Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Pew Research: Test Your News IQ


PewResearchCenter Interactive: Political Quiz

I didn't do too bad, got 11 out of 12 right:



I guessed wrong on question #9. After taking the test, you get to compare how you did with other demographics (age,gender, education, etc.)
     

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Funnies: Dancing Birds and Babies

I got both of these in my email:



I thought, gee, I wonder if I can find them on YouTube. Well yeah, they were there and easy to find too, at the top of each search.



I have only seen them for the fist time recently, but it seems that they have been popular on YouTube for a while now. But the ones I got in my email don't have the advertisements on the edges. When did Youtube start doing that? I don't like the ads overlapping the video, they are annoying and detract from the experience. I say put the ads below the video, not OVER it.
     

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Interactive unemployment map, by county

The Decline: The Geography of a Recession

Follow the link. It's a time-lapse map of the USA by county, from Jan 2007 to Sept 2009. The dark colors represent growing unemployment. It's like watching the lights go out in America.

Here in Oregon, unemployment rises in the private sector, while Government jobs thrive and even increase:

It's no coincidence. Government jobs are union jobs, and their policies are often antagonistic to the private sector; job killers.
     

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ultra Hal: His "Second Life" is really his first one

I've previously posted about Ultra Hal, a teachable "Chat-Bot" that is a program you can download onto your PC. I've done updates about it's new releases, as it continues to evolve.

The latest news is, that the Ultra Hal program has been given a body and a "life" in the on-line virtual world, "Second Life". From the Press Release:

Artificial Intelligence Lives Among and Interacts with Real People in Online Virtual World
Zabaware is the maker of the award winning Ultra Hal software, artificial intelligence technology that won the “most human” computer of the year in the 17th annual Loebner Prize Competition for Artificial Intelligence (AI). Zabaware’s Ultra Hal has joined the Second Life metaverse as a permanent resident and interacts with real people in this huge online virtual world.

Erie, PA, October 22, 2009 --(PR.com)-- Zabaware is an Erie, Pennsylvania based company that specializes in artificial intelligence technology. The company's mission "giving your computer the power of thought" once considered a futuristic pipe dream is becoming a reality.

It is one thing to talk to your computer it is quite another to have a conversation where you are exchanging information and the computer learns and utilizes the information in the future. Zabaware's Ultra Hal technology and its associated brain are currently doing just that. The software can give computers a personality using AI technology, speech recognition technology, and real-time animation.

Up until this point Hal has been confined to the computer it is installed on, waiting for people to activate its program and interact with it. Hal was unable to explore and interact with the world on its own. However, Zabaware has just given Hal this ability by integrating it into the online virtual world called Second Life. Second Life is a huge online virtual world where hundreds of thousands of people come together every day to socialize, meet new people, explore, conduct business, shop, learn, participate in group activities, play games and more. Second Life has its own internal economy with over one billion US dollars being exchanged since its inception. The system is accessible with a free account and software from Linden Labs. [...]

There is a short video showing what Hal's life is like inside of Second Life:



Some people refuse to believe he is a Chat-Bot. Others abuse him because he IS a chat-bot. Some people actually make friends with him.

I have mixed feelings about all this virtual world stuff. I sometimes think too many people spend way too much time lost in fantasy; lost in TV shows about Vampires, ghosts, alternate universes, etc. Too much un-reality. I would be tempted to throw Second Life into that category, but I suppose you could argue that, unlike TV, it IS interactive. As entertainment, is it any worse than TV? Is it possibly better than just passively watching all the crap that's on TV?

I personally can't comment much on Second Life, because I've never been there. I don't really have the time for it, or even the interest to pursue a cyber-life; I've got plenty of things in my actual life to occupy my attention, to enjoy, and keep me busy. But I do find this Hal-video interesting, as a glimpse into the Second Life metaverse, and as a look at Ultra Hal's ability to function autonomously in such an environment.

I find both Second Life and Ultra Hal interesting, not so much for what they are now, but for what they have the potential to become. These are technologies in their infancy, and where exactly they will lead, and the consequences they will effect, have yet to be seen or fully understood.

Oh Brave New World, with such people (and Chat-Bots) in it!


Related Links:

Ultra Hal Assistant 6.2

Ultra Hal now lives in Second Life

Artificial voice synthesis, 1939 to the present

     

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

eHeat introduces economical "Envi" heaters

I did a post last year, about electric heating panels (imported from South Africa) that used convection heating technology:

A Low-Cost Heating Alternative that uses New Convection Heating Technology

They turned out to be a good low-cost, clean heating solution for heating our back porch in the winter. The company that sells them in the US (eHeat) is now selling an American made version that they claim is even better than the original. They call it the "Envi":

Envi - the pure convection heater
Economical
The stylish wall-mounted Envi panel heater is the most innovative and energy efficient heater available. The Envi is the world's first heater to use “stack convection technology” to evenly distribute the perfect amount of heat throughout a room while reducing your heating bills by up to 50 percent.

Safe
The Envi promotes a safe, healthy living environment, especially for children, seniors, and pets because it cannot be tipped over and the exterior shell always remains cool to the touch. And because the Envi does not use a fan, the days of worrying about dust and other allergen particles being blown into the air are a thing of the past.

Simple
The Envi installs on your wall in seconds using a simple 3-step process. No hassle, just clean, fresh, warm air.

Be warm with Envi.

The imported panels have worked well for us. We have two panels on the back porch. On nights when the temperature went below freezing all night long, I had to supplement them with a space heater. I bought a third panel this summer to install this winter, so I won't have to use the space heater even in freezing weather.

The new Envi model is a bit more powerful than the previous model, and has a built-in thermometer, as well as other improvements. Here is a page that compares the two models:

Envi Comparison

The older imported panels are vulnerable to fractures if they are dropped or hit hard with something, but none of mine have cracked; I'm careful with them. The new Envi model has a protective shield, eliminating that concern.

I don't own an Envi model (yet!), but one thing I like about the older panels is, they are simpler. I have external thermostats to regulate them. The Envi has built-in components, so what happens if they stop working? With the ones I have now, I can just replace the thermostats if they fail. So far though, everything has been good, no complaints.

The eHeat website still offers both kinds of panels, and also sells thermostats, timers and hardware accessories. Have a look around, you may find some things to make your winter more warm and cozy. And more cost-effective, too.
     

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Is there a "right to not be offended"? NO.

Google apologizes for results of 'Michelle Obama' image search
(CNN) -- For most of the past week, when someone typed "Michelle Obama" in the popular search engine Google, one of the first images that came up was a picture of the American first lady altered to resemble a monkey.

On Wednesday morning, the racially offensive image appeared to have been removed from any Google Image searches for "Michelle Obama."

Google officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

[...]

The California-based company then explained that search results rely on computer algorithms that take into account thousands of factors.

"The beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google, as well as the opinions of the general public, do not determine or impact our search results," it said.

The company said that the integrity of its search results is extremely important.

"Accordingly, we do not remove a page from our search results simply because its content is unpopular or because we receive complaints concerning it."

A user alerted Google to the picture via an online help forum two weeks ago.

The altered image can be found here, although clicking on this link will take users to a photo that many will find offensive.

The Internet was abuzz Tuesday and Wednesday with reaction to the image. Some online users demanded that the photo be blocked, while others said it should remain on free speech grounds.

"There is no way to defend this heinous incident," said a Twitter user who gave his name as Alheli Picazo of Calgary, Canada. "People often claim their right to free speech to mask blatant racism and insulting bigotry and always seem to get away with it," he told CNN via e-mail. "When it comes to issues of discrimination, hiding behind free speech just doesn't cut it."

