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Comments

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Anomaly Triggers Self-Destruct For SpaceX Falcon 9 Test Flight

Martin Blank Re:Government Lawsuit? (113 comments)

Unlikely. The full Falcon 9 has a good track record so far. Few rocket programs don't have at least one or two explosions along the way (and some have many more).

4 days ago
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Anomaly Triggers Self-Destruct For SpaceX Falcon 9 Test Flight

Martin Blank Re:How good is SpaceX, really? (113 comments)

The video was captured by an onlooker. Because of the noise, SpaceX has to publish when tests happen, so fans know when to head to one of a couple of areas to watch and record them.

4 days ago
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Google's Satellites Could Soon See Your Face From Space

Martin Blank Re:Our they could use Planes (140 comments)

They have (or had) a mostly exclusive contract with GeoEye for one of their satellites, though the US government held priority over that in case they needed access to the imagery.

Google recently purchased SkyBox, and so may soon be launching its own constellation of smaller satellites. These will reportedly have high-res video capabilities, so it may be possible to watch traffic (or other things) moving in real- or near-real time.

about two weeks ago
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Babylon 5 May Finally Get a Big-Screen Debut

Martin Blank Re: This was the best... (252 comments)

They used the opportunity afforded by him leaving to kill MacLean Stevenson's character, but it wasn't out of spite. They did it to remind the audience that the show took place during a war. The studios were livid with the decision, as they had not been consulted and didn't like that they couldn't bring him back later.

You may be right that B5 was the first to plan it this way, though that wasn't the way it was originally phrased.

about two weeks ago
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Babylon 5 May Finally Get a Big-Screen Debut

Martin Blank Re:This was the best... (252 comments)

"And best of all, this was the first series to kill off 'major' characters"

That's not true. Off the top of my head, MASH killed Henry Blake, and that was probably the first time a major character was killed off in a major series (other than a cast member dying). It was much more sporadic before the 90s, but it did happen.

about two weeks ago
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Comcast Carrying 1Tbit/s of IPv6 Internet Traffic

Martin Blank Re:What about Verizon FIOS? (146 comments)

Their status page promised roll-outs starting in late 2012, but it also has horrifically bad information, even for an ISP ("Verizon will use a IPv6/56 address format, which means this will support 56 LANs.") I've asked about it several times, but no one at any level seems to know what's going on. The routers have been IPv6-enabled since spring of 2013, which got a lot of people excited. There's a rumor that the hold-up has to do with newer set-top boxes and broken IPv6 stacks, but no one knows how believable that is. (I don't buy it. I just think Verizon is refusing to spend the money necessary to implement it.)

about a month ago
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Crucial Launches MX100 SSD At Well Under 50 Cents Per GiB

Martin Blank Re:Ye Gods, an Ad (107 comments)

I know a number of people who make use of virtualization on notebooks, and SSDs help dramatically there. I switched to an SSD on my home system and since then, it's become painful being on any system with an HDD because of the latency caused by the drive. I'm trying to talk my boss into letting me get an SSD for my work notebook as I usually have at least one VM running and often two, and the competition for the hard drive is killing me.

It's not a necessary thing for every person who has a notebook, but it's a much larger fraction than car owners who have a Ferrari in the garage.

about 3 months ago
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SpaceX Shows Off 7-Man Dragon V2 Capsule

Martin Blank Re: How many flights to test? (140 comments)

They have to alter the docking ring, something that's scheduled to happen later this year. That hardware will, IIRC, go up in one of the upcoming Dragon CRS flights. It's not needed for just the Dragon, either. Orion and all of the other capsules under development will also use it.

about 3 months ago
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NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope

Martin Blank Re:Of course (107 comments)

Tapping Enter a couple of times is inserting a command?

I learn something new every day.

about 3 months ago
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NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope

Martin Blank Re:Of course (107 comments)

There's a probe called New Horizons on the way to Pluto right now, largely because we can't get decent pictures from here. Even with Hubble, the best we get is a fuzzy blob a few pixels in size.

Then there's the Cassini mission that provided information about Titan that could not have been obtained without dropping a probe into its atmosphere.

There was Galileo, which provided a wealth of knowledge about the Jovian moons that we could not have gotten by taking pictures from here.

Magellan provided radar mapping of the surface of Venus that is completely obscured from view in visible light due to permanent clouds.

And, of course, there is the science being done on Mars that requires a physical presence.

about 3 months ago
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NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope

Martin Blank Re:Budget Perspective (107 comments)

The pro-Moscow government in Georgia came about after Russia invaded it while Bush was in office. There's not really much we can do for non-NATO nations in Russia's backyard. There's a reason that Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia joined NATO, and why Ukraine has considered it so often.

about 3 months ago
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NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope

Martin Blank Re:Endorse James Webb. Do NOT even mention Sptizer (107 comments)

Are you aware that federal income taxes were collected long before the case (Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust) that basically triggered the adoption of the 16th Amendment? They go back to 1861. The issue in Pollock was not that the income tax was unconstitutional (the income tax on wages was decided unanimously to be constitutional in 1880 and held to be an excise tax in Pollock), but that taxes on income derived from property (rental income, stock dividends, etc.) were direct taxes (as opposed to indirect taxes on wages) and so had to be apportioned by state populations. It then spent the next decade doing contortions trying to fit various taxes challenged after the Pollock ruling as excise taxes so as to not deprive the federal government of revenue from many other sources.

The 16th Amendment merely allows taxes collected on all income, whatever the source, to not be apportioned by state populations, taking the issue out of the courts' hands completely. Repealing the amendment wouldn't end the income tax or the IRS, but instead justify a larger bureaucracy to ensure that income from direct taxes was apportioned properly, or else a rush to the courts to challenge pretty much every tax and a resumption of the judicial contortions to keep them in place.

And you really should get up to date on your recent history. While I'm not sad to see Saddam Hussein gone, there were no unconventional weapons found, save for a few old artillery shells buried more than a decade before. He really had dismantled his programs, but tried to make it look like maybe he didn't in case Iran got the bright idea of starting a new fight.

about 3 months ago
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NASA Money Crunch Means Trouble For Spitzer Space Telescope

Martin Blank Re:Budget Perspective (107 comments)

The B-1 was used in Iraq first during Operation Desert Fox and later during the 2003 invasion, and was also used in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The B-52, while still a very good bomber, is showing its age. While the Air Force still has it in the plans for another 30 years or so, it's not what you want to use should you have to go up against any serious air defenses, as they have to be neutralized first. Boeing has proposed several modernization ideas including new engines that would improve fuel efficiency and reduce maintenance requirements, but the cost of that is more than the Air Force wants to pay. They're planning for a new bomber to replace all three existing bombers starting around 2030-2035.

And the B-1 never really scared the Soviets. Before the final one was delivered, the Air Force realized that it couldn't compete with Soviet air defenses.

about 3 months ago
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Fiat Chrysler CEO: Please Don't Buy Our Electric Car

Martin Blank Re:Raise the Price (462 comments)

You are assuming that the problems with the price of electric cars versus gasoline cars is economies of scale.

