Last First Day of School

Well, today was my first day of senior year. I enjoyed it and liked the fact that many of my friends are in my classes throughout the day. I also like my teachers and hope to enjoy the classes themselves, though I did get a fair amount of homework today.
That's all. Because of this + college apps, my blogging will probably decrease in frequency for a while. However, this blog isn't dead yet!


Autofailblog: BMW-badged Mule

The Autofailblog series is an allusion to both Autoblog (of which I am a commenter) which reports on car news and other car-related stuff and Failblog (which I frequent) which shows pictures of funny stupid things people have done.
This particular image was taken from Failblog.

For those who can't see quite right, that's a rider on what looks like a mule; the mule (or whatever it is) has the famous BMW roundel on its head.
What's with that? Is this the new "Ultimate Driving Machine"?
Introducing the new BMW M0.00003 xDrive! (The M stands for "Mule" and alludes to BMW M, the 0.00003 alludes to the mule's lack of power compared to, say, a real BMW M3, and xDrive indicates all-wheel (or in this case, all-leg) drive, for car-neophytes.)
What's next, the Audi leg-Quattro?


Kennedy, Edward Moore (1932-2009)

Folks, Ted Kennedy died last night. He was suffering from brain cancer and had been out of the Senate for a few months.
I really admired him because he was able to back up his natural charisma and his heritage with real legislative accomplishments (which was something his brothers didn't really do, to be followed). He was truly committed to helping the poor through health care reform and bringing them up the economic ladder. He really wanted to help immigrants get decent jobs in this country and work their way towards citizenship. He helped outlaw most forms of discrimination against the disabled and helped them have a better life through more supportive school and work environments (I directly benefit from this). He wanted to make sure racial and ethnic minorities are not targets of discrimination.
However, though I am a liberal, I do not worship JFK like so many other liberals do. I find it somewhat appalling and on the same level as GOP worship of Ronald Reagan. He never really had any notable legislative accomplishments like Ted did. As President, he totally botched the Bay of Pigs invasion and was only saved by the waiting game (or, as the Germans say it, sitzkrieg) that was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Though he tried to contain communism in Latin America through humanitarian means, he started the disaster that was the Vietnam War. His mediation of the conflicts between Britain and Ireland were tainted by his own Irish background. His efforts to rid Iraq of communism brought the Baath Party (and ultimately Saddam Hussein himself) in power through bloody civil wars. He allowed the FBI to wiretap MLKJr because J. Edgar Hoover suspected he was a communist (and Hoover and JFK were close friends, somewhat negatively affecting JFK's progress with civil rights). Furthermore, he essentially wiped out the Seneca nation through relocation due to the building of a dam, making him break a campaign promise.
Please comment if you are a liberal who does not admire JFK (or even comment anyway)!


Health Care Reform as of 25 August 2009

Things I heard on the radio and read online yesterday about health care reform included how Taiwan and Australia got through health care reform and made health care available to everyone at a low cost.
In Taiwan, apparently, doctors don't get paid nearly as much as they do here. There, they are ordinary middle class citizens (like many would otherwise want to be here) who just want to make a decent living for them and their family and help their patients out. They don't require driving a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or owning a villa in the countryside as a summer home. At the same time, medical school there has only a nominal fee, compared to the exorbitant (>$50000) yearly prices here. They modeled their system after Canada's and the liberal party pushed it as a moral obligation as Taiwan has become a rich country and thus must bring up its poor people too. The conservative party initially resisted it (though not as strongly as Republicans do here) but saw resistance as futile due to increasing push from the liberal party; in fact, the plan got so popular that the conservative party later on tried to take credit for the plan by fully supporting it. Essentially the same thing happened in Australia. Both countries have national health care plans to provide for all citizens decent care.
I wish it could happen that way in the US as well, but it probably won't. The Republican Party is too vocal and too united for it to happen; it appalls me how powerful the party is and how it can make us look like such a backwards country at times. Furthermore, all of the planted protesters at town hall meetings are supposed to gain some sort of publicity for the GOP and thus make it look like that level of dissent is present in the entire country.
It saddens me that Obama is willing to do not the right thing by forcing the issue of a public option but the expedient thing by brushing off the idea to placate his political opponents. Hopefully once some groundwork is lain for a national health care system a public option can again come to the forefront of the debate.