A Twitter user who gave his name as Jerry Wright of Hoboken, New Jersey, disagreed.

"I am absolutely disgusted by this picture, but the Internet has thousands and thousands of offensive images. Should Google get rid of all of them? Where do you draw the line," he asked CNN via e-mail.

In 2004, Google posted a similar note of apology when a search for "Jew" pulled up anti-Semitic sites as top results. [...]

I followed the link to the image, and from there, to the site that posted it. The person who posted it there said said:

WTF IS THIS? MICHELLE OBAMA AS AN APE HUH?
[...] ***Ed. Note***

Over the last few months, we’ve received a LOT of feedback from readers regarding this picture. And I wanted to be clear on a few things.

We DID NOT generate this photo. It was seen on another site (www.Celerbtityapes.com) and as with all of our other posts, we reported on it.

We will NOT be removing this picture because this is a story, and it our policy NOT to remove stories based on anything but editorial error. If you choose to visit the source site, you will see that this picture WAS NOT created out of racially motivated ignorance. Had that have been the case, as a journalist, an American and most importantly, a Black woman, I would have NEVER posted it.

I appreacite your feedback. Thank you.

I agree with the editor. People can have whatever opinions they like about it, and express them too, but there in no reason to remove it. Free speech is about free speech, not preserving people's comfort zones.

There is no right to "not be offended". I see things every day that offend me. I don't expect the world to conform to me; that's completely unrealistic. Duh.

How many altered pictures of Laura Bush have I seen, obscene, pornographic, vulgar and hateful? Too many to count. I've developed a great technique for dealing with such rubbish; I ignore it! Fortunately it's a wonderful, easy to lean technique that can be mastered by anyone.

Who gets to decide what is acceptable and what isn't? In a free society, WE do, each one of us, for ourselves. I wouldn't have it any other way. And I'm offended by anyone who thinks they have the right to decide for me what is acceptable!
     

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What is Google's "Chrome OS" all about ?

Underwhelmed By Chrome OS? That's Kinda the Point
When Google unveiled its open source Chrome OS on Thursday, many commentators were quick to dismiss the new operating system as unimpressive and underwhelming. Citing everything from the browser interface that represents the entirety of the user experience to its limited hardware support and inability to install apps or play PC games, early critics have slammed Google's cloud-based OS for being exactly what it is intended to be: lean, fast, and simple.

To my eye, all this criticism appears to miss the point of Chrome OS--and indeed, the point of most of Google's services. Of course, this is nothing new for Google.


Simplicity By Design

At the launch of the company's eponymous search engine in 1998, Google stood out from the pack of increasingly cluttered search portals with which it competed. In a time when leading Internet companies sought to become destinations by loading up their home pages with news, weather, entertainment links, shopping deals, and anything else they could think of, Google took a different tack by presenting a clean, white page with little more than a search field under the site's name.

I distinctly recall several colleagues scoffing at the simplicity of Google's home page at the time. Where were the news articles? The stock tickers? The pictures of celebrities? Why would anyone want a home page consisting of nothing but a search engine? Yet Google's pundit-defying search tool quickly became the home page of choice for millions of users worldwide.

Over time, Google rolled out additional services, including a few built to deliver the very services its home page lacked. But with every new service it launched, Google retained its characteristic simplicity, putting information--not splashy design--at the foreground.

Chrome OS is an obvious extension of Google's design simplicity, and it's no great surprise that many observers are unimpressed by the sight of it. It's little more than a Web browser. On first glimpse, it's nearly identical to the Chrome browser that's currently available for Windows PCs. And that's exactly what Google is going for.

The central principle behind Chrome OS is that the browser is the focal point for most computing tasks. So Google has put it front and center in Chrome, reducing the rest of the operating system down to a minimal Linux kernel that drives only the most essential hardware components for a Web-centric user.

Life in the Cloud

Google has designed Chrome OS as a platform for people who use computers primarily online, and the company is betting that many folks will happily trade their desktop apps for alternatives in the cloud. Naturally, this won't appeal to all users. I'd even say it won't appeal to most users, at least initially.

But multiple lines of evidence suggest that cloud services are the computing model for the future--a fact that even desktop-dominant Microsoft has embraced, as it prepares to roll out its Office Live services as a companion to its longstanding desktop suite (a companion that many savvy users will undoubtedly use in lieu of the desktop suite). What lines of evidence am I talking about? Enterprise adoption, device-agnostic work habits, and nearly constant wireless connectivity.

Cloud computing is now a standard business practice worldwide. [...]

The article makes a pretty good case for Google's strategy. They were right before, and they may well be onto the next big thing here. If you find it interesting, I recommend reading the whole thing, the source article also has many embedded links.


Related Links:

Google Releases Chrome OS Code

Will Chrome OS merge with Android?

Google Chrome OS debuts, goes open source

Chrome OS website/homepage: The Chromium Projects
 
   

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Marxist Censorship Dreams, and the FCC

This makes the threat of the "fairness doctrine" look like nothing. This so-called "Government Broadband Plan" may actually be a first step in setting the stage for the governmental usurpation of all private media:

Diversity Czar Lloyd and Marxist McChesney's Censorship Dream: The FCC's Plan for Government Broadband
The Wall Street Journal's intrepid and very good Amy Schatz has a piece today updating us on the progress of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s National Broadband Plan.

With all that we have thus far seen, things look quite grim from a free speech, free market perspective. The groundwork for government information totalitarianism - favored by people like Hugo Chavez-loving FCC "Diversity Czar" Mark Lloyd and Marxist "media reform"-outfit Free Press founder Robert McChesney - is being laid in the Plan being crafted by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

As we first reported, the Center for American Progress (at which Lloyd was then a Senior Fellow) and McChesney's Free Press co-authored the deeply flawed, anti-conservative and Christian talk radio "report" entitled The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio.

But their shared disdain for free speech and the free market extend way beyond just this. These "media reformers" seek to eradicate most or all private ownership of all information delivery - be it by radio, television or the internet - thereby leaving the federal government as sole purveyor. [...]

If that sounds alarmist to you, then you need to read the rest. See what Lloyd and McChesney have actually said. Dang! Marxist is certainly NOT too strong a word. It's absolutely frightening to think what these people would try to do, to subvert the FCC for their purposes.

The source article also has embedded links.


Also see:

How much longer will our Republic last?

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government"
 
   

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Climate Change Fraud Exposed. Scandal?

Viscount Monckton on Climategate: ‘They Are Criminals’ (PJM Exclusive)
The man who challenged Al Gore to a debate is furious about the content of the leaked CRU emails — and says why you should be, too.
This is what they did — these climate “scientists” on whose unsupported word the world’s classe politique proposes to set up an unelected global government this December in Copenhagen, with vast and unprecedented powers to control all formerly free markets, to tax wealthy nations and all of their financial transactions, to regulate the economic and environmental affairs of all nations, and to confiscate and extinguish all patent and intellectual property rights.

[...]

Worse, these arrogant fraudsters — for fraudsters are what we now know them to be — have refused, for years and years and years, to reveal their data and their computer program listings. Now we know why: As a revealing 15,000-line document from the computer division at the Climate Research Unit shows, the programs and data are a hopeless, tangled mess. In effect, the global temperature trends have simply been made up. Unfortunately, the British researchers have been acting closely in league with their U.S. counterparts who compile the other terrestrial temperature dataset — the GISS/NCDC dataset. That dataset too contains numerous biases intended artificially to inflate the natural warming of the 20th century.