Elon Musk seems to think that's a very big part of it, and that's the reason he's building a Gigafactory (or two) to drive down the cost of batteries.

about 3 months ago
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WikiLeaks: NSA Recording All Telephone Calls In Afghanistan

Martin Blank Re:This, I am unsurprised about (241 comments)

It's strung out to keep it in the news, lest it be forgotten about in a few months. There is a strategy to it that goes well beyond awards.

Assange, on the other hand, does it for his own benefit, primarily to his ego. A recent post on Twitter mentioned delaying "the identity of NSA 'SOMALGET' country X to another date for media cycle reasons." Less than two hours later, after several replies had said it was Afghanistan, Assange made another post announcing that Afghanistan was the other country. (I follow the Wikileaks feed in part because there's occasionally something interesting but mostly because the slow burn of Assange and his declining support base kind of intrigue me.)

about 3 months ago
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WikiLeaks: NSA Recording All Telephone Calls In Afghanistan

Martin Blank Re:This, I am unsurprised about (241 comments)

You're right that there was little (not no) pretense of protecting the Afghan peoples. However, the government in Kabul (such as it was) refused to hand over bin Laden, claiming that bin Laden was their guest, and they could neither kick him out nor turn him over to others who would do him harm. After airstrikes began, they offered to discuss turning him over to a neutral country that would not extradite him to the US, but only if proof of bin Laden's complicity in the 9/11 attacks was presented and they accepted it. The US, of course, refused the deal.

As to the others, the vote in Crimea that was allegedly 97% in favor of annexation with an 85% turnout rate was a sham: the Russian Council on Civil Society and Human Rights (accidentally?) posted the true results briefly: 30% turnout and only half voted in favor of annexation. The deposing of Morsi was condemned by the United States several times, though it admittedly didn't do much more. And Thailand has had 18 attempted coups, 11 of which were successful. It is, for better or for worse, an almost natural state of affairs there.

about 3 months ago
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Teachers Union: Computers Can Negatively Impact Children's Ability To Learn

Martin Blank Re:Really? (310 comments)

There's nothing illegal about it. Most states have alternate regulations for certain jobs. For example, if you're the one and only person working a shift, and someone must be there all the time, an exception can be made requiring you to remain at your work location even through your meal breaks, though both you and the employer must agree to this and you have to be paid for the time. They also generally allow for alternate schedules for union members provided a majority of the union members vote in favor of that schedule.

about 3 months ago
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U-2 Caused Widespread Shutdown of US Flights Out of LAX

Martin Blank Re:"Still in use by the US military" (128 comments)

Meanwhile, Spain managed not to lose any in accidents, primarily by using them in the interceptor role for which they were originally designed and not as the fighter-bombers that Lockheed tried to turn them into.

Besides, by the time the F-104G came around, Johnson was working on the U-2 and the SR-71.

about 4 months ago
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U-2 Caused Widespread Shutdown of US Flights Out of LAX

Martin Blank Re:"Still in use by the US military" (128 comments)

When? The U-2 was designed by Kelly Johnson, a man who enforced simplicity wherever possible and valued the lives of everyone around his planes. Having anyone run up to it or chase it in a truck to install pogos while it was moving would risk a collision or injury, or both. Besides, the entire aircraft is only 16 feet tall, and the wings are maybe a third of that off the ground.

As far as I know, the plane has always landed like that, and Kelly Johnson knew it would. That kind of practice doesn't start showing up decades or even years later.

about 4 months ago
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U-2 Caused Widespread Shutdown of US Flights Out of LAX

Martin Blank Re:"Still in use by the US military" (128 comments)

No one does that. When it comes to a stop, it tips gently over to rest on the wingtip, which has a reinforced titanium strip on the bottom. Because of the wingspan, the tip is only a few degrees. Ground crews then go to the stationary aircraft to reinstall the pogos so it can taxi back.

about 4 months ago

Submissions

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Woman attacked in San Francisco bar for wearing Google Glass

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  about 6 months ago

Martin Blank (154261) writes "Sarah Slocum, an early adopter of Google Glass, was bar hopping with friends in San Francisco when a few people in the bar took issue with the eyewear when she was demonstrating it to another patron even though she wasn't recording. When she felt threatened, she informed them that she would start recording. Two of them approached her, yelling and throwing a bar rag at her, and ultimately ripping the Glass from her face and running from the bar with it. She gave chase and eventually got the Glass back, but her purse was gone when she returned to the bar. This physical level of hostility is unusual, but discomfort with Glass is common, especially among those who don't understand how it works. Given that much more hidden spy cameras are available for far less than the $1500 cost of Glass, what will it take for general acceptance to finally take hold?"

Journals

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Bleh: Karma

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 11 years ago

Well, now I know how annoying a karma cap can be. I've been at 50 for a while now, but I had a burst of upmods in the last week or so, which would have taken me well higher.

Eh... I should probably find something else to complain about. Nevermind.

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Amaretto chicken

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 11 years ago

I decided a few days ago to try cooking something more challenging than ramen or canned soup, so with the aid of a good friend and her ability to select random numbes between 1 and 1498 (she picked 14), I decided to make Amaretto Chicken. The recipe wasn't well-organized (basically, the ingredients were out of usage order), but it wasn't too difficult. The hardest part, really, was waiting for the baking time of 45 minutes to pass.

The result?

It was an interesting flavor, not bad but not something I will have constantly. I will have to try it with a few other things. Notes on the making:

1) When it says to let the sauce get thick, it means *thick*. I thought I had it thick. Judging by how it did *not* stay on the chicken in the oven, it was too thin.

2) One-inch thick pieces of chicken are too much for this, as the sheer volume of the meat overwhelms the available taste from the sauce, though this may be due more to the need to pay attention to note #1

3) I need to find out how to keep the chicken moist after baking 45 minutes in the oven. It wasn't dry, really, but it could have been juicier.

At the least, this demonstrated to me that I really should do more cooking on my own, despite the initial expenses (I had to buy a covered dish, timer, chicken, flour, and paprika), as it was actually kind of fun. I just need someone to do my dishes for me, because I'm really bad at that.

Anyway, it was an interesting experiment, as I said, and worthy of another try, particularly once I've got that sauce in a more usable state.

Man, a geek that exercises and cooks.... What will they think of next?

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Notes on the favorability of gun ownership

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 11 years ago

I've been around guns all of my life. I first fired a gun at age 5, under the close supervision of my father. That weekend in the desert, I fired a .22 rifle and a .38 pistol. Right now, I do not own any guns, but that is mostly because other purchases have had priority over the Sig Pro in .40S&W and the Benelli semi-automatic shotgun that I want to get.

Most of the problems with guns come from people who are too emotionally involved (i.e., abusers and murderers) and the ignorant. If one is shown how to properly handle a gun, 99% of the potential problems are removed. 75% of the problems stem from people not knowing or following through on one rule: Always treat a gun as if it were loaded. Even with a disassembled firearm, I find it nearly impossible to look down the barrel from the muzzle.

There are 250 million firearms in the United States. The FBI attributed about 10,241 deaths out of 15,517 murders and manslaughters in 2000 to firearms. Assuming a rate of one firearm per death (higher than actual rate), that means that .004% of all firearms are responsible for a non-accidental death each year. Contrast this to estimates by the University of Chicago that each year, a gun is used two million times to prevent a crime simply by brandishing; even the FBI estimates one million times a year. How many murders are stopped by these?

