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Viewing entries tagged with 'news'

PhD passed: I'm now officially Dr. Seidenberg / Candidasa dasa

27 August 2008 | 6 Comments | Tags: ,

It took over 4 years, but it has finally happened. I have completed my PhD in Computer Science at the University of Manchester, UK. That's right: I'm now officially Doctor Julian M. Seidenberg / Candidasa dasa.

You can download and read my PhD thesis, if you like.

Fossil of pregnant fish found: the earliest mammal

6 June 2008 | 0 Comments | Tags:

German news is reporting a story in Nature magazine about the recent discovery of the oldest mammal named Materpiscis attenboroughi (a type of Placodermi). Researchers from Australia found a fossil of this fish containing several embryos connected to their mother by an umbilical cord, making it the earliest known mammal. The fossil is estimated to be 380 million years old. This is older than the dinosaurs (which existed roughly 230 million to 65 million years ago).

oldest mammal.jpg

oldest mouse.jpgThis discovery suggests that mammals existed far earlier than it was previously thought. The earliest mammal previous to this new discovery was a small mouse-like creature known as Hadrocodium Wui discovered in China by Zhe-Xi Luo, Alfred W. Crompton and Ai-Lin Sun. This creature lived roughly 195 million years ago.

Lead research John Long of the Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia says that this new discovery means that the current models of evolution need to be adjusted significantly.

Some long-running blog bugs fixed

22 March 2008 | 0 Comments | Tags:

I've managed to fixed a few long-running bugs in with the display of this blog.

  • Some browsers used to put an unnecessary white space under the search box. That is now fixed.
  • The pictures section now no longer has a right-hand sidebar. That makes more space for the pictures.

Unfortunately, however, the lastest WordPress update has broken the integration with Coppermine Gallery. This means the random picture display that used to be in the bottom-right corner of the front-page no longer works. Sorry.

I'm contemplating abandoning Coppermine as my gallery software. There just aren't enough plug-ins and extensions available for it. Does anyone have any suggestions for a suitable replacement gallery software (preferably something I can install on my own server and easily integrate into WordPress) (and please don't say Gallery - I don't like that one very much)?

The myth of the rising cost of food

22 March 2008 | 9 Comments | Tags: ,

The BBC has a feature on "the cost of food". It shows how almost all types of food are getting more and more expensive. Drastically so!

What is happening here? Shouldn't modern high-tech farming with its nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides and specially breed (and often genetically modified) high-yield crop varieties allow humanity to easy feed everyone on the planet? Hasn't Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution dramatically increased the amount of food the world can produce (e.g. doubling wheat yield between 1965 and 1970)? Haven't exports of food increased by 400% over the last 40 years, promoting the distribution of foods from countries with lots of farmland to those without the capacity to grow lots of food?

The news reporters give two possible explanations of the rising cost of food (both bogus):

  1. The world population is increasing. Soon 6 billion people now live on the planet and the number is expected to rise by 9 billion in 2050. Feeding more mounts costs more money. Moreover, with the rising wealth of countries like China and India the people in these countries consume more food. "To put it bluntly, rich people eat more than poor people", says the BBC.
  2. The increasing use of corn for biofuels (ethanol) is decreasing the amount of the crop that can be used for food. A lower supply coupled with increasing demand due to an increasing world population naturally leads to higher costs.

Makes sense, right? Wrong!

Sure, the world population is increasing, but so are yields of crops. Sure, the use of corn for fuel is increasing, but the increase in the cost of corn has been comparatively low compared with crops like rice, soya and wheat.

The real problem is shown, but not commented upon, in the original BBC feature, as well as in other news sources. It is the increasing consumption of meat.

Increased Meat Eating

The statistics show how producing meat is radically more resource intensive than producing vegetarian foodstuffs. But take a look back at the original article: the price of meat (and sugar) is not increasing very much at all. What is going on here? Why are all foods except meat getting more expensive, when meat is the single most expensive food to produce?!

One word: subsidies.

The United States spends 35% (the greatest single amount) of its total $8 billion annual agricultural subsidies budget on "feed grains" for livestock. The European Union spends a whooping $76 billion per year on food subsidies and 18% of it (the greatest single amount) goes to subsidizing beef production. So, between them, the EU and USA spend at least $16 billion on keeping the price of meat lower than it should be, given its true cost.

Or, to put this in more down-to-earth numbers: the 380 million people that live in the EU consume 92 kg of meat per person every year. Of that 92 kg, 20 kg is beef (a total of 7 million tons of cow meat each year). This means that the EU pays an extra $2 of tax payer's money for each kg of beef that its citizens consume. And those are only direct subsidies on beef, i.e. not counting indirect tax benefits farmers get, government purchases, subsidies on other types of meat, and so on.

So, what to do?

It's actually really simple: promote vegetarianism throughout the world and simultaneously eliminate subsidies on meat. Without subsidies meat will get so expensive that few people can afford it. Would you buy a Big Mac if it cost $34 a burger?

