Sun, 31 May 2009

I'm Not In the 7%

I was recently forwarded a email which started like so:
Written By Regina Brett, 90 years old, of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio "To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more...

In preparing this blog post, it turns out that, unless she was caught in some "miraculous" time warp, she turned 50 in 2006, so being 90 only 3 years later is an impressive feat.

It turns out this 53 year old actually has her own site, (I'd link to it but it's down), and I found a reference to the actual post in Google's cached copy.

Now, I generally don't forward emails. Not because I'm a curmudgeon, but I figure that posting stuff on my blog is a far better use of "broadcast" communication to my friends. Emails are generally point-to-point for me (mailing lists excepted, but which are generally about a specific topic so forwading to them is not an option either).

You might say I generally follow the following flowchart: Should You Forward That Email?.

But I digress. The purpose of this blog post is to offer my revisions to Regina's posts, which are just as smarmy or relevant (whichever you subscribe to) whether she's 5, 45, or 90...

"1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good."

Life tends to be fair to you in the degree you're fair to life. Are your expectations realistic? Have you invested in yourself and your circumstances to give yourself a fair chance at success?

"2. When in doubt, just take the next small step."

Never underestimate the power of your intelligence and the ability to make something better out of your circumstances. In some cases, taking a small next step might take you over a precipice that is impossible to climb back up. So don't step over a cliff.

But if you're facing an uphill challenge that seems too steep to overcome, remember that those who have mastered Everest need oxygen masks and crampons, and those who have mastered space had suits and rockets. Properly prepared, you can overcome anything, so if you're in doubt about a step in the right direction, remember that luck is when preparation meets opportunity.

"8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it."

Plus, like Mickey Mouse, he doesn't really exist.

"17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful."

Everything you own requires some element of investment in time, storage, or maintenance. If you can't get use or joy out of something, it's holding you back.

"33. Believe in miracles."

But don't expect them to come true. See #1.

"34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do."

So does Mickey Mouse. See #8.

"36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young."

So long as you make something of it. Young Anne Frank lived a more inspired life than her elder, Adolf Hitler.

"38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved."

All that truly matters in the end is that, when faced with doing what is right and what is easy, that you picked doing what's right when it mattered. To say that you loved and therefore you did what matters ignores the reality of doing what is right by those you love.

"39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere."

Fresh air is a more likely outcome than a miracle. See #1. In other news, fresh air is way under-rated and miracles are way over-rated.

"40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's,we'd grab ours back."

Mathematically, this makes no sense. On average (by definition) everyone's problems are equivalent. The distribution of problems, on the other hand, are typically disproportionately laid at the feet of the poor. So be thankful for what you've got, and minimize the extent that your life contributes to problems for others.

As Voltaire put it, "we must tend to our gardens"... that is, optimism is better met with pragmatism.

"42. The best is yet to come."

... so long as you continue to make opportunities for yourself, and avail yourself of them when they appear. Too many people peak too early and then check out of life, figuratively or literally.

"43. No mat ter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up."

... unless what you have is contagious. In which case, stay in bed, get lots of rest, and drink lots of fluid. See #40.

"44. Yield."

...unless the sign says "Stop". Otherwise, your insurance premiums might go up.

"45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift."

Life is more like a bank account. Invest in it, and you'll see it grow. Neglect it and you'll find that when you need to make a withdrawal, there's nothing there to count on.

The email continues with a made up statistic (like her age of "90", which the original article doesn't contain), that "It's estimated that 93% of people who receive this email won't forward it." and to keep the subject line of "I'm in the 7%".

Allow me to retort with my own statistic. "It is estimated that 100% of statistics that start with the passive voice of It is estimated are completely made up, just like this one. Otherwise, real statistics require a source or an attribution, and a statistically relevant sample size to add veracity to their claims."


Name/Blog: Tim
Title: Love the flowchart!
Comment/Excerpt: I get lots of forwards and my first activity, for anything that is not just "Funny" is to check it with or similar, which usually results in me trying to decide whether I should tell whomever sent it to me that the thing is a hoax... I may end up sending a link to this chart instead. :)

Name/Blog: Tim
Title: Heh...
Comment/Excerpt: I didn't bother reading the original (seen too many like it) but I like some of your revisions. 43 and 44 made me laugh, and 17 makes me want to get back on cleaning my garage. :) Interestingly, the first reCAPTCHA word for posting this is "Adolf."

