PayPal implicitly exposes invoice sender’s business info

I’ve got a PayPal invoice from my English teacher. I noticed the number 111 of the invoice in the email that confirmed my payment – just because I am attentive to numbers. I asked myself whether 111 was my number or my teacher’s number. The answer was obvious. 111 invoices would be too much for me. So know I knew that she sent out 111 invoices. I checked it. Recently I got another invoice from her, number 110. I looked through my mail and found her invoice number 102 two months ago. Now I know how many students she has. I guess, it is really bad that PayPal does not use random numbers as invoice identifier. It gives the receiver the info he/she should not have.

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Katie, my English teacher, asked me to write a short essay on charity. I would never write this out of my own will, possibly because I don’t have any story to be proud of about charity.

I guess, this is because the life is somewhat cruel here in Russia, and I know for sure that the strangers would never help me, had I been in serious trouble. If so, why should I help them? And this egoistic reasoning is mostly about money.

I don’t feel that egoistic when I help a woman to lift a heavy suitcase on a staircase at the railway station. Maybe I do it because I know that if my mom were going there with a hefty suitcase, there might be some gentleman around to help her. When I help women with the suitcases, I feel that I am paying back the humanity the cost of their similar help.

But I never give any money to the beggars. No matter if they pretend to be destitute or if they really are, I don’t care. I am not going to be a beggar, none of the people I know would ever be beggars, so any penny that went to the beggars will never return in some reciprocal action. And it is most likely that the beggar will just go buy more booze or junk. No sympathy towards them.

As for the charity, there are lots of charity funds here in Moscow. They help homeless people, they help dying people to get proper hospice care, they help children to get healed from cancer, they help homeless kids in the orphanages, they help the victims of the natural or humanitarian disasters.

Where my doubt starts, I don’t think that money means help. Well, it gets some help, but this help is hugely overpriced. Where there is a charity fund, there is a fund manager, a bank account, a tax collector (in Russia, tax should be paid by the charity funds). After all these expenses, we come to the following inefficiency.

Say, the kids in an orphanage gets the comedy show from the charity fund. When I donate to a fund, I delegate the choice of the way how exactly the kids get help to the fund. Do the orphans need a comedy show? I guess, what they really need, is good teachers of math and literature. And I don’t think that the orphanage should spend any of donators’ money on the show. Instead, they should look for a comedian who will agree to give a free show – just to make the world a better place. This is what really charity is about.

Say, a poor man gets a cheque to pay for his cancer to be cured. Is it efficient? Well, hardly so. What would be efficient, and what would be a real charity – is when the hospitals start providing the poor all extra time and resources they have, for free. Just because they want to make the world a better place.

When the charity fund pays for the comedy show or the cancer treatment, it also pays unnecessary and overpriced fees for all sort of parasitic people and organisations around. The fund buys some service – the taxes go to the government. And I am sure, every single penny that goes to the government, harms people. The funds pays to the hospital or to the theatre – some money goes to the director, some money goes to the security officer, some money simply disappears, and only a small part of it is really paid for the service.

I always thought, the charity should be direct and targeted. You want to help an orphan? Find one and help him or her directly. You want to help the poor in Ghana? Good. Go to Ghana, and help the people there – knowing their needs for sure. Or find someone you trust, and help them to help the others.

As for targeted charity… Soon after my younger daughter was born, I was talking to our chief accountant, and she told me that all the accounting department of out company helps the maternity house, giving them money and necessary things – like nappies, infant formula, medicines and so on. In the maternity house, there was a floor full of newly born babies who were left by illegal immigrants from Central Asia. They were staying in the maternity house for a couple of months in the hope that the mothers get back to the kids, then they were being transferred to the orphanages. Maternity houses are poorly supplied, normally, when the baby is born, the doctors ask the father or the grandparents to bring the non-emergency supplies to the mother to help with the baby care. And the forsaken kids from Central Asia are deprived of it all. Also, the Russian babies who are left after being born have higher rate of adoption soon after the birth. When the couples look for the kids to adopt they often prioritise the kids who look more alike.

When I heard this story for the first time, I immediately asked our chief accountant to give them $40 and to request the list of the most necessary supplies. We had extra nappies and many other things we could share. The accountant called the maternity house, they told her to bring everything we can find. When I came home we packed two big bags. They were so hefty that I hardly could move them. I took them to the office, the accountant loaded the bags to her car, and took them to the maternity house. When she came back, she told me that the nurses were not very happy with the bags I sent. Previously, people mostly sent them money and added a couple of things. And I sent a truckload of stuff. They faced a problem that they were to find a proper place for my bags, to sort the supplies… They asked not to send that much stuff.

