Humor for the Holidays: Free comic clips from Ross "Duck Lord of Absurd Lib" Noble

As a Christmas New Year Hogmanay holiday gift and/or coping mechanism, British comedian Ross Noble has placed a series of clips from his shows in Australia on YouTube. This one is titled "Duck Lord."

Genetic Self-Gifting: Give yourself DNA self-knowledge

Holiday self-gifting is a term I don't recall hearing last century, so I'm thinking that the idea of giving yourself something for the holidays is a relatively new concept (please add a comment if you think I'm wrong about that).

Also new, relative to the tens of thousands of years that humans have been seeking self-knowledge, is DNA and our genetic makeup.  In this post I'm going to make the case for giving yourself a genetic test, a gift basket of chromosomic revelation (not sure if that's a real word, but hopefully you get the idea).

This gift is available now, specially priced, for a limited time only, at $99 (plus a few extra fees). Of course, I realize that genetic testing is controversial. Some people have strong feelings about genetic testing and not all of them favorable. So let me make some disclaimers right off the bat.

  1. I don't own any stock in, or have any relationship with which is the site that is offering the genetic test that I talk about in this post.

  2. I don't get any referral fees or other payments if you act on this suggestion.

  3. I don't think you should order a genetic test over the Internet unless you have read at least one book about the human genome, genetic ancestry, or genetic medical conditions, or been through genetic counseling.

The fact is, learning about your genetic makeup can be life-changing, and it can be traumatic. This is not something you do just for kicks. You do it for knowledge, about yourself and, by genetic implication, your family. For example, as attentive readers will know, my wife suffers from a genetic condition that has made her life miserable. It's called hereditary hemochromatosis. But if she had known about this when she was 18, or 21, or 30, there is a good chance her health today would be a lot better than it is. (Technically speaking she couldn't have known about it before 1996, because that's when the genetic connection was established but knowing in 1998 versus 2008 would have made a big difference.)

Human KaryotypeThat's just one of the things that a comprehensive genetic test can do, alert you to genetic conditions that can be treated, enabling you to get treated sooner rather than later, which is almost always the better way to go.

Genetic testing can also tell you where you came from, as in way back before family trees were written down on paper. From previous genetic testing, purchased from Oxford Ancestors, I know it is quite likely my maternal roots go back Ursula, who was probably born about 45,000 years ago in the mountains of Greece.

On the paternal side my roots go back "to 25,000 years ago in the Ukraine." In that particular scheme of things I am Clan Wodan. Men with the same genetic code today are found predominantly in northern and western Europe," although the same coding is also found extensively in Armenia and Georgia where 40% of the inhabitants are members of the Wodan genetic clan.

Has this knowledge made a difference to my life? I think it has, but I couldn't tell you why, not yet. I'm still processing that information. And I'm also waiting to see what ancestral data 23 and Me turns up. For example, there is a story in my family that goes like this: My paternal grandmother once said her own grandmother was a gypsy, as in "smoking a clay pipe on the steps of a painted wooden caravan" person of Romani descent, which I think is awesome if it proves to be genetically plausible.

To put this in context, all the genetic data I have about myself right now suggests a totally European, and predominantly Northern European origin. In the vernacular you might say: Stephen is a pretty much the definition of "white guy" as proven by any photo of him in swimming trunks (these are mercifully rare). However, given the way my views on life have evolved, I think a little diversity in the mix would be very cool. (Not to mention the fact that genetic proof of a Romani connection would alter my family's perception of grandma, whose recollection of her Romani origins is suspected of being a romantic fantasy.)

So here's the deal on getting yourself some genetic self-knowledge: It's $99 plus a 12 month subscription to the 23 and Me Personal Genome Service, which is $5 per month. The normal price for this is close to $500 (I know because I seriously considered buying it about 3 months ago but decided I had higher financial priorities). Here's how 23 and Me works:

  1. You pay $99 online and get your saliva collection kit in the mail about a week later.

  2. You collect your saliva and send it back for the DNA therein to be analyzed.

  3. You get online access to the results in about 7 weeks, make that about 8 or 9 weeks from your order, according to turn-around time on your end and theirs.

