Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who Wants to Bail Out Ireland?

I'm glad that I'm not footing this bill:
Ireland’s ailing banks need another €24 billion ($34 billion) in cash in a move that will leave all of them under state control and facing a complete overhaul, officials announced Thursday in a long-awaited effort to cap a 3-year banking crisis.
The Central Bank of Ireland made that recommendation as it published pessimistic results for stress tests on four banks. The banks, whose losses the government insured early during the financial crisis, caused Ireland to need a bailout in the first place, so their fate is closely tied with that of the wider country.
The tests presumed that the country’s real estate market would keep sinking for the next two years and produce tens of thousands of home foreclosures, a problem that is just starting to bite in a country committed to the idea of home ownership for all.
Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan said all four banks would need enough money to cover mammoth write-offs of dud property loans and to boost their cash reserves to higher standards. He said these cash requirements can’t be met by any of the banks, so each will have to receive funding from Ireland’s emergency European Union-International Monetary Fund credit line.
Do you adopt a hard-line "let them fail" approach? That might sell politically in the United States, but it won't sell in Europe. It would go a long ways towards fixing Ireland's problems in the long term, but it would cause a great deal of social unrest in the short term. I don't care how polite your society--when you throw several hundred thousand people out of their homes, it destabilizes things to a tremendous degree and adds hidden costs to day to day life.

Somehow, some way, they'll get their money, they'll pour it down that massive drain, and it'll do, what, exactly? Will it solve the problem? Or will it help drive more and more of the economic have-nots in the Eurozone further and further away from the Germans, who are probably wondering why they didn't bail on the euro last year?

The Irish created a massive housing bubble, and now their four reeling, broken banks are on the hook for properties that aren't worth much. I would watch what happens. If someone can find a creative way to inject that money into those banks and make them healthy again, it would go a long ways towards understanding how to mitigate these problems in the future.

I also think the Irish are serious about banking reform. The United States has never seriously tackled banking reform, at least, not since the Great Depression.

I have a simple solution, however. Don't create a massive housing bubble and expect to survive when it collapses.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Michael Yon Goes on the Record Against Rolling Stone

I happen to agree with Michael Yon here:
The online edition of the Rolling Stone story contains a section with a video called “Motorcycle Kill,” which includes our Soldiers gunning down Taliban who were speeding on a motorcycle toward our guys.  These Soldiers were also with 5/2 SBCT, far away from the “Kill Team” later accused of the murders.  Rolling Stone commits a literary “crime” by deceptively entwining this normal combat video with the Kill Team story.  The Taliban on the motorcycle were killed during an intense operation in the Arghandab near Kandahar City.  People who have been to the Arghandab realize the extreme danger there.  The Soviets got beaten horribly in the Arghandab, despite throwing everything including the Soviet kitchen sink into the battle that lasted over a month.  Others fared little better.  To my knowledge, 5/2 and supporting units were the first ever to take Arghandab, and these two dead Taliban were part of that process.
The killing of the armed Taliban on the motorcycle was legal and within the rules of engagement.  Law and ROE are related but separate matters.  In any case, the killing was well within both the law and ROE.  The Taliban on the back of the motorcycle raised his rifle to fire at our Soldiers but the rifle did not fire.  I talked at length with several of the Soldiers who were there and they gave me the video.  There was nothing to hide.  I didn’t even know about the story until they told me.  It can be good for Soldiers to shoot and share videos because it provides instant replay and lessons learned.  When they gave me the video and further explained what happened, I found the combat so normal that I didn’t even bother publishing it, though I should have because that little shooting of the two Taliban was the least of the accomplishments of these Soldiers, and it rid the Arghandab of two Taliban.
Some people commented that our Soldiers used excessive force by firing too many bullets.  Hogwash.  And besides, they were trying to kill each other.  Anyone who has seen much combat with our weak M-4 rifles realizes that one shot is generally not enough, and the Taliban were speeding at them on a motorbike, which very often are prepared as suicide bombs.  If that motorcycle had been a bomb, as they often are, and got inside the group of Soldiers and exploded, they could all have been killed.  Just yesterday, in Paktika, three suicide attackers came in, guns blazing, and detonated a huge truck bomb.  Depending on which reports you read, about twenty workers were killed and about another fifty wounded.
You CANNOT explain the context of combat to the fringe left of American society. Everything MUST be fair. These are the people telling us that kids shouldn't keep score during soccer games so that no one gets their feelings hurt.

