Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse Has Potential To Be a Disaster

Let me begin by saying I hope everyone who is planning to go see the solar eclipse has a great time. Astronomy is a wonderful science, allowing kids of all ages to discover more about the universe around them. It promises to be a rather large event so the eclipse can also be considered as a massive Woodstock-type event. Many people climbing into cars to go experience pretty much the same event.

There are pundits and eminent scientists trying to link a massive societal change with tomorrow’s celestial event. Something similar may well happen, but don't get your hopes too far up.  Take it as a wonderful experience, shared with like-minded people, a chance to go camping.

Solar eclipses are visible somewhere on earth approximately every 18 months, mostly out on the seas or in sparsely inhabited regions. Do not expect some ‘Age of Aquarius’ type of awakening among those that view the eclipse. The moon’s shadow will temporarily paint a diagonal stripe across the United States. That’s all. In that region the sun will briefly be obscured and thousands of people will possibly damage their own eyesight. Use protection or make a pinhole camera obscura with a piece of cardboard.

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The huge publicity run-up to this event means almost all people in North America, plus millions more overseas, are well-aware of the date and time. Flights into the U.S. over the past few days have been booked solid. Highways are quite congested at this point, less than 24 hours prior to the event.

So a life-changing event is creating itself, for those eager to have such an epiphany in their lives. People will remember the struggle to get to a viewing place, the traffic, the eclipse itself and trying to find an empty bathroom after the sun re-appears.
It seems like a prime opportunity for terrorists to strike the U.S., much like the Millennium was projected to be.  In a way they’ve already started, if you look at Charlottesville as a start. I can safely say this now that the event is so close. Mad bombers and discontents are set in motion with far less than an eclipse.

Thankfully it’s a big country, whatever a few crazed people chose to do spoil the event it will not bother many. A coordinated attack on all U.S. computer systems, including infrastructure like power plants, had been ongoing, tomorrow could hardly be any different. Hackers, emboldened by the current occupant of the White House, seek secrets and credit card lists every day of the week already.


Below are listed potential event types that could possibly occur, based on the author’s extensive knowledge of disasters, man-made and natural. There are detailed lists of responses to each too extensive for listing in this location.

A distinct possibility exists for certain tragic events not related to state actors or militant activity:
  1. Structural failure and/or stampede - These typically occur at religious pilgrimages or during time of war, usually due to overcrowding. Bridges give way, buildings topple, sewage systems get overloaded, then many people attempt to flee all at once. These events happen in India and Mecca with startling regularity.
  2. Network Overload - This is certain to occur, it probably already is underway. The nation’s wireless networks are not built to handle such congestion, especially in rural areas. Many viewers will be trying to post their images of the eclipse to social media all at once. In addition, landline Internet data traffic will spike as those not able to view the event  attempt to stream it. People may simply panic if they cannot check Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Snapchat, etc.
  3. Wildfire - If a car pulls over to the side of the road and parks over dry grassland, large fires will occur. A car’s exhaust system alone is hot enough to start a large fire. Cigarettes tossed haphazardly in rural areas can create fires difficult for first responders to reach, especially given the traffic.
  4. Chain-reaction accidents - These are usually related to fog or darkness but the potential for huge car accidents is greater when highways are overcrowded and people are in a hurry.
  5. Weather - When populations are concentrated in outdoor settings, natural events like thunderstorms, tornadoes and related flooding are liable to cause higher casualty rates.
  6. All of the Above - All at once, the above could create quite a disaster, although still likely to be localized.
So far as state actors and militant-caused events go, these types are the most likely:
  1. Large vehicles driven into crowds - This type of attack is the most prevalent type being covered in the media and perpetrated in the West now.
  2. Arson - See #3 under non-terrorist events. Deliberate use of dry conditions is not that unusual.
  3. Bombings - An explosive device detonated in a huge crowd causes a greater number of casualties. This is hardly any secret with something of that nature happening almost daily South Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
  4. Chemical Attack - Large crowds are almost the only way a chemical or biological weapon can be effective. Again, this is not unknown. The Tokyo Subway attack was widely covered. Threats of violence against the United States by North Korea and Daesh have been made quite recently. U.S.-based militant groups, including white supremacist, neo-Nazi types, pose an equally dangerous threat. We certainly know they are organized and seeking attention.
  5. Psychological - In the vein of George Orwell’s ‘War of the Worlds,’ malicious Internet hoaxes could lead some to panic. Millions of otherwise educated people now believe political articles displayed on clearly fake web sites. The brevity of the event makes new cruel attempts to manipulate people, based on the eclipse, less likely.
  6. Cyberattack - Perpetrated by state actors, through the same channels that interfered with the 2016 Presidential Election. There’s good reason to believe cyberattacks will be an ongoing type of assault from now on, eclipse or no eclipse. Energy sources, financial sites and traffic control systems are known to be vulnerable to sophisticated attackers. People may also panic in certain of these situations.
  7. Mass shootings - Our nation has experienced too many of these attacks, typically using assault rifles or semi-automatic handguns. Unstable people in possession of arms can and do commit mass murder. We know that all too well. These individuals cruelly seek large crowds, we know that too. Prevention of asymmetric attacks is nearly impossible.
Certainly there are even more dire scenarios possible for what will quite likely be a peaceful celestial observation. Local, state and national authorities, first-responders in particular, are aware of all of the above. Precautions are no doubt being taken but our nation is big. Most resources are concentrated in cities far from the rural areas where many will go to view the eclipse. It will be a precarious few days, so far as national security is concerned.  Some events such as the traffic spikes and network outages are certain. Most of the others described are far less likely to occur, though other nations are familiar with each.
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Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.  - John Stuart Mill (1867)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Love of Teaching

