What will we do now?

Those of you who have been reading since I was blogging on Tripod will recall (or be able to go back and read) my post in which I wondered why the terrorists, if their true aim was terror, were not attacking us randomly in all manner of locations. You can only do the big attacks so many times before security gets too tight around the important targets. For example, for a long time after the 11 September attacks in the US, the Statue of Liberty was closed. Washington DC is also now off limits for any pilots who have not obtained prior clearance. Anyway, these types of attacks barely terrorize me. They happen in certain high visibility areas that most Americans have no contact with. If it weren’t for visiting my wife’s family, for example, I’d never be in the New York City area. Therefore, I wondered why they didn’t just attack mass transit and other public areas which are impossible to protect.

It was so obvious that it was only a matter of time before it would actually happen. Israel-style terrorism has arrived in London. It remains to be seen if the two attacks of July 2005 are the last of the attacks or just a foreshadowing of times to come. So far we have been blessed not to have one of these types of attacks in the US. I think there would be colossal circumstances from a series of subway and bus explosions in the Us.

I don’t want it to seem as if I was wishing the terrorists would resort to this type of violence. I wish they would just stop with all the violence and put their anger towards something more useful like delevoping a viable economic model for their country. I just seemed shocked a the fact that what was commonplace in Isreal hadn’t become commonplace in the US. But what do we do now?

It is orders of magnitude easier to keep terrorists from crashing planes than it is to keep them from public place destruction. A plane is a controlled environment. Passengers may be screened prior to entry since it takes a long time to load up a plane and as long as the cockpit is secure, it’s relatively hard for a terrorist to do much. They can cause a plane to simply explode in the sky or fall randomly, but it won’t really have the same impact as a directed attack. Also, if they don’t leave some kind of evidence around, people are liable to believe that it was just an accident. How do we keep a terrorist out of a park?

As far as I can currently fathom, there really are only two possible outcomes if terrorist bombing of public places becomes as common as in Israel. Outcome one is to become a police state. We go all out Orwellian and track where everyone goes and what they do when they get there. Everyone must carry around an ID with technology which is near-impossible to fake. A police officer can force someone to leave, even if they are just innocently feeding the pigeons. Video cameras are everywhere and crime goes to near zero. In reality there is only one chink in this armor; unfortunately, it’s a big one. The problem is that in such a state there is no check on corruption. Once the State can see whatever any citizen is doing it can silence oposition. Since they control the evidence (all the video cameras) they can choose whether or not to present the evidence. “The camera at this location was broken at the time.” Our current society (in the US) is founded upon the ability to call things into question. It is not unAmerican to question what our government does – it is VERY American. It’s the reason our founding fathers implemented a system of checks and balances.

This doesn’t mean we should overthrow the government or oppose everything they do as a vast conspiracy. Remember, a pendulum in any direction but center contains too much energy. In other words everything in moderation. We don’t want to blindly go along with everything the governemtn says. But we want to hold it accountable. The government is there for US! (that’s you and I, not the United States) Remember the whole concept of the social contract…Locke…Voltaire, etc We give up some rights to the government in exchange for protection from those who would do us harm. I’ll allow Uncle Sam to take money out of my paycheck so that he can pay for Policement to protect my right to private property, for example.

However, when we have a police state, we have given up too many of our rights and gained little in return. While we will be safe from regular crimes such as petty theft (who would rob you if they were sure they’d be caught on camera) we would have problems with corruption. For example, when video evidence is taken to be infallible, what happens when someone takes some video editing software can produces a video of someone else committing a crime in an attempt to blackmail them?

The second possible outcome of these attacks is for the US and other industrialized nations to simply ignore the terrorist attacks. We just take them as a fact of life and continue to live our lives as if nothing is going on. Israel is a good example here. If they were to become paralyzed at every terrorist attack, they wouldn’t be able to function as a country. The attacks now only affect the families of the deceased, but the rest of the country just goes on with its business. This will be hard for us to do because Americans like to take things personally. We grew up on Westerns and Dirty Harry movies. The bad guy’s supposed to get it in the end, not keep attacking while the sheriff goes on with his normal business. What would happen if Dirty Harry would just continue on with whatever he was doing instead of attacking the bad guys? It really does go against everything our country stands for. For another example, we only got into World War One after some Americans were killed on the Lusitania and World War Two after Pearl Harbor.

I’m also curious as to whether there’s any way to end the “war on terror”. Whether we took the 1984 route or the Isreali route, would we ever be able to get back to life as normal? Could we ever capture enough people or restrict enough immigration? If we stopped interfereing in Israel, would the bombings really stop? As far as I know, the answer to all of these questions is “no”. If the terrorists really do believe that God wants them to kill us, is there any way to stop them? Can anything deter someone from doing what God wants them to do? I mean, it’s GOD so what country could possibly put up enough barriers to keep them from acting out on behalf of God?

Looking at the US and racism, I’d have to say that it would take a long time for these people to stop hating the US. It’s been around 40 years since the Civil Rights movement ended and there still isn’t complete equality and lack of racism in the US. They are still teaching that the US is evil in these countries. First we need to get them to stop, but even then it will take around two or so generations before the hating ends.

Whatever the answer is, we need to think about it now. If we don’t start thinking about what direction our policies will take, we’ll have to make decisions in the wake of another attack. Hastily made decisions rarely yield anything productive.

Racial Profiling and the Brazilian “Terrorist”

First the Racial Profiling:

I mentioned the issue of racial profiling a couple of days ago. Today while eating lunch I was watching Fox News (not because I wanted to, but because we couldn’t change the channel) and again some simpleton was calling for racial profiling. The particular show on at this time (around 1p EST) had a live audience, something I’ve never seen on the news. It seemed more like an episode of Oprah than the news. I guess people are right when they say that the news is more about entertainment than telling the story. Walter Cronkite must be so dissapointed. Every time the fellow being interviewed called for racial profiling the mostly-white audience cheered. Unfortunately, the man put on the show to oppose the racial profiling issue was a bumbling fool who spent more time spinning the issue than answering questions. However, when he said that, “all black people are not alike,” the audience actually booed him. What in the world is that? I think all those people needed to locked in that studio and given some lessons in racism.