So it's not about immediate gratification, but the amount of data you eventually get is impressive. This includes a bunch of ancestral data plus 179 health-related results, including carrier status and disease risk (examples being Cystic Fibrosis, Gaucher Disease, Hemochromatosis, Sickle Cell Anemia & Malaria Resistance, Tay-Sachs Disease, see the list here).

The Personal Genome Service, which will start billing to your credit card at $5 per month only after you get your initial results, provides alerts when new discoveries are made about your DNA--like new markers--plus tools to view raw data and alerts when relatives are discovered (this is optional--you won't be contacted by anyone unless you give explicit permission).

Now, fair warning: I based the above 2 paragraphs on the claims made by 23 and Me on their website. I cannot guarantee satisfaction or that the company will perform as promised. That includes the very important promise to keep your results confidential.

For the record, I should state that I am a very open person. I tend to tell people a lot about myself ("too much" I hear someone say). To me, the security and confidentiality aspect of DNA testing is not too worrying. Could an insurance company get access to my DNA test results and deny me insurance? Frankly, it would not surprise me if they did, but then again I have a low opinion of the ethical standards enforced by insurance companies (which is not the same as saying everyone who works for an insurance company has low morals). Anyway, I'm going to order this test and live with the risk. Why? Because I want to know more about who I am, and there are worse risks out there than other people finding out the truth about me.

Let me be clear. I am of the opinion that the more people know about their DNA, personally and in general, the better. This is consistent with a broad belief I have in the power of transparency. Not everyone feels the same way, but I'd like to change that, through gentle persuasion. So I'm going to report back on my experience with 23 and Me and my DNA discoveries. I'm not promising to reveal everything, but I will share the interesting stuff and let you know what I think of the service.

So, if you don't gift yourself a DNA test for the 2010 holidays, maybe you will be ready by next year, after you read about my adventures in genome-land.

Driveway to Heaven? Snow time for romanticism, plow on

As attentive readers of this blog know, I live up a hill in Upstate New York. In the Winter it snows a lot up here. That means my wife and I have a lot of plowing to do on the long driveway leading from the nearest county road to our cabin. A few years ago I shot some video while taking a run down the drive with our plowing machine, a 4x4 Arctic Cat 400 ATV fitted with a Warn plow. Then I added some music and made it into a holiday greeting. Because I've met a lot of new people since then, I thought I would re-share.

If you don't see a video play button visible in the box above, you can see the video on YouTube by clicking here.

What you are looking at in the video is a driver's eye view of the snow plow going down the middle third of the drive after about 18 inches of accumulated snow fall. Note that this part of the drive faces West, the direction of the prevailing winds here. If the wind had been blowing while I was plowing, which it often does, I would have been too darn cold to do any film work. The ATV is only going about 10 miles an hour, but add a 10 knot wind to that, with a temp of around 15 degrees F (around minus 10 C) and you have a pretty nasty, face-freezing windchill going on. I'm talking tears in the eyes and glasses fogging up if you don't have your face scarf on just right.

So, while we wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, bear in mind that the winter wonderland you see in this video is not always so wonderful. Here's hoping the world is spared the worst of Old Man Winter in 2011.

Does Verizon's 150 Mbps FiOS Spell Disaster for Rural America

You might not think there could be any downside to Verizon's rollout of150 Mbps FiOS service, but you'd be wrong, at least in the minds of many Americans who, like me, live in rural areas that have no broadband service.

What's the downside? Something I've dubbed the rural death spiral, wherein people leave rural areas because they have no broadband, leading to a decline in property values because very few people want to buy a house that lacks broadband, even if they are not Internet users themselves (few people do, or should, buy a house without thinking of its resale value, which depends, in part, on broad appeal, not just appealing to the few people left in America for whom broadband is unappealing).

And as property values fall, so do local tax revenues, leading to declines in services, schools, and infrastructure maintenance, leading to further population declines, and further property value declines. A spiral headed down.

How does the new Verizon FiOS offering play into this? It highlights the fact that Verizon's focus is on high-end urban broadband, not rural communications. I suspect that Verizon would love to stop providing me and my neighbors with landline phone service if they could (thank Congress there has been a law on the books for decades that requires them to keep the lines working but who knows how long that will withstand lobbying pressure in the new Congress).

