Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dark Crystal (1982) ★★★★★



The plot:

A thousand years ago, a crystal cracked and two races appeared simultaneously: The evil scheming Skeksis and the wise and good Mystics. The Skeksis have waged war and destruction, and committed genocide on the Gelflings, a race of good-spirited elf-like creatures. Jen, a young Gelfling who initially believes he is the last member of his race has been raised by the Mystics. As a stellar event is about to happen, with the conjunction of the 3 suns, Jen is sent on a quest to retrieve a shard of the crystal and prevent the Skeksis from obtaining the power that would give them immortality and allow them to rule the world forever.


My verdict:

This movie is broadcast almost every year on French television during the Christmas holidays and it is an all-time classic by Jim Henson, creator of the Muppet Show. If you've somehow managed to avoid it up until now, it's not too late. Of course, a full movie with muppets might be off-putting, especially considering the still faces that sort of fall in the Uncanny Valley but the story is compelling. The quest is epic and gears are in motion towards a cathartic ending. The characters are very stereotypical and evil characters are depicted as ugly, even frightening... which is why I would not recommend this movie to children under 8 years old. But this is the epitome journey of a hero and it appeals to everyone. So, 5 stars deserved.


Also, it needs to be mentioned: in the title, I listed the date of this movie as being 1982 but several re-releases on DVD and BluRay have provided improved graphics, so these versions may have your preference.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Red (2010) ★★★★☆



The plot

Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) retired from the CIA. His retirement, too calm to his liking, takes a new turn when a CIA squad breaks in his house to assassinate him. Reuniting with other ex-agents being tracked to death, Frank will try and uncover the reasons that got them on a kill list.


My verdict

First remark: Bruce Willis jumps into the heart of action just as well as he used to more than 20 years earlier. The rhythm of the movie is perfect. As in most action movies, the scenario is rather simple and not of prime importance. As one would hope, the action is at its best, and sometimes a bit over the top, but that's what you want in a comedic action film. The acting is good and it's a must-see for all Bruce Willis fans. Whatever you might expect of it, RED delivers. 4 stars.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Teeth and forks



In a past article, I mentioned how the story of bones truly started with teeth. Here's another story about teeth.

If you check your teeth, chances are that when you clench them, the upper row of teeth covers the lower row and your upper incisors end up in front or the lower ones. This is the case for the vast majority of humans today and is referred to as an overbite. The reason I was interested in this subject is because I was born with a genetically-caused underbite aka. mandibular prognathism of which I've been operated since.

But overbite appeared in humans only about 250 years ago all over the world. As archaeologists have found with ancient skulls, up until 250 years ago, upper and lower incisors reached exactly on top of each other. No row of teeth was in front of the other. Also, because the change happened so suddenly and so widely all over the world, the explanation is not likely to have genetic origins.

So what did change? Forks! The usage of forks for eating became common in Europe and in the Americas about 250 years ago. And that's the time when the morphology of teeth started changing. In other places like China, the usage of chopsticks for eating is more ancient and also coherent with the change of teeth. What is more, there were period when eating utensils were reserved for privileged classes of society while the rest were still eating with their hands. And that is reflected by different teeth on the bones of dead people from different social classes.

The explanation it seems, is that eating with our hands increased the usage of incisors and eroded our upper incisors. Nowadays, our incisors are less solicited and the upper ones simply outgrow the bottom ones.

You can find references to this subject in this article of The Atlantic and that mention of QI since this appeared in a recent episode of the British tongue-in-cheek trivia show.


Conclusion

What is surprising with this subject is how something seemingly mundane like using a fork modifies the shape of our body.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The bothersome man (2006) ★★★★☆


Plot

Andreas throws himself in front of a subway train. When he regains consciousness, a bus takes him to a strange city. Upon his arrival, he is expected and the city has everything for him: an apartment, a job, a wife. Life in the city is dull. Everything is smooth, tidy, tasteless. There is no ill but also no true pleasure. This kind of life is not what Andreas aspires to, and he will do everything to break free from the city.


My verdict

This is a surrealist fable. The divide between the city and our reality creates a comical effect. And still, there is something in common between the city and our world. Maybe the danger of living outside the norm. Or our complacency to live easy lives and keep away from any risk. The main character is a go-getter. He's the one we want to be, yet his experience is terribly unpleasant. He gives other people a fair chance to enjoy the things he enjoys, though. The main actor plays wonderfully and the whole script is wittily brilliant. 4 stars.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The video games of my youth




I have a fondness for some of the video games of my youth. As I was reading Sam & Max's blog article about their own history with video games, I simply decided to copy their idea and recount my history of playing video games.

My very first video game was an arcade inside a café, and I must have been around 3 or 4 years old. I remember it was space-themed and I remember the screen was embedded in a table and facing up, and allowed 2 players to sit at opposite sides of the table. But I can't remember the title of that game nor the details of gameplay. Was it more like Comets or Orbits or Space Invader? I don't remember.


Later in my youth, for Xmas or some birthdays, I got some LCD games. The one where you have a car, 3 lanes, and you must avoid other cars as you drive faster than them. The one with a building in flames, people jumping through the window, and you move the firemen who must catch the jumpers. And a few others. These games were rubbish, but still you were driven to try and try again to beat your own high score.

Around 8 years old, my school organized a trip to the opposite side of France and the family of my penfriend had a video game console. Back in the day, in 1986, it was pretty rare. It was an Atari 2600 and there were 2 games:

  • Space Invaders
  • Some cowboy game. I can't find the title but I think it wasn't Gunslinger


And then came the era of "real" video games for me. It all started with a friend inviting me over to his house and showing me his Sega Master System games. 2 of them stick in my mind.

  • PsychoFox
  • R-Type


I have such a fondness for PsychoFox! It is very similar to Mario but your character can transform from 1 type of animal to another in order to gain special abilities, which in turn let you access to new places. And where Mario's level design was very horizontal, PsychoFox had much more height which gave a feeling of freedom.

So I saved money from birthdays and Xmas and bought myself one of these Master Systems when I was 11 years old (or maybe 12?) and I played quite a few of the titles available. Considering the cost of these games and the small amount of money available to a child, I bought only 6 of these but exchanged often my games with friends for 2-3 weeks at a time, so I could play quite a lot.

  • Action Fighter
  • After Burner
  • Alex Kidd in Miracle World
  • Alex Kidd in Shinobi World
  • Altered Beast
  • Battle Out Run (I loved this one!)
  • Black Belt
  • California Games
  • Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
  • Choplifter
  • Double Dragon
  • Fantasy Zone
  • Fire & Forget 2
  • Gauntlet (wicked! 512 levels without saves nor password and I once died at level 256 after 12 hours)
  • Ghostbusters
  • Ghouls'n Ghosts
  • Golden Axe
  • Hang-On
  • Impossible Mission
  • Populous
  • R-Type
  • Rampage
  • Rastan Saga
  • Rescue Mission (game using the Light Phaser gun)
  • Sagaia
  • Shinobi
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Strider
  • Vigilante
  • Wonder Boy in Monster Land

In parallel of my Master System bonanza, I also played on a variety of other systems when I had the opportunity at some friend's place or when visiting cousins. So I played some Gameboy, Sega Megadrive ("Genesis" for people in USA), a few arcades, MO5, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, PC1512 and PC1640, Atari 2600, Game Gear...



