Friday, January 30, 2009

She's Gonna Blow!

According the the Associated Press, Alaska's Mount Redoubt is about to blow its top.
On Nov. 5, geologists noted changed emissions and minor melting near the Redoubt summit and raised the threat level from green to yellow. It jumped to orange — the stage just before eruption — on Sunday in response to a sharp increase in earthquake activity below the volcano.
Interestingly, Alaska's Volcano Observatory website is so swamped right now that it's posting this message:

Due to very high load on our web server, we can only support a very limited website. We are working to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Thanks!

If you're as curious about the scheme behind the treat levels, there is a nice explanation on Wikipedia. Realizing that information on Wikipedia can be somewhat fleeting, let me provide the warning scheme here:

GREENVolcano is in its normal "dormant" state

or, after a change from a higher level: Volcanic activity considered to have ceased, and volcano reverted to its normal, non-eruptive state.

YELLOWVolcano is exhibiting signs of elevated unrest above known background levels.

or, after a change from a higher level: Volcanic activity has decreased significantly but continues to be closely monitored for possible renewed increase.

ORANGEVolcano is exhibiting heightened unrest with increased likelihood of eruption,

or, Volcanic eruption underway with no or minor ash emission (specify ash-plume height if possible).

REDEruption is forecast to be imminent with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere likely.

or, Eruption is underway with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere (specify ash-plume height if possible).

BROWNCataclysmic eruption is in progress.

or, OMG!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A naturalist looks at FSTDT

I was an amateur naturalist as a kid, looking under rocks and logs to find what surprises lurked there. Perhaps my surfing the internet has become an extension of this exploratory urge. The analogy of looking under rocks is not greatly extended when I talk about the site Fundies Say the Darnest Things! This site is
An archive of the most hilarious, bizarre, ignorant, bigoted, and terrifying quotes from fundies all over the internet!
If I may continue to extend my analogy further, this site is a user-submitted collection of some extraordinarily ignorant statements, along with links to the rocks under which their authors congregate.

The Latest Comments section is kept pretty much up-to-date. Even as I write these words, new submissions are being added. The gist of those I'm seeing right now indicate that wingnuts continue to stew about the current president. Take this gem:

January 20, 2009 is the day the United States of America died. We have ushered in an era that will approach Sodom and Gomorrah standards.

Frostie7, RR [Comments (18)] [2009-Jan-28]

This is typical in many ways. Note the RR hyperlink. RR stands for Rapture Ready. If you're at all curious as to what constitutes the 30% of the Republican "base," check out these links and read some of the comments.

Perhaps you've read about fundamentalists; maybe you've even seen one. If you want to read them in their natural habitats without getting out of the car, check out some of their online discussions. For now, it seems, the fundamentalists have crawled back under their rocks. But they ain't happy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A New Face of War

StrategyPage, an web site devoted to what is going on militarily in the world, offers us a glimpse of what "cybergeddon" might be like. Their definition of cybergeddon is "a massive attack via the Internet that would cripple the economy, government and military."

In their January 22 article, Waiting For Cybergeddon, they describe three types of cyber war:

  1. Limited stealth operations (LSO), as Chinese, Russian, and others, use Cyber War techniques to support espionage efforts.
  2. Cyber War only (CWO), which is the open use of a full range of Cyber War weapons.
  3. Cyber War in support of a conventional war.
To date, our experiences have been fairly limited. The one version of a CWO they cited was when Russia nearly shut down Estonia's national internet structure over the Estonian's removal of a Word War II statue. In this case, Estonia tried to invoke the NATO mutual-defense pact. NATA cyber war experts were actually dispatched to Estonia, but then the attacks stopped.

The sobering news is that the United States is said to be the most exposed to cyber war attack, because we use the internet more than any other country (what about South Korea?). According to the article, the so-called "good news" is that a major attack risks becoming the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, which led to an enraged response.

Oh, brave new world!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yes, We Should

Excerpt from Obama's inaugural address:
"For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do."

And on technology:
"Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America."

-- Barack Obama, Springfield, IL
February 10 ,2007

Friday, January 16, 2009

Woman blames Dell (and not herself) for missing online classes from Madison, Wisonsin, had a story about a college-aged woman who blames Dell for missing online classes.

Abbie Schubert said she was talked into buying the Dell computer with the Ubuntu Linux OS, being told that "Ubuntu was great, college students loved it, (and) it was compatible with everything" that she needed.

Unfortunately, Abbie apparently knew very little about both computers and about getting technical support. She couldn't load her Verizon high-speed internet CD, so she couldn't access the internet. And she could not install Microsoft Word, which she claimed was a requirement for her Madison Area Technical College (MATC) online classes. Consequently, she said that she had to drop out of MATC's fall and spring semesters.

