Friday, November 23, 2007

Yes, in Myanmar, Big Brother Is Watching

Journal: Big Brother in Burma | Newsweek International | Newsweek.com By Lennox Samuels | Newsweek Web Exclusive | Nov 21, 2007 | Updated: 2:49 p.m. ET Nov 21, 2007 "In a land of government lunacy, residents need official permission to use the phone and to travel across town. An on-scene journal from beleaguered Burma.

The ramshackle taxis that clog downtown Rangoon look ready for the scrap heap. No American auto dealer would offer more than a few hundred dollars for any of these aging and shabby cars, but here, in this impoverished nation, the drivers have paid up to $20,000 for the privilege of ownership. The reason: ordinary Burmese say they are not allowed to import or buy new cars. That's the prerogative of diplomats, foreign-company employees, the fortunate rich and, of course, the military regime."


I have commented before on the "fun" happening in Myanmar But this is just insane. Broken down rust bucket cars cost $20,000. "Internal visas" costing $10 just to cross the street. Cell phone SIM's for $1,500, if you're patient enough to wait the few years it takes to get it. Or you can shell out $2,500 on the black market. This is even worse than North Korea.

I wish that all those people descrying the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan could spend a few weeks in Myanmar or North Korea. While I may feel that the methods and stratagems used in the current UN military aren't the best they could be, it is imperative that the world keep this kind of totalitarianism as contained as possible.

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Despite filters, tidal wave of spam bears down on e-mailers


Despite filters, tidal wave of spam bears down on e-mailers - USATODAY.com By Jon Swartz, USA TODAY SAN FRANCISCO — "Why, in 2007, is spam worse than ever? Let exasperated consumers count the ways: PDF spam. MP3 spam. Pump-and-dump spam. E-card spam.

It may sound like a broken record, but spam continues to do just that — break records. This year marks the first time the total number of spam e-mail messages sent worldwide, 10.8 trillion, will surpass the number of person-to-person e-mails sent, 10.5 trillion, according to market researcher IDC. "


Spam sucks. But at this point in the evolution of the 'Net most of the methods that spamers use are are pretty well covered with one exception.

Microsoft.

Just about all the spam I catch through my filters comes from systems running Microsoft Windows. Somewhere around 85% of all spam comes from Microsoft systems that have been turned into zombies. If it were possible to take every MS system offline the spam volume would fall to a trickle. This, of course, isn't going to happen.

Billy Boy and the Microsoft Marketing Juggernaut have convinced everyone that spam is a problem caused by the Internet. "Internet worms, viruses & spam" rather than the more accurate fact that it is Microsoft which is the overwhelming cause for this scourge.

Thankfully there are alternates available. Apple's is one of the better options for people who don't want to muck about with their system. Point-n-click at it's best. The new line of Mac's have broken its single biggest problem, cost.

If you want power and flexibility, and like not having to pay for it, then Linux is a great option. You can get versions (known as Distros in the community) that are as simple and clean as the Mac all the way up to high-end massive clustering supercomputers. The ability to play with the innards is always available for those who might like to tinker all the way up to serious, complex system or applications programming. Plus the support for Linux is better than that for which you find with any other platform.

Using either of these options would cut the spam down to nearly nothing. That would be nice, wouldn't it?

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Perspectives on Murder and Crime

I came to the Washington DC Metro area back in the summer of 1988. As the rest of the year progressed murders became a top news item. The murder total was on course for a "murder a day" pace. By the end of the year the count was somewhere around 365 or 366. In 1989 the murder total was over 400. This isn't an astonishing number compared to New York or LA, but for DC it's comparatively high. This was during the Marion Berry era.

Fast forward 20 years and the murder rate in DC is again in the news. The current murder count in DC (as of this morning) stands at 169. That's the same amount for all of 2007. So why is the media presenting the same coverage for two completely different numbers? Perception.

Since the time around '88 to '90 the murder rate in DC has been falling. The District has had a few different mayors over the years (including Marion Berry, who was reelected after his release from prison) and a lot of work has been done to build up the police and clean up the crack houses. The US Capitol is a much safer place than it was two decades ago. But when the murder rate starts raising it is not something that goes unnoticed. Yet still, why the same coverage and concern for a rate less than half of what it was back then? Again, perception.

DC was, back in the late 80's and early 90's, a city that was renowned for it's crime. Crack was practically flowing down the streets and there were placed in DC where even the Mafia feared to tread. Now, it's so much better it's like coming out from under a dark cloud. The city is not crime free, but then what city is?

