April 11, 2006

Scammed? Not on your life

Either I've won the lottery or... well, I very well didn't win the lottery. I just got an actual physical mail version of the standard "you've won the lottery" e-mail scam. This time there's a twist. They included a "partial disbursment" of my "winnings" in the sum of $4,450.00 in order for me to pay "Non Resident Government Service Tax (GST) in the sum of $2750.00. The check looks negotiable, it's got a legitimate account and routing number. The only problem with it is that it's as fake as a $3 bill. The account is marked with notations to not cash these checks as an international mail fraud scam is using a perfectly legitimate account.

The trick, I'm guessing, is that people are depositing the checks to their own accounts, sending Western Union / Money Gram to the scammers to "pay the tax" and waiting for their winning bank draft. What they'll get in reality is a bounced check fee and a feeling of outrage as they get burned for the 2 3/4 grand they sent off to the "tax agent" in order to free up their winnings.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:32 PM

February 11, 2005

Little Eichmanns

I was reflecting on the whole Ward Churchill/University of Colorado mess and one phrase stuck with me. The people who died in the WTC were "little Eichmanns". I wonder, what made the dishwasher at Windows on the World a little Eichmann? Was it the building he was working in? That would be absurd. If he worked in the Chrysler building would anything essential change about him? Of course nothing would have changed so, essentially, we're stuck looking for the essential characteristics that make even the most humble victims of 9/11 "little Eichmanns" and thus not innocent.

After much thought, I've come to the conclusion that the only thing they had in common was being taxpayers, contributing to the US government and working in the private sector. That means that there are tens of millions of little Eichmanns in the US. You'd wonder what makes Ward Churchill not a little Eichmann? On that question, I've got nothing.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:58 PM

February 05, 2005

SOTU 2005: Education Noose Tightening

Continuing my belated SOTU analysis, here's a bit on education:

To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we're closing the achievement gap for minority students. Now we must demand better results from our high schools, so every high school diploma is a ticket to success.

The argument on the right over NCLB was always about giving too much away to Ted Kennedy. Those on the right who supported NCLB claimed that the giveaway was worth it because the noose around incompetent teachers and dysfunctional schools would be tightened step by step over time. The other side didn't buy the idea that continual pressure was politically possible. The noose tighteners seem to have won a round.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:35 AM

July 28, 2004

The Right is Winning on Education

Here's the Brookings Institute's commentary on John Kerry's education proposals for K-12:

Kerry advocates exempting education spending from [his proposed] cap on discretionary spending by proposing a ten-year $200 billion entitlement to the states for education spending.... Roughly half the total...would be devoted to No Child Left Behind (the signature Bush education law).

One of the most important things that can happen to a partisan initiative championed by a president is to be confirmed by the next president of the opposing party. It's something like the way a boa constrictor tackles a meal, you squeeze down and then hold firm. The problem in education has always been long and ineffective feedback loops

That No Child Left Behind is being confirmed this way shows that over the next generation or so we will see the end of the teacher led war on productive reform. With testing and standards for performance the dead wood of bad theories, bad administrators, and bad teachers are going to retire early or be thrown out. It's not going to be a pretty process and far too many children will still be lost before we're done but even when the federal government changes hands, we're not going to have disastrous levels of backsliding.

That's real news.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:56 AM

May 12, 2004

Core/Gap Wiki

Thomas Barnett is open to the idea of participating in a Core/Gap wiki.

What I'm getting at is that PowerPoint has a scaling problem If you use too many slides you just getting people whose eyes are rolling into the backs of their heads and have a glazed expression on their faces.

Barnett admits this himself when he talks about "accordion-style editing of the slides (add/compress, add/compress, etc.)". You lose information in the compression. If what you had was something that you could pull stuff out of in any order and at any pace, you wouldn't need to lose the information.

I don't think you can use a wiki for a presentation. That's what PowerPoint is for. A wiki is for taking things to the next level. If you want a sys admin force you're going to need literally thousands of articles to work out all the details of such a huge undertaking. A wiki can scale that high (see wikipedia which has many thousands of documents) while PowerPoint shouldn't ever be used for something that big.

If he were to set up a wiki, it would be an extraordinary opportunity to not just broadly describe a sys admin force but deeply describe it too, in a depth of experience-driven detail that would reinforce the idea to the point where it simply cannot be ignored.

