Thursday, March 30, 2006

An Open Letter to Representatives Barton and Upton

I read today's article on network neutrality from Internet News, entitled "'Clear And Present Danger' For Telecom Reform Bill", with some trepidation. From all appearances, the GOP aims to side with the telcos and allow net neutrality to lapse, or at least go dormant. As I've made clear before, the risks associated with this approach are significant.

Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas, Contact) chairs the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, while Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI, Contact) chairs the Internet Subcommittee. Together, they are helping craft a bill that would de-regulate neutrality. I called the office of Rep. Barton (202-225-2002) -- reaching a staffer -- who relayed my message. I got voicemail for Rep. Upton (202-225-3761) and left him a message in his mailbox. I would urge you to do the same.

I also wrote Barton a message on his site, which is reproduced here:

Congressman, as a staunch GOP supporter, op-ed writer, blogger, and fundraiser, I want to express my extreme disappointment in your apparent willingness to side with the telcos in the matter of network neutrality.

At risk is America's leadership role as the premier source of Internet innovation. Google, eBay, Amazon and others create value, evident through their market capitalization values. Erecting tollbooths on the Internet does the opposite - it subtracts value. And the telcos -- through their spokespersons and the hardware they plan to purchase -- clearly intend to create artificial tollbooths on the Internet to "maximize value".

How would a startup (a Digg, Vonage, Skype) compete with large companies who are able to pay prioritization tarriffs? What will prevent a telco from entering any market and blocking competitive traffic? The risks of ending network neutrality are simply too high.

The wording of prospective neutrality legislation can be clear and direct: blocking, monitoring, filtering, or impeding packets based upon type, source, or destination should be strictly forbidden.

America's national security and economic well-being hang in the balance. I -- and many other members of the GOP -- urge you to reconsider your position on network neutrality.

Best Regards,

Doug Ross

Update: Russell Shaw is following the money trail on Network Neutrality. Comcast (#1), AT&T (#4), and MCI (#6) were among last year's top ten corporate contributors to Rep. Joe Barton for a grand total of $46,000. Shaw closes by saying, "Not suggesting anything untoward here, but it might appear these companies - who never met a fee idea they didn't like, feel like they have a friend in Joe."

Book Review: Joseph Finder's Paranoia

It's the literary equivalent of crack

Paranoia (Paperback) by Joseph Finder I had a pressing appointment yesterday but was running late. The reason? This d**n book. After a several hour read, I hit the last chapter and literally couldn't stop. The mind-bending conclusion -- akin to the closing scene in The Usual Suspects -- literally threw me for a loop.

Adam Cassidy is a low-level corporate drone at Wyatt Telecommunications. Unmotivated and glib, he arranges a massive retirement party for a friend on the loading-dock... all paid for through an unauthorized expense account. The prank is instantly detected by Corporate Security because the party ended up costing over $20K. Cassidy is threatened not only with termination, but also several decades behind bars.

But there's an out offered to him by, of all people, CEO Nick Wyatt. The founder of the telecom company is a ruthless corporate predator. His arch-rival, Trion, is hiring a product manager. And Wyatt desperately needs a mole inside Trion to get the goods on Trion's top secret Project AURORA. That project is rumored to be "transformational", meaning it will mark a new generation in the wireless industry. Wyatt can't afford to be left behind by a new BlackBerry or iPod, so Cassidy is an unwilling pawn in a deadly serious game of corporate espionage.

Given a suitable cover role and prepped with gobs of high-level product information, Cassidy is hired for the job at Trion. At the behest of Wyatt and his security goons, Cassidy instantly begins his intelligence-gathering operations. And he has been prepped well for his day job: his remarks in planning meetings are both controversial and prescient. He soon catches the eye of Trion founder Jock Goddard, a Silicon Valley legend. Within weeks, he's been tapped as Goddard's personal assistant, a role that puts him in close touch with the entire management hierarchy.

Wyatt is ecstatic at the development... and is now demanding more and better intel around AURORA. Compounding Cassidy's stress level, his father is dying of emphysema and he's begun a heavy-duty (and non-HR-approved) relationship with a gorgeous Trion marketing manager. Try as he might to keep it all together, Cassidy's double lives are beginning to spin out of control.

From the opening graphs to the mind-roasting conclusion, I had a very difficult time peeling myself away... even for a pressing engagement. I've heard the book is to be made into a movie. That's outstanding news - and it will mean fewer missed appointments for Finder's readership. Because a movie may be a better idea for some folks than the literary equivalent of crack.

Barton Shills for the Telcos on Network Neutrality

Texas Republican Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, did his best to stay on the telcos' good side. "Before we get too far down the road, I want to let the market kind of sort itself out, and I'm not convinced that we really have a problem with Net neutrality."

Definition: Network neutrality is the concept that broadband providers should not be able to arbitrarily filter, degrade, or block delivery of packets. The telcos want the ability, say, to charge Google or Yahoo for prioritized delivery of packets. Conversely, content providers want the current state: no blocking, filtering or degrading of packet delivery.

Yes, Joe, we do have a problem. All you need to do is spend five minutes examining the hardware that Cisco and other networking vendors are hawking to the carriers. This equipment is designed to analyze, filter, meter, and/or otherwise meddle with third-party network traffic to financially benefit the carriers.

BellWest Network Neutrality
Another fantastic "deal" from BellWest

In essence, the carriers are itching to erect tollbooths on the Internet. The problem, though, is simple to understand. How can an emerging company -- with little capitalization but great ideas -- ever compete with the big boys? How will the next Skype or Vonage or Digg or Google emerge when the game is now rigged in favor of the behemoths... those content providers who can afford to pay the new tarriffs?

The advertisement at right -- a hypothetical telco ad from the future -- implies what might be in the cards for consumers if network neutrality is killed off. In other words, artificial restrictions (network tollbooths) will likely limit consumer choice.

What the telcos want is bad for everyone... even themselves. They're just too short-sighted to see it. They envision short-term revenue gains, but in reality, they're helping to kill innovation on the Internet: the kind of innovation that keeps America at the top of the Internet pyramid.

Bolting tollgates onto the routers that make up Internet plumbing is not a value-add... it's a value-subtract.

Legislation has to be very simple and explicit - it need only state that IP traffic may not be blocked, delayed, filtered, or impeded based upon protocol, source or destination address, or any other packet-level data item.

Otherwise, the very future of American Internet innovation may hang in the balance.

Interested in helping to preserve a free Internet? Get involved by signing a petition that business and Congressional leaders will see. And get the message out.

A security challenge for MSFT management

Interesting security challenge for Microsoft management -- spotted in the comments section of the MSFT management shakeup blog post at Mini-Microsoft:

Jim Alchin, Brian Valentine, Partners in Windows, please show the world that you trust Vista's security...put your social security number, personal bank account numbers, and personal credit card numbers a on a Vista machine configured by Dell with a [publicly] accessible and un-firewalled IP address and announce that IP address to the world.

Anyone with brains doesn't trust you anymore. Show us. The world isn't drinking your kool-aid.

Vista security challenge

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Angry Microsoft employees call for Ballmer to Go

There seems to be a fair amount of employee angst over at Microsoft regarding the incessant product delays. One MSFT employee, compaining about Vista, asks, "People need to be fired and moved out of Microsoft today. Where's the freakin' accountability?" Another says, "Vista - I wouldn't buy it with someone else's money. Then again what do I know, I've only been testing the dog for the last 2-3 yrs."

A series of blog posts and comments seemed to unleash a fair amount of organizational remorse: several employees are demanding that Ballmer should be first on the "to be fired" list...

PR Pro: Microsoft employees call for Ballmer to go

Hussein, Bin Laden & WMDs

Shhhh... no one tell the mainstream media

Suited up for chemical weapons attackThe HARMONY database continues to reveal its secrets. It consists of millions of pages of data from CDs and computers liberated from the Iraqi Intelligence Services (IIS) after the fall of Baghdad.