If a vegetarian diet is advertised as the logical, cheaper, healthier alternative, then people will naturally stop eating dead animals. That lowering of demand will make it more difficult to sell the quantities of meat which are currently produced. Farmers will be forced to switch from growing "feed grain" to producing "grain for human consumption". This, I estimate, can result in a tenfold increase in the amount of available food. Enough to easily feed a world population of 60 billion!

(An added side-benefit would be a huge reduction in the number of people that get cancer, resulting in lower health-care costs and longer life-spans. Large-scale studies in Europe and the USA have proven without a doubt that meat eating causes many different types of cancer)

How to issue a press release

23 June 2007 | 1 Comments | Tags:

Do it three times!

The news media is more than willing to publish a story, any story. If something is moderately well written and seems to be interesting, a local newspaper will publish it. If something is of interest to a broader spectrum of people, then a national newspaper will publish it. The trick is to publish the same news three times. Observe the stories from day-to-day and see this in effect. Heres a fictional example:

"Russia commits to donate $1 million to help world hunger."

(2 weeks later...)

"Russia starts the process of supplying one million dollars to feed the hungry all over the world."

(2 weeks later...)

"Russia has successfully completed the process of giving $1 million to charitable food distribution."

This makes it sound like Russia had given $3 million. People don't notice that it is the same story, worded slightly differently, repeated over and over again. They get three separate positive impressions on three separate occasions. One event gives triple the benefit.

Back to blogging

3 June 2007 | 0 Comments | Tags:

I'm sorry for the extended period of no blog entries from me. I was somewhat preoccupied with many things. Hopefully I'll be publishing more frequently again from now on.

DHL Hell: they don't deliver

21 March 2007 | 7 Comments | Tags:

DhlI ordered a new suitcase from a very nice suitcase store in Germany. As with almost every store in Germany, they ship using DHL.
I wasn't in when the delivery was first attempted. The card said "sorry me missed you when we tried to deliver at time: pm". "pm" is kind of vague time, but ok, "no problem", I thought. I'll just phone them and arrange for another redelivery.

So, I phoned the DHL redelivery line and got an automated service. It asked me to speak clearly all kinds of information: package number, my name, my address, my phone number. It offered no feedback as to if it was using some kind of voice recognition, or if some poor soul was going to listen to the recording and enter the data into a computer manually.

So, the day when I asked that the next delivery occur: nothing. I stayed at home all day waiting and nothing came.

So, I phone DHL again. This time working my way though the number menu until I finally get a human being one the phone. The guy tells me that "yes, we've been having some trouble with the automated system, I'll manually book a delivery for you". So, I arrange for a delivery the next day and ... nothing. Again, no DHL package for me.

So, once again I phone the (expensive) DHL line. This time I insist that they phone the local distribution office and find out that is going wrong. The person in the local office tells me that someone has just phoned them to pick up my package from the depot. "What?! I certainly didn't phone to pick up my package".

It appears that someone somewhere wrote a wrong package number on my package and that's why the re-delivery attempts were not happening. So, I ask them to redeliver again the next week. The response: "we will try to deliver on Monday, if not then on Tuesday."

What kind of courier service doesn't know when they will deliver a package?! Do they expect me to stay at home all day for weeks on end waiting for their messed up logistics to serendipitously deliver?!

The lady promises to give me a phone call first thing Monday morning and tell me if it will be Monday or Tuesday.

Monday passes. No phone call. No package. This is getting really annoying.

So, I (again) phone DHL. They tell me that the package has been scanned for delivery and put onto the van, but no delivery was made and no card was left. So, the operator I spoke to thought they must have mistakenly scanned the card and not actually put it into the truck for delivery. They'll deliver tomorrow. Promised!

"Tomorrow" comes and goes. No delivery. I phone DHL again (!) and ask for the number of the local branch. The first person I talk to offers to arrange for a redelivery and phone me back. I say: "no way, not again" and ask to speak to the manager. The manager is understanding and explains that they probably have a new driver who ran out of time yesterday because he was driving in a new unknown area. He offers to personally go down into the warehouse, find the parcel and prioritize the delivery for the next day. I ask him to deliver to it to my office address instead of my home, since, if they mess up the delivery date again, at least someone will be at the porters office in the University at all times.

The next day, I'm in the office, but no delivery comes. So, at the end of the day, I once again phone DHL and ask to speak to the manager I spoke to the day before. His phone rings a few times and then the connection cuts off with a busy signal. I try again after a few minutes. Same result.

So I choose another path through the DHL phone navigation network and get a "customer feedback" representative. She explains that it is illegal for customers to redirect their delivers to alternate destinations (something to do with insurance law). I (completely frustrated at this point and thinking I have no hope of ever getting the delivery) ask that the package be delivered the next day and that she please makes sure this happens, no matter what (not that that hasn't been promised many times before).

I get home and, much to my surprise, there is a big box waiting for me outside my door with a note from my landlord. It turns out that he was doing some repair work in the flat below mine during the day and just happened to be at the door when the DHL delivery truck came (it seems that they re-tried delivering to my home address when they couldn't change the delivery to my office address; although, of course, they didn't think it might be a good idea to tell me about this so I could be at the right location to receive the delivery).

