What’s with all the Japanese spam?

As the title says, in the last two weeks, I’ve started getting epic quantities of Japanese spam in kanji and kana – I’m half tempted to start translating it as part of my ongoing efforts to learn Japanese, but mostly I’m just intrigued as to how my e-mail address ended up on a Japanese spammer’s distribution list?

Weird.

All is not well at the Louvre

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I just read this on the BBC news website:

Staff at Paris’s Louvre museum have gone on strike, demanding a bonus for the stress of looking after the Mona Lisa and other popular masterpieces.

Hmm. I’m not anti-trade union or against collective bargaining, but it can’t exactly have come as much of a surprise to the staff at the Louvre that

a) the Mona Lisa was housed there – after all, it’s been there for quite a while now, and
b) that lots of people might want to see it.

Do you get where I’m coming from? Am I becoming less tolerant?

Possibly.

Ever bought a second hand car?

Ever bought a second hand car? I sold my car this week and bought a ‘new’ one – new in the sense of new to me, but obviously not brand new. Foreign readers of this blog would probably fall off their seats if they knew how expensive cars are in Ireland.

For a start, we pay more for our vehicles because of a tax known as Vehicle Registration Tax which adds 25 per cent to the cost of a car and on top of that we pay around €1.10 a litre of petrol. It costs me €55 to €60 to fill my tank with petrol and in my old car, I got around 320 miles for that. So motoring is an expensive business.

I’ve owned three cars to date, so this newly acquired one is the fourth. So I’ve sold three in the past, but I learned something new this week. The car I was selling was not a bad one, and I guessed it was worth a certain figure. However, I had the good fortune to bump into a friend of a friend who works in a garage buying and selling cars, so I asked him what it was worth. I expected him to put his hands in his pockets, look off in the distance and pull a figure out of his head, based on his exhaustive knowledge of the second hand motor business.

But he didn’t. Instead he pulled a small book out of his pocket and showed me the cover in a conspiratorial manner – nod nod, wink wink, say no more, say no more – and it was a guide produced for garages listing thousands of types of second hand cars and their values. The cover had ‘confidential’ written on it and the salesman told me it is issued every month and salesmen are told not to show it to punters under any circumstances.

I was slightly shocked. He told me the true value of my car and said he’d give me that price on a trade-in if I wanted to sell it on. Sadly he didn’t have the make or model I was looking for, so I didn’t but I was extremely grateful for his honesty. His tip also meant that when I found the car I did want from another garage I was able to see clearly through the salesman’s patter.

I was able to say, “Listen mate, this is what I want for it, take it or leave it,” knowing that while he tried to get me to accept less for it, I knew the figure he would take. And he did. Makes me think about the times I’ve had used car salesmen tell me the car I was selling wasn’t worth a fraction of what I thought it was. Hmm.

The shrinking world

I’ve been blogging for just over six months now, and have found the process extremely benificial for my own creative purposes. It’s also a nice way to keep in touch with some of the people I’ve met on my travels around the world and with friends that have upped and moved to other countries.

Even so, I’m amazed at the geographical spread of readers to this blog – it’s not a huge numer, but readers definitely come from lots of interesting places. Check out this pie chart breakdown of where viewers have come from in the last 24 hours.
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Interesting, isn’t it?

How do you take your snake oil?

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I don’t have much in the way of serious academic qualifications – much to my regret, I couldn’t wait to get out of college fast enough and so didn’t actually finish a degree – but I have some friends that do have letters after their name, included amongst them several PhDs, professors and multiple masters degree holders in academic subject matters such as physics and computing.

Because of this I am familiar with just what is involved in gaining the coveted letters ‘D and R’ in front of your name. In particular I have one friend who gained his doctorate last year after many years of hard work. When he finished, he showed me his thesis, and the appendices of his doctoral thesis were the size of a phone book and looked like they were written in Greek they were so technical. The subject matter was research he had conducted into oesophageal cancer. I know how much work, money and personal sacrifices this guy made to further his studies and I think he deserves the title Dr.

But other than some mild admiration for the academic achievements of my friends, what’s the point of this blog entry? Well, The Guardian ran this story yesterday, about TV nutritionist Gillian McKeith. Personally, I find McKeith’s TV shows insulting – she puts on a bullying patronising persona while making fat people cry because of their lack of personal discipline. However, I understand that usually she’s attempting to make a point and the people in question usually seem to be happier for having the life scared out of them when confronted with the consequences of not changing their eating habits. After all, much of the time she really just tells them to eat more vegetables and no doctor or nutritionist is going to argue with that.

However, McKeith is now in trouble because it seems she’s not actually a doctor – instead the Guardian is alleging that she bought a doctorate from an unaccredited US institution.

There is no end of these hooky ‘colleges’ in the US and the Far East, as this area seems not to be so regulated in these areas. They will sell you a PhD for €100, but anyone who pays for one of these demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what qualifications like this mean. I suppose it’s down to chronic insecurity and the need to impress others, but by definition, the only people you would impress would be people who don’t know what the qualification means.

The value of any academic qualification stands or falls on the established mainstream reputation of the body that issued it. In and of itself it has no value – I could start awarding PhDs to my hearts content to anyone foolish enough to pay me for them, but it wouldn’t make them worth anything.

