Wednesday, August 31, 2005

RFI-Duh Heads

It's amazing that RFIDs are becoming so ubiquitous (that may one day completely replace bar codes) and such a possible threat to privacy, yet so many people who the public depend on to talk about them seem completely clueless about the technology.

Lab dedicated to RFID technology
RFID uses a computer chip the size of a grain of rice to store data, which are transmitted wirelessly by a tiny antenna to a receiver. The chips, embedded in tags, now track pallets in warehouses and let drivers pass toll booths without stopping, but its potential is almost limitless.

RFID tags are not computer chips. They contain no computer. They have no memory. They have no power source. They have no processing ability. They're just pieces of metal. If you tried to plug them in anywhere, you would just short out whatever you were plugging them into. They have no ability to transmit data on their own. They are completely passive. RFID's really are advanced bar codes.

RFID tags do not have any antennas. Technically, you could call them their own antenna. However, if you did such a silly thing, you'd have to call bar codes "antennas" too. In fact, you'd have to refer to your own mirror as an antenna.

And that's essentially all an RFID is. It's a big RF mirror. Flash an RF pulse at it and some RF will come back at you. The "shape" of that reflected signal will represent some characteristic of the tag. While I'm glossing over some important details and opportunities for some fascinating discussion, I really haven't abstracted things too far. It would be a major improvement if half of the people who talk about RFID's viewed the devices like a passive reflective device.

I'm not just trying to be snarky here. It's important for people to understand exactly how RFID works, at a basic level, so they know exactly how the Attorney General and Wal-mart will make use of them. This also gives them an idea of what they can do to protect themselves.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Grandmaster Flash and Public Education

Hip-Hop Week on Fresh Air? Waste of time?

On today's Fresh Air on NPR, they played three previous interviews with DJ Kool Herc, Mellie Mel, and Grandmaster Flash. It's apparently "hip-hop week" on Fresh Air this week.

I only caught a small part at the end of Mellie Mel's interview, and I caught a larger section of Grandmaster Flash's interview. I was a little surprised by what I heard. I've never really given a whole lot of credit to hip-hop DJ's. I also never really understood why DJ's would show up to play during live songs... After all, couldn't they just record their scratches the first time they did them and just play the recording? Was it really right to equate a few turn tables to musical instruments?

Apparently Turn Tables are Instruments


But I think I was being too harsh. There's a lot that goes into it. And it's impressive that they can reproduce everything they do so well during each performance. On top of all of that, I didn't realize how much discipline went into it. Grandmaster Flash has a pretty strong understanding of electronics, for example, and is able to open up stereo equipment, analyze the different architectures used by the designers, and make modifications in order to allow for SPECIFIC sounds to be added to what the equipment can produce. These guys actually sit around behind an oscilloscope doing dynamic signal analysis of working electronics.

And what's really impressive is that they start out as a couple of young kids rhyming on street corners. As they get better and better at what they do, they put those rhymes to music. Then they realize the music playback itself can become a percussive instrument. They learn about rhythm. They learn technique. There's technique to putting together their words just as there is technique to playing back the music. Then, as they desire to do more with the equipment, they go to a trade school and learn about AC and DC electricity. They learn about transistors and vacuum tubes. They learn about push-pull amplifiers and linear and nonlinear filters. They do quite a lot. And then they contribute new methods and technologies that they can export to other new DJ's. There's a lot going on!

So I'm pretty impressed.

Girlfriends, Gymnastics, and Calculus du Soleil

My girlfriend and I went to Cirque du Soleil this weekend. After seeing them balance, twist, twirl, and defy death frequently, she got this desire to teach young gymnasts mathematics because it would give them a greater insight into why what they do works... You see, she has a very different view of education than I do. It's her view that young children need to be taught more math and science sooner -- increase awareness across the board. It's my view that students should not be required to learn things that don't directly apply to their interests and it's dangerous to force them to learn something that they're not ready to learn yet. She pushes breadth. I push depth. I think that with enough depth, eventually the students will seek their own breadth... And I think this is a great example of it.

No one was forcing Grandmaster Flash to learn about electronics. No one was even encouraging it. Grandmaster Flash wasn't some geeky technologist. Grandmaster Flash wasn't interested in math and science. He was just interested in using rhyme and rhythm to express messages and make music that other people like to hear. By living in an environment that allowed him to obsess about this one task, he had to learn enough calculus and physics to understand how capacitors and resistors can shape dynamic electrical signals. He had to learn more electronics than would be covered in the scope of a local electronics club filled with amateur tech geeks. And after all of this, he isn't pushing young kids to learn about math and physics. He's still just interested in making a good sound.

Depth not Breadth -- Crazy Hippie Idea?

And so I think that's pretty neat. I think that there are lots of kids out there that would be able to reach similar heights in their own interests if they weren't emcumbered by the breadth of public education. (I'm timid to use "breadth." Public schooling teaches that chemistry only exists in the laboratory. Public schooling has no clue where astronomy fits in. Modern public schooling (NCLB) doesn't offer outlets for arts and creativity... but the goal is breadth, not depth) It's true that in some cases you'll get the kid really interested in gymnastics that simply was not dealt the physical cards in his or her favor; however, I think most kids who are THAT interested in gymnastics will probably also be the ones with bodies for it. I also think that each kid probably is interested in a wide variety of different things. They need freedom to investigate each one of those rather than limiting them to only a small part of each and every one.

This is probably why crazy ideas like the Sudbury Valley Schools are so appealing to me... But maybe I'm a bit of a hippie here. I always did well in school, but I think I could have had a much better time and ended up a lot smarter and a lot happier if I would have gone to one of these alternative schools.

What an ugly baby!

