Monday, April 28, 2008

Blossom Dearie and some proxy fun

One of the most distinctive voices in jazz over the last 40 years, Blossom Dearie, turns 82 today. She also happens to be one of my favourite jazz singers: she may not be a great scat singer with a powerful voice like Ella, but how can you not love that little girl voice of hers, coupled with her very personal way of delivering both standards and less well-known tunes.

Here are just a few of her remarkable tracks on
Blossom's Blues
'Deed I Do
I'm Hip

Those of you in US, you can actually listen to the above tracks in full; for those of you elsewhere, Canada for instance, here's just a little hint that I've been able to get (as well as napster web, and video streams like CSI full episodes on NBC website) working with the help of a nice little commercial socks proxy at for just $10/month. There's also a free plugin for Firefox called FoxyProxy which lets you enable a proxy only for certain predefined sites. There, I've said it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

sudo feed cats

So, we've gotten ourselves one more cat yesterday! No, we're not starting a cat farm (although who knows, with the reports of looming recession we might have to start being a bit more economically self-reliant...). It's a cute female cat, and she's still a bit stressed out by the move, but we're hoping that soon enough she'll get used to our place and start feeling at home.

Anyway, with our planned vacation in June drawing closer I've been thinking about getting one of those automatic pet feeders and water supplies, and setting up a web cam to monitor the levels of food and water, just in case :) I typed "automatic cat feeder" into Google, and look what popped up!

This guy set up an elaborate cardboard mechanism that is put in action by an opening CD drive, powered by an Ubuntu Linux computer which also happens to be his Subversion server!
Look what he's done:
The computer runs Ubuntu Linux, so a crontab entry controls the scheduling. The script calls eject /mnt/cdrom to open the CD Rom, delays, and eject –t /mnt/cdrom to close it again. It actually does this twice, as I found it made the portions more consistent.
Since it’s a full fledged Ubuntu system on my wireless network, it allowed for an obscene show of technology. I was able to use my JasJar PDA phone to SSH into the box, and feed the cats on demand just by running the script.

Now I don't know whether I'll be able to match that, but that certainly encourages me in looking into this project further. I'll keep you updated about what happens!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Human rights, China and the boycott of the Olympics

I have just heard a curious discussion on CBC Radio 1 on the subject of whether Canada should boycott this year's Olympics in Beijing over China's "violation of human rights". The opinions expressed by the three people participating in the discussion were as such: the first gentleman, a writer, was stating that we must absolutely pull out of the Olympics despite the sacrifice of the athletes, and questioning why in the world would IOC think of awarding Olympics to China. A lady who happened to be an athlete disagreed with him passionately along the lines of boycott being entirely unfair to the athletes; the third gentleman took a position in between stating that we shouldn't boycott the Olympics but instead just stop buying everything made in China, which would certainly attract their attention.

What a fest of hypocrisy and self-righteousness. What strikes me is that in this discussion the main point of disagreement is whether or not a boycott would be fair to the athletes; whether or not a boycott was in itself appropriate didn't even seem to be a question.

Well, what's there to think about: China is this horrible oppressive regime; China violates human rights by imprisoning dissidents and making women have abortions and whatever else; China is evil: no Olympics for China. Simple as that, right?

Respect for every individual and undeniable human rights for everybody everywhere are beautiful concepts, but so is the concept of universal free beer. Just wishing for it and talking about it simply isn't going to make it happen around the whole world, overnight. The problem is, what we call "basic human rights" are not inherent or universal, insofar as we all can't agree that there is an inherent and universal force -- deity -- whatever -- making those rights the basis of the universal moral code. And if we can't, we have no choice of treating these rights as simply values -- values that we are lucky to have made their way pretty deeply into our prosperous and economically fortunate western societies. Said simply, we're lucky to have historically worked out a common understanding that everybody is better off when people have "rights" and effectively can do whatever they please insofar as they don't threaten the lives and properties of others. We're lucky to be in an economic situation that makes the level of social tension low and widespread tolerance and compassion possible. To a great degree, this luck of ours is really a contingency.

Does this give us a right to pass judgement on China the way many people in the West are doing right now? Absolutely not. We're talking about a huge, complex society that is facing problems never faced before by humanity, and finding solutions to them in admirable ways. During the last 40 years, China has shown the world an unparalleled economic miracle, relieved the social tensions and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people in ways never thought possible.

The comparisons of the "human rights" situation in US/Canada with China are utterly ridiculous. For some reason, the people making such comparisons forget that they're talking about the countries at the top of the economic food chain, which are prosperous exactly because at some point of time they had an economic/technological advantage over China etc., and because they are currently exploiting China, etc., as colonies providing cheap labour.
Dear human rights activists from a 35-million nation, please allow me to remind you that your (and my) Nike/Addidas/Eco-brand-that-only-uses-organic-hemp shoes have been produced by a child/teenager/mother working in an unsafe factory on a 14-hour shift. Oh, but at least we have nothing to do with jailing dissidents and making women have abortions, right?

Stop the hypocrisy. We must absolutely give China the respect, admiration and encouragement that it rightly deserves by its unbelievable accomplishments of the last 40 years.

Finally, the change has always come from within -- and in China it will take decades or centuries or however long it takes. And meanwhile, we have a choice of hypocritically booing China and locking ourselves up in this rosy idealistic world with the illusion of our own commitment to human rights, or instead being honest with ourselves about the price of the socioeconomic situation in our own countries, and attempting to act according to our beliefs in a non-judgmental fashion in this complex and imperfect world.