Torture as of 25 August 2009

The biggest news out there now seems to be about the recent decision by the Obama Administration to investigate the actions from the previous Administration regarding "enhanced interrogation techniques" (i.e. torture). There has been a litany of articles out there both for and against investigation. I'm sure many of the articles against it are because investigations will taint the author, but some have legitimate concerns about how it will affect the country if it is done at the same time as the economic recovery, health care reform, and energy reform. My take follows.
President Obama pledged in his Inaugural Address that the government would do the right thing, even (or especially) if it wasn't the easiest or most expedient thing to do. I would say health care reform and the investigation of the previous Administration's actions regarding torture are the best examples of this that exist right now. Most opinions that argue against investigation argue for expedience and moving on. I beg to differ. This is a nation built upon the rule of law, so if we don't at least investigate the actions in question if not prosecute the people in question, we are essentially letting off the previous Administration for actions that could have more easily occurred in a dictatorship. They smashed the law to pieces and we can't let that slide as a nation.
Furthermore, many against investigation, some within the previous Administration (most notably Dick Cheney), have said that the memos about torture would vindicate the means by showing the successful ends (i.e. that torture really did provide valuable information about future terrorist threats). They also add that torture would be invaluable in the ticking time bomb scenario, in which a terrorist suspect who is caught must spill all the beans if a terrorist attack were to happen a few hours later. Both are patently false.
Look at the case of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan (the torture was carried out by the CIA, who essentially dumped FBI interrogators and ignored the information they got though the FBI interrogators were far more experienced with this than their CIA counterparts). He was tasked with interrogating terror suspect Abu Zubaydah; he did not torture once, and he even managed to get the respect of Zubaydah through kinder (that's relative) but persistent questioning. When Zubaydah kept denying his identity, Soufan searched through Zubaydah's files and found that his [Zubaydah's] mother called him "Hani" as a pet name; when Soufan used this against him, he was stunned and gave out a whole lot of information. Soufan managed to gain his respect by giving him sugar-free cookies at a meeting once (due to Zubaydah's diabetes) and they managed to share a laugh at Zubaydah's request for a Coke after he railed against capitalism. Later, when Soufan showed a bunch of photographs of other terror suspects to Zubaydah, the latter identified that of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by the alias "Mukhtar"; the FBI knew who K. S. Mohammed was but was stumped by the persistent appearence of the alias "Mukhtar" in al-Qaeda's internal communications and could not make the connection until then - no torture required. Then, CIA interrogators essentially kicked out Soufan and began waterboarding Zubaydah; they got 0.0 useful information from him.
Then consider the idea of the ticking time bomb scenario. The idea is that under such constraints of time, torture is the easiest, fastest, and most effective method of interrogation. This is also false, in that rarely does the ticking time bomb scenario occur (it's more of a thought experiment, really), and when it has occurred, regular interrogation has proved as useful if not more so than torture in the same scenario. Look at the case of when Saddam Hussein was captured. Soldiers in Iraq did a few on-the-spot interrogations (on the streets or in homes) of terror suspects and ordinary citizens, using classic psychological methods such as threatening shame upon the person and his family if they didn't talk (among other methods). Successful interrogation led to the capture of Saddam 6 hours later - no torture required.
I'm glad that Obama is pursuing investigations of these actions, as that should bring up our moral standing in the world again.


Movie Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

This is the first in the series of reviews I will post on this blog in the title form "[Category] Review: [Title...]".
Last night my cousins and I decided to watch a movie, so that's the one we picked.
[alert type="synopsis"]
It's about a German boy who's dad is a Nazi SS Guard who has been restationed such that he and his family live near the Jewish death camp that he must lead. The boy loves exploring on his own and soon finds the camp, meeting a Jewish boy in the camp across the fence in the process and becoming friends with the Jewish boy.
(I may use tongue-in-cheek HTML syntax a lot. However, they will be in square brackets as the text editor interprets tongue-in-cheek HTML as real HTML, so the syntax won't show up when published - only blanks will.)
[alert type="spoiler"]
The boy, on the day he and his family must move away, digs a hole under the fence to get into the camp to play with the Jewish boy in disguise of a boy in the camp. However, all of the Jews in the labor camp are rounded up, and while the family tries to find their missing son, the boy and his Jewish friend are sentenced to death by gassing and are gassed (too late for the family to save him).
I actually learned of the ending from one of the cousins who stayed up to watch it. I didn't have the guts to continue when the boy started digging under the fence.
The film makers did an excellent job with the movie, what with all of the great dialogue, shots, and background music. The music was oddly playful and ominous simultaneously and that's what made it so freaky.
Granted, I can easily be scared by a movie scene, but this was really disturbing from start to finish. All Holocaust movies are, and though I haven't seen a particularly graphic one yet, this is still a chilling movie.
My cousin who suggested it said it's a kid's Holocaust movie.
(1) That's not possible simply because of what the Holocaust was.
(2) It may technically be true if only in relation to other more graphic Holocaust movies.
He also suggested that this was the best way to introduce them to the subject. I beg to differ. I would suggest, as it is done today, a light discussion of it at school and then a serious follow-up at home or at school later. This is the best way to clear up the many doubts that form in the younger child's mind.
Sure, it's rated PG because it has no sex, violence, or profanity, but it is an extremely weighty subject that needs to be dealt with carefully.
I think it's a great movie, but it should be re-rated to PG-13 (at least), because it's definitely not kid-friendly if only because of the underlying subject matter itself.


