Pirates are Terrorists?

I was disapointed by the Beat the Press segment “Are they pirates? Or terrorists?” from WGBH‘s Greater Boston. The normally intelligent group of journalists manages to convince themselves that the Somali pirates should be described as “terrorists,” rather than pirates. This completely butchers the meaning of terrorist – someone who uses violence and intimidation to further a political goal. From all reports, it seems absolutely clear that the Somali pirates are not terrorist. Their only goal is ransom money. They have no political aims.

“Terrorist” has become a common epithet (like Captain Haddock‘s “Visigoths!“), but I would have expected seasoned journalists to defend the meaning of words, rather than distort them. I understand the motivation behind the segment. The word “pirate” has been so romanticized by movies and popular culture, that it seems too soft to describe real-life organized gangs of water-borne hijacking extortionists. However, the same problem applies to other romanticized words like mobster and cowboy, and the press manages to write about them without the need to mangle the language.

I don’t know of a perfect way to name these villains, but diluting the meaning of “terrorist” won’t help.

Cron Tip: Monthly Crontab Reminders

Cron jobs are great, but it is very easy to forget what jobs are running, especially if you’re administering multiple cron tables on different servers. The solution is to add a crontab reminder job at the top of every cron table, which emails a listing of the cron table every month:

@monthly        : Crontab Reminder ; crontab -l

The colon is the no-op command, whose arguments describe the job for the email subject line. The ‘crontab -l’ lists the cron table for the current user. Cron displays the user and host on the subject line, so you will know which account is listed.

Subject: Cron <chuck@doublebrain> : Crontab Reminder ...

Now, every month you’ll get a reminder email about what jobs are running under each account. This will also serve as a monthly test of the accounts email settings.

Barack Obama, the first Generation X President?

In all the media coverage of Obama’s historic election, he is often described as Kennedyesque, and the leader of a new generation. However, the media never names the generation he leads: Generation X.

The exact definitions of Baby Boomer vs Generation X are pretty fuzzy, but Wikipedia defines Generation X as 1961-1981, so Obama birth in 1961 makes him one of the first Gen Xers.

For the last 16 years, the US has been led by Baby Boomer presidents – with obviously mixed results. A baby boom is a population bubble, and I can’t help feeling the currently bursting economic bubble is somehow tied to the rise and fall of the baby boom bubble.

Pharmaco-Lexicography: the new phrase “Ask your prescriber”

I heard an intersting new phrase used in a drug commercial. American drug ads are highly formulaic (probably due to regulations), so they almost always end with the phrase “Ask your doctor if X is right for you.”

However, a recent Ambien CR TV ad used the phrase “ask your prescriber” instead of doctor. Apparently, the phrase has been in use since last year, and was the result of petitioning by nurse practitioners (who can also prescribe some drugs).

Of course, it could also be because the Lake Superior State University placed “Ask your Doctor” on its 2007 list of banished words, describing the phrase as “The chewable vitamin morphine of marketing.

Amusingly, another common phrase using “prescriber” is “prescriber profiling” – the practice of drug companies buying prescription data from pharmacies in order to customize sales pitches for individual doctors, and then track the effect of the promotions.

Were Speculators responsible for 20 years of low oil prices?

Discussions about the recent high oil prices have often revolved around the question of whether speculators are responsible, as apposed to Peak Oil or political instability.

Oddly, no one seems to ask the inverse. Weren’t speculators at least partially responsible for the 20 year run of low oil prices?

In the late 70’s and 80’s, speculators put money into off-shore platforms, arctic drilling, long pipelines and exotic extraction technologies. These investments resulted in a large surplus of oil, often resulting in losses for the speculators (for example, George W. Bush).

Welcome to ExTechOps

Welcome to ExTechOps. ExTechOps stands for Experimental Technical Operations. The term is derived from (and in homage to) the EXTECHOP department of S.H.E.I.L.D. from the graphic novel “Elektra: Assassin” by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz. I made OPS plural since it seems more natural and matches Sandbagger terminology such as D-Ops.

This blog will be a place for me to store musing, rants, and small code experiments – anything that isn’t a Habilis software tool.