Last time I spoke of the racial profiling issue I gave a bit of a sophmoric response, “let me hear a non-white call for it and I’ll shut up.” Let me add something a bit more refined to this argument. Have the Americans forgotten the Oklahoma City bombings? Originally they were sure it had to be some Arabs, but no, it was a white American. See! Americans can be terrorists too! Or is that word reserved for use by xenophobes to describe the Middle East? What about the Unibomber? He was another American-bred terrorist. Would looking for Arabs find him? No! Let’s face it, racial profiling will only work so much and will end up causing a lot of innocent people to be detained or worse.

Speaking of being killed over terrorism, I was reading a BBC article on the blog responses to the death of that young Brazilian man on the subway and came across some interesting blogs. Mark Maynard mostly summarized yesterday’s news, but also wrote about the thoughts we have all been going over in our heads. How can we solve the paradox of keeping ourselves safe from future attacks and also protect the rights of others? As Mark mentions,

everyone, the deceased included, just made a number of bad choices… He chose to wear the bulky jacket on a warm day, and to run from the cops. And, wanting to avert another bombing, they chose to shoot him five times in the head once the caught him, instead of interrogating him.

and really that is the real problem. There will always be someone who, in a sad Shakesperian tragedy-sort-of-way, will be wearing the wrong clothes or coming from the wrong place. That’s why I think we should not take such rash action as killing suspected terrorists. Unless you know for sure the person is a terrorist, you will always chance killing innocents.

Mayor of London introduced two very important points. First of all, as I wrote here, the news media were originally reporting this as the police having caught someone associated with the previous week’s bombings. I remember, but forgot to post, that the media made a pretty big deal of this. However, in the news coverage I’ve seen recently there haven’t been many mentions of the fact that they messed up. I would have thought this was an awesome story for the media. Don’t they love to catch governments fouling up? What is going on here?

But this isn’t really even the most important part of MOL’s post. The real clincher is:

The worrying bit of his report is the claim that the suspect was allowed to get onto a Bus !

Why was he not challenged before he got onto a Bus , if they thought he was a suicide bomber ?

I never realized this until he pointed it out. If this guy was SUCH a terrorist that the police had to shoot him five times in the head, why did they let him get on a bus? It’s not as though the bombers have only been blowing up the tube, they blew up a bus too! This is the strangest part in my opinion. Ok, if I were a cop and the guy was running when I told him to stop then I might shoot him. But I had always assumed he went from his house to the subway where he was shot. Letting him get on the bus is a very bad move for the police. They should have shot him before he got on the bus – if they were going to shoot him.

We’ll see what tomorror brings in this realm of news.

I called it….

Remember that guy they shot in the London Subway. I said, “he’d better be a terrorist or they’re going to have a problem on their hands.” Guess what? He’s NOT a terrorist. I clicked on the reader response link and saw that the guy’s visa was most likely expired and that they were checking visas at subway stations. Additionally, the police were NOT wearing police uniforms so he had no reason to believe that they were cops. Apparently there have been some problems with people pretending to be cops and robbing and murdering people.

From a related BBC News Story:

‘Met Police chief Sir Ian Blair has apologised to the family of the Brazilian man shot dead by police in south London on Friday.
He said the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was a “tragedy”, but admitted more people could be shot as police hunt suspected suicide bombers.’

Stay tuned to see what develops. (BBC story below)

Police shot Brazilian eight times

Mr Menezes had been in London for more than three years
The man mistaken for a suicide bomber by police was shot eight times, an inquest into his death has heard.
Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was shot seven times in the head and once in the shoulder, at Stockwell Tube station, south London, on Friday.

Det Insp Elizabeth Baker revealed the details at a hearing in London.

Security sources have said Mr Menezes had been in the UK on an out-of-date student visa, but his family deny this and are considering suing the police.

Mr Menezes’ cousin, Alex Pereira, who is based in London, said the police would “kill thousands of people” if they were not held accountable for what had happened at Stockwell.

He said: “They just kill the first person they see, that’s what they did. They killed my cousin, they could kill anyone.”

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will investigate the shooting.

Nick Hardwick, head of the IPCC, said the commission needs to find out the truth of what happened “to ensure it can never happen again”.

He said that “if people haven’t acted in accordance with the law and their training” they would be held accountable.

Tony Blair said he was “desperately sorry” an innocent man had lost his life.

Suspects named

Meanwhile, detectives are still hunting for the men who attempted to blow up three London Tube trains and a bus last Thursday.

A total of five people have been arrested in connection with the attempted bombings and the police have named two suspects.

Muktar Said-Ibrahim, also known as Muktar Mohammed-Said, is suspected of attempting to bomb the Number 26 bus heading towards Hackney, in east London.

Yasin Hassan Omar, 24, is wanted in connection with an attempting bombing on the Victoria line between Oxford Circus and Warren Street stations.

There is also speculation about a fifth bomber, following the discovery of a backpack containing a device in a west London park on Saturday.

Under surveillance

The prime minister said it was right for Britain to express its “sorrow and deep sympathy” to Mr Menezes’ family.

But he said the police must be supported in doing their job.

He added that they would have been criticised had the suspect turned out to be a terrorist and they had failed to take action.

Mr Menezes’ cousin says the police “must pay”

London Mayor Ken Livingstone described Mr Menezes as a “victim of the terrorist attacks”.

He said: “Consider the choice that faced police officers at Stockwell last Friday – and be glad you did not have to take it.”

On Friday morning, Mr Menezes had left his flat in Tulse Hill and boarded a bus towards Stockwell Tube station to go to work.

He had been followed by police, who had his block of flats under surveillance in the hunt for the group behind Thursday’s attempted bombings.

When he was challenged by police in the Tube station, he fled, reportedly leaping the ticket barrier.

If you are going to have a war on terror, you have got to use brains to fight it not just brute force

Maria do Socorro

Over the past year there have been an increased number of immigration checks at Tube stations – a policy widely reported in Brazilian papers in London.

Police chased him on to a Tube train where he was shot dead.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death.

Cancer treatment

In Brazil, relatives are demanding answers to why Mr Menezes ran and why he was shot by police.

Cousin Maria do Socorro, speaking before details about the visa emerged, said she thought the police had acted “like amateurs”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If you are going to have a war on terror, you have got to use brains to fight it not just brute force.”

