Mar 272010
 

Several months ago, I had a dream that may have saved the life of one of my children.  Soon afterward, I recounted the incident to one of my friends and I’ll share that note here.

A miracle happened to us Sunday. Early that morning I had a nightmare. In that dream I was leaving a building with several people when I found a green pushpin in my hand. I was being hurried with the other people and didn’t want to carry the pushpin with me so I stuck it in the wall next to me. At first I was unsure to do this, but then I saw many pushpins already in the wall so I left mine with all of the others.

Soon in the same dream I found myself and my family on a walk outside. We turned left onto an overgrown trail next to the water. In front of us further down the trail was a bridge that passed overhead. The children had gotten ahead of me and I warned them to be very watchful for snakes. We then immediately saw a garter snake which I pointed out to the children. I told them it was common and harmless and showed them how to identify it. I then turned around and saw that the girls had picked up another harmless snake and were playing with it. We continued walking, but very soon I saw a pigmy rattlesnake crawl by us and then a timber rattlesnake, which I killed with a 6″ long stick in my hand, the only stick I could find. Soon there were water moccasins and rattlesnakes all around me and the panicking children. I picked up Elijah under one arm and started hitting at the snakes with the half-foot stick when I woke up around 4:30 AM and couldn’t fall back asleep.

When I got up, Kathy woke. I apologized for stirring her and told her about my nightmare.

Later that day, the computer running our Internet cell modem was acting up so I went into the apartment bedroom to reset it. After I had done so, I turned around and noticed a green pushpin that I had never seen before on a table next to the bed. I looked at it closely and lifted up the papers next to it and found many more pushpins. The green pushpin was exactly like the one in my dream. This unsettled me a little.

Sunday was beautiful so we wanted to get the children out of the house. I wanted to go to the park and throw the Frisbee, but Kathy suggested that we visit the Cossatot visitor center and then take a hike. I agreed.

When we got to the visitor center, I noticed a live garter snake in a terrarium, one of only four or five live exhibits. After I showed the snake to Elijah, I turned around and was startled to see the girls holding a milk snake. I took a few pictures of them playing with the snake, but was, of course, reminded about my nightmare. After the girls gave the snake back to the woman working at the center, I noticed hiking sticks for sale at the same counter. Disturbed by my nightmare, I decided to get Hattie, Winnie and Elijah hiking sticks since they did not have their own sticks yet. Hiking sticks are are very useful around here for safety and protection, particularly against snakes.

We left the visitor center when Kathy suggested that we walk down to the river. We arrived there, crossed the low foot bridge to the other side and noticed a narrow riverside trail to the left that penetrated through cane thickets mangled by the recent floods. The trail led underneath a bridge that passed high overhead. The children bolted down the trail when Kathy immediately reminded me about my dream. I then shouted to the children to be very careful and watch cautiously for snakes. I told them about my dream and was recounting the things that had happened that day when Hattie, who was leading us with her new walking stick in hand, yelled to me that she found a snake on the trail a few feet in front of her. I ran up to her and saw a water moccasin stretched lengthwise down the trail in a spot that was almost completely overgrown.

Aggressive and unafraid of people, water moccasins are the worst snakes to encounter under such circumstances because they would rather bite you than flee.

Of course, we turned around and left.

However, if I had not had the nightmare which woke me up early that morning, if I had not told Kathy about it, if I had not been reminded of the dream throughout the day and therefore motivated to take it seriously, if I had not purchased the walking sticks, if Kathy had not reminded me of the nightmare when we got on the trail, if all of this had not happened then it is likely if not certain that one of the children would have stepped on the water moccasin and been bitten.

This is not the first time miracles like this have happened to me, and that’s why Kathy took my dream so seriously. I’ve asked myself why God speaks to me this way and I believe it is largely because I believe in Him and listen to Him.

Mar 132010
 

A comet-like body of significant brilliance apparently struck the sun yesterday.  We alerted our readers to the impending impact several hours before it occurred.

As the body, assumed to be a Kreutz sungrazer comet, plunged towards the sun, most observers switched to the STEREO Ahead COR1 and STEREO Ahead COR2 satellite imagers.