What does beauty require?

A few days ago, my parents were making plans to go to the beach yesterday. I was really excited.
Then yesterday morning, I was told that the beach plan would be replaced with a trip to Luray Caverns.
It wasn't that we weren't go to the beach (that I was excited about) that made me mad as that we were going to Luray.
I've been there about 20 times already.
I've also been to the museums and monuments in DC more times than that, and I STILL enjoy going to those. So why do I and others not enjoy going to Luray after the first time? It's a beautiful place otherwise....
It doesn't change, and there's nothing new to see.
Every time I go to the museums, monuments, or zoo, there's always something new to see. There's a recent addition or something I haven't seen before, because those places are just too big to ever see completely.
With Luray Caverns, though, one can only go on the guided tour. I've been on that exact path every single time I go, and there's nothing new. I think the growth rate of those stalactites and stalagmites is something like (1 cm)/(120 yr). That explains a lot in terms of it not changing from visit to visit.
But my dad argued that its beauty cannot be diminished. That's true, but there should always also be a point of comparison. I should be able to visit another similar but less beautiful cavern and revisit Luray and appreciate its enduring superior beauty; that's something I would enjoy. Analogously, I can compare the positively stunning Jaguar E-Type to similar cars (say, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage) of today and still appreciate its timeless beauty (even though the Vantage also looks as pretty). However, if all I could see was the E-Type, I would get bored of it too.
What do you think?


Can Anyone Say "DRM Sucks"?