Friends of Mr Menezes in London said he had recently returned to Brazil for eight months to be with his father, who was being treated for cancer.

Fausto Soares, 26, said Mr Menezes had been sending money to pay for the treatment and was concerned how the family would now cope financially.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the type of visa Mr Menezes had been given would normally be valid for one-and-a-half to two years.

He said Mr Menezes had not renewed the visa, adding: “That wouldn’t explain why he was shot, but it might provide an explanation as to why he ran away if – that is indeed what he did do.”

Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex

This is an amusing essay I found online, written in the mid-seventies. The humor is a little crude at some points, but I think it’s not too nasty in any one location. So join Larry as he explores whether Superman could ever have sex with a human.

Man of Steel,
Woman of Kleenex
By Larry Niven*


Things of the form (*text*) are footnotes in the original text.

He’s faster than a speeding bullet. He’s more powerful than a locomotive. He’s able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Why can’t he get a girl?

Above: Larry Niven and fellow Larryniven-l List-member Carol Phillips. Click the photo for more pics!

At the ripe old age of thirty-one (*Superman first appeared in Action Comics, June 1938*), Kal-El (alias Superman, alias Clark Kent) is still unmarried. Almost certainly he is still a virgin. This is a serious matter. The species itself is in danger!

An unwed Superman is a mobile Superman. Thus it has been alleged that those who chronicle the Man of Steel’s adventures are responsible for his condition. But the cartoonists are not to blame.

Nor is Superman handicapped by psychological problems.

Granted that the poor oaf is not entirely sane. How could he be? He is an orphan, a refugee, and an alien. His homeland no longer exists in any form, save for gigatons upon gigatons of dangerous, prettily colored rocks.

As a child and young adult, Kal-El must have been hard put to find an adequate father-figure. What human could control his antisocial behavior? What human would dare try to punish him? His actual, highly social behavior during this period indicates an inhuman self-restraint.

What wonder if Superman drifted gradually into schizophrenia? Torn between his human and kryptonian identities, he chose to be both, keeping his split personalities rigidly separate. A psychotic desperation is evident in his defense of his “secret identity.”

But Superman’s sex problems are strictly physiological, and quite real.

The purpose of this article is to point out some medical drawbacks to being a kryptonian among human beings, and to suggest possible solutions. The kryptonian humanoid must not be allowed to go the way of the pterodactyl and the passenger pigeon.


What turns on a kryptonian?

Superman is an alien, an extraterrestrial. His humanoid frame is doubtless the result of parallel evolution, as the marsupials of Australia resemble their mammalian counterparts. A specific niche in the ecology calls for a certain shape, a certain size, certain capabilities, certain eating habits.

Be not deceived by appearances. Superman is no relative to homo sapiens.

What arouses Kal-El’s mating urge? Did kryptonian women carry some subtle mating cue at appropriate times of the year? Whatever it is, Lois Lane probably didn’t have it. We may speculate that she smells wrong, less like a kryptonian woman than like a terrestrial monkey. A mating between Superman and Lois Lane would feel like sodomy-and would be, of course, by church and common law.


Assume a mating between Superman and a human woman designated LL for convenience.

Either Superman has gone completely schizo and believes himself to be Clark Kent; or he knows what he’s doing, but no longer gives a damn. Thirty-one years is a long time. For Superman it has been even longer. He has X-ray vision; he knows just what he’s missing. (*One should not think of Superman as a Peeping Tom. A biological ability must be used. As a child Superman may never have known that things had surfaces, until he learned to suppress his X-ray vision. If millions of people tend shamelessly to wear clothing with no lead in the weave, that is hardly Superman’s fault.*)

The problem is this. Electroencephalograms taken of men and women during sexual intercourse show that orgasm resembles “a kind of pleasurable epileptic attack.” One loses control over one’s muscles.

Superman has been known to leave his fingerprints in steel and in hardened concrete, accidentally. What would he to to the woman in his arms during what amounts to an epileptic fit?


Consider the driving urge between a man and a woman, the monomaniacal urge to achieve greater and greater penetration. Remember also that we are dealing with kryptonian muscles.

Superman would literally crush LL’s body in his arms, while simultaneously ripping her open from crotch to sternum, gutting her like a trout.


Lastly, he’d blow off the top of her head.

Ejaculation of semen is entirely involuntary in the human male, and in all other forms of terrestrial life. It would be unreasonable to assume otherwise for a kryptonian. But with kryptonian muscles behind it, Kal-El’s semen would emerge with the muzzle velocity of a machine gun bullet. (*One can imagine that the Kent home in Smallville was riddled with holes during Superboy’s puberty. And why did Lana Lang never notice that?*)

In view of the foregoing, normal sex is impossible between LL and Superman.

Artificial insemination may give us better results.


First we must collect the semen. The globules will emerge at transsonic speeds. Superman must first ejaculate, then fly frantically after the stuff to catch it in a test tube. We assume that he is on the Moon, both for privacy and to prevent the semen from exploding into vapor on hitting the air at such speeds.

He can catch the semen, of course, before it evaporates in vacuum. He’s faster than a speeding bullet.

But can he keep it?

All known forms of kryptonian life have superpowers. The same must hold true of living kryptonian sperm. We may reasonably assume that kryptonian sperm are vulnerable only to starvation and to green kryptonite; that they can travel with equal ease through water, air, vacuum, glass, brick, boiling steel, solid steel, liquid helium, or the core of a star; and that they are capable of translight velocities.

What kind of a test tube will hold such beasties?

Kryptonian sperm and their unusual powers will give us further trouble. For the moment we will assume (because we must) that they tend to stay in the seminal fluid, which tends to stay in a simple glass tube. Thus Superman and LL can perform artificial insemination.

At least there will be another generation of kryptonians.

Or will there?


A ripened but unfertilized egg leaves LL’s ovary, begins its voyage down her Fallopian tube.

Some time later, tens of millions of sperm, released from a test tube, begin their own voyage up LL’s Fallopian tube.

The magic moment approaches…

Can human breed with kryptonian? Do we even use the same genetic code? On the face of it, LL could more easily breed with an ear of corn than with Kal-El. But coincidence does happen. If the genes match…

One sperm arrives before the others. It penetrates the egg, forms a lump on it’s surface, the cell wall now thickens to prevent other sperm From entering. Within the now-fertilized egg, changes take place…

And ten million kryptonian sperm arrive slightly late.