Pity the mainstream media can't be bothered reporting the truth: that Hussein's government and Al-Qaeda were actively cooperating before, during and after 9/11. Why won't the MSM report this news? That's nearly as vexing a question as whether Michael Moore has three chins or four.

[The] documents – though only 2% or so are translated and available – substantiate without doubt the following allegations: Saddam Hussein and bin Laden, the Baathist regime and al Qaeda had extensive, wide reaching ties. Saddam was, at a minimum, a supporter of the 9/11 attacks if not a sponsor of them. Saddam’s intelligence services trained more than 8,000 al Qaeda terrorists, primarily from Somalia and Sudan, at camps such as Salman Pak and Ansar al-Islam within Iraq. And Saddam helped finance al Qaeda and similar terrorist groups.

Further, the documents substantiate a broad, on-going program Iraq had to develop nuclear weapons. Indeed, Saddam had instructed his minions to begin preparing to re-energize the program after UN sanctions were lifted, a hope he had reinforced by French, Russian, and German diplomats...

...Saddam had several civilian aircraft – one Boeing 747 and a “group” of 727s - stripped of passenger equipment and converted into cargo planes. The aircraft flew 56 sorties between Iraq and Syria, delivering drums of the chemical weapon Sarin along with other chemical and biological weapons... In addition to the air sorties an uncounted amount of WMD were transported to Syria by commercial trucks – familiar 18-wheelers – and other civilian vehicles, including ambulances...

...Up to 20 tons of these chemical agents were intended for use by al Qaeda terrorists in attacking three targets in Amman, Jordan in 2004 – the Jordanian Ministry of Defense and Intelligence Service buildings, and the American Embassy. These were to be simultaneous truck bomb attacks that were thwarted by good counter-intelligence work. The trucks were large 15-ton capacity powerful vehicles that could power through barriers and obstacles to crash into the buildings. At that time the homicide drivers would detonate the ammonium nitrate load triggered by plastic explosives – probably C-4. Resting atop the explosive load were Saddam’s chemicals, sufficient to kill upwards to 100,000 people in downtown Amman...

Monday, March 27, 2006

Latest Happenings in the PHP World

The inimitable John Lim comments on a 2005 article, written by Amazon engineer Steve Yegge, that asks "Is weak typing strong enough?"? Steve's assertion is that scripting languages are useful until the moment multi-threading or high-performance enters the picture. At that point, he lobbies for compiled languages that provide ultimate control (e.g., C++). In other words, each has its place. John reinforces the message:

The key is not to argue about abandoning one for the other, but use the strengths of both. For core code where speed and threading is critical, use strongly typed compiled code. At the periphery, for user interface and rapidly changing business rules, use a dynamically typed language.

John also points us to an excellent pro-PHP rant from Harry Fuecks:

[For] PHP as an Apache module the two big things are it works and it’s scalable. More to the point no one really has an execution model to compare with it, except perhaps Microsoft with ASP 3.0, which they’ve since abandoned. Before you fly off the handle, think about this one... [it] is the interpreter returning to a fresh state after every request (no globals hanging around or otherwise). PHP really is shared nothing. You want scaling? Try [Wikipedia]...

Is anyone seriously questioning PHP's scalability these days? What, with SourceForge, the US Army website, and Yahoo's entire infrastructure? John sums it up with a great anecdote, which I'll paraphrase. If you know what you're doing, you can build the vast majority of your enterprise application -- no matter how large -- in PHP. Flickr's architecture is a great place to start.

The Yahoo! UI Library

The folks at Yahoo have released their free (and BSD-licensed) user interface library. It's a set of Javascript utilities that help web developers build applications. For example, need a slick little pop-up calendar? The YUI calendar control is a sweet little control with plenty of options and a nice, tight interface. Other controls include a slider and a tree-control.

Utilities include animation helpers -- position, size, transparency of window elements can be controlled -- as well as an AJAX connection manager, DOM utilities, drag-and-drop tools, and event handlers.

The Yahoo! UI Library

Words of Wisdom...

From VP Dick Cheney. Question for the Democratic leadership: Ouchie... you gonna put some ice on that?

...every voter in America needs to know how the leaders of the Democratic Party view the War on Terror. This is the crowd that objects to the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Their leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, boasted publicly of his efforts to kill the Patriot Act. Their nominee for President in the last election viewed terrorism as mainly a law enforcement issue, and recently said that American troops are, 'terrorizing' Iraqis. The chairman of the Democratic Party is Howard Dean, who said the capture of Saddam Hussein did not make America safer. And leading Democrats have demanded a sudden withdrawal from the battle against terrorists in Iraq - the very kind of retreat that Osama bin Laden has been predicting. And with that sorry record, the leaders of the Democratic Party have decided to run on the theme of competence. If they're competent to fight this war, then I ought to be singing on American Idol.

From SecDef Donald Rumsfeld: a concept foreign to both President Bill Clinton and erstwhile nominee Hillary.

I've read that polls may be down and are down in some instances. They do tend to go up and down depending on circumstances. And if every time a poll went down, somebody changed their policy or changed their position or tossed in the towel, we wouldn't have a country today. There have been plenty of times polls have down in our history when people have persevered and been resolute and prevailed ultimately. And that's what will happen in this instance.

Hat tip: Right Wing News (a brand, spanking-new addition to my political blogroll).

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Book Review: Prayers for the Assassin

A terrifying -- and all too real -- glimpse into the future Five Stars

Robert Ferrigno - Prayers for the AssassinThree nuclear explosions in Washington, New York, and Mecca provide the historical backdrop for Ferrigno's exceptional detective story: a world turned on its head. Evidence that these devastating attacks were orchestrated by "Zionist agents" changes the course of history.

In America, the combination of post-attack sympathy for Islam and several Hollywood celebrity conversions cause massive upheavals. With the federal government in shambles, the blue states form an Islamic Republic (capitol: Seattle) while the red states form their own Christian Republic (capitol: Atlanta). After decades of bloodshed between the two, by 2040 an uneasy truce reigns.

In the Islamic Republic, three political elements battle for control: the State Security forces under the control of moderate politico Redbeard; the fundamentalist Black Robes, led by firebrand cleric Ibn Azziz; and a shadow organization led by a billionaire recluse known only as "the Old One". When Redbeard's neice Sarah -- an accomplished author -- begins to investigate the terrorist attacks, her new book's proposed title ("The Zionist Betrayal?") sets off alarms throughout the Islamic Republic. And the Old One is especially determined to find and terminate this troublesome female.

Unnerved at his fraying plans, the Old One unleashes his ultimate weapon against her: a psycophathic Fedayeen assassin named Darwin. Sarah, though, is a dogged detective and she has an especially experienced and capable bodyguard. Rakkim Epps, an orphan also raised in Redbeard's household and who later served as a "Shadow Warrior" (special ops) in the elite Fedayeen, is reunited with Sarah at Redbeard's request. Together, Rakkim and Sarah circumnavigate the Western states trying to stay a step ahead of Darwin while tracking down the real instigator of the 2015 nuclear attacks.

The detective story on its own is excellent, but it is Ferrigno's rich level of detail that must be read to be appreciated. In the background, he describes an America transformed into an Islamic Republic, with new social mores, "Ask the Imam" radio talk-show dialogue, and even midday prayers at the Superbowl. This tapestry, combined with an excellent action-adventure plot, makes for a fascinating (and somewhat terrifying) story.

What Is That File?

If you've ever wondered about a specific file or process running on your machine (is it adware, spyware, or something even worse?), then look no further. This handy, AJAX-enabled website helps you separate the good files from the bad.

