Archive for January, 2006

To Google or not?

Google is taking a lot of heat over their decision to officially accept Chinese government censorship of their search results. I’ve been reluctant to criticize because I have a feeling, just a feeling, that there’s more going on here than we know.

Yes, there’s no doubt that Google, Cisco, and other American companies are complying with Chinese censorship efforts. And in China’s case those efforts may sometimes be much more dire than passively blocking web sites and hiding search results. If that’s all being done for purely reasons of profit then it’s about as amoral as you can get.

On the other hand, it could be that the Chinese are opening their gates to the biggest Trojan horse in history. Both in the ancient and modern meanings of the term. The technology infrastructure of what may be the next world superpower is being built on American technology by US companies. I’m going to go out on  a limb and suggest that US intelligence agencies are very happy about this development. What would the NSA give to monitor every search request in, say, Iran? To look over the shoulders of each government official who visits a web site? What’s the best way that they could manage that?

It’s possible – even likely – that Google, Cisco, etc, are just following the money regardless of moral questions about who they do business with. Posing as privacy advocates stateside while selling out their users offshore. However, it’s also just possible that 30 or 40 years from now when the issue is long past we’ll discover that these companies once made an amazing contribution to national security, and willingly sacrificed their public image to do it. I’m probably just imagining things, but it would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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I bet on Ben Stein.

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If I were Ruler of the Universe all buses would look like the awesomely cool GM Futureliner tour bus. And one of them just sold at auction for $4.5 Million, setting all sorts of records in the process.

And know what? The buyer drove it home himself. That’s awesome.

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Up next: Iran

For the record, I agree with Dean. Iran is a serious problem now and it will only become more serious the longer we wait.  Ahmadinejad is a raving, Jew-hating religious lunatic, and Khomeni is even worse.  The magic UN Disarmament Fairy will not waive her wand and make it all better. They need to be removed by military action, and with Israel temporarily out of the picture we’re the only ones able to do it.

Within no more than 6 months we need to conduct targeted strikes at all suspected Iranian nuclear facilities, and keep on doing it regularly until we’re satisfied that their entire nuclear infrastructure is destroyed beyond repair. If Ahmadinejad and Khomeni and their cronies happen to be caught in one of these attacks then so much the better.

Yes, the UN and European allies will yell at us. The Arab Street will no doubt rise up in protest even as their governments breathe a sigh of relief that that madman next door is finally gone. The world will be a better and safer place, and a lot of people will hate us for it. Such is life.

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Gore is a doofus

Al Gore has gone off the rails. Again.

Yesterday he gave a speech attacking President Bush that was filled with lies and distortions. Oddly enough, when he was VP under Clinton he supported exactly the same sort of intelligence-gathering activities that he now claims are "unprecidented". And, as usual, the press has great difficulty getting the facts right in their reporting of Bush’s program. Because, I guess, it’s easier to reprint MoveOn’s press releases than to do any actual research or anything.

These weren’t domestic communications, they were international communications. The NSA spies on international communications; it’s what they do and why they exist. Any politician or analyst who acts all surprised and shocked that the NSA is spying on international communications, particularly during a war, is incredibly uninformed at best and a liar at worst.

What frustrates me most, I think, is that the same people who are furious at this imaginary suspension of their constitutional rights were equally furious at Bush administration’s alleged failure to "connect the dots" and discover the 911 plot beforehand. Can’t have both, folks.

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I’ve been to the Library of Congress web site many times but I never noticed this cool recipe section: Immigrations – The great American Potluck. Lots of traditional recipes contributed by immigrants from all around the world. (seen here)

And this week’s Carnival of the Recipes is also up, with lots more yummy sounding things to eat and drink.

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Dean reports the good news that the SciFi Channel will be airing the first season of the new BBC Doctor Who series. Yay! It was previously only available in the states if you were willing to find and download the episodes from the Internet. (Which being a hopless geek, I did.)

Here’s one of my favorite scenes so far from the new series, from the episode Bad Wolf. The Doctor is confronting the Daleks, who have captured his companion Rose and are holding her hostage while their massive fleet of saucers prepares to invade the Earth.

    "We have your associate! You will obey or she will be exterminated!"


"Explain yourself!"

"I said no."

    "What is the meaning of this negative?"

    "It means no."

"But she will be destroyed!"

"No! ‘Cause this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to rescue her! I’m going to save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet! And then I’m going to save the Earth! And then, just to finish off, I’m going to wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!!"

"But you have no weapons! No defenses! No plan!"

"Yeah! And doesn’t that scare you to death?"

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wooden mirror
Originally uploaded by roboppy.

Stephanie pointed out this neat set of pictures by another Flickr user. This photo is of an art display called the Wooden Mirror. It’s a sort of moving mechanical display, actuated and controlled by a computer in the background.

It reminds me of the giant and elaborate steam-powered, punch-card-driven “kinetrope” displays described in the novel The Difference Engine. For those not familiar with it, it’s an alternate history in which computing pioneer Charles Babbage recieved almost unlimited government funding, resulting in a steam-powered mechanical computer revolution almost a century early. It’s kind of dull as a novel but it has lots of neat ideas. It was one of the major inspirations behind the steampunkgenre of SF. It deserves some credit for that.

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The poor reporting of the trapped miners story is big news on the blogosphere today. I think that this interpretation of events is spot-on. Chances are someone overheard a radio transmission via a police scanner and misunderstood the meaning. They proceeded to spread the news locally and the media irresponsibly picked it up and ran with it before bothering to verify that it was correct.

This scenario rings true. I listen to radio scanners a lot, and have for about 10 years. As Rodger says, police scanners have been a part of rural life for decades. It’s a great way to stay informed and makes for very interesting listening, but it must be understood as raw and potentially unreliable information. The persons on-scene are obliged to report what they know when they know it, and then make corrections or updates as they can. It’s usually up to the folks back at HQ to put it all together and get an accurate picture of the whole situation.

It’s also difficult to understand these sorts of conversations. You get conflicting info from multiple people and agencies on-scene. You hear chatter between people with radios who know nothing more than the typical bystander. You get bits and pieces of multiple incidents that are easily confused. Police and rescue workers also know they’re being listened to and therefore deliberately omit or obscure certain details on the public airwaves. For example, they usually use jargon for indicating fatalities (locally you hear "Priority 4" meaning "really no rush", or "10-96" which officially means something like "non-functional equipment").

It’s easy to understand why a private citizen might have misunderstood an overheard transmission. It’s less easy for me to understand why the media didn’t catch it and get confirmation before rushing it to print. But do you know where reporters get a lot of their news? That’s right – police scanners. There were probably reporters and news agencies with scanners right there at the rescue operation listening in. too. And they should know as well as anyone how to interpret and weigh that source of information.

Ultimately it’s the media’s job to check facts before reporting, and they just didn’t do it. There was no reason to rush the headline into print and every reason to double check first. I’m not angry with them so much as disappointed in their lack of professionalism. They have a lot to answer for.

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Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I’ll be mine,
And we’ll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pou’d the gowans fine,
But we’ve wander’d monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o thine,
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

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