strange new world

Augmented reality, that real-time meshing between the physical real-world environment and virtual, computer-generated imagery, used to be stuff of sci-fi.

But with internet-linked, GPS-embedded cell phones, it isn’t so anymore. Here is a little taste of what is about to arrive, but has arrived already:

Among the other augmented reality programs that recently have hit Apple’s App Store is Robotvision. If you hold your phone parallel to the ground, Robotvision displays a map of your surroundings. Hold the phone up, however, and it goes into augmented-reality mode, highlighting places like coffee shops and bars. Robotvision also can search for other kinds of businesses with Microsoft’s Bing search engine. You can view pictures that people took nearby and posted to Flickr with a “geotag” of the shot’s physical location.


"We came in sight of Cyprus, and leaving it on our left we sailed on to Syria and landed at Tyre because the ship was to unload its cargo there." (Acts 21:3)

It’s a story that, amazingly, is finding very little coverage.  Yet again, Cyprus is positioned right in the center of the action. But in this case, it’s not a matter of Geography.

A Cypriot-flagged container ship, going from Iran to Syria, is stopped by U.S. in the Red Sea, under suspicion of sending weapons to Gaza. The ship is searched and let go, followed by American officials urging it to be seized for breaching U.N. sanctions since Iran is not allowed to send arms abroad. The ship goes through the Suez Canal and stops at Cyprus, where Cypriot authorities quietly stop it, search it once, search it twice, and, still holding the ship, send a report to U.N..

Admiral Mike Mullen (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) said the vessel was stopped in the Red Sea carrying Iranian arms, “including propellant and other casings for artillery and tank rounds, as well as shell casings”. U.S. authorities suspect the shipment was ultimately bound for Gaza, but they were not authorized to seize the weapons or detain the ship. Even the search itself had to be under permission of the captain.

On Friday, Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias said the ship had violated U.N. resolutions. But on the next day Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said a first inspection of the Monchegorsk was complete. A second inspection took place two days later. A report on the cargo was given the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee. And now Cyprus is awaiting United Nations guidance on whether the ship’s cargo breached sanctions.

Cyprus authorities have been tight-lipped about the ship and its cargo, insisting that disclosing information about a “delicate and sensitive matter” would hamper their handling of the case. Of course they are concerned: with the fourth largest merchant navy in the world, shipping provides for 2% of the island’s GDP. Cyprus is in a tough position of trying to protect their interests and at the same time suffering international pressure about the dealings of its customers. In a sense, reminds of the role Swiss banks played during the Nazi regime.

* * *

Cypriot authorities on Friday 13th began to unload the cargo, after a ruling by the UN sanctions committee that the cargo was in breach of a resolution against Iranian arms exports. There were more than 90 containers on the ship containing raw materials that could be used to manufacture ammunition.

I have a solution for the recession, but it would require everybody in the country working for free during the next six months. Would you still listen to me?

Yet Walid Phares, a scholar for the European Foundation for Democracy, used the Middle East Times to publish his 10-point plan for peace in Gaza. With a brief caveat: the plan has no chance to be successfull

[…] as long as Hamas is instructed by Tehran and Damascus to sink the peace process.

Steve Huff has a very well-thought criticism of the late Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Like most of the liberal blogosphere, he criticized Israel. Yet this point made me wonder:

Sure, Israel has a right to defend its borders… and no one is denying them that right… but invading another territory and (clearly) killing indiscriminately is not a legitimate way to secure its homeland or reach its goals.

If one criticizes a real, contemporary action, it’s fair to expect a realistic alternative. What would be Israel’s “legitimate way” ?

Two alternatives were then given: the Nicaragua model, when Nicaragua went to the World Court after the Contras scandal; and the very successful Irish model, focused on police work from both British and Irish intelligence.

However legitimate historical examples, they simply don’t fit at all. Clearly, Nicaragua didn’t have the option of occupying Maryland; and the Irish problem was solved by the Irish themselves, when the people quit supporting the terrorist organization to the point of collapsing, letting regular intelligence work finish the job and bring criminals to justice.

