Sunday, April 26, 2015

The "Saskatchewan" Computer Virus

My computer is down with the "Saskatchewan" virus since Wednesday, which necessitates a clean install of the Windows 7 OS.  There was an earlier restore point but I have never successfully restored my computer settings. I bought my Dell Inspirion locally almost 5 years ago and it came with NO discs.  I took it to the shop and they told me yesterday they had no English version of Windows 7.  I should have taken the computer home then but didn't.  Last night I contacted MS Live Chat from Tanya's computer and found where to download an ISO version to reinstall but needed my compouter with the 25 digit code.  So I wait till Monday.

About 20 years ago when folks were first getting used to the internet and email and all, there were constantly circulating emails warning about viruses.  The Saskatchewan Computer Virus which would clean all files from your HD, was one such email.  The gist of the email body was that since Saskatchewan was a bit behind in technology, to please forward this warning to all your friends and then go to C Prompt and type C colon backslash format.

A Saskatchewan virus, like the 26 oz flu, is self inflicted.

"How did you get to be successful?"
"Good decisions"
"How did you learn to make good decisions?"
"Experience."
"How did you get experience?"
"Bad decisions"

I am still working on the getting experience part. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rorke's Drift - a book review


Rorke's DriftRorke's Drift by Michael Glover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The successful defense of the fortified mission at Rorke's Drift on the border between Natal and Zululand Jan 22-23, 1879, was immortalized in the movie Zulu, starring Michael Caine. The battle in which about 140 men, mostly British regulars, of whom 39 were hospitalized, successfully held off some 4000 Zulu warriors, received far more attention than several other examples of British military valor in face of insurmountable odds.

The author attempts to explain what happened and why, drawing on a number of sources on the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and British politics at the time in this concise 146 page book. The Anglo-Zulu War is usually presented from a South African perspective, which is relatively simple, in that the defeat of the Zulus ensured the safety of both Boer and British settlers in the four colonies of Cape Town, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal. The book lacked only a few more maps and one or two more chapters detailing the second campaign to be an excellent condensed history of the war.

Britain did not want the colonies, considering them a costly nuisance that they were stuck with, gold and diamonds not yet having been discovered. The Dutch had established Capetown in 1652 and over the next two hundred years, Dutch, German and Huguenot settlers gradually expanded out into the country. Britain took it from the Dutch and kept it after the Napoleonic wars. When they tried to enforce British laws on the Boers, abolishing slavery and arresting whites for murdering Blacks, the Boers packed up and left on the Great Trek, establishing the other three colonies. Public opinion in Britain forced the government to annex them to protect the Blacks from the Boers. The Boers' attitude was "Then the British can protect us from the Blacks". Which required soldiers AND budget expenditure. There were not enough soldiers to defend the colonies; a few thousand regular foot and no cavalry.

The British Army was a mess, to say the least. The Crimean War, in which the Charge of the Light Brigade was the least of the problems had exposed how badly in need of reform it actually was. Leadership was not the real problem, it was organizational management. Different parts of the army reported to different Ministries and Treasury parsimoniously squeezed every farthing of expenditure before approving it. Attempts were being made at reform but as is usual in the military, change was resisted as the greatest enemy. Wolseley who had the ear of the establishment in London, was in charge of reforms, promoting those in his inner circle and poisoning the wells of those who were not.

The Zulu nation had come together in the early 19th century under Dingiswayo. Shaka succeeded him and by 1825 the Zulu warriors struck terror into the hearts of Whites and Blacks alike, massacring everyone in sight, including his own people until he was murdered. By the 1870's Cetshwayo had established a kingdom, Zululand, with capital at Ulundi, bordered by Natal, Transvaal, Orange Free State and the Atlantic, with an army of 40,000 warriors, armed with short, stabbing sears, (assegai) and cowhide shields.

If they decided to go raiding in force, they could wreak havoc in the thinly settled colonies. Cetshawyo did not want trouble and preferred a negotiated settlement with the British but whether he could or would control his army was the question in the minds of the Whites. He was sent an ultimatum which he could in no way accept; the intent was to trigger a war and defeat him. Cetshwayo, in rejecting the ultimatum, said he would not invade Natal but if the British army crossed into Zululand he would fight. They did and he did.

