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Sunday, February 29, 2004

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Saturday, February 28, 2004

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Thursday, February 26, 2004
topos theory

I'm sure many of you have the same impression that I had when seeing this stuff, namely that it's a bit quixotic for a high-powered mathematician to be reformulating the foundations of classical mechanics here at the turn of the 21st century, instead of working on something "cutting-edge" like string theory. Even if Lawvere's approach is better, one can't help but wonder if it gives truly new insights, or just a clearer formulation of existing ones. And either way, one can't help wonder: does he actually expect enough people to learn this stuff to make a difference? Does he really think topos theory can break the Microsoft-like grip that ordinary set theory has on mathematics?

(Note the software analogy raising its ugly head again. Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory is a bit like the Windows operating system: once you're locked into it, it's hard to imagine breaking out. You use it because everyone else does and you're too lazy to do anything about it. Topos theory is more like the "open source" movement: you're welcome and even expected to keep tinkering with the code.)

grouping scheme

Now, don't get the idea from the quote above that this article is a Pentium M vs. PowerPC 970 comparison, because it isn't. But there are enough surprising and suggestive similarities between the two processors that I do make it a point to keep the 970 in mind while discussing the Pentium M. And the fact that the two processors are worth thinking about together, when coupled with recent news about Prescott's sky-high power consumption, says something about the kinds of non-mobile niches in which the Pentium M (or a direct descendent of it) could end up. So read on to learn more about the Pentium M and what might have been, and what might yet be...

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004
newyorker (via metafilter)

one of the cruellest movies in the history of the cinema

suntimes (via remainder)

This is the most violent film I have ever seen.

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Monday, February 23, 2004
from the feb. 19 wsj

For Asia's Maids,
Years of Abuse
Spill Into the Open

Amid Big Economic Changes,
Hong Kong, Singapore
Move to Address Problem

By REBECCA BUCKMAN and TRISH SAYWELL
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

During her 18-hour days as a live-in maid for a Hong Kong housewife, Rusmini Gunung says she endured threats, sleep deprivation and brutal beatings. Then one October morning about three years ago, the 30-year-old Indonesian woman asked her boss, Leung Yee Kwan, what she wanted for lunch.

This enraged Ms. Leung, who lashed out at the maid for not planning the menu sooner, Ms. Rusmini says in an interview. Then Ms. Leung -- who filled her afternoons with golf lessons, facials and hair treatments, according to court documents -- pummeled Ms. Rusmini so hard with her feet and fists that the maid's liver ruptured.

"Whenever I fell over from the violence of the attack, she would order me to kneel up or squat again, and start kicking or hitting me again," Ms. Rusmini later testified in Hong Kong's District Court. Ms. Rusmini was taken to the hospital after vomiting blood and passing out in the Fo Tan station of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, where she stopped on her way to seek help after the beating. Today, Ms. Rusmini has recovered, and Ms. Leung is serving a 3½-year sentence on assault charges.

Maids are mistreated in many countries. But in Asia, where well-heeled territories such as Hong Kong and Singapore have long depended on a steady flow of migrant domestics, the abuse is now spilling into the open and sparking public outrage. Lawyers and social workers tell of jam-packed shelters and domestics suffering everything from starvation to rape.

High-profile abuse cases in Hong Kong have helped force a crackdown on those who underpay or otherwise mistreat domestics. The government last year set up a task force to target employers who underpay their maids and is preparing new leaflets and public-service announcements.

The situation is more grisly in Singapore, where officials have in the past year publicly exhorted locals to treat domestics better; one senior official told citizens to stop treating their maids like slaves. Ninety-nine maids plunged to their deaths from the city-state's many high-rise buildings in a 4½-year period ending last June. Most of the deaths involved maids from Indonesia, and some of the deaths are believed to be suicides, according to the Indonesian embassy in Singapore. The rest of the women are believed by officials to have perished after cleaning the outside glass or hanging laundry. The city-state's acting manpower minister told the Straits Times of Singapore last month that he would take a harder line against employers who endangered the lives of their maids in this way.

The reasons for this cruelty are complex. A longstanding caste system separates rich Asians from their poorer brethren, generally people with darker skin who live and toil in less-developed outposts such as rural Indonesia, India or the Philippines. As the Asian economic miracle transformed former colonies including Hong Kong and Singapore into gleaming, Western-style metropolises in the 1980s and 1990s, those territories' contrast with the rest of Asia became more stark. And middle-class people, wanting to show off their wealth, hired more and more maids from other parts of Asia.