So, after over two and half weeks of trying, I finally have my order. However, it took providential arrangement to make it happen. It seems DHL need divine intervention to successfully deliver a package.

Bottom line: please, if you at all help it, don't ever use DHL!! (and I sincerely hope I cost DHL a lot of business with this blog post).

Philosophical lesson: you are not the doer (BG 3.27).

Publishing books

22 October 2006 | 3 Comments | Tags: , ,

The Internet is making it ever easier for "normal people" to produce "professional" content.

Blogging turns anyone into an online journalist. Podcasting allows people to create their own on-demand radio shows. Using Apple's iMovie the average guy or gal can even produce professional quality movies (though don't try that on a PC as this Apple Mac advert cleverly illustrates).

However, one medium still eludes the non-professional: books! It is surprisingly difficult to produce a professional looking book. Sure, anyone can print a crummy-looking plastic-comb bound collection words printed on cheap paper, but that is a lot different from a nice solid hardcover book. Those require some expertise to produce.

It is not just the print quality. I've seen some people publish books written using Microsoft Word. The result is not very nice. The poor quality of the page layout is instantly recognizable. It is with good reason that the archaic Latex document processing system is still almost universally used in academia to write scientific articles. Documents produced using Word just look downright ugly. Here are some more myths about desktop publishing.

There are just two choices for good professional quality page layout (such as would be used to create a modern high-quality book):

  • Adobe InDesign (much recommended)
  • QuarkXPress (used to be the market leader, but now is not nearly as good as InDesign, although still the number two)

Both these software packages help to perfect some critical aspects of document composition and layout: hyphenation, rivers of white space, orphans and widows. The sophisticated text optical kerning, tracking and optical margin alignment controls present in page-layout software can be used to eliminate visual errors and distractions.

Other software like Apple's Pages can also produce decent looking layouts and can do some basic kerning and tracking, but does not feature the automatic document adjustment features that are necessary to create a really good looking print job.

Blurb book example

Now however some new companies have sprung up to help the normal person produce professional quality books. I was listening to an interview with Eileen Gittins, the CEO of Blurb. Blurb offers a desktop client and online service that makes producing really good looking books both cheap and easy. The company has just started out so the software is a little limited in terms of features and number of available templates, but it shows great promise. Note: a competing service called Lulu offers the printing and publishing, but without the aid in design and page layout.

blurb book example 2

Eileen gives the example of a businessman who sent out his 23-page business plan printed using cheap over-the-counter printing and got no response from prospective investors. He then took the exact same material and created a hardcover book (for a cheaper price) using Blurb's service and sent that out to some investors. The result: almost everyone phoned him back - mostly asking "how did you create this amazing book?". Eileen Gittins says:

In our society books have a real cultural pedigree. People don't throw books away. They do throw away things that appear like photocopies. So the shelf life of his book caused people to pick up the phone to phone him.

Does that sound familiar? Here an excerpt from the Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita:

When a librarian advised Bhaktivedanta Swami to write books (they were permanent, whereas newspapers were read once and thrown away), he took it that his spiritual master was speaking through this person. Then an Indian Army officer who liked Back to Godhead suggested the same thing.

So then: don't underestimate the value of well produced book. It can work wonders. Please, please, please do not (ever!) use Microsoft Word to publish anything. Learn good publishing if you can, or, if you can't, use a service like Blurb to produce high quality books. And finally: save the world.

Interview with Pope Benedict XVI

13 August 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags: ,

Pope Benedict XVIPapst Benedikt XVI

I came across this rare interview with Pope Benedict the 16th. He was speaking to the German news media in preparation for his upcoming Germany tour. Here is a summary of some of what he said (I translated parts of the interview into English). I thought he made a lot of sense:

God is less prominent in the world. Water comes out of the tap, not from the spring. We no longer see God so much in every day situations.

Papst Benedikt XVI is visiting his old home in southern Germany. He wants to once again see the region that branded him has he grew up.

Themes on his tour: we need to rediscover God. That can unite the people, families, cultures and world. We can't go forward without direction from above.

Young people want to do something "good". I want to encourage that. However, young people are afraid of committing themselves to anything. Be it marriage or religion. But exactly that kind of surrender gives us strength. Young people need to have the courage for long term surrender.

Without God we cannot have ethical values, nor can we be happy as his creations (not just some random throw-away product of evolution).

Christianity is not just a collection of rules and regulations. I like to encourage a positive message. First we need to understand what we want then the rules and regulations start to make sense. For example: (regarding homosexuality) we need to see man and woman are made for each other. Abortion is forbidden in the commandment "though shalt not kill". Life starts at conception and ends at death. We can understand that automatically when we understand the positive things we desire from religion.

The problem in 3rd world countries like Africa is that technological progress is moving much faster than education in the "heart" matters. Without proper spiritual education we just get AIDS and war. We need a second dimensional in education beyond pure technology.

We need to develop more dynamic preaching programs. Not just focus on maintaining the ever shrinking status quo. African and Asian people are afraid of a cold analytical/rational religion. Catholicism is perceived as such.

There are lots of useful places in the church for women. Not everyone needs to be a priest. Being a priest is not the only great thing to do for the the church. We can find so many nice and valuable services for women.

