Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Magnificent Seven



Thanks to a kind neighbor who is giving away fish, water, and expertise, we got a "quick start" on phase 2 of minibean's Christmas present. Phase One was purchasing the tank and some basic aquarium equipment. Phase 2 was going to be buying fish at a pet store owned by my old boss, but circumstances changed that. Our neighbor, Elon, has a whopping 110 gallon fish tank, but he is getting out of the fish scene for a while. So he brought us a good batch of water and seven fish from his tank. Minibean took it upon herself to name the little fish as follows:

1 algae eating sucker fish named Sharkey
2 scarlet headed tetra-like fished named Hikaru and Karu
3 tiger stripey fish named Lion, Tiger, and Bear
1 big ole Angel fish named Genghis Khan

Welcome to our house, little fishies. Watch out for a cat named Jeebus (who likes hunting squirrels and birds much more anyway).

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Flashback 6/30/02: What's Over There?

Sunday, June 30, 2002, 10:00 pm

What's Over There?

In "Crossing Open Ground," author Barry Lopez writes about an expedition of scientists on the Arctic Ocean. Their mission was to kill and analyze seals. Toward the end of the piece, Lopez wrote a couple of paragraphs that intrigued me...

As a journalist I have listened to biologists complain that their work is used by politicians to advance technologies they don't believe in. I've been with Eskimo hunters who are dumbfounded by what people say about their way of life, that it is barbaric because it includes the hunting of animals. And aboard the Oceanographer I heard officers speculate about the propriety of killing animals for science, and members of a deck crew wonder that any sense could be made of a churning mass of animals dying in a trawl net. In each of these moments you could hear someone struggling to grasp another's point of view, to assess it.

One can adopt any of several attitudes toward what took place between a scientific party and a ship's crew aboard a research vessel one fall in the Chukchi Sea, precisely because what happened was without design. You could be cynical and say that the atmosphere aboard ships is romantic. You could be circumspect and say it is naive to believe that any such goodwill can extend very far beyond the moment. You could be grave and say that beside the death of seals, let alone copepods in a Whirl-Pak of formalin, any notion of a redeeming introspection or ultimate value is an evasion, a gloss, worthless to consider. But in each of these ways you crush something precious, as precious as knowledge of the behavior of pi-mesons or the orders of human personality. And you deny something fundamental: our acts, the consequences of our seemingly dissimilar lives, are irrevocably intertwined.


I am struck by two notions here. The first is that scientists are those who spend their lives pursuing knowledge of a specialty far beyond what we as individuals know. The second notion is that it is important to strive to understand viewpoints that are at odds with your own (especially emotional ones).

Scientists often make the mistake of failing to examine their discipline in a manner that allows other to benefit. Conversely, those of us who aren't fortunate enough to be experts fail to take the time to delve into any scientific subject. We have a Discovery Channel knowledge of the world when we really should be striving for a Scientific American level of knowledge.

The result of this is that we become pawns in political struggles between preservationists and industrial concerns. Is global warming a problem or isn't it? Are we destroying ecosystems through overuse that we cannot replace? For most, the answer to these questions is on the tip of the tongue. Yes. No. Some find reasons to defend their position by reading the words of pundits or excerpts from scientists. These views are next to meaningless.

The real scientists doing the measurements, calculations, and observations cannot answer yes or no. To them, there are actions taken by people and consequences that range from more likely to less likely. There are consequences classified as "hardly likely" or "almost a certainty."

Government managers often make land-use decisions without the knowledge necessary to carry them out. It is not a certainty that they do this to appease friends in industry, although it happens. It is not a certainty that workload or lack of resources precludes the full knowledge to decide, although it happens.

It is certain that ideology is an irresponsible way to choose someone to run a government office. There is a great deal of irresponsibility out there. If we educate ourselves on the large issues such as global warming, logging, and mineral extraction (oil, gold, etc) and their impacts on the land and what that means to the people living on it, then we have the tools to judge our government leadership in a way that matters.

It also carries a scientific responsibility to look at the information in a true light without assuming that a given practice will be harmful or harmless by definition, whether we are talking about safety of our population via environmental or economic filters. Both are important. If a given practice must be curtailed, how will that loss of economy be addressed? In order to be taken seriously, any advocacy must provide a means to educate and provide alternatives.

