Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Somalia begins enforcing martial law

Somalia begins enforcing martial law POSTED: 8:15 a.m. EST, January 31, 2007 MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - "Somalia's interim government has begun imposing martial law in areas under its control, the prime minister said, as rising violence threatens its tenuous grip on power."

More fun with martial law. First Thailand, then Sri Lanka, Fiji, and now Somalia. While everyone in the US is whining and crying about Iraq the rest of the world is halfway to anarchy. What with nukes in North Korea and Iran it seems that the crazy guy with the "End Of The World" placard might not be so crazy after all.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sweden to open first virtual embassy in Second Life

Sweden to open first virtual embassy in Second Life Tue Jan 30, 8:16 AM ET STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - "Sweden plans to be the first country to open an embassy in popular virtual world Second Life. The embassy will be called House of Sweden and modeled on the country's new embassy in Washington. It will open in a couple of weeks."

Ok, I admit it. I had never heard of Second Life until a week or so ago. I know, I know... I'm supposed to be some kind of tech expert or something. In my defense, my expertise is in running the servers and writing the programs that help run the servers. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I really am the worst "user" of the 'Net you'll ever see. But I digress.

The significance of this story is that the virtual world hinted at by Gibson and Stephenson is starting to coalesce. It has been slowly coming for years now. There are monetary transactions that happen in the real world and the virtual world simultaneously. There's been funerals held online for people who died in real life. This is but the next step. Having an official governmental representation in a virtual world brings the demarcation line closer and closer to our feet. When the technology to physically interact in the virtual world, technology loosely known as "Virtual Reality", we very well might find Count Zero waiting for us.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

N.Y. teacher barred for anatomy drawings

N.Y. teacher barred for anatomy drawings Sat Jan 27, 10:45 AM ET YONKERS, N.Y. - "A teacher has been barred from classes for having his seventh-grade students draw male genitalia on the blackboard during health class, school officials say.

The teacher, whose name was not made public, was assigned to administrative duties and Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio will ask trustees to fire him, Yonkers schools spokeswoman Jerilynne Fierstein said Friday."

Is it me or has Politically Correctness gone a bit overboard? The only thing this teacher did that I would have done different is to use pictures and models as opposed to having the kids draw. The reason being that it'd be better for them to draw once they had a model. I get why he did it that way, though. Have the kids draw to see if they had any knowledge of anatomy.

This is similar to the situation that happened a while back, as reported in Newsweek last March. A gay teacher was forced to resign not due to his sexual orientation but because he used the word "nigger" while teaching the kids about racial bigotry.

How can kids learn what is right and wrong if they aren't aloud to be taught the truth?

So You Want to Be a (Grrrl) Rock and Roll Star

So You Want to Be a (Grrrl) Rock and Roll Star By Jac Chebatoris Newsweek Updated: 10:33 a.m. ET Jan 26, 2007 - "But what really put a big smile on the faces in the crowd was not cool merch but an electrifying performance by a duo called Magnolia. Opening for a line-up that included the indie favorite Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Zora Sicher and Hugo Orozco, both 11-years-old girls, worked through their repertoire of self-penned songs, including “What Cha Gonna Do,” with Orozco playing punk power chords over a steady beat laid down by drummer Sicher (they switched instruments midset—very rock and roll)."

This is more significant than it would first appear. Having a camp for girls to learn music, their music, is as important as anything learned in school. We need the four R's; reading, 'righting, 'rithmetic & rock 'n' roll. It's likely you have seen the ads about keeping music programs in the schools. It really is that important.

Back in another life, while living in Germany, I was in a rock band. It was a family band; me, my two brothers and our sister. We played everything from Journey and Pat Benatar to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. We played local clubs, both US Military and German, a few beer fests, some parties and a special performance for the guys locked up in a place that is not on any map (can you say pershing missiles?). I'm ahead banger from way back.

It is wonderful to see girls being given the gift of music, especially rock 'n' roll.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A different perspective on the soldiers in Iraq

The issue of US soldiers in Iraq should be even hotter this year as the political climate tumbles and turns like a storm on the ocean. The marching has started and politicians are jumping in the ring to prepare for their presidential campaigns. But while the politicians and their constituents smash heads over their respective positions, there's something else going on that's rarely heard. What the soldiers in country are doing. Oh, we hear all about this convoy attached and that helicopter shot down and the like. But what about the other 98% of their time?