Ours is a military that punishes soldiers that do the wrong thing. That's what makes it a disciplined, well-trained fighting force. Your garden variety African or Middle Eastern military wouldn't bother filling out forms for such things. The US military has lawyers, due process, and severe punishment for anyone caught, tried, and convicted of a crime. Why can't anyone point that out BEFORE they tear into a unit, as Mr. Yon says, that is full of thousands of good soldiers?
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Do Not Tell Them Anything, Mr. Clooney

Italy is in an uproar. Well, not really. Italy has problems. This is sort of one of them.
Silvio Berlusconi's defense lawyers on Tuesday named George Clooney, the Italian foreign minister and a bevy of showgirls as witnesses at the premier's upcoming prostitution trial, an attorney and news reports said.
Prosecutors, for their part, have asked to hear from 136 witnesses, including the Moroccan teenager at the center of the scandal and 32 other women who allegedly worked as prostitutes during parties at Berlusconi's villa, according to Italian news reports.
Don't say a thing, Mr. Clooney. Just pretend you don't know what's going on and crack wise about having to catch a plane to a country where the head of state likes his whores to be of age.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Speed Cameras Don't Work

A German speed camera, very similar to the ones that have caught Miranda speeding more times than we can count.

What is the real intention of the speed camera?

Is it to get people to slow down? Or is it to raise revenue?

I've lived with speed cameras of varying kinds. I used to see them in Washington D.C. As soon as you see one, you slow down, ridiculously so. Then you speed up again. What good is that? As soon as as a speed camera is set up, people who drive through there on a regular basis learn its location and remember to slow down, but only where the camera is located. Their behavior isn't corrected; it is slightly modified. I guess the cameras have to move, then. Right?

If speed is truly a factor in traffic accidents, then how do you regulate that behavior? As long as you have cars that go fast, people will go fast. People who believe in consequences drive a little more cautiously; people who have no fear whatsoever of losing their license, killing someone, or getting a speeding ticket in the mail, do not care and nothing will get them to change their behavior (that is, until they, themselves, are taken off the road, one way or another).

A speed camera can certainly raise revenue. Here in Germany, people swear by them. Those people also happen to be the ones who run the Landkreis, or what we call the "county" here in Germany. There are cities, counties, and states, but it's all different from the American version.

When I hear people complain, I just go, ho hum. The Man swears by speed cameras; hence, they are here to stay:
As Interstate 95 sweeps past this small town along South Carolina's coastal plain, motorists encounter cameras that catch speeding cars, the only such devices on the open interstate for almost 2,000 miles from Canada to Miami.
The cameras have nabbed thousands of motorists, won accolades from highway safety advocates, attracted heated opposition from state lawmakers and sparked a federal court challenge.
Ridgeland Mayor Gary Hodges said the cameras in his town about 20 miles north of the Georgia line do what they are designed to do: slow people down, reduce accidents and, most importantly, save lives.
Fear of getting a ticket is supposed to stop you from speeding? Okay. Then why, after the very first speeding ticket was issued by the traffic cop, whenever that was, do we still have people speeding? You cannot legislate against stupidity. Yes, it makes sense to slow down. No, you're not going to get everyone to slow down all of the time. There are those of us with common sense, and we keep having to pay higher insurance premiums because of the jackasses who cannot moderate their own driving.

The ticket isn't the problem; the person driving the car is the problem. Isn't there a better way to get them to modify their behavior? Up til now, speeding tickets really haven't solved the problem; they've just made it so Johnny Law can have a somewhat steady stream of revenue.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The BBC Turns its Back on the Caribbean

Trunk Bay, US Virgin Islands
Oh, I don't like this at all:

The BBC Caribbean Service is making its final broadcasts, ending seven decades of programming for the region.
The service is being shut as part of budget cuts announced by the BBC World Service in January.
BBC managers say they have had to make tough choices because of a 16% cut in UK government funding.
But one critic called it a short-sighted decision, showing the BBC did not understand the complexities of the region.

