Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Scientific Survey

Pharaoh heard that in his prisons there lived a man who could interpret dreams. He called for Joseph, and his soldiers brought the young man before him.

“I have had a dream,” Pharaoh said. “In my dream there are seven fat cows, and seven thin cows. The thin cows eat the fat cows but they remain thin. What does it mean?”

Joseph pondered, and quietly asked God for guidance, and said, “it means that there will be seven years of plenty, and Egypt will prosper like never before. But there will follow seven years of hardship, and unless Egypt prepares now, by saving as much of the plenty as this great nation can, there will be great suffering.”

Pharaoh nodded, seeing the wisdom of Joseph’s words. It only made sense to prepare for hard times while things were going well, even if the precision of Joseph’s prediction was questionable.

“Um… Pharaoh,” said the trusted advisor on his left, the chief architect of the pyramid project about to launch, “Seven years of plenty! That’s great! If you ignore this man’s advice, I can make the monument to you even more magnificent.”

On his right, another adviser spoke. “If bad times follow the good, it is the will of the gods. WE will survive, our families will not starve, even if millions of the working class who just finished your pyramid die. That, too, is the will of the gods. The workers will die happily, knowing they contributed to your eternal might.”

Joseph listened to this discourse and said, “No, seriously, It’s going to be bad. I’m 99.9% sure it’s going to be really really bad.”

“Aha!” cried the architect. “So you’re not sure!

Pharaoh looked from his advisors to Joseph and back. “Make the monument bigger,” he said.

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That Carbon Dioxide Tipping Point

I file this under politics because it is politics that is blinding us.

The oil industry* and their paid shills (known as deniers)** made a few waves recently when, in a carefully-worded survey of climate scientists, fewer than half were willing to single out carbon dioxide as the single greatest contributor to global warming.

“Half of all Scientists disagree with climate change!” was the nonsensical conclusion. A slightly-less-nonsensical conclusion was “Humans create carbon dioxide; if that’s not the primary driver of global warming, then warming is not because of humans.”

But let’s look at that for a moment. There’s another conclusion, and while it’s much more reasonable, it’s also much more scary: Carbon Dioxide isn’t the the primary driver of global warming any more. We’ve crossed a tipping point.

Meet Methane, and the point of no return.

While CO2 was the problem, there was something we could do about it: produce less CO2. Let the algae and the rain forests (whoops!) absorb the surplus back, and let our planet return to its previous equilibrium. We dithered, and denied, and the tundra began to thaw. Now the tundra is burping up enormous amounts of methane.

As a greenhouse gas, methane makes CO2 look like a punk kid with missing teeth.

So if many scientists don’t think Carbon Dioxide is the biggest contributor any more, that doesn’t mean they don’t believe the surface of our planet is getting hotter, it means that the game has changed. It means things have moved to a stage that we cannot reverse just by suddenly not being so selfish and short-sighted. It means there is nothing we can do to stop the change, and the sooner we turn our efforts to dealing with it, the less it will hurt.

But man, it’s gonna hurt.

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* shorthand for all carbon-based energy companies
** almost all the publicized climate-change deniers are on the energy company payrolls. I say “almost” only because there are probably a few who are just stupid.

When does School Let Out?

Recently I was riding on a path and ahead of me was a small bank of flood-deposited sand and gravel. It looked pretty solid, so I thought I could coast gently over it and be fine.

Nope.

Plunk! and a scraped-up knee, bleeding down my shin as I plodded on to work. “Lesson learned!” I thought to myself. “Unless you have big, fat tires, that’s not the terrain for you.” So at the expense of a little flesh I became a wiser bicyclist.

Yesterday morning I was riding calmly through a little park. Many people walk their dogs on those paths, and I like to give dogs plenty of space when I come up behind them. It’s not fair to the dog to expect them to just step calmly aside when startled from behind. So when the human walking a pretty bulldog didn’t respond to my bell, I did what I often do: I left the sidewalk and circled around on the grass. I made a point of giving him a cheery “Good morning!” as I slogged through the lush lawn.

Only, this particular time, the deep green hid the fact that the step back up to the pavement was rather high. I hit it at too soft an angle, didn’t hop with my front tire, and spilled over the handlebars and onto the pavement. Plunk!

My OTHER knee is now scraped up, and I have a nasty contusion on my thigh where it hit the headlight attached to my handlebars. Lesson learned: Always assume that transition will be dangerous unless handled properly. So at the expense of a little flesh I am now a wiser bicyclist.

I just hope I reach the end of the syllabus soon.