This is something that's already making the rounds on the 'Net. It needs to be emphasized as more than just an email chain letter, though. This picture and story are the reason why our soldiers are there. While the war administration has been quite fubar, the guys on the ground are trying to make things better.

You see, I grew up with military. I lived on Army and Air Force bases for the bulk of my youth. I've worked in and around the Department of Defense (DoD) for over 25 years. The politicians, generals and the rest of the big wigs have grandiose schemes and plans, but it's the grunts who catch the bullets. The people in the US need to see more of what the men & women in country are doing. Not just when they get shot. It would make a huge difference and might even lead to some actual changes that could actually mean something.

Now, I'm not advocating either side of the "War in Iraq" here. My political stance seems to be extremely rare in this world; I'm not a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian nor an Independent. My politics is based on common sense and, as Jefferson Smith put it, "a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too." This does, at times, put me squarely outside the political and economic systems of this nation. But call me Don Quixote 'cause I'll keep tilting at these windmills until the very end.

What else is there to do?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

First Snow Fall

We finally got the first snow of the season yesterday. It's nothing like what the Midwest was hammered with, we only got two or two-and-a-half inches. It snowed all day; small flakes in abundance. Needless to say my son was very happy. It would have been find if it weren't for the freezing rain overnight. That caused the schools to close. Of course this also made my son happy.

Living here in the Washington DC Metropolitan area is, at times, a bit strange. The people in the area are an interesting duality at times. The area is a strong liberal block yet they live their lives in ways that would make any conservative proud. Most of them consider themselves as "Northerners" yet live as "Southern" as any resident of Atlanta, GA or Charlotte, SC. Just a dusting of snow and most of the area shuts down.

That doesn't mean there hasn't been any serious snowfall here. There have been some major blizzards here. About a decade or so ago we got hit with three feet of snow with drifts over the top of two story houses. This was before my son was born. We lived, like many people, in the leaf of a suburb just up from a Cul de Sac. This is a place where snow plows rarely tread and we were snowed in for a week.

But as for me, personally, I am not fond of cold. Anything cooler than, say, 75°F/24°C is not for me. Keep the world between that and 95°F/35°C and I'll be quite happy. Winters in Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai) and summers in Italy (Riccione) on the Adriatic.


Sansa Express: Best cheap MP3 player yet?

Sansa Express: Best cheap MP3 player yet? POSTED Tuesday, January 23, 2007 - "SanDisk has just released what looks to be the finest USB-stick MP3 player yet, the Sansa Express, featuring a screen and simple controls yet keeping the size and price point at more than reasonable levels."

A couple of years ago I bought a refurbished iPod. It was a first gen one but still worked and let me have music on-the-go. Granted, I was almost never on-the-go. But it was still nice. I use the past tense verb of "was" because I have no idea where it is. Last April I moved and the guy who packed my stuff wasn't a real mover. He was the brother or brother-in-law of the owner. Now, it's possibly the thing could be in one of the many boxes that have yet to be unpacked but I'd need a psychic to find it.

The reason I relate this is because the Sansa Express [see specs] looks like it could be something I might actually be able to get, either as a replacement of the iPod or to tide me over until I do find it. I would have to futz with it to get it working. There's no way I am running any version of Microsoft Windows for anything. Ever. I'd have to do a little format juggling to get the songs from iTuens on the Mac to something on my Linux box but that's not difficult. If Apple, and the others, would refrain from using idiotic Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Trusted Computing crap it would make the world a much bettefiler place. And it would increase CD sales[pdf]. But I digress.

Bottom line, if you want a music player that can be carried on your key chain and don't mind having "only" 1 gig of storage then this is a nice little option available. Now, can someone front me the ca$h to get one? :-)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The real healing begins for mother of Iris Chang

Chung: The real healing begins for mother of Iris Chang By L.A. Chung Mercury News Columnist - "A new documentary, ``Nanking,'' initiated by AOL Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis, makes its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week. A bust of her [Ying-Ying Chang] daughter [Iris Chang] is being unveiled at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University this month. The first winners of the Iris Chang Memorial Essay Contest have been selected from a field of 290 entries. And a Canadian film company is working on Iris' story, ``The Woman Who Couldn't Forget.''"

More news following up on the Nanking movie. This should be an interesting year for movies relating to WWII.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mona Lisa Grave Found, Claims Scholar

Mona Lisa Grave Found, Claims Scholar: by Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News Jan. 19, 2007 — "The woman behind Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting may be buried near a now derelict building in the heart of Florence, according to archival documents.