Germans have become more open to the world, happier and more tolerant. The German mentality has grown into the world culture. We have become spontaneous, happy and welcoming and no longer have the stereotypical cold, punctual and efficient personality we had in the past.

Humour is very important to me. I'm not one for making many jokes, but life shouldn't be taken too seriously. There is an old saying:

angels can fly because they don't take themselves too heavy and seriously.

Almost got burgled

1 April 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags:

My flat almost got burgled yesterday. I heard some noises, but didn't think anything of it at the time. The guy living downstairs later filled me in on what happened.

insecure yale lock

Two unsavory characters managed to open the front door with a credit card. They then immediately proceeded to open the back door to give themselves an escape route. They then knocked on people's door to see if anyone was in. Fortunately, the person living in the downstairs flat was in and answered the door, thinking it might be me knocking.

He was a bit shocked when faced with these two scruffy looking criminals. Luckily, they did not decide to fight him and instead made up some excuse and quickly exited the building.

The landlord's advice was that the "Yale" locks (which are on practically every house in the country!) are quite insecure and we should also keep the bottom bolt-lock locked at all times. Of course, the key to that lock is a very simple shape and could probably be picked quite easily.

Realization: Locks don't work. UK houses are not at all secure.

New Gaura Yoga website

30 March 2006 | 3 Comments | Tags: ,

Check out this newly launched website for Gaura Yoga Wellington. Best yoga center ever! I'm really like this redesigned website. I created the initial website, but this new one totally blows the old one away. It's clean, simple, classy, modern, stylish, informative, beautiful and fun. All in all, impressive, most impressive.

Gaura Yoga Wellington

(one bit of advice: please get rid of the splash page. It makes the website more difficult to find using a search engine like Google. Sure, it looks nice, but no one is going to visit the center just because they saw a nice looking splash intro-page.)

Divyavani news: King Kamsa of Mathura ??oethe worst of tyrants,?? United Demigods say

23 February 2006 | 0 Comments | Tags:

(by Jayadvaita Swami - Copyright 2005 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

NEW YORK Among alleged tyrants and oppressors, the one the United Demigods now regard as the worst is King Kamsa of Mathura, according to confidential documents made available on Monday to DNS. ??oeHe rules his kingdom with a cruel and brutal hand, he has an extensive and growing network of powerful allies, and his ambitions are global,?? the documents say. ??oeThere??(TM)s no limit to what territory and resources he wants, or what methods he??(TM)ll employ to gain control of them.??

Kamsa??(TM)s kingdom, Mathura, is located in north central India, midway between Delhi and Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal. Mathura is the name of both the kingdom and its capital. Kamsa belongs to what is known as the Bhoja dynasty, one of several royal dynasties that rule the area.

Kamsa??(TM)s father, Ugrasena, is known for having been a righteous and dutiful ruler. But Kamsa, the documents say, is just the opposite.

In Delhi, government officials declined to comment. The government is reluctant to say anything, a source close to the government said, lest Kamsa turn his anger on Delhi itself.

Divyavani news: 'United Demigods' may be quietly preparing for Vishnu initiative

22 February 2006 | 2 Comments | Tags:

(by Jayadvaita Swami - Copyright 2005 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

NEW YORK Since a delegation of demigods received assurances of support from Lord Vishnu some days ago, political observers say the demigods have become quietly but increasingly active in laying the groundwork for opposition to allegedly repressive and exploitive political regimes. The coalition of demigods has become known as the United Demigods.

??oeThe demigods just can??(TM)t bear to stand by and watch cheaters and thugs in the name of political leaders run roughshod over the earth,?? said a U.D. spokesman, Prakash Sattwa. ??oeThe earth isn??(TM)t ours,?? he said. ??oeIt belongs to God. We all have a right to live here and take as much as we need??"but not to grab more and call it ours.??

The demigods are believed to be quietly taking up strategic positions in various parts of the world, apparently in preparation for some sort of initiative by Lord Vishnu. Some observers have suggested that Lord Vishnu??(TM)s brother may also get involved. Mr. Sattwa declined to comment on such reports.

But speaking more generally, Mr. Sattwa was blunt. The nations of the world have become like thieves, he said. ??oeThey steal everything they can from the earth,?? he said, ??oeand then they fight over it.?? And then the thieves get together and have a peace talk or a summit conference about how to divide things fairly, Mr. Sattwa said. ??oeThieves dividing piously.??

The U.S. State Department and the British Foreign Office both declined comment, as did the foreign-affairs offices of twenty other nations contacted by DNS.

Risk management

8 February 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags:

In this podcast Leslie Lamb, the chief risk manager of Cisco Systems, talks about how risks management should be done. It??(TM)s not very difficult, but hardly anyone does it.

It does not take a genius to figure out what the main risks effecting an organization. Nations know who is likely to attack them. Scientists know where the next big natural disasters will strike. Companies know who their main competitors are. People know what goods and services they are dependent on.

Risk management just means making a list of all the risks and all the things that, in a perfect world, could be done to mitigate those risks. Then all one needs to do is pick those risk mitigating activities that are doable and do them. Easy!