...

To achieve the second notion to "reach for the alien shore" (as Neil Peart puts it), there must be a meeting of minds. Such a meeting is impossible when an atmosphere of anger and child-like simplicity is proferred instead of reason. Our current leadership in the executive and legislative branches have made careers in attempting to distill complex situations into simplistic ones. There is no such thing as "Us vs. Them" or "Good vs. Evil." Lo, love and hate are sometimes separated by only a gossamer thread.

Even distinctions of left vs. right or Republican vs. Democrat are dubious. From communism to laissez faire to feudalism to military dictatorship, each system is only as strong as its ability to eliminate power and wealth grabs and allowing the majority the opportunity to create a meaningful existence for themselves.

Now we find that even the borders between countries dissolve in subservience to these tenets. In a world where some make 15 cents an hour and others make 15 dollars per second and worldwide travel is possible, problems will result. When chaos breaks out at home, it is a devastating experience.

In a huge uncontrollable world, decisions must be made toward how to keep this suffering to a minimum. Is this a local, national, or international responsibility? What are the best and worst case scenarios? How long should the debate be before action is taken? Who takes the action? Is it administered locally, nationally, or internationally? Should it be done secretly or openly? What are the consequences of all of these questions?

In a country divided politically, we are weakened because we cannot answer these questions. A knee-jerk reaction, just like a knee-jerk response to a complex question will invite more chaos. A wedge is in place between people in our country. It is a wedge built on trying to make a complicated situation appear simple. It is a wedge that has made us weak.

By ignoring critics, the government has placed itself in a position of trying to tackle a problem without hearing all of the solutions. As a result, we have a secrecy born of embarassment at not knowing what to do. Decisions, made seemingly at random, have disastrous consequences. People are terrorized by terror alerts, but never educated on what the basis is or how to act (other than to call police). You can't call the police on a hijacked plane. You can't stop the triggering of an explosive without knowing how triggers work.

In our anger, we retaliated immediately. With too few troops, and trusting an untrustworthy "ally," we managed to permanently scatter a deadly enemy. We have forced them to change to more effective tactics. There was no thought before the action. We are probably going to pay dearly for it.

There were unheeded and unlistened to warnings from people all along the line. There is a continual disconnect at all levels of government that is always missing half the picture.

In the left vs. right world, there is the tendency to believe that all those on the other side fit a shifting panoply of criteria that are indicative of the side. This is simply not true. I know lefties who believe adamantly in the right to bear arms and conservatives who fight like hell to keep the salmon alive from year to year.

The bottom line is that it appears to be government and media who are best served by these dividing lines. For everyday people, their own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness is what matters, and left to their own devices, we the people will choose the best tools for the task, whether they are free market, government controlled, or whatever does the job best.

The ideologues just need to keep up with us.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

OK Go on Treadmills

My turn, my turn! Here's OK Go on Treadmills. Amazing.

I Don't Know, Just Try to Blend In

This is from a group called OK Go.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Technology and Libraries Part II - The OPAC sucks

Many people, including many librarians, are not very happy with Online Public Access Catalogs, or OPACs. These are the computer systems that replaced card catalogs. Most people just call them online catalogs, but I catch myself at least once a day referring to them as card catalogs, much to the amusement of the students and faculty where I work. When I read Pandabonium's comment in my post "March of the Librarians", I immediately thought of the video I'm sharing with you tonight.

As I suggested yesterday, there is a growing debate about what libraries need to do in order to make their online catalogs better. Some librarians are arguing that catalogs should emulate Amazon's commercial web site. Others are clamoring for better instruction so patrons understand how to use what currently exists and others are saying the current system needs to be replaced entirely, (something totally new and not a copy of Amazon's system.)

Once upon a time, libraries were at the forefront of using technology to catalog their records. The system that most libraries use today, based on the MAchine Readable Catalog record, or MARC record was developed in 1965. Yes, that's right, 1965! Obviously, not all libraries had computer catalogs in the 1960s, but the Library of Congress understood computers where not going to be a flash in the pan. Now, instead of leading the pack in technology use, many librarians and libraries seem to be dragging their heels when it comes to using technology. As Pandabonium stated in a more polite way, the OPAC sucks. Which brings us to tonights video.