The exact location of Mona Lisa's burial site, the convent of Sant'Orsola, was just a about 900 feet away from the house of the artist's father, according to the historian, Giuseppe Pallanti."

Maybe not earth shattering news but I think it's very interesting. I've actually seen the Mona Lisa portrait. It's even more fabulous in person than in any pictures ever published. It sat behind a specially tinted glass to preserve it. You also were prohibited from take flash pictures of it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Global Warming?

I am not an environmentalist. Nor am I an industrialist/capitalist. I believe we need to do everything we can to preserve nature and try to keep the pollution to as little as possible. However, I have never been a "tree hugger" by any means. I say all of this so that my position is relatively clear; I do not belong in any camp on the issue of global warming.

This morning I ran across a post on the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works website recounting the extreme tactics that "climate alarmists" are using to stamp out any Broadcast meteorologists (TV weatherman) who express skepticism about man made global warming. It seems that some in the meteorological institution are calling for desertification of anyone who challenges the current party line. Skeptics are branded as being akin to "Holocaust Deniers" and should be subject to "Nürnberg-style war crimes trials" (I kid you not). To quote from the post -
"The Weather Channel’s (TWC) Heidi Cullen, who hosts the weekly global warming program "The Climate Code," is advocating that the American Meteorological Society (AMS) revoke their "Seal of Approval" for any television weatherman who expresses skepticism that human activity is creating a climate catastrophe."
It seems to be that when people go all psychotic and start referencing Nazi symbolism they are so far off the grid it's ridicules.

But don't just take my word for it. Read the whole post, including the reference links in it. Make up your own mind.

China Successfully Tests Space Weapon

China Successfully Tests Space Weapon Irene Klotz, Discovery News Jan. 18, 2007 — "China last week successfully tested a system that can destroy spacecraft, sending notice to the United States that it will not be the only country to be able to protect its satellites and spacecraft in orbit."

Everyone is building up their war machines it seems. Iran, North Korea and now China. The article says, "U.S. officials have expressed concern over the test." Heh, no duh.

A U-turn on warrantless wiretaps

A U-turn on warrantless wiretaps By Shaun Waterman Jan 18, 2007, 17:51 GMT WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- "In an astounding U-turn, the Bush administration says it will end its much-touted program of warrantless phone-taps of suspected terrorists, opting instead for secret orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which would allow the monitoring to take place under judicial supervision and review."

Wow. Looks like someone somewhere has a modicum of common sense. There's got to be a few people in the country that don't want to see an Orwellian world. Many people say that these kind of tactics are necessary to "stop terrorism." Blah! There is nothing that can't be done within the realms of staying within the boundaries of civil rights. The need for these draconian measures is only to consolidate power away from the people. You know the people I mean.

"We the people"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Oh how happy I am to be living here

I live in the great state of Virginia in these here United States. I'm a transplant, or a carpetbagger as they used to say. But I have been here for going on 18 years now. I have commented on occasion about the things that happen here but this one nearly takes the cake.

Many people might know about how several of the 9/11 hijackers got drivers licenses from the Virginia DMV. Now, five years later, we see that things are no better off. Seems that "two men have been issued Virginia driver's licenses, even though they were wearing outlandish disguises when they had their pictures taken at the Department of Motor Vehicles." There's even videos are on-line.

Read (and watch) it all for yourself. And the truly ridiculous thing about it all is that we are doing al-Qaeda's work for them. They don't need to blow anything up anymore. We're destroying the very fabric of this country ourselves.

Bruce Schneier on Automated Targeting System

What is an Automated Targeting System? As Mr. Schneier writes,
"If you've traveled abroad recently, you've been investigated. You've been assigned a score indicating what kind of terrorist threat you pose. That score is used by the government to determine the treatment you receive when you return to the U.S. and for other purposes as well."
So what's wrong with that?
"Curious about your score? You can't see it. Interested in what information was used? You can't know that. Want to clear your name if you've been wrongly categorized? You can't challenge it. Want to know what kind of rules the computer is using to judge you? That's secret, too. So is when and how the score will be used."
In this age of terror and fear what's so bad about keeping tabs on people? It'll help make us safe, right?
"...any system like this will generate so many false alarms as to be completely unusable. In 2005 Customs & Border Protection processed 431 million people. Assuming an unrealistic model that identifies terrorists (and innocents) with 99.9% accuracy, that's still 431,000 false alarms annually.

