Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: 10/1/06 - 10/8/06

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Geek post of the week: SCI FI FRIDAY IS BACK!

...with the return of my favorite show, Battlestar Galactica!


Last night's innaugeral 4th season episode did not disappoint! It was especially riveting because, as Americablog's John Aravosis noted, the obvious connection between events on the show to real events in Iraq. We are forced to look at all sides of the issue of "occupation" - the "hero" Cylons (Sharon 8 and Number Six) convinced the rest of their species that this was a better solution to "live in harmony" with the humans rather than exterminating them. Of course, it has all turned into an occupation that has gotten out of their control when other agendas took over. Our favorite human characters are choosing survival either through working for the Cylons or as "insurgents," organizing suicide bombings. I think the story line that is the most facinating involves Starbuck, who has been kidnapped by a Cylon and is living with him in a comfortable cell as he uses insidious psychological methods to bind her to him.

I wonder what the reaction will be from more conservative quarters?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Alaska Democrats Discover Hanky-Panky with Datafile from the 2004 Election - aka Diebold Strikes Again!

After 9-months of the Division of Elections (completely run by Repubs) trying everything in their power to keep "prying eyes" away from the Diebold Files, they settled when it became obvious that the court was going to rule against them.

So, they ponied up a datafile. Notice I say "a" datafile and not "the" datafile. It was the "most recent" copy of the information, which turns out to be a significant qualifier:

Per the Alaska Democratic Party Website:
The Alaska Democratic Party today asked the Division of Elections to explain why changes were made in July of 2006 to the electronic database that contains the results of the 2004 General Election.

A review of the audit trail of the GEMS database for the 2004 elections shows that modifications were made to the database on July 12 and July 13, 2006.

So what did they change?
"We do not understand why 2004 election results would be manually modified in 2006 after the complaint was filed asking that you produce the database," Jake Metcalfe, chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, said in a letter to Division of Elections Director Whitney Brewster. "Data from the 2004 election may have been altered," Metcalfe said.

One of the modifications made in 2006 appears to alter data for House District 5. In that district's race for the State House, Democrat Tim June lost by 59 votes to Republican Bill Thomas.

The Democratic Party also questioned the 293 manual entries that were made to the electronic file between 11/2/04 and 12/2/04. According to the same audit log, the Primary Election for 2004 had 17 manual entries.

"Two hundred and ninety-three is an incredibly high number of manual entries," said Jim March, a consultant and member of the Board of Directors of Black Box Voting who examined the GEMS database.

And why would anyone legitimately make manual entries?
"Manual entries usually happen when a ballot is too crumpled to scan or is marked in blood, crayon or in an unusual manner. A small number of manual entries is normal. In an election about your size, approximately 20 or so manual entries would be common. Having 293 manual entries for the General Election is completely off the charts, while the 17 manual entries that were made for the Primary is within the normal range. The high number of manual entries is troubling since several elections were decided by less than 100 votes," March said.

Who made the changes?
One of the problems revealed by examining the GEMS database is that every individual who modified the file had the same "admin" User ID, March said.

Failing to assign each individual who has access to the database a unique User ID negates an important safeguard, he said.

"We now know the Alaska Division of Elections isn't tracking which human being performs which action on the central database of votes, including a startlingly high number of manual entries of vote data. If a person's actions in the election aren't tracked, personal accountability fails. This is a classic flaw in the Diebold product," March said.

So the Demos are now demanding an "unaltered" copy of the datafile. We'll see how long it takes to get it...if they get it at all.

Here's some background as to why there needed to be an inquiry:
According to the Division of Elections' vote reports that were produced by the state's Diebold computer system and are posted on the Division's official web site, a far larger number of votes were cast than the official totals reported in the statewide summary. In the case of President George Bush’s votes, the district-by-district totals add up to 292,267, but his official total was only 190,889, a difference of 101,378 votes. In the U.S. Senate race, Lisa Murkowski received 226,992 votes in the district-by-district totals, but her official total was only 149,446, a difference of 77,546 votes.

In 20 of the 40 State House Districts, more ballots were cast than there are registered voters in the district, according to information on the state's web site. In 16 election districts, the voter turnout percentage shown is over 200%.

I fear for November's election.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sex Sells: The sea lion research webcam gets hot and steamy

What can I say, sex sells:
"This time of year, the cameras are trained on mothers nursing their pups at the small rookery on Chiswell Island, 35 miles south of Seward.

Research associate John Maniscalco is in charge of the remote video monitoring project for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.

“We see a lot of things that, of course, are very private,” he said. “But, of course, we are dealing with animals here... Sea lions don't have any sense of modesty.”

Scientists hope that monitoring the sea lions will help them understand why their numbers have declined so dramatically in south-central and western Alaska. The population is down about 70 percent since the mid-1970s."
The picture above was taken by yours truly several weekends ago. We were in Seward for a "threeee hour tooooour" with Renown Charters through Kenai Fjords Wildlife Refuge where we went to...you got it...Chiswell Island. The weather sucked but I was able to run in and out of the cabin to get warm and dry off between viewing/taking pictures. Our boat held 100 people confortably and was more like a floating restaurant/lounge then an actual boat. Some folks (many of the "blue haired" contingent) never even ventured out on deck...they looked at the pretty scenery from the warm comfort of the huge heated cabin, sitting in booths eating the provided lunch and even playing cards.

