Category Archives: randomthoughts

Discovery Of Gliese 581g Giving Science A Bad Name

"The Blue Marble" is a famous photog...
Image via Wikipedia

It used to be that science had some dignity and commanded some respect.  It was, after all, SCIENCE!

But like everything else in this age, things seem to be unraveling in the world of science.  It is no longer sacrosanct.

Earlier this year, we learned that environmental “scientists” were cooking the books for political reasons.  Rather than having absolute, unshakable integrity and dedication to The Truth, they doctored data, threw out inconvenient samples, and lied about facts.  They were the Bernie Madoffs of science.

Well, here we find a “scientist” who is making a preposterously bold claim on such thin data that it boggles the mind.  When you consider how much we do not know about the origin of life, it is astonishingly irresponsible of a reputed scientist to claim a 100% likelihood of life existing on another planet, just because we might find liquid water there.

“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent,” said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing today. “I have almost no doubt about it.”

One-hundred percent?!  Really?!?  100%???!!!  His definition of “wherever it can” includes everywhere he’s ever been which includes, um, Earth.  And from there he extrapolates to include the perhaps trillions of planets revolving around hundreds of billions of stars in our own galaxy, not to mention the seemingly infinite galaxies in the rest of the universe.  Life has never been created in a laboratory here on Earth, yet Professor Vogt is positive that it exists on this newly found planet, given the fact that it might have liquid water on it.  Gas stations also have a propensity to flourish wherever they can, so they must also exist on Gliese 581g.

This has nothing to do with religion or creationism.  It’s just painful to see science falling into the hands of such inadequate stewards.

When you can’t trust scientists to be true to science, your world is in serious trouble.  Though you can’t tell it from the placid picture above, the planet shown is in serious trouble.  And it’s not because of fabricated global warming.  It’s got more to do with the feeble-minded, emotional creatures that infect its surface.

Hopefully, the scientists that undoubtedly exist on Gliese 581g will have a stronger commitment to hard-core science than Steven Vogt does.

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WordPress vulnerabilities when allowing subscribers

I recently was twiddling bits in the WordPress Admin console and noticed that people were not allowed to register for my blog.  Now, I’m not sure why anyone would choose to register, but I didn’t see any reason to stand in their way, if they felt the need.  So, I checked the box (or unchecked it, I don’t recall), which opened up that possibility.

SVG version of Russian map
Image via Wikipedia

Well, it didn’t take long before I had a bunch of subscribers, most notably with .ru email addresses.  So, given that, I’m wondering what kind of cracking, spamming, or other exploits are exposed by WordPress.  I simply can’t imagine why else a bunch of Russians would be subscribing to my blog.

cyrilic alphabet with slovak equivalents
Image via Wikipedia

Please forgive the obvious prejudice of my question.  Perhaps my stream-of-consciousness simply speaks to the Russian mentality (albeit not in the Russian tongue).  Yet, somehow, I doubt it.

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Google operates on geological time

They consider a decade to be a short downtime.  On the bright side, we’re over half-way through it.

On January 1, 2005, AdWords system will be unavailable from approximately 3:00 AM to January 1, 2015 3:00 AM Eastern Time due to system maintenance. Please note that your campaigns will continue to run normally during this short downtime. We apologize for any inconvenience.

I also have to commend them on their pinpoint accuracy.  I don’t recall if they actually went down at 3:00am on 1/1/05, but you can bet I’ll be right there banging on the server come 3:00am on 1/1/15.

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Mac leaves the top off the toothpaste

I ‘m one of those Windows-to-Mac guys.  The transition was pretty painless, for the most part, since I’m a geek.  And, for the most part, I’m happy with my MacBook Pro.  But it’s got these irritating habits that I think are the technological equivalent of leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube.

  • No Home, End, PgUp, or PgDn keys.  And even if you use a keyboard with those keys, you can’t always count on them working.  Except in Microsoft Office.  (OMG, did I just say something positive about Microsoft???)
  • No Delete key.  Fn-Backspace?  Really?  (Is Apple saving money on keys?  Or is it just prettier with less keys?)
  • Why does Mac OS not let you resize a window from any corner or edge???
  • One click to focus the app, and another click to actually click on what you already clicked on.  Every time I have to do this, it hurts me inside.  Why doesn’t my click on a control on an unfocused window actually reach the control?  If I can see it, my click ought to count!