What is that file?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

From Google: Top 230 highest paying AdSense Keywords

Tools in Google's Adwords service now permit advertisers to search for the current CPC (cost-per-click) for keywords. One blogger used the tool to compile a list of the highest-paying keywords. Lawyers seem to be willing to pay the most (can you say "DUI" or "wrongful death"?)...

read more 

HARMONY begins to reveal the truth about Iraq and Al Qaeda

The HARMONY database -- a huge cache of documents liberated from the Iraqi Intelligence Service -- is beginning to reveal its secrets. Unfortunately for mediacrat superheroes like the Sour Spinster (Maureen Dowd) and Schnozzy McPeacenik (Bill Maher), these documents paint a worst-case scenario for the Bush/lied/WMD/Halliburton/War-for-Oil crowd. It's increasingly clear that Bin Laden and Hussein were indeed cooperating before, during and after the 9/11 attacks. Best of all, this information represents just the tip of the iceberg.

In a document dated September 15, 2001, “An Iraqi intelligence service document” says “that their Afghan informant, who’s only identified by a number, told them that the Afghan consul Ahmed Dahastani claimed the following in front of him:

* That OBL and the Taliban are in contact with Iraq and that a group of Taliban and bin Laden group members visited Iraq
* That the U.S. has proof the Iraqi government and "bin Laden's group" agreed to cooperate to attack targets inside America.
* That in case the Taliban and bin Laden's group turn out to be involved in "these destructive operations," the U.S. may strike Iraq and Afghanistan.
* That the Afghan consul heard about the issue of Iraq's relationship with "bin Laden's group" while he was in Iran.

This just keeps getting better and better for the administration. Before HARMONY, anyone with an iota of intellectual honesty could look at the Boeing 707 at Salman Pak -- used to train thousands of would-be hijackers -- and the presence of Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Baghdad prior to the war... and know that invading Iraq was absolutely the right thing to do. And President Bush -- on September 20, 2001 -- made it crystal clear what was in store.

Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.) From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

But the far Left bank of the Democratic Party has never been described as intellectually honest. They claimed all along that Iraq was a "distraction" from the war on terror (an obvious falsehood) and that there was no significant cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Well, my friends, the HARMONY database is starting to reveal the true depths of that relationship. What it will mean over the long haul is anyone's guess. But one outcome is certain: the Democrats are certain to continue losing elections until and unless they decide to treat the war on terror with the gravity it requires.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fixing DRM... by killing it

The software technology used to restrict the use of video, audio, and e-Book content is called DRM, which stands for "Digital Rights Management". The basic rationale for DRM is to give the publisher or distributor better control of the content.

For example, when you purchase a song from the iTunes store, it comes wrapped in an electronic envelope ostensibly designed to protect the intellectual property from misuse (like *ahem* copying the song). And, for a time, when Sony CDs were played on a PC, they installed a malevolent root-kit that could damage your computer (the public relations blowback was painful -- yet highly entertaining -- to watch).

The motivating factor for DRM has nothing to do with improving the customer experience. Instead, it has to do with treating the customer like a would-be criminal; thereby chaining the content to a particular machine or device. Increasingly sophisticated consumers, of course, want to use the content on a wide range of devices. And a subset of technically savvy consumers simply remove any DRM altogether.

Bill Thompson writes of these flawed schemes:

The music, movie and publishing industries do not deserve to survive if their only way to remain viable is to undermine copyright law and replace it with restrictive contracts backed by harsh penalties for breaking the inevitably flawed DRM they wrap around their products. Others will take their place, and I cannot see that this is a bad thing.


BBC: How to right the copyright wrongs

Sell used books to B&N (Shipping Included)

The folks at Barnes & Noble are now offering a "Buyback" service that will pay you for your used books. Enter the ISBN and, if interested, complete the transaction. They'll send you a prepaid postal cover for the book. Once they receive it, they'll mail you the check for the agreed-upon price. Though the price is, as you might expect, significantly less than retail, it's an interesting model...

read more

Thursday, March 23, 2006

AjaxWrite: web-based MS Word substitute

The look, feel, and general functionality of Microsoft Word, delivered over the web. In all seriousness, AjaxWrite represents a glimpse at the future of software delivery. Check it out. ASAP.

FCC Chief: AT&T Can Limit Net Bandwidth

The exact nightmarish scenario I described several weeks ago may indeed come to pass.

FCC Chief Kevin Martin yesterday gave his support to AT&T and other telcos who want to be able to limit bandwidth to sites like Google, unless those sites pay extortion fees. Martin made it clear in a speech yesterday that he supports such a a "tiered" Internet.

Martin told attendees at the TelecomNext show that telcos should be allowed to charge web sites whatever they want if those sites want adequate bandwidth.

In other words, Martin's thrown in with AT&T, Verizon, and the other carriers who appear to be the same unreformed monopolists they've always been. Their idea of innovation? Erect various tollbooths on the Internet to hamper bandwidth unless someone pays extra.

Martin's fatally flawed vision would, if enacted, help destroy the innovation that has been so key to the development of the Internet. How would a boot-strapped startup, for instance, pay the tarriffs necessary to compete with the big boys' bandwidth? And if these tolls had been in place in the nineties, would Google have gone up against Yahoo and become the economic force it is today?

Highly unlikely, in my view.

Get involved by signing a petition that business and Congressional leaders will see. And copy your friends with this message so they can see what's at stake.

Networking Pipeline: FCC Chief: AT&T Can Limit Net Bandwidth

Another Identity Theft Debacle

The latest in a series of identity theft debacles relates to the loss of a Fidelity Investments laptop that contained personal information on nearly 200,000 HP employees.

The stolen computer belongs to Fidelity Investments, which provides services to HP, a representative for the Palo Alto, Calif., technology giant said Wednesday. The laptop was being used by several Fidelity employees in an off-site location, said Anne Crowley, a spokeswoman for Fidelity, which is based in Boston.

The portable PC contains information on 196,000 current and former HP employees, Crowley said. The data includes names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other employment-related information, but not the personal identification numbers required to log on to Fidelity services, she said.

The key question: why is someone walking around with a database that contains 200,000 sensitive records?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Richard Cohen is an Outrage

The dull, stuck-in-the-Sixties WaPo columnist Richard Cohen excreted another vacuous column this week. It was number five thousand and three (my count could be off) in a continuing series lambasting the administration for pursuing the war on terror. From what I can tell, Cohen simply reorders the paragraphs of his previous column to produce the next. His monotopical diatribes ignore any historical, factual or current affairs basis in presenting their assertions.

You'd think Cohen would be capable of reading the news since he -- supposedly -- is in the business. But, apparently that's beyond him, since his partisan blinders prevent him from mentioning the HARMONY database, a cache of Iraqi government documents discovered after the war, which are only now being released.

The HARMONY documents are beginning to paint a worst-case scenario for the Democrats: that the President was absolutely right and utterly justified in ordering the destruction of the nexus of terrorism represented by Hussein's government. The documents -- currently being released and translated -- point to direct Iraqi sponsorship and training of Al Qaeda and its affiliates such as Abu Sayyaf.

And that's why you'll get the bile-like discharges from Cohen that disengenuously discuss the war on terror with scant mention of 9/11. Or without presenting an alternative strategy to that of promoting Democracy, which seems to be the only plausible modality for suppressing the virulent form of fascism we now face.

But Cohen couldn't be bothered with actually reading the news to figure out what's going on. Or, even if he could, certainly isn't intellectually honest enough to mention the highly germane developments represented by the HARMONY documents.

Of course, trying to present such a logical, straightforward argument to a rocket scientist like Cohen is like trying to teach quantum physics to a guppy.

Hitchens' Ideal War

Hitchens -- Christopher Hitchens -- saddles up and rides straight into another tussle with the American Left over Iraq. Which he handily wins through his use of concepts foreign to the Left: facts.

