Friday, November 20

Bangladeshis rush to learn English by mobile

Quite an interesting development here. I quote:

The project, which costs users less than the price of a cup of tea for each three-minute lesson, is being run by the BBC World Service Trust, the international charity arm of the broadcaster. Part of a UK government initiative to help develop English skills in Bangladesh, it marks the first time that mobile phones have been used as an educational tool on this scale.

Through its Janala service, the BBC offers 250 audio and SMS lessons at different levels. Each lesson is a three-minute phone call, costing about 3 taka (2.6p).

One basic lesson involves listening to and repeating simple dialogue like: “What do you do?” “I work in IT, what about you?” “I’m a student.” “That’s nice.” Another is devoted to differentiating vowel sounds like those in ship and sheep or leaf and live.

All six mobile phone operators in Bangladesh have agreed to cut the cost of calls to the service by 50 per cent to make it more affordable. Ms Chamberlain said the project team was in talks with the mobile phone companies to increase capacity to cope with the unexpectedly high demand.

The language lessons are mainly targeting 18 to 24-year-olds, who typically had five or more years of formal education, but whose training in English had been weak. The target market is people living on less than 10,000 taka ($145, €97, £87) a month, who would struggle to pay for formal English lessons.

Education by mobile phones. This can be used to drive other educational programmes as well. I was discussing with a friend of mine about how to use Google Wave in educational institutions after the idea was sparked by a discussion online. I think I am going to try to see if any of my professor friends around the country would be interested to see if we can roll this out for a class somewhere. The idea being that we can have twitter, sms, email, online conversations, documents all mixed up when we are evaluating a proposal or something like that, all inside a class.

But this is indeed very interesting. Worth watching out for.

Programmers arrested in Madoff case

This is quite interesting. Usually the IT folks stay away from fraud and issues like this which are usually created and driven by the front office pukes. If the business gives a programmer a set of business requirements or it provides them with instructions to make changes to programmes, data or workflow, they never question the content, they might question the impact on performance, capacity, capability or usability, but never the content.

Now, obviously, this is coming from the perspective that these two men knowingly participated in the fraud. I quote:

Two computer programmers from Bernard Madoff’s fraudulent investment operation were arrested on Friday on charges of falsifying Mr Madoff’s trading records to make them appear regular and above board.

According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan, the two men, Jerome O’Hara, 46, and George Perez, 43, are accused of having created and updated software programs for one of Mr Madoff’s primary computers – known internally as “house 17”. These programs generated documents that allegedly helped Mr Madoff avoid detection by the Securities and Exchange Commission and a European auditing firm.

In an affidavit submitted by an FBI agent, the two men are alleged to have helped Mr Madoff hide the nature of his activities from his own clients.

They allegedly altered trading records, changed the names of Mr Madoff’s customers, created fictitious order entry and execution reports, generated different sets of account statements for various clients, and produced bogus reports that made it appear as though Mr Madoff was buying and selling stocks on the London Stock Exchange.

The criminal complaint also alleges that the two men threatened to stop participating in Mr Madoff’s scam in 2006, referring to a handwritten note found in Mr O’Hara’s desk that said, “I won’t lie any longer”.

I think we might see this as another nail in the coffin of trust between the front office and IT/Operations. What’s next? All business requirement documents and data changes to be signed off by compliance? Good Lord.

The Health and Safety way of burning books

Here are some Christian loons protesting against Satan’s books, music and videos.

I cant believe we still have these loons around. oh! I am sorry, they still believe in creationism and that silly sod theory of intelligent design. Good Lord. The other issue is that they do breed.

They obey the laws against burning paper but not the principle of free speech. Welcome to intelligence squared.

Wednesday, November 18

Pain and animals/vegetables

Ok, right off the bat, I have to confess that I love meat and eat it as much as I can, meat, fish, eggs, you name it. I also like eating vegetables. But what gets my goat are the vegetarian Nazi's who want to stop me from enjoying my fried eggs or a big juicy steak. And perhaps the most common explanation is that I cause pain or take life. When i respond that you are worse, you kill and eat the babies (fruit, vegetables, seeds, etc.), I just eat adults, I get bewildered stares. And less spoken about the religious nuts, the better. Anyway, here’s some links that I got when there were some good discussions on this topic on a list.

For the religious nuts who think that halal killing is less painful to animals, here, choke on this.

BRAIN signals have shown that calves do appear to feel pain when slaughtered according to Jewish and Muslim religious law, strengthening the case for adapting the practices to make them more humane. "I think our work is the best evidence yet that it's painful," says Craig Johnson, who led the study at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Johnson summarised his results last week in London when receiving an award from the UK Humane Slaughter Association. His team also showed that if the animal is concussed through stunning, signals corresponding to pain disappear (New Zealand Veterinary Journal, vol 57, p 77).