For those of you who don't know me too well, I really like The Sims. It's a great game, and I've been playing it since version 1 onto version 2. For TS2, I have the original version with the Nightlife and Seasons expansion packs.
These two are not severely restricted. All expansions after seasons are.
With the release of Spore, for whatever reason, Electronic Arts (EA) became more paranoid about its "intellectual property". It felt that simply disallowing people from copying their game disks wasn't enough, which is what they had been doing for many years using the SafeDisk technology. Since then, they have moved to SecuROM.
SecuROM is a piece of software made by Sony that purports to curb piracy. It does so by actually limiting the number of times that a user can install the game on his/her computer (to around 5 times total, I believe). That's not all, however. Once installed along with the game, SecuROM cannot be removed unless special tools are used. That's right, uninstalling the game does nothing to SecuROM unless you use SecuROM's own uninstaller, and if you do that with the game still installed then the game becomes inoperable; if you then want to reinstall the game, SecuROM shows up again and counts one more install down.
It gets worse, though. Not only does SecuROM limit your installs, it requires that the user have web access or else that user won't be able to play the game; this allows SecuROM to automatically "phone home" to get backdoor updates for itself and continually verify that you are an absolute angel. Furthermore, there has been a huge number of people with SecuROM-tagged games (SPORE, BioShock, Mass Effect, and TS2 expansions after but excluding Seasons) that have lost the functionality of their optical (CD/DVD), USB, and hard drives from having SecuROM on their computers and no way to remove it without also crippling the game in question. In fact, far too many people had to reformat their computers because of SecuROM.
Basically, SecuROM is a computer virus that goes unmentioned in the aforementioned games' EULAs and essentially takes the Windows hostage (as far as I know, Mac versions of the games do not have SecuROM (lucky!)). The word "virus" is not meant to be an analog; in fact, most competent antivirus scanners identify SecuROM as a type of virus (a rootkit, I believe)! What's worse is that this virus is corporate-sponsored for the sole purpose of deterring pirates who were going to hack the game to release it for free anyway. To that end, the SecuROM-tagged games in question had some of the fastest cracking times in history, all of them being cracked and released in under 24 hours after official release.
I was going to get TS2 Bon Voyage today, but after reading about SecuROM I'm glad I saved my $20. I have seen some places say that since Spore, Mass Effect, and BioShock, (i.e. for all of the newer TS2 expansions) SecuROM has removed the install limit, but I still wouldn't trust it lest my hardware totally break down.
The last argument I will make is more about the issues with SecuROM's assumptions about licensing and copyright, so for more information, I strongly recommend reading Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. It's a great book (available freely online, no copyright violations involved) about the issues of copyrights and licensing and how they all affect us today.
The issue is that SecuROM assumes that by trying to install the game on multiple computers, you are a pirate. Computer pirates make copies of games to give to others and sometimes make profits from them too. The problem with this allegation is that when a pirate makes a copy for someone else, the pirate and the recipient both have the software at a cost to the original software-maker rather than to the pirate. However, if person A wants to show person B the game but they only want to have one copy between them and share it, it will at any point in time be at a cost to one of them rather than to the software-maker; the original maker has not lost anything in this case, and if anything, the other person will be more inclined to buy him/herself the game for the better of the original software-maker. SecuROM calls that piracy. That's like calling your letting your friend read the book you bought for a few hours and then giving it back for you to read piracy; unless you charge him for it, the analogy is nonsense.
Thankfully, TS3 went back to SafeDisk instead of SecuROM, and as I will need a laptop for next year soon and TS3 doesn't support my current video card or RAM specs, I will gladly wait for it along with the new computer.
Folks, please: if you know anyone who wants to buy any of the SecuROM-tagged games listed above, show them this and search for "problems with SecuROM"; that should be enough to convince them otherwise. Thank you EA for ending your addition of SecuROM with games and replacing it again with SafeDisk, and everyone please get together to petition EA for an official way to remove SecuROM without ruining the game or getting sued!


Really, Madame Palin?

The latest news from Sarah Palin's mouth is that Section 1233 of bill HR 3200 (please correct me on the numbers and/or terminology if they are wrong) calls for "death panels" in which ill or disabled people must stand before a set of government experts (among whom may be President Obama himself) to determine whether or not they will be able to continue living (by having or not having access to life-saving medications, machines, or other treatments).
Now, I am no expert on health care. I know SQUAT about it. You definitely know more about it than me. That's why I'm keeping this rant short.
That said, I did read the section in question, and the part that Ms. Palin characterized as mandating "death squads" actually says that if patients at or above age 65 choose to consult with a physician every 5 years or so about end-of-life medical services, then it must be covered under Medicare. There's no mandate involved unless the patient so chooses. It isn't really a mandate at all.
Here's the thing: Sarah Palin (as far as I could understand, because it was (no sarcasm here) truly tough to parse her resignation speech) decided to quit because she felt it would further Alaska, and by extension, America. The best I could make is that she felt that she could be more constructive and helpful outside of a government position. This seems to be true insofar as she can make more speeches and be more outspoken about her views now that she is technically a private citizen. However, she and other Republicans have not been constructive at all in this debate. Democrats are trying to put together an honest effort at fixing the system, and while it's far from perfect, it's also much better than the status quo. Even conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats genuinely want to fix the system, but their main concern is keeping costs down, which is totally understandable. Republicans, on the other hand, have no interest whatsoever in anything except loyally opposing any Democratic proposal, and this includes Ms. Palin. They know their position is not substantiated in any way, so all they can do is hurl insults and other epithets at the opponents. My question to those Republicans who claim to want reform is, aside from blindly opposing Obama, what would you do? Their answers probably wouldn't please me, but what would displease me more is them dodging the question.
If anyone remembers their mid-19th century US history, they would remember the history of the formation of the Republican Party, which at the time of its formation was the ideological equivalent of today's liberal Democratic Party (Blue Dogs notwithstanding). The Whigs were fading into obscurity and the Democrats were becoming more conservative; this meant that there had to be (under the Constitution and the system it has created which has essentially mandated only 2 major parties) a major relevant liberal party to compete with the conservative Democrats. Most Whigs became Republicans as the Whig party itself faded from existence, and liberal Democrats quickly became Republicans. I figure a somewhat similar thing will happen to the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has become so conservative that it is no longer ideologically or practically relevant, while the Democratic Party has expanded to include many ideologies ranging from very liberal to moderate/slightly conservative (as opposed to the Republican Party which consists simply of extreme conservatives). The moderate/conservative wing of the Democratic Party has had a lot of splits with the more mainstream liberal Democrats, probably necessitating in the future a permanent split. Thus, the Republican Party can once again include the moderates that it has badly needed.
Here's the other big problem: Sarah Palin continually rails against the very media she uses to communicate her rants. Yes, she has every right to say what she does, and I will not vote for a law that prohibits speech of her kind even if I am completely repulsed by it. However, others also have a right to not listen; they are not obligated to listen to her, and that is true of the media as well. So long as the media keep featuring her as front page news articles or top-of-the-program TV segments, she will retain relevance. Only when they start to ignore her will she lose the relevance she never deserved in the first place. This may be a bit extreme, but is it any wonder that the media do not cover KKK meetings/rallies unless they turn violent? Sarah Palin is not a hate group, but her ideas are getting awfully close to it.
On a side note, regarding all of the supposed discontent and shout-downs at rallies held by members of Congress, can any of the supporters explain to me why the demographics of the opponents look suspiciously more white on the whole than the communities in general where such events (the shout-downs, not the rallies) are occurring? Basically, it's not actual discontent/unease (because if it was, the multiple polls on approval for the health care plan would be much lower) but simply a series of (admittedly well-)orchestrated attempts to make Obama look bad. I have a feeling that the manufactured anger is going to backfire and make Republicans look bad, even though there are myriad issues with the current reform proposal.
Oops, that was a bit longer than I thought it would be. My bad!