The other factor is the push that FiOS gives to broadband assumptions. More and more companies assume that people have more and more broadband. Last week Apple cheerfully issued a 680Mb operating system upgrade as an online patch. Try installing that without broadband!

Our government increasingly employs video and PDF documents to inform its citizenry, assuming they have broadband. I've been paying for a NetFlix "movies-by-mail" account that includes streaming video, which is not going to happen without broadband, and so on. You can forgive rural residents for think faster FiOS is one more nail in the coffin for communities that lack broadband.

Verizon FiOS Speeds Up To 150 Mbps | News & Opinion |

2 Butt-Saving SaaS Keystrokes You Need to Know to Avoid Losing Your Online Work

If you use a computer in your work you have probably noticed that more and more of your time at the computer is spent with a SaaS, as in Software as a Service. And I bet there have been times when that SaaS has bitten you in the other words, it has lost the work you were doing. This blog post offers a simple technique that enables you to recover when that happens, whether at work or at home.

The classic example of a business SaaS is, widely used for the important task of tracking the people with whom you do business. You don't install the Salesforce software on your computer you connect with it through a web browser. The same is true of Google Docs. This is software that lets you do word processing and create spreadsheets and presentations, but it "lives" on Google computers, not your computer.

In fact, blogs like this one are also SaaS. The software that lets me edit and present this blog post is on a Google computer and I operate that computer via a web browser. Even Facebook and Twitter can be considered examples of SaaS, particularly when it comes to trashing your work. What do I mean by that? Here's a scenario to which many can relate:

You spend time crafting a paragraph of words that are being typed into a text box in a web browser. You then click Save or Send or Submit or Update, whatever the button is called for that particular page. And nothing happens, or something happens but it's not good, the page reloads and your carefully crafted paragraph of words has disappeared. Sometimes there is an error displayed, like "Server Error" or "Authentication Failed" or the polite but infuriating: "Sorry, we cannot complete your request at this time." The point is, polite as the site might be, it has lost your work.

So how do you recover from this? I make it a habit to use two keystrokes right before I click Save. These keystrokes are: Ctrl-A and Ctrl-C in Windows; Apple-A and Apple-C on a Mac. These two keystrokes select All the contents of the text entry box and Copy them to the Clipboard, that slice of computer memory you use to copy things from one place to another. Then, if the SaaS that I am using somehow loses the contents that I just asked it to Save, I still have them, preserved in the Clipboard.

I have a second, more advanced strategy for serious work with a SaaS. If I am editing a particularly long piece of text, maybe a major blog post, I use Ctrl-A followed by Ctrl-C, as above, then I switch to an open document file that is local--for example Notepad or TextMate or even OpenOffice Writer--and press Ctrl-V. That pastes the contents of the Clipboard into a document that is independent of the web browser. If the SaaS crashes I still have my work. I could take that a step further and press Ctrl-S for Save after pasting into the document. That enables the work to survive a computer crash, should the SaaS behave really badly.

The whole process can be carried out very quickly, particularly if you are comfortable with the Tab commands for switching applications. So on a Windows machine where you have Firefox and OpenOffice Writer running it would go like this:

Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C while editing the SaaS text box in Firefox
Alt-Tab to switch to OpenOffice
Ctrl-V and Ctrl-S to paste the text and save it.
Alt-Tab to return to the SaaS in Firefox
Execute Save/Submit command in the SaaS

If you are using a Mac the sequence is the same but the keys are even easier:

Apple-A, Apple-C while editing the SaaS text box in Firefox
Apple-Tab to switch to OpenOffice
Apple-V and Apple-S to paste the text and save it.
Apple-Tab to return to the SaaS in Firefox
Execute Save/Submit command in the SaaS

Having lost more typing than I care to remember due to browser-based applications failing to save as instructed, these preventative keystrokes are second nature to me. When the work is a series of paragraphs I may save to the clipboard as I go. BTW, as an added bonus, saving to a local document file is a handy way to keep a record of your work (for example, I write a lot of comments on blog posts and some blogs just seem to lose them or fail to approve them, casting my well-chosen words into the ether, but I have a record of them in my local files).