But how about the fact that plants also do react when you cut them? The sap release or the protection that they give by withdrawal or coagulation of the end. Remember the experiments carried out by Jagdishchandra Bose? The plants show clear cut chemical and biological responses to heat, cutting or any other kind of damage. They give out chemical signals when they are under attack from pests and so on and so forth. So while they dont react to pain as we define pain, but a reaction is definitely there. And its the height of total hypocrisy to claim that we are happy to go about only saving animals when our definition is involved but not other responses.

You might say that this plant reaction to being cut or boiled is an automatic reaction. But lets stick your hand in fire and then see what’s your automatic reaction. See what I mean?

On a more serious note, the damn Taliban have now picked up on this. I quote:

Waziristan, Pakistan. In an apparent attempt to appear forward looking and scholarly, Taliban has declared that Plant Psychology, a disputed field of study under Plant Physiology, is compatible with their own disputed version of Islam. After researching and vegetating investigating for decades, Taliban scholars have finally concluded that plants and vegetables have life and they react to physical and psychological stimuli i.e. plants don’t only feel pain and agony, but they can even hate you for mistreating them.

“Subhanallah! This is a tight slap on the face of infidels who have been calling us backward and enemies of modern science, even though we love RDX, AK47s and audio-video messages. But finally our wise men have been able to conclude what the kaafirs couldn’t even comprehend for so many years. Inshallah, now we will spread the light of our knowledge everywhere.” Taliban CMO Maulana Mushroom Azahar declared from a mountain top.

This is the first time Taliban has discovered something in the field of science, even though they have been pretty regular with discovering new meanings of religion, crime and punishment each day. But this discovery by Taliban has caused them to issue a rather quirky command for the whole Muslim world, which has been already implemented in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan.

Taliban scholars have concluded that since plants and vegetables can feel pain and agony and can even hate you, they are as good as animals and birds. They have declared that halaal, or the prescribed method of slaughtering in Islam, will apply to plants and vegetables too.

Are these halaal or jhatka vegetables?

Are these halaal or jhatka vegetables?

“With this new information bestowed upon us by Allah, it’s beyond doubt that chopping or cutting of vegetables is as good as slaughtering of an animal. Undoubtedly, the current style of vegetable cutting is haraam. Muslims all over the world are indulging in this sin unknowingly, but now that we have shown them the true path they must reform themselves, or we will have to punish them.” Mushroom Azahar warned the gathering and asked his supporters to behead anyone chopping vegetables in jhatka style i.e. briskly slicing the vegetables apart.

This new command is reportedly causing a lot of inconvenience to the local population, especially to the housewives, who are now spending almost the whole day preparing food. According to the way prescribed by Taliban scholars, people have to first swipe vegetables with a sharp knife without splitting it into two or more disjoint pieces and then wait for the moisture or natural juice of the vegetables to dry up. Taliban scholars have declared these moisture or juices as being equivalent to an animal’s blood. Once the vegetables are considerably dried up, people are allowed to cut the vegetables into separate and smaller pieces.

Local people, especially the women, have been unable to do anything else other than cooking food since the command has been implemented in the area. Restaurants in the region too have been seeing huge backlog as they have been unable to meet demand for vegetables from customers. Such developments have caused everyone in the area to spend more time on food preparation and consumption than anything else. But surprisingly, not everyone is complaining.

“After they banned playing football, watching television, celebrating local festivals, and going to school, we had a lot of free time and we didn’t know what to do. Now all of us are busy cutting and chopping vegetables. I guess they have done a nice job.” Assif Zordari, a local resident told our reporter.

Unemployment by Age Group and Ethnicity

This image shows the latest unemployment figures for the USA for October 2009. Click on the image to show the full image.

I found the ethnicity unemployment rates rather interesting:

Black teens have a 41% unemployment rate, then you have white teens at 25%, black men at 17%, All Blacks at 16%, All Latinos at 13%, Black women at 12%, white men and all whites at 10% and white women at 7%.

Quite a startling result, no? Is this racism? or something to do with the black population themselves? I am not sure because other races in the USA like the Vietnamese, Indians, Chinese seem to do much better.

Here’s a great report on this issue.

Tuesday, November 17

Groundbreaking Education Film - We Are The People We've Been Waiting For

This is a very interesting film on education and the challenges that our young people are facing. Take a look at the YouTube trailer.

