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Friday photo

I keep wanting to do something with pictures, and I keep procrastinating dreadfully. But just because I drop the ball all the time is no reason not to pick up again. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have anything to drop, would I?

This is a close-up of Dracula venefica taken at the Leiden Botanical Garden in 2000. (A bit more on Dracula at — where else? — Wikipedia.) It’s a small plant that grows in the Colombian Andes. The little “face” is smaller than a centimeter.

Technorati Tags: orchids, Colombia, Dracula venefica

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Sneaky, nasty, nationwide attack on solar power

Time to go all King-Arthur-and-Knights and do something about this. What, I have no idea. It’s such an arcane bureaucratic maneuver, I don’t know which levers apply. Those who do know, please comment or contact me and I’ll update the post. I saw this on Slashdot.

“The US Bureau of Land Management, overwhelmed by applications for large-scale solar energy plants, has declared a two-year freeze on applications for new projects until it completes an extensive environmental impact study. The study will produce ‘a single set of environmental criteria to weigh future solar proposals, which will ultimately speed the application process.’ The freeze means that current applications will continue to be processed — plants producing enough electricity for 20 million average American homes — but no new applications will be accepted until the study is complete. Solar power companies are worried that this will harm the industry just as it is poised for explosive growth. Some note that gas and oil projects are booming in the southwestern states most favorable to solar development. Another threat looming over the solar industry is that federal tax credits must be renewed in Congress, else they will expire this year.”

This has all the signs of studying solar power to death. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that this ruling follows a golf game among BLM honchos and oil execs. Or some damn thing. I mean, these are the same people who have to be sued because they let Federal lands turn into deserts and superfund sites. Since when has the BLM been so concerned about the environment that it seeks to prevent damage?

Technorati Tags: BLM, solar power, FUD

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Upgrading WordPress

Update, June 30: One blogger I know who uses a number of widgets ran into difficulties with this upgrade method. Be careful, out there! Back up first! Always back up first!
First the good part: my blog runs on WordPress, the software works, it’s easy to install, and easy to use. It has loads of advanced features as well as plugins that can expand those features further, nearly to the point of tap dancing and darning your socks. And the good people who developed it have made it open source and freely available. In short, a brilliant piece of work.

/*cue creeping sinister music*/

But WordPress does have a dark side. It’s called “when things go wrong.” I have had zero success using their forums to find answers to simple or complicated questions, or anything in between. I must admit, I haven’t even tried in a year or so, because it was so uniformly useless. Maybe they’ve turned over a new leaf. When I did try it, the organization of the forums was hopeless, so other passing users weren’t likely to see or answer questions. The knowledgeable types, on the other hand, had nothing to say but RTFM. My questions made it rather plain that I’d done my best to read the effing manual, but the people who knew the answers couldn’t seem to be bothered to read the actual questions. Severely aggravating. The manual, called the Codex in WordPress-talk, is indeed very complete, but again, organized so weirdly that finding anything was pretty much a matter of chance. Also aggravating, although it was easier not to take that personally.

This is all a long introduction to explain why I’d never upgraded my original, two year-old version of WordPress. Not upgrading software, especially interactive stuff like blogging software, creates security holes and can cause all sorts of problems. But my blog was working, and I wasn’t about to to risk disturbing any part of that interlocking set of 75 megabytes worth of programs. Plus, WordPress’s concept of upgrade methods was like their concept of user support. Totally dense. You were supposed to download, extract, ftp, back up, decompress MySQL databases, and god-knows-what-all. My eyes glazed over after about the fifteenth step. Forget it.

And then, at the end of March, WordPress joined the 21st century and provided an automated upgrade. After the first whoop of joy, I turned cautious. Like the elderly oysters in The Walrus and The Carpenter, I’ve developed a suspicious mind. I googled to find out how things had worked for people. Had they, god forbid, had problems and needed help? The good old non-existent help of WordPressdom?

There were some reports of mysterious glitches. The WordPress site didn’t even talk about versions as old as mine. If I tried it, my fate would be in the Ceiling Cat’s paws, and I didn’t like that. But google really is your friend (so far, at least). In the course of searching, I found a site that said how to use an alternate upgrade script for WordPress. Both sites sounded coherent and intelligent, and in the comments — oh, joy! — somebody mentioned having successfully gone straight from the paleolithic version I was using to the current one.

Time to make the leap.

So I did.

And everything worked.

I was boggled.

There was one heartstopping issue. The instructions said it would take a few minutes, but it took over an hour. I was drop dead sure that everything was stuffed. However, after an hour, suddenly the dear old blog went live again, stronger, faster, and better than before. I’d like my medical upgrades to work as well, please.

