Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Incredibly good point made on last weeks NewYorker podcast, check it out:

Ryan Lizza and Patrick Radden Keefe discuss Obama and domestic spying.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

When confronted by far deadlier threats, Americans are much less willing to cede freedom and privacy.


http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/06/the-irrationality-of-giving-up-this-much-liberty-to-fight-terror/276695/

Friday, June 21, 2013

Political Irony?

Is it not just alittle ironic that #1 Obama criticized Bush so much for (illegal) invasions of privacy and now he is doing (legal) invasions of privacy under FISA (which has, as i understand it, Ok'd 100% of the requests made so far) and #2 That both parties can't seem to agree on anything (with the possible exceptions of immigration, could be argued that Republicans have to to survive) EXCEPT on surveillance of Americans?

Obama's line about "I think it's important to recognize that you can't have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience" rings familiar working in all the former soviet republics I have worked in. Familiar in that for more than half a century soviet citizens were told about not only how they were being kept safe, but how often they were being "saved" from the Americans, and when questioning (right before being sent to Siberia) being told matter a factly "They [the Americans] haven't attacked us! See how good a job we are doing"!!... which makes me recall another quote, for all those out there who are shrugging this off, from George Santayana "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013



Relevant 3 years ago, and still relevant now.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

My first earthquake!

I was sitting at my computer yesterday, at home (Holiday in Georgia), and all of a sudden the house began to shake. For a split second I thought it was the military doing more tests at the nearby firing range but there was no noise, then I thought maybe a massive truck but then the shaking was way too much and my freaked out dog was going nuts (which he doesn’t usually do with trucks). If I was a Californian this might not have been a big deal but for a guy who has never experienced such a thing this counted as a new experience. I went to work (catch up) later in the day and the guard didn’t mention anything about it so I figured Georgians were accustomed to such things but today it was pointed out to me that the office wall had some cracks and people were talking about it. Really though most of the talk was about further north where it was a bit more severe however from what I have heard there were no casualties. Interesting though that I didn't find any mention of it in western media (only Chinese, and Armenia news; via google news)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Conspiracies according to different countries in the world.

I am always interested in conspiracy theories, kind of a absurd fascination. Everything from X-files to Flash Forward (TV). In my work in developing countries I am always hearing some pretty creative things. During my time in Afghanistan I would hear how the Pakistanis are looking to over throw the president and how Iran is looking to support the Taliban (Taliban is Sunni and Iran is Shiite, the two don't mix well) while in Azerbaijan I would hear mainly Armenian conspiracies (how they eat babies, were responsible for all the problems in the south caucuses etc), and in Georgia the conspiracies are always about the government (like secret companies that manipulate the government, the US gov/Georgia ones are my fav). The stories are always fanciful but have little basis for fact. The previous post was one of my more creative posts where government would actually take interest in livestock (in truth if it was true it would make life a bit easier for me as there seems to be very little support for developing the livestock sector in Georgia [unlike say the BP pipline]). Anyway, as the title of my blog says, “Blog Of The Totally Random and sometimes fictional (the distinction is yours to make)” :)

Friday, January 07, 2011

Georgia (The Country) Needs more Libertarians

I am working on a project in the country of Georgia and like the country pretty well. While I was in Azerbaijan I was constantly sickened by all the corruption that I saw on a regular basis. I have to admit that Georgia is not as bad as Azerbaijan but the government here is hardly innocent. My project was working with a livestock company in our project area and had tried to do everything right including letting the government know what we are doing. We were going to help this small company expand/upgrade their operations. Just a few weeks ago my boss got a call from the Ministry of Agriculture saying "I don't think it is fair for you to help a private company when another private company is trying to do the same thing"; well this was news to us. We looked into it and turns out that a large insurance group wants to build an agricultural market which we knew about but apparently they have all of a sudden taken interest in livestock, right around the time we showed our business plans to the ministry. Well we met with the company and they flat out told us, your project will never succeed, you are welcome to try but we foresee problems with your registering, taxes, etc... message, we will crush you using our government buddies. While this is a major pain for my project it is not devastating, but for the livestock company we were trying to help, they are devastated, and currently trying to figure out how they can cut their losses. Its amazing what a corrupt government can do.