(??¦ and potentially life-saving)

So, as part my own personal risk management strategy, I??(TM)ll be planning to move out of Europe because of, among other things, the risk of abrupt climate change in the near future.

Soon: -50 C in Europe due to Global Warming

6 February 2006 | 1 Comments | Tags:

On the topic of disasters: Kim Stanley Robinson, famous science-fiction writer and author of the trilogy of books (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) about an effort to terraform Mars, has a new series of books out about the effect of global warming. He talks about them in this podcast.

The first book of the series is about how large super-hurricanes will develop and flood major cities (it was written before Hurricane Katrina).

The second book is about how the Gulf Stream will stop flowing. Scientists have predicted there is a 50% chance of the Gulf Stream stalling in the next 100 years. The Gulf Stream moves vast amounts of hot tropical air into the North Atlantic. However, because of global warming the ice caps are melting and thereby more and more freshwater is being released into the ocean. The Gulf Stream will no longer float on top of such a salt-less ocean and sink to the bottom. Without the Stream the temperature in the East Coast of the USA and all of Western Europe will drop dramatically. These regions will turn into an artic wasteland with temperatures as low as -50 C. When it happens (and it is only a matter of time), this abrupt climate change will take place over a period of just 3 years.

The book describes a hypothetical effort to re-salt the ocean using a huge fleet of salt-filled oil tankers.

Read more on this looming natural disaster. Plus, more information on the many effects of global warming.

On intelligent design

4 December 2005 | 9 Comments | Tags: ,

I heard a researcher make the following comment in a recent mp3 lecture I was listening to: ??oeThe fact that all species use DNA as their means of copying and reproduction is the single most compelling proof of the theory of evolution.??

Juxtaposing that with the following: ??oeThe fact that computers all use transistors is the single most compelling proof that they came about by random mutations of silicon ore.??

George Best: taste for sense objects remains

26 November 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

The death of superstar footballer George Best was the talk of the office yesterday. I??(TM)d never heard of the guy, but apparently he had all kinds of problems. One of my colleagues remarked how amazing it was that despite having a liver translate and knowing that any alcohol could kill him, he still could not give up drinking.

I picked up a Bhagavad-Gita from my desk, opened it to verse 59 in chapter two and handed it to her. It certainly got her thinking. She read the verse about five times and then studied the purport.

In the end she asked if one had to be vegetarian to practice this process. I explained it??(TM)s a natural result of the practice and not really a big deal. She replied that she just liked the taste of meat too much: anyway, It??(TM)s natural to eat meat, right? I didn??(TM)t press the argument (and she does like the prasadam that I make every week).

She asked a few more questions, but then got distracted by her laptop (IBM Thinkpad) spontaneously rebooting itself.


18 September 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

I've started podcasting. That is, you can subscribe to my website's newsfeed and new classes and other interesting audio that I record will automatically be delivered to your computer as and when they become available. The process is simple:

  1. Open iTunes
  2. Select the menu item: Advanced > Subscribe to Podcast
  3. Enter:

You are now subscribed to the podcast.

Cheated on eBay

17 September 2005 | 12 Comments | Tags: ,

I found out I was cheated out of over US$1000 today. I was buying a new laptop to replace my aging Dell monster. I bid on a new Apple 12" Powerbook over eBay and won it for a good price. Too good, it would turn out.

The seller said he shipped the laptop using a slow shipping method. It didn't arrive after a few weeks. I emailed the seller and he reassured me it would arrive very soon. After a few more weeks I email the guy again but he didn't respond.

Now, I check the eBay website and the guy's account has been cancelled. A whole bunch of people have posted negative feedback saying how they too have been ripped off. It seems he spent one year setting up his account, auctioning off a few items, building his ebay reputation (he had 100% positive feedback) and then set up a whole load of fraud auctions, took people's money and ran. It is past ebay's buyer protection/complaints deadline (45 days after the sale), so no way for me to get the money back. Nothing I can do. Just spent over $1000 learning a lesson.

Lessons learnt:

Material nature tempts you with a attractive looking promises: "do this and you'll be happy", "buy this, it's cheap", "this is for you to enjoy". However, things rarely turn out as one expects. You get cheated and exploited. A horrible feeling. Better to practice Krishna consciousness and escape the cruel, merciless grip of the material world.

Conclusions and advice:

  • Never buy anything over $1000 on eBay
  • Don't trust anyone
  • Be extremely careful with anyone that has less than 1000 positive feedbacks
  • If the item doesn't arrive in 30 days, never wait, file a fraud claim immediately

Cheating education system

10 August 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: , ,

The UK government has decided to change the way university fees work. They claim this change is to help the poorest students to be able to afford an education. It's fairly complicated with different amounts of loans, bursaries, grants and fees. However, cutting through all the fluff, it turns out that, on-average, students starting university this September will end up paying about double the amount of money for their education (tuition fees have tripled, but do not need to be paid until after gradation).

