Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
Didn't we all suspect this all along? My profound sympathy is toward these Chinese girls. Rules are rules, but apparently they are new rules, because I think Nadia Comenici was 14 when she scored her perfect 10.0.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Between Silk and Cyanide: A Codemaker's War, 1941-1945 by Leo Marks
rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was a fascinating book about Leo Marks' experience in the codes division of the SOE, the British organization responsible for handling spies during the second world war. Not only do we get to find out a lot about the mechanics of how it all worked, what the codes were, and the British side of the Englandspeil/Nordpol game with Col. Giskes, but we also get some insight into the personalities and culture that allowed the SOE to be, at the same time fantastically successful in managing some spy networks and profoundly abstruse about recognizing and remedying their own mistakes.
For instance, Marks was a master at deciphering coding mistakes by stressed out agents and saved many lives by not requiring them to resend messages coded with the same key, etc. He would take bathroom breaks to solve 'indecipherables' and reencode them properly in such a way that the Free French would not realize that he had cracked their precious code, but at the same time saving their agent.
However, his own narrow focus and the turf wars of those around him allowed the Germans to capture dozens of agents and tons of airdropped supplies. Read London Calling North Pole for an account by the German colonel in charge. It was frustrating to think of how many lives could have been saved or how much more quickly the war might have ended if some of the British officers had been less concerned about their own fiefdom and more concerned about a common cause. We are left wondering what might have happened if there had been a spirit of cooperation instead of competition between the geniuses at Bletchley Park and those at SOE codes section.
All in all, I recommend this as a fascinating character study of a civilian in the war effort. It is full of interesting stories and anecdotes, and should be accessible to a general audience. However, those with an understanding of and appreciation for cryptography and espionage will especially enjoy this book.
View all my reviews.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The scope of the supply problem became more clear in the latest quarter when the five biggest publicly traded oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, said their oil output had declined by a total of 614,000 barrels a day, even as they posted $44 billion in profits. It was the steepest of five consecutive quarters of declines.
While that drop might not sound like much in a world that consumes 86 million barrels of oil each day, today’s markets are so tight that the slightest shortfalls can push up prices.
Along with mature fields, the companies have contracts with producing countries whose governments allocate fewer barrels to oil companies as prices rise.
“It has become really, really difficult to grow production,” said Paul Horsnell, an analyst atBarclays Capital. “International companies have a portfolio of assets in areas of significant decline and no frontier discoveries to make up for that.”
One reassuring point is that at least in the developed world, people are rapidly shifting away from ridiculously conspicuous consumption. Hummer sales have plummeted, and the carmakers can hardly sell new SUV's and pickups. Almost every car ad on TV now either offers $8k-10k discounts on SUV/trucks or trumpets the high mileage of the small cars they sell. Americans have scaled way back on driving and gas consumption. That is in large part what's responsible for the current dip in prices. That and the strengthening dollar. However, in India and in China, where fuel prices are highly subsidized, demand continues to grow largely unabated, so we shouldn't expect the current decline to last.
What should we do? Remember, "where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. (Matt 16:21)" The things of this world will pass away, so focus on the heavens. In an age and culture where car/house=identity, there is a real and living Person who can give us the incorruptible life...
Also, you can ride a bike to save money on gas. ;-)