In fairness to McKeith, while the article seems to imply that her doctorate was from an unaccredited US institution – it also mentioned that she published her supposed doctoral thesis as a mass market book, so at least that presumes she actually wrote a thesis. Most of the worst diploma mills in the US don’t require even that. Mind you, I did find the following excerpt of the article hilarious:

And the scholarliness of her work is a thing to behold: she produces lengthy documents that have an air of “referenciness”, with nice little superscript numbers, which talk about trials, and studies, and research, and papers … but when you follow the numbers, and check the references, it’s shocking how often they aren’t what she claimed them to be in the main body of the text. Or they refer to funny little magazines and books, such as Delicious, Creative Living, Healthy Eating, and my favourite, Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet, rather than proper academic journals.

She even does this in the book Miracle Superfood, which, we are told, is the published form of her PhD. “In laboratory experiments with anaemic animals, red-blood cell counts have returned to normal within four or five days when chlorophyll was given,” she says. Her reference for this experimental data is a magazine called Health Store News. “In the heart,” she explains, “chlorophyll aids in the transmission of nerve impulses that control contraction.” A statement that is referenced to the second issue of a magazine called Earthletter.

Taken from http://www.guardian.co.uk/food/Story/0,,2011095,00.html

Check out Gillian McKeith’s website at http://www.drgillianmckeith.com/ – see how many times you can count the use of the term doctor. I lost count after 15 on the front page alone. Funnily enough any of the people I know with PhDs tend not to use the term Dr at all. Why? Usually because they don’t want the general public to confuse them with medical doctors. Interesting, isn’t it?

Still ‘lost’ but loving it

So Lost came back last night after a three month layover. Excellent stuff. I stand behind my interest in this show – it’s easily the best thing on television right now and yes, that includes 24 (at least in my estimation.)lost.jpg

However, I’m left feeling slight dissatisfied – Lost is like a chocolate Malteaser – one is nice and all, but what you really want to do is cram 18 into your mouth in one go. My problem is that I’ve gotten used to watching epic Lost-athons – usually of eight to ten hour durations – because I’ve only seen it on DVD and so this is actually the first episode I’ve watched on TV and I’m just feeling mildly narked that I now have to wait a week to find out what happens.

I’ll definitely be tuning in though.

Review: The shock of the Old

I recently had the opportunity to review an extremely interesting new book on the role that technology has played in modern history, entitled ‘The Shock Of The Old: Technology In Global History Since 1900’, by David Edgerton (Profile Books, €27.90).

Here’s an excerpt of the review:

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“While conventional thinking says that the world we live in depends on the microchip and electricity, Edgerton argues that the sewing machine, the rickshaw and the horse have had a more significant effect on more people’s lives, and hence are more significant technologies.

In a case in point, he discusses the invention of corrugated iron in the nineteenth century. This building material is still used by hundreds of millions of people for roofing in the developed world, surely making it a very significant technological development.

Compare this to something like Concorde, something which at one point was hailed as representing the pinnacle of technological achievement but which ultimately affected the lives of very few people.

Which is the superior technology? Clearly it has to be the corrugated tin roof, but why do we automatically assume the more complex invention to be the more significant? Edgerton thinks it’s because of the frequent use of the word technology to refer to what is really innovation, or the invention and first use of something.”

You can read the rest of this review at www.sbpost.ie

For purposes of clarity . . .

. . . my old blog was located at http://alexmeehan.blogspot.com.

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And if you haven’t read the page linked to above, you should know that I’m not actually a nazi – it’s just that the last blog entry I wrote before being locked out of my blogger account happened to be about how the swastika means different things in different places. Of course, now I really wish I hadn’t plonked a dirty great swastika at the top of the page.

Anyway. . .

‘Tis better to have loved and lost . . .

They say ‘tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all*, but I think that’s bullshit – I want my blog back and Google stole it.

Regular readers on my blog will have realised that something is up – for a start, I’ve moved it to a different publishing platform – wordpress in case that wasn’t obvious from the URL in your browsers’s address window above this page – but also, I haven’t posted anything to my old blog for several weeks.

Why is this? Well, stick with this one, because it’s complex. Blogger was bought by Google, and a couple of weeks ago, it launched something called New Blogger, and blogger users were heavily bombarded with requests to ‘move over’ to the new system. Why not, I thought, and clicked the migrate button.

However, when I upgraded to the new system, it automatically changed over to using an existing old google mail account. The problem is I haven’t used that account in many many months and have no idea what the password for the account is.

However, I actually didn’t worry about this too much, as the password for this gmail account was stored in my PC’s cache – even though I didn’t know it, my PC did – but a couple of weeks ago that got deleted in a cache clearout and I was locked out of my blog account. I have no record of the password for this account – when I registered it I was using a different PC, so I couldn’t access the account to reset the password.

No problem, I thought, Google has a facility for just this sort of problem, you just click the button marked “Forgotten your password?” However, this just made me wait for five days before it would allow me to get access to the new password function. That works by asking you a series of security questions, the answers to which you give the system when you register the account in the first place.

Except when I finally got to this point, and tried to log in, I got asked a security question to which I didn’t know the answer. And it was in Finnish!! I suppose it’s possible I requested my security question to be in finish when I registered the account, but it seems extremely unlikely. So why is any of this Google’s fault?

Well, none of this is. However, the fact that its staff ignored five e-mails asking for help and that my appeal for help on its official help forums has also been left untroubled by any Googlish attention, is its fault.

Anyway, onward and upward. I have ‘migrated’ to wordpress, and so far, it seems like a nice system to work with. Hopefully, at some point Google will get around to helping me re-access my old blog but until then, I can’t post to it or even let regular readers there know that I’ve moved.

* I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:27, 1850, and not as most people would guess, from Shakespeare. So there, you see . . . you just learned something and it didn’t hurt at all.