Average student debt (from Natwest Student Money Matters Survey):
2002: ?£2,489
2003: ?£8,125

Estimated average student debt at graduation (from annual Barclays Student Survey):
2004: ?£12,069
2006: ?£17,561
2010: ?£33,708

According to the NatWest survey the average monthly expense of a student breaks down as follows (figures for 2004):

Rent: ?£289.60
Food shopping: ?£78.73
Alcohol: ?£74.14
Going out: ?£62.40
Cigarettes: ?£70.00
Clothes: ?£53.56
Eating out: ?£53.47
Utilities: ?£58.76
Transport: ?£54.56
Phone: ?£44.29
Books: ?£38.13
Monthly total: ?£877.64

The UK government isn't stupid. They have as a target: "to have 50% of young people enter higher education by 2010". Why do they want nearly everyone in the country to have the equivalent of NZ$ 100k debt? Is this some conspiracy to control the people?

Guru's answer: "It's the new version of the old serfdom.
University students now equal the peasantry."

The Overthrow of Everything

23 July 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised -- Democracy, The Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything is a book on the story of Howard Dean's presidential campaign. He was a candidate with no chance whatsoever of winning, who, out of nowhere, almost won the US-primaries. He did this by using the Internet and his campaign blog in many innovative ways. Listen to his former campaign manager, Toe Trippi, talk about the whole thing.

Lotus flowers and compassion

10 July 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Compassion is like a lotus flower. Did you know that a lotus flower has a brilliant self cleaning mechanism? Its leaves' surfaces are not smooth, as one might expect, but very rough. The roughness somehow causes any dirt on a leaf to attach itself to water as it glides off the leaf's surface. The result: a perfectly clean and beautiful flower.

I hate death. I'm sad even when a bee dies (and, believe me, I hate bees), let alone when another human being leaves his or her body. My condolences to those victims of the London terror attack and Word Trade Center terror attack. My condolences to the victims of the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wish they could all still be alive. However, as stated in the Bhagavad-Gita, for everyone who is born death is certain (BG 2.27). It's only a question of time.

So, though I may sometimes/often seem quite cruel and heartless, this attitude is not due to a lack of compassion (though possibly due to a lack tact). I'm attempting to agitate the dirt of materialistic conceptions out of my mind (and the minds of others) by "roughing things up" and letting current events do the cleaning. Please help me in this endeavour.

London bomb attack

10 July 2005 | 3 Comments | Tags: ,

After reading the official ISKCON statement on the 7th of July London bombing I was a bit disappointed. It's very politically correct and reads just like it could have come from any other religion. Even Krishan Dharma Dasa's opinion piece is safe, watertight and generic. Ho-hum.

Have we lost all taste for preaching? Do we lack the courage for controversy? Can we not use this as a chance to stir things up, get into the news and get people thinking?

So, in that interest, here's my take on the current events:

No one has any knowledge that they are spirit soul. The terrorists, the big western politicians, the average guy on the street, the innocent victim that gets blown to bits, all of them don't have a clue who they are and what they should be doing. We see the people (British fundamentalists) affirming that they aren't scared (of the Muslim fundamentalists). They vow to continue to mindlessly consume and continue to try to squeeze pleasure out of the dry towel of the material world.

Not scared? We should be scared! It's perfectly healthy to be scared of dying at any moment. The entire premise of the Srimad-Bhagavatam (a 5000-year old Vedic philosophical thesis) is that death can strike at any moment and we should therefore always act as if we were just about to die. Closing our eyes in a pit of poisonous snakes won't make the problem go away. We have to open our eyes, intelligently assess the situation and grab onto the rope!

Thinking "I'm British, I'm American, I'm Saudi, I'm Iraqi" just exasperates the problem. Instead we have to realize that we are not our bodies, but spirit souls and must engage in service to the supreme soul. If everyone is united in purpose and dedicated to performing personal loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna (or Allah, or Jehovah, or ...), only then we can have peace. Not by continuing to try to selfishly enjoy the temporary material body.

Srila Prabhupada writes:

"If one advocates the Hindu religion, the Muslim religion, the Christian religion, this religion or that religion, there will be conflicts. History shows that the followers of religious systems without a clear conception of God have fought with one another. There are many instances of this in human history, but systems of religion that do not concentrate upon service to the Supreme are temporary and cannot last for long because they are full of envy." - SB 6.16.41 purport

Update: Mukunda Goswami has since written this statement about terrorism. I like it a lot. It is short, tactful, well-written and subtly injects Krishna consciousness philosphy.

Podcasting (Adam Curry)

9 July 2005 | 1 Comments | Tags: ,

I was listening to Adam Curry's podcast "the daily source code" today. Adam Curry is a former MTV host who has a daily podcast about other podcasts (and other useless stuff that is on his mind) and is considered to be one of the pioneers of podcasting.

