Academic fraud for college athletes

An academic fraud scandal that was revealed 3 years ago came to (a) conclusion today:

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A blistering report into an academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina released Wednesday found that for nearly two decades two employees in the African and Afro-American Studies department ran a “shadow curriculum” of hundreds of fake classes that never met but for which students, many of them Tar Heels athletes, routinely received A’s and B’s.

[“U.N.C. Investigation Reveals ‘Shadow Curriculum’ to Help Athletes“, New York Times, Oct 22 2014]

An acquaintance of mine who worked in the administration at University of British Columbia once received a transfer-request from an American football playing student who (one assumes) had been cut from his own university’s football team. Now he just wanted to know if UBC had a football program, and can I be accepted into your university, please?

UBC does have a football program, but the student wouldn’t be accepted into UBC, because his academic record wasn’t good enough. His highest academic achievement to date was a C in the class “basket weaving”!

Hey, at least that tells us that his old university wasn’t as corrupt as NC-Chapel Hill.

University teachers, administrators, academic counselors, coaches and high-level officials should keep their “show of team spirit” to the stadium stands, and keep it out of the academic branch of the enterprise.

Logic problems in the movie Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim (2013) poster

Pacific Rim (2013)

Warning: Though this is just a rant and not an actual review of the movie, there are lots of spoilers herein.

I knew that Pacific Rim wasn’t going to be a good movie, and it wasn’t. I was hoping for good entertainment, and it delivered, but at what cost to physics, logic and common sense. Here are the most glaring problems I’ve noted from that one viewing.

Let’s get the big one out of the way first: It makes no sense to use giant piloted robots to combat the monsters.

  • Humans will die from 100G impacts, even if they are located inside a big metal beast. Hence thousands and thousands of traffic deaths.
  • Most kills in the movie are done by various types of guns, that might as well have been fired from helicopters
  • The movie only uses helicopters for transport, not for added visibility, missile platforms, etc. etc. (but hey, at least they don’t explode)

And what’s with the monsters themselves and their backstory? Logic much?

  • All the monsters come out of a rift in a particular place. So 1) place all your monitoring around that area, and 2) fill that area with nuclear mines
  • The monsters are not from earth, yet they have DNA?
  • Pacific Rim Jaeger blueprint

    Oh look, a large metal replica of a human

    The monsters all have the same DNA = are clones, yet they look very different?

  • The monsters have a couple of weapons (spewing acid, some sort of electricity and some sort of EMP) yet they rarely use them
  • The monsters are all clones, yet one is pregnant?
  • The monsters just happen to be placental mammals like us (an umbilical cord makes a prominent appearance), and several other organs are mentioned that match earth-physiology (lung, heart, windpipe, etc.)
  • The alien masters only send through biological creatures – no weapons or other technology
  • The alien masters “have done this before… that was the dinosaurs”. Now they’ve built another trans-dimensional tunnel and are sending through monsters. Yet humans celebrate it as a decisive victory when they manage to close the tunnel… Can the aliens not just build another tunnel to earth (or hundreds of them)?

General nonsense:

  • You can’t use a big cargo ship as a bat. Large ships break into pieces if they’re loaded incorrectly. Even when resting in the water, the structural stresses have to be evenly distributed.
  • The pilots train and are tested in stick-fighting, yet go into battle “bare knuckled” (plus elbow rockets + various built-in guns, but only so much that the mechs still have humanoid form)

Quote of the Day: Software Progress

Claus Dahl (@Claus) on Twitter:

Walking man iconAchieving heroic progress in software by first writing shockingly poor software which I can then DRASTICALLY improve.

[Original Danish: Opnår heroiske fremskridt i software ved først at skrive chokerende ringe software som jeg derefter kan forbedre DRASTISK.]

[@Claus, today]

Northern Voice 2011 – Conversation Starters

Northern Voice 2011 is coming up this weekend. What are we going to talk about in the hallways? Here are some potential conversation starters and/or topics to stay away from if you don’t want to hear me expound on the topic. 🙂

Canadian Politics

Too bad about that Canadian election outcome, eh? The Conservative party won a majority and the previous “official opposition party” The Liberals as well as the froggy Bloc Québécois were reduced to rubble, and the proper lefty New Democratic Party became the new official opposition.

