Canada's Own Ted Stevens

I pay 26.9 cents for every dollar earned to federal government representatives like Joy Smith?  I think it's time we demand a refund.

Joy Smith, a conservative MP, introduced her proposed "clean internet act" (Bill C-427) for first reading in Parliament today.  The full name of this act is: An Act to Prevent the Use of the Internet to Distribute Child Pornography, Material that Advocates, Promotes or Incites Racial Hatred, and Material that Portrays or Promotes Violence Against Women".  That's quite a title … "Clean Internet Act" works for the moment, but soon it will be referred to as "The Bill that Never Was".

The idea is that this bill would grant the industry minister special powers to search data as well as the ability to order an ISP to block content deemed inappropriate.  It would also force ISPs to exclude service to convicted offenders, and leave company officials legally liable for failing to comply with certian provisions.

This seems to be a very noble cause, but how can any government agency actually control what content Canadians submit or collect from the internet?

I'll use myself as an example of what a particular government would need to do in order to discover what I was uploading and downloading.

Determining my uploads:  First, confiscate my entire digital library, networked computers, notebooks and any PC I've had direct contact with in the last 14 days, including workstations at various employers and their servers (good luck with that).  Second, hand me over to the Syrians for a year to beat the passwords out of me for the 256-bit encryption coded archives I have on my off-site servers and NAS.

Determining my downloads:  First, confiscate my entire digital library, networked computers, notebooks and any PC I've had direct contact with in the last 60 days, including workstations at various employers and their servers.  Second, hand me over to the Syrians for a year to two in order to beat the username and passwords out of me for the various online servers I have over the globe in order to obtain backups and offline content.

There are only two places where my passwords are kept … in my head, and in God's book.  I wouldn't give these to anybody for any reason.  Not because I have anything illegal to hide, but because my encrypted files contain the source code for the various projects I've done for past employers.  I'll take these things to the grave before I break the Non-Disclosure Agreements I've signed.  A year or two in the slammer protecting a company's secrets might just be some good PR.

Now, I use this example for a few reasons.  ISPs can't track everything we see and do online.  It's just not realistically feasible.  Sure, they can track what sites we visit, what files we download, where we get them from, what IPs we visit most often … the list goes on.  But what about the content of those files?  If the feds are truly worried about people distributing or witnessing child porn, inciting racial or sexual intolerance, or violence towards women, then I guess sites like 4chan and half the online forums on the planet will be blocked from all Canadians.  Heck, even Maddox's tongue-in-cheek "Civil Disobedience is Still Disobedience" image would need to be moderated.

But how do you moderate a file called 1390192804018.jpg ?

This bill just seems to highlight the problems that some people have with understanding the internet, and it's most likely the result of a late-Friday afternoon luncheon with a bunch of free speakers who talk about things they just can't comprehend.  Throw enough buzzwords around like SEO, Web 2.0 and Google, and the masses will be sure to think you know what you're doing … right?  I think the only thing this bill is missing is a reference to Ted Stevens' now famous speech:

"Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got… an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

… They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

- Ted Stevens, United States Senator (R-Alaska)


I've been waiting months to use that quote.

The internet can't be regulated with traditional styles of laws and enforcements.  Moderating the internet would be like moderating your own inner-most thoughts.  This isn't to say that we're all closet pedophiles who are so racially intolerant that we beat women just to amuse ourselves (beating men is okay, I guess … so why did George W get so much guff about Guantanimo?), but it would be nice if the people who tried to make the internet a morally cleaner place for Canadians or the world in general actually knew a thing or two about it.

I hope that Joy Smith has the opportunity to make a Stevens-like comment in the House of Commons.  If I'm paying almost 27% on all earned income, the least I should expect is some comic relief from the governments who are sworn to protect us.

Intel Prepares Phase-Change Memory

Phase-Change Memory … the very name evokes visions of science fiction stories and far off technologies.  Intel is just about ready to make this type of storage go from theory to practicality.

Intel has been developing this technology for the last 30 years with hopes that this will one day replace flash memory.  The Phase Change chip, code named "Alvertson", is composed of material that is divided into chunks, with each representing a bit or element of data.  As the material is heated, it crystalizes, changing it's state or "phase" from an amorphous one.  The crystaline bit reflects light, which is interpreted as a binary value of 1.  If it's reheated, then the state can be reset to 0.

It's expected that the first applications for this technology will be cell phones and digital cameras and everything between.

The ability to increase the capacity of flash memory components is nearing the limits of the physical universe.  Phase change memory, which can store large volumes of information, will use less power than conventional silicon-based chips and may just address the problem.