When I heard this, it was the end of my charitable self. I was totally disappointed. Too much stuff, they say? The kids suffer from the lack of everything, they say, and when I send this everything, they complain?

Several times, we sent some cloths of our daughters that is out of use to the local social workers. Last time I came there, they almost declined to take my bag – for the same reason. They said, they were waiting for the inspection, and my bag could be questioned as rubbish. They advised me to bring the cloths not to them, but to the church.

I think my failure was based on my charity being direct but not properly targeted. I made one well-target and utterly direct charity donation. When a lady in the house near-by, who we know because her three kids play with our three kids on the playground, gave birth to her fourth kid, we collected a package of nappies for the newborns and some other stuff for the infants, and presented it to her. But was it charity? Shouldn’t we just call it a human hand?

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The bamboo trains

This is the railway that looks like if it was built especially for the railway fans. A norry, or a bamboo train – is a draisine that operates on a long rail track in Cambodia.

While it is of utmost importance to show the video how norries use a single track to provide a bidirectional service, this passage from the Wikipedia worth mentioning:

A scheduled service run by the Government also operates but is slower and less reliable due to frequent derailments and breakdowns… Norries have low fares, are frequent and relatively fast, so are popular despite their rudimentary design, lack of brakes, the state of the rails (often broken or warped) and lack of any formal operating regime…

So that’s how the bamboo train passes another oncoming bamboo train on a single track:

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Myriad of myriads

Here go some exotic names for the powers of ten, the numbers that are written with 1 and chain of zeros.

10,000 is a myriad. Ancient Greeks used it a lot.

100,000 is a lakh. It is quite common in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and some near-by countries.

10,000,000 is a crore. It cames from the same region. Quite used there when talking about big numbers, even in English.

100,000,000 is an oku. It is the Japanese name for myriad of myriads. And they have a special name for a myriad – they call it a man. Contrary to the Westerners, the Japanese and the Chinese count big numbers not by thousands, but by myriads, so they have special words for 1012, 1016, 1020, and so on.

10100 is a googol. The name was coined by a 9-year-old kid in 1940, and inspired the Google Inc. founders for their name.

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The altiport of Courchevel

An altiport is a tiny runway for the small aircraft in the highlands. The runway is sloping so that the taking off planes run down the slope, and the landing planes are running uphill to slow down and stop. The most epic and one of the most dangerous altiports in the world is Courchevel.

Courchevel altiport in snow - Wiki

It is located in the French Alps, 2 km above the sea level. Its runway is only 525 m long.

Here is how the approach to Courchevel Airport looks from above:
Approach to Courchevel runway from above - Jet Photos site

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Not To Be

I have found a language clarification tool called E-Prime. It prohibits using “to be” in all its forms. No “I am”, no “it was”, never. Instead, some other verb should be used that exposes the nature of the fact. Like “I don’t know any movie that impressed me stronger than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind“. This phrase reflects my personal emotions towards the film better than “this movie is the best”.

Here is another example:

Consider the statement “The Earth is round”. Notice how the verb to be carries with it an intellectual momentum of completeness, finality, and time-independence. It sounds like an absolute, immutable truth, doesn’t it? Yes, it does… exactly like the statement “The Earth is flat” just a few hundred years ago.

The alternative E-Prime construct “The Earth looks round” shows that an observer exists — an observer that simply perceives the Earth as round — and that this observer may have flaws in perception. E-Prime brings back a certain ‘humbleness’ in language, getting rid of the “God Mode” in speech and reminding us we make mistakes.

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The sol before yestersol

Obviously, Martian year is not equal to our terrestrial year. But until some recent moment I never tried to guess how Martian missions keep time there. I thought, it would be a problem only once Mars is colonised by people. So for the rovers it should be no problem to use terrestrial time, say, UTC. Surprisingly, they operate in local Martian time, as their activities depend on the local daylight.

Martian day is a bit longer than ours, but not much. It is only 39 minutes longer, and it is called sol. While different schemata had been proposed for the timekeeping, the last rovers use sols with terrestrial hours, minutes and seconds, and they don’t use Martian year (which are about twice as long as terrestrial year).

Since rovers do nothing or almost nothing during Martian night, the rover crew that controls it from Earth is having the working hours creeping later and later by almost 39 minutes to fit Martian sol.

And the best thing in the Martian timekeeping is the word yestersol which is really used by NASA team that operates Martian missions!

Read more on Wikipedia, “Timekeeping on Mars” article.

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