I Know Why Mary Travers Died

"And how exactly are you privy to this knowledge?" you ask.

Because I'm the Ruler of the Interwebs, that's why.

"But why must you pollute our minds with non-tech related drivel such as hippy folk music?" you implore.

Patience, young Interwebs. All will be clear soon.

I was listening to the radio this morning when the DJ announced the passing of the folk musician Mary Travers. She was the Mary of Peter, Paul, and Mary, if you hadn't known that already. The DJ's spoke some words of eulogy and comfort as music from the folk group played in the background. One of those songs was "Leaving on a Jetplane," and apparently it was a big hit (I had never heard the song before). Something was triggered in the back of my mind as I listened to the small snippet of song. I recognized it from somewhere, and it was bothering me that I couldn't scratch that unscratchable brain itch.

It slowly dawned on me that I knew that song from a commercial. A very bad commercial.

Here's a clip of the original.

It's a nice little song, isn't it? Simple, sweet, typical frolicking-in-a-field-of-flowers hippy folk.

And now, the ad.

I was appalled. I knew I hated the song from that ad, but I did not know it was a cover of a venerable hippy anthem of Peter, Paul, and Mary. That's almost as bad as Target putting up an ad where the Jonas Brothers are covering Hello Goodbye by the Beatles! It bothers me that someone would want to take a song that is perfectly OK as it is, "enhance" the sound to meet the current tastes of young America, and play a horrible, hollow, cover of it, so bad it makes me laugh. We really didn't need that horrifying "garage metal" cover of a piece of music known and loved my so many shoved down our throats by some big corporation that thinks we'll like it better.

But wait, isn't that just what Bing really is? It's a sham of a "decision engine" claiming that the previous generations of search engines just aren't good enough for the young, hip Americans on the Interwebs. It's taking tried and true methods of the search engine foundations (I speak of Google and WolframAlpha here), and releasing a horrible "hip" version of it that might snag the naive young. They broadcast this drivel through all media outlets, cramming their inadequacy down our throats, and when you type in "Windows is expensive," it returns "Macs are expensive" as the first result.

I'm convinced Mary Travers died when she realized her lovely music was being pillaged by a ruthless organization willing to sacrifice her handiwork for the sake of advertising a bad search engine.

Bing killed Mary Travers. Shame on you, Bing. I hope you've learned your lesson.


Boys And Their Toys

This is a story of a boy. This boy had a hobby. He loved science. He loved science so much that he managed to build a mini-nuke in his backyard and almost killed his entire neighborhood. Here's the whole story.

Yes, the prospect of death by irradiation is scary. But building a nuke in a shed from spare parts? So worth it.

In all seriousness, what can we learn from this story? Is this story a warning? Is it congratulatory? Are we supposed to be scared? Are we supposed to be proud? Here's what I think:

