Wednesday, August 31, 2005
The world doesn't really need any more bad news right now, but it got some more anyway. A Shiite religious procession on a bridge in Baghdad was driven into panic by a rumor of a suicide bomber in their midst. Estimates of deaths, many of them women and children trampled or thrown from the bridge, are approaching the 1,000 mark.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2005
While the city of New Orleans was spared the northwest quadrant of the storm, and everyone was breathing a sigh of relief last night, the staggering toll in damage and possible loss of life is becoming apparent with sunrise this morning. Even though the storm is gone, it cost the city its vital pumps---many of which rely on electrical power--- and several critical levees failed during the night. Now the water is rising around the historic business district and the French Quarter, and emergency plans to bring in generators and water purifiers on barges seem to be desperate afterthoughts. There are reports of water up to 20 feet deep in some places, and rescue parties now report seeing bodies floating in the flooded streets. The survivors remaining in New Orleans face lack of clean drinking water, sanitation, and power. Thousands---many elderly and invalids---are still jammed into the Super Dome, which lost much of its roof covering in the storm, without power for the air conditioners in stifling heat and humidity.
In Mississippi, which took the worst of the category 4 hurricane, no one can guess how many are dead. At least 80 are dead in Harrison County alone---30 people in one seaside apartment complex which collapsed. There is no word as to what might have possessed those people to “ride out” a gigantic, killer storm in an unreinforced beachfront building. Several of the state’s huge, incomprehensibly lavish coastal casinos reported water on their third floors.
Dramatic rescue scenes are on all the news services as National Guard, Coast Guard, local law enforcement, and others risk their own lives to pluck survivors from rooftops, in some cases hacking through the roofs to allow those trapped in their attics to escape rising water. Video of adults, inevitably carrying children and babies, being lifted to safety by helicopters or picked up by boats leaves a question which may not be answered for weeks---how many others didn’t make it?
There are reports of at least 300 people clinging to rooftops in New Orleans, probably hundreds or thousands elsewhere. How did they get into such dire circumstances? As their functional motor vehicles sat idle in their driveways, when they decided that it would be okay to ride out the worst hurricane in living memory in wood-frame structures protected from the potential of a 20+-foot storm surge only by earthen embankments, did they suspect that they might face more serious issues than how the kids would watch their ScoobyDooTM tapes if the power went out? I suppose criminal punishment would be considered cruel after everything else that has happened to them, but how can this appalling, deadly foolishness be prevented in the future? Martial law has just been declared in New Orleans, probably a couple of days late.
Much of the flooding in New Orleans apparently is coming from a two-block breach in the levee on a canal which connects directly to the Ponchartrain. One report suggested that the only way the flow of water into the city could be stopped now was for the level in the city to equalize with that in the lake---a catastrophic scenario. Plans are underway to plug the breaches with 3000-lbs. sandbags dropped by helicopters, and some officials are still optimistic that the flooding can be controlled.
In developments that would overextend an audience's suspension of disbelief in a mediocre disaster movie: Drinking water for New Orleans has been compromised by the rupture of a 50-inch water main, both airports are under water, an oil tanker has run aground and is leaking, the Interstate 10 causeway over Lake Ponchartrain is "completely destroyed", there are fires and gas leaks everywhere, and electrical power may not be restored for weeks.
Parties in the French Quarter, however, will apparently continue until fully submerged.
Photos from http://www.nola.com/hurricane/photos/:
As environmental experts begin to express their determinations that the catastrophe of hurricane Katrina is nature schooling us and the U.S. administration for indifference to global warming, thousands of survivors in New Orleans who followed instructions to go to the Super Dome are being left to sleep on freeway overpasses, without access to food, water, or sanitary facilities. Government relief efforts are in a state of collapse, thwarted by destruction of most transportation and communications. Civil authority has dissolved in finger-pointing and near-chaos pushed beyond its limits by the number of survivors needing immediate rescue, probable massive loss of life, and the prospect of irreversible toxic flooding of the city by failure of its levee and pump system.
The mayor of the city expressed his belief that the death toll may reach into the thousands, and President Bush predicted, after a survey of the area, that recovery will take years.
Elsewhere in New Orleans, it becomes apparent that the difference between civilization and savagery is a gust of wind on a Summer day.
