Sunday, March 23, 2008

21 years living with ‘the knowledge’

As described in detail elsewhere, in January, 1987 I witnessed a pair of glowing red spheres at relatively close range, as they crossed the sky of southern California, west of El Centro. They overtook me from behind, passed directly overhead, and then continued on in front of me for several minutes before I lost sight of them in the distance. I was not abducted, nor did I suffer any ill effects, except for lingering anxiety and fatigue.

Did this event change my life? Yes and no. Except for the fact that I determined, the following day, to pay a visit to the area where I'd grown up and a few of the people I'd known in my youth, there was no immediate change that you could point to. I returned to the same community where I'd been living and to the same job I'd left a short time earlier. But one thing was plainly different; I no longer had the luxury of scoffing at those who claimed Earth was being visited by extraterrestrials.

Many years later I happened across the web address of the National UFO Reporting Center, and saved it, only later making use of it to file a report. This weekend I discovered the existence of the Mutual UFO Network, and again filed a report (getting a few details mixed up on the first attempt).

Looking further into the various organizations, I've arrived at the opinion that MUFON is probably the most credible of them, that is if you like your UFO accounts unmixed with talk of advanced technologies (which, if developed, could render efforts to develop renewable sources of energy unnecessary), grandiose conspiracy theories, and cosmic consciousness - not that there aren't conspiracies or that there's anything wrong with cosmic consciousness.

If you aren't put off by the tangential connections mentioned above, then you might also find Center for the Study of Extraterrestrial Intelligence and The Disclosure Project worth your time. Both of these are headed by Dr. Steven M. Greer and inevitably strongly reflect his own belief system and concerns. Even if you find his forays into such subjects distracting, Dr. Greer's credibility is impeccable as compared, for instance, with Tom Cruise.

On the other hand, if you're a storm chaser at heart, you'll want to go straight to the latest reports page which lists the 20 most recent sightings reported to MUFON. Don't forget to bring your video camera! Be warned, some of them are bogus, and some relate to events that happened months or years prior to being reported, but there's enough left to keep you very busy.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

old myths die hard

When Auto Warehousing Co. announced, last July, that they would be moving quickly to replace Windows PCs with Macs, both employees and customers balked, thinking Macs would be more expensive and that the increased expense would either constrain payroll and benefits or result in higher costs for services, and their bankers wanted assurance that it made good business sense.

Caught off guard by this upwelling of resistance, AWC pushed back the schedule on the conversion project and made use of the time to build support for it, by detailing their thoroughly practical fiscal reasons for going through with it. They estimated that, over three years, Windows licensing would cost them $1.82 Million, whereas the total cost of switching to Macs would be only $335,000.

Even so, it wasn't easy. Dale Frantz, AWC's CIO, had this to say: "We knew we were going down an entirely new road, but we didn't anticipate the huge emotional response that we got back. People are passionate on both sides of the aisle. There's a lot of talk about the cult of Macs, but there's just as strongly a cult of Microsoft. It's just not as widely publicized."

There were also some technical issues, and Apple provided assitance with some of these. It helps that AWC is a large enough company to have the talent to handle most such issues in-house, including the rewriting of a custom, mission critical application in Java.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

the slippery slope: armed, autonomous robots

University of Sheffield Professor Noel Sharkey was recently among those presenting at a conference called The Ethics of Autonomous Military Systems, organized by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

While the warnings raised by Professor Sharkey earned him a lampooning in Engadget, in my opinion he's the one talking sense and those making fun of him are fools.

His speech at the RUSI conference appears not to be publicly available, but he addressed the same concerns in a commentary published last August in The Guardian.

I am a fan of robotics in general, but autonomous machinery is a very powerful technology, and like all powerful technologies it needs to be handled with care.