Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Phishing and Spam IQ Quiz by SonicWALL

Phishing and Spam IQ Quiz by SonicWALL

I really didn't expect to get 100% right on this quiz, but I did. There were some questions in which it was not clear to me whether the thing was a phish or not, but if I had received something like it I would have treated it as a phish.

I think this was a very good and useful exercise. On the results page at the end you can click a "Why?" link for information about why each example was, or wasn't, a phish.

Good on SonicWALL for hosting this quiz.

I guess the bottom line is to be very suspicious of links in emails. There are some sneaky bastards out there.

Illusion of progress

Fraser: The illusion of progress in the drug war - Milford, MA - The Milford Daily News
Perhaps the non-performing drug war programs are not really expected to deliver on their publicly stated goals, but continue because they serve a very different purpose.
Perhaps? Perhaps??

The author is correct, of course, and goes on to mention politicians pandering to authoritarians, preservation of funding and job security for prison operators and guards.

I wonder how likely it is that "black budget hiding place" is a big reason for continuance of the War on Some Drugs? Seems likely to me, along with usefulness in certain covert operations.

I don't know anything except that national drug policy is the stupidest goddamn thing I've ever seen. Not to worry, though, because President Obama has promised to end programs that don't work.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hole Into Space


The level of ignorance in the Arab world is staggering.

I recently re-deployed from a 14 month combat tour in northern Iraq, near the city of Kirkuk. This is a very secular area, relatively peaceful and with good education.

Early in our deployment, some of our Soldiers were talking with one of the Iraqi Army units in the area at their headquarters. The Iraqi Army (IA) officers were university educated, secular professional soldiers, most of whom held rank during the Saddam era.

As usual, a TV set was on, and everyone watched as a Space Shuttle launched toward the ISS. A short time into the launch, the shuttle began it's roll program to head East and gain advantage from the Earth's rotation. Some of the IA officers began chattering in Arabic, and the translator said they were talking about the Shuttle heading for Israel.

When American officers asked what they meant, they explained (as to idiots) that the Shuttle had to aim for the hole into space left after the Mohammed ascended into heaven all those years ago.

The clinching evidence? When Columbia and Challanger were destroyed, it was because THEY MISSED THE HOLE INTO SPACE!

This was not expressed as a joke, or as a religious story - it was explained as a simple "truth".

Mind boggling.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

2008 List / Google Docs

sls gift list
Desktop bell
Fresnel Lens Magnifying Glass
4 oz. bottle of UltraGlow paint
Uranium Glass Marbles
Zero Blaster
K7 Truncated Octahedron
50 of these S4G's

This was really just a test of publishing from Google Docs directly to the blog. Worked OK except for extra blank lines between the items, which I edited out in the Blogger editor.

I learned that when you publish a document in Google Docs (to the web, not the blog), if you also share it with the people you invite to look at it (if you set them up as Collaborator anyway, probably not as Viewer), links in the document won't work unless the person goes "File -> View as web page" (using the document's File menu, not the browser's File menu).

I suppose the rationale is that if someone is a Collaborator, then it's logical that they'll want to edit the document, and during editing the links don't work. I think that's consistent with Word, in which you have to hit some key combination along with the click of the link if you want to follow the link.

I really don't have any need to collaborate with people on any documents, but if I ever do, I think Google Docs will work fine.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vision for America

I responded to a solicitation from the Obama transition team for a donation towards the inaugural ceremonies, for which the new administration will not accept the usual corporate and lobbyist cash. Since I like that, I sent in some money.

Along the way there was a request for people's visions for the country. Well, "vision for the country" is somewhat more expansive than the writing I was prepared to do, but prompted by having just looked at the annual report from the Drug Policy Alliance, I figured What the heck, and sent in the following:

This is just a little piece of my vision for the country. Writing about "my vision" will take a little longer than the time and space I have here.

One element of the vision I have for the country involves the War on Some Drugs, private prisons, privacy rights and individual responsibility.

Our national drug policy is the stupidest goddamn thing I've ever seen. It does not serve the public interest, but does very nicely for certain special interests, including drug warriors, drug producers and merchants, various vendors, and several others.

