Monday, December 29, 2008

Now this is a comforting thought.....

Apparently homebrew genetic experimentation is on the rise.... I wonder, how long before something nasty finds it's way out of a kitchen sink and into the general population? What happens when that glowing green yogurt also causes cancer? You'll note that the woman pictured in the above article is not wearing any kind of PPE and is not working with any kind of isolation facility (glove box, vent hood, etc....) so there is nothing to keep airborne bacteria (or an errant sneeze) out of the mix. How do you keep someone from turning this technology into a terrorist weapon? How do you keep someone from say mixing antibiotic resistance genes into say Cholera? or modifying adenoviruses (the common cold) to insert cancer genes into human cells?

H/T Ace

Crossposted to CR4

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shades of Kelo Part Deux: Ed Wulfe Edition

Back in March, many of the blogs about town noted the incongruity of the city condemning a tiny (.09 acres!) plot of land for the construction of a "pocket park" when there was a much larger park only two blocks away. Adding to the controversy was the fact that The Collins brothers (the original owners of the property) were in negotiation with Ed Wulfe & Co for it to be included in the BLVD place project. Apparently negotiations broke down. Enter The City of Houston. The city condemned the property and seized it using Eminent Domain with the stated purpose of building a park on the property. The Collins brothers are suing and are trying to force the Mayor and CM Peter Brown to give depositions, they of course are fighting that. Why would they be subpoenaed? Well, it seems Ed Wulfe is a major contributor to Bill White's campaign, and Peter Brown's wife is a major investor in BLVD place. To date, no plans have been made by the city to actually do anything with the park, perhaps because the BLVD Place project is currently on hold.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sylvester Turner, Your ethics are showing! (Updated)

Representative Sylvester Turner has been a busy little beaver. He has managed to amass enough campaign finance violations in the last two years to fill a 37 page ethics complaint, along with167 pages of campaign finance reports to back up the complaint. Since the complaint runs 37 pages I obviously cannot do all of his violations justice but I will hit some highlights for you.
  • $220,905.33 (cumulative errors) is missing and unaccounted for out of his campaign funds, and also did not report any interest accrual on the account as well. This is fraud and perjury.
  • Accepted $13,500 in direct contributions from corporate entities which is illegal. $500 of which was from Zachry Construction, the prime contractor for the Trans-Texas Corridor construction and a major contractor to TXDoT. Knowingly accepting Corporate donations is a third degree felony. He did this a total of 16 times in the last two years, listed the corporations on the forms, and then signed them, so he will have a hard time claiming he did not know. Maybe he didn't read them, but he SHOULD have read them. He signed the form which means he is accepting responsibility for what is in them.
  • Made six payments to Ford Motor Credit in the amount of $736.46 for what appears to be his personal vehicle. Amounting to $4418.76. This is personal enrichment from campaign funds and he would be civilly liable for the amount, even if it's a lease with residual value to the lessor.
  • Made a total of 141 payments to himself and others from the fund without disclosing the names of payees, dates, amounts, or purposes of the payments.
Now mind you, this covers just TWO YEARS worth of violations.

This is the man that has thrown his hat in the ring for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Instead of elevating him to the Speaker's position, the DA needs to prosecute him, the courts need to convict him, and the house needs to impeach him. The law should apply equally.

It would appear that this is getting murkier and murkier. In this page of Turner's campaign reports, you'll note a $25,000 payment on 8-17-2007 to Jack Terence (Ted Hirtz Atty. of record). Under the purpose of the payments you will see listed "cause number 2004-06369" And another entry on 1-9-2008, and two more entries to Jack Terrence for the same amount on 10-1-2007 with the purpose marked as "Fees", same on 12-06-2006 for the same amount. Now, you may ask yourself who Jack Terrence is, I know I did. Well here is what I learned. It would seem that Jack Terrence ran for Mayor of Houston against Sylvester Turner. Both lost, but Terrence filed a lawsuit (cause number 2004-06369) against Turner for a number of infractions of campaign finance laws in 2004. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Now we see two payments of $25,000 each to Terrence and two more to the Terrence's Attorney. It would appear that Turner is using his campaign funds to pay off lawsuits and this $100,000 is nothing more than hush money. As I understand election law, it is illegal to pay lawsuit settlements out of campaign funds.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Britain, Mugabe, and BioWar

First some facts:

Now, it is ironic that the country being accused of instigating a cholera biowar attack on a third world backwater is itself suffering from the largest outbreak of norovirus ever seen, especially since the effects of the two are quite similar.
The UK population is 60.7 million, 2.8 million of them are sick with this bug with another 200K getting sick each week.

That is an awfully high number for this to be a natural outbreak.

When the word Biowar is used, most people think Ebola or Smallpox or Anthrax. Pathogens that have very high mortality rates. But there are a number of other kinds of biowar that could be waged. There are pathogens that spread so easily and so fast and are so debilitating that no army can fight effectively if they are infected, but do not kill a large number of people.

Noroviruses are just such a pathogen.