The Laughing Librarian posted this back in November of 2006 and I use it as an introduction whenever I teach a class about our online catalog. I tell the students our system isn't perfect, but it's what we have, so hopefully I can help them get the most out of it. Maybe in time we'll get something that is superior, but in the meantime, this one's for you Pandabonium. (Lyrics are at the bottom.)

the OPAC sucks, that's all i gotta say
you're outta luck if you can't spell "Hemingway"
i'm getting bad results
don't act like it's my fault

the OPAC sucks, a sad calamity
like it's stuck in 8 million b.c.
the title that i seek
is buried very deep

the OPAC sucks so bad that it's a crime
the law is broken: "save the reader's time"
what does it want from me?
i'm stumbling blindly

the OPAC sucks, people are confused
it runs amok, committing its abuse
years and years and years ago, computers replaced cards
how come finding what i want is still so goddamn hard?

the OPAC sucks, that's all i gotta say ...

(Lyrics and music: Brian Smith)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License

Monday, February 19, 2007

Libraries and Technology Part I

Update: Meddling Snabby found another site with English subtitles, the movie is updated yet again. ;) Have fun!

Update: The version with subtitles was yanked from YouTube, but Snabby found the original still there so I updated the YouTube link. When a new translation becomes available, I'll replace the original with the newer version.

Currently, there is a huge debate in the library community about how to cope with the rapid changes in technology and how to make it easier for people to find what they want. However, before I delve into that, I found a great example of how new technology, no matter when it was introduced, causes problems. My guess is many of you may have already seen this, but just in case, here it is. Part II of my discussion about libraries and technology should follow in a couple of days.



(This is from a Norwegian show called "Øystein & Meg")

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Signs of Spring

Ladybug and I went on a walk yesterday and the crocuses are up and blooming in purple, white, and yellow. We didn't see any snow drops, but they are out there somewhere too. We have some early daffodil varieties just getting ready to bloom as well in the front yard. Spring is making its push here in mid-February. We are ready and welcoming the change in season.

I will leave you with a Mormon joke I found on the web (for my couple of Mormon readers out there):

A young Mormon was on his mission, carrying the Book of Mormon in his coat pocket when he was shot by an armed robber. Fortunately, the bullet lodged in the book and saved him. "See," the missionary said to his companion, "that bullet couldn't get through Second Nephi either.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Killed the Word Verification

The Blogger word verification is just too annoying anymore. I got rid of it and I will live with the spam. They need shorter verifications and better letter rendering. Sometimes their javascript gets funky too and the graphic will change while I am typing it in. So it must go. Sorry for the inconvenience all this time.

(The acronyms and word verification based poetry was fun though. Good times.)

Friday Flashback 3/14/03: Social Afflictions of the Well-Fed #548

Here is the first of the Snabulus flashbacks. It was written in the week prior to the beginning of the Iraq war. The emotions of the nation were running high and the polarization was palpable. Friends were deeply at odds with one another. After a number of angry e-mails floated around the Internets, I decided that it was important to answer specific points of anger about my own point of view. This response is located below.

It seems clear now that I was paying more attention to the realities of the situation than most of my critics. Such vindication is stained by the blood of thousands leading to sadness rather than smugness. However, there are many smart voices out there who are still being shut out in the name of politics and I hope that they are heard and heeded before too many more die.


Friday, March 14, 2003

Social Afflictions of the Well-Fed #548

I, like you, have a few different people in my life that send e-mail jokes, quips, and so forth to friends, business associates, family, etc. In two cases now, the sender has sent out some mild rebuke of the Bush administration (generally identical to the HUNDREDS of such pieces of Clinton bashernalia I've received). In each case, it has set off someone (or more than one) who has (or have) replied with a screed of all of their beefs with liberalism. As one might guess, the chief attributes of the pieces of work are hostility, paranoia, and fear.

Reactions to this provocation range from "ignore the dope" to "Yeah!" to "I'm going to refute this person." In both cases, I chose to quickly defuse the situation with a generically worded letter stating that nobody was going to change anyone's mind or concepts like it. E-mail joke lists are not the best forums for public debate.

So why write about it here? For two reasons. First, to chronicle the condition for posterity. Second, to respond in a general way to some of the barbs in a way that I want to address. So here goes:

"'Give War a Chance!' if for no other reason than to protect the people of Iraq..."

