Blog of Obscurity

A Very Munchkinly Blog

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Medal of Honor Posthumously Awarded to SFC Paul Smith

The Congressional Medal of Honor has been posthumously awarded to Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, USA. (UseBugMeNot for a login without the Times' cumbersome and intrusive registration.) The Times article is short on details of the action for which Sgt. Smith was cited, and gives only a little attention to what Sgt. Smith accomplished by his actions. For that, I recommend his citation.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Selling a Strategy

There is right now one and only one serious candidate for US grand strategy to replace the Cold War's containment strategy: Thomas Barnett's Pentagon's New Map. The Bush administration may have a grand strategy, but if so they have not shared it. (The President has shared his goal, the advance of liberal democracy through the world, but not how he aims to achieve it. Actually, now that I think about it, the goal is basically the same as Barnett's, if you take "the advance of liberal democracy through the world" to be the same as "the future worth achieving".)

The Pentagon's New Map posits that there exists a "Gap" of undeveloped countries, incorporating most of what used to be called the Third World, and that these countries are undeveloped for essentially economic reasons: being disconnected from the globalizing nations (the Core) and each other, the Gap nations can advance neither economically nor politically. Major wars between Core nations are impossible, because any such war would invite a (literally) nuclear response, destroying the aggressor. Within the Core, the Cold War rules basically apply, the UN is an effective instrument of international relations, and economic interdependency compels a gradual advance towards true and universal liberal democracy; the Core is Kantian in nature. Within the Gap, the rules that apply are Hobbesian: law of the jungle.

In Speaker for the Dead terms, the Core nations are "utlanning", the "new Core" nations like China are "framling", and the Gap nations are essentially "ramen" - culturally incompatible.

Given this view of the world, Barnett proposes a grand strategy somewhat along these lines: build up relationships between Core nations, using the UN and other transnational institutions as the major vehicle; "shrink the Gap" with a combination of aid, political engagement, and military force; change the rulesets in the Gap to set them on the path to being a part of the Core, using whatever means are possible, necessary and expedient.

Dave Schuler of the Glittering Eye has a great post on what it will take to sell this - or any - strategy to all of the different major American foreign policy strains. Schuler's analysis is very good, because it notes the fact that different foreign policy viewpoints are incompatible; thus, the key is determining which group can be marginalized in order to gain broader acceptance.

Insane Patents

In case you needed any more proof that our patent system has gone insane, here's a good one. Someone patented diagnosing B-12 deficiencies through homocysteine levels and is apparently filing suits against doctors who discuss it:

Pubpat Argues Against Patenting of Medical Facts: Urges Solicitor General to Do Same in Appeal Pending at Supreme Court:

The issue stems from a case that involves a patent granted by the U.S. Patent Office on diagnosing B12 or folic acid deficiency, which can cause serious human illnesses such as cancer and vascular disease, simply by knowing if a patient has an elevated homocysteine level. It is a matter of natural biology that whether someone has a B12 or folic acid insufficiency is related to whether they have a high level of homocysteine, because homocysteine is an amino acid metabolized by B12 and folic acid. Lower courts ruled that doctors who use or discuss the relationship between B12 or folic acid and homocysteine committed illegal patent infringement and the Supreme Court is now deciding whether to hear an appeal of the case.

Better get your life boat ready....

This gives me about two years to get a life boat, or move to Denver.....

Jihad Watch: Koran scholar: US will cease to exist in 2007:

'The study, which has caught the attention of millions of Muslims worldwide, is based on in-depth interpretations of various verses in the Koran. It predicts that the US will be hit by a tsunami larger than that which recently struck southeast Asia.

The tsunami waves are a minor rehearsal in comparison with what awaits the US in 2007,' the researcher concluded in his study. 'The Holy Koran warns against the Omnipotent Allah's force. A great sin will cause a huge flood in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.'