Finally, these huckstering snake-oil salesmen and “global warming” profiteers — for that is what they are — have written to each other encouraging the destruction of data that had been lawfully requested under the Freedom of Information Act in the UK by scientists who wanted to check whether their global temperature record had been properly compiled. And that procurement of data destruction, as they are about to find out to their cost, is a criminal offense. They are not merely bad scientists — they are crooks. And crooks who have perpetrated their crimes at the expense of British and U.S. taxpayers.

I am angry, and so should you be. [...]

And how much exposure is all this getting in the MSM? Hardly any.

     

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Funny, 11-23-09



     

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Herman Van Rompuy, the E.U. King President

Meet the President of Europe
Herman Van Rompuy. Get used to the name. He is the first President of the European Union, which with the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by all the 27 EU member states in early November was transformed into a genuine United States of Europe.

The President of Europe has not been elected; he was appointed in a secret meeting of the heads of government of the 27 EU member states. They chose one of their own. Herman Van Rompuy was the Prime Minister of Belgium. I knew him when he was just setting out, reluctantly, on his political career. [...]

Read the rest to find out what kind of person the new "president" is.

     

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Dems want to kill consumer-driven health care

The End of HSAs
About the best that can be said about the Senate health-care bill that Harry Reid revealed this week is that it's marginally less destructive than the House monster. By a hair. Its $1.2 trillion cost (more like $2.5 trillion if you discount the accounting gimmicks), multiple and damaging new taxes, and new regulations will make health insurance more expensive for most Americans while reducing the quality of medical care.

We'll dissect the damage in the days to come. But for today let's focus on the damage the bill would do to consumer-driven health plans—the kind that give individuals more control over their health dollars and insurance choices. The 2,074-page bill crushes them with malice-aforethought. [...]

It goes into detail. I have an HSA, and it's wonderful. It allows me to buy insurance with a high deductible. I can then use the HSA to pay for uncovered costs, and to choose the kind of health care I want.

As the article clearly points out, the Democrats want to eliminate our choices, and force us to take what they choose for us, on their terms, not ours. Congress of course, will have their own insurance, and won't be forced to use what they force on us.

It's time for a revolution, time to get rid of the dictators.

     

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Our National Anthem, sung the way it should be



No pop stars, no vocal show offs, just the Star Spangled Banner, the cadets, and the US Army Herald Trumpet Corps. [...]

Wow! Right on.

H.T. Neal Boortz
     

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Shortwave Radio Nostalgia for a Sunday

In my reading about Ham Radio topics, there are often articles about well known Ham Operators who have passed away. "SK" (for "silent key") is added to the end of their call sign, to show that they are no longer with us. One recent silent key was Harry Helms, who was also a writer and author of several books:

Prolific Amateur Radio and SWL Author Harry Helms, W5HLH (ex-AA6FW) (SK)
After a long bout with cancer, Harry Helms, W5HLH (ex-AA6FW), passed away Sunday, November 15. He was 57. Known for his witticism and geniality, Helms was known for his many books -- such as Shortwave Listening Guidebook: The Complete Guide to Hearing the World, All About Ham Radio, How to Tune the Secret Short Wave Spectrum and Handbook of Radio Communications Servicing and Maintenance -- and his monthly column "You Should Know: Interesting Thoughts and Ideas for Enjoying the Hobby" in Popular Communications. [...]

It continues on about his life and the things he wrote about. There's a link to his blog, where I found this post about Shortwave listening:

Thoughts About Shortwave Radio
I have trouble sleeping through the night these days (it’s normal for late Stage IV cancer patients). I often find myself awake two or three times during the night, sometimes for more than an hour. Until I get sleepy again, I grab the Eton E5 portable shortwave radio I keep on my nightstand, put on headphones so I won’t disturb Di, and tune around to see what I can hear.

Why do I do that instead of, for example, listening to my iPod?

Since 1963, I’ve been obsessed with snagging all manner of “non-standard” radio signals. Those include AM and FM broadcast stations from hundreds and thousands of miles away, shortwave broadcasts from foreign countries, communications from ships and airplanes traveling around the globe, military transmissions, ham radio operators-----if it can be tuned on a shortwave radio receiver, I want to hear it. I’ve owned over three dozen different shortwave radios (some of which cost over $1000), numerous accessories (like antenna tuners and audio filters), and specialized antennas (like amplified loops for receiving distant AM band stations). I’ve belonged to numerous radio listening clubs. The first books I wrote were about shortwave listening.

Again, why?? What is it that keeps me searching the airwaves for something distant and unusual?

Part of it is pure nostalgia. Unless you were of sentient age in 1963, you can’t imagine how constricted the flow of information was and how distant the rest of the world seemed back then. The internet was just a theoretical concept and communications satellites were in their infancy. Video of events in foreign nations had to be flown into the United States for broadcast, and magazines and newspapers from outside the United States took weeks to arrive via ship mail. Trying to be aware of the outside world back then was frustrating, like trying to figure out what was going on in a room by peeking through the keyhole.

I wrote in the introduction to my Shortwave Listening Guidebook that I considered my first shortwave radio to be a “magic box.” And indeed it was. Strange languages and exotic music gushed from the speaker of my simple Hallicrafters radio. Cities like Moscow, London, Quito, Melbourne, and Tokyo were in my bedroom with me. I eavesdropped on ship-to-shore telephone calls and communications from airplanes flying routes across the Atlantic. And there were also the dits and dahs of Morse code, the “beedle-beedle” of radioteletype stations, and all sorts of other bewildering noises. I even found myself entranced by station WWV, then in Maryland, and its precise time signals, one beep exactly each second.

When I got my first shortwave radio, it was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when the movie abruptly changes from black and white to color; the world suddenly seemed smaller and more real to me. I couldn’t visit all those distant foreign places, but they could visit me. And I still get that feeling after 45 years of shortwave. Even though my world is media saturated, with the internet and 150 TV channels available to me, there remains something special about connecting to a distant place via shortwave radio.

Another attraction is the “DXing” aspect of radio. DXing is the art of trying to receive rarely-heard stations on various frequencies. To those not interested in DXing, this must seem like a ridiculous activity, and I suppose it is. But I get a feeling of accomplishment bordering on exhilaration when I manage to identify a weak, unusual radio signal through heavy interference. Maybe the best analogy I can make is to fishing. You never know what’s going to happen when you cast a line into the water, and you never what you’ll hear when you turn the dial of a shortwave radio. Whenever I hear a faint signal barely above the background noise, I am almost forced to stop and try to identify it. It’s as if the station is keeping a secret from me----its identity----and I want to learn that secret. To solve the mystery, I have to battle fading, interference, noise, and distortion. My shortwave radio becomes like a musical instrument in my hands. By manipulating its tuning knob and controls, I can coax weak signals to become more intelligible and, when the gods of the ionosphere cooperate, those faint signals will yield their secrets to me and I am briefly, almost mystically, connected to some distant place. My desire for connections to distant places was probably my biggest motivation for getting a ham radio license. [...]

There's more. There's a whole lot more on his blog, about his ongoing health struggles, and commentary on various other topics. He was a writer who enjoyed writing. His last blog entry, his farewell, was very moving.

My condolences to his wife and family.



Related Link:

Radio Communications in a Changing World
A prior post, about my own nostalgia for the shortwave radio of my youth.

     

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Presidents, Polls, Popularity and Graphs

Here is a link to a really neat inter-active graph that let's you compare approval ratings for various presidents since the 1940s:

Presidential approval tracker
The Gallup organization first started asking Americans how they approved of the job the president was doing in the 1940s. See how each president since then has fared in the approval poll, look at some news events that influenced public opinion and compare how approval ratings evolved for each president. [...]

