Friday, June 30, 2006

HPV Vaccination for Girls in the USA

No end of stories about this. Google News link here.

Here are the arguments:
  • Several HPV strains play a role in (ok, "cause") cervical cancer
  • Cervical cancer is expensive to treat
  • Cervical cancer kills a lot of people
  • HPV is spread by sex

The anti-vaccination side, incidentally the same that's anti-sex-education, states that this will encourage kids to have sex. Bollocks. What do they think the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world in the USA means? It means that kids are having sex anyways, and because they know less, more bad things happen. Or maybe because abortion is hard to get too. Either way, the numbers are clear that American teens know diddly about sex, and are paying a high price for the religious "protection."

The pro-vaccination side states that people (and so girls sometime after the years after 11 or 12, the years they recommend administering the vaccine) will have sex, and less cervical cancer is a good thing for everybody, since all of us that matter pay into health insurance of some sort, and that needs to cover the medical costs for the treatment for the majority of people.

It's sad that this argument is actually happening. With the sexual ignorance plentiful in the USA already, it's clear that the target age group won't really know what the innoculation they're getting is actually for. Tell them it's against cervical cancer, and innoculate them. There is nothing in this paragraph that would actually encourage a pre-teen to have sex after (hopefully years after).

Making a fuss over it only raises the profile of the fact that this is protection against an STD. Now perverts all over are trying to figure out how to lure young girls off myspace who have had the shot to say "you're protected from everything, you should have sex with me" and other stupid stuff like that. I suppose that's what the religious right wanted all along: Ban the Internet. It's bad that people can communicate, since they can misuse communication to pervert our children. You can say the same about speech at bus stops.

Court says Guantanmo illegal, Bush says "is not"

While it's nice to see people actually do have the right to a fair trial when they are held on soil, the Bush administration and its supporters in congress still seem to believe that it's in the nation's interests to conduct trials under the following circumstances:

  • accused not allowed to see all evidence against him
  • accused not allowed to call witnesses in his defence
  • prosecution may remove accused from trial to show "classified" information to the judge
  • Appeals?

This translates to "we know you're guilty, but we won't tell you why." Why does the "Land of the Free" see this as an effective means to showcase its moral superiority? Even in its own courts, the administration seems to want convictions when it witholds evidence.

That's nice, it's easy to criticize, you say, but how would you allow evidence gathered using classified means in a credible court room or proceeding?

One method that civilized legal systems have used in the past are classified briefs. A summary containing non-classified information can be given, and the judge may review the whole contents. This at least gives the defence some idea what they're up against. There is a difference in the open validity of a judgement when the verdict is based on "something classified, we can't tell you what" or when based on "the unclassified summary states we heard you plan attacks in intercepted phone calls (audio provided), radio transmissions in-theater, and here are the emails you sent." Very little here would give away the means (the secret sauce) of gathering such intelligence.

The point with this is that the defendant would know that the prosecution has him on tape several times, in writing in contact with known terrorists, and picked him up in-theater before sending him to Guantanamo. He could then make the informed choice to plead guilty, plea bargain, or deliver evidence to the contrary that his voice was misidentified and email account hacked.

In the end, something will happen to these people. They have every reason to hate the USA now, even if they may not have before, so maybe that makes them guilty now. Giving them as fair as possible a hearing may make it harder to maintain that anger.

Sorry for falling off the Map

Sorry, I had some family issues to deal with (and will be dealing with for some time to come), so I had to interrupt my posts. I'll try to get the volume back up.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wake-up Call to Multi-cultural Nations

Ah, yes, the Canadian home-grown terrorists. How the left laments the failure of multi-culturalism, and the right sees this as an opportunity to point out the failures of Canada.

I take issue with the LA Times Ed piece by Jonah Goldberg, link here.

While I think that it raises some good points and questions, such as how far a country should go to accommodate the customs of its immigrants, Jonah really seems to think that Canada is islands of people from a bunch of countries. It's clear that he's never been there.

For one, it is human nature to stick to what you know, and the effect of new immigrants is that they move to a neighborhood, town, or city, with lots of people from the same place. However, after a generation or two, you see the effect lessening. This is akin to a solid dissolving in a liquid: The concentration is highest around the solid piece, which eventually dissolves, and the solid, now in solution, disperses pretty evenly throughout the solvent.