The FBI crime survey for 2001 reports 13,752 murders for that year (not counting the events of September 11), of which 8,719 were by firearm.

I advise checking into the history of firearm ownership and the actual results of firearm laws across the nation. A copy of UofC economics professor John Lott's book More Guns, Less Crime can be had in most libraries. I also advise staying away from Professor Michael Bellesiles's book Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, which has been shown through a thorough investigation by Emory University's staff to have breached most standards of research thoroughly enough (including citing material that doesn't exist) that he was forced to resign.

I agree with much of the criticism of the many books written for and against gun control. I much prefer independent analyses, as well as those that are not on the extreme ends of a debate. This is one of the reasons that I always start by suggesting Lott's book, because it's a breakdown of twenty years of crime and suicide data for every single county in the country by an economist who is among the most respected in his field. The story goes (and I need to find an authoritative reference for this) that he was anti-gun at one point, and performed this study to prove that more guns made for more crime; the results of his own work supposedly made him change his mind.

As to the suggestion I occasionally see of keeping the firearms in a locker at a police station, how much good does that do when someone is breaking into your house and the police are three to five minutes away? What about a home invasion robbery where the phone lines are sometimes cut, meaning no police are going to come? I guarantee you that there is no sound scarier to someone wandering around a strange house than that of a shell being racked into the chamber of a shotgun.

In Switzerland (approximate population 7.3 million), every member of the armed forces (which is a militia-style force) keeps their weapon at home with them when not on active duty, and then often keep their weapon after they have left the military. They are currently issued the Sig-550, an assault rifle using 7.62mm ammunition capable of fully-automatic fire, though it also has selector options for single and three-round burst fire. Essentially, this means that there are at least several hundred thousand and perhaps as many as a couple million fully-automatic weapons in Switzerland, many of them in completely private hands. Despite this, in 1998, there were only 66 cases of attempted or successful murder by firearm; an equivalent rate in the United States would have resulted in about 2,531 attempted and successful murders, far below the actual count. This is more evidence that more guns != more crime. (!= is programming speak for "does not equal". You'll see it used here often, especially by me.)

=====================================================
The following is a post made by an opponent from
Canada in a debate on another site. I'm including
it here, unedited and unabridged, because it affects
some of the following discussion.
=====================================================
There were two things I did not expect when I posted my post: 1) to recieve zero support from my fellow posters besides some guy who liked the song in the trailer and 2) I had no idea that all the jokes up here about Americans luvin' their guns were so terrifyingly true. But as the Chinese say, Truth wears many faces, and in this matter, Truth is indeed on my side, so I'll dig around and write my counter essay to the essay flung towards me, but as far as the switzerland arguement, that can be wholly dismissed on the grounds of common sense. I'm not argueing that trained, proffessional soldiers, schooled in discipline and restraint for the purpose of the defence of a nation, have no right to bare arms. I'm against the crack head mugging me having the right to bare arms. Furthermore, I was unaware that the value of human life was so terribly low. 11,000 dead vs I don't care how many crimes were prevented. 11,000 DEAD! and that's just the murders, not the more than twice as many suicides that might have been prevented were there not a readily availible tool which has the sole purpose of killing and near killing been present. I'm a Canadian. I'll go get some numbers if you want, but it's pretty common knowledge that Canada has lower crime rates than America. Do you think that's because we're viciously snowballing the guys who want our wallets?
=====================================================

So..... You'd trade the 11,000 dead and let the other one million crimes happen? How many of those one million crimes would have been murders? I'll field that question right now. Based on 15,980 murders out of 1,436,611 violent crimes, we reach a rate of about 1.1% of all violent crimes in the United States being murders. This number has been fairly stable for the last five years. This would suggest that out of one million prevented crimes, 11,000 would be murders. I don't think I need to state the number of dead if the higher estimate is correct. These numbers, of course, don't include the 5,033 murders that were not committed by firearm last year, nor the 2,228 manslaughters, many of which did not involve firearms.

Incidentally, assuming an historical average of 65% of the murders and manslaughters in the United States by firearm, the last time we would have seen 11,000 firearm deaths in murder and manslaughter cases would have been 1998. In addition, gun ownership rates in the United States have been stable or rising for most of the last decade at least, and yet the violent crime rate has dropped by 25.7% in the last ten years, and the murder rate by 32.7%. I'll leave you to explain this.

You bring up suicide rates, which I admit is a salient point. I offer the following rates of homicide, homicide by firearm, suicide, suicide by firearm, and gun ownership for varying countries, sorted in descending order of ownership rates; homicide and suicide rates are per 100,000 population. Suicide rates are per 100,000 population, and ownership rates are the percentage of homes owning at least one firearm.

Country..........Hom.....HBF....Suic.....SBF.....GOR.....Year

United States....5.70....3.72...12.06....7.35....39.0....1993
Norway...........0.97....0.30...13.64....3.95....32.0....1993
Canada...........2.16....0.76...13.19....3.72....29.1....1992
Switzerland......1.32....0.58...21.28....5.61....27.2....1994
Finland..........3.24....0.86...27.26....5.78....23.2....1994
France...........1.12....0.44...20.79....5.14....22.6....1994
New Zealand......1.47....0.17...12.81....2.14....22.3....1993
Australia........1.86....0.44...12.65....2.35....19.4....1994
Belgium..........1.41....0.60...19.04....2.56....16.6....1990
Italy............2.25....1.66....8.00....1.11....16.0....1992
Sweden...........1.30....0.18...15.75....2.09....15.1....1993
Spain............0.95....0.21....7.77....0.43....13.1....1993
Germany..........1.17....0.22...15.64....1.17.....8.9....1994
Scotland.........2.24....0.19...12.16....0.31.....4.7....1994
England/Wales....1.41....0.11....7.68....0.33.....4.7....1992
Netherlands......1.11....0.36...10.10....0.31.....1.9....1994
Japan............0.62....0.02...16.72....0.04.....n/a....1994

Hom = Homicide; HBF = Homicide by Firearm; Suic = Suicide; SBF = Suicide by Firearm; GOR = Gun Ownership Rate

Source: GunCite.com International Homicide and Suicide Rates. The data is sourced from the International Journal of Epidemiology and the Canadian Medical Association, except for the US firearm ownership percentage which is sourced from Harris and Gallup polls. Apologies for the use of periods to separate the columns. EZBoard strips excess spaces.

It's not a perfect comparison, but it's close enough. As you can see, firearm ownership rates cannot be tied to suicide rates, or even to suicide by firearm rates. Germany has a similar suicide rate as Italy, despite the ownership levels being about half of Italy's. Canada had a 9.4% higher overall suicide rate than the United States, despite having an ownership level 25% lower than its southern neighbor. In Japan, it's virtually impossible to legally own a functional firearm, yet the suicide rate is astronomical by North American standards. Switzerland, Finland, and France all have even higher overall rates, with significant portions of those by firearm. It would be most interesting to see the current crime rates for Australia, England, and Scotland, since the numbers in the chart above represent statistics from long before the current near-ban on guns in those countries took place.