Were they human sperm, they would be out of luck. But these tiny blind things are more powerful than a locomotive. A thickened cell wall won’t stop them. They will *all* enter the egg, obliterating it entirely in an orgy of microscopic gang rape. So much for artificial insemination.

But LL’s problems are just beginning.


Within her body there are still tens of millions of frustrated kryptonian sperm. The single egg is now too diffuse to be a target. The sperm scatter.

They scatter without regard to what is in their path. They leave curved channels, microscopically small. Presently all will have found their way to the open air.

That leaves LL with several million microscopic perforations all leading deep into her abdomen. Most of the channels will intersect one or more loops of intestine.

Peritonitis is inevitable. LL becomes desperately ill.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of sperm swarm in the air over Metropolis.


This is more serious than it looks.

Consider: these sperm are virtually indestructible. Within days or weeks they will die for lack of nourishment. Meanwhile they cannot be affected by heat, cold, vacuum, toxins, or anything short of green kryptonite. (*And other forms of kryptonite. For instance, there are chunks of red kryptonite that make giants of kryptonians. Imagine ten million earthworm size spermatozoa swarming over a Metropolis beach, diving to fertilize the beach balls… but I digress.*) There they are, minuscule but dangerous; for each has supernormal powers.

Metropolis is shaken by tiny sonic booms. Wormholes, charred by meteoric heat, sprout magically in all kinds of things: plate glass, masonry, antique ceramics, electric mixers, wood, household pets, and citizens. Some of the sperm will crack lightspeed. The Metropolis night comes alive with a network of narrow, eerie blue lines of Cherenkov radiation.

And women whom Superman has never met find themselves in a delicate condition.

Consider: LL won’t get pregnant because there were too many of the blind mindless beasts. But whenever one sperm approaches an unfertilized human egg in its panic flight, it will attack.

How close is close enough? A few centimeters? Are sperm attracted by chemical cues? It seems likely. Metropolis had a population of millions; and kryptonian sperm could travel a long and crooked path, billions of miles, before it gives up and dies.

Several thousand blessed events seem not unlikely. (*If the pubescent Superboy plays with himself, we have the same problem over Smallville.*)

Several thousand lawsuits would follow. Not that Superman can’t afford to pay. There’s a trick where you squeeze a lump of coal into its allotropic diamond form…


The above analysis gives us part of the answer. In our experiment in artificial insemination, we must use a single sperm. This presents no difficulty. Superman may use his microscopic vision and a pair of tiny tweezers to pluck a sperm from the swarm.


In its eagerness the single sperm may crash through LL’s abdomen at transsonic speeds, wreaking havoc. Is there any way to slow it down?

There is. We can expose it to gold kryptonite.

Gold kryptonite, we remember, robs a kryptonian of all of his supernormal powers, permanently. Were we to expose Superman himself to gold kryptonite, we would solve all his sex problems, but he would be Clark Kent forever. We may regard this solution as somewhat drastic.

But we can expose the test tube of seminal fluid to gold kryptonite, then use standard techniques for artificial insemination.

By any of these methods we can get LL pregnant, without killing her. Are we out of the woods yet?


Though exposed to gold kryptonite, the sperm still carries kryptonian genes. If these are recessive, then LL carries a developing human foetus. There will be no more Supermen; but at least we need not worry about the mother’s health.

But if some or all of the kryptonian genes are dominant…

Can the infant use his X-ray vision before birth? After all, with such a power he can probably see through his own closed eyelids. That would leave LL sterile. If the kid starts using heat vision, things get even worse.

But when he starts to kick, it’s all over. He will kick his way out into open air, killing himself and his mother.


Is there a solution?

There are several. Each has drawbacks.

We can make LL wear a kryptonite (*For our purposes, all forms of kryptonite are available in unlimited quantities. It has been estimated, form the startling tonnage of kryptonite fallen to Earth since the explosion of Krypton, that the planet must have outweighed our entire solar system. Doubtless the “planet” Krypton was a cooling black dwarf star, one of a binary pair, the other member being a red giant.*) belt around her waist. But too little kryptonite may allow the child to damage her, while too much may damage or kill the child. Intermediate amounts may do both! And there is no safe way to experiment.

A better solution is to find a host-mother.

We have not yet considered the existence of a Supergirl. (*She can’t mate with Superman because she’s his first cousin. And only a cad would suggest differently.*) She could carry the child without harm. But Supergirl has a secret identity, and her secret identity is no more married than Supergirl herself. If she turned up pregnant, she would probably be thrown out of school.

A better solution may be to implant the growing foetus in Superman himself. There are places in a man’s abdomen where a foetus could draw adequate nourishment, growing as a parasite, and where it would not cause undue harm to surrounding organs. Presumably Clark Kent can take a leave of absence more easily than Supergirl’s schoolgirl alter ego.

When the time comes, the child would be removed by Caesarian section. It would have to be removed early, but there would be no problem with incubators as long as it was fed. I leave the problem of cutting through Superman’s invulnerable skin as an exercise for the alert reader.

The mind boggles at the image of a pregnant Superman cruising the skies of Metropolis. Batman would refuse to be seen with him’ strange new jokes would circulate the prisons…and the race of Krypton would be safe at last.


Reprinted from All the Myriad Ways © 1971 by Larry Niven.

Fedora Extras Repository

There was a heckuva lot of debate on the Fedora Development list server when the extras repository was first mentioned for Fedora Core 4. People were taking exception to the fact that their package was in extras while some other package was in core. Some threatened to stop making FC packages and others just whined a lot. Well, the extras repository has debuted and I hope that people see that it’s really not a bad idea at all, In fact, I think it’s an excellent idea.