And then a new console rocked my world: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Depending on location it is either called Super Nintendo, Super Famicom, or SNES. I bought one of these second-hand, exchanged a lot of games, and years later I also played emulated SNES games on my PC. The list of games that I've played includes (green=good, red=bad):
  • ActRaiser
  • ActRaiser 2
  • Addams Family
  • Aero Fighters
  • Axelay
  • Bahamut Lagoon
  • Bass Masters Classic Pro Edition
  • Brain Lord
  • Breath of Fire
  • Breath of Fire 2
  • Bust-a-move (Puzzle Bobble)
  • Cacoma Knight in Bizyland
  • Cannon Fodder
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Clock Tower
  • Contra 3: The Alien Wars
  • Cool Spot
  • Darius Twin
  • Demon's Crest
  • Disney's Goof Troop
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • Dragon Ball Z
  • Dragon Ball Z: Hyper Dimension
  • Dragon Ball Z: Legend of the Super Saiyan (RPG)
  • Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Menace
  • Dragon Quest 6
  • Drakkhen
  • EVO: Search for Eden
  • EarthBound
  • Equinox
  • F-Zero
  • F1 Pole Position
  • Final Fantasy 4
  • Final Fantasy 5
  • Final Fantasy 6
  • Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
  • Front Mission
  • Gods
  • Harvest Moon
  • Illusion of Time
  • Inindo: Way of the Ninja
  • Justice League Task Force
  • Killer Instinct
  • King of Dragons
  • Lagoon
  • Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Live a live
  • Lufia & the Fortress of Doom
  • Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
  • Mega Man 7
  • Monopoly
  • Monstania
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Mortal Kombat 2
  • Ogre Battle
  • Paladin's Quest
  • Parodius
  • Pinball Dreams
  • Pop'n TwinBee
  • Radical Dreamers
  • Raiden Trad
  • Romancing Saga 3
  • Secret of Evermore
  • Secret of Mana
  • Secret of Mana 2
  • Secret of the Stars
  • Shadowrun
  • Shin Megami Tensei
  • SimEarth
  • Sonic Blast Man
  • Soul Blazer
  • Star Fox
  • Star Ocean
  • Street Fighter 2
  • Street Fighter 2 Turbo
  • Street Fighter Alpha 2
  • Sunset Riders
  • Super Castlevania 4
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's island
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Off Road
  • Super Street Fighter 2
  • Super SWIV
  • Super Tennis
  • Super Valis
  • Tales of Phantasia
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4
  • Terranigma
  • Treasure Hunter G
  • Treasure of the Rudras
  • U.N. Squadron
  • Ultraman
  • Uncharted Waters 2: New Horizons
  • Violinist of Hameln
  • Wonder Project J
  • Young Merlin
  • Ys 3: Wanderers from Ys

My PC looked like this. 386sx25 (25 MHz), 2MB RAM,
40 MB HDD, 2 floppy drives 3.5", no sound card, 14" SVGA monitor


While I was still playing regularly with my SNES, I got my first PC. It would be too tedious to try and check all the games that I played on PC. I probably played more PC games than SNES games, and I don't expect to find a list of titles easily. So I'll only recall some of the most influencing ones that I got to play:

  • Civilization
  • Counter-Strike
  • Day Of The Tentacle
  • Diablo
  • Frontier: Elite 2
  • The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall
  • The Incredible Machine
  • UFO: Enemy Unknown


Conclusion

Hopefully, this will describe well enough the games I've been exposed to, before coming to the PC.

I have been a dedicated player for a long time but nowadays I spend less time playing since I have other things to do, including writing this blog, reading news, listening to science-themed podcasts and reading books (or listening to audiobooks).

Maybe someday I should try and list the PC games that I can remember playing.

For the future, I am unsure of how my relation to games will evolve. I spend less and less time playing on PC and I feel drawn to the Playstation Vita as well as Nintendo's portable console (either 3DS XL or 2DS).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Blood donation





Hospitals never have enough blood. Or rather, they may have enough blood sometimes, but blood can only be preserved and used for 6 weeks. That's why people are encouraged to donate blood on a regular basis.

2/3 of the blood will be used for people over 60 years old and the increase in life expectancy is driving this statistic upwards. In parallel with this increased demand, the supply is stable, with 1 in 38 people donating. The highest usage of blood seems to be targeted at people with cancer or leukemia undergoing chemotherapy.

After you donate blood, there are several things you should do:

  • press for 5 minutes on the part of your arm where the needle was, to prevent swelling
  • consume sugar, honey, or any other source of glucose to fuel your brain and prevent dizziness and a vasovagal response
  • drink a lot of water so it can be used to create new blood
  • eat blood pudding, blood sausage or other iron-rich foods to create new red cells
  • stay away from efforts, sport, driving

Saturday, December 14, 2013

On the uniqueness of individual perspective



In philosophy, the word solipsism refers to the idea that one person's own mind is the only sure thing to exist. Though I'm not interested in discussing solipsism itself or the degree to which I agree or disagree with it, I think it's a good starting point to think about the idea that we are alone in our heads.

I am me, and I am not anybody else. Anything that you tell me about you and your experiences, I will understand it and perceive it through my own filters. Some of my filters can be similar to yours if we have some things in common, like growing up in the same country and the same culture. But there is necessarily a number of differences between you and me. If you are a woman, then I will miss all of the filters associated with the experience of being a woman. For sure, I have been told some things about what it's like to be a woman. So I can try and understand things the way you do, but it will never succeed 100%. It will only succeed to the degree that I can mimic some of your filters.

Being an individual means that there are unique aspects of experiencing certain things and not experiencing other things. If I celebrate my 35th birthday in country A, then I don't get to know what it's really like to celebrate my 35th birthday in country B.

We are also slaves to our physical bodies. We only require a change in hormone concentration to obtain different results from a single stimulus. If we take diazepam (Valium), we will react with less anxiety. And that is not just a physical response but a change within brain activity and therefore experience. Our hormones fluctuate without the need to take medication. The most notorious example being probably women's behavior changing along their menstrual cycle.

Also, in order to try and understand the experiences of another person, we need to know things about that person. We tend to easily pass judgement on other people whom we don't know. But since we don't know them, we presume (without reliable evidence) what filters they have. This is often the case on subjects of politics. Recently, I have been debating quite a lot with people who are on the far-right of the political spectrum. When having these debates, I found that the communication problem did not lie only with the difference of knowledge. There is also a difference of filters. We wrap similar words in different contexts. For example, I view free-masons as communities emulating the spirit of the Enlightenment. But people from the far-right see free-masons as a conspiracy of elitists hellbent on taking the power for their organization and establishing a new world order dividing society between the elite and the mundane. We do not use the same tools to analyze what the other person tells us. It would certainly be one-sided to claim that my approach (science or epistemology) is the only good one or the best one, even if I think so. And they probably think the same of their thinking process, which I would describe as driven by fear and anger.

Sometimes, we wonder what it would have been like to grow up in a different family or in a different socio-economic status. The answer is: we have 1 experience only and we cannot have others so we can simply never know and it renders the question pointless. What would it be like to be an only child? or to have a single parent? or to be rich? These questions are pointless. Well, of course they can develop our imagination. But they don't have a real answer. They're only a support for more questions like "What, in my childhood's environment, contributed positively or negatively and what can I offer to my own children for their development?".


Conclusion

Sometimes, I meet people who are very different from me. And I wonder how they think, or why they think a certain way. Or why they have the opinions that they do. This is a matter of perspective. I can never get a 100% understanding of them. And vice-versa: they cannot understand me 100%. I suppose it's part of why I write big articles: just to make my own filters more understandable to others.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Time magazine: a magazine of traitors

Photo used as a "fair use" illustration


Time magazine has announced its "Person of the Year 2013": Pope Francis.

WHAAAAAAATT????

In one of the most spineless moves in the history of journalism, Time magazine decided that it's best to be traitors to the people and remain friends with the establishment. Because you know... being a counter-power and fighting for the truth, it's not what journalism is about anymore.