Since some are likely to focus on the high suicide by firearms rate in the United States, I'd like to ask consideration that more interesting are the countries with high overall rates and low firearm rates, and suggest that this backs up the common warning from mental health professionals that those that truly want to commit suicide will find a way.

A bit of anecdotal evidence on Norway: I was speaking with a Norwegian in IRC, and he mentioned that the firearm ownership rates quoted in this table sound correct to him. He also mentioned that the biggest gun crime in recent memory was a triple-homicide a few years back, which is still discussed in the papers. He said it was done with an illegally-obtained Luger pistol, and despite the shock did not lead to any serious suggestions for more stringent gun laws.

Crime rates are also a salient point. Let's look at the violent crime categories and rates per 100,000 population for the United States over the last five years from the FBI Uniform Crime Report, Index of Crime, Table 1:

Crime....................1997....1998....1999....2000....2001

Murder....................6.8.....6.3.....5.7.....5.5.....5.6
Forcible rape*...........35.9....34.5....32.8....31.8....31.8
Robbery.................186.2...165.5...150.1...145.0...148.5
Aggravated assault......382.1...361.4...334.3...324.0...318.5
Total...................611.0...567.6...523.0...506.5...504.4

* "Forcible rape, as defined in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, is the carnal knowledge of
a female forcibly and against her will. Assaults or attempts to commit rape by force or threat of
force are also included; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are excluded."
    -- FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 2001, Section II: Forcible Rape

Now, let's look at the violent crime categories and rates per 100,000 population for Canada over the last five years from Canada Statistic (or if you're from Quebec, Statistique Canada):

Crime....................1997....1998....1999....2000....2001

Homicide..................2.0.....1.8.....1.8.....1.8.....1.8
Attempted murder..........2.9.....2.5.....2.3.....2.5.....2.3
Sexual assault...........90.1....84.5....78.2....78.0....78.6
Other sexual offences....12.2....11.4....10.8....10.1.....9.7
Robbery..................98.7....95.8....94.2....87.9....88.2
Assaults (Lvl 1 to 3)...741.6...740.3...725.8...759.6...769.5
Other crimes.............42.7....42.9....42.2....42.0....44.4
Total...................990.1...979.1...955.2...981.8...994.5

Honestly, and without sarcasm, this opened my eyes. I used to think that Canada's crime rate couldn't be that far off of the United States' crime rate. The Canadian murder and robbery rates are lower, but the sexual assault rate frankly scares the hell out of me. Anyway, the overall Canadian violent crime rates are 62%, 72%, 83%, 94%, and 97% higher than that of the United States, running year by year from 1997 to 2001. Property crimes aren't as bad, but Canada still had 13%, 12%, 14%, 12%, and 11% higher rates; I'll leave it to you to see the exact numbers in the interest of space.

If you don't like guns, that's fine. My mother won't touch them, though she won't stop anyone else. One of my best friends doesn't believe they should be legal, either, but she was kind enough to come along to a firing range at my invitation and put about 50 rounds through an automatic pistol as part of her research into guns and her interest in seeing my side of the argument, and learned that firing a gun for sport can be fun.

The most dangerous thing around a gun is a person who fears it, because fear makes a person unpredictable. A person who respects a gun is far less likely to make trouble, and less likely to distract a responsible weapon handler.

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Axis of Evil not so dangerous

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 11 years ago

Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- the so-called 'Axis of Evil'. How evil are they really?

Some would have you think that they are all pure evil, their governments are corrupt, their residents all hate America, and we have to be wary for the slightest twitch from them, lest we miss the attack that destroys us all.

Mmmm.... Not quite.

All of them are dangerous. Libya (not a named member of the Axis of Evil, but often mentioned in the war on terrorism) has a formidable chemical weapons industry and has been a past sponsor of terrorism; Iraq has, of course, already shown that it's willing to go to war, not to mention sponsoring terrorism and providing huge cash payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers; Iran has a populace that can get into a frenzy seen few places in the rest of the world, not to mention their support for terrorism; and North Korea, besides the recent naval skirmishes and border threats, has no problems selling any arms it can up to and including ballistic missiles to the highest bidder. All of these are things to beware, but a closer look at the individual states is in order.

Libya
Led by Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi for more than 30 years, Libya has sponsored terrorism such as the Berlin disco blast in the mid-1980s that led to the American airstrikes on Tripoli and the surrounding areas. This terrorist support also led to crippling UN sanctions in 1992, triggered in part by the bombing of Pan Am Flight 109 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In the last ten years, though, Qadhafi has seemingly turned over a new leaf. Not only has his support for terrorist activities ground to a virtual halt, he has also made himself something of a peacemaker in Africa, brokering cease-fires and treaties in several wars. He has pledged monies to humanitarian causes, and generally kept himself on a short leash. A ruse? Perhaps. But even as we keep a close eye on him and his country, it's important to recognize that sometimes even national leaders can change.

North Korea
With a population of 21 million, and an army comprised of more than one million, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea could seem a powerful threat. However, the country receives more than $200 million a year in humanitarian aid from other countries, spends between a quarter and a third of its budget on the military, and has experienced periods of drought which stripped the land of vegetation followed by torrential rains which washed away the arable soil. The country is a mess, and aside from a relatively paltry amount of money made on the black arms markets, has little to look forward to. Even China has taken to allowing North Korean defectors to make it to the South Korean embassy. The main danger right now is the possibility of a nuclear weapon being developed. This will certainly give them an edge, but whether they can pull it off before South Korea and the United States force the move to light-water reactors remains in doubt.

Even if the North did manage to come up with a viable nuclear warhead program, it wouldn't improve their standings much; the North has not shown themselves capable of hiding many things, and any real threats coming from Pyongyang would probably result in American and/or South Korean airstrikes. Risking a war with a weakened enemy is far preferable to having Seoul or Japan held hostage to nuclear blackmail. Besides, the shared Korean border is the most heavily mined land in the world; whatever side thinks they can cross will quickly learn what several million mines can do, which is what has kept the peace there for almost 50 years.

Iran
American and European politics have nothing on Iranian politics. On the one side is the religious order, a group of powerful, conservative Islamic clergy who wield control over the military, security, and police forces, not to mention a respectable portion of the populace, and who have condemned almost anything having to do with Western society as un-Islamic and therefore prohibited. On the other side are the politicians who would see reform come to Iran and allow the country to open up to the West and provide prosperity to the people, and which is supported by the majority of the people. It's a delicate balance, and it's a full-time job for the religious classes to provide enough propaganda to keep the people in order.

Yes, the state of Iran supports terrorists. They have been quiet about it, but not silent. The most likely source of this support is the religious arm of the government; while there are some extremists in the political sections of life, as there are in any country, most of the politicians understand that supporting terrorism makes Iran look bad in the eyes of the rest of the world, hampering investment in the country and making it difficult for companies inside Iran to do business elsewhere. This has had a positive side-effect of causing the country to form a manufacturing base of its own, and it has built a number of military ground vehicles and recently made forays into combat aircraft, though how well they work against opposing forces whose industries have decades of experience is yet to be seen.