I was a little ambivalent about it before because I already had a Fedora Core 3 install and I would just be upgrading that. Then, after the upgrade, I would just summon the powers of yum and updated the packages which had been moved to extras. I was happy that I would have to download less CDs and everything would be ok in the end. Is this, or the plan for FC5 to be just one CD, the best policy for everyone? No, it certainly isn’t great for people with dialup, but I think they are planning to find a way for extras discs to be burned for those who want to burn a disc for their friends or LUG-mates who have slower connections. However, for a good portion of North America, Europe, and Asia it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Then I was looking on the website of one of my favorite open source programs, GRAMPS. GRAMPS is very nice, GUI-based, program for recording one’s ancestry. It can be used for construction of a simple family tree, but it is capable of so much more. Up until now I didn’t know the developers had gone through so many revisions. I keep my system up to date with yum and am really too busy to look on the website of every single extra program I have downloaded to see if they have a new version available. As the website proclaimed, GRAMPS had been added to the FC extras repository! This was excellent news for me because now I could always keep up to date on GRAMPS with yum! Suddenly I began to see the power of the extras repository.

While the initial move to using extras was hard for those getting kicked out of “core”, it will be a boon for users in the long run. A lot of people like to complain about RPM dependency hell. We don’t have to worry about that as long as there’s a repo that has our package – yum will take care of it. This is what all of those Debian users are always bragging about with their apt system. They are always touting their huge repository which contains a reputed 15 thousand packages! I think it would be great for Fedora users if that’s what extras could become. If we could get all developers who make RPM packages to submit them to extras then we would have a huge repository from which we could grab all necessary RPMs. I think you’re starting to see what I see – a Fedora world where all programs can be installed via yum.

There really are just two major things that need to be done in order for extras to work in the best way. First of all, the installer needs to make it clear to new users that they are installing only the basic packages needed to make the system run. If they are sure to install from extras they will see all of the other packages they are missing out on. In accordance with this, anaconda should not only allow users with an ethernet card to search the extras repo when installing or upgrading, it should also allow users to be able to establish a modem connection if they so wish. Second, pup needs to be deployed so that users have a clear idea of all of the packages available in extras for them to install as part of Fedora. Yumex can already do this, but as it’s in extras itself, there will need to be a much better package installer in FC5, which, I believe, is planned.

Cool stuff with Google Maps

There’s a reason why open source is so awesome – by providing other programmings with the inner workings of your program, they can create new and amazing uses for it that you could never imagine. One of the best examples of this is the fact that Google has release the API (aplication programming interface, I think) to their new map program. People have been using this in all kinds of interesting ways. A new real estate website uses the program to show users exactly where their offerings are on both the sattelite map and the road map. This article talks about some of the other ways that peole have been using the APIs.

Google map API transforms the Web
-Posted by Dana Blankenhorn @ 8:36 am

General Applications Development
We are getting a great demonstration right now of open source power, as applications using the Google Maps API begin to appear.

Mapquest, owned by AOL, has been around for many years, but it’s a proprietary offering. Yahoo Maps has been around for years, but it has been late to this party.

It’s Google, using the open source process, that has blown the field apart.

The code has only been out a few weeks but already we’re seeing several really great applications.

Here’s one. Metrofreefi previously offered just lists of free hotspots in various cities, like many other sites. Now, with the Google Maps API, you click the interactive map to reach a state, pull down a menu to get the city, and see exactly where those hotspots are. Here’s the map for Decatur, Georgia, near where I live. It’s not yet perfect. There’s a coffee shop on the east side that is listed but not “pinned.”

Here’s a sadder but wiser application. Geepster managed to put together a quick map and RSS feed on the London attacks, within a few hours of the blasts. The resulting page was far more attractive, and informative, than most news services, even that of the BBC, from which it took its news feed.

Now that site has been further improved, using the satellite view of London available from Google. You can right-click on the pins in the map to learn more. Here’s where the King’s Cross bomb went off. Here’s where the page author lives. Here is Tavistock Square, with a picture of the ruined bus.

Google Maps enabled open source journalism to get the story faster, and get it better, than the mainstream media. That’s because individuals were ready and able to use the API right away, and trust the results in ways even the BBC was reluctant to try.

And remember, this is just the start. I guarantee that hundreds of programmers are now poring over the Google Map API documentation, thinking about applications that will drive both them, and Google, to new heights.

All on the wings of open source.

London Attacked…Again!

editor’s note: This was supposed to appear as a post yesterday, but I was unable to post it on time.

Things have really escalated in London since lunchtime on Thursday (EST) when I first heard of the second round of London bombings. First of all, I think that for a non-Middle Eastern (or any place that has constant violence) country the timing of the second string of attacks is unheard of. Look at the US, it was seven years between attacks on the World Trade Centers.

However, these guys truly are the second string terrorists. Just like the guys they keep on the bench during a football game because they would actually like to win, these guys weren’t chosen for the first attacks two weeks ago because they would have fumbled everything, making it difficult for the real attacks to take place. Frankly, these guys are pretty horrible terrorists. Two of them, according to witnesses, actually ran from the scene where they had left the bomb. The result? They were in such a hurry that the bomnbs didn’t even go off, just the detonators did. What happened to the “real” terrorist blowing himself up too. Oh, not too sure about going to Paradise, are we? Now, it IS entirely possible that these guys actually did this on purpose. They just wanted to scare the Londoners a bit so they did a halfway decent job just to show that they could and give a big middle finger to Scotland Yard. I highly doubt that! I’m not even sure these guys were even from the same group as two weeks ago. Whether they were failures at blowing stuff up or not, they succeeded at creating a chaotic environment.

As of this morning, when I’m writing this, the police shot a man trying to get on a London subway because they believed he was a terrorist suspect. For their sakes, they better be right, otherwise there are going to be riots in London. You can’t just walk around shooting any Arab acting suspiciously or you will end up in a very dangerous place. Come on now, I thought we got over this crap in the 50s with Mcarthyism.

The aftershocks of the detonators were also felt across the pond. Here in the US the Congress voted to extend the Patriot Act by another ten years. Let’s hope they added in some extra protections for civil rights as well. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to stop terrorists, but you also have to make sure that corrupt officials don’t use these provisions for their own petty little projects. I also hope we don’t start shooting Arabs getting into the New York subways. Also, the news reported that police were now doing “random” checks of people getting into the subways and trains in New York City. If someone declined, they were told they could not ride the transportation system.

People were calling on the news for profiling – stopping Arabs because they are more likely to be a terrorist. I’ll take that seriously when I see someone other than an Anglo say it. It’s very easy for them to say because they won’t be profiled. When I see an Arab saying that we need racial profiling, then I’ll take it seriously. Additionally, profiling may or may not help if our own citizens join in. Remember the “American Taliban” from when we started the Afghanistan War? White boy from California? Nah, he couldn’t possibly be a terrorist.