As for the “terror” connection, Hayes in a series of unrebutted articles has laid out a tranche of suggestive and incriminating connections, based on a mere fraction of the declassified documents, showing Iraqi Baathist involvement with jihadist and Bin Ladenist groups from Sudan to Afghanistan to Western Asia. If you choose to doubt this, you might want to look at the threat, neglected by the U.S. military, of the “Fedayeen Saddam...”

...This interestingly named outfit, known to many of us for some time, did most of the serious fighting against the coalition after the ignominious and predictable collapse of the Iraqi army and the Republican Guard. Its ranks were heavily augmented with foreign jihadists, and from this para-state formation and its recruitment pattern, we get an idea of the way in which things would have gone in Iraq if it had been left alone. Never mind “imminent threat,” if that phrase upsets you. How does “permanent threat” sound?

Slate/Hitchens: My Ideal War

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

That's what I'm talkin' about

M-32 Grenade Launcher

I wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of this bad boy. The Marines just took delivery of the M-32 six-short 40mm grenade launcher. These replaced the traditional M203 single-shot launchers, which mount under M16 rifles. Defense Industry Daily writes:

"The M-32 is a modified Milkor MGL-140... It can put all 6 rounds on target in under 3 seconds, and can fire "normal" M433 40mm grenades or specialty rounds. Specialty rounds include HELLHOUND rounds with twice the lethal radius of the M433, which will breach doors and kill anything behind them; DRACO thermobaric rounds; and even HUNTIR rounds with cameras in them that descend on a parachute and send back video... the USMC has ordered 9,000 of them."

Would it be improper to scream "Come n' git some!" while aiming one of these?

DID: USMC's New M-32s: Hitting the Field

Prosper - eLoans for the rest of us

I wrote up a couple of weeks ago. Now, Springwise provides a great overview of the idea behind Prosper with some hints at the potential.

But the big challenge -- as in any marketplace, but especially one revolving around the transfer of funds -- is reputation. Before I cut a check for $5,000 to someone I've only met over the web, I'd need to be absolutely sure that the loan is secured by confirmation of identity and reputation. That's truly going to be the hard part.

If Prosper does get some traction, though, perhaps they could use Google's new Reputation Service for its GoogleBase classifieds offering.

Hollywood's Bad Guys

The incomparable Mark Steyn was recently taken to task (on his own website, no less) for referring to Muslims as Hollywood's "preferred villains of the 80s and 90s." Bob Armstrong (yes, that Bob Armstrong... I'm kidding, never heard of him) of Winnipeg notes:

A cursory glance at the big-budget action films of those decades suggests that the preferred villain, even before 9/11 brought about the current mania for not scapegoating [Islamic Terrorists], was anybody but:

Bruce Willis films:
Die Hard (German Marxists turned mercenaries);
Die Hard 2 (mercenaries working for a Latin American right wing general/drug lord);
Die Hard 3 (the brother of the lead German from DH1);
Mel Gibson films:
Lethal Weapon (rogue CIA agents working for drug dealers);
Lethal Weapon 2 (South African diplomats);
Lethal Weapon 3 (corrupt LA cops);
Arnold Schwarzenegger films:
Red Heat (Russian mobsters in America);
Commando (right wing Latin American general/drug lord with corrupt CIA/U.S. Special Forces help);
True Lies (Muslim terrorists)
Harrison Ford films:
Patriot Games (IRA);
Clear and Present Danger (Latin American drug lords);
Air Force One (rogue Russians);
The Fugitive (drug company, German-accented doctor, corrupt Chicago cop);
Witness (corrupt Philly cops);
Eddie Murphy films:
Beverley Hills Cop (drug dealing LA art dealer);
Beverley Hills Cop 2 (German-accented robbers)
48 Hours (California bank robber/cop killer)
Sylvester Stallone films:
First Blood (nasty small town cops/hypocritical military officers);
Rambo (Vietnamese communists/hypocritical U.S. military officers);
Rambo 3 (Russians – with Muslim Afghans as the good guys);
Various others:
The Peacemaker (rogue Russian general);
Proof of Life (Latin American guerrillas);
Speed (rogue LA cop);
Red Dawn (Russians, with Cubans as bad guys with a conscious).

So there’s one crew of [Islamic] terrorists in a sea of corrupt cops and CIA agents, Latin American generals and drug lords, smooth-talking Central Europeans and gruff Russians. And yet, how many people, through... constant repetition... have come to believe that Muslims have been targeted by Hollywood? After reading the above list, the only thing more obvious to me than the bogus nature of that complaint is my need to see some better quality movies...

Actually, Bob did miss a Bruce Willis movie -- "The Siege" -- that featured a bad guy named Sheikh Achmed Bin Talal. However, just to even things up, an FBI agent of Arabian extraction is definitely a good guy. And Bob also missed "Wanted: Dead or Alive" -- the Rutger Hauer action flick featuring Gene Simmons as homicidal terrorist Malak Al Rahim.

And how could he forget "Back to the Future" and Marty McFly's frenzied escape from terrorists seeking nukes (in a DeLorean, no less)?

But we get Bob's point.

Steyn's reply? "...Hollywood gave us far more [Islamic] terrorists in the Eighties and Nineties than it has since 9/11."

Anything but Bad Guys

Monday, March 20, 2006

Analyzing the Knight Record

Bob Knight's Wins by Year

In honor of this year's NCAA basketball tournament: the accompanying chart graphs the college basketball wins achieved by legendary Coach Bob Knight. Having watched many of Knight's 1980's-era teams, I was fascinated by the discipline achieved by his system.

Prior to the shot-clock era, if a Knight team had a four point lead with a few minutes to go, a victory was all but secure. His teams ran motion offense to perfection. It was screen, cut, screen, cut, until a cutter found himself at close range of the basket with the ball and generally had an easy layup.

This patient brand of basketball, of course, now belongs to the annals of history. The onset of the shot-clock era -- with the appearance of the 45-second clock in 1986 -- began to change the game. And once the 35-second clock appeared in 1994, the game's pace became much more frenetic. A backcourt press could leave a team with only 26 seconds to run their offense.

Patience, cutting and screening are no longer as valued as sheer athletic ability. Getting up and down the court with alacrity, recovering quickly, and long-range shooting are all the most valued skills.

The point in the graph is this: could we graphically see the impact of the 35-second shot on Knight's patient game? My contention is that we can. Since '94, Knight's teams haven't won 25 games. Nor have they gotten past the sweet sixteen.

Knight -- who has done more to change the game of college basketball more than perhaps any other innovator -- does not seem to have adjusted as well to the 35-second era.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Your invitation to the 3rd Annual Nigerian Email Conference

It's true, we're all invited to participate in this fascinating conference, which promises new and exciting techniques for effective email marketing.

Like most Nigerians, you're probably finding that it's increasingly difficult to earn a decent living from email. That's why you need to attend the 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference.

"This conference is an investment in your future. Learn to take advantage of modern technology, and make a great deal of money with very little effort. If you have any question, please contact me and I will send you a proposal that may be of interest to you. I await your response by return while assuring you that the transaction is absolutely risk free." - Dr. Collins Mbadiwe

The 3rd Annual Nigerian Email Conference

Open-source Windows Packages

Looking for a simple list of free, high-quality, and open-source software packages for Windows? Your hunt is at an end. Visit It's niiiiiiice.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Software Patents: "A Greedy Scam"

Truly great quote from Eben Moglen, General Counsel of the Free Software Foundation, during an interview with

Q: Various people have accused the free software movement of being anti-capitalist, including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. What's your response?

A: The idea that we are anti-capitalist is a stupid idea. Free software is not anti-capitalist. Capitalism now makes a great deal of money out of free software, and it voluntarily pays us money to make, improve and lawyer for it.