I received this email from the charity that I am peripherally connected with.  I quote:

The film, titled ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’, was inspired and guided by Lord Puttnam and Sir Michael Barber and explores the education system in the UK and asks whether the current system provides young people with the opportunity to develop their talents. High-profile figures sharing their personal experiences and views include Sir Richard Branson, Germaine Greer, Henry Winkler, Bill Bryson, Sir Ken Robinson and a wide range of education experts from around the world.

This thought-provoking film offers unique insight across generations and nations, and reveals a very inconvenient truth about education. The world is changing rapidly – but our education system is not keeping pace.

‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ follows the lives of five Swindon-based teenagers and the challenges they face during their education.  It reveals the dislocation between our education system and the rapidly changing, globalised world which is increasingly dominated by digital technology, and focuses on the need for fundamental change in teaching and learning 

Lord Puttnam said: “I’ve no doubt that ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ has the potential to be a powerful catalyst for overdue educational reform.  We need to provide all of our young people with an education that motivates them to learn, and enables them to discover what they are good at.  ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ is intended to act as nothing less than a wake-up call.”

By exploring some of the more innovative approaches to education around the world, the film offers a glimpse of the future.  It shows how much more flexible, exciting and engaging learning could be for young people - and how our education system could support them in identifying and making the most of their individual talents.

Following the premiere of ‘We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For’ on Tuesday 17th November the film will be released online on request at and will also be syndicated free with the Guardian on Saturday 28th November

Sounds great to me, cant wait to check it out.

How cool is this?

HT: A Burgess

This site shows you all the ships currently tracked by this site and married to Google maps. Fascinating. Check out the English channel or the panama canal. Shows passenger vessels, cargo vessels, tankers, etc. etc.

I went to look at the northern and western Indian Ocean but couldn't see any ships. Obviously the database isn't fully updated, but still, cool :)

I know, I know, I am a nerd. This is like a giant railway set :)

Monday, November 16

Netherlands and its minorities

Came across two articles on how Netherlands are dealing with their minority issue. If you recall, this is the land where Theo van Gogh was killed by a rather lunatic idiot and since then, minorities, specially Muslim, have had issues.

First article related to how Dutch Egyptians have problems with their children’s education. This made me seriously wonder how on earth are we going to improve if male patriarchies are going to be simultaneously try to control their daughters, give them crap education and then at the same time, steal from the benefits system. What on earth is going on with these chaps? For them to say that an Egyptian State school education is better than a Dutch state school education is frankly ludicrous. They are suffering from delusion. I quote:

The ministry's investigation revealed several reasons why parents in Amsterdam are sending their children to Egypt. "It appears that the parents feel the quality of education in Egypt is higher than in the Netherlands," Dijkstra wrote to parliament in April. "A number of them feel the culture and the education package in Egypt is more appropriate." Other parents cited conflicts between ethnic groups at school, or personal reasons like divorce or illness.

A more varied picture emerges from a dozen interviews with the parents of Egyptian-Dutch children conducted by NRC Handelsblad in Egypt. None of the parents wanted to see their full name in print, mostly because they were afraid to lose child support or other benefits.

Adel may say his main motive was economic, but he complained most about the freedom and rights granted to children in the Netherlands. He is afraid to lose custody if he spanks his children. His brother's conviction for child kidnapping scared him. After divorcing his Dutch wife, Adel's brother had taken their two children to Egypt in violation of the custody agreement. When he returned to the Netherlands for work he was arrested and sent to prison for three years.

This is seriously stupid, the reason why these immigrants went to the Netherlands was to participate and earn from Dutch culture. Do they think that the economy, culture and earnings in Netherlands came from a culture, educational system which was akin to Egypt? if so, why leave in the first place? Its again these men being stupid. And nobody seems to think of the children’s rights either.

Second article related to rates of intermarriage. Now intermarriage is usually taken as a very good indicator of improving race relations. According to this note, and I quote:

Over 90 percent of Turkish and Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands who got married in 2008 did so with someone out of their own ethnic group. Less than 10 percent married a white Dutch person, according to the Central Bureau for Statistics (CBS).

Last year, 28,000 people of non-Dutch origin got married. Over half were non-Western immigrants (the rest being Western immigrants), of whom about half were Turkish and Moroccan, most of them born in the Netherlands or having come there shortly after they were born abroad.

Seven in 10 Western brides and bridegrooms married a white Dutch partner. Among the non-Western immigrants, this was less than 25 percent. Among Turks alone, the figure was just 8 percent, and among Moroccans, only 7 percent. Surinamese and Antilleans (about 30 percent) boosted the figure for the whole non-Western group.

