Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tall and Nasty...

No, that's not the title of a bad porn movie... Just one person's summary of a Starbucks, which matches up with my views fairly well.

My drink was disgusting. A bland half-pint of milk with as much coffee flavour as if someone sipping an espresso had sneezed over my cup. A coffee for someone who hates coffee, but uses the bitter adult nectar as a cloak of sophistication for their babyish suckling on warm, creamy sweetness.
I was tricked into drinking one of those vile concoctions once. Never again. And don't call them coffee, please, when they're no more than coffee-flavored glop.

I'm in the wrong line of work

Notwithstanding my last post...

Okay, here's the setup. Suppose I run a company that works with the federal government... say, helping to administer a government program. Further suppose that I overbill shamelessly, to the point that the government's inspector-general finds that I got $34 million more than I should have.

What do you think should happen? Should I have to pay back the $34M?

No, silly, of course not!

I get to decide how much I should pay back. And if I can justify it on paper...

Keith New, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania agency, said it was “very pleased” with the department’s letter, and that it would continue to negotiate with the department over any repayment obligation.

“We could wind up with zero liability,” Mr. New said.

I'm not surprised he was "very pleased." I would be, too, if I could keep $34 million I wasn't supposed to have. Really, the depth of corruption and cronyism in this (mal)Administration continues to boggle.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why Teach?

There's a meme going around, and though I wasn't specifically tagged, this being the blogosphere, I'll feel free to jump in anyway.

Why do you teach? Why is academic freedom crucial to that effort?

Several reasons why I do this.

1) It's important work. I'm preparing students to take their place not only in their careers, but as citizens. That means it's important to hold them to high standards, and to model the sort of behavior I want them to exhibit in society--reliability, honesty, integrity, etc.

2) Let's face it, it's fun. Yes, sometimes the 'performance' aspect gets a little scary--how do I get their attention? How do I keep it? How do I make this interesting? And the feedback--for better or worse--is pretty immediate.

3) It keeps me on my toes. Every semester there's something new to learn. I get a question no one ever asked before. A student asks something that forces me to go out and learn a little more. I find myself reading farther and farther afield, and saying "I can use that in class..." New technologies, new fads, new controversies. It's all good.

4) Because it's an interesting, exciting subject. Seriously. This stuff is just cool. And I get to explain how it works and help other people learn how to do cool stuff with it. How great is that?

And as for academic freedom.... One of the courses I teach is on the societal and ethical impact of computing. We discuss how tech is used and misused, and why it matters. Along the way I usually manage to get at least a few students, on both sides of the aisle, seriously offended. I try to point out inconvenient truths that annoy both sides, and make students who happen to agree with me defend their positions just as rigorously as those who don't. This means I sometimes say some politically extremely-incorrect things at the front of the classroom. Part of education is having one's preconceptions challenged. If I have to start watching what I say and not saying something that someone somewhere might find offensive, I have a much more difficult time being effective. [Do I go out of my way to be offensive for its own sake? No. Do I let it stop me from doing my job? Also no.]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Calling out the quackery

Background: The full story is over here, but suffice to say a quack by the name of Joseph Chickelue Obi got called out on his quackery on a blog... So he did what any called-out quack does. He demanded the ISP pull down the offending blog posts. Under UK law (much more plaintiff-friendly in libel suits), the ISP had little choice.

Because I happen to believe in the importance of calling out the quacks on their quackery, and discouraging the use of lawsuits to silence legitimate criticism, I'm reposting the offending articles in their entirety. And a fine job of calling out the quackery it is!

Articles from Le Canard Noir follow:

Right Royal College of Pompous Quackery - Dublin, Thursday, September 28, 2006

I had to share this with you. Following on from my recent Quack Word 'Doctor' blog, I came across the Royal College of Alternative Medicine (RCAM) , a Dublin based - well, I'm not sure quite what it is...

What caught my eye was just the shameless aggrandisement of the site. It is quite hilarious, if not a little repetitive at times. Calling yourself 'Doctor' is somewhat pompous when all you have done is paid for some international postage. However, the man behind RCAM has absolutely no shame and titles himself as the:

Distinguished Provost of RCAM (Royal College of Alternative Medicine) Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi FRCAM(Dublin) FRIPH(UK) FACAM(USA) MICR(UK)

Wow! Probably, just Joe to his mates. Naturally, when you Google the qualification FRCAM(Dublin), there is only person who appears to revel in this achievement. I'll leave the rest as an excercise for the reader.

The distinguished provost looks like he is just another pseudoscientific nutritionist, his spin being "Nutritional Immunomodulation". This is obviously a lot more clever than Patrick Holfords mere 'Optimum Nutrition', but having only one 'omnipill' is probably a poorer commercial decision that Patrick's vast range of supplements.