Posted by: TM Lutas at May 7, 2004 12:50 PM

The PowerPoint is just the encapsulation of a lot of live Wiki-like workshops with dozens upon dozens of such experts with real-world experiennce. There we use GroupSystems, which is a wireless chat-room laptop system with sophisticated voting capabilities.

So I'm saying I agree with your point and have used similar technology in fairly advanced workshop settings. That was how I did all the NewRuleSets.Project stuff. My dept, however, is moving beyond GroupSystems to a new system this summer, but same basic deal/concept.

Done well, it can be very powerful in conjunction with PPT presentation of ideas.

Posted by: Tom Barnett at May 8, 2004 08:16 AM

If given the space and the tools, would you be willing to participate in an internet/http accessible version of such a thing? There are people out there who would be honored to host such an ongoing project.

Posted by: TM Lutas at May 9, 2004 10:50 AM

Would consider it. My department is moving in this direction somewhat. Might be able to fashion it as useful experiment.

Would have to think on this (rush of events is not slowing for me yet, but will have to this summer for variety of reasons). Thanks for concept.

Posted by: Tom Barnett at May 9, 2004 02:09 PM

So anybody out there in helping the good professor out?

Posted by TMLutas at 10:34 AM

March 23, 2004

Letter to the Paper XI

Over at Iberian Notes it's a classic conservative pity party from the '70s in the US. The topic at hand is the hostile media culture for conservatives. US conservatives have largely solved the problem of how to get around a hostile media culture and there's no reason Spanish conservatives have to suffer the same learning curve. My comments below:

It was always impossible for Republicans to overcome the biased US media to present a conservative message. But they managed it anyway and I suspect that the same is true in Spain.

The key is confidence in your own opinions. The anti-american media largely shapes things by its omission of events. They do not report various truths because they would paint the US in a favorable light. Thus people who have no access to the information are simply ignorant on certain subjects and the ignorant do not wish to talk about their ignorance.

The cure is to bring up subjects that require a knowledge of things not reported in the anti-american press, not in a tendentious way, but simply to discuss things. You can talk about the rate of improvement of the electrical grid in Iraq and ask somebody their opinion on whether this newly increased domestic energy system is going to make a dent in Iraqi oil exports raising the price of gasoline in Spain.

Since the anti-american press will not be eager to report neither that oil exports from Iraq are healthy and going up nor that energy demand is up because of a rapidly improving economy after decades of infrastructure neglect, the person fed only a strict diet of anti-american media will have to plead ignorance. Repeat the process on different subjects until they ask where are you reading such things.

The key is not to get them to buy into a different spin. Rightly, they will want to form their own opinions. The key is to get them hungry for a more complete set of facts about the world.

Once people gain the sense that they are being kept in the dark and only know half the picture, you've just added to the market a person hungry for a different style of news. From there, capitalism will take over and new outlets will be created to sate the new demand and old media will run around, exactly as they do in the US, and wonder why they are losing customers in such a steady stream.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:47 PM

February 16, 2004

Newspeak Dictionaries

Diane Ravitch's Wall Street Journal commentary on text book bowdlerizing gave me the creeps. It is distinctly orwellian, 1984 writ small. I think I'll put her book, The Language Police on my reading list. The problem is one of texts. In a classic dead tree publishing situation you simply can't afford to have multiple versions so there is a choke point which creates this horrible tendency to create a lowest common denominator text. These texts detract from the richness and variation of our society and homogenize the next generation to a bland sameness consisting of cardboard caricatures of their own history and culture.

There are technical innovations coming down the pike that will help with this and they can't come soon enough. Electronic paper will sever the link between the physical production of books and the content of those books. You'll be able to create individualized texts for surprisingly small subsets of the country and load them on physical carriers that are the same nationwide. 8th graders will all have a 250 page history text but it won't all be the same history. Benedict Arnold's brilliant NY campaign against the British might be more prominent in the upstate New York communities where it took place whereas the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion would get more coverage in South Carolina with Arnold's treachery being covered more than his heroism.

The content that is chosen will more closely reflect local values. The damage from bowdlerization will be limited to those who choose to inflict it on their children, and things will likely just get better.

Unfortunately, technological innovation is unpredictable and even when electronic paper arrives, the dead tree versions will be with us for years afterward as schools retool their texts over long cycles. So The Language Police is likely to have relevance for quite some time.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:09 PM

February 11, 2004

Get Educated

Nicholas Kristoff goes in the right direction with his education reform column today. Yes, we need to improve our educational system. But you can't improve what you can't measure. Without objective success metrics, improvement will always be elusive. And if people are trapped in a school and bureaucrats are politically protected, the poorest, least influential in society (and yes, some of the middle class too) will not be able to gain decent schooling.

