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Today, I found this announcement via Hacker News. Google says their servers were attacked, and that the primary goal was the gmail accounts of rights activists. They said that their security protecting email data wasn’t breached. However, their own investigation revealed that several rights activists email accounts have been routinely accessed by what appear to be third-parties using valid login information. This would suggest that the rights activists’ passwords have been discovered via keyloggers, packet sniffers or some other surveillance at their end.

In response, Google has decided to stop complying with the PRCs filtering regulations.

We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer: A new approach to China

Related: A Chinese analysis of the situation
Related entry: Google Rejects DOJ Subpoena

I came across a very interesting article today.

Not only does this finding help explain why the brain is able to work properly when the body’s demands for fuel and oxygen are highest, but it goes a step further to show that the brain actually shifts into a higher gear in terms of activity. This opens doors to entirely new areas of brain research related to understanding lactate’s specific neurological effects.

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology: During exercise, the human brain shifts into high gear on ‘alternative energy’

Very interesting. I had read speculation that the brain could run off of lactate in an emergency, but I’d had no idea it was common during exercise. It’s also interesting to note that the brain operates at a higher level of activity while burning lactate. I wonder if this might play a role in exercise induced neurogenesis.

What a great week for progress! Right on the heels of China’s first extra-vehicular activity in space, the privately run SpaceX has made history!

SpaceX’s Falcon 1 became the first privately built liquid rocket to orbit the Earth tonight, following in the footsteps of SpaceShipOne which became the first privately built crewed spaceship to fly suborbitally in October 2004. One other thing they both have in common? All the people who said it was impossible.

Wired:Space Visionaries Prove Naysayers Wrong— Again

Shenzhou 7 launch
China has launched its 3rd manned space flight. As someone who grew up very disappointed in NASA’s failure to live up to the previous generations sky-high expectations, I absolutely love seeing this kind of news. While China is still doing things that the US and USSR did almost 50 years ago, they are making quite a bit of progress. Last year, they sent up a lunar probe (appropriately named Chang’e), and now Shenzhou 7 will include the first extra-vehicular travel of any of non-US/USSR mission. They’ll make it to the moon sooner than people expect. That’s good. China can do more to help kick-start the US space program than advocacy group could.

Here’s a speech by president Hu.

Here’s an interview with the astronauts.

Regular readers of this site will be aware of my feelings about the, uh… “creative” romanization schemes used in different parts of Taiwan. As a newcomer, it really did make life a bit more difficult not having any clue how to pronounce various street signs or MRT station names. It appears that the problem may be coming to an end. According to, the Taiwanese government has finally adopted Hanyu Pinyin (Chinese language source), the romanization scheme known simply as used by China as well as foreign students all over the world.

It’s been a long time since reading the characters commonly used on street signs has been much of a problem for me, but it is good to see that the era of haphazard romanization drawing to a close. I can’t say I’ll miss seeing a single street 中山 being labeled as “zhongshan”, “chungshan”, “chongsan” and “zongsan” at various points over a 20km stretch, either.

Related Entry: Tone Marks on Roadsigns

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. And to think, I used to consider Reddit a place for enlightened, rational discussion.

Reddit's Worthless

I’ve replaced Reddit’s former position on my blogroll with Y-combinator’s Hacker News.

Related Post: Good God are There a Lot of Morons on Digg

It’s about time Brendan got some love for his skills! When he showed me around Beijing the summer before last, I was amazed at his Chinese. To me, he sounded completely indistinguishable from a native Beijinger. Admittedly, coming from Taiwan, the Beijing accent is a bit hard for me to judge, but there were other signs. When got in a taxi on the way to a punk concert, the cab driver was in a pissy mood. Within a minute or two, though, Brendan’s chit-chat seemed to have to guy at ease. Even though we didn’t know how to get to our location, the guy was smiling and chatting cheerily with us. Then there’s his disturbingly large vocabulary of characters. Despite the fact that he lives in Beijing, he seemed to have an eidetic knowledge of traditional characters, and their etymology over the couple thousand years.

At the time, my thought was, “this guy’s an animal“. Now, the China Daily seems to think so, too:

Anyone who has been in Beijing for a while knows how the taxi drivers behave – they talk a lot about everything. Hence the other day, Brendan O’Kane, an Irish American who has been living in Beijing for the past four years, was not surprised that the cabbie started chatting even before he’d gotten comfortable in his seat.

For about 10 minutes, the driver tried to convince him that “foreigners can never really learn Chinese”.