I have no criticism at all about Pope Francis, and I appreciate him for a handful of good things he did this year. He spoke favorably of non-Christians and was inclusive of agnostics and atheists. He spoke against the corrupting power of money and how in the USA particularly, and in the world in general, we should modify the society to bridge the divide between the poor and the rich. Some of his words also suggested his opposition to the corruption going on in the bank of the Vatican and Banco Ambrosiano... a topic that can remind us about the strange circumstances of Pope John Paul the 1st's probable assassination.

So Francis is a good guy! But let's be honest! Whatever he did in 2013 cannot compare with the Snowden leaks. We're still figuring out new spying programs every week or so. A few days ago, we still learned that NSA had infiltrated online video games for spying on users' talks. This is nuts! All phone calls are recorded. All letters and parcels sent by post are monitored. All the websites you visit are monitored. All your Skype calls are monitored. All your emails are copied to the NSA. The type of porn you prefer is analyzed (pun not intended). I mean: I was already thinking about the Time's "person of the year" a few weeks ago and I was certain that nobody else could be chosen. And I stand by that!

I think Pope Francis was not chosen. I think Snowden was simply and purely demoted as a political maneuver from Time magazine. RIP journalism!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Online identity, privacy, and personas



Definitions

Let's leave aside the government spying for the duration of this article.

Privacy is not a simple matter. Around the notion of privacy and identity revolve a few other notions.

  • name / legal identity
  • identity
  • pseudonym
  • persona


Your name is the set of words (first name, last name) by which the administration refers to you in legal documents. As I understand, the USA is quite open to people changing their name every now and then. It must be hell for people to find long lost relatives but giving people the freedom to be called whatever they want to be called: that sounds good.

Your identity is the real you inside your brain. It is your psychology, your likes and dislikes, your passions.

Your pseudonyms, with an "s" because you're likely to use several of them on the internet, are like names. You'll probably use a different one on each internet website. Or maybe you'll reuse each pseudonym on websites related to similar activities. In my case, I use a certain pseudonym for computer-news websites and I use a different one for video games.

Last but not least, personas are to identity what pseudonyms are to name. As you use different pseudonyms on the web for different services, you might even assume different online identities with distinct personalities. These online identities are called "personas". You may assume a persona of a different gender than what you are in real life. You may "play nice" on certain websites and behave like a jerk on others. But personas may also simply reflect the fact that when we live in communities, we display a different side of our personality depending on whom we are facing. If you've ever been a student and that you've been drinking alcohol with your friends, you know that the side of you that you show to your friends is not the same as the side of you that you'll show to your grandparents.


The point

There's a couple of reasons why I wanted to talk about privacy and persona.

The first one is: this blog! Aside from the need to express myself, the urge to communicate the ideas boiling in my mind, I also had the distinct idea that having a blog would be useful to show a side of me to people like potential future employers. When your work is part programming and part mobile telecoms engineering, my feeling is that you should exist on the internet. Upon receiving a CV, prospective employers will google your name. It is criminal of them to do so, since this constitutes an intrusion within the private sphere for the purpose of a professional evaluation, but they do google your name and no police forces are checking that they refrain themselves from doing so.

But here's where it gets frustrating! Expressing myself on a blog is about sharing part of my identity. But if I don't censor myself, the recruiters will find the less politically-correct side of me. Just an example: in real life, I cuss and I feel that cussing is absolutely appropriate to express adequately my feelings. On my blog, I don't cuss, partly because I want to show a different side of me than the one I share with my closest friends. One thing I can do, but which I likely won't because of the time it takes for writing articles and keeping a blog alive, is creating a new blog under a new persona concentrating the parts of my identity that I don't unveil here. It could include cussing and topics like sex, partisan politics, disparaging whatever groups or topics I dislike in no unclear terms... This "solution" has even more drawbacks since writing under a different pen name would deprive the real me of the credit derived from the new blog. So a frustration exists.

The second reason to discuss this subject is a suggestion from Google's CEO Eric Schmidt. Because of all the mistakes made by children on the internet who reveal embarrassing parts of their lives on social networks or blogs without realizing the consequences, Schmidt suggested that future laws could naturally emerge to grant people a new name upon reaching adulthood. This would separate a person's new identity from the embarrassing past. Similarly, for people who keep doing foolish things on the internet into their adulthood, a name change every 6 or 7 years could be a legitimate tactic to "start fresh" with a blank slate.

I feel like the ideal solution doesn't exist. Or rather, the ideal solution might exist technically (some sort of self-hosted social network) but I don't believe this kind of solution will be favored by the public.


Conclusion

We got to discuss about online privacy in more refined and precise terms than we often see. Hopefully, you can now discuss such subjects with the ability to distinguish between identity, pseudonym, name, and persona.

I shared some of my frustrations.

Maybe it can inspire you to also think about your own perception of online privacy and identity.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dirty Wars (2013) ★★★★★



Plot

This is a documentary. Kabul, Afghanistan: NATO publishes lists of night raids carried out by the coalition. Who exactly carries out these night raids? NATO doesn't know. Is it the American army? NATO doesn't know. Is it the CIA? NATO doesn't know. The narration shifts towards Gardez, in the South-East Afghan countryside. A family organized a party to celebrate a birth. Men are dancing a traditional dance to the rythm of drums, in a crowded room. As noise is heard outside the home, one of the men, a police officer goes out to see what caused the noise. As soon as he steps out, a salvo of bullets meets his chest and kills him. 2 pregnant women will meet the same fate, as well as 9 other people. To cover their tracks, the Americans who carried out this operation will use knives to pull out bullets from the corpses. No evidence, no guilt. This will pass as a night raid against militants in the newspapers and in the White House's statistics. But cell phone cameras record evidence. On a photo, the journalist, however familiar with war journalism doesn't recognize what unit the American soldiers are from. After a search, he discovers a unit that was previously unknown to him: JSOC. And the investigation continues, uncovering the direct relationship between JSOC and the president of the USA. And the documentary pans out to the whole world, including ally countries, where JSOC is launching missiles and cluster bombs, leaving civilians in such despair and disgust that it creates more terrorists than it kills. A perpetual war is in motion and very real, hidden behind the cloud of the official war.


My verdict

This is an essential documentary. It is so rich in details that people unfamiliar with the topic might even feel suspicious. But I personally already knew about several of them and can attest that they're not a fabrication. There is a war against journalists, but that's almost a side subject. There is a war fueling war. The documentary doesn't address the question of "why", and I'd guess it's a combination of corporate greed from the military industrial complex, geostrategic domination of the world by Washington, and recklessness from the most hard-boiled killers trained by the army.

The narration is well constructed, as we follow clues leading from Kabul to Gardez, and from the photo of a man to the man himself, his unit, and the president of the USA, then from the man's unit to all the places where it strikes. The story takes us also to the order given by Obama to assassinate an American man and his 16 year old son, without due process, without charges, without justice. This documentary is a dark but painfully pragmatic picture of a war the USA have been carrying out beyond Afghanistan and Irak, using torture, spying on journalists and jailing them, calling them liars when they reported the truth, murdering civilians, women, children, babies and calling them "militant" until proven innocent. It's a must-see documentary film worth 5 stars.

Friday, December 6, 2013

freedom of speech: a duty




In many countries, freedom of speech is a right. I want to argue that it doesn't come free of charge. Freedom of speech comes with duties ; Burdens so heavy that we know not everybody will be able to carry them. Burdens so meaningful that not everybody will be willing to even try and shoulder them.

We all know the quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire and actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

It is easier said than done. France has freedom of speech. But a limited freedom. People who deny the holocaust or try and minimize it are evil or ignorant. They are people I hate and I will fight their ideas. But in France, they're actually not allowed to speak their mind.

