Archive for September, 2005

Firefox: Foiled by FEMA

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

One of the many advantages of Firefox, the better Web browser, is that it’s available for Windows, Macs, and Linux, which makes it essential for people like me who use several different operating systems.

One of the advantages of Linux is that its flexible license and modular nature allow people to create “live CDs“: an entire system on a burned disc, allowing users to run programs without any installing (KNOPPIX being the most famous example.)

A few Linux nerds took both these ideas and created a special Katrina “web kiosk” LiveCD. It’s a slick idea: get people to donate old PCs, hook them up to the internet, and just slide in the disc for a full-fledged Web browser. Since it all runs off the CD, there’s no need even for a hard drive, and even slow computers should work fine. Plus, the Linux license places no restriction on how many copies you make, so as soon as you get a donation, that computer is just a CD-R away from going online. (Contrast this with MS Windows, which requires license keys, “product activation”, “Genuine Advantage” validation — not to mention money.)

Yep, the Linux+Firefox combination seems like a good fit for this need — and in fact, the first center is already online. So what’s not to love?

Well, er, that would be FEMA. Seems the online form to register for disaster assistance is limited to Internet Explorer 6 (Win) only. This bone-headed move (almost certainly due to stupid use of JavaScript) means that while hurricane victims will be able to e-mail their friends and loved ones, they can forget about communicating with their government’s relief agency.

Another excellent decision by the team under the leadership of a fired former director of the International Arabian Horse Association.

Katrina: A Bird’s-Eye View

Monday, September 5th, 2005

On 30 Aug and 31 Aug, planes from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Geodetic Survey (Remote Sensing Division) flew over affected areas in Katrina’s wake, gathering images of the storm’s aftermath. By combining these images with U.S. Geological Service data (including LANDSAT 7 imagery, streamflow information, and a LIDAR survey), scientists will be able to get a sense of the damage wrought.

But what about us mere mortals? The answer, as ever, seems to be Google. For (many) addresses in New Orleans, Google has now provided an overlay of the NOAA images in Google Maps. Zoom in on a New Orleans address and in addition to the usual ‘Map’, ‘Satellite’, and ‘Hybrid’ options, you’ll find a red ‘Katrina’ button. Alternating the ‘Satellite’ and ‘Katrina’ options can make a chillingly effective before and after series. For one example, consider this image (Click the ‘Katrina’ button for a post-flood view.) Those with Google Earth can get an even more sophisticated view.

For an on-the-ground view, the NYT interactive features are blowing me away… (See lower-right box, click “Storm and Crisis.”)

Sadly, These Stories Are Not From The Onion

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion — it’s free of all of those things now,” Shanks says. “God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there — and now we’re going to start over again.”

So says Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, as quoted by Agape Press (“Reliable News From a Christian Source.”)

The folks at Repent America fully agree:

Just days before “Southern Decadence”, an annual homosexual celebration attracting tens of thousands of people to the French Quarters section of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina destroys the city. …

“Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city,” stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. “From ‘Girls Gone Wild’ to ‘Southern Decadence,’ New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge,” he continued.

No word on why God chose to go comparatively easy on the high-sin tourist areas and slam the poor (presumably Christian) minorities with flooding.

The Painful Truth

Saturday, September 3rd, 2005

The BBC has covered Katrina under a stark headline:

New Orleans crisis shames Americans
By Matt Wells
BBC News, Los Angeles

At the end of an unforgettable week, one broadcaster on Friday bitterly encapsulated the sense of burning shame and anger that many American citizens are feeling.

The only difference between the chaos of New Orleans and a Third World disaster operation, he said, was that a foreign dictator would have responded better.

It has been a profoundly shocking experience for many across this vast country who, for the large part, believe the home-spun myth about the invulnerability of the American Dream.

The party in power in Washington is always happy to convey the impression of 50 states moving forward together in social and economic harmony towards a bigger and better America.

That is what presidential campaigning is all about.

But what the devastating consequences of Katrina have shown – along with the response to it – is that for too long now, the fabric of this complex and overstretched country, especially in states like Louisiana and Mississippi, has been neglected and ignored…

I, for one, am deeply ashamed that our government — at every level — has failed to properly help these people in their hour of greatest need.

Extra Credit

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

As of 1 Sep, residents of all U.S. States are eligible to request a free credit report from each of the major national agencies via I decided to take the plunge, and found the experience to be satisfactory.

I chose to get just one report (from Equifax) and at first I found the information a bit overwhelming — the information is divided into categories (e.g., Personal Information, Credit Summary, Account Information, Inquiries, Collections, etc…) and you must click through a sidebar to reach the different sections.

Fortunately, you can choose the “print this page” link to get a summary view, which I scanned and discovered that:

  • my birthday is wrong,
  • a credit card I cancelled is still listed as open,
  • I supposedly got a Discover Card at age 9 (now where did I put that?), and
  • in a truly amazing act of foresight, I apparently opened a J.C. Penney charge account two years before I was born.

On the bright side, at least everything is $0, as it should be.

Well, Who Else Would Start It?

Thursday, September 1st, 2005

So I’m checking out The Onion’s new look. Very grid-y, but I like it. Anyway, there’s this box at the bottom with sponsored links:

links, including 'The War At Home begins Sep 11 on FOX'

Look at the bottom left link: “The War At Home begins Sep 11 on FOX.” When I read that, I paused and thought “holy shit, what war? Where?” Then I realized: duh, it’s just some stupid TV show.

But even so, is premiering a comedy called “The War At Home” on September freakin’ 11th really a smart move, fellas?