Archive for February, 2010

We are not far off…

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Since the SAPS season will be upon us soon I though this was appropriate.

Plus I just saw it on the Olympics. I always joke about training like Lance, maybe we  are not far off, at least you guys drink better beer.

Michelob Ultra

Webcam Spying

Friday, February 19th, 2010

So, why would a school institute a mandatory laptop program?

Oh, you know, the usual reasons. Ease of support. Opens up a whole bunch of new educational technology. Gives school administrators the chance to spy on students and their families.

From the article:

According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

Oh, this ought to be a fun little firestorm to watch. Spying on high school kids in their homes? Let the child pornography charges FLY.

Update: The school has sent a letter to parents saying that the software was installed so that the laptops could be more easily recovered in case of theft. The letter apparently did not say anything about why webcam stills were being taken from a non-stolen laptop of a student at home. When you’re in a hole, guys, stop digging.

Perceptions of Higher Ed

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Interesting report on public perceptions of higher education that was released yesterday by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and Public Agenda. Sheesh, there’s a name.

There’s a good summary on the Chronicle of Higher Ed web site. As with my last post, the really interesting thing is the attached comments – everyone seems to agree that higher ed is losing its prestige and its image of being “above the fray”, economically speaking. Nobody can agree whose fault it is.

Faculty blame administration for being too budget-minded. Administration blames faculty for ignoring the realities of running something as large and complex as a university. Students are mad at everybody.

I hope this turns around. If people stop believing that it’s completely appropriate to spend six figures on a liberal arts degree, my school will be in real trouble.

Top Secret Race Data

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Google, Apple, Yahoo!, and two other companies have successfully fended off an eighteen month long lawsuit by the Mercury News. The paper was attempting to get race and gender data on the companies’ employees from the Department of Labor; the five companies (and HP, who lost, which is kind of what they do) argued that race and gender information on their employees was a trade secret and that its divulgence would harm their future success in business.

Okay, weird lawsuit. And, in my opinion, kind of a lame defense. I would hope that you could just leave it at “Are you a shareholder? Then piss off, it’s none of your business.” Clearly, you can’t, but it’s a nice thought.

The reason I thought this was so interesting was the response to the posting of this article on Slashdot. The forums there exploded, five hundred comments as I post this, and they can be divided into roughly one of two groups:

1. “This is government interference in business to enforce stupid racial quotas. Google just doesn’t want to have to pass up the best potential candidates because they happen to be white males, so they’re fighting the good fight against state-mandated discrimination.” This can optionally be paired with plaintive whining about how the poster never owned slaves, and racism is dead, and we’ve got a black president now so clearly everything is even.

2. “Google just doesn’t want to admit how many H1B visa holders they’ve brought over from developing countries, and how they’re taking government money and not hiring Americans, and that should not be allowed.” This is often paired with complaints about how the Indians on H1Bs live fifteen to an apartment and smell bad and are undercutting American engineering talent and should all go back to where they came from.

I find this dichotomy interesting. On the one hand, posters are complaining about the government potentially taking jobs away from members of the majority population, and how that clearly subverts Google’s goals of hiring only the best and brightest. On the other hand, the argument is that the government needs to step in and force Google to hire only Americans, not foreign nationals. Two seconds of thought would seem to indicate that Google wouldn’t hire any H1Bs at all if they could help it — the whole process is a giant paperwork nightmare — so the fact that they are proves that the Beleagured and Persecuted White Male Engineer might not, in fact, always be the best one for the job.

I realize that Slashdot is not a communal hive-mind or anything, no matter how much it often seems like one. But this seems like some serious cognitive dissonance going on right here.

Vandalism

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Once again, the golden rule of hate crimes: it’s not that bad if the target is unpopular.

Lent

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

As I’m sure you all know, being good Catholics marinaded in guilt and tradition from a very young age, today is Ash Wednesday. Which means it is the beginning of Lent, the Church’s season of sacrifice, fasting, and prayer in anticipation of Easter.

I thought that this was an interesting spin on the idea – a religious organization is advocating for a “carbon fast” among residents of the developed world. Rather than eating less food, or acknowledging the apparent deal between the Vatican and the fish fry industry, reduce energy consumption. Check out the “Downloads and Factsheets” section for details.

Panopticlick

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

This has been available for a while now, but I never posted anything about it. Well, better late than never, right?

Panopticlick is an effort by the EFF to determine how unique your browser’s “fingerprint” is – that is, the information that it provides automatically to any web server that it accesses. Certain information, like your list of installed plugins and your font configuration, is freely available to a web server when you connect to it. This project is attempting to determine exactly how unique the aggregate of that information is and whether it could be used to track an individual computer’s use of the Internet.

I just accessed it from my work computer.

“Your browser fingerprint appears to be unique among the 636,908 tested so far.”

Browser History Mining

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Among the other horrible things that it has done to destroy the web, apparently Javascript is also capable of mining your browser history to determine where you’ve been lately.

Just what I needed. Ads specifically tailored to react to my visiting a competitor’s site.

Save Everything!

Monday, February 15th, 2010

In a development related to an earlier post by Pitt, the Common Council member representing the Fillmore district – more commonly known as the “East Side” – is planning a new revision to the city’s landmark preservation statutes.

Why? So he can derail the relocation of St. Gerard’s.

“Let’s not strip-mine Buffalo. In a hundred years, we could be back on top again. Let’s have a long-term vision,” said Franczyk, who added that Buffalo has enough unsightly vacant lots.

And I’m sure the city will be happy to dedicate the resources to maintaining this building for a hundred years, right? Repairing the roof? Protecting the windows? Keeping the inside from becoming home to mold, plants, animals?

I’ll tell you what, Councilman. Once the city manages to preserve ANYTHING properly, you can change the city laws. But until the thousands of vacants that you’re already letting rot away are taken care of, let this one go to someone who will use it. The choice isn’t between a vacant lot and a church. It’s between a vacant lot and another dilapidated mistake.

Presidents Day

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Today is, surprisingly, not actually Presidents Day. Apparently the official name of the federal holiday is still “Washington’s Birthday”, and though it always falls on the third Monday of February, it always falls before his actual birthday. Excellent holiday engineering by our friends the feds, as always.

You may or may not be off today – our nation has turned this holiday, like most of them, into an orgy of half-off sales and red tag events, and so those of you in the customer-facing game might be reading this at the office. Regardless, I would suggest that you dive into the spirit of the holiday and read something about a president you don’t know anything about.

Presidential history is full of great stories. The election of 1876 made the 2000 Florida recount scandal look like two kids fighting over a student council seat, but I’d bet that you don’t know anything about Rutherford Hayes or Samuel Tilden. The election of 1920 – which was won by Warren Harding, one of America’s most anonymous presidents in the historical record – actually had five different past and future presidents fighting it out for the parties’ nominations. And I’ve always thought that the redemption of Chester Arthur as president after the assassination of Garfield is a great story that nobody cares about any more.

In grade school, you learned about Washington, Lincoln, and _maybe_ Jefferson. High school and college gave you Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan. There are thirty-eight more presidents out there, and each one has a story.

You can start here.

And, of course, the holiday anthem.

Presidents’ Song