Noroviruses are usually epidemic in closed and semi-closed populations (prisons, hospitals, schools, cruise ships, etc.). Noroviruses can survive on surfaces such as door knobs and such for up to 12 hours and on contaminated carpeting and fabrics for 12 days or more. They are also somewhat resistant to alcohol and chlorine disinfectants.
This pathogen is uniquely suited to easy and quick widespread infection which is one of the first criteria for a biowar pathogen. It also does not impart lasting immunity and there is no vaccine for it either so virtually everyone is susceptible. It is also a pathogen that can be safely handled in a level 1 biohazard lab. Essentially all you need to handle it are latex gloves and a mask and face shield. Obtaining the amounts of the virus needed to weaponize it is fairly straightforward as well. All you have to do is find (or manufacture) some sick people and store all of the fecal matter and emesis created. Weaponization in an urban (vs a battlefield) environment would entail nothing more than going out in public and spraying water contaminated with the fecal matter on every surface you can, concentrating on door knobs, toilet seats, carpeting, chairs in waiting areas, etc. Therefore this is also an ideal pathogen for a low-tech improvised biowar attack.
Would such an attack kill large numbers of people? In a first world country, not likely, but it is sure to cause a major economic shutdown if enough workers are forced to stay home. It is an ideal pathogen for tactical battlefield use. In the field, troops cannot maintain the kind of cleanliness needed to prevent the outbreak and spread of such a disease, and it is awful hard to fight when you can't stop throwing up or crapping yourself. If an enemy were able to spray such an aerosol over a battlefield without the troops detecting it, that is exactly what would happen. For this reason USAMRIID in Ft. Detrick Maryland has looked at how to counter and prevent just such an attack scenario. I'm certain the doctors in Olive Drab up in Maryland are looking really hard at this outbreak.
And it was only two weeks ago that it was reported that the next big terrorist attack will be a biowar attack.
Is this a Biowar attack? I don't know, but it certainly seems suspect. It would seem that too many people are sick for this to be a natural outbreak. If so who is responsible? Mugabe is certainly a suspect since he has openly accused Britain of doing the same thing to his country (unlikely, but perception IS reality). But then again, it could be Al Queda as well.

The Wisdom of The Nuge: Gun free zones are a crime unto themselves.

Tell it Brother!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Blue Oyster Bar

They're blue because they are suffocating....thanks to Ike.

And the problem gets worse by the day. The longer the oysters are buried, the more likely they will not survive. The cold weather is helping to keep them alive, but even then, it can only do so much. But keeping the current crop of oysters alive is not the biggest concern. Preparing for next year's spawn is the biggest issue. According to Dr. Sammy Ray, Marine Biologist with Texas A&M in Galveston, spawning season is expected to occur on or around May first. When Oysters spawn, they release larvae (called sprats) to drift with the currents. These larvae can survive in the currents for about 15 days. If they do not find anything hard to attach to in that time, they die. But with the oyster reefs covered in mud and silt they have nothing to attach to. There are two classes of oyster reefs in Galveston bay: public reefs, and privately leased reefs. Those private reefs are leased to the oystermen by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. These oystermen have trawled the same leases for years in most cases. Every year in the spring, they load the shells they dredge up onto barges and tow them out to their reefs and wash the shells overboard to rebuild the oyster reef and to give the sprats plenty of hard surfaces to attach to. Over time the reefs, due to oyster dredging as well as simple subsidence due to their weight, will sink into the muck and they have to be constantly replenished to keep the reefs above the mudline. Such replenishment does not occur on the public reefs, as a result the leased reefs are some of the most productive around because they are actively cultivated and taken care of. Public reefs, because they belong to everyone, and therefore to no one, are not cultivated, and they must therefore fend for themselves.

Which brings us to the problem. There are a number of things the oystermen could do to prepare for the spring spawning season. They could use water pumps along with nozzles mounted on their dredges to wash the silt off the oyster banks, they could dump crushed concrete onto the reefs, they could dredge the silt off too. But to do any of that, first they must get permission from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as Texas Parks and Wildlife to do so. Therein lies the problem. Nobody will issue any permits to do any work unless the problem has been studied and documented. Such studies cost money and take time. TP&W has no money to spend, neither does the State. So they are moving quite slowly on studying the problem. They also don't have any money to spend helping to repair the damage. So even if TP&W could be induced to actually study the problem and come to some conclusions on how to fix it, it will be up to the major oyster houses to pay for the remediation. FEMA, MIGHT pay SOME money to help repair the damage but if they do, it won't happen until the middle of next year at the soonest. Meanwhile more and more damage to they oyster population occurs. They will study the problem to death.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Liar Liar

Two weeks ago, David Axelrod on FOX Chicago says that Obama has been in touch with Blago about his replacement.

Yesterday, Obama claims Axelrod "misspoke".