In any case, Iran isn't a simple case of "they're the bad guys", and as we should have learned in 1979, they have a population that acts when its blood is excited. Attack them, and we'll have a nightmare of a problem to put down. Iran probably has a formidable chemical and perhaps biological weapons program, and it's almost certain that they also have excellent defenses against them, given the use of such weapons by Iraq during the war in the 1980s. Suggestions have been made that if an attack commences against Iraq, then Iran would be next on the list of targets. I suggest this course would be inadvisable at best, with political discourse and financial methods being the best way to bring about favorable change in this nation.

Iraq
Finally, we come to Iraq. For nearly twelve years now, they've been flaunting the very treaty that specified their surrender conditions. Saddam Hussein has been ruthless in suppressing dissent, with even the recent death of Sabri al-Banna has been blamed on Saddam's wrath, either because he considered so prominent a terrorist personality being in his midst a potential reason for an attack on Iraq, or because he refused to attack US interests; the given reason depends upon whom one asks. Saddam or his sons have also seen to the execution of family members who have dared to challenge him in even the most passive ways. His payments of up to US$25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers has provoked many poor Palestinians to try this simply to provide for their families. He has attacked, from the ground, the Shi'ites of the south, and Kurds in the north of Iraq. Rumors abound of attempts to aquire weapons-grade or near-weapons-grade fissile material, and his chemical weapons program doubtless lives on.

It would seem from all of this that Saddam Hussein is a despicable man, leading a country terrified by his rule, and this is true. Were he to drop dead this moment, whether from natural causes or assassination, few people in his country, let alone around the world, would shed real tears. There would be an official outpouring of grief within Iraq, mostly because one of Saddam's sons -- either Qusay or Odai -- will be taking the reins next. They may see things differently, although what little about them is available to the public suggests that they may be even more bloodthirsty than their father, with whom they seem to share views on treatment of Iraq and the world at large. Surely it will be a blessing to see them all removed.

But the way the Bush Administration would like to do it is a dangerous route. Yes, Hussein has kicked weapons inspectors out, and even when they were there, it was impossible to get reliable data. The United States has made its own mistakes, though, such as making the once-head of the inspection teams an intelligence agent, completely undermining the independence of the inspection teams, a vital component of the trust placed in them. Pointless airstrikes by the Clinton Administration at the time the inspectors were kicked out were akin to throwing rocks at the bad neighbors house and breaking some windows. At the time, an invasion might well have had the agreement of many nations, if not their outright support. Times have changed.

Now the United States faces going it alone, with even the United Kingdom backpedaling on its traditional supportive stance. Saudi Arabia wants no part of the invasion, nor do most of the Gulf states, and even Kuwait has backed out. Word now comes that Turkey would take an invasion and fall of the Hussein government as a chance to annex Iraqi territory, something that may become a requirement if the United States is to use Turkish bases. Barring that would leave Jordan as the main entrance point, as well as a tiny, easily defended strip of airspace to fly through between Kuwait and Iran, the latter of which might be waiting for an American place to slip a half-mile into its airspace. It gets even more complex and mind-bending the more one looks into it, especially if Israel starts in, something Ariel Sharon has been chafing at the bit to do since he was a dissenter in the Israeli government's decision to stay out of the Gulf War.

Final Thoughts
Some in the Bush Administration have said that Iraq would not be the last stop. Where would it stop? Iran has a formidable military, more flexible than Iraq's and with newer equipment. They likely wouldn't win in a fight against the United States, but would put up a bloody fight. North Korea is certainly a pain, but how to cross the most heavily-mined real estate in the world without losing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of soldiers? And how would China react? They may not come to the immediate aid of Pyongyang, but they could make a fuss politically, having gained stature by that point as an attempted mediator and voice for peace.

The ramifications of an unchecked "war on terror" are enormous. Some of the actions will be taken, and a few must be. If there is to be war, let it be based on real issues. Give Hussein the opportunity to let the inspectors back in, and give him the chance to let disarmament complete. If he prevents them from coming in, or poses undue obstacles to their investigations, warn Hussein once or twice, then give the final notice that the inspectors will come out and that as soon as their plane has left Iraqi airspace, the invasion will begin, with no stops this time. That is how to do it -- follow procedures, and give them a chance to go along with things, and show the world that despite being bruised, America can play fair. Following the current path of naked aggressor will just turn the USE into that which it so despises: a bully trying to force its view on the world with claimed moral supremacy. Sounds a lot like the terrorists.

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Early termination of the experiment

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

Three days is a trying time to go without any food, though my willpower was far from gone. This morning, though, I woke up with a dry mouth, constricted throat, and an odd, almost painful feeling in my stomach. I chalked these up to both hunger and perhaps a little bit of dehydration, despite the fact that I've been drinking an average of a gallon of liquids each day for the last three days.

I checked my e-mail and got ready for work, in the process drinking more liquids. However, more than two hours later, my throat is still constricted, my mouth is still dry, and the pain in my stomach recurs every ten to fifteen minutes. It's possible that this will pass at some point, but I'm not willing to push things too far right now. Three days and a bit more are quite enough for now. Realistically speaking, I've made it 82.5 hours without food of any kind. Not a bad time to go, and certainly proof that I could survive on less for longer.

Sometime in the next day or so, I'll get to that little mention about how Libya and Iran aren't as simple as some people would like to paint them.

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First day of the fast...

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

I decided a few days ago to try something as a test of will. In the past, I have done things like stop eating candy for three months, or stopped with sodas for a month at a time. Each time, I have made certain that I had something of that which I chose to give up for a while readily available. I kept candy bars or soda in the refrigerator, or else made a point of walking past the snack machines at work. The results? I rarely eat candy anymore, and even with the constant supply of various beverages at work, I usually choose one of the Hansen's drinks over a Coke or a Dr Pepper.

This week will be different. This test will, I think, prove far more difficult. I have decided to go without food, or more accurately without solid sustenance, for a period of 168 hours, which equates to seven days. This period was to begin at 12:01am this morning, but due to my late exit from work last night and the last piece of pizza left from a couple of days earlier, I decided to postpone the start to 1:00 am. I had finished the pizza by 12:15, but I like a nice round target to shoot for.

In any case, because I was too lazy to go to the store earlier, I ended up drinking water for the entire day. I got to about a half-gallon, I think, before I kind of got sick of it. I knew I would need something more for the coming week, so I just got back from the store. A couple of gallons of milk, a gallon of orange juice, two kinds of V8, some Gatorade (thrown into the freezer for a nice slushy effect), and some Milk Chugs (two each of strawberry and chocolate) round out the purchased consumables for the next quarter-month.

A friend of mine periodically takes three days and does this. He's mentioned that the first day is relatively easy. The second day gets very hard, but he said that there's a point where the hunger breaks. I imagine there would have to be. As it is, I crave solid food, and I do have some of it here, though not in the way I have done these kinds of things in the past. I decided that I didn't need to stock anything; I already have a few things, and there are enough fast food places around that should my will break or I begin to feel ill effects, it would be a simple matter to get something to eat.

The question I ask myself is whether I will do anything to celebrate. There's not much open at 1am on Sunday morning; even Del Taco and Taco Bell have taken to closing at some point, abandoning the 24-hour schedules that most of their outlets used to have. I'd love to dig into a nice steak, but the best steak place will have been closed for a long time by then. Maybe the celebration will have to wait for Sunday morning. We'll see.