I guess money rules. How does the BBC save money by eliminating broadcast content and material, however? I've never understood how that works.

You don't have to be British to appreciate the BBC. I find myself turning to them, more and more, in order to avoid the jackals in the American media. But, with these cuts at hand, why should I hope to see a BBC product worth citing in my blog posts?
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Would Leonardo DiCaprio Throw Down With Clint Eastwood?

Perish the thought:
Currently, Leonardo DiCaprio is filming the J. Edgar bio-pic with director Clint Eastwood. I’ve been hearing various stuff about the filming, mostly controlled leaks about potential plotlines and that kind of stuff, but I hadn’t heard anything about tempers flaring. Until now! The National Enquirer’s gossip guy Mike Walker claims that Clint and Leo got into a little tiff while filming inWashington, D.C. one day. Clint, a famously reserved and fast director, got the take he was looking for and called it a day. Leo did not agree, and pitched a fit. I mean… you know Clint has turds bigger than Leo, right?
FEELIN’ LUCKY, PUNK?… WELL, ARE YOU? You coulda heard a pin drop when LEONARDO DICAPRIO suddenly got feisty with Oscar-winning director CLINT EASTWOOD on the set of “J. Edgar” and demanded a retake on a scene where he reacts to a bomb explosion on a Washington, D.C., street.
Clint loved the take, called it a wrap and told everyone to go home – but Leo felt he hadn’t looked shocked enough in the scene, and insisted on a redo.
“No,” said Clint, “I’m happy with it.”
Said My On-Set Spy: “Leo got upset and demanded that Clint reshoot the scene. Stunned by Leo’s challenging manner, everyone got real quiet. Then Clint turned to the cameraman and said, in a quiet Dirty Harry rasp: ‘He can shoot it again – but make sure there’s no film in the camera.’”
Instantly, Leo lost his temper, screamed: “FORGET IT!” – and stormed off the set. Shooting resumed the next day, but sources say the air’s thick with tension.
Tension? As in, the young fellow realizes that he can't win when it comes to challenging aHollywood legend?

I mark this down to "creative differences." Mr. Eastwood has reached a point in his life where his creative abilities are his to command. Mr. DiCaprio has twenty or thirty years to go before he can even begin to approach where Eastwood was when they were giving him his Oscar for Unforgiven. Will Mr. DiCaprio get there?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Technical Writing Resource: The Purdue OWL

What a great find:
Workplace Writers
This page provides links to resources for workplace writers and people writing during the job search process.
Effective Workplace Writing
This resource explains the two dominant ideas in professional writing that will help you produce persuasive, usable resumes, letters, memos, reports, white papers, etc. This section outlines the concepts of rhetorical awareness and user-centered design, provides examples of these ideas, and it contains a glossary of terms.
Audience Analysis
Audience Analysis: Building Information About Your Readers? discusses your communication's complex audience and provides key questions you can ask to determine readers' needs, values, and attitudes. This section also provides useful charts to help you with your audience analysis.
Prioritizing Your Concerns for Effective Business Writing
When you are revising your resume or other business messages, there are priorities of concerns in choosing what to look for and work on. This handout provides tips for reviewing the content and quality of your business documents.
Parallel Structure
Provides information and examples on parallel structure in business documents.
Tone in Business Writing
This handout provides overviews and examples of how to use tone in business writing. This includes considering the audience and purpose for writing.
HATS: A Design Procedure for Routine Business Documents
The HATS presentation introduces students and instructors to the basic elements of document design. The presentation outlines how to use headings, (information) access, typography (fonts), and space in routine professional documents to promote user-centered communication.
Business Letters: Accentuating the Positives
This handout provides information on accentuating the positives in writing business letters.
Basic Business Letters
This resource covers the parts of the basic business letter and provides three sample business letters.
This handout will help you solve your memo-writing problems by discussing what a memo is, describing the parts of memos, and providing examples and explanations that will make your memos more effective.
Sales Letters: Four Point Action Closing
This handout covers four points on how to write a good conclusion for a sales letter.
Report Abstracts
This handout discusses how to write good abstracts for reports. It covers informational and descriptive abstracts and gives pointers for success.
White Papers
A white paper is a certain type of report that is distinctive in terms of purpose, audience, and organization. This resource will explain these issues and provide some other tips to enhance white paper content.
Revision in Business Writing
Provides information on revising business documents for audience and purpose with emphasis on language, tone, organization, and correctness.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's in Your Toolbox?