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Sunday, August 28, 2005
Hurricane Katrina closes on New Orleans as Category 5+ [MyWay News/AP]
NOAA 3-day Track
NOAA Public Advisory
Sustained winds are 175+mph, potentially one of the worst storms ever to strike the U.S.. New Orleans, with its outflow levees into the Ponchartrain below the level of the Mississippi levees, and the entire city 12 feet below sea level, with the storm’s surges expected 30 feet above the tide levels, faces the real possibility of a “doomsday” storm. [ I haven’t found any information on how such a surge would affect the Atchafalaya spillway and control structures, or the Mississippi estuaries, for example.]
Despite decades of foreknowledge, the flaws in evacuation plans are becoming painfully evident. Thousands of fleeing motorists clog the intersate highways even though all lanes have been converted to outbound. Thousands of tourists, and others who don’t have their own transportation, are stranded in the city. The giant SuperDome has been pressed into service as an emergency shelter.
I am reminded of our friends at the Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, where we went for a conference a few months ago. We pray especially for their well-being, and for all the people of the endangered region, in this time of crisis.
"Study" concludes fetuses don't feel pain[FOXNews.com]
I wonder if I could get funding for a “study” to show a correlation between pain-free existence and inconvenience to the medical/legal community---maybe, for example, if it included old people in need of long-term intensive care whose insurance has run out.
Earth's Core Spins Faster Than Crust[FOXNews.com]
On to scienterrific news: a study of seismic data from earthquakes and other information shows that the Earth’s inner core spins a quarter to a half degree per year faster than the rest of the planet.
Maybe this news will turn that recent, utterly wretched inner-Earth science-fiction movie into a “cult classic”. Maybe not.
Latest Titan Images from Cassini[JPL]
The latest near-infrared images from the Saturn orbiter show a region of the moon “east of Xanadu”, including an apparent crater with evident ejecta rays on the surrounding terrain. The crater was first seen in the orbiter’s SAR radar images in February. Otherwise, more of the mysterious light-dark contrasting areas reminescent of coastlines.
Mosul Boy favored in "Iraqi Idol" competition[FOXNews.com]
“Reality” TV with a different twist, as the competitors have to dodge bullets and bombs to get to the competition in Baghdad in the first place. The 12-year-old sang and played guitar, and apparently touched the Iraqi public. Whether this particular feature of Western culture will benefit the Middle East in the long run remains to be seen. We can’t be sure what it’s doing to the West, yet.
Asteroid 1950 DA[JPL]
In case you’ve run out of something to worry about, check out 1950DA, an asteroid a little over 1 kilometer in mean diameter which has about a 1-in-300 chance of ending, or seriously curtailing, life on this planet in 2880, according to current estimates. They even have an ominous radar movie of the object from Arecibo imaging.
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Monday, August 22, 2005
---The Bar at the Center of the Galaxy, Bolton Goes to Work, More on Menezes Shooting, NASA RTF Criticized, and other stories
Bolton gets to work---UN funding of Palestinian Anti-Israeli Propaganda "Unacceptable" [New York Sun][found on BlogsNow]
Mean, disrespectful new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, called use of UN money for Palestinian anti-Israeli propaganda "inappropriate and unacceptable" . UN development funds were used for items with the slogan "Today Gaza, Tomorrow the West Bank and Jerusalem" , which also bore the logo of the UN development agency. UN officials responded that they “are taking this matter seriously."
"Zotob" virus attacks[FOXNews.com]
[FOXNews.com] [New Scientist] Symantec Security Response - W32.Zotob.E
A new worm has been unleashed, an exploit of a buffer overflow fault in the MS Windows 2000 Plug and Play OS. It does the old massive, near-random IP address search which brings local networks to a standstill, among other things. It managed to mess up numerous improperly patched corporate systems, including US Customs, at one point.
More on Menezes’ shooting[FOXNews.com]
Not only was most of what the London police said about Jean Charles de Menezes’ behavior fraught with prevarication, but it appears now that he was already physically restrained---pinned to his train seat by another officer---when the police shot him seven times in the head. He not only wasn’t running from police when he entered the station as was reported, but even stopped for a free newspaper as he approached the train. If the War on Terror becomes a war of mindless terror versus senseless brutality, I'm not seeing as much of a point to it as I might have hoped.