Ok, ok, so maybe the government isn't that corrupt; regardless it does sound like good tabloid fodder doesn't it? (Get it?! fodder, livestock! [alright, maybe that is just aggie humor]). Look out Dan Brown, my next foray will be investigating Georgian Freemasons ;)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Its not the hardware (tablets)

There has been all this talk about tablets lately (thanks to apple) but I hear so many reasons why tablets haven't taken off (and MS has been pushing tablets for close to ten years); to me its the software. I am typing this out on my HTC TyTN II and it, even though it is mobile is sub optimal in terms of software, I try to just use my fingers for some apps but others I must use a pen, and still others I have to flip out my keyboard... Its the software people, make software where people can effectively us all apps with their fingers, and encourage useful innovative apps on of course reasonable hardware and tablets will be gold. I wouldn't mind having one if I cal run home automation software, home theater/universal remote software, multi-format ebook reader, front mounted camera for video chat and yeah I might splurge... I am really leaning towards some sort of Android Internet tablet as I don't see the need for much storage when I have multiple terrabytes of network accessible storage in my house. There are lots of android tablets out there now but there is talk that the next version of android will have lots of tablet optimizations so as hard as it will be I think I will hang on a bit longer and take a looksee at tablets with this new Android tablet optimized OS when it comes out (sometime next year). Until then I will continue struggling with trying to set my 6.x WinMo phone up as my univ-remote... sigh.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Strange experiments afoot in Georgia?

The only thing better than a good fictional conspiracy theory is a good fictional conspiracy theory about livestock (forget that livestock alien abduction stuff :) ); but what trumps em' all is agricultural conspiracy theories that has video footage!! Ok, so they don't say conspiracy in here but who knows, all the funky chemicals left over from the Soviets, the lax (read:non-exisitant) environmental regulations currently in Georgia. Anyway, I came across this interesting tidbit about a two headed calf in Georgia, alright while my heart goes out to the poor little creature you gotta admit it is kinda freaky.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

How Much Sugar in Shakes and Smoothies?

I am always interested in knowing ingredients especially sugar (gut control) but the amounts shown grams ounces etc never quite regisered with me, i am a pretty visual person. I recently came across this website that really shows you how much sugar are in various foods, and damn I had no idea... Seeing stacks of sugar cubes beside these foods really hits it home. How Much Sugar in Shakes and Smoothies?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The other Minority in Georgia

Here in Georgia they have a larger mix of nationalities/ethnicities that you would ever guess from a distance. I am constantly hearing about Armenian disobedience, Azeri cattle business, Samagrelian, Abkhaz (always a taboo topic in Georgia) but I recently heard about a lesser know minority in Georgia, footage of Aliens! Fact?/Fiction? Looks real to me; but hey, you decide!!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

No Dough!

I recently took a job with an agricultural development project in the country of Georgia and it seems pretty interesting, certainly in my line of work (Agriculture) but at the same time it seems to suffer from lack of interest from all sides (except the donor and my organization of course). In my years of working in Agriculture I have come to learn that my line of work is about as unsexy in the development realm as work could be. The problem is that from the beneficiary side they are quite often looking for hand outs and the idea of having to do more than write an agreement saying "I promise I will use these things you gave me for free to better my life" is just not worth the time. On the other side you have government which has little interest in anything that they can't say they helped with, and if you aren't making something then they don't care (unless there are big revenues involved, ie casinos, there are a ton of them around here). In the end, in talking with my predecessor, it looks like it will be worlds easier than Azerbaijan but at the same time not so easy in that they (gov/people) just aren't investing in anything agriculture (I do have to give the gov props for the roads and the un-corrupt police, nice change from Azer).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Got chai?