But the Asian economy has lost some steam lately and has not fully recovered from the region's devastating financial crisis in 1997. The more recent emergence of China as a low-cost alternative for manufacturing has made matters worse, sucking jobs out of Hong Kong and Singapore, weakening entire industries and forcing the territories to re-invent themselves as economic powers. All of this has increased the pressure building on cash-strapped families.

Economic dislocation in Asia's more desperate nations is also a factor. The Philippines and Indonesia, most notably, remain in political and economic disarray more than six years after the financial crisis.

It isn't surprising, then, that all this has prompted a little-noticed demographic shift in the Asian-maid trade over the last few years. While traditional labor providers such as the Philippines continue to export maids, new, cheaper suppliers have sprung up, most notably Indonesia but also countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal. Many women in these countries say they see no other option but to work overseas to support their families -- and many wind up tolerating inhumane and cruel conditions for a paycheck, however small.

Government officials in Hong Kong and Singapore dispute that things are worse for the roughly 360,000 foreign-born domestics employed on the two islands. They point out that many maids are treated with dignity by their employers and that professional women in the cities have been able to work because of the availability of cheap, live-in domestic help. But advocates for maids say a trend is clear: Abuse is getting more brazen and more widespread, particularly among vulnerable, less educated women from countries such as Indonesia. These women are generally paid less than those from the Philippines.

"It's a new kind of slavery," says Edwina Antonio-Santoyo, executive director of Bethune House, a Hong Kong shelter for domestics in the city's busy Kowloon neighborhood. Some of her clients have been raped, she says, while others are never paid at all. One woman, who just left the shelter after three years in residence, had been burned on the neck with an iron.

At the shelter, actually just a few rooms in a ramshackle building next to a church, 32 women recently were vying for 22 beds. Some were sleeping on the floor and others on a donated black-leather sofa. Though the shelter was originally set up to serve maids from the Philippines, the clients are now mostly from other countries. In Hong Kong, about 37% of foreign maids come from Indonesia, up from about 5% a decade ago, statistics compiled by the Hong Kong immigration department show. Bethune House, like most shelters in the city, depends on donations and food drives to survive.

Most of the women are stuck in the shelter while they wait out a lengthy legal process in cases against their former bosses. A maid who quits her job or is fired can only remain in Hong Kong for 14 days unless she has such a case pending. During that time, she's not supposed to work. The so-called "two week" rule gives maids a disincentive to report mistreatment, critics of the system say.

Advocates for the maids say many are abused or fired because of economic pressure. "People are having their own difficulties and problems, and taking it out on their maids," says Kim Warren, who manages an aid program for migrant workers run by the Christian Action charity in Hong Kong.

Domestics often are locked in homes and sleep in crowded rooms with children or on the floor. Kusmirah Mujadi, a 22-year-old Indonesian working in Singapore, "slept in the kitchen like a dog," says her mother, Ponirah, who lives in central Java. "If there were leftovers, she'd eat them. If not, she had nothing."

Ms. Kusmirah, who later moved back to Indonesia to look for work in Jakarta, bears terrible scars from her brief tenure as a domestic two years ago. For more than a month, her female employer punished her by repeatedly biting her breasts, according to a statement of facts filed in her criminal abuse case in the Subordinate Courts of Singapore. Eventually, one of the maid's nipples fell off. Ms. Kusmirah's boss, Chow Yen Ping, a 30-year-old hospital administrator, was sent to prison for five years.

Others don't survive to tell such gruesome tales. Muawanatul Chasanah died of internal bleeding after her former employer kicked her so hard her stomach ruptured. Ms. Muawanatul, just a teenager when she left Indonesia to work in Singapore, also had been starved, burned on the lips and palms with cigarettes, scalded with hot water, punched in the face and whipped with a cane, according to a statement of facts in a criminal case before the High Court of Singapore.

Her attacker, 47-year-old tour guide Ng Hua Chye, told officials he resorted to force because he was unhappy with his maid's household skills and suspected her of stealing food. He was sentenced to more than 18 years in jail and 12 strokes of a cane. His wife was also convicted separately on abuse charges.