If that were the case, liberals would be all over it (except pacifists I suppose). Two problems with this theory: 1. Afghanistan is the model. Bush allocated ZERO dollars (2003 budget) to protecting the people of Afghanistan. Congress quickly put together a minimal package out of embarassment. 2. Clinton stood by while 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda in 1994. During the 2000 campaign, Bush stated that he would NOT have committed American troops to this cause. Therefore, the "helping people in Iraq" argument is a lie.


"but then again you guys like killing babies so what else is new"


This apparently is an anti-abortion statement. I see a great deal of hostility, hatred, and even terrorism (cowardly violence) out of these anti-abortion people. Three problems here: 1. How come only a precious few of these people have adopted children or even, for that matter, helped single mothers? Hey, it's not my fault they got pregnant is not an answer that squares with reality. 2. There are seldom funerals for miscarriages. If an agglomeration of cells is a person, then why not spend the ten grand and bury this human life and give it a service with friends flying in from Topeka? Because it is only life insofar as it can be used to promote a political agenda. 3. We are close to cloning a person out of a boogerglob. What is that going to do to the status of cellular DNA? Are we going to ban hair cuts because they could conceivably spawn life?

Having said all this, I am personally of the opinion that an abortion is, at heart, a degradation of humanity. If I were a woman, there would be only a few specific instances where I would have one. However, given the hypocrisies outlined above, it is inappropriate for the hostile bystander to legislate the person who is in the situation.


"but at least we wouldn't have to worry about the French cause they would all be speakin' German!"


There is a huge laundry list of reasons we have to be grateful to the French. The easiest rejoinder to the phrase above would be "if it weren't for France, we would be dealing in pounds, worshipping the queen, and we would all have bad teeth like Austin Powers and America would be a colony, not a country." In the end, I am not going to fault France for following their own interests. Their oil companies will be big losers if Iraq is occupied by American forces just as ours would be if France took over Saudi Arabia (the other place where they cut out your tongue and make you disappear if you open your mouth). The reason some Americans are mad at France is because France is acting arrogantly and unilaterally in opposing us. We apparently don't like looking in the mirror.


"Kill them all, let God sort them out!"


So in order to value life, we um...do this? This is surely the same thinking used by the people who purposefully cause civilian casualties. Go ahead and think that way if it makes you feel better.

"At least until the next 3000 bodies stack up right? Well at least if they kill us in onesies and twosies like they do in those bombings in Israel (sic). You know the ones rewarded by Saddam.."

If you think Saddam Hussein or Iraqis were behind 9/11, you are sadly misinformed. Bush himself has admitted that there is no tangible evidence of an al-Qaeda/Hussein link. If we were serious about stopping terrorism, the 3rd infantry and 200,000 other troops would be actively disarming Afghanistan and arresting Taliban/al-Qaeda and not hanging out in Kuwait right now. Israel helped found Hamas to oppose Arafat's PLO. That turned out great, didn't it? The point here is that Israel provided more support for Hamas than Hussein does. Hussein is accountable for rewarding the deaths of innocents (so is Israel), but that doesn't make a link to al-Qaeda. Trying to carve one through Israel has been tried and comes up dry.

"It would be interesting to see how many mommies (sic) and daddies would encourage their kids to strap on bombs if they only had to rely on their principles instead of Iraqi, Yemeni, Syrian, Iranian and Saudi cash donations."

This assumes that Palestinians enjoyed being invaded, stuck into bantustans, and held under apartheid-like control and suicide bombs are just a hobby. We all know it is much more complex than that. The Bush administration seems to turn a blind eye to all things Saudi. More importantly, nobody that I've read about encourages their children to strap on suicide bombs. It takes a lifetime of desperation and looking down the road and seeing no hope. Even then, it takes a cult of power seekers to convince the bomber that it is the only way. After the horrible deed is done, families often refuse money because the sadness and embarassment is too much and the source is tainted. This is not to say that the Palestinians have done all they could to help themselves, but the suicide bombings didn't start until the last decade. One must wonder how it got to that point. I don't think offering money for someone to kill themselves is much of an incentive.