Coretta Scott King suffers a stroke[FOXNews.com]
The widow of Marin Luther King seems to be recovering after suffering a stroke.
Shuttle Return to Flight Task Group members criticize NASA's RTF performance [Spaceflight Now ]
[FOXNews.com ] [MSNBC.com]
NASA Return to Flight Task Group Final Report Issued [SpaceRef ]
NASA Return to Flight Task Group Final Report: Annex A.2 Individual Member Observations [SpaceRef ]
A subset of the members of the “Stafford-Covey” RTF group were harshly critical of NASA’s performance in addressing the safety and management issues which lead to the Columbia disaster. The next shuttle mission will be delayed by the uncorrected debris damage risks until at least March 2006.
Google ponders free WiFi[Business 2.0][found on BlogsNow]
Google is thinking about providing free wireless Internet service to the entire U.S....“free” being a relative term, since the service would be advertising-driven. After all, it worked so well for television....
Computers for the poor and illiterate [Gizmag][found on BlogsNow]
“PCtvt”, in development at Carnegie Mellon University, would provide inexpensive access to a combination PC, TV, Video and Telephone system for users in impoverished and remote areas. The goal of the project is an interface which can be learned even by illiterate users in one minute or less.
Spitzer Space Telescope shows "bar" at the center of the galaxy [ University of Wisconsin ]
No, this isn’t something written by Douglas Adams. A star survey suggests that the “Milky Way” has a prominent “bar” of stars across its center, about 27,000 light years long.
Is it too late to get another name for our galaxy? “Milky Way” sounds like a colossal spill, or candy, or something. If we ever meet life from other galaxies, it’s going to be really embarrassing to have to tell them what we call this one. Work on it, guys.
Pat Robertson Says Stuff...[FOXNews.com]
...again, as usual, almost as much an embarrassment to the Faith as the Southern Baptist Convention. Robertson’s copy of the Bible is evidently a few chapters shorter than most.
13 The Lord says:
"These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.
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Tuesday, August 16, 2005
---BIrd Flu Spreading, "Able Danger", More Witchful Thinking, Damning by Faint Worship, More on "Tenth Planet", Experian Scam, Remote-Control Humans
Avian Influenza Spreading Through Asia[New Scientist]
The H5N1 strain of Avian Influenza, potentially deadly to humans, has been found in migratory birds in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. Scientists worry that migratory routes of the wild birds could cause them to spread the virus to Europe and the Americas. Most seem to think that spread from wild birds back to domesticated fowl or humans is unlikely. So far.
'Able Danger'---When Did They Know?[FOXNews.com ]
It is being claimed that U.S. military intelligence reported the activities of Atta and the other 9-11 hijackers a year before the attacks, and that the Federal commission which investigated the attacks was told of the military operation but also ignored the information. The story continues to develop, and the credibility of the claims remain to be established---e.g. we’re not getting the whole story here, yet.
Wiccan Seeks Damages in Fight Against Public Prayer[FOXNews.com ]
Great Falls, South Carolina faces legal bills in its losing plea to the Supreme Court to allow continuation of prayers incorporating “that name” at its council meetings. Now the local “Wiccan priestess ” who sued the city over the prayers wants her legal expenses paid as well.
Okay, folks, among pseudo-religions made up in vacant woodlots by bored scholars as an excuse to wear their Renaissance Festival clothing at other times of the year, I’m sure that this one is as special as any---but how far are we going to let this go? Must we test the Constitution to destruction, or can we determine the consequences by analysis?
Damning by Faint Worship[Washington Monthly]
Amy Sullivan, an editor of the online magazine Washington Monthly, gushes the usual embarrassingly unrestrained praise for Hillary Clinton, but says of her prospective bid for the U.S. Presidency in 2008, “In the face of this momentum, someone has to say it, so here goes: Please don't run, Senator. ”
A Little Mistake in Sizing ‘Tenth planet’ [New Scientist]
Size estimates for the newly discovered Kuiper object which determined that it was considerably larger than Pluto, may actually have been underestimated. The upper limit on size was based on the inability of the Spitzer Space Telescope to image the object in infrared. It now appears that the Spitzer wasn’t pointing at the right place.
