Friday, January 30, 2009

Space Command Mystery Jobs

I saw an ad on Gmail for "SPACECOM" jobs, and clicked the link. It brought me to, a totally fake sci-fi website that, among other things, talks about the "Phoenix Space Elevator" being attacked by terrorist. 

That site has links to three more fake sites:, and They all make reference to the space elevator attack, by a group of terrorists calling themselves Autumn Rain. What they didn't mention was what they're advertising. I figured it must be selling a book, movie, tv show, video game or carbonated drink, and set about to find the truth.

The sites were very nicely done, so I figured somebody out there would be talking about them (and the book/movie/game they're advertising). Much to my surprise, Google searches for President Andrew Harrison, Greater America News and Space Command Center turned up nada. Huh...

So, I tried using some of my newly acquired cyber-recon skills. I read the source code for each website, but found no hidden author information. I did a whois search on the addresses, thinking I'd find out who registered the sites (I was expecting Sprite). Nope. All the sites are registered through, effectively masking the owner. Dang! All I found out was they were registered on 22 Jan 09, so I knew I wasn't dealing with an old site, ala I Love Bees, which was an ad for Halo 2 (back in 2004)

This just made me even more determined, and since I'm on day 3 of being snowed in, I had some time on my hands. So, back to Google and some more focused searches. I eventually found my way over to a site for sci-fi author David Williams, and his latest book The Mirrored Heavens. It's about a terrorist group called Autumn Rain and a thing called The Phoenix Space Elevator. The mass-market edition was released on Jan 27th, 2009.

Mystery solved! (but I've got to wonder - why advertise on Gmail and not have any link to the book from the fake sites?)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Big Business = Big Government

John Medaille over at The Distributist Review hit another home run on Saturday, with a post titled "Buy it up, break it up, fund it right." He argues quite convincingly that all these corporate entities which get described as "too big to fail" are actually too big to succeed. Specifically, he writes "everybody has found out what the distributists always knew: they are too big to succeed without the help of big government." 

If these companies can't survive without government bailouts, as huge as they are, why do they thing getting bigger is going to help? Is the problem with CitiBank that it wasn't big enough? Is GM just too small? It blows my mind that people are seriously talking about a merger between GM and Chrysler. It seems clear to me the answer to our current economic woes isn't consolidation, but diversification.

Medaille writes: The same plan holds true for other enterprises that need bailouts, such as the Big Three automakers. The obvious problem with these companies is that they are too big and there are only three of them. Japan, a much smaller nation, supports nine auto companies... there is no reason we couldn't have nine automakers, or 19. Choices would go up, prices would go down, and local manufacturing would increase..

I would love to see our Big Three automakers divide up into the Appropriately Sized 19. Isn't that consistent with the basic principles of capitalism? Capitalism says economic diversity is good. Competition is good. Monopolies are bad.

It would be nice if the Big Three would do it on their own, selling off pieces that could/should be independent entities. Or, Uncle Sam could buy the whole shebang and then sell off the pieces. If things continue to go downhill, that possibility just might come to pass.

The point? Some people believe in big business and distrust big government. Others like big government and distrust big business. I hope both groups will come to see that Big is Big (and Big is Bad), and the line between big business and big government isn't nearly as solid as many seemed to think.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Microloan #1

As promised, here's the scoop on my first loan through 

I picked a lady from Nigeria, named Margaret Adedeyinbo. She runs a food market and asked for a loan of $950, to be paid back over a period of 8 months. My $25 will be combined with funds from a bunch of other people, then sent to her so she can buy frozen foods to sell in her shop. Once she repays the loan, I'll get that $25 back and loan it to someone else.

Kiva's "field partner" on this loan is a group named Lift Above Poverty Organization (their official site: LAPO). They've loaned nearly $2M to over 3,000 people... and have a 0% default rate. That's hard to imagine, but it's what the site says (and yes, I poked around online a bit before clicking "pay").

So, I'm excited to see how this turns out!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Inaugural Speech

I'm still digesting President Obama's inaugural speech. Man, that was my kind of speech.

I was surprised to hear some critics say it wasn't "soaring" enough, or that it was muted, subdued or somber. I didn't think so at all. I found it challenging and fascinating. There didn't seem to be many soundbites there - which was probably deliberate. Actually, the lack of obvious soundbites is probably one of the reasons I liked it so much. See, it was a grown-up speech. It was intelligent. It respected and expected the audience's intelligence.

I remember reading a speech by President Eisenhower and being impressed with the way he spoke. I thought "Wow, I'd love to have a president that talked to the American people that way." And now, I think we do. I like that.

My favorite line in the speech has got to be this bit:
"...there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship."
All I can say to that is "Yes, I will."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Good Lending News

After all the recent bad news financial news and the oft-reported shortage of funds available for lending, I was a bit surprised to come across a situation on that's the exact opposite.

Kiva is a person-to-person microfinance website that connects lenders with entrepreneurs (generally in 3rd world countries). Their mission is to "connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty." Most lenders put in $25, which is consolidated with funds from other lenders to make loans ranging from $25 to $5,000.  

