What was so funny?

The heart-breaking story of the day is that of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student (left) who committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi (middle) used a webcam to stream his sexual encounter live on the internet.

Some hypothetical questions:
  1. Would the roommate have walked with a hand-held video camera and photographed Mr. Clementi having sex?
  2. If Mr. Clementi had been having sex with a woman, would it have seemed funny enough to stream over the internet?
What kind of a kid would do this? How about a kid who grows up
  • not realizing the difference between private and public?
  • believing that only physical presence leads to agency i.e. that if you were not physically present, then you have no responsibility
  • believing that technical wizardy is praiseworthy regardless of consequences?
  • thinking that homosexuals are the "other" i.e. not quite people and fit to be made fun of?
How much of this mindset is intrinsic to being 18-years old and immature? How much to being of his generation, a generation that grew up with social media? How much to being Indian American, one of the most homophobic groups in America?

Butterflies having a ball

Spring is in the air and the butterflies are ... oh, wait. It's fall.

Anyway, the butterflies were doing it last weekend when we were out hiking in S.E. Oklahoma.
Here's another cool butterfly picture, of two buddies having a drink together:
There was a group of people tagging monarch butterflies, and they let the kids wave butterfly nets around. The kids captured a couple of little yellows, but this monarch was one of the experts' catches.
Also, I'm pretty proud of this photo of a spider web since this is the first time I've needed to shoot in manual focus mode.
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Google going all Facebook

I've expected Facebook to continually violate people's privacy expectations, to the point that the only private things I post on Facebook anymore are the kids' names and photos from when I'm traveling.  Nothing more private than that.

Google, I trusted a little more. But I'm coming to the realization that it's the Stockholm syndrome. After all, Google has my email (gmail), my photos (Picasa), blog (Blogger), calendar (Calendar) and even searches for directions (Google Maps).  I just have to hope they won't be evil.

I realized that there was something awry when I received an email from a professional contact (someone I meet maybe once a year at conferences).  "Thanks for sending your photos," he emailed, going on to talk about something else.  Photos? I didn't recall sending him any photos.

Example of the email that you would get from Picasa
if anyone in your Gmail contacts list
updates their unlisted Picasa album.  Infuriatingly, the publisher
of the photos can not tell
Picasa to not spam their entire Gmail contact list.
The receivers have to go into their Picasa albums account and tell
Google not to send them these spam emails.
Then a couple of days ago, my email box got flooded with emails about the updates that an ex-colleague had made to her photo album.  This was strange, but I put it down to her mailbox or photo account getting hacked.

Then, today, one of my friends asked when I'd gone to Texas. Turned out that Picasa had sent him a link to my entire album (including photos from a Texas camping trip a couple of years ago) because I happened to upload some recent photos to it.

This is Google trying to be more social and tarnishing their reputation in the process.  The problem is that Google sends you an email about X's new photos if you've ever emailed X from your Gmail account -- and this tends to include casual contacts.  To make matters worse, there is no way to tell Picasa to not send such emails whenever you upload changes (you can only block individuals from "following" you entirely, but that's not the same thing).  Even if the album is unlisted, anybody following you is going to be notified. And, of course, Google subscribes you to such email digests by default. You can, however, turn off receiving such emails.  Go to Picasa's settings and to email notifications and click the box that tells Picasa to not send you email digests of recent Picasa activity by people in your contact list.

A dark look at marriage

Normally, when I recommend a book, I do so wholeheartedly.  No point telling you about a book that I read that I didn't quite like.  What's the point?  But I'm going to make an exception.

Adam Ross' Mr. Peanut takes a very dark look at marriage.  It's about a computer games developer who's suspected of having somehow murdered his depressive, maniacal wife.  His wife, though, was discovered dead of anaphylactic shock, having eaten peanuts to which she is allergic.  The two detectives on the case also have wildly careening relationships with their rather moody wives.  Stephen King calls this the best look at the dark side of marriage since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and I would agree.  If you are married, have been married, or plan to be married, you should read this book. There's a generous dose of David Pippen in all of us husbands, and quite a bit of Alice Pippen in all the wives out there.

At another level, though, the book is a poorly wrought and badly edited potboiler. Did David Pippen kill his wife or not? If so, how did he manage to make it look like an accident and why does it seem as if he tried to save her? How do the marriage problems of the detectives affect their investigation? If the book had just kept to those questions, this would be a wonderful book.  Instead, the author is wildly discursive, and it was all I could do at one point to not just move on to the next book in my Nook.  It almost appears as if Adam Ross was afraid that his central story was not good enough, and decided to pad the fine story and chilling depiction of a marriage with digressions out the wazoo.

If you're not easily frustrated by poor plots, therefore, read this book.