I hate these people but I love freedom of speech. The world is not an ideal world and you have to make difficult choices. In France, a member of the far-right has been sued for his writings about the holocaust. Should I blame his words? Of course I should. I do. But should I support him being sentenced for speaking his mind, however hateful his speech is? No. If I chose to support his condemnation, I would be sacrificing freedom of speech.

Impeaching freedom of speech is easy. You pass a law, and if you're the majority, you can enjoy the pleasure of a life where all you want is within your reach. While you enjoy your nice life, people will be prevented by law from speaking up against what you think. You'll have peace of mind and they will have shackles. But realistically, have you never made mistakes? Will you never make mistakes? Can there never be a time when you are wrong and someone else holds the right answer? If we allow total freedom of speech, many will come disturb your peace. You will feel that more often than not, they're just idiots wasting your time and not open to an honest exchange or arguments. And it will weigh on you heavily. It will anger you, depress you, bore you, drain you. This is the weight of free speech.

But wait a minute! Not everybody is sitting at the top of society. You could be the one at the bottom. Is there nobody who has power over you? Are you not subject to laws passed by lawmakers? Are you not limited by the rights of other people? Freedom of speech is not just the right to speak. It is also the right to be heard. It is the right to anger, depress, bore and drain other people with whatever truth you think they have not taken into consideration.

There will always be fools incapable of accepting the truth even when it hits them in the face. And there will always be fascists who will stand against freedom of speech, even when freedom of speech itself is what lets them have their opinions heard. However heavy the burden is to let them speak, we have this duty for the sake of freedom of speech itself. And on top of that, we will have the additional burden of fighting the ideas of the fools and the fascists. But if we don't spend these redoubled efforts, it only makes us like them. We would be like them, sacrificing an essential freedom on the altar of an easy win. When we claim that we love our country, what is it for? Do we love the name and the color of the flag? If so, then our country is just an empty shell ; a name tag and a beautiful image. Do we care for that? Or instead, do we love a set of freedoms and ideas that our nation globally recognizes as worth standing for?


Note:

This article is a reaction to a handful of things.

  • One of them is the outrageous question that Alan Rusbridger, editor of the newspaper The Guardian, was asked about the Snowden leaks by the Home Affairs Committee. He was asked if he loved his country. This question suggested that revealing the crimes of the government is in itself a form of attack against the country, which is a rhetoric often employed by criminal governments like the UK and the USA
  • Another one of them is the viewing of Jeremy Scahill's documentary "Dirty Wars", which I'll review soon on this blog, where there is evidence of a war on journalism by Obama's government.
  • Another cause is an unresolved discussion, and I'm sure it will remain unresolved, with a friend who would suppress freedom of speech to fascists. An opinion somewhat ironic, I find.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Connectify Hotspot Lite: turning your laptop into a wifi hotspot




What it is and where to find it

Sometimes you have a single connection to the internet and several devices that you would like to connect. This can happen for example in hotels where you only get a cable connection in which case your phone will have a hard time pulling your latest emails.

So I found a software which does the job. Its main qualities are:

  • free
  • easy to install and configure
  • and it does the job

There is also a non-free version ($25 per year or $40 for lifetime license), which means that the free version has a few downsides, but my personal experience is that the downsides are almost a non-issue except the wifi connection automatically stops after a few hours. I'm not sure exactly after how long. Maybe 12-24 hours or so...

You can find this software from its official website and then you can download the installer by clicking the following links:



  • Try Hotspot Lite, Limited Free Version
  • Download Connectify Now



  • What it looks like

    "Connectify-Erik" is the name of the wifi network created. The free version forces this name to start with "Connectify". Fair one!

    Next to the lock, you see zZr5n23Syx. This is my password (which I should change now). As you see, there's an option to hide it so nobody can pick it up from just looking at your screen.

    You see a button "Generate Password". It will generate strong enough passwords for you, made of random numbers and letters.















    And at the bottom, you find the button Start/Stop Hotspot.







    Conclusion

    If you ever needed a software to share your internet connection through wifi, then this one does the job.


    Erratum

    After a few days, it seems the connection uptime is getting shorter, on the order of a single hour. That makes this free version less good, but it is still kind of good.

    Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    The invention of lying (2009) ★★★★☆


    The plot:

    This is a world where lies and deception do not exist. Everybody says the truth all the time. So much so that the notion of truth doesn't exist. In this world, there cannot be any work of fiction. Cinema is limited to filming a man on a chair narrating history. In this world, Mark Bellison is a loser, a failed cinema writer who's getting fired. But he will discover that he can lie... A capacity tantamount to a super power. This power will change his life and it can change the world. For good or for bad.


    My verdict:

    This is a romantic comedy but its context is a sort of fantasy. And this context is so full of potential that no single story would be able to harness all of it. Knowing this, the plot could have gone way crazier than it has and there might be a slight disappointment about how conservative the story remains. It remains quite faithful to the standard structure of your usual romantic comedy. Still, it is refreshing and shows how lies, white lies, and other forms of trickery can be a positive aspect of our lives. Also, for once, I'm pleased to see Jennifer Garner in a role that she can handle. She's a very pretty woman but beauty is not everything and I think her roles in Elektra/DareDevil or Alias were too ambitious for her. Here, in The Invention of Lying, she's doing a very good job. Ricky Gervais is doing Ricky Gervais. As far as I'm concerned, I love his work so I'm fine with this. But if anyone expected anything new from him, it won't be in this movie. Overall, a very good movie due to the originality of the context, the British humor, and the mirror image of society which hides lies so that we notice more easily how much we lie in very casual moments of our lives. Well worth 4 stars.

    Saturday, November 23, 2013

    Stratfor leak: blame falls on the whistleblowers



    A few hours ago, Jeremy Hammond, 28 years old, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for hacking into the computers of a company named Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting). Barrett Brown, a journalist whose articles always sided with the hacker movement Anonymous is sitting in jail for over a year now and facing a possible sentence of 100 years for merely sharing a hyperlink on the internet.

    But we need to jump back in time by a few years to understand all of this. The war in Afghanistan by the USA was received with some degree of perplexity. On the one hand, talibans were not cooperating with the USA for handing Bin Laden to Uncle Sam, on the other hand, Afghanistan was a sovereign nation with no duty to take orders from George Bush. Then the USA attacked Iraq by telling lies and by basically telling the UN that the USA was not going to be bothered by formalities like international treaties or the Geneva Convention and that it would go and commit crimes against humanity if it wanted. A few years into the conflicts, damning information was revealed by Wikileaks, providing evidence of willful atrocities committed by the USA.

    Anonymous, a social movement for justice and fighting abuses of power through computer hacking had already made a name for itself before 2011, when banking organizations suddenly and simultaneously obeyed to Obama's request of financially asphyxiating Wikileaks. A secondary collective of hackers, involving only highly skilled and highly determined members from Anonymous, was formed under the name "Lulzsec". Fired up by the injustice that was happening to Wikileaks which shares their passion for social justice, Lulzsec and Anonymous hacked into the servers of a few private companies who do roughly the same job as the CIA and the NSA, for uncovering evidence of the administration's order to gag Wikileaks. Stratfor is one of these companies.

    The emails revealed crimes and conspiracies fomented by Stratfor but as has become common under Obama, justice is only going after the small fish, the weak, the whistleblowers who fight for justice while turning a blind eye on crimes committed by the rich and powerful like Stratfor and its executives.