This story is so wrong in so many ways. First of all, I find it amazing that a college-aged person could be so clueless about computers. Is she Amish or something? As the story progresses, you learn that Verizon did indeed have support for Linux, and they dispatched a tech support person to help her get connected.

And MATC has reported said that it would accept any of her class work, regardless of what software she had installed. This comes as no big surprise to me, as my work in supporting online learning systems has shown that (unless you're working in a Microsoft Office-specific course) assignments are usually expected to be in the universally acceptable RTF format.

How is it that Schubert was so clueless about taking an online course. I looked at MATC's site, and was not surprised to find this verbiage about online learning:

  • Do I have access to the computer technology and a connection to the Internet?
  • Do I have basic computing skills?
  • Three credit classes may require 12 to 15 hours per week. Do I have the time to take class online?
  • Can I motivate myself to go to the virtual classroom at least five days a week?
  • Am I comfortable with my reading, writing and typing skills?
  • Am I easily frustrated by technology?

Perhaps she was suffering from delusions of adequacy when she read this. Or perhaps, more likely, she didn't read this at all.

Finally, I was not surprised but nonetheless saddened to read in the followup article that the poor girl was being verbally abused by legions of intolerant Ubuntu zealots. That's sad, because more good could have come if they'd offered their help and advice. As it stands, however, the story might have a happy ending, because Verizon and the school have both offered to help.

That's not surprising, however. I'll bet all Ms. Schubert had to do was ask someone.

Postscript: my respect for MACT's web site just plummeted. Check out the Technical Requirements page for their online courses. I'd like to see Internet Explorer 5.0 pass the Blackboard Browser Check! "Last Modified: January 30, 2007" indeed!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Farewell to the King

A February 2009 VanityFair piece, Farewell to All That: An Oral History of the Bush White House, by Cullen Murphy and Todd S. Purdum, ought to become required reading for future historians.

If you were to distill the gist from books such as Fiasco, Hubris, and The Republican War on Science, you would have the damningly concise chronology of the last, disastrous, eight years. This chronology is built upon the testimony of witnesses to these events:

  • White House communications director Dan Bartlett
  • German foreign minister Joschka Fischer
  • Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and chief of staff to Colin Powell
  • chief White House counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke
  • Canadian foreign minister Bill Graham
  • David Kuo, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
...the list goes on and on.

As if I needed further evidence, this article hammers home the incredibly malevolent effect that Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove have had upon this country.

Your own reading of this account will doubtlessly leave you with your own conclusions. The authors chose to end their piece with a quote from Bush’s pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign, Matthew Dowd:

"You know, the headline in his presidency will be missed opportunity. That is the headline, ultimately. It’s missed opportunity, missed opportunity."
For me, however, it was encapsulated by the words of David Kuo, who was one of administration's disillusioned faith-based players. Now understanding how the evangelicals had been manipulated, Kuo speaks about Karl Rove's master plan of a "permanent Republican majority:"
It’s kind of like the Tower of Babel. At a certain point in time, God smites hubris. You knew that right around the time people started saying there’s going to be a permanent Republican majority—that God kinda goes, No, I really don’t think so.
Thank god.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lessons from a Mouse

For weeks, I have been plagued by mouse problems with my computer. Whenever I used the mouse to highlight and select text, the text that I had selected would often deselect itself. I couldn't just pick a sentence or a phrase and select it for operation. It didn't matter what web browser or text editor I was using.

I had reached my limit today and began Googling for a solution. Since I'm running Vista, and I have an Logitech bluetooth cordless mouse, I tried various permutations around those words.

It was surprising that I had found so many potential hits. A great many of them seemed to revolve around specific issues with Microsoft Word, but Word was not really the issue for me, although text selection with Word was just as bad as any other application.

Following some ideas that I'd gotten from a few applicable postings, I:

  • installed new mouse drivers, specifically for Logitech. My old driver was an out-of-the-box Microsoft driver;
  • experimented with enabling and disabling the Vista Aero theme in the mouse styles;
  • replaced the batteries in the wireless mouse;
  • swapped mice.
It was only when I had swapped back to an old cord-based laser mouse that I was able to perform text selection normally.

There are some lessons here. The first thing that I learned is that some search word choices turn out to be irrelevant: this wasn't a Vista problem. The biggest lesson was in my reluctance to consider this to be a hardware problem.

Interestingly, I had given up on using a different Logitech cordless mouse within the past year because of pointing problems that I was having. It was another Logitech bluetooth mouse (I just found it, sitting on a shelf).

I think I'm through with Logitech cordless mice. They've always ended up giving me grief, especially with regard to battery life and my not being able to easily tell when crappy performance was the direct result of dying batteries. Now that mouse balls are more or less a thing of the past, it seems that the failure point of a mouse might be in that wireless connectivity. I'm going back to a chord -- and I don't think it's going to be a Logitech this time.