But what about all of the "crocodile allies" of Bush? It is well-documented that both Bush and Clinton did a great deal of "looking the other way" when it came to Saudi Arabia. Where are 15 of the 19 hijackers from exactly? It is not Iraq but Saudi Arabia who gets a free ride.

"(I'm not willing to wait until they dump a bunch of anthrax in our subways)."

So you think that Iraq did the anthrax attack? Think again, white boy. That was an attack against liberals and Democrats (possibly to shut them up). However, your point may be that Hussein may want to send out a squad or sell anthrax to someone who would carry out such an attack. The best way to make that happen is to threaten to attack someone for a year and give them plenty of time to move things around. When the attack comes, the stuff moves out the back door and in a couple of months, voila! Dead Americans. It's called, "If I'm going down, I am going to take you with me." Good strategy...if you WANT anthrax poisoning.

"This is a regime that disappears people, murders families, and wages a war of intimidation and attrition against religions and ethnicities within it its reach."

True. If we look at our track record in Afghanistan, we find a lack of concern among the administration as to alleviating these problems. The Northern Alliance is known as Taliban without beards. Even in Kabul, women wear burqas to keep from being raped. Reprisal killings, hard core Islamic law, schools burnt to the ground and more are still the norm. What makes you think Iraq is going to be any different? At least you can be a Christian in Iraq as long as you don't piss off the government. That will change after "regime change" occurs.


"wouldn't it have been interesting to see how many lives could have been saved if someone had the balls to draw the line when Germany invaded its first neighbor?"


We would have gotten our ass kicked in 1939 because we lacked the firepower and resources at that time. It would have been a disaster. By the end of 1941, Russia had the Germans softened up a little. It took quite a while before we manufactured enough fire power to beat Germany and Japan. The materiel simply didn't exist in 1939 or even 1941. We couldn't use American Airlines to ferry 500,000 troops across the Atlantic. It all took time.

"But of course, that's not politically correct to mention, because European countries are so much more civilized and refined than us hot-headed Americans. We should yield to the beaurocracy of indecision like good little world citizens."

Politically correct is in the eye of the beholder. I would rather have the "be nice to black people" political correctness than the "say Under God at school" kind. In the end, the term is vacant. Are you saying you feel somehow persecuted by Europe? Has Europe held America down in some way? What exactly are you scared of? UN tanks patrolling the streets of Portland? This is an indictment of all non-Americans simply because they are not Americans. If the world really is against us on the Iraq issue, maybe we should listen to the reason why. Norwegians, Danes, Brits, and others are all flying sorties even today in Afghanistan, but they are saying no to Iraq. There is a disconnect in logic here. It boils down to whether or not attacking Iraq should be the next step in stopping terrorism. With no linkage to al-Qaeda, I don't see the reason either. Stick with priorities. Prove that we can do all these good things in Afghanistan before giving me the Iraq sales job.

===================================================

There is one more point that I've seen that is not brought up above. It appears from some quarters that Christians are being hounded by those who don't share a) the same brand of Christianity or b) any brand of Christianity. If you are Mormon or Scientologist or Jehovah's Witness, you might have a beef. Everyone else is pretty much whining. Nobody hinders you from going to church, saying whatever version of the pledge of allegiance you fancy, holding up "John 3:16" at basball games, or praying wherever you want (even at school). What I fight is intolerance against those who don't want to be religious like a)declaring the US a Christian nation (sometimes excluding Catholics or others), or b) forcing religion into schools. Read the first amendment of the US Constitution.

The AM radio trained person often thinks that "liberals" all share the same value set. However, this liberal they talk about covers only a few percent of the many independent thinkers out there. Some are actually quite conservative. Some are totally conservative and believe that George W Bush and his cadre of neoconservatives are loonies. However, they all get painted as liberals. It is a nice substitute for thinking I suppose, but hardly a good way of looking at the world. To paint your own countrymen as "the other" is no way to win solidarity in war time. It shows a lack of understanding. Such a lack of understanding about what drives our own country or even our enemies can lead to disastrous consequences as we are all aware.

When I get right down to it, only media types can really be conservative or liberal. If you have a child with an expensive illness, it is nice to know that there is a public infrastructure to help out when the time comes. When the government wants to condemn your land to build a nature park, you probably won't like it. It will shape how you look at things.

