Thar she blows… again!

October 27, 2004

Mt. St. Helen’s is erupting again… it doesn’t even make the news any more. At this point, it would have to blow a bunch of lava, rock and ash for people to pay attention again.

Still, it is rather neat to watch. Mind you, I’m 900 miles away; not much to worry about from there. I’ve got the Wasatch Fault to stress over instead.

Here is a picture in case the site is slashdotted.

Mt. St. Helens, October 27, 2004 at 12:48 PM PST

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Spam, spam, spam, spam…

October 27, 2004

Over the last week, I’ve been bombarded a bit by comments spam.

“What is comment spam?” you might ask? That’s where person or persons unknown decide to advertise by entering information into the comments on a post.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not against advertising. I may add a Google AdSense here someday or other solution. But, I’d be adding it, I’d be the beneficiary and I’m the one responsible. By these nimrods adding their advertisements as comments on my posts, they are getting any benefits and I’m taking the responsibility and paying for the privilege.

Or, at least, they would be getting the benefits – however, I have comment moderation on plus I run the WordPress Blacklist plugin so most comments are checked, found wanting and deleted. The ones that aren’t are reviewed by me and if legit, approved. If not legit, they are added to the blacklist (IP, email, word algorithm) and don’t ever make it back.

This is MY site. My rules. So there.

EDIT 10/19/2004: This is annoying. I was using SauceReader, my RSS aggregator, to comment on a post Trey made. Instead, it posted it to MY blog instead of as a comment on Trey’s page. While it doesn’t make much sense in places, I’ll leave it here. Mind you, I think I’m going to finally leave SauceReader as well – it is starting to drive me nuts.

ORIGINAL MESSAGE 10/18/2004: I recently refactored an existing application to make installation easier; part of that refactoring was to use OleDb against either SQL Server or Oracle to create the database structure from within the application rather than have the user run one of two different sets of scripts.  The two sets of scripts left room for error in maintaining the structure plus it was a strain for an implementation person who was used to one or the other databases but not both.

Basically, I created a subdirectory inside the project and each table got its own script.  Each relationship got its own script.  Then, inside the application I test for the primary table – if it wasn’t there I prompted the user to create the structure (the user can’t log in without a valid database login).  If the user says ‘yes’, I run the table scripts one after another and then run the relationship scripts.

Now, this may not be the optimal way to create indices and such, but the application isn’t a DBA; if the client wants to fine tune the db then a DBA is warranted.  However, this application is rather lightweight and while there are lots of reads, very little writes.

I only mention this because you were wondering scalibility – the .Net framework does provide a OleDbProvider for jet databases so it would work over Oracle, SQL Server and Jet.  The other nice bit about SQL scripts is that if the DBA wants to tune the scripts before creating the database or wants to create the database manually the resource is there.

Just my thoughts… if I don’t make sense or I’m rambling, well, sorry.  It’s late.

Scott Rosenberg recently posted about watching very little television and no broadcast news.

After reading the comments, I added my own… and realized that I don’t have much respect for broadcast news:

Well, I’ll defend television a bit – as an entertainment medium.

I love to watch the Cartoon Network (Adult Swim) and Nickelodeon/Disney/etc. with my son. Cartoons are fun, entertaining and educational at times. Oh, and we just started watching LazyTown – very fun.

However, I haven’t been a devotee of television news for about 15 years. I was a fresh faced broadcast journalism major, recently graduated and working for KTVX in Salt Lake City. Since I didn’t have the experience to work in the News department but plenty of technical experience, I was working in Production: Camera, CG, Audio, Videotape, etc. I got to watch a small but major market package up the news without having to actually do it.

I was nauseated. The occasional journalist that was trying to educate/inform/document what was going on was smothered by the marketing director, ‘news’ director and GM, all trying to outdo the other two stations in getting a more inflammatory headline. The longer I worked there the more I realized that it wasn’t journalism but entertainment – and I wasn’t cut out for it.

I’ve regarded almost every other news organization in the same light and been saddened to realize that the few that do care about doing a good journalistic job are few and far between.

However, I recently came to the realization that entertainment which secretly doubles as news is wonderful – hence the Daily Show. Don’t watch much but I sure enjoy it when I do… and, occasionally, learn something.