I was driving to a diner party in another town (in Azerbaijan) and got pulled over. I calmly got all my docs together etc and promptly handed them to the policeman. He unfolded one doc then refolded it, obviously barely glancing at it, and then he asked something about "chai". I don't speak Azeri but I know what chai means literally (tea) and thought he was asking me to have tea. I tried telling him in Russian I was sorry but didn't have time but his Russian was as non-existent as my azeri but he kept asking chai. It quickly became apparent that he was asking for money, while I wanted to get to my diner party I have a manic intolerance of being taken advantage of and this includes bribes. I told him that if he wrote a ticket then I would pay the fine (thus leaving a paper trail); he clearly didn't want a paper trail and I decided to just play dumb. After 10 minutes of this back and forth I suggested I call my embassy friend (who doesn't even exist) and she could translate for us via phone. Well fortunately he didn't call my bluff and hastily said "yo yo yo" (no no no in azeri) and sent me on way. Azerbaijan is extraordinarily corrupt (rates around 140 something out of 180 countries on transparency internationals corruption index). I don't usually have to deal with corruption directly but it is obvious to me that it is just about everywhere in many of the countries I am working in. Anywho, there are some interesting bits on the Planet Money blog about corruption as well.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Government Apathy

In my work in Azerbaijan one of the most frustrating parts is government apathy. I am working with a livestock project where we are working with feed companies to help them more effectively sell to poorer farmers who can't access thier products as easily (just driving to a feed shop to by a few hundred kh of feed is no easy task consideirng that many farmers don't even have cars). Anyway, one of the mandates of our donor is working with government trying to get them interested and helping etc. The problem with my project (in the government's opinion) is that we don't give out things, lots of development projects give out "Freebies" but one of the guiding principales of my type of project (M4P) is no free stuff so the government just doesn't care, especially since there is comparatively little money in livestock here.

From what I have heard it is not only a problem here but all around the south caucuses. My project's "sister project" in Armenia is working with the dairy sector. One of the major constraints there is the accessibility of the communities for milk companies. On the one hand the companies only occasionally help in setting up collection stations for milk collection and the government almost never assists (how many voters in a small village?). My organization's regional office is in Georgia (next door) and I am constantly hearing about how little attention the government gives to livestock (the particular issue is giving out vaccinations, they say they will vaccinate all cattle in the country against foot and mouth and a few other things but in reality they vaccinate a few thousand [in a country with hundreds of thousands of cattle] then pat themselves on the back). In the end, I guess there as here there isn't enough money to provide incentive enough to give any meaningful support/investment.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Got Cha'!!!!!!

Ok, so for weeks now there has been at least one uninvited visitor in my house (aka mouse) who has been eating my food, pooping in my shoes (on my desk, around my kitchen, etc) and has been generally annoying. I asked my staff to get the critter and the first thing tried was a humane (though seriously doubt the intention was to be humane) trap that i found totally does not work with small mice (later i found that if i balance the trap itself on something then when it tips the door will close) but regardless, the critter must have eaten 5 times its body weight out of that trap before i gave up on it. Next was the woodchuck trap, ok, not for woodchucks, maybe rats but it could easily have broken my finger (it snapped my sharpie marker in two when i was testing it), so i baited that and tried it... well like the other trap i think it was meant to larger critters (do Azeris just not care about mice?) because i saw the bait i put get smaller and smaller (nibbled away) but no critter. Finally in an act of desperation/irritation (after it got bold enough to start running around while i was in the room) I tried something that i totally didn't think would work, the ole box N stick N string trap. I have lost track of how many times i tried to catch squirrels, birds, and other animate objects using this method (30+ years of trying) and today it paid off!!! I put a box (ok, pot, i wanted something heavy that would fall fast) string and block up with some bread under it and waited, and waited, and waited then he came out, took a dogs age to inch up to the trap then tried making a run for the bread and GOT YA!!!!!


Damn, victory is sweet, even the small ones...


 

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Meglomania

The president of Azerbaijan, the "benevolent-dictator" İlham Əliyev had originally expressed no interest in being "elected" to take the place of his father. A friend of mine pointed out an article that I was not entirely sure wasn't a photoshop job so I went to google earth myself and found it, pretty easy. So for a guy who didn't want to be president, it looks like he is filling out the shoes of his dead megalomaniacal father (whose face is everywhere) pretty well; and having buildings built in your initials is testament to that. sigh.

Friday, February 05, 2010

OMG U Drank Cold Water?!

