Monthly Archives: April 2006

Moon with a Screw Top

The Saturn System has the strangest moon in the solar system, Iapetus.
Shouldn’t Cassini be re-tasked to gather more information about it?

I’m going to show you some of the most unusual recent pictures I’ve seen from our space program. Pictures so unusual that some of people on the fringes claim that this moon of Saturn is actually an advanced spaceship put into a parking orbit around the planet thousands of years ago!

While I find that idea ludicrous, I DO think these pictures are fascinating. What do you think? We’ve got a probe already out there. Wouldn’t this be a good time to task it to get some more information?

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Why Blog?

Donald Sensing is shutting down his blog because it’s better to blog as a team. Why would you want to stop blogging? Why did you start in the first place? A lot of time people start blogging for one reason and then change their mind without realizing it.

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Is UFO Classification Hurting Our Country?

I was just watching the May 2001 National Press Club briefing by Project Disclosure, which is dedicated to declassifying UFO information held by the United States government.

I’m a science fiction buff, but a “want to believe” skeptic when it comes to UFOs. I thought this video was one of the most important videos I have seen in a long time on the subject. I saw a lot of people with a lot of clearances tell me that the United States government knows much more about UFOs than they are letting on. Doctor Greer, a Virginia emergency room physician who decided to drop medicine and research this phenomenon, has over 400 witnesses. Hundreds of hours of sworn testimony.

And it’s not just those guys. I remember that president Clinton’s former chief of staff, Leon Paneta, came out a few years back and pleaded, pleaded mind you, with the government to release this material. To give out the technology that could make a difference. A senior editor at Jane’s Defense Weekly has written a book alleging that we have had UFO technology for many years.

I won’t argue UFOs here. Personally, I think the weight of common sense has shifted in the world. Now it’s more likely that they exist than they do not. That’s just my observation of human opinion. I think most people believe it is likely that the United States government knows more about alien technology than they are letting on.

I will, however, ask you to think about the classification of information. In a democracy, the people have the responsibility to make informed decisions. Knowing where a Soviet missile base is — that’s one thing. But new technology? Radically new technology? Keeping it secret for decades? There’s something really fundamentally wrong with this.

When we’ve got kids over in Iraq dying because the American public believes it is in our strategic interest to be there, the public had damned better know the whole story. It’s immoral, illegal, and the worst kind of demagoguery to keep technology that might reduce our oil dependency a secret. Nobody cares about the aliens. Nobody gives a hoot about larger civilizations than our own. We do, however, care about our quality of life, the needs of our families and our country, the future of the planet. We have the responsibility to vote here. To keep information from us on purpose that would change our votes is a critical threat to our democracy. We can’t run the country if we are blind and deaf. And if we’re not running the country, it’s not legitimate any more.

I understand that people in the military industrial complex have an obligation to keep secrets no matter what. They have a responsibility to not add their own values to what they are processing. And I support the system. You can’t have every person making his or her own moral decisions about public policy and then going public with classifed material, like we had with the CIA Prison story recently. That’s wrong. We have to be able to keep secrets.

I cannot think of any other issue that is like this one, however, for several reasons. 1) It has been going on for decades, 2) the public already suspects the truth, 3) it has direct impact on the lives of the world, 4) it lacks the oversight that every other part of our government has, and 5) it is the worst kind of precedent you could possibly imagine. This issue, more than any other issue today, is eating away at the foundations of our trust in not just some administration, but the entire system of government that we have. It’s a cancer. Somebody has to stand up and cut it out. The greater good is now served by openess, not secrecy. I add my voice to those others begging for folks to make this change happen. Please.

I would encourage those in the know to consider these factors. I do not think that I would want to live my life keeping something like that from my fellow man. I would not want to go to my grave knowing something that could save millions of lives, something that could change the world, and not done anything about it. I would not want to be part of any system that hurt so many people, for whatever reason.

I cannot imagine why the folks inside these operations do not come out today, online, on video, with evidence, and make the loudest claims they possibly can to anybody who will listen.

But that’s just me.