In re-reading before posting, I noticed that I don’t have a positive view on broadcast television news… but you probably noticed that already.

Wow. I didn’t realize I still had that strong of an opinion about this subject.

On a side note, while I won’t pretend to be reporting news on this site, I will follow as closely as I can to my personal code of ethics. However, I haven’t yet posted them for y’all to compare to so you’ll just have to take my word for now that I do have SOME ethical leanings. Professor Byrne would be proud, I hope.

Robert Scoble wrote a great post about what Microsoft should be doing to become the company that people like again.  I think he’s right on top of it; I don’t think much of it will happen, but he’s got the right idea.

My message in a bottle to Bill Gates

These are the trends for the digitial decade. Next week you’ll see the new Media Center. It has an RSS aggregator available for it.

However, this still annoys me to no end.  Yes, it is a great product.  Yes, the new features are really nice.

No, I won’t have one.

Why, you ask?  Because the only way to get one is to buy a new PC that the vendors charge TWICE what they do for a comparable machine without the Media Center software.  I have a machine ready to build as a media center PC (notice the small case on the letters) – plenty of processor power, multiple large hard drives, lots of fast RAM.  I have a capture card with MPEG2 hardware encoding.  But, I’ll probably go with MythTV or Freevo.  I don’t need yet another machine; I need a decent software solution.  My family is familiar with Windows family of products but they’ll have to adjust because I don’t want to shell out 1600-2000 dollars (US) to appease the Microsoft Marketing Machine.

Yes, I’m annoyed.  I’ll deal with it.  Read Robert’s post though – he’s pushing out the ideas that will change the internet as you know it.

UPDATE: According to GamePC (thanks to a link from Eric Rice) you can now purchase the Media Center Edition of Windows XP. Well, next week anyway.

Sweet!

Cory Doctorow, author and frequent poster (um, that doesn’t work… posting person?  augh.) at BoingBoing.net pointed out a dreadful part of the policy put forth by Snap.com, a new search engine.

Search engines demand our trust and our goodwill, and they cry out to be an authorative namespace for locations relevant to query terms. For Snap to assert that it can own how you can link to them — despite the fact that this is nonsensical in both law and practice — displays such an imponderable depth of contempt and ignorance for the Web’s norms that it is truly unforgivable.

Update: Snap founder Bill Gross sez, “Cory, thanks for catching that and posting. We’re changing the policy, so thanks!”

What Cory didn’t point out is that they responded.  Let me repeat that:  THEY RESPONDED.

Cory didn’t file suit against the company, organize an active protest, go on the evening news.  Just a single post on a popular web log.

This points to two different trends I’ve noticed a few times with increasing frequency: first, savvy companies are monitoring the internet conversations about them and their industry and, second, those companies are responding to intelligent conversation and adjusting their products, services or agreements to match standards, de facto or otherwise.

The more this happens, the more I think it will become common practice – which is good.  However, the internet community (myself included) needs to be willing to stand up and vote for the good as well as expose the bad.  Cheers to Snap.com for listening…

Bruce Schneier writes a column on security that he also makes available on the web. Earlier today, on BoingBoing.net I believe, someone had commented on Bruce’s column about new technology allowing police to easily and quickly scan license plates, match the plates with the ownership record and then cite or tow offending vehicles based on the research.

ways impressed by clear, well-informed writing; Bruce is no exception.  From his web log:

Technology is fundamentally changing the nature of surveillance. Years ago, surveillance meant trench-coated detectives following people down streets. It was laborious and expensive, and was only used when there was reasonable suspicion of a crime. Modern surveillance is the policeman with a license-plate scanner, or even a remote license-plate scanner mounted on a traffic light and a policeman sitting at a computer in the station. It’s the same, but it’s completely different. It’s wholesale surveillance.

The bold emphasis above is mine.  This is to me the crux of the issue; we are presumed innocent until proven guilty.  In this scenario, everyone in range of the scanner is presumed guilty and therefore electronically searched for evidence of guilt.  This is wrong on so many levels; we have laws against ‘fishing’ expeditions, unlawful search and seizure.  A car is not a public document, it is private property.  An officer can walk past a car and, if suspicious circumstances warrant, search for information aobut the vehicle.  It is unlawful to search without a warrant or probable cause in all cases, not just when convenient.