  • The Power of Youth - Adults always underestimate the intellectual power of a young mind. They may not have the repositories of worthless information that adults have, or the experience and background to make wise and educated decisions, but the learning potential of a child's mind is limitless. An infant learns more in the first two years of its life than most adults learn in 50 years. It is widely known that concepts taught early in childhood stick the hardest and the longest. All this creativity just needs a spark of physical reality to ignite a fire of innovation; or nuke building.
  • Hobbies - Hobbies are funny things. Usually, a hobby forms from pure casual interest. The avid gamer probably played his/her first game out of boredom or simply out of circumstance. That gamer will then continue to "get into" video games, by playing more or just by becoming involved in the industry, until that person reaches a tipping point. That point is where hobbies end and passions begin. That's when you start playing World of Warcraft in 5-hour stretches. That's when you start a blog about gaming. That's when you apply for jobs in the game industry. The difference between the two states is that one produces results, and one is just a hobby, a distraction. David's hobby of science started producing results very quickly. Science tends to be that way. You can only read so much until you have to start doing the things you're reading about. Young people have a much better chance of transforming their hobby into a passion. They have more time, and they don't have responsibility. If you think about the amount of time David put into this "experiment", you quickly realize that no responsible adult would have the time, resources, or energy, to pull it off.
  • Under-parenting - I'm a big fan of under-parenting. Kids tend to listen to themselves much better than they listen to others, especially their parents. If your kid says he enjoys basketball, you shouldn't push him to play baseball even if you think it's better for him. If it isn't good for him, he'll figure it out himself, which is better. If it does work out, then everyone wins. When it comes to hobbies, I feel the same way. If your kid is showing a propensity towards science, by all means get him a science kit. Don't push basketball on a kid that doesn't want to do it. That child will not want to succeeed and therefore won't. The science kit will much better for him in the long run because he'll most likely become very good at it, make it into a passion, and feel great about himself while being productive with his hobby.
  • On the other hand - Parenting is important. Kids are still kids, and they are by no means perfect. There has to be boundaries, responsibility, and honesty. Parenting is carefully guiding your child through his or her world letting them make decisions while steering them away from serious danger. It's kind of like letting your child sit on your lap and work the steering wheel. It makes them feel good about themselves, it lets them make small but seemingly important decisions, and they always know that you have their back if they look like they're about to steer into oncoming traffic. And the parent always controls the pedals. Letting David operate unsupervised out of a shed was taking under-parenting to an unhealthy and dangerous extreme. They let him operate the pedals and the wheel, and they sat in the backseat, looking out the window.
  • The NRC - Leave it to scientists to answer questions from an anonymous HS science teacher about the steps to create nuclear fission. That whole thing seems kinda shady to me. I hope that employee was fired or something. There should have been some research done before that information was given over the phone.
  • A side point - This whole story also has another moral, which is something I bring up all the time, especially when it comes to gun control. Everything can be a weapon. Any physical object can be used for good or for harm. The parts of a nuclear fission reactor are no different. There is no regulation out there that would be able to stop the unthinkable from happening in this scenario. Regulating the sale of objects that can be used as weapons (or used to potentially build a nuke) is the equivalent of saying that you need a license to buy the barrel of a gun, because you might build a gun and shoot somebody with it.
And finally, as Smoky the Bear would say...
Only YOU can stop Nuclear Apocalypse.


I Haven't Posted an XKCD Comic in a While

This one is for the truly nerdy. If you don't get it, it's OK. Society has uses for laypeople like yourself as well. Just not useful ones.

A Relationship Rekindled; The Nigerian Returns

Just when I thought my dear friend Khalil Maher from Nigeria Pakistan had forsaken me for another, he reared his nefarious scamming head and continued our correspondence.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I forgot to tell you how I responded to the last email from Khalil (you can read the first two chapters of the epic saga here and here). He had asked me for my full name(s), age, address, and phone number. It took me a while to decide how I was going to advance the conversation without blowing my cover. On the one hand, I wanted to give him as much information as possible, gaining his trust. But I was slightly uncomfortable giving him information that I could be spammed on (my address and phone number). While I sat around pondering (I do that a lot. It looks even more ridiculous than it sounds), my dear pen pal Khalil was getting impatient.

Hello i,m still waiting for your response pls if you want to help me
be fast? K.M
Mr. Impatient. Kinda rude, but I'll let it go this time. I mean, I am a Successful American Businessman. I have a life. I'll get to your email when I'm done being Successful for the day.

But seriously, it was now or never. This is what I decided on:
Sorry for the delay, my friend.

As I mentioned earlier, I do run a pretty successful business, and I can get caught up in the flood of emails I get on a daily basis.

My full name is John Robert Smith, I am 39 years old. Before I give you my phone number and address, I would like to maybe get to know you better. If you could answer some simple questions for me, it would put my mind at ease. Why do you want to live in the UK? From my own business experience, I can tell you that the land of opportunity is in America. What is in the UK that you want to live there? i could possibly get you a job at my company (we manufacture devices called Interwebs, a new way to connect people around the world through small strands of highly conductive metals that carry all kinds of information to and from where ever you want. Slowly but surely, we are profiting immensely from the venture. The world hasn't seen anything like it), if that's what you need.