Where I think he does touch on something indirectly is expectations management. For some reason, some places in Ontario delude themselves into thinking that accepting part of Sharia into the civil code will make Canada a more acceptable place to live. This, however, is a strike against Canada's values, not for them, as it says "if you're Muslim, you have an alternate set of civil laws you may use, at your option." As a Christian, you'd be out of luck, so you could not divorce by cell phone SMS. This is different than seeing Chinese on signs in Chinatown.

The result of the Sharia proposal in Ontario is that it empowers radicalization, just as polygamy would, or making a Sabbath day law. Why? For one side, it's a thorn that must be removed. The other side will see it as not getting enough. Either way, the rhetoric can radicalize.

Where the left fails is saying "we must accommodate." Where the right fails is "you must integrate."

I propose the following, yet another compromise to be sure, for all countries and immigrants:
  1. Immigrant, you immigrated here to live a better life. Why bring the things that made your country a place you wanted to leave in the first place with you?
  2. Immigrant, if there are things in your new home that make it unacceptable to you (gay marriage, taxes, or the fact you can see women's faces), you are free to leave, or work to change them by contributing to society. Realize that some things will alienate others, and this is bad, because you were alienated once, and came here. Remember that.
  3. Host country, why do you cater to changing the country into something more palatable to an immigrant group? They came here of their own free choice, and for what it is, not what it will become. Further, you're probably going to change something that alienates the other immigrant group, and we all lose.
  4. Diversity is strength. Anything attacking diversity is an attack on the nation.
Didn't spoke say once: "The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few?"

Go ahead, flame me.

Zarqawi Dead: Too little, too late

With the US hyping the fact that they bombed the heck out of this man, and minimizing that to get him they also had to blow up a half-dozen civilians or so, the question remains: Does this matter?

In my uninformed opinion, no. For one, the ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq are already out of control. Yes, he contributed to this, but he was not alone. Even allies of the Iraqi government have at times played the ethnic card, and in fact the government there is based on a division of power between ethnic divisions. Something Americans would understand is having to have, by law, a President who is either Irish, Hispanic, or German, and the vice president must be of a listed group that the president is not. How absurd.

The above is a perfect example of how to drive a country apart, not unite it.

The side show is the actual insurgency. The Right will say it's better to fight jihadis there than to fight them on US soil. The problem with this argument is, in the days of Total Information Awareness, it's probably easier to catch them here. It's certainly less risky, given that collateral damage by the less-than-discriminate use of force by US forces lends credibility to the jihadis.

Let left will say we need to withdraw. All a road map like that does is give the jihadis a goal to fight towards.

The answer? Invalidate every argument they use to fight us, one at a time.

Their immediate grievances:
  • Presence of infidel soldiers on what they regard as holy soil. Can't do much about that now. I'll argue that this is tolerable to the vast majority, provided the other points were addressed.
  • Indiscriminate use of force. This turns the US from a liberator to an occupier. The US needs more appropriate training for what should be a police action now, not a military one.
  • Admission that it is the US that has propped up Saddam, increasing the peoples' suffering, in the past, and saying "sorry, we screwed that up."
  • Admission that the US's ADD-like foreign policy post-Gulf-War-I was to the detriment/demise to thousands of Shiites in Iraq. US: "Go ahead, rise against Saddam. We'll give you air cover." Shia: "Okay, let's go." US: "Oh, just kidding...". Why did people want to think that the Shiites would treat the US as liberators now?
  • Admission that what happened to the Shiites in Iraq was also what happened to the afghans after the Soviet withdrawal.
The point in the case of the afghans and the Iraqis is that the US should see this as an opportunity to make amends for past mistakes. You can't blame the dems or reps in either case, as both have contributed to the messes in both countries. Afghanistan dropped from the radar during Reagan's reign, and continued to be unimportant under Bush I. Clinton dropped the ball on the Shiites in Iraq. Bush the II and friends failed to plan the Iraqi engagement with any degree of competency - they expected their liberating troops to be welcomed as if they marched through Paris in 1944, complete with the French partisans to take over policing after the troops marched through.