In any case, I'm about 22 hours into this test of wills. I expect to sleep through the next eight hours or so of it, though the hunger is getting to me. That's where the milk comes in, as the fats in it will help to take the edge off. Tomorrow, I'll start the day off with some Gatorade and later some milk for "lunch". Tuesday will be a little odd, perhaps, because I'm supposed to go to some one-day conference on computer security. I'm sure some snacks will be there, but we'll have to see. I'll probably take some Gatorade to it after having milk in the morning.

Wednesday through Saturday should be easier. I'll have the constant supply of drinks at work, including the Hansen's smoothies which are fairly filling. I'm sure I'll end up blasting through can after can of whatever is available, assuming that I forget to bring things in from home. I don't think I will. By that point, the hunger will probably be fairly constant, and I'll have to grab something on my way out the door anyway. Maybe I'll save the V8 for that.

One hundred forty-six hours and counting....

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No attack on Iraq

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

The more I read about the possibility (probability?) of an attack being launched on Iraq, particularly one that is taken unilaterally and possibly against the wishes of NATO, the UN, and the majority of the Arab states, the more I am convinced that this is a very bad idea. Such an invasion would become a war of conquest, something in which the United States has not engaged since the Spanish-American War a century ago. While I agree that terrorists and their sponsors need to be rooted out and brought to justice, at this time there is little evidence that Saddam Hussein is doing much more than donating money to the families of suicide bombers in Palestine/Israel. Even a resumption of some of the unconventional weapons research would do little to justify such an extraordinary step. Making public solid, concrete evidence of extreme wrong-doing would surely help justify an invasion, but just pointing a finger at him and telling the world what they already know -- that Saddam Hussein is a bad, bad man -- just isn't going to cut it. No matter what the real reasons are, it will forever look like vengeance against an ally that was not adequately vanquished the first time around.

Wars of conquest bring with them international outrage, and have for most of the last century. In World War I, those that began their invasions ultimately were crushed, leading to the renewed invasions of World War II, against which the Allies rallied. The only invader to really win any territory was the Soviet Union, and they bore the brunt of a great deal of international criticism for decades over how they treated the conquered nations of Eastern Europe.

The 1950s saw the invasion of South Korea, which nearly happened but which was ended by some gutsy moves on the part of General MacArthur. Had he not been so brash and over-confident, he may have had a more glorious end than being fired by President Truman. In any case, the invasion was stopped.

The 1960s saw so many conflicts it's hard to keep track of them all. Angola, Cuba, Vietnam, and Cambodia are but a few of the countries who either fell to Communist rebels or invaders or were dropped into decades of civil war. All of them felt international condemnation at it. Most of these continued into the 1970s, and some into the 1980s and even the '90s. Angola still does not have true peace, though they may finally be near.

In any case, attacking Iraq could be tremendously painful. I doubt that an initial attack would go poorly. In fact, many of the units, made up of officers and soldiers skilled or lucky enough to have survived the post-Gulf War purges by Saddam Hussein, may well see their end coming and throw up the white flag at first chance. This will further back the Hussein family -- Qusay and Uday included -- into a corner. If they surrender, they would face humiliation. They would have little choice but to turn their unconventional weapons on the immediate world. I doubt this would cause much in the way of military casualties, but I'm sure Israel wouldn't much appreciate the nerve gasses being spread on its land. Saudi Arabia and Jordan would likely take more than a few hits as well. Deaths would probably not be much higher than a few hundred, but the resulting panic would be enormous. There is no way to estimate the damage that could be caused by an Israeli populace maddened by the loss of hundreds of citizens by an enemy who may well be dead by the time the missiles are launched.

This, of course, speaks nothing of the possibility of Hussein holding nuclear weapons. Even if the yields are only a few kilotons, dropped in the right spot this could make a few hundred to a few thousand people disappear in a millisecond. I doubt he'd throw it at the Saudis, as we probably wouldn't be allowed to launch any attacks from there. Kuwait is a strong possibility -- perhaps the oil fields would be hit. Israel must be towards the top of the list. What about Jordan? Dropped on the capital city, thousands of Palestinians would die, and the rage would be reflected at the United States and then at the proxy for rage against Americans, Israel. More violence, more crackdowns, possibly more incursions into Palestinian territory. The cycle begins anew there.

Or maybe it won't happen. Maybe some enterprising officer will take the clue as the heavy boots of the US Army are crossing the border, and put a bullet in Hussein's head, or else sneak a bomb into the meeting room and take out Qusay and Uday Hussein, as well. We might never even know who did it by that point, because to leave a letter that could be discovered in case of failure would probably mean that the officer's entire family would be brutally executed. The nation would be quietly turned over to the United States, a new administration put in place, and suddenly face angry faces across the Iranian border. Not a pleasant image.

Soon to be covered: Why labeling Libya and Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil" may be a gross oversimplification.

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A few lyrics

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

While I've still got them in my head, I decided to put down the lyrics to Bill Mumy's "Goodbye, Old Friends", which was his farewell song to the original Star Trek cast members following Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Goodbye, Old Friends
by Bill Mumy

The credits rolled on the movie screen,
I sat there and I cried
Star Trek VI was over
And I felt so sad inside
To never boldly go again
Into another story
Oh, Spock and Kirk and Bones and all,
You sure went out in glory.

The lights came on, the crowd dispersed,
We all were energized
Everyone liked Star Trek VI
Much more than Star Trek V
The cast was great, they'd lost some weight,
And Shatner's wig was grey,
But there was some talk about old Spock
Not speaking the same way

Bones is looking very frail
Scotty's looking thick
Uhura's face is awfully tight
Sulu's hair's too slick
Chekov's lucky to have a job
The acting is sometimes scary
But how I love to see them so!
God bless Gene Roddenberry

If I only had one single dream,
I'd step in a transporter beam
And find myself forever-wise
Aboard the starship Enterprise
With a phaser at my side
And James T. Kirk for a guide
Warp Factor Nine! We'd swiftly ride!
The Klingons would attack then hide
The Final Frontier's open wide,
It fills me up with swelling pride!
Oh, wouldn't it be great...

But sadly, that is not to be,
Not for them again nor me.
Videotape and syndication,
Star Trek: The Next Generation
That's all we'll get to see from now,
Though I know it could be worse somehow

As I walked out of the movie,
Though it hurt with all my might,
I said goodbye to my dear old friends
For as of now your story ends.
Still, on this you can depend:
I'll watch you every night!
At least six features found their place
It sure beats watching Lost in Space...

Live long and prosper.... and floss daily...

A little odd, I know, but still one of my favorite songs.

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Population reduction

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

One of the things that has caught my attention recently was a mention that a particular species of ant had recently been surpassed as the world-wide largest population by humans. While I doubt the validity of this (it's not hard to put a few million ants in a couple of acres, making billions of ants in a few thousand acres very easy), it does bring up a significant point about the burgeoning population of the world, particularly in Asia where there are now two nations -- China and India -- with census counts exceeding one billion people. Personally, I think those are major disasters waiting to happen, but even if they were hit with mega earthquakes that killed millions, China's annual growth rate adds some eleven million people each year, and India grows by a staggering *sixteen million* people each year. A massive epidemic that killed tens of millions would be required to significantly dent things in those two countries.

