Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Psychology of Security

Bruce Schneier, of Crypto-Gram fame, has written an essay (available in HTML and PDF) "exploring how psychology can help explain the difference between the feeling of security and the reality of security."

Most people don't understand the significance of the psychological aspects of how we treat the world around us. Security is one area that is especially miscast in the minds of people. The example of flying vs driving is probably the most obvious. The odds of you dying in a plane crash are astronomically smaller than being killed in a car crash. But people who are afraid to fly think nothing of jumping in the car and driving downtown.

The magnitude that psychology impacts how secure we truly are can not be understated. From personal security all the way up to national/global security, how safe we are might very well be based on incorrect assumptions that are, in fact, preventing real security measures from being implemented.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Frogs' Sex Changed by Pollutants

Frogs' Sex Changed by Pollutants Marlowe Hood, AFP Feb. 27, 2007 — "Frogs that began life as male tadpoles can be changed into females by estrogen-like pollutants similar to those found in the environment, according to a new study.

The results may shed light on one reason up to a third of frog species around the world are threatened with extinction. The study is set to appear in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in May."

Anyone who's seen Jurassic Park can tell you what happens when frogs switch gender. But the chemical effects of our sludge can have even more of an impact than tipping androgynous frogs.

Many years ago I saw a report on some science blurb that found the frogs living close to the factories which produce cans for food were all being born female. Some extensive testing was done on the frogs & the water and found that the chemicals used to coat the food storage cans that keeps the contents from spoiling, like those which hold soup and such, killed the sperm which carries the Y chromosome in men. Thus only girls were being conceived. Anecdotal evidence for this is the proliferation of baby girls that just about everyone I know are having. Also, when I saw this report, I cut way back on eating food from cans for years. In 1996 we had a baby boy. Proof? No. But that doesn't mean the research findings aren't worth considering.

If you are planning on having children someday, make sure you have the male partner (be it you or your other) abstain from canned goods as much as possible if you want a boy. Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. But it can't hurt.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Q&A: How How Kids Learn Prejudices, Stereotypes

Q&A: How Kids Learn Prejudices, Stereotypes - Newsweek Health - By Anna Kuchment Updated: 1:05 p.m. ET Feb 26, 2007 - "How do children respond to stereotypes about race, religion and gender? A child-development expert looks at contradictions in kids’ behavior."

This is an interesting bit of research. Some of the conclusions are, like, Duh. But the relationship between groups and stereotypes is something worth knowing about. Especially the way the group dynamics evolve as the kids got older.

Anyone who can remember high school and/or has kids has plenty of exposure to this. It's just that most of us didn't grok the reality of the dynamics as opposed to the perceived dynamics. My personal experience is one that is probably not as uncommon as we might hope.

When I was very young, preschool & kindergarten, I moved 5 times before I was 5 years old. This included 2 trips over the Atlantic from Germany to the US and back. After that I spent the early elementary years in Germany and Italy. I also had rheumatic fever when I was 5 so for many, many years I was quite sickly. Due to being on the outside of every possibly group I was shunned by pretty much everyone. By the time I was in 4th or 5th grade we were now in the US. From that time until I got to high school I was the kid everyone picked on. I got the crap beat out of me on a near daily basis. It was so bad that sometimes the teachers would treat me this way. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to social assimilation. Needless to say this attributed to me having an inferiority complex the size of Gibraltar.

High school was when I started to climb out of this deep hole. We'd moved back to Germany and I started playing football. In the four years I went from 58th string JV to starting Varsity Center. I still got the picked on thing in high school but as I went through the years it became less and less. By my senior year I was part of the championship winning football team and was practically an athlete/coach in Track and Field. Got my first real girlfriend (but that's another story) and generally was considered "in." I wasn't in the "popular" click but they would at least acknowledge me.

In my psudo-university career I was in the "we sleep all day and smoke dope as much as possible while occasionally going out with friends" crowd. I was very popular in this group.

After University my work years were up and down but I had many friends in the different places we lived. We moved 10 times between '80 and '88. I was also in a rock band for most of this time so there were the perks from that. In '88 we came to the States and over the next few years I got married, advanced in my career field, bought a house, had a kid and all that domestic stuff.

Throughout this journey the social groups I've been involved with have changed and morphed and I slopped in and out of different ones at different times in my life. Now I have a young son and I have been conscious of his social group standing. He's doing far better than I ever did but I want to keep an eye on him. Being an only child of divorced parents living with a crippled father has made him a little bit spoiled. I don't want him to grow up as a bad seed. With the knowledge that this study gives I have a better chance to help him avoid becoming a serial killer.

