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Ireland has been hit by an escalating series of flood in the last few months. Initially the flooding was preserved to coastal areas and caused by a combination of storm and high tides. Especially the West Coast was very badly hit with extensive damage to flood defences, piers, coastal roads and buildings in coastal areas. Especially Galway city and surrounding areas were very badly hit.

However in the last weeks the flooding has spread to built up floodplains. We have in recent days seen severe flooding in Galway, Limerick, Cork, Galway, Waterford and other cities and towns built around river floodplains and estuaries. What is shocking is the utter lack of preparedness or coordinated response. Ireland is known for its rain and this is not the first time we’ve seen flooding. After every previous flood a debate ensued about the need for flood defences but these were eventually never built or the ones built were based on the level of the last flooding rather than on the ones that would come next.

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Lacking preparedness one would at least expect some sort of adequate and coordinated response. After all there was no need to invent methods of dealing with floods. Our neighbours to the east, the UK, have been hit by far worse floods in recent years and have at least developed a semblance of a coordinated response. Or even look west to Boulder Colorado which was hit by severe floods last September with 8 people killed and 11,000 evacuated. A simple email or call to the organisations who responded to those floods would provide a wealth of information about how to initiate a coordinated response. The writing is on the wall really as the only data on flooding in Ireland is held on the OPW (Office of Public Works) website and the most recent data there is years old. It would have been so easy for one of the government agencies to crowdsource flooding data in realtime, something that agencies in other countries have embraced wholeheartedly.

A good example of such an effort is the Irish Flood Alert Crowdmap put up by Disaster Tech Lab (disclosure: I’m the founder of DTL). Such a map allows people to report the location of floods & flood damage and even to upload images. All this data will then be made publicly available in realtime.

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Instead Ireland is seeing a stream of nodding heads meeting in board rooms or visiting flooded areas without much idea on how to respond. The response is generally limited to throwing insufficient amounts to money at the problem while no effort is made to develop a resilient flood defence program…..

UPDATE: Disaster Tech Lab has put up a survey to measure the impact and awareness of the flooding and damage caused by storm Darwin. Please assist in improving future response by completing the survey.

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The development and use of weapons and more specifically firearms runs parallel to the development of mankind and human society. In prehistoric times mankind had to forage & hunt for sustenance. When hunting small & big animals some sort of weapon greatly improved their chances of feeding themselves and their families hence improving the chance of survival. Weapons also aided in the defence of their territory and their food stores (if they had any). Weapons such as rocks, spears, axes etc. served as a force multiplier and one can argue that these weapons were one of the attributes which gave early humans an edge over other species and put them on an early path to the top of the food-chain. As mankind developed and evolved growing from hunter/gatherer groups to farming and eventually industrial society weapons developed at an ever increasing rate.  We went from rocks and spears to arrows and the first firearm, the fire-lance, making its appearance in the mid 10th century. Since development has taken us all the way to ICBM’s and beyond. However all these weapons were in essence only a tool, or a means, of delivering a projectile. Said projectile was launched either to defend ones territory or to kill prey for hunting/feeding purposes. A firearm has never been, was never designed to and has never been able to autonomously kill people. There was always human thought behind the use, aiming and firing of said weapon.

Throughout the centuries as we developed into more cohesive and civilised society certain duties were abdicated from the individual to the collective (community or state). Instead of every person or family gathering or hunting their own food we had butchers, bakers and greengrocers. To defend our communities we had volunteer watchmen, militias and eventually a state run police force and military. With this the actual “need” for every person to own a firearm decreased to the stage where, at least in Western society, the number of firearms owners on a whole is a minority. However what has evolved out of this is that governments now do not want individuals to own firearms for the simple reason that a armed citizenry potentially has more power to rise up against a corrupt government than a society which has been effectively disarmed. History is full of examples where despots made it their priority to disarm the citizens they oppressed. This disarmament has been achieved not only by very strict laws on private firearms ownership but also by using the media to portray people who do own or want to own firearms as deranged and crazy individuals. It has come to the point where in certain company you would be scorned less for defecating on the dining table than admitting that you own a firearm.

