Saturday, May 13, 2006

PBS | I, Cringely . May 4, 2006 - Killer Apps

PBS | I, Cringely . May 4, 2006 - Killer Apps

"Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Yahoo" are his four companies to define the future of the computer. Unfortunately, he forgot the big one, although most people do. There is a software company out there that supplies code for practically every single mission-critical application on earth. Go to any continent, and find a huge business whose function requires high availability data storage and access, and you will find this software. In your average day, you deal with this software for the most important things you do ... banking, groceries, work, even your entertainment at night likely relies on this software in some way or another.

I'm talking about Oracle. The Oracle database system almost literally runs our planet in the background today. Whether you are talking about banks, about car makers, about military installations, about hospitals, about media giants ... they run an Oracle database to store and access their most vital business data.

The four companies he listed are the visible side of computers, but that's just the tip of a very large iceberg. Under the water, where we can't see, is the backbone of our computing systems, and that tends to almost exclusively be Oracle and UNIX. You can't really call UNIX a company, so I can see why its not on the list (though someone like Redhat is worth a look, IMO) ... but Oracle IS the database industry, when you talk about mission-critical data storage. And databases run our world today, in almost every capacity you can think of. Oracle would have topped my list of influential computer companies for the next decade. And they've always had the same business model ... do one thing, do it relentlessly, and do it way better than anyone else. They have for 2 decades already, and I see no reason to think they'll stop being dominant anytime in the future. - Commentary - EDITORIAL: The right to judge judges - Commentary - EDITORIAL: The right to judge judges:
For the love of God, can we please end this hysterical over-reaction to innocuous remarks by a Conservative MP about judges seeing themselves as gods?
There certainly is a lot of frothing over the resignation of Maurice Vellacott from his duties as chair of aboriginal affairs. This editorial from the Toronto Sun says he shouldn't have resigned, but there's also the suggestion that his comments were, in fact, true, even if the person he claimed said them never did, lol.

"[Chief Justice]Beverley McLachlin herself actually said that when they step into [a judicial activist] role, all of a sudden there's some mystical kind of power that comes over them by which everything they ever decreed is not to be questioned and they actually have these discerning and almost prophetic abilities to be able to come and know the mind of the public and they take on almost these godlike powers," he said during the interview.

"She said that herself. I didn't say that."

The trouble is, she didn't say anything of the sort. This is what McLachlin actually said ...

"The rule of law requires judges to uphold unwritten constitutional norms, even in the face of clearly enacted laws or hostile public opinion. There is certainly no guarantee or presumption that a given list of constitutional principles is complete, even assuming the good faith intention of the drafters to provide such a catalogue ... Judges have the duty to insist that legislative and executive branches of government conform to certain established and fundamental norms, even in times of trouble.''
The implication here, from the editorial and Vellacott's comments is that there's something wrong with the Supreme Court sitting in judgment of the laws of our land. Forgive my ignorance ... my understanding was its entire reason for existence is to act as a check on the elected Legislature, ensuring that laws passed conform with the established principles of Canadian life.

"Activist judges," as they are typically called of late, are the people who will stop the government from passing laws that infringe our rights ... it is, in fact, their whole reason for existence. If judges as a whole, and Supreme Court judges specifically, aren't supposed to cast judgment on matters of law, aren't supposed to question any law passed, then what is their point? If the law passed by Parliament was the law of the land, without question or appeal, then there's no need for judges at all, only for people to pass sentence when someone transgresses rules.

Judges exist to be able to weight individual situations, to be able to examine the validity of laws in light of those circumstances, to ensure that the laws we pass do not trample on fundamental rights. That IS their reason for existence, and they MUST be allowed the independence to fulfill that reason.

What McLachlin said was perfectly legitimate. She described the role of judges perfectly, and she described the reason for the Supreme Court's existence. Vellacott is obviously entitled to his own opinion, but intentionally misrepresenting the remarks of someone else is an action that does NOT speak to the character of a Cabinet Minister. He has since retracted those comments, but that's hardly the point, as they've already been made ... the fact he was willing to make them in the first place is what matters.

Vellacott and others are free to argue that the judiciary should be neutered and not allowed the latitude to question Legislature. That does seem to be what people are suggesting here ...

Problem is, if public opinion, the law and the elected House of Commons are not to decide what these norms are, it obviously and clearly leaves that privilege to the Supreme Court. Giving judges on that court a status that is, yes, almost God-like.

Michael Coren, May 13, 2006
But that seems to me a dangerous position. The role of the judiciary is to serve as a check on the legislative branch, while the legislature checks the judiciary through laws. As soon as one side is given more power than the other, the balance is broken, and the whole system falls apart.