He has an interesting take on the difference between blogs and podcasts:

Blogs come from an inherent desire of people to publish. Podcasts are the opposite, people create them because they are dissatisfied with what they what is available in the media (Radio/TV). In that way they are similar to the iPod (which is presumably why Apple has built podcast support into iTunes 4.9, the companion software to the iPod). The listening experience is no longer tied to what someone else thinks we will like. Instead everyone can listen to what they want to listen to when they want to listen to it. Freedom! Liberation! True happiness! (snicker)

"I want to tell people about something I'm interested in" vs. "I don't like what on the radio, so I'll create my own"

There was no real market for the former (blogs) when they first manifested, but the later (podcasting) is likely to have a much faster uptake, since people are actively looking for something like it. Mundane sound is just so dull and lifeless. All it needs is to become easy enough for the average-Joe to "tune in" and we'll have a listening revolution on our hands.

For those interested in creating their own podcasts: Adam and his friends are developing some podcast creation software.

Effects of time

30 June 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

The BBC has a story of a show they did in which they digitally altered kids' pictures to make them look like 40 years old. The children had bad eating habits and the aim was to scare them into changing their habits by showing them the grim reality of the future. Check it out.

If only they could be encouraged to take up the real solution...

Creating culture

30 June 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags: ,

Think back just 10 years. It used to be the case that only special people created culture. No normal person could hope to be called "author", "filmmaker", or "musician". This is rapidly changing. I was listening to a podcast discussion on digital lifestyle and one on maximizing your blogging strategies. One of the speakers mentioned that anyone can now consume as well as create media. Anyone can publish a blog, anyone can podcast, anyone can create a film (okay, a fair amount of disposable income is needed, but, believe me, digital filmmaking is much cheaper than you might think). The shape of our culture is in the hands of everyone.

Great danger: given power to the masses will lead to chaos! The masses are dumb! They don't know what's good for them! This will just lead to more porn on the Internet.

Great opportunity: show the masses how to be Krishna conscious and a cultural revolution can spring for the bottom-up. Distribute enough books (and get people to actually read and then post their realizations on the blogs) and BOOM! It's the talk of the city/nation/world.

Great difficulty: information overload! With everyone creating content how do you choose which content to consume? What will make the Krishna conscious content stand out from the throngs of useless posts? How to get someone to pay attention for more than 5 seconds?! How to get someone to commit to a process of self-realization for more than 1 day?

Divyavani news: Mathura prepares for royal wedding. Kamsa to drive chariot in traditional rite

24 June 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags:

(by Jayadvaita Swami - Copyright 2005 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

MATHURA, INDIA A king??(TM)s daughter and a king??(TM)s son will soon marry here, in the land that is home to their ancient dynasties, a spokesman for the royal palace announced today. The marriage will be celebrated in grand traditional style.

The bridegroom is Vasudeva, son of Surasena. King Surasena is the head of an extensive kingdom that bears his name. He is the leader of the Yadu dynasty, an important royal family in the area.

The bride to be, named Devaki, is the daughter of Devaka (members of the royal family here are known simply by one name). Devaka??(TM)s brother, Ugrasena, is the king of the Bhoja dynasty, another influential royal family.

The wedding will be celebrated with pageantry, with processions, with rites and fanfare. And at the end of the ceremonies the bride??(TM)s brother, following an old traditional custom, will drive the bride by chariot to her new home.

??oeA girl here lives sheltered at home with her family till marriage,?? explained Dr. Satish Trivedi, head of the sociology department at Mathura University. ??oeThen at marriage she moves in with her husband and becomes, as it were, part of his family.?? By driving the chariot, Dr. Trivedi explained, the brother responds sympathetically to the sister??(TM)s natural feeling of missing the home where she has grown up. ??oeIt??(TM)s really a heart-touching custom,?? Dr. Trivedi said.

The brother of the bride is Kamsa, who has recently been singled out for criticism by the United Demigods as cruel and oppressive. But the spokesman for the Mathura palace, Mr. Trigun Mohit, gave a different picture. ??oeThey just don??(TM)t know Kamsa at all,?? Mr. Mohit said. ??oeThey??(TM)ve got him all wrong. You should see him close up, like with his family??"how caring and gentle he is!??

Technically, Kamsa and Devaki are not brother and sister. Their fathers are brothers, so Kamsa and Devaki are cousins. But in this part of the world, Mr. Mohit said, that technicality hardly matters??"first cousins are like brothers and sisters. Apart from that, he said, ??oeKamsa really sees her like his sister. I just can??(TM)t tell you how much he loves that girl!??

The entire kingdom, thoroughly excited, is gearing up for the wedding. On the streets, in the cafes, wherever you go, it??(TM)s the topic of everyone??(TM)s talk. In Mr. Mohit??(TM)s words, ??oeThis is going to be a wedding that people will long remember.??

And from Divyavani news service, good morning. Thank you very much.

Divyavani news: Lord Vishnu, mysterious power behind the United Demigods

22 June 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags:

(by Jayadvaita Swami - Copyright 2005 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

WASHINGTON Ever since a delegation of the United Demigods expressed alarm over global military buildups and returned from the Milk Ocean with reported assurances of help from Lord Vishnu, Lord Vishnu has been much in the news. Multinational corporations worry about him. Think-tanks try to figure out his next moves. Kings are said to fear his power. Everyone, it seems, has heard of him.

But who is he?