Be sure and read the article just below the graph, too:

Polls can affect president's hold on party
By Susan Page, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — A president's standing after his first six months in office doesn't forecast whether he'll have a successful four-year term, but it does signal how much political juice he'll have for his second six months in office.

That's the lesson of history.

Barack Obama, who completed six months in office Monday, has a 55% approval rating in the USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, putting him 10th among the dozen presidents who have served since World War II at this point in their tenures.

That's not as bad for Obama as it may sound: The six-month mark hasn't proved to be a particularly good indicator of how a president ultimately will fare.

Two-thirds of Americans approved of the jobs Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were doing at six months, but both would lose their bids for re-election.

And though the younger Bush and Bill Clinton had significantly lower ratings at 180 days — Clinton had sunk to 41% approval — both won second terms. [...]

I'm sure it is too early to say what the polls portend for Obama. So far his graph compares well with Ronald Reagan's and Jimmy Carters. But if the economy continues to tank and unemployment does not improve, I expect it will go the Carter way, rather than the Reagan one. Time will tell.
     

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

European Union tries to pick a King President

Or mabye "King" is a better word? Many people feel left out of the process:

Leaders in last-minute attempt to decide top European Council roles
Opposing groups try to find consensus on who should take presidential and foreign minister roles ahead of Brussels summit
The leaders of Europe's main political tribes conferred in Brussels this afternoon in an attempt to hammer out a last-minute consensus on who should be the top two people running the EU's new Lisbon regime, ahead of a crucial Brussels summit.

While Christian democratic government leaders, including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, gathered in Brussels, Gordon Brown found himself isolated at a session of the seven centre-left leaders ahead of this evening's summit.

The centre-left leaders, grouped in the Party of European Socialists (PES), hope to secure the new post of European foreign minister, with Italian Massimo D'Alema and Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos as their frontrunners.

[...]

Last night Merkel provoked anger in other European capitals with the announcement that Germany and France are to strike a deal on who they want for the post of president.

Merkel stated for the first time that she and Sarkozy intended to agree on a common candidate, believed to be the Belgian prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy.

[...]

The Belgian shares the strong opposition of both Sarkozy and Merkel to Turkey joining the EU. In a debate in the Belgian parliament five years ago, Van Rompuy made plain that he viewed the EU as a Christian club with no room for a large Muslim country such as Turkey.

"Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe," Van Rompuy said, years before he became Belgian prime minister. "The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey."

The EU is divided over Turkey, with France, Germany, and Austria leading hostility to membership, while Britain, Sweden and east European countries are strong supporters of Turkey in Europe.

Van Rompuy's antipathy to Turkey earned him support yesterday for the EU job from the Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, party on the extreme anti-immigrant right wing in Flanders.

But news of a Franco-German alliance triggered anger in some European capitals.

"We're not having a replay of the bad old days when the big guys fixed all the deals," said a Polish official.

Poland campaigned for greater glasnost, to open up the contest for the key jobs. But they have now conceded defeat, although they claim to have the support of 10 of the 27 EU countries. "We had a go," said the Polish official. "We wanted a degree of transparency to address the sceptics. And lots of countries feel that these appointments are just being made over their heads. There's always been a suspicion about the way these deals are done in the EU. This is a genuine example. It puts everyone to shame." [...]

The Lisbon "treaty" is basically the EU constitution that was rejected by European voters. The voters don't elect the EU president, either. Sounds like the "Old" way of doing things, no?

Anyway, it seems lots of people are angry, as the drama continues.


Also see:

Without Opposition: the European Union

Will the EU force Britain to accept the Euro?


     

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The Republican culture war continues: Carrie Prejean's sex tape V.S. Meghan McCain's boobs

Carrie Prejean Sextape Video: Meghan McCain "Unnerved" by "Hypocrisy"
NEW YORK (CBS) Meghan McCain, the daughter of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, has taken to task fallen beauty queen Carrie Prejean and opponents of same-sex marriage, in the wake of news that the former Miss California USA has filmed a sex tape.

Meghan McCain, who calls herself both a Republican and a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, said that she is "unnerved" by the hypocrisy shown by Prejean, the 22-year-old "anti-gay marriage champion," and politicians who use gay-marriage as a moral "trump card in any situation" while sex scandals, normally abhorrent to conservative moral codes, don't seem to bother them a bit.

"Making a sex tape is never acceptable," McCain wrote in an editorial posted on the news website The Daily Beast . "I find it even more disturbing that as long as you oppose gay marriage, filming yourself having sex is taken more lightly."

"Does anyone else see the hypocrisy in this kind of thinking? And hypocrisy is something the Republican Party can’t afford to have right now as the GOP struggles to find its identity," McCain wrote in the piece posted Monday.

[...]

McCain, who was in a photo flap herself recently for "tweeting" a busty picture of herself to her followers on Twitter, wrote "If you’re a Republican, is it better to be in favor of gay marriage or to make a sex tape?"

"It seems that as long as you are against gay marriage, any scandal in your life can be overlooked or overcome. When you are in favor of it, however—and I have been very vocal about my support—that position defines you," said McCain.

"Many believe that it was Carrie Prejean’s anti-gay marriage views that cost her the Miss USA California title earlier this year. My question is: When it comes to Republicans, is your position on gay marriage what determines your fate within the party?" [...]

All the more reason not to make social issues the spearhead of the Republican Party platform. With George W. we had eight years of social conservatism at the forefront of the party, at the expense of fiscal conservatism, and look where it's gotten us.

I don't say abandon social issues. I say, put at the forefront of the party, as the spearhead, issues like fiscal conservatism, economic growth and job creation, issues that a majority of voters can agree on. The culture wars should occur primarily in the culture, not the GOP.

Not all Republicans agree on the definition of conservative. Not all Republicans are social conservatives. We need to emphasis in our party the things we do agree on: balanced budgets, a strong defense, free markets, and hopefully, individual sovereignty and the freedom to make our own choices.

Under such a platform, social issues would benefit indirectly, because INDIVIDUALS would have the freedom to make their own choices, and be free to fight the culture wars. If we instead fight each other and succumb to a politically correct socialist nanny state, you can kiss it ALL goodbye. 2010 is the last call. The GOP needs to get their Big Tent set up, and quickly.

Follow the link above for photos (Prejean, Meghan's boobs)


Also see:

The GOP: a Political Vehicle, or an Ideology?
 
   

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is Google going to be the Linux King?

By "King", I mean, will they succeed more than anyone else in taking Linux into mainstream use as an operating system? At the very least, it looks like they are set to be a major player in that arena. Here is why:

The Future of Linux is Google
Google's slow, steady march into the OS realm has begun to pay off. It's time for the Linux world to rally.
I used to think Ubuntu was destined to lead Linux into the mainstream, but now it's looking much more like Google--not Canonical--will be the first Linux vendor to truly challenge Microsoft.

Google's migration into the operating system business has been so gradual that many industry watchers have shrugged it off. When the company announced its Android OS for phones, it looked interesting. There was nothing new about the idea of using Linux on a handset, and (apart from Google's involvement) little reason to expect it would carve out substantial market share in the competitive smartphone arena. But, with about 20 distinct Android handsets in the hands of more than three million users worldwide--and about 30 more devices expected to roll out in 2010--Google's mobile OS is now looking like a force to be reckoned with. [...]

