What Will Happen in the Next Worldwide Viral Pandemic?

Spanish Flu - Viral Pandemic

I’ve just finished reading “The Great Influenza,” a book which can make anyone seriously paranoid. It’s a comprehensive history of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. You can’t help but wonder about the possibility of another worldwide viral pandemic.

Just to be clear, I don’t count myself as a “Doomsday Prepper.” Even so, after reading this book, you start to think that making a few preparations might not be such a bad idea. (more…)

How about a Prefab Hobbit House?

A Hobbit House in New Zealand

Image Credit – Shaun Jeffers Photography

I came across this interesting post today. A company called Green Magic Homes can build you prefab Hobbit House. Okay, the Hobbit thing is marketing, I’ll pretty sure they aren’t selling mostly to Hobbits.

Instead, let’s think more in engineering and design terms. Maybe there is something here for folks who want to live off-grid, or mostly off-grid. This basic design could also work for seasonal cabins, vacation homes, survivalists might also find it attractive. (more…)

The Day of the Triffids – BBC Series Thoughts

The Day of the Triffids - BBC 2009

The Day of the Triffids was a science fiction classic by John Wyndam, first published in 1951. Like many of the books and movies of the 1950s and 1960s, it reflects cold war paranoia, and to no small extent, suspicion about new technology.

I’m a big fan of old movies, especially old horror and science fiction. They often tell us a lot about both our dreams and our fears. There was a move adaptation in the early ’60s which I haven’t seen.  According to reviews, it was mediocre at best.  But I recently had a chance to see the 2009 BBC version, and I was impressed.  A movie about tall, walking, carnivorous plants doesn’t sound that appealing, but I had read the book as a child, and the BBC adaptation had good reviews, so why not take a chance?  Glad I did, there turned out to be a lot more going on here that you would guess from the description.

Is it possible to Colonize the Galaxy?

Alien MonolithTo answer the question, “Is it possible to Colonize the Galaxy?”, we need to think about the physics of interstellar travel. Last week we talked about communication, and the thesis that Faster than Light (FTL) communication is a requirement for a meaningful dialog. Receiving radio signals from a technological civilization would certainly change our understanding of the universe, but receiving a message, even if we understand it completely, does not necessarily imply that a meaningful dialog is possible.


Is SETI a wasted effort?

Alien Monolith - SETII think SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is a wasted effort. Just to be clear, it’s not the concept of Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence that’s a waste, it’s the way it’s being done. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but there is a certain logic.

As I see it, SETI is about two things. First, to find out if advanced, technological civilizations exist, and second, to possibly communicate with them. (more…)

The Fermi Paradox – Where Are the Aliens?

The Fermi ParadoxOne of the great questions of our time is “Are We Alone?”  There are really two parts to this question.  The first part is “Does life exist which did not originate on earth?”  The second part, perhaps even more important, “Do other intelligent and technological civilizations exist?” The Fermi Paradox is a way of asking, if the aliens are out there, why haven’t we seen some sign?
For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that life does exist on other worlds.  It seems a reasonable assumption, given our understanding of chemistry and the evolution of life on earth.  We know that life appeared on earth relatively shortly after the formation of our planet.  As soon as water, some basic precursor chemicals and energy were available, molecules clumped together to form stable systems that could reproduce themselves.  Scientists still debate the exact point where these complex organic assemblies became “life,” but it seems that given the right ingredients and enough time in a stable environment, the result is simple life. (more…)

We’ve been Hacked – Data Restored

HackedWe’re back up and running as you can see. Our hosting provider’s server farm was hacked and much damage was done. As a result we’ve been offline for more than 48 hours

My provider is Mungo Studios, a small outfit run by a friend of mine from my days at Microsoft. The server farm is located in a big data center near Chicago. My friend Tim owns several machines, which are in racks along with a few thousand others. For a small web hosting outfit, it’s more profitable to own the machines than to rent space on the data center’s machines like many host companies. He pays more up front, but has a slightly better margin on the back end. Everything is striped of course, and if some piece hardware goes bad, there is somebody there 24×7 to replace the parts and restore the data. (more…)

Code Problems – How does this kind of crap happen?

C++IconPractically every week we hear a story about some international conglomerate screwing up their computer code.  Code is what runs a business, why are there so many code problems?

Sony Entertainment got hacked, all the executive emails were put on public display, showing what petty people they really are. Not to mention several movies going into the pubic domain. Our own government has demonstrated they can’t secure the names and social security numbers of their own employees. Target has been hacked. Aside from the security issues, companies frequently have down time. Even stock exchanges have had blackouts. Software bugs have even resulted in grid failures. Even a Mars mission failed because one part of the code was doing calculations in miles, another in kilometers. These are all code problems. How does this kind of crap happen? Doesn’t anyone check or test code?  (more…)

Walmart Killing Another Small Town?


A friend sent me a post about a Walmart store closing. This particular store is located in the town of Kimball, located in McDowell County, West Virginia. The headline was “Stop the Bleeding.” Apparently, a story about Walmart killing another small town. Being an old codger, I suspect there is more going on than the local paper is telling us. (more…)

Vocational Education – Who is Doing it Right?

Car Styling SketchDuring my lifetime, the world has changed in many ways. Vocational education is one of them. When I was in high school, classes in wood shop, auto shop, home economics and even typing were available. Not everyone wanted to go to college, in fact a lot of people just wanted to get a good job and make some money. After all, you can go to college any time. An interesting part of this equation is that college, at that time, was ridiculously cheap compared compared to the costs today.

It got me thinking about vocational education and relatively cost effective advanced degrees that train people for specific careers. You could view some of the options in that second category as high end vocational schools. (more…)