All posts by wankongyew

Internet Censorship in China

In an effort to make new friends and increase traffic to her movie reviews website, my wife spent the weekend visiting similar blogs by mainland Chinese citizens. Some of the reviews sites are of surprisingly high quality, and it’s good to see that some Chinese at least have access to an impressively diverse selection of films, much more so than is available in Malaysia I think.

However, when some of the Chinese expressed an interest in reading more of my wife’s reviews, we discovered that they couldn’t. At first we thought that it was because internet connections to sites outside China were restricted by the schools of some of the Chinese, but we later discovered that it was a more general problem. Apparently, none of the Chinese who wanted to visit my wife’s blog could do so.

After some googling, I discovered this list of notable websites blocked in China on Wikipedia. This confirms that the hosting company I use, BlueHost, is banned. More shockingly, just about every free blog website seems to be banned too, including Blogspot, WordPress.com, LiveJournal and Xanga. Even Wikipedia, which is about as neutral a source of information as you can get since anyone can edit anything on it, is banned, as is the Project Gutenberg, which is simply a website to make available for free books that have passed out of copyright.

Most of us know of what is colloquially known as the Great Firewall of China, but this is the first time that I’ve run into it personally, and for me, this rams home the vast scale of the censorship being carried out. As a libertarian, I believe in high levels of personal freedom for everyone everywhere but many Malaysians that I know tend to excuse such dictatorial practices in China as an acceptable price to pay for social stability and prosperity, or at least turn a blind eye to it.

But the truth is that no society can ever really be stable and peaceful until its leaders are enlightened enough and mature enough to allow criticism against them, even if they disagree with the criticisms. This is true for China and it is true for Malaysia as well.

A New Year Walk

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It was a lazy afternoon here in the Solomon Islands with nothing much happening (except for a lorry carrying a lion dance group going by in the morning, quite an unusual sight here), so my wife and I went for a walk at the company’s sawmill site in Lungga. This is something that we usually do every Sunday but we missed out on it the previous Sunday since my wife spent too much time baking a baguette.

The sawmill site occupies a fairly a large piece of more-or-less private land so it’s a pleasant and mostly quiet place to have a stroll in, with plenty of greenery, a river and a beach. The main reason we come here though is to visit our dog Lohwong (Cantonese). He, together with his brother Hakchai, previously lived with us at our workshop compound in Ranadi, but he turned out to be a bit too aggressive and boisterous, actually biting a couple of camp workers and frequently chasing children and passersby, so he was banished to the more remote Lungga site a few months ago. It turned out for the best though since Hakchai, who has a bad leg due to a car accident when he was a puppy and is much lazier, has been happier now that his bigger brother isn’t around to bully him, and the huge Lungga area gives the more active Lohwong plenty of space to run in and explore.

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (Dec’07)

Probably the most talked about scientific issue that’s been making the rounds recently is the news is that not only has human evolution not stopped since the advent of modern technology, a previously popular view, but has in fact actually accelerated. As this article in ABC News notes, in a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, researchers discovered that by comparing the DNA of humans and chimpanzees since the two species diverged six million years ago there were not enough differences between the two sets of DNA to account for the currently observed rate of change. Therefore, they take this to mean that human evolution has substantially accelerated since the appearance of modern humans 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.

Moreover, they find that different populations of humans have been evolving in different ways. The lighter skin colour of Asians and Europeans compared to Africans is one example, as an adaptation to allow more absorption of vitamin D in areas with less sun. Another example is the disappearance of the lactase enzyme that allows digestion of fresh milk in China and most of Africa where dairy farming is less common than in Europe.

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A Game: Gears of War (PC)

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Ever since lead designer Cliff Bleszinski famously posted photos of himself hobnobbing with celebrities at E3 while promoting this game on the SomethingAwful forums, I’d been predisposed to dislike Gears of War. It didn’t help that the look and feel of the game leans heavily towards testosterone-fueled machismo of the worst sort. So it came as a pleasant surprise to me when I finally got my hands on the PC version this month and found it to be a more than decent game.

The machismo is all there of course: huge guns with chainsaws for bayonets, grunts with big bulging muscles and anatomically implausible jawlines who make frequent references to kicking ass and toughing it out while the only female presence is a lieutenant who is mostly heard and not seen. The well above average dialogue however manages the difficult task of making it seem familiar rather ridiculous. Combined with the excellent duck-and-cover mechanics and satisfying shooting action, it adds up to a very playable shooter.

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Transubstantiation in “The Confusion”

I’ve been working through Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle for the past several weeks. With three volumes in total and more than a thousand pages per volume, this is certainly a monumental undertaking. In addition, to even understand what’s going on in the books, I have to make repeated forays to Wikipedia to brush up on my knowledge of 17th and 18th century history. This means that it will be a while before I can post a complete review of the books.

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from the second book in the cycle, The Confusion, which mocks the Roman Catholic belief in transubstantiation. I suppose that the episode must be fictional, but it makes for a fine example of the writing in the Baroque Cycle, with its attention to historical detail and intricate observations of the scientific, religious, economic, political and social dynamics of the time.

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A Christmas at the Beach

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I went with my wife and a couple of work colleagues to a beach west of Honiara in the Solomon Islands on Christmas. Pictured above is us together with the two children of one of my colleagues. As a fairly unremarkable beach outing, only the children actually played in the water and the adults merely dipped their toes. Of particular note is that the two children have been bugging me to get some games for them but since their father’s laptop only has a Centrino processor and integrated video my choices were limited. So I decided to give them my old copy of Starcraft, which I bought many years ago in Gabon, Africa. This seemed to appeal to them after I taught them some basics. The elder one was somewhat dumbfounded though when I remarked that when the game originally came out, he was only 1 year old. I spent some time in the afternoon helping them beat a Starcraft level.

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A Game: Dwarf Fortress

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So, I’ve been messing around with Dwarf Fortress for a while now. Its full name is actually Slaves to Armok: God of Blood, Chapter 2: Dwarf Fortress but I figure the game, with the kind of graphics it has, or lack thereof, doesn’t need any more strikes against it. The game has been available as an alpha-state, free download since August last year, but the ASCII graphics intimidated me too much to try it. However, I’ve been hearing plenty of good things about it, and since Bay 12 Games recently added a Z-level to it and other players have made it easier on the eyes with modded tilesets, I finally plucked up my courage to give it a whirl.

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