I’m sure there are more, but these are the primary ones that make me wonder whether I can live with her long-term.  Maybe I’m petty.  Nobody’s perfect.  I’m sure I irritate her with my own flaws and bad habits.  (The burping and scratching, for example.)  But why can’t she see how annoying these little inflexibilities are?

Seriously, in my opinion, these aren’t benefits or merely alternative ways of doing things?  They’re shortcomings.  Why is Apple being obstinate about them?

The end of an era

I opened my Mindspring account in 1996.  I was later than some, to the Internet party, though way ahead of most.  (I was on Compuserve and Prodigy before Mindspring, but I was even a Usenet user back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.)

But Earthlink blew it.  They lost a customer of 15 years, because they, like every other ISP, telephone, and cellular provider — actually, throw airlines in there, too — out there, doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about their customers.  Sure, they train their offshore support people to be excruciatingly polite as a proxy for real service.  “Thank you so much, Mr. Lee [sic], for tolerating my existence while I look up your account.  Your immense patience serves to remind me that I am not worthy to gaze upon your account history.”

But when it comes to performing real customer service, well, that’s pretty much not going to happen until the day you call to close your account.  I had months of dropped connections, days of multi-hour sessions with Earthlink tech support, countless frustrations with intermittent outages.  The service was just good enough to make the hassle of changing providers unappealing, since I knew I was just going to one of their equally poor competitors.  It took Earthlink about a year to finally send AT&T out to my house to see if there was a problem with the wiring.  Of course, it turned out there was.  They fixed that in ten minutes, and my service has been rock-solid since then.

Too bad that they burned all the good will and patience of a 15-year customer in that time.  I had already called another ISP (I don’t trust them either, so I’m not going to endorse them here.).  Now, I’ve got faster service for the same price.  (Don’t even get me started on the whole sweet-introductory-deal-for-new-subscribers/screw-you-existing-customers scam.)  And, months ago, in preparation for this, I had already transferred all email from leegrey@mindspring.com to other places, so they didn’t have that to hold over my head, though they tried.

So, when I called to cancel, they squirmed and bargained.  They went through all five stages of grief (though they hid their anger well).  They showed me they “cared” only when I was out the door.  The price kept dropping like they were going out of business.  This, despite the fact that three months earlier, I had been quoted a price that they refused to honor.  These companies act like a bad girlfriend with low self-esteem.  They treat you like crap until you tell them you’re leaving; then it’s all back rubs and BJs. Of course, the way they treat you, it’s only right that they have low self-esteem.

So, how big is the era of which this is the end?  On one hand, it’s merely the end of 15 years of leegrey@mindspring.com.  Big deal.  Looked at another way, though, it’s another step towards the end of human decency by American business.  Somewhere along the line, this became the way that these big companies decided they had to treat their customers.  We’re all just batteries in the Matrix.

Frankly, I’m pretty sick of it.

What’s really frustrating is that I’m not one of those “business is evil” liberals.  But sometimes businesses do make it tough to defend them.  I wish they would wise up and see the big picture.

The era of the disingenuous recommendation

We live in a time when peoples’ opinions have become suspect.

I was just looking through my Amazon wishlist and noticed a pattern. Most of the marketing-oriented books have five-star reviews. I remember the launches of a few of those books. There was the push to drive the book to #1 on Amazon through concerted effort and orchestrated buying. There were the incentivized reviews. There’s the good ol’ boy network (fellow authors of marketing books) scratching each other’s backs.

But if you weren’t privy to these marketing events, you would just believe this is one damn good book. And maybe it is. But, then again, maybe the reviewers never even read it. Maybe they even reviewed it on the day they ordered it from Amazon. Or in lieu of buying it.

The state-of-the-art in Internet Marketing these days is to set up product “review” sites that contain affiliate links to go buy the product. How pure are these reviews? Do you really need to ask?

The really cutting-edge marketers create AdWords campaigns that feign negative or controversial reviews. Click on these links thinking you’re going to get the real “dirt” on a product, and you find, surprise, surprise, that they didn’t like the color of the cover but loved the product, or something equally informative.

eBay feedback often looks like “Awesome seller!!!! Fantastic Value!!!! A++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++” for the purchase of a $5 iPod cable.

