August 2011 Archives

Another reason I don't use a Mac

I don’t like proprietary software. So I use Linux. But I want my new program — if you use Ruby: “gem install jimmy_jukebox”; code at https://github.com/JamesLavin/jimmy_jukebox — to work on Macs, and my wife has a Mac.

So, I figured, I’ll install it on her machine and see whether it works.

The gem installed fine. And “load_jukebox” worked fine. But “play_jukebox” isn’t detecting that the OS is a Mac (which is necessary because I must use a different program to play MP3 and OGG files on Macs). Investigation revealed that my wife’s machine was choking when my program asked it to “require ‘rbconfig’”. (There’s something strange about Ruby installations on Macs.)

I figured the easiest solution is to install RVM. So I install and configure RVM. But that chokes because Macs don’t come with GCC (a standard, open-source C/C++/Objective-C/Java compiler), though they definitely should.

Worse still, you can’t just install GCC on a Mac. You must first install XCode. And Apple won’t let you download XCode from its developer website without a username and password.

And, then, when you start downloading XCode, you discover it’s more than 4GB! An entire DVD.

It’s downloading now, but my efforts to test “jimmy_jukebox” on my wife’s Mac are delayed by three hours because of Apple’s fetish for all things proprietary.

Posted by James on Aug 11, 2011

A real "mama grizzly" hero

I feel very guilty eating meat because most meat comes from animals raised in atrocious conditions and living lives of suffering.

But Chinese bear bile farms are beyond abominable:

The bears were kept in a farm located in a remote area in the North-West of China. The bears on the farm had their gall bladders milked daily for ‘bear bile,’ which is used as a remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

It was reported that the bears are kept in tiny cages known as ‘crush cages’, as the bears have no room to manoeuvre and are literally crushed.

The bile is harvested by making a permanent hole or fistula in the bears' abdomen and gall bladder.

As the hole is never closed, the animals are suspect to various infections and diseases including tumours, cancers and death from peritonitis.

The bears are fitted with an iron vest, as they often try to kill themselves by hitting their stomach as they are unable to bear the pain.

I knew about this horrifying practice but did not know bears tortured by it often try to kill themselves. And I’m powerfully moved by the intelligence and love purportedly displayed by one bear mother:

a mother bear broke out its cage when it heard its cub howl in fear before a worker punctured its stomach to milk the bile…

Unable to free the cub from its restraints, the mother hugged the cub and eventually strangled it.

It then dropped the cub and ran head-first into a wall, killing itself.

How can we humans conflate ourselves with “humane” and “humanity” when we regularly torture other animals and, sometimes, even other human beings?

Posted by James on Aug 12, 2011

Everyone's robbing me

The vending company at Rye Playland robbed me a few weeks back. Our son wanted cold water, so we shelled out $3 for bottled water, but a Pepsi bottle rolled out. No one in our house drinks soda, so the $3 was wasted and our son didn’t get any water. (We weren’t going to waste another $3 playing vending machine roulette!) I called the vending company and left a complaint. Never heard back.

And a few days ago, I shopped at a Stop & Shop (in Meriden, CT while returning from a vacation in Boston) and found $18 lying on the floor. I picked it up, held it aloft, and immediately shouted as loudly as I could, “Did anyone lose this money?” No one claimed it. But then a clerk grabbed the money out of my hands and handed it to Customer Service without asking my permission.

My guess is that one of two things will happen. Most likely, no one will claim the money and the store will keep it. Alternatively, one of the many people who heard me shout about the lost money may go falsely claim it. I doubt the person who lost it will realize they lost it, know where they lost it, return there, not find it, and then go to Customer Service. Even if they do, some fraud may have already claimed it or whoever is working at the customer service desk when the rightful owner returns might not know about the money or believe them.

Given the very low probability the money will be returned to its rightful owner, don’t I have a stronger claim on that money than the Stop & Shop? Shouldn’t they have taken my name and address and mailed it to me if no one claimed it? What ever happened to the “finders keepers” rule we all learned on the playground? $18 won’t pay the mortgage (or even the groceries we bought that day), but I feel like the Meriden Stop & Shop robbed me.

