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Current Events

Gordon Brown Apologizes to Alan Turing

Friday, September 11th, 2009

I received the following e-mail from 10 Downing Street today, in response to the petition I signed asking the PM for an apology to Alan Turing, one of Britain’s greatest mathematicians.

2009 has been a year of deep reflection – a chance for Britain, as a nation, to commemorate the profound debts we owe to those who came before. A unique combination of anniversaries and events have stirred in us that sense of pride and gratitude which characterise the British experience. Earlier this year I stood with Presidents Sarkozy and Obama to honour the service and the sacrifice of the heroes who stormed the beaches of Normandy 65 years ago. And just last week, we marked the 70 years which have passed since the British government declared its willingness to take up arms against Fascism and declared the outbreak of World War Two. So I am both pleased and proud that, thanks to a coalition of computer scientists, historians and LGBT activists, we have this year a chance to mark and celebrate another contribution to Britain’s fight against the darkness of dictatorship; that of code-breaker Alan Turing.

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ – in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence – and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison – was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted as he was convicted under homophobic laws were treated terribly. Over the years millions more lived in fear of conviction.

I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community. This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality and long overdue.

But even more than that, Alan deserves recognition for his contribution to humankind. For those of us born after 1945, into a Europe which is united, democratic and at peace, it is hard to imagine that our continent was once the theatre of mankind’s darkest hour. It is difficult to believe that in living memory, people could become so consumed by hate – by anti-Semitism, by homophobia, by xenophobia and other murderous prejudices – that the gas chambers and crematoria became a piece of the European landscape as surely as the galleries and universities and concert halls which had marked out the European civilisation for hundreds of years. It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe’s history and not Europe’s present.

So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

Gordon Brown

Missouri ranks 3rd for new wind power

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Good News!

“Missouri ranks third in the nation for new wind power generating capacity, an industry report says.

The state doubled its wind capacity in the second quarter, adding 146 megawatts for a total of 300 megawatts, according to a report released Tuesday by the American Wind Energy Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.

Texas ranked first.

Missouri topped the list at No. 1 for the state posting the fastest growth in the second quarter, with wind power installations expanded by 90 percent.”

St. Louis Business Journal
Tuesday, July 28, 2009, 4:18pm CDT


Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama announced that his administration “will pursue a new comprehensive approach to securing America’s digital infrastructure” and that “our digital infrastructure — the networks and computers we depend on every day — will be treated as they should be: as a strategic national asset. Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority. We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient. We will deter, prevent, detect, and defend against attacks and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage.”

As an IT professional, I applaud this initiative. As a business owner, I am also pleased because my livelihood depends on the Internet infrastructure and the services that it enables – web, e-mail, etc.

However I think we need to go further than this. As the president observed, our digital infrastructure is a “strategic national asset”. Why then do we leave it in the hands of people like AT&T, Sprint and Charter Communications? The ISPs and telecoms have no obligation to anyone to ensure that their networks are working at all. They don’t have to maintain or upgrade their hardware, cabling, switches, routers, etc. except when they feel like it. And there’s very little competitive market pressure to make them improve their existing services, let alone maintain them, since in most metropolitan markets there’s almost no competition.

I propose, for which some will undoubtedly cast me as a socialist patsy, that we nationalize the US Internet infrastructure. The federal government will run fiber to every home and business in the US. Then, it will allow corporations to use the network for a fee. It may event outsource the management of the infrastructure to several corporations under government regulation and oversight. This will provide the following benefits:

  1. in the short term, creation of thousands of jobs as we lay the network.
  2. we can finally catch up with the rest of the world in terms of broadband penetration and speed.
  3. the government will actually be able to secure “America’s digital infrastructure”.
  4. there will be strict standards for availability and reliability. Redundancy and failover will be built in to the system.
  5. all those companies in the business of providing Internet connectivity and related services, entertainment content (e.g. cable TV) and telecommunication services will be able to use this infrastructure, with a level playing field, and won’t have to concern themselves with the plumbing.
  6. Since there will be one national network, consumers will be able to purchase services from any provider. Competition will flourish.

What do you think? Drop me a line

Water found on Mars

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

From www.universetoday, July 31, 2008:

The Phoenix Mars lander finally was successful in delivering a fairly fresh sample of Martian soil to the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) oven on Wednesday and a “bake and sniff” test identified water in the soil sample. “We have water,” said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for TEGA. “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix last month, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted.”