The number of false alarms will be much higher than that. The no-fly list is filled with inaccuracies; we've all read about innocent people named David Nelson who can't fly without hours-long harassment. Airline data, too, are riddled with errors.
Maybe some people these days don't understand what this means. It's not something new. It was used many times in the past.
"There is something un-American about a government program that uses secret criteria to collect dossiers on innocent people and shares that information with various agencies, all without any oversight. It's the sort of thing you'd expect from the former Soviet Union or East Germany or China. And it doesn't make us any safer from terrorism."
Think this is just alarmist propaganda? I got some swamp land in Florida for sale, too.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Long live the Mainframe

This story about how analysts from the Butler Group in England are predicting a growth in adoption of Big Iron is interesting for many reasons. The one that is pertinent to me is that I've been saying basically the same thing since the early 90's.

You see, first the Mainframes were dead because Client/Server architecture was the new way. When that crashed and burned (and it was a spectacular crash 'n' burn, too) the web started taking off. Now it's all about migrating off of the monster machines to clusters of server class systems. Sun was even marketing it's big @$$ server as a mainframe.

But the tech world is finding out that even with clusters and load balancing and Linux they still can't crunch data as well as a Mainframe can. They are even finding out that, gasp, COBOL is the best language for most of the data manipulation in the world.

All I can do is to imagine that my voice was one that people could hear. The IT world would be in MUCH better shape now.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

U.S. warns about Canadian spy coins

"U.S. warns about Canadian spy coins
By TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writer Thu Jan 11, 4:16 AM ET

WASHINGTON - Money talks, but can it also follow your movements?

In a U.S. government warning high on the creepiness scale, the Defense Department cautioned its American contractors over what it described as a new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

More fun with RFID. The technology is interesting and can have some very good uses but the way that TPTB are using them to curtail more and more freedoms is bad enough. Now we have to contend with the possibility of nefarious "foreign entities" doing all kind of monitoring and tracking and stuff.

The more DRM and Copyright/Patent crap and the uses of tech like RFID there is the more I think that George Orwell was an optimist.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

General Wants Gay Ban Lifted

"General Wants Gay Ban Lifted | January 03, 2007
In an op-ed published in Tuesday's New York Times, John M. Shalikashvili, retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says Congress should give "serious reconsideration" to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the ban on openly lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel. Shalikashvili, who supported the ban on open service in 1993, writes that "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces," and goes on to say that "Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

I knew General Shalikashvili back when I lived in Nürnberg. He was a really good leader and a very smart man. He was also one of the ones on-the-ground in country during the first Gulf War.

Now, I doubt that the Military will ever become an enlightened organization anytime soon. There's way to much testosterone inherent in the culture. Having grown up and lived with the Military I know their reactions to this issue. The funniest thing in the world, though, is when they say that the reason is because they don't guys them hitting them. "I don't want some fag hitting on me in a foxhole." This reasoning is, to anyone with more than two braincells to rub together, absurd. First off, if you're in a foxhole with anyone you're going to be dodging bullets. Who's going to make a pass on anyone when you're under fire. Second, and more importantly, who the hell says that you'd even be moderately attractive to anyone, male or female. If I were hit on by a gay man I'd personally take it as a compliment. It means I'm at least attractive to someone. None of the my gay friends have ever hit on me, though. <sigh>

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tang Dynasty Crippled by Weather Shift

"Jan. 4, 2007 — The Tang dynasty, seen by many historians as a glittering peak in China's history, was brought to its knees by shifts in the monsoon cycle, according to a study."

This stuff is fascinating. My son and I have been watching Naked Science and Nova lately and they've been discussing the evolution of the planet and solar system. Seeing how the weather patterns affected the past can be an interesting indicator to what might be coming. And what might be coming could be some not-so-fun times.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

More "tolerance" in the world

In 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that "gays have a constitutional right to marry." Since then many marriages have been performed. However, the reason gay marriage was ruled lawful is because there is no law specifically banning it. Thus, the legislature has decided to put it to a vote to kept alive a proposed constitutional amendment making gay sex illegal.

For the life of me I still can't figure this out. What the hell does gender have to do with love? Allowing same sex marriages has no impact or affect on anyone else. At all. The best I can come up with is that acknowledge gay marriage means accepting homosexuality.

May the gods help us.