Archive for August, 2009

My blood runs cold

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

My memory has just been sold.

My last duty station in the Navy was Antigua. I should see if I still have my map of the island anywhere. Antigua wasn’t as lush as some of the other islands, but it was still an interesting place to be. You know, it’s too bad nobody had a Mackeson at the beer summit – it would have given me another silly Obama-Antigua link. Mackeson had a series of brief, somewhat suggestive radio ads playing when I was stationed there, and I still recall one of them: imagine a sultry female voice with a Caribbean accent saying, “Men, drink Mackeson. My man gets some every day.”

Ah, they don’t make ’em like that, anymore.

This is scary

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Others have already written about problems with the Cash for Clunkers program.

Now The Anchoress points out a problem (video at link) with the website for the program: the click-through agreement to use the site notes that a computer used to access the site becomes the property of the federal government!

The actual language used is, “This application provides access to the DoT CARS system. When logged on to the CARS system, your computer is considered a Federal computer system and is the property of the U.S. Government. Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorized CARS, DoT, and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorized officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign.”

Is this a violation of the Fifth Amendment? I don’t see what the “public use” would be, and I’m unaware of any compensation. How about the Fourth Amendment?

True, it says, “When logged on,” as opposed to “Once logged on,” which implies that your computer is government property only while you’re on the site. However, is there a persistent state change anyway? Once your computer becomes a Federal computer system, does it automatically become a private computer again when you leave the site, or must you take explicit steps to make it a private system again?

If your computer belongs to the government, even if only for the time you’re using the site, they can install software onto it, can’t they? After all, it’s their computer … right? Keyloggers, spyware, and rootkits, anyone?

I’m not sure if I’m hoping that there is just another wet-behind-the-ears, out-of-control junior lawyer behind this, who will be reversed as soon as a grown-up finds out about it, or if this is actually a planned policy of the Obama administration. If the first is the case, then it’s evil, but more in the sense of “Obama’s people don’t have enough handle on what they’re doing to prevent evil from being done.” If it’s the second, then it’s EVIL – no ifs, ands, or buts.

How long before this language spreads to other government websites? Raise your hands, everybody who can guarantee that their computer has nothing on it that violates any regulation pertaining to use of government computers. And, given that information may be provided to officials of foreign agencies, guarantee that you won’t run afoul of laws in some other country.

You know, if we had actual journalists in the mainstream media, they’d be all over this like white on rice.

Feeding frenzy

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Well, not so much a frenzy. Kinda cute, though.


Who’s afraid of the big bad

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Vortex cannon?

EMBED-Giant Vortex Cannon Destroys Everything – Watch more free videos

Via Viral Footage.

(In)famous naval battles

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

From Futility Closet, we have:

Commandant Louis Joseph Lahure has a singular distinction in military history — he defeated a navy on horseback.

Occupying Holland in January 1795, the French continental army learned that the mighty Dutch navy had been frozen into the ice around Texel Island. So Lahure and 128 men simply rode up to it and demanded surrender. No shots were fired.

It’s always the little things

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

I just finished “Darwin’s Lost World,” which I’d checked out from my local library. It’s a fascinating book, and the author, Martin Brasier, shows that wonderful dry English with throughout.

The book is an attempt to explicate the depths of time, where fossils hadn’t been known to exist – estimates were that the first 80% of the time life has been on earth had no fossils. That turns out to be incorrect. Life follows a power-law distribution – the smaller the organism, the more of them there are. The author is one of the pioneers in investigating micro-fossils and seeing how they explicate the early history of life.

The wit is something that makes the subject better for me. In the description of a multinational expedition to some cliffs in Siberia, for which the transportation scared expedition members more experienced than Mr. Brasier, we find the following:

We jumped down onto the beach. I was tempted to kiss the ground. As it happened, I was obliged to do just that – in a dysenteric sort of way.

A footnote explains that many in the expedition came down with Giardia, which provided them with a new slang meaning for the term, “Cambrian explosion.”

In the section titled “A steppe in the right direction,” we find commentary on the requirement that he acquire a taste for arak (fermented mare’s milk – his description of it is quite evocative) to avoid offending their hosts, finishing with the comment, “And social suicide was something we dared not commit, marooned as we were, in the middle of the steppes of Outer Mongolia. The social niceties of Mongolia can matter very much indeed.”

At one point, he cites a portion of an article written in 1902 by Jephro Teall (channelling my inner Dave Barry for a moment, that sounds like a good name for a rock band).

Apart from my delight in his drolleries, I thought the book was actually quite good. Contrary to expectations, microscopic fossils seem to be better preserved in older rocks, which has allowed the history of early life to be extended to perhaps 3000 million years ago. He covers the difficulties in identifying such fossils, the key question often being not “What does this remind us of?” but “What is this, really?” He covers some of the mistakes made by himself and others in other publications, and does it all in a manner I quite enjoyed.

If you have any desire to read about evolution, particularly about very early evolution, you should consider this book.