Archive for March, 2006

Vacation, day one

March 30, 2006 1 comment

Today begins more than a week away from work.  I plan to spend a lot of time in the rejuvenating environment of Gold’s Gym, and also to enjoy reading two books I just received – Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe III, and Mark E. Eberhart’s Why Things Break.  I will work on my VW and I may put up a blog post or two. 

Categories: Personal


March 28, 2006 4 comments

Near my office they’re finally tearing down an apartment building that burned down about a year ago, and using this nifty machine to grind up the remains of the building. 

I’ve never seen one of these before – it’s called a ‘BioGrind’ machine by a company called Rexworks.  The giant shovel drops building debris into the hopper and finely ground (very dusty) stuff comes out the other end.  What they do with it, I don’t know.  Now that’s a wood-chipper!  And bricks, etc.

Categories: Uncategorized

Will someone PLEASE explain to me…

March 27, 2006 3 comments

Fidelity Investments says they’ve lost a laptop containing customer information, including “names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and more—on as many as 196,000 Hewlett-Packard employees who have Fidelity retirement accounts”.

Their explanation is that they only allow information like that on laptops when it is needed for “client meetings”.


There is no excuse for that kind of information ever being on a laptop.  You wanna tell me Fidelity never heard of encrypted VPN channels to web applications?  There should be no locally cached data sets.

We all know the persistence of data on hard drives.  What’s their procedure for deleting the data after the meetings?  To do it right, you need to use a shredding application.  Do all their field reps know how to do that?  And DO they do it?

I wouldn’t be torqued about this except it happens all the time with the companies that hold our ‘identity-theftable’ data in their systems.  At least the law now makes it harder for them to sweep the loss or breach under the rug; they have to notify the affected individuals and do a bunch of remediation, but lots of people can slip through the cracks.

This was first identified as a problem years ago.  It took an act of Congress to get the companies to do anything at all, but I still read about large-scale incidents on a weekly basis.  Will someone please explain to me WHY THIS IS STILL HAPPENING?


Categories: Geeky, Security

A stampeding herd of sacred cows

March 25, 2006 2 comments

Timothy Garten Ash in The Guardian:

…If the intimidators succeed, then the lesson for any group that strongly believes in anything is: shout more loudly, be more extreme, threaten violence, and you will get your way. Frightened firms, newspapers or universities will cave in, as will softbellied democratic states, where politicians scrabble to keep the votes of diverse constituencies.

But in our increasingly mixed-up, multicultural world, there are so many groups that care so strongly about so many different things, from fruitarians to anti-abortionists and from Jehovah’s Witnesses to Kurdish nationalists.  Aggregate all their taboos and you have a vast herd of sacred cows. Let the frightened nanny state enshrine all those taboos in new laws or bureaucratic prohibitions, and you have a drastic loss of freedom. That, I think, is what is happening to us, issue by issue…
- Timothy Garten Ash, We must stand up to the creeping tyranny of the group veto

So is there anything that should be censored by force of law?  It turns out there is a sharp, logically consistent line.  Go read the whole thing!  (From Buridan)

Categories: Uncategorized

‘from the Earth’

March 25, 2006 Comments off

Apparently as a cost-saving measure, Toms of Maine no longer gets its toothpaste minerals from the moons of Saturn.

I was also surprised to learn that the state of Maine (which presumably is atop Maine’s aquifer) is not of this Earth.  Well, that explains lobsters.  I mean, giant bugs that taste delicious when cooked and dipped in melted butter with garlic?  That has to be alien!

Categories: Uncategorized

Paging Mayor Nagin, please check the BBC for relevance of climate change…

March 24, 2006 5 comments

An online construction-industry source reports that Nagin rejects limits on rebuilding, saying;

neighborhood planning rests “in the hands of the residents,” Mayor Ray Nagin on Monday rejected his blue-ribbon rebuilding panel’s call for a moratorium on building permits in areas of New Orleans hit hardest by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Oh, he does, does he?  Well, at least he couched his remarks in a stern warning that “residents who choose to return to some of those areas will be doing so at their own risk* until levees compromised by the storms are made safe.”

And when would that be, Mr. Mayor?  Perhaps he should direct his attention to the following article on BBC News: Sea rise ‘could be catastrophic’.  If that’s too many words and not enough pictures for him, it means the breakup of ice cover is accelerating and with it, the potential for a really serious rise in sea level.  Even if the levees can be made safe today, (don’t hold your breath) they won’t necessarily be safe tomorrow.

“These processes of rapid ice sheet retreat are already happening … The ice sheet retreat and sea level rise on the order of what happened 130,000 years ago is inevitable and irreversible.”

Geoscientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, who is not an author on the new paper, told Science: “Palaeoclimate always has a large amount of uncertainty, [but] we should take this as a serious warning sign. You could lock in a dangerous warming during this century.”