Singapore is one of the most Westernized cities in Asia. The city-state says it is concerned about the domestic workers who labor in one of every seven homes. In March, after a string of violent incidents involving maids, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong beseeched Singaporeans: "It is vital that employers respect their domestic maids and look after them properly, as invaluable helpers in our households, and not as slaves or chattel."

Foreign-born maids in Singapore, however, lack some basic protections. In Hong Kong, foreign domestics are covered by special work visas and employers must sign a government-drafted employment contract specifying, among other things, that maids be paid a minimum wage. But Singapore doesn't have a standard employment contract for maids, nor does it include them under its National Employment Act. That means Singapore employers are not required to grant maids days off. They are not guaranteed a minimum wage. Maids can be dismissed with little notice and deported not long after.

Singapore officials say it is impossible to regulate work in private homes. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong says Indonesian maids, in particular, are "naive" compared with women from countries such as the Philippines, so they might not be well-served by time off. "They come straight from the villages ... they are allowed a day off, within a short time they will be exploited by many unscrupulous people outside," Mr. Goh said in a recent interview. "So to protect them, agents advise the employers not to let them off."

Mr. Goh and other Singapore officials defend the city-state's treatment of foreign maids, claiming that the number of substantiated cases of abuse has fallen significantly since the government increased criminal penalties for maid abusers in 1998. Singapore also recently announced an accreditation program for the country's more than 700 maid-recruiting agencies, and it offers a free mediation service if maids come into conflict with their employers. Starting in April, new maids and first-time employers of maids will be required to take a half-day orientation course.

Hong Kong's permanent secretary for economic development and labor, Matthew Cheung, says his city, too, is "very concerned" about the [MAIDS']well-being of maids, though he says abuse is not common. The government recently set up a task force to try to stamp out maid underpayment, including cases in which employers have not paid the mandated minimum wage or withheld pay completely. So far, one employer has gone to jail for underpaying a maid.

But Mr. Cheung dismissed as "rubbish" figures from a government-funded study by an advocacy group more than two years ago that found 15% of all maids in Hong Kong did not receive the minimum wage, and 48% of Indonesian maids were underpaid. Recent interviews with more than a dozen current and former Hong Kong maids found that most earn between $230 and $256 a month during their first assignment -- well below the $419-a-month minimum. Most also said they didn't receive the mandatory weekly day off.

Maids in the U.S. are required to be paid a minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, which would add up to about $10,700 a year for those who work a 40-hour week.

In Indonesian outposts such as Blitar in East Java, Indonesia, an area that supplies many maids to Hong Kong, even the below-minimum salaries are enormous. Indonesia's per capita income is just $700 a year.

At one maid-employment agency in Blitar, where women get training in Cantonese and cooking before shipping out, trainees say they expect to earn no more than $256 a month in Hong Kong. That was fine with Surhidayah, a 29-year-old woman who said she earned only about $23 a month in her previous job as a live-in maid for a local police officer. Like many Indonesians, she uses only one name. "I want to earn much more money" and perhaps buy a house or start a business, she says, smiling shyly.

The rewards of overseas work are easy to see elsewhere on the island. Along a pockmarked road near Ponorogo, which cuts through lush, terraced hills growing crops such as corn and soybeans, locals point out the houses built with money sent home by migrant maids. The new-looking homes, perhaps every seventh or eighth one, sport fancy white columns, windows with panes of glass -- instead of simple openings with no glass -- and big, solid wooden doors.

There is now an entire terminal at Jakarta's international airport devoted to overseas workers. Outside, vendors charge inflated prices for snacks and drinks. Taxi drivers offer to drive returning migrants to the city for fares three times the normal rate. The area is sealed off from the public, and labor groups say unscrupulous agents demand surcharges before permitting maids to leave.

Lately, anger over the treatment of Indonesian migrants has reached a boiling point. This past fall, activists demanded that the government stop sending workers abroad until it can better protect them. But the women themselves have their own ideas. In October, 3,000 mostly female demonstrators marched in Jakarta asking the government not to restrict them from going abroad.

Igusti Made Arka, the director general for overseas employment in Indonesia's manpower department, says Indonesia just doesn't have the resources to protect its citizens overseas. "We have no people, we have no budget," Mr. Arka said in an interview last fall. "We just have a big problem."