Canada has polarized into a false us-against-them situation much like the US. Why do so many Canadians think that massive corporate tax cuts and housing bubble incentives will benefit them? Will the left continue to suffer under vote splitting for the foreseeable future or will they commit a marriage of convenience?

Will the Canadian “Christian Right” remain quiet for long? Or will they pressure Harper to make further cuts to education and science, the environment and other fact-based initiatives; will they push through limitations on Canadian women’s right to abortion, etc?

International Politics

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Good. Too bad that it happened the way it did with an illegal smash-and-grab.

I hope the US will remember to stay cool when the tables are turned and special troops from various Central American and Asian nations launch military operations on US soil to retrieve former dictators, terrorists, military leaders, torturers-in-chief, etc. who are now living out their retirements in Florida courtesy of the CIA. Will we see smoking ruins of Miami villas and Hawaiian condo buildings on TV overlapped with crowds of jubilant brown people?

Technology Industry

Microsoft bought Skype for an obscene amount of money this week. Is this the end of online communication as we know it, or just a little consolidation? Will Microsoft kill Skype on FOSS platforms such as Linux?

I still haven’t seen The Social Network (2010). But I have seen that other Facebook movie Catfish (2010). Have you?


I squatted 4 reps with 450lbs. Why? Because I could, I guess. Hey, if the inane “Because they’re there” excuse works for mountain climbers, “Because I can” ought to work for strong people. This beats my personal record from 15-or-so years ago by a lot, and I’ve no idea why I’m suddenly so strong again at 41.

Death to stupid photo filters, apps and websites that make pictures from $500 phones and $1,000 cameras look like they were made with a disposable pocket camera from 1964! This is just a small symbol of the hipster trend, but because of social media it’s pushier than personal grooming (or lack thereof) fads,  ugly clothes, fixie bikes, etc. Being a Dickhead is (not) Cool.

Nuclear Energy

The recent nuclear energy accident in Japan pushed me over the edge: I’m now wholeheartedly in favor of nuclear power. William Saletan’s “Nuclear Overreactions” in Slate points out the disproportionality between the actual damage to humans, nature and property in the recent accident at Fukushima with the constant ongoing environmental and human tragedy that is our oil-based energy infrastructure. From the article:

Even if you count all the deaths plausibly related to Chernobyl—9,000 to 33,000 over a 70-year period—that number is dwarfed by the death rate from burning fossil fuels. The OECD’s 2008 Environmental Outlook calculates that fine-particle outdoor air pollution caused nearly 1 million premature deaths in the year 2000, and 30 percent of this was energy-related. You’d need 500 Chernobyls to match that level of annual carnage. But outside Chernobyl, we’ve had zero fatal nuclear power accidents.

Derek K. Miller and Frank Langgaard, R.I.P.

A lot of my friends in Vancouver knew and loved Derek K. Miller who recently died after a long fight with cancer. Derek was my age, he was 41.

I did not really know Derek. I only met him in passing a couple of times over the years. To all of his friends and of course to his family: I’m sorry for your loss!

I recently learned that my old friend and workout buddy Frank died from complications from the flu back in Denmark. He was 45, and he was one of the fittest people (of any age) I’ve ever known. Obviously “taking care of your health” doesn’t work 100%. Bad things happen to good people.

Vancouver Blogger Meetup January 2011 Recap

Meetup logo
Join our group on Meetup

Wednesday we had the first Vancouver Bloggers Meetup of 2011 at The Network Hub at 422 Richards St.

