The Free $1.7 Million Bridge

If the old saying that the best things in life are free has any  validity, here in Elizabeth City we must have one of the best bridges in the world. Perhaps  a bit of elaboration is in order. Several days ago the long anticipated replacement bridge over the Charles Creek was opened. Miraculously the bridge came in on time and slightly under budget. The new bridge replaced a structure from 1970 and was just the latest incarnation of bridges in that area going back to around the 1870s.

So there was of course much fanfare with the mayor and other local officials in attendance, as it probably should be. The thing that caught my attention was the mayor’s statement that the bridge cost Elizabeth City absolutely nothing. Our beneficient federal government had picked up the tab for the entire cost. Well isnt that just hunky dory. We  now have a shiny new bridge and it is free! Driving across the bridge just I get all warm and fuzzy inside thinking of  how it was free.

But there is just one think that nags at me. Who actually paid for it? It came with federal money that had to come from somewhere,right?   I know one should never look a gift bridge in the span?( Shucks I don’t know.) But maybe when another small community gets their  “free”  bridge we can rejoice with them knowing that we just might have helped them pay for it!

P. S. Another great reason to pay your taxes.


May 20, 2011 Posted by | Technology, Transportation | , , , | Leave a comment

Make friends with a hacker

Hackers seem to be very interesting people. I say this based on what I read since as far as I  know, I have no hacking acquantiances. But as  our society becomes ever more dependent on the internet, there will  be more of these cybercrooks or Robin Hoods, depending on one’s point of view. Or it may depend on whether or not one has been victimized by their talents. For that is one thing on which we can agree. They are quite talented.

Anyone who is  a fan of NCIS is quite familiar with Timothy McGee, aka “probie” and his talents at hacking into systems as complex as the Pentagon  and CIA. Watching the show I marvel at his skill and how Gibbs can employ it to his advantage in solving a crime. But at the same I have often wondered  if  there are actually  people  out there doing what McGee does or at  least trying to do it?

After reading an online article today, I fear that the answer is yes. It appears that online marketer Epsilon has been hacked and its online systems somewhat compromised. Who is Epsilon and why should I be concerned about them being hacked? It might be the fact that among their clients are such names as  Citigroup, College Board, Capitol One, Walgreens and Verizon Communications, names with which many of us are familiar.

Epsilon is a unit of Alliance Data Systems, Inc and  as an online marketer sends more than 40 billion ( that’s billion with a “b” ) emails annually composed of ads or offers. But, don’t worry. Some of the companies affected are telling their customers that no sensitive info was released ( at least so far) and as for Epsilon, they are fully co-operating in the investigation. But that cannot confirm which companies have been affected or how many people or what kind of data. Feeling warm and fuzzy yet? Or maybe wanting to scale back  on your online activity?  Maybe I need to check my email to see if perhaps there is  a company on the list with which I have had contact. McGee, I need help!

By the way, would you like to have  Jessica Simon’s job right now? She just happens to the spokesperson for Epsilon. Gonna  be  a busy person for   a while.

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Media, Technology | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Japan’s Cruel Ironies

Pacific Ring of Fire

Image via Wikipedia

Things seem to be going from bad to worse and even beyond in Japan. I skimmed an article today written by Cynthia Tucker that emphasized a point that I have  made in talking to others. That would be the dependence upon and even faith that we have in technology. Her article drew an analogy between the tragedy in Haiti and the three-pronged tragedy that has occurred in Japan. In an underdeveloped country such as Haiti, one would somewhat expect a natural disaster to cause the  enormous devastation that took place. But, one of, if not the most technologically advanced  countries in the world, with all of its preparation has still incurred enormous devastation of its own from the tsunami and earthquake. This holds a   lesson  for other advanced countries, particularly one that has a significant population  in the Pacific Ring of Fire( Hint, hint, San Francisco,etc).