One Perspective on North Korea

In his book, "Outliers, The Story of Success", Malcolm Gladwell argues that one of the reasons that Korean Air Lines had such a dismal safety record in the 1990s and prior was the Korean cultural deference to authority implicit in the Korean language (which apparently has six different levels of hierarchy). (In the intervening time, Korean pilots are now expected to converse in English, and the safety record of Korean airlines has normalized).

To be sure, there are many criticisms of Gladwell's observation, and I'm equally skeptical that the single shift from Korean to English in the cockpit is a principal, or even secondary, reason for the improvement (at the same time the Koreans underwent a shift to English in the cockpit, they employed a sweeping set of changes in training and certification as well).

Still, to me it's an intriguing question... Could language be a key reason for socio-political norms? Take, for example, one of the most successful transitions from east-to-westernization, Turkey. After the war of Turkish independence which simultaneously pushed out the Western allies and the old norms of the Ottoman Empire, Ataturk practically singlehandedly transformed Turkey into the best example (by my estimation) of a muslim Western democracy.

Part of this transformation was the repudiation of many Arabic words in favor of their Turkish ones. And certainly a major part of it was the rejection of the Arabic alphabet in favor of a modified Latin one. Today Turkey remains the a key Western ally whose democracy is comprised of a 97% sunni muslim populace. Coincidence?

Perhaps, but I for one am a little hesitant to dismiss so quickly the influence that language has on our culture. I suspect that properties of our languages, from flexibility to ease of learning, the cultural morays that they often exhibit, and the emotions that are conveyed when reading, writing or speaking them likely have a far greater influence on our modern world than we give them credit for.

Wed, 27 May 2009

iPhone CSS Enabled

Those of you who occasionally read my blog using an iPhone will be pleasantly surprised to note that my blog now displays a custom stylesheet for your convenience.

The iPhone has a much smaller screen than a desktop, and as a result can't display the full content of a standard web page like my blog in a large enough font for comfortable reading without scrolling the content.

By disabling some of the peripheral blog content (such as the Archives, About, Colophon, License blocks, etc.) there is more screen real estate available on the iPhone for showing full screen blog posts.

Technically, the implementation is pretty easy. You need a custom CSS definition for the iPhone, and a custom meta CSS header that serves this CSS definition to iPhones to tweak the UI.

The bottom line is a more convenient iPhone reading experience, particularly in landscape mode.

If you notice any anomalies, please drop me a line.

Wed, 13 May 2009

Region Info Test

Every so often I like to sharpen my coding skills by writing a simple proof of concept.

My latest effort combines a publicly available geographic/IP address database with a simple web service that takes an IP address (like the one you're using to read this), and returns a JSON result of the city/zip/country/latitude/longitude.

I can then use this object to dynamically include your geographic access details here in this blog post.

For example:

Neat, huh?

Of course, the reliability of this service is subject to the IP database's accuracy, and the logical topography of how your IP address is routed over the Internet. I'd appreciate some feedback from my readers on just how accurate, if at all, the database and your internet topology is to your actual location. Feel free to post in the comments, or drop me a line.

Name/Blog: Jeff
Title: Close
Comment/Excerpt: Hey, Khan. This is sweet, but unsettling. I thought I was anonymous on the interwebs!? I'm at work in Bellingham, with your utility placing me in Burlington. That's a 30-minutes drive.

Name/Blog: Usha
Title: Exact ciy and state
Comment/Excerpt: I got my city and state

Name/Blog: Maelyn
Comment/Excerpt: one city over!

Sun, 03 May 2009

Google's 404 Handler

With my recent updating of my URL structure, I also took advantage of Google's 404 handler service.

The way it works is pretty simple. You enable a custom 404 handler in your web server (in apache, there is a ErrorDocument directive, see your web server docs if you use something else), and point it to a static HTML page. Here's mine: 404.html.

The Apache directive looks like this: ErrorDocument 404 404.html

Next, into this static HTML, you add a reference to a javascript file at Google. When your server encounters a 404, it will trigger Google to do a search for terms in the URL against the index that Google has for your site, and offer a "closest match" if it can find one.

Google's code looks like this: <script type="text/javascript"> var GOOG_FIXURL_LANG = 'en'; var GOOG_FIXURL_SITE = ''; </script> <script src="" type="text/javascript" ></script>
Now, should an old or incorrect link refer to you, the 404 handler will give them a search to find a better page. For example, there is no /carson link at my site, but here's what you get if you try: carson.

Takeaways? First, any self-respecting website should have custom error pages, even if they are static. Second, Google has a helpful utility that can help your site visitors find what they're looking for and it's a simple copy, paste, edit away from your site too.

Khan Klatt

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