Monday, December 31, 2007

TED Talks!!!

I made a selection of five TED Talks that I liked a lot. They add up to about a feature-length film, and cover a diverse range of topics.

I hope you find them interesting, I most certainly have!


1. World Demographic Economics: Hans Rosling (2006) 20:36
2. Breakdancing etc.: Kenichi Ebina (2007) 5:29
3. Journalistic theatre: Anna Deavere-Smith (2005) 23:50
4. War Photography : James Nachtwey (2007) 23:42
5. TEDTalks : Vusi Mahlasela (2007) 12:03


1. TEDTalks : Hans Rosling (2006) video 20:36
You've never seen data presented like this. With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called "developing world" using extraordinary animation software developed by his Gapminder Foundation.

The Trendalyzer software (recently acquired by Google) turns complex global trends into lively animations, making decades of data pop.

Asian countries, as colorful bubbles, float across the grid -- toward better national health and wealth. Animated bell curves representing national income distribution squish and flatten.

In Rosling's hands, global trends -- life expectancy, child mortality, poverty rates -- become clear, intuitive and even playful.

More at:

2. TEDTalks : Kenichi Ebina (2007) 5:29
From inside a deceptively floppy red tracksuit, Kenichi Ebina serves a dazzling blend of hip-hop and contemporary dance. And he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

3. TEDTalks : Anna Deavere-Smith (2005) 23:50
Anna Deavere-Smith brings the TED audience to their feet as she brings to life a series of quintessential Americans. The chameleon-like Deveare-Smith transforms herself in and out of character, as she embodies legendary author Studs Terkel, followed by convict Paulette Jenkins, a Korean merchant in Los Angeles after the ’92 Riots, and finally a rodeo bull rider. The monologues - adapted verbatim from tape recordings - are drawn from interviews she conducted for “On the Road: A Search for American Character.” Each is a response to a probing question, such as, “What is a defining moment in history?”

4. TEDTalks : James Nachtwey (2007) video 23:42
Accepting his 2007 TED Prize, James Nachtwey shows his searing, powerful photographs of war, and makes his wish: to help him cover a not-yet-named story that must be brought to the world's attention.

5. TEDTalks : Vusi Mahlasela (2007) 12:03
South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela dedicates his song, "Thula Mama," to all women -- with a special mention for his grandmother, who showed spine-tingling bravery in the face of apartheid-era police oppression.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Department of Everything Else

(TED talk by Thomas Barnett.) Especially the two minutes after 13:30

He wants to split the military in half:
- a Leviathan force (Hobbesian, like we have right now, to shoot and bomb)
- a System Administrator force (Eventually a civilian force run by the army, well-equipped, trained, and acculturated to transparently process "politically bankrupt states" like the IMF does for the financially strapped.)

He discusses how the USA Constitution provides for a Department of Armed Forces, "Armies" and a Deparment of Everything Else, "Navies". I found this distinction interesting and googled it up. The Constitution just says bluntly that we should form a "Navy". We don't look at the Navy as very different from the Army, nowadays, and maybe the Coast Guard is different. But the Federalist papers have an interesting discussions of it. All the discussions of the navy are about economics!

See the purpose of the Navy as described by John Jay in this link, and Alexander Hamilton in this link.

Jay and Hamilton argue for a national "fleet" to protect the USA's trade routes and to regulate our commerce. It's about keeping other nations happy with us. Jay's and Hamilton's essays do seem to support Barnett's conclusions that this fleet should be more diverse, acculturated, and civilian.

Barnett seems to have a point.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

TED talks: Hans Rosling

For the past three weeks, every time someone asked me "What have you been up to lately," and I could convince myself that they actually wanted me to tell a brief story, I talked about Hans Rosling's 2006 talk on (link).

Simply amazing, this video. I haven't met a single person that wasn't amazed and interested by it.

Gapminder's animated charts make understanding complex statistics about the world's populations...
...easier than falling off a log.

There's no hand-holding, persuasion, or moralizing here. Just automatically graphed and animated data.

Yes, Gapminder fixes up multidimensional datasets of public health, economics, demographics, and geography, so we can actually read it ourselves! Normal people, reading complicated data. Easily.