But there are still other ironies that are hard to ignore.Japan , of course, is the only county ever to suffer the effects of a nuclear attack. Now, it is incurring  an as yet undetermined effect from damaged nuclear power plants. I think that there are some points to be made vis-a-vis Japan and its reliance on nuclear power to generate its electricity. One would almost think that Japan is the mpst nuclear dependent country in the world.  Japan’s 54  reactors produce about 30% of its electricity. That figure puts  the country as the 15th most nuclear dependent country, far behind both Lithuania and France,both of which get over 75% of their electricity via the  nuclear route.

But, having said that, what still nags at me the most  is that of  which I spoke at the onset. Technology is not the cure-all and science  does not nor will it ever have all the answers. Yet, we( meaning the United States primarily, but others to be sure) think that if we throw enough money or scientific knowhow out there, that anything is possible. Sometimes, it makes me to just want to unplug, sorta the human equivalent of acoustic music, huh?

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Technology, Weather | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Always on the grid?

Several years ago there was an episode of NCIS where then Director Shepard( Lauren Holly) made a clandestine  trip to Moscow in search of information that would either clear her father or help her in capturing ”  la grenouille” . During that time she went off the grid as was bluntly called to her attention by good ole Leroy Jethro Gibbs ( Mark Harmon) , once she returned to Washington.

For my purposes, the key element in that scene was the grid to which Gibbs referred. In this case it was not the electric power grid that  is  somewhat well publicized, but  a different kind of grid.  Holly’s character was the head of an armed federal agency and as such could not  become incommunicado. And in our story she did that very thing.

I was reminded of that  upon seeing a segment of the Today Show that dealt with the death of the telephone. The part that I saw interviewed at least two people  in the know about such things, one of them from Wired magazine, who opined that the telephone was dead and it was about time. His feelings are most definitely shared by  outsidethebeltway.com writer James Joyner. He wrote an article on July 31, 2010  expressing how annoying and terribly intrusive a telephone call actually is. And he made this point that really ties in to the point I am trying to make. The current generation hardly ever makes phone calls because they are in constant  lightweight contact, defined as texting, instant messaging , tweeting, etc.

So, its it a good or necessary thing to be in constant contact. to be always on the grid, so to speak? The majority of us do not need to be always available via  a tweet or Facebook or hundreds or thousand of  daily text messages. I   share Mr Joyner’syner that this is,generally speaking, lightweight communication. Surely a part of my inclination is that I am from  a generation that has not always been  totally wired, but I think/hope it is more than that.

My wife and I have shared many times with one another in  a phone call the  words that” I just wanted to hear your voice” . We do text, but for us, it will never be an adequate substitute for the voice of the one person who means more to  you than any other.

Perhaps, Mr Bell’s invention is on the way out.  But from my  perspective, I hope that it takes the long way.

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Media, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Troubling Topic

I write this post with a bit of trepidation as the topic is somewhat personal to me. It brings back memories from many years ago,all the way back to what was then known as junior high. My junior high years were hands down some of my hardest. Truth be told, they probably were my hardest. I rarely dwell on those times   but some recent events have brought them to mind once again.

The topic referred to in the title is that of bullying. My wife mentioned today a recent example of what is popularly called cyber-bullying. The young people in question were asked why they posted such critical information online, some of which may have been fabricated.(That I do not know for  a fact.) Their response was that no one liked the girl in question anyway and besides, it was fun. Thankfully this particular young lady did not commit suicide, although several young people have done just that.

I  am well aware that bullying is not new and went on far earlier than my own experience. You can find some  quite apropos examples in the Bible. Try Jacob and Esau or Joseph and his brothers and see if those accounts seem comparable to our culture.

What bothers  me is that acts of bullying today are on a much different level  than what I  experienced and the bullying can become somewhat exponential as it is disseminated through various social networking  media. No wonder that the effects are greater and both the act and its impact are so widely publicized.

