Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Death from the sky; death demanding a "why"

The personnel of the US Military hold within their highly trained and motivated hands the technologically advanced tools of death. Their ability to take a life has repeatedly been illustrated over the past decade with our many battles in the Middle-east. This power, when supported by solid and accurate information and in the hands of responsible humans is still frightening in its severity.

Never has this been driven home for me more than the recent video of military operating from a flight platform delivering death to innocent civilians and media far below on the ground. While this story has been told and an investigation has been urged by Reuters officials, only now do we have actual video from the perspective of the helicopter and the soldiers who delivered death from the skies. (Fox News, MSNBC, WikiLeaks ) The video that has been released is obviously from an internal military source who feels strongly that this is wrong and took the risk to leak the video.

This video and the associated dialog of the soldiers is sickening. They are disassociated from the scene, and it is obvious - especially from our hindsight perspective - that they have misunderstood the situation. Where they saw AK-47's and rocket launchers we now know were really cameras and tripods. Where they saw a gathering of "insurgents" we now know was simply a gathering of civilians totally oblivious to the fact that death was hovering just over their heads with weapons of mass destruction targeted on them.

The very best that we can say is that we "F'd" up - we very badly screwed up in that situation. Unfortunately, I'm sure that what will be said by terrorist group recruiters is that this is further evidence of the terrible wickedness of the United States and decadent Western nations. They will see in that video the absolute depravity of our soldiers and their lust for murder and destruction. Too harsh of a description? I might have thought so before watching the video; now I feel that their accusation might have merit. The soldiers are desperate to kill; repeatedly they beseech their handlers for permission to rain down a hail of death and destruction. To the man who has a hammer everything appears to be a nail. To the man in an armored attack helicopter with a powerful machine gun everything appears to be a target and an insurgent.

The US - Obama and his administration - must not bury this. We must not ignore it. We must not deny our mistake. We must address this direct and fully. We must admit our mistake. We must admit our overzealous rush to determine that this was a situation that required a deadly response. We must bring those involved into a court marshall - we must decide if this was justified, if it was a mistake, or if it represents a failure of our entire policy and approach in that region.

If we do not approach this correctly I fear that the next generation of reaction out of that region toward we Americans will be more vicious and much more terrifying. Far from providing security for Americans the US Government has just guaranteed far more of a threat than we previously had. This episode will recruit strong and zealous young men and women into a war that will have no end; a war that will continue to spray the blood of the innocent across the pages of history; a war that will have no meaning or purpose except to make more wealthy those manufacturing the weapons of destruction and to make more frightening an existence on this lonely planet in a cold galaxy.

Properly addressed, however, and this situation could spell a turning point for America with the people of Arab states. Will we have the courage and the character to do the right thing? Will Obama? Will the Republicans? Will anyone?

Update 4/11: Gates on the Sunday circuit - "killing was justified". Me: "Bullsh*t". And, not only will this in fact effect our image abroad, it damages our image here. As a life-long Republican, fiscal conservative, and one who voted for Regan, and every Bush to come along - it damages my image of the U.S. policy. It just stinks, Mr. Gates. Bullsh*t.

Friday, February 26, 2010

ONVIF "plug-fest" wrap-up

This week I attended the ONVIF "plug-fest", where the various members of the ONVIF organization got together to test interoperability. This committee endeavors to create a standard for interoperability between security cameras, DVR's, other devices and the software that uses and manages these devices. I came to this party from the perspective of this software, in particular in testing the capabilities of my video streaming and viewing component. This streams video from the cameras in MJPEG, MPEG-4 and H.264. In short, it displays pretty pictures (hopefully). Each came to this "plug-fest" to test their conformance to the ONVIF specification, their interpretation of the text and requirements it laid out, and (ahem) their success in coding to that interpretation. This last ensured there was some rapid fixes being made on the fly to adjust code that may have performed a task not intended (often mistakenly called a "bug"; really just a rebellious feature).

The attendees came from local companies here in Stuttgart Germany, from other European countries and from as far away as Japan, Taiwan, Korea and India. It was a pleasure to meet and work with engineers from Sony, Samsung, Canon, Panasonic and Vivotek as well as EU companies such as Axis, Bosch, Softhard, and Dallmeier. Each brought a product in various stages of development. Some brought a production device with possibly a firmware in development for testing, while others brought circuit boards with cameras attached via a wire harness. The latter were the most interesting - it was entertaining watching them search for screwdrivers to attach power supplies and to see all the wires. It felt more like a robotics convention.

The spirit of this "plug fest" was great, and the ONVIF coordinators helped ensure this spirit - while many are direct competitors with each other the spirit was one of inquiry and learning. This is "geeks" coming together to test their creations. We'll leave it to the marketing boys to duke it out in the press and market. These were techies hooking up wires and watching messages flowing across the network. PTZ cameras swung wildly and images streamed as we made sure our mad-scientist inventions had come to life as expected. While I appreciate the stern warning of the organizers that we were not allowed to share pricing information for anti-trust reasons, I'm not sure any of us even have any idea of the price of our products. All we cared about was if our code could talk to the camera, and did it give me what I expected. No? Hmm, ah - that's an optional feature of the standard - got it.

In the end I hope that everyone has great success with their products and they sell a million of them, thus funding work on yet more "toys". I'm sure as we all refine our products in conformance with the language and intent of the ONVIF standard some of the fun will be taken from these plug-fests, but I also expect that the scheduled follow-up test meetings will also have the joys of success as features work ("yes!"), and the anguish of "huh? You didn't receive my message? Hmm - let me have a look."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seriously: Did The Onion invent Scientology?

Just admit it: The Onion invented Scientology. They simply had to. Every time I hear something about Scientology it seems so bizarre, so brazenly stupid that I expect to see the "ONN" logo in the corner indicating that it's another masterful piece of Onion reporting.

It's not, of course - but it could be.

Take the story of the actor Larry Anderson, who served as the cult's introductory spokesman for years, offering credibility to the credulous. He's left the cult and is asking for a refund of the money that he prepaid for services not yet rendered. They've refused, of course, since he won't agree to go crawl under a rock somewhere and not speak badly about the cult.

While that story is silly enough - it's the link from that article page off of Tampabay.com to his introductory video that just had me alternating between bursts of laughter and spasms of rage. I've included the four YouTube segments for your viewing pleasure below.

Tell me if you don't find the statements that Larry (or rather the brainwaster - I mean brainwasher who wrote the script, that is) so brazen, transparent, and obvious. Seeds of paranoia are sown, the government is out to get is and to control you, bla bla bla. Yes, we are a religion - the IRS says so and dozens of court cases say so - yes, we can be trusted cause we say so, etc. It is a propaganda piece designed to poison minds who are ill-prepared. It's sickening, really, and just amazing that it continues to remain a viable corporate entity with tax-free status as a church. Despicable.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Massive Credit Card Cancellations?

This actually might be a good thing. With the new legislation about credit cards, intended to stop card institutions from gouging customers these banks and what-not are resorting to other tactics to generate revenue, according to MSNBC.

The good thing about this is that I expect people (like myself) who have kept cards around "just in case", and who are hit with big fees if they don't use them, to simply cancel them. I'm reviewing, for example, my American Express and a very low-credit limit Visa that I've carried for almost 20 years. If they are going to do this, hasta la "visa", baby. Maybe many others will simply eliminate their cards and (gasp) we'll return to a cash/sanity economy. (I'm not holding my breath, though.)