19 Feb 2010

This is why I keep a PostIt over the lens of built-in cameras.

Cory Doctorow says:

According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

Just WTF sort of delusional thinking gives a principal (or any official, for that matter) the idea that covertly monitoring a child at home is within the purview of his position?

Category: Life-Society
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19 Feb 2010
Surprise, Surprise

Rands In Repose asks an interesting question:

I want you to think of the last time you were surprised. Good, bad, I don’t care. When was the last time you were really surprised? Got it? Ok, now think about the very first thing that you thought about the surprise. I don’t want to know how you eventually handled it; I want you to think about your instantaneous first reaction.

In the context of corporate bad news delivered in a group setting, he personifies the various immediate reactions with characters such as Dr. No, Raging Bull, the Handler, we’re Doomed, etc. He’s careful to note, in a “follow up” for each character, that these initial reactions to surprise are not necessarily the subsequent way the individuals actually handle the situation, merely how they begin to assimilate it: ” … I know this knee jerk reaction is not who they are, this is just how they react. Understanding these varied potential reactions is just the first part of digesting a surprise – it helps you understand what to expect so you [a manager] can begin to figure out what to do next.”

Category: Daily-Grind
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15 Feb 2010
It’s not the fall …

… it’s the sudden stop at the end.

When your plane breaks apart at 35000 feet, you have about three minutes before you hit the ground at around 120 miles per hour. You might even survive. Dan Koeppel provides a morbidly humorous survival guide in Popular Mechanics’ “How to Fall 35,000 Feet—And Survive“.

According to the Geneva-based Aircraft Crashes Record Office, 118,934 people have died in 15,463 plane crashes between 1940 and 2008. Even when you add failed-chute sky divers, Hamilton’s tally of confirmed or plausible lived-to-tell-about-it incidents is only 157, with 42 occurring at heights over 10,000 feet.

Interspersed with accounts of actual survival, Koeppel offers some quirky suggestions for pre-fall training, including “banzai parachuting”:

The ultimate learn-by-doing experience might be a lesson from Japanese parachutist Yasuhiro Kubo, who holds the world record in the activity’s banzai category. The sky diver tosses his chute from the plane and then jumps out after it, waiting as long as possible to retrieve it, put it on and pull the ripcord. In 2000, Kubo—starting from 9842 feet—fell for 50 seconds before recovering his gear.

Something I didn’t expect was the huge number of comments arguing about the effect of body weight on terminal velocity. Clearly, a lot of people don’t understand the difference between free-fall in vacuum and in atmosphere.

Category: Sci-Tech
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12 Feb 2010
Snow in Jackson, February 2010

snow-covered trees
We seldom see snow that amounts to anything, but this was enough to close schools and businesses.

I’ve posted a few pictures on Flickr.

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06 Feb 2010
I’m a PC, and ruining your battery was my idea.

It is ironic that Microsoft’s claim that Windows 7 will improve battery life is being countered by some users threatening class action lawsuits due to W7 ruining laptop batteries. At least since June 2009 (Windows 7 and the battery error “consider replacing your battery” –Microsoft Technet) testers were reporting this problem. Yet it continues, with claims, counter-claims, and finger-pointing. A couple of recent articles: “Microsoft probes Windows 7 battery problems” and “Windows 7 battery update: Still no conclusive findings“.

BTW, I always thought those “I’m a PC” ads were stupid. I’m a human and running Linux on my PC was my idea.

(h/t: JH)

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28 Jan 2010

Other than work related stuff, I’ve pretty much been offline for the last few weeks. That is to say, I’ve let a lot of messages scroll below the fold and have not kept up with my news feeds. Nor have I spent much time on my personal projects, such as Japanese, or configuring my new laptop. It’s all been used up on life’s little necessities or being sick.

What little spare time I’ve had I’ve used to catch up on my woefully neglected dead-tree book reading.

I’ve noticed that science fiction authors usually get computers “right”, in the sense that they are either so advanced that they are out of our reality, or are kept fuzzily in the background, like furniture.