I got a gift certificate to Kiva for Christmas, and when I went over there to find a loan to contribue to, there were only 3 to chose from. There was also a link to the following explanation:
Why are there so few fundraising loans?
Kiva is constantly receiving new loans for funding from our microfinance Field Partners all around the world. Due to press, new features, or outreach efforts, at times we have more lenders visiting Kiva than we have fundraising loans. At these times there may be only a small number of fundraising loans on this page. However, this is always a temporary situation, as our Field Partners post new fundraising loans on an hourly basis. So, if there are only a few fundraising loans available, please check back soon! Kiva's volunteers are working hard to translate new loan requests as fast as possible, and our Field Partners are always excited to see loans funded so quickly!
Looks like the supply is more than adequate to the demand. Nice! 

In fact, as I poked around the site, a new loan request popped up, while other requests got filled - completely! In fact, as I surveyed the list, each time I clicked on a loan that said "75% raised" or "50% raised," I'd get to the actual loan page only to find it was 100% raised already... in just minutes. Man, if you find a loan that looks interesting, you've got to jump on it right away, or it'll be fulfilled before you have a chance to contribute.

 Kiva made loans to over 3,000 entrepreneurs this week alone. I'm convinced person-to-person microfinance works (for example, the default rate is a remarkably low 2.6%). It's distributist. It's FISTy (that's Fast, Inexpensive, Simple & Tiny for those who don't know). It's a beautiful thing. I'm still looking for a loan to contribut to, but I'll keep everyone posted here as things develop.

Anyone out there have a story about microfinance, either with Kiva or any of the other similar organizations?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sleds on Coolers!

I came across this sign in a local drug store and it just made me laugh. I had to take a picture. Unfortunately, I didn't have my handy-dandy fuzzy cell phone camera with me, so I borrowed my beautiful wife's camera phone (note: much clearer picture!)

I wonder, is this an Ohio thing, or are "sleds on top of coolers" sweeping the whole nation? I've always wanted a sled on top of a cooler. Haven't you?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pow! - The Book

The always surprising, ever fascinating Andy Nulman has a new book out. It's titled Pow! Right Between The Eyes, and I can't wait to read it.

My own copy is on its way here (I won it in this contest). And if you want to get your very own copy, just watch this video to find out how.

I won't say any more than that. Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sisyphus on DNI Blog

Over at the Defense and the National Interest (DNI) blog, Chet Richards had some very nice things to say about my latest article. I'm deeply touched that my crazy little article would merit mention on his blog. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome to the White House, Mr. Obama

I continue to be amazed and impressed at the huge outpouring of enthusiasm and excitement surrounding Mr. Obama's imminent presidency. After 8 years of a rather unpopular president (and before that, 8 years of a rather polarizing president), the idea of a president that gets this kind of wide-spread, positive emotional reaction from so many people takes some getting used to.

I like it.

Welcome to the White House, Mr. Obama. I hope your time in office goes well.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Ok, what am I supposed to do when I see a street sign that says this? 

For some reason, Plattsburgh NY has decided to install several signs like this (some say "End 40 MPH Limit"). Wouldn't it have been easier to go with a normal "Speed Limit X" sign? I mean, why the extra words and decreased clarity? 

Just one more example of the inverse relationship between complexity and goodness, ala my Simplicity Cycle (which apparently can be applied to everything in the world)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Call Me Sisyphus

OK, the latest issue of Defense AT&L is online now, and I am so excited! The article I wrote for this issue is titled "Call Me Sisyphus," and I'm so happy with how it came out. 

I haven't been this excited about having an article in print since we wrote "Everything We Need To Know About Program Management We Learned From Punk Rock." 

Anyway, I hope you'll check it out and then pass it along to a friend!


One of the strange little quirks of my handy-dandy, fuzzy little camera phone is the way it stores the photos. It doesn't always put them in chronological order - usually that's the case, but every once in a while it puts one photo w-a-y far away from the other photos I took that same day.

I can't explain it.

Anyway, I thought I'd lost this photo of a stop sign in Yellow Springs OH, but as I sorted through the files stored on the phone's memory, there it was, stashed among other non-related photos that had been taken on some other day.

I'm pretty happy, because I really like this stop sign. And I really like Yellow Springs.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

I'm kinda late to the party on this one, but I just watched part of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and all I can say is holy-cow-that's-funny!

Also, who has 42 minutes and 26 seconds to sit at a computer and watch the whole thing? I mean, it's really funny, but I'm thinking 5-minute increments would have made a lot more sense.

But if you've got some time (even if it's only in 5-minute increments), don't miss it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Exploring The World

I LOVE playing around with my fuzzy little camera phone. It's nothing fancy, in terms of pixels or resolution or ability to maintain focus, but it's got to be one of my favorite pieces of technology ever. The ability to easily take digital photos is something I think I've always wanted to be able to do. It's better than my iPod (probably 'cause I have a first-generation iPod Shuffle, which is cool, but not as cool as my camera phone)

Anyway, while driving back from NY over the holidays, I was sitting in the passenger seat with my phone on and one leg bent in an unusual angle, and this image came across the screen: 

I just really liked the curves and shadows, the textures and the whole vibe. So, taking a cue from Keri Smith's fantastic book "How To Be An Explorer of the World," (go buy it, please!), I took the shot and began looking around for other opportunities to take interesting little photos from the front seat of the van. Here's the result:

And just to mix things up, I took this one from out the side window, of my favorite mountain wall along I-87:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Scene from the Cadyville NY Post Office

During my recent visit to NY, I had a slightly surreal experience at a small post office in Cadyville NY (population 2781).