I'm quite excited about this technology.  Not only because of it's potential storage capacities, but because of the incredibly small amount of power that will be required for this medium.  Uses could include multi-TeraByte NAS devices the size of a single hard drive, and TiVo-like devices capable of storing a week's worth of HDTV media without even coming close to it's storage limit.  With fewer moving parts, there would be less mechanics to break, and if that's not enough, this would be a God-send to anyone that wants a truly silent PC.

Intel plans on releasing some development models to manufacturers in the next few months, and it will likely be another few years before we start seeing this appear in our devices, but I'll be looking forward to the great potential that this technologies can offer us.

David R. George III

It's a little known fact, and I'm sometimes afraid to admit it, but I've read every Star Trek book ever published.  Some more than thrice, no less.  This doesn't include the countless magazine articles, "technical manuals", map books, and slew of fan-fic stories that have been released since I could first read and get my hands on the reams of printed paper.

Over the years as my command of the English language progressed and matured I have enjoyed a slew of authors from this enjoyable escape of reality.  Peter David and Keith R.A. DeCandido are among my favourite authors, and after reading his latest trilogy in tribute to 40 Years of Trek, David R. George III is in this list as well.

The first book I read from this author was from the Deep Space 9:Mission Gama series entitled "Twilight".  What I liked most about this book was the way the story played on the characters.  We were still becoming accustomed to the new players in the DS9 field and learned quite a bit about them as the story progressed.  Unlike 95% of all other Trek books, this one focused more on the people than action.  I'll admit that every book needs a little action, either with massive star ships trading paint, or some sort of away mission happenstance, but David George managed to bring the characters to life and giving the story that much more perspective.

One of the sorry habits I've noticed with many Trek authors (especially with TNG) is that either too much is left to the reader's imagination or things happen due to sheer dumb luck.  This creates for a very dull book, or a story where you're left scratching your head saying "WTF?" so often that you consider asking for some money back.  You won't find that with these books.

The next book was part of "The Lost Era" saga.  Book two (Serpents Among the Ruins) takes us on some of the missions carried out by Captain Harriman on the Enterprise-B.  This was a book that just couldn't be put down.  From the slight glimpse of Captain Harriman that we see in Generations, I was expecting a sub-par performance from the centre seat.  Instead we are introduced to a strong leader and a dynamic crew.  The action was well sequenced and the character growth was superb.  I've read this series twice, and in both cases, this was my favourite book of the series (not just because of the Romulan involvement).

Then, of course, comes this author's latest (and I think best) work so far.  The Crucible trilogy.

During the course of reading these three books, I had actually considered calling in sick at work so that I could keep reading.  Each book focused on a different character in the Original Series of Star Trek.  We were able to learn an incredible amount about McCoy, some of the missing pieces in Spock's life, as well as why Kirk ended the way he did.  All three stories have a central pivotal moment and everything goes from there.  There were several times while reading McCoy's story that I was quite upset with how things turned out (I won't get into spoilers, but anyone who's read every book will see a few alterations of the Trek history … again), but after everything was said and done, the story unfolds beautifully and things manage to smooth out for most of the other works … aside from J.M. Dillard's "The Lost Years".

Of course, David R. George III has done quite a bit of work elsewhere in the Star Trek universe and this little entry really doesn't do his work justice, but I would strongly recommend to any Trek fan that has not yet read any of his books to get on it.  The story lines are rich and intelligent, the characters are three dimensional and believable, and dammit, they're just plain fun to read.

Enjoy,

The Grounded Astronaut

Barbara Radding Morgan - NASA AstronautI was reading today about NASA's revised shuttle launches and came across an astronaut that seems to have had some pretty big events get in the way of her trip to space.

Barbara Radding Morgan was a backup candidate for the NASA Teacher in Space program on July 19th, 1985.  From September of that year to January of 1986 she trained with Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger crew.  Shortly after the training, Challenger exploded as it made its way to space.  The result of a failed O-Ring in one of the solid rocket boosters.  Had Christa McAuliffe been unable to fly for any reason whatsoever, Mrs. Morgan would not be here today.

She was then scheduled to go up into space on the shuttle Columbia in November of 2003 … but unfortunately, that trip was put on hold since Columbia broke apart over Texas in February of 2003 during re-entry.

Now … this makes me wonder if God is telling her something.  Both of the vessels she trained to work on have been destroyed.  These are the only two shuttles that NASA has lost in a quarter century.  Sure, there aren't too many other shuttles to choose from, but still … this is a remarkable coincidence.