After writing this, but before posting to my blog, I found the following news story on the NY Times website about the subway searches.

Story at NY Times Site (must be member to access)

Published: July 22, 2005
The police last night began random searches of backpacks and packages brought into the New York City subways as officials expressed alarm about the latest bomb incidents in the London transit system.

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Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times
Theodoros Papatheodorou, 26, a student who lives in London, had his bag searched yesterday by police officers at Grand Central.

Officer Walter Lambert at the subway station at 125 Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan yesterday.
The searches, which will also include commuter rail lines, are not a response to a specific threat against the city, said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who authorized the searches shortly before he announced them at a morning news conference.

The police have previously inspected bags at major events like parades and demonstrations, and the authorities in Boston conducted random baggage searches on commuter rail lines during the Democratic National Convention last year, but officials here could not recall a precedent for a broad, systematic search of packages in the New York City subways, which provide 4.7 million rides each weekday.

At some of the busiest of the city’s 468 stations, riders will be asked to open their bags for a visual check before they go through the turnstiles. Those who refuse will not be permitted to bring the package into the subway but will be able to leave the station without further questioning, officials said.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly promised “a systematized approach” in the searches and said the basis for selecting riders for the checks would not be race, ethnicity or religion. The New York Civil Liberties Union questioned the legality of the searches, however, and Mr. Kelly said department lawyers were researching the constitutional implications.

“Every certain number of people will be checked,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’ll give some very specific and detailed instructions to our officers as to how to do this in accordance with the law and the Constitution.”

Paul J. Browne, a Police Department spokesman, said officers would focus on backpacks and containers that are large enough to carry explosive devices or ordnance. “We have some history of what those look like,” he said. “They’re bigger than a handbag.” Officers are unlikely to search pocketbooks, he said.

Searches began last night at several stations, including 14th Street-Union Square in Manhattan and an undisclosed station along the No. 7 line near Shea Stadium, in Queens. Today, the first full day the searches will be conducted, two of the many stations to be checked are Woodlawn-Jerome Avenue, on the No. 4 line in the Bronx, and Lafayette Avenue on the C line in Brooklyn. Mr. Browne said the search policy would continue indefinitely.

Transit officials in several other cities – Boston, Washington and San Francisco – said they were considering similar measures, although few have actually started randomly checking bags. A spokesman for the Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco said officials were not certain whether they have the legal authority for such searches. “This could be the lawyer’s dream case,” said the spokesman, Linton Johnson. “There is this balance of civil liberties and protection.”

Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which carries 1.2 million subway and bus passengers each weekday, said officials in the capital would watch how the effort went in New York. “It could be an option for us,” she said, “but we are not there yet in terms of an implementation plan.”

After the July 7 explosions in London, transit officials in Atlanta and Salt Lake City notified passengers that they reserved the right to inspect packages and bags, but the number of searches has been very small. In Utah, where a 20-mile rail system carries 45,000 passengers a day, a total of two bags have been inspected.

In Boston, for two weeks before the Democratic convention, subway stations were selected at random and bags were checked before riders entered the system, said John Martino, deputy police chief at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Police ran swabs across the bags and then put the swabs in machines that could detect explosives. “When we did it, we actually had people asking to be screened,” Chief Martino said yesterday in a telephone interview. “It makes them more comfortable knowing that it was being done.”

William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, an industry group, said comprehensive coverage of any major urban transit system would be next to impossible. “If you were going to try to check a very high percentage at every station or on every train, it would be incredibly labor-intensive,” he said.

In the Port Authority Bus Terminal yesterday. The search policy may be extended to cover bus passengers, the police said.

Still, he said, the searches could deter would-be attackers and improve the public’s confidence. “The public wants to feel safe, as well as be safe,” he said. “So this has a benefit of perception.”

Mr. Kelly said his department would “reserve the right” to expand the searches to buses and ferries, and he made it clear that many subway riders will be affected. “Ideally, it will be before you go through the turnstile,” he said. “You have a right to turn around and leave, but we also reserve the right to do those types of searches if someone is already inside the system.”

At the selected stations, as many as one in five or one in ten passengers may be picked for a search, said Mr. Browne. Supervisors will check that the searches are being randomly conducted, he said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said its own smaller police force would conduct similar searches on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. At Grand Central Terminal, an announcement was repeated over the loudspeakers last night: “Passengers are advised that their backpacks and other large containers are subject to random search by the police.”

Mr. Bloomberg acknowledged that passengers might be inconvenienced. “It’s a complex world where, sadly, there are a lot of bad people,” he said. “We know that our freedoms are threatening to certain individuals, and there’s no reason for us to let our guard down.”

The mayor said he spoke with Gov. George E. Pataki and with the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, shortly after hearing about the attacks in London yesterday, two weeks to the day after four bombings in the transit system there killed 56 and injured 700.

The police will focus on stations with heavy Manhattan-bound traffic in the morning and on stations with commuters leaving Manhattan in the evening. Riders will be asked to open their bags or allow them to be sniffed by trained dogs.

Mr. Browne, the police spokesman, said, “Obviously we’re going to use common sense for someone that appears to be an imminent threat.” For example, he said, if a passenger with a large package had both fists clenched, police officers would be justified in searching him. Anyone found to be holding illegal drugs or weapons is subject to arrest, he said.

The Transit Bureau of the Police Department has 2,200 officers and 500 supervisors, and even with the hundreds more that have been added for subway patrols, it is unclear how many riders can feasibly be searched. At Times Square, for example, there are 165,876 turnstile clicks on a typical weekday. Some of the system’s turnstiles are used by a dozen passengers a minute.

Mr. Browne said such searches had been discussed “from time to time, over the last three years.” Mr. Kelly suggested that riders could voluntarily speed the process. “Ideally, people wouldn’t carry any backpacks or bulky packages on the transit system,” he said.

Some riders expressed cautious support. Hani Judeh, 24, a Palestinian-American medical student who lives in Brooklyn, said he shaved his beard, stopped speaking Arabic publicly and attended mosque less regularly after 9/11.