In the mid-1970s I began to teach my first classes, television show direction, in the large Council Rock High School television studio. Mr. Metzgar, our TV teacher, allowed me to begin instructing other students how to compose shots with our black & white television cameras, how to use the complex control panel to mix or fade in and out, and how to run the 2-inch video tape recorder. My experience as a photographer was one reason. My total comfort with electronics and technology was certainly another.

Mr. Metzgar was once the stage director of the television program Hollywood Squares. He told me the job was more like being a babysitter for spoiled movie stars. He lost his job, with everyone else, when there was a fire on the set. Being a public schoolteacher paid less but was steady work with better benefits, including a pension. He had a family.

I was chosen to be the morning news announcer for WCRH/CRTV morning news, along with senior Petie Chesner. We wrote many of our own news stories and broadcast all the high school team sports scores. I often got too creative in my writing so editors trimmed down my verbiage. I seem to recall we only had 15 minutes over the high school closed circuit TV system. 
Mr. Stringer, the high school principal, often interrupted us, handing over a special announcements while we were live on camera. Other teachers did likewise.

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I got to know Mr. Stringer very well and worked directly for him as the auditorium stage director for all four years. That job entailed running the lighting board, the film projector, the sound box and setting up lots of chairs. I positioned Leiko and fresnel stage lights, including placing color gels on each, out on the three catwalks.

My work in the television studio complimented the stage manager job. The most important part of both roles, for me, was getting to teach other students. 

I went on to teach manufacturing skills in California, tropical agriculture in Puerto Rico, India and Haiti. I became a full-time business instructor with JCPenney in 1983. On the side I was a computer consultant, after my cousin’s husband, Len Lankford, taught me how to consult. The peak of my consulting career, so far, was 4 international years with Cambridge Technology Partners. To this day I am still a computer consultant, a technical instructor and a photography teacher. Last year I taught 600 Maryland State Election judges how to conduct a U.S. Presidential election

Monday, June 12, 2017

Not LinkedIn Overseas

I'm amazed how often major Internet tools are left to decay by their development teams. LinkedIn is just the latest site to show signs of neglect. I realize they don't make enough money to have any technical support but somebody should still be minding the store!