Some people decided to make knowledge into property. That wasn't capitalism speaking; that was a greedy scam. There wasn't anything normatively acceptable about it. It contravened the freedom of speech and ideas. We didn't engage in it because it was excluding people from ideas. Free software's white knight

Report: US Warns Iran

Iran Focus, courtesy Regime Change Iran, reports this ominous news:

The United States warned Iran through a secret channel that it would launch military attacks on a number of nuclear sites in Iran if there was no diplomatic progress a month after the Islamic Republic’s referral to the United Nations Security Council, according to a Persian-language website run by associates of the former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami.

Khatami was quoted by the website Rooz Online as telling allies that he had received a message through a third party from a senior United States official during a visit to Germany last autumn. The U.S. official had warned Iran that the U.S. would bomb the country’s nuclear sites “if there is no breakthrough in resolving Iran’s nuclear dossier a month after the case is referred to the Security Council”.

New Partisan Times

Taranto humbles the lame collection of partisan hacks known as the New York Times. Again.

"President Bush sketched an expansive vision last night of what he expects to accomplish by a war in Iraq. Instead of focusing on eliminating weapons of mass destruction, or reducing the threat of terror to the United States, Mr. Bush talked about establishing a 'free and peaceful Iraq' that would serve as a 'dramatic and inspiring example' to the entire Arab and Muslim world, provide a stabilizing influence in the Middle East and even help end the Arab-Israeli conflict."--Editorial, New York Times, Feb. 27, 2003

"One prominent neoconservative, Francis Fukuyama, asserts in a new book that the administration embraced democracy as a cornerstone of its policy only after the failure to find unconventional weapons in Iraq. The issue was seized upon to justify the war in retrospect, and then expanded for other countries, he says."--New York Times, March 17, 2006

They truly are giving laughing-stocks a bad name.

GoogleTips: Making your site search-friendly

If you're interested in making your site friendlier to Google (and thereby raise your site's profile in its search results), then these quick tips from SSW are handier than a Swiss Army knife in a MacGyver episode.

Even better, the SEOMoz Beginner's Guide to SEO is an outstanding overview of search engine optimization - the best I've ever seen.

What might have been

Fascinating article by Gerard Baker in the Times, speculating on what might have been had the war in Iraq been avoided. And, yes, read it all.

IN MARCH 2003 Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, of the UN, secured a remarkable, last-minute deal that averted war and seemed to guarantee the disarmament of Iraq. “Saddam Hussein has finally consented to eliminate all his weapons of mass destruction,” they said, in a signing ceremony with the Iraqi leader...

...The war in Iraq goes on, three years later, to the unfolding judgment of history. But that judgment should encompass not just the consequences of what was done but the consequences of what might have happened had it not been done.

The consequences of what was done in Iraq are easy to see and hard to look at. The consequences of what might have been are by their nature unrecordable. But we know that history’s greatest tragedies could and should have been avoided, but never were.

Times Online: It's three years since the disarmament of Saddam and all that followed . . .

Oh, that's Rich

Frank Kelly Rich, Editor of Modern Drunkard magazine, interviewed by Sean Higgins of National Review:

“Who’d want a dreary, long, gray life when you can have those highs and lows? I’d trade ten years for that... It’s like a blackout. It’s better [to have] a good time that you can’t remember than a bad time that you can.”

Friday, March 17, 2006

Microsoft Vista: Moving away from .NET?

The impressive Vista OS has had substantial functionality stripped out in order to speed its delivery to customers. The WinFX file system, for instance, was dropped somewhere along the line. And the following article points out that .NET-based OS functionality has also been removed from the system as Vista evolved.

The implied question, then, is if MSFT can't use .NET for its own stated purposes, how can it expect its customers to develop acceptably performing applications and extensions using it?

This article presents results of an investigation of the usage of .NET on five versions of Windows... It is clear that Microsoft intended the .NET framework to be an important constituent of the Longhorn operating system...

...When Longhorn was announced we were told that it would be built substantially using .NET (or at least that was the implication from the publicity over WinFX). For example, Chris Sells, who is in charge of Longhorn content on Microsoft's MSDN web site (and someone who has my utmost respect), said the following in 2003:

First and foremost, while Windows Server 2003™ embraced managed code by being the first operating system to ship with the .NET Framework preinstalled, Longhorn is the first operating system whose major new features are actually based on the .NET Framework....

Microsoft appears to have concentrated their development effort in Vista on native code development. In contrast to PDC03LH, Vista has no services implemented in .NET and Windows Explorer does not host the runtime, which means that the Vista desktop shell is not based on the .NET runtime...

Microsoft's Vista: Moving away from .NET?

Iran's number one priority: Setting Israel on Fire

The maniacal despots known as Iran's Mullahs have used Nazi-style threats on Israel and the US for years. And the Mullahs' useful idiots in the media routinely underreport these threats in their zeal to harm the Bush administration. It's easy to imagine what will happen when these crackpots -- bent on martyring themselves -- get their hands on nukes. After all, they've told us what they'll do... starting with destroying America and Israel (hat tip: LGF):

Former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar said Tuesday that Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told him five years ago that “setting Israel on fire” was the first order of business on the Iranian agenda.

Aznar, in Israel as the guest of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, related the story to Major General (Res.) Professor Yitzhak Ben-Israel, who later confirmed to Haaretz that the remarks had been made. Aznar’s aides refused to give Haaretz the exact quote, but mentioned an article Aznar has written in the past on his meeting with Khamenei.

“He received me politely,” Aznar wrote, “and at the beginning of the meeting he explained to me why Iran must declare war on Israel and the United States until they are completely destroyed. I made only one request of him: that he tell me the time of the planned attack.”

HAARETZ DAILY: Khamenei said in 2001 Iran aimed to 'set Israel alight'

Was Digg Used for Stock Manipulation?

There have been three wild stories promoted to Digg's front page recently related to Google's supposed acquisition of Sun. According to Silicon Valley Sleuth, the rumors were baseless and the story promoted using fraudulent means:

Regardless of the credibility question, it's very odd that all there of these blog posts make it to the front page... several users consistently turn up as early diggers for all of the stories: olseneric, ebrage, MarkIsCranky and ZRock...

Silicon Valley Sleuth: Digg used for stock manipulation?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Democrats' Formula for Success

Howard Dean's recent letter to ostensible Democratic supporters is so misleading it's become, literally overnight, a poster-child for blithering inanity. Consider its key sentence:

On Monday, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold introduced legislation to censure the President for breaking the law by creating a secret domestic spying program.

Secret spying? Say it ain't so! Gosh, I didn't know the spying they did was secret. Perhaps, Einstein, covert information collection operations need to be secret... but maybe that's just me. If they weren't, Brainiac, the terrorists might find out, thus defeating the very purpose of the program. This ain't exactly calculus here, folks. In fact, it's not even arithmetic, but it's apparently enough to thoroughly confuse the Democratic Party.

Domestic spying? Well, sure, if an airplane flying from Moscow to New York can be called a domestic flight then, well yes, the wiretaps were domestic. But I think most of us would call that an international flight. Just like the wiretaps, which have been approved for years by, oh, only the Attorney General, the White House Counsel, members of Congress from both parties, and so on.

Better still, the majority of the public favors these international wiretaps. So this'll work out real well -- just like the last bunch of elections -- for the Democrats' 2006 chances.

Here's a real simple formula for the Democrats to learn:

Protecting Americans from International Terrorism = Good
Not protecting Americans from International Terrorism = Bad

Got it, Nancy Feingold-Dean?

Inside Dan Rather's Cocoon

This James Taranto snippet captures life inside Dan Rather's cocoon. Rather possesses all the intellectual honesty of Tommy Flanagan: "Yeah, yeah... in fact, I had the documents... uhm, I mean two documents... it's a motherlode, it's a treasure-trove of documents that we found... which proved that Bush never showed up... plus video-tapes! Yeah, that's the ticket, video-tapes!"

A hilarious story from columnist Jim Walsh in the Courier Post of Cherry Hill, N.J.:

Here's the scene: Former CBS anchorman Dan Rather is in Cherry Hill, giving a speech about the need for journalists to do better.

"What's gone out of fashion is the tough question and the follow-up," he tells an admiring audience of about 600 people at Cherry Hill's Star Forum.

So how can I, the guy covering Rather's remarks, just sit there?

When he finishes, I hurry to a floor mike to ask Rather about an issue that will be part of my story.

"Mr. Rather," I say. "Great suggestions. But you left the anchor desk last year after your report questioning President Bush's military service was discredited. Key memos could not be authenticated. Do you think the failure to ask questions then affects your credibility now?"

Rather responds with civility--if not clarity. He notes, in part, that an independent review "couldn't determine whether the documents were authentic or not."

Eager to please, I follow up: "The Courier-Post won't run something if we're not sure it's authentic. Are you saying it's OK . . ."

But my microphone goes dead...

That Rather sure knows how to speak power to truth.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Clooney: Useful Dupe

The Astute Blogger stifles George Clooney with an impressive amalgam of historical fact and richly deserved insults:

...if Clooney and other [Hollywood] doves actually bothered to read the 2002 Iraq War Resolution and Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly in September of 2002, then they'd discover that WMD's were only one of nearly two-dozen reasons to attack and depose Saddam.

And these reasons are nearly all "classically liberal" - which is to say "neo-con"; that is, based on the idea that all people EVERYWHERE deserve to be free. This is what we're fighting for in Iraq. And this is what classical liberals like FDR and Truman and JFK believed in - and, they all believed that sometimes you have to fight a war over it.

YO CLOONEY, LOOK AT IT THIS WAY: if it was right for "liberals" to support Rosa Parks and send freedom-riders into the south (to demolish segregation and the KKK, too) - in order to help Blacks win their rights, then it is right to help ALL other people - yup, ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE - win their rights, too. In fact, it's our duty.

Sound too radical to you, George? Too neo-con? Well, it's what FDR said in his most famous "liberal" speech - THE FOUR FREEDOMS...

Immerse yourself in the hot-tub of wisdom and read the whole thing.

CIOs to become the new venture capitalists?

IT departments are swarming to mainstream open-source packages. But while horizontal offerings -- operating systems, web servers, databases, application-servers, etc. -- are increasingly popular, there's a relative dearth of vertical products that exist higher up on the value chain. CIO India Magazine remarks:

Some CIOs are skeptical that open-source communities will ever emerge for some of the software they really need. “There are things I need, but people in the community think it’s too boring to work on them,” says Barry Strasnick, CIO, CitiStreet, a benefits management company.

CIOs could become the venture capitalists. It would work this way: CIOs hire consultants to write code for patchy areas but the software isn’t part of their core competence and is broadly applicable enough for other companies to benefit from it. They have the consultants release the software as open source. The consultants are happy because they get to sell services to other companies. CIOs potentially benefit because other customers may pay consultants to write useful additions to the software that the original CIO gets to use for free. Maintenance and support are handled by the consultants and perhaps a community of users that emerges around the new product. If the community and the consultants disappear, CIOs simply take the code base to another outfit for support.

CIO India: CIOs to become the new venture capitalists?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Are Cable Companies targeting VoIP?

The cable companies in the US and Canada may be moving to quash what they perceive as a threat: Voice-over-IP (or VoIP). A Canadian cable company is now charging customers a tarriff on the use of VoIP applications (never mind that it's just another form of IP traffic). Canada's Shaw Communications requires that customers pay a $10 "packet prioritization fee". This little tax serves to stifle the use of innovative IP applications, which is precisely what many fear will happen in the US if network neutrality regulations aren't enacted and enforced.

Some Comcast customers are also complaining that their provider is purposefully degrading their Vonage phone calls. On an independent VoIP forum, many users have complained about issues running Vonage over Comcast. The implication is, of course, that there's some sort of nefarious packet-filtering going on.

My opinion: things will likely only get worse with the phone companies coalescing to form only two major providers (AT&T and Verizon). There will be little incentive to innovate, more incentive to deter innovation, and plenty of opportunities for collusion. If we're leaving it up to two phone companies and a couple of cable leviathans to spur competition, we're really grasping at straws.

It really could be the end of the Internet as we once knew it.

Networking Pipeline: Are the Cable Companies Trying to Kill VoIP?

The Six Gotchas Of Skype For Business

The alternative telephony provider -- Skype -- has revamped its business offering. The proposition: you don't need to pay $50+ per business line when you can simply run calls through broadband-connected PCs. But Networking Pipeline calls out some major limitations associated with the use of Skype. Among them:

1) Lack of a centralized reporting and filtering capability
2) Lack of hunt groups (ringing multiple lines for a given extension)
3) Lack of call transfers
4) Lack of unattended mode or -- better yet -- an IVR that works through PSTN
5) Encryption of calls prevents call logging, which is often required in businesses for compliance reasons
6) Lack of support for e-911

That said, there's really nothing preventing Skype from continuing to improve the offering to address these issues. And, as for the telcos, one is only left to wonder why they've never pursued innovative IP telephony applications like Skype. And we'll still be wondering about this when the last residential landline is disconnected.

Networking Pipeline: The Six Gotchas of Skype

Monday, March 13, 2006

YouSendIt appears to drop .NET and go LAMP

The trés cool YouSendIt service appears to be dropping support for .NET and going open-source. Specifically, its new beta service is LAMP-based and this MySQL job posting from last year appears to confirm the move.

The free, high-profile service -- if you haven't come across it before -- allows users to send files of any size via email. It stores the attachment(s) on its server (for about a week, I think) and sends the URL of the attachment(s) to the recipient. The recipient can then download them at his or her convenience. It's a simple, powerful idea. And apparently, they've decided against paying the Microsoft tarriffs in their new, enhanced version.

That's the same thing that occurred with Fellowship Church, one of the world's largest churches. After their LAMP consultants routinely beat their .NET team to market with features and innovative capabilities (and after a lot of introspection documented here), Fellowship decided to drop .NET and go LAMP.

A trend? Dunno, but interesting.

Getting Bloglines on your BlackBerry

If you've got a BlackBerry, you're probably like me and love to find new ways to use it. If you like reading blogs, you may have run into Bloglines, an RSS aggregator that coalesces your favorite blogs into a single user-interface. Now there's a new tool that combines Bloglines with Blackberries (I'm reminded of the old commercial: "You've got Bloglines on my BlackBerry... But you've got a BlackBerry on my Bloglines... Two great tastes, together for the first time...").

Now Bogle's Blog has unofficially combined the two services into Berry Bloglines, yet another mashup, this one providing a mobile Bloglines reader with a simple, elegant interface. The mashup? The author used three pre-existing thingamabobs to create a new service: (a) the Bloglines web services interface; (b) Michael Josephson's Bloglines service client written in Python; and (c) Mark Pilgrim's sweet Universal Feed Parser.

Mashup. Now there's an idea for a revamped New York Times' Op-Ed page. Just combine Cohen, Dowd, Krugman, and Rich into a single, hysterical, anti-administration super-columnist!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Chinese Bank Hosting Phishing Attacks on US Banks

The invaluable Netcraft site has a rather disturbing report of a major phishing attack, hosted on a Chinese State Bank's server:

Phishing e-mails sent on Saturday (March 11) targeting customers of Chase Bank and eBay were directed to sites hosted on ip addresses assigned to The China Construction Bank (CCB) Shanghai Branch. The phishing pages are located in hidden directories with the server's main page displaying a configuration error. This is the first instance we have seen of one bank's infrastructure being used to attack another institution...

