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Archive for November, 2011

Funding science. Evil. Mad. Science.

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Go fund this project [kickstarter.com] at Kickstarter. They are far from their goal and need some help funding their science. Evil. Mad. Science! Imagine: 10 story tall towers making lightning! “1.21 gigawatts!” style lightning. This project must be funded. For the sake of all evil geniuses out there. I mean, BOOM! Cezaakk! Pow! Lightning:

Lightning!

In fact I think Larry Ellison should just fund this project himself, on the condition that they build a second set, in his office! So he can use them to vaporize people who don’t like him. All evil super villains need two 10 story tall lightning generators.

Istanbul, Turkey, September 2011

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

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After many years of passing through Istanbul on my way to other places in the region for work I finally made it out of the airport to explore the city. Istanbul was always a destination that I wanted to see, more exotic (in my mind) than Athens, or Rome but just as important in western history — maybe more important. Finally making it I was only able to see the old city itself, the Bazaar and Sultanahmet areas, but that includes most of the major sites; Hagia Sophia [wikipedia.org], The Blue Mosque [wikipedia.org], the Grand Bazaar [wikipeida.org], Topkapi Palace [wikipedia.org] and the Basilica Cistern [wikipedia.org], as well as many other important and historical sites. Unfortunately this was just a visit to Istanbul and I did not make it other places in Turkey that I would like to visit; Ephesus [wikipedia.org], Cappadocia [wikipedia.org], Mount Nemrut [wikipedia.org] and Troy [wikipedia.org]

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But enough Wikipedia links. Lets talk about the city; amazing. The site that has been on my ‘must see’ list for years was Hagia Sophia. It did not disappoint me. My hotel was only a block away and my room had a view directly on Hagia Sophia. I arrived early, checking in at 8AM, well before the room was ready, so I immediately headed over to Hagia Sophia. I spent about three hours just wondering around and exploring the details of this grand building, which started life as the church, was converted into a Mosque and is now a museum. I think it is these layers of history that gives Hagia Sophia an elegance making it more than just a decaying building. It’s older and not as architecturally beautiful as the Imperial Mosques which were modeled on it. Yet, for me, the Imperial Mosques, lack the sense of presence that Hagia Sophia has. They have a single purpose, where Hagia Sophia has been many things to many people.

As for the Imperial Mosques themselves; I visited three of them; The Blue Mosque [wikipedia.org] aka Sultan Ahmet Mosque, The New Mosque [wikipedia.org] and the Süleymaniye Mosque” [wikipedia.org]. Outwardly I thought that the Blue Mosque was the most beautiful. Fitting that it is the closest to Hagia Sophia, and was the first mosque built with Hagia Sophia as the architectural inspiration (as were all the Imperial Mosques and most of the mosques in Istanbul that came after). The inside of the Blue Mosque is overwhelming in its use of tile, particularly the İznik tiles [wikipedia.org], though there are many less exquisite tiles due to the demand the construction put on production. At the other end of the spectrum is the Süleymaniye Mosque, where the use of tiles is much less. The effect is more serene and the extensive and peaceful grounds around the Süleymaniye Mosque are wonderful. I read in the Süleymaniye Mosque is considered the ‘height’ of the Ottoman style, but it was not my favorite of the Imperial Mosques I visited. Somewhere between the Blue Mosque and Süleymaniye Mosque is the “New Mosque” or Yenni Mosque. I’m not sure why I preferred the New Mosque, outside it is similar to the Süleymaniye Mosque though there are no grounds to speak of and inside it has every square centimeter covered in tiles but somehow the overall effect is not overwhelming as it was in the Blue Mosque. The sense of peace of the Süleymaniye Mosque is achieved while keeping the beauty of the tiles. I don’t know why, I just preferred the New Mosque over the others.

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Away from religious buildings the two major attractions I visited were the Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar.

The Cistern was very cool. Maybe because I read a lot of fantasy books as a teenager but the setting of an abandoned cistern on the scale of the Basilica Cistern is fascinating. The seemingly endless columns disappearing into the darkness and the sounds of water. Very Dungeons & Dragons.

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The Grand Bazaar on the other hands was a let down. I expected some sort of medieval market but, while the building itself if mostly old, the feeling is not of a genuine historical site but more like a touristy strip mall. Maybe my expectations where unfair but I don’t think they were too off; I expected something more like, but better, grander, than what I found in the old city of Jerusalem [confusion.cc]. The Grand Bazaar is a random collection of the many clones of the same 5 or 6 basic shops and cafe’s — the same ones you can find selling tourist nick-knacks on all the streets around the Grand Bazaar. I was not impressed.

Overall Istanbul as a great time. I wish I had more than a few days, more time to explore more sites and enjoy life in general in a great city. It was actually refreshing that there are not too many Greek or Roman (Byzantium) ruins in the city. Having been around Italy and Greece I’ve seen my share of temples to Zeus or Jupiter and columns and arches. The Ottoman style was something I am much less familiar with. The most obvious Ottoman architecture is the Blue Mosque — or more properly the Sultan Ahmet Mosque which sits almost next to Hagia Sofia.

How stupid is US corporate tax law?

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Thirty corporations paid less than nothing in aggregate federal income taxes over the entire 2008-10 period. These companies, whose pretax U.S. profits totaled $160 billion over the three years, included: Pepco Holdings (–57.6% tax rate), General Electric (–45.3%), DuPont (–3.4%), Verizon (–2.9%), Boeing (–1.8%), Wells Fargo (–1.4%) and Honeywell (–0.7%).

DuPont and Monsanto both produce chemicals. But over the 2008-10 period, Monsanto paid 22 percent of its profits in U.S. corporate income taxes, while DuPont actually paid a negative tax rate of –3.4 percent.

Department store chain Macy’s paid a three-year rate of 12.1 percent, while competing chain Nordstrom’s paid 37.1 percent.

In computer technology, Hewlett-Packard paid 3.7 of its three-year U.S. profits in federal income taxes, while Texas Instruments paid 33.5 percent.

FedEx paid 0.9 percent over three years, while its competitor United Parcel Service paid 24.1 percent.

Robert S. McIntyre, Matthew Gardner, Rebecca J. Wilkins and Richard Phillips. Taken from Corporate Taxpayers & Corporate Tax Dodgers, 2008-2010

Stop having a tax or find some way of making companies pay it.

Move your money

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Move Your Money logo

Interesting grassroots campaign to close personal bank accounts with the big Wall Street banks and move them somewhere… voting with your wallet — the only way to counteract the ability of big corporations to vote with theirs. I’d sign but I have never put my money in a big Wall Street bank; I’ve been a loyal Credit Union customer since my parents opened an account when I was 2. Through high school and college, through 5 jobs on three continents and I still consider my old Credit Union account to be my primary account.

One annoyance; the site does not offer any help on where to move your money, unless you sign the pledge. But only BAM, Citi and Chase banks are represented, what if you belong to a smaller banks but still want to move? What if you want the info about moving before you sign the pledge. Forcing people to sign the pledge will probably loose more signatures than generate additional ones.