Bill's Blog

Friday, June 03, 2005

Teach your kids about computers

Want to give your kids a head start when it comes to computers? There is a site I just found that has some amazing technical teachings geared for kids. They have lesson plans that the kids step through and games they can play to help ingrain what they have learned into their minds. The site is geared for children ages 8-13 (kids must be able to read) and is free provided you register (as far as I can tell registration is so it remembers the last lesson you completed on your last visit) - though I don't remember what information it asked for at registration time. Enough of me talking...Here's the link.


While this site is a bit too advanced for my kids, I will keep it in mind for a few years from now.

Schneier on Security: Billions Wasted on Anti-Terrorism Security

On his Blog, Bruce Schneier has a great collection of links on the billions of Dollars wasted since 9/11 on Anti-Terrorism. He points to a pair of New York Times articles and a series of articles from the Washington Post on the topic.

I think (and I believe from reading some of Schneier's other writings about Post-9/11 security that he agrees) that most of the money budgeted and spent by the Federal government for Anti-Terrorism is mainly for show. "Here, look, we're doing this"; no comment on how effective the equipment or programs are, just that they are in place.

For those of you that don't know, Schneier is a well-known Security guru who has published several books in the field and is the CTO and founder of Counterpane Internet Security. He puts out a monthly newsletter called Crypto-Gram, which basically is a fine-tuned, revised edition of his blog. I've taken to checking RSS feeds daily for information.

Schneier on Security: Billions Wasted on Anti-Terrorism Security

Firefox - Rediscover the web

OK, unless you live under a rock, you have at least heard of Mozilla Firefox by now. For those of you who don't (or ignored others telling you how great of a product it is) here's the basics:

Firefox (Fx) is an open-source browser designed to be faster, safer, friendlier, and more customizable than Internet Explorer (IE). Fx loads extremely fast (much like Opera - another alternate browser that I have used and recommended in the past) and makes even a dial-up connection seem faster. With some basic customization it loads pages even quicker. Since Fx is an open source (Define) browser, many people have a hand in developing customizations, code improvements, etc. Things move faster in the open source world, especially when you consider how gung-ho the fans of Fx are. In the year or so since the beta version of Firefox was released (Firefox 1.0 was released in August, but beta versions had been around for a while), hundreds of user-created themes and extensions have been developed and released.

There has been a lot of press in the past month or two about the security of Fx. Since Mozilla advertises that Fx is a safer alternative to IE, the flurry of security holes announced and patched made Fx look just as unsafe as IE. But if you look at this article written by Brian Livingston for his Windows Secrets Newsletter, you'll see that compared to IE, Fx had fewer threats and less time exposed. Since Fx is open source the code is open to everyone and people can work together to find holes and plug them before the criminals do. As Fx grows in popularity, the number of criminals targeting its code will increase, but then, so will the number of good guys looking at the code.

Features I like about Fx:
  • Tabbed Browsing
  • Find as you type
  • Extentions for just about anything you could imagine
  • Easily customizable for just about anything you could imagine

Here are a few things worth reading about Fx:

  • A Review by PC World, who happened to name Firefox as the Product of the Year 2005
  • Forbes naming Firefox "Best of the Web"

I feel I should tell you that I am not in any way affiliated with Mozilla or the developement of the Firefox browser. I am just an ordinary user who has found a great product that you should definitely check out.

Firefox - Rediscover the web

More Deep Throat Articles

Here are some interesting stories regarding Deep Throat that have surfaced since I first did a write-up on Felt coming forward.

How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat By Bob Woodward on MSNBC (Washington Post). Describes how Felt instructed Woodward on how to schedule secret meetings for them and delves just a bit into Felt's motivation for leaking the story. According to this, Felt was trying to protect the FBI from the Nixon administration.

Deep Backround By Paul Farhi on MSNBC (Washington Post). Talks about how the story got to Vanity Fair and shows how Woodward was left hanging in the wind and didn't find out about the story and wasn't part of the release.

More Questions Than Answers By Keith Olbermann on MSNBC (Blog). Discusses some questions that Felt as Deep Throat raises. Good insight and seems to be leaning towards the point that maybe Felt wasn't the only Deep Throat by pointing out some inconsistances. Also notes that Woodward hasn't always been honest about all things Deep Throat.

Ok, now I know it looks like I'm pushing MSNBC...but honestly I don't usually read their material all that much. The reason I have been for this story is Woodward's involvement with the Washington Post and the fact that his stories there are appearing on MSNBC's site. You can also find them on the Washington Post website, but registration is required and I didn't feel like going through the hassle.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Kids Absorb Everything

Ok...I'll admit it. Occasionally I say things to my kids that I probably shouldn't. I was reminded today of just how much of what you say, kids will take in and send right back out.

Every once in a while, when my two year old is misbehaving (aka acting like the typical two year old), I'll tell him to "stop being a putz". Now today, when I went home for lunch, I am talking to him about what everyone did this morning:

"There's a big mess in my bedroom" (why do two year olds feel they should always tell on themselves?)
"Well, maybe you should go and clean up the mess"
"Mommy and Abby (his older sister) already cleaned it up"
"And what were you doing while they cleaned up your mess?"
"I was being a putz!"

I even asked him again, just to make sure I wasn't mis-hearing him. Sure enough that's exactly what he said.