The War on Some Drugs wastes something on the order of 60 billion dollars per year while furthering erosion of civil rights (and foregoing significant tax revenue that could be raised in a legal market). All the while, it advances abominations like civil forfeiture, breeds scofflaws and creates antipathy among our neighbors to the south.

ONDCP's mandate to counter efforts to change the law is an affront to liberty that gives rise to some of the most risible propaganda I've ever seen.

If the country can somehow achieve rationality in dealing with the drugs problem (and it is a problem, just not a law enforcement problem), my hopes for the future will be raised.

Thoughts on energy and the environment | The Obama-Biden Transition Team

Inside the Transition: Your thoughts on energy and the environment | The Obama-Biden Transition Team: "Heather Zichal"

I like what the transition team is doing with their updates and requests for input. They are making it hard for the cynic in me to come out.

They asked for thoughs, so I submitted this:

You know, watching Heather Zichal's video update (great job presenting!) I was left hoping that your energy and environment team has some heavy technical hitters on board. By this I mean people who have an appreciation for the concept of embedded energy, people who understand the concept of base load and the need for energy storage as a part of the renewables picture, and people who understand why we need more nuclear energy as quickly as it can be brought on board. (McCain was right about this.)

I think that energy security is, bar none, the most important issue (possibly in a first place tie with one or two others), but my continued sense that Democrats fear nuclear energy and will fight it rather than nurture it worries me greatly.

Along these lines, Heather's reference to the "cars, trucks and SUV's of tomorrow" discouraged me because what is needed is not SUV's of tomorrow, but the elimination of the "need" for SUV's tomorrow.

Please make sure you have credible technical people, and a mix of them, of your team. Amory Lovins is great but I don't think he should be left unsupervised. Make sure you've got technical representation from among the Peak Oil community. Talk to Robert Hirsch of SAIC, Matt Simmons of Simmons & Company.

And, for God's sake, banish the idea of corn ethanol! I know Mr. Obama is from Illinois, but corn ethanol is a bad move anyway because of its marginal energy return and impact on food prices.

I get the impression that energy discussions among the transition team are being held among political people, and I'm not confident that you've got sufficient technical/scientific representation.

One more thing, please don't even consider Robert Kennedy for a high, policy making role. His stance on thimerosal in vaccines bucks the overwhelming consensus of the relevant scientific community. He reminds me of greenhouse gas skeptics, and I don't think he's qualified to head an agency so dependent on science as the EPA.

Good luck!

The 63 Questions

The 63 Questions the Obama Administration Must Answer | Background Check News
Apparently, does not offer the famous 63-question questionnaire for download. Instead, you have to submit a statement of interest in a job with the Obama administration. Once they're interested in you, they'll ask you to answer the 63 questions.

You can see the questionnaire in the form of a scanned PDF at various places, or read the thing in text form at the Crimcheck website. Thanks for that, Crimcheck. Classy of you to host your own copy of the PDF and, especially, to transcribe the questionnaire into text.
[Update: I put the text here.]

Right wingers seem to be looking at this extensive questionnaire as an example of Obama hypocrisy, noting, for instance, that much of the questionnaire was off limits regarding Mr. Obama himself during the campaign. I don't know about that and I doubt if it is true, but I don't care because it is irrelevant.

I guess the purpose for such an extensive questionnaire is to try to avoid the avoidable during the confirmation process, which is probably a good thing to try to do. Zoe Baird might have been confirmed (or she might have been disqualified, thereby avoiding the whole issue) if her employment of domestic servants had been known about as a potential issue up front, and dealt with appropriately. Giuliani's buddy, the one who wanted to be boss of homeland security, is another example where an extensive questionnaire might have come in handy.

I don't see anything wrong with the questionnaire, except that it might deter some good applicants from applying for lesser posts (applicants for posts requiring confirmation already know they're in for a wringer). It's like one of those forms you fill out for a security clearance, only on steroids.