What are the tools you will use to reach your audience? I have mine, and Scribd is becoming an indispensable tool for reaching an audience dedicated to reading and consuming original content. I don't think there's much here that would be radical or new. Having a wide range of tools when you're a technical writer is vital:

Word Processing software is the backbone of technical writing for creating text. The most popular word processing tool is Microsoft Word. A technical writer must be familiar with Word and should be an advanced to expert user. The technical writer who cannot afford to buy Word should use Open Office, which converts Word files easily.
Desktop Publishing (DTP) programs format documents for the printer. A very common program is Adobe FrameMaker, which is useful for large documents with extensive formatting. FrameMaker can host multiple users and is good for collaboration.
Image Capturing and Editing tools allow the designer to insert images into the document, such as photographs, tables, graphs, and line drawings. Snagit and CamStudio are screen capture software programs. Visio is a program that creates flow charts, org charts, and other visuals. Captured images usually require editing and tweaking. The most popular editing tools are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Corel Paint Shop Pro.
Online Help tools facilitate the development of pop-up dialog boxes and searchable, context-sensitive Help files. Context-sensitive Help files save users the trouble of searching through lengthy manuals for answers to questions. The standard tool is RoboHelp, used to create online Help for any application. Other common tools are Doc-To-Help and Author-it. Technical writers must be familiar with at least one online Help tool.
Web Tools include Microsoft FrontPage and Adobe Dreamweaver, which allow the writer to use WYSIWYG (what-you-see- is-what-you-get, pronounced "wiziwig") to design web pages without HTML. A technical writer should have knowledge of HTML and other codes to edit Web pages.
Programming Languages include Java, C++, Visual Basic, .NET, and many others. Technical writers should be familiar with programming languages to help them when writing about program specifications.
Now, the part about Dreamweaver and programming languages is helpful. And being able to properly create a help index would be a skill that would recommend itself. I think that where I have improved within the last year is in the area of creating images for the web. It's getting to the point where I can stage enough scanned material for regular posting, and that's where I want to be.
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The Tragic Final Day of World War I

The Tragic Final Day of World War I                                                                                            

Why the British Navy Failed During the American Revolution

Why the British Navy Failed During the American Revolution                                                                                            

The Limes Germanicus

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shinmoe-dake Erupts

It goes from bad to worse for Japan:

A volcano in southwestern Japan erupted Sunday after nearly two weeks of relative silence, sending ash and rocks up to four kilometres (two and a half miles) into the air, a local official says.
It was not immediately clear if the eruption was a direct result of the massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake that rocked northern areas Friday, unleashing a fierce tsunami and sparking fears that more than 10,000 may have been killed.
The 1,421-metre (4,689-feet) Shinmoedake volcano in the Kirishima range saw its first major eruption for 52 years in January. There had not been any major activity at the site since March 1.
Authorities have maintained a volcano warning at a level of three out of five, restricting access to the entire mountain.
Related? I have no idea. The seismic and volcanic events could have emanated from completely separate fault lines. The northeast of Japan is what has born the brunt of the devastation. The entire country is suffering from power outages, shortages, and fear. Even if the physical threat is nil, the psychological impact must be terrible.
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Why Did Japan's Leaders Ignore the Problems?

