Year end, decade end, Y2K and related matters

In just under six hours it will be midnight here in California and now seems like a good time for some reflection.

2009 has had ups and downs. Obama has at least not been as bad as Bush. This is not to say that Obama has been particularly good. But since Bush set the bar very low it is not difficult for Obama to distinguish himself. And since I did not expect great things from Obama I have not been as disappointed as those whose souring hopes were reflected on their innocent and naive faces at his inauguration. I have learned never to expect anything approaching intelligence or honesty from any politician. Thus my expectations of political disappoint are usually confirmed and if on a rare occasion some member of the political classes shows some glimmer of intelligence or honesty then I can be pleasantly surprised.

The decade as a whole suffers from the dishonesty, hubris and mendacity of Bush, Cheney and the rest of that disreputable bunch of conservatives, neo-conservatives, fools, liars and thugs. As I write this the USA is still in Iraq involved in a unnecessary war which has killed and injured many and cost much. The total cost of Iraq is already about One Trillion Dollars and the final cost is unknown. But of greater importance are those killed and injured and their families. History will judge Bush harshly for Iraq. And Bush bungled Afghanistan which now has the possibility of turning into a fiasco.

Another thing I have heard recently is mention of Y2K. Often with some nervous laughter about how silly everyone was at the time. Yet many people either forget or did not realize that there was a lot of testing done to make sure that the disaster scenarios did not occur. Embedded microcode in controllers was tested. Software was patched and new servers with updated operating systems were installed. In 1999 I was working at Sun Microsystems as part of the team administering the java.sun.com website and some related sites. I was chosen to be responsible for Y2K readiness for the servers our group administered. During 1999 I did testing and documentation of test results. I followed the activities of other people within Sun doing Y2K testing. I read about Y2K testing on technical email lists as well as the general press. I determined that our servers were fine. And I could jokingly say I was Y2K ready since I had two cans of Spam and a six-pack of Jolt cola. Seriously I did have supplies because having at least two weeks of food and water are prudent when living where earthquakes occur. And remember two weeks of supplies is a lower limit not an upper limit. So I was fairly confident. Confident enough that in November 1999 I reluctantly left Sun after 13 years to join a startup

Thus on December 31, 1999 came around I watched the news as the time was changing around the world and there did not seem to be any major problems. I decided to do one more test just to satisfy myself. Just before I left Sun a server had installed in a Scandinavian country which had the java.sun.com content but was not yet listed in DNS; thus there was no traffic going to the server and only a few people in Sun even knew about it. I remembered the IP address because just before I left Sun I had helped deploy software and content on the server. So I entered the IP address in my browser and the page loaded perfectly just like I expected. I smiled and left for a New Year's Eve party being thrown by some friends of mine; Mike and Karen. For the past two decades I have attended their NYE party and had a wonderful time. And in just about an hour I am heading there again.

Be safe. Have fun. I look forward to 2010 being better than 2009. And I sincerely hope that the next ten years are better than the past 10 years.

Have a Happy New Year.


The Shah, Thatcher and recent revelations

Some records have been released from the UK archives concerning the Thatcher government and the Shah. The article in the Guardian. is an example of the coverage and the Financial Times also has coverage in their article.

The Financial Times article reports that Thatcher was "deeply unhappy" that the Shah could not be offered sanctuary in the UK in 1979. The Financial Times articles says that Thatcher confided to Lord Carrington, the foreign secretary, that the shah had been a "firm and helpful friend to the UK". As the saying goes "With friends like that who needs enemies". To call the Shah a friend of the UK shows how much the anti-Communist urge had led to tunnel vision. Thatcher along with many other politicians in the UK and the USA seemed to not really grasp the harm that was done by supporting dictatorial thugs or by continuing or supporting colonialism.

Let us not forget that it was British government who got the CIA involved in overthrowing Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 over oil. The Shah was put in place and what followed was two and a half decades of the Shah being a brutal thug. This brutality of the Shah's regime was a great contributing factor to the rise of fundamentalist forces in Iran.

The Shah was a brutal thug; not deserving of pity but rather to be taken before the bar of justice. Upon becoming Prime Minister what if Thatcher rather than being "deeply unhappy" had instead stood up and denounced the Shah as the brutal thug he was and said publicly "No entry or asylum for dictatorial brutal thugs". And what if the next day President Carter of the USA had stood up and said the same thing. If only Thatcher and Carter and a few politicians had the intelligence and courage and basic decency to be speak accurately about the Shah and demand that the Shah and his band of accomplices face justice.


