Thursday, August 30, 2007

A loss of perspective

Yesterday, August 29th, was the second anniversary of hurricane Katrina's landfall on the gulf coast states. It was the worst natural disaster in the country's history. To many people died, over 1,800; to many left destitute. It was a great tragedy. And it was a spit in the ocean compared to what happened just seven months prior.

On December 26th, 2004 the second strongest earthquake in global recorded history caused the Indian Ocean to rise up and nearly obliterate parts of four countries. Almost 230,000 people were killed. That is a hair over 78% more than Katrina. The same as 127 Katrina's. But you don't hear much about that here in the US, do you. "It was tragic but it isn't our problem," is the basic frame of mind here. Now, I'm not making light of Katrina. Not at all. But this world is getting smaller and smaller by the year. What happens on the other side of the world affects us just as much as what happens in another state or neighboring country.

The problem is that the average citizen of the US has no perspective. None related to geography nor to history. A good example is the count of US military deaths in Iraq. The latest figures I have are 3735 dead. That's a lot of "our sons and daughters." But if you look at an historical perspective, it's a drop in the bucket as well. Some counts of a few well known wars from Twentieth Century Atlas - Casualty Statistics - United States might help:
Revolutionary War   25324
War of 1812 19,465
Civil War 618,222 combined (US: 360,222 - CS: 258,000)
World War I 116,516
Pearl Harbor 2,388
World War II 405,399 (1465 on D-Day alone)
Korean War 36,568
Vietnam War 58,177 (adjusted yearly with post-combat deaths)
The death of just one person in war, or anything much other than natural causes, is something I am against. But if you're going to quote numbers at least put them in perspective. You often hear the phrase, "Think Globally, Act Locally." But 99% of the time people forget the first half of that quote.

I'm not about to claim that I am the embodiment of Think Globally, Act Locally. I'm lucky if I can think period. But I do have a little more awareness of what's happening in the world, probably due to growing up in Europe.

I wish there were an easy way to help make the world more aware of what really matters but the best we can do is try.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hard times ahead

I have just five more days with my son before school starts. This year he'll be living with his mother while in school. For the last four years he's been living with me[1]. This is going to take some getting used to. It's a good thing, really. He'll get to spend more time with his mother and I'll get a bit more rest (and maybe a bit more accomplished). If I can get back into programming like a professional, or something, maybe I can get a freelance job or the like. I'll definitely be able to contribute to the Linux and Open Source worlds.

But still, not having him around usually makes me feel like staying in bed 'till he comes back. I'll have to do something to motivate myself every day. If I can scrounge up some extra ca$h I do need more RAM for my desktop computer. Hoping to get a 1GHz chip (or maybe even 2GHz) for it. I'll still see him on all minor holidays and every other weekend. It's just going to feel funny.

Ok, that's enough. My sinuses are killing me so I'm going to take a boat load of meds and it's off to bed.

[1] The funny thing is that it was her idea for this arrangement.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Study: Fears Over Kids' Safety Online Misplaced

One of the flood of newsletters I get every week is from the US Internet Industry Association[1] (USIIA). This week it had an interesting blurb about the safety of children on the 'Net. This is a hot button issue with an overabundance of groups and organizations decrying the state of the online world. If you believe them, every person online is a pedophile or sociopath. Everyone of "us" is trying to lure children to their doom. They quote all kinds of numbers at you and ask for donations so they can "Save the Children." Now, I've been doing this online gig in various forms for going on 20 years. There's a plethora of smut mongers, sickos and all kinds of nasty things out there. But is it really as bad as they say?

For many years I have said that if you want your kids to be "safe" from this kind of stuff you need to, as parents, control their access. My son, who is 10 now, has been online for over half his life. He hasn't been anywhere on the Web without me being right there with him. As for schools, they are always going to be massively vulnerable to attacks as long as they continue to use Microsoft products. But vulnerable as schools may be and derelict as parents are in their parenting these days, the situation is not as dire as they would make you believe.