    Jeremy Hammond was one of the hackers, member of both Anonymous and Lulzsec, who performed the attack against Stratfor and copied ~5 million emails from the private company. He was later caught by the police when another member of Lulzsec turned out to be a mole for the FBI who had decided to cooperate in exchange for leniency on charges of hacking. After obtaining the emails, Hammond put these online for people to download and make copies. After a couple of years of trial, Jeremy Hammond was sentenced very recently to 10 years in jail.

    Barrett Brown, a journalist extensively covering the actions from Anonymous with whom he seemed to agree by and large, obtained a URL leading to the emails put online by Hammond and copy-pasted that URL on a Anonymous forum basically saying "Have you seen THAT?". For this act of copying 1 hyperlink, Barrett Brown is facing up to 100 years in jail and has already been detained for over a year.


    Conclusion

    Situations like this are very difficult to evaluate because after all hacking is kind of illegal... though jurisprudence establishes the public's right to know as taking precedence over the right to keep information secret.

    Barrett Brown's situation seems unconditionally damning for the political power in place, while Hammond's situation is more complex to grasp. In any case, I encourage you to go and check other sources of information on the Internet about these 2 young men.

    Friday, November 22, 2013

    Insults, obscenities and foul language




    I love insults, obscenities and foul language.

    Have you ever thought that the world would be a better place without them? If we could all love each other and treat each other in the nicest way possible? I have. And it's a horrible world. It's either a world that has lost human feelings or a world of hypocrisy where we still think the same things but give each other snarly smiles while we really want to give each other the finger.

    Humans are wonderful and yet at the same time, they're far from perfect. They're reprehensible in many different ways. It's just the way we are. And often enough, we get on each other's nerves and other people would be totally entitled to tell us that we've done something bad. Sometimes we deserve insults. Sometimes we deserve to be roughed up. And I'm not a masochist!

    When we're on the other side of frustration, when we are the ones upset, we have a sense of outrage that cannot be adequately shared if we stick to correct language. Sometimes "bad person" is simply unfitting for describing what we think of someone and there's no better word to express our emotions than foul language.

    Also, language is not static. The connotation of words evolves with how we use them. It's an illusion to think that if we stopped using foul language, it would be gone forever. Among mundane words, one would become the decent version to describe something while one of its synonyms would gain popularity to be used in a pejorative manner.

    Finally, I think a bit of outrage is healthy. It challenges our preconceived notions. Just like debate. Which reminds me of Christopher Hitchens, who valued debate for itself. A dull life doesn't teach you anything while conflict pits you against new challenges that you may learn something from.


    Conclusion

    Insults, obscenities and foul language are not only useful but they're necessary and productive. Not all the time, of course. But I hope this article could challenge some people's preconceived ideas and make you think about it.

    As a side topic, I don't like the way that American media tend to hide less than perfect language in a hypocritical manner. They'll refer to the A-word, B-word, C-word, all the way to the Z-word. But if they say "F-word" or just "F" for short, how is it different from saying "fuck"? It's what they mean and it's what they allude to with a very explicit unambiguous reference.

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    The future president of the USA in 2016



    The state of affairs

    In 2008, Obama was elected president of the USA. Another way to look at it is: in 2008, everybody was so disgusted by 8 years of George W. Bush that any non-Republican candidate could have beaten John McCain. So, Obama was seen as the savior. And I, too, thought that Obama was the change we could believe in. Not change to turn the Earth into a paradise, but just to get out of Crazyland and put America and the world back on track towards a sane world where everybody goes about their daily activities without hurdle.

    The banksters were traitors and there was hope that after clearing the rubble, we'd enjoy public contrition (if not public executions) of those responsible for destroying the life of others. But that didn't happen. Obama filled his cabinet with people in bed with the big banks. Tim Geitner, Rahm Emmanuel, Bernanke, etc.

    It was found out that the subprimes had been especially targetting the black population. And nobody was prosecuted. We found out that banksters totally knew it was going to crash. And nobody was prosecuted. We found out that banksters knowingly sold subprimes mortgages to their clients while aware that it was going to ruin these clients while they, the banks, were making profits off of that. When people were evicted from their houses, the banks organized these evictions without being sure who the houses really belonged to. They even evicted people from houses that did not belong to their bank, but they control the money so they control everything. Not one bank and not one banker has been prosecuted despite evidence against them.

    Later, we discovered that HSBC had been laundering money (tens of billions of dollars) for Al Qaeda, for drug cartels, and other organizations or regimes under international sanctions. And what happened? nothing. Who was prosecuted for treason and aiding the enemy? nobody. The banks are above the law.

    One thing that was bad during the Bush regime and which Obama was supposed to change was called the "Bush Tax Cuts". It gave a tax break to the richest people. That was pretty bad, but it was time-limited and it expired during Obama's terms. So what did Obama do? After it expired, after it was over, he reinstated the Bush Tax Cuts, or something amounting to 96% of the Bush Tax Cuts, but this time it is permanent.

    Obama did a few good things. Very few. He repealed "Don't ask, don't tell" so that openly homosexual people can be treated as equal citizens and equally serve their country in the army. He also started the "Affordable Care Act" that many people call "Obamacare" but didn't make it as good as it was originally supposed to be. For all the rest, Obama conducted politics that were even more right-wing than George W Bush himself. He droned the hell out of ally countries: Yemen, Pakistan, etc. He ordered the assassination of his own citizens (Anwar Al-Awlaki and his 16 year old son). He gave the Republicans 98% of what they wanted. I'm not the one saying it! John Boener said that.

    Obama is a very strong candidate who knows how to be elected, but he's an awful president and he's a sellout to the highest bidders.


    The way forward

    That's why, only 1 year in his 2nd term, it's already time to ask ourselves what's on the agenda and who will be candidate in 2016.

    Hillary Clinton: despite being part of the Democratic Party, she's right-wing. She's a fundamentalist religious woman adhering to "The Family", a cult-like organization that promotes the traditional (aka "fundamentalist") values of her religion. She's a traitor who put in place the spying of foreign ally UN delegations. She's in bed with the establishment, which means nothing would change under her leadership. Banks would still abuse citizens and corporations would still be writing the bills of future laws in ways that arrange them at the expense of the people.

    Rand Paul: following in the footsteps of his father Ron Paul, except that Rand Paul is less honest than his father. Even if we don't agree with Ron Paul's libertarian ideology, we must admit that he honestly defended the principles of his ideology. But Rand is a sellout and he'll curve his ideas if that gets him another donor to finance his campaign.

    Ted Cruz: a tea-party crazy. He's about as bad as Osama Bin Laden. He's the one responsible for the government shutdown that happened 1 month ago. His campaign is run by his father who says things like "Obama is a Muslim and he should go back to Kenya" (though Obama's American and the Cruz family is an immigrant family from Cuba), or "Atheists are perverts and molesters" (though statistics show precisely the opposite). So of course these are the words from the father, but Ted Cruz doesn't disavow these things.

    Chris Christie: he's basically the Republican counterpart to Hillary Clinton. That gives him good chances to gain funding from corporations and banks and win the Republican primary over crazier people.


    And then, there's 1 person who's not sure to be a candidate or not. Based on her action, I'd say she's the person whose actions are the most inline with the majority opinion of the poor and middle-class people in the USA: Elizabeth Warren. Her photo's at the beginning of this article. She's been battling the banks. She dared to ask the SEC when was the last time that they prosecuted any bankster... to which the SEC was unable to answer because it's been like forever. Elizabeth Warren is conscious of the problems related to legalized corruption (aka "campaign financing and lobbying"). If she decides to run in 2016, there is hope.

    Wednesday, November 13, 2013

    Game of Thrones: Predictions


    What are we talking about ?

    The TV series Game of Thrones is a great one. It is full of memorable quotes, the characters are deep, diverse and have strong personality traits. The acting is also very good and all actors are charismatic.