I hope.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dungeons & Dragons Online Alignment Test

For those who have played D&D, here's a little bit of fun.

Have you ever wondered what your character alignment would be? You can use this form on one of your characters or try and see what your personal alignment might be. I keep fluctuating between Neutral/Neutral and Neutral/Good. When I play, though, my characters are either Chaotic/Good or Chaotic/Neutral.

Friday, February 23, 2007

U.S. court upholds same-sex teaching to children

U.S. court upholds same-sex teaching to children Sat Feb 24, 9:53 AM ET BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal judge in Boston has dismissed a suit by two families who wanted to stop a Massachusetts town and its public school system from teaching their children about gay marriage, court documents show.

When I read this I was nearly floored. Someone had a flash of reason? How did this slip through the net of bigotry and hate? The part that annoys me most is the reason for the frivolous suite;

"The families last year filed the suit asserting that the reading of a gay-themed book and handing out to elementary school students of other children's books that discussed homosexuality without first notifying parents was a violation of their religious rights."

You know what is a violation of my religious rights? Idiots. Can we get all the idiots thrown in jail maybe? Bunch of morons.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fun with the Italian Government

Looks like the legendary stability of the Italian government is as strong as ever. It's funny but Italy might be the only example of a country becoming less cohesive after unification. This brings to mind a comparison of the US and the rest of the world. Follow me for a bit...

It's been a while (going on 20 years) since I was there but I'm guessing that the country is still as beautiful and enjoyable as ever. If you have an income that's in a different currency than the Lire, that is. Yes, I know that the Lire is obsolete; replaced by the Euro. But the basic income hasn't changed that much over time. One USD is currently running at around 1,478.60 ITL (1.00 EUR = 1,936.27 ITL). If you take a SWAG and say an average income of $3.35/hr is not unreasonable, that comes to 198,045.60 ITL a week. Figure the cost of a loaf of bread at around 2,700 ITL you should be able to extrapolate the cost-of-living. (For comparison, an income in the US of $35K comes to about $15.63/hr)

What all this means is that the living situation in Italy is precarious at best. Even so it's miles above where the undeveloped nations are. Looking at things from a financial and political perspective will show you that US citizens really are very fortunate. So the next time someone starts ranting about how bad it is in the US due to the government or economy, think about where things are in comparison to the rest of the world.

Every day each citizen of the US should give thanks for their government and economy. As bad as some might claim, US citizens are far better off than anyone else in the world.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Security pros work to undo teacher's conviction

Security pros work to undo teacher's conviction Robert Lemos, SecurityFocus 2007-02-02 - "Researchers led by the head of a Florida anti-spyware firm aim to recreate what caused a Connecticut school's classroom computer to start displaying pornographic pop-ups in October 2004, an incident that recently led to four felony convictions for the substitute teacher involved."

This is one of those times when I wish I could bust a few heads. Sometimes I forget just how stupid people can be. If I were that teacher, once this idiotic conviction is overturned I'd sue the hell out of everyone; the school, the DA, the State, the jury... And I'd sue the living daylights out of Microsoft as well. Yes, I know that none of the suits would come to anything but it's the principle. This conviction makes Judge Roy Bean look downright Salomonesque. This is even worst that what happened to Randall Schwartz.

May the gods help us!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Anti-Semitic? You decide.

Here's a quote:
Chaim Weitzman:

Weitzman at the Zionist Congress in 1935, two years after Hitler rose to power: “I’m afraid that today we exchange the concept of rescuing Jews with the concept of liberation, because Zionism is a lasting life and the rescue of thousands of Jews is considered no more than temporary life next to Zionism.”
What does this say? You tell me.

There's a site on the web that has some very strong information which impacts the whole "War in the Middle East" thing. The site is True Torah Jews Against Zionism. It is a common belief in the west that Muslims have an anti-US agenda. But almost no one will claim that there's an anti-US agenda out of Israel. Saying anything negative about Israel or Judaism gets immediately labeled as anti-Semitic. Is there anti-Semitism in this world? Sadly, yes there is. There is hate for everyone from everyone. Whatever group you might espouse allegiance to there is another who wants you dead. But this kind of bigotry and antipathy does not form in a vacuum.

So what do you call Jews Against Zionism? Are they anti-Semitic? If so, how can they be if they are Semites themselves? All very good questions. Ones I do not have any answers to. However, I suggest that everyone go to their site and read what they have to say. Then go do some Google News and Yahoo! News searches. Make up your own mind.

