Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Addiction to porn destroying lives, Senate told

Posted in Politics,Science by Elliott Back on November 20th, 2004.

Some nudeIn some studies of pornography, researchers are running to the Senate for help–wild claims in hand. Is pornography worse than heroin? Probably not. Still, you’ll find plenty of rationalizing going on, as always happens in the intersections between politics and science.

If you read the article, the obvious right-wing slant appears with the drop of “Judith Reisman’s” name. Check out (scroll) this criticism of his ridiculous lawsuit against the Kinsely institute.

“We’re so afraid to talk about sex in our society that we really give carte blanche to the people who are producing this kind of material,” said James B. Weaver, a Virginia Tech professor who studies the impact of pornography.

www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/news/archive/2004/11/18/national1907EST0715.DTL and www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,65772,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_4

Travel to Manaus, Brazil is Dangerous

Posted in Crime,Travel by Elliott Back on October 3rd, 2012.

Since American Airlines was offering super cheap roundtrip flights to Manaus, in the Amazon region of north Brazil, I figured I’d jump on it! I booked myself a nice $550 NYC JFK-MAO roundtrip, and thanks to a promotion, I’ll earn double miles on the MIA-MAO segments both ways! I figured this would be awesome! First time in Brazil! Travelling by myself! Not speaking Portuguese! However, a few things happened that made reconsider adventuring here again…

One of the almost-shanty-town areas that are common in Manaus

I got Robbed at Knifepoint…

The first day I was toying all the sights of Manaus. Generally felt pretty safe. Walked all over; posted photos to Facebook.

On my way back a pitter-patter of feet became a pressure at my back, I turned around ( that probably caused the scratch ) and there’s a scrawny campesino with a knock-off kitchen knife telling me he wants my bag, in Portuguese. I’m backing up and telling him in Spanish I have money and going for my wallet. But our mutual incomprehension opens up a gap, and 12 feet is too far. I turn and bolt while he stuffs his salad carver into his pants. Since I assume I must now be in a bad area I head up the opposite direction and go home. It was 3 in the afternoon, and people on the street 50 feet away.

I put some iodine on my scratch which wasn’t too bad, and promptly started chain smoking. I think I was robbed around R. Cel. Sérgio Pessoa and R. Miranda Leão, so keep your wits about you when you’re in the Mercado Municipal area.

Debit Card Skimmer Fraud

I took out some cash at the airport, and came back to find the following charges made after my flight had departed:

09/26/2012  	ATM Transaction	NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 519173 
09/26 TECBAN PR BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4939526 (EXCHG RTE)
 + 15.00 (EXCHG RTE ADJ	$514.88

09/25/2012  	ATM Transaction	NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 403240 
09/25 BANCO DO BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4934100 (EXCHG RTE)
 + 14.80 (EXCHG RTE ADJ	$508.21  

09/24/2012  	ATM Transaction	NON-CHASE ATM WITHDRAW 500187 
09/24 BANCO DO BR Real 1000.00 X 0.4941900 (EXCHG RTE)
 + 14.83 (EXCHG RTE ADJ	$509.02

It seems that whoever cloned my card at the airport had been taking out the maximum 1000 reals until I shut them down. I actually don’t know whether it was a skimmer, a hidden camera, or even an entirely fake ATM. When I tried to get cash at the airport, only 1 of 4 ATMs worked, so there are at least three others that could have been entirely fake.

Terrible Airport Service

And it wasn’t AA’s fault! I know they’ve been getting press for seats and things falling off their planes, but in Manaus, it’s the local airport workers who will delay your flight by over an hour, without giving you any updates. And for some odd reason they took my lighter, even though it’s allowed according to TSA regs. They also have a bizarre screening protocol where they ask you about any of your new electronics (to see if they’re fakes containing drugs or bombs), so I told the agent about my new Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7…

We were told “be here from 9:30 – 10:30 strictly” to go through an immigration check. However, waiting to board our plane, we saw people coming through even after the plane was scheduled to take off. So I blame the delay on the airport’s inability to do its job and take off on time, even if it means some could be late.

Not much to do?

There are really two main historical buildings in Manaus, which are the Teatro Amazonas, an old-style opera house/theater, and the Centre of Justice which has an ancient, no longer used, courtroom. The two buildings are nearly adjacent, so if you see one, you’ll see them all! I can even save you the time by posting a quick photo:

If you want to drink, there won’t be a proper pub/bar like you may be used to. Most cervecerias serve you a large bottle, a glass, and a beer coozie (a frozen sleeve to keep your beer cool). While this is imminently enjoyable in the Brazilian heat, you won’t be finding a lot of cocktails or beer on tap.

