Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Silver II

[More of my family's misadventures with silver.]

It turns out that my great grandfather had saved a small chest full of those silver coins and it had been passed down to his son (my grandfather) who then didn't get around to officially giving it to anyone and almost everyone forgot about them. His daughter (my aunt) somehow got possession of them. By the 1970's these coins had been sitting locked up for about a century when my aunt came across them when she was moving some boxes around.

She had recently been over to dinner at one of her friend's house and was very impressed with their beautiful silverware. She coveted them but couldn't imagine being able to afford such a nice set of her own. That's when she came up with her scheme. She took the box of useless old silver coins and brought them to a silversmith. They made a deal in which she gave the coins to him and a pretty good sum of money to melt the coins down and turn them into a set of flatware.

My Father shakes his head when he tells the story convinced that the silversmith would have been far too shrewd to melt those antique coins. He probably kept them for himself and acquired a set of flatware to give to my aunt, telling her that it was made out of the coins that she gave him. I don't know what a set of 1970's silverware is worth today but I'm guessing a lot less than a chest full of rare Ottoman coins.

Here is another silver scam.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In The Beginning... of The End?

The picture above is a partial shot of the gene sequence of a life form that was replicated from scratch. Just think of all of the possibilities for good and for bad.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I ordered my OLPC laptop a few seconds after they opened up the order page in November. I only received it a few days ago despite their promise to try and deliver before the holidays. It's an ambitious effort to get computers into the hands of the poorest children in the world and they're off to a decent start.

I've been testing it and am impressed so far. It's a lot smaller and lighter than my 12" Apple PowerBook and has a more powerful WiFi receiver. In my local Starbucks here at the edge of High Park where I do some writing I normally can't pick up any open router transmissions but with the XO laptop I can see a few available signals. The browser is a little slow compared to the PowerBook and seems to have trouble with Flash video but otherwise is quite robust.

When we featured it at the last Juice Dialogues by bringing in a representative with a working model we had a very positive response from the participants although I was surprised to hear from some of the more radical young people that it was perhaps just another example of our cultural imperialism imposing our techno centric and even logo centric culture on more traditional and probably richer oral cultures. Even though that interpretation may factually be true I'm not sure what the alternative is supposed to be. Unfortunately the game is rigged and one needs to be able to read, write and electronically communicate in order to escape poverty in our world and this is an elegant way to give some children the opportunity to develop these skills.

If you'd like one you can pay a total of $400 for two laptops. You will be sent one and automatically donate one to some deserving child in a developing setting. Every time I open it up in public people inevitably ask about it and this is really the reason I got it. It is a way to spread the word. I encourage you to buy one, donate, or just talk it up.

[Update: The first wave of the Buy 2 Get 1 program seems to be over for now]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

No Silver Lining

My father's family has had some bad luck with silver. It starts with a story about one of his ancestors that made a living on the Silk Road. It seems this woman went to ask a holy man for some advice. She wanted to know what she could expect for her son in the future and what she could do to ensure his success. The young man in question was my great great grandfather and his mother was worried that he wouldn't amount to much.

The young man was asked by his Mother to find her a kurus coin. He went around town and couldn't find any of the older coins so he brought her instead a newer coin with a higher denomination. She insisted that she needed that specific type of kurus coin and pestered him for weeks to collect these for her. He soon found that other young men were also asking around for the same coins and began chatting them up. Through a series of conversations he was able to piece together an emerging story.

The mothers of these young men all had been known to seek the advice of the same holy man. It seemed that this holy man told his mother that he would be a successful man and grow to produce a large number of grandchildren but only if she were to produce the appropriate sacrifice in the form of the specific coins that he requested. If she did not produce these coins in sufficient quantity she was told that her son would end up in a terrible mess, possibly even in prison. The young man also had several conversations with people about rumours that some silver coins were about to be replaced with copper versions and thus was able to put two and two together.

Angrily and without much consideration for the consequences he went to visit this so-called holy man and ended up giving him a pretty good beating. It was clear that this charlatan was engaged in an effort to collect all of the soon-to-be much more valuable silver coins and he was exploiting the hopes and fears of the simple women of the town in order for them to do his bidding.

When his mother came to visit him in prison she apologized for not finding enough of those silver coins to give the holy man crying that his fortune-telling was obviously very accurate since he did end up in prison just like he had predicted.