Archive for November, 2004

Now, THAT’S religious persecution

November 30, 2004 1 comment

BBC News: Pakistani gets life for blasphemy
Iqbal Ahmad, a member of the Ahmediya community, was found guilty of being disrespectful to the Prophet Muhammad in a mosque near Faisalabad.

Mr. Ahmad joined the Islamic Ahmediya sect, which seems to have been the wrong flavour for his accusers.  They found his brand of devotion violated the constitutional amendment passed 30 years ago that declared the sect “beyond the faith.”  He now faces life imprisonment.  His lawyers are appealing the verdict.

Our culture-war election saw a lot of hyperbole about how fundamentalists were taking over the country and pushing us toward a theocracy.  In light of what happened to Mr. Ahmed, it certainly is worth asking how far down that road we want to go.  After all, the wall of separation between church and state (a phrase invented by Thomas Jefferson, BTW) has worked pretty well so far.  At least, no religion, or religious person, suffers from it.

But I would like to see us all take a break from tossing rhetoric-bombs at each other to discuss: is there a qualitative similarity between what happened to Mr. Ahmed and the current climate here?  If so, is the answer to stifle religious speech by government employees, or is it more tolerance on both sides?

No one ever sees themselves as being intolerant.  But ask yourself how it would be received if a teacher didn’t pledge allegiance to the flag for reasons of personal ethics.  Would that be respected in your community, or would that be the beginning of the end for that teacher?  Likewise, does the freethinking community jump on every use of the word “God” in a public context like a doberman on raw steak?

Hmmm… Wonder if Mr. Ahmed has any thoughts about religious tolerance now?  It’s entirely possible his only regret is that his side isn’t in power.  I wonder.

Categories: Uncategorized

Cave-man CSS study

November 30, 2004 5 comments

I’m slowly picking my way through The CSS Anthology by Rachel Andrew, where I’m learning how web page formatting is done in the way-cool near-future. 

You can see little changes, like my misty-blue links that light up when you hover over them with the mouse. (Hopefully they’re readily identifiable as links, while not as clunky as the old “blue-underline” standard.) But major DOF site design changes with a graphically distinct look are just getting started.

CSS is fun!  It makes so much more sense than the old raw-HTML formatting way.

Categories: Uncategorized

Presidential pardons for gun-buying car thieves

November 29, 2004 6 comments

I’ve completely misjudged president George “W” Bush – he’s really an old softie.  Here’s a story that just warmed my heart:

As you know, Presidents often issue several pardons for no apparent reason right around Thanksgiving, along with a traditional pardon for a thanksgiving turkey.  Bush did this, and one of the people he pardoned has an interesting angle – he sought a presidential pardon in order to buy a gun.

Richard Morse stole a car in 1963 when he was almost late getting back to his Air Force base in Biloxi, Mississippi.  He served six months, was honorably discharged, and went on to live an exemplary life. 

But in 1998, he tried to buy a shotgun for his son at a Maine gun dealer.  The dealer checked Morse’s record, found he was a convicted felon, and refused to sell him the gun (as he was required to under the Brady bill.)  This didn’t seem right to Morse, a gun activist, and he took it mighty personally.  He began trying to clear his name, and this year his efforts finally led to The White House and a presidential pardon.

There’s just enough goofyness to this story to obscure the serious problem:  Morse was never convicted of a violent crime.  He has lived a good life and was never in trouble again.  Yet, he was lumped in with violent people in the record.  The law is not sufficiently discriminating: it says; “felony conviction.”

This means people convicted of a long string of misdemeanor assaults would be able to guy a gun, but an upstanding guy who 36 years previously had swiped a car purely for transportation gets held up.  It doesn’t make any sense.

Is there a way to make laws make sense?  Could we have a “Sense-making review committee” for laws as they make their way through the process before passage?

No word on whether the turkey was allowed to buy a gun, however.