I really  have no solid answers, but I am unsure whether more and more laws are helpful. I have tried to draw analogies with my own personal experience, the specifics  of which I have never shared with anyone. What might have happened to me had those events from long ago  been published for the viewing “pleasure” of others?  I just don’t know, but shudder to think of the possibilities.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | Culture, Technology | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Third Half of Your Brain

Most of us are aware that our brain is divided into 2 parts or hemispheres, often known as the left brain and the right brain. This division is brought about by something known as the great longitudinal fissure, which is in essence a deep grove. We also are familiar with studies that show the two sides of the brain  contain different functions.

But what if we were not quite correct all this time into thinking there were just two halves? What if there could be a third half ? Mathematical impossibility you say? That  is what I would have said before yesterday when I read an interesting article about  the previously unknown half.

From whom does this information come?  The source is none other than Sergey Brin who as you well know is half of the dynamic Google duo that wants to take over the world, own the world, be the world’s only search engine or as Brin put it  yesterday  at a big Google shindig, ” We want Google to be the third  half of your brain.”

The statement was made at the event announcing  the latest search innovation that according to  Google’s Marissa Mayer will have you wondering how you ever did without it. Doubtless, Google investors and potential investors will be/are thrilled. I’m just not so sure. When I  think of Google, I often hark back to  a Ray Stevens Christmas song from  a few years ago. These lyrics might just fit our friends at Google.

  •                            Be careful what you say and do
  •                            ‘Cause Santa Claus is watchin’ you
  •                            He’s everywhere , he’s everywhere

         Just so you know.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | Culture, Technology | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What Privacy?

There is  a company in Wilmington, NC named Education Management Systems. They have  a division  called MealsPlus which I presume is the part of the company that deals with food service. I meandered around the web site for a while and didn’t learn a lot other than they have been in business for about 20 years and their food service division has a number of school systems as customers in a number of states.

One of their services allows parents to track what their children are buying for breakfast and lunch while at school.The goal- why reducing childhood obesity of course. For a mere $10 annually parents can get a 45 day history of what their child is buying. Our local system, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County, has just  signed on to the service. Neighboring school systems in Dare and Currituck counties also have subscribed  the service.

When reading about this, I really wasn’t sure what I thought and I am  still  a bit unsure. As my wife pointed  out, because one’s child is buying the right things doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is eating that food. I also wonder what the participation is in the program and could  it eventually become mandatory for parents to take part? For example, including maybe bundling the fee in with other required items?

But with such a worthy goal, who could possibly complain about  a little more intrusion and  a little more monitoring? While you are chewing( pun intended) on that think about this. School officials in New Canaan, Ct are in the very preliminary stages of considering if they should  add radio frequency tags to student and staff  id cards  and possibly place them on school property. School superintendent  Dr David Abbey said student involvement would be voluntary and that parents would  have to agree. Glad we got that cleared up.

I realize that about the only things  connecting these  two accounts  is technology and the benefit to the children. Can never disagree with something that’s good for the children. Why then do both programs leave   me  with an uneasy feeling?

August 23, 2010 Posted by | education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ultimate Nosy Neighbor?

 Once again, I read about Google in a way that leaves me somewhat disturbed. This time, the words come right from the source, Google CEO Eric Schmidt and they have an ominous ring to them. What makes them so for me is not just their content but the matter of fact way in which they are expressed.

Mr Schmidt  recently did an interview with the Wall Street Journal in which he spoke a lot about money and how the company intends to continue making large sums of said commodity. But there were several other points he made that  could easily be described as Orwellian. In fact, one of the online comments  said it quite well. Not only is Big Brother watching you  but is taking notes as well. How so? Let us examine some of Mr Schmidt’s statements.

Before that, I have an issue that often comes to mind when I think of Google. Why are there not more concerns about their monopolistic position or their domination of their field or fields? They have YouTube, their dominant search engine, Blogger( twice as large as my friends at WordPress)  not to mention  Google Earth and  so on. Sure they have some competition but they are a big gorilla in the industry. If memory serves correct, when Microsoft was quite dominant there were lawsuits filed  screaming antitrust. One of the leading voices was Eric Schmidt as  chief technology officer of Sun Microsystems. Microsoft has also had to deal with those issues in Europe as well. Here, it seems that Europe may be ahead of the game as Spain is now raising issues  with Google.