It goes on to describe how Google has been successful at promoting Linux on phones and handheld devices, hitting Microsoft in a area where it is weak. Google is poised to release it's Linux Chrome OS on netbook computers, further expanding it's reach into a Market Microsoft wants to dominate. If Chrome succeeds in the netbook market, it could also conceivably extent that influence into the desktop market as well.

The article explains the hows and whys of it all. And why Microsoft has a real competitor in Google. I say great, more choices for us all.


Also see:

Google buys Gizmo: a new phone company?
   
 

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More British Gun Paranoia Extremism

It's hard to believe this is real:

Beyond Parody
A former soldier in England has been arrested and convicted (and may even go to jail for five years) because he found a gun in his yard and he turned it over to the police. I presume this is in part a reflection of the anti-gun ideology embedded in UK law, but don’t prosecutors and judges have even a shred of discretion to avoid foolish prosecutions and/or protect innocent people from absurd charges? Here is the news report:

Read the whole thing. The British police sound like Nazis. And what is the Jury's excuse?


About British gun laws:

England and Gun Control --- Moral Decline of an Empire

RESULTS ARE IN ON BRITISH GUN LAWS

Britain’s Gun-Control Folly
     

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Is this the Desktop Computer of the Future?

If so, then the future is here! The Inspiron Zino is an 8"x8" square:


Dell PCs cram multimedia power into tiny package
Dell announced a miniature PC using single- or dual-core AMD processors, available with Ubuntu Linux. Starting at approximately $230, the Inspiron Zino HD sports up to 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, comes in ten colors, and is available with discrete graphics, says Dell.

While the Inspiron Zino HD measures just 7.8 x 7.8 x 3.4 inches, it should not be confused with a low-power "nettop" PC. Instead, says Dell, the device is a full-blown multimedia PC in miniature, offering "amazing performance," an HDMI video output, and an internal optical drive that's offered in both DVD and Blu-ray versions.

The rear panel of Dell's Zino HD


Dell offers the Zino HD with a choice of four different AMD processors, none of which has been well-documented by the chipmaker itself. The two single-core choices are the Athlon 2650e, clocked at 1.6GHz with a 15 Watt TDP, and the Athlon 2850e, clocked at 1.8GHz with a 22 Watt TDP. The two dual-core choices are the Athlon X2 3250e (1.5GHz, with a 22 Watt TDP) and the Athlon Neo X2 6850e (1.8GHz, TDP unknown).

[...]

The Inspiron Zino HD PCs are now available, says Dell, with prices ranging from approximately $230 to $1,024, depending on configuration.

More information may be found on the Dell website, here. [...]

They are also offered with Windows Vista or Windows 7, and with various features, different processors, ram, graphics cards, etc. Follow the link to see the options, the specs and more.

All the other micro PC's I've posted about seem to ship from Hong Kong or Taiwan, and have much lower specs. This is an offering from a major US PC vendor, and it's a high-powered, High-Definition multimedia machine. It's not your grandfather's PC. Is this where all desktop PCs are headed? I think it's a distinct possibility.
     

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Monday, November 16, 2009

"2012" and the on-going End of The World theme

The latest offering, the movie "2012", is out now. Here's a trailer:



Well that's one way to end California's budget crisis. I have to admit, the special effects are great, really stunning. However, you have to wonder; with Hollywood adding to all the "end of the world" hype that the History Channel is also propagating, what is 2012 actually going to be like, with so many people being encouraged to think about it in such a negative, fearful way?

I keep hearing that the Mayan Calender "ends" in 2012. That is the premise for the movie, and much of the blathering on the History Channel. Yet I've also heard, from people who purport to know about such things, that the Mayan calendar runs in cycles, and that 2012 is merely the end of one cycle, and the beginning of another. You sure aren't hearing that from the folks flogging the "end of the world" scenario.

How much "science" is in all of this end of the world twaddle, anyway, where the earth turns on itself, the poles shift, etc.? None that I can see.

Now if you want to talk about HUMAN made problems, 2012 should be an interesting year. Many different sources I've read about the world's financial problems, are coincidentally all predicting a global economic depression and/or collapse, around 2012. And Iran, exporter of terrorism worldwide, should have it's nuclear weapons capability by 2012. And don't forget North Korea.

Unlike phony New Age threats, these are plausible real-world threats. And unlike the bad science of Hollywood movies, these threats can be averted, if we would only pay attention and do what's needed. What are the chances of that?

It seems we'd rather scare ourselves with alarmist New Age rubbish.
     

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Mega Cow Carousel on Chicago Area Farm



I got this in my email. Wow.
     

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Prosperity" Churches, and the Recession

Did Christianity Cause the Crash?
America’s mainstream religious denominations used to teach the faithful that they would be rewarded in the afterlife. But over the past generation, a different strain of Christian faith has proliferated—one that promises to make believers rich in the here and now. Known as the prosperity gospel, and claiming tens of millions of adherents, it fosters risk-taking and intense material optimism. It pumped air into the housing bubble. And one year into the worst downturn since the Depression, it's still going strong.
[...] America’s churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture, and Casa del Padre is no exception. The message that Jesus blesses believers with riches first showed up in the postwar years, at a time when Americans began to believe that greater comfort could be accessible to everyone, not just the landed class. But it really took off during the boom years of the 1990s, and has continued to spread ever since. This stitched-together, homegrown theology, known as the prosperity gospel, is not a clearly defined denomination, but a strain of belief that runs through the Pentecostal Church and a surprising number of mainstream evangelical churches, with varying degrees of intensity. In Garay’s church, God is the “Owner of All the Silver and Gold,” and with enough faith, any believer can access the inheritance. Money is not the dull stuff of hourly wages and bank-account statements, but a magical substance that comes as a gift from above. Even in these hard times, it is discouraged, in such churches, to fall into despair about the things you cannot afford. “Instead of saying ‘I’m poor,’ say ‘I’m rich,’” Garay’s wife, Hazael, told me one day. “The word of God will manifest itself in reality.”

Many explanations have been offered for the housing bubble and subsequent crash: interest rates were too low; regulation failed; rising real-estate prices induced a sort of temporary insanity in America’s middle class. But there is one explanation that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture—a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.

In his book Something for Nothing, Jackson Lears describes two starkly different manifestations of the American dream, each intertwined with religious faith. The traditional Protestant hero is a self-made man. He is disciplined and hardworking, and believes that his “success comes through careful cultivation of (implicitly Protestant) virtues in cooperation with a Providential plan.” The hero of the second American narrative is a kind of gambling man—a “speculative confidence man,” Lears calls him, who prefers “risky ventures in real estate,” and a more “fluid, mobile democracy.” The self-made man imagines a coherent universe where earthly rewards match merits. The confidence man lives in a culture of chance, with “grace as a kind of spiritual luck, a free gift from God.” The Gilded Age launched the myth of the self-made man, as the Rockefellers and other powerful men in the pews connected their wealth to their own virtue. In these boom-and-crash years, the more reckless alter ego dominates. In his book, Lears quotes a reverend named Jeffrey Black, who sounds remarkably like Garay: “The whole hope of a human being is that somehow, in spite of the things I’ve done wrong, there will be an episode when grace and fate shower down on me and an unearned blessing will come to me—that I’ll be the one.”

I had come to Charlottesville to learn more about this second strain of the American dream—one that’s been ascendant for a generation or more. I wanted to try to piece together the connection between the gospel and today’s economic reality, and to see whether “prosperity” could possibly still seem enticing, or even plausible, in this distinctly unprosperous moment. (Very much so, as it turns out.) Charlottesville may not be the heartland of the prosperity gospel, which is most prevalent in the Sun Belt—where many of the country’s foreclosure hot spots also lie. And Garay preaches an unusually pure version of the gospel. Still, the particulars of both Garay and his congregation are revealing.