Posted by James on Aug 31, 2011

Excellent lecture on quality programming

If you’re a programmer and haven’t watched this GoogleTechTalk by Joshua Bloch, you’re in for a treat! He crams an incredible amount of great advice into an hour.

All the examples are in Java. But that’s actually helpful because Java is full of anti-patterns for Bloch to illustrate bad programming practices.

Posted by James on Aug 22, 2011

Google rejected my smartphone idea in 2005, saying "We're a SOFTWARE company!"

In 2005, I had several rounds of interviews at Google. In interviews, I pushed my vision for what I called “Google Muse,” basically a Google-branded smart phone running lots of Google and open source software on a stripped-down version of Linux.

This was before Apple released the iPhone and just before Google bought Android. The most exciting device at the time was Nokia’s 770 Internet Tablet.

I didn’t get the job (which had nothing to do with “Google Muse” …so they probably — and with some justification — thought me nuts).

And I didn’t sell Google on my vision. Their response: “We’re a SOFTWARE company! We don’t do hardware.”

Well, even then, Google had a massive custom hardware infrastructure. So they could have done hardware. But they saw themselves as selling software services.

Five years later, Google hopes to spend $12.5 billion buying Motorola Mobility. As my wife told me after hearing the news, “You were WAY ahead of your time.”

Posted by James on Aug 17, 2011

Hey, design school: I can't read your homepage!

(Update: I use “NoScript” to block webpages' JavaScript by default. After writing the rant below, I turned JavaScript on, and a semi-transparent box appeared behind the yellow text, making it readable, though less easily readable than it should be. However, a key principle of web design is that designs — especially homepages — should work in any browser, with or without JavaScript. So I’m still going to post this rant.)

While reading this article on the New York City tech scene and what NYC needs to compete with Silicon Valley, I was intrigued by ITP Tisch after reading “Most of the good design schools don’t emphasize web product design… NYU’s ITP stands out as a program that focuses on the intersection of design and technology (e.g. the Foursquare team went to school there).”

Eager to see what these web design gurus are doing, I clicked to learn about ITP. I was startled to discover that most of its homepage text is completely illegible because it’s yellow on a white background! The background image on ITP’s homepage is a photo, the middle third of which is bright white… exactly where most of the text is! I could read it only after highlighting it.

Never put yellow text on a white background! That’s not fancy web design. That’s simple common sense! Did anyone even look at their website’s homepage after they completed it?

What a lousy first impression ITP is giving about their competence in their field of claimed expertise!

Posted by James on Aug 11, 2011

If you use Git and RVM, you'll want this in your .bashrc

This looks great for anyone (like me) who uses Git and RVM:

export PS1="\[\033[01;34m\]\$(~/.rvm/bin/rvm-prompt) \[\033[01;32m\]\w\[\033[00;33m\]\$(__git_ps1 \" (%s)\") \[\033[01;36m\]\$\[\033[00m\] "

Posted by James on Aug 04, 2011

I propose a better (?) system for rating bonds

The housing bubble could never have happened if the three ratings agencies — Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch — hadn’t slapped “AAA” seals-of-approval on thousands of bundles of junk subprime mortgages. The ratings agencies similarly failed to detect many fraudulent firms, including Enron. The problem is not an inability to assess risk but a greed-driven allergy to issuing honest ratings:

Internal e-mails from the various firms show that warning bells were repeatedly ignored. A 2006 email from an S&P employee cited in the report said the rating agencies “have all developed a kind of Stockholm syndrome,” held captive by banks. Another e-mail cites an employee openly fretting about the agencies facing their “Nixon moment,” when the housing bubble finally burst.

In the bond rating business, market competition fails spectacularly because market competition drives ratings agencies to inflate ratings to please customers:

Levin’s report includes testimony from an endless stream of former employees who say they felt pressure to grant top ratings to new bond issues, lest they lose deals to competitors.

…[After Enron], lawmakers blamed the virtual duopoly that Moody’s and S&P held on the ratings market, and the law made it easier for competitors to join the industry.

That didn’t work. Instead, newcomers simply accelerated the “race to the bottom,” and made a nefarious strategy called “ratings shopping” even easier. If a bank wanted to issue a mortgage-backed security, it could shop it to various agencies and pick whichever firm offered the highest rating. The temptation for competitive forces to overwhelm good accounting was enormous.

