Thursday, October 29, 2009

Digital ‘ants’ take on computer worms

I was amused by the article title, on this morning, but the title is accurate and an interesting new way to fight computer viruses and hopefully malware as well. (For a definition of malware and how to combat it on your computer, go to my business site, Murray Learning.)

Basically, researchers have "created an army of digital ants and their superior officers, digital sergeants and sentinels, to search out viruses, worms and other malware." Using the structure found in ant colonies and modeling human immune system behaviors, the researchers' small digital army was able to successfully identify threats on several computers the researchers had intentionally infected.

This is a promising new way to address computer threats and relies more on hardware resources than software resources, so the detection process can work constantly yet not interfere with human computing needs.

I hope to see more on this topic in the near future, as the time and money wasted on detecting and removing threats from our computers, as well as the disruption to our normal computing time -- whether it be for work or pleasure -- makes it a high priority in my book.

If you know of other novel approaches to virus and malware threats, respond to this post and let me know. I'll look into it. If it looks promising, I'll blog it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grassroots Community Cookout (and snow)

This past Sunday Malden Grassroots held their annual Community Cookout and Social Justice Fair.   Despite the driving rain, and eventually snow!, a good number of people came to eat, take information from the many community organizations' tables, and enjoy the sacred drumming presentation and the youth martial arts demonstration.

Weather did not prevail, as we had a beautiful indoor location for the festivities at the First Parish Church,  Universalist, in Malden.  The warm atmosphere, surrounded by artwork, framed the event nicely.  Three organizations were honored by Malden Grassroots for their commitment to the ideals of community engagement, volunteerism, cultural diversity, human equality, and justice for all

Honored were:
  • Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square
  • Muslim American Cultural and Civic Association
  • Youth ACT!
We thank the many people and organizations who braved the weather to join us.  If you missed this event, we hope you'll come next year.  

Malden Grassroots promotes community change from the bottom up. The group hosts monthly activities such as film showings and discussions and provides support for local grassroots campaigns. Each year it sponsors the Grassroots Community Cookout and Justice Fair that brings together hundreds of local residents and organizations to meet and talk about pressing social and economic issues. A racially and culturally diverse organization, Malden Grassroots believes it will take all of us to address such issues as equal rights, housing, healthcare, racism, poverty, and war at a root level.
Email for more information.

Monday, October 19, 2009

10th Annual GUT Conference

Friday night and Saturday I spent some quality time with other community organizers, writers, and activists who gathered for a combined Digital Media Conference organized by the Organizers' Collaborative (10th annual conference), National Writers Union, and Open Media Boston.  I often go to conferences on my own dime, so to speak, but always end up bringing back valuable information to use in my work.  This was no exception.

Overall, I was able to gain something important for my work from the conference and that's always a plus.  I consider conferencing successful if it brings me into touch with people who have knowledge or skills I can learn from -- the oh so important networking aspect of conferencing -- and it's a bonus if the sessions provide even more knowledge on topics.  I've gone to so many conferences over the years that many workshop sessions are not all that valuable to me.  But I have to say that the GUT Conference each year has provided important session content as well and this year was no exception.  (Another conference that has done that is PodCamp, but that's another post entirely.)

Combining workshops by writers and media activists brought broader content and additional depth to the workshops, with common threads of organizing/activism and technology.  It seems like a smart thing to do when people have scarce resources and technology is so pervasive in our lives. 

Technology is a real concern to writers as they struggle to earn a living while technology is getting so good at making so much free.  Newspapers, for example, are struggling to redefine themselves in the technology economy and determine what should be free and what should be paid for. Organizations and individuals who want to use the Internet for fundraising or to earn a living need to understand what technology is available to do what, how it works, and how to make it work for them. 

The question of how consumers would pay for information was part of a session I attended on microfunding, where consumers can pay for content on a subscription, per article, or tip basis.   Many web-based content providers want to earn money using the Internet.  Setting up a payment scheme that works for that type of content and gets people to pay can be tricky and may require trying more than method before finding one that works for a person or organization.  Try Delicious' website and type microfunding in the search bar to get an idea of the many options you have for setting up a payment scheme for your website's content.

I have been learning Joomla web development software to convert my websites from a proprietary platform to open source.   But also of concern to me is a good database structure that lets me manage course registrations and payments, memberships and payments, volunteers, and fundraising.  Having a database that works with Joomla, so this is available online and I can manage it from almost anywhere, is important to me.  So I attended the CIVICRM workshop and learned more about it in one hour than I'd learned from research on the Internet I'd done.  That was very valuable to me and can help me make a decision about whether to move in this direction or not after my Joomla sites are running.

Of course, having such a database online raises security issues, so the session on Data Safety, while focused on the Massachusetts law that goes into effect March 1st, seemed a logical session to attend.  I realized during this session that I still have some work to do to comply with the law and now need to absorb more info about it so I can pass this along to others at work.  Thankfully, some tools provided during the session will make compliance much easier. 

Too many conferences focus on workshops and not enough on networking.  Quality sessions are important, but networking can make or break a conference.  There isn't enough networking time built into the GUT Conference in general and this is something I'll bring to the organizers' attention.  I hate having to choose between a session I want to attend and spending some time with people from whom I can learn.  While it seems counterintuitive, I've found that the PodCamp model of 90-minute sessions with 30-minutes in between provide a great balance between the two.  It really works and this is something I'll try to encourage GUT organizers to adopt.  Session facilitators might find it a bit intimidating at first, and some topics can benefit from a Part 1 and Part 2 or a long session, but if you want people to gain as much as possible from their time, you've got to give them time to talk about what they're seeing/hearing and learn from each other.