The problem isn't conservatism, liberalism, Christianity, secularism, being a hawk or a dove, or Republicans or Democrats. The problem is the Bush administration. People don't want war because the people in charge are screwing it up. The strength and moral clarity are an illusion. We aren't strong enough to stand up to Saudi Arabia or moral enough to liberate Afghanistan. Why? It is not Trent Lott or Bill Clinton or George Bush, Sr. that are the problem. The reason is the Bush administration. They don't get along well with others and they've divided the country. Blame them, not me. I am acting based on what they caused. Bush had the whole world on his side after 9/11 and now we are alone. This is not what I call skillful leadership.

I am an American and a citizen of the world. There is no contradiction here. I support America's (and the world's) fight against terrorism. When are we going to set it to full throttle and quit playing footsie with Iraq while al-Qaeda rebuilds? When are we going to break the oil addiction that finances terrorism? Maybe it is just easier to paint me as unAmerican and a liberal. Maybe I should be thrown in prison as has been suggested by some pundits. It is inconceivable that I would want to SAVE American lives (especially servicemen) by taking an approach based on facts instead of Bush's "seat of the pants" summary judgment. Sorry, I gotta go with Schwarzkopf and 80% of my vet friends and most of the world and say No to the Bush plan because he can't keep a promise (to Afghanistan) and therefore won't for Iraq.

Mohammed Stops a Highjacking

Cool.

Mauritanian hijacker gets in hot water

By JUAN MANUEL PARDELLAS, Associated Press Writer 10 minutes ago

TENERIFE, Canary Islands — A fast-thinking pilot with passengers in cahoots fooled a hijacker by braking hard upon landing, then accelerating to knock the man down. When he fell, flight attendants threw boiling water in his face, and about 10 people pounced on him, Spanish officials said Friday.


And we finally here about the hero with the Muslim name in the last sentence.

Air Mauritania identified the heroic pilot as Ahmedou Mohamed Lemine, a 20-year-veteran of the company.


The whole article is a good read and quite educational. It also illustrates why human intelligence is more effective than a barrel full of paranoia. Is that your toothpaste or a bomb?

(In case you are worried that this is turning back into a political blog, don't. I am done censoring myself, but fun is funner than strife so I am going with it most of the time.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Cup of Flashback Kool-Aid

I've driven the Kool-Aid bus about as far as I can. It is time to abandon it and move on. Or move back. I recently dumped my Internet hosting company and decided to host my own domain (as you might have read). In doing so, I dredged up some of my old blog entries from the last 5 years.

Back then I was more political and, it turns out, more emotionally charged at times. You remember, the 9/11 effect. However, some of my posts were more philosophical and some were downright interesting. So I will pick some of my favorites and post one each Friday possibly with comments if I feel they are warranted.

I am not going to protect anyone from the political stuff, but try to remember that some of these arguments are almost 5 years old. If anyone wants to scratch their itch to b*tch, go for it. I like to think my readers and I are of above average intelligence so any insults are probably undeserved.

Have fun!

Moody Wants My Desktop Exposed to You

So here it is:



I tag everyone who has already done this.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

March of the Librarians

For all of you that saw March of the Penguins, I'm sure you'll like this. Librarians are a strange breed indeed, as I'm finding out on a daily basis. I've been told the MidWinter conference, (which Seattle hosted this year), is not as action packed as the main conference being held in Washington D.C. this June. I have a hard time believing that, but maybe Mr. Nick Baker will be at the annual ALA conference in June to show us how rowdy librarians can really get. Enjoy!


Monday, February 12, 2007

I Love the Smell of Benzene in the Morning.


It smells like...cancer.

From the Oregonian

A big sigh of relief for NW air

The EPA cracks down on cancer-causing benzene in gasoline with limits that will cut health risks in half

Saturday, February 10, 2007
MICHAEL MILSTEIN

New federal limits announced Friday on cancer-causing benzene in the Northwest's gasoline supply will sharply curb toxic exhaust fumes that rise to dangerous levels in local air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the tougher limits on refineries under escalating pressure from Northwest lawmakers including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who blocked top agency appointments to bring attention to the health risk.

It was a turnaround for the federal agency, which last year proposed controls that would have reduced benzene nationally but allowed refineries to trade credits in a way that would have left the Northwest with the dirtiest gas in the country.