The damaged roof of reactor No. 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after an explosion that blew off the upper part of the structure is seen in this Saturday photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan.
In any event, there will be a lot of blame to throw around, and soon:

The timing of the near nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi could not have been more appropriate. In only a few weeks the world will mark the 25th anniversary of the worst nuclear plant disaster ever to affect our planet – at Chernobyl in Ukraine. A major core meltdown released a deadly cloud of radioactive material over Europe and gave the name Chernobyl a terrible resonance.
This weekend it is clear that the name Fukushima came perilously close to achieving a similar notoriety. However, the real embarrassment for the Japanese government is not so much the nature of the accident but the fact it was warned long ago about the risks it faced in building nuclear plants in areas of intense seismic activity. Several years ago, the seismologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko stated, specifically, that such an accident was highly likely to occur. Nuclear power plants in Japan have a "fundamental vulnerability" to major earthquakes, Katsuhiko said in 2007. The government, the power industry and the academic community had seriously underestimated the potential risks posed by major quakes.
Katsuhiko, who is professor of urban safety at Kobe University, has highlighted three incidents at reactors between 2005 and 2007.

Safety is never a priority until someone starts pointing a finger at a politician or a bureaucrat or a businessman. Then, and only then, will you hear the same old platitudes and excuses.

Has anyone ever tried to smear or discredit Katsuhiko? Has anyone ever accused him of insanity or incompetence?
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Thursday, March 10, 2011


A brilliant comment on finding things:

The intelligence of the web isn’t the technical infrastructure or the idea of bandwidth or CSS. Its intelligence comes because so many people contribute content. It’s the true global encyclopedia — Wikipedia is just one part of a larger body of reference information. We’re all contributing to it, page by page.
We’re only about 15 years into this endeavor. Imagine the size of the content repository in 50 years. We’re moving towards a book of knowledge that is growing daily, becoming more and more comprehensive — and it’s because of the individual contributions, not because of a specific authoring tool or process or technology.
It’s a free for all, sure, with any kind of design, format, and style. But despite the variances, people look past design and focus on content. This is why, when we consider enterprise authoring methodologies, what makes the most sense is the authoring methodology that empowers the most people to author.
As more people author, the pool of content grows wider and deeper. Soon you’ll amass enough information that, although it’s a content dumpyard in many cases, when users dig around they find the nuggets of information they’re looking for. It’s not a huge problem if the individual content on each page or project varies in layout, color, and style. The mere fact that the content is there, because you empowered a subject matter expert or user to author it, means that you have content. Content exists. This content gives rise to findability.
I do like finding things embedded into books and things that are outside of the normal "text" world. I think this technology will really start to take off when the search results can properly return hits based not only on terms, but on genres, formats, and the intent of the search itself. I think that this will manifest itself when you can enter in a string of search terms and get back hits from the text world, from someone's blog, from an article in an online publication, but also in a series of images, or from a video where that subject was discussed.

There's a real treasure trove of video and of recorded images out there. But because of the storage limitations of videotape and the kinoscope, a tremendous amount of what could be viable content in terms of examining history and culture was lost as it was being produced in the 1950s through the 1970s. We are entering the era of "Everything Will Be Kept Forever."

Curation becomes a complimentary buzzword, in relation to findability. Responsible curation would have to include the ability of search engines to find what it is you are organizing and storing. So, which would you rather be? The finder or the curator?

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A System for Fighting Viruses?

This is a good read:

The scientific community has forever looked at nature for inspiration and as a treasure trove of solutions for vexing problems.Words like “bio-inspired”, biomimetics, biomimicry and bionics have been coined and used to describe this fascination. In the area of information security, the most obvious link is the parallels we draw between securing a system and the human immune system. In fact, Robert Helms Anderson states in the RAND monograph report “Securing the U.S. Defense Information Infrastructure“:
It turned out to be virtually impossible for us to find examples of information infrastructure protection that had no analog in biology.

And then the article quotes thusly, "We need a system for biological viruses that can do the same thing."

That made me laugh out loud.

Computer viruses do not occur in nature. They are the creation of sociopaths with computers and code.

Viruses live in the cells of a host and come in millions of variations, as anyone with access to Wikipedia will tell you. And some latent viruses are beneficial. I hope that, when they come up with their master plan to create a virus-fighting system, they remember to avoid destroying the viruses that are harmless and don't inadvertently create a virus that wipes out all of humanity.

Darn thing, that pushback.

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