Crime is ridiculously high

I think, now, every traveller needs to google their destination city + “crime”, as I found Rio drug trade turns Amazon city into crime capital from just a year ago, only after I returned. Some choice quotes:

Rio’s drug conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s; in Manaus the drug trade is also taking its toll. A growing local market for cocaine has triggered a rise in homicides. Official figures show the number of murders rose over by 9% this year.

If you do go, bring a travel buddy and stay safe. And enjoy an Amazon safari, which is fun, and visit the CIGS Zoo or the Bosque da Ciencia. TripAdvisor has a pretty great list. And the Caesar Business is a great hotel.

Tough Mudder – Tri-State 2011

Posted in Health,Me,NYC by Elliott Back on November 12th, 2011.

My calves burned with a low throb, incomparable to the pain on the track, as I watched the muddy water–brown–spiral down the bathtub drain. Washing the mud off after Tough Mudder Tri-State 2011, 12 miles of mud, obstacles, and freezing water, was the real end of the race, the delineating point at which I could return to my regular home, body, and life.

The weather in Jersey when we ran was in the mid-50s, with a cold wind blowing hard. We kicked off around 11:30 and crossed the finish line at 3:15, after stopping for 30 minutes to drop of two injured teammates at the first-aid station at mile 6. Volunteers told us that at least four ankles had been broken already at the monkeybars obstacle, and we saw others who fell wrong mid course or fell to hypothermia being carted away by ambulances that were standing by. Signs along the way taunted our determination with “you signed your death waiver already” and “you just completed a Warrior Dash” (at mile 4).

The Course

The course map tells part of the story, but running the track is another experience entirely. After running and climbing through a rope obstacle (easy!) you are asked to take the Chernobyl Plunge a dive into a pool of icey water with food colouring added (you get a choice of green/red/purple), submersion under barbed wire, and them up the other side of the pool where you clamber out. The water is chest-deep, refrigerated, and has ice cubes literally floating in it:

See that ice? SEE IT?

This sets the stage for your upcoming hypothermia. After shimmying across ropes strung across a lake, then climbing over 9 foot walls–teamwork required–you hit another obstacle, a 20 drop into the cold lakewater, followed by a couple hundred foot swim to the other side. You get out cold, wet, with the sharp winding blowing through you. But what’s coming is why you joined Tough Mudder–THE MUD!!!

I haven’t ever jumped from this high before

They call it “the mile of mud”, where you slog through waist/chest high slippery mud. After that, there’s crawling under barbed wire through mud, crawling through muddy pipes, crawling under a heavy net in mud, slogging up and down a dirtbike track, then sliding down a mud mountain!

Some of my favourite obstacles were the hay piles you climbed over (reminds me of Alberta’s rural landscape), and the balance beam over frigid water. I was warm and dry from the sun by this time and was extremely motivated to avoid falling in. My teammate did, but I made it across without an unnecessary dousing! The fire obstacle was running between two sets of fires, and through the smoke, but not actually overtop of any fire, so I thought that was a bit lame. I also didn’t get electric shocked!

Tough Mudder Tips

  • Dress for the event. Running leggings (like these CW-Xs) help immensely with the cold and sliding through mud. Wear a long sleeved shirt that doesn’t soak up moisture–not cotton. Bare skin is a no-no.
  • It wouldn’t hurt to wear a swimming cap, but goggles are useless in mud
  • Take the obstacles slowly and carefully, as your shoes are heavy with mud and slippery. You don’t want a nasty fall or scrape.
  • Help others on course! They will help you too!


One thing that struck me was the team spirit present. While people are there to push themselves hard, it’s not an individual event, it’s more of a team sport. At every obstacle, other racers are there helping people up the high walls, pulling them up the halfpipe, or lending a hand at the end of the inclined submerged tunnels:

I enjoyed helping others through some of the harder obstacles as much as I enjoyed completing the race on my own. The feeling is completely different than running a competitive pure-running race, for time, where everyone is only out for themselves. Tough Mudder brings out humanity’s cooperative and compassionate nature. I heard nothing but encourgement shouted out to myself and others the whole track, tips and muscle freely given.

Tough Mudder and Beyond

Tough Mudder will mark you for life. Even after you’ve washed off the superficial mud, cleaned and healed your scrapes and bruises, warmed up and changed into new clothes, even running other races, you won’t be able to forget that you once ran 12 miles on a cold windy day fearing the worst and made it. Now that I’ve run Tough Mudder, I’m no longer afraid to take the next challenge. I can do anything!

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