Monthly Archives: October 2010

Terrorists Mailing It In?


Across the US and the UK this week, cargo flights have been disrupted by package bombs sent via UPS and FedEx.  In this case, the packages were sent from Yemen to a synagogue in Chicago.  Like all “parcel post” these days, the packages fly on commercial aircraft, like UPS, FedEx, DHL and any passenger carrier that you care to mention.  Air cargo is a big money maker for the airlines and postal cargo is one of those steady, well-paying, easy to move shipments.

In the day you could send a package by Canada Post and be certain it was going by train or truck.  Only if you paid a whack of money would your letter or package go via “airmail”, ostensibly being the fastest service available.  Internationally, unless you paid airmail rates, your package to Aunt Hazel in Heidelberg went by ship.  That’s why we used to have advertisements encouraging us to ship Christmas presents by mid-November to the UK or Europe for assured delivery.  Today, almost all of it winds up on an aircraft, unless you’re sending Aunt Hazel a four room apartment full of your anvil collection.

The bombs this time, at least one, was a modified toner cartridge with a circuit board and what is being described as PETN, or plastic explosive to you and me.  It wasn’t enough to drop a building, but could easily contain enough to kill several people.  Remember the root of “terrorist” is ‘terror’, meaning scare the hell out of folks.  Making common objects a source of fear is a textbook definition.

Where the difficulty comes up is how these parcel bombs highlight the holes in our ‘screening’ process.  We screen the snot out of passengers and some of their luggage, but fall woefully short on air cargo.  Estimates range from 20% to less than 5% of air cargo is actually checked.  That would mean that the vast majority of air cargo is flying without so much as a drug dog running over the pile.  Scratch that, we’re willing to wager that more cargo is checked for illegal vegetables, dried shrimp or foreign salami by the cute Agri-Hounds.  Unless a package is actively smoking, labeled “Death To The Zionist Infidels” with a return address of O. Bin Laden, 4th cave along, 14th Street, Sana’a, Yemen, odds are the package will fly.

The reason so much air cargo goes untouched is twofold.  First is the sheer volume of just-in-time air cargo shipping going at prime rates for companies who are willing to pay top dollar to get that box of stuff to their client within 24 hours.  All Nippon Airways shipped 34,422 tons of stuff in Japan alone, in May 2010 and when asked what kind of month it was, the spokesman said “Meh, we’ve done better, we’ve done worse.”

The second factor is inconvenience to the airlines.  If shipments are delayed by security, shippers are angry, clients are angry and customers are angry, all at the air cargo company, which loses money.  There’s that nasty word again; money.

As soon as security costs money, the line forms on the left with consultants, media fart-catchers, spin doctors and experts who come up out of the carpet to decry government regulation that will cost them money, time, effort or unbillable hours involved in thinking.  Politicians nod sagely at the hearings and agree to “Let the market decide” which means nothing will happen. 

Will terrorists keep trying to mail it in?  Of course they will.  It is much easier to get someone to call FedEx or UPS than it is to get them a fitting for a suicide vest.  That’s a no-brainer for even the most fervent members of terrorist groups. 

Our no-brainer in response is to check every package on every flight.  Open more than half of them for a hand inspection and reseal the package or envelope with tape that says “Opened by the TSA (or CATSA, or the other official groups) for security inspection:  Get over it”

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Driving, Texting and Simple Math


An interesting little factoid dropped out of the ether yesterday, here.  For those too lazy to click on a link, here’s the short form:  It’s been a year since Ontario banned drivers from using cellphones and other handheld electronics behind the wheel, while driving.  Ottawa Police say they issue about 400 tickets a month to distracted drivers who often appear impaired, swerving across lanes, braking oddly, or sometimes even swerving into oncoming traffic.

Let’s see, some math here:  400 tickets, divided by 30 days is 13+ tickets a day, more or less.

Some other math, again simple math for those like me who are numerically intolerant:  30 miles per hour is the same as 44 feet per second. Divide by 3, as one-third of a second is the median reaction time of an attentive driver reacting to something while driving.  Not braking, but just seeing it and having the brain go Oh, perhaps I should stop before I run over that nun. That would be about 14 feet in round numbers.  Now add another 2.5 seconds to move the feet, apply the brakes and come to a rapid, but not panic, stop.  44 times 2.5, plus 14 gives us 124 feet, or just around 42 yards. 

An obvious need, an attentive driver, in a non-panic, buried-in-the-ABS-stop of a car going 30 miles per hour takes just under a half a football field to accomplish.

Since most people don’t drive 30 miles per hour in the city, except during rush hour, you can ramp up the math yourself.  45 miles per hour is 66 feet per second, 60 miles per hour is 88 feet per second and so on.

Now, add an extra two seconds to the reaction time, as the attentive driver is fiddling with his or her cellphone, trying to tweet that he’s got a Chicken Double Down from KFC that he’s almost finished eating.  Scratch that, add another four seconds to reaction time.  Maybe five or six seconds. 

