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Archive for April, 2010

Things to think about the next time you hear a Chinese-government apologist saying we shouldn’t “imperially impose our Western culture on China”:
  • Sage Advice – “Beijing wants the world to admire a “rising China” not only for its phenomenal economic accomplishments and growing military prowess but also for the quality of its civilisation. Yet, no matter how many Confucius Institutes the government establishes abroad to teach Chinese language and culture, the People’s Republic will not win international respect for its political and social progress until it ceases locking up political dissidents and treats those currently detained in a more humane manner.”
  • Chinese suppliers to Microsoft cited for labor violations – “Global companies often require audits of their Chinese suppliers, but many are flawed or compromised, experts say. In a report last week, the Pittsburgh-based National Labor Committee said the KYE factories often recruited 16- and 17-year-old “work study students” to toil 15 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for between 65 cents and $1 an hour. The report released photographs it said were smuggled out of the factory, showing dorm rooms cramped with 14 workers and employees slumped over their work stations, apparently in exhaustion. The report said many workers were forced to work 15-hour shifts producing computer mice and a Microsoft Web cam.”
  • Chinese accused of vast trade in organs – “China’s hidden policy of executing prisoners of the forbidden quasi-Buddhist group Falun Gong and harvesting their organs for worldwide sale has been expanded to include Tibetans, “house church” Christians and Muslim Uighurs, human rights activists said Monday. In a news conference on Capitol Hill, several speakers, including attorney David Matas of B’nai Brith Canada and Ethan Gutmann of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said their investigations have unearthed a grisly trade in which an estimated 9,000 members of Falun Gong have been executed for their corneas, lungs, livers, kidneys and skins.”
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I’ve seen a lot of poorly written, poorly researched articles on health and exercise, for instance, suggesting that exercise is pointless in reducing weight, or that reducing weight itself is pointless.  Fortunately, I just saw an excellent article that doesn’t gloss over the subtleties, and presents a good look at how exercise and diet play a role in staying fit.  That’s the first article below; the other two are also useful in understanding the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle in maintaining both physical and mental fitness.
  • Weighing the evidence on exercise – “But a growing body of science suggests that exercise does have an important role in weight loss. That role, however, is different from what many people expect and probably wish. The newest science suggests that exercise alone will not make you thin, but it may determine whether you stay thin, if you can achieve that state. Until recently, the bodily mechanisms involved were mysterious. But scientists are slowly teasing out exercise’s impact on metabolism, appetite and body composition, though the consequences of exercise can vary. Women’s bodies, for instance, seem to react differently than men’s bodies to the metabolic effects of exercise. None of which is a reason to abandon exercise as a weight-loss tool. You just have to understand what exercise can and cannot do.”
  • Brain damage – “Being fat is bad for your brain. That, at least, is the gloomy conclusion of several recent studies. For example, one long-term study of more than 6,500 people in northern California found that those who were fat around the middle at age 40 were more likely to succumb to dementia in their 70s. A long-term study in Sweden found that, compared to thinner people, those who were overweight in their 40s experienced a more rapid, and more pronounced, decline in brain function over the next several decades.”
  • The claim – Lack of sleep increases weights – “Scientists have known for years that skimping on sleep is associated with weight gain. A good example was a study published in 2005, which looked at 8,000 adults over several years as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Sleeping fewer than seven hours a night corresponded with a greater risk of weight gain and obesity, and the risk increased for every hour of lost sleep.”

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On “temperament”

Ever wonder what Bach meant by The Well-Tempered Clavier?  Well, the wikipedia page actually does a pretty good job of describing it, and there are more details on the wikipedia page for musical temperament.

For a more mathematical look at why the issue of musical temperament arises, this is a good reference – Circle of fifths and roots of two.

For an interesting look at this issue from a historical perspective, along with audio clips of pieces played in different tuning systems, check out – The centuries-old struggle to play in tune.

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20th Century Ghosts

whoa, I was looking around at books on my Amazon wish list, and I happened to see that the Kindle version of Joe Hill‘s 20th Century Ghosts was listed as being only $0.99.  I thought maybe this was just an abridged version or something, so I was a little hesitant, but in the end I bought it.  Amazingly enough, it seems to be the full book (or rather collection of short stories), so I thought I’d spread the news while this price is still available.

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Lin Yu Chun 林育群

Hopefully Lin Yu Chun 林育群’s English wikipedia page will stay up; there’s a fair number of links to interesting videos of him singing.

For instance, links include him on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, singing I Will Always Love You and Amazing Grace, and his own personal blog and photo album.

Haven’t heard of Lin Yu Chun?  Here’s a short article on him – Web sensation Lin wows US audiences.

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A few days ago, I believe after installing an update to Snow Leopard for my Macbook, I noticed that my Macbook was having a problem.  My power settings were such that the display would turn off before the screensaver would get activated, yet now I was strangely finding my Macbook showing the screensaver with the display on rather than off (which was annoying because the screensaver actually seems to use a lot of the CPU and causes the fans to spin).

After some googling, I managed to find a potential solution on this forum, which said to go to Disk Utility and repair permissions on the main disk.  I was a little dubious, but after doing so and restarting, everything seems to work again!