He said he favored the searches, as long as they did not involve racial profiling. “They should check bags, but they can’t discriminate,” he said. “You can’t tell Indian from Pakistani, you can’t tell West Indian from black, you can’t tell Arab from Mediterranean.”

Customising your Linux Desktop

Here’s a really great article that I found about customizing one’s desktop. This is the most important thing a geek can do with his or her computer. When you first get your computer it looks just like everyone else’s computer. By customizing it and taking a little bit from what you see on this person’s computer and that person’s computer you end up with something that is uniquely your own and slightly different from everything else you’ve seen. Be sure to visit the link provided below to see the screenshots.

How to make your Linux desktop look awesome
Written by idontknow
Monday, 11 July 2005
We have heard a lot lately about projects aimed at bringing all that eye candy of operating systems such as OS X to the Linux world. Projects such as Xgl, Enlightenment, and others have given us a glimpse of what’s coming, but what can you do to enjoy a taste of some of the future… today? We are going to explore that question with some excellent add-ons, software, and features to make your desktop look cool and next-gen today…

Please note this article does required some advanced Linux know how. I will describe how to get things to work, but it may require extra steps at your end.

3D-Desktop is awesome. It’s a virtual desktop switcher with an interesting twist. When activated, it zooms your view out with each virtual desktop captured on a flat panel, each panel can then be rotated like a carousel. You can use either a keyboard or mouse to rotate and select the desktop you want. At first you might say is this not sacrificing productivity for cool desktop effects? The answer in my opinion is no. I never was an avid virtual desktop user until I installed this utility. It made keeping track of what I’m doing on each virtual desktop easier since it provides a snap shot of each desktop at a size that I can even recognize what program is running. (See below) This is in comparison to the standard desktop pager that provides small tiny squares representing screens that can be hard to see.

I found that Debian actually has a binary package available, though the other distribution I use Fedora Core did not so I had to compile from source. This is not too hard (pretty much just configure, make, make install). You must have glut-devel package installed and of course OpenGL extension/libraries enabled/installed on X windows.

NOTE: I did run into a problem with compiling on Fedora Core 4, GCC 4.0 64-bit edition. A cast from void * to int caused the compile to halt at line 77, so I simply commented that line out since it was just a printf statement. You may have to do the same if you have this problem.


Once installed you can “integrate” it by removing the standard gnome pager from your Gnome panel and replacing it with a launcher icon that executes “3ddesk”. You can add other options if you like to configure the way it displays, see the website or documentation for more on this.

Composite Extension
Xorg’s X server ships with an extension called “Composite” that allows for cool desktop effects such as shadows/translucency plus offers hardware acceleration if you have a support video card. The catch is by default it is turned off and it can be buggy. So use it only if it works well on your setup since your mileage may vary. I found personally on a NVIDIA card with the proprietary drivers it works well enough for everyday use though it does have some small quirks. The most annoying one was if you run an OpenGL game, when you exit out of the game, X windows loses the composite settings until you re-load the composite manager (the composite manager is actually crashing in the background) and sometimes it does not re-draw correctly (though this was rare). I will put this in the cosmetic category since it does not provide much in the way of enhancing productivity. Though it does look nice when it works.

To enable put this at the end of you /etc/X11/xorg.conf file:
Section “Extensions”Option “Composite” “Enable”EndSection
Next you need the xcompmgr and transset utility available here, you will have to compile these from source with the usual configure, make, make install.

After you have these utilities installed you will need to launch the xcompmgr which controls the composite extension. I personally just used the following settings (though you can get much more fancier with effects by altering the parameter you included)

# xompmgr –c &

If it works without a hitch and you want to have these settings restore on boot up include xcompmgr in your GNOME startup. (You can do this in Fedora by going to “Desktop Preferences->Advanced->Session” then click the last tab.) You can also use the transset program to set translucency of window but I found no real use for this. You can experiment if you like though.

NOTE: Nvidia users will need to specify the following options in the driver section:

Option “RenderAccel “true”
Option “AllowGLXWithComposite” “true”

Whatever you call them, they are small controls that do useful things plus look real cool. On Gnome you have gDesklets, and on KDE you have SuperKaramba. You probably have notice that I’m a GNOME user so I’m going to cover gDesklets, but SuperKaramba works much the same way though uses its own set of controls (Its not compatible with gDesklet controls).

I was able to find binaries for gDesklets here (http://dag.wieers.com/packages/gdesklets/). The only thing I needed was to install libgtop2 Fedora 3 rpm before hand (You can get these at a Fedora mirror site). Gdesklets has a nice sized library of controls (or in gdesklet speak Display and sensors) you can use at there website found here. I found three particular useful controls:

RSS Ticker bar – Display headlines from you favorite rss feeds.

infobar – Displays cpu load, memory usage, weather, disk usage, and other miscellaneous data on you desktop. I found this surprisingly useful when things are not running as expected or you need information on the weather. I like the idea of having all in one bar.

starterBar – A nice looking launcher bar for often used programs. Kind of looks like OS X launcher bar.

Honorable mention:
RecentlyUsed – I spotted this one when I was getting the URLs to the other controls. It looks interesting I did not try it though. Displays a thumbnail of recently used files.

When installing new controls I recommend going to the gdesklets site downloading the control tar ball then firing up the gdesklets utility, right click the gdesklets tray icon, select “Manage Desklets”. Then click File->install package and point it to the control tar ball. It will save you a lot of hassle by just doing it this way.

So what does the finished product look like? See the below screenshots of my finished desktop. Definitely a noticeable difference. Thank you for visiting the site, please check back for the next article.

How I came to be involved with Linux

I used to think Windows was so amazing. I thought it was at least 20 times better than Macintosh. Not only is their interface so obtuse, they don’t really have any programs other than video, audio, and photographic production. Windows was awesome and Bill Gates was a near genius. Those were the days! I remember being so angry at the government for filing an antitrust lawsuit. So what if Windows came with IE, weren’t people smart enough to download Netscape if they really wanted it? I remember Sophomore year in college being so excited at the new Windows Media Player which promised so many neat little trick like auto-playlists. The reason why I loved Windows so much si that I didn’t know I had a choice. I thought it was Windows or Mac and I certainly preferred Gates’ little creation.