Mariani Tajuddin, 33, illustrates the continuing allure of domestic work in Asia's gleaming cities despite its heavy human cost. The daughter of poor farmers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Ms. Mariani moved to Hong Kong more than six years ago. Then, a little over two years ago, her male employer began sexually harassing her, she says. She rebuffed his advances at first, but eventually gave in when he threatened to fire her. " 'I'll send you home,' " she recalls him saying. Within seven months, she was pregnant.

Ms. Mariani, a tiny, shy woman with long hair, says she worked in her employer's home until two days before giving birth to a son, Renaldo, in March 2002. As she lay in her hospital bed recovering, the employer's wife showed up to fire her. Ms. Mariani still keeps the one-page termination letter in a plastic folder with other important documents.

Workers at the Christian Action charity helped her win a case against the couple for maternity benefits and unlawful termination. She also has sought child support to help her take care of Renaldo. But her advocates at Christian Action say her employer and his wife have left town, making it unlikely she will ever collect money.

While waiting out her legal cases, Ms. Mariani and Renaldo lived for 18 months in a crowded shelter for homeless maids. Finally, in September, a local Anglican church put out a plea for donations and raised about $1,500 to cover her travel expenses to go home and give her some seed money to try to start a new life.

In a tearful meeting shortly after that, Ms. Mariani met the pastor, Stephen R. Durie, who raised the funds. She gave Rev. Durie a homemade thank-you card with a message written in Indonesian. "It's beautiful," Rev. Durie told her, fingering the lacy paper. Ms. Mariani dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

She and her son flew home in late September. But with few job prospects in Indonesia, Ms. Mariani says she may leave Renaldo with her mother and return to Hong Kong as a maid.

It's not an uncommon choice. Even Rusmini Gunung, the Hong Kong maid who collapsed in the train station, has stayed abroad. She now works for a new family, taking care of an elderly grandfather. She just took her first trip home in five years.

Her two children, a boy and a girl, "ask after their mother very often," says her husband, Yoyok Erwanto, who helps run his family's food kiosk in their village near Ponorogo.

Mr. Yoyok has enjoyed the fruits of his wife's labor. He lives with the children in a house that is grand by village standards. Bright-green tile adorns the facade, and a blue, faux-leather couch sits in the living room. Going abroad wasn't a bad decision, he maintains. It was simply "Rusmini's decision to change her fate."

Write to Rebecca Buckman at rebecca.buckman@wsj.com and Trish Saywell at trish.saywell@wsj.com
from the feb. 18 wsj
China's Changes Hit Children

Homelessness Rises
Amid Rural Poverty
And Frayed Safety Nets

By DAVID MURPHY
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

SHIJIAZHUANG, China -- Little Yong, as he is known, is a gritty, pint-size 13-year-old who left home in rural Guangxi province at the age of 10 and survived in China's southern boomtowns working for a gang of forgers. He used a marker pen to scrawl messages on walls, phone booths and other public areas advertising fake documents followed by a contact mobile-phone number. For each scrawl, he got about two cents.

Now he shares a dormitory in the dusty industrial city of Shijiazhuang with dozens of runaway children at a model shelter. He is part of a growing wave of homeless Chinese children, many of them victims of the dislocation taking place in families as China lurches from communism toward a raw brand of capitalism.

The size of the wave is unclear. China's Ministry of Civil Affairs estimates that the number of children under 16 living on the streets in China has risen 50% in the past decade to 150,000, according to the United Nations Childrens' Fund and Xinhua, the state-run news agency. (The ministry declined to provide figures directly for this article.)

Comparable statistics are far higher in the U.S.: The Department of Education says 930,000 cases of homeless children were reported by state education agencies in 2000, up from 327,000 in 1991. But the U.S. numbers can include children staying with friends or relatives, or who are part of families that are homeless. And some of the increase likely stems from greater efforts in the last decade to track such cases in the U.S.

In China, meanwhile, professionals in the field say the true figure is probably three or four times higher than official statistics suggest -- or as many as 600,000 -- and growing quickly in a system that is ill-prepared to cope. After decades of communist rule, there are few religious or other charitable organizations to take the children in, and the government is reluctant to sanction initiatives that aren't under the control of the Communist Party. Meanwhile, grass-roots party organizations and work units that used to take care of family breakdowns -- one factor, along with a rise in rural poverty, that is contributing to homeless children -- have diminishing influence. "Ten years ago, this was not such a serious problem; the work units used to take care of these problems. But not now," says Tong Lihua, a Beijing lawyer who specializes in child-protection cases.