What's worse, we have a crying need to back and fill, to offer opportunity to those who have already gone through this broken system, gotten their ersatz diplomas, and are handicapped in life with poor math, logic, and science skills.

In my day job, I'm familiar with adult education. All IT people are (or should be). If you aren't constantly reskilling yourself, you can kiss your marketability goodbye as new versions of software come into vogue and your outdated knowledge of only a few years ago is no longer enough to land a contract or a decent job. In fact, in between hunting down that next contract, blogging, and taking care of my family, I'm continuing my education, a process that I do not foresee ending until I assume room temperature.

Some of this education costs me money in course fees, some in books, but a growing amount of it is in free articles on the Internet written by people, for their own reasons, who share their knowledge with others. In part, the blog entries that I put here are part of the same phenomenon. Kristoff could have greatly increased the effectiveness of his column if, at the end, he had thrown in a link to a page teaching the solution to the math problem he presents at the beginning. It would have cost little, a few extra characters per page load, perhaps 15 minutes in reportorial research in finding such a page, and would have added little to the rhetorical value of the piece. But it would have caught a few more people up in the hunger and thirst for learning about math and would have educated a great many more about the specific problem presented.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:52 PM

December 08, 2003

Federalist Papers in Arabic IV

Good, and not so good, news! The US embassy in Jordan was very helpful, thank you Azmi Tubbeh. Not only will he research whether there is an electronic copy of the Federalist Papers in arabic available at the jordanian publishers, he informed me that there is an entire book list that was requested by Iraq that they are already delivering. This means that if people wish to assist in helping with the distribution of such books, there is already an established channel that we can help out with. The list of books that was actually requested is promised and I'll publish it when I get it.

Because of the vagaries of the publishing industry (which, it appears, are the same the world over) there is currently a shortage of Federalist Papers in Arabic and the Jordanian publisher will not be printing more copies. Mr. Tubbeh believes that the book was physically typeset and will be sending me a physical copy for scanning/OCR if an electronic copy cannot be found. The US embassy in Cairo is going to undertake the reprint with an Egyptian publisher. I have the name and email (yay, no more international phoning!) of the person at the embassy in Cairo handling this and will pursue my hunt for the electronic version there.

Posted by TMLutas at 07:18 AM

December 05, 2003

Federalist Papers in Arabic III

The fine people at webwrights.com (who apparently handle Baen.com's web affairs) have agreed to host the federalist papers in arabic if a copy can be procured.

Does anybody out there know somebody in the US embassy in Amman?

Posted by TMLutas at 01:18 PM

December 03, 2003

Federalist Papers in Arabic

I previously asked Have the Federalist Papers Been Translated to Arabic?. The answer ends up being yes.

The original publisher being Penguin (1961) and the arabic language version is published in Jordan by Dar Al Faris (1996). The question remains open as to who owns the copyright (if the US govt. commissioned the translation it might hold rights to the resulting text). This is important to the question of whether it is possible to get authorization for an on-line edition as the start of a political version of the Baen Free Library. Who knows, maybe Jim Baen would be willing to host it?

Posted by TMLutas at 01:27 PM

December 02, 2003

Have the Federalist Papers Been Translated to Arabic?

Josh Chafetz of Oxblog endorses the idea of teaching deomcracy and suggest that we distribute the Federalist Papers in arabic. First they'd have to be translated and then distributed.

I then remembered seeing a romanian language copy of the US Constitution in the early 90s put out by the VOA (I believe). A little search later and the following email just went out.

I know that the VOA has done good work in translating basic american documents in a great many languages. Given the situation in Iraq, I think they could probably use the Federalist Papers in arabic. Have you created a translation? Is it on the net? I'd love to be able to advertise the existance of such a thing and contribute to its dissemination. I'm absolutely positive I'm not alone.

That went off to the public affairs office of VOA. Hopefully the hard work's already been done and is sitting on a government hard drive waiting for the blogosphere to take advantage of it and spread the word.

We'll see.

VOA didn't do the Federalist Papers and suggested I try State. I'll give that a whirl as I have time.

Posted by TMLutas at 12:14 PM