I breathe easier knowing that an established carcinogen has not only been floating around without our knowledge, but that these benefits will be twice as safe come 2015. Wow! Good thing I am already getting old. My daughter is the one who took the real brunt here. Why smoke when your lungs can mutate with second-hand benzene instead?

I realize this kind of stuff happens in the big, bad world so I try to not get worked up about it. However, the cost to have avoided this is reportedly very small.



From Wired.com's Autopia Blog


Refineries didn't balk at the rule change as the cost of removing the benzene is less than a quarter of a cent per gallon. So why was the EPA so slow to act on an obvious health risk? As someone whose health is directly affected by this rule, I'm not happy that the EPA allowed this emission omission.

The EPA also ordered automakers to enhance their fuel lines so that less benzene would escape, a change that will cost about $1 per vehicle.


This could have gone so much differently in a world of responsible people.

1. The EPA detects the problem and notifies the parties creating the problem and the expectations for cleaning it up as well as the public (this is an open society after all).

2. Within a week, the companies announce to reduce harmful emissions or steps to figure out how to reduce emissions within a time limit set by the EPA.

3. The company sets up a web page that outlines the progress in reducing harmful emissions that is included in a joint press release between the company and the EPA.

4. As goals are met, the EPA charts recognizes the progress and even gives awards for excellent progress.

5. Benzene levels go down to a safe level.

When the EPA sits on the information, the companies poisoning us lobby for them to cover it up and ignore it, then action is only taken when their hand is caught in the cookie jar with no apology or apparent willingness to clean up without compulsion, then you have a pretty good indication that we DO NOT live in a world of responsible people. When people act this way, they are begging for more government interference. My suggestion to those companies and individuals who want the government out of their lives is to stop the lying, cheating, and stealing.

The government is much better at all of those functions anyway.

Finally, congratulations to the Dean Wormer for one year of blogging. Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I kinda stole his format today.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Meanwhile, out here in Geekdom

A few technological bumps in the road are helping to salt my already salt-and-pepper beard. Here they are...

1. Vista hoops

Microsoft actually named their new version of Windows after every other suburban housing development in America. That isn't it though. They make you agree not to use their software in an emulated environment in their cheaper versions. That isn't it though. If you do use it in a virtual environment, you are not to play any digitally encoded music or video at all. That isn't it though.

The real deal is that I have purchased a tiny, tiny laptop and a home server PC that both qualify for "free Vista upgrades." In doing so, I have to give out a bunch of personal information, look for multiple serial numbers, and submit all of this in a format proprietary to each company that sold me a PC. I thought I was done, BUT NO. I have to print out their confirmation e-mail and mail/fax/e-mail it back with a copy of my receipt. I am hoping that is the end of it, but you never know. I only hope I got my hardware and software serials right. That is it. Relax.

2. Snabulus moved In-House

Being a part-time granola-eating hippie-type, I was proud to have Snabulus.com hosted by EcoSky.com. With their own solar panels, they were still tied to the grid but some of their servers were independent of the power grid. In addition, our local electrical utility [Portland General Electric (owned by Enron)] allows customers to buy "renewable" power by voluntarily paying extra on their electric bills (which Ecosky does). That is all nice, but I don't trust Enron farther than I can throw the planet, so the volutnary price-gouging holds only limited impact with me.

Anyway, the e-mail provided by EcoSky was always pretty dicey, so I finally sent an e-mail asking if they could check into it. (sounds of chirping crickets here) I decided to move my web and mail servers home on to a new PC purchased for the purpose. Since I am a Comcast customer who has a roaming IP address, I enlisted No-IP.com to handle sending all my traffic to my home PC. For the web page, this worked out marvelously.

My mail server worked pretty well too, until today. Some of our outgoing mail (SMTP) came back with "Access Denied" messages. It turns out that, while 90+% of spam tracking servers show my server as being clean, the rest blacklist my IP address for the simple reason that it is a "dynamic IP" address.

The strange part about this is our SMTP requires a valid username and password to send mail while my Non-Blacklisted ISP (Comcast) allows me to send mail without a username or password.

It doesn't make much sense, does it? Nope. It doesn't.