Back on Saturday November 8th, it was reported that Obama had met with Blago earlier in the week to discuss his replacement.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tempting Fate

I'm probably jinxing this, but Uverse service has been restored finally. Thanks to Dan Feldstein, formerly of the Chronicle, who is now doing public relations work for AT&T, who read my blog entries and was kind enough to cut through the red tape and get the area service manager Heath Powers involved. Heath emailed me personally and arranged to come along with the Technician (Van was his first name, damned if I can remember his last name. Sorry dude.) and ride herd on the call. After discovering that the crew that had been dispatched to disconnect the DSL, in combination with the Tier II/OMA support group that had rewritten the order in an effort to get things moving again, had inadvertently caused the assigned port in the local node to be overwritten, instead of being on port 32, I was on port 35. Because the MAC address of the boxes had been mapped in the system to the old port, the system was refusing send data to the boxes because they were connected to the wrong port. All of the boxes had to be swapped with new ones so that the MAC addresses would be new.

I want to make it clear that throughout this process, by and large most everyone (with a couple glaring exceptions) have tried to be as helpful as they could be, but the problems they faced are endemic to the system and the corporate structure.

Here are the problems as I see them from my position outside the corporate structure. I hope that themanagers and corporate people that are reading this as a result of Dan taking notice, read this with the understanding that it is intended to be constructive criticism. It is hoped that some lessons are learned from this and service is improved in the future as a result.

  1. A lack of communication. Let's face it, AT&T is supposed to be a communications company, but communications between departments and groups within AT&T, as well as communication with the customer is sorely lacking. All of the disparate groups involved with this order (and there were at least 5 different groups involved at one point or another.) utterly failed to communicate and hand-off smoothly with each other. They also failed to keep me appraised of developments with the order. On several occasions, technicians who needed access to my back yard were dispatched without notification to me, so I was unable to arrange to make sure my dogs were safely put away. As a result of the failure to notify me, those technicians were unable to complete their order tickets. Also on at least two occasions, service appointments were not kept and no notification that the technician was not coming was made, causing me to take time off from work to wait on or prepare for a technician that was not coming. Numerous promised callbacks failed to occur (but some did).
  2. Visibility. No department or group could see into the computer systems of the other groups so that they could anticipate what steps they might need to take or be able to tell what is being done by other parties that might interfere with what they are doing. As a result, there were several instances of one support person trying to do something that was at cross-purposes to what another group was trying to do. I do not think anyone was intentionally trying to throw monkey wrenches into the works. I truly believe that most everyone I was working with was trying to help, but being unaware of what was going on, they inadvertently caused the system to hang up when conflicting orders and changes were introduced into the system.
  3. Manpower. The fact that even an uncomplicated order takes a minimum of a month to complete is frankly abysmal. I cannot personally speak to Comcast, but I know Time-Warner, Comcast's predecessor, could generally complete an order for new service within a few days to a week at most. Now granted, uptime was poor and the time required for a service call to processed was long, and the cost wasn't exactly cheap either. But new service orders were prioritized because they realized that today they are campaigning, tomorrow you vote. Or to rephrase, you do not get a second chance at a first impression. Prompt and painless installation is an ideal first impression. That is 180 degrees opposite of what I experienced. It seems evident that not enough technicians were tasked with installing too many orders. Now I understand that to an extent, having too much business is a nice problem to have in most cases, but at some point you have to recognize that you are losing potential business to your competition when your competition can run circles around your delivery schedule.
  4. Teamwork and Empowerment. All of the groups that I interfaced with in getting this order completed were islands of assistance instead of being members of a support team. Me as a customer should not know nor should I have to care which group I was talking to. Getting some or all of the different players working together was a lost cause in many cases. There was a lot of "throwing it over the wall" going on. Sure they called the department involved and handed me off to them, but they promptly left to go help somebody else and washed their hands of me when they did. I got tossed over the wall. Each different department was very clear on the hard limits of their responsibilities and abilities. Flexibility and cross-training was apparently non-existent.
Now for something that I have learned:
  1. Frustration is sometimes counterproductive. I am not a patient person by nature. I do not like not knowing what is happening. I especially do not like dealing with people tasked with customer support who are not empowered to actually solve the problem. I tend to be the sort of person who, when confronted with a brick wall, will go around, over, under, or through the wall. Frustration tends to feed into that mentality. I become obsessed with the wall. My entire existance contracts to the wall. You cannot get around some walls. Some walls are part of a larger maze that forces you to follow a certain course. At some point I must learn to recognize which walls are surmountable and which are part of a maze.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Day 10, The Uverse is gone, but the Suction Remains.

Thirteen hours.

That was how long my Uverse service was working
. On the 13th hour someone was dispatched to reconnect my DSL AFTER the Uverse service had finally been established. Of course they didn't TELL me they were coming to do so and so they were unable to complete the switch back to DSL because they could not gain access to the back yard, so they left the job half done. Then the DSL office, unlike the rest of AT&T, folded up the tent and went home over the Thanksgiving weekend and did not re-open until today. So again I have NO internet access at all. We are on day 10 of this misadventure.

The service, what little I was able to play with, was nice. The customer support on the other hand is abysmal and that is being far too kind. I cannot use the words I would really like to use for fear of being branded a pornographic site or hate speech site or worse. I would really like to know who in the corporate structure I can contact to vent my anger about this to. This really needs to be brought to the attention of the management. They cannot possibly be allowed to think that their operation is anything BUT dysfunctional in the extreme.