Popular novelists, on the other hand, sometimes go overboard in describing the details of the PCs or other computers that the characters are using. I don’t understand why they go into so much detail; maybe they need the word count. Once a novel is several years old the equipment, instead of being cool state of the art, just seems so, well, cringingly quaint, that it disrupts the flow of the story and unnecessarily dates it.

The only other place I’ve noticed such level of detail occurs in detective or adventure novels, where some authors describe the weapons used in such loving detail — about the only things they leave out are the serial numbers — that they overshadow the characters of the story. You know, where “gun” in “He drew his gun and shot the evil dude.” is replaced with a two paragraph paean to a Taurus Millennium Pro series 9mm with titanium slide, memory pad grips, Heinie ‘Straight-8’ sight, 12-round extended capacity magazine, …. you get my drift.

Which, is kinda creepy, but I don’t know enough about guns to know whether that should make me break out in a sweat or think what a loser the hero is. But I do know I’d much rather read that the hero simply “logged onto his computer and send the critical data file to his trusty partner” than to have an agonizingly detailed description of him booting his 640K Pentium with two floppy drives, daisy-wheel printer, and 2400 baud modem, converting his data with WordStar, compressing it with PKZIP, logging on to CompuServe and taking 20 tense-filled minutes to send it to his partner randyredhead@aol.com. Arrrgh.

Category: Daily-Grind
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14 Jan 2010
Under Pressure

Finally I have water pressure again, seems like more than before the crisis. At last I can shower and wash clothes again. Wheee!

Before we decry the timeliness of Jackson’s response to a few leaks, just image this 20 million gallon a day leak in NYC’s water supply that has been known about for 20 years.

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13 Jan 2010
Trickle trickle little star

That is, the stars on this map indicate where the 120+ 140+ water main breaks are. There’s no legend, but I’m assuming that the many red stars represent unrepaired breaks while the green ones represent completed repairs.

At the moment (a little after 11pm), I still have only a trickle of water — enough, with patience, to make coffee and keep the water tanks filled, but not strong enough for a shower.

h/t: @WJTV : Map Of The Water Main Breaks For Jackson & Hinds County

Update 01/14: increased break count; as mayor said today (Thu) at 11am, additional breaks will be discovered and increasing pressure will lead to new breaks in already fragile pipes

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12 Jan 2010
Water water … nowhere

With over a hundred breaks in the water mains, Jackson is running kinda dry right now. Federal, state, and local governments have closed offices, school have closed, a number of local businesses have locked their doors.

Some neighborhoods (mine, for example) have no water, while others have barely a trickle. Boil-water alerts aren’t useful when there’s no water to boil.

I’m not upset about this (at least not yet) — it’s what you can expect when you have aged infrastructure, some of it over a hundred years old, in shifting Yazoo clay exposed to an unusually extended freeze.

It does reemphasize the universal pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later law. I say universal because it doen’t just apply to infrastructure, but to all human endeavors, whether water mains, software systems and networks, or legislation.

It’s human nature to be be excited and willing to spend right-now for something new, shiny, and needed. Unfortunately it’s also human nature to overlook the ongoing cost of maintenance; to believe that future resources will be magically provided for; or to simply foist it off on future staff or next generation, making it someone else’s problem.
That last is particularly apt in the case of public services.

If you don’t plan for the cost of ongoing maintenance from the beginning, you (or your successors) will pay, with with a high penalty factor, when it breaks.

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10 Jan 2010
Water problems

Nothing like three days below freezing to mess up your pipes. Although city crews have been rushing around all over fixing broken mains, I thought I had avoided any problems. However, I just noticed that my water is turning brown, but pressure is fine. I checked under the house and out in the yard where the water line comes in and didn’t see anything unusual, so, if I’m “lucky”, it’s residue from city repairs, or at least a mains break, not mine.

Update: as the city slowly grinds to a halt … “The Day the Pipes Stood Still“. [h/t: @JxnFreePress — “Tee, hee. RT @AndiAgnew: Love it! @knolaust RT The Day the Pipes Stood Still (Mock Movie Poster by Knol) http://bit.ly/8b2iG8”]

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