So where did the crime go? To the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. In the last decade a gang has risen to take over the crime trade. They are MS-13. These guys make the Bloods and the Crips look like Boy Scouts. But while MS-13 is cutting off kids hands for looking the wrong way, the District much safer due to all the work that went into cleaning it up.

Well then, what's the point of this post?

That focusing on murder rates without matching crime stats is misdirected. And the way the local & state governments look at and handle crime, especially murder, is misconceived. You can't get a handle on these things unless every police jurisdiction works together in a seamless way. Back in the Old Country this problem didn't exist because there was only one police force for the whole country. It handled all the city, state and national needs for a police force. Obviously this can't be implemented in the US. But more effort should be put into building a system where all emergency services are linked together and share data. We saw the need for this on 9/11 but since then the effort is losing steam.

Is it going to take another disaster on the scale of 9/11 to make this happen? I certainly hope not.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pakistan's Bhutto detained ahead of mass protest

Pakistan's Bhutto detained ahead of mass protest - Yahoo! News By Kamran Haider and Sophie Walker Mon Nov 12, 4:36 PM ET
LAHORE/LONDON (Reuters) - "Pakistani police put opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest for a week on Tuesday as the Commonwealth threatened suspension unless President Pervez Musharraf repealed a state of emergency."

More fun in the East. It seems like the stretch of land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Japan is just boiling with protests, martial law and near government collapse. What gets me is how a large part of the US body politic is whining and moaning about Iraq but ignores the equally distressing and dangerous things happening in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, etc.

Seems people the world over just can't see past their noeses.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

It's Election Day! Who gives a hoot!

Prologue:
This may seem like a rant against politics but it's not. Well, not entirely.

Today was an off-year election day in the US. Off-year being one where there isn't a Presidential election. Historically these elections have relatively low turnouts. Unfortunately I was part of the no shows this year. I wanted to vote. I just wasn't healthy enough today to get there.

Watching all the commercials that lead up to an election it's a wonder why anyone votes anymore. Nothing but attack ads, "miss-truths" and "disinformation" pouring out of the media outlets. I can't say lies because the campaigns don't actually cross the line. They come within nanometers though. For me, the last decade or so has done a lot to dishearten me and makes it more and more difficult to vote.

As it stands right now, I see the political landscape as so...
  • Democrats/Liberals
  • Republicans/Conservatives
  • Everyone else
The "Everyone else" group runs the gambit from serious organizations to the whacked-out nut jobs. I do not seriously see the rise of credible a third party anytime in the foreseeable future. Thus, in practical terms, we're left with the two party system.

Democrats and Republicans have been around for the length of the US's society. The only time anyone even hears about the Wigs and the Tories is in American History classes. But unless some extremely drastic event happens, we'll have the Dems and the GOP. But enough background; let's get to the meat.

Right now the two parties can be easily summed up by the following descriptions. The Republicans are wrong and the Democrats are clueless/useless. While there has always been dirty politics in the US, often times making the fights between the parties today seem like a love affair, there's something different about the political system that's grown over the last half-century.

Money has always been the backbone of politics, going back to the earliest recorded history no doubt. But the thing that has changed recently is the speed and scope of information dissemination. We can now follow the election results in real time. Get the latest and greatest projections right to our cellphones if we desire. The current electoral system was created back in the 1700's because getting information collected was difficult at best and next to impossible at worst. No TV, no radio, no phones (no lights no motorcars) so there couldn't be an election based on popular vote. It would take years for even the original thirteen states to get a count. That's why they setup the whole ground-up system. One town or village holds their election. Whoever wins there a single vote for that candidate is taken up to the county level. All of those votes are counted and the candidate with the most is chosen to go up to the state level. There the process is the same and after the counties are tallied up the state sends their vote to the actual election. That's one vote. As the nation grew and the population expanded this process was refined into what we have today in the Electoral College. This system is how you can have a President elected by a landslide yet still not carry 50% of the popular vote.

The bottom line is that there are 51 total votes in a Presidential election. This is how the two parties keep everyone else out of the game. And that "everyone else" includes the public.

The citizens of the US who cast their vote believing it could make a difference. To understand how this happens have a short discussion about politics with someone (preferably not your family or friends unless you all vote the same). My ex-Mother-in-Law was a prime example. She voted Democrat. She didn't care who was running or what issues they campaigned about. If it was a Democrat she voted for them. If Hitler were running on the Democratic ticket she'd vote for him. My family isn't as bad, they at least pay some attention to the issues, but they normally end up voting Republican. You will find the same kind of voters no matter where in the US you go. And they'll be the majority of voters, too. Now ask why they voted the way they did. You may get a list of reasons but they're all superficial. When you dig down the reason for voting will be to keep the other party from gaining (more) power.