Somebody's using our stuff!

Nowcasts (short-term weather support) at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi are being done using WDSS-II.

Basic arithmetic fail

An article (in Slate by Shankar Vedantam) on why propaganda is still effective begins:
Barack Hussein Obama has 18 letters in his name. That's 6+6+6, or 666. Get it?
Except that "Hussein" is 7 letters, not 6.  Surely, that was intentional and the author would get to it?  Nope.

Neither the author nor any fact-checker at Slate bothered to check this basic piece of arithmetic!
Which dovetails neatly into my theory of why propaganda persists:  innumerate media people.

My imaginiation much better than real castle

Bran Castle is the castle of Vlad the impaler, the Turk-fighting count on whom Bram Stoker based his Dracula character. The castle itself is rather pretty, but as the home of Dracula, it was quite a let-down.

First of all, it's not really a castle but a border fortress. So, it's a lot less fanciful than I'd expected. Second, having just re-read Bram Stoker's novel, I was able to quickly spot all the inconsistencies. Far from not having crosses anywhere, the entrance to the castle itself is marked by a huge cross. Bram Stoker makes a point of mentioning how Dracula had no servants and the castle was totally isolated. Yet, it is quite close to the village itself, and right at the bottom of the castle are a bunch of customs houses and servant quarters. The sheer face of the castle is not thousands of feet tall, merely a couple dozen. And besides, escaping the castle would be quite easy because of its courtyard. There would be no need to crawl away along the sidewall of the castle.

In short, then, Dracula's castle is totally the product of Bram Stoker's pen, and the reader's imagination. In many ways, it's like seeing the movie of a book -- the director's recreation can never quite match up with the more personalized world that you built up as you read the book.

So if you go to Bran Castle (as I did) expecting to see something similar to a castle-prison with a crypt in its basement, you will be thoroughly disappointed.

It's a good conference when ...

A radar that we saw when driving between Lenut and Medias in Romania. 
It's likely a Chinese-made weather radar "WSR-98D"
It's a good conference when you end up with 12 ideas for things to do.  Just sayin'

Global designs on cobblestones

Travel, the saying goes, broadens the mind. Maybe it did a couple of centuries ago. Now, not so much.

For one thing, the things you go to see tend to depend on the kinds of things that you are interested in. Because she'd read (on the internets) that there is a pottery festival going on there, the central square in Sibiu, Transylvania, it was stop no. 1 on the wife's list of things to do in Romania. Unfortunately, just as the wife could go on the internet to find out about the pottery festival, the local potters could go online and look at designs from around the world. The pots tended to be not much different from the things you'd see at the May Fair in Norman. A lot more hand-work for a lot less money than you'd pay in the USA, but the designs and materials were not that different. The uniquely Romanian pots the wife had in mind didn't exist. Everybody does modern stuff and modern stuff all looks the same from Sapulpa to Sibiu.

If the pots were nothing to write home about (although I suppose I'm doing so right now), the photo opportunities were very good. The setting really helped. It was not just the old medieval buildings that formed the backdrop to the crowds. It was that colorful vases arranged hapzardly on cobblestone squares form interesting tableaus.

The people watching was also great although they tended to watch us much more than we watched them. They must not see too many Indians in the heart of Romania and the cultural norms probably have nothing against staring because lots of people stopped in the street to stare at us and give us the once over. Nothing too uncomfortable, and besides I can't complain -- I was surreptiously shooting people on the streets. Here's a stealthily shot photo from the pottery show:
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Progress in both Indias

"So," asked one of my friends, "what's changed in India since your last visit." The answer is a bit complicated. It depends on which India you are talking about.

This is a village I tend to visit every time I go back to India (it's near where my parents live). What's new in that village in the past two years? A water tank and a children's park (the splash of blue in the photo), both abutting the village's fresh water pond.
The pond remains the source of drinking water for the village, and the rules about what people can do in that pond (no swimming or washing, for example) are still in place. The water remains untreated -- hence the rules of conduct -- and water comes out the pipe for only a quarter hour or so. However, it is progress. The women of the village no longer trek to the pond to collect fresh water. Instead, they wait by their taps early in the morning. The childrens' park is the first park in the village. That splash of blue is the first slide these kids have encountered. That too is progress, but it is bittersweet. Traditional games, the games you can play with nothing but stones and sticks, are the casualty here.

I encounted the other India in Delhi, the national capital. Since the last time I was there (two years ago), Delhi now has a new international airport, a bunch of limited access highways and a greatly expanded metro system. This is the southmost leg of the metro, in Gurgaon, Haryana. The station's still under construction, but the trains are running.
I'm sure Delhi has a few new water tanks and childrens' parks too.
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