"So what do I do with the rice now?"

(The author of this quote will be known as "A" for security reasons.)

I was at a friend's house as his family was hosting a puja populated by people from Karnataka. Thus, after the function, all food served was South Indian.
That said, the guy in whose name the puja was held invited 2 North Indian friends as well. This made for some funny moments at lunchtime.
The food was typical South Indian cuisine: rice (anna), saaru/rasam, puliogare, salad/kosambari, huli, idli, and yogurt (mosaru). Only yogurt and rice out of these things are found in North Indian cuisine, and even then they are prepared and mixed slightly differently (as far as I know).
Someone else gave "A" a bowl full of saaru to go along with his salad, puliogare, idli, and rice. He wasn't too sure what to do, saying the aforementioned quote in the process. Understandably, he was lost. He didn't completely mix the saaru with the rice and he even tried mixing saaru with the puliogare (the latter is traditionally eaten alone as it is rice already mixed with other curries and nuts).
In his defense, the bowl had too much saaru, so I could understand why he was a little confused at eating such a watery rice mixture.
It was amusing to watch, but in the end, he enjoyed it, and I took this as further evidence that cultures that may seem homogeneous at first are actually incredibly diverse.
I had a similar incident at the graduation party of a North Indian friend I will call "AA". Though I am somewhat familiar with North Indian food (unlike "A", who had almost never had South Indian food before) as I was OK with eating the cutlet, and chaat, cutlet, and samosa served, I was used to eating chole with chapaati and nothing else, hence my bewilderment at seeing my friends there (also North Indian) mixing it with rice.
It's telling that people are quick to group others together and judge when they shouldn't be, and I don't think it's particularly fair either. I think I should start not offending Taiwanese people by labeling them "Chinese".
What about you?


"Judge Sonia, I Just Met a Judge named Judge Sonia" - Jon Stewart

Yes, that quote is from Jon Stewart from a recent The Daily Show episode. Jon Stewart is godly.

