Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

A hacker attack: they got me

When I tried to open this blog and my two other websites this past weekend, I was horrified to discover that a hacker had invaded and taken over all three. Instead of seeing my home page, a giant phoenix-like character with folded wings on a black background appeared, complete with music and a  blinking message in all caps: ACCESS DENIED. Whoever the culprit was, he/she was displaying obvious pride and glee over this computer coup.


Talk about feeling like a vulnerable victim. It was as if someone had changed the locks on my home and I had no idea if the contents of my house still existed. I couldn’t imagine trying to recreate all of the data and images on my sites.


Since my mind too often searches for cause-and-effect connections, I wondered if this was a retaliation for my criticism of a recent youth-activist film. Ironically, a computer consultant had just installed Spybot Search and Destroy software (I love that name) and beefed up my online security.


I immediately notified the woman who set up my sites, who then informed my web server. She responded with “Holy cow!! I’ve never seen such a blatant attack before!” It turns out that this cyber-hoodlum had hacked in at the server level, and affected a number of other sites using the same server. At least I don’t depend on my sites for mail-order businesses and the like.


Thankfully, the web server remedied the situation the next morning and all of my site content was restored. No blog posts were missing and nothing in my writing had been tampered with. What a relief.


Beware of online menaces. Make sure that your web server has filled any potential gaps at the server level. Keep as much protective security on your site as possible. Such incidents are unwanted reminders of how dependent we are on technology and how every communication medium has its great benefits — and malevolence.

October 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm Comments (2)

Youth doc ReGENERATION fell short for me

At the recent Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), I saw the documentary ReGENERATION, about activism in today’s youth generation, and how to change apathy to hope.

I must have had high expectations for the film because it disappointed me. Sure, it had interviews with Amy Goodman, co-founder of Democracy Now, Vancouver’s Kalle Lasn, who started Adbusters, Noam Chomsky, and the late Howard Zinn, who wrote A People’s History of the United States. It emphasized the power of hope and how an individual’s choices and actions affect consumerism, the environment, media, and so on.

The film conveyed that we’re victims of mass media, “technological dependence, rampant materialism and the increasingly fractured relationship with the natural world,” as the VIFF program stated. I don’t disagree with any of that. But the film did not cover the Internet as a tool of empowerment and education, linking people around the globe and regionally in activism, awareness, and communication in ways not remotely possible decades ago.

I think of groups like Avaaz.org, who have used the Internet to remarkable advantage to educate thousands, if not millions, about sociopolitical issues around the world. Their online petitions have altered events and galvanized movements to stop destructive actions from environmental devastation to the sexual exploitation of children. The Internet has connected people to organize demonstrations and educational workshops on short notice with impressive results.

When I brought up this point in the question period after the film, director Phillip Montgomery dismissed my remarks, saying that he didn’t think that social media was the answer and it didn’t have the same powerful impact as a demonstration. I wasn’t talking about Facebook and Twitter. Sure, there is a lot of online crap out there, but I still think that activists and nonprofits can use the Internet to great advantage, whether through videos, blogs, or sending out info about an upcoming protest. Someone like filmmaker Velcrow Ripper certainly does.

I am happy that a film like ReGENERATION is out there to serve as a rallying cry, but it didn’t have the same inspiration and impact for me that a movie like The Corporation did. That is largely due to its story structure. It tries to cover too many areas without a clear presentation of distinct messages. For me, the last few minutes of the film, in which a female high school valedictorian speaks of the need for hope to her classmates, had the biggest punch. The doc needed more moments like that with an emotional edge.

Overall, the movie needed a list of simple, declarative statements, an informal manifesto, if you will, to anchor its message. It gave value solely to external action, not addressing how individuals can transform themselves and the world through deep inner, spiritual work. Look at Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. — that was a core element of their activism and look what global influence they had.

October 21, 2010 at 7:56 am Comments (0)

A victory for the polar bears

 Polar bears have gained an edge in U.S. Arctic waters — for now. A federal U.S. court has stopped oil and gas companies from going ahead with drilling  operations in millions of acres across Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. known as one of the country’s “polar bear seas.”

This victory comes after George W. Bush sold off drilling rights cheap in the fnal days of his administration.  This move prompted a federal lawsuit from Alaska First Nations residents and environmental groups such as Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The suit charged that the U.S. government had failed to study the long-term impact of oil development and had broken the nation’s environmental law.

A federal judge agreed, ordering the Obama administration, which had adopted the Bush administration’s drilling policy, to start again and obtain missing information about environmental risks.

“We can’t afford a repeat of the Gulf oil spill disaster in the Arctic,” said Chuck Clusen, director of NRDC’s Alaska projects.

Unfortunately, this court ruling does not cover the Beaufort Sea, where Shell and BP still operate. Shell says that it will apply for new permits to drill in this region next year after Obama last summer put Shell’s plans on hold to drill off the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. BP also is preparing to drill in the Beaufort, using the biggest drill rig in the world. Environmental activists are demanding that the Obama administration reject BP’s appication to drill, and they will go to court on this, if necessary, to stop the drilling.

Meanwhile, the Canadian federal government is studying the “economic benefit” of polar bears. Gee, I guess just existing as magnificent wild creatures, with lives threatened by global warming,  isn’t enough these days.

The Globe and Mail had a funny editorial cartoon on Oct. 1 about this. It depicts a government tax man with a briefcase standing in an inflatable raft, pointing an income tax form at a polar bear on an ice floe; he’s notifying the perplexed creature of its tax reporting obligations and deadline.

(Most of this information came from the NRDC newsletter Nature’s Voice.)

October 12, 2010 at 10:51 am Comments (2)