For license-plate scanners, one obvious protection is to require the police to erase data collected on innocent car owners immediately, and not save it. The police have no legitimate need to collect data on everyone’s driving habits. Another is to allow car owners access to the information about them used in these automated searches, and to allow them to challenge inaccuracies.

I am in favor of transparency in ALL public records and information.  Without ‘official’ secrecy, the incidence of corruption and fraud will be reduced.  Recently, I believe that Chicago announced plans to mount cameras throughout the city in an effort to combat crime by analyzing behavior patterns and alerting based on existing profiles.  While this again falls under the heading of presuming guilty before innocence, the effects could be mitigated by opening the cameras up to anyone with a internet connection and a web browser.  If the cameras were accessible to concerned parents checking on children, commuters checking traffic (human and vehicular), and other legitimate uses as well as being able to monitor the behavior of the security and police officers then this would offset the invasion of privacy.  By making the network public, the police could insure that they have access to the same information that the public has – it takes the exclusive away from those with the greatest opportunity to misuse it.

However, if it was opened up to the public there would have to be some obvious safeguards – not pointing at private residences, it shouldn’t be able to be disabled by the police.  I’m sure some would argue that if the cameras covered a riot that it might entice others to participate; that genie is already out of the bottle.  The flash mobs that are intentionally and unintentionally created by mobile phones, text messaging and up to the second radio have bypassed that complaint.

Now, on the off chance you feel that I’m insightful and prescient, let me dispel that thought now.  One of my favorite authors, David Brin, covered these and many more possibilities in his non-fiction book, The Transparent Society.  Buy it, read it and realize that when you take the two possibilities of security by secrecy and security by open access there really can be only one rational choice.  (Hint: open access)

One of these things…

October 5, 2004

Recently, Mt. St. Helens resumed volcanic activity after nearly 20 years of quiet waiting. While that is a mere blink of an eye in geologic time, it seems like a lifetime ago since it erupted and killed nearly 60 people. Mt. St. Helens is located south east of Seattle in the state of Washington, United States.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a web accessible camera mounted at the active volcano which refreshes every five minutes.

This is the reference photograph from September 24, 2004.

Mt. St. Helens, Sept. 24, 2004 at 5:09 PM

Here is a photograph from October 1, 2004 at nearly the same time before sunset. I didn’t calculate correctly though; if you look at the shadows between the two photographs you can see that I should have taken an earlier image.

Mt. St. Helens, Oct. 1, 2004 at 4:59 PM

What is interesting is that in the first photograph you can see that there is snow on the top of the mountain – not so on the later photograph. In fact, although I didn’t think to save the image there was still snow on the day before the eruption.

As the world becomes more and more connected and archived I can still be amazed at the fact that with a little bit of ingenuity and thought I can ‘scoop’ the news agencies who have made it their mission in life to be the ‘first with the news’.

RSS is making this even more of a reality. I monitor about 200 different news sources around the world every four hours with my aggregator and I can usually spot trends and information hours if not days before it is reported or mentioned on any news program.

People I talk to wonder how I can live without watching the news or reading a daily newspaper – this is how.

Mt. St. Helens erupted for the first time since May, 1980, letting off a burst of steam and ash.  This is the first eruption since this volcano blew the top of the mountain off and killed nearly 60 people.

I remember quite vividly the fine ash and red sky and sunsets; I was 14 years old and it was neat.  I didn’t have a clue as to the real cost in devastation and human life though; this time around I’m far more sensitive to friends that live in the area and the suffering this could cause if it indeed spouts like it did the first time.

Earlier this week someone’s blog alerted me to the increased activity at the volcano and I’ve been watching with interest as it continued. 

Here are some links (some are still suffering from slashdot effect) for more information:

http://www.king5.com – KING 5 News
http://www.komotv.com – KOMO TV News
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/home – Seattle Times Newspaper
http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/MSH/CurrentActivity/ – USGS Mt. St. Helen’s activity summaries
http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Volcanoes/Cascades/CurrentActivity/2004/current_updates_20041001.html – Current Vulcanism
http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/volcanocams/msh/ – Mt. St. Helen’s Web Cam