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Standing Rock and Internet Security

At the peak of the Standing Rock protest, a small city existed where none had before. That city relied on wireless communications to let the world know what was going on, and to coordinate the more mundane day-to-day tasks of providing for thousands of people. There is strong circumstantial evidence that our own government performed shenanigans on the communications infrastructure to not only prevent information from reaching the rest of the world, but also to hack people’s email accounts and the like.

Cracked.com, an unlikely source of “real” journalism, produced a well-written article with links to huge piles of documented facts. (This was not the only compelling article they produced.) They spent time with a team of security experts on the scene, who showed the results of one attack: When all the secure wifi hotspots in the camp were attacked, rendering them unresponsive, a new, insecure hotspot suddenly appeared. When one of the security guys connected to it, his gmail account was attacked.

Notably, a plane was flying low overhead – a very common model of Cessna, but the type known to be used by our government to be fitted with just the sort of equipment to do this sort of dirty work. The Cessna was owned by law enforcement but its flight history is secret.

What does that actually mean? It means that in a vulnerable situation, where communication depends on wireless networks, federal and state law enforcement agencies have the tools to seriously mess with you.

“But I only use secure Internet connections,” you say. “HTTPS means that people between you and the site you’re talking to can’t steal your information.” Alas, that’s not quite true. What https means is that connections to your bank or Gmail can only be monitored by someone endorsed by entities your browser has been told to trust completely. On that list: The US Government, the Chinese government, other governments, and more than a hundred privately-owned corporations. Any of those, or anyone any of those authorities chooses to endorse, or anyone who manages to hack one of those hundred-plus authorities (this has happened) can convince your browser that there is no hanky-panky going on. It shouldn’t surprise you that the NSA has a huge operation to do just that.

The NSA system wasn’t used at Standing Rock (or if it was, that effort was separate from the documented attacks above), because they don’t need airplanes loaded with exotic equipment. But those airplanes do exist, and now we have evidence that state and local law enforcement, and quite possibly private corporations as well, are willing to use them.

The moral of the story is, I guess, “don’t use unsecured WiFi”. There’s pretty much nothing you can do about the NSA. It would be nice if browsers popped up an alert like “Normally this site is vouched for by Verisign, but this time the US Government is vouching for it. Do you want to continue?” But they don’t, and I haven’t found a browser plugin that adds that capability. Which is too bad.

Edit to add: While looking for someone who perhaps had made a browser plug-in to detect these attacks, I came across this paper which described a plugin that apparently no longer exists (if it was ever released). It includes a good overview of the situation, with some thoughts that hadn’t occurred to me. It also shows pages from a brochure for a simple device that was marketed in 2009 to make it very easy for people with CA authority to eavesdrop on any SSL-protected communication. Devices so cheap they were described as “disposable”.

Moving On

Well, Donald Trump got almost as many votes as Hillary Clinton (some people’s votes don’t count as much as others), and now he’s going to be our next president. I’m going to have to take the same advice I would have given Trump’s supporters had the election gone the other way: “Suck it up, buttercup.”

In the interest of healing a fractured nation, and focussing my resolve, I will no longer (publicly) insult Trump. I will certainly criticize flaws in his policies (should he ever articulate any policies), and I will comment on all current and new criminal investigations brought against him. But no more (public) name-calling.

The same goes for his followers. Some of them will realize, as time passes, that their jobs are NOT coming back — in fact they’re vanishing faster than ever — and the community college system they could have used to move to a new career is withering and dying. They will realize that even more people are being grievously hurt by drinking their own tap water, and that pollution from fracking is killing their children. They will notice that terrorism didn’t just vanish.

Some of the people who voted for Trump yesterday will realize that they’ve been hoodwinked, and perhaps make another decision in four years. Others will continue to blame whatever scapegoat they are handed next and respond with the logic “If Trump’s not getting it done, what we need is more Trump.”

There’s not much I can do about that latter group, but name-calling won’t help. All I can do is be civil, provide a contrast to the shouting coming out of their noise-boxes, stand up for the truth, watch out for my neighbors, and hope that after four years the thieves leave with all they can carry but don’t actually light the house on fire.

Whoops. This is going to be really difficult.

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Facebook 101: When they Say “Like and Share” Probably you Shouldn’t

If you haven’t already figured this out by the thousands of radio stations firing off memes on Facebook, let me spell it out for you. “Likes” are worth money. Here’s the part maybe you didn’t know: Likes can be sold.