The discussion about a persons “right to bear arms” has been an extremely hot topic in the USA recently with Obama constantly throwing petrol on the flames by ignoring the US constitution and issuing unconstitutional (and undemocratic) executive orders. But let’s not just focus on the US as the 2nd amendment of their constitution (which makes the right to bear arm a constitutional one) puts them in an unique position. However over on this side of the Atlantic the debate has now flared up in Ireland where the Irish politician Michael Healy-Rea last week made a statement that people living in rural areas should be allowed to own a firearms for self defence purposes. This following the recent drastic rise in crime especially in rural areas. This rise is following severe cuts in the Irish police force’s budget. This raises the question that if the government fails in its commitment to protect its citizens should those citizens then be allowed to reclaim their natural right to self-protection? Because that is the real crux; the government does not have the right to decide whether it’s citizens have the right to own firearms. That right is naturally the citizens right and has only been temporarily been given up in exchange for protection by the state. However as with any contract if one party defaults then the whole of the agreement becomes void. The right to bear arms is one that the government has no right to bestow. As with all natural rights its something that the government might manage but the only “right” a government has is to ensure that firearms are not owned or carried by people who are not fit to do so. So rather than police who is allowed to own firearms the reverse should be true, the state only has the right to police who *is unfit* to own firearms. The practicalities of this need to be clearly defined but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect that someone who wants to own a firearm posseses a certain proficiency with said firearm especially when it comes to the safe handling and storage of firearms. I know that a lot of my US based friends will disagree with me on this as it would require the registration of firearm owners but I would consider making a bi-annual firearms proficiency test mandatory a good idea. Passing such a test would allow one to own any type of firearms under a certain caliber (I think that a separate licensing for anything over 20mm is not unreasonable).

The above all centers around the logical reasoning that a firearm is only a tool and that without human utilisation a tool is an inanimate object incapable of doing any harm. Restricting responsible adults who have proven to be compos mentis to own a firearm infringes on their natural rights and hence is an undemocratic and in-tolerable act. It’s a governments duty to protects its citizens not to restrict or nanny them.

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Image  —  Posted: March 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

Sometime last year several of my blogs were hacked and defaced. What basically happened is that someone was able to get admin access to the (hosted) WordPress installations and changed the homepage to one containing a lot of nonsense. These generally contain a lot of words ending on the letter “Z” as well as the words “owned” and “hackorz”. I suspect that access was gained using a “Brute Force Attack” which means that a piece of software tries every password combination under the sun to gain access. It’s automated and dumb requiring very little intelligence, skill or finesse. The fact that I had my user name still set as “admin” didn’t help but the less said about that the better. The next step was that the “hacker” changed the admin username & password effectively locking me out of my account.

So how did I regain access to my blogs and how have a secured my WordPress installs since? Well seeing that my security has withstood numerous attacks daily since then I thought it might be helpful to share this.

Regaining access: I host all my sites & blogs on a server using CPanel. This has a very easy to use visual interface which include good & easy database management. Part if this interface is the PHPMyadmin tool. This is a visual tool for managing the nuts & bolts of your database. It lets you view & edit every cell in a database. Seeing that WordPress stores all it’s information in a database you can look up the cells containing the admin username, password and email. Once you select the correct database you’re presented with a list of tables. Find the right one (it will have “user” in the name) and select the right cell. Then change the username, password and if needed the email and save. Open a tab in your browser and try to login to your blog. Sometimes the change doesn’t “take” the first time and you might have to do it again. Another trick is to only change the email address, then go to the blog login screen and use the password reminder option to have a password modification link email sent to you.

Once you have regained access to your blog and have undone all the changes it’s time to secure your blog. The first step is to choose a better username & password combination. However if you’re like me and don’t want to have to memorize a whole new bunch of logins you can secure it using the following methods also.

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  1. Firewall: Matthew Pavkov has built an excellent & free WordPress firewall plugin (see above image). You can find it here. The firewall will stop all sorts of malicious attempts to gain access to your blogs admin interface be it through URL-modification of injecting script etc. Install it and play around with the settings. Don’t just switch everything on as it might block some of your other plugins. One of the excellent features is also that you can set it to email you an alert every time it blocks an attack. You will be surprised at the number of times this happens.
  2. Limit Login Attempts: The above doesn’t protect you against brute force attacks. However “jonahee” has produced a WordPress plugin which allows you to limit the number of concurrent login attempts per IP address. This extremely handy plugin lets you set the maximum number of consecutive login attempts allowed from a single IP address before this IP address is blocked (locked out) from trying to login to your WordPress admin account. It also allows you to set how long they will be locked out. Additionally it keeps a log-file of all lockouts. Mine is at 2244 lock-outs since I installed it with multiple lock-outs per IP address. Lastly it will email you a notification every time it locks-out an IP address.

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In my experience these two plugins alone will protect your WordPress install from the most (but not all) hacking attempts. There is no such thing as 100% “hack-proofing” something but I host 14 blogs protected by the above mentioned plugins and there have been no more successful hacking attempts since i installed them. Considering the number of attacks I think that says a lot.

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I received an interesting email this afternoon. It was from Mark Tighe a journalist with the Sunday Times. It read: “

Did you see the ads in the papers today from the HSE? They are finally going to destroy the heelprick samples older than 10 years.”

This brought me back to a blogpost I typed up just over 10 years ago. At the time it had been discovered that Temple Street hospital had been retaining the bloodsamples it had gathered through the “heelprick” tests. This had resulted ina n *illegal* database of genetic material of  everyone born in Ireland since 1984. It goes without saying that this is not only highly un-ethical but also illegal. You can read my blogpost on the topic here.