Vellacott was right to resign ... or to be asked to resign, whichever it was. He is free to hold these views, and it wasn't his views that got him fired. It's the fact he was willing to misrepresent her views in the first place. It either shows a lack of morality to lie about her, or a lack of diligence in research for getting her remarks so wrong. It wasn't about his views on the judiciary really ... it was about his willingness to smear McLachlin with comments she never made.

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Space geek ... (video/quicktime Object)

Well, I am gonna geek out on everyone this morning, lol. I've just seen some new images from the Cassini probe in the Saturn system. The link above is a movie of the descent of the Huygens probe when it landed on Titan last year, and it blew me away.

Maybe this is just the space geek in me talking, but watching the descent over an alien planet was truly fascinating for me. There are some other amazing shots coming out as well, and as someone who loves a well composed photograph, I was blown away by this one.

Now thats photo composition folks ... not bad for a machine floating in space a billion and a half km or so away, eh?

Friday, May 12, 2006


Originally uploaded by Elron6900.
This is a fairly typical street scene from Victoria Island in Lagos In part, I took the shot to show the kind of traffic we dealt with on a regular basis, but the "Battle of the Gods" sign in the background was the secondary reason, lol.

That was one of those things that was uniquely Lagos. It advertised an evangelical revival, a regular event, that tried to convert local animist believers into Christianity. I never did attend one, but the inpression I got was that much of the conversion was done under the "my God is stronger than your God" mentality, and that Battle of the Gods was a very literal description of the sort of services.

I plan to scan and post pics from my Africa trips over the next few weeks. Where possible, I will include my original journal entries on the subject as well. Hope you enjoy :)

The separation of powers, R.I.P. - War Room -

War Room - "The separation of powers, R.I.P."

While this issue doesn't affect me directly, as I am not an American citizen, its still worth making note of, IMO. And as the global IT infrastructure becomes more and more homogeneous, we have to remember that its not just American calls going through those massive switching rooms in US Telcos.

I first wrote about this issue a couple of times in early April ... here, and here. It now seems to be coming out in public that the NSA has records of pretty much every call that went through a US switch room in the last few years. If you are lucky enough to be a Qwest customer, you may be less affected, as they have refused access, but they were the only company to object to the suggestion that spooks be allowed to set up shop inside the switching rooms.

There is no question that legitimate terrorist activity needs to be rooted out. But just as police have no right to troll through the phone records of all New Yorkers, to find the few involved in organized crime, equally there's no right to troll through the calls of Americans to find terrorists. The right against search and seizure guarantees that the government won't put me under surveillance without a valid, court endorsed reason.

We routinely reject the argument that police should be allowed to enter our houses without cause ... even though that would find occasional criminals, it would inconvenience and stigmatize far too many innocent citizens. There is no difference here ... no one is suggesting that the hunt for terrorists stops, but as with the hunt for ANY criminal, you cannot break laws or trample on the rights of others to find out who is a terrorist.

What is the government doing with the phone records? Well, we don't know, and we don't really have any way of finding out for sure. The president said today that his administration isn't "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." OK, but isn't it "mining or trolling" through the data? And if it isn't, why has it gone to the trouble and expense of collecting that data at all?

How is the government safeguarding the information? Well, we don't know that, either. Imagine for a moment that an FBI agent investigating a kidnapping wants to see who has been calling you. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act sets forth the safeguards to be observed before the agent can get the records from a phone company. But now that the NSA has all the records, can the agent simply search through them to find what he needs without getting anyone's approval first? Now imagine that the would-be searcher isn't an FBI agent investigating a crime but a Bush administration official doing some research on a political opponent. Can he run a search through the records, too?

To me, the above paragraphs highlight the problem perfectly. The issue is in oversight, in the guarantee that Americans have that their government is acting appropriately. Normally, Americans don't have to guess about that ... checks and balances are in place that guarantee the government won't abuse its powers. Maybe it isn't abusing power in this case ... but without the oversight of checks and balances, no one will ever know. We are forced to trust that the administration is using the data appropriately. We have to trust that the guy looking to search the records for political reasons is going to be turned down. But it shouldn't be a trust issue ... That's why the system is supposed to have checks and balances, lol.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bush says Jeb would make a great president --

Bush says Jeb would make a great president -- "Bush says Jeb would make a great president"

Well, this is hardly surprising ... i was wondering how long it would take, lol. What worries me about this (and about Hillary for that matter) is the recent moce toward imperial dynasties.

