Archive for March, 2008

Corporate America

Well, I got my summer internship paperwork in the mail today. About the same time I got a Paul Graham article from Titivillus: You Weren’t Mean to Have a Boss about how ideal working groups for humans is about 8-10 people and how corporations stifle our creativity and steal our souls.

I’m certainly curious to see how my soul holds up over the summer. So far the people seem nice enough. None of my forms had to be signed in blood or anything. At the very least if I see anything suspicious (fillet of baby sandwiches, M$oft fanboyism, etc.), I’ll try to warn y’all.

Remember, the password is desgraciadamente. If I can remember the password without any trouble, then something else has taken over my brain. Normal me has been attempting to learn that word (“unfortunately” in Spanish) for four months without success.

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Sharia Law

Last Thursday, I went to see a fellow talking about Sharia Law. He was emphasizing that it is harsh as a deterrent rather than a punishment. It was just strange to have someone talking about how much less crime we’d have if we just chopped a few hands off. I was trying to stay with him and doing ok until he said:

Here in America, you take your criminals, put them in prison and reward them with a college degree. This is not God’s way. God’s law is an eye for an eye.

I don’t really think that we could even really have a productive discussion because our views on human nature are simply too divergent. At the end I asked a couple questions:

In America, 1 of 3 black men will be in prison during their lifetime, while only 1 in 20 white men will. There are a variety of reasons for this, but a significant one is a difference in enforcement of the laws. I lived in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania for two and a half years, and if anything differential enforcement was worse there. You propose creating some severe penalties for lawbreaking. Do you believe that people are capable of exercising this level of power with fairness?

His response was that the US is the greatest country in the world, but that we’re responsible for destabilizing the Middle East and empowering dictators throughout the region. He went on for a bit about how we have to use our power for good and be a beacon of freedom. Certainly good points, but not really an answer to my question unless I am to assume he’s saying “yes, Islam will encourage the moral purity we need if things will only stabilize.”

Then the guy next to me popped up and provided the clarification I needed. He was a black Muslim and read a bit about righteousness from his Koran. The speaker then said that we will never be able to achieve God’s level of perfection. So apparently his answer was, “no, we’re gonna always be stoning innocent people to death. We should definitely go ahead with this though.”

Your ability to come and speak about your views today is made possible by the freedom of expression built into the US Constitution. The framers of the Constitution created a separation of Church and State because they believed it necessary to safeguard these freedoms. Sharia Law deals with crimes where an individual’s rights are impinged on, like theft or assault, but it also deals with strictly moral crimes like stoning someone to death for adultery. How is freedom of religion protected with those types of laws, or is it unimportant?

He said that if I am sleeping around and spreading AIDS or other diseases, it affects the entire community. It is not simply a moral matter. In some ways I liked his response to this one, not because I agreed with it, but my experience with Islam in the developing world showed that people had a much better understanding of their relationships and obligations to their community. People much much poorer than almost anyone in the States regularly invited hungry people into their homes to share their food. There just wasn’t the same depth of materialism that we’ve got here.

He went on to say though that it would take four people witness adultery before we’d stone anyone to death. Well, that’s good to know. At least it’s unlikely I’m going to get pelted with rocks until I die.

Many of the other questions were kinda argumentative. It’s really unfortunate that the average person who wants to yell at someone who says something generally controversial doesn’t think about the fact that the person you’re yelling at has probably heard your point before and is just going to respond calmly and make you look dumb.

My favorite though was an Arab girl from Turkey responding to his statement, “In Turkey in the public schools they don’t allow women to wear head scarves, how is this freedom?” She said that women in Turkey had more educational opportunities than almost any other Muslim population and that not wearing the scarves was a way to integrate into Turkish society. His response was, “Well, you have your opinion, but I want you to know that the rest of the Muslim world disagrees with you.”

It was cute seeing an American man tell a Muslim Turkish woman what Muslim Turkish women believe.

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Islam In My Life

Over the last week or so I’ve had quite a bit of Arab/Muslim related stuff wander through my world.

I got a video by Pat Condell from my dad this morning. Usually the stuff I get from my dad is kinda narrow-minded, and this is arguably like that, but I think the issues he’s reacting to are ones I am undecided on. Where does the line between respect and contriteness exist? When is it reasonable for a society at large to impinge on a person’s faith? Islam in particular has a focus on maintaining purity in the face of challenges. As this mixes more with Western society, people are going to react to it and some will be irritated, like this guy: His speaking about Saudi Arabia as though it is a single person with a single vision is a bit dangerous, but his points are interesting.

Jenni and I went to see the Axis of Evil comedy tour last week. It’s a bunch of Arab-American comedians talking about the experiences in America. It was pretty entertaining. They emphasized though the way that values are shifting as things spread out. One guy said, “You know how Jews are Jewish, well I’m a Muslim in that way: I’m Muslimish.” That same guy was arrested in an airport the day before Bush’s reelection along with several thousand other Arab-Americans. As the cops walked him really slowly through the airport with his hands cuffed behind him, one of the the cops escorting him whispered, “Now you know what it’s like to be black.”

Yesterday, someone sent me a review of the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi. The book details her life which critiques the relationship between women and Islam as she left her native Holland and rose in popularity in Holland. Eventually her neighbors sue to have her removed from her house because there are so many threats against her life, and she moves to America.

Finally, this morning I got a debate on what looks like Al-Jazeera with an Arab Secular Humanist woman debating Islam with a cleric. That these issues are being discussed across the world is good to see.