Categories: News, observations

Movie review: The Incredibles

November 26, 2004 3 comments

I really liked Brad Bird’s 1999 The Iron Giant, a quirky animated tale about a boy and his giant robot.  When I first saw it at the historic Normal theater, I had no idea that Warner Brothers had botched the release, shutting out Bird from his labor of love.  But most likely now, WB is eating crow 3 meals a day as Bird’s Pixar film, The Incredibles mops up a well-deserved victory at the box-office. 

If you don’t normally go see animated movies, make an exception for this one.  Here’s the setup: after meeting every villain and hazard, the world’s superheroes are finally defeated and forced into obscurity by a barrage of lawsuits.  Somehow, that is so believable…

Mr. Incredible (who is married to Elasti-girl) whiles away his life as an insurance adjuster, a job he hates.  No superheroing is allowed anywhere.  It is an oppressive and suffocating premise that sets up the movie’s subtext of society’s “celebration of mediocrity.”  Again; believable because it is so familiar.

I’m not going to bore you with a bunch of details and irrelevant history: you can click on the links I’ve provided for that.  Just go see the movie!  After The Iron Giant I could easily have been let down but this movie lifted me up.  If you like smart, fun movies, it will lift you up, too.

Categories: Reviews

Long Weekend Tidbits

November 26, 2004 Comments off

Here are three things I’m enjoying thinking about right now:

1) Cold weather has come to the midwest, and my Lenox furnace is grumbling away keeping me warm.  Ever wonder where the natural gas comes from?  Well, from the ground, of course; but how does it get to your gas meter?  The complexity of that system is staggering and contains many sub-systems along the way.  Read about one of those sub-systems on Mostly Cajun.  It will give you a new appreciation for all the people behind your thermostat.

2) Next time someone tells you that American society is inherently violent and that we just have a sick culture, think about this report in BBC Online, about a spate of school violence in China, where there has been a string of stabbings, Columbine-style.  Only… with a twist: one fellow broke into a dormatory and stabbed 8 boys to death as they slept.  Is there a way to blame this on American culture?  You can bet someone will try.

3) Next time someone tries to have “Intelligent Design” (which is really Creationism in drag) introduced into your school’s biology program in the name of “fairness,” wrestle with the idea that “fairness” requires giving equal time to every ding-bat idea that someone wants to expose your kids to.  Over on Unscrewing The Inscrutable, a Thanksgiving-fed DarkSyd had time to explore the idea in depth.

Well, I’m off to pay bills and go see The Incredibles.  At least one of those should be fun – I’m betting it will be the movie.

Categories: Uncategorized

Thanksgiving and Snow pictures

November 25, 2004 Comments off

Back in ‘82, I had a job in a photo processing lab that catered to advertising photographers.  But the owner knew his bread would pick up a lot of butter if we also processed people’s snapshots as well, so we put in a drive-up window and several kiosks, and watched the 35mm rolls come rolling in.

I learned to expect several things: 

  • After the 4th of July, we would have a couple hundred rolls of pictures with the backs of people’s heads washed out by flash, and a tiny, blurry fireworks display in the middle of the picture.

  • After any major concert, we would have a couple hundred rolls of pictures of the backs of people’s heads washed out by flash, and a tiny stage in the middle that may or may not have been the featured performer’s act.
  • After the first snow, we’d get several hundred rolls of pictures of… well, pictures of grey snow, as if it was the first time anybody had ever seen snow up in the mountains of East Tennessee.  But snow isn’t grey.

You know that snow is white; so do I and so does a five-year-old child.  But cameras back then did not know that snow is white…

Read More…
Automatic exposure systems tried to make pictures that averaged out to 18% grey.  For most pictures, that was fine.  Green foliage works out to that density, as do most scenes.  But snow is white, not grey.  The camera simply forces down exposure until the film gets a nice grey image.  Some compensation could be applied at the processing level but it never looked as good as it would if some manual control had been exercised.

Your digital camera may be smarter than its 1982 film counterpart, but it still does not know that snow is white. If you allow your camera to set its own exposure on snow, it will ratchet down until the result will look like the first example above: the snow is gray, the shadows are dark, and it just doesn’t look “right.”