Avatar - Movie Review

Last night I saw the movie Avatar in 3D with a group of friends. My prediction is that the movie will be very successful at the box office and will be nominated for many awards and win a substantial number of them.

Does this mean I think it is a great movie? No. I do not think it is a great movie. It is a good movie. It is an OK movie. But it is not a great movie.

Much of the script is formulaic. To often I was able to predict the next five minutes of the movie because it was so predictable. Having a bit more nuance and sophistication in the story development and nuance would have gone a long way in improving the film. And some things were simply silly; having the character Dr. Grace Augustine played by Sigourney Weaver smoking a cigarette in 2154 was a very bad choice. It just appeared as a clumsy attempt to do character development on the quick and it fails.

The story of the movie is a mashup of the typical "educated moderns do not understand spiritual nature of the world" and the "exploitation of the earth" and "cowboy joins native tribe". Each one of these has potential and a mashup of all three has potential but Avatar just did not reach its full potential. Much of the movie seemed like it was overlooking potential sources of interesting issues to explore so to build up to a big battle of good guys (humans) versus bad guys (planet natives). In the group of people with whom I saw the movie one person summed it up as being for "11 and 12 year old kids" so it should be viewed that way; although some others felt the movie was much better. And maybe I was expecting too much. Particularly when many adults seem to have the mental maturity of a 12 year old.

I will say a good word about the production in general and the 3D in particular. I was able to watch the movie without eye strain using the supplied 3D glasses. The integration of live action and animation worked well. At a technical level I was extremely impressed by the movie.

So in conclusion I suggest seeing the movie in 3D. You will likely enjoy the 3D experience and will be able to decide how you feel about the movie.


Peter Watts and Border Patrol

The SF author Peter Watts has posted his account of his treatment by USA Border Patrol with additional information.

There is a lot of comment flying around on the blogosphere about this. Many of the comments I was going to make have already been made in this discussion by Jo Walton.

The area which I think has not gotten sufficient is why is this culture of authoritarianism, intimidation and militarization becoming so prevalent at the USA borders as well as the USA in general. For something this complex there are no simple answers however I think one place (out of many) to start the analysis is with the Drug War. It is difficult to see the Drug War as anything other that a serious mistake which has done much harm to the USA and the world in general. Unfortunately there are many individuals, organizations and companies who are feeding like leeches on the supply of government money that finances the Drug War. And do not expect the politicians who have made the supporting evermore draconian laws to suddenly have a sudden change the hubris and mendacity which has increasing become a hallmark of the political class.

So can things change for the better? In theory yes things can change for the better. Am I optimistic that they will change for the better? Not today; today I just sad and sick of the situation. It is all very depressing.


I am annoyed.

I am not in one of the extreme groups. I am not in the "global warming is going to destroy the earth tomorrow and it is all 100% caused by humans" group and I am not in the "nothing is happening so let us just ignore everything and gas up our SUV" group. But I am annoyed; very annoyed; actually I am getting pissed off.

I am rather annoyed at people who refer to skeptics as "deniers" and I am annoyed at people who use the term "alarmists" to refer to people who hold with the AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) view. I am extremely annoyed at people who publish about what is supposedly one of the greatest threats facing us and then stonewall about the raw data and then after several years say Oh we lost it years ago. I am really pissed about that. And yes I think the raw data sets with all of the metadata does matter because there is always the possibility that any aggregation, combination or correction to one or more data sets may have had mistakes. I would like to see every step documented from each raw data set to the final published data set so that everything is transparent and subject to review. Plus it would be useful for training students. In addition to the data sets we need to have transparency in methods, formulas and parameters. There was a big disruption a few years ago about trying to get the details concerning the famous hockey stick graph. The last I had heard was that some corrections were finally published. Why all the secrecy? At time some people involved in all of this remind me of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings saying "My Precious! O my Precious" as he obsessed about the One True Ring; however instead of a ring some people act as if they are so possessive of their data sets, their formulas, their academic positions and their own sense of superiority that serious scientific inquiry appears to suffer.

One of the big concerns that I have is that there is so much focus on human factors that we are missing other factors. What about CO2 and ocean acidity? What happens if we all switch to wind, nuclear, etc and global warming continues due to other factors such as fluctuations in the sun for example. A while back I happened to read about some under sea volcanic activity in the Artic which melted a lot of Artic ice. It seems to me that losing a lot of Artic ice would have some impact on how much energy is reflected back. What happens if there is a major volcano eruption and we have global cooling? What do we do? Maybe humans should start better understanding exactly how the earth and the rest of the solar systems works. And the first step to that is remember how science works. Maybe we all need to put "transparency" and "openness" on our resolution list for 2010.