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Another Fun Site: Squashed Philosophers

Here's a site that will give you the quick and dirty summary of many philosophers. It offers versions that are "condensed and abridged to keep the substance, the style and the quotes, but ditching all that irritating verbiage".

Want to study Thomas Paine? They give you a 7200 word breakdown (est. 30 minutes).

Aristotelean Ethics? Well, you can read the 10,000 word summary, or get even more brief with the "Very Squashed Version":

ONE: Every art or enquiry aims at achieving some good, but what 'good' is we cannot know with precision. Happiness is an activity of the soul according to virtue.
TWO: For every virtue there is a vice, so we can say that virtue is a state of character, gained by rational choice, lying in a middle way relative to the man. Confidence is the mean between rashness and cowardice. Liberality lies between prodigality and meanness, honour between vanity and undue humility.
THREE: Only voluntary actions are praised or blamed, involuntary actions receive pardon or pity. Decision making relates to the ends, choice to the means.
FOUR: Proper pride is praiseworthy, but he who claims greatness, being unworthy, is vain. Good temper is the mean with respect to anger. The man who is angry at the right things, is praiseworthy.
FIVE: Justice is largely concerned with goods. Justice is either proportionate, or rectificatory, where something is taken from the greater to give to the less.
SIX: Prudence, or practical wisdom, is a virtue of the calculative, reasoning part of the soul. Science depends on first principles, which are found from intuition. Wisdom is knowledge of what is by nature most precious.
SEVEN: Vice, incontinence and brutishness should be avoided. Anger is a natural appetite all creatures share. The man who pursues excessive pleasures is licentious. Amusement is excessive indulgence in relaxation. Simply knowing what is right does not make a man prudent, he must be inclined to actually do it.
EIGHT: Friendship is a form of virtue, and is of three kinds. Some love from utility, to obtain what they wish, others from pleasure. True friendship is rare, as good men are rare.
NINE: In friendships, there is equitable exchange. But if friends want different things, all fails. Concord is more a political feeling, where citizens put their common resolves into effect. It is not possible to find many worthy friends, so we must be content with a few.
TEN: If true happiness is an activity in accordance with virtue, it must be in accordance with the highest virtue, which is philosophical contemplation.

The "Very Squashed" is almost like a book jacket - it lets you know if you want to even bother with the author. However, I'm still not totally sold on the concept. The "annoying verbage" gives an awful lot of flavor. However, considering I'll almost certainly never read (and adequately comprehend) all of the original works, this is an interesting alternative.

In Datacenters, No One Urinates on Your Server

Since I host at home, I guess the title fills in the rest of the story.

Which Incredible?

Hmm, I would have figured Mr. Incredible (the old guy who likes to reminisce).

Which Incredibles Character Are You?

brought to you by Quizilla

Surname Distribution

Via Laudator Temporis Acti, here's an interesting link. It shows the distribution of a last name over the decades. If you do the "All Years" it presents an animated gif file. Try some common names and uncommon ones to see the difference. My mother's maiden name didn't even have a graphic until 1990.

Happy Bunny Day!

It's amazing how fast kids get out of bed when they hear that phrase.....

Where do we Get Such Men Soldiers

Winds of Change has an inspiring story of the behavior of an MP unit under fire in Iraq. Anyone who doubts the abilities, courage, intrinsic ability, leadership or training of the young men and women defending our country today is simply ignorant. And note that the MP squad detailed here is a non-combat National Guard unit - either one of which is considered to render the unit less ready for a combat environment. Given that, is it any wonder that we are winning decisively in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Hi There

Here I am, here I am.

OtherBlogger, I just wanted to agreee with you, and not with Peggy Noonan.

Among those who homebirth there is a saying: Birth is as safe as life gets.

When we tell people we are going to have a baby at home, we hear, over and over, how dangerous it is. We hear about all the things that could go wrong. We hear about all the ways the baby could die.

The thing is, things go wrong in hospitals, too. Babies die in hospitals, too. Our society sees that as okay, because if you are in a hospital, obviously you were doing all you could and being as safe as possible. Never mind that doctors are human, and both they and technology can fail.