The risks to your SaaS are not all equal. Some applications that involve extensive text entry perform periodic auto-saving (in the case of Google Docs I find the auto-save is actually too frequent). And a lot of work in programs like Salesforce consists of small pieces of data entered in a series of fields or indicated by radio buttons or checkboxes. These tend to be saved more reliably. It is in places like a "Comments" or "Notes" section that you can spend a lot of time getting your words right only to find you have to write them all over again (unless you used the preventative keystrokes described above).

Narrowband Wastelands? Of rural America, death spirals, and the Narrow Belt

Looking back they will say: "It could have been avoided." They will say: "If only the government had been more effective, if only the telecommunication conglomerates had been less greedy."

Somewhere it will be noted that, back in the Fall of 2010, somebody wrote:

Narrowband wastelandThe fact that tens of millions of people living in America's rural communities lack adequate access to broadband services (data, video, voice over Internet) is painfully apparent when you drive beyond the suburbs.

Some rural communities have broadband, others do not. Some of the latter are waiting to receive expanded broadband access that is being created with the help of federal stimulus spending, others are not.

And for this last group, the places that didn't make the cut for stimulus grants, the places that appear to be of zero interest to the nation's telecomm companies, the future looks grim. Such places may be destined to become narrowband wastelands, stagnant economic backwaters.

The fact is, during the last five years broadband has become an essential part of our national infrastructure, the dominant channel of communication for industry, enterprise, employment, medicine, government, education, and entertainment. Communities that do not have access to broadband are increasingly considered "off the grid" and out of the mainstream. In short, not the kind of place in which your kids or grand-kids will want to live or work.

By 2015 you will have trouble selling or renting any property that does not have access to broadband, and that means lower property values, which means lower tax revenues, which will impact schools and infrastructure, which will further reduce property values. In short, a death spiral.

Those patches and swathes of America's countryside where the only Internet access options are dialup or satellite will become narrowband wastelands: The Narrow Belt. This Narrow Belt faces a spiral of accelerating economic decline at least as pernicious as that which devastated the Rust Belt.

Sure, if you lower your prices you still may be able to sell or rent in the Narrow Belt, but only to members of that increasingly rare group of people who think that Internet technology is just a passing fad, an unnecessary distraction, or a violation of some divine plan. We all know that is a rapidly shrinking pool of potential property buyers (with the possible exception of the Amish, who are expanding their rural holdings).

Furthermore, but often overlooked, there is this fact: Even those people who have no personal interest in broadband are aware that most other people do. Even the unconnected can see that connection adds value, lack of connection subtracts. Face it, as a factor in property valuation, access to broadband is here to stay; confinement to narrowband is now a form of property blight.

We are approaching the fourth quarter of 2010. The federal broadband stimulus funds have been allocated. If your home or community does not yet have access to broadband and is not part of a stimulus-backed broadband build-out, you need to start thinking about the alternatives (if you have not already). As I explore these alternatives, I will keep you posted.

The only way to save rural America from becoming a narrowband wasteland may be for the people who live there to take matters into their own hands. Let us hope they do so in a constructive way.


A. Satellite Internet: For a variety of technical reasons, which I will be describing in my forthcoming whitepaper, satellite should be considered narrowband and not broadband. The latency of satellite Internet is worse than dialup and satellite's capacity constraints and bandwidth caps mean high speed data transfers are only available in short bursts. As providers like HughesNet state themselves, satellite is not recommend for, or does not support, five technologies at the core of any functional definition od broadband: streaming video, VPN, VoIP, real-time trading, and large file downloads like security patches and other software updates for operating systems and productivity applications.

B. The Amish: I am not qualified to comment on what the Amish think of the Internet, but I have a strong hunch you will see a correlation between expansion of Amish farms and the narrowband wasteland.

Carrier pigeons are faster than rural broadband!

Brilliant way to demonstrate rural broadband disparities!

Our hats are off to our UK counterparts. I think a walking man carrying a hard drive between two villages in Upstate New York is next. The lack of broadband is stifling life in America's farm country and the telcos should be ashamed to run their cables through here without providing local service.

Carrier pigeons are faster than rural broadband - Telegraph: "- Sent using Google Toolbar"