??oeWe??(TM)ve got a huge file on Lord Vishnu,?? said a highly placed official at the Central Intelligence Agency, speaking on the condition of anonymity. ??oeI??(TM)d say we??(TM)ve got more on him than on anyone else. Tons of data??"but all of it contradictory.??

Take his whereabouts, for example. Lord Vishnu is supposed to have his headquarters in the Milk Ocean. ??oeBut where the heck is that??? the official said. ??oeSometimes we hear he??(TM)s in Russia, sometimes we hear China, sometimes the Middle East, South America. And forget rumors??"I??(TM)m talking highly reliable reports. So what are we supposed to think? It??(TM)s like he??(TM)s everywhere.??

And, for that matter, what is he lord of? No one seems quite sure, the CIA official said. ??oeYou ask those demigod people and they just smile and say, ??~Oh??"everything.??(TM) What are we supposed to do with that???

Vishnu??(TM)s age? No one seems to know. His nationality? No one knows. His looks? From most accounts, he??(TM)s exceedingly handsome. But then some reports say he??(TM)s a dwarf. He seems to be a master of disguises.

Whatever he may look like and wherever he may be, at least some information about Lord Vishnu seems fairly consistent. ??oeFor one thing, he??(TM)s incredibly wealthy,?? the CIA official said. ??oeHe??(TM)s got gold, he??(TM)s got oil, he??(TM)s got diamonds, he??(TM)s got timber, he??(TM)s into biotech. I can??(TM)t tell you how much he owns. Anything he wants to do, he??(TM)s always got the resources. He doesn??(TM)t seem to have any limits.??

And he??(TM)s astonishingly well informed. ??oeHe??(TM)s got eyes and ears everywhere,?? said a source at the National Security Agency. ??oeIt??(TM)s like he knows in advance our every move. It??(TM)s uncanny.??

And he has power. ??oeHow much??? said a source at MI5, the British security agency. ??oeWe don??(TM)t know. But we??(TM)ve seen his forces wipe out whole armies, just like that. We believe he has nuclear weapons??"and maybe even weapons we don??(TM)t know about.??

Yet he doesn??(TM)t fit the profile of a terrorist. ??oeFrom his track record, it seems he supports all the best causes,?? said the source at MI5. ??oeYou could say that he??(TM)s outright benevolent.?? But he??(TM)s not all sweet and light: ??oeHe??(TM)s also got this other side to him??"if he thinks you??(TM)re rotten, watch out.??

Still more puzzling, some reports say that Vishnu is indifferent to opulence and hardly cares about world affairs at all. According to French intelligence sources, what Vishnu most likes to do??"despite his money, despite his power, despite everything??"is just forget it all and live like a nomad in cow pastures somewhere in India. The French sources hinted he has a fascination with local village girls.

Two months ago, top-level security officials from fourteen countries attended a conference focused entirely on sharing information about Lord Vishnu. What they found out is that everyone has a different idea. According to one theory, it??(TM)s all a bluff??"Vishnu??(TM)s just an ordinary man. Others say he??(TM)s the single most powerful person there is. Another theory says there??(TM)s no such person as Vishnu at all??"an organization, maybe, but not a person. And then others say there are many Vishnus??"perhaps something like a Vishnu family??"all working together.

The official from the CIA summed it up: ??oeWho??(TM)s Vishnu? At the end of the day, we don??(TM)t really know.??

Divyavani news: Earth-welfare delegation receives assurances, intervention expected

20 June 2005 | 0 Comments | Tags:

(by Jayadvaita Swami - Copyright 2005 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

NEW YORK The delegation of ??oedemigods?? that sought out Lord Vishnu earlier this week to plead the case of Bhumi, the earth-welfare organization, has received assurances of his help, sources close to the delegation said today. Precisely what sort of help he has offered is not yet known.

The assurances seem to have been given personally to Lord Brahma, the head of the delegation, in a highly confidential message. Brahma then informed the other demigods.

??oeIt was sort of mystical,?? a returning delegate told a reporter for DNS. From publicly available documents, Lord Vishnu is known to live on an island in the Milk Ocean, and ??oewe were all just standing there on the shore,?? the delegate said. ??oeNo ferry, no helicopter, nothing. So we just stood there on the shore and??"what else could we do???"we prayed.?? Brahma meditated for a while. Time passed. Nothing happened. ??oeAnd then all of a sudden Brahma said he got a message,?? the delegate said. ??oeBeats me how he got it. With Vishnu you never know. You stand there with nothing, and next thing you know you??(TM)ve got the whole package.?? Highly confidential information in the message, the delegate said, convinced him the message was for real.

No specifics of the message have been made available to the press. A spokesman for the delegation said only that Lord Vishnu had promised ??oesome sort of intervention.??

In response to a plea by Bhumi, the earth-welfare organization, the delegation had gone to seek help in countering an alleged pattern of political oppression and military buildups the delegates say have become a global crisis. Spokesmen for the major world powers say no such pattern exists.

Political analysts said they don??(TM)t expect changes overnight. Most likely, they said, Vishnu will come up with a long-term plan. But when he finally acts, one analyst said, the action will be dramatic: ??oeVishnu doesn??(TM)t do things small.??