Many of the children are from rural areas where poverty contrasts starkly with the new wealth in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Such children represent a section of society that -- like many others -- is being left behind in China's economic boom. Millions of state workers are losing their jobs, and millions of farmers are losing their land. Rural medical and education systems are struggling.

Amid all this change, increased education costs and the closing of remote schools are contributing to a growing school-dropout rate, analysts say. And the stress of poverty feeds family problems that drive children to run away. "Domestic violence, the inability to pay school fees and the failure of parents to take responsibility for their children are all related to poverty," says Mr. Tong.

Children at the Shijiazhuang center tell different stories to explain how they got there. Some say they were beaten by their fathers. One girl was abandoned at a railway station soon after her birth. She was taken in by an elderly woman, but when the woman died, the girl was back on the streets. One boy says he was kidnapped last spring, when he was six, taken to Beijing and forced to sell lamb kebabs. Many of the children ended up at the shelter after being picked up by police.

For the authorities, homeless children are basically a public-order problem. "Public-security departments find that they have become a formidable reserve army of criminals," Xinhua declared recently.

Indeed, many runaways must take care of themselves or work or beg for criminal gangs. Little Yong, whose name the shelter asked not be published because of his age, smuggled himself into tightly guarded Hong Kong in the belly of a public bus. "Hong Kong was great," he says. "I'd just show up at a small shop, and they'd give me some food for free." But the good times lasted only a week before the police caught him and returned him to a detention center across the border.

Central and local governments are starting to act. Around the country, 128 shelters have been set up for homeless children, according to Xinhua. They provide food and shelter but no education, and they lack the resources to trace the children's parents, says Guo Wenye, the deputy director of the Shijiazhuang shelter.

Regulations are also changing to accommodate the notion of children's rights. The Beijing city government passed rules on Jan. 1 that require it to house and support minors suffering abuse or other family problems. Amendments to national laws protecting minors are also on the agenda of the National People's Congress, which meets next month. But Mr. Tong says he doesn't expect those to be passed for another five years.

New rules, issued in August, also stipulate that when a homeless child is taken into a shelter, his or her parents -- or the local civil authorities in their registered place of residence -- are responsible for bringing the child home. This is meant to improve on the old system in which homeless people, including children, were subject to periodic sweeps by police and expulsion to their home province. But it shifts the financial burden onto often-penniless parents or local governments.

Having made contact with one child's parents in far western China, Mr. Guo was upset because the officials told him the county was too poor and asked that his shelter share the cost of sending the boy home. "That's impossible," Mr. Guo said. We "don't have the budget either."

--Nancy Zhang contributed to this article.

Write to David Murphy at david.murphy@feer.com

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Sunday, February 22, 2004
smartypants

I walk toward her and then I stop. Because there is a guy lying in the street, exactly parallel to her car, with a bloody face and something Very Wrong with his head and we back away with our mittens to our mouths like stupid fucking cliché Girls. By this time another pedestrian, a kid from the suburbs who was also at the show, has joined us on the sidewalk and he is nearly as freaked out as we are. I cannot emphasize how quiet it was. I cannot explain to you how wrong it is to see someone laid out on the fucking street, hideously injured, possibly dead, and have there be no one there but you and your friend and one suburban stocking hat boy. I call 911 on the cell phone immediately and right after I punch the "off" button (no one told me to stay on the line like they do in the re-creations) there are sirens and a police car comes around the corner and there is yelling and an ambulance shows up but does not do anything, they mostly stand around. More and more cops arrive. A sergeant takes our information, although we did not see anything useful. The sergeant also off-handedly says "yeah, he didn't make it." Suburban Stocking Hat Boy says something like, "I can't be sure, but I thought he was moving when I first saw him," and I want to punch SSHB in the face because shut up. The situation is already unspeakably obscene, I really don't need to think that I possibly witnessed someone's last moments. Not his mother or girlfriend or brother, but me.
banubula
The wedding was in a small old medieval church. This was a full british wedding with the men in top hats and the women wearing long gloves. It was a small spectacle. Each of the reception tables was named after a country that Ian and Jessica had lived in. Ian's family composed and sang a capella (his family is full of wonderful singers) a piece they had put together for the affair. We stayed up all night, drinking, teaching each other new dances, telling intimate stories.