    I heard that the books are even better, but I just don't find it in me to pick the book series. The book series will be composed of 7 books in total and the author George R.R. Martin is currently in the process of writing the 6th volume. Seasons 1 & 2 of the TV series each covered a full book while seasons 3 (aired) and 4 (to be aired in 2014) each cover a half of the 3rd volume, reputed to be much bigger than the others.

    In this series, almost everybody plots to end up sitting on the Iron Throne and become the ruler of the 7 kingdoms. But everybody makes enemies or has rivals to contend with and unlike other shows, you can't expect the good guys to win. Quite the contrary in fact. The good guys either get corrupted or they get betrayed, abused, vilified, tortured, and killed.

    So, the outstanding question is: who will be sitting on the Iron Throne at the end?



    So let's make predictions and come back to the subject at a later date to see how far off I've been.


    SPOILER ALERT !
    (if you haven't watched until the end of season 3)

    Predicitons

    First things first: I think that whoever sits on the throne at the end of the story must have already been introduced by now... Now referring to the 3rd season of the TV show or the 1st half of the 3rd book.

    Let's see my impressions character by character:


    House Lannister


    • Jaime the Kingslayer: He is smart, committed, and familiar with politics. He would almost make it on a shortlist except he's not driven and has no interest in the throne.
    • Cersei: no way. She's too evil and too many people hate her. There's no way she'll die of old age.
    • Joffrey: Nope! He's a coward, he makes enemies without making friends, and he's not smart enough with politics.
    • Tyrion: He's too charismatic for his own good. But he's a smart politician, knows how to make friends and pays his debts. His loyalty to his family is a burden that prevents him from achieving more, but if Cersei, Tywin and Joffrey get out of the equation and if the wars with dragons and whitewalkers get bad enough, he'll get an opportunity to be at the center of alliances and shine as a natural leader. I'll shortlist him.
    • Tywin: He is too old and doesn't seem interested in the throne.
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish: driven and smart. However, I don't see him forming any real bond of friendship with anyone, and that is a weakness. Like Varys, he would be a good spymaster but the conflict between his ambition and his true qualities will probably get him assassinated.
    • Varys: not interested in the throne.
    • The Hound: he's a true hero of sorts, cynical but good-minded. He seems too disgusted by the treacheries of politics to ever apply for the job.
    • Bronn: he doesn't have the ambition and is satisfied with the luxury of whatever comes his way, but given new circumstances of war, he could be pushed into positions of power that would force him into the political arena. He isn't a hero but he's probably as balanced a character as can be, like Tyrion, between loyalty and opportunity. I'll shortlist him.

    House Baratheon



    • Brienne of Tarth: Strong and honorable, but not interested in politics. Even if she becomes a military leader, I don't see any possibility of her ever accepting a political role.
    • Margeary: she's a Cersei wannabe. She'll do anything to advance her career and she's smart about politics. She can make friends among the likes of Sansa but she doesn't fool smart people. If nobody assassinates her, somebody will find a way to intimidate her and give up her ambition for something smaller. Maybe becoming queen of 1 of the 7 kingdoms.
    • Stannis: too driven and too misled by Melisandre. He's being manipulated. Though ambitious and driven, he's honorable and when he realizes the mistakes he's made, I see him stepping down.
    • Melisandre: evil witch. She can't become ruler of the 7 kingdoms otherwise the whole population will turn on her.
    • Davos Seaworth: honorable and good. He's not a politician. He has great potential of turning his life around, though.
    • Gendry: He's just an average person, without obvious qualities for politics nor interest, even though he would be the rightful heir, being the only live real son of King Robert.

    House Targaryen

    • Daenerys: she's an incredible character but I can't see her ending up on the throne. Magic (or dragon kin) cannot be what will put the last character on the Iron Throne. She'll have to die at some time.

    House Stark

    • Sansa: she's weak, easily manipulated, and overall not smart about politics. Please George Martin! If you get rid of more Starks, get rid of her first!
    • Bran: his ability will certainly develop and he will certainly have an important role to play through this ability, but politics are not his thing. If Varys or Littlefinger could teach him, he could become very useful for gathering intelligence in enemy territory... Sooner or later, there will need to be an open war against the whitewalkers. But I don't see how life experiences could prepare him to climb on the throne. 
    • Arya: One of my favorite characters. Though she's young, she's incredibly brave. She has a good heart and she establishes friendships easily. Exposed to many trying experiences, she will learn a lot about politics, about commoners and socialites, about military tactics. She has even created a relationship with Tywin and there's no doubt that she'll have other trying experiences requiring her to summon the return of Jaqen H'Ghar. I'll shortlist her.
    • Jon Snow: too much involved with the Night's Watch for being a candidate to the Iron Throne.

    House Greyjoy

    • Theon: He's in a difficult situation at the moment. Even if he gets out of it alive, there's nothing that indicates a potential for climbing on the Iron Throne.
    • Yara: She's strong and smart, but her interests are in the Iron Islands only. She would make a good leader for her islands and has the support of her people.


    Conclusion

    For now, the only 2 characters who appear as good candidates to hold the throne for a period of stability at the end are Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark. I'll have to come back to this post in the future to check how (in)accurate my prediction was.

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Movements on the internet


    Something different

    The internet has facilitated the creation of communities. Some communities will be unquestionably considered positively like the forums where software programmers lend a hand to each other. Some others will be almost unanimously bad like forums where people exchange tips on the creation of software viruses. And then a lot of communities will fall somewhere in the middle, and how we consider them will be a reflection of our very personal views.

    I was listening to episode #215 of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe in which Adam Savage (host of the Mythbusters show) is being interviewed. And at some point, Adam mentioned the connection between the DIY community and the skeptic community. Which led me to the idea of creating a mind-map of sorts of the relationship between a few movements that have been enabled by the internet.

    Green lines represent synergies, correlation, or positive interactions.
    Red lines represent negative interactions



    Undoubtedly, this is partial and each of these communities can be broken into subcategories. I also had to leave out some considerations like political affiliations other than conservative politics. For instance, libertarians tend to associate with the GOP which is (ever more) conservative, but libertarians do associate pretty well to the skeptic movement. As for liberals, it has become impossible to really identify their position clearly on any subject because policies have shifted so much towards the right since the year 2000 that I would consider some of them as left-wing and others as right-wing. It is a spectrum too broad to encompass under 1 single denomination.


    Conclusion

    It's not like there's any conclusion to be written about this. Hopefully it can help someone, maybe just myself, figuring out the relationship between groups. Maybe if any reader recognizes 1 group that he belongs to, that will give him the idea to go and check out related communities that he did not really know about.

    PS: just noticed also a few missing lines like a red line between skepticism and anti-vaxers. Well... I'm too lazy to edit the picture now :-p

    Saturday, November 9, 2013

    Asymmetric warfare



    Asymmetric Warfare (AW) is the conflict between 2 groups whose resources differ in nature. As a consequence, the strategies employed by both parties will necessarily differ greatly, and the outcome of such conflicts is probably less predictable than that of Symmetric Warfare (SW). In SW, you merely have to count the resources on both sides and the side with more resources should obtain the victory more than 50% of the time.

    An example of this is the Vietnam war. On one side, US troops had plenty of equipment, and heavy firepower. On the other side, Vietnam had plenty of people but little equipment. The US were using military tactics, while Vietnam was using guerrilla tactics. The US attempted physical domination of Vietnam's cities, facilities and infrastructures, while the Vietnamese were wearing out the morale of US troops and the economy of the USA which was spending tons of money to sustain the war effort.

    AW is a notion that can describe many different struggles.