It's a girl!
LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Three weeks after a giant panda cub was born at the San Diego Zoo, veterinarians confirmed on Thursday that the newborn is a girl.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

GMail: Send Mail As

GMail has finally added a "Send mail as" feature to GMail. This allows you to send mail from GMail with a different address in the "From" of the e-mail.

From the web client you can make the choice either at compose time (with a drop down menu) or make a default choice of something other than your gmail account.

Now, in the past if you were using Google's SMTP server to send mail, regardless of what your e-mail client would do, it would stamp a gmail address on your e-mail. However, it now appears like Google's SMTP server also allows you to send mail from any e-mail address.

This is a significant addition because Google uses an authentication-based secure SMTP server that you can use from any location. (that is, from any coffee shop worldwide) This means that if you're sitting at your local coffee shop, you don't have to use webmail in order to send mail. You can use GMail's SMTP server to send mail through your favorite e-mail client. GMail will even keep an on-line archive of all the mail you've sent, but it will not toy with the From address; that will be completely up to your mail client.

I think that's an exciting change. Eventually Google will handle the entire planet's outgoing SMTP traffic. :)

(note that this also means you can start forwarding all of your e-mail to Google and responding from Google from a different address; in other words, Google can silently handle all of your e-mail without anyone realizing it)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Movie of Dust Devils on Mars

This is pretty neat. Take a look at the movie.

Dust Devils Race Across Mars in New Movie
 

Dangerous warming

Group: Melting Arctic a growing threat
Feedback can accelerate changes in the system, they said. For example, the white sea ice reflects solar radiation back into space, but as the ice melts the dark water will absorb some of the light, warming and melting more ice.

The scientists said they did not see any natural mechanism that could stop the loss of ice.

"I think probably the biggest surprise of the meeting was that no one could envision any interaction between the components that would act naturally to stop the trajectory to the new system," Overpeck said.

Stalker Net

So for a long time, the OSU people search has been affectionately known as "stalker net" to OSU students. (it is also the finger database, if you're a UNIX fan)

They list a lot of information on there, and for a long while many people didn't realize that it was up there. You see, you have to request that they kept information private. It defaults to public... And so it got its name, "stalker net," because you could instantaneously find out lots about new people you met (or didn't really "meet" in the strictest sense of the word).

Well, to the shock of me and a few others, apparently a Google search for "stalker net" turns up OSU's people search as it's first link!! What's funny is that there's nothing at the people search (even in the HTML source) that refers to stalker net! I'm GUESSING that Google has read a lot of e-mails/postings/etc. that refer to the people search while also referring to the term "stalker net" and it was just so common that it put 2 and 2 together? I dunno. Either way, it's really funny.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dear Red States . . .

21st Century Nancy Drew : California centric? Yes. But funny? YES!! (emphasis added)
Dear Red States:

We're ticked off at the way you've treated California, and we'vedecided we're leaving. We intend to form our own country, and we'retaking the other Blue States with us. In case you aren't aware, that includes Hawaii, Oregon,Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and the entire Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the nation,and especially to the people of the new country of New California.

To sum up briefly:
You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states.
We get stem cell research and the best beaches.
We get Elliot Spitzer. You get Ken Lay.
We get the Statue of Liberty. You get OpryLand.
We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.
We get Harvard and Princeton. You get University of Texas.
We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. Youget Alabama.
We get two-thirds of the tax revenue, you get to make the red statespay their fair share.
Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get abunch of single moms.

How about that last stat, huh?

And then it goes on... See the link for details.

Ford and GM in Bush's Bed

New fuel economy rules unveiled

So here's the new Bush plan:
Speaking from Atlanta, Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Jeffrey Runge, the current administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that under the new plan, the light truck segment will be broken into six different categories based on weight and vehicle type, with the smallest vehicles forced to get better mileage than larger ones.

Minivans, which are currently bound by federal standards to get 21 miles per gallon, will be required to have a fuel efficiency of 23.3 miles per gallon by the time the program is fully implemented in 2011.

The fuel economy of small SUVs would improve by as much as nine miles per gallon from their current standard of 19 miles per gallon, Mineta said.

That sounds like a good idea, right? Surely Ford and GM will be upset by these new regulations. Surely they'll be hurting to make these changes by 2011. Sure, 2011 is far off in the future, but still... This can't be good news for Ford and GM, can it?
The newspaper reported that the new rules seem likely to help General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.. The fleet-wide average for light trucks is a disadvantage for auto manufacturers that have a large portion of their light truck sales among the biggest pickup trucks and SUVs, a category that Ford and GM dominate.

Fascinating.

So apparently most of the vehicles that Ford and GM make are the large trucks that require the lowest increases in fuel economy. So regulations on the AVERAGES actually were worse off for Ford and GM... In other words, Bush has given Ford and GM another break.

So that's interesting.

No Sympathy for the Exxon Devil

Experts fear thefts, violence to rise with gas prices

The article describes how a gas station owner was run over and killed by a driver who just pumped $52 worth of gas and wasn't willing to pay for it. As the driver pulled out and ran, the 54-year-old gas station owner tried to stop the driver and got killed in the process.

Gas station owners are advised to "never take action themselves during robberies and drive-offs." So why did the owner risk his life for $52?
On average, one in every 1,100 fill-ups was a gas theft last year, the National Association of Convenience Stores said. With about a penny per gallon as profit, a retailer would have to sell an extra 3,000 gallons to offset each $30 stolen, said Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the group. Caddi would have had to pump an extra 5,200 gallons to make up for the $52 drive-off.

I wonder if you can get insured for drive-offs. <?> It'd probably be too difficult to administrate and too easy to defraud.

I wonder how much money BP (evil) or Exxon Mobil (even more evil) are making per gallon. In this next article, keep in mind that a quarter is only three (3