She's now scheduled to launch into space on August 9th, 2007 aboard the newest shuttle, Endeavour.  This is assuming that the external fuel tank for the shuttle can be completely repaired in time.  I really hope that nothing else happens to prevent this highly trained person from reaching space.  For quite some time she's been on stand-by, and only a few lucky people have ever ventured so far from the safety of our little world.

Best of luck to Mrs. Morgan and the rest of the Endeavour crew.  God speed.

What Does Murder Solve?

All around North America the news of the day is the horrific campus shootings at a Virginia college.  After all was said and done, 33 people died and thousands were panic-striken after a gunman opened fire early Monday in Norris Hall.  At the very end of the shooting spree, the gunner turned the weapon on himself, ending his short life and preventing any sort of "criminal justice" from taking place.

I'm sure that whatever diety he may or may not have believed in will take care of him, though.

The police and people who have access to this person's belongings will likely find the cause, but is there any justification for this kind of action?  I doubt it.  Often times when we hear about these kinds of shootings it's because someone was bullied for most of their life and just snapped, taking out anyone that had ever crossed or ignored them.  Other times shooters can go on killing sprees after losing someone they love, perhaps seeing them with someone else.  Sometimes just the thought of our loved one with someone else can drive a person insane.  How many billions of us have lost sleep over this very thought at some point in our lives?

Lord knows this is painful for everyone, but it doesn't justify mass murder.

This type of event seems to happen annually in the US either at the start or the end of school years.  At the end of the day, the shooter took 32 lives too many.  If they were that distraught, they need only use one bullet on themselves.  I only hope that the families of the victims can recover from this devastation.

Being Comfortable With Ourselves

It's been said many times before on this site but, I love documentaries.

PBS recently aired a show called "Fat, What No One Is Telling You", and it was incredibly well done.  I've struggled with my weight most of my life.  While I'm not obese, I have seldom ever been happy with the size of my body.  Growing up I was always heavier than other people, then my metabolism went into overdrive at puberty and I became quite fit for about five years.  Unfortunately this didn't last long as my work life was hardly as active as school … so in the span of four years I had gained 80 pounds and looked the part.

After moving from Ontario I had the opporunity to lose quite a bit of that weight, and managed to keep myself at 183 lbs steady until the start of 2005.  Since that time, I've slowly gained 30-odd pounds and find myself at 212 lbs.  Suffice to say, I'm not happy about it.

There have been many things that I've tried time and again to reduce my weight.  From cutting back the latte's to giving up cheese to evicting meat from my diet (fish was exempt, of course).  None of these things really worked, though.  I enjoy quite a number of dairy products in my daily diet, and food just doesn't seem as enjoyable without some great Canadian cheeses or a glass of milk.  Eating cereal without milk is also an impossibility, so what is a guy to do?

After watching this show, I've come to learn some interesting things.  It seems that very few people are able to lose weight and keep it off.  The ones that do lose a great deal of weight tend to gain as time goes on.  This is in part because our metabolism slows down with age, but also because of who we are fundamentally.  While our conscious mind tries to control our animal instincts to eat, our subconscious tells us to find food and eat it should there be a shortage in the future.  It seems that our instincts don't quite move at the same speed as society.

I have been working hard on losing weight in the next few months as I'm really tired of seeing my flabby body every time I look in the mirror.  Four years ago I had the body I wanted, but lost it due to (I think) inactivity and eating too much dairy.  While I'm not quite as big as some of the people around me, I'm big enough to know it's time for change.

The PBS documentary talked about some of the struggles that people face, and what some are doing about it.  Some have resorted to medical science to shed 140 pounds, others are being active and enjoying their lives regardless of their size.  One of the doctors explained that some can exercise daily and rigourously and never lose weight, while others can do a simple workout every few days and look "normal".  It's not only a matter of metabolism and genetics, but also psychological constructs that help forge our bodies.  Hopefully by keeping a positive attitude and working harder to drop the winter weight, I can regain the slim figure from a few years ago.

[email protected] Tracks Humans, Too

Computer theft is an unfortunate part of living in the world today.  People see a vulnerable notebook at Starbucks or some other location, and decide to enrich themselves by obtaining what is not rightfully theirs.  Considering how important these machines are in our lives, the loss of a computer can be a devastating blow.  This can be doubly troubling when you have quite a bit of personal work on the machine that's not properly backed up elsewhere.

There are ways to help recover our equipment when this type of theft occurs, such as LowJack and other paid services.  However, one resourceful guy managed to use a program designed to scan extra-terrestrial radio signals to track down his wife's stolen notebook.  I have been a part of the [email protected] community for almost eight years, but I've never considered using their unobtrusive service for something like this.