Chelmsford, a good officer, respected by his men, was in charge of the military expidition. His problem was how to invade Zululand without leaving Natal totally defenseless against a Zulu army that traveled light and could cover 50 miles a day. London had VERY reluctantly agreed to send him two battalions of infantry and two companies of engineers who would arrive December 1978. There were also 9,000 poorly armed natives and 1100 mounted colonial troops for a total of 18,000 men, 1,000 wagons, 10,000 oxen.

Chelmsford crossed the majority of his troops and supplies, including 220 wagons, at Rorke's Drift (ford) on the Buffalo River, setting up a base camp and hospital in the mission buildings, leaving a large qualtity of bagged mealie (corn) and boxes of biscuit, with about hundred men to guard the ford until reinforcements arrived. He reached the conical hill called Isandlhwana on January 20, where he made camp and sent out scouts in force. In mud and rain, it had taken 10 days to move 10 miles. The wagons were to be unloaded and sent back for more supplies.

Early the morning of January 22, the scouting parties from the south east sent back word of large numbers of Zulus and requested troops to go on the attack. Chelmsford took half his troops leaving roughly 1000 men to defend the camp and headed about 10 miles east.

The Boers had warned Chelmsford to laager the wagons and fortify the camp. In December 1838, 500 Boers stood off some 15,000 Zulu warriors from the safety of their circled wagons so they knew where of they spoke. But laagering is a particular difficult job and the rear of the camp was assumed to be secured by the hill behind them and the number of men left to defend it large enough. The rear was not secure; the camp for 4500 men was too big.

Into this mix, throw a loose cannon named Durnford, in command of native infantry and about 300 mounted native cavalry. His instructions from Chelmsford were to re-enforce the troops at the camp. Instead he took off to the North East and ran into the entire Zulu Army of 20,000 men who promptly charged. Th ecamp commander had to scatter his troops to try to rescue Durnford. From there it was just a matter of time. As long as the troops held together and had ammunition, their front firing line kept the Zulus at bay but their flanks were unprotected and they were over run. Of about 1700 men, only three or four hundred mounted men escaped.

If you have seen the movie Zulu Dawn, they had it backwards of course. Burt Lancaster's Durnford is made out the hero and Peter O'Toole's Chelmsford the villain.

Two of the survivors came by Rorke's Drift and told of the disaster, warning that 4000 Zulus were on their way. These were the reserves who had not "washed their spears" and were itching for glory. The two men in charge of the station, Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead had time for the troops to make barricades of the mealie bags and biscuit boxes. The re-enforcements never arrived and any troops which were not British regulars ran or galloped as fast as they could to escape, leaving about 100 able bodied men. The attack came at about 5:00 pm and lasted most of the night. The Zulus were brave but badly led and took serious casualties, breaking off the attack in the early morning.

England was aghast at the Isandlwana massacre. Nothing like it had happened since the retreat from Kabul in 1841. The government and Wolseley were desperate to blame Chelmsford who was not one of the inner circle, to keep their own mismanagement of the South African situation out of it. However he got his report to Queen Victoria who came down firmly on his side. To this day he has his supporters and detractors. The courageous defense of Rorke's Drift gave the government just the opportunity they needed to shift attention away from the disaster, so they spun it mercilessly.

For further details and good maps, see Wikipedia which has a very detailed series of articles on the Military History of South Africa. Start with the Anglo-Zulu War and follow the various links.




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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

There is a Doctor in the house

Yesterday my second youngest daughter successfully defended her thesis and is now Doctor Hingston.  She completed her study of Disabilities in Victorian Literature at the University of Victoria, BC, which she began in 2009.  For four of those years she also taught two classes in English Literature and moved from teaching first year students to upper years.

As a friend said about his son's PhD thesis in organic chemistry, "In deference to his parents, the first few sentences were in English".  That is how I feel too. But she is published and has presented at enough international conferences that obviously someone understands.

The international conferences are a meat market for grad students.  It is all about networking and impressing those in the audience whom you hope will be in a position of influence when you approach them for a position.