Mercury & Gemini Astronaut, Colonel Gordon Cooper

A saucer flew right over [us], put down three landing gears, and landed out on the dry lakebed. [The cameramen] went out there with their cameras towards the UFO…I had a chance to hold [the film] up to the window. Good close-up shots. There was no doubt in my mind that it was made someplace other than on this earth. – Video interview. Transcribed in Disclosure, Steven M. Greer, MD., ed., pp. 226-227. See also Gordon Cooper & Bruce Henderson, Leap of Faith: an Astronaut’s Journey into the Unknown, pp. 80-91, 194 – 200

FAA Division Chief of Accidents and Investigations, John Callahan

The UFO was bouncing around the 747. [It] was a huge ball with lights running around it…Well, I’ve been involved in a lot of cover-ups with the FAA. When we gave the presentation to the Reagan staff, they had all those people swear that this never happened. But they never had me swear it never happened. I can tell you what I’ve seen with my own eyes. I’ve got a videotape. I’ve got the voice tape. I’ve got the reports that were filed that will confirm what I’ve been telling you. – Video interview and Disclosure, pp. 80 – 85.

Former Chief of Defense, British Royal Navy, Admiral Lord Hill-Norton

I have frequently been asked why a person of my background – a former Chief of the Defense Staff, a former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee – why I think there is a cover-up [of] the facts about UFOs. I believe governments fear that if they did disclose those facts, people would panic. I don’t believe that at all. There is a serious possibility that we are being visited by people from outer space. It behooves us to find out who they are, where they come from, and what they want. -Video and Disclosure, pp. 305 – 307.

Former Director of CIA, Vice Admiral R.H. Hillenkoetter

It is time for the truth to be brought out in open Congressional hearings. Behind the scenes, high-ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about the UFOs. But through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe the unknown flying objects are nonsense. To hide the facts, the Air Force has silenced its personnel. – The New York Times, Sunday, February 28, 1960: “Air Force Order on ‘Saucers’ Cited,” p. L30. See also Disclosure, p. 58.

US Navy Pilot, Lieutenant Frederick Fox

There is a [military] publication called JANAP 146E that has a section that says you will not reveal any information regarding the UFO phenomenon under penalty of $10,000 fine and ten years in jail. So the secret has been kept. – Disclosure, pp. 145, 146.

Marine Corps, Corporal Jonathan Weygandt

[The UFO] was buried in the side of a cliff. When I first saw it, I was scared. I think the creatures calmed me…[Later] I was arrested [by an Air Force officer]. He was saying, “Do you like the Constitution?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He said, “We don’t obey. We just do what we want. And if you tell anybody [about us or the UFO], you will just come up missing.” – Video and Disclosure, pp. 275 – 277.

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Saturday batBack Roundup

Since batBack is getting off the ground, I thought I would share with you some of the latest rated articles for the last week. Don’t know what batBack is? Check out the FAQ.

  • Huge Increase in Ununsured Americans on Melissa’s Home School Blog was deemed the most important article, as well as the most interesting. In it, Melissa talks about her personal experience with insurance, and suggests something we can do about it.

  • Jason Campbell Answers Critics on the Lynchburg, Virginia blog had the most votes. Getting the most votes is not an indicator that the article is good or bad, only that people felt a need to respond to it. It looks like Bob generated a lot of response with this article.

  • Question of the Week: Is #3 The Charm? on the Lynchburg Virginia blog gathered the most agreement. It was also deemed the most timely article. Something to check out if you have time today. There’s also a summary entry for the QOW. This is one of the most commented posts that they’ve had on the Lynchburg Virginia blog so far.

  • Here’s One For Larry was the most original article. In it, I wrote a new feature for batBack based on Larry’s ideas. On one day Larry had an idea, and on the next day it was part of batBack. Hope you like it, Larry!

  • The Seven Best Classic Rock Songs To Program To was the funniest article, and it was on the What To Fix blog.

  • Finally, the most readable article was Mud Holes Wildlife Center of Virginia on Melissa’s blog. Melissa consistently writes great readable articles. Way to go, Melissa!

I hope to have a “best of the week” hot list page up in the next couple of days for everybody to view when they want. It’s really neat to be able to find the best articles across multiple blogs and present them here for you!

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Cool .NET RUP Gig in DC at the Federal Reserve

Melissa, Jack and Katrina came to visit me before I finished the contract in DC. The office was directly on the national mall.

One of the neatest contracts I’ve had was working for the Federal Reserve Bank Board of Governors back in 2003. Not only was the view cool — check out that view from the cafeteria! — the project was neat and the people were friendly.

I have a lot of funny stories from that contract. When I went to interview, somehow a mixup put me in a top-secret meeting of attorneys from all over the country. They thought I was some kind of FRB official, and I thought they were my interviewers. After I made them introduce themselves and say where they were from, and we stared at each other uncomfortably for a long while, we finally figured out that I was in the wrong room. They thought that was funny! I was told that the entire room thought I was ideal for the job. I’m just glad I didn’t decide to raise interest rates. My house payment is high enough.

I also had a customer who told me that “you consultants do all of the work, and I’ll take the credit.” This didn’t bother me at all, and I found the honesty refreshing. I hope he did well with the credit he got for our work.

The other consultant, Ted, always seemed to know most of the negative things in life I had missed. I would mention something happy, like I was taking pills to keep my hair from falling out, and he would tell me that the pills had strange sexual side-effects. I would say what a nice person Mother Teresa was, and he would say she was a suspected communist. I mentioned how I would love to get an airplane someday (Ted and I were both pilots) and Ted would remind me of all the hassles involved: insurance, maintenance, regulations, etc.

Hey Ted! If you’re out there I hope you are doing well. So far I’ve still got most all my hair and I haven’t grown any new sexual organs. But you were right — the airplane idea was way too far-fetched for me right now.

We were using the RUP and doing a project to allow online voting for the Board of Governors — the guys who vote to set the national interest rates (among a lot of other cool stuff.) The long-term benefit to the contract was being able to put the name “Alan Greenspan” on my resume, as he was really my ultimate customer. Now that Bernake is Chairman, I haven’t decided what to do with Alan. I might just leave him on for another year. I took a bit of a rate cut to do the gig — but the marketing potential made for an even trade-off. It wasn’t a huge thing to do, but it does make for a nice ice-breaker.

I remember sitting down with the team and doing a Use Case Survey and an Analysis Model before we started. I got the strangest looks! I think they all thought “here is one of these pointy-headed guys who doesn’t really know how to make software happen” From my standpoint it was funny also, as I was thinking “gee. These guys don’t even know how to make software happen!” All over the world, I imagine there are a lot of meetings every day where all of the folks sit around thinking the other folks are lacking in some way. Part of the job, I guess.

We got to meet some really smart guys from Israel that were developing a secure file server system, called CyberArk. The things that system would do! We couldn’t use it for what we were doing, however, because it was not a relational, transactional storage system. Secure file servers are great, but they are just not databases. Not yet, anyway.

So we did Inception in just a couple of weeks. We had a fast timeline, and I wanted to get moving. I believe within just a few months we had a working, accepted prototype program. My contract was ending in December and I got a call from Charles Schwab. The FRB also asked me to stay on for a couple more months, so I had to make a decision. After vacillating for a week or so, I decided to jump on the Schwab opportunity. Last I heard the system we wrote went into production. That’s also a neat feeling.

It wasn’t all happy stuff, though. I remember hearing the stories about 9-11 from the people who worked there. They stood on that balcony and watched the Pentagon burn. There were rumors of snipers in DC that day. A lot of people had to walk home. Ted and I used to think about how we would get out of the city if there were a disaster or attack.

But in general I really liked my last gig in DC. Working right on the mall, walking to work through Foggy Bottom every day past the State Department. Walking out for lunch past the White House! I guess the neatest thing about DC is seeing the other people who are visiting the city for the first time. Every day, thousands of people from all over the world go there, cameras in hand, oogling all the sights. Even better than the experience of being there yourself was to see the reaction from other people. And as they say in the south, you can’t beat that with a stick.

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CSS: Use it or Lose it

I drove several hours today to talk to a client. They were switching CIO consultants, and I was there to possibly fill-in for a couple of months until they found somebody else. It was a small shop, and as usual some of the concerns were about controlling development and consistent look-and-feel. They were using VB.NET and SQL Server 2005.