I walked into the tiny post office on a snowy, cold day right around new years (Temp: 6 degrees F). Nobody was behind the desk, which was alright since I still needed to address my packages. An older lady shuffled in while I was still filling out the address labels.

"Good morning, Jim!" she said as she approached the desk. 

Jim was still hidden from sight, so she must have just known he was working that morning. Jim came out from the back office, greeted her by name and the two of the chatted about grandchildren and the holidays.

I marveled at the quaintness of it all, the cozy small town feel, where everyone is on a first name basis with the post office guy.

Then the lady said "This package is going to Australia," and my brain sort of exploded.

Monday, January 12, 2009

2009 Reading List

Here's a quick look at what I'm reading these days:

Making Comics and Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud.
Watchmen (Graphic novel), by Alan Moore and David Gibbons
Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds
(It's really interesting to read those four at the same time)

How to be an explorer of the world, by Keri Smith (Thanks to Summer Pierre for the recommendation!) 

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

Zeno's Paradox, by Joseph Mazur (finally, I'll get to "unlock the ancient mystery behind the science of space and time)

2600 - a hacker magazine
The Dark Visitor, by Scott Handerson (It's about Chinese hackers. My copy is from school and it's marked "For Official Use Only" - but apparently you can buy it at Lulu too)
Live Without A Net (a sci-fi anthology)

Friday, January 9, 2009

Less Fuzzy Camera Phone

It turns out, my fuzzy little camera phone had something smeared on the lens.

I wiped it off and the images got much clearer. Can you spot the difference?

Hmmm... I wonder how long that stuff had been there...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

LtCol Select!

For those who haven't heard via phone, email, Facebook or smoke signals, this morning the AF released the Lieutenant Colonel Promotion Board results and I'm on the list! And for those who have heard, here are some more details.

For those who aren't familiar with the military promotion system, once we're selected for promotion, we get to pin on the rank in order of seniority. Everyone gets a "line number" and my line number is 710 (probably out of 1000 or so). 

The year group just ahead of mine isn't quite done pinning everone on. They should finish by March, and I'm hoping my year group will begin in April. The previous group has been pinning about 114 each month, so it looks like it'll be at least October before I pin on.

But the big news is that I'm on the list and have a line number. As the kids say these days, "woot woot!" 

Also as the kids say "Gosh, LtCol's are old!"

Hacking My Brain

For Christmas this year, I got a little "Sound and Light Machine" kit, some assembly required. In fact, some soldering required - too fun!

I hadn't soldered anything since college, and fortunately my little brother got a soldering iron for Christmas (interestingly, that was from me - little did I know when I bought it that I'd have a chance to use it myself!). 

Anyway, I've started putting the circuit board together - some photos below. Since I don't have a soldering iron, I haven't figured out yet how I'm going to finish it. I'm sure some of my geeky friends can hook me up. 

When it's all done, it'll be a set of goggles and headphones that is supposed to "hack my brain," make me see pretty images and even help me meditate. We'll see...

I love Christmas presents that you get to put together, particularly if there's heat and electricity involved. I'll keep you posted on the progress, and once it's done, I'll let you know how the SLM brain hacking goes!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sunrise, Sunset

Here in Ohio, we're on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone. New York is much closer to the eastern edge. Visiting NY over Christmas time, I was struck by how early the sun sets this time of year (and how early it rises) when compared with Ohio.

This morning, the sun won't rise here until nearly 8am (compared to 7:20 in NY). Of course, it won't set until 5:30pm, almost an hour later than the NY sunset.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

NYC Photos

A couple shots from my recent trip to NY City, compliments of my handy little fuzzy camera phone. I particularly like this one - when I think of NYC, this sort of image comes to mind:

Sort of like Texas, everything is big in New York City. I snapped this picture of a huge Spiderman, climbing down the wall near the Sony Wonder Technology Lab (which gives free tours - very fun!). We did a lot of free stuff that day.

Driving in the city is a nightmare. But walking is another experience entirely. I really enjoyed walking around, and snapped this shot of a little gargoyle on some building we walked past. I have no idea where I was - I just liked the gargoyle. I think it was on a restaurant, but it might have been a hotel or an apartment building. I'm sure someone will leave a comment and let me know.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy 2009!

I'm back from a long and fun visit to NY, ready to launch out into the new year. Christmas was great - hope yours was full of family and fun and joy.

2009 promises to be an eventful year. I'll graduate in March, start a new assignment in April and move in June. With any luck, I'll even get promoted (they should release the list any day now).And of course there's the new president coming in, plus the continued excitement with the economy.  Who know what other surprises and adventures the new year will hold! 

We live in very interesting times. I hope you all have a wonderful year!