I must confess that I had a good laugh at his expense and then panic set in. Should I not call him that anymore for fear that 'putz' would become a staple in his vocabulary? The more I thought about it though, it is actually quite amazing that he picked up on the word and its meaning enough to be able to reuse that word as a part of his vocabulary. I mean, he's only two and I know even in my twenties, I have terrible problems with my vocabulary and building up the number of words I am able to use. I think the next time he is acting up, I'll choose another word to describe his actions and see how long it takes him to add it to his vocabulary...

Revenge of the Sith II

Well, I was finally able to get out to see Sith this past weekend. George Lucas came through for me on this one. I won't say the movie was perfect (look below and I'll list some of the problems I had with it), but it was far and above better than the other two prequels. I will wait until I have the chance to watch it again to see where I rank it in with the original three.

Disclaimer: The theatre I saw Sith in probably hadn't been improved upon since before '77 when A New Hope (Ep. IV) came out. The picture wasn't that great, the sound system sucked and the seats were not comfortable.

Lucas did a great job in bridging the gap between the little boy in Ep. I and the monster we meet in the opening scenes of Ep. IV. You really see how he was manipulated and his reasons for choosing the path that he did. I would have liked to see maybe a little more of the internal struggle play out - especially towards the end of his transformation when he finds out that Padme is dead and that he is responsible. But the movie was already on the long side and adding more in probably would have been overkill. Maybe the DVD will have an extended scene or something.

Lucas also wrapped up a lot of other loose ends and introduced us to some characters that we meet later in the saga. Chewbacca makes an appearance, as does Wedge Antilles. Both are small roles in the film and make you think "small galaxy". The droids (C-3PO and R2-D2) are given over to Antilles as Obiwan goes into hiding. We find the droids in Antilles possession at the beginning of Ep. IV.

One of the issues that others have jumped on and I must agree is the dialog. Any dialog that isn't tied directly to an action scene seems forced. Especially the scenes between Anakin and Padme. Also, fresh dialog would have been nice. At one point, Padme tells Obiwan that she "can feel the good still in him" a direct copy from Luke saying the same thing in Return of the Jedi. I guess it may have been Lucas' way of saying "like mother, like son", but I think we could have done without it.

I also think the there were some camera problems. Too many of the light saber duels have close in shots where you can really only see the light sabers and not what is really going on. This may have more to do with the theatre and the quality of their equipment, but it happened too often to dismiss it without comment. The blades were too bright for the blackness of the rest of the screen. With all the special effects money they put into these movies, I really expected the duels to be flawless.

Even with the problems I mentioned, Sith is a great end to the Star Wars movies. That doesn't mean I think it's great that the Star Wars movies are coming to an end. I wish they would make a dozen more (though I'd prefer if Lucas write the plot, let someone else pen the screen play and direct). In particular, I would love to see movies made of Timothy Zahn's Trilogy (Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command). Excellent books if you are looking for a place to start in on the Star Wars beyond the movies universe.

Deep Throat Comes Forward

As a History fanatic who actually did quite a bit of research into the Watergate scandal and had a deep interest in the identity of Deep Throat, yesterday was a landmark date. W. Mark Felt came forward in the Vanity Fair Article linked above as the infamous source for Woodward and Bernstein's articles uncovering the Watergate conspiracy and ultimately leading to the resignation of President Nixon. Felt (FBI #2 guy at the time of the Watergate scandal) had always been near the top of suspects as the source of the leaks - Nixon even made the assumption that he was the leak on the White House tapes (circa Oct '72).

I've got to tell you that my money wasn't on Felt as the man behind Deep Throat. I had two theories. One was Fred Fielding, deputy to WH Counsel John Dean. He fit the clues provided by Woodward and Bernstein in their Book/Movie All The President's Men. He was in a position to easily know most of the information Deep Throat provided to the reporters. Even Haldeman (WH Chief of Staff for Nixon) speculated that Fielding was the source. The other theory I thought had a lot of weight was that there was no "Deep Throat"; that he was a made up figure to protect a multitude of sources. If the reporters wanted to protect their sources, why not invent a mystery source that has access to all of their information. That would put any insiders looking to someone higher up with higher clearance and protect several lower end assets. With all the various information Deep Throat seemed to possess, this to me seemed to be the most likely answer. Of course, we know now that I was wrong.

While I am glad that Felt came forward, I am a little disappointed he didn't wait to reveal it in his will. Reading through the article quoted above, it seems his family has been pressuring him to come forward since they found out in 2002. His motivation for wanting to keep quiet at least had a principle -- he didn't see himself as a hero and was guilty over what he had done. The article makes it seem like his family (namely his daughter and son) convinced him that he is a hero, but that they did it, not for him, but for the money that could come from revealing the secret. I hope that the article just comes off bad and that really isn't the case. Family should be closer than that and the man should have been able to live out his days in peace if that's what he wanted.

Now that the identity is known, I am sure a flurry of Watergate books will be published. The book I'd be interested in, is the one written by Felt (or at least with his input). I just hope that reports of his mental deterioration are untrue or that he wrote down some thoughts years ago so that we can know what he was thinking and hear things from his point of view. Woodward will probably help Felt with the writing...probably working together on it. I'll give it a read if/when something like that comes out and be sure to review it here.