Chinese Bank's Server Used in Phishing Attacks on US Banks

Book Review: The Guv'nor

If you ever saw the movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels , you probably noticed the mob enforcer character, "Barry the Baptist", who "baptized" his victims in trash-bins filled with water. While reading an article about the movie, a mention was made of the real mobsters and hard-edged sorts that were used in bit parts. One such role was played by Lenny McLean, who portrayed Barry, and was called out as "in real life, the hardest man in England".

As an American fight fan, I'd never heard of Lenny McLean. So I did a bit of Internet research and happened upon his autobiography -- this book -- over at I bundled it with a few other UK-only purchases (at the time, certain AJ Quinnell books were only available there, too) and received it days later. It was a captivating, compelling read -- the working-class, Cockney nomenclature notwithstanding -- that details McLean's rise from an abused child to the top of England's unlicensed fight game.

An unlicensed fight can take place anywhere: a warehouse, tavern, gym... wherever there's enough room for two willing fighters and a plethora of bettors. The rules? Let's just say there aren't many. Head butts, hair-pulling, elbows, knees, and the like are all part of the game. One might consider UK's unlicensed fights as the logical ancestor to today's UFC or mixed martial arts.

Over time, McLean proved himself the most dangerous man in the fight game. He participated in thousands of these no-holds-barred bouts, and it can be argued he lost only once. And in a rematch of that fight, he handily won. McLean doesn't shy away from describing his experiences on the seamy side of things. He details his role as a real-life mob enforcer willing to do anything -- except kill -- to collect or intimidate. Even his tangles with the law -- including a murder charge for which he was found innocent -- are fully described in colloquial, yet entirely satisfying, prose.

The book's ending is filled with promise for a new life as an actor: McLean appeared in several TV and film roles. But during the filming of LS&2SB, McLean was stricken by a bout with the flu. Subsequent testing showed that he was suffering from advanced lung and brain cancer and he passed away in July 1998, just days before the release of the film. The book is a fascinating testament to a hard man who lived a hard life, but was equally dedicated to his family and destined for great things no matter the odds.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Imagining an Open-Source World

Imagine I've got my very own company. Let's say it's a paint manufacturer. Call it "Doug's Discount Paints" or DDP for short. DDP makes the finest paints available anywhere... at far lower costs than better-known brands. How have we done it?

From the outset at DDP, we've used open-source software.

For basic accounting tasks, we use GNUcash. Our supply-chain management software is Compiere ERP and our wholesaler relationship management package is Compiere CRM. We started off with Oracle licenses but eventually retrofitted our packages to use MySQL Community Edition.

All of our servers, of course, run on Linux. The web servers -- it goes without saying -- use Apache version 2 and PHP for application serving. In fact, our batch jobs are all driven use PHP's command-line mode because the scripts are easier to maintain than their Perl equivalents (though we have plenty of those, too).

Our directory server is OpenLDAP's slapd, with replication between our boxes provided by slurpd. The email system used to be Sendmail, but we're now piloting OpenXChange.

While we started off with Windows desktops, we've since transitioned to all Linux desktops. We use GNOME as our desktop user interface, but some of the developers use KDE. Our email client is the very capable Evolution and web browsing is provided by (what else?) Firefox.

Our basic office suite is OpenOffice, which we use for word processing, spreadsheet work, and presentations.

So those are the basics of our environment.

The other day, a major software vendor came in trying to pitch a revamp of our architecture. Here was their proposition:

  >  We've got to pay a hefty fee for the initial software license

  >  Each year, we need to re-up and pay a maintenance fee

  >  From time to time, we need to re-license the software when the old version is no longer supported

  >  When we re-license new versions of the software, we may be forced to simultaneously upgrade our hardware

  >  There's no access to source code permitted by the vendor, so we're quite reliant on the vendor to add the features we need

  >  There's also no official support community, so we're dependent upon the vendor for any low-level help

  >  Product innovation hinges upon the vendor's ability to staff a project, not based upon the product's merits and its ability to attract a community to further its goals

  >  Security is based upon a promise from the vendor to adequately protect its code from internal and exteranl attacks... it's not something independent parties can verify on an ongoing basis by reviewing source code

After hearing the vendor's pitch, we politely showed them the door.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

In Maureen Dowd's World

MoDo - Maureen DowdIn Maureen Dowd's World: if President Bush orders wiretaps on international telephone calls between terrorist cells, it represents some sort of heinous, domestic crime. But if every President since FDR exercised similar warrantless taps for national security reasons, it was all okey-dokey. And just you never mind that the public overwhelmingly approves of said international taps: in Mo's socialist dream-world, the public doesn't count!

In Maureen Dowd's World: the fraternity-hazing gaffes at Abu Graib -- for which lower-level soldiers were rightly punished -- qualify as torture and are the direct responsibility of George W. Bush.

In Maureen Dowd's World: Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin performed flawlessly during and after Hurricane Katrina. And all blame can be fixed on (of course!) "Bushie" and "Brownie". And just you never mind that real reporters -- operating with foreign concepts to Dowd known as facts -- called the Katrina response, "the largest -- and fastest -- rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall."

In Maureen Dowd's World: 9/11 is never worth a mention and fighting back against terrorist attacks is unnecessary. Because the problem of fundamentalist extremism will simply go away if we ignore it. Certainly she does.

In Maureen Dowd's World: Al-Qaqaa was sufficient reason to pillory the President prior to the election (remember her column entitled, "White House of Horrors"? Of course not. No one -- not even Mo -- remembers a Dowd column once the coffee wears off). But Al-Qaqaa hasn't rated a mention since the day President Bush claimed a huge victory over John Kerry.

In Maureen Dowd's World: Saddam Hussein was a benevolent leader bent only on helping his people. And he had no connections to terrorists, or Al-Qaeda, or Zarqawi, or either WTC attack.

In Maureen Dowd's World: the Madrid subway bombings, the USS Cole attack, the first WTC attack, and Beslan never happened. Or, if they did, are somehow President Bush's fault.

In Maureen Dowd's World: the New York Times subscription site is working out just fine, thank you.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Democrats: Sputnik may pose danger to U.S.

From the Washington Post (hat tip: Hugh Hewitt) comes this astounding article: the Democrats plan to have a plan in the very near future.

Democratic leaders had set a goal of issuing their legislative manifesto by November 2005 to give voters a full year to digest their proposals. But some Democrats protested that the release date was too early, so they put it off until January. The new date slipped twice again, and now House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) says the document will be unveiled in "a matter of weeks."

Thank goodness. It's only taken a little over five years for the Democrats to reach consensus about how to lead us. It's truly fortunate we haven't been attacked by terrorists during that time, or suffered a catastrophic series of natural disasters, or watched Iran go nuclear thanks to the AQ Kahn nuclear parts network (kudos, Madeline Albright!). 'Cuz we'd be in real trouble if any of that stuff had happened during a half-decade leadership vacuum.

Some Democrats fear that the hesitant handling is symbolic of larger problems facing the party in trying to seize control of the House and Senate after more than a decade of almost unbroken minority status.

And some Republicans fear -- needlessly -- that the Democrats might get their act together. Uncertainty, chaos, and disorder? The Democrats' work here is done - and their minority status is guaranteed for another election cycle.

There is no agreement on whether to try to nationalize the congressional campaign with a blueprint or "contract" with voters, as the Republicans did successfully in 1994, or to keep the races more local in tone. And the party is still divided over the war in Iraq: Some Democrats, including Pelosi, call for a phased withdrawal; many others back a longer-term military and economic commitment.

Aside from those trivial issues, the Democrats are singing with one voice!