Overall, I'd give it a good grade and feel it was worth my time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wrapping up the Week, 10/10/09

I've not posted much lately because so much has been the same thing over and over, especially on health care.  But this week was a little different and I'll give brief mention to a few items today.

Being on the East Coast was a bonus on Friday, permitting me before heading to work to watch NASA launch twin rockets into the Moon surface in the search for water.  The experiment was designed to capture and analyze the plume of debris from the rocket impacts.  The debris, once ejected from the moon's dark side and exposed to the sun, will begin to break down into its basic components before vaporizing; any water-ice, hydrocarbon, or organic materials will be exposed to NASA's collection instruments.  It will be several weeks before NASA has all the data coordinated from the many sources collecting it and can state whether or not they found water.

If you've never explored NASA's website, here's a chance to do so.  There is a ton of "neat stuff" for all ages.

Health Care Indignities by CIGNA Just Keep on Coming
Cigna is a major health insurer with some major press issues.  Of course, that's not why I'm writing about them.  I'm writing because they do a terrific job of making the case for health care reform! 

Example 1:  Cigna is still experiencing fallout from a protest over the 2007 death of Nataline Sarkisyan who died needing a liver transplant that Cigna deemed too experimental.  After protests in 2007, Cigna reversed its decision, but Sarkisyan died hours later.  In 2008, Sarkisyan's mother and supporters from the California Nurses Association went to Cigna headquarters to confront the CEO and demand an apology.  Angry protestors were heckled by Cigna employees, with one employee literally "flipping off" (giving the "bird" or middle finger) to them.   Sarkisyan's mother left, feeling defeated and stunned by the employees' actions.  She also did not get to meet with CEO Edward Hanway.  Read the article on Huffington Post or this article on Los Angeles Times

Read more at:

Example 2: Cigna has another battle on its front lawn and this fight is being supported by and its supporters.  Dawn Smith is trying to fight a treatable brain tumor, but with Cigna as her insurer, it's not a battle with the disease that has Dawn in a fight - it's been a 2-year battle with Cigna which won't even tell her why they won't cover her treatment.  Cigna recently reversed its decision and says it will cover treatment, but they won't tell her why they denied it for 2 years or why it will treat her now.

Cigna only reversed its decision after the public spotlight was thrown on it; does this mean everyone has to go public with their medical conditions to get appropriate treatment?

Health Care Reform is Still a Political Game that Ignores What Americans Want
The above are just 2 examples of why our public health care system needs reform.  The large health insurers are the major voice that seems to get the attention of the Senate Finance Committee.  They continue to ignore the huge numbers of Americans who have signed petitions calling for a "public option" in health  care.  And my previous posts on health care tell that story pretty well. 

Current proposals to include the public option but permit states to opt out show that legislators are not listening; they are playing politics as usual.  They want to be able to say they support the public option and voted for it, so voted for this proposal to get the bill passed.  Others will say they didn't support it but voted for it because it will then be up to each state to adopt or not adopt it.  This is how Congress has its cake and eats it too.

On the Local Front...
Here's something I learned about this week.  Last month, a Massachusetts senior received notice that her October Social Security check was going to reduced by almost $200 (for that month only) and then subsequent checks would be reduced by almost $100.

How many of you can afford to have $200 taken from one month's income, and following that it would be reduced by $100/month?  Now answer that question again knowing that your monthly income was only around $1,100 in the first place!

You probably agree with me that this is a lot of money.  Seniors depend on Social Security for rent, food, medical bills, clothing, and more.  Getting a 10% cut like that hurts.  And getting 20% in one month hurts even more.  The senior was advised to ask Social Security about it, who informed her that MassHealth was taking the money out to cover her Medicare premiums.  Interestingly, the senior had received a letter from MassHealth in August stating that MassHealth was paying her Medicare premiums and that she should not have any money taken out of her Social Security check for it!

A phone call to MassHealth confirmed that the August notice was correct, so the senior brought the caseworker's notes on that call back to Social Security.  The person at Social Security again said they were taking out the Medicare premiums, but the senior argued back, showed her the notes from the previous day's conversation, and insisted that the worker check again.  A little further checking, going farther back into her Social Security computer record, showed that MassHealth was correct and Social Security was wrong.

This senior will get her money back and we hope this is resolved.  But it demonstrates how easily an agency can get something wrong, insist on maintaining what is wrong by not taking a look beyond the initial computer screen, and severely affect someone's life.

For anyone who is having this sort of difficulty, and for the advocates who assist them, documenting every phone call, getting the name of the person you speak with (& confirmation # of calls when they're available), and being politely persistent can make a difference.  We all have the right to question decisions that are made like this.  We also have the right to file an appeal.  Be sure to read notices to determine your rights to appeal and follow those instructions carefully and to the letter.  Meet those deadlines, even if you file a very brief appeal and then follow it up more details later.

Obama Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

People have mixed reactions to the news that the Nobel Committee has selected President Obama as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace.  I'm pleased.  I think many people have not given Obama the respect he deserves for what he has accomplished and tried to accomplish in his first year in office.  Some talk as if he's been in office several years and cannot seem to get everyone behind his programs.  Some are seriously trying to derail anything he supports.  The Nobel Committee reflected on what he has done and is doing to stimulate peaceful talks and negotiations between and among several world communities and also what he's doing to try to reduce nuclear arms.

The award is recognition of the immediacy with which he tackled these tough world issues and has tried to lead by example in bringing people together to effect change on such important world issues.

Congratulations, Mr. President, and continue this important work.