Among Latinos the prosperity gospel has been spreading rapidly. In a recent Pew survey, 73 percent of all religious Latinos in the United States agreed with the statement: “God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.” For a generation of poor and striving Latino immigrants, the gospel seems to offer a road map to affluence and modern living. Garay’s church is comprised mostly of first-generation immigrants. More than others I’ve visited, it echoes back a highly distilled, unself-conscious version of the current thinking on what it means to live the American dream.

One other thing makes Garay’s church a compelling case study. From 2001 to 2007, while he was building his church, Garay was also a loan officer at two different mortgage companies. He was hired explicitly to reach out to the city’s growing Latino community, and Latinos, as it happened, were disproportionately likely to take out the sort of risky loans that later led to so many foreclosures. To many of his parishioners, Garay was not just a spiritual adviser, but a financial one as well. [...]

I was skeptical about this article at first. The title alone seemed alarmist. But the article itself is more subtle, and fair. It deals with the "prosperity" churches in particular, and acknowledges the good these churches can do, as well as examining their more... "questionable" or contradictory teachings.

I'm not against prosperity teachings; you have to have a vision of something better in order to transcend whatever adversity you may be facing in life. But even optimism has to be tempered with a healthy dose of pessimism, as a "grounding" influence. Emotions, however fervently felt, need to be balanced with reason. This article points out well how those lines can be blurred sometimes.

I would not say Christians caused the Crash. That's way too simplistic. The crash was caused by too many bad home loans, in which some Christians may have been caught up in. I still hold the LENDERS responsible, AND the people in Congress who pushed to have those bad loans made, despite all the warnings at the time. And I also blame all the bail-outs of banks over the past decades, banks that should have been allowed to fail. Instead, the bail-outs just protected them from the consequences of their irresponsible actions, which in turn just encouraged them to be even more reckless, and to continue making risky loans.

Even now, bailed-out banks are continuing to make loans to people who aren't able to pay them back. Protected from consequences, the banks have learned nothing. Where is the accountability? Who is more irresponsible, the people who take the loans, or the banks that make them, and then expect the taxpayers to bail them out when the loans go bad? And what about the politicians who insist that banks must make high risk loans available?

     

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Google buys Gizmo: a new phone company?

I first posted about Gizmo back in February of 2007:

Gizmo Project: Call Pope Benedict for Free

Gizmo creator Michael Robertson had some interesting things to say about Gizmo and about telephone service. Well now that Gizmo has been bought by Google, there is talk of a new phone company:

Google poised to become your phone company
(Wired) -- Google is set to become your new phone company, perhaps reducing your phone bill to zilch in the process.

Seriously.


Google has bought Gizmo5, an online phone company that is akin to Skype  but based on open protocols and with a lot fewer users. TechCrunch, which broke the news on Monday, reported that Google spent $30 million on the company.

Google announced the Gizmo acquisition on Thursday afternoon Pacific Time. Gizmo5's founder Michael Robertson, a brash serial entrepreneur, will become an Adviser to Google Voice.

It's a potent recipe -- take Gizmo5's open standards-based online calling system. Add to it the new ability to route calls on Google's massive network of cheap fiber. Toss in Google Voice's free phone number, which will ring your mobile phone, your home phone and your Gizmo5 client on your laptop.

Meanwhile you can use Gizmo5 to make ultracheap outgoing calls to domestic and international phone numbers, and free calls to Skype, Google Talk, Yahoo and AIM users. You could make and receive calls that bypass the per-minute billing on your smartphone.

Then layer on deluxe phone services like free SMS, voicemail transcription, customized call routing, free conference calls and voicemails sent as recordings to your e-mail account, and you have a phone service that competes with Skype, landlines and the Internet telephone offerings from Vonage and cable companies.

That's not just pie in-the-sky dreaming.

Ask longtime VOIP watcher and consultant Andy Abramson, who introduced the idea of integrating Gizmo5 and Grand Central (now Google Voice), long before Google bought either. [...]

I think this is something to watch. It might become something really big, and make big changes in the way phone companies do buisiness.
     

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Sabi", MIA military dog, found in Afghanistan

An American soldier knew Sabi was not a
stray when she responded to commands.

Dog back after a year MIA in Afghanistan
(CNN) -- An Australian special forces dog has been found alive and well more than a year after going missing in action in Afghanistan.

Explosives detection dog Sabi was recovered by a U.S. soldier who found her wandering near an isolated patrol base in the desolate southern province of Oruzgan last week, according to the Australian Government Department of Defense.

John, the U.S. soldier, who was identified only by first name, knew his Australian counterparts were missing an explosive detection dog. He knew immediately that Sabi was not a stray.

"I took the dog and gave it some commands it understood," he said.

When she disappeared, the black Labrador was nearing the end of her second tour of duty in Afghanistan. She went missing in September 2008 when insurgents ambushed a combined Australian, U.S. and Afghan army convoy. Nine Australian soldiers, including Sabi's handler, were wounded during the gunbattle.

Trooper Mark Donaldson, currently in the United Kingdom after meeting Queen Elizabeth, said Sabi's return closed a chapter of their shared history.

"She's the last piece of the puzzle," Donaldson said. "Having Sabi back gives some closure for the handler and the rest of us that served with her in 2008. It's a fantastic morale booster for the guys." [...]

I love happy dog stories. She still needs to be checked out for diseases though, before they will let her return. Most likely she will return. They are planning to award her some canine medals! Follow the link for video.


Also See:

Dogs welcoming home their soldiers


     

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Our Satellite Weather Maps for Oregon

These are a few of my favorite things; satellite maps on the Accuweather.com website. I look a the state map most often:

Oregon Radar


Then the larger regional map:

Northwest Radar


Then sometimes, the even larger picture, to see where our weather is coming from, and what it's sending our way:

Infrared North East Pacific Satellite


With all this info at my fingertips, I can make my plans around the weather more reliably than just by going by what the weather forecast says. Most of our weather comes to us off of the ocean, so it really helps to see whats happening out there. Isn't technology wonderful!
     

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Mormon Church takes middle path on gay rights

Mormons throw support behind gay-rights cause
It looked like a stunning reversal: the same church that helped defeat gay marriage in California standing with gay-rights activists on an anti-discrimination law in its own backyard.

On Tuesday night, after a series of clandestine meetings between local gay-rights backers and Mormons in Salt Lake City, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would support proposed city laws that would prohibit discrimination against gays in housing and employment.

The ordinances passed and history was made: It marked the first time the Salt Lake City-based church had supported gay-rights legislation.

[...]

Michael Otterson, director of public affairs for the Mormon church, said Wednesday that church leaders were able to support the ordinance because it doesn't carve out special rights for gays.

Supporting "basic civil values," Otterson said, does not compromise the church's religious belief that homosexuality is a sin and that same-sex marriage poses a threat to traditional marriage.

"There are going to be gay advocates who don't think we've gone nearly far enough, and people very conservative who think we've gone too far," Otterson said. "The vast majority of people are between those polar extremes and we think that's going to resonate with people on the basis of fair-mindedness."


Harry Knox, director of the religion and faith program at the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, said the Mormon church's stand on the Salt Lake City ordinances could help alter the debate over gay rights.

"The church deserves credit, but that credit really comes because people have been pushing for it," Knox said. "It's not something thing they arrived at on their own and out of the goodness of their hearts."

The church's action is the latest sign of a softening among some conservative Christians toward offering some legal protections to gays. [...]

Interesting. Siding with "fair-mindedness", as seen by the "vast majority". Given their position on gay rights, their is a logic to their conclusion. This is a matter where it will be impossible to please everyone, and the middle path often leaves the extremes on both sides angry.
     

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Veteran's Day Salute, in Remembrance


With the recent attack at Fort Hood, our soldiers are very much in our minds this Veteran's Day. I like what Pat said in his post this morning:

"Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted"
I cannot bring myself to write some trite post about today's solemn holy day. I think it's because I experienced all my emotions of gratitude to our warriors during the memorial service at Fort Hood yesterday - especially while I was listening to that soldier singing "Amazing Grace." [...]

He goes on to discuss music, and then posts two videos, from Brahms' "German Requiem".

Music sometimes says more than words. In that spirit, I'd like to express thanks to our veterans by posting this video as a tribute to their service and sacrifice:



Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings, op.11. Uncut
Original broadcast from the Albert Hall in London September 15 2001. Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Orchestra.


Much Heartfelt Thanks to all our Veterans, and our brave men and women in military service presently. You are always in my prayers.
     

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South African "missing link" discovered

Scientists: New dinosaur species found in SAfrica
JOHANNESBURG – A newly discovered dinosaur species that roamed the Earth about 200 million years ago may help explain how the creatures evolved into the largest animals on land, scientists in South Africa said Wednesday.

The Aardonyx celestae was a 23-foot- (7-meter-) long small-headed herbivore with a huge barrel of a chest. It walked on its hind legs but also could drop to all fours, and scientists told reporters that could prove to be a missing evolutionary link.

This is a species "that no one has seen before and one that has a very significant position in the family tree of dinosaurs," said Australian paleontologist Adam Yates.

Yates, who is based at the University of the Witwatersrand's Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research, led the research with a number of other local and international scientists. [...]

Cool stuff. Follow the link for video.
     

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Iran's objectives, and internal political struggle

Here is an interview for CNN with Fareed Zakaria, author and foreign affairs analyst. It starts off about the hikers/hostages, but then Zakaria has some interesting things to say about Iran's internal politics:

Zakaria: No one thinks hikers are spies
[...]

CNN: It's been reported that Ahmadinejad said the U.S. must abandon support for Israel to move ahead on better relations with Iran.

Zakaria: This has been a consistent theme of Ahmadinejad's. We read it too much as an expression of some kind of ideology. What it really is is Ahmadinejad's effort to appropriate, to take over the core central issue of the Arab world -- the Palestinian issue -- and make it his own. Iran is trying to become the dominant power of the Middle East.

It makes it very difficult for Arab countries to be critical of Iran because, on the Arab street, Ahmadinejad is seen as the great upholder of the Palestinian cause. He is trying to keep the Arabs on the defensive by constantly reminding people that he is the great opponent of Israel in the region. It's a very clever political calculation.

CNN: How can the Obama administration negotiate with Iran when it seems their stance on the nuclear issue is constantly shifting?

[...]

It's worth reading the whole thing, it's not very long.



For updates on current events in Iran, see the blog of Iranian ex-pat Azarmehr:

For a democratic secular Iran. For peace and prosperity in the Middle East.
     

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Time-traveling bird delivers fateful baguette? TIME magazine "reporting" goes Sci-Fi

Large Hadron Collider: Damaged by a Time-Traveling Bird?
Sometime on Nov. 3, the supercooled magnets in sector 81 of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), outside Geneva, began to dangerously overheat. Scientists rushed to diagnose the problem, since the particle accelerator has to maintain a temperature colder than deep space in order to work. The culprit? "A bit of baguette," says Mike Lamont of the control center of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which built and maintains the LHC. Apparently, a passing bird may have dropped the chunk of bread on an electrical substation above the accelerator, causing a power cut. The baguette was removed, power to the cryogenic system was restored and within a few days the magnets returned to their supercool temperatures.

While most scientists would write off the event as a freak accident, two esteemed physicists have formulated a theory that suggests an alternative explanation: perhaps a time-traveling bird was sent from the future to sabotage the experiment. Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, have published several papers over the past year arguing that the CERN experiment may be the latest in a series of physics research projects whose purposes are so unacceptable to the universe that they are doomed to fail, subverted by the future.

[...]

In a series of audacious papers, Nielsen and Ninomiya have suggested that setbacks to the LHC occur because of "reverse chronological causation," which is to say, sabotage from the future. The papers suggest that the Higgs boson may be "abhorrent to nature" and the LHC's creation of the Higgs sometime in the future sends ripples backward through time to scupper its own creation. Each time scientists are on the verge of capturing the Higgs, the theory holds, the future intercedes. The theory as to why the universe rejects the creation of Higgs bosons is based on complex mathematics, but, Nielsen tells TIME, "you could explain it [simply] by saying that God, in inverted commas, or nature, hates the Higgs and tries to avoid them."

Many physicists say that Nielsen and Ninomiya's theory, while intellectually interesting, cannot be accurate because the event that the LHC is trying to recreate already happens in nature. Particle collisions of an energy equivalent to those planned in the LHC occur when high-energy cosmic rays collide with the earth's atmosphere. What's more, some scientists believe that the Tevatron accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (or Fermilab) near Chicago has already created Higgs bosons without incident; the Fermilab scientists are now refining data from their collisions to prove the Higgs' existence.

Nielsen counters that nature might allow a small number of Higgs to be produced by the Tevatron, but would prevent the production of the large number of particles the LHC is anticipated to produce. He also acknowledges that Higgs particles are probably produced in cosmic collisions, but says it's impossible to know whether nature has stopped a great deal of these collisions from happening. "It's possible that God avoids Higgs [particles] only when there are very many of them, but if there are a few, maybe He let's them go," he says. [...]

Um... um. Time-traveling bird saboteurs armed with stale baguettes. Geez, what can I say? There's even more, if you care to read it. News or entertainment? You decide.

To be fair to TIME, I suppose it IS newsworthy that this debate is occurring. I have to wonder, how much researchers like Nielsen and Ninomiya get paid to write such theories. Nice work if you can get it.

     

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ubuntu 9.10 gets mixed reviews. Alternatives?

DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 328, 9 November 2009
[...] Those who followed some of the popular Linux news sites after the release of Ubuntu 9.10 must have been horrified (or, for those belonging to the Ubuntu haters camp, delighted) by the amount of negative media coverage given to Canonical's latest release over the past week. This is how The Register summed up the event in "Early adopters bloodied by Ubuntu's Karmic Koala", a story with over 1,200 comments on Slashdot: "Ubuntu 9.10 is causing outrage and frustration, with early adopters wishing they'd stuck with previous versions of the Linux distro. Blank and flickering screens, failure to recognize hard drives, defaulting to the old 2.6.28 Linux kernel, and failure to get encryption running are taking their toll, as early adopters turn to the web for answers and log fresh bug reports in Ubuntu forums." Similar stories have been told on other web sites, including the distribution's official forums. Is the latest Ubuntu really bad, or is it just the case of a vocal minority making a mountain out of a hill? Please discuss your experiences below. [...]

Follow the link to see the embedded links, to the reviews and the comments.

I've tried Ubuntu 9.10, and found it to be mostly pretty good, although flash player for Youtube had a flickering problem. I usually go with one of the Ubuntu derivatives, Mint Linux, which has IMO a more polished user experience. I'm waiting for the next version of Mint, which should be released soon.