You can fix this effect by using your camera’s “exposure compensation” controls to force an additional +1 or +1.5 stops exposure on the image.  In the second example above, the photographer (aware that “snow is white”) compensated the exposure by adding +1 stop.  The sunlit snow looks bright (as it should) and shadows are well illuminated by reflected light. 

Why write this?  I dunno, except it’s Thanksgiving day, we’re buried under beautiful snow, and I just wish I could have had a web page back in ‘82 to put tips like this out for our customers.  Wherever you are now, folks, enjoy!

We are planning the traditional TGD meal, with MrsDOF cooking a fresh, free-range turkey, making pumpkin dessert-squares, and 2 of my sons here to keep us company.  It’s so wonderful hearing them laughing and cutting up. 

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Categories: Geeky

State Patrol nightmare

November 24, 2004 5 comments

It’s been awfully nice weather this fall in Illinois, right up through yesterday.  But today, (busiest travel day of the year,) what happens? Rather sub-optimal driving conditions, to say the least.

Howling winds across I-74, icy roads, and the usual cast of geniuses who think it’s a contest to see how far they can push the envelope in “bad-weather speeding.” 

And here’s what we found “back in Normal:”

The trip from Normal, to Urbana, to Normal, was uneventful for us except for lots of interesting stuff to look at.

We saw one total genius whose Jeep had slid halfway down a steep embankment towards a creek.  Someone was in the driver’s seat while two guys were trying to push the Jeep uphill… that is, they were standing downhill of it in the snow.  Wonder if they thought for one second what would happen if they slipped and the Jeep started to slide back down the hill. Unfortunately no picture of that.

I sure do appreciate the State Patrol, ambulance, fire, tow-trucks, etc. who have to deal with days like this When they’d rather be home with their families. (pictures by one of my passengers except when car was not moving.)

Categories: Personal

Scalia versus history

November 24, 2004 Comments off

Sometimes you have to wonder who’s steering this tub.  Check out this review of Newsday’s interview with justice Scalia on The Revealer.

By the way, The Revealer is an excellent site if you are interested in issues of religion and society.  Definitely worth putting in your RSS feed.

Categories: Uncategorized

Killing over five million people a year

November 24, 2004 2 comments

Researchers at Harvard and Queensland have calculated that smoking is bumping off around 5m people a year

Place all those dead people side-by-side in coffins 2 feed wide, and it would stretch nearly 1,900 miles.  Start digging!  And be ready to do it again next year, and the next, and the year after that. And so on until…

Well, I don’t really know when it’s going to stop.

No, I’m not pitching for anti-smoking laws.  But for gossake, put out that cigarette. 

On the other hand, maybe Al Qaeda just needs to chill out with a nice, relaxing smoke.

Categories: Uncategorized

A patch for human credulity

November 24, 2004 Comments off

Most computer attacks are directed at the computer itself; phishing attacks are directed at the user.  The official-looking phishing messages are designed to fool people into revealing confidential information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and the like.

A BBC Online report on “phishing attacks” says that in October, over six thousand new varieties of phishing message found their way into the world’s inboxes.  Why so many?

Because something like five percent of people fall for it.

There’s no software you can buy to protect you from yourself.  But urging people to “be smarter” is not likely to help.  For one thing, it’s insulting.  People who have credit card accounts to phish aren’t usually dumb.  After all, they hold down a job, drive a car, and handle the other demands of everyday life.

The problem isn’t lack of intelligence; it’s too much trust.  Most of us can trust the people we know to some extent.  We do business with companies we trust.  When we see an official-looking email that seems to be from one of those companies, a trust response is triggered.  So we don’t question the message.

Just so you know: the message looks official because someone is trying to fool you.  Your bank or credit-card company will never ask you for that kind of information in an email.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Your bank already knows the information, so they won’t ask you for it

  • Don’t even bother reading messages like that – they’re not from your bank
  • Never respond to phishing or spam messages in any way
  • Just delete the message

If’n it don’t look right, don’t smell right, don’t feel right… ‘tain’t right!

Categories: Uncategorized