Archive for August, 2010

Community Outreach and Law Enforcement

Yesterday, I hung around late at work for a bit, then made a detour out of my way to attend the Saint Paul Police Department’s “open house” at the Eastern District station.

This is one of a handful of open-to-the-public events the SPPD do every year, in the guise of community outreach. The goal is a noble one, of course – develop a rapport with the local community, earn the trust and respect of people in the neighborhood, and be “good neighbors”. Like a lot of community outreach efforts, I have my doubts about how well they actually work.

The Eastern District station is an old brick building that was once part of the Hamm’s brewery, a major employer on Saint Paul’s east side for about a century, until it closed in the 1990s. The “open house” was held in their garage, a large and very spartan concrete space with not a lot of light and not a lot of ventilation. Arrayed for public viewing were examples of most of the vehicles the SPPD owns – from a mobile command post to an EOD disposal trailer to a motorcycle with sidecar to… one of four EOD robots. (If you’re a military history buff, you might also be interested in the department’s oldest actively serving vehicle – an ex-USAF armored car.) The SWAT team was there to show off their body armor and weapons (AR-15/MP-5/40mm grenade launchers/.40cal Glocks). A K9 officer was there with his partner.

I hung around for a few minutes, talked to a couple of people – the officers were all very friendly, and extremely happy to answer questions – took a few really blurry photos with my cellphone, and left.

Here’s what I observed in the thirty minutes or so I was there:
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Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on August 18th, 2010 | No Comments »

Google Groups as a Weapon of Evil

Spammers are evil. Spam is evil.

Over the weekend, some enterprising spammer managed to ramp this up to new heights hitherto unheard of by me.

Sadly, it was probably completely unintentional on his part.

It all started Saturday afternoon, when i received an e-mail in one of my inboxes informing me that I’d been added to a Google Group with a completely meaningless name – asfdsafdasdf, or somesuch. I didn’t pay a whole lof ot attention, because it looked like spam.

Fifteen minutes later, well…
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Published in: Geekiness, General, Security | on August 17th, 2010 | No Comments »

Chickens. Also, My Novel

Today, I pimp my first and probably only novel. And if you don’t care about that, an inane observation about chickens.

Acccording to Wikipedia, the chicken is the most-domesticated poultry – and possibly one of the most-domesticated animals, full stop. So domesticated, in fact, that most of us have probably never seen a wild chicken, and never will. (Of course, the domestic chicken’s wild counterpart, the red and grey junglefowl, is only native to southeast Asia…) It’s just kind of strange to think that something we in the west see as so ubiquitous and common is, or was once, something rare and unique from fabled far-away lands. I mean, the stereotypical image of a medieval British farmstead inevitably includes a dozen or so chickens scrabbling around in the dirt, and I wonder how many people then – or now – really realized the far distant origins of those ubiquitous critters?

Even less exciting than the origin of chickens as domesticated foodstuffs is my first novel, Mendacities. It’s a very atypical, dystopian, slightly trope-rich coming-of-age story. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl agree to be just friends and nothing more, boy and girl meet a second, very strange, girl, and compete for her affections, while at the same time undertaking an ill-advised school project that winds up altering their lives, nearly killing them, and eventually helping overthrow the government. Also, there’s some casual nudity and underage drinking, a gunfight, and some ruminations on the practical inadequacies of modern K-12 education systems.

You know, same old, same old, just like all the other books out there.

Anyway, you can read about this appalling travesty to populist literature at it’s very own mediocre website, which includes links to several sample chapters, plus places you can buy the stupid thing, as either a paperback, a Kindle book, or an e-book in a dozen other formats. Those of you with an interest in self-publishing may find my boring page of facts and figures somewhat interesting.

My goal is to sell three-hundred copies in three years, and recoup the $200 I’ve got invested into this project. Let’s see how spectacularly I fail, shall we? Thank you in advance for your generous financial support, et cetera…

Published in: Geekiness, General, Meta | on August 13th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Thunderbolt and Lightning

…very very frightening my cat.

Thunder is fine, thunder is grand, but it’s lightning that actually does the hard work.
-anon

Lightning. It’s like magic, only harder to control.
-Me

Several weeks ago, a series of big thunderstorms blew through. A tree about 250′ away took a direct hit from lightning, and was blown to smithereens. The EMP-wave-electrical-blast-whatever completely killed my roommate’s shiny new iPhone, and fried the wireless part of our ancient ActionTec DSL modem. There are other wireless APs in the house (have I complained about the complexity of our household LAN recently?) so I’m in no big hurry to replace it.

Last night, we got another series of big thunderstorms. The tree down the street didn’t get hit again – it was blown into a thousand pieces a couple weeks ago – but there were several hits within a mile or less, and the power flickered a couple of times.

I spent much of the night trying to sleep – one of our cats, who used to be stray, really doesn’t like thunderstorms, and spent much of the night furiously cuddling me with all his might – but I did check really quickly before heading to work this morning whether any other electrical appliances had taken obvious damage. TVs all work fine, computers work fine, remaining non-Apple cellphones all seem to work fine.

Oh, and the half-fried Actiontec modem? Fully functional again.

My roommate was very unamused by my gleeful cackles of “its alive, it’s alive!”, but it’s not as if these sorts of opportunities come up very often.

Gotta love the awesome power of nature, eh?

“PuttingonTheRitz” is going to be my new WEP password for a while…

Published in: Geekiness, General | on August 11th, 2010 | No Comments »

The Navy Takes on Social Media. Again.

The U.S. Navy has produced a social media handbook (1.1MB PDF) for their ombudsmans to use in, you know, engaging the public and reminding them how totally awesome the Navy is.

Only the intent actually seems to be a little different, this time – to connect with Sailors, and their families – especially their families – and remind them how totally awesome the Navy is.

On one hand, I think this is really to be commended, when viewed in light of some other commands’ (former) policies of proactive “social media engagement”, which was all about information control and spreading, evangelist-style, the “good news” about our nation’s (Soldiers | Marines | Airmen) and the important and entirely successful things they’re doing. The Army in particular were really bad about basically trolling the blogosphere with gung-ho propaganda, so it’s nice to see a branch of the military adopt a less adversarial stance for a change.

On the other hand, this tiny little feel-good booklet of guidance leaves one with that special, slightly creeped-out feeling that most military publications about “social media” and “emerging media” usually produce. One of the FAQs, for example, is “Our Sailors have been extended on deployment and the families are not happy. There is a very negative feel to our social media presence right now. What do I do?”, and the answer begins “First off, do not get discouraged and DO NOT close the page. Closing the page will only result in your families creating alternative presence(s) to continue complaining and you will have less opportunity to understand or influence this conversation.” (Bolded emphasis mine, though the ALL CAPS bit is the Navy’s.)

How much “opportunity” do you need to understand why family members are pissed when deployments are extended? And how are you supposed to “influence the conversation” without just coming right out and calling the complainers self-absorbed? Beats me; they forgot to put that part of the instruction online, apparently…

Published in: General | on August 10th, 2010 | No Comments »