Other areas aren't much better off, really. Most of Europe and the Americas are growing rapidly enough either through birth or immigration that their own resources will be strained in the coming decades. Japan is just maintaining its population of 126 million, but that's in an area about the size of California, which has enough trouble with its own 30 million or so inhabitants.

What do we do? There are various methods of reducing populations, such as were shown to varying degrees of brutality in World War II, but most of these can be counted out as being inhumane. Likewise, China's forced policy of one child per family wouldn't go over well. So how would it be handled?

Well, start with the birth rate. A publicity campaign to ask families to have no more than two children (direct population replacement -- two people, two children) would be a great start, possibly when combined with some kind of financial incentive such as scaled tax credits, though such an incentive could not be too punishing to families with three or more children. This would result in an average family size of less than two children per family, because many families would choose to have only one child. This would result in:
  - better childlife for many children, as the amount of money available for various aspects of child-rearing would be higher than in a larger families
  - a higher standard of living would result in a reduced crime rate as the effects settle in
  - reduced stress within families from monetary pressures, leading to a more stable family life with a lower divorce rate

There are other effects to consider, as well. Lower populations would result in more resources available to most people, and lower pollution leading to longer lives. While we're living healthier as we live longer, we still age and get fragile. Luckily, much of the world's economy is turning to service-based economies. From customer service to accounting to computer programming, there is no non-cultural reason that many people who currently retire and live sedentary lives for the last 15-30 years of their lives could not perform these roles. Age discrimination and age-related mental diseases are the main reason that these people find difficulties getting such work. Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, among other age-related effects, could get in the way, but there is significant evidence, at least with the latter disease, that an active mind delays the onset of symptoms, extending a person's useful life. Active elderly are also more likely to be happy and healthy, providing for less stress on the health care systems.

Resources are the leading force for this. Resources are dwindling, particularly inexpensive fresh water. Energy is problematic from a pollution standpoint, particularly in third world nations. There are no clear signs of changes in this, short of reducing energy use, which is not going to happen with current population growth. In fact, even with population decreases, usage will likely increase anyway as more electronics become ubiquitous throughout more of the world.

Based on some rough numbers, if such a policy were put into effect around 2010, it would take about 140 years to reach three billion people in the world at an average population reduction rate of 0.5% per year. This would be devastating in some areas, where others would see significant improvements. I expect Europe would have difficulty coping, as xenophobic nations would be required to allow immigration at higher levels. India would see significant improvements in a few years, I think, as would some African nations. A lot of extremists would probably freak about this, but there are just as many who would look for ways to accelerate it. I think it would balance in the long run.

These are some stream of thought ideas, but I think they could work if implemented in a friendly advice manner instead of as law. Some people will still have families of five or even ten or more, but they would be extreme exceptions, usually quoting some religious verse, and based on freedom of religion, they should be able to.

I'll probably put something more coherent together over time and add it to my manifesto on the proper living of human beings on this planet.

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To hell in a handbasket (hung on the barrel of a gun)

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

I don't even know what to say about the Israel/Palestine conflict anymore. Arafat's locked up in one floor of his HQ, and Sharon is saying that all they want is peace.

Holding your hand out to shake hands in peace while using the other to hold a gun is not the most efficient method for gaining long-term cooperation. At the same time, sending in suicide bombers -- the latest a 16-year-old girl -- to civilian areas of Israel isn't particularly helpful, either.

Some steps to take by Israel:

1. Withdraw the military and/or police from all territories taken in the 1967 war.
2. Dismantle ALL settlements outside of the pre-1967 borders, by force if necessary.
3. Recognize Palestine as an independent country.
4. Accept a split or demilitarization of Jerusalem.
5. Make shrines holy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam open to all of any faith, no matter what country, with appropriate security precautions.

Some steps to be taken by Palestine:

1. Stop the suicide bombings and gun attacks, blocking by force passage of those who would, if necessary.
2. Arrest, try, convict, and sentence those who took any part in any suicide bombing or other attack.
3. Recognize Israel as an independent state, including printing new textbooks for children.
4. Accept a split or demilitarization of Jerusalem.
5. Make shrines holy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam open to all of any faith, no matter what country, with appropriate security precautions.

Maybe it's because I'm an American and didn't have to grow up in this mess that leaves me missing some point. Apparently, in some places it's important how your skin looks or where you worship or what your ancestors did 600 years ago. I hold no grudges against the South for the Civil War. I do not curse the British for invading in 1812. I do not wish harm on the Mexicans for the battles fought in the 1800s. That all happened in the past. It's done and overwith.

Live in the here and now, and do not regret what passed centuries or even decades ago, but at the same time, be fair and follow through on the promises you make. Israel, withdraw and be secure. Palestine, let them go without a fight and be secure. Then try and live like adults instead of like little children with no supervision.

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Random topic updates

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago Wow.... it's been three weeks and a day since I last wrote in here. There's either not been much to write, or I haven't had time.

Fortunately, it's the latter.

I've met someone. Well, not face-to-face. Over the internet (she lives in Connecticut, and I in California). I know, some of you who read this will not approve, but hey.... Bite me. :)

We met on a forum for a mutually-loved webcomic called Real Life. Katie (internet pseudonym, not real name) posted a "hello" kind of message to the forum in general, I answered there and sent her an e-mail, to which she took a day to reply. However, she didn't quite take so long to talk to me over Yahoo Messenger (her e-mail arrived a couple of minutes later), and from there a lot of long conversations have followed. There's definitely attraction (and a little bit more), but we've both been burned in the recent past, so we're taking cautious steps. I do think we're walking together on the rigth path, though.

What else has been happening? Well, the new job is settling in. I learned that the old job found out where I went, and aren't too happy about it. I'm not too concerned, as I told them for a year that I was looking for another job, even dropping them not-too-subtle hints that I wanted something new. Apparently, phrases like, "I'd like a different job" don't register in the minds of some people.

Frustration point: Israel/Palestine. I'm not on either side. I don't care which side wins or loses anymore, as neither side has the courage to simply STOP anyway. For what it's worth, if God does exist, I'd for love him to intervene in some spectacular way, like obliterating the whole land so there's nothing over which to fight.

Best sig I've seen on Slashdot in some time:

Put Sharon, Arafat, and a knife in a locked room. The survivor gets life in prison for murder.

Too true.

Final note.... I am truly Mensa-bound. I've wanted into Mensa for the longest time, but was always afraid to take a test and fall short. However, I've learned that ACT scores count, and I scored 99th percentile on it, when 98th percentile is the minimum. I just need to get certified stats sent, and voila! I'm in. I can't wait. :)

Nothing else really to note now. Maybe I'll talk later about Katie, once I have more to say. Need to find out from her what I can mention here. Privacy concerns, and all that.

Ciao.

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My first shuttle launch in years....

