Just get Firefox already, geez!

If you are visiting this site with Internet Explorer 6 or 7, you will probably notice a large orange banner at the top that didn’t used to be there before, suggesting that you upgrade to Firefox.

Don’t be alarmed – this is deliberate.

I’ve seen it happen, time and time again. You’ve probably read about it in the news or heard about it on TV – you almost can’t escape it these days. Of course I’m talking about viruses, trojans, worms, botnets, spyware, spam, and identity fraud.

In a statistically significant portion of cases where people get these sorts of things, it is because they use Internet Explorer.

It is possible to get your computer infected by just reading an email (with a client that renders the email via IE) or by just visiting a web page. You don’t even have to click “Yes” to download anything in some cases. And although Microsoft has taken steps lately to improve the security of IE (IE 7 is much safer than IE 6), it is still much, much more vulnerable than Firefox.

So why take the risk? It only takes a few minutes to install Firefox.

Now, granted, some cases are due to user error – after all, the fake emails & fake websites that entice you to enter your password or bank number or whatever are getting better looking & more sophisticated every day – but using IE is like shaving with a straight razor – sure, it gets the job done, but if you mess up just a little bit – you’re dead! Firefox, on the other hand, is like a nice electric razor with the skin-softening gel. You won’t slice your jugular open and it even soothes away the minor irritation of an every-day activity!

I see news reports about things like the Storm worm and I just think of all those poor people, unwittingly taking part of botnet-type activities – DDOS, spam generation, and so forth.

In this day and age – with all these threats – with so many people getting their computers completely hosed on almost a monthly basis – and with so much of our lives (photos, emails, banking info) on our computers, there is just no reason to keep using a browser that is so potentially dangerous. Especially when the safer alternative is both free, easy-to-use, and available right now.

So stop procrastinating. Unless you enjoy living dangerously, just get Firefox already, Okay? You’ll be glad you did.

Climate Change??

Apparently seasons are for sissies. Now we’re just going to alternate between really stinking hot (summer) and really stinking cold (winter). Those in-between seasons (spring and fall) can just hit the road, man.

Weather for October 30

This was my weather forecast this morning, courtesy ForecastFox. Now, these aren’t unusual temperatures for the 30th of October. What’s unusual is the fact that until just the other day, it was very, very much warmer. Like, seriously!

To put this in perspective, I ran my air conditioners quite a bit this month. If that doesn’t seem somehow terribly wrong to you, read it again. It’s OCTOBER. I should not be running the A/C in October. I shouldn’t have been running it in September, either, but I was. (Okay, maybe a little bit at the beginning of September.)

And then, just like that, it’s cold out. It literally went from “all the windows open and the fan running at night to keep it cool enough to sleep” weather to “close all the windows and there’s a frost warning.”

If anyone wants to argue with me about climate change, or try and tell me that this is somehow “normal,” go right ahead – the comments section is open. That sound you’ll hear after hitting “submit” will be you getting laughed off the Internet.

In case you think I’m being silly about all this, here’s some relevant posts from previous years:

New Jersey DMV and Online Forms

First off, let me clarify. It’s not the DMV – the Department of Motor Vehicles – down here. (In fact, it wasn’t the DMV back in Massachusetts, either – it was the RMV, the Registry of Motor Vehicles.) In New Jersey we have the pretentious name of “Motor Vehicle Commission.” But I’ll still just say DMV.

ANYWAY.

Obviously, I’ve moved here from out of state, with the Keithmobile-D (my car), and therefore I need to register it here and get New Jersey plates & all that jazz. So, I go to the NJ DMV website to find out what I need to do. They have a very nice section for out-of-state vehicles that explains what forms you need (although the convoluted form names make no sense, at least they are listed). Basically, I need to send a form back to my bank that has the car’s title (I’m still making payments) and get them to send a copy to the NJ DMV, then I just need to fill out a registration form and an “application for titling” – so that my car’s title (i.e. certificate of ownership) is registered here in NJ. Fairly standard DMV stuff, but whatever.

My first indication of trouble was that there were no links on the page that lists what you need to do if you have an out-of-state vehicle for the forms that you need to fill out.

My second indication was that a quick search for forms didn’t turn much up. It was only after some serious googling that I found the DMV’s “forms” page – helpfully located in the “About Us” section. Riiiiiiiight.

However, NONE of the forms I needed to fill out (all 3 of them) were available online. What the hell is the point of having an online forms section if all of the forms aren’t available?? Wouldn’t this be a really good idea? New residents might not know where a DMV office is; it would be very helpful to be able to download the necessary forms and print them out. Especially since these forms often require the VIN number to be entered on them, and if you made them, say, fillable PDF forms, you could type the VIN number in – avoiding delays caused by bad handwriting.

