Archive for January, 2010

It’s Cold in Minnesota, Dude

It gets cold in Minnesota, in the winter. This is not an anomaly, or a carefully guarded secret of some sort. Minnesota + winter = cold. That’s just the way it is, and most people are aware of this, especially if they have the misfortune of living in Minnesota. This week, I don’t think we’ve hit double digits, Fahrenheit, and every night has been below zero, Fahrenheit.

Consider the wind turbine for a moment, if you would, the “green energy” source that nobody really likes. People in the energy sector don’t like them – they produce a random amount of energy at random times of day, which they don’t, for some reason, view as terribly useful. The more excitable environmental activists don’t like them, because they can and apparently do kill birds and bats. Anyone who lives within eyesight of one seems to hate them, because they’re ugly. And anyone who lives really close to one seems to really hate them, because they’re ugly and noisy, too.

Even the most gung-ho supporter of wind turbines, though, will probably concede, however grudgingly, that American energy independence probably shouldn’t rely terribly much on something that seizes up in the cold.

When I first heard about this on the local news, I thought that the recent ice storms we’d had were at fault – that the turbines had iced up, or something like that. That would be kind of sad, but we did have something like forty-eight straight hours of freezing rain, which isn’t quite a regular occurrence, even in this wonderful winter wasteland.

Instead, however, it appears that the problem is much more basic – the various fluids in these turbines just can’t handle the temperatures we get here.

To be fair, this does appear to be only affecting some unsurprisingly craptastic turbines manufactured in the People’s Republic of California, but that such equipment, incapable of handling relatively mild winter weather, could be sold to, you know, Minnesota, suggests to me that the wind-power industry has a long way to go before it can hope to be taken terribly seriously – someone, somewhere, should have recognized that this could be a problem. I don’t care who – the manufacturer, the owners, their consultants, some regulatory body or industry standards group – take your pick. It’s just an unbelievably boneheaded oversight that it makes you suspect that nobody really knows what they’re doing, which means you can’t help but wonder what else is being done wrong…

Published in: General | on January 29th, 2010 | Comments Off on It’s Cold in Minnesota, Dude

Kwik Hits

Random thingies of little import:

For a couple of weeks now, we’ve been having horrible problems with our home DSL connection, which is Powered By Qwest(TM). (Well, there’s your problem!, I hear you all shout. I know, I know.) From about 1600-2330 local time, we’re frequently unable to get even 20Kbps speeds on what should be a 1.5Mbps connection, and ping times can exceed four seconds to servers a few dozen miles away. Clearly, our DSL trunk or whatever it’s called is “congested”, a complicated technical term that basically means “oversold”. When we contacted our (local) ISP, they sympathized with our plight, agreed that it sounded like congestion, and said they’d contact Qwest, but said “the odds of anything being done about it are slim. Qwest is pushing fiber-optic internet service now, and considers copper-wire DSL service a basically unsupported legacy product they just don’t care about.” We’re doomed…

One of my roommates had a strange dream the other night; in part, this is notable because she very, very rarely ever remembers more than vague details once she wakes up. In the dream, she arrived at her old college campus to find a loud demonstration in progress; a new sculpture had been installed in one of the courtyards, replacing an older sculpture that had succumbed to the elements. The grass around the sculpture’s plinth was full of gopher holes, which the angry students thought was part of the “installation”, and while some were yelling that this was dangerous, the majority were upset by the “sexist and misogynistic overtones” of the holes. (Yes, she went to college in Minneapolis; why do you ask?) When her dream-self tried to point out that they were just gopher holes, a bunch of eco-activists denounced the exploitation of animals, and attempted to burn down the art department. (Psychoanalyze that!)

In something that resembles actual news, albeit obscure, Russia has announced plans to invest 330 million USD in the disputed territory of Abkhazia over the next three years. That might not sound like a lot, but that basically subsidizes the relatively small territory’s trade deficit for the next couple years, and between the outright cash and “economic investments”, should serve to greatly increase Moscow’s influence in (and by proxy control over) Abkhazia.

It’s easy to not care about that part of the world, but the timing is suspect, coming as it does amid an important election in the Ukraine, and the tensions over Poland, and it’s not hard to see this as a sign that Russia wants to increase its influence with as many of its neighbors as it can, and move as many polities into the “firmly pro-Russia” column as possible. It’s just like the Cold War, all over again – controversial missile basing issues in central Europe, a gently antagonistic ascendant Russia trying to increase its influence over its neighbors… Everything old is new again… again.

Published in: General | on January 28th, 2010 | Comments Off on Kwik Hits

Lessons From the Underwear Bomber: Fix The Things That Are Actually Broken

Bruce Schneier yesterday posted about the dots that weren’t connected in the Christmas underwear-bomber plot. After something like this happens, it’s very, very easy to point figures and assign blame, and say “the system failed”. That may even be true in this case; I don’t know, and neither do you.

What I do know, though, is that it really doesn’t matter the least bit.
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Published in: General | on January 26th, 2010 | Comments Off on Lessons From the Underwear Bomber: Fix The Things That Are Actually Broken

Up There! A Bird? A Plane? A Terrorist!

Over the weekend broke the superficially comical news that Pakistani terrorists are planning attacks in India with the aid of paragliders. There are several things about this which I think beg questions from the analytically-minded…
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Published in: General | on January 25th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (Friday FOIA Fun)

In 2007 – yes, 2007 – I came across a reference to a paper written by Chris Rasmussen – who some readers might recognize as a NGIA employee and one of the more vocal and visible proponents of Intellipedia. The paper was entitled Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants in the US Intelligence Community, and discussed, among other things, how and why the intelligence community (IC) should adopt reasonably modern information technology, rather than relying on the technology of a quarter-century ago.

I requested a copy of the paper through the FOIA, and asked for the report to be provided in electronic format. Ironically, given the subject of the paper, it was eventually released as photocopies… some two years later.

I don’t know the exact date it was written – Mr. Rasmussen has never bothered to reply to my emails asking about the paper – but I think it was 2006 or early 2007. Given the changing nature of technology, it’s a bit dated in the “real world”, but I’m pretty confident that it’s still very relevant to the IC, which is still thinking – at a glacial pace, I might add – about making a decision about adopting new technology at some point in the future Real Soon Now.

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants isn’t a hugely exciting paper, but it’s been cited in a few public places, and deserves to be available to the world at large. If you have a professional or academic interest in this sort of thing, you can download a copy here (16pp, 5.5MB PDF).


Published in: Geekiness, General, History, Security | on January 22nd, 2010 | 1 Comment »