Government efforts to regulate the firms haven’t worked well either:

[R]egulating the credit agencies has proven to be a near-impossible task. Not only are they intertwined in almost every corner of the market, they are intertwined with government agencies, too. Most state pension funds, for example, require that their managers only invest in funds with high ratings, which acts as a de facto endorsement of the agencies' work.

And the agencies have such a strong role in the markets that they can bully regulators into backing off.

In July 2010, with the increased liability provision of Dodd-Frank set to kick in, ratings agencies scored a victory by telling bond issuers they could no longer include the ratings on marketing materials. Because SEC rules require credit ratings to appear, the ratings agencies effectively created a Catch-22, threatening to shut down the entire asset-backed bond market. Regulators, faced with that potential calamity, backed off, and said issuers could temporarily issue bonds without the ratings. In December, the SEC made the change permanent, “effectively exempting companies from part of the U.S. Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act,” according to a Bloomberg News report at the time.

Here’s a possible solution. We must separate the search for ratings business from the process of assigning a rating. I propose setting a standard price scale for those seeking bond ratings. The government could require (or coerce) every eligible ratings agency to either get out of the business entirely or commit to rating every bond and receiving 1/N of the rating fee bond issuers pay (where N is the number of ratings agencies; currently, N = 3).

Each rating agency would be assured an equal cut of every bond rating fee and would not benefit from manipulating ratings. Because firms' reputations would be built on the accuracy of their ratings, each firm would have an incentive to be accurate. And this incentive could be greatly enhanced if a periodic evaluation of existing ratings agencies were made. New ratings agencies could be granted eligibility, and agencies that had performed very poorly (on some objective, public metric) could be excluded. This would likely increase the quantity and quality of ratings each issuance receives, benefiting all who rely on those ratings.

Posted by James on Aug 09, 2011

Is foreign language in elementary school a frill?

Since The New York Times erected its pay wall, I’ve dramatically curtailed my reading, so I apparently overlooked “Charter School Battle Shifts to Affluent Suburbs” on suburban battles over charter schools, esp. charter schools seeking to offer bilingual immersion in English and Mandarin Chinese:

Jutta Gassner-Snyder, Hua Mei’s lead applicant, said some of the school’s 12 founders had received threatening e-mails.

“This is not just about the education of my child,” said Ms. Gassner-Snyder, who sends her daughter, Kayla, 4, to a private Mandarin-immersion preschool. “If we just sit back and let school districts decide what they want to do without taking into account global economic trends, as a nation, we all lose.”

Millburn’s superintendent, James Crisfield, said he was caught off guard by the plan for charters because “most of us thought of it as another idea to help students in districts where achievement is not what it should be.” He said the district could lose $270,000 — or $13,500 for each of 20 charter students — and that would most likely increase as the schools added a grade each year.

“We don’t have enough money to run the schools as it is,” Mr. Crisfield said, adding that the district eliminated 18 positions and reduced bus services this year.

Millburn offers Mandarin only in high school, fueling the arguments of those seeking the new charters. “Kids are like sponges,” said Yanbin Ma, a Hanyu founder. “There are so many things they can absorb and become good at, and I feel that our public schools haven’t done enough to take advantage of that.”

But to Mr. Stewart, a leader in a growing opposition that includes Livingston mothers who have helped collect more than 800 petition signatures, this sounds “selfish.”

“Public education is basically a social contract — we all pool our money, so I don’t think I should be able to custom-design it to my needs,” he said, noting that he pays $15,000 a year in property taxes. “With these charter schools, people are trying to say, ‘I want a custom-tailored education for my children, and I want you, as my neighbor, to pay for it.’ ”

I know enough about globalization, the benefits of bilingualism, and the special window of opportunity kids have to easily acquire new languages to feel that any elementary school that doesn’t teach a second language is defective. I sympathize with Millburn’s budget problems, but if they’re not teaching a foreign language — whether Spanish or Mandarin — in elementary school, they’re doing their kids a grave disservice. Every 21st Century American kid should view the world through multiple cultural and linguistic frameworks. And in overwhelmingly rich, white towns, like Millburn, exposing kids to other cultures and languages is especially important.