Experian Settles With FTC Over Credit Scam
The FTC charged that “Experian” was hooking customers with free credit reports, and then started charging for them without notice. They have some other scams going as well---I got half a dozen phone calls from them demanding personal information for a supposed business database before they gave up.
Remote-controlled Humans for Games[New Scientist ]
The researchers use electrodes on the skin to stimulate the vestibular system to alter the subject’s perception of gravity. They demonstrated remote control of humans by making them move to re-establish perceived equilibrium. They also think this could be used to give a sense of “g”-forces in simulation games. The catch? Prolonged use of the stimulation technique might lead to permanent tissue damage. There’s always something....
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Saturday, August 13, 2005
I started my “HeartBreakLog” weblog originally as a place for my ideas, mostly Biblical commentary. The name is not particularly a religious metaphor, or anything---it originated from a Ricky Skaggs bluegrass number called “Heartbreak Hurricane”. I put the title on the aileron of my ill-fated .40 sport-pattern model airplane, where it turned out to be extremely appropriate. It later evolved into my regular computer-game “handle” for Q3, HL2, and a lot of other online/multiplayer experiences that I’m much too old for, and my regular user name. I named the blog “HeartBreakLog” mostly through a chronic lack of imagination.
I added a second page for regular news commentary, the “HeartBreakLogNews” a couple of months later. I had gotten into the annoying habit of sending emails to a small circle of acquaintances with comments on news stories, and it occurred to me that I might as well just post the comments to the weblog, where they could annoy numerous people across the world.
The SiteMeter data indicate that the weblogs have been read on such servers as EPA.GOV (at least it wasn’t FEMA) and EA.COM, in countries including Singapore, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Poland, Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.
I recently added a third page, The Shining Pasture, as a place to dump a few short stories from time to time.
Publication and promotion of weblogs seem to be a hit-or-miss proposition. New posts are pinged to Ping-o-Matic.com and Weblogs.com. There is a steady trickle of newsreader traffic through FeedBurner, and browser traffic comes in from BlogsNow and Technorati, and a few other places. Feedburner shows news reader hits from engines I’ve never heard of anywhere else. Both weblogs are now listed on Google, AltaVisa, and AskJeeves. Despite the regular trickle of visitors and considerable effort to implement main-page comments, no one has been motivated enough to leave any.
The other places the weblogs’ listings show up demonstrate that automatic blog searching and aggregation leaves a lot to be desired. I used the word “fun” in a post about the Cassini mission, and was rated a “kid-friendly” site. I used the word “logistics” in a post about ISS, and was included in a listing of supply-chain-related sites. An off-hand reference to the cast of the movie “Outbreak” got me briefly listed as a Renee Russo fan site, presumably until they figured that I probably couldn’t pick the woman out of a lineup.
I am running short of ideas for increasing traffic. I suppose I could change the name of the weblog to “EpoxyLipsNow” or something more dramatic, or start writing everything in instant-message-ese. Maybe I could invent a social life and belabor dozens of people with embarrassing details, or act really depressed about it. I could post more dog pictures. I could threaten to start pod-casting. It really doesn’t seem worth the trouble, though. I seem to be getting enough entertainment out of the illusion of world-wide community, material for further sarcasm about the web, and the virtual hat rack that is my out-of-the-way corner of the bloglight zone. [that ought to get a few search engine hits.]
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Thursday, August 11, 2005
Shuttle Down & Safe[FOXNews.com]
The first Shuttle flight since the destruction of Discovery safely touched down at Edwards AFB. Now we can try to think about something else as the real threats gradually make a comeback---arrogance, complacency, that old can’t-fail, what’s-your-problem-we-got-away-with-it spirit....
Iran Removes UN Seals from Uranium Processing Plant[CNN.com]
Iran has removed the seals of the UN’s atomic monitoring agency at the Isfahan uranium ore processing plant, with the intent to resume full operation at the plant. Iranian officials issued thinly veiled threats of rising oil prices and increased tensions in other flashpoints such as Iraq, if other countries attempt to control their nuclear activities by “coercive” measures. UN monitoring personnel were in the plant as the seals were removed.
Pakistan Test-fires New Cruise Missile[FOXNews.com]
Things are looking up all around the world, as Pakistan has test-fired a new nuclear-capable cruise missle with a 310-mile range.