I never got the point of spending the money to come if that's all you were going to do.

Anyway, after the tour...where the weather really did start to get rough...we paid a visit to the Alaska SeaLife Center. Morrigan doesn't often get so excited that you can barely contain her, but she sure does there...especially when it comes to Woody, the love of her life!

Woody is the "king of the hill" at the SeaLife Center - a 1600 lb Stellar Sea Lion. Morrigan would have watched him for hours if we'd stayed.

Because of the sea lion issue, I've grown yet more disgusted with so-called "environmental" groups. Because of a lawsuit they filed, much of the research had to stop, losing at least one' year's worth of data and possibly compromising some studies, forcing them to start over.

Scientists are lamenting the loss of untold amounts of data on Steller sea lions after their study permits were revoked in a lawsuit by an animal rights group in early summer, the best time of year for observing the endangered animals.

The decision found that the National Marine Fisheries Service, which issues the permits, had not properly assessed whether some research techniques, such as branding sea lion pups, were essential to studying the animals.

The ruling came soon after the start of annual May-to-August research at the marine mammals' remote breeding grounds along the southern edge of Alaska.

"We missed the peak pupping period," Lorrie Rea, head of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks, said Wednesday. "We don't know how many gave birth and lost pups or had stillborns, so the data is all compromised

Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees, the organizations objected to the pain branding would cause the pups, without taking into account that marine mammals can't be "collared" or "tagged" - techniques used on land animals. The scientists MUST be able to track these pups to determine what may be causing their drastic decline in numbers.

Why do so many "environmentalists" decry the use of science, even when their big-picture goals are the same?


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If there was ever a time to get "beamed up" this would be it!

This is just freakin' cool:

Until now scientists have teleported similar objects such as light or single atoms over short distances from one spot to another in a split second.

But Professor Eugene Polzik and his team at the Niels Bohr Institute at Copenhagen University in Denmark have made a breakthrough by using both light and matter.

"It is one step further because for the first time it involves teleportation between light and matter, two different objects. One is the carrier of information and the other one is the storage medium," Polzik explained in an interview on Wednesday.

The experiment involved for the first time a macroscopic atomic object containing thousands of billions of atoms. They also teleported the information a distance of half a meter but believe it can be extended further.

"Teleportation between two single atoms had been done two years ago by two teams but this was done at a distance of a fraction of a millimeter," Polzik, of the Danish National Research Foundation Center for Quantum Optics, explained.

"Our method allows teleportation to be taken over longer distances because it involves light as the carrier of entanglement," he added.

Does this mean that I'll FINALLY get my flying car?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Union Busting, Pentagon Style! - Bush's War on Gov't Workers, Part 1

Talk to any Human Resource professional in the Army and they will be the first to tell you that the Federal Government's shiny new National Security Personnel System (NSPS)just puts a new face on "The Good Ole' Boy" system from years past.

- It changes hiring/firing by giving management much more control...thus allowing nepotism and friendship-based hiring.

- It changes the system of raises and awards, erasing cost-of-living raises and making them "performance based." That sounds reasonable on the surface, but in reality the new system will allot a much smaller pot of money to each manager to be divvied up as he/she sees fit. Therefore, more folks better learn to play golf and find other ways to suck-up to the boss.

- It changes the ranking system, establishing what's known as "pay bands" for each position. The problem with pay bands is that they can be a wide range for the same job. Example: What's now a Information Technology Specialist can go from a GS-05,07, 09, 11, as it is a "ladder" position of increasing responsibility. However, under pay-bands, all of those grades would come under the same Job Description, making it completely legal to continue to pay the employee at a GS-05 level while giving them GS-11 duties...and it is conceivable that the employee could legally NEVER get a raise. (Unless one employs the "golf" or "sucking-up" tactics mentioned above.)

- Members of six federal workers unions walked out of NSPS talks in May of 2005 because of the roadblocks to collective bargaining and lack-of-redress given to workers under the new system. The Union of American Federal Government Employees (AFGE) took this problem to court and won. While this should have held up implementation of NSPS as a whole, Donald Rumsfeld was determined to push forward. He decided to implement all aspects of NSPS NOT covered in the court suit to the "non-bargaining unit" government employees. A "second wave" of employees are to be implemented this month. (By the way, Outsourcing and A-76 are changing many jobs to non-bargaining unit positions, but that will be the subject of another post.)

- In retaliation, the Unions successfully pressured Congress to defund NSPS in both the Pentagon's version and the DHS version.

While far from a complete victory, the willingness of Congress to support the court ruling by tossing another rock into the relentless NSPS machine could be looked upon as another indication of Bush's failing influence...at least as long as the courts uphold that decision.