Bilingual immersion programs are fabulous. Deep knowledge of a second language is an enriching and empowering life-long communication tool. And thinking in multiple languages exercises brains in very healthy ways.

Millburn superintendent James Crisfield — who feels his budget is threatened — should ask himself why so many parents want to yank their kids out of Millburn’s “great” schools and enroll them in a not-even-functioning charter school with no track record. It’s (long since) time for Millburn’s school system to re-think its definition of a “great” education. Why do so many private schools offer foreign languages? Bilingualism is the main theme of Manhattan’s newest private school, Avenues: The World School, which when “still over a year until its first campus opens” had received “More than 1,200 applications for its early admissions program… by the June 15 deadline.”

Many enlightened parents consider any monolingual school inherently flawed, no matter how well its students add fractions or read English. Any superintendent at a “top” school district (like Millburn’s) who doesn’t appreciate the great value of teaching 21st Century kids foreign languages isn’t doing their job. If you refuse to teach kids foreign languages, don’t cry when someone else fights to offer kids an invaluable educational experience you insist on denying them.

Faced with strong parental interest in a bilingual Mandarin program, a town like Millburn should respond not by fighting a charter school but by creating one or two bilingual immersion classrooms at one of its elementary schools, as Palo Alto’s top school system has. Give parents choice. It’s something many parents feel so strongly about that they’ll move to Millburn just to enroll their child in your bilingual program: “We tried to enroll our son in the Ohlone Mandarin immersion program in Palo Alto but found it was massively oversubscribed. We ended up moving to San Francisco and my son now attends Jose Ortega.”

Posted by James on Aug 10, 2011

Is HP even stupider than Sony?

For months, I’ve been stunned by Sony’s apparent complete ignorance of — or inexplicable disregard for — even the most basic security concepts.

But HP may have leapfrogged Sony with its sudden dumping of WebOS and TouchPad, for which it bought Palm for $1.2 billion just last year. Experts praised the Palm purchase because it enabled HP to use its marketing muscle to build an Apple-like tablet and smartphone experience:

HP can offer a complete hardware, software, and service solution for mobile computing. Now HP can control its own mobile future.

I think it will be a successful marriage, with HP becoming a mobile powerhouse over time.

But HP has given up after scarcely a year!

Building a successful platform and ecosystem (think Facebook, XBox, PlayStation, iPad/iPhone, etc.) takes years, and early losses are normal. You sell at a loss to build a community, which increases interest in and demand for your platform, and the excitement keeps building on itself till you’re printing money, like Steve Jobs Tim Cook.

Some experts applaud HP’s decision: “According to Wharton faculty, leaving the PC business is a good move in the long run; it is marred by intense competition, low profit margins and the popularity of tablets such as Apple’s iPad.”

But HP-Palm was pursuing an Apple-like marriage of hardware and software, and Apple’s profit margins are anything but low. Apple’s market capitalization is tied with Exxon Mobil’s for #1 in the world.

HP was either stupid last year to pursue the strategy or stupid this year because it did not give its strategy sufficient time to succeed or fail. HP also failed to price its product at a discount to the market leader (iPad) that would entice people to try it and write apps for it.

HP’s schizophrenic management believed last year that HP could carve out a sizable niche alongside Apple but — just a year later — decided Apple is a black hole against which HP could not compete.

It’s as if HP didn’t understand the business logic of its calculated gamble a year earlier when it purchased Palm. Palm/WebOS wasn’t a magic elixir that would instantly boost quarterly profits. It was a lottery ticket that cost cash upfront but gave HP a chance to win big.

There’s little evidence HP’s bet was losing. In fact, evidence suggests it’s still possible HP could win:

HP has a clear and present opportunity to leverage this glut of TouchPad sales into legitimate relevance for webOS — the only question is whether it cares to do so….

Most respondents were frank about the fact that the TouchPad’s clearance $99.99 / $149.99 price structure actually fell below the maximum price that they would’ve paid. The median price buyers gave me worked out to $224.50, which splits nicely between $199.99 for the 16GB model and $249.99 for the 32GB. Some said it would be worth more to them — as high as $400, for a couple folks — with the knowledge that the platform would continue to be actively supported….

So, did HP leave money on the table? My best guess is that they did, yes — at least $50 per unit, if not more. At $150 to $250, they may not have caused the same level of mass hysteria over a 48-hour period, but I have little doubt they still would’ve been able to sell through inventory in a reasonable amount of time….

Should (and could) the TouchPad have launched at a too-good-to-pass-up price? As I mentioned before, the idea is right out of the game console manufacturers’ playbooks: for the first year or two, HP would eat some extraordinary cost per unit — several hundred dollars, perhaps — in an effort to build and lock in a legitimate webOS ecosystem by any means necessary. A brutal game, yes, but a game that a select few (HP included) could likely afford to play….

Three-quarters of buyers I spoke to said they would’ve bought a TouchPad just as quickly if it had launched for $99.99/$149.99 — in other words, if this was a permanent price, not a clearance — and another one in five said they would’ve eventually bought one….

And thus would begin the virtuous cycle: users lead to developers, which lead to apps, which lead to users. The tablet market would presumably be larger overall, and HP would’ve owned a chunk of it. Granted, that chunk would’ve come at a monumental operating cost, but right now, tablet vendors urgently need to be thinking in terms of generational platform leadership — just as Windows’ dominance today grew out of a seed planted by MS-DOS, PCs, and PC clones over a quarter century ago…

webOS is on that very, very short list of platforms with enough promise to deserve that kind of no-holds-barred approach to building market share. Most of my respondents were of the opinion that the TouchPad is worth $99.99 on its hardware merits alone, but — in a market utterly dominated by iOS — nearly half still want to give webOS a shot.

By flooding the market with TouchPads, HP has planted plenty of seeds to grow a vibrant ecosystem around WebOS. The question now: “Will HP water the seeds or let them wither?”

Ironically, HP wants to move into consulting services. Instead, HP should have paid McKinsey a fortune to show them the PowerPoint slides on sunk costs creating barriers to entry, increasing returns to scale, and network effects. I’m sure every McKinsey junior associate straight out of college has those slides on their laptop.

Faced with an entrenched market leader like Apple, HP needed to either go big or go home. Buying Palm and building the TouchPad was swinging for the fences. But, halfway through their big swing, they suddenly quit and walked home.

My hunch: HP CEO Leo Apotheker is a Steve Jobs plant on a secret mission to destroy WebOS. ;–)

Posted by James on Aug 23, 2011

Is your refrigerator handle making you sick?

Really interesting article on how the medical community is beginning to use its new ability to rapidly and cheaply sequence viral and bacterial DNA:

There are far more bacterial genes than human genes in the body, he notes. One study that looked at stool samples from 124 healthy Europeans found an average of 536,122 unique genes in each sample, and 99.1 percent were from bacteria.

Bacterial genes help with digestion, sometimes in unexpected ways. One recent study found that bacteria in the guts of many Japanese people — but not in the North Americans tested as control — have a gene for an enzyme to break down a type of seaweed that wraps sushi. The gut bacteria apparently picked up the gene from marine bacteria that live on this red algae seaweed in the ocean.

I hate taking antibiotics because I don’t want to kill off all the healthy bacteria that digest my food and protect me against harmful bacteria. Early studies are proving my concerns valid:

[A body’s bacteria] did return [after antibiotics], but… the microbial community was not exactly as it was before antibiotics disturbed it. And if a person takes the same antibiotic a second time, as late as six months after the first dose, the microbes take longer to come back and the community is deranged even more.

Here’s the most useful info:

the company analyzed the genomes of microbes on surfaces, like desks and computers and handles on toilets. As the flu season began, the surfaces began containing more and more of the predominant flu strain until, at the height of the flu season, every surface had the flu viruses. The most contaminated surface? The control switches for projectors in the conference rooms. “Everybody touches them and they never get cleaned,” Dr. Schadt said.

He also swabbed his own house and discovered, to his dismay, that his refrigerator handle was always contaminated with microbes that live on poultry and pork. The reason, he realized, is that people take meats out of the refrigerator, make sandwiches, and then open the refrigerator door to return the meat without washing their hands.

“I’ve been washing my hands a lot more now,” Dr. Schadt said.

I’m going to wipe our refrigerator handle right now!

Posted by James on Aug 31, 2011

rbenv solves the problems I had with RVM!

I today wiped out rvm and installed rbenv. My problems have vanished. Autotest started working immediately.

Thank you, rbenv.

Again, RVM is a great concept. I’m sure rbenv wouldn’t exist today if not for RVM. But RVM caused me headaches, and rbenv — so far — just works!

Posted by James on Aug 17, 2011

Steve Jobs' reverence for craftsmanship

I love these quotations

[Jobs] said to John Sculley, CEO of Pepsi, when he was trying to persuade him to run Apple. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water,” he asked, “or do you want to change the world?” …

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting,” he said in 1996, when the company was on the rocks. “The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.” At another point he said: “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it.”

Posted by James on Aug 30, 2011

Switching to rbenv

Though I was turned off by rbenv’s creators' “we’re-so-much-better-than-RVM” attitude, I’ve grown frustrated with RVM and am going to give rbenv a try. RVM just didn’t work right with the various tools I’m using (ack-grep, RSpec2, autotest, FakeFS, etc.). I’m not sure where the problem is, but it’s likely because RVM overrides shell commands.

I’m still impressed by RVM and thank its creator for blazing a path to enable us to run multiple versions of Ruby. But I hope rbenv works better with my toolset.

Posted by James on Aug 16, 2011

The economic extermination of the middle class

This Atlantic article very nicely dissects America’s economy and the global technology and trade forces that are destroying the American middle class.

Workers atop the skills pyramid are doing very well. And those who own the companies profiting from technology and trade are getting filthy rich. Everyone else is suffering badly.

Posted by James on Aug 09, 2011

White-collar "indiscretions" vs. blue-collar "crimes"

On reading the title of “The moral decay of our [U.K.] society is as bad at the top as the bottom”, I thought “no, it’s worse, you right-wing rag!” But it’s actually an excellent article:

A great deal has been made over the past few days of the greed of the rioters for consumer goods, not least by Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who accurately remarked, “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.

Yesterday, the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be “reclaimed” by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.

Or take the Salford MP Hazel Blears, who has been loudly calling for draconian action against the looters. I find it very hard to make any kind of ethical distinction between Blears’s expense cheating and tax avoidance, and the straight robbery carried out by the looters.

…Mr Cameron is himself guilty of failing this test. It is scarcely six weeks since he jauntily turned up at the News International summer party, even though the media group was at the time subject to not one but two police investigations. Even more notoriously, he awarded a senior Downing Street job to the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, even though he knew at the time that Coulson had resigned after criminal acts were committed under his editorship. The Prime Minister excused his wretched judgment by proclaiming that “everybody deserves a second chance”. It was very telling yesterday that he did not talk of second chances as he pledged exemplary punishment for the rioters and looters.

Posted by James on Aug 15, 2011

Why does America ignore Americans' suffering?

On a day when Warren Buffett pleaded with America to raise his taxes — because they’re absurdly low compared with his staffers, let alone ordinary working-stiff Americans — I was jolted by a struggling 70-year-old American’s rant. I’m posting the entire unedited rant below to remind us lucky Americans that millions of Americans are REALLY suffering under our callous political-economic system:

I’m 70 years old, work two jobs at $10 per hr (no benes) to pay the living expenses. I have diabetes and cardiovascular problems along with fighting depression almost every week. $100 is taken from my monthly $803.00 and $100 is taken from Mr’s 940 social security. Rent is $890.00 and we live with broken windows,rotting tile,rotting deck. The city of Puyallup charges us $100 per month for its services, garbage $80 and electricity varies from $100 to $400 in the winter. You brilliant conservative jerks are perfectly happy with cutting heating assistance. Mr is ill with heart problems and freezes in the winter. I do not know how I’m going to pay for the heat/electricity this winter. Now why in the hell do you think I would become depressed? Must be a chemical imbalance right?

Last year the mattress sprung a spring. We slept on it until it was totally unbearable. I bought a used matteress and had a neighbor deliver it to the house. Guess what, it had bed bugs! there is not enough money to have someone come and haul it away nor is there enough money to buy a new mattress that would be sure not to have bed bugs. That is only one reason I detest this country.