Obviously, Professor Obi has had a few problems with what probably amount to bewildering comments about his site as the legal threats and press releases concerning his 'ethical' responses to criticisms cover more space than anything else. 'Ethical' is a favourite word on the site.

The most recent press release states,

7th September 2006 : The Distinguished RCAM Provost, Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi FRCAM(Dublin) FRIPH(UK) FACAM(USA) MICR(UK) has formally accepted appointment as Chief Professorial Examiner for the Doctor of Science (DSc) programme in Evidence Based, Alternative Medicine (EBAM) of a highly respected International University in one of the British Commonwealth Protectorates.

This new qualification is primarily aimed at Medical Graduates, Physicians, Surgeons, Pharmacists, Dentists, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Opticians, Wellness Consultants, Herbalists, Acupuncturists, Naturopaths , Healers, Podiatrists , Chiropodists , Scientists , Healers ,Therapists, Homeopaths, Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Nurses wishing to ethically upgrade their current Qualifications in Alternative Medicine over an exceedingly intensive 12 - 36 month period of study.

British Commonwealth Protectorates? Could that be Dublin?

I really have no idea what this organisation is all about. But it looks like it could be getting quite big soon...

RCAM currently has International Vacancies for One Million (1,000,000) 'Foundation Fellows' ('Movers and Shakers') ; who will independently play a highly pivotal role in diligently mentoring (and regulating) it's future Global Membership.

So if you really think that you seriously have what it takes to become a 'Leader' in Alternative Medicine , then (perhaps) RCAM may definitely be exactly what the Doctor ordered for you.

One million. That's a lot of quacks! And they are just to mentor (and regulate) the wider quack membership! This man has ambition.

The Big J really hates real doctors. This is his most recent press release...

RCAM would like to warmly commend the various Chieftans of the National Health Service of the United Kingdom for ethically and appropriately ignoring utterly misguided calls (from a rather amusing Group of thirteen Clinical Yestermen) to compel Hard-Working (and Tax-Paying) British Citizens to additionally pay for Life Enhancing Alternative Medicine Interventions out of their very own pockets - rather than get such treatments free via the NHS. RCAM would like to also categorically state that such exceedingly flawed 'G-13′ demands that the National Health Service of the United Kingdom expediently abandon Alternative Medicine altogether (in total favour of Conventional Medicine) be diplomatically treated with the very utmost contempt which such unguarded verbal flippance duly deserves ; as none of these 13 'Eminent UK Scientists' behind such calls has professionally attained Globally Acceptable Fellowship Qualifications in Alternative Medicine and as such cannot be deemed competent enough to make such sweeping 'Shilly-Shally' statements about the noble independent specialty of Alternative Medicine.

RCAM therefore publicly advises the General Public to lawfully go about their normal Wellness-Seeking Behaviour as usual - without any unwarranted prejudice or fear resulting from such highly self-serving, morally unethical , abjectly crude , totally unprofessional, utterly unstatesmanly, morbidly barbaric, wantonly uncivilized, profanely undemocratic and unspeakably sacrilegious perpetual affronts on the therapeutically formidable institution of Alternative Medicine.

Now, I do not have 'Globally Acceptable Fellowship Qualifications' in Santa Clause Studies to know he does not exist. But hey. I must be a morbidly barbaric and profanely undemocratic, unethical duck.

So, struggling around the acres of pomposity I find one place where Prof Joe might be making some money. You can call him to seek his wisdom, after pre-booking an hour's slot (and handing over your credit card) for a mere 300 Euros. Alternatively, you can pay by the minute on the contact line for a trifling $10 per minute.

Its going to cost you $20 just for Joe to say Hello and to read out his numerous titles, qualifications and names. Not bad 'ethical' work.

Ethical Quackery, the Monarchy and Kate Moss - Thursday, October 12, 2006

No, this is not about our Defender of Quackery, our Quack-in-Chief His Royal Quackiness, Prince Charles, but about the Distinguished Provost of the Royal College of Alternative Medicine, Professor Joseph Chikelue Obi. And yes, it is just a rather lame story written solely to get a picture of Kate on my blog.

I've written a rather lazy blog on the distinguished professor before that was just a bit of a gawp at his quacktastic website and what looks like a health phone-line scam.

Well, I've done a little more digging with Google and it has revealed a few quack gems. It has been pretty hard work, since Google returns some 6,000 pages, the vast majority just appears to be Prof Obi's self-promotion. However, if you persist in digging a few interesting facts turn up.

So, what has the little black duck found out about the "most Controversial Retired Physician and 'A-List' Medical Celebrity, Dr Joseph Chikelue Obi"?

Here we go...

1. The Irish Independent reports that his college does not exist at the Dublin address given on the web site. There's a surprise! It's just a front.