NASA’s STEREO consists of two virtually identical observatories orbiting the sun in different positions, one leading the earth in its orbit and one trailing our planet, to provide stereoscopic views of solar weather. NASA launched STEREO so that it can keep an eye on solar weather, particularly Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which have known destructive potential for orbiting satellites and even earthbound electrical systems.

The COR1 imagers were desirable for watching the comet strike because they have relatively small occlusion disks allowing observation of the inbound body to within about 150,000 miles of the turbulent solar “surface” composed of hot plasma. Images are normally uploaded to NASA’s STEREO website at five minute intervals and can be stitched together to construct a movie of solar events.

For example, to see the last movie from STEREO Ahead COR1, visit http://stereo-ssc.nascom.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/images, select “Ahead COR1”, boost the resolution to 512×512, click “Slideshow” and then depress the “Search” button. Leaving the dates blank will pull up the latest images. Using the date range 20100310 – 20100313 will provide all recorded images for the two impacts that occurred yesterday.

Indeed, as the doomed comet hurtled towards its fiery fate, Ahead COR1 provided several unmatched images until NASA stopped updating Ahead COR1 data immediately after impact where a bright streak can be seen leaving the sun at an odd angle. In fact, the update frequency of Ahead COR1 had already been throttled down from once every five minutes to once every hour with an eight hour gap preceding the appearance of the comet in the imager. The following sequence of photographs constitute those most temporally local to the comet impact event.

first comet image

This is the first Ahead COR1 image of the comet.

t-minus-2 frames to impact

The last image of the comet

This is the last image of the comet before it passes behind the occulter.

The comet has disappeared

The comet has disappeared behind the occulter in this frame.

A strange streak can be seen leaving the sun

A strange, bright streak can be seen apparently emanating from the sun. This is the last hourly update.

What is the cause of the lost data? Is it yet another demonstration of government incompetence? Or is this a continuing example of our government deciding to play our nanny, spoon-feeding us only the information they think we can handle?

In either case, NASA, if the data is available then make it available.  And next time don’t drop the ball again.

Feb 232010
 

Last week a row erupted when an article appeared on the Internet complaining about Windows 7 memory usage.  The article maintained that a large number of personal computers were instrumented with monitoring software in order to log and upload various operating system state statistics like memory usage.  Supposedly their data proved that Windows 7 was an even bigger memory hog than Windows Vista and much worse when compared with Windows XP.

Of course, like nearly everyone else the first thing that came to my mind is “SuperFetch,” a Microsoft service introduced with Vista that attempts to anticipate usage patterns and preload applications so that frequently used programs are available much more quickly than would otherwise occur.  SuperFetch obviously consumes memory, but frees it quickly when needed by the user.  However, this was such an obvious consideration that it was hard for me to imagine how any conscientious commentator on Windows 7 memory usage could not take SuperFetch into account (and apparently they did).  Debate over whether or not SuperFetch was accounted for in the Windows 7 memory pig claims was the main source of the initial controversy.

But that row was tiny compared to the scandal that went nuclear after the shady connections between players in this soap opera were “discovered.”

The company behind the Windows 7-is-a-memory-hog-piece was Devil Mountain Software (DMS).  Having been in the benchmarking business for a long time, “Randall Kennedy” immediately popped into my head when I saw DMS was involved, so I didn’t pay much attention to the initial story.  Kennedy is constantly rattling his Infoworld cage and is a continual source of controversy; he is a real-life, public troll and I am sure this is at least partially intentional.

I met Kennedy long ago and had lunch with him at Bert McComas’ sadly now defunct Platform Conference.  A long time back, Kennedy wrote OfficeBench, a simple OLE/COM-based Microsoft Office benchmark which he said he developed while under contract with Intel; however, Chipzilla panned it because it made their chips look weak.  Kennedy updated the benchmark recently, which I downloaded and tested.  Unfortunately, the workload itself had not been improved much.  Worse, although I found some merit in earlier versions of OfficeBench, I dropped the updated product from my suite of performance tests at Centaur because its results were often not reproducible: run-to-run variations were frequently enormous.

