Wednesday, December 26, 2007

50 drawings project

For my art class, Hybrid Drawing, which explores different materials and methods in drawings. Find them here.

Look here for our class's website. It is still rather primitive. (I may say this because I made it.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

Today my sister Victoria, a fourth grader, acquired the board game version of the game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? The game consists of various questions of levels 1st grade through 5th grade in Social Studies, Geography, etc. I told Victoria to make a blog so she can write about the facts that she missed. To make things fair, I was also required to blog about the question I missed.

Question (1st grade social studies): What frontiersman blazed a trail across the United States to Kentucky?
Answer: Daniel Boone.
Now I must say something about Daniel Boone in my own words. Daniel Boone (1795-1820) was a settler, pioneer, and hunter and one of America's earliest folk heroes. Boone is most famous for blazing the Wildnerness Trail through the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. He founded Boonesborough, one of the first English-speaking settlements beyond the Appalachians. Boone also fought during the Revolutionary War, during which he was captured by the Shawnee Indians for a while. According to Wikipedia, he is "imperfectly remembered" as an "iconic" figure in American history: many legends and tall tales have developed around Boone.

Senselessness of hunger

In catching up on my Newsweek readings I came upon a really nice Anna Quindlen article, Real Food For Thought, about America's "hunger epidemic." She really highlights the senselessness of the inequality, discussing how much hunger there is even when restaurants etc. have so much food they need to throw it away. She points out real problems and offers solutions, describing the food stamp application process and how it can be improved to make it actually accessible (by making online application possible, by making the application simpler).

I would like to point out that once again, we see the theme of possible food redistribution not happening because it is not the economically optimal strategy. (We--meaning I--saw this theme for the first time in the freegan articles, when it talks about how freegans find many treasures in dumps.)

Women in society

Apparently there is a word for workplace discrimination against women. From the NY Times article Buzzwords 2007:
maternal profiling n.
Employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children. The term has been popularized by members of MomsRising, an advocacy group promoting the rights of mothers in the workplace.
(I found it amusing that other buzzwords that made it into the article included "lolcat" and "make it rain.")

There is also this other article about how baby girls are becoming more valued in South Korean society. As women are entering the workforce and making lives for themselves, older people find that their daughters are much better caretakers than their sons. This is a big change from the time when wives were expected to serve their fathers-in-law meals on thier knees. Progressive. It's an interesting article, though--I recommend reading it.

Think global warming won't affect you?

Read As Earth Warms Up, Tropical Virus Moves to Italy yesterday about how tropical tiger mosquitoes are finding their way to Castiglione to infect people with chikungunya, a relative of dengue fever. This kind of thing normally goes on in the Indian Ocean region.

This is much more serious than an article I'd read last year about how US metropolitan areas are seeing earlier pollination and more irritating flora and fauna as a result of elevated carbon dioxide levels.

Think before you reach for that unrecyclable paper cup.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Best way to acquire a functional skill set in Haskell

Write yourself a Scheme in 48 hours - super easy tutorial explaining the steps involved (from downloading GHC and compiling your first program to compiling and running the full interpreter) in building a Scheme interpreter. Very niiice.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Internet is great for holiday presents

The best presents I got for people this holiday season were:
  • A rubber stamp (with a red ink pad) of my boyfriend's face on it. I made the image using Gimp (a Linux version of Photoshop) and playing w/ the brightness/contrast and using the Cartoonize filter. I found the "STAMP OF APPROVAL" circle using Google image search. I had the stamp made at
  • A t-shirt for Jie and Rob (the two characters pictured on the shirt) with a picture of Jie licking Rob while both of them are ice cream cones. The picture is from an actual photograph; the ice cream paraphernalia is from Google image search. We made the shirts at (They are pink.)
Both presents came out very well, which is why I am inclined to do a little bit of free advertising for both companies.


Today I went Christmas shopping with my friend Liz within the framework of "reducing waste." (Please refer to my blog post 3 back containing the link to "The Story of Stuff.")

This might be one of those things that is much funnier if you are there, but for each candidate for purchase we produced arguments for whether it was "waste" or "not waste." For example, "This blanket and dog toy kit is not waste because Mike's dog doesn't have a blanket. Mike only has a single blanket and has to lend it to the dog while he's at work. Though the dog will chew through the toy very quickly, it is not waste either because she will use it." And also, "This sequined Christmas tree is definitely not waste because I really like it and want my sister to have it."

Okay, so perhaps we abused the term a bit--like when I walked into a store and, upon seeing very ugly sweaters, exclaimed, "This is such waste!" Also when we were faced with a wall of gift bags and I singled one out with the explanation "If you bought this bag, that would not be waste." (I did follow up with the explanation that because the bag was the prettiest, it would provide the most opportunity for reuse.)