Here’s a thought:  why not let the insurance industry decide?  Build anywhere you want, but good luck getting a loan if it’s below sea level, or is likely to be within 30 years (the length of most loans).

This would be an excellent time for the federal government to ‘butt out’.  By pouring billions of (our) dollars into the New Orleans area, it distorts economic pressures against idiotic building. 

After the ‘93 Mississippi floods, some entire towns relocated to higher ground.  I’m not suggesting New Orleans try to do that, but as long as you’re building, build where it makes sense to build, OK?  The waterline should be a pretty good guide for where to build enormous parks and woodlands.

And no, I don’t care about ‘historic neighborhoods’.  Lots of ‘historical preservation’ seems to be an attempt to freeze history in place.

*(While we’re at it, the phrase “at your own risk” doesn’t have a lot of meaning anymore.  No one accepts personal risk or personal consequences – that’s so ‘last-century’.  If you do something really stupid and it impacts your life, either taxpayers will have to foot the bill or somebody is going to be sued.  Or ideally, both.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Afghan man commits Christianity, may die

March 21, 2006 24 comments

Prosecutors, judge, family insist convert should die

KABUL, Afghanistan—Abdul Rahman told his family he was a Christian. He told the neighbors, bringing shame upon his home. But then he told the police, and he could no longer be ignored.

Now, in a major test of Afghanistan’s fledgling court system, Rahman, 42, faces the death penalty for abandoning Islam for Christianity. Prosecutors say he should die. So do his family, his jailers, even the judge. Rahman has no lawyer. Jail officials refused to let anyone see Rahman on Monday, despite permission granted by the country’s justice minister…

“He is my son,” said Manan, crying. “But if a son does not care about the dignity of his family, the dignity of his father, God can take him away. You cannot make anything out of such a son. He is useless.”…

Afghan man faces death for being a Christian, By Kim Barker, Tribune foreign correspondent, Published March 21, 2006

Freedom appears not to be ‘on the march’ in Afghanistan. Go read the whole thing (free registration required).  Comments, anyone?


Categories: Uncategorized

The importance of grammar

March 21, 2006 4 comments

Being able to spot too many grammatical errors in my own writing, I was particularly amused by this story:

A village blacksmith found an apprentice willing to work hard at low pay. The smith immediately began his instructions to the lad: “When I take the metal out of the fire, I’ll lay it on the anvil; and when I nod my head you hit it with the hammer.” The apprentice did precisely what he thought he was told. Next day he was the village blacksmith.
- Zen Parable

Categories: Blogging, Geeky

History of Eurofacism told by ducks

March 20, 2006 Comments off

Suppose you’ve been losing sleep wondering; “How did facism rise in Europe and Japan?”  Warner Bros’ has your answer in the WWII-era cartoon, The Ducktators.  Most of the major players are there, including Hitler, Mussolini, I think Chamberlain and possibly Churchill, and Tojo, all in racist duck-cartoon stereotypes.  The US enters the story as a turtle – late and slow to anger, but then!

File under ‘laughter at the devil’ or ‘something I found while looking for something else’.

Categories: Politics

Scientist receives $1.4m religion prize

March 19, 2006 5 comments

British astronomer John D. Barrow has won a $1.4m Templeton Foundation prize that rewards “discoveries about spiritual realities”.  In books, lectures, and the theatre, he has sought to help science and religion find “common areas of understanding”… “challenging the belief that either science or religion have all the answers”.

Man, I am in the wrong business.  Let me get this straight; you say “how parochial are our attempts to find or deny the links between scientific and religious approaches to the nature of the universe” and they give you a $million-four? 

I can write blather like that, too.  Here, let me try:

The boundaries of science are sharply defined at the edges of “is-ness”, or describing the natural world as it can be perceived by our senses.  Scientists are outside their art if they approach questions of meaning, in short, if they ask’ “Why?”  This is where the numinous sense – call it the “gut feeling” if you like – takes over and guides scientist and dock worker alike into another realm altogether. 

And yet this inspiration flows both ways, as science boundarifies and illuminates the spiritual.  The expanded appreciation for our natural universe excites our spirit in much the same way as the visual and auditory environment of a cathaedral.  It is this very human habit, of looking beyond the curtain, that enters the ocean of ethical thinking as surely as a small stream finds its way to larger waters…
- George Wiman, Some Book that won’t be written

See?  Anybody can do it.  It doesn’t have to mean anything; it only needs to sound sort of impressive or failing that, at least be nonsensical enough to be difficult to argue with.  Once you get started it just rolls off the keyboard and goes on and on and on…

Reading Barrow’s statement, his main beef seems to be that science doesn’t address meaning.  Fine – point taken.  So made-up meaning is better than no meaning at all?  No thanks, I already bought one of those and it was defective.

Hey Templeton foundation – I know it isn’t much, but those two paragraphs must be worth something!.  Maybe a C-note?  A twenty?

Categories: Uncategorized