Your MLM friends and family will tell you how you’ve just got to get into this opportunity, when they haven’t made a penny and have alienated everyone within earshot.

With more and more recommendations these days, there comes a perk for the recommender. Word-of-mouth has been co-opted to the point that you can’t trust it. You need to scrutinize not only the review, but the reviewer, and the incentive for the review.

Beware the ulterior motive.

The Problem With The Internet

Did you ever wonder what the problem is with the Internet? Well, you’re in luck, because I’m going to tell you.

No, it’s not that it’s too slow. It’s not that it costs too much. It’s not that you can’t get broadband on your wristwatch.

The problem with the Internet is that it puts us in contact with people with which we never would have had contact before the Internet existed. Now, clearly, this is a wonderful thing, too. The world is filled with wonderful people that we never would have had the good fortune to meet, had it not been for the wonder of the World Wide Web.

However, the world is also filled with bad people too. I’m talking Bad. Evil. Sick. Selfish. Twisted. Scary. And now they have a way into your home, your digital assets, and your mind.

It used to be that such people were far, far away. You never had to worry about encountering them, unless you wandered into the wrong neighborhood. But, today, they’re dropping email into your inbox, trying to install bad software on your computer, trying to steal your identity. It’s enough to make you consider becoming Amish.

That’s one part of the equation. Part two is the fact that the Internet, and particularly Web 2.0, has made everyone a publisher. Everyone is creating content. We used to have three television networks, a handful of magazines, and a few radio stations. Now, there’s more online content than anyone could possibly consume. Blogs, podcasts, videos, social networks, comments on all of the above, etc. It’s as if every moment on the planet is available online from every perspective, not to mention the commentary on it all.

Part three of this equation is the anonymity of the Internet. Since people are not looking each other in the eye and have no need to provide their actual identity during all of this publishing, there is no accountability. Standards of quality, morality, and ethics are easily lowered. So what gets published is far from the best that we have to offer.

Combine these three, and you get the “perfect storm” of social decay.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Internet is a wonderful thing. It has the potential to do so much good that it is almost utopian. But that can only happen if we as the inhabitants aspire to such high ideals. And with so much that is less than ideal, we face a mighty challenge.

I suspect that society will eventually demand some accountability in the online world, at least in some areas, or the Internet will fail to live up to its potential. I’m not talking about legal reform; I’m referring to social mores that dictate what is socially acceptable and what is considered outside the realm of acceptable behavior. And I suspect that anonymity will begin to become frowned upon.

In fact, I suspect that something like the online equivalent of a Drivers License will become essential for having your blog read, your comments accepted, your email delivered, etc. Preventing anonymity would go a long way toward extending our social values to the Internet. If we don’t bring the same values to the Internet that we bring to our real world interactions, it will eventually fade to nothing more than a source of entertainment and escape, rather than an extension of our “real” lives.

We already see the beginning of this with eBay feedback and new Web 2.0 reputation services. While it seems like a shame to lose the freedom to just be free, a little bit of shame goes a long way toward building a society that really works. Some of us need such pressures to keep us in line.

Sharpcast seamlessly syncs photos

Sharpcast, Inc.I’ve long thought that digital asset management for the masses is going to be one of the big challenges in coming years. Now that our personal photos, home movies, personal correspondence, and most of our productivity are stored on hard drives, the effort and expertise required to management, maintain, and preserve these important keepsakes are beyond the ability of the average user. Even as a tech-savvy poweruser, I struggle with keeping things safely backed up, tracking if things are backed up, making sure that I don’t have too many duplicates, managing multiple versions, etc. I have no idea how my parents handle it, but I’m sure it’s terrifying. It’s a truly complex and dangerous task. All of our important memories are at risk.

Sharpcast has come out with a service that takes all the pain and uncertainty out of the equation, at least for family pictures. Photos from multiple sources are sync’ed (Sharpcast likes to contrast that to uploading), keeping all PCs and mobile devices up-to-date. An entire family or other group can share an album, comment, even chat about particular shots.

Most promising is an upcoming service, code-named Hummingbird, that promises to do the same for all your digital assets including documents. For the road warrior, or simply anyone who transitions from an old PC to a new one, the ability to store what’s important to you in a reliable and remote repository is quite attractive.