In this edition of the USIIA Newsletter it reported a study done by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) which seems to indicate that the danger has been, well, let's say disproportional to the hoopla surrounding it. To quote from the article:
a new study from the National School Boards Association suggests strongly that many of those fears are misplaced and that the overwhelming majority of kids have never had an unknown adult ask them for personal information.
That's not to say there aren't any incidences, but the "overwhelming majority" of kids have generally been cruising the 'Net undisturbed by the bad guys. It continues on with:
The NSBA study was carried out by surveying 1,277 students aged 9 to 17, 1,039 parents, and 250 school administrators with decision-making power over Internet policy
and that the study:
paints a picture of Internet safety that differs significantly from that commonly depicted by the mainstream media.
An interesting point is the disparity between what the kids are seeing and what the adults believe is happening. For example:
school administrators believe that social networking sites are a significant cause of problems for students. 52 percent of the districts surveyed said that students being free and easy with personal information online has been "a significant problem" despite the fact that only 3 percent of the students in the same study ever reported doing so. The NSBA notes that there is a similar disparity on the subject of cyberbullying.
The report concludes with a handful of recommendations, the most controversial of which is likely to be a suggestion that schools reexamine social networking policies. "Safety policies remain important, as does teaching students about online safety and responsible online expression," the studies authors note. "But students may learn these lessons better while they're actually using social networking tools."
You want to know my opinion? Parents should take responsibility for their children. Even when they're at school or camp or something. Teach them early on about what is proper and what to do if they ever should be accosted online. Knowledge is truly power. If the children have the knowledge of what's right and wrong they will have the power to keep from getting themselves into trouble.

That is, of course, until they get between the ages of 15 and 25. These are the years when all reason, logic and rational thought go right out the window.

[1] I would encourage everyone to join the USIIA. They have done more to protect the rights of Internet users than all the other organizations combined.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cause and Effect: Afghanistan

I was reading an article the other day and a funny thing struck me. The problems we are having with al Qaeda in Afghanistan is an effect whose cause was the Soviet invasion in 1979. Why? Let me tell you.

Afghanistan in the 70's was moving towards a progressive and modern culture. Much like India has. But then the Soviet Union decided to invade. The only real opposition was the Mujahideen. These "Freedom Fighters" gave rise to the Taliban after the Soviets got their butts kicked. (Many equate what happened to the USSR in Afghanistan to our experience in the Vietnam war. Wait, excuse me. The Vietnam "police action.")

Anyway, the point is that if the USSR hadn't invaded Afghanistan might have developed into a highly civilized and modern country. I say "might" because you can never know what an alternate history can become. But as it was, the hard line strict interpretation of Sharia law left the nation and culture bereft of any advancements of the 20th century. This ignited the so called fundamentalist Muslim factions to spread across the Middle East. Thus we are dealing with al Qaeda and all the insane groups in Iraq. I say "insane" because none of these groups seems to have ever read the Qur’ān or the teachings of Muhammad.

After all, Allah is called "the merciful" for a reason.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dark Matter: All Wrong?

Dark Matter: All Wrong?
Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News

Aug. 3, 2007 — The mysterious dark matter that's been called on to make sense of the ways galaxies twirl through space may not exist, if an alternative theory is right.

But there is another radically different possibility: What if gravity itself doesn't work quite the way we think? Maybe at the outer edges of galaxies where the gravitational acceleration — the g — of a galaxy is extremely small, gravity tugs just a tad bit more.

I saw a show on PBS once that talked about Dark Matter and Dark Energy. It was fascinating stuff. Now with this new theory there's even more to dig up. Science is really fun.

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Bush Signs New Spy Law For Telecommunications

[Trying to get back into a normal blogging life]

From the US Internet Industry Association (USIIA) bulletin August 6, 2007 Volume 07:29 -
President George W. Bush yesterday signed into law a
hastily-passed extension to the law permitting the federal
government to operate surveillance on Internet traffic
in the United States without a warrant.

Though adopted quietly, the new legislation will
significantly expand the legal limits on the government's
ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail
messages going in and out of the United States.

The new law also provides a new a legal framework for much
of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted
in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that
is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen
to the private communications of American citizens.

Previously, the government needed search warrants approved
by a special intelligence court to eavesdrop on telephone
conversations, e-mail messages and other electronic
communications between individuals inside the United States
and people overseas, if the government conducted the
surveillance inside the United States.|

By changing the legal definition of what is considered
"electronic surveillance," the new law allows the government
to eavesdrop on those conversations without warrants as
long as the target of the government's surveillance is
"reasonably believed" to be overseas.
Go to the USIIA web site and read more about this, and many other issues that are critical to today's online world. And while you're there you might think about joining. This organization is the only one that actually has an impact on Congress.