The people

Some of the topics that came up when I was around

  • Al recommends checking out Ke$ha’s video We R Who We R. He has noticed that even though the crowds in the video seem to be mixed, all the closeups are of women. Is there a message in that, and if so, what is it?
  • I met a couple of people who didn’t have blogs, but had plans to start one soon. It’s great that they can use our little gathering to get some tips and advice for how to get started.
  • Twitter has become as obvious and natural to use as Facebook and the web in general.
  • There seemed to be very few discussions about which tools to use. Only exception was that one person who’s planning to start some audio blogging mentioned that he was thinking about using Audacity. Yep, that’s the one everybody’s using and it’s free… now stop thinking about tools and get going on your project. 🙂 Oh, but what about speed and bandwidth and storage of files? Not a real problem (you can get free hosting for your podcast episodes on, now start doing your interviews.
  • One participant said she’d had an overly dramatic xmas dinner at a strange(-to-her) family. As she said: “Hey, if I wanted family drama, I could’ve gone to see my own family!
  • Lauren has written a play! I now know two people who have written a play, but they don’t know each other. Lauren, meet Darren Barefoot, one of the Blog Fathers of Vancouver; Darren, meet Lauren Kresowaty who writes about Arts and Culture, Canadiana, Politics, Nifty Things.
  • Sheree the matchmaker has the biggest and glossiest business cards I’ve ever seen. I quickly wrote down her URL and handed the card back and encouraged her to go spend that $5 bill on a potential customer. 🙂
  • Karen Toovey and I talked about generations, hippies, dementia, education, the economy, the environment… all the soft, easy topics. I encouraged her to check out Andrew Lawrence’s message to old people for a good laugh.
  • Diane Chow mentioned that she was going to write a blog post about a Robbie Burns Day event in Vancouver (Diane’s post from today), and I told her about the Vancouver specialty event Gung Haggis Fat Choy that (as the name implies) started as a combination of Scottish and Chinese events but “has come to represent a celebration of combining cultures in untraditional ways”.
  • I got an introduction to “Lent“: The folks who follow this tradition eat pancakes on “Shrove Tuesday“, get dirty on “Ash Wednesday” and then repent for weeks. They don’t repent getting dirty, but rather that they ate the pancakes. What’s so naughty about pancakes?!

If you were at the meetup Wednesday, please leave a comment with some of the topics you discussed. Also, if any of the information above (names, blog URLs) is incorrect or incomplete, please let me know.

And if you think all this sounds like a lot of fun and you want to join us next time we have a Vancouver Blogger Meetup, join our group on

Quote of the Day – 3D in Movies

In an otherwise forgettable writeup of 2010 movie moments, this gem of folksy wisdom:

Believe it or not, you can’t just add 3D to chicken shit and expect it to make it into chicken salad.

[“10 Most Memorable Movie Moments Of 2010” by Will Kriegshauser,, today]

The specific movie that failed to apply 3D to the writer’s satisfaction was Clash Of The Titans (2010). I didn’t see the 3D version, but the regular 2D version of that movie sucked plenty on its own. 3D tech wouldn’t add any charm to that stinker.

Movie: Tron (1982)

The new movie TRON: Legacy (2010) is going to be released very soon and the marketing machine is geared to make it a Big Thing among geeks, and here I still hadn’t seen all of the original Tron from 1982.

I remember seeing some of it as a teenager and not being able to take it seriously. And then for the next twenty-odd years I kept hearing how people liked it, and I tried to see it a couple of times more. I know I recorded it off the TV a couple of times, but I never watched it. But then this week I decided to make the effort and force myself to see the whole thing, and finally I was successful.

Movie poster for Tron (1982)
Movie poster for Tron (1982).


The boss of a big company is centralizing things, removing computer access from some staff, and firing a particularly troublesome hacker dude who claims that he’s behind some of the company’s biggest selling game software. The boss, it turns out, has stolen the hacker dude’s programs and in this and other dastardly deeds he’s been helped by a computer program Master Control Program which has grown sentient and independent of the boss, and is now gobbling up the computer resources from other companies and government institutions to become even more powerful.

All of this happens in the real world, but there is also a world inside the computer where programs function under more or less direct control of Master Control Program. In here, all programs seem to be self-aware to some degree, and some are taught to fight to the death in tournaments for the pleasure of MPC and his favorite lackeys. And everything has neon edges and webbing and looks really futuristic. And a lot of computer jargon terms are used.