Technorati Tags: WordPress, blog, blogging, upgrade, 2.5

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And so it begins: proxy war on Iran

I’ve been expecting this. The Administration needs a Really Big distraction before the election from everything that’s boiling over on the back burner. Health care, education, house prices, gas prices, Iraq, and the list goes on. The early stages of a war, the stage when it’s all about bunting and heroic young folks trailing clouds of glory, would be just the thing. But, sadly for them, BushCo has used up its capital. I’m not sure that at this point they could get the military to go along with another shooting war. (Congress probably would, but that’s Congress. Don’t get me started on our People’s Chamber of Deputies.) I’m sure BushCo would be glad to waste other people’s lives and money if they thought they could still get away with it, but from a purely Machiavellian standpoint, it’s a very risky strategy that could backfire badly in Peoria.

Enter Israel. That’s the bit I’ve been expecting. If Israel does the shooting, it solves all the problems. There’s a war, with visuals, but /*cough, cough, cough*/ nobody dies /*cough, cough*/. There’ll be a flare of support, because the US needs to stand by a friend, and BushCo will be kept way in the background. And — icing on the cake! — the price of oil will shoot to $200 a barrel through /*cough*/ nobody’s fault /*cough*/ and Cheney’s investments will do even better.

Right on schedule (i. e. US elections schedule) comes this information from the NYTimes, the outfit that did such a good job feeding us sober news indicating we had to do something about Iraq. U.S. Says Exercise by Israel Seemed Directed at Iran

Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. …

A second, the official said, was to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.

“They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” the Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”

Of course, there is the obligatory disclaimer that there’s nothing to see here, which has the added benefit of making it clear that Israel is an independent actor in all this.

Several American officials said they did not believe that the Israeli government had concluded that it must attack Iran and did not think that such a strike was imminent.

Then, just to make sure that the option of sensible shooting war stays open — nothing overhasty, you understand, more in sorrow than in anger, the Iranians made us do it —

Iran is also taking steps to better defend its nuclear facilities. Two sets of advance Russian-made radar systems were recently delivered to Iran. The radar will enhance Iran’s ability to detect planes flying at low altitude. … American military officials said that the deployment of such systems would hamper Israel’s attack planning, putting pressure on Israel to act before the missiles are fielded.

In completely unrelated news, Western oil majors returning to Iraq.

Technorati Tags: Iran, war, Israel, elections, 2008

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WisCon 2008

WisCon is billed as “the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention.” “That’s easy,” you might be saying. “It’s the world’s only feminist sf con.” But you’d be wrong. There are others and this one is the biggest. I have to admit, I went to it for the first time with some trepidation. You never know, when there’s an angle, whether you aren’t going to be dropped down in the middle of a bunch of serious people looking at it from all sides. I mean, sf cons are about running around shouting in Klingon, not, um, well, discussing whether the correct term is womanist or feminist.

It turned out I had nothing to fear but fear itself. Except for the 2002 WorldCon in San Jose, which had unforgettable happenings like Terry Pratchett making up stories on the fly, WisCon was just about the best convention I’ve ever been to.

We learned useful things. For instance, Kate Schaefer helped us fold towels.

two towels, a smaller hand towel for the head, and a batch towel for the body, rolled to make a rather realistic elephant.  Although mine was a bit knock-kneed.  It takes practice.)

There was also a table where you could learn how to concoct your own Sri Lankan curry powder from roasted spices. Mary Ann Mohanraj had done several hours of work, roasting cumin, fenugreek, chili, cloves, and about ten other ingredients. We measured out the amounts she indicated, with variations based on what individual people said they liked, and she ground them up in a little Krups coffee grinder so we could take our own special curry powder home with us. I was too busy sniffing the out-of-this-world aromas to remember to take a picture.

While organic beings did their organic thing, the machine intelligences congregated in a room of their own and talked to each other.

three OLPC XO laptops

(Actually, we had a lot of trouble getting the mesh networks to do the work part!)

Sunday, May 25th, during the con, was also when the Phoenix Mars Lander was due to touch down. Does it get better than a spacecraft landing on another planet in the middle of a science fiction convention? No, it does not. The geekier set clustered around a laptop tuned to NASA TV and watched a bunch of ecstatic scientists jump up and down with each bit of news about how well things were going. You could hear us yelling, too, from as far away as the hotel’s elevators. (Vulcan seemed more appropriate for the occasion than Klingon. Nobody shouted in Klingon.)

It wasn’t all fun and games. A visitor dropped in, asking to be taken to our leader. Unfortunately, there was a rather sticky diplomatic moment — note the expression of suppressed annoyance and incredulousness with the eyes bugging out — when we said we couldn’t. We currently don’t have one.

small, purple-turquoise alien with big blue eyes and two antennae sitting on a turquoise space ship that winds up and goes in circles. (It's either not aligned, or that's what you need to navigate hyperspace.)

But the strangest, the most memorable, the most not-of-this-world thing that happened was meeting some of the other human beings there. Not so much the women who, though memorable, weren’t strange. I’ve been lucky in having met plenty of women who know their own minds and how to enjoy life. But WisCon is the only large gathering I’ve ever seen that had a large number of men in it, and they were just . . . I’m not even sure how to describe it . . . . Normal. Not one-upping, not worrying about bits falling off, not assuming that they’re the center of the universe. And not bothered by it. That really did feel like the future. Sign me up.