We are now out into the realm of our mythical Nun, (Sister Mary Ignacio of Our Lady Of Perpetual Motion) not only being run over by one car, but quite possibly the other cars following, plowing into the first car, after clipping Sister Mary’s body a second, third or fourth time

The simple math of a known constant (44 feet per second equals 30 miles per hour) and a clueless hump trying to text, call or tweet on a cellphone has done for Sister Mary.  Odds are that our clueless hump will post to his Facebook that he’s in an ambulance because the fecal-matter for brains behind him ran into the back of his stopped car, after he inadvertently had a nun jump off the sidewalk, intent on martyrdom and got slammed into by an idiot on a cellphone in a truck and now he’s got whiplash.

To be concise about it, do not use your cellphone for anything while you are driving your car.  That means texting, posting, answering email, answering a call, listening to voice mail or even changing the wallpaper on your screen.  Nothing. 

Is that really so hard to understand? 

 

 

Voting With Vick’s Is Good


Today is voting day in our municipal election here in Ottawa.  We’re a city of about 700,000 give or take, and we are exercising our franchise for a new Mayor, City Councilors and School Trustees who will be spending our tax money over the next four years.

Voter turnout?  If we get to 70% of eligible voters, we will be impressed with the actual participation in the democratic process by our fellow citizens.  We can understand why most people don’t give a flying fornicative act about voting, as the candidates could bore a statue to sleep while the process is so complex that even Stephen Hawking said “Frig that crap!” 

One mayoral candidate, who shall remain nameless but is actually the incumbent Larry O’Brien, is off and on his meds so often that the running gag at City Hall is we can use him as a weathervane after he gets turfed from office.  The other, leading candidate, also nameless, but is really Jim Watson, takes so many personality suppressants that he makes Wally Cox look like romance novel coverboy Fabio. 

The other dozen or so candidates for Mayor either have an uncontrolled case of monomania, or are in the Witless Protection Program.  Many of them have fond memories of taking the short bus to school.  Two of them still wear their hockey helmet from Grade 7.

For council, we have a reasonable incumbent in our riding who doesn’t suck much in a council that if we dusted them with salt, could be called Mixed Nuts.  Other ridings have a collection of the lame, the halt and insane that look like the Sidewalk Sale at the Penatanguishine Home For The Criminally Insane.

As for School Trustee?  It comes down to trying to decipher what School Board you are actually entitled to vote for.  Ottawa, Separate, French Language, Left-Handed, Alternative Lifestyle, Non-vowel using, Inclusive, Pro-social, Self-Esteem Raising, Anaphylactic-Catholic, or Ottawa, Public, English as a Fourth Language, Bipolar, Free-Range, Organic, Flag Semaphore, Zamboni-Positive, Bicycle-Owning, Sandal Recycling, Hemp Tuesday’s, Reform Druid.  Pick four out of a slate of 984 candidates, arranged in inverse alphabetical order by their middle names.  School Board voting is fraught here.

In any case, we are going to actually make the effort to vote for one simple reason:  If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the municipal government you get.  We might get saddled with a slate of what could charitably called Thieving Pimps Who Would Whore Their Own Mothers For Unlubricated Bareback Anal Sex To Any Developer With Enough Cash To Pay The Shot.  Conversely, we might get a council of something even worse.  One can never tell, as platforms, standards and political stances can change with the waving of the right number of $5 bills.  Or lubricant.

However, we are planning on putting a dollop of Vick’s Vapo-Rub under our nose just before we enter the polling station to kill the smell long enough to make our marks on the various ballots.  We will vote. 

And, by Deity yes, we will complain. 

     

Monsters Among Us – The Russell Williams Trial


There’s no way around it, except to say that the former commander of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Trenton, Col. Russell Williams is a very unwell individual.  The Crown (the DA in Americanese) has listed the particulars of the 88 charges that Williams has pled guilty to and the particulars are revolting. 

If you feel obligated here’s the link, but we’ll caution you now, the specifics are disturbing in so many ways at so deep a level that we’re not sure we ever want to read them again.  If you don’t get into the particulars, you can still keep up with the posting, as we’re not really into the specifics of his crimes.

The question, and this posting, is more about the Monsters Among Us.  There have always been, for the lack of a better term, Monsters in our society.  One could argue that Vlad The Impaler, or Vlad Dracula, was one of the first recorded, historical Monsters, whose predilection for over-the-top savagery were recorded for all time.  Even deducting half for distortion through the lens of oral history and various colourations of friends or foes recording events, Vlad Dracula was a Monster. 

The list can include participants in the Crusades, various wars, police actions, insurrections, invasions, political machinations, purges, pogroms and punishments, meted out since we started recording history.  Usually that list of Monsters includes those who are called war criminals, or who commit crimes against humanity.  

Then there are the lone Monsters, like Ed Gein, Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer.  The ones who slip through the cracks, who when caught, we see their neighbour on TV saying “He was a quiet guy who kept to himself, but he was always friendly.”  Those are the real Monsters who elicit our real fear because they have lived among us, hiding in plain sight.

We can’t actually know all the reasons someone becomes a Monster.  Even though the best minds in psychiatry have studied their crimes, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, we still come up without a good answer. 

Straight up crazies, we can figure out:  Voices in their head said kill Brian because the particular perpetrator had serious neurochemical imbalances that produced the craziness that let someone step over that line from merely hearing voices to acting on the things the voices were saying.  We’re not going to condemn the legitimately unwell, as it isn’t actually their fault.  The Monsters though?

The test is; does the perpetrator know what they are doing is wrong?  Are they consciously breaking significant societal taboos because they want to, need to, or like to?  Another aspect of the Monster test is their attitude to their actions:  Is it a game of Catch me if you can, with the highest possible stakes?  That was a goodly piece of Ted Bundy:  He thought he was smarter than everyone else, especially the police. 

Here’s where things get murky.  What is the philosophical difference between someone who kills people for the power dynamic thrill of taking a life and someone who kills people because their victims are worthless and the killer has been assured that he will get a reward in the afterlife?  One is a thrill-seeker and one is a religious zealot.  Both are killers.  One ran a pig farm in British Columbia and one flew a plane full of passengers into the World Trade Center.  Is the motivation, or the timeline a defining factor in making the determination of a Monster?

We do know that with our highly interconnected, hypernews-immersed society, we hear about the Monsters faster, with more detail and more depth than we want.  This is a price we pay for being more connected. 

We’ll postulate a theory here:  The percentage of Monsters through time is a constant number per capita, from hunter-gatherer days in the trees, to today.  There have always been that one out of several hundred thousand who, to use a colloquialism; “Just ain’t right.” 

Col. Russell Williams looks like he’s going to join that list.

        

Little People–Big Mines


With the Chilean Miners thankfully being rescued, we know that production companies are lining up for a suck on the top-of-mind teat.  Anticipating the rush, here’s our take, specifically for TLC:

Little People – Big Mines:  A new reality show following the adventures of a polygamous family of Mormon Little People who own a run-down silver mine in Utah.  In the second episode, the mine collapses, trapping Dad, two of his wives and four of his grown children underground along with a four-person video crew from the production company.  The series covers the intricate stories of the cave-in, faith, death, claustrophobia and Little People as the community rallies to rescue the family and crew.

Hey, it could happen.  And you read it here first.

Rebuild the Blog Again


We’re nearing the point where the Third Iteration of RoadDave is about done.  For those of you who have followed the blog, you know some of its’ history, but for those who don’t, here’s the condensed version:

There is/was a website called whatthefuck.com and when a colleague found it online, we determined that we had to write for it.  After all, where else could you get an email handle of smitty@whatthefuck.com?  It was priceless.  We wrote a few posts, some of which were almost good, then work got in the way and we stopped participating.  The stuff is still up and you can see it here: RobAndDaveAndLife

I worked for a company out of Bellevue, WA that saw me travelling extensively around the US for weeks at a time.  Load up the suitcase and hit the road for a month, two months, or the record, fourteen consecutive weeks on the road.  I didn’t get home much and didn’t have a way to stay connected with friends.  Hell, I didn’t know where I was going to be more than two weeks ahead.  At the time, if you had a hotmail account, you could have a ‘personal website’ with Microsoft that they would host on their servers.

Blogging didn’t actually exist, but a frequently updated website was possible, so that’s what I created.  I’d post stories from the road, observations, photos and various other writings in some attempt to keep friends and family sort-of in the loop about where I was, what I was doing and what was going on around me.

That was the original RoadDave and it started in November of 1999.  You coded html directly in Notepad and had to define damn near everything without the benefit of even simple plugins for Word.  Front Page didn’t exist when the first RoadDave started.   

The second iteration was four or five years ago, when Microsoft gave all us hotmail monkeys something called Live Spaces.  If you had one of the Microsoft personal websites, you got dumped into the chronosynclastic infindibulum and were invited to rebuild from scratch.  I ported some of the early writings over to Live Spaces, but not all of them, simply because it takes time and effort.

At Live Spaces, RoadDave continued to evolve and as the travel cut back to sustainable levels, I could actually work on some of it, putting a fine shine on the brain turds that pass for my writing. 

In the meantime, the concept of ‘blogging’ reached the media event horizon of their ADHD reality.  I swear there were blogs for the household toaster oven, or Kelly’s Right Nut, the blog of some lad’s right testicle, that suddenly had the urge to overshare.  Fortunately most of these things have fallen into disuse or have ported to ‘social media’.  Shit My Dad Says, a one-time Twitter feed, is now a first-season TV series that is about as funny as ingrown hairs on your taint.

A few weeks ago, I got a message that Live Spaces was very graciously offering to move us to WordPress.  Ostensibly for better customer service, but in reality, Live Spaces was a massive flop and MS wanted rid of the overhead of hundreds of thousands of non-revenue generating blogs that take up bandwidth, rack space and tech support time.  Fair enough.  Which explains why we’re here now, as WordPress has the willingness to support actual blogging with tools that work, techs that give a damn and some kind of way to turn a profit out of it.  Good for WordPress and a “Feh!” to Mothership for the half-assed support.

So what does the future hold here at WordPress?  I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, so how can I predict the future?  All I know is some kind of RoadDave will continue, with some kind of writing and hopefully some folks who stop by, read some and move on.  It’s not a movie or a book or an online arcade.  It just is.

Thank you.