It seems that someone broke into his wife's home on January 1st this year and took the notebook.  Upset that someone would take the machine and worried that his wife's screenplays and novels would have been deleted, he went about tracking down the perpetrators by collecting the IP address of the machine the next time it connected to the Berkeley project's servers.  He didn't have to wait long, and after collecting the data he passed it on to the police who then followed up and eventually recovered the stolen equipment.  Luckily, no files were deleted.

This was a pretty lucky turn of events for these people as it's clear that a non-power user had taken the notebook.  Anyone who would want to try and steal a notebook or PC should at the very least format the hard drives to (potentially) eliminate all the data from the computer and start with a clean slate.  Ideally they would want to replace the hard drives and discard the old ones to prevent any tracing software installed in the root from identifying their location.

I don't suggest stealing, though.  Being the geek that I am, most of the notebooks that I see at Starbucks, libraries and schools aren't worth the trouble.  The three year old notebook that I use now is still superior to most of the units one might walk off with.

I congratulate this man for tracking down the stolen computer and being a hero to his wife.  For anyone that does not want to pay for a tracking service, I will readily suggest installing the BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) software and contributing to one of the many worthy distributed computing projects.  Not only will you be helping the scientific community at large, but you can potentially have a means of tracking down a stolen computer.

My Take on Sponsored Themes ... They're Not All Evil

There's been quite a bit of discussion about sponsored themes throughout the online community, and I feel it's time that I make my position known.  Naturally, most people wouldn't care whether I approved of the addons to various open-source projects like WordPress or Joomla, but I'm starting to get quite upset regarding the direction a particular group is going.

On April 12th, one of the creators of WordPress issued his take on this subject, and advocates a complete ban of sponsored themes (and plugins) from WordPress.com; a free blog hosting community.  His concern is that theme developers are embedding links to a sponsor's site and not necessarily disclosing this to the end users that download and install said theme.  In some cases, the link to the sponsor is a small thing down in the footer, and sometimes these things are about as attractive as a site made up of 50% advertisements.

To this end, he would like to have all sponsored themes eliminated from the site and other WordPress-related download sites.  He's not really against all sponsored themes, though … his biggest beef seems to be with sponsored themes that are not disclosed as such.  The worry is that bloggers without any sort of intelligence or self-awareness will download these and use them on his open community, which I'm sure attracts a good deal of attention from quite a few web crawlers.

Continuing his assertion, he says that Google penalizes sites that promote things that they consider to be spam, users may not know or be aware of the links or how to eliminate them, and that some of these theme developers try to legally disallow a person from removing the links (which he claims is against GPL).  This is where I started getting a little uncomfortable.

So Google might penalize a site for promoting spam … boo hoo.  Google tends to make up more than 60% of the traffic for many of the bloggers that I talk to, and the hits we get from the search engine are often hit and miss … being pushed down in the rankings a bit isn't going to kill us.

The second point really grinds my gears because I'm a firm believer that humans are pretty intelligent.  Why ban something because someone doesn't know how to remove a link from a PHP source file?  If a user doesn't want to promote something on their site, but likes the particuar theme, then they can ask the developer to remove the link and pay them $2.  Heck, most quality theme developers out there pour countless hours into their craft only to get sweet nothing from the thousands of people downloading their files.  If 100 people who had no inclination to even look at a freakin' .php file in Notepad paid $2 to get a link taken off their particular site, then I'm sure there would be quite a few more highly skilled creative gurus out there making their wares available for all.

And of course this really bugs me … one of the biggest factors for this person's rant against sponsored themes is for the people that don't know how to remove links from theme source files.  Humans are not stupid.  We're not a bunch of brain-dead in-duh-viduals who walk around slack-jawed like some yokel in a cartoon.  Before getting into this whole blog thing last October I hadn't written a single line of PHP.  Now I'm writing my own plugins, assisting people around the world with their PHP problems and applying this knowledge for my various clients around the world.  Of course it helps that I've had 10 years of programming experience, but it doesn't mean a normal person couldn't figure out how to remove the offending link.  Heck, how many of us learn just enough to keep our cars maintained?  Code is no different.

I'm getting a very strong Orwellian vibe from certain prominent members in the WordPress community and it's starting to push lots of users away.  What this person fails to recognize is that anyone who installs their blogging software already has a link to WordPress.com and to several of the key developer sites.  Nobody is permitted to advertize on their free blog at WordPress.com, but Google's ugly-ass AdNonSense can appear at the discretion of the site maintainers.  I won't even get into this persons advertising scandal that occurred some time back ….