I was born in Germany and spent 16 of my first 25 years of life living in Europe. My parents were non-military American citizines and so am I. Living outside the US can give you a different and, I believe, clearer perspective on politics. The US political system is broken and corrupt. However, three or four years ago, a former co-worker of mine described it as "perfectly flawed". There is also a line from the TV show Law and Order that fits to a T.
"Democracy is the worst for of Government there is; except for everything else."
Because when you get down to brass taxes, as bad as you think the system is, it's so much better than everything else. And I've seen a LOT of else's.

So, even if you do feel like me; if you know your vote doesn't really make any difference; you must still get out and vote! The system does have the ability to correct it's problems and improve on itself. But only if everyone votes. Change doesn't just happen. You have to make it happen.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Microsofts greatest PR success

It's no secret that Microsoft has one of, if not the, greatest marketing entities in the world. Bill Gates was not an actual programmer of any significance, but a brilliant marketing master. That's why, even with the prevalence of superior alternatives, the vast majority of systems run Microsoft software of some kind (if not exclusively).

Some in the techie world debate over what the greatest marketing success the fellows in Redmond have made. Some say it's the deals with the OEM's and VAR's to have MS software preinstalled on their systems. Others say it's the applications. Still others point to data formats. However, I think it's something more subtle.

The greatest PR success for Microsoft was convincing the media and users that all viruses (and other security exploits) be called "Internet viruses" and not labeled, as they truly should be, "Microsoft viruses."

Now, my intent here is not to get into a religious flame fest over who's OS is best. Any IS/IT professional worth his salt knows that all operating systems suck, all apps are dangerous and all network systems are just a disaster waiting to happen. But the "normal" user doesn't know this. They don't even know that anything exists outside of Microsoft's domain. Oh, they probably have heard of Mac's from the cute ads on TV and they may have heard of this Lee-nooks or Ly-nuks or some such. But they don't know anything about them because their computer came with Windows and MSIE and Outlook and MS Office, etc, etc, etc. And that's all fine and dandy. While the practices that Microsoft uses are less than fair, the bottom line is they have the clout and they are using it.

But if the users ever knew that all the hacks, cracks, viruses and worms could be drastically reduced, or even completely avoided, by running non-Microsoft software do you think the software landscape would be different? I do. I do because when it comes down to it, users just want to use their computers to do stuff. They don't want to worry about stolen passwds and personal information, viruses destroying their data or spambots turning their computers into self replicating zombies. They also don't like being bothered with patches and upgrades that consistently break things.

Viruses, worms, rootkits and trojans all exist for every OS and every app there is. But when you have a system with at least a halfway decent amount of security built-in from the beginning, wouldn't you be interested in checking it out? Imagine what it would be like to practically never have any "Internet viruses" to contend with.

Wouldn't that be a nice place?

Friday, November 02, 2007

US tops list of world's most competitive economies

Amid gloom and doom, US tops list of world's most competitive economies
By Nate Anderson | Published: November 02, 2007 - 11:17AM CT

Outsourcing? Check.
Alarmingly low math and science prowess in education? Check.
Plenty of lobbyist abuse and special interests? Check.
Really weak telecom infrastructure? Check.

Most competitive economy on Planet Earth? Uh, check.


An interesting conclusion can be seen in this post from Ars Technica. It reminds me of when Clinton the 1st had his little "It's the economy, stupid" quip. Stocks are down, home foreclosures are through the roof (pun intended) and holiday sales are projected to be lower than last year.

My ex brother-in-law, we'll call him Bill, works in the financial business. I'm not sure what he does but I know he's all into buying and selling stocks. Many, many moons ago I proffered my postulation on world economics to him. My personal theory is that there are 12 old white guys somewhere in Switzerland who sit as an oval table and play at manipulating everything for their own amusement.

"Hey, I feel like making the price of oil higher today. What do you guys think?"
"Maybe we can undermine the world banking system and watch everyone scramble around; like stepping on an ant hill."
"Oh wouldn't that be fun!"

Needless to say ol' Bill was incensed. He got all flustered and started explaining market trends and blah blah this and blah blah that. It's like the time I mentioned how the real estate business is a con game within earshot of a realtore. Man, I never saw anyones face turn so red. You could almost see the steam coming out of his ears. I wouldn't be surprised if all of these financial businesses were working together under some kind of Umbrella.

Then again maybe it's just the Illuminati.

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