Hakchai and Lucky


Some pictures of Hakchai, previously already mentioned in this blog, and his new friend, Lucky. Hakchai and Lohwong were the only two dogs that we kept from a litter of puppies by Rainbow. Rainbow was herself originally owned by one of our local Solomon Islander employees, but after he resigned for medical reasons, he left Rainbow here and I kind of adopted her. She’s a mongrel, and still a little wild. She’s a pretty small dog, but she loves chasing and killing things smaller than her, like birds, chickens and kittens.

Hakchai was wounded in a car accident when he was a puppy, so one of his rear legs is really weak. This means he can’t jump, so when he gets excited instead of jumping around, he just kinds of claws people’s feet instead, which can be painful. He’s also a really, really timid and submissive dog. When he was a puppy, as soon as anyone yelled or even glared at him, he’d curl up on his back and pee in submission. This means he’s totally useless as a guard dog, but also means that he’s perfectly harmless. He does make a lot of strange noises and howls sometimes. My wife says he likes to sing.

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Atheist Adoptions

This story was spread around a few days ago and got digged. It really is a bit of a non-story though, since it’s based on a Time magazine story that’s dated 7th December 1970. It concerns a case in which a pair of parents in the United States, one an atheist and the other a pantheist, was denied the right to adopt a baby because a judge ruled that since the parents did not believe in a Supreme Being, it would be tantamount to unduly influencing the child and depriving her of the freedom to worship as she sees fit. In any case, as far as I can tell, that ruling was overturned in 1971 in which the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to deny adoption solely on the basis of lack of belief in any religion.

Still, raising this old story did serve to raise public consciousness for a few days about atheists’ rights as the story made the rounds on the internet and on public radio talk shows in the US. Personally, I’ve long found that religious people tend not to accord atheists the same personal belief space that they automatically give to believers of other religions. For example, a Christian instinctively knows that it would be rude to even so much as utter a praise to Jesus in the presence of a Muslim or a Buddhist, but no such consideration is ever afforded to atheists. Yet as a recent special report in The Economist noted, if atheism were considered a religion, it would be the fourth largest religion worldwide.

This is of course because religious people tend to believe that atheists don’t really take their atheism seriously and so are ripe for conversion. This might be true for many atheists and, perhaps even truer for self-proclaimed agnostics, but at the same time, from my observations, many of the religious don’t take their own religious belief particularly seriously either, being religious only as a form of social networking or as taking the path of least resistance.

But for me at least and for others I hope, atheism is a conscious, rational and carefully thought out choice and I dare say that I have spent more time and effort on researching the basis of my beliefs than many religious have spent on theirs. That I think is something that ought to be respected. So if you religiously inclined yourself, keep that in mind the next time you hear someone profess to be an atheist.

A Game: Crysis


The lesson that Crytek must have learned by now is that advertising your game by boasting that its graphics engine is so powerful that it will bring most computers to their knees is probably not a good idea. Everything in Crysis’ pre-release marketing hype heavily touted it as the game to get to show off your ultra-powerful and expensive system that puts gaming consoles to shame. But as Bill Harris noted in his blog, it didn’t even manage to sell 100,000 copies in its first three weeks of release while the 10th rated console game sold over 300,000 copies in the same time. It is a telling fact that Crytek recently announced that their next game, a sequel to Far Cry, will be available on both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 as well as the PC.

The sad thing here is that Crysis is a game that does deserve to sell better. It has the greatest graphics ever seen in a game thus far, yes, but it also has a huge playing area that allows an open-ended approach to solving tactical problems in-game, it gives the player a cool set of abilities that combined with the nifty physics in the game makes all sorts of wacky actions and situations possible, emergent gameplay of the most spontaneous kind, and it’s the kind of game that, innumerable flaws notwithstanding, make you sit back and grin when you think of the crazy shit you’ve just managed to pull off.

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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


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)


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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The unexamined life is a life not worth living