One Topic at a Time Today: Net Neutrality

Looks like the lobbyists for the cable and big telco companies are winning the hearts and minds in Washington on the net neutrality issue. What does this really mean? It means that Comcast can decide to block access to Google, Yahoo! or whatever service it likes unless the content providers pay for the traffic that their users (who also pay Comcast) generate. Chances are it will take some time for the Comcasts and Verizons to realize that they need the content to sell their Internet service. Otherwise it's not better than the brain-dead AOL BBS stuff of old.

Right. For a network whose core was built with government money? The ignorance of lawmakers continues to baffle me. The Google CEO posted a blurb about it, the Washington Post has an article about it (reg req'd), but the bill was apparently defeated anyways. CIO Magazine laments its failure here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

More on Digital Rights and DRM

I am seeing more in the online press on the large corporations' management of your digital rights. "All you create are belong to us" seems to be the undercurrent of the proposed laws. Some articles, like the one on arstechnica ("arse technica" ... awesome) likens the response of the content ownership corporations to that of the church when he adapted or re-invented the Chinese printing press to the european alphabet and put a dent in the business of the scribes in the monasteries. Makes sense. If you control the market, and some disruptive technology comes along, wouldn't you try to quash it?

More along these lines are articles about the DMCA having killed off entire classes of devices, such as TVRs that can skip commercials. Ah, evidence of the truth emerging. You're not being sold entertainment, it's your eyeballs being sold to advertisers. You are the product. I linked to the "Death by DMCA" story already before, but here it is again.

This all ties into the freedom-spouting right wing. Apparently the freedom of corporations is more important than that of the individual or the community. With the moral compass so astray, it's not surpising to see books on the subject. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is interesting in that the author appears to have had a change of heart. The Washington Post as an interview with the author here. Worth reading, although it's probably less relevant to your if you were not personal withness to an economic collapse. The point is all that we consume has effects elsewhere:
  • Buying at Wal Mart, Target, et. al.: The poorest Americans are funding the rise of the force that will subjugate them in the future: China. They have more US currency in reserve than anyone else. Should we have to go to war with them, they could easily tank the US economy (making waging war or maintaining diplomatic leverage) by dumping US dollars at half price onto the market. Defend Taiwan? Unlikely.
  • Diamonds. In spite of De Beers aggressive marketing, there are few guarantees that the rock on your wife's finger was not acquired by hacking off the arms of children of half a village in Africa.
  • Cell phones. Certain minerals (namely Coltan) in there are also acquired using dubious methods in Africa.
  • Oil. Unless you've lived in a cave the last little while, your SUV's appetite for oil as you drive to church is supporting dictators in Nigeria and elsewhere, along with secret police, private militaries deployed by the oil giants (oh, sorry, "contract security"), the works.
Before you can say "you damn nazi or commie," may I remind you that a great number of these policies were also ignored by the more liberal governments, with possibly worse issues having been ignored by them (remember Rwanda? The convenient armored vehicles denied to the UN by the US, because their value happens to be pretty close to the dollar amount the US owed the UN? Didn't think so.). Articles by the radical New York Times, Mediafilter. Aw heck, here is the Google result. Yep, all you read on the web is true.

Neither Canada nor the USA can claim either ignorance, or even having cared about these as problems. Perhaps that's not their job, since it's a free market economy. Or is it?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ah, the Coffee Nazi

After a day of typing up documentation on how to build out the next generation stuff at where I work, I am beat. Boo-hoo. On the upside, I found one of my favourite coffee shops starring in a video aptly called the Coffee Nazi. Funny stuff, especially knowing the owner for real, and he can be like that.

But, you can't argue with beans fresh roasted daily. Well, I certainly can't.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Top 10 Indicators for a Rough Day as a Sysarch

I love top 10 lists, and I owe you something technical. Since the buck typically stops with the systems architects (i.e. " I can't figure it out. Ask the guy who designed it."), and people eventually feel entitled bypassing things like IT, the helpdesk, or the actual systems administrators, you get some of the best summaries of technological ignorance. It seems that when they can call the top sysarch on the phone, their brains turn off.

