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Posts from — November 2008

November 30, 2008
11:30 pm PST


I watched this ~90-minute PBS documentary about Jonestown tonight:

The documentary was exceptionally well-made and turned Jonestown from an vague, almost hypothetical place for me to a very real and terrifying event. Interviews of people who were at Jonestown along with surprisingly comprehensive video and audio from the events make them come to life.

In reading a bit about this after watching the documentary, I found out that the Peoples Temple facility was about a half mile from my apartment. That scares me. Over 900 people died in Jonestown, many from around here. The event caused the largest loss of American civilian life from a non-natural disaster until 9/11.

In an interview on the subject I heard on NPR a couple of weeks ago, a survivor mentioned that he’s always offended when people use the phrase “drink the kool-aid”. I’d never really thought about that before…

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November 30, 2008
10:56 pm PST
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Market Share

(via asa)

I’ll admit it- IE isn’t as bad for the Internet as it used to be, but it’s certainly not pioneering anything great these days, so it’s good to see people switching to better browsers.

In case you’re new here…
Get Mozilla Firefox
Get Google Chrome


November 30, 2008
8:23 pm PST

Urban Alienation

New York Magazine takes on urban alienation in Is Urban Loneliness a Myth?

Some quotes I found surprising and interesting:

Of all 3,141 counties in the United States, New York County is the unrivaled leader in single-individual households, at 50.6 percent

New York State’s suicide rate is currently the third lowest in the nation (second if you discount Washington, D.C.), at 6.2 percent, and the city’s rate is even lower, at 5.4 percent. According to a report issued by the state’s Office of Mental Health, in fact, suicide statistics in New York follow a simple formula: The less populous the county, the higher the rate (with superdense Kings County, or Brooklyn, boasting the second lowest, at 4.4 per 100,000). The United States follows the same pattern, with suicides rising the more rural the area becomes. States with the worst suicide rates are the least dense. (Montana, Nevada, Alaska, New Mexico, and Wyoming are ranked, respectively, one through five.)

It’s not a short article, but worth a read. I still prefer not living alone, but I know plenty of people who don’t.


November 30, 2008
7:36 pm PST

Civics Quiz

33 civics/history/economics questions

Some of them are tricky. I got 32/33 (missed #7), plus there were a few others I wasn’t 100% sure of.


November 30, 2008
7:12 pm PST

Economic Team

What would you call a group of economists who are skeptical of regulating mortgage markets, who think unemployment insurance and unions increase unemployment, who say that tax hikes retard economic growth, and who believe that the recovery from the Great Depression was a monetary phenomenon rather than the result of New Deal fiscal policy?

No, it is not a right-wing cabal. It’s Team Obama.

Greg Mankiw (Harvard economist, former Bush economic advisor)

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November 30, 2008
6:36 pm PST

Power from water currents

Some new developments:

Existing technologies which use water power, relying on the action of waves, tides or faster currents created by dams, are far more limited in where they can be used, and also cause greater obstructions when they are built in rivers or the sea. Turbines and water mills need an average current of five or six knots to operate efficiently, while most of the earth’s currents are slower than three knots.

The new device, which has been inspired by the way fish swim, consists of a system of cylinders positioned horizontal to the water flow and attached to springs.

As water flows past, the cylinder creates vortices, which push and pull the cylinder up and down. The mechanical energy in the vibrations is then converted into electricity.

There are some pretty bullish claims made by the scientists in the article, but this sort of thing could make a lot of sense in some places (how many cities aren’t near a river or ocean?).


November 30, 2008
6:29 pm PST

Crepuscular Rays

I didn’t know the term “Crepuscular rays” before. Here’s a picture of some from Golden Gate Park:

(by Mila Zinkova for wikipedia)

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November 30, 2008
6:28 pm PST
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Fighting Each Other

Reading about the British in the Boer War reminded me of this segment of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (despite depicting WWI):

Though, I guess it should remind me of this segment from the same film (also from a different but adjacent war):

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November 30, 2008
6:16 pm PST

The fascinating life of Fritz Joubert Duquesne

Last week, I stumbled upon the name Fritz Joubert Duquesne. His wikipedia page describes his life as a Boer in the Second Boer War through his work as a German spy in the US during World War II. He was captured along with 32 other German spies in the Duquesne spy ring in 1941 (one of the most important espionage cases in US history).

Much of Duquesne’s life reads like an adventure novel: he travels the world, fighting for one country or another, gets captured and charms his way out of prison, becomes a spy and holds lifelong vendettas. In the process of learning about this story, I read a lot about the Second Boer War, which was quite interesting. The difference in fighting styles between the British and Boers made for tactical asymmetries in both directions. I’d like to learn more about it in the future.

One thing that struck me was this:

While Duquesne was in the British army, they passed through his parent’s farm in Nylstroom which he found destroyed under Kitchener’s scorched earth policy. He also learned that his sister was murdered and his mother was dying in a British concentration camp. Duquesne was horrified and outraged, and made it his life’s work to take revenge on Kitchener and the British.

The fact that mistreatment of Boers at the turn of the century lead him to sabotage British ships in WWI and spy for the Germans in WWII shows how significant the effect was. It seems that there are some easy comparisons to make with western countries’ actions in the Middle East, too.

I didn’t know about the concentration camps used by the British in the Boer War. That was the first time the word “concentration camp” was used, though it’s not the first time something has fit the definition. From what I’ve read, they were nothing compared to the Nazi ones, though. Ha, what a weak compliment!