Are you originally from Pakistan? Your English is not so bad for somebody learning it later in life.

Like I said, I will be glad to help. I just want to get to know you a little better.

Hope to hear from you soon.

-John Smith
I like it. I didn't give him the information he wanted, but I implied that I would be willing to do so. I just needed some from him first. I want to see how long he can keep up his act. I want to see how much story he actually has to backup his scam. I figured some good sympathy and compliments would go a long way towards gaining his trust. And once again, anyone with a brain can read my email and realize it's a load of steaming excrement. Communication through highly conductive strands of metal? Surely nobody's figured how to do that one out yet! You see, nobody said I couldn't have fun doing this.

Anyways, after sending this one out, I expected a quick response from Khalil, hopefully giving me some more tidbits of his adventures through the European Banking System.

Weeks went by, and I began to fear the worst. Did I really lose him already? We were just getting started! What was untrustworthy about my response. Was it the whole inventing the Interwebs thing? Did I go too far with that? I pondered once again, and then I paced while pondering (that's when I'm stressed and need a workout), and I finally decided to give up. I guess Khalil was smarter than I originally suspected. He didn't trust me anymore and moved on to better hunting grounds. So would I.

And then, when hope had turned her back on me, on a white stallion galloping away from the rising sun, Khalil Mohammed Maher charged his way back into my inbox! He hadn't given up on me after all! he was back for more, and this is what went down:

Hello,very sorry i was sick before,but i,m get better,here is my
personal data # 4 singo lane,shersha, karachi,pakistan is my
house,murate finance house,close E 22, sindh Estate is my office
address.Because i inherit the currency trade from my father,Alhj Ahmah
Hassan Khalil El Murat. Here is my phone number +928445550555.I hope
to hear from u? k.M?
I forgive you, Khalil. We all get sick for weeks at a time and don't check our emails. And I'm glad you,re get better. That's some juicy data in that email. I have no idea what he's talking about (he can be a little generous with the comma usage), but this is precisely what Google was invented for, right?

Ok, let's start from the beginning. Karachi is the capital of Pakistan. Karachi is split up into towns. Shershah is a neighborhood in the Keamari Town of Karachi. Keamari Town is on the west coast of Karachi, and boasts a 99% muslim population of around 380,000 (according the website). He writes Singo lane, but he probably meant Sango Lane, which is problematic because that's a neighborhood in a different town: Lyari Town. A Google maps analysis reveals the following:

This place called Singo Lane (apparently, there is argument among Google and Wikipedia on how to spell the time) is pretty much in between Shersha and Lyari, so I won't gripe too much about it. I have no idea what to do with #4. I doesn't come up on any search for an address.

Either way, moving on. Things start to fall apart with the next statement. I couldn't find any mention of Murate finance house anywhere. I even looked through the banks and financial institutions listing on the city website. It doesn't exist. The closest thing I could find was Murat, which is a small rural town somewhere else in Pakistan. Regarding the Sindh Estate "address", there is a place called Sindh Industrial Trade Estate, in a town in Karachi named after the Estate itself (SITE Town). Maybe E22 is an address in that complex. I can't find any other refernce to it.

The next part is a little creepy, if not outright hilarious. It's his father's name, Alhj Ahmah Hassan Khalil El Murat. The one with the currency exchange business. If you give that name to Google, you get results that all have to do with listings of Guantanamo Bay prisoners! None of them exactly match that name, but it sounds like Khalil may have used that list to come up with his "father's" name. See for yourself. I'm not sure what to think about that, but I'm definitely amused.

Lastly, the phone number doesn't come up in any international directory I saw. I don't really want to pay for an international phone call (I was banned my Google Adsense, so I have no income to spend on this blog anymore), and I can't imagine anything productive coming out of that call.

So, we've proven Khalil Maher is in fact a lying scammer (Yay!!!!). We may have known that already, but this is fun! Are you having fun yet? I need to write back to him, but I don't know if he'll respond if I don't give him more info. Any ideas?