Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fears of dollar collapse as Saudis take fright

Saudi Arabia has refused to cut interest rates in lockstep with the US Federal Reserve for the first time, signalling that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom is preparing to break the dollar currency peg in a move that risks setting off a stampede out of the dollar across the Middle East.

"This is a very dangerous situation for the dollar," said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas.

"Saudi Arabia has $800bn (£400bn) in their future generation fund, and the entire region has $3,500bn under management. They face an inflationary threat and do not want to import an interest rate policy set for the recessionary conditions in the United States," he said.

The Saudi central bank said today that it would take "appropriate measures" to halt huge capital inflows into the country, but analysts say this policy is unsustainable and will inevitably lead to the collapse of the dollar peg.

Source. Makes you wonder if our own dollar may rise even further, and what the consequences might be. I know that today I ran into a guy I used to work with, and at the call centre where he still works they're getting a bit nervous. I know that this is currently the main thing that keeps me from going back to call centre work- there's going to be a lot less job security in the near future.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Backyard nuclear experiments

I can't believe I hadn't come across this story before:
What the men in the funny suits found was that the potting shed was dangerously irradiated and that the area's 40,000 residents could be at risk. Publicly, the men in white promised the residents of Golf Manor that they had nothing to fear, and to this day neither Pease nor any of the dozen or so people I interviewed knows the real reason that the Environmental Protection Agency briefly invaded their neighborhood. When asked, most mumble something about a chemical spill. The truth is far more bizarre: the Golf Manor Superfund cleanup was provoked by the boy next door, David Hahn, who attempted to build a nuclear breeder reactor in his mother's potting shed as part of a Boy Scout merit-badge project.
You've got to have some admiration for his cleverness and his determination, that's for sure. Incidentally, the book mentioned in the article (The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments) can be found in PDF form here, among other places (it's virtually impossible to find a hard copy, and those that do exist cost hundreds of dollars from rare book dealers). I remember that book as a kid; the library at my junior high had a copy, and I did a number of the experiments therein. Many of them, however, would not be considered suitable material for a kids' book in this day and age. For that matter, back in the 1970s I received a chemistry set for Christmas one year, and one of the experiments involved the making of hydrogen sulphide - a gas which, dose for dose, is more toxic than hydrogen cyanide. Of course, at the levels I made it the main risk was its characteristic rotten-egg smell, but I still doubt that you'd see such an experiment in a modern chemistry set.

As for Mr. Hahn's experiments, those thinking of following in his footsteps should check out his picture here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The things you learn by having a site meter

Ever since installing a site meter on my blog, I've been able to track hits, including referring pages if any. From the get go, of course, I've received a number of hits as a result of Google searches related to my screen name. In case you were wondering, yes I do have a rough idea as to how it's made, but I've never made it, so you'd best look elsewhere for advice on that front. The good folks at Science Madness might be willing to help you, though. Lately I've also received a number of hits from people searching for information about a homicide in Rockwood on the 8th of September, presumably as a result of this post. I haven't been able to find much information on that, but the Wellington County OPP have a brief summary here, if that's what you're looking for (scroll down a bit for the info). For the lurid details, though, you can look here and here (note that the second article will soon be behind a subscription wall).

In any case, if you've found my blog by accident, I hope you'll consider sticking around.

As far as the rest of the week went, it wasn't too bad. Curiously, though, a load of garbage from an apartment building contained around 100 kilograms of concrete paving stones (that's 220 pounds, for all you old fogies and Americans).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

And it continues...

It doesn't seem quite as bad today, perhaps because it's almost Friday. We are, however, losing one of our temps tomorrow, as he has an appointment with his probation officer. Today went well, albeit in a way that will make another day (yet to be determined) unpleasant. You see, someone with the city failed to give their haulers a holler to let them know not to collect the recyclables from the buildings we're auditing. As a result, we were done by 4 PM, whereas we were expecting to have to carry some over to Friday. The problem is, we still have to audit recyclables from that building, so we'll likely have to come back a third week to do it (we were going to be back next week regardless).

I still feel the usual work-related malaise, but at least I'll be free around 24 hours from now (well, actually a bit more, since 24 hours from now I'll probably be on the 401 driving the piece-of-shit van back to the office and hoping that its faulty speedometer doesn't bring me grief). Then I'll be able to go home and get wasted with my disreputable friends. Hey, I can't really hope for too many higher pleasures, so I might as well get good and high.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I still hate my job

This job is getting to me. Well no, actually it got to me long ago.

The temps are tolerably competent, but they have a tendency to "duck the fog" unless we are on their asses constantly. It's going to be a long week. Furthermore, next week there's an excellent chance that I'll be spending my evenings finishing a report.