While most of our afternoon was pretty silly, focusing on waste did prevent me from buying quite a few items that would have likely become waste within a few weeks. (These items included various articles of clothing and a frog sponge holder.) The conclusion is that there is too much junk out there and most things are or produce waste. :D

Health care systems

In reading back issues of Newsweek today I came upon an article describing the "medical tourism," the phenomenon where people travel to other countries for medical procedures. Before this article I had associated "medical tourism" with people going to Mexico for transgender surgery before it was legal here and people getting vanity procedures in various exotic locations. Apparently many people go to Singapore becaues their medical system is just that good. People from India and other Asian countries go there for various surgeries because of the good care and because of the availability of organs for transplant and people from the US will go there because they can get the same procedures (with high quality) for a fraction of the cost.

I had heard about Singapore's health care system during some conversation about the ills of America's privatized health care, but I hadn't realized that it was so good that people would fly across the world to take advantage of it. I examined Singapore's Ministry of Health page and concluded their health care system is organized and friendly. (They even have a thing where you can compare the costs of treatments at different hospitals.) From their website, "Primary health care includes preventive healthcare and health education. Private practitioners provide 80% of primary healthcare services while government polyclinics provide the remaining 20%. However, public hospitals provide 80% of the more costly hospital care with the remaining 20% by private hospital care." Also, for those who care about numbers, "In 2005, Singapore spent about S$ 7.6 billion or 3.8% of GDP on healthcare. Out of this the Government expended S$1.8 billion or 0.9% of GDP on health services."

I also looked up the World Health Organization's ranking of world health systems. (A total of 190 countries are ranked.) The ranking method compares each country's sytem to what the experts estimate to be the upper limit based on resources etc. It also compares each country to other countries. The assessment was based on the following 5 indicators: overall health of population, health inequalities within the population, overal level of health system reponsiveness, distribution of responsiveness within the population, and distribution of the health care system's financial burden within the population. (Read the report.)

The United States is 37th, behind Costa Rica and before Slovenia. (Shameful, no, that with all of its educational and technological resources the US is not further up?) While one might wonder if the US is so behind due to inquality (still inexcusable), I'm inclined to believe the overall level is not as high. If you are curious, Postpartum Impression is a New York Times piece on the French health care system.

The top 10 are:
1         France
2         Italy
3         San Marino
4         Andorra
5         Malta
6         Singapore
7         Spain
8         Oman
9         Austria
10        Japan

Not trying to push my values onto you or anything, but here's a quote from WHO's report:
"It is especially beneficial to make sure that as large a percentage as possible of the poorest people in each country can get insurance," says Dr Frenk. "Insurance protects people against the catastrophic effects of poor health. What we are seeing is that in many countries, the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on health care than the rich."

"In many countries without a health insurance safety net, many families have to pay more than 100 percent of their income for health care when hit with sudden emergencies. In other words, illness forces them into debt."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Giant microbes

It is pretty awesome that GIANTmicrobes, a company that sells plush microbes, exists. A quote from the website:

"We make stuffed animals that look like tiny microbes—only a million times actual size! Now available: The Common Cold, The Flu, Sore Throat, Stomach Ache, Cough, Ear Ache, Bad Breath, Kissing Disease, Athlete's Foot, Ulcer, Martian Life, Beer & Bread, Black Death, Ebola, Flesh Eating, Sleeping Sickness, Dust Mite, Bed Bug, and Bookworm (and in our Professional line: H.I.V. and Hepatitis)."

The amazing thing is that they are cute.

Questioning the consumer economy

Various things in life have caused me to consider the merits of our consumer economy:
  • The Story of Stuff - the beginning of this video makes it seem like it's not going to go anywhere interesting and that it's aimed at a younger audience, but I think this video says some good things about perversity of the perceived obsolescence and unnecessary waste that goes on in our society. Think before you shop.
  • Killing the Consumer (Anna Quindlen) - this is not my favorite of Anna Quindlen's pieces as it didn't leave me wholly convinced of her argument. While I don't agree with her argument that the government and various "responsible organizations" making decisions about what is good for people, I do agree with Quindlen that tobacco companies have disgusting motives. This article discusses how Camel No. 9 is terrible because it markets death to unsuspecting young women. (For their market preservation, in fact, as lung cancer has become a bigger killer of women than breast cancer.) Beware of the market?
  • Freegans - are people who live an "alternative" lifestyles as vegans who try to cut down on their carbon footprint, boycott unethical products, and do good for the community. Extreme freegans forage through the trash and eat what they find. (Apparently, very fresh foods and intact products can be found in the trash. There are also freegans who actively redistribute stuff they find in the trash. This makes one question what the fuck the people--usually business--who threw it away are doing.) In some back issue of Newsweek that I picked up around the house they ran an interesting pair of articles, one by a woman who tried to live as a freegan for a month, and one by someone denouncing freegans as not being socially responsible at all. I am not sure how I feel about freegans, but I know that I don't feel good about all this careless waste that goes on. It's about time people started questioning consumer values en masse.
I have also been questioning the enormous amounts of pressure put on students, faculty, and various other people in academic settings. The stress and work of the last two weeks caused me to develop a muscle spasm in my neck that is now being treated with muscle relaxants. Oy.