Whether or not they fit the scenario is a crucial question since the main point was about an alternative way to defend itself from rocket attacks. Either Israel should complain about Hamas to the World Court, or Israel should sit with the Palestinian National Authority and talk about police work in Gaza, although PNA has no authority whatsoever over Gaza for more than 18 months.

Neither option will likely address the rockets raining down, even during the ceasefire (when no fire was actually ceased).

I hardly believe a military action will solve the fundamental Palestinian question. But among the criticism for Israel’s latest actions I have not found a realistic, down-to-earth, do-this-instead alternative.

After meeting Abbas, Sarkozy criticized Hamas saying

it had acted in an “irresponsible and unforgiveable” way.

Which makes me wonder: what is the responsible, forgivable way of acting he expects from a terrorist organization?

Israeli soldiers stand on top of an Armored Personnel Carrier near the border between southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009.

Israeli soldiers stand on top of an Armored Personnel Carrier near the border between southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, Monday, Jan. 5, 2009.

I came across a bizarre post from a self-proclaimed “high-school teacher”. [UPDATE: Mark claimed he “has taught high school students”, not to be a teacher ]

A high schooler’s knowledge of math won’t get you all that far, anyway. It only comes from higher study, and America still has the world’s best system of institutes of higher learning. […] If our goal is to be a scientifically and technologically vital society, the masses are not the place to look.

That argument is stunning given current news. When so many admit “they didn’t fully understand the mortgage papers they were signing”, to say that high-school math won’t get you that far is disconcerting.

At this point, it should be obvious that the educational system works as Babushka matryoshka dolls, where each level requires knowledge and skills acquired in the previous level. So how can we expect poorly skilled high-schoolers to do well in the undergrad and graduate schools?

Anedoctal evidence points out the inability of American students to follow through in American Universities. American students do not have the math skills necessary for a science-and-engineering graduate degree. Not because they are dumb, but because they simply never learned these skills: at UWM, for example,

about 65% of incoming freshman test into courses that cover material they should have mastered at or before their junior year of high school. Only 5% test as ready for calculus.

Foreign students in America

Foreign students in America

Hard evidence comes from the National Science Foundation: in 2005, foreign students on temporary visas earned half or more of doctoral degrees awarded in engineering, mathematics, computer sciences, physics, and economics. Perhaps American universities “prefer” foreign students… but maybe they are just better students regardless of their origin.

Most of postdoc students in US are foreigners

Most of postdoc students in US are foreigners

Noncitizens account for much of the increase in the number of science and engineering postdocs, especially in biological sciences and medical and other life sciences.

The number of science and engineering postdocs with temporary visas at U.S. universities increased from approximately 8,900 in 1985 to 27,000 in 2005. The number of U.S. citizen and permanent resident science and engineering postdocs at these institutions increased more modestly from approximately 13,500 in 1985 to 21,700 in 2005.

So much for a “scientifically and technologically vital society”.

But nothing summarizes better the utter state of denial as this sentence:

Anything that requires a minimal amount of the sort of mathematical, logical, and/or algorithmic thinking employed by a math, science, or computer-type person can now be automated to the point where an intelligent chimpanzee can do it.

Hopefully that doesn’t include teaching in high-school.



A British surgeon, volunteering for Medecins Sans Frontieres in the Democratic Republic of Congo, used text message instructions to perform a life-saving amputation on a 16-year-old boy, whose arm was bitten off by a hippopotamus while fishing.

The surgeon text messaged a London colleague who texted him back step-by-step instructions on how to do it:

“I knew the procedure that was right for him was to have a forequarter operation, which is an enormous operation. In the UK you’d need an intensive care unit to do it. It was a huge undertaking.”

Remarkable that he was able to perform a surgery in these conditions. Even though the guy has medical training, he had never done that kind of surgery before.

PS: SMS has indeed changed the way we communicate: about 1 in 7 say they’ve been dumped via text message.

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