"By the time the election rolls around, people are going to know where Democrats stand," Reid said.

Wait for it... wait... for... it... BWAAAAAAHHHHAAAAAAWWWWWWWAAAHHAAAAAAWWWW! *cough* *sputter* *chortle* ... son of a... I almost herniated myself there. You know... you just can't make this stuff up.

Also dividing Democratic strategists is the question of what lessons to take from the Republican landslide of 1994, when the GOP won the Senate and picked up 54 House seats, wiping out 40 years of Democratic rule.

Perhaps they could appeal to America's core by highlighting national security, winning the war on terror, promoting small businesses to boost the economy, providing more school choices for inner-city kids, and reducing the public assistance mentality that traps so many urban poor. Oh.... wait, that's right. I forgot. This is the Democratic Party we're talking about. Never mind.

[Democratic] Governors privately scoff at the slogan ("Together, America Can Do Better"). They also say the message coming from congressional leaders has been too relentlessly negative. "They want to coordinate. They want to collaborate. That's all good," said one Democratic governor who declined to be identified in order to talk candidly about a closed-door meeting. "The question is: Coordinate or collaborate on what?

That's what most Americans have been asking. It's one thing to have an opposition party. It's another thing altogether to have an obstruction party. The Democrats' incessant fixation on constipating any progress is tragicomic. And, truth be told, that's what the Democratic Party has become: a joke... a parody... a travesty of a real political party. And it's a party that hasn't a chance to win any significant election anytime soon.

WaPo: Democrats Struggle To Seize Opportunity

Book Review: The First Horseman

Book Review: The First HorsemanIn the era of Avian Flu, the First Horseman is a chilling tale. The reappearance of the 1918 Spanish Flu near a North Korean bioweapons facility causes alarms to go off in Washington. The hunt for a potential vaccine leads to an unlikely venue: an Arctic mining town where victims of the flu were buried in permafrost in 1918. These victims, provided they never thawed, would still have virus material in their lungs. This material could be harvested for use in a vaccine.

When American scientists finally reach the frozen town, they're startled to find an unsavory surprise awaits them. And things go downhill from there as an investigative journalist, the intelligence community, and other parties all race to get the vaccine before a biological attack is launched.

Yes, you've got predictable plot twists in store as well as the conventional, whoa-is-that-guy-psychotic criminal mastermind. And, true, you know how everything will turn out in the end. But in between, a fair amount of excellent research detail and some chilling analogs to today's world of H5N1-brand Avian Flu make Case's book both highly relevant and truly ominous.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Book Review: The FairTax Book

The FairTax BookThe idea of a federal consumption -- sales -- tax has been around for decades. That Congressman John Linder and radio host Neal Boortz have created a bestseller on -- of all topics -- taxes is indicative of how flawed the current system is... and the power of the book's tenets. A quick, easy (and fun!) read, the book describes the fundamental flaws of our current tax system, which has simply grown into an insidious leviathan of complexity.

Two of the book's fundamental concepts are exceedingly easy to grasp:

- Embedded taxes: under the current system, we pay the tax costs (payroll, attorneys, preparation, etc.) of every business that comes into contact with a good or service we purchase. That extra cost is estimated at 21% or higher of the final consumer cost, depending upon the study (Harvard puts it at 22%, I believe).

- Increased federal tax revenue: under our current system, black-market operators pay no taxes. With a consumption tax, even a drug-dealer contributes to the federal tax coffers.

The net-net is that a variety of simulations by dozens of economists show that prices won't significantly change even with the sales tax! That's because the embedded costs of our current tax system will be forced out of the cost equation for competitive reasons. A simple example: a tire that might cost $100 today could cost $80 in the future (no embedded tax costs for the businesses upstream of the consumer!). A 30% sales tax would take the total price to $104. Now imagine that sort of price differential while paying no withholding, no federal taxes of any kind, other than sales tax...

Our current, achingly complex tax system is a devastating anchor on the economy. It pulls businesses and consumers into ever darker sinkholes of preparation, attorneys' fees, and avoidance schemes. The IRS estimates that nearly 40% of the public is out of compliance with the current system. And that doesn't even include illegal income sources, estimated at $1 trillion of uncaptured federal revenue.

Buy the book and share it with a friend. You'll be amazed at what simplicity could do for us -- the citizens -- and the federal government. You'll also be startled at what it means for the elderly on fixed incomes as well as folks living below the poverty line. In a nutshell, it's a huge improvement for everyone. That's why members of both parties are strongly advocating the FairTax plan.

Popular Mechanics Debunks the Media's Katrina Myths

Hurricane RadarThe linked article is really quite entertaining. Popular Mechanics has carefully dissected the anti-administration Katrina meme popularized by mainstream media. That they do so using a careful, fact-based methodology -- reminiscent of, dare I say it, real news-reporting -- as opposed to the hysterical meanderings of rocket scientists like Keith "Zero Nielsens" Olbermann and Chrissie "Network X" Matthews is simultaneously shocking and funny.

MYTH: "The aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history."--Aaron Broussard, president, Jefferson Parish, La., Meet the Press, NBC, Sept. 4, 2005

REALITY: Bumbling by top disaster-management officials fueled a perception of general inaction, one that was compounded by impassioned news anchors. In fact, the response to Hurricane Katrina was by far the largest--and fastest-rescue effort in U.S. history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall...

Drink deeply from the chalice of wisdom - and read the whole thing.

Popular Mechanics: Debunking the Katrina Myths


The reportedly shelved Blackstar is described by Aviation Week as a military analog to the space shuttle:

For 16 years, Aviation Week & Space Technology has investigated myriad sightings of a two-stage-to-orbit system that could place a small military spaceplane in orbit. Considerable evidence supports the existence of such a highly classified system... U.S. intelligence agencies may have quietly mothballed a highly classified two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane system designed in the 1980s for reconnaissance, satellite-insertion and, possibly, weapons delivery. It could be a victim of shrinking federal budgets strained by war costs, or it may not have met performance or operational goals... This two-vehicle "Blackstar" carrier/orbiter system may have been declared operational during the 1990s...

THE SPACEPLANE'S SMALL CARGO or "Q-bay" also could be configured to deliver specialized microsatellites to low Earth orbit or, perhaps, be fitted with no-warhead hypervelocity weapons--what military visionaries have called "rods from god." Launched from the fringes of space, these high-Mach weapons could destroy deeply buried bunkers and weapons facilities...

Aviation Week: Two-Stage-to-Orbit 'Blackstar' System Shelved at Groom Lake?

Rushdie, Ali Unite Against the New Totalitarianism

From the Agora blog, a powerful letter signed by Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others:

Together facing the new totalitarianism

After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.

We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.

The recent events, which occurred after the publication of drawings of Muhammed in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values. This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field. It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.

Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations. The hate preachers bet on these feelings in order to form battalions destined to impose a liberticidal and unegalitarian world. But we clearly and firmly state: nothing, not even despair, justifies the choice of obscurantism, totalitarianism and hatred. Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others. To counter this, we must assure universal rights to oppressed or discriminated people.

We reject « cultural relativism », which consists in accepting that men and women of Muslim culture should be deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secular values in the name of respect for cultures and traditions. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of “Islamophobia”, an unfortunate concept which confuses criticism of Islam as a religion with stigmatisation of its believers.

We plead for the universality of freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit may be exercised on all continents, against all abuses and all dogmas.

We appeal to democrats and free spirits of all countries that our century should be one of Enlightenment, not of obscurantism.

12 signatures

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Chahla Chafiq
Caroline Fourest
Bernard-Henri Lévy
Irshad Manji
Mehdi Mozaffari
Maryam Namazie
Taslima Nasreen
Salman Rushdie
Antoine Sfeir
Philippe Val
Ibn Warraq