The troublesome hacker from above gets digitized by a prototype teleportation system (yep, the company’s also making one of those, mostly as a hobby project to keep the old founder occupied, it seems), and now the hacker has to fight in the gladiator games inside the computer and help a couple of other rebel programs beat the evil MCP. And hopefully in the end escape back into the real world and become a real boy again.

Scene from Tron (1982)
Scene from Tron (1982) – Black and white film frame hand-colored with lots of neon. Note the woman’s body language.


Tron set the standard for its time in terms of “computer” graphics… even though most of it was done manually by people who hand painted the neon elements and other colors onto individual frames of film. A process that was so expensive and time consuming that it was never used again at the same scale.

Good and Bad

The list of things that bug me about this movie hasn’t changed a lot since I first saw (some of) it as a teenager, I think:

  • Overall, the computer use and terminology is naïve, nay, just plain wrong/incorrect in many places. Not as in “hey, that hasn’t been invented yet“, but as in “when you’re logging in to a system, you just supply your credentials (username and password), you don’t write three lines of prose trying to convince the computer that you have admin rights on the system“.
    • Programs are ascribed intentionality (“All programs have a desire to be used“)
    • The little floating comic relief thing they call a “bit” and that they say has only two states (yes, no) – it obviously has three states (yes, no, quiet), so it’s not a bit = binary digit. (Gawd!)
  • The physics are inconsistent in the computer world: Small bumps and fisticuffs have inertia, while high speed 90 degree turns on lightcycles have no inertia
  • Speaking of the lightcycles, it doesn’t make sense that the drivers of the lightcycles are driving based only on their first-person perspective
  • That’s not how lasers work! Yes, I know lasers are cool and they make nice straight lines that the dozens of animators in the Chinese studio can make look cool in post-production… but lasers can’t do that!
  • The symbolism with the relationship between programs and users being parallel to the relationship between humans and gods is laid on a little thick. (A wounded program cries out “Oh my user”)

Some of the things I’m OK with:

  • The idea of a self-aware computer program. Hey, it could happen. I’m sure we’re only a few hundred minor scientific and technological breakthroughs away from that goal.
  • The graphics are fine. By modern computer graphics standards, it’s outright laughable to look at, of course. But this is a historical piece from the early ages of graphical computing. As the movie poster says, it’s “a world inside the computer where man has never been… never before now”, so how were the designers to know that that’s not what electronics look like. 🙂
  • The outdated portrayal of women. Again, the movie gets a free pass for its age. This movie is, after all, a contemporary of Cannonball Run (1981). And while the women generally appear as subservient supporters of the men (note the identical body language in the two pictures above, and remember those two female programs in one scene who were just passively standing around waiting to be picked up by a resourceful male program?)), the main female character(s) is also shown as a capable engineer, and she/they do help solve the crises. (Maybe I should give the movie a free pass on the symbolism of the relationship between programs and user, too? I’ll reserve judgment on that until I’ve seen the sequel)


Yay, I made it through Tron! Now I guess I’ll be able to more fully enjoy the new, visually updated (eye candy) version of the Tron world in the new movie. Who knows, I may even start to appreciate some of the symbolism and deeper meaning that some of the reviewers on IMDB rave about, like the use of the same actor for many characters to show parallels or layers or something.

As a stand-alone movie, Tron gets a loud and clear “Meh!” from me.

Actual product may not be exactly as shown

The local computer pusher features manufacturer provided product shots of all their various offerings, and always with the small print disclaimer that the “actual product may not be exactly as shown”.

(Supposed) Seagate Barracuda product shot
(Supposed) Seagate Barracuda product shot

In this case, I should hope not! Opening up a hard drive and exposing its inner workings like that will break it. And what’s with the fluorescent green vine and the suspiciously symmetric green leaves? Organic matter and hard drives do not mix. And by the way, why does the hard drive appear to have a light source on the back?

If you want to associate your electronics products with “green”, nature, energy saving, etc. stuff the product name all you want (in this case, for example, “LP” is an abbreviation of “low power”), but please provide your resellers actual product shots rather than a manipulated advertisement collage of a logo like this.