2. The Independent goes on. "In January 2003, he was suspended by for serious professional misconduct at South Tyneside District Hospital. Among the allegations made were that he failed to attend to patients, wrote strange notes about colleagues and at one point gave a dating agency phone number to a psychiatric patient."

3. He was being investigated by the police for taking thousands of pounds of a 58 year old woman to in order to cure a long standing illness.

4. The GMC strike Dr Obi off their register for "serious professional misconduct". So much for him being retired.

5. On another tack, Dr Obi has been involved in a little cyber-squatting. This looks as if it took place while he was a doctor - always after a few quid!

6. Since then, now self-titled Prof Obi, a few new avenues have been opened, including trying to entice Kate Moss away to one of his 'safe-houses' in Ireland. Hat's off!

He is quoted as saying:

Under the European Convention on Human Rights, Miss Moss still has fundamental rights, just like anyone else out there, and as far as I am concerned, she is not guilty of anything until an Ethical Jury says so.

(I mentioned before that 'ethical' was one of his favourite words.)

7. Prof Obi has been developing a Penis Enlarger (watch out Kate) that his own Royal College has now endorsed.

8. At least one person (out of the targeted million) has paid Prof Obi the fees for his college to accredit them. Dr Michael Keet (8 Canards) of the Central London College of Reflexology handed over 'hundreds'. Do we feel sorry for out-quacked quacks? I guess we ought to.

9. For those of you wanting to see behind the grand titles and see the real human being, Joseph lists his interests as Comedy in London, Whole Food Nutrition and Christian Music. On this 'Meetup' site, he describes himself as "Just a very ordinary guy . . .". That's nice.

10. His name appears very often on the blog Abolish The General Medical Council (GMC), often reporting something he has got up to. The blog describes itself as:

An ethical blog for those who publicly feel that the General Medical Council (GMC) should be Statutorily Abolished in favour of a Medical Licensing Commission (MLC) to solely register and revalidate Doctors who practise Conventional Medicine in the UK. The Blog also recommends that the GMC/MLC hands all disciplinary functions over to an Independent Clinical Tribunal (ICT) in keeping with the EU Convention on Human Rights ; to avoid (both) Institutional Bias and Multiple Jeopardy.

Oooh. There is that word 'ethical' again. And 'European Human Rights'. No name is given for the blog author but the avatar is a portrait of the queen. Another apparent obsession of Prof Obi - royalty. Could the author be none other than the Professor himself, a little agrieved for his ticking off? I hope you all click through to the blog. Maybe we will show up in his stats and whoever the writer is can get in contact and confirm one way or another.

I rather hope it is, as the final thing I turned up would just be fantastic...

11. Is the Distinguished Provost of the Royal College of Alternative Medicine, Professor Obi now selling ethical ring-tones? I do hope so.

Watch out Crazy Frog! Here comes the Crazy Provost...


Gotta watch that oversight, there...

PARIS (AP) -- French bank Societe Generale said Thursday it has uncovered a $7.14 billion fraud - one of history's biggest - by a single futures trader who fooled investors and overstepped his authority.
As usual with this sort of thing, it was done (as it only could have been) by someone on the inside.

It said a trader at the futures desk had misled investors in 2007 and 2008 through a "scheme of elaborate fictitious transactions."

The trader, who was not named, used his knowledge of the group's security systems to conceal his fraudulent positions, a statement from the bank said.

Any system can be subverted. And subversion usually does not happen because of weak algorithms (although that's only because most professional systems use peer-reviewed algorithms and protocols).

The problem, of course, and it's not a trivial problem at all, is making a set of procedures and checks that can't be gamed or subverted, but are still usable. (Who watches the watchers, etc.)

Wrong Action, Wrong Time

So the government is ready to step in, after already cutting interest rates in the biggest drop in 20 years.

Because, you see, the problem was caused by too much easy credit and free spending, so we're going to fix it by easing credit and giving people money to spend. We'll borrow the money from foreign governments--it's okay, they've got lots.

We can go through a relatively mild recession now, or a much worse one later. The housing bubble cushioned us from the effects of the dotcom crash. Now they're looking for something to cushion us from the housing crash.

I'd rather get it over with, take our medicine now, and get back on track. Trying to put it off only makes it worse.

More liars for Jesus

Autumn Sandeen has a story up at Pam's about the latest stunt from the Anything-For-Jeeezus brigade.

The problem with cheap publicity stunts is that it's too easy to reveal them as cheap publicity stunts. Not that the TV station that got duped will admit it, of course.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Buried in cables

I currently have yet another workstation set up, this one putting together the disk image for the programming contest in April. My office is beginning to resemble an electronics workshop. Which wouldn't be a bad thing, I guess, if I'd had (or taken) the time to get the end-of-semester piles cleared out from last time.

I can still find my chair, and have a clear space big enough to write on. I guess that's something.