Ice Storm Christmas Chez Nous

We were lucky.  We were without power for roughly 6 hours (and asleep for most of it).  Many people here in Ontario (and the North Eastern portion of North America) had a Christmas without power and were without power for several days.  Some are still, apparently, without power.

Ice Tree

Ice Tree in my Yard

Ice storms are beautiful as long as you are warm and cozy.  The picture here is of the town mandated, builder planted tree in my yard.  Every house has “a tree” and all the trees on my street look like this.  Many older trees have been dropping limbs.  A friend had their porch crushed and my business partner had many branches fall on their car causing minor damage.

But the ice-coated tree is beautiful.  We’re lucky here to have fairly newly planted trees that can take the ice load fairly well.  Some of the trees in our neighborhood date back to when it was built (about ten years).  My tree, in this picture, is a replacement that is a few years younger (the original tree didn’t do so well).

My business partner was without power for 3 days and he and his family went to live with his in-laws for the duration.  During this outage, news of a recent study by Lloyds of London caught my attention.  It detailed Lloyds assessment that a space weather event similar to the 1859 “Carrington Event” happening now would leave parts of North America without power for more than a year.  While not an ice storm, this analysis highlights the fragility of our electrical grid and the negligence of its maintenance.

Ice Storm Street View

My Street after the Ice Storm

My thoughts were drawn to this conclusion by the reports that the worst hit areas in this ice storm were urban.  Many homes and apartment buildings in Toronto, Richmond Hill and Kingston were without power for several days.

I fundamentally understand the problem of rural power distribution.  Long distances covered with overhead wires that can be snapped by fallen trees or even the wire’s own weight.  Each break taking time to fix and each such break only affecting a few homes.  Fixing the aftermath of the Quebec Ice Storm of 1998 took time because the sheer number of individual fixes were legion.

According to news reports, this is not the case now.  Many of the disruptions were blown or arcing transformers.  Items in the power network simply unable to handle the stress themselves, not of nature falling down upon them.  There is a real risk of another “Carrington Event” and that risk leads to some apocalyptic forecasts by an organization whose very existence is to examine risk.

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Captcha, Gotcha?

captcha symbols

captcha symbols

Blank + five = eleven.  Six, right?  Are any of you real people getting flummoxed by this?  Apparently the SPAMers are.  This site has gone from 5 to 10 SPAM comments per day to less than 2 SPAM comments per week.  More than that, my stress level over the SPAM that gets through the other SPAM measures (like Bad Behavior) has lowered considerably.

I was somewhat surprised that answering the Captcha was required even for my own login — that seemed excessive, but then the questions are deliberately easy.  I haven’t required the windoze calculator (yet).  Even the form of the questions amuses me: the grade-school formula with some numbers written and some numbers spelled out.  It’s all very olde skule.

I had assumed that the placement of SPAM comments on my blog was a somewhat more manual process than perhaps it is.  I expect that if software were solving the Captcha that all the SPAMMers would have it, but that seems not to be the case, either.  I’ve always been of two minds on this.  On the one hand, the SPAM always seems to be at least partially customized and vaguely topical (although that, too, could be an illusion) — I attribute this to the theory that “people” paid astronomically low wages are involved.  On the other hand, being subtly different nearly stopping the flow leads this to be a software and a software configuration problem.

I suppose my blog doesn’t need to be the smartest blog out there — just one bit smarter than the average.

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Reboot Groklaw.net: an Open Letter to PJ.

Groklaw: Call to Action

Groklaw: Call to Action

The NSA is scary.  I get it.  I have slightly less sympathy for you (a U.S. citizen) as I am not a U.S. citizen — which makes my situation all-the-more precarious, BUT:

GrokLaw is needed now, more than ever.  The war against the common human is open on many fronts — privacy, intellectual “property”, police powers without oversight, the “war” on drugs — everyone’s list is a little different, but the war on the common human is real.

It’s only real as long as we fight.  And Groklaw is a key tool in the fight against one of the major fronts of this war.  Can I (we, anyone) guarantee your safety, your honor,… your sanity?  Nope.  You’re already The Hero.  You had already accepted The Call.

I’m writing this on the news that Microsoft, Oracle and other of their ilk are appealing the Oracle vs. Google decision from earlier this year.  This is not the only intellectual “property” legal news, but it’s a big story.  Groklaw is needed.  PJ is needed.