We were talking about look-and-feel when I mentioned CSS. It was interesting, because not many people realized what I was talking about (except the CIO who was leaving, of course.)

I’ve found that Microsoft shops have a very poor record with CSS, which is sad. I place the blame for this on Microsoft. I remember the first .NET IDE had a place for adding the stylesheet attribute but nobody I knew ever used it. Most of the senior developers I knew understood what CSS was, but it just didn’t make a lot of sense when you could click and drag and make the screen look any way you wanted. Coming from a fat client GUI background, what the heck was the point in some new fangled CSS thingy? I know the way I want the screen to look, and if I change my mind I don’t want to be having to type text in some other file somewhere — I want to do it right then and there.

Plus IE and the IDE really sucked when you tried to use CSS. IE couldn’t figure out how to display things and the IDE wouldn’t let you edit items in-situ.

The new version of .NET is a lot better. You can set the page to validate to XHTML 1.1 (which is incredible. Everybody who does web development should do this immediately. If nothing else, you’ll start learning some good HTML coding practices!) And CSS is working in IE and the IDE a LOT better.

For my batBack site, and this blog, I use the same CSS file. This means I have the same menus, header features, and page layout for both my blog and my application. Change the look in one spot, and they both change. This is what people mean by look and feel! Put all of that stuff in one spot and your entire suite of applications will have a great consistent look — no matter what generates your content.

But still most .NET developers are not using CSS. It’s because of the way the IDE is built, I think. Microsoft needs to make it easier to take those individual properties and move them out to style sheets. It would also be nice to be able to tell from any one element what styles from where are being applied. I wonder if FireFox has an extension for this?

There’s also a conceptual problem, I think. What with CSS 3.0 offering neater stuff and CSS in general getting more robust, it is a different kind of declarative programming that Microsoft had in mind when they created their development environment. It’s like there are two complete systems (four if you count visual inheritance and master pages) that all do the same thing! Geesh! No wonder developers don’t know what CSS does. Four different ways to do the same thing that there is a standard for doing. That’s what I call choice!

Microsoft is getting better, like I said. But they really got all of those .NET developers into this mess, and I think they should do more to get them out of it. Better tools, more demos doing things the right way, and a consistent message would help.

That’s my opinion, anyway.

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Anybody here speak Spanish?

So my cell phone rings yesterday, and I let the voice mail take over. When I go to get the voice mail, the message, she be in Spanish!

Now I have a few years of French under my belt from High School, and I know about seven Latin words from my two years of THAT. Being in the foreign language clubs, and trying to keep current on some of the internet….

Ok. Basically what I’m saying is that I speak no other language besides English.

So I wonder what the message is? I listend to it a couple of times. Is it somebody interested in investing in my company? Somebody with a wrong number? A prospective future employee? A drug dealer with a wrong number? Perhaps it is just a Pizza delivery man? Maybe it is a Spanish insurance company wanting to sell me a policy? Maybe it is a famous latin actress who is interested in a personal tour of Virginia. Gee. That would be hard to explain to TW.

Of course, it will bug me. I couldn’t just delete the message. No. That would be too easy. So I guess it will stay on my voice mail — forever. Or at least until I find somebody willing to translate.

I’m still betting on the potential investor. Or the drug lord. Or a famous latin celebrity.

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The Seven Best Classic Rock Songs To Code To

I think I’m more productive when I code and listen to music.

Here are my favorite rock songs to code by. I’m an old guy, so I like old stuff. If you like new stuff, tell me why it’s better. Maybe I’ll give it a listen.