While I am pleased with today’s announcement it still raises a few questions. Apparently the screening programme was revised in 2011 and for anyone born after that date the parents have to give explicit permission for the sample to be retained. Additionally all samples will be destroyed after 10 years. The announcement also says that all samples taken between 1984 and 20o2 will be destroyed this year as they are over 10 years old. That still raises the question of the samples which were taken between 2002 and 2011 (when the programme was revised). These samples will apparently be illegally retained for another 1 to 8 years….

Another issue is that when I researched the matter three years ago evidence emerged that the retention of blood (and DNA) samples past the necessary period is allegedly commonplace in other hospitals and labs across the country. I have yet to see a follow up investigation to locate other hospitals where this practice is or has taken place.

Either way, it’s good to see that after three years some steps in the right direction are taken….

2012 in review

Posted: December 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 27,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

A lot has been written about the outcome of the US elections in the last 24 hours. Some good, some bad and some utter rubbish (by both sides). The most insightful one is a Facebook post by Bart Hall.

I’m connected to Bart via Facebook and have always enjoyed reading his postings. However this one was of such quality that I had to ask him if I could use it on my blog as a sort of guest-blog by proxy. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

So … the election was close, but the Electoral College worked exactly as intended by the Founders and produced a clear winner. Herewith, a series of observations, of various sorts, some slightly partisa:

a) Obama received fewer votes than McCain did in ’08. I expected this. What I did *NOT* expect was that Republican turn-out would be even lower this time around than last. The low Republican and Independent turn-out rendered useless the party-affiliation polling and certainly messed up my projection (-:

b) Elections don’t produce change, they measure it. In this case it’s become quite clear that an emerging majority of Americans prefer free stuff to freedom. Or framed somewhat differently (since I have a toddler at home) is that they prefer the freedom of a dependent child (“no worries”) to that of a mature and generally self-reliant adult (freedom of agency). Apart from the fact that it is fiscally unsustainable it is discouraging socially: deTocqueville in the late 1830s expressed his concern that the fatal flaw of American democracy was the risk that someday people would vote themselves lots of free stuff. That someday has evidently arrived in the last generation or so.

c) America is now on a trajectory to fiscal ruin. There is not enough wealth around to fix the blatant spending problem. I believe Romney and Ryan would at least have begun to address it. How bad is it? If Obama’s deficits continue at the levels *he* has projected we will have arrived at a point where each of the two previous Presidents *DOUBLED* existing debt in 8 years. The word for that, folks, is exponential explosion of debt, and it **always** ends in abundant grief and tears.

d) The good news is that Obama inherits the mess Obama left. He now owns it, absolutely. Burgeoning energy development on PRIVATE lands (which he can’t stop) will help the economy, some. EPA, OSHA, and ObamaCare … will not. But he owns it. We’re already seeing America’s energy boom bring back manufacturers to this nation. That will continue.

e) The people of Michigan, even as they voted Obama, voted for sanity and resoundingly defeated two ballot propositions that would have entrenched union power through mandated dues for all workers, and would have required 25% of all electricity to come from “renewables”. These the special interests attempted to enshrine in the state constitution.

f) Republicans picked up three more governorships (now 32), gained the state senate in Wisconsin, and took both houses of the Arkansas legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

g) Republicans not only held the US House of Representatives, they didn’t lose more than a seat or two, and might actually have picked up one. Recounts make it impossible to be precise, but the big picture is clear. The Tea Party gains of 2010 held. Some results are remarkable. Our KS-3 seat was won by a Democrat in 2008 by 18 points (his fifth term). A Tea Party Republican took the same seat in 2010 by 23 points, and in 2012 the Democrats never even put up a candidate. In eight or nine House elections nationwide the Libertarian came second to a Republican.

h) The Republicans have now thrown away *five* Senate seats in the last two elections by nominating idiot candidates, often with Democrat help. Three-way primaries will give the most extreme candidate a plurality, whilst the vote is split between two others with a better chance to win or hold the seat. Republicans would have the Senate today and the budgetary gridlock which has characterized the Senate for almost four years would no longer be a factor.

i) A big part of the reason idiot candidates on the Republican side are such a problem is that when they inevitably make their stupid statements it will be picked up and promulgated (repeatedly and loudly) nationwide by the old-line media, which are now clearly nothing more than Democrat political operatives with bylines. When the Donks nominate an idiot candidate … crickets. Pushing those old-line media even farther along their path of failure and irrelevancy should be a primary task of conservatives and libertarians.

Finally, we are in a period of great political instability. There is only one long-term sustainable political position in America, and it used to be shared by both parties –

1) Solid on defence and security issues.

2) Fiscally conservative and generally in favour of limited government.

3) Broadly libertarian on social issues.

Unfortunately it is for the most part currently shared by neither party and I suspect we shall all have to endure a great deal of trouble and grief before we get back to that point. As this election has made obvious, we won’t do it voluntarily. Consequently we’ll need to be forced by circumstances, and as Churchill said “Americans always seem to do the right thing, but only at the last possible moment.” I hope so.

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