Heck, I’d run it myself if I were able.  I care deeply about my privacy and about the overreach of both law enforcement and spying, but they are just one front in this conflict over which I have little control.  I get that you find it creepy to be watched.  I get that posting on Groklaw probably has you watched more often than not.  What you achieve is so much larger than the sum of its parts.

Reboot Groklaw, please.

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Captcha: blank + 15 = 21

captcha symbols

captcha symbols

I’ve started using a Captcha for the comments.  Over and above the spam protection I’ve been using, I’ve been deleting more than 10 spam posts per day.  This is just a nuisance, but it has become a nuisance that is grating.

I’m pretty sure this captcha is eminently defeatable.  You just need to examine the page for the details and do simple arithmetic.  I suppose this plugin is going on the theory that you don’t (usually) need to be the most secure; you just need to be more secure than the other guy.

If you can’t perform the requisite arithmetic, you’re not fit to comment (hint: that computer thing you’re using almost certainly has a calculator available).

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I call HorseHockey!

In the previous article, I called out Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister for being Dickish.  To some, that would be inappropriate, but to a world where most people trust The Comedy Network as their primary source of news, it is simply true.  I have no trouble respecting the office while simultaneously  disrespecting the man who currently fills it.  (And for the record, I wanted an image for “dickish” … but the internet failed me… but click on the Stephen Harper link for a good MacLeans

But I have a related problem I want to talk about today; there are a large number of untruths being passed by the media.  To be frank, lies.  It’s not that media wants to lie to us, it’s that the scoundrels who use the media need to use the media to lie to us.  When Don Cherry is about to drop a whopper, you can see it in Ron MacLean’s face, but when people lie on the news the journalists take it with a straight face and as seriously as they take any other news.  Part of the problem is that journalists believe that they should be unbiased — but this “wishful thinking” world of unbiased news does not and has never existed.  As soon as a person hears and then relays something as simple as a single fact, it has become biased.

The “news” is already biased when we choose what to report.  It is biased when we choose the reporters and the angle and the guests to grill and the talking heads pontificate.  People are fundamentally incapable of unbiased work.  It is therefore ridiculous that journalists are required to report what newsmakers say without comment.

One primary reason that this is ridiculous is that in most cases, the journalists are in a much better position to spot a lie than the vast majority of their audience.  An aside to this is the case where the newsmaker or interviewee answers the question with a complete non-sequitur so as to stay on their own separate message.

HorseHockey

HorseHockey

We need a word for this.  I call HorseHockey.  I have felt comfortable with this word for some time.   I have often shouted it at the radio while listening to a newscast where I felt someone was outright lying or using the media to lie.  According to the internet, the word dates back to at least the TV show M*A*S*H, but possibly further.  I realize its use there is likely to make an expletive slightly more palatable for mixed conversation, but I am advocating here it’s appropriation for specifically calling out the act of lying to a journalist and/or of replying to a journalist’s question with a non-sequitur to avoid lying.  Or indeed any other act who’s purpose is to use the media to propagate an untruth.

The world really needs this word.  For a short amount of time, I am confided it can be used often.  It’s job would be to clean the crap off the airwaves and leave a little more sanity for people listening.  To differentiate completely, and in the spirit of new found words on the Internet, I propose we use this as a single word both in pronunciation and in prose.  And while its etymology seems to at least pass through M*A*S*H, I find it appropriate that we remind the world that Canadians, in particular, are more interested in the truth.

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Mike Duffy: Not the Story I Originally Expected

Consumers and the Media

Consumers and the Media

For most of the Senate scandal story, I have to admit that I was laughing at Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.  I shouldn’t have been.  I’m savvy enough to know that Harper is a Dick (capital-D Dick), but the spin delivered on the story was juicy and sufficiently well-formed that I too was duped.  I am ashamed.  As a consumer of media, I failed to shield myself with appropriate levels of skepticism and I failed.

If there’s one thing that modern media is especially good at, it’s tearing people apart.  An Evil person picks a target (in this case Senators Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin).  Then they pick a hot button issue (in this case their expenses) and then we all whip our outrage into a frenzy.  This works spectacularly well with the boomer generation and moderately well with younger people.  In the Senator’s cases, the outrage belongs almost entirely to that older generation and it was quite deafening until some new information came to light.

That new information immediately intrigued me; not least in part because it reformed the whole story for me.  What had been a story about a retired news man submitting inappropriate expenses became a story about a Prime Minister attempting to white wash an inconvenient truth without regard to who was thrown under the bus. I strongly suspect that we will continue to have new information delivered to us — Harper may well have picked adversaries that have equal or greater access to the public ear.