Anyways, here is my list:

10. A contractor delivers a .NET solution to deploy in your Linux infrastructure.
9. An engineer in QA calls and asks if Solaris is UNIX(tm).
8. A consultant for a vendor states that it's normal (and a requirement for their software to work) to allow root logins via ssh on all systems.
7. A contractor escalates the fact that typing ssh is too hard to the executive team.
6. A developer for the same contractor escalates not being able to access the Internet using IE from a production Windows server to the executive team.
5. Your COO calls you on your cell and says that the 'dir' command does not work on the Solaris machine he found the password to.
4. You log into a firewall system and discover the 'alias' command returns aliases to ssh logins to key systems with the password given on the command line.
3. You discover someone checked the root passwords for the systems they know about into CVS.
2. Telnetting to the main production router from home presents you with a "login: _" prompt.
1. An engineer from operations logs in as root and types the command 'hostname help' on your main database server.

I can't believe that just about everything on this list has happened to me in the past year. Titles, system types, and so on switched to protect the guilty.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

iSheep, and I thought I was smart

It seems that the term iSheep did not come from the depths of my imagination, but in fact was precedented by the person/people at Awesome. And they linked to a great video to boot :

Reminds me of back when Adbusters was still cool. Now it's just a bunch of left-wing organic vegan hippies, or at least sounds like I would expect them to sound like. The message is laudable, it's just the shrill voices of the fringe alienate the masses. Anyone not caught in the frenzy of the demagoguery going on knows (or at least fears) that fascism in America is slowly becoming the new freedom.

DRM and the DMCA

Two days ago I lamented the stupidity of the iSheep(tm) with their swanky iPods(tm). Subjecting its' users to "digital rights management" (managing others rights, not the users'), and the blithe acceptance of this, the iPod has done more to erode consumer rights in the western world than just about anything else. I'll argue that it's sad that the music industry failed in its attempt to deprive the iSheep of their music, since this would have undone much of the damage.

As far as the legal side is concerned, the DMCA has effectively outlawed research on digital format issues, as a simple XOR 81 on any data would qualify as "encryption" under the law. Discovering that the encryption is worthless gets you five years in jail. All this has done is promote the corporate security through obscurity stance.

Example: You discover that the keys your online banking web site follow a specific pattern, allowing your user credentials to be calculated from the cookies in your browser's cache. For someone based in Russia, it's easy to design web pages in such a way that they can collect all your cookies, and knowing what you do, get to your bank account. So, being a good citizen, you go to your bank, and they ignore you. Now 25,000 customers of that bank get ripped off. You'll have the FBI at your door, guaranteed, and you'll likely be charged with the above, plus "circumventing preventive measures protecting content" or something to that effect. Never mind that the money was transferred to another bank account at your bank, and that this money was subsequently transferred to a foreign account. Something like this happened to a student and a professor at a prestigious US University, and the same could happen to you. Luckily, it became pretty clear to the FBI people that the prof and student did not do this, but the message is clear.

So how does this affect you? You're deprived of the rights to defend your digital identity, and you're deprived of any sort of fair use of the music you buy (erm, "license"). Companies can hold YOU accountable for their mismanagement of YOUR digital information.

Should you care?

Some links to go with this: Chilling Effects, article about 2004 incident like the above. I can't find the story on the professor and the student, so I guess that did not happen.

Oh, the political spin: I find it so sad that the 'raw-raw freedom!' right wing is not behind this. Either their definition of freedom is more corporate, or they are unable to swallow working with people that lean a bit more to the left to achieve goals for the common good. United we stand, divided we fall.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Free Speech in Canada (as long as you agree)

Saw this on Slashdot, and had to go check it out. It turns out that Joe Volpe's campaign staffers have successfully gotten the Canadian internet name registry to delete a registration, knocking a site offline, and bragged about it to boot. Why? It was making fun of them and their beloved candidate, but in a not-so-nice way. Joe Volpe's campaign has been accused of some "dubious" donations, such as a sum of money from the twin daughters of a generic drug company, and the site made fun of that. Nice - this guy gets my vote. Not.

Story is here.

Seriously, this kind of behaviour on the part of politicians and their staffers (both the donations accusations, and gagging people who write about it) is sickening. It seems like the only people attracted to politics are at best somewhat suspect, with a great many being outright scumbags. While I find Canadian politics more entertaining than US politics for the most part, it seems that the politicians and their cronies are trying to leapfrog each other in brashly stomping on peoples' rights, because that's easier than dealing with criticism and cleaning up their act.

Hey, an idea: how about not being a weasel in the first place?