3. Microsoft's known, but tolerated, .NET Bug

It started out with a customer reporting a bizarre and nearly non-credible bug in their web browser using software I wrote in Microsoft's .NET 2.0 framework. If an item was posted on one web page, the results would show up on the other workstation? WHAT?!?!? I couldn't make that happen if I wanted to! After our crack team reproduced the error, I reworked the code several times trying to work around it...to no avail. At no time did my own code appear to be the problem (although I always proceed from the assumption).

Finally, after doing several Google and Microsoft searches trying to find the problem, I found a document outlining the top 10 traps in writing Microsoft Visual Studio applications. It turns out that there is a setting on web pages which allows a person to set the expiration for caching (remembering) a web page. In all versions of .NET and Microsoft's web server this works fine...except our configuration.

The strange thing is that the environment we are working in has been out almost 2 years with no patches or service packs. It is almost as if Microsoft knew about it (which they certainly do given their knowledgebase entries) but they didn't care how serious it was or how many people could be affected. Well, their board of directors can eat my poop.

Greedy, Bloody Greedy

If you are going to ask the honest and modestly paid folks of the world to front the cost of the world's suffering, it helps to toss in a few of your own doubloons...

Rolling Stones follow U2 tax haven trail to the Netherlands - home to 20,000 mailbox companies

A report in the New York Times on Sunday Feb 04, 2007, says that documents maintained by the Handelsregister, the trade registry of the Netherlands, show that Promogroup, which also works for U2, helped Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards, set up a pair of private Dutch foundations that will allow them to transfer assets tax-free to heirs when they die. Other Dutch shelters that Promogroup has arranged for the three have already paid off handsomely; over the last 20 years, according to Dutch documents, the three musicians have paid just $7.2 million in taxes on earnings of $450 million that they have channeled through Amsterdam — a tax rate of about 1.5 percent, well below the British rate of 40 percent.


This is not to discourage people from giving. YOU! GIVE! NOW! However, maybe it is more important to give because it is the right thing to do rather than depending on talking heads like Bono, the Bush Sr/Clinton amalgatron, or the Katrina emotion-puller du jour to remind you. There are plenty of people that can use a hand pulling their disrupted lives back together including those in your own community.

Anyhoo...

Monday, February 05, 2007

For the Love of Lovecraft

The ever-hip Annalee Newitz explores the scrubbed Wikipedia entry for Sonia Greene, lover of the creepmeister HP Lovecraft:



The Mysterious Love of Sonia Greene for H.P. Lovecraft


I have always been curious about Sonia Greene, the woman who married H.P. Lovecraft. She supported Lovecraft financially for several years, and famously described him as "an adequately excellent lover" who never told her that he loved her. A few years earlier, she had dated Alistair Crowley so she must have had a taste for morose men obsessed with the supernatural. Even more surprising for the Lovecraft fan is that Greene was a Jewish immigrant, a category of person whom Lovecraft often blamed for the downfall of his beloved "chalk-white" civilization.


The truth is almost as weird as HP Lovecraft.

Friday, February 02, 2007

New From MS: Verbal Viruses

Microsoft has apparently admitted that it is possible for someone to create an audio file which, when played on a computer running Vista, will trigger said computer's speech recognition function and cause it to execute commands, even to the machine's detriment.

In other words, it will be theoretically possible for you to download an innocent-looking audio file, and when you play it it will literally tell your computer to self-destruct.

Apple has long since prevented such a possibility by including customized keywords in its own speech recognition software. Apparently MS refuses to do so. Instead, they are just advising that Vista users either disable the speech recognition function or keep their speakers turned off unless operating in a "secure environment".

Translation: stick with XP.

(What won't MS come up with next?)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Gotta Protect those Beavers


Hooters fight gives city 2 restaurants


TROY, Mich. - A fight to discourage Hooters restaurant from expanding in this well-to-do Detroit suburb by blocking its liquor license has backfired: Now there are two restaurants just two miles apart.

Troy, a high-income city of just 80,000 people and home to the state's only Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores, now has another distinction. It is the only non-resort city of its size to have two Hooters.
...

Critics are concerned that the restaurants' scantily clad servers don't fit the image the city seeks to project in its Big Beaver commercial district.


My friend Wynona says you might start by renaming the business district...