Of course, W is the second Bush to hold the job in recent years, and much is being made of Hillary's potential run. The question is whether the presidency was ever intended to be dynastic in any way. Its one thing for Roosevalt's to do it over successive generations, but in today's world it seems to be happening much faster, and more widespread. Not much to do about it really ... I wonder if he'd get the nomination of he runs?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Illusan Market

These photos were taken in 1993, a few miles outside of the Victoria Island subdivision I lived and worked in, at a market/townsite called Illusan. I've got some examples of the masks that I brought back with, but its really hard to convey what it was like to go to the market. I recently dug out a journal I was keeping at the time, and I actually made an entry about going to the market that day (being the first time we went). Here is the transcript below ...

June 26, 1993
Lagos, Nigeria
"The Galleria"

Today we went to the Galleria. Its a huge open air market on Victoria Island nicknamed by one of our Houston contingent. As I saw today, if you can't find it at Nigeria's version of the Galleria, you probably can't think to look for it.

Bartering is a way of life here. You never buy anything at the first price mentioned, and half the original price is usually starting to be reasonable.

Its a very eerie place. Hundreds of wooden shacks set up a few feet apart, with narrow dirt pathways running between the rows of shops. Very little sunlight breaks through to ground level as the rooves of the shops over hang, closing you in. And its literally crawling with people. Everyone has something to sell, from food to alcohol, art to guide services.

Its truly a family affair. While mom minds the store and talks to customers, older kids will prepare merchandise, while the younger children roam the passageways, trying to attract customers to the family stall. Be careful ... they are there to guide you to their family stall, NOT to the best merchandise or prices.

It certainly is an adventure. At first, the people, the smells, the stuff, can all be a bit overwhelming. But in the end, its not really any worse than a K-Mart $1.49 day.

Another plug for "The Hour" ...

Its an unusual news show that can do a week of highlights from old shows, and not only get away with it, but turn it into interesting new shows that offer different insight on stories told under different light, with different angles. Of course, The Hour is not your average news show, as I've mentioned in the past, lol.

This week really is a week of repeats for George and the Hour, but its really well done. Tuesday's show, about his past religious and spiritual stories, was quite interesting, and I especially enjoyed his bit on the new Judas interpretations (go back here for my comments from 2005 on Judas' role ...).

Wednesday's show included a replay of his interview with Larry Flynt, and his segue into his next bit, on the history of burlesque, echoed my own life-long feelings on Flynt ... that he was happy to move on to a nicer story. I'll admit up-front ... I do read Hustler regularly, and I think Hustler not only occupies a place in the history of Men's Magazine's, it, and Flynt, deserve a place in the history of free speech issues. But I've always wished the representative of those values in the area of adult entertainment were just a bit more savory.

One of the problems, I think, is that the adult industry is a ghetto. Its not an industry that attracts creativity ... because of public scorn and legal red tape, it tends to attract the lowest common denominator in today's world. Erotica CAN be beautiful and artistic and wonderful, but one of the reasons we are deluged with mediocre or bad pornography is that we don't encourage creative, intelligent people to work in an erotic area.

When we look at the history of art ... the history of humanity ... we see erotica. Sometimes it is couched in religious terms, other times its not ... but nudity and erotica is a theme that spans culture, language and geography. We see examples in history of true genius applied in this area ... original illustrated versions of the Kama Sutra are just one example. Today, I wonder who the genius in erotica might be ... its hard for me to see Flynt in that role, and as someone in the forefront of free speech issues in the area of erotica, he should be someone who crafts erotica as art.

Instead, what I see today, is only the worst elements are willing to stake a claim in the adult world. Those with commercial power, like Flynt, end up being the ones at the forefront of free speech battles, but the battles are often on barely defensible material, where claims of 'artistic merit' are often more theoretical than real.

I don't know what the answer is, honestly. I agree with Flynt's stand on many of his free speech issues, but I wish he wasn't the one representing those interests. Until its more attractive for intelligent, creative people to apply their talents in the adult field, I fear the Flynt, and people like him, will be who continues to speak for those interests, and that's the true shame, IMO. - Polyamory: A Twist On Polygamy - Polyamory: A Twist On Polygamy: "Polyamory: A Twist On Polygamy"

This was a pretty good, if short, article about the other side of Polygamy. Usually, when we hear about multiple relationships on the news, or anywhere in our normal lives, its to do with communities where women are forced into multiple marriages, communities like Colorado City and Bountiful, BC. Such arrangements are very damaging for the people involved, and anytime coercion or force is in play, there are severe issues that need to be looked at.