So one of the big news items of this week is Sonia Sotomayor's successful confirmation hearing and confirmation. I got a few things from both sides of the Senate aisle when hearing about the sessions.
It seems like Sotomayor is an eminently qualified judge on her own merits; she has exercised good judgment in interpreting the law for almost all cases, and she seems to be fairly moderate and not consistently judge according to one ideology.
I thought that the Republicans trying to paint her as a left-wing activist judge was rather unfair. That said, any judge who is not as ridiculously conservative as the current Republican party is automatically labeled like her. Furthermore, she has exercised remarkable restraint in general, especially so compared to the right-wing's own judicial hero, Antonin Scalia.
Also, their attempt to bring her down with her "wise Latina" comment was futile. Though her choice of words was rather poor in that it implied bias towards nonwhites rather than the idea that everyone invariably brings their own experiences to the table. This also tied in with President Obama's praise of her "empathy", which Republicans somehow mistook for "sympathy [to Democrats]". They also tried to play the victim by portraying the white American experience as the neutral background upon which all others should be judged, which all combined to portray them as a party of threatened old WASP males. Thankfully, this backfired and didn't affect public opinion of Sotomayor in the least bit. I'm somewhat disappointed that she had to distance herself from the praise of "empathy" just to placate the angry GOP.
To their credit, they really did scour her on the New Haven Firefighter case, because that seems to be her only controversial decision and one that may show how she might judge in the future. This is where the opposition in the Senate really did their jobs well (as per "advice and consent"), though a lot of it was still visceral opposition to her.
I was also disappointed that while Democrats seemed to stand behind her without much conflict, they couldn't really substantiate why she was eminently qualified for the job (though they did invoke her life's story several times). This is why I can't give such details here because no one ever mentioned them.

Then again, there seems to be a consensus that the "advice and consent" has turned into a circus (or a musical!).


Q: What do Bing and George W. Bush have in common?

A: They are both their own self-proclaimed "deciders".
(Ex-)President George W. Bush became infamous for this as he essentially said that he would let his inner circle work out the details and he would simply say "yes" or "no". This is probably the most explicit admission I have heard from him or anyone else in his Administration that he deferred to (now Ex-)Vice President Dick Cheney, rather than the other way around.
Bing, Microsoft's rebranded (it's technically not new except for the name and the idea of a changing background), proclaims itself to be a "decision engine" rather than a search engine. It's implying that it will decide for you what is best for what you want rather than letting you decide. It seems to be taking on the search engine Google and the computational engine Wolfram|Alpha (both of which I happen to like A LOT) at the same time, and failing miserably at both.
My dad and I both complain that Bing is utter crap compared to Google. For most of what we search (in common) every day, Bing returns fewer AND less relevant results than Google consistently. That means it didn't happen after 1-2 searches. That means it happened after more than 20 different searches. This is bad.
What's worse is that Bing's algorithm seems to have been altered by Microsoft to promote itself. For example, any search on Google on "why Microsoft sucks" or "why Windows sucks" will return a litany of correct results going on for many pages. This is understandable because there are a LOT of internet users who are active in communities that oppose Windows and Microsoft's business model as well as many more users who are simply frustrated by crappy Microsoft software.
The same search terms in Bing will return results as if you had typed "why Apple sucks" for the same number of pages; if you're lucky, you'll get the desired results at the very end, and if you're not, there will be no relevant results.
This is also understandable as there are many frustrated Mac/other Apple product users (though Apple and its fanbois would like you to not think so!), but that's only if the search terms included "Apple" in terms of "Microsoft". The bias is pretty blatant here.
Similarly, Google searches for "Windows fixes" and such return relevant information generated by regular users on how to fix something on Windows and why it's a problem with Windows. Similar Bing searches will magically replace "Windows" with "Mac" or "Linux", and if you're really lucky, you'll get a few results that are official fixes from Microsoft (which generally don't solve the entire problem anyway).
I had written off Bing earlier, but after a bit of thought and self-reflection I figured that might not be fair. After reading this, I can conclude it is certainly fair. I use Linux Mint almost all the time on my computer (I still have Windows XP for the occasional use) and my aim is to avoid learning about the command line and use the OS like a non-computer-knowing Windows user, only using the terminal by copying and pasting commands from Internet results. Thus, I would need to search for my problem online and use the (absolutely marvelous) forums for help. Google comes in very handy for this; Bing would mysteriously hide these results in favor of "why Windows is better" or something similar. Thus, my dislike has a very practical side to it too, so you can't accuse me of one-sidedly hating on Microsoft.
The most rational reason I have seen for this behavior is that Microsoft (somewhat correctly) assumes that most of Bing's users use Windows, so official Microsoft fixes and the like are all they ever expect to see and all they want; this makes sense but it still doesn't explain the magical replacement of Microsoft-related terms with competitors' names.
I thus mourn the loss of Yahoo! Search (which was really a decent search engine on its own and a great competitor to Google), as it now redirects all searches to Bing search; furthermore, as far as I know, Microsoft has no plan to incorporate the superior Yahoo! search technology into Bing, so all it wants to do is bring in that greater traffic from Yahoo! and keep a crappy search engine.
Of course, it's a "decision engine", so it'll decide for you what's best and what's crap; rather than have that happen, you decide.