Around 15 percent of the non-Western immigrants and almost none of their Western counterparts that got married did so with a partner coming over from the country of origin. Among Turks and Moroccans, this figure was 20 and 14 percent respectively.

Sixty-three percent of the Dutch Turks who married, married another Turk already living in the Netherlands. For Moroccans, this domestic 'own group' figure was as much as 70 percent.

For years, over 80 percent of non-Westerners have got married to a partner of the same origin. Since 2004, when the rules for migration marriages were tightened up, 'import' marriages have become less frequent but not domestic 'own group' marriages.

Looks like there is a fair way to go still.

Sunday, November 15

More cars being sold in China than USA

The graphic from the Economist says it all.

Hello USA, Bye USA. :) but how far would this go? Pretty far. Its your proverbial “if Chinamen added 1 inch to their shirt tails…” situation.

Look at the trend, and there is no reason to assume that the trend would slow in the next 5-10 years, then we can very well end up with sales in China being double that of USA. What will that do to the industrial production and economics of the world, eh?

OIC defends “defamation of religion” proposal in letter to UN

You might know my opinion about the OIC. I think this is a truly venal organisation. It is breathtaking in its hypocrisy and is spectacular in its ignorance. Not to mention having a sense of self righteousness that is truly pukable.

I read about the latest puke outpouring here. I quote:

After suffering heavy public criticism, the Organization of the Islamic Conference defended its proposal to ban criticism of Islam in a letter addressed to a UN committee charged with defining the norms of anti-racism. It also resorted to attacking Western countries, mentioning only Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK as human rights violators, ignoring the suppression and oppression of religious minorities in Muslim countries.

The October 29th letter, sent to Idriss Jazairy, chairman of the “Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards,” was submitted by Pakistani representative Zamir Akram. It employs the same problematic logic seen during the committee sessions to justify criminalizing religious dissent.

The OIC letter argues that depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in newspaper cartoons amount to “psychological violence” and must therefore be prosecutable under international law. The letter says that “there already exist several schools of thought in Islam,” suggesting that sufficient exchange of ideas about Islam need only occur within its doctrinal sects. It lambastes the “malafide intentions” of Western countries that are fighting to protect freedom of expression. Specifically, Akram says that “hierarchical interpretations of fundamental freedoms” unfairly protect Jews against Holocaust denial. Finally, it attacks Universal Declaration of Human Rights for failing to take a “victim oriented approach” in addressing the plight of religious groups.

Seriously, go read the letter. I mean, come on. Dont you guys think you know what you come across as? You come across as whiners. You come across as people who are not liberal (in the classical enlightenment sense). You come across guys who are in a playground pointing fingers, he did it, Miss, why cant I do it. You have no idea about history. You dont understand basic concepts such as freedom of speech. You cannot distinguish between events such as Holocaust and anti-Semitism. You have no conception of freedom of the media. You do not understand pluralism. You have no coherent way of arguing why the world needs to listen to you. You belong to and represent usually undemocratic countries and then have the teremity to complain about non-representation. You have no idea about individual rights but decide that group rights, as defined by you, are important.

You Sirs, are a bunch of idiots. And while you are at it, get a good editor.

Also see this very interesting and useful policy brief. I quote the exec summary:

Over the past decade, countries from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have been working through the United Nations system to advance the problematic idea that there should be laws against the so-called “defamation of religions.”  Although touted as a solution to the very real problems of religious persecution and discrimination, the OIC-sponsored UN resolutions on this issue instead provide justification for governments to restrict religious freedom and free expression.  They also provide international legitimacy for existing national laws that punish blasphemy or otherwise ban criticism of a religion, which often have resulted in gross human rights violations.  These resolutions deviate sharply from universal human rights standards by seeking to protect religious institutions and interpretations, rather than individuals, and could help create a new international anti-blasphemy norm.  

In addition to seeking a new norm through these resolutions, OIC countries have argued in various UN contexts that existing international standards prohibiting advocacy of hatred and incitement already outlaw “defamation of religions.”  However, the provisions on which they rely—Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)—provide only limited exceptions to the fundamental freedoms of expression and religion.  These provisions were intended to protect individuals from violence or discrimination, not to protect religious institutions or ideas from criticism, and they should not be expanded to cover allegedly religiously defamatory speech.  Such an expansion, which unfortunately may have been lent support by new language on negative religious stereotyping and incitement in a recent UN Human Rights Council freedom of expression resolution, would undermine international human rights guarantees, including the freedom of religion.  It also would undermine the institutions that protect universal human rights worldwide.

These Muslim governments are doing a dis-service to their religion, their heritage and basic humanity in trying to push for this obscurantist view. Disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves. Sighs, what am I saying? What shame?