This is potentially huge… there is now a chance that life could exist, does exist, or once existed, on the Red Planet. If life is found, it will be among the most important discoveries in the history of mankind… perhaps the single most important.


Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

“Setting mandatory targets for biofuels before we are aware of their full impact is madness. Not only are biofuels pushing up food prices, but they are also linked to human rights abuses and land-grabs from the poor.”

Phil Bloomer, Director of Policy at Oxfam

Evo Morales on Capitalism and Climate Change

Monday, April 21st, 2008

“If we want to save our planet earth, to save life, to save mankind, we have a duty to put an end to the capitalist system.”

Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, speaking through an interpreter at the UN headquarters in New York.

Note: I wouldn’t go this far, but it is provocative. We need more outspoken non-aligned leaders like Morales. Perhaps we do need to put an end to the un-regulated capitalist system, though…

The Vice President on Public Opinion

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Cheney: On the security front, I think there’s a general consensus that we’ve made major progress, that the surge has worked. That’s been a major success.

Raddatz: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.

Cheney: So?

Raddatz: So? You don’t care what the American people think?

Cheney: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

Interview on ABC’s Good Morning America with White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, 3/24/2008.

Congratulations Kosovo

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Kosovo’s parliament has unanimously endorsed a declaration of independence from Serbia.

The US and a number of European Union countries are expected to recognize Kosovo on Monday.

Congratulations to the people of Kosovo. You’ve waited a long time. It looks like the last remnants of Yugoslavia, an artificial country held together by dictatorship and force, are disappearing.


Ballmer labels rivals “Pretenders”

Friday, October 12th, 2007

In a laughable display of hubris, Steve Ballmer (Microsoft CEO) said in a discussion with Gartner’s annual Symposium ITxpo:

“I think when it comes time to really building platforms; we have a lot of experience. It’s taken us 17 years but people think we finally get it a little bit in the enterprise. Some of the pretenders have no enterprise expertise.”

I’ve been working with Microsoft’s products for more than 17 years and I agree, they do get it, but only just “a little bit”. As for calling the competition “pretenders”, wow! Who does he think he is?

Regarding web applications, and I’m assuming he was taking a jab at Google’s web applications:

“At the end of the day, the actual functionality in the application still matters,” he said. “People don’t want to go backward when it comes to presentation or word processing capabilities.”

I have to disagree. Microsoft has been gratuitously adding features that nobody want or uses to its products ever since Word for Windows came out. I think that many people would like to remove the 80% of useless features and go back to a lightweight, reliable and secure word processor that has the actual feature set they use.

It’s time to start paying

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

A Minnesota woman named Jammie Thomas was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for allegedly making available some 1,702 songs through the Kazaa network, although only 24 were at issue in the case. This Thursday, a federal jury sided with the RIAA and returned a verdict of $222,000. Yes, $222,000.

The judge told the jury: “The act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer-to-peer network, without license from the copyright owners, violates the copyright owners’ exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown.” And “…each plaintiff is entitled to a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 per act of infringement…If, however, you find that the defendant’s conduct was willful, then each plaintiff is entitled to a sum of up to $150,000 per act of infringement…”

What this means is that even if you are not intentionally sharing music with others, you can still be fined between $750 and $30,000 per song. If you are intentionally sharing songs, then you can be fined $150,000 per song. From what I have heard, if the RIAA decides to come after you, it is very difficult to prove your innocence.

I was thrilled when Apple opened the iTunes store because it provided a way for us to legally obtain digital music and also provided what I believe is a fare DRM scheme (you can play a song on up to five computers and any portable device). Plus, the pricing seems fair. Now, we also have Napster and Amazon selling MP3 format songs too.

As a software developer, I understand the value of intellectual property. So I’ve always been on the side of the artists. I don’t mind paying for their work. What’s always bothered me was that it took the music “industry” so long to figure this out. Why did we have to wait so long for the iTunes store – an easy way to legally obtain digital music – to come along? I think the “industry” can blame itself for lost revenue from illegally shared music. And the RIAA is being very heavy handed and is probably picking on people who can’t defend themselves. I doubt if they represent the artists who do the real creative work.

Nevertheless, the law is clear on this matter; and I think from a moral standpoint illegally downloading or sharing music is probably equivalent to stealing. Most importantly, artists deserve to be paid for their work. So, it’s time to start paying.

Copyright © 2006-13 Mark Burgess.   All Rights Reserved.