Anlgos Officially a Minority in Texas[FOXNews.com]
The U.S. Census Bureau has announced its finding that, per the 2000 census figures, Anglos are now a minority in the U.S. state of Texas, with Hispanics now the largest ethnic group in the state.
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Sunday, August 07, 2005
Chinese Government Misuse of Critical Antiviral Drug Led to Resistant Strain
[Washington Post ] The Chinese Government not only waited until 2004 to notify international agencies of major outbreaks of avian influenza in its poultry which began in the 1990’s, but encouraged the widespread use of amantadine, an antiviral drug intended only for humans, as an additive to poultry feed and water to control and prevent the spread of the disease so that the affected flocks would not have to be slaughtered. The result was an amantadine-resistant strain of H5N1 which not only swept through the poultry of nine other Asian countries but killed 54 humans. The prospect of an horrific pandemic of killer influenza that might dwarf the 1918 epidemic has been made even worse because this widely available and inexpensive antiviral drug has been made useless against the new strain. The alternatives include oseltamivir and zanamivir, which are more expensive and more difficult to produce in the huge quantities needed to control new outbreaks in humans.
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Friday, August 05, 2005
---Shuttle Repair EVA Successful, Bird Flu Pandemic?, AOL "Security" Software Caught Installing Adware
Discovery astronaut Stephen Robinson removed two pieces of protruding gap filler from a critical area of the Shuttle’s thermal tiles. The pieces of ceramic cloth are supposed to be needed only on ascent to protect the fragile heat shield tiles from each other---when the craft faces not only high aerodymanic forces but high-amplitude, low frequency vibration from the SRB’s. It looked like the bright red RTV used to secure the filler wasn’t evenly distributed over the edge of the cloth, but then Ireally don’t know much about the things, other than their history of causing trouble on earlier missions.
NASA, as if reeling from the consequences of earlier bad decision-making, is almost jumping at every shadow on this mission. They fretted for several days about a piece of thermal batting that was sliced by debris and puffed up in the airstream on ascent, before deciding it would be okay to leave it alone for re-entry.Discovery is due to return to KSC Monday---pray for the best.
Bird Flu---Preventing the Next Pandemic Killer[New Scientist]
If Flu Virus H5N1, better known as “bird flu”, mutates into a form that is easily transmitted among humans, models show that an outbreak of as few as 40 people could be enough to ensure a global pandemic of staggering proportions---far worse than the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed 20-40 million worldwide. According to the US CDC, "Because these viruses do not commonly infect humans, there is little or no immune protection against them in the human population”. Complicating factors in prevention include the virulence of the disease, poor coordination of healthcare in the often rural areas affected, and restricted access for international agencies by the political entities involved. The result could be infection of half the world’s population within a year, with mortality of up to 50%.
According to studies by Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College in London, published in the scientific journals Science and Nature, prevention of such a cataclysmic outbreak would require that health authorities stockpile 3 million sets of the antiviral drug oseltamivir in advance, and keep the high-risk regions of south-east Asia under effective surveillance. The World Health Organization currently has stockpiled 120,000 courses of the required antiviral drigs. The math isn’t looking good.
Poverty, disease, war---in today’s world there is no such thing as “somebody else’s problem”. It could all be on the next flight out of Thailand.
AOL's Advertising.com Admits Adware Distribution[MSNBC.com]
Advertising.com, part of Time Warner Inc.'s America Online, has settled with the Federal Government on charges that the supposed “antispyware” program, “SpyBlast”, which is provided as “free security software”, installs adware which subjects consumers to popup ads tailored to their browsing habits, which are monitored by the installed spyware, without effective notifications to consumers that they are submitting to this invasion of privacy.
I have a number of local customers with computer security problems who had paid for and installed AOL’s “computer security” suites, who were about 50% better off, in terms of total malicious processes running on their systems, than they would be with no "security" at all. I've also run across AOL-titled processes that refuse to be deactivated or uninstalled.
This kind of foolishness has to stop---if we tolerate an Internet where 90+% of users are freely preyed upon, how long will there be an Internet? We’re about to cross the line from the “Wild West Shootout on a Street Crowded with Invalids and School Children” to “Underwater Chumming for Great White Sharks without a Cage” phases of Internet evolution. I guess I’ll dust off the personalized stationery paper and a few nice pens, maybe some of those ratty old encyclopedeas....
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