Having written many benchmark tests myself including automated Microsoft Office benchmarks, I understood the source of OfficeBench’s flaws and was disappointed Kennedy had not addressed them.

Over the years I had marveled in a stupifed way at Kennedy’s continuing success at Infoworld, the IT news journal that was once my favorite publication of its kind.  I’ve come to understand that the key to his popularity was a common personality condition I have seen among many successful people in the computer industry: Kennedy is loud and relentless to the point of being pathological: mistakes, egged faces, crushed toes and history be damned, Kennedy doesn’t quit being Kennedy.  Indefatigability has its benefits and is almost an essential quality for achieving success in any field and can often overcome equally significant personality defects.

The connection between Devil Mountain Software and Randall Kennedy was well known to me because DMS distributed OfficeBench and because Kennedy publicly claimed ownership of that company, so I was surprised to see ZDNet’s Larry Dignan pen a piece where he “uncovered” this seemingly obvious link, a major component of the scandal he helped trigger.  However, Dignan showed that link had been obscured recently and also convincingly demonstrated that Randall Kennedy was Craig Barth, the CTO of Devil Mountain Software who frequently fed ComputerWorld’s Gregg Keizer with DMS research, often to the detriment of Microsoft.  Keizer quickly issued a mea culpa as this scandal began to unfold.

Like other past controversies, the initial furor would have passed and Kennedy would have survived to incite Internet conflict until he eventually grew old and tired of trolling.  What makes the Dignan scandal much worse for Kennedy is that Kennedy also created a secret sock-puppet persona to bolster his real-world identity and to promote his business through various professional and respected publications.

As for Infoworld, with knowledge that Dignan’s scandalous article would soon be aired, Infoworld’s Eric Knorr hastily published a blurb announcing that his publication had reluctantly fired Kennedy.  However, Infoworld certainly knew of the connections between Kennedy and Devil Mountain Software and even initially advertised this relationship along with the DMS applications they offered.  However these links eventually were obscured over time, apparently systematically and intentionally.  For his part, Kennedy claims that his Infoworld colleagues knew all along about his Craig Barth alter ego.  He also maintains he quit and was not fired from his position as an Infoworld contributing editor.  However, it appears certain that Kennedy did not let anyone know that he was pulling a snow job on Gregg Keizer.  Rather than simply begging forgiveness for his duplicity, Kennedy brashly blames Keizer:

IDG knew. Galen Gruman, Executive Editor of InfoWorld knew. As did Eric Knorr. And several others. But poor Gregg Keizer – hey, the man was looking for an anti-Microsoft angle at every turn, and he let his zeal get the best of him.

Kennedy also clamors he was taken out by a Microsoft sponsored hit piece.  To be sure, I can tell you that Randall Kennedy is neither beloved nor respected in Redmond, but “taking out” journalists is more Intel’s style (as we’ve discussed previously on this site) rather than Microsoft’s.  Furthermore, Kennedy’s finger pointing does not begin to address the simple fact he created a sock-puppet to promote himself and his business through various industry publications — fooling and undermining the reputations of several — an act that was flat-out unethical.

To add insult to self-inflicted injury, Kennedy also has managed to wreck the credibility of his business, Devil Mountain Software.  In his zeal to disprove a critical Ars Technica analysis by Peter Bright (here and here), Kennedy cited information gathered from Bright’s computer using his Tracker program, information that was supposed to be anonymized and untraceable (and sent unencrypted over http port 80, no less).  Certainly many people will be uninstalling DMS software from their computers after hearing about this.  And companies are now going to think twice before trusting Kennedy or his business again.

But don’t feel sorry for Randall.  In the same comment where Kennedy blames Keizer for being tricked by him, 40-year young Randall C. Kennedy brags of his wealth and comfort in his beautiful, tropical home:

Now I think I’ll take a walk down to the Longan tree in my front yard and pluck a few for the beach. Life is tough when you’re semi-retired and living on one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world (Mauritius). But hey, if people are going to compare me to Bernie Madoff, then I’ll be damned if I’m not going to live life to the fullest.

A man of reputedly boundless ego, if his wealth does not match his boasts, Randall C. Kennedy faces hard times ahead of him because all bridges behind him are in flames.