught our attention and we instantly brought our heads out of our books.

He continued: “If Nitrogen was pink and formed 78% of the air, the classroom would look pink! Are your brains even turned on right now?!” He proceeded to berate us for being so gullible, and then used the situation to segue into a discussion of the ingredients of science; observation, theory, and rigorous testing.

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An interesting article at the Guardian on The Death of Handwriting. I have definitely seen a trend in this direction at work, especially now that wireless access is available throughout the entire campus. People bring their laptops to meetings presumably to take notes, but more often to check email, IM and do other things rather than focus on the meeting. I am a bit of an oddball in that I show up with my (paper) notebook and pen to take notes and jot down diagrams. I find good old paper and ink to be much more expressive and versatile in this situation.

I have noticed that with all of the time I have spent on the computer over the years that my penmanship has deteriorated and I am making a concerted effort to do more writing (versus typing). When I was in college I was proud of how well I wrote and even had several profs comment on the legibility and layout of written work.

I guess it is in the same vein as my using an analog watch; I find myself drawn to good ole paper and ink to capture my thoughts during the day. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

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