The average annual income in the USA is $47,000, and the average annual income in Laos is $572. But what about each of these countries neighbors? How are these incomes distributed around the countries? How has it been changing over time? How do the changes in income relate to changes in child survival within 5 years of birth?

Without the answers to these questions, the one-sentence data is too fuzzy to act on. And wordy analysis is confusing and tiring.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Chris and Amber Lincoln Wedding

Chris and Amber Lincoln. This couple is so great. They're absolutely crazy about each other, and the obvious fact can't help from gratuitously spilling all over the place. But somehow, they pull it off with a straight face. A completely off-the-hook good time.

I hope you guys (are you out there?) don't mind if I plaster your proposal story all over my blog. Because it deserves it. How many guys propose in a Chinese restaurant - and pop the question through the paper slip inside a special-order fortune cookie?

So where is this website, anyways, where you can order cookies with themed fortunes?


Congrats again!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

2008 Summer Plans

Alright- time to go ahead and confirm the upcoming summer plans. We're going to go to Laos for most of July and August and learn from family members as they go about their work there.

To prepare, we'll study the Thai language instead of Lao, because there's a Rosetta Stone software version for Thai. Thai is very close to Lao in syntax and lexicon, probably about like Portuguese and Spanish. Also, most of the technical writings, translated literature, and all of the TV is in Thai, because Thailand is much bigger than Laos demographically and economically.

So, we have an uncle that manages building construction, an uncle that works for a power distribution group, and more. I'll just follow them around and see what they do. I might even make myself useful in a translation capacity or something. AyJy will find a position looking over shoulders at a hospital or other health care institution.

I feel like the most useful thing we'll be able to do in these short two months/month and a half will be to ask stupid questions and listen to people. So I'll need to focus on polishing up the blarney stone in Thai and Lao.

But, Meera says I need to be a better listener. Meera will put me through Good Listener Intensive Bootcamp (GLIB). But I do need a *little* blarney to be able to ask the naive questions in the first place. Good times good times.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Distance Education in India

I spend way too much time looking at these things...

This morning I crawled across the "Indira Gandhi National Open University", basically a big network of distance education facilities across India.
I haven't found out exactly the materials they use and which courses I could access from way out here, but the site is and the price is right at $10 per credit hour!


cell: 412-600-1959

Friday, November 2, 2007

Half Readings

Over the last few days, I read about half of each of the following of :
- The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
- Your Healer Within by Doctors James and Rene McGovern
- (watched) "Earthlings" a documentary written and directed by Shaun Monson

And I finished the following:
- The White Man's Burden by William Easterly
- Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki, see the post a few days back

I studied for and took my GRE. Passed, so to speak. But I still need to finish filling out the application and writing the essays, and request recommendations from professors etc.

I also was sworn in on Halloween Wednesday as a CASA volunteer. Fun conversation with Judge Steele of Adair County. While asking him where to sign my swearing-in document, I kept pointing at the judge spot. It was funny in a graceful way. I guess you had to be there.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How Stuff Works

Ah yes. I was asking Chuck Schumann at MoDOT a couple weeks back about how houses get built. I googled the topic today and voila:
I read through that one this morning.

Wonderful fantastic site that ties things together. Especially useful in conjunction with Wikipedia for more depth in particular topics. I went through the house construction sequence in Howstuffworks this morning. Later this week I can move on to the power grid, HVAC, water towers, septic, landfills, water treatment...

...and the most intimidating of all:

All the stuff I never learned in school!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rich Dad Poor Dad

Whew! I've never read a book like this before. By which I mean, I've never read a book by first reading a thick pile of reviews from all sorts of people- that's probably longer than the book itself...

...and maybe even more interesting and useful. Check out this mammoth discussion string at the blog "The Simple Dollar" on Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad Poor Dad (RDPD). Daggone impressive! I would definitely advise you to read this well-balanced discussion string along with RDPD itself.

But, with that qualification, I do recommend RDPD. The book is definitely convincing me to learn about financial investing. It also persuades readers to do comprehensive and open-minded long-term planning, to learn about accounting principles, and to practice austerity of consumption. I am an ecstatic proponent of the latter three points.