It occurs to me that my attempt to improve my lot by going back to school and becoming an environmental technician has actually led to less job satisfaction than I got out of working in call centres, and hasn't done much for my wages either. Admittedly, I'm now actually doing something useful, but that seems like cold comfort when you're digging through hundreds of kilos per day of congealed shite, and not even able to sleep in your own bed afterwards. I'm going to have to do something about this, though I'm not at all sure what.

One factoid that you hear periodically is that the majority of people nowadays will change careers several times in their lifetimes. What is left unsaid is how many of those people actually experience an improvement in their quality of life as a result of these career changes. I fear it's not very many.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Happy 9/11! (link fixed)

In honour of this occasion, here's a link to good ol' Osama's latest speech (thanks to bugsybrown for the link). Some highlights:

"People of America: the world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of the tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there, which has led to the vast majority of you being afflicted with disappointment."
Can't really argue with that. Or how about this:
"This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn't like those who give advice. The entire world came out in unprecedented demonstrations to warn against waging the war and describe its true nature in eloquent terms like "no to spilling red blood for black oil," yet he paid them no heed. It is time for humankind to know that talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them. "
Does this mean that the fact that I have some Chomsky books is going to put me on some sort of shit list?

Edited to add: I fixed the link to the speech. Sorry for any confusion.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Work again

So I'm back at work. No big deal, except that I'm in Toronto, and will be working tomorrow with not one but two temps (Norfolk Dude and Ms N are working on another project). Furthermore, the Human Sawmill isn't feeling too well. I suspect the days are going to drag on terribly.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The wonders of modern technology

So it seems they've managed to produce a robot cat:

Via atomicat.

The return of Ms McD

Yesterday, after an afternoon of canvassing and a brief visit with the Ps, I went to Pearson to pick up Ms McD upon her arrival from Saint John. Of course, this is Ms McD we're talking about, and bad luck seems to follow her in an uncanny fashion (though perhaps the choice of our once-esteemed national airline as the carrier has more to do with this particular problem). She phoned as I was preparing to leave and said that her flight had been delayed... by around an hour and a half. It was close to 3 AM by the time we got back to town. It was, of course, the same airline that gave me and my boss the luxury of an extended rest in the airport terminal last winter. She's now back at Mr and Mrs Stone's place; I do hope that there are no irregularities with her settling back in.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Globe gets nasty

You probably all remember the furore that arose when Globe and Mail reporter Jan Wong wrote an article on the Dawson College shooting, suggesting that the shooter, as well as two other well known mass murderers in Quebec, had been rejected by Quebec society as not pure laine, and that the resulting alienation helped drive them to commit their crimes. I can't defend what Wong said, but the response has included racist caricatures and death threats. And, if this article in Toronto Life is accurate, it sounds like her editors knew in advance roughly what she was going to say and did nothing to discourage her- and then left her to take all the heat. If this is true, her employer has wronged her far more than she ever wronged anyone she had lunch with.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The long weekend is over; resume normal suffering

The weekend itself went quite well, though busy. On I drove Mr Stone to Breslau, where he needed to pick up a piece of equipment at a store there (his stepson's car has died). I then managed to get my new computer working (and it's like night and day compared to my old PIII). The latter is going to be scrubbed of data and then lent to Catherine's campaign.

On Sunday I went canvassing, and in the evening I met up with Lee's son (who was back in town to retrieve stuff from her house) and a friend of his. This led to a rather late night. On Monday I helped run the NDP table at the annual Labour Day picnic in Waterloo Park.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Is credulity adaptive?

This past Tuesday, while my boss and I were driving out to the sort centre, there was a feature on The Current about a self-help film called The Secret. It's really a rehash of old ideas like "the power of positive thinking" (as touted by the "deep philosopher" Norman Vincent Peale). My boss likes most of the proponents quoted on the show. One thing that he mentioned in passing is the fact that most of the proponents of this sort of thing are quite religious (as he is) while most of the critics are atheists or agnostics (like yours truly). This seems to be true (Peale, for instance, was a preacher) and it got me to thinking about why this might be. There's nothing obviously wrong with the idea of positive thinking, though I agree with the critics that, pushed too far, this could lead to a blame-the-victim mentality (Lost your job? Got mugged? Raped? You must not have been thinking positively enough!). The thing is, though, if you're an atheist or an agnostic, your beliefs are going to depend on such annoying little things like evidence- and if so, you're likely to have a hard time thinking positively about yourself unless you're already doing well. I know that I do.

Given this, it's not too big a stretch to suggest that a certain amount of credulity might be adaptive. Not too much, obviously (otherwise everyone would take advantage of you) but some. This might go some distance towards explaining why so many people fall for shit like this, this, and this.