    • Activists vs. Corporations/Countries (Sea Shepherd vs. Japan)
    • Resistance movements vs. State (Syria)
    • Fighting video games (strong vs. fast)
    • Socioeconomic changes (Israel's Jewish domination vs. Muslim demographics)
    • Family dynamics (Male personality vs. Female personality)
    • etc.


    I wanted to have this article written before moving on to other topics that make reference to asymmetric warfare. So there's no real conclusion here, but just like a house: foundations may look boring but they're useful.

    Wednesday, November 6, 2013

    King of the extreme




    Introduction

    Extremophiles are lifeforms that can live or survive in extreme environments. Such environments can be defined by temperature (extreme hot or cold), acidity, salinity, pressure (high pressure or space vacuum), presence or absence of chemicals, radiation...

    For example, some bacteria can survive in boiling water. Some insects can survive radiations thousands of times more intense than what would kill humans. Some ticks can survive space vacuum.

    Surviving 1 extreme condition is strange. But surviving 2 extreme conditions is radical. This is what we call "polyextremophiles". What about organisms that can survive 3 extreme conditions? Or 4? Or 5? They bring us to a whole new different way of thinking about life itself. Some bacteria can survive cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid.

    But there's 1 animal that takes the cake. One animal that could potentially achieve the impossible: the tardigrade.


    The tardigrade

     It doesn't look like much. It looks like any kind of bug or acari. But let's look at what it can endure:

    • extreme cold:
      • 1°K for a few minutes (-273°C or -458°F)
      • 73°K for a few days (-200°C or -328°F)
    • extreme hot:
      • 151°C or 304°F for a few minutes
    • extreme low pressure: space vacuum + solar radiation for more than 10 days
    • extreme high pressure: between 1200 and 6000 atmospheric pressures
    • dehydration: for over 10 years
    • radiation: between 5000 and 6000 Gray (=1000 times more resistant than humans)


    Due to these surprising characteristics, tardigrades interest astrobiologists. By studying these animals, their genome, and the mechanical, physical or chemical reasons for its resistance especially in space, there is hope that we can gain knowledge that will prove useful in the future of mankind as we start leaving the Earth for establishing colonies on other planets or as we send entire societies to live and travel in giant space ships towards new solar systems (OK, I admit: I love science-fiction).

    What's even more surprising regarding the tardigrade, beyond the fact that it is a polyextremophile, is the fact that its resistance goes much beyond conditions that can be found on Earth. For example: its resistance to high pressures extends to pressures 6 times higher than the pressure that exists at the bottom of the deepest oceanic trench. The extreme cold temperatures that it can endure are without comparison with the coldest temperatures ever recorded anywhere. To put things in perspective: it can live for a few days in temperatures colder than liquid nitrogen!

    It would be tempting to imagine that unearthly resistances like these must arise in unearthly conditions. But no! The tardigrade is definitely a creature from Earth that finds its place in the tree of life that all lifeforms share on this planet. However, it is very weird.


    Conclusion

    You discovered the existence of a fun creature!

    Friday, November 1, 2013

    Moon and sleep




    Introduction

    In the past few weeks, I heard from 2 friends (who don't know each other) the suggestion that their sleep or their child's sleep might be affected by the moon. In 1 case at least, it was a serious suggestion. In the other case, I'm not sure. Could there be any truth behind this story or not at all?


    The gravity hypothesis

    Of course, if you read Wikipedia's article, you'll get an exhaustive neutral summary of this subject. But this is my blog, with my side of the story and no claim to be exhaustive or neutral. That's what blogs are for.

    There are 2 known ways in which the Moon can influence things happening on Earth:

    • light
    • gravity


    We know that the Moon's gravity is responsible for ocean tides and we can be tempted to imagine that a comparable effect could apply to humans who are composed of whatever percentage of water. In fact, let's do the math! This is how the gravitation force works.

    For this demonstration, we'll consider that M1 is the Moon, with a mass of 7.35x10²² kg (*)
    And M2 is an average male human with a mass of 80 kg (*)
    R = 378,000,000 m (*) (**)

    (*) values rounded to a 0.5% precision
    (**) Distance Earth-Moon (384,399 km) minus Earth's median radius (6,371 km)



    F1 = F2 = G x M1 x M2 / (R x R)

    F1 = F2 = 6.67e-11 x 7.35e+22 x 80 / (3.78e+8 x 3.78e+8)

    F1 = F2 = 2.7e-3 Newton


    In other words, the pull from the Moon on a person is equivalent to 0.3 grams (2.7e-3 N divided by the gravity constant of the Earth: 9.81). And this, of course, is much less than the weight of a pajama or bed sheets. If we also assume that we exhale and sweat a total of 25 mL of water per hour, the pull from the Moon is equal to the weight of water we lose through breath and perspiration every 43 seconds. What's more, the pull from the Moon changes very slowly as it takes roughly 12 hours for our satellite to travel across the sky. Final nail in the coffin on the gravity hypothesis: the effect of gravity is the same regardless of the phase of the Moon.


    The other hypotheses

    On the hypothesis of light having an effect, people report being disturbed by the Moon even when their curtains or blinds are closed. So... there's no reason to defend this hypothesis.

    On the hypothesis of magnetism, it must be reminded that magnetism's effect is only strong at very short ranges. A few centimeters at most, unless you have a massive source of magnetism like the core of the Earth which is active due to the high temperatures and pressures. The Moon's magnetic field is 100 times weaker than Earth's magnetic field and its effects over the distance that separates it from our planet, its strength would be weakened by many orders of magnitude. So, the magnetism hypothesis is busted.

    Energy? This is subject in and of itself, that sells books to the "New Age" aficionados. In many of the irrational beliefs and practices, the word "energy" is used for the supposed source of effects. In skeptical terms, it is called "magical thinking". The thing is: energy is not a supernatural unfalsifiable claim on which reason has nothing to say. Energy is something very concrete. It has to be stored somewhere, in some form, before it is released and produces very concrete effects. But the rational notion of energy is not what people allude to, when they invoke Energy as a cause for what they believe in.


    The more rational approach

    We have biases. When something happens to us, our brain naturally fills in the gaps of what we don't know to try and establish the cause of what happened. That's what creates superstitions. And we need recognizable points of reference. If we generally sleep well but have sleep problems on the night of a gibbous Moon or a crescent Moon: it's not an easy thing to remember. But if our sleep problem happens on a full Moon, that phase is very recognizable and easily remembered.


    Conclusion

    It's safe to estimate that the Moon doesn't affect our sleep... unless we keep the curtains open of course, in which case the light could reduce our sleep quality. But if we hold the superstition that a full Moon will be a problem, we might actually be disturbed by the anxiety of our superstition, thus turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Sleep tight! Don't let the bed bugs bite!

    Wednesday, October 30, 2013

    The best media organization in the world (soon)





    The current situation

    Within the world of journalism, a strong criticism has emerged which gained traction since George W. Bush's presidency. Most of the news outlets, the "mainstream media" as it's often referred to, is accused of complacency with the powerful. As was described by Cenk Uygur after he left MSNBC, this is how things work: the political Establishment offers interviews to news organizations and in exchange for this "access" to themselves, they expect journalists to always present them in a favorable way. If a journalist dares to challenge the Establishment, this behavior will be punished by depriving the news organization of access, thereby condemning it to lose the interest of its audience... or more simply, the dissenting journalist will be kicked out so he learns to ask only the questions that the politicians want to hear.

    In this bleak media landscape where journalists betray the trust of their audience and fail to stand up to their role as a counter-power, a few people still stand up to the powerful, question everything, and report stories that matter to help defending democracy, human beings rights, and civil liberties. Some of these remaining heroes take big risks. Powerful corporations may try to ruin their lives by drowning them in years of unending prosecutions. Some of them are targeted by governments and end up in a jail or in a coffin. Some of them need to seek asylum in a foreign embassy and their human being rights of movement are impeached by self-proclaimed democracies.