It is absolutely unforgivable in this day and age (2007 for crying out loud!) for a state agency as common as the DMV not to have all of its forms available on their website. It just doesn’t make any sense.

I’m sure they have some sort of crazy justification that they’ve told themselves over and over again until they believed it as to why someone would have to come into one of their offices to pick up a form, rather than download it off the Internet. Maybe I have to show ID to get it? I wouldn’t be surprised. (Don’t even get me started on what you have to do to get a license here nowadays. Can you say “papers, please?”)

Note to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission: PUT ALL OF YOUR FORMS ONLINE AS PDFs. Make them fillable while you’re at it. Your people will have an easier time reading submitted forms, and people will enjoy the convenience. Everyone wins.

Never Fear

Fear.

Fear has been used throughout our history to justify some of the most horrible actions ever taken by people – all in the name of justice, righteousness, and protection. It has happened before, and I assert that it is happening again. And it is up to us to stop it now.

There is a great line from the movie V for Vendetta:

“I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.”

This has never been more true than it is now. I especially like that bit, “rob you of your common sense.” Allow me to demonstrate the ridiculous levels to which our fear has elevated itself (with thanks to Bruce Schneier for the links):

Fear that Terrorists might Poison Gumball Machines

“Fear that terrorists could poison children has led three Dover aldermen to begin inspecting gumball machines.

“They’ve surveyed 103 machines in the Morris County town and expect to report their results on New Year’s Day.

“Aldermen Frank Poolas, Jack Delaney and Michael Picciallo have found 100 unlicensed machines filled with gumballs, jawbreakers and other candies. The three feel they’re ripe for terrorists to lace with poisoned products.”

And:

Fear that Remote-Controlled Toys Might be Used as Bombs

“Airport screeners are giving additional scrutiny to remote-controlled toys because terrorists could use them to trigger explosive devices, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday.”

Snow-globes are also suspect:

Fear of Snow Globes that Might be Used as Bombs

“Snow globes, regardless of size of amount of liquid inside, even with documentation, are prohibited in your carry-on.”

The list goes on and on. In case the absolute absurdity of that first one escaped you, let me re-state it: someone is checking gumball machines because they are afraid a terrorist might have poisined the gumballs.

What sort of person thinks up things like this? How afraid do you have to be to wake up one morning and think, “Oh my God! Our gumball machines are totally vulnerable! What if someone poisined them?” Just how fearful are you to seriously consider this as a credible threat, one worth spending a lot of time worrying about? You’re probably more likely to get hit by lightning, but I don’t see newspapers plastered with headlines like “Terrorists Claim Responsibility for Lightning Strike.” (Although now that I’ve said it, I’m sure I’ll see that headline soon.)

It’s sad, very, very sad, to see all this happening in my lifetime.

Think about this: we’ve become so fearful that we’re willing to accept any vague “threat” as if it were an imminent disaster about to strike. It’s the “Chicken Little” phenomenon – we were hit on the head once, and now whenever someone makes a claim like “the sky is falling,” we react as if it were totally true and possible.

All this, of course, leads me to ask a simple question – with a rather troubling answer:

Can you really say you are “free” when you live your whole life in fear?

You might argue that there are “reasons” to be afraid. You might even be right. But a healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way towards preventing abuses. I don’t like “slippery slope” arguments, but experience has shown that the “slippery slope” is often quite real.

Speaking of “slippery slopes,” allow me to quote Captain Picard:

“Oh, yes. That’s how it starts! But the road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think.”

Although a fictional character from a (science) fictional show, there is a good deal of truth in that statement. And while I’m at it, let me quote the Afterward section (written by Erich Fromm) of the paperback edition of George Orwell’s 1984:

“…fright and hatred of a possible aggressor will destroy the basic attitudes of a democratic, humanistic society.”

And since 1984 was written in 1948, you can see that these are not new ideas. We’ve seen it time and time again – fear used to usurp power.

I’m not trying to place blame here. I’m not a mindless “Bush-basher,” nor am I going to spout the other party’s lines that would place the blame all on Clinton (either Bill or Hillary). The situation is a bit more complicated than that, although few people seem to realize it. Politics is a complex game of give and take, after all. Although if you want to point fingers, well, allow me to quote V for Vendetta again:

“…if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”

This is a democracy, after all. Whatever else has been going on, you still have the power of your voice and your vote. Hell, with the power of the Internet, your voice has never been more powerful, or more capable of reaching a wide audience. There’s no escaping responsibility on this one.

Of course, frankly, at this point, I think you can put aside all the talk of terrorists and Islamic extremists and whatever else you want to use to justify these sorts of actions. At this point, they could all retire, and nothing would change. We’ve become our own worst enemy. Fear has become our enemy. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and that’s God-damned right. It’s time for us to grow up, and stop being afraid.

I know I’m not afraid. The question is, then, are you?