As the dawn broke, the entire wedding party walked across the countryside, crossing farmlands single-file behind the bride and groom like one of those animated promenades from a fellini movie. We arrived at a small pub that had been expecting us all for breakfast. Many of us continued to drink and toast. The bride and groom announced that for their honeymoon they were headed off an another adventure - they were heading to Bangladesh.

I just saw them a few months ago on my way back from Germany and stayed at their house in London. I have never seen them so domestic, arguing about the plumbers bill or about what plants belonged in the garden.

It was only recently that Jessica told me that a child was on the way.

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Friday, February 20, 2004
survival of the fittest (via waggish)

"Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians. There are cases in which the overall, final good justifies harsh and cruel acts that are committed in the course of history."

the adjective -- so ludic (via gulfstream)

"Most adjectives are ... unnecessary. Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don't stop to think that the concept is already in the noun."

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Thursday, February 19, 2004
prolix

"He makes me feel simultaneously ashamed to be alive and at the same time proud, because it seems there's no time as generous and tacky and sublime and absurd as the present. But there's something so self-conscious about it, so forced, like he's actually a ghost who's observed contemporary society for a hundred years and has to write a term paper on it."

sdfsdf

"Ummm I think that is all to report at this very moment in time. I shaved my brothers back tonight after I cut his hair. And yesterday I went to my old flat to hang with my old flatmates for a little while... ok I lie... One of the guy's friends was there and I went to have a perve >:) I'm such a loser and proud!"

[:: comment! :]

Tuesday, February 17, 2004
power and population in asia (via blogdex)

asia's richest/biggest business families (via addl)

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Monday, February 16, 2004
rich gold (via worldchanging)

brian hayes (via metafilter)

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Saturday, February 14, 2004
how history made the mind (via OG)

"The Greeks looked at things as they were, and that is the beginning of what we call the Western Tradition. It's the mind as we now know it, capable of objective thinking."

reality/illusion in the brain (via plastique)

"We might let the monkeys know that they are making a mistake and see how they rectify that. What I think is most interesting involves motor learning. We want to see how the brain learns and adapts its encoding parameters to account for visual illusions."

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Friday, February 13, 2004
conformal geometry

Projective geometry provides the preferred framework for most implementations of Euclidean space in graphics applications. Translations and rotations are both linear transformations in projective geometry, which helps when it comes to programming complicated geometrical operations. But there is a fundamental weakness in this approach - the Euclidean distance between points is not handled in a straightforward manner. Here we discuss a solution to this problem, based on conformal geometry. The language of geometric algebra is best suited to exploiting this geometry, as it handles the interior and exterior products in a single, unified framework. A number of applications are discussed, including a compact formula for reflecting a line off a general spherical surface.

closed universes

Experimental evidence points firmly to the existence of some form of dark energy in the universe. The simplest explanation for this is the existence of a cosmological constant, which encourages the consideration of spatially closed universes of de Sitter type. Conformal embedding in a de Sitter background suggests a boundary condition for cosmological models, which can explain the size of the cosmological constant. For this boundary condition to give rise to physically acceptable models an inflationary period is required. Contrary to some claims in the literature, we show that it is quite straightforward to construct consistent models of inflation in a closed universe. The models require no fine tuning, except in the mass of the scalar field. Our theory naturally predicts the observed values of the cosmological parameters and fits the WMAP data extremely well. The primordial curvature spectrum predicts the low-l fall-off in the CMB power spectrum observed by WMAP. The spectrum also predicts a fall-off in the matter spectrum at high k, relative to a power law.

[:: comment! :]

Wednesday, February 11, 2004
seeing how plants split water (via ars technica :)

This week, the UK's Imperial College and Japan Science and Technology Corp. announced they have determined the photosynthetic reaction center at high resolution. Three manganese atoms, a calcium atom and four oxygen atoms form a cube-like structure that brings stability to the catalytic center. A fourth manganese atom attached to the oxygen atom is highly reactive and gives strong clues to how the catalytic water splitting occurs. If researchers can replicate the catalytic center, it could be used as a basis of providing a source of hydrogen on a large scale. Nature had a several-million-year headstart on the scientists, but hopefully with current tech, it won't take scientists as long to unlock the secrets of water splitting.
crystal breaks surface area record (via ars technica)
If and/or when scientists are able to use this knowledge to provide hydrogen on a large-scale basis, they may have a new molecule to use for hydrogen storage and transportation. Researchers at the University of Michigan and Arizona State University have created a new molecule which has the largest internal surface area ever observed. The molecule was relatively simple to make and in absorption tests, the teams were able to absorb nearly 1290 mg of nitrogen per gram of material. The teams will be testing the material for absorption of other gases such as hydrogen. If absorption of hydrogen is high enough, the new material may be quite useful for storage to be used in hydrogen-fueled cars and other fuel cell powered machines.