My Facebook news feed is clogged with shit like, “LIKE AND SHARE IF YOU DON’T THINK CHILDREN SHOULD BE BEHEADED AND LEFT FOR THE VULTURES.” Or maybe “LITTLE CINDY-LOU IS DYING OF CANCER, LIKE AND SHARE SO SHE CAN SEE SHE IS LOVED ALL OVER THE WORLD. ONLY 2% WILL LIKE AND SHARE. ARE YOU ONE OF THEM?”

It’s always 2%.

Perhaps you say to yourself, “gee, I’m actually kind of against beheading children.” You like and share. Otherwise, you’re implicitly in favor of juvenile decapitation, right?

A few weeks later you get an item in your feed about vacations in Mexico. Not a sponsored item, mind, but a notification from a page you liked. “The heck?” you think to yourself. “I don’t remember liking anything about travel in Mexico.”

And in fact you didn’t. The Travel site bought your like from the child-beheadding page.

Well, to be more exact, they bought the page itself, likes and all, then just switched in their own content. People are making a sound business out of creating pages, getting likes any way possible, then selling the page.

These days, I block almost every item in my Facebook feed thingie that says “like and share”. When you look at the name of the source page, it’s amazing how often page name and content don’t match. Even when they do, I block. Don’t tell me what to like, Chumley, and I share only the good stuff. Which is maybe one thing a month.

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Starmind: Chapters 3 and 4

It’s not often I find a novel where every damn chapter is worthy of comment. Starmind, by Dave Van Arnam, turns out to be one of those. Not because it’s good, oh no, not all all.

When last we left this little yarn, I was wondering what possible excuse the author could find for medical professionals to even want to try to put the halves of two different people’s brains into one body.

Dr. Brian pretty much says he just wants to see what will happen. There’s a first time for everything, after all.

Yeah, Dr. Brian. The Brain surgeon. I have stopped correcting myself as I read. Nascent writers out there, if for some reason you want to call your guy Dr. Brain, just do it. No need to be coy. (Or better yet, call him Dr. Mtumbo.)

At this time, there are six characters of note. Inside the head, there are two men and one woman (although one of the men is more of an emotive blob). Outside the head, there are also two men and one woman. Both women are attractive, in nonspecific ways. Only one of the men has been described at all.

In chapter three, two of the three men capable of this sort of thought decide it might be kinda cool to have their brains installed in a hot female body. Both women find the idea of being installed in a man’s body to be loathsome. So… 1969.

On the second page of chapter three I laughed more than once. The dialog! Holy crap!

Here’s a choice nugget — the doctor, talking to the reporter:

I will not speculate on any emotional ties that might exist between you and Miss Rost, but it is obvious that your concern runs deeper than I, as a medical researcher and practitioner, dare to take cognizance of.

He better not dare to take cognizance of it! Or this gem three tiresome paragraphs later, as Parker, the reporter, continues his stilted verbal sparring with Dr. Brain Brian:

I am a professional in my own field, as you are in yours, doctor; and in my case it means I know how to research those necessary background facts that make conversations such as this more meaningful than the customary exchange of platitudinous awarenesses of each other’s position.

Both those quotes are parts of much longer paragraphs. Despite this unbearable verbal mass, they do little more than exchange platitudinous awarenesses of each other’s position, along with a heapin’ helpin’ of as-you-know-Bobs. The reporter, for instance, tells the brian brain surgeon that it has been eleven years since the first successful brain transplant.

But I will say this: although there are some horrible moments in the discourse between the characters inside the head, it is way better that the interactions outside the head. At lest so far; the head occupants aren’t to a stage where they can engage in stilted verbal exchanges. Though there are plenty of problems inside the cranium, as well. Jailyn is witness to one of Joe’s sex fantasies, then exercises her will to make it stop. She apparently has none of her own. Sex, it seems, is something men want and women allocate.

There’s a nice twist, though, as the “simple” thoughts of the Idiot Adonis unexpectedly rise from the previously-unmentioned surviving lower parts of his brain and provide an emotional foundation for the two intellects who discover themselves so intimately connected. In the hands of a skilled writer, that might make the premise of a great story. I could picture a one-act play based on that theme.

Alas, we are not in the hands of a skilled writer, my friends. Yet still I read on, finding comedy where none was intended, hoping the pretty nurse kicks her boss of irrelevant appearance in the balls, knowing she won’t. The mystery of “why would anyone do something so stupid” has been answered with a “why not?” and on we go. The next question is: how will the author contrive to expose this odd trio to pseudogravitic multiwaves? And will he manage that before the ridiculous dialog slips from funny to tiresome?

Stay tuned, dear readers, for the answers to these burning questions!

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