Ok, Canada: go ahead, ban me from your country. It seems like you border people interrogate me to the point that you'll deny me entry even though I carry a passport from your country. Don't worry, I won't overstay my visa.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Feeling Secure Enough Already?

Since yesterday's post was so long, I'll keep this post nice and short, and save the accumulated vitriol for tomorrow.

Apparently a bill is proposed in Congress to legalize what is estimated to be 20 million immigrants, according to this Washington Post article (warning, registration probably required). Now, I am not an immigrant, but live in the States as a non-immigrant. What makes the people who came into the United States illegally feel that they can jump ahead in line of legal immigrants? It's probably that they don't qualify since they are high school drop outs. But then, I don't qualify to immigrate either, since I am a college drop out, no matter how many millions of dollars I made for US citizens and choosing to contribute to job growth in this country.

Anyways, I'll leave it at that before I get my visa revoked. Free speech and all only applies to resident aliens (partially) and citizens (less than they think) anyways.

On a separate note, there is this cool site called Homeland Stupidity. Kind of funny, but not as funny as, and not nearly as frightening as Cryptome.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New World, Old Media

I had a chat with a friend yesterday, and while listening to her talk about how demotivated some of the people she has to work with have become, I asked "ah, so it's old media trying to understand new media?" Bingo. And here I was thinking this was such a 1998 topic, with this new thing called the "Internet" scaring the media giants about their control of our eyeballs.

So in short, nothing has really changed. The media giants are still thinking that they do not have to compete for our attention, and the Internet is a distraction to their lofty goals. On the way there, they see having an Internet presence as a "cost center" while salivating over the kind of business that Amazon and company do. I suppose the iTunes juggernaut has done something to change their perspective on new ideas being all-bad, although then they tried to choke that golden goose in an effort for it to lay even more eggs.

Ah, yes, iTunes. Finally, something has made DRM palatable for the unwashed masses. Or, they don't know it's there. Success either way. I personally object to the way it snarfs up your MP3 collection, converts it into some other format, and applies DRM, even just only the number of times a playlist can be burned. Even to music I myself recorded. Thanks, but no thanks.

I am sure the irony is lost on nobody that the recording giants just returned to making record profits (pun not intended), most likely because their music sucked less last year than it did the year before. Ssssh - those losses were due to piracy. I find it interesting that most of my mp3-hoarding friends are also the most CD-hoarding people I know. They'll pull down an mp3, listen to it, and because they want to sound nice on their super-duper headphones, go out and get the CD. Repeatedly. Of course, they are criminals, as their downloading that initial mp3 and then NOT buying the CD cuts into profits. From the record industry's perspective, the consumer must like what they're given, or the losses are due to piracy.

Lest I digress, this post is about my dear friend lamenting how people whom she thinks are competent are having the life sucked out of them. On that subject, I tripped over a couple of cool blogs and sites:

Escape from Cubicle Nation has two interesting posts:

Open Letter to CXO's and the same to the Cubicle Serfs.

Of course, the discussion would not be complete on either topic without a link to Cluetrain.

I think the point is for corporate leaders to be reasonable. Working people to the point of exhaustion all the time is usually counter-productive. Execs tend to focus more on capital costs than on operating costs for equipment, but their idea of an employee is that they are an operating cost too. Bzzzt. Wrong. An employee can also bring profit, either in reducing operating costs elsewhere ("Look, add this index in this database here and queries take a half-second compared to twenty minutes. Now the customer support reps don't have to twiddle their thumbs as long."), or by direct action, as in either retaining or getting more customers. It all depends on how you structure it, but the guarantee is that at the end of a 16 hour shift, retaining that customer is the last thing on that person's mind.

The other fallacy is that replacing people is easy, and in fact cheaper because they won't be able to take vacation for the first couple of months. It can be, if you're talking about people to man your deep-fat-fryer. In the technology industry, there is so much that walks out the door with that person that the soft costs easliy add up to a significant percentage of that employee's salary. Strangely, the people who say replacing people is easy are also the first who are hugely offended when someone hands in notice. Hm.

From the cube-worker end, standing up for yourself can also go a long way. Of course, you run the risk of getting fired. But how about investing in yourself so that when you go to a new job elsewhere you won't be in the same position? How about learning about how things work at a level above yourself, so you can talk about it intelligently in the next job interview? I know, it's hard when you're working 10 or 12 hour days.