"Do as I say, not as I do" just doesn't cut it on the internet.  You can't protect the populace from everything, and you shouldn't be so totalitarian about certain design practices.  If users really don't like seeing links to someone else's site on their pages, perhaps they should choose a different theme.  If you don't want to have excess links on your blogging community servers, then perhaps you should just take the MSN Spaces route and have a limited number of standard themes installed and locked down.  If a user wants different themes, they can buy a deluxe package to your site and you'll get your cut.

That is, after all, what you want, right?

Water on Osiris!

Artist's view of the evaporating planet HD209458b, also known as Osiris.An astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona has determined that a massive Jupiter-sized planet 150 light-years away contains water in its atmosphere.  Tomas Barman says he's confirmed the presense of water by analyzing the light from a nearby star as the planet orbits … every 3.5 days.

This is an amazing find as it's the first time scientists have confirmed the presence of water on worlds outside our own solar system.  What I find really amazing, though, is the incredibly varied solar system structures that are found throughout the local region.  Osiris (technically called HD209458b, but nick-named after the Egyptian god), orbits its star every three and a half days.  It's the size of Jupiter, and lays a distance of about 1/8th that of Mercury from our sun.

This blows my mind.  Jupiter plays a roll in the elliptic pattern of our sun considering it's mass, and it's 994 million km from the star.  A planet of roughly the same size and mass being around 8 million km from its own sun would create massive tidal patterns as it sped around the star.  What is really surprising is that this particular planet has an atmosphere.  How old is this planet?  Considering the excessive amounts of solar wind that it has experienced over the last few billion years, why hasn't the gaseous and liquid components of this planet evaporated away?  Is the magnetic field of Osiris truly strong enough to protect it from much of this alien sun's rays?

I have an incredible appreciation for how little we actually know about the universe around us.  Seeing things like this that defy our understanding of planet building makes the search all the more interesting.  If we had found that other star systems had planets in roughly the same arrangement as we find locally, with the same chances of water and/or life, it would still be exciting … but not half as fascinating.

The End of the PDA?

Dell has stopped selling their Axim PDAs, HP has no immediate plans on new models, and Palm … well … nothing new there.

In a move that's been seen for months, Dell today stopped selling their Axim PDAs online.  For the last few months they've been selling off existing inventory and when they finally reached minimal numbers, the site would read "currently on order".  I guess this comes as no surprise considering Personal Digital Assistants have been mostly replaced with cell phones, though it does make me wonder about the future of PDAs.

I'm not a big fan of using a cell phone as a PDA.  This is mainly because of battery limitations, screen size limitations, memory limitations, mobile software limitations … I think you can see the pattern here.  There are PDAs with cell phone functionality built in, of course.  Palm's Treo, HP's hw-series PDAs and even RIM's ever popular CrackBerry have all made huge inroads for the corporate end-user.  But I feel that all of these have a major fatal flaw … the keyboard.

I really don't like those little thumb keyboards.  They're ugly, collect insane amounts of dirt, and are way too small for the average male's fingers.  I wish these companies would put out at least one current model where there is no keyboard.  Give me Grafitti 1.1 (Block Recognizer on Windows-mobile devices) and I'll out-write anyone with a thumb keyboard.  The added screen space would also be a welcome addition as I love to use my PDA for eBooks as well as jotting long and detailed notes.

Many don't feel that Dell will be out of the super-mobile picture for long, and some are even wondering about Dell offering a cell-phone/PDA combination like the Samsung BlackJack or Palm Treo.  If this rumor does turn out to be true, I'll hope against hope that one model will appeal to me.  The last few years there have been very few PDAs that really strike me as useful.  The units released three years ago still seem more functional than the everything-for-everybody models that have been released as of late.  Heck, if I had the resources and the technical expertise to construct my own PDA from sourced parts, I'd probably make my own unit with a 7" SVGA transflective screen.  At 7", it would be the size of a paperback book, and would have enough screen real-estate to handle everything I could ever need to do on a mobile device before taking out a notebook PC.

Naturally, there are devices that kind of fit into this category … the Origami and Vistagami machines, for example.  But I find these to be too thick and bulky for what I'm looking for.  I don't want a replacement notebook.  I don't need Windows XP.  A slim (1 cm or less) unit with Windows Mobile or even a PalmOS variant would be sufficient for everything that most people would need.  This would be a great little unit for taking notes, and could even have a handy little app that would sync with Microsoft's OneNote software.

Perhaps I'm the only one that wants something like this, but I feel that PDAs will only lose more ground to cell phones unless manufacturers can give users something that really matters … visual real-estate.