Most of the questions would be easy for me to answer simply because I'm a nobody who keeps his meager financial affairs simple. I'd be uncertain about some answers, such as whether the guys I hired to trim my palm trees were legally eligible to work in the U.S. at the time. Hell, I don't know!

Question 59 is, well, questionable.
59. Do you or any members of your immediate family own a gun? If so, provide complete ownership and registration information. Has the registration ever lapsed? Please also describe how and by whom it is used and whether it has been the cause of any person injuries or property damage.
The question sticks out like a lion in Alaska, and its inclusion in the questionnaire indicates a lapse of judgment on the part of the transition team (though it may be in keeping with the general temperament there).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


At the end of the day, I personally shouldn't of wrote this, even if it does, with all due respect, absolutely present a fairly unique synergy of outside the box thinking and low-hanging fruit.

Going forward, I'll bring to the table a proactive, high-level paradigm shift that will take cliches to the next level by drilling down to the core competencies of interpersonal linguistic efficiency.

The fact of the matter is, though, irregardless of the leverage gained by ignoring granularity as a long-pole item, commenter speed1961 did it, like, better than I myself.

Also, many thanks to commenter shwonline. Priceless!

Dealing with piracy?

The Reality-Based Community: International law query
l tend to agree with Eugene Volokh and Kenneth Anderson that the Somali piracy problem might represent an opportunity for the Obama Administration to assert international leadership. I don't understand the operational issues here, but if Google Earth can show street traffic it shouldn't be hard to spot pirates.

Apparently part of the problem is what to do with captured pirates, and in particular their potential asylum claims in whatever country catches and tries them.

That raises a question.

When a pirate ship is sunk by naval forces, is there an affirmative duty to rescue the crew? If not, then the question of whether the pirate crews have rights of asylum might not arise. If the duty exists and is triggered by the presence of ships capable of effecting the rescue, then the use of long-range air-to-surface or ship-to-ship missiles might make rescue infeasible.

Come on. Using a long-range weapon on the basis that it renders an otherwise obligatory rescue infeasible is no different, morally, from sailing away after letting them have it with a Vulcan cannon or something.

The idea of using an expensive missile to shield yourself from a supposed obligation to rescue, and possibly provide asylum to a fucking criminal, is absurd.

This is why we are collectively incapable of dealing with terrorists or making quick work of war. I am not in favor of ineffectual and half-assed anti-piracy policies, which is all we'll get with this kind of thinking.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Good for her!

The Associated Press: Dunwoody becomes first female four-star general

John Dean on danger from the Republicans

FindLaw's Writ - Dean: The Evidence Establishes, without Question, that Republican Rule Is Dangerous: Why It Is High Time to Fix This Situation, For the Good of the Nation:
Frankly, the fact that the pre-election polls are close - after eight years of authoritarian leadership from Bush and Cheney, and given its disastrous results - shows that many Americans either do not realize where a McCain/Palin presidency might take us, or they are happy to go there. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me, for there is only one way to deal with these conservative zealots: Keep them out of power.

That from Richard Nixon's White House Counsel. He ought to know.
The leading authority on right-wing authoritarianism, a man who devoted his career to developing hard empirical data about these people and their beliefs, is Robert Altemeyer. Altemeyer, a social scientist based in Canada, flushed out these typical character traits in decades of testing.

Altemeyer believes about 25 percent of the adult population in the United States is solidly authoritarian (with that group mostly composed of followers, and a small percentage of potential leaders). It is in these ranks of some 70 million that we find the core of the McCain/Palin supporters. They are people who are, in Altemeyer's words, are "so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds."

Altemeyer made his book, The Authoritarians, (which came to my attention a couple of years ago thanks to Pete Guither) freely available via the Internet. He's added a postscript on the 2008 election, which concludes
Almost nothing would give me greater pleasure than seeing the research on authoritarian personalities become totally irrelevant, now that we have seemingly put the nightmare behind us and begun anew. I’d much rather people get interested in my next book instead, which is about a far more pleasant subject: my studies of the sexual behavior of university students. But I’m afraid will remain worth people’s visiting for the next little while at least.