  1. AC/DC “Shoot to Thrill”. Fast-moving ballad with a good chorus. Nice head-banging music when you’re chasing down some bad CSS
  2. Black Sabbath “Paranoid”.Great guitar here! Love those blues overtones. Driving beat. This is cool stuff to crank out some stored procedures. Anything where you push a button and watch the computer upchuck a big hunk of burning code.
  3. CCR “Travelin’ Band”.Get-a-long vocals on a going-somewhere beat. This is the stuff you want to do some GUI work with. Anything creative. This is great music to listen to if you have to work in an airport. Makes you want to look for geek groupies. Sadly, they never seem to appear.
  4. George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers “Bad to the Bone”.A totally bodacious song. Another song for creative, ego-driven work. This is a good song to be creating deployment bundles — any job where a lot of mental work is coming together to be delivered to somebody. Something you can put a sticker on and call it your own. If you’re bad to the bone, isn’t it time you let others know?
  5. Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Tuesday’s Gone”.Wonderful lingering vocals. This is music for class libraries. You’ve got the big model-from-the-sky, and you’ve got the IDE, now it’s time to double-check the wires and the struts to see if this baby will fly. That train can roll on, down the line — it’s taking your baby to the big leagues.
  6. R.E.M. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”.This is good blogging music. Code commenting. Writing error messages. Hey. It might be the end of your computer experience, but I feel fine. Shouldn’t you feel okay too?
  7. Meatloaf. “Two out of Three ain’t bad”.This is the music for writing status reports. Has to be. We’re on time, we’re on schedule, but the budget sucks. Hey — two outta three ain’t bad, right? Baby we could talk all night, but that ain’t getting us nowhere. We’re over budget. Maybe it’s time to listen to that error-reporting music some more.

No fair just saying something like “cause they rock!” If you got a better list, you got to explain your reasons.

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Does the Singularity Cometh?

Over on Winds Of Change, Joe started up a very interesting thread about Ray Kurzweil and the coming singularity. Will machines take over from people? Will we have everlasting life because we will become robots?

Yes. But probably not in our lifetime.

It’s a good discussion. Those of you interested in Artificial Intelligence and Intelligence Augmentation should check it out. Lots of smart people providing their thoughts.

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Brain Teaser

Years ago, when I was interviewing for Trilogy Software Group in Austin, Texas, I got my first brain teaser question.

You know, the question they ask that has no answer, or that has a really clever answer that you have to figure out.

It went like this: there are two room separated by a door which you cannot see through. You are in one room with three light switches. In the other room are three light bulbs. You cannot see anything at all about the other room from where you are. Each switch operates one light bulb in the other room. How do you figure out which switch operates which light bulb?

If you want to know the answer, drop me an email or a coment and I will post it. Suffice it to say I got the answer right, and got the contract. I really loved working with Trilogy, although there wasn’t much lightbulb work to do. In fact, I never saw anyone on a lightbulb project the entire time I was there.

Years later I was interviewing for Captial One near Richmond, Virginia. They gave me a brain teaser as well — I don’t remember it exactly except for it was one of those problems with so many units that it drove me crazy trying to sort it out. The answer was probabaly something like “7″, but I’ll never know. This time around I did not get an offer, but I had a high billing rate so that could have been the cause. I’ll never know, and quite frankly I could care less. Since then I’ve had several opportunities to consult with Cap One and turned them all down. Perhaps I was afraid of another question from hades.

I was thinking about these brain teasers this morning, when I found out that the devil himself had taken over my power outlet. You know, those little plastic strips we computer people plug all of stuff into. Turns out that on my little plastic strip, some of the outlets work and others do not. Or they all work, or they all do not. I think it changes every hour or so.

It took me about a week to figure this out. At first, I thought my notebook computers were loosing their AC adapters. Then I noticed that on some of the power plugs, the computers worked. Then, they stopped working. I was switching around wires, getting old power supplies out. I would get some configuration that worked, then I would start programming. BAM! A few hours later the power would go out. Broken computers would magically start working again. Sometimes I could switch the plugs and sometimes not. Sometimes I could go into another room and it would help. Sometimes not.

The worst kind of technical problem is an intermittant one. I still have bad dreams about code I’ve probably deployed with intermittant errors. But there’s just not a lot to do about it. In programming, we can “instrument” our code (at a performance penalty) but we can’t intstrument everything we use. Like my power supply. At some point in our efforts, we rely on other parts to work the way they are supposed to work. Work correctly. Or fail completely. But not a little of each.

So finally I figured it out. Whew! What a problem!

Lately my hosting provider is telling me that my SQL Server instance is going down from time to time. They can’t figure out why, and my code has not changed. They’ve got a consultant from Microsoft (read: big bucks) helping out but he’s stumped too.

I’m not sure, but I think they should check the power strip.

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