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Migrating LiveJournal

I’m working at pulling everything in from different places. The first is my LiveJournal. The process took a little finagling:

  1. Downloaded from
  2. Installed XMLRPC::Lite

    1. Ran sudo perl -MCPAN -e shell
    2. From within that program ran: install XMLRPC::Lite
  3. Ran: perl --user=ivankara --password=shhh,secret --sync --dump=xml --file=ivankara.ljml

Unfortunately, at this point things didn’t go quite so easily. There are two issues:

  • The WordPress 2.5 LiveJournal import script doesn’t use an actual XML parser to parse the XML. It uses a series of regular expressions. This, not surprisingly, breaks at times. In fact no entries at all will be imported because it matches on <entry>(.*)</entry> and the XML from jbackup has attributes in its entries (<entry jitemid="1">).
  • WordPress has four options for how you can control the visibility of your posts:

    • The entire blog is public to the world
    • The entire blog is password protected
    • Individual posts are visible only to the author
    • Individual posts are uniquely password protected

    Specifically what is missing is what LiveJournal uses where individual posts are non-publicly visible, but they are visible to groups of authenticated users. WordPress does have a user authentication and roles system in place, so may there’s a plug-in somewhere.

To get something up, I wrote a simple XSLT transform to get things in a format that WordPress likes: wp-format.xslt.

I could then import the results of xsltproc wp-format.xslt ivankara.ljml >ivankara.wp.ljml.

Now I just have to go through and categorize things and make private anything that still needs to be so.

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In my ongoing attempt to get companies to stop filling my mailbox with random crap, prescription I sent Bank of America a message asking them to kindly bugger off. They sent me to a nice little privacy page where I learned the huge amount of my information that they apparently share with the world. If you happen to have dealings with BoA, you might give it a visit.

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Hello world!

Yay WordPress. Livejournal is a fine platform, but I’m wanting to play around a bit more with my l33t c0din’ skillz. (That and I’d like to try and conglomerate the last ten years worth of crap I’ve written down.)

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10,000 – Serious Spoilers

Has anyone told you recently just how cool it is to be a white person? For me personally it had been at least a couple days. I was getting a little insecure in my racial superiority, so I went to see 10,000 BC and it was just the pick me up I needed.

The movie has an awesome scene where they’re introducing all the people that will unite to free their friends and families from the slave traders that tore through their villages. One by one they call out the names of the tribes and show the peoples that happen to live within a days march of our heroes. “Denganeh,” the speaker says as they pan across a group of big angry black guys. “Kurasai,” is greeted with the cries of a bunch of Asians. “Ghentan” and “Sarwah” get similar reactions from legions of Native Americans and Mexicans. Pretty much everyone made it except the Arabs and that’s because they’re the ones that enslaved everyone else.

Oh yeah, there’s a couple white guys. You need someone to run everything, don’t ya? You might ask, “Why do all these colors of people decide to follow these random strangers that wandered in from over the mountains?” “Do they recognize the purity in their white skins and fall prostrate before them, simply knowing their inferior moral state showing through in the taint of their colored skin?” Oh no, it’s even better than that. These are all primitive peoples; not separated from the land and their souls by the trappings of material society. They know themselves much as animals do: instinctually and without the lies modern man tells himself.

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Human Computation

There’s an interesting Google Tech Talk by Luis von Ahn titled, “Human Computation“. His basic idea is creating games that get users to provide useful data to computers, particularly data that computers are bad at producing themselves.

His first system was The ESP Game. Given an image, two participants not in communication with each other try to guess a word that the other has written down. The best players are going to be guessing words very stereotypical for the pictures which would also likely be good keyword descriptions for the image. Google has since turned this technology into its ImageLabler Game.

It’s a really creative approach to data gathering that leverages self-interest. His talk also describes a couple other systems: Peekaboom and Verbosity.

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I was driving to DC last weekend going about 70 when a couple guys flew by me on motorcycles like I was standing still.

I’ve been contemplating child rearing as Jenni’s and my relationship gets more serious. I understand for little kids that you can (and given their development need to) rule by fiat. I am the law and you’ll do what I say. For the teenage years though as a child naturally begins to develop their own autonomy the rules need to have a more complex basis. I’ve been thinking of compromises I might come up with.

If my kid decides he or she wants to ride a bike, I’ll agree to it and maybe even buy them one, but only after they’ve volunteered with an emergency response team for three months. I had a friend who was describing to me his experiences having to dig around in the bushes to find a leg that had been slung there from an accident. He said they have a term for motorcyclists: “donors.”

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I’ve been contemplating and discussing the idea of a pervasive recommender system. I’m find most people find it creepy moreso than intriguing. I don’t know if it would always have been like this, but particularly in this modern age of corporate malfeasance and secret government torture facilities people just don’t trust organizations to act responsibly.

I’ll be honest that I don’t necessarily like it all that much myself. It kinda makes me skirmish to guess how much Google knows about me.

Privacy has been called the ability to pretend to be like everyone else. As a researcher I want as much raw data as possible. What steps can be taken to make people feel comfortable?

Two main things come to mind:

  1. Allow a complete separation of a person’s recreational and professional personas. If I’m a respected writer by day and dress up in a bunny suit for sexual pleasure at night, privacy is the capacity to keep those two lives separate.
  2. Give the user complete control over their data. At any time if I can see the specific information I have entered into the system from any source and I should be able to modify or at least delete it. If there are derived attributes that is the organizations discretion to disclose. Some dating sites create an emotional stability score. They don’t tell members because having a computer tell you you’re unstable is slightly insulting to many.

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