That is her next challenge.  Find a job or a post-doc. The problem of course is that most universities are hiring high priced administration and use very lowly paid contract "Adjunct Professors" to do the teaching.

However for now she is just celebrating completion of her degree.  Papa and all her siblings are proud.

Celebrating a successful defense at the Faculty Club


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Man . . . seeks Woman

So how did you meet your spouse?  If the answer is at a family reunion, I probably don't want to know the details...or maybe I do, if she/he was married to your cousin at the time.

Finding a mate for those of us whose parents do not do the arranging can be a bit of a problem.  At the age of 18 to 25, finding that "one person" who is supposed to be perfect for you for the next 65 years is at best a crap shoot.

How do you meet a suitable population of people from whom you can select, or be selected by, one that gives you the best odds of making something work over time.

Church or church organizations have always been a good place if one is religiously inclined.  Having a common set of beliefs is a good foundation for a marriage, though there still can be religious differences i.e. he thinks he is God and she doesn't.

In my grandfather's and father's time, community dances were a common meeting place for young people, at least in rural Saskatchewan.  With my generation, "We met at the bar" was a frequent response.  (Saskatchewan took a while to allow women in the bars).

Now, according to surveys, on-line is the most common way of meeting someone .  No kidding.  If they can auction cattle by satellite and internet, why not people?  Of course there are some dangers.  What you see is not always what you get,  though there are telltale signs.  Andy Borowitz says it should set off alarm bells if she invites you to dinner and asks you to bring duct tape, large industrial garbage bags, a shovel and a chainsaw.

An acquaintance of mine has her profile on dating sites at all times.  Her luck isn't that good, having attracted a couple married guys and a stalker from whom she had to get police protection.  On the other hand, I read her profile and the words neurotic nutbar were not mentioned once.

So when my friend, we'll call him Ivan to protect the guilty, decided after 11 years of widowerhood, during which time he raised two teenage daughters to adult hood and married one of them off, that in his upcoming retirement, he should seek female companionship, where else would he turn but to a seniors' internet dating site.

Ivan writes a general letter (email) about once a year which normally makes me laugh till the tears run (down my leg) and this year was a classic.  Here is his letter and his ad (reprinted with permission):

Concerned that life might be forlorn without the social fabric offered by seasoned Delbertian professionals, I am seeking solace at a seniors dating site and guidance from  Watson, pretender to HAL, for my retirement:

In search of a woman who understands me:

As stable as gyp rock, with the resiliency of quality underlay, and the durability of a matt finish (contemporary palette), this flaneur extols the practicality of sensible shoes. Now in the 10th anniversary of his 50th year, he enjoys the crooning of Glenn Gould (with piano accompaniment), theatre or verse in iambic pentameter, and the company of the distaff population. With a sophistication rivaled only by the Canterbury Tales, he can be found with his peers developing talking points in preparation for a fleeting moment of Andy Warhol fame.  To be soon retired, he has enrolled, once again, in the cavern of deep thought to encounter the world on a new level. Apprehensions, concerns, and suspicions of subscribers to this fine resource of eligible seniors may be resolved at arm's length or in person.

Possibilities:
Dear "It's all about me"
I, too, am younger than I appear and am none the worse for wear. With a long career at StatsCan behind her, this graduate of the dismal science, also, has a penchant for some different. A flower child of means, yet average in all respects, begins classes in September. What are you taking?
             Sincerely,
             Attractive at any age


A glossary for those who ain't me
1. Watson - IBM's premier AI computer is the reigning and undisputed World Champion of Jeopardy (Jan 2011) and owes its success to the cognitive technology and analytical processing which supports its extraordinary capacity to comprehend and communicate with natural language.
2. HAL - HAL 9000, a computer in the movie, 2001 - A Space Odyssey (still advanced by today's standards) 
3. flaneur - an idler, lounger, or loafer; in literature: a casual witness to life whose thoughts and conclusions may contain truths and/or inaccuracies.
4. Glenn Gould - World recognized Canadian concert pianist (deceased) who gave up public performances in favour of studio recordings, in the belief that he would have greater artistic control and to ensure that the sound would be as close to perfection as possible. However, no matter what the sound engineers did, they could not get rid of his humming, moaning, and singing that is present in all of Gould's studio recordings.
5. theatre or verse in iambic pentameter - Shakespearian stuff 
6. distaff - a staff for holding the flax, tow, or wool in spinning; symbolic of women's work, and then by extension, women.
7. Canterbury Tales - stories by commoners for commoners; stories that stoop to entertain.
8. Andy Warhol -  said "in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes"
9. dismal science - economics