[:: comment! :]

Tuesday, February 10, 2004
interactive fictions

The Infocom "Z-code" format was reverse engineered, however, and today the open "Inform" standard is a cornerstone of a small but lively hobbyist community. The authors that are left spend time thinking about why they do it, why they care about an art form that a few thousand people, tops, care about. People like Emily Short and Adam Cadre are theorists, as well as practicioners. Some of their most acclaimed work -- Cadre's award-winning Photopia (described by the author as, among other things, an attempt to do a game in the style of Quantum and Woody writer Christopher J. Priest), Short's Galatea, entirely eschew the features that made adventure games games: a series of obstacles, usually solvable through logic, that stood in the way of the larger goal toward which the protagonist progressed.
mightiest mortal
Once upon a time, there was a plucky boy reporter for WHIZ radio named Billy Batson. Led by a mysterious dark figure down the abandoned subway tunnel at Slumm Street and Ninth, past grotesques of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man, to a mysterious cave where the ancient Egyption wizard Shazam awaited him. Sitting on his throne, beneath a stone block hung by a thread, the wizard tells Billy to speak his name and be transformed into Captain Marvel, the world's mightiest mortal! From 1940 until 1953, hundreds of thousands of children enjoyed the wonderfully ridiculous adventures of the "Big Red Cheese", Captain Marvel. A pulp writer of no particular distinction named Otto Binder hit his stride. As Binder took over the writing, things got weirder and weirder.

[:: comment! :]

Sunday, February 8, 2004
blind date (via metafilter)

"I brought along a pair of traditional German lederhosen and mountaineering hat. They said 'dress to impress', but did they specify which country (or era in history)?! I think I succeeded."

pimple stories (via j/k :)

"It is rather satisfying when you have One of Those Zits that has the solid stuff in it, and when you squeeze it, it shoots out on to the mirror."

[:: comment! :]

Saturday, February 7, 2004
erstwhile

"I'm usually nervous on the train but last night was the first time in a long time I felt like something bad was going to happen - the typical scenarios: nerve gas or somehow a collision in the middle of one of the tunnels. And when I, the sole survivor, would be interviewed on the news later I'd be all about telling them how uncomfortable things felt on the train, the old guy standing by the door who kept glancing towards something and nodding, like he was having a conversation with somebody, but nobody was there."

masterkill

"My aunt (who looks very much like my mother, just for reference) knows Michelle Yeoh, which is how I got to meet her. I met her three times before leaving Ipoh. She, like just about everyone, was very charming, and a thoughtful host. (Though she did make me eat durian, a fruit famous for tasting great and smelling foul. I didn’t like the taste.) She looks more her age in person than she does in her movies (she’s 41). She also has much skinnier legs than you’d expect. (I guess that last bit of information isn’t terribly important.)"

[:: comment! :]

Thursday, February 5, 2004
systemantics

evolve

[:: comment! :]

Wednesday, February 4, 2004
fucking amazing

fucking brilliant

[:: comment! :]

Monday, February 2, 2004
chills all through my body

I read this today and it sent chills all through my body:

froze me in my tracks

I followed a link to William Carlos Williams's poem "This is Just to Say" this morning, and it froze me in my tracks. So much in just 12 lines. I want a plum.

[:: comment! :]

Sunday, February 1, 2004
what they left behind (via metafilter)

Craig Williams, a curator at the New York State Museum, drove four hours to visit Willard Psychiatric Center in the spring of 1995. The complex, located 65 miles southwest of Syracuse, was about to shut down after more than 100 years ... a staffer suggested he check out the attic of an abandoned building, and that's when he found 400 suitcases covered by decades of dust and pigeon droppings.

roman soldier: dear dad... (via plastic)

A Princeton undergrad rediscovered some 2000-yr-old papyri that had been excavated in Egypt in the 1920's and 30's, then forgotten. The papyri--a collection of personal letters by a Roman soldier named Tiberianus--is considered a breakthrough discovery for private life and the Empire at large.

[:: comment! :]

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