Palin says a woman on 2012 ticket would be good for GOP -

Palin says a woman on 2012 ticket would be good for GOP -

Not necessarily. It depends on the candidate.

In any event, the Republicans will pick a few more bible-type conservatives, loose more elections, and eventually come back a changed party. David Brooks sounds about right to me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Africa Palin

A Fake Expert Named Martin Eisenstadt and a Phony Think Tank Fool Bloggers and the Mainstream News Media -

It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

That one was so outrageous that anyone should have seen through it. Hell, I did, and I almost wanted it to be true.

Maybe it will turn out that these guys performed a public service with their hoax. Even assholes serve a purpose, I guess.

But the truth was out for all to see long before the big-name take-downs. For months has identified Martin Eisenstadt as a hoax. When Mr. Stein was the victim, he blogged that “there was enough info on the Web that I should have sussed this thing out.”

And then there is William K. Wolfrum, a blogger who has played Javert to Eisenstadt’s Valjean, tracking the hoaxster across cyberspace and repeatedly debunking his claims. Mr. Gorlin and Mr. Mirvish praised his tenacity, adding that the news media could learn something from him.

“As if there isn’t enough misinformation on this election, it was shocking to see so much time wasted on things that didn’t exist,” Mr. Wolfrum said in an interview.

And how can we know that Mr. Wolfrum is real and not part of the hoax?

Long pause. “Yeah, that’s a tough one.”
I wonder how much of what I think it true, isn't? Now that I think about it, though, I've thought in terms of probabilities for a long time now. Things aren't true, just "probably true" or "almost certainly true", or false, and so on. Sometimes I actually place a number on something, and error bars.

Probabilities and error bars...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Sad episode"

BBC NEWS | Europe | Hitmen 'killed matadors' horses':

[owners of killed horses] hoped justice would at last be done

The justice that comes to my mind is that imposed by the Overlords, in one of my all-time favorite books, Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End.

I'm not European, and my own country commits its fair share of stupidities, but the fact that the EU subsidizes bullfighting is just bizarre.

Just as boxing, ultimate fighting championships, prostitution, drug use, and most other human activities objectionable to some should not be banned, bullfighting should not be banned.

Were I European, though, I'd be very angry about hefty subsidies to the bullfighting industry, especially in the guise of agricultural subsidies.

Here's an interesting video from the archives of the European Parliament's EP Live.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Write Or Die : Dr Wicked's Writing Lab

Hat tip to Lifehacker

Start test:

Well, this ought to be interesting.

The idea is to keep writing. Keep writing, and to do so, make use of automated prods. Keeping writing is one of the suggestions I received early on, but which can be tough to sustain. Write, write, write, and then go back later to cull, edit, sieve, harvest, and retrieve anything good that may have come out of the exercise.

This web app will prod you if you stop writing. There are several modes, such as gentle
ok I just hit the first prod. The screen went pink when I stopped wiring for something on the order of ten or 15 seconds. I think that the settings I went with will result in words beginning to disappear from the end if I stop for longer than that.

So far I've been writing to 6 and a half minutes, and I've written 143 words. I don't think I was very realistic in setting my target of 500 words in 10 minutes, but let's see what happens. [No, I was mistaken. The timer counts down, so I had 6 and a half minutes to go.]

I'm thinking I need to simply stop my tendency to backspace and correct things when I'm in this fast mode that I chose to try. Just go go go go go go go go, Het that's a way of chating the word count. I still can't resist the urget o hit the backspace key (did it twice, three times there) but now I'm at four minutes left and 232 words down.

This promises to be a useful device. I wonder if you can get it on a usb key, portable, to use at work, holy shit I waste a lot of time trying to compose stuff at work. maybe allocating five minutes to an email response would be useful. I think eventually you could retrain yourself to be much more productive a the keyboard

See, I'm gettig better already, as shown by the increas in errors. But who cares about errors when the object is to simply write down words for later polishing?