Thursday, April 16, 2015

Mao's Great Famine - a book review


Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 by Frank Dikötter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Using access to recently opened provincial and county archives, the author is able to paint a picture of China's decent into madness known as the Great Leap Forward. He weaves together individual stories with events and statistics from the village, commune, county and provincial level. One is not overwhelmed by numbers but by horror.

The new data allowed estimates of the death toll to be revised upwards to 45 million people, 50% higher than previously thought. People died of beatings, torture, live burials, disease, exposure and in the tens of millions by over work and starvation.

The country became "governed by slogans" promulgated by Chairman Mao and any dissent was swiftly punished. Disagreement with method or statement of negative results, anything other than fawning compliance was deemed 'rightist conservative". From the highest level down, Party members were bullied and the people brutalized to force production. There was no "central planning" other than setting impossible production targets and preventing individual initiative

Every activity propagandized as producing a cornucopia leading to the Utopian of "Communism" produced the exact opposite. In turning the countryside into huge communes, people were stripped of all personal belongings including household utensils and even clothing. Not only did production fall precipitously but in order to save face, cadres would announce harvests of double the earlier projections. Consequently requisitions both to feed to cities and for export to repay debts for manufacturing equipment purchases, left no food for the peasants.

In 1958 the push to make steel in backyard furnaces stripped the country of anything that could be melted including pots and pans and even needles and well as denuding the hills and mountains of all trees to feed the fires. The result was a huge decrease in steel production and tonnes of useless pig iron. In 1959 the big project was "water conservancy" to irrigate everything. Dams were built, canals and ditches dug by millions of conscripted workers often to the detriment of planting and harvest. Progress was measured in cubic meters of earth moved and the area of irrigated land fell by half, dams collapsed and rivers silted up.

Finally official investigations into the actual situation were begun in 1961 and a few dared to report the truth. However great care had to be taken to protect Chairman Mao from any and all criticism as he was all knowing and the only source of truth in all China. But he got the message and was furious. The seeds of the Cultural Revolution which followed soon after were sown in the Great Leap Forward as Mao used the Red Guards to destroy all who had opposed him in the Great Leap Forward.

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Ukraine: Inside the Deadlock

This article is an excellent summary of the situation as it stands today.

Ukraine: Inside the Deadlock


This article gives a description of Russian alternate universe, which is unfortunately subscribed to by leftist in the West who claim to be anti-Imperialistic but in fact are simply anti-American.



Friday, April 10, 2015

Dad, you're not funny

For those of you who don't know, a 'dad joke' is a 'lame, embarrassing or unfunny joke told by someone's father'.

Collections of them regularly show up on Facebook; in fact I shared one from Buzzfeed the other day.  

  • Forrest Gump's password? 1forrest1
  • Judge to woman accused of assaulting her husband with a guitar, "First offender?" "No, first a Gibson, then a Fender".


Our neighbour's little girl was in the hospital some years back and we were up visiting her when her dad walked in.  First thing he asked her was if she had heard of the agnostic dyslexic insomniac who laid awake nights wondering if there really was a dog. 

It may be hereditary.  My father told them.  In fact I passed one of his on to my nephew the other day (You're welcome, Andrew) about the little boy who ran through the screen door and strained himself.  

My grandfather told them*: at the beginning of a large meal, "Have you ever seen such a bun dance before?", or "There was a little dog named August who was kicked by a horse..and it was the first of September".

Of course, I would never tell such jokes, myself, though apparently my children think otherwise.  On her first trip to England,  my youngest  bought me this book. Maybe she was trying to tell me something?



* courtesy my cousin, David, who is no slouch at this game himself.