RDPD doesn't get into social responsibility, and because it talks a lot about basic human motivations, this is a conspicuous omission. I'll give Kiyosaki the benefit of the doubt, though. The sundry different ideas of social responsibility are all controversial, and this book makes enough controversy for itself already.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jubilee and Wikipedia yelled at me to support the Jubilee Act, allowing the USA to follow through with debt relief. At issue also seems to be a discussion of the IMF's current austerity requirement policies.

In a related event, Jimmy Wales came out with a appeal to Wikipedia users, presenting Wikimedia projects as vehicles for development themselves. Fight poverty by editing encyclopedia articles and paying for servers to hold the data.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday at the desk

A nice long day of reading about CASA. It was basically procrastinating against studying for the GRE. I rationalized that I was practicing my reading skills. But if studying the 'family support services' legal processes is me being naughty, I'm probably doing okay...

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Citibank has a 5% money market savings account, and I can do up to 6 transactions per month in it. But I have to do the online bill pay, which is more of a hassle than letting Verizon yank however much money it needs from my account as it pleases, whenever it pleases. But perhaps getting more comfortable and smooth with payments and execution won't be such a bad thing.

We are so far away from being able to estimate and categorize our cash flows! Nevermind understanding how businesses spend their money or how the government plans its finances, I have no way to monitor my own money habits!

I dream of accounting systems. Is that so bad?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Disc Golf

Today I spent most of the day helping Peter Mouser and Brian Peavey finish construction of a disc golf (frisbee golf) course on the grounds of the Kirksville Rotary Park, next to the Aquatic Center. I think it was done through the ATSU Rotary chapter and the local Kirksville Rotary Club, orchestrated mostly by Brian and Elisa Peavey, with construction managed by Peter. It took all day to lay nine ~8'x9'x4" pads of concrete and erect place nine stand-alone poles with footings.

Helping out were six ATSU students / spouses, a few Truman students, about six+ local Rotaract club members and guests, and the director of Kirksville Community Services, Steve Bell. Mike Eichor was a Rotarian who took a liking to the Wacker 'concrete buggy', although you couldn't pay him to admit that. Of course, he showed me how to run it whenever I got up the nerve to ask. The buggy was a feisty front-loading little vehicle with a hydraulic dump, but without power steering, that carried a little less than a cubic yard. Peter said he got it for about $160/day from the Rental Center. It broke down at about 10am with a "faulty float valve," but the mechanic came in less than an hour and had it fixed before noon, if I remember right. Because all our concrete pads were spread out over the park, and only a couple were accessible from the road, the buggy really carried the day.

The pads were already graded flat, with an ~4" layer of well-graded aggregate already placed. We placed forms (a square of 2"x4"s with one rebar stake for each board), and wire mesh on each pad of compacted aggregate. The pads' finished grade after construction was somewhat higher than the surrounding ground. Each pad got a post hole and pole for the tee sign. We got premixed concrete in 1.5 to 2-yard loads from *_____*. Peter and Steve had expected this work to take two days, but everyone got home after just one 7:30-5pm day, and most didn't even have to stay that long

It was a good day, and hopefully someone will email me pictures I can post up here!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Miscellaneous Day

Got lots of little random things done today. Maybe you will find some of them interesting.

- Chores
- CASA training and reading
- Called Mel at La Plata High and confirmed that no tutees were showing up again
- Read Miguel Dickson's discussion on Facebook of the Indiana law requiring voters to present photo ID
- Jogging with AyJy
- Miscellaneous emailing and bills
- Read about Transparency International, and how they rate corruption
- Was very impressed by Brandon Luzar's webcam wizardry, and the high quality of Skype video conferencing.
- Played with Google Maps' area calculation and contour lines tools.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

CASA first day

I had my first training meeting today, with Sandy Richardson, Director of the Adair County CASA Volunteer program. (Court Appointed Special Advocate). She and her coworker Karen *____* coordinate about 30 volunteers serving Adair County. If they get more volunteer help, they might expand to serve nearby Knox and Lewis counties.