Technorati Tags: science fiction, WisCon, feminism

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Newspeak: funny sometimes

I’ve been giving much thought lately to ads, or, to be more exact, brainless repetitive messages generally. What with some very smart people (Dyson, Krugman 1996, 2008) predicting an ad-supported future, and what with the way that future is already among us, it’s high time to start thinking about how much free stuff costs.

But this is only tangentially about that. This is really just to share with you what those priceless Brits get up to.

About ads for drugs.

The biggest single market is in drugs that deal with erectile dysfunction. My favourite features a group of men who gather together to play in a band.

I think it is meant to show them looking relaxed and happy, but they are such good musicians you cannot help noting that impotence has left them with plenty of time on their hands to practise their instruments.

About brainless messages.

One of the big banks is currently advertising for [call center] workers saying “we seek passionate banking representatives to uphold our values.” This is a lie. Actually what the bank is seeking is competent people to follow instructions and answer the phones.

. . .

Passion, says the dictionary, means a strong sexual desire or the suffering of Christ at the crucifixion. In other words it doesn’t really have an awful lot to do with a typical day in the office – unless things have gone very wrong indeed.

Technorati Tags: advertising, newspeak

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I’ve had it

With this election, that is. Kate’s post brought it boiling back up, but so does practically everything right now. Just so you know we’re really out there: I’m mad as hell, and I’m not taking it any more. Not only can the Democrats not take my vote for granted, they’ve lost it. It doesn’t matter that with mindboggling generosity Hillary Clinton urges her supporters to vote in November. She’s not the one who caused the problem. The problem is the fauxgressives who think sexist bullying is okay, and the audiences who giggle nervously at best, and the candidates who ignore it. I don’t know how big a mea culpa it would take from all those people to bring me back in. I just know for sure that I’m not going to get it.

For some background to this rant, I want to tell you about something that happened in the high and far off times, when we were helping defend abortion clinics from fundie loonies down in the Deep South. Read more »

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Privileged ignorance

Talk about not knowing. I live in the country that did it. I was living in that country when they did it. I knew the US bombed Laos. I had no idea it was so bad.

From the BBC:

Laos is the most bombed country on earth. The US dropped 2.4 million tonnes of bombs on it during the Vietnam War – more than the allies dropped on Germany and Japan combined in World War II.

The photo essay shows what Laotians have done with the litter of war.

Technorati Tags: Laos, bombs, human ingenuity

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Get Firefox. Set a record.

Mark your calendars. Tuesday’s the day. People all over the world will be downloading Firefox 3.

Why? I’m glad you asked.

1) Firefox is an awesome browser, now with version 3 goodness. (It really is good. I’ve been using pre-release versions for a couple of months now, and it is Good.)

2) By downloading it Tuesday, you’ll be helping to set a world record for software downloads. Since this is free and open source software that’ll help lots of people hear about something with no ad budget. (It’s free. Who’s going to pay for ads?)

As for what’s so good about open source software: –Its focus is what the users want. (No stockholders to worry about.) –Because it’s open source, you have tens of thousands of geek eyes making sure it’s not carrying crapware, whether corporate or criminal. –Firefox, specifically, has hundreds of extensions that let you fill any specialized need you might have. (But a word of caution about extensions if you already use Firefox. See end of post.)

Speaking about specialized needs, one of mine is the absolute, can’t-live-without-it, do-or-die need for ad blocking. An extension called, amazingly enough, AdBlock, makes the web usable, and makes pages appear much faster because you’re not loading a bunch of useless junk. Another one is NoScript that selectively blocks javascript, flash ads, and any singing, dancing, blinking, annoying doodads you don’t need. (You can turn any of them back on if you want them.) That also means that an infected web page can’t load malware on your system.

With all the talk of Firefox 3, Opera fans (Opera is another open source free browser) have been pointing out loudly how much better their software is. So I went and had another look at it. (I gave up on it years ago when it put ads in a huge banner to try to force you to pay for a usable version.) Opera has no equivalent to AdBlock. (Yes, I know you can block ads with a whole lot of gymnastics, but it’s not easy.) So, as far as I’m concerned, forget it.

A word of caution. If you’re already using Firefox, 3 will install over 2. Since not all extensions are compatible with 3 at this point, you could suddenly lose some critical ones. This is not good. You can check the current status of add-on compatibility at alex.polvi’s site (via lifehacker).

Obviously, there ought to be an easy option to install 3 next to 2. For some braindead reason, Mozilla doesn’t take that route. (Probably a misguided desire to make sure everyone has the latest software. Point is, it should be a matter of user choice.) The workaround is to make a new profile in 2, install 3, but not start it until you’ve specified the option for it to use the new profile. Detailed instructions are here. It’s not difficult, but it is a bit tedious. Big demerit to the Firefox developers!

But, devs aside, Firefox itself is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, or for as long as you’re on the internets. Do your bit to let everyone know and download on Tuesday!

Technorati Tags: Firefox, Firefox 3

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We’re from the government. Trust us.

Except to say notice the URL, passed without comment.

screenshot of browser security warning when trying to access a US military web site

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