This weekend I apparently caught a bug that didn’t go away by Monday so I called in sick but was informed there were a few small things that were really urgent so I went for those small things. Every one of my staff that I told I was going home due to a sore throat asked me “did you drink something cold?” Now there are two things #1 in the CIS it is widely believed that drinking cold drinks will make you sick, and #2 I drink cold stuff all the time; so, the question was not unexpected but still annoying. I have been in this office for more than a year and my staff has seen me quaff glass, after icy glass of iced tea, diet coke, etc and now, the first time in over a year that I get a sore throat, it must have been because I drank something cold (never mind those hundreds of other icy bullets I dodged over the past year). Sigh, as they will never understand my drinking cold stuff, I will never comprehend their belief that drinking cold stuff will make you all manners of ill.

Out of curiosity I checked on the web, found a myriad of sources saying the temperature of a liquid was not medically significant in catching or curing a cold but i did discover that this cold liquid phobia is equally as pervasive in South America. Strange.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Made in China

I was recently in a "big box store" in Georgia with a Georgian and an Azeri. They were scrutinizing every product and when they saw "made in china" they would wrinkle their noses and put the product back.

In many developing countries there are Chinese products that are straight from china and made to Chinese standards (or more accurately, made to the standards of the optimal price [ie cheap price and cheap quality]) whereas in the USA products are made by America companies to western standards but in China (hence they are better quality). I tried to explain this but the stigma was apparently too ingrained. Oh well.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Okawix

In working in various developing countries one of the most difficult parts has been the mediocre Internet access (hey, we all have our "must haves"). Bandwidth is a precious and often expensive commodity in the countries (a megabit connection in Kenya when i was there in 2006 was $500+/month). With these restrictions access to what the west would consider a bandwidth simple site such as Wikipedia is difficult at best. Another thing i have noticed is the lack of written material in native languages, i was noticing at Nangahar university in Jalalabad Afghanistan they have practically no written material and they are getting donations of *English* material (not particularly useful for the majority of the staff and students i am sure). Well Wikipedia is growing and while the entries in languages other than English are minuscule they are there, and something like Farsi (which is widely spoken in Afghanistan) has a few thousand articles (its a start).

The above thoughts lead me to a very very very nifty but simple peice of software, Okawix. It is a program that has an extraordinarily simple interface and "lets you download the whole content of Wikipedia, with or without images, so that you can browse it offline: Okawix is available in 253 languages and includes sister projects of the Wikimedia Foundation (Wikisource, Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks). Okawix is a free software available under GPL licence; sources are available on the SourceForge project. It's featuring the search engine , developed by Linterweb."

A program like this and an old computer could really go a long way towards helping mitigate some of the disadvantages of low bandwidth.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The maturing of Linux… applications.

For years, since I installed (very very painfully) Slackware Linux v2.1 in 1995 I have heard about how Linux is “ready for the masses”, at the time it was totally untrue and now… well it is as ready as windows but… 

To sidetrack for a bit, I was recently ogling over a nice bit of freeware and gave a copy to my colleague who equally appreciated the usefulness of the software and my comment to him was it is nice to have someone around that appreciates a good piece of software (if we were more geek-inclined we would have been ogling over the code) and his response was “most people just use a computer as a glorified typewriter” which is not far from the truth. That is most people still don’t understand computers very well… it seems that nowadays if you can use facebook and an iPhone you are considered a computer savvy person but most of those people would have mental meltdowns if they were asked to do a fresh install of windows or Mac OS X not to mention Linux. I would argue that now Linux’s main weakness is not its usability but more the weakness of its application base. Now mind you, there are some damn good/rock solid Linux software out there but it is not accessible to the masses as there is still a lot of Linux software that requires a healthy dose of comandline kungfu to use (care to even imagine how to edit a video using a command prompt driven piece of software?). I have argued many times that that most people just need a browser, an office suite, and solitaire and they are set… Linux can totally do those things, but I digress.