Footnote: Before anyone gets any ideas, I am not pro-Palestinian or whatever. I am for common sense and reason and against hatred and bigotry.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fun with hacking

I recently ran across a website that has some very fun games on it. The games are all techie related and actually work towards building better security understanding in those who play them. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to break into a system then this is a good place to start.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Praying for a victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats

Seems that the Australian Prime Minister is unimpressed with the young presidential hopeful nor the Democratic political organization.

Politics. $DEITY how I really hate it.

Over the last few decades I have been feeling more and more uneasy about the political landscape in the US. My personal opinion is that we have three sides to the issue; Republican, Democrat & Independent. I see this triumvirate and feel fear for the future generations of the world. The Republicans are wrong in so many ways, especially dealing with Constitutional rights and technology & business. The Democrats are insane and clueless. Their only focus is to beat the GOP. They have nothing beyond that. And as for third parties; Libertarians, Socialists, Looney Toons... They are just background noise. The money of the two major parties keeps any real competition from evolving into something more than a footnote. The only other "party" that has any effect on elections is the Independent party. But their only contribution is to split the votes thus acting as a nullification agent during elections.

I wasn't always this cynical about our political system. Yes, it's always been a mess. A friend once called it a Perfectly Broken System. It's a mess but usually seems to work out in the end. Recently, though, I feel the broken part is overpowering any potential for reasonable results. We do need to rework our political system a bit. The elections process was designed in the late 18th century. The Electoral College is now more of a hindrance than help. The practice of adding disparate amendments to bills needs to stop. No sane person would accept adding an amendment to curtail the Bill of Rights onto a Bill for funding disaster relief. If Congress won't do something then at least having Line Item Veto power would be better than nothing.

The disheartening part is that I don't see things getting better. The politicians don't want change because the current system gives them power and money. The complete lack of common sense in the politicians and voting public is staggering. Most citizens don't know or care what happens and the groups that do only play to the political systems power base.

What's really scary is that even now our system of government is still the best on the planet. Is there any wonder the worlds so screwed up?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Comeliness vs Charisma

Comeliness - the quality of being good looking and attractive
Charisma - a personal attractiveness that enables you to influence others

Besides being two of the attributes one rolls for in Dungeons & Dragons, what is the significance of the two. What is the difference. And more importantly, which is a more valuable personality characteristic to possess. While these questions are, by definition, gender neutral, I would like to discuss them as they pertain to women. But first, the standard disclaimer:
I am a guy. I have been a guy for over 44 years. While I have known women throughout the span of my lifetime, like all men, I have never really known women. Therefor all of this is conjecture on my part.
Now that that's done, let's to it.

Do women who look attractive attain higher status than those who don't? The answer to that is, of course, yes. It's been known for quite a while that we, as humans, tend to favor attractive members of both genders. But how far can you get on looks alone? Can a woman with an abundance of charm, whit, intelligence and social skill achieve a high status? Let's take the two extremes and theorize some results.

1) A woman with exquisite beauty, like Sophia Loren or Halle Berry and an ordinary, pedantic personality
2) A woman with a plain, unspectacular appearance and the personality of a Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn

One way to judge this might be to look at historical and current women in positions of power. If we take a sampling do we find anything of interest?Here we have four powerful women who are, to put it politely, not known for their attractiveness. They are, however, powerful personalities. On the flip side of the coin, would someone like Paris Hilton or Anna Nicole Smith[2] be able to achieve positions of authority and power like the former? And what about women who have both great physical beauty and charismatic personalities? One would think that they would have the greatest potential of all. However, it seems that this is not the case. You don't find many drop dead gorgeous women in positions of great power. Why is that? Could it be that even with a Charisma of 15 or better, women who have high Comeliness scores are never seen in the same light as women with average (or lower) scores[3]? My belief is that this is, indeed, the case. Women can get so far on beauty but at a certain point, that very same beauty becomes a hindrance. This is the same phenomenon as the stereotypical "Dumb Blond" or "Dumb Jock" in my opinion. We, as humans, classify people by how they look more than anything else. It happens to both genders but it seems to me that women have it a bit harder in this area.

It would be intriguing to get the thoughts of some women on this topic. To bad only Erat and I read this blog.

[1] That article is the inspiration for this post.
[2] No, I'm not providing links. Google is your friend. Besides, you can't turn on the TV or radio without hearing about them or others of their like.
[3] Character ability scores in D&D are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma and Comeliness. They usually range from 3 to 18, discounting any modifiers.

Kathmandu: First snow in 63 years

Kathmandu: First snow in 63 years POSTED: 11:44 a.m. EST, February 14, 2007 - KATHMANDU, Nepal (Reuters) -- Snow fell on Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, for the first time in 63 years on Wednesday, stirring excitement and curiosity among residents and their children.