Mr. crawled under houses doing plumbing work most of his life at low wages with no retirement. Why didn’t we save for retirement you say? Just how clueless are you. After paying the rent,utilities, car repairs, food, doctor bills you REALLY think there is some left over for the luxury of saving for retirement? Much less doctor and dentist bills! Just how clueless can you get?

Two years ago my daughter died from a condition that is preventable from death by proper medical attention. Do you have any idea how I resent having to work with and pay rent/utilites to those who have medical care? What makes you more valuable than her life? Money? Oh I see you had money or health insurance for which you got a tax deduction. I get a tax deduction for nothing and yes I so pay taxes. My land lord gets the tax deduction while I pay for it.

I kindest thing the poor can do for its children is not to have any. That way their soul and spirit would not be damaged. You anti abortionist are damned liars, you think life is so precious, you’re not kidding the poor. The well to do can go to Canada or Europe and get an abortion, but not the poor. I think it is because you asshats need cannon fodder for your wars. We know the well to do and powerful do not put their children on the front line to die, but you put our children in the front lines to die protecting your damned corporations.

Do I sound a little angry? Geeze I wonder why. I’m sick of this country, especially when I see the medical needs of developed Europe do not let people needlessly die. doctors and dentist will not let the government train others in these skills in our government to serve the low income people because they might not get every nickel out of those needing their services.

Don’t give me this crap about emergency rooms and state dental care. After the emergency room gets through taking you to a collection agency and the state is willing to pull your teeth but not repair the damage done by years of dental damage. Wonderful choices!

Capitalism works? For who? just like slavery worked fine except for the slaves. The poor are one of the most hated groups in this country. Pledge of Allegiance? Forget it, its your country not mine, I just live here. Wait until more jobs are lost. I guess that is what its going to take before we start looking like England and of course we know only the “criminally minded” riot? Just how stupid, compassionless and ignorant can a nation get?

Posted by James on Aug 15, 2011

World's best Chinese-English interpreter's fascinating story

If you’re interested in simultaneous translation, Mandarin, or fascinating biographies, you’ll love this article about a “fair-skinned, balding, bespectacled and slightly paunchy” 40-year-old Canadian “widely considered the top Chinese-English language interpreter working in China”:

[Dawrant] spent much of his university years at a dim-sum restaurant. He first had to push the cart of a “dim-sum girl” around the sprawling restaurant hawking siu mai and har gao dumplings. He soon graduated to busboy and eventually to a full-fledged waiter. He became a minor celebrity in Edmonton’s Chinese community for his ability to converse in Cantonese with customers.

“My entire social life in university was based around the dim-sum restaurant,” he says….

Jean Duval was Canada’s top Chinese-language interpreter in the 1980s and 1990s. A large man with a handlebar mustache and a booming voice, he was born in France but was employed by the government of Canada. Some say this intellectual and gregarious character did as much to strengthen Canada’s ties with China as any diplomat – when he visited the country with Jean Chrétien, he would receive just as warm a personal welcome from Chinese president Jiang Zemin as the prime minister did.

Mr. Dawrant met Mr. Duval on a plane headed to China in 1989. The interpreter was reading a book in a language Mr. Dawrant couldn’t recognize (it was Uighur – Mr. Duval was compiling a dictionary). They spoke Mandarin to each other and Mr. Dawrant then switched to Cantonese. Mr. Duval couldn’t converse as well in that language so he retaliated with Shanghainese. They called it a draw, and Mr. Duval talked about his career as an interpreter.

“It was absolutely fascinating to me. It was something I had never really thought about before. I’d been learning Chinese very seriously, but with no end game,” Mr. Dawrant says.

The next stop was a brutal interpreting school in Taiwan where, like a U.S. Marine, Dawrant was physically and mentally dismantled to be built back up as an interpreter.

“It was class, practice and then more class and more practice. We never went anywhere. It was like special forces training for two years,” he says. “They completely reconfigured the way your brain works – the way you deal with language and memory. Constructing a discourse model. Getting inside the speakers head and becoming very flexible with all your languages. It is kind of like torture, basically.”

Posted by James on Aug 30, 2011