This web page has some personal stories of CASA volunteers explaining what they do. Seems pretty accurate.

AyJy already has her first case, and I'll probably be finished with training in a week or two, because I'll be training almost two hours each day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bed on the Wall

Big clean-the-house day.

I set up a contraption to fold the bed up and out of the way. Quite simple actually! It's a futon mattress without the futon. We just neaten up the sheets and blankets, fold it up like a half-sandwich, pick it up by the wire loop and hook the wire loop into the bent nail at the top.

Am I right in saying that to find the stud you have to knock on the wall with the actual hammer-head and really make a racket? I was never able to hear it indicate the correct location by just knocking or using the rubber back of the hammer. :o Suggestions or explanations would be much appreciated, from you builders and home improvers out there!

I had a rather difficult time trying to find the stud, as shown in the second picture.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Last Day at MoDOT for 2007

Last day of work at the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) today. I worked a little on some roadway cross section drawings, and wrote up a description of my project's status. The project files are pretty clean, so that Keith (my supervisor) and the next designer on the project should be able to find everything without problems. I filled out my exit interview, my last timesheet, and received my final performance evaluation. "Met Expectations." What else?

I made grand proclamations, assuring everyone that I would win the break-time penny toss. I didn't even make the 'varsity,' of course. Ah, the penny toss. How to explain. Maybe I can get Chuck to email me a copy of the "Official Rules," and I'll post them up here.

Most of the MoDOT District 2 design office congregates in the plot room during the twice daily 15-minute breaks to play 'penny curling.' Similar to shuffleboard, or bocce ball, each player stands behind the table and tosses a penny. Covering the table is a ~5'x10' waxy-plastic cutting mat, with 1" x 1" gridlines. The penny closest to the last gridline after each round is the winner, and the winner takes all the pennies. (All the pennies stay in the plot room, so it's not gambling.)

The penny toss is designed to end after 15 minutes, and it makes collective office discussions convenient. It keeps everyone up to date on what's going on in the office - who gave a blurb on the radio that day, whose project got delayed and why, how Keith's beans are doing, etc. I'm not sure what 'team-building' is, but I will endorse the penny toss for keeping anyone from being left in the dark. No one left in the dark might mean no skeletons in the closet, I suppose.

So it goes. We aren't doing COBRA, because the DOT health insurance program is too expensive for a private pocket. But we will continue the dental plan for a little while, until after AyJy gets her wisdom teeth pulled. All the news that's fit to post.

Friday, October 12, 2007

La Plata Presentation

I went to La Plata High with Aaron McVicker and Keith Killen, and visited two of Mel Bissey's Algebra III classes, mostly high school juniors. We talked about MoDOT and civil engineering in general. Feel like the young adults might have actualy gotten something out of it.

La Plata is a town of about 1,400 people in northeast Missouri. I tutored a couple of students there over the summer, and have showed up on Thursdays to help out. Not many show up though. So far it seems they're too cool for math... perish the thought...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fall 2007 thru Spring 2008: Goals

So it's final. My last day of work at MoDOT this year will be Monday Oct 15.

I will definitely be missing the District 2 crew. But we will keep in touch. Joe and Diane demanded that I blog, so I will blog. Aye aye, Captain.

So, I will spend the winter and spring accomplishing the following goals, in loose order of priority:
1. I will get to know members of the community around Kirksville, aiming at an even cross-section of everybody. I hope for minimal sustained awkwardness and maximum grace. Planned activities include CASA, Hospice, math tutoring, and maybe another one or two, depending on how those are going.
2. I will excel in one course in each of fall and spring toward a degree program at Rolla.
3. I will be fluent in Thai by Summer 2008.
4. I will read literature. Currently reading Grapes of Wrath by Steinback. Also on the list: History of Laos, You Shall Know Our Velocity, Malaquias y Crónicas y Efesios y Reyes, etc....
5. I will learn a bunch of performance-ready pieces on the piano.

I will also maintain my Spanish and Chinese proficiency, exercise regularly, and blog.

Just because I'm working the last item of the addendum right now doesn't mean I've done gone accomplished the top five. Far from it.

Tomorrow: The La Plata Presentation.