"I have never seen it snow in Kathmandu in all my life," said 45-year-old housewife Manju Shrestha, playing in the snow with her young children.

Don't tell the Global Warming Fascists about this.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine's Day Excursion

Looking for something unique and different for your Valentine? How about a trip to the zoo. Better get your reservation in soon.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Am I just out of touch?

Warning: This post discusses certain human anatomical aspects that might not be suitable for people who don't like that sort of stuff or those under the age of "not old enough." You have been warned.

Now that that's out of the way I want to talk about pubic hair.

"What?!? You want to talk about what?"

This is something that's been bothering me for a number of years now. It's come to the fore with the recent pictures of Britney and Paris (and rumors of Lindsay) all showing off their prized assets[1]. So what is it that is bothering me? Pubic hair. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof. Now shaving off ones pubic hair is nothing new. It's been around since the first razor-like tool was invented. But until recently it was something usually reserved for the fetish crowd. There were whole online communities devoted to shaving. But now it's gone mainstream. You can't find a strand of pubic hair on any of the women in porn these days[2] and, as mentioned above, the current fashion is for bare skin in the nether regions.

For me, this is not a turn on. Not in the least. This isn't to say I am against a well trimmed bikini line. But the bare skin look is just to prepubescent for me. I'm not a pedophile and don't get off on little girls. I have heard that one reason for shaving is better hygiene. This, in my opinion, is bullshit. Nature puts things on us in order for us to better survive. If it were better for us to be bald we wouldn't have anything there in the first place.

But the question that puzzles me is, am I just out of step with the normal cultural shifts happening? Am I just an old-timer who doesn't understand the younger generation? This is, of course, a very valid possibility. To be honest I didn't understand the younger generation when I was one myself. I wish I could do a survey and ask people about this. It would be interesting to see the responses broken down by gender and age group. But something like that would require more time and effort that I'm willing to give. Maybe Dr. Drew could do it.

Anyway, that's what's been niggling in the back of my mind for a number of months. Now that I've let it out hopefully it'll be less of a niggle. Maybe. Probably not.

[1] No, I'm not linking to any of them. Go run your own search.
[2] Admittedly I have seen very little porn produced after 2001 or 2002 so I'm no expert.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Court: No same-sex benefits from public universities, local governments

Court: No same-sex benefits from public universities, local governments Posted 2/2/2007 10:22 AM ET - LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Public universities and local governments can't provide health insurance to the partners of gay employees without violating the state constitution, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

A three-judge panel said a 2004 voter-approved ban on gay marriage also applies to same-sex domestic partner benefits.

What the hell is going through some peoples minds? Being stupid about the whole "church/marriage" issue is one thing. While I don't agree with it, I can see the side of people who are against it. But to now say that same sex partners can't have any partner benefits?!? That's just unconscionable.

If you are against gay marriage then don't marry a gay person. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it's got some inherent problems. Heh, next time I get married I'm making sure that she's heterosexual.

Anyway, I hope that in the not to distant future someone somewhere gets a clue and starts understanding that hate is not a beneficial thing. It does not produce any positive results. All it does is tear up the fabric of the world.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

No Child Left Untested?

No Child Left Untested? By Alexandra Gekas Newsweek Updated: 6:13 p.m. ET Jan 30, 2007 - "The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy announced last week that it will be holding four regional summits promoting random student drug testing in public middle and high schools."

When I was in high school I got busted one day with beer in class. Me and a couple of guys would go in the woods during lunch and drink some cans. It was stupid and I got suspended for it (and don't even ask what my folks did). I'd say I was under the influence for maybe 5 or 6 days that semester. And that was the total for my entire high school years. Remember, though, this was in Germany. The school was a DoDDS school so even though it was legal for me to drink on the economy I was still underage on US property.

But this is about as bad as things were then. Kids might be drinking beer or maybe smoking a little hash but that was about it. And this was during the 70's when the government testing wasn't as strict as it is now. Today, we have kids in elementary schools doing crack and huffing and ex and $DEITY only know what else. And along with the drugs come the weapons.

Not very long ago I was firm in my opinion that the idea of testing school kids, even high schooler's, was going to far. But now, I'm split. Random tests for people who are not under any obligation, contractual or otherwise, still rubs me the wrong way. But with a son not far away from middle school the potential for catching and addressing the drug distribution system in a school by doing tests would make me feel better. Intellectually I know that random testing isn't going to make a dent in the drug usage. But emotionally, I want everything and anything done that might even possibly protect my son.

Besides, drinking and getting high are supposed to be for collage.