The more important take-away from this story, however, is that the convenient news feeds from entirely partisan organizations (including the government) are not worth the electrons used to form them.  In an era where news organizations spend ever less on primary reporting, the consumer of news must be ever more wary of the sources used.

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Technical Plot Holes in NBC’s Revolution

Revolution Poster

Revolution Poster

I’ve been amused over the last several days by NBC’s Revolution.  The setting is a near future in which electrical power has been shut off for about fifteen years.  More precisely, electronic gadgets of any kind don’t work.  The show has been OK … but I have some problems with this premise and how they’ve developed it.  Truth be told, I’ve been holding at episode 10 until my suspension of disbelief returns.  Here’s how it escaped…

The show’s premise has all electricity not flowing.  Even the simplest of circuits (say battery plus light bulb equals flash light) don’t work in “Revolution.”  Electricity seemingly doesn’t flow.  This is different than the field theory of Falling Skies (simple things work) or the destroyed technology art style of much post apocolyptica (most technology destroyed, but some found technology works).

The first and most obvious of science holes is the fact that humans — indeed all complex life with brains and nervous systems work on electrical impulses.  Really simple life is largely chemical — but even basic chemical reactions involve the exchange of electrons — which is the very basis of how electricity works. Even if you could (say) stop various metals from conducting electricity, simple electric devices would work if materials akin to the body’s methods of conducting electricity would work.  But the converse case is more interesting.  Let us continue to digress…

Revolution Steam Train

Revolution Steam Train

Several episodes into the series, they feature a steam train running from somewhere in Illinois to Philadelphia.  While the amount of physical labour to prepare a track is plausible and the number of semi-restored steam locomotives still active in the US makes this somewhat plausible, the biggest problem I have with this idea was the utter lack of mention of the effort to provide water towers every 20 to 50 miles or so — which is one of the items that steam trains required. Continue reading

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Open the Floodgates…

Open the floodgates.  Open the blog.  Open the software.  Open the government.

open

OPEN

Open

Your

Mind

Dramatic words, no?  Meaningless words?  Some would have you believe. Consider “open” for a moment.

Open the Floodgates

At it’s most simple, “open” represents the flow of ideas that is suddenly upon me.  Truly it only rains when it pours here!  While both you and I have endured a long dry spell of Random Scribblings, the paucity here is now of excess.  I have more meta post ideas than time to write them and the shame in that is the lack of content.

I am excited by blogging again.  I wrote this to express that, but “open” is more important than my blog, my issues or my feelings.
Continue reading

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Back in the (Somewhat Random) Saddle

I have been slacking.  I even have several posts pretty much ready and I’ve been slacking.  To be completely honest with myself, I think my father’s death last year affected my desire to express myself more than I thought.  He and I often had protracted discussions on topics very similar to those I publish on this site.

But I have come to realize that there is worth in this writing.  It’s not just the comments … of which a very few have slowly appeared above the general noise of SPAM.  It’s also not just the readjusting of relationships with my family … who are equally sounding boards for my notions.  It’s worthwhile because I have something to say.

With that, I suppose I introduce the new “season” of Random Scribblings.  I’ve got some thoughts on Television fiction coming up as well as some refined thoughts on Video Games.   My favorite store for Random stuff (Lab Safety) has been bought out — and the new owner (Granger) is boring beyond belief — but maybe I’ll write more about that, too.

Consulting Gilbert’s Law of Opposites, things must have stayed the same since they also seem so completely and utterly different.

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I Have NOT Been Slashdotted

The rumors of my being slashdotted are greatly exaggerated — or at least perpetuated in denial by me.  Imagine my surprise when I noticed this article on Slashdot.  It mentions a “tech writer” named “David Gilbert.”  This might be one of the few times I directly mention my name on the blog … but it’s important here.  David, it seems writes for the International Business Times.

I can’t get an exact bead on the organization.  It claims to have “international newsrooms” all over the world, but their addresses could easily be simply some reporter’s house.  I strongly suspect it’s a UK organization since my Firefox plugin that prevents scripts from running exposes the default for the edition selection widget is “UK.”

I don’t terribly often Google myself.  If I do, I usually crack out a secure browser or even TORJust because you’re paranoid doesn’t meant they’re not after you

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