I'm presently using Mint 5, "Elyssa", which is based on Ubuntu's last LTS (long term support) release. I think the LTS releases, supported for four years on the desktop, and seven for the server edition, are the most stable. Ubuntu's next LTS release will be nest April, Ubuntu 10.4. I may wait for it before upgrading.

Another Linux distribution I like and use is PCLinuxOS. It's not based on Ubuntu, but Mandriva, which is a Red Hat derivative. It's been around for a long time and I find it quite reliable.

On an unrelated (but interesting) note, here is a link to some screen shots of
Linux XP, a Linux distribution that is configured to look like Windows XP.

I won't be trying it, it's in "release candidate" status, but I thought the pics were fun to look at. It just goes to show what you can do with Linux. Some people seriously argue that Linux's biggest problem is, that there are too many choices.

We should all have such problems!
     

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Soviet Walls, Islamic Walls... May They All Fall


From Berlin to Baghdad
Will the peoples of Islam tear down their walls as the people of Central and Eastern Europe tore down theirs?
[...] A meandering road led from 11/9 to 9/11. The burning grounds of Islam are altogether different than the Communist challenge. There is no Moscow that serves as the seat of Jihadist power. This is a new kind of war and new kind of enemy, a twilight war without front lines.

But we shouldn't be surprised with some of history's repetitions. There are again the appeasers who see these furies of Islam as America's comeuppance, there are those who think we have overreached and that we are riding into storms of our own making. And in the foreign world there are chameleons who feign desire for our friendship while subverting our causes.

Once again, there arises the question in our midst of whether political freedom, broadly conceived, can and ought to be taken to distant lands. In the George W. Bush years, American power and diplomacy gave voice to a belief in freedom's possibilities. A different sentiment animates American practice today.

For the peoples of Islam, the question can be squarely put: Will they tear down their walls in the manner in which the people of Central and Eastern Europe tore down theirs? The people of Islam are thus sorely tested. They will have to show their own fidelity to liberty. [...]

But will they? CAN they? And how can we help?


Related Link:

Will Turkey bring Islam into the 21st century?
     

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Maj. Hasan, Ft. Hood, and the painfully obvious: say it, and deal with it, or get out of the way

Dr. Phil and the Fort Hood Killer
His terrorist motive is obvious to everyone but the press and the Army brass.
[...] What is hard to ignore, now, is the growing derangement on all matters involving terrorism and Muslim sensitivities. Its chief symptoms: a palpitating fear of discomfiting facts and a willingness to discard those facts and embrace the richest possible variety of ludicrous theories as to the motives behind an act of Islamic terrorism. All this we have seen before but never in such naked form. The days following the Fort Hood rampage have told us more than we want to know, perhaps, about the depth and reach of this epidemic.

One of the first outbreaks of these fevers, the night of the shootings, featured television's star psychologist, Dr. Phil, who was outraged when fellow panelist and former JAG officer Tom Kenniff observed that he had been listening to a lot of psychobabble and evasions about Maj. Hasan's motives.

A shocked Dr. Phil, appalled that the guest had publicly mentioned Maj. Hasan's Islamic identity, went on to present what was, in essence, the case for Maj. Hasan as victim. Victim of deployment, of the Army, of the stresses of a new kind of terrible war unlike any other we have known. Unlike, can he have meant, the kind endured by those lucky Americans who fought and died at Iwo Jima, say, or the Ardennes?

It was the same case to be presented, in varying forms, by guest psychologists, the media, and a representative or two from the military, for days on end.

The quality and thrust of this argument was best captured by the impassioned Dr. Phil, who asked us to consider, "how far out of touch with reality do you have to be to kill your fellow Americans . . . this is not a well act." And how far out of touch with reality is such a question, one asks in return—not only of Dr. Phil, but of the legions of commentators like him immersed in the labyrinths of motive hunting even as the details of Maj. Hasan's proclivities became ever clearer and more ominous.

To kill your fellow Americans—as many as possible, unarmed and in the most helpless of circumstances, while shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great), requires, of course, only murderous hatred—the sort of mindset that regularly eludes the Dr. Phils of our world as the motive for mass murder of this kind. [...]

There are plenty of people who think just like Dr. Phil. If it's not "politically correct", then they don't want to see it. And they don't. Which is how this travesty was allowed to happen at Fort Hood in the first place. Political Correctness may be the death of us all. If we keep on being in denial of the obvious, where will that lead us?

J.R. Dunn at the American Thinker blog has some thoughts on that.

     

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Did Iran's Nuke Plans change Russia's mind?

Iran tested advanced nuclear warhead design – secret report
Exclusive: Watchdog fears Tehran has key component to put bombs in missiles
The UN's nuclear watchdog has asked Iran to explain evidence suggesting that Iranian scientists have experimented with an advanced nuclear warhead design, the Guardian has learned.

The very existence of the technology, known as a "two-point implosion" device, is officially secret in both the US and Britain, but according to previously unpublished documentation in a dossier compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iranian scientists may have tested high-explosive components of the design. The development was today described by nuclear experts as "breathtaking" and has added urgency to the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

The sophisticated technology, once mastered, allows for the production of smaller and simpler warheads than older models. It reduces the diameter of a warhead and makes it easier to put a nuclear warhead on a missile.

Documentation referring to experiments testing a two-point detonation design are part of the evidence of nuclear weaponisation gathered by the IAEA and presented to Iran for its response. [...]

Such warheads could be used on missiles they already have, and would greatly increase their ability to devastate with EMP attacks, without a single bomb hitting the ground.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Russia is suddenly more supportive of sanctions:

Russia changes tune, may back sanctions on Iran
Russia has spoken out more strongly than ever against Iran, warning that it may consider tougher sanctions against the country should it fail to accept a Western-backed nuclear proposal.

In an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel on Saturday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that, much to his reluctance, he would be forced to sign off on US-led sanctions on Iran.

"I do not want that all this ends up with the adopting of international sanctions because sanctions, as a rule, lead in a complex and dangerous direction," AFP quoted Medvedev as saying. [...]

They are within striking distance. But when you include missiles launched from ships, and EMP attacks as the goal, then most of the worlds populations are within striking distance.
     

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FireFox: more vulnerable, or just a bigger target?

Firefox Tops Vulnerability List
New study places Firefox at the top of vulnerability list for for the first half of 2009.
Application security vendor Cenzic today released its security trends report for the first half of 2009 application. In it, Cenzic claims that the Mozilla's Firefox browser led the field of Web browsers in terms of total vulnerabilities.

According to Cenzic, Firefox accounted for 44 percent of all browser vulnerabilities reported in the first half of 2009. In contrast, Apple's Safari had 35 percent of all reported browser vulnerability, Microsoft's Internet Explorer was third at 15 percent and Opera had just six percent share.

The 2009 figures stand in contrast to Cenzic's Q3/Q4 2008 report, where IE accounted for 43 percent of all reported Web browser vulnerabilities and Firefox followed closely at 39 percent.

As to why Firefox's numbers were so high, Cenzic has a few ideas.

"It's a combination of different things," Lars Ewe, CTO of Cenzic, told InternetNews.com. "They've gotten more traction as a browser, which is good for them and the more you get used the more exposure you have. As well a fair amount of the vulnerabilities have come by way of plug-ins."

[...]

Though Firefox had the highest number of vulnerabilities, that doesn't necessarily mean that Firefox users were more vulnerable. [...]

It goes on to explain how the study was done, what they found and what it actually means. Higher usage means more vulnerabilities found more quickly. But how quickly the vulnerabilities are patched also counts toward the browsers overall security. I'm not worried about Firefox, I just find the report interesting.
     

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