    A few good men ...and woman

    Among the remaining few good people, it is surprising (or maybe it isn't) to find that some of them are regular guests on Amy Goodman's pro-peace DemocracyNow program.

    Glenn Greenwald has been a journalist for The Guardian where he used to focus on abuses of power by the political and financial elite, and how the well-connected enjoy exemptions from the law. This angle led to the writing of the book "With liberty and justice for some" which he discusses in the company of Noam Chomsky in the following video. Glenn Greenwald is also the journalist who has been reporting since June 6th, 2013 on the leaks by Edward Snowden about the American outreaching spying programs: PRISM, MAINWAY, XKeyScore, Upstream, Echelon, etc.



    Jeremy Scahill came to the public's attention as war reporter who wrote "Blackwater: the rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army" in which he denounced the crimes of American mercenaries that made up to half of all the American forces deployed in Iraq. The revelations in his book led to his witness account at a congressional hearing on the crimes committed by Blackwater. More recently, his journalistic investigations led him to Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, which are the theater of operation of drones' strikes, signature strikes, and other war crimes perpetrated by the United States Government, including the targeted assassination of American citizens including a 16 year old. These accounts have been gathered in his latest book and the matching eponymous documentary: "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield" which he discusses in the following video.



    Laura Poitras is the one of the 3 personalities whom I know least about. A documentary producer, she dedicated some of her work to the exposure of the USA's security agencies (NSA, DHS) who abuse their power for intruding citizens' private life, though not suspect of any crime, and gathering massive amounts of private information in violation of the 1st and 4th amendment of the USA's constitution. The only occasions that I really heard about Poitras before the leaks by Edward Snowden were her cooperation with Julian Assange, founder of wikilkeaks, and another cooperation with Jacob Appelbaum, creator and leader of the Tor Project (which I discussed in that article). Since I am not familiar with Poitras' work, I'll propose you a lecture by Jacob Appelbaum instead, which I found fascinating.



    Winter is coming

    Anyway... here's the big news: Greenwald, Scahill and Poitras will join efforts together in a new media organization financed by Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar who allocated 250 million dollars for this new project.

    For people interested in no-nonsense journalism, this is amazing news. 3 heavyweights of truth-telling and standing up to the Establishment joining forces is the promise of meaningful news. The name of this organization is not yet known, and nor is the time that it will start publishing though I hope it will have stories to tell before the end of the year.


    Conclusion

    I am very enthusiastic about this coming media organization that starts with the big street creds from these courageous journalists.

    And in this article, you've been exposed to names of prominent journalists and activists whose work I highly respect and who are connected to other respectable journalists and activists.

    Monday, October 28, 2013

    The 2nd most important man in France's modern history




    Introduction

    What I call "modern history" when talking about France is the period since the beginning of WW2. Undoubtedly, the most important man who influenced the destiny of France since that time was the general Charles De Gaulle. who played a key role in winning WW2 and later became president and exerted a somewhat dictatorial power in the conduct of affairs. Regardless of what he achieved and how we may judge it with today's standards, De Gaulle is very famous of course.

    By contrast, the 2nd most important man who defined France's history is virtually unknown of French people themselves. Even among the older generations who might recognize his name, hardly anyone knows much about him. How is it possible? Shouldn't the 2nd most important man be also a president of the French Republic? Let's have a look!


    Jacques Foccart

    Jacques Foccart's political history starts during WW2 around the age of 30. After contacting the Resistance in 1942, he created provincial organizations affilitated to the Resistance and became the leader of this movement in 4 French provinces including some provinces of Normandy which would be the stage for D-Day. He also joined the secret services of The Free France which was based in London and where he met Charles De Gaulle.

    From this position of leadership and his involvement in the secret services, he naturally joined the French secret services upon the liberation of Paris.

    At the end of WW2, the political situation in France and in the world was peculiar. USSR was trying to extend its influence in France through the French Communist Party, labor unions, terrorist organizations, and press propaganda. Conversely, the USA were showering money on the French politicians and the French economy to develop a capitalist society, financing alternate labor unions to counter USSR's influence on workers, right wing newspapers, and organizing sleeper cells (Gladio networks) to become a new Resistance in the hypothesis of a future Soviet invasion of Europe. The USA were also trying to influence France's politics and get to control it via a puppet president, but De Gaulle wouldn't let them and worked hard to keep France independent. Simultaneously, decolonization had started all over the world, creating a threat for France's geopolitical influence and its future economic prospects, especially in the domain of oil.

    Foccart pursued a political career within De Gaulle' party, and in the 1950's was put in charge of African Affairs. Effectively, he acquired the nickname of "Mr Africa". With his experience of secret services' Realpolitik and his personal attachment to Africa, he established bonds of confidence, corruption, mutual agreements, etc. with the leaders of many countries and created a situation of domination of France over these countries, allowing France to weigh in on national politics of West African nations. This is what was later called "Françafrique" (Francafrica). With these special relations, Foccart established a relation of dependency towards France, and beyond the purely economic aspects, it also offered France benefits like the sharing of secret services, intelligence and diplomatic resources.

    Despite his involvement in politics, Foccart maintained a strong bond with French secret services and would often participate in exercises, especially shooting, whether it was for maintaining his skill or establishing relationships with the agents. This can only have had positive effects in the coordination of efforts to keep the USA from overturning governments in Africa. In particular, the USA were interested in nations with oil resources like Saharan countries (Libya, Algeria, Niger) and mid-Africa coastline countries (Gabon, Cameroon, Ivory Coast).

    Inside of France, loyalists to Charles De Gaulle feared that any remotely left-wing organization would be somehow affiliated to the communist cause and would try to undermine De Gaulle' power and the right-wing independent conduct of France. Nationalism ran high. Foccart, along with Charles Pasqua and Alexandre Sanguinetti created a non-profit organization named "Service d'Action Civique" (Civic Action Service) abbreviated SAC with the aim of inconditionally supporting De Gaulle's politics. In practice, the SAC recruited strong and violent men with a nationalist sensibility among militants, police, military police, and criminals. The SAC acted as a militia, militant support group, and informal security service. In this regard, they looked similar to groups of skinheads who nowadays follow the political meetings of far-right political parties. But the SAC had a public front that skinheads don't have and which gave it an air of respectability. Members would assault left-wing organizations, kidnap them, and beat them to deter or punish any action seen as negative. A theory still remains that the SAC was separated in 2 groups, one being in charge of the respectable tasks and the other one in charge of dirty jobs. The SAC lived until 1981 when it was dissolved after the murder of one of its members and all of his family: the Auriol massacre (French wikipedia article).

    Though he left office in 1974 to be replaced by his assistant (on whom we can guess he still held influence), I think Foccart kept good connections with the following presidents (Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterrand and Chirac) as well as African leaders and his influence continued almost until his death in 1997.


    Conclusion

    You discovered a little-known but highly important figure of France's modern history. Yay! \o/

    You were reminded of long-forgotten history lessons! Yay again! \o/

    In some aspects, Jacques Foccart appears as a French counterpart to Henry Kissinger, though he was more secretive than the American war criminal (yes! I view Kissinger as a war criminal) who enjoyed public praise and celebrity.

    Judging Foccart's record by today's standards seems a difficult and unfair task because it's hard to understand the ambiance, the zeitgeist of the post-WW2, decolonizing, Cold War world. In some aspects, Foccart certainly wasn't a pure and innocent soul, but his methods sound somewhat adequate to the boiling situation of the world he was living in.
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