Mr Schmidt acknowledges the issue  by admitting there  are people  “who are intrinsic oppositionists to everything Google does.” Insert Microsoft here. How does his company intend to combat such charges? Easy, by  making sure that everything  they do is ” good for consumers” and ” fair” for competitors. Doesn’t that sound great ? Certainly, but then woud Google not be the arbiter of the goodness and fairness? But I have digressed fair afield.

My original premise was my concerns about their future. Try these on for size. Mr Schmidt envisions a day when search engines will be passe and what does he say about that? Among other things he envisions a time when Google will not be answering your search questions but rather telling  you what you should be doing next. That, folks, is  something to think about. He continues by saying that because of the info they have about you ” we know roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are.”  He adds that there are next generation handheld devices that will be capable  of surprising you with information that you didn’t even know you wanted. Wow, is that not a lot to consider?

Just remember that the Google motto is ” Don’t be evil.”  Guess we will have to continue these lovable folks for they are surely watching us.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | Business, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Say it Ain’t so Joe”

Long time baseball fans will recognize the title  from way back in 1919. It refers to the comment made by a distraught young fan at learning that the great Shoeless Joe Jackson had been involved in ” throwing ” baseball games. It was the infamous Black Sox scandal that hit baseball very hard.

Today, there looms a much more dangerous Joe and one  which surprises me. It is Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent one from Connecticut. The bill  he is proposing, entitled  Protecting Cyberspace as a  National  Asset Act. Lieberman has been pushing for internet control for a while, it seems. This bill  would give the federal government the authority to shut down the internet, the proverbial kill switch, as it were, in response to a  Homeland Security directive.

Lest you think  Lieberman is flying solo, the bill has the stong support of  West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller. He has wondered aloud if maybe it would have been better had ” we never invented the internet.” Better not let algore hear him say that, huh?

Of course, the bottom line , the very scary bottom line at work here is control. The government, at least not yet, cannot control the internet. And it cannot control things like the Bob Etheridge video, for example .

No  president, repeat, no president, whether his  name is Obama or Reagan or even as incorruptible as a Washington needs this kind of control. Perhaps I am being too much of an alarmist. I certainly hope so. Perhaps some folks thought Paul Revere was overdoing it too.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Internet Dosing

Not an article about the internet but a certifiable scary way that it may soon be used. When I read about this, I was quite disturbed. As I reflected a bit, I could not imagine why civil libertarians, the ACLU and all those who abhor government intrusion were not shouting from the rooftops in protest. This action, if it comes about even close to how it is described is far worse than the FBI or CIA  or NSA maybe peeking at your email or cell phone conversation.

So, what is it? Well, how would you like to get your medication via a computer chip implant with dosages regulated by a physician online? Sounds just wonderful and impossibly far-fetched, right? Not so far-fetched at all, I am afraid.

This from Cybercast News Service, linked to by Rush. Just last week the Senate Committee on Aging, chaired by Herb Kohl, D, Wi , previewed the government’s role in future health care. Nicknamed e-Health or e-Care, the effort marries internet technology with health-care technology.

This next is one such feature. It is known as the automatic drug dispenser. Among its (it is  an electronic chip attached to the skin) features are the monitoring and adjusting of drugs wirelessly with no need to visit one’s physician or pharmacist.  The doctor can vary the doses, wirelessly, based  on  the feedback received from the device. Sen Ron Wyden, D, OR displayed the innocent little device at the Senate hearing.

This very ominous quote from Rush, ” They want to set up a device connected to your skin where your doctor via the Internet can regulate the dosages of whatever medications they have you on. Can you say, death panels, anybody?”

I don’t particular care to be an alarmist but this concept frankly scares  the “dickens” out of me. Can you imagine the enormous potential for controlling behaviour or worse?

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Health, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment