seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

Good Computer Habits

What if your hard drive crashed right now or someone broke in and stole it? Where would you be? I would be greatly annoyed, but I wouldn't lose anything because I have multiple backup strategies and use secure passwords at every opportunity.

I know people who have lost everything and yet still do not do a proper job of backing up, even though the cost is less than $5/month at most.

So if this describes you also, take a few minutes to read this excellent article by James Fallows and be better prepared for the inevitable problems you will have eventually.

If you are using the same password on multiple different web sites, especially if any of them have your credit card or banking information, you are inviting a massive headache and weeks of frustration.

I have long been a LastPass user and Fallows recommends it in his article. Take a look - it's free for most uses (you have to pay $1/month to use it on your mobile device but free for your laptop and desktop computers).

Be smart, backup and secure your data before you lose it (again).

Baby Eagles Hatching

This is so cool - a video feed of an Eagle nest in Iowa where the babies will be hatching any time now.

The famous eagle family of Decorah Iowa is expecting its first newcomer of 2012 any moment now. The nest has three eggs, and each eaglet will spend 12 to 38 hours emerging from its shell.

I've had it on in the background in my office to check in from time to time.

Streaming Live by Ustream

Me, On The Tube

The YouTUBE! Tech News Today put me on again to talk about community broadband.

Browsing v. Searching

The loss of local bookstores troubles me. Whether it is Amazon or e-books, I fear for local bookstores, particularly used bookstores. A recent commentary by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic (full article is behind a pay wall) offers a spirited defense of local businesses over online alternatives. A taste:

Browsing is not idleness; or rather, it is active idleness—an exploring capacity, a kind of questing non-instrumental behavior. Browsing is the opposite of “search.” Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge, browsing corrects your ignorance. Search narrows, browsing enlarges. It does so by means of accidents, of unexpected adjacencies and improbable associations. On Amazon, by contrast, there are no accidents. Its adjacencies are expected and its associations are probable, because it is programmed for precedents.

Support your local stores.

The IUD and the Individual

Wired covered the recent history of the IUD - a birth control device that is having a strong renaissance presently. I'm intrigued for a number of reasons - over the longer term, it is possibly the most cost-effective and reliable birth control method for people who don't simply deny their human urges (often ineffectively...). But it comes with a relatively high upfront cost, which was limited its popularity.

I found the role of Eve Espey in the article particularly inspiring. It shows what can happen when one takes initiative and the ways a single individual can make an impact when everything lines up.

The Struggle Within Islam

Following up on my recent post, "Muslim Terrorists are Rare... and Stupid," I just read a good article in the September Smithsonian. The "Struggle Within Islam" explores how most Muslims react to the actions of the minority that commit acts of horrible terror.

“Today, Al Qaeda is as significant to the Islamic world as the Ku Klux Klan is to the Americans—not much at all,” Ghada Shahbender, an Egyptian poet and activist, told me recently. “They’re violent, ugly, operate underground and are unacceptable to the majority of Muslims. They exist, but they’re freaks.

“Do I look at the Ku Klux Klan and draw conclusions about America from their behavior? Of course not,” she went on. “The KKK hasn’t been a story for many years for Americans. Al Qaeda is still a story, but it is headed in the same direction as the Klan.”

How Not to Help Africa, Haiti, et al

I was still a student at Macalester when I met an economics student from Kenya who made a very compelling case for the US to help Africa by rapidly scaling back the "help" it was offering to Africa. The concept is well explained in the aptly-named "Haiti Doesn't Need Your T-Shirt" article.

It kills me when I hear Americans say that the first US government programs that should be cut are foreign aid (the budget for which they almost over estimate by many orders of magnitude). The reality is that the US foreign assistance budget primarily exists to benefit Americans. American banks, farmers, arms manufacturers, etc. We take stuff we cannot use but still want to produce (often because of the strong lobbying arm of a related interest group) and ship it off to other countries, often at the expense of destroying their economies.

Want to be a farmer in Africa or manufacture clothes? Good luck! You'll be competing against shitty free stuff from the U.S. And it is very hard to compete with free.

Energy Use for the Sake of Using Energy

You know how to know if energy is priced too cheaply? When we use it just because we can, not for any particular reason. It is why so many don't bother turning off lights when not in a room... is it really worth getting up and walking across the room to save a penny in a month? Probably not. Of course, over time, it adds up to nickels, dimes, and eventually even tens of dollars over the course of the month. But it just isn't much.

I enjoyed this very short article by a great thinker (from Canadia, no less), Vaclav Smil:

Energy use is merely a means to many rewarding ends: economic security, education, health. The United States consumes nearly twice as much energy per capita as the richest countries of the European Union, which raises the question: What has it gotten in return? Are Americans twice as rich as the French? Are they twice as educated as the Germans? Do they live twice as long as the Swedes? Are they twice as happy as the Danes or twice as safe as the Dutch? The obvious answer for all of the above is no; indeed, many of America's quality-of-life indicators -- including infant mortality, longevity, and educational achievement -- do not even rank among the world's top 10!

Population Trends and Unexpected Consequences

I've been fascinated by demographic trends for a number of years -- inevitable change that happens sufficiently slowly that most seem not to notice. I'm entertained by the doomsday claims -- the Earth can't possibly support 4 billion people! Errr... 6 billion... errr 7 billion.

Earth can handle more people. Interesting, the ones doing the most damage are the few who put all the carbon in the air over the past 200 years, not those masses just starting to catch up now. At any rate, those concerned about the growing population should be less concerned because growth rates have been dropping for some time.

Such is life in the city... literally. As populations become more urbanized and women are educated, birth rates plummet. This is not a knock on women -- when they have an education, they are better able to make smart choices as opposed to being used as brood mares by dominating men (the ones who wrote most of the religious texts that perpetuate that arrangement).

But what happens when couples start having only one child? It destroys the family, something I never put together until I read The World Will be More Crowded -- With Old People by Phillip Longman in Foreign Policy -- the Sept/Oct 2011 issue.

Another related megatrend is the rapid change in the size, structure, and nature of the family. In many countries, such as Germany, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, the one-child family is now becoming the norm. This trend creates a society in which not only do most people have no siblings, but also no aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, or nephews. Many will lack children of their own as well. Today about one in five people in advanced Western countries, including the United States, remains childless. Huge portions of the world's population will thus have no biological relatives except their parents.

Muslim Terrorists Are Rare... and Stupid

Fantastic article in Foreign Policy - "Why is it so hard to find a Suicide Bomber These Days?"

I have been making this point in arguments for years. To those who argue that all Muslims support terrorists or want to kill us (due to our freedom, no doubt), I have asked why there are so few terrorist attacks then. With over a billion Muslims, one would think we would see more than the occasional attempt (often blundered).

The reality is that just as most Christians really don't want to lift a finger to do anything Jesus actually encouraged them to do, most Muslims don't believe the scary passages in the Qu'ran that give license to kill the infidels. Everyone reads what they want to read and ignores the inconvenient parts (though for many, the inconvenient parts are the ones encouraging peace, love, and hippy stuff).

At any rate, Kurzman's article is first rate and fun to read. A sample where he offers five answers to the question posed by the title:

The first and most obvious answer is that most Muslims oppose terrorist violence. According to surveys by Gallup and the Pew Global Attitudes Project, support for attacks on civilians is a minority position in almost every Muslim community. (By way of comparison, a 2006 survey found that 24 percent of Americans consider attacks on civilians to be justified.) But even if only 10 percent of the world's billion Muslims supported terrorism, we would still expect to see far more terrorist activity than we do.

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