However, such communities are only a small part of 'polyamory' and give most of the larger poly community a very bad name. For people outside of religious communities, polyamory is a lifestyle choice about including everyone in your circle of love, instead of limiting it to a single partner. Its almost never misogynist in the way traditional polygamy is, and its focus is always to include rather than to exclude.

For the past 4 years, I have been living a polyamorous life. I've been poly my whole life ... my 2 failed marriages are a testament to promises made that I could not keep. I wish I understood myself better before those relationships ... it was unfair to monogamous wives for me to try and promise monogamous fidelity. Those marriages failed because I wasn't able to keep promises I had made ... had I known myself better at the time, I would have known they were promises I could never make.

I've known my whole life I was different from other people. I crave relationships, but I've never understood the exclusiveness that ensues. To me, love is love ... romantic love should be no more or less exclusive than familial love is. When parents have 2 children, the second child isn't loved any less, nor do parents have to take love from child 1 for child 2 ... with a new child, another whole 'bucket of love' is created that is wholly for the new child, and wholly unaffected by the other child.

This is how I feel about romantic love. Loving one person doesn't negate the possibility for me to love others. Adding a new relationship doesn't take love from my others ... its a whole new bucket of love. I don't have to take love away from existing relationships for the new one, any more than a parent has to take love away from an older child for the new one. One is wholly separate from the other.

I know this life isn't for everyone. It has reduced my dating pool fairly dramatically. But I've found myself to be far more content in the relationships I do find, because I am being honest with myself, and starting things off on a note of honesty, with promises made I know I can keep. Two failed marriages, failed for the reasons that I felt trapped in a situation where my love was constrained, was plenty of proof that monogamy isn't right for me ... I don't think polyamory is right for everyone either, but I know for myself, continuing to delude myself that I was monogamous certainly wasn't the right solution for me, or for the women I met.

Flickr: Photos from Elron6900

Flickr: Photos from Elron6900

Just wanted to make a quick post to say my flickr account just cracked 200 views. I'm trying to add photos as I take them, as well as catch up on my old stuff as I find them. As well, I plan to use it as a repository of photos when I travel ... between flickr and here, the two will form a sort of travel-blog for me.

And speaking of travel, I have some ideas for this year. I've always wanted to do a cross-Canada trip, in part to see it for myself, but also in part to do photos and essays to help share Canada with others. This year, the idea is starting to take more shape, and I am starting to build solid ideas for how to go forward with it. Keep your eyes open here for more details.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Letters from Iran

I'll be interested to see the contents of this letter, assuming its ever released. There's an angle I haven't heard yet that I think should be pointed out, dealing with Islam. Islam does have conditions by which war is justified ... in fact, conditions under which Allah demands that infidels be smited. Much of the current 'terrorism' climate in Islam is the perversion of these elements, originally in the religion for protective reasons, into the focus of all Islam, not just of its protection.

Like all religions, Islam is primarily a religion of peace ... its a study in human interaction with the divine, just as any other religion is, and the majority of its focus is spiritual, like other religions. When was is necessary, under Islamic rules a leader must do everything possible for peace, before actually engaging in war. Once war is decided and declared, it is complete, total, and can be quite brutal ... prior to the point of declaration, in theory, a good Muslim must always be working towards peace.

One of the time honoured methods for this, a symbolic gesture that goes back to the days of Salahadin or earlier, is the envoy of peace. This offer is always genuine, though in many cases, history shows it is calculated to be an offer the other side cannot accept. bin Laden has done this a couple of times ... the latest letter from Iran appears to be very similar.

While its hard to tell what's actually in the letter, since it hasn't been released, the tone of both sides is pretty clear its an overture about the legitimacy of Iranian action. Given that, and the historical symbolism of the envoy of peace, its hard for me not to see this letter is Iran's way of saving face when (or if ... is there even an if anymore, honestly?) hostilities do start.

There are rules for war for a good Muslim leader ... this letter seems to me to fit into one of those rules. That shouldn't go unnoticed by us, IMO.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Identity Theft ... A Poem ...

This is something I wrote today, in my head while driving. I was listening to one of my favorite ecclectic bands, the Crash Test Dummies. The title song from Ghosts that Haunt Me has always been a personal favorite of mine ... but I suddenly asked myself, what if we never did "shake their bony hands and so dispell the gloom ..."?

Hence, the poem below, lol ...

Identity Theft

by Lyle Bateman

What if
the skeletons in my closet
decided to try on all my clothes
and go out to theatre
or dinner and drinks with friends
could I still call it identity theft?

copyright 2006 Lyle W. Bateman