But now, it seems that Linux applications are coming of age. I was recently looking for a good alternative to Adobe Premiere and found the Wikipedia video editing software comparison page and noticed, most of the free editing packages out there are… Linux only?! I went to many of these sites and without having used the software I can truthfully say these are very capable pieces of software, worlds away from MS Movie Maker for sure. I was floored that there were only 1 or 2 freeware windows video editing programs compared to the 8-10 programs for Linux. This is not a bad thing, as I think I have mentioned in a previous post, my primary reason for using windows is the availability of applications out there, but I am happy to report that gap appears to be narrowing.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Heating Issues


Heating Issues
Originally uploaded by gaikokujinkyofusho

Well I am in the middle of a Southern Azeri winter, which is about like winter in the Southeastern US, pretty mild. This is my second winter in Azerbaijan so I had an idea of what to expect, of the weather and I thought of the heating in the house I am staying in. Many of the houses here are heated by steam radiators which would be ok if there was enough gas; the primary heater in this town, little surprise given Azerbaijan's oil but the surprise was that the gas pressure was pathetic last year and would often go out (which was a particular pain because here the water tank heating mechanism consists of an open pipe spewing gas that you just light a match and pray it doesn't set off some chain reaction throughout the town). The person that lived in the house before me apparently didn't like heating with wood stoves so I got through most of last winter with a dinky wood stove and the leftover wood reserves. When I was first told “there is a wood stove stored at your house” by my staff I envisioned a nice old cast iron stove… oh well. This one is made of sheet-metal and while it doesn't retain heat worth anything it does heat up the room. This year the gas pressure is pretty good AND I got a heater that has a auto-shutoff mechanism on it so if the town gas goes off then back on this stove shuts off and stays off (as opposed to just a pipe with no mechanism which would just spew gas as soon as the gas came back on). Anyway, after a bit of thought I don't really remember seeing cast iron stoves outside of the N. America and Europe.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Closed mind?

I remember in school very often people would form their groups, usually based on social class, life philosophy and race/nationality.

I look at the development community and am somewhat reminded of high school. Every time people find out that i am an American working for a European organization they are usually surprised and working in a European organization i very rarely run into Americans. Now i never hear (perhaps because i am American but i don't think so) oh i don't hang out with Americans or hear Americans say they don't' hang out with Europeans and indeed i can think of many exceptions but in general, i seem to see Europeans at parties, restaurants, etc hanging out with each other and the same for Americans... disturbing. 

In job hunting i have discovered that many of the "beltway bandit" organizations pay better than average European (and American for that matter) organizations but the disturbing part to me is that i see this separation even more in people who work for these organizations.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

OpenOffice.Org demos ribbon-style UI prototype

I just read a bit "OpenOffice.Org demos ribbon-style UI prototype". I am totally not a fan of the "ribbon style" in MSO or (apparently) the up and coming open office. While i admit that my compu-kungfu isn't what it used to be I am still not bad with figuring out and getting used to new programs but this new ribbon style gui is beyond me. I actually installed MSO 2007 specifically so i could make myself get accustomed to it but after a year i still find myself hunting around trying to figure out how to do this or that function that was just a drop down menu aways in MSO 2003.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Turning Point For Afghan War, And For Obama : NPR

I was reading an article on the NPR site (A Turning Point For Afghan War, And For Obama : NPR) and one line struck me: "While some U.S. officials say that Obama is considering a plan to pull back from daily battles with the Taliban to focus more strictly on counterterrorism options, Republicans are pressing him to approve McChrystal's recommendations." 

Why isn't this situation a bit of a win for him? That is, if Republicans are pushing him to accept the generals recommendations but are pounding him on healthcare then why not say "ok, you want more troops, let my healthcare plan go through" so at least the dems will get thier healthcare (even if they want out of Afghanistan) and the reps will get their war... of course all this begs the question, where will the money come from and more importantly how will we pay it back.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The death of Google's "Do no evil" mantra

I recently came across an article "Google's not fighting Gmail subpoenas" that tells about how google is just handing over the information of some of its users. I remember reading about an instance where google denied (but eventually had to cave) the DoJ (or was it FBI?) access to IP addresses or emails or something, either way it seemed like they tried to do the right thing; but now, this seems to be part of a downward spiral for google, hopefully privacy groups will successfully take google to task for this.