Then, in the summer after my sophomore year I decided that I would like to run a web server. I wanted independence from Tripod with their stupid ads and other such malarky. My parents were toying with the idea of one day starting a family business and I made it my responsibility to find out what it would take to have our own servers. My Google searches brought my attention to a program called Apache, which, when run on a computer would allow someone to have a webserver. A weird program called Sendmail would work as an email program. Then a weird thing happened, I had this very stthrange feeling in my gut about these programs. Did I just read that they were free to use? Not free to try, but free to use? WTF was this? Surely it was some sort of scam and I started looking around in different websites. WHAT?!? A large portion of the Internet was run on this free software? I couldn’t understand it, it was just too much for me. I had used freeware and shareware before, but it was usually pretty rudimentary software. This seemed to be big league stuff here!

Then a link on one of these pages pointed me to a page about GNUY/Linux. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Someone was offering a free operating system? My brain suffered a meltdown and I put the subject away for a few days. Then I went back to the website, http://www.linux.org/. I read about the OS, I read the GPL, and I was amazed. I went to some distro websites and my first instinct was to try Slackware Linux. I liked the sound of that because my dad was always calling me a slacker in jest. Thankfully I never tried that distro or it might have been the end of my forays into free and open source software. I told my parents about all of this and they were just as incredulous as I had been about the prospect of a free operating system and freely being able to have a server. After all, they said, if it was free why doesn’t everyone do it? Good question, I thought. The Linux subject again went dormant in my life.

Midway through the second semester of my Junior year of college the idea surfaces from my subconscious with the force of a torpedo. Suddenly it consumes my thoughts. All I can think aobut constantly is the possibility of using Linux to run said server. In an attempt to placate these thoughts and concentrate on my school work, I go to the new Ithaca Borders Computer secion and look for a distribution that comes with a book to explain all of this to me. My prerequisite: the book must talk about setting up Apache and Sendmail. It all came down to Debian and Fedora. Something put me off about the Debian distro, I think just because I couldn’t take seriously a distro that sounded like it was named after someone named Debbie. I bought the Fedora book and the instant I touched it I remember seeing a box at Best Buy about 5 years prior with a penguin wearing a Red Hat. I remember it talking about a new OS, but at the time I didn’t really understand what it meant – I wasn’t ready for the paradigm. However, this memory helped me realize that this “Linux-thing” had been around for a long time.

There was one problem, buying the book, which came with CDs for the OS (another requirement of mine) made me want to install it even more badly. Since I had to buy the book to learn to OS I said to myself, it wasn’t really a free distro, but at $40, it was 1/4 the cost of a new Windows XP install, not bad. Finally, I used the campus auction newsgroup to obtain a 200 Mhz POS Dell computer with monitor, soundcard, and ethernet card from a senior who needed to get rid of the computer so that he could have room to move home. It cost me $50. So far this whole endeavor was still cheaper than a new copy of Windwows.

Installation took forever due to the machine’s slow speed, but I couldn’t wait to install Fedora Core 1 onto the computer. I read about the OS between classes and at night and realized it was based on Unix, which I had some experience with from the previous semester. Finally the machine booted up and, it was ok. I have to admit that it wasn’t love at first site. Basically, the computer was much too slow to do anything except be a server, which I figured out with time. HOwever, the seeds were planted and when I found out that it was upgraded every six months, I couldn’t wait for the next upgrade. This was 10E8 times better than Microsoft!

With Fedora Core 2 installed on an old dilapidated laptop which barely ran Windows 98, I was able to see the beauty of Linux. It had brought back to life a computer which could barely do anything. As I continued to sample the fruits of free and open source software, I loved it more and more. I loved the concepts behind the GPL which provide all with freedom (as in speech). I loved the social aspect – anyone from any socioeconomic background could afford a free (as in beer) OS. I loved the programs which did anything the Windows programs did. Some, like GAIM and K3B were better than their Windos counterparts. Some were worse. And some, like Kino and Openoffice, were about the same. So why pay for something when you could get it free and not have to deal with DMCA crap. I learned about OGG and how it was free and MP3 was not. I learned about Xvid as opposed to Divx and I became very well educated in the ways of Linux and its superiority and inferiority when compared with Windows.

Now I am a college graduate and a coworker came to me with a problem. He needed Windows XP because he wants to use Napster which requires windows since they use the Windows Media Audio format. But he couldn’t install it because Windows required him to register his product key and he didn’t have internet access. Boy did that make me happy to be a Linux user. Since there can be no such thing as bootlegging something that’s given away for free, we don’t have to worry about crap like activation keys for Linux. I tried to convince him to switch over, but he really wanted Napster. I told him I’d install it for him. It had been a year since I’d done a Windows install and boy was it crappy!

People complain about Linux installs, but I can honestly say that, at least with Fedora Core 1-4, the installation process is orders of magnitude better than the Windows installation process. Let’s compare! Windows starts up with blue screen and white text – not even a GUI! It does a bunch of cryptic things. Then it asks if I want to install Windows XP. This is an upgrade and it doesn’t detect Windows 98 already installed on the HDD. Therefore I need to ask my coworker for his Win98 CD. This delays us a bunch of days as he searches for it. Again, since FC is free, this is a non-issue. Then it presents me with the giant partition on his hard drive and asks if I want to use that one. No ability to make separate /home partitions means that one part of his drive crashing will destroy all his files. Then it asks me if I want to keep FAT32 or switch to NTFS. Then it says that it finds Windows 98 (why couldn’t it find it before?) and warns me about this. Then it says to reboot. When I reboot I end up back in the same place and have to go through all those steps again. This time it actually installs something. But it doesn’t even ask me which programs I wants. It just installs everything. How prehistoric! Even some of the text-based Linux installers give a choice of software and Fedora certainly does.

Then it goes through a setup process including registering the product with the activation key. No root user is set up! How will we protect users from borking up the computer? When I was done I was disgusted and pretty much have been left with a worse taste in my mouth for Windows than I previously had. Amazing that Linux isn’t “ready” for the desktop and yet installation is a breeze compared with Windows. Let’s look at a Fedora install.

After booting in, I push enter and the graphical boot starts. It asks me for language and some other settings. It helps me partition the harddrive in a logical way. It lets me select which programs I want installed along with some predefined installations. Then it figures out which discs I need and installation begins. Aftferwards I set up the root account and my account and the OS is ready to go! Can’t get much simpler than that!