If you have a baby at home and that baby dies, for whatever reason, society lays the blame on you. If you had gone to a hospital like a normal person, your baby would have lived. Your stupid, horrible, ignorant choice killed your baby.

Maybe. But not necessarily.

Birth is as safe as life gets. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes babies die. Sometimes big people die. Sometimes it's better to die, or let others die, than to prolong a life that isn't a life. Isn't it?

I've never figured out why we will humanely kill pets, and criminals, but we will let a loved one suffer for ages long after their body has given up, and then let them slowly starve or parch to death. Lovely. Seems backwards to me. (I'm not advocating the starving of pets, mind you.) Then again, I've never figured out why abortion is okay but using the death penalty on a murder is wrong.

I'm sorry for Terry Schiavo, but I want her husband's decision up held for the simple reason that he is the one legally empowered to make the decision. If he's making it for the wrong reasons, it's on his soul. I am married and I want my husband to make those kinds of decisions for me. I do not want the government stepping in because his decision is unpopular or politically incorrect.

Dinosaur Soft Tissues

I was going to post about the discovery of T-Rex soft tissues - blood vessels and some other cells - in a T. Rex in Montana, but Austin Bay beat me to it. He's got some interesting links. What is most interesting about this particular specimen is that the tissues apparently retain some elasticity, unlike the mummified Leonardo.

There have been several examples of dinosaur soft tissues recovered in recent years. Some really new understanding is coming into the field from these discoveries.

The Value of a Home Server

I run a server in my house, which handles my and my family's (and some friends) email, web services and a few other things. It's a moderately fast system, but it's on a fast always-on connection and it has a lot of disk space, so it's a frequent target for people looking for a way in. It's not particularly valuable in any monetary sense, but if someone's getting it's use for free, it acquires value simply because the value of the use of the resource exceeds the effort required to get it.

Since I do computer security for a living, and since I had locked down the box, no one had gotten into it in a couple of years (since I locked it down, in fact). Ah, complacency...

Last Monday someone guessed a bad password on one of the user accounts, and rootkitted my server. I discovered the intrusion in about 90 minutes, and they didn't manage to actually get anything of value. However, they did manage to have control of my box, and had installed a sniffer and lots of other stuff, so I had to rebuild my system to be sure it was clean.

Lessons learned:

1) Don't get complacent. Pay attention to who's trying to get into the box. You never know when they might succeed.
2) Take action. In my case, I now have a script looking for bad login attempts and some other things. If I can't explain the attempt, I put the IP into /etc/sysconfig/iptables and restart the iptables service immediately. Within a day at most of attempting to use a system to get to mine in an unauthorized manner, that address is burned for attacking my system, because packets are simply dropped.
3) Even if you've secured the outside of the box, secure the inside, too. Rootkits can get you if you have a vulnerability in your kernel or in your system generally, as long as someone can get onto the box. The key is to defend in depth.
4) When you back off files you want to save, don't forget part of the database. (No, really, how dumb can I get?)

In other words, I didn't learn anything, but I am now remembering to apply the same things at home that I do for my clients.

The Value of Life

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan:

Our children have been reared in the age of abortion, and are coming of age in a time when seemingly respectable people are enthusiastic for euthanasia. It cannot be good for our children, and the world they will make, that they are given this new lesson that human life is not precious, not touched by the divine, not of infinite value.

Once you 'know' that--that human life is not so special after all--then everything is possible, and none of it is good. When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber.

I don't know anyone who is "enthusiastic" about the death of Terry Schiavo. In fact, one thing all seem to agree on is that this is a tragic situation.

I believe that every human life does have value and that it has been touched by the Divine. However, that Divine touch does not make life so precious and so sacred that we must exhaust all our resources to keep it in place when it no living is remotely possible. Last week in Houston, a baby's breathing tube was removed because their lungs would never develop to be self-sustaining. The baby only lived moments after the breathing tube was removed. A hundred years ago, the child would never have survived long past birth. With today's technology, it would have spent years in the hospital - but not much else.