For those of you who know me pretty well, you know I hate Microsoft in general. I don't think they have ever come up with an original piece of software; they always derive their work from other sources (which is laudable and promoted among the free software community...) but always take the credit for themselves and charge exorbitant prices for their products. Furthermore, their recent support of free software standards has been nominal at best; the whole OOXML thing was proven to have many proprietary parts and sections that essentially gave Microsoft full control of development in open violation of open standards. Then, Bill Gates decided to purchase and release all of the Feynman lecture videos to the public online; this is great as my passion is physics and I really like (in a totally straight way) Richard Feynman, but Gates decided to do it in Microsoft's proprietary Silverlight format instead of the free Ogg-Theora standard or even the proprietary but much more widely used Shockwave/Flash format. This means that essentially only Windows users can see it, and while Mac and Linux users have Moonlight, an adaptation of Silverlight for non-Windows OSs, Moonlight is crippled because Silverlight makes it so, meaning that Mac and Linux users really can't see these videos anyway. Then, very recently, Microsoft supported a particular software/architecture-thingy (I'm not exactly sure what it was) and GPL'ed it. Releasing code under the GPL means that they have to respect the openness of the code and allow people to modify and rerelease (under the GPL) the code too. This was laudable at first until a third party found out that Microsoft had included their own licenses that allowed the use of proprietary code and almost entirely disallowed modifying or even viewing the underlying code; all of these things constituted huge violations of the GPL. Thus, Microsoft completely undermines its commitment to openness through its continuing backhanded tactics; openness to them means openness only to them.
That said, Microsoft does actually make some decent products. I use OpenOffice.Org because it suits all my needs and is free software, but for more extensive documents and spreadsheets and more content-filled presentations, Microsoft Office 2007 is the way to go. Though I don't like the de facto non-support for ODF (yes, it was originally a separate extension and then was made into a software update, but both forms of support worked horribly if at all), the Ribbon UI is really nice and makes a lot of sense (I didn't like it at first but that was probably just because I was wary of Microsoft, so now I like it a lot), and all the new features are really useful. I hear OO.O is coming out with a Ribbon competitor for the next release, but I've seen a screenshot and it looks terrible compared to Microsoft's version. Also, the XBOX 360 is a great system (though still buggy today compared to the PS3 and the Wii) with amazing graphics, games, and the legendary XBOX Live. Furthermore, Microsoft's hardware, like its mice, keyboards, and webcams, are of very high quality and last for a very long time.

Moral of the story: don't Bing and decide, just decide not to use Bing!


Shakespeare's King Henry V: Full of Cliches

(For some reason on Linux Mint I can't get the keyboard shortcuts for accented letters to work right and it's a pain to manually insert them one at a time, so bear with me.)

OK, this post has nothing to do with Shakespeare, except that I was recently reading Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture and I came across a passage telling of a person who thought that Shakespeare's play King Henry V was full of cliches.

(For those of you who don't get it, that play originated almost all of the phrases that the person in question called "cliches".)

Basically, I wanted to avoid the cliche of eponymously (is that even a word?) titling my first blog. As it seems, I have failed miserably.

In this blog, I will be discussing science, technology, politics, ethics (somewhat), other current events, cars, video games, movies, and basically anything else that comes to my mind.

That said, for any blog I follow, my favorite part (just above reading the blog post itself) is to read the user comments. They are sometimes funny and often provide great additional insight into the topic at hand (grammar?). I strongly encourage those who read this blog to comment; I also would love to hear criticism about anything I've written (and I'll respond to you or update the post in question ASAP). That said, please keep comments reasonably on-topic, constructive, and polite; as Ken Starks, the founder and leader of the Helios Project says,
Please post anything you want but do it with the thought of an 11 year old child sitting next to you. Our kids get exposed to enough garbage in the world, let's not add to it here. We can't "clean up" the internet, but we can do our part not to add to the garbage pile.
By the way, his project aims to give Linux-equipped computers away for free or for a nominal price (as far as I know) to financially disadvantaged families; his charity is non-profit but gladly accepts donations, so if you have money lying around, you want to do something charitable, and you support the cause of free software and the benefits it can bring to anyone (and specifically in this case financially disadvantaged families), I would encourage donating to him: http://linuxlock.blogspot.com/
(Disclaimer: I don't personally know him.)

If there is anything else you have to say or want me to talk about, please do let me know.
Happy reading!