Panama City, Panama 17060025

I travel overseas frequently but now version 9.1.33 of the LinkedIn app no longer works overseas. My Internet connection works fine. The website version works fine and allows sign-in with my same credentials. The iPad and iPhone apps suddenly act like I've never had an account. This happens in Puerto Rico and France too so I know it is not related to Panama. The app does not accept my credentials or prompt for the usual Pin code. My account had not been compromised as other users experience the same frustration. I'm also surprised to learn they have no online support whatsoever, other than a User forum. As a result LinkedIn will never even know they have an issue. This is as bad as Apple, another large tech firm showing signs of decay. General Motors would go out of business without excellent customer support.

My major corporate clients tell me this is always the case for them. The app is only for U.S.-based usage, several of them say, due to security concerns. This issue cancelled an entire training session for new, young banking professionals in Panama today. The VP of the bank advised he has discouraged his team from using LinkedIn for this very reason. It was once useful but now is only a waste of time.
Years ago LinkedIn was reliable and a useful business networking site. The suggestions from my international training clients indicate that it went downhill overseas after a major hack a few years back. Inside the U.S. it works fine, outside you can rarely get logged in or stay logged in long enough to get anything accomplished.

In order to grow, U.S.-based firms often fail to understand that international growth is where it's at. I began to offer international training services, in addition to serving my U.S customers, in 1986. Both customer bases are still growing but income from overseas assignments is always a reliable and lucrative source of income. The work actually compliments my U.S. training sessions. A firm once as large as LinkedIn definitely should already know this. My concern is that Microsoft is simply neglecting their acquisition or perhaps cutting back on investments in a service where only 25% of the members are active. Microsoft support for smaller clients has never been very good, I suppose this is the case now that LinkedIn is one of perhaps too many Microsoft products.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Delting Disaster

On the morning of 21st December 1900, seven small open boats from Firth, Mossbank and Toft set off for the winter haddock fishing. They were some 32 kilometres (20 miles) away, between the Horse of Burravpoe and Da Snap, when they were caught in a sudden and severe gale from the north-west. Many were lost during the storm which came on in the space of five minutes. The fleet were scattered. One made it to Whalsay, Skerries and Lunning but the rest were lost.

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22 men were drowned, leaving 15 widows (5 of whom were pregnant), and 51 children. Firth was hit the hardest. Many of the men were great fishermen and the disaster devastated the Delting fishing industry, which never recovered. The women continued to work the crofts. Children grew up and moved away, leading to a rapid decline in population.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Jefferson v. Kushner

Various journalists and commentators have been comparing what Jared Kushner did, that is, attempt to set-up an illegal back channel to Putin, to actions taken by President Thomas Jefferson.

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Here is what a well-known documentary filmmaker* recently had to say about comparing Kushner and Jefferson:
  1.  President Jefferson himself was the communicator or "back channel" via the American Ambassador to France, Robert Livingston — not, say, his son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph, an accomplished public servant Jefferson never dreamed of bringing into his own White House.
  2. Jefferson was the most experienced diplomat in the land — stark contrast — as Washington's former Secretary of State and Ambassador to France.
  3.  There was a paramount public purpose in the National Interest: the acquisition of New Orleans, control of the Mississippi, and acquisition of midwestern lands that would double the size of the U.S. — unlike Kremlingate. 
  4. The communication did NOT happen during the transition.
  5. There was no hint of conflict of interest — no equivalent to Vnesheconombank. Jefferson never personally profited from the Louisiana Purchase (a different president — ahem! — could have).
  6. Russia was not attempting to meddle in American elections circa 1800 — unlike in 2016.
  7. Above all, the influence was U.S.-to-France. With Flynn, Manafort, and possibly Kushner/Vnesheconombank, the "back channel" of influence may well be Russian influence over the U.S. 
*I have not included the individual's name here in order to avoid any deluge of responses in his/her email Inbox. This scholar merely shared these observations in a very public forum. I share them here, as a lifelong student of American history, for educational purposes only.