O’Kane was amused. Apparently, the taxi driver had assumed he was a Chinese. Dark brown haired, O’Kane is of medium height and has a slim figure. He admits that from time to time, people in China mistaken him as a Uygur.

“I am American,” says the 24-year-old in articulated Mandarin, as clearly and fluently as one might expect from a native speaker.

The taxi driver was suspicious. For a while, he threw several glances back at his passenger.

China Daily: Linguist left speechless

Keven Rudd sure doesn’t seem to be messing around. He’s been talking for a while about emphasizing three E’s while in office– Economy, Education and Environment. Only hours after getting into office, he has already ratified the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse emissions. Since China and India wouldn’t have faced any limits, I can understand the previous government’s objections, but it’s still good news that Australia’s on board.

“Australia’s official declaration today that we will become a member of the Kyoto Protocol is a significant step forward in our country’s efforts to fight climate change domestically – and with the international community,” Mr Rudd said.

He said the Federal Government would do everything in its power to help Australia meet its Kyoto obligations, including setting a target to reduce emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by 2050.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Australia Ratifies Kyoto Protocol
photo by Reuters

This, from the BBC:

Mr Rudd will focus on education, environment and the economy
Australia’s Prime Minister-elect, Kevin Rudd, has announced the make-up of his new Labor government.

He appointed Julia Gillard as deputy PM and education minister, and a former rock star, Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett, as environment minister.

Penny Wong becomes the country’s first Asian-born minister, with responsibility for climate change.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party has elected a new leader to replace John Howard, defeated in last week’s vote.

BBC: Australia’s Rudd unveils cabinet

That guy, the singer, Peter Garrett, has been chosen to be Australia’s new Environment Minister.

Yesterday, Morris Chang, the CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., spoke to the American Chamber of Commerce on Taiwan’s international competitiveness. For the most part he had good things to say, ranging from education to work ethic to democracy:

“Taiwan benefits from a highly educated population, a healthy ecosystem and industrious, diligent workers,” said Chang. The island, he added, has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. In addition, up to 70 percent of the college-age population go on to attend institutions of higher learning. Strong technical abilities also make Taiwanese workers highly desirable.

“While such measurements are not easily quantifiable,” stressed Chang, “I think that anyone who has worked with Taiwanese people will agree that they are very industrious and hard-working.”

In terms of the ecosystem, Chang reported that Taiwan has had an evolving market economy for 20 to 30 years; politically, freedom and democracy have been present for more than 10 years.

He did mention a few areas for improvement. The first is economic openness to globalization:

“This is the biggest weakness in the near term,” said Chang. “Incomplete globalization is becoming more and more a drag on the economy. During the last 10 years, as globalization has accelerated, Taiwan has either stood still or even gone backward.”

During this time, said Chang, Taiwan should have become the portal to the world’s fastest-growing economy-China.

“If Taiwan had seized the opportunity 15 to 20 years ago, its economic development would be much faster. It simply failed to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Chang also commented about a need for more democratic institutions to accompany its progress of the last decade. Specifically, he mentioned the needs for greater balance between the branches of the government, for moving to a high trust society, and for better corporate governance. Like many, many foreign teachers I know in Taiwan, Chang expressed hope for a transformation of educational systems that would lead to a greater emphasis on creativity, claiming that “There is too much emphasis in Taiwan on transfer of knowledge and not enough on independent, creative thinking”.

Finally, he touched on the three links that Chen and Hseih have been sparring over so bitterly this month.

Since China is so large and Taiwan much smaller, Chang recommended that Taiwan serve as a portal to its much bigger neighbor, saying, “Given that Taiwan has only 2 percent the population of China, I think that it is best if Taiwan-similar to Hong Kong-plays the role of a gateway.”

Any resulting divisions of labor, in investment or R&D between Taiwan and China are still very much an “academic question,” as Taiwan is not yet sufficiently open to China, although Chang did not see any particular reason to fear competition from Chinese companies.

“It is not a question of losing out to Chinese companies but to any companies,” he said. “To keep from losing out, you have to safeguard your trade secrets and protect your IP.”

Regardless of which presidential candidate wins the next election in March, Chang thinks a more open policy to China will emerge. When asked what he would do if he had a magic wand that could solve any problem facing Taiwan, Chang responded with: “Right now, I would lift restrictions on investment and open the three links,” saying these policies have contributed to one of Taiwan’s chief weaknesses, namely an economy that is “incompletely globalized, incompletely opened.”

The China Post: Taiwan is competitive, yet lacks openness

All in all, it looks like an optimistic report.