Yes, it's a slippery slope. Our technology has reached the point where we can be sustained almost indefinitely. However, that puts the burden back on us to make choices about that technology and how it is used. The Divine touch we have received is what gives us those choices.

Every day I make choices that affect how I live and how I will die. Every hamburger I eat clogs my arteries just a little - making the moment I have a heart problem just a small bit closer. If I were to automatically put "infinite value" on my life, then I would exercise more and eat less meat. Those are my choices, though, and society can't make them for me.

One can acknowledge the uniqueness and worth of human life above other things, but still realize that nothing can be of "infinite value" in a finite world.

The real tragedy of this case is that Terry and her husband did not prepare for something like this. That is the lesson we must all learn. We must decide what we want for ourselves if this situation were to ever happen to us and make those choices known.

Spring Break

It's Spring Break this week, so we have gotten to have extra fun around the house. TheOtherKiddo decided she wanted to learn to play Chess after we were given a set by a friend recently.

Chess! I haven't gotten to play in years, and here was my daughter wanting to learn.

TheOtherKiddo is 10, so the outcome was never really in doubt to either of us. She knew that as the one learning she was likely to be trounced. I'll admit I'm not much of a player anymore - I haven't played more than a handful of games since high school. Still, it was fun to teach her and watch her examine the board. I was demolishing her ranks and she had taken a few of my sacrificed pawns, but that was about it. Then, I got careless. I took my hand off of my Queen just in time to notice that she could whack it. I told her to look around the board carefully, and she finally saw it. Oh well. However, she was happy - she got to get revenge for her horsies - er - knights.

The good news is that she learned her lessons well: she got to teach and beat up on Mom a while later. She even remembered the "if you remove your hand, your move is over" rule - even though it cost her in one game with Mom.

Beyond that, TheOtherKiddo is climbing rocks this week at a local climbing gym. Four hours per day all week long of climbing walls. It's certainly better than doing it at home :) She's ready to take naps most days when she's done, but it's been good for her. She's spent a couple of nights at friends too, leaving us some quality time in the evenings.

This weekend, she'll be singing in the Children's Choir for Easter services. Then, it's back to school next week. It's been a fun week for her.

I wish grown-ups got Spring Break....

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Group Blogging v. Individual Blogging

I blogged on my own site, under my own name, for about two years. While it was satisfying - sometimes very satisfying - there were problems. The largest one is the same as TheOtherBlogger noted: sometimes you don't have anything to say, or you don't have any time to say it in an intelligent way. After two years, when I was going through what promised to be an extended period of non-posting, I ended up guest-blogging for a few months on another blogger's site (also under my own name, hence no link).

I don't mind blogging under my own name, and haven't gotten into any trouble or had any issues because of it, but it's also the case that there are some things I won't say, or will say differently, simply because I don't want to invite any later issues when someone finds it under my name.

So, here I am, both group blogging and anonymously blogging.

Welcome all to the blog.

An Introduction

I've been blogging for several months now on my own site. Like most bloggers, I've gone through spurts where there was really nothing to say. The idea of blogging several times daily just wasn't appealing or practical. That's not the kind of blog I really wanted anyway.

Also, since it was on my own site, there have been times where I really wanted to say something about home and/or work and couldn't. Some things just didn't belong out for the entire world to see.

The blog name "Blog of Obscurity" comes from a Steve Jackson game called "Munchkin". It's a card game parody of the "Dungeons & Dragons" role-playing game. It has lots of silly items such as the "Cloak of Obscurity" and "The Other Ring". It's a fun way of killing a few hours with friends.

So, I've started this blog and have invited some others to join with me. That will relieve the pressure of the individual blog, and with a pseudonym, I can post what I will. I don't know if it will work any better or not, but we'll see.