Logjam! Oh, shit, now what? Write! asshole! OK. Oh, man. take a break. See what the second prompt is. Stop now. Well, OK, the screen changed color starting at about 8 secnds, and went to red in one-second increments over about ten seconds. I didn't wait any longer to see what would happen [Apparently it starts making noise, but I don't have sound on this computer.] if I waited more. One minute to go, 389 words down.

Well, this has certainly been an interesting introduction to this web app. I think , no I know, I will be back to make further use of it, but I will be more realistic in my goal setting. 500 words in 10 minutes is pretty fucking intesne. Intense. 321

OK, the exercise is over. I got about 440 words down in ten minutes. Are they any good? Who cares. It was just a test. Could I go back and retrieve anything of value rom this forced stream of consciousness or whatever? maybe.

Congratulations Dr. Wicked! Very interesting. I'll be back.


PS: There's a "Done" button in the web app that I did not click at the end of the ten minutes, which accounts for the 15 minutes stated in the banner above, and I did not stop typing at the end of ten minutes, which accounts for the higher number of words. Next time I'll get it wright (get it?).

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Bali bombers buried in emotional ceremonies

Bali bombers buried in emotional ceremonies
| Reuters
Emotions ran high as thousands of people poured onto the streets for the funerals after the bodies were flown by helicopter to their home towns -- brothers Mukhlas and Amrozi to Tenggulun in East Java, and Samudra to Serang in West Java.

How stupid is it to facilitate this sort of thing? Flown by helicopter. Terrific. Brilliant!

Better that the announcement of impending execution be the last thing ever heard about crazy people like these. From firing squad to incinerator.

Saturday, November 08, 2008
Office of the President-Elect

Sounds good. "Change" looks good next to ".gov".


Suggestion form

President-Elect Obama and Vice President-Elect Biden have developed innovative approaches to challenge the status quo in Washington and to bring about the kind of change America needs.

The Obama Administration has a comprehensive and detailed agenda to carry out its policies. The principal priorities of the Obama Administration include: a plan to revive the economy, to fix our health care, education, and social security systems, to define a clear path to energy independence, to end the war in Iraq responsibly and finish our mission in Afghanistan, and to work with our allies to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, among many other domestic and foreign policy objectives.
OK, that's fine, but I'm disappointed to see "Science" seemingly tacked on as an afterthought. One of the big changes I want to see out of this Obama administration is a decent attitude towards science. It's probably reading too much into this to react badly to seeing "Science" alongside "Arts" and "Sportsmen" in the final, "Additional Issues" section, but it does not look good.

I didn't expect to see some of the particulars I'd have included, such as "Critical Thinking" in the "Education" section. Seeing Plug-In Hybrids referred to as "cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon" in the "Energy and Environment" section is annoying. But, hey, it's a start.

I don't like the idea, in the "Energy & Environment" section, of using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to cut prices, and I don't like the complete omission of nuclear energy. There's no way the country will even come close to reducing CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050 without including this atmospherically benign energy to the portfolio. Not while maintaining something approaching reasonable living standards, anyway.

Seeing two different drug-related issues in the "Civil Rights" section is somewhat encouraging. Eliminating sentencing disparities and expanding the use of drug courts are OK, as far as they go, but they are entirely insufficient. Among the items I did not expect to see was some mention of the fact that the ONDCP's mandate includes acting to prevent changes in the law (something that ought to be considered unconstitutional). Such a mandate hinders development of a more rational approach to the drugs problem than wasting untold billions of dollars per year to accomplish little except to serve the interests of the prison-cop complex, threaten liberty and corrupt us. I heard Candidate Obama state categorically that he'll end government programs that don't work. The War on Some Drugs clearly fits that category. We'll see.

Good luck, Mr. Obama, in your new job. So far I'm happy to have supported you. Keep it that way.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Moderates to blame for GOP losses, conservative leader says -

Moderates to blame for GOP losses, conservative leader says -

Oh, please.

There are conservatives and there are conservatives.

I can live with libertarian conservatives if they don't get too impractical, but fundie conservatives, the ones that overuse the word "family" and have a god on their side, are just annoying.

If their god is omnipotent, who are they to limit its ability to say different things to different people?