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  • Watch the Goldman case – “It accuses Goldman of intentionally designing a financial product that would have a high chance of falling in value, at the request of a client, and lying about it to the customers who bought it. It says that Goldman allowed that client — John Paulson, a hedge fund manager — to pick bonds he wanted to bet against, and then packaged those bonds into a new investment. Goldman then sold this investment to its clients, telling them the bonds were chosen by an independent manager, and omitted that Mr. Paulson was on the other side of the trade, shorting it, in the industry vernacular.”
  • Goldman’s stacked bet – “Portions of an email in French and English sent by Tourre to a friend on January 23, 2007 stated, in English translation where applicable: “More and more leverage in the system, The whole building is about to collapse anytime now…Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab[rice Tourre]…standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!!””
  • What Goldman’s conduct reveals – “If the allegations against Goldman Sachs are true, then much of the blame for investors’ losses in the Abacus deal can be laid at the feet of an obscure statute passed by Congress in 2000, the “Commodities Futures Modernization Act.” In one dramatic move, that act eliminated a longstanding legal rule that deemed derivatives bets made outside regulated exchanges to be legally enforceable only if one of the parties to the bet was hedging against a pre-existing risk.”
  • The SEC’s lawsuit shows how Goldman Sachs put its own interests ahead of its customers’ – “Paulson wanted Goldman to create the CDO just so it could bet against it—Paulson thought the mortgages in the CDO would default at a high rate, thus rendering big chunks of it worthless. It’s kind of like a developer (Paulson) commissioning a construction firm (Goldman) to build a condominium tower while purchasing insurance that would pay off in case it fell down. But the SEC complaint alleges the scheme went a step further. The SEC says that Goldman worked with Paulson and ACA, a “portfolio selection agent,” to ensure that the edifice was composed of defective and subpar materials. The SEC presents evidence that ACA, as Goldman watched, included in the CDO specific assets that Paulson had chosen. Goldman then proceeded to sell condos (slices of CDOs) to other Goldman clients without telling them of the hazardous design.”
  • Looters in loafers – Krugman – “We’ve known for some time that Goldman Sachs and other firms marketed mortgage-backed securities even as they sought to make profits by betting that such securities would plunge in value. This practice, however, while arguably reprehensible, wasn’t illegal. But now the S.E.C. is charging that Goldman created and marketed securities that were deliberately designed to fail, so that an important client could make money off that failure. That’s what I would call looting.”
  • Don’t cry for Wall Street – Krugman – “These profits were justified, we were told, because the industry was doing great things for the economy. It was channeling capital to productive uses; it was spreading risk; it was enhancing financial stability. None of those were true. Capital was channeled not to job-creating innovators, but into an unsustainable housing bubble; risk was concentrated, not spread; and when the housing bubble burst, the supposedly stable financial system imploded, with the worst global slump since the Great Depression as collateral damage.”
  • How Wall Street became a giant casino – “Wall Street’s purpose, you will recall, is to raise money for industry: to finance steel mills and technology companies and, yes, even mortgages. But the collateralized debt obligations involved in the Goldman trades, like billions of dollars of similar trades sponsored by most every Wall Street firm, raised nothing for nobody. In essence, they were simply a side bet — like those in a casino — that allowed speculators to increase society’s mortgage wager without financing a single house. The mortgage investment that is the focus of the S.E.C.’s civil lawsuit against Goldman, Abacus 2007-AC1, didn’t contain any actual mortgage bonds. Rather, it was made up of credit default swaps that “referenced” such bonds. Thus the investors weren’t truly “investing” — they were gambling on the success or failure of the bonds that actually did own mortgages. Some parties bet that the mortgage bonds would pay off; others (notably the hedge fund manager John Paulson) bet that they would fail. But no actual bonds — and no actual mortgages — were created or owned by the parties involved.”
  • A difficult path in Goldman case – “But Donald C. Langevoort, a law professor at Georgetown University, said the case was consistent with other government efforts in past years to broaden the definition of material information. “The S.E.C. has long insisted that context is important,” Professor Langevoort said. “If you think of it more broadly in that way, this isn’t an unprecedented case.” Professor Langevoort cited as an example the commission’s 2003 settlement with 10 investment banks over accusations that their research departments were providing recommendations to investors without disclosing that favorable reviews were used to attract underwriting business from the companies issuing the stock.”
  • Innovation and ethics – “Guys like John Paulson didn’t have enough real mortgage pools to short, so the geniuses on Wall Street had to invent synthetic mortgage pools to increase the amount of “product”. There is an inverse connection between innovation and ethics. I’ve been reading No One Would Listen, Harry Markopolos’ tale of exposing the Bernie Madoff fraud. What is so astonishing is that the investigators at the SEC were mostly lawyers and they were completely conned by the math whizzes like Madoff. They had no idea what they were looking at and Madoff convinced them that his innovation (the supposed “split strike conversion”) was really taking all of the volatility out of the market.”
  • Top Goldman leaders said to have overseen mortgage unit – “Mr. Tourre was the only person named in the S.E.C. suit. But according to interviews with eight former Goldman employees, senior bank executives played a pivotal role in overseeing the mortgage unit just as the housing market began to go south. These people spoke on the condition that they not be named so as not to jeopardize business relationships or to anger executives at Goldman, viewed as the most powerful bank on Wall Street. According to these people, executives up to and including Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chairman and chief executive, took an active role in overseeing the mortgage unit as the tremors in the housing market began to reverberate through the nation’s economy. It was Goldman’s top leadership, these people say, that finally ended the dispute on the mortgage desk by siding with those who, like Mr. Tourre and Mr. Egol, believed home prices would decline.”
  • What are banks for? – “Goldman Sachs, in an epic effort to spin the SEC indictment, say they lost money on the Abacus deal at the center of the suit. This is such nonsense. The whole point of an investment bank is to guarantee that an individual security will be sold. If the investment bank can’t find takers for every tranche of the deal, they hold it in their “book” while they try to unload it. What Goldman will not say is how much they collected from insurance claims (probably placed at AIG) on the Abacus deal.”

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