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

Sometimes (last night notwithstanding), my new job utterly rules. I just watched the high-speed broadcast of the launch of the Columbia, my first live shuttle launch viewing since the launch before the loss of the Challenger. It was an amazing thing to watch, and I began to feel giddy as the countdown from ten seconds began, the igniters sent their sparks off, the main engines lit, and finally the boosters ignited, and with the release of the braces holding the shuttle in place, it rose into the heavens, lighting up the sky like a miniature sun. I watched it until SRB separation at about plus-two-minutes, and then until it was a tiny dot in the sky. I continued to watch the feed from Houston until Columbia reached orbit, at which point I closed the connection.

I feel better.

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Some nights just suck

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 11 years ago

I think I mentioned before that I work nights. This is usually not a bad situation, as it's quiet, I get to explore a little, and I've been mildly anti-social (some would say psychotic) the last few weeks anyway. However, I'm seriously on edge now. The NOC pager just went off on one of its daily notifications that the news is in, and it took some willpower to remain seated and not throw the pager across the room.

Here's the gist of it. I work for a company that hosts servers. Sometimes we manage the boxes, and sometimes we just provide power. One of our customers in the former set maintains about two dozen boxes here. Over the course of a few hours, they ALL went down. Argh. Ack. Fook.

I suggested the problem was related to routing changes made by another company with whom we work to some small degree. Our router specialist, freshly roused from sleep, swore that the two problems had nothing to do with each other. I struggled for the next five hours to determine the problem before finally bringing my boss into things.

Guess what? It had to do with the routing changes.

Specifically, we lost access to a domain controller, which authenticates the boxes to each other. Sometimes I like it when I'm right, and sometimes I want to knock my head into a wall. If I had just CHECKED THE DAMNED LOGS when the whole thing started (like I've been doing on every other problem so far), we could have seen the authentication errors and looked at this much sooner.

Because of my delayed response, and because of a few errors in how I've handled calls, I've been getting some advice on how to do some of these things (properly handling these issues from a customer standpoint). I really do deserve it, even if it is a little patronizing. It was lame to wait so long, and still more lame to not check the logs.

Live and learn, I guess. And sleep, I hope.

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First night on...

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

Working night shifts is a little weird. After my final night before the official shift to the new job, I had really wondered if I would be able to pull this off. I had tried to make it through the whole shift awake, but was not quite able to do so. I ended up falling asleep at home around 8am, I think, waking up around 9:30. I managed a few hours more sleep during the day, but not quite what I thought I needed.

Quiet is an understatement for the night job, at least for now. One lousy little issue with some servers behaving oddly, but they were known in advance, so I didn't worry much about them. It was hard to watch it happen and not do anything about it. My general urge was to rush to the console to determine the problem, but that would have solved little, as I have no access to that specific console, or at least none of which I know. I put some time into reviewing the manual for the load-balancing software used on the servers, and I think I have an idea into what is happening. I'll have to run it past my boss when he gets in. That'll be a little later than normal, though, since he was here until after 1am to help bring me up to speed on the monitoring and help desk systems. In the next couple of weeks, we'll have a more structured idea of what will happen overnight. We'll get into periodic server reboots, patching systems, and fun things like that. May not sound like much, but it will be much better than staring at a screen or a book.

One last note: I need a new computer at home in the worst way. Windows 2000 has done me well for the last 25 months, but it's getting old now. I don't mean it's bad; my installation is just worn out. I put it through hell, and now it's starting to show. You Linux people can stop smirking. Load as much sheer crap onto your precious little penguin-labeled boxes and your systems will start to choke, too. The next system will be different (we all say that). No, really. Testing of software will be done within VMWare, a wonderful little utility I rank up in the lists with things like WinZip, ICQ, and Pez dispensers. Sure, you could live without them, but life would be a lot more boring.

5:30am. Four and a half hours to go. Last checks from the last job come in today; should total up to about two grand. Sweet. This is gonna be one hell of an income month for me.

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Ooooh.... A journal...

Martin Blank Martin Blank writes  |  more than 12 years ago

Oddly enough, this is the sort of thing I've been seeking for quite a while. I can vent here about most topics, and nobody really knows who I am. Hell, if anyone reads this, I'll probably be shocked.

Yay!

Slashdot's probably had the thing since at least the last major software rollover, and probably longer. It took someone pointing out something in his own journal (thanks, gmac) to get me to realize it was here. That happens a lot with me -- I completely miss something until it's not only put on a silver platter for me, but then someone needs to add lots of signs and a large orchestra to it for me to notice. Even then, I usually need to see someone else (anonymous or not) using it before I pick it up. Very occasionally, I'll be the one driving the bandwagon, but more often, I'm the one helping others on while letting them think I'm the driver.

News in my life.... Let's see... New job starts tonight. Manager at the Dairy Queen. Yep -- I got the promotion, and it makes at least $7 an hour.

No, wait. That was last night's dream. Reality is different. I've moved on from desktop support in a small oil company to work in a NOC (network operations center for those of you not in the know). Sort of small potatoes kind of thing (the job, not the NOC); I'm going from a desktop guru to a relative server novice compared to some of the people with whom I'll be working. There are some familiar faces there, so it won't be too difficult, but shifting to a 10pm-10am shift in a few days has been hard. Luckily, they have free sodas in the fridge, and I'm taking sandwich fixins in. From 10pm to about 7am, it'll just be me and the guard, and he'll usually be too busy on patrols to notice me much. As it is, I can feel my eyes slightly burning from staying up all night in my last free night. I go to bed in about an hour.

The upside is a real kicker, though. Dual OC-3 connections. 155Mbps. I mean..... *Damn* Want a page? Done. Want to download something? Done. Only thing is that the owner went with cheap little computers with no burners. Bleh. Maybe I do need a laptop with a burner, after all.

Oh, and the career part. That's a Very Good Thing(TM). I've been wanting into system security for some time now. The last place didn't respond well to what I wanted. I tried subtlety for six months by trying to get noticed as a security-minded individual, and then I said, "I'd like a security-related job." The silence in response was deafening. I gave them almost three months to come up with something. Hell, we had a major virus incident only a couple of weeks before I stated my desires out loud, and they still made no move to put in a security guru. I guess they don't much care. They will the next time a security lapse happens. And then I will laugh. Oh, yes, I will laugh.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. (Sleep deprivation = bad) The new job opens a lot of possibilities for studying and even test taking, which is encouraged by the upper staff. I've always been a Windows guy, not so much because I didn't like other OSes, but because I didn't have someone to show me the basics. Now I'll have Sun worktstations, Linux servers, Unix boxes, and C... I know the company.... Don't tell me... CISCO! (I said I was tired, dammit.) ...and Cisco routers to learn, not to mention firewalls, security protocols, and all that other stuff. The future looks good.

Last note: I'm gonna kill the upstairs neighbors one of these days. A couple and their baby (well, maybe I'll leave the baby alone). For all I can figure, they don't work at all, since their car never leaves, and while I've reported the noise all day and often all night to the office, they have still not quieted down. I'm sure most of it is normal child-rearing, but for the sake of peace, get a ground-floor apartment! Let someone quiet move in upstairs, or at least keep in mind the fact that someone lives downstairs. I'm sure I get a little noisy every so often, but it's not a constant thing, and I'm also not screaming at my crying one-year-old (not that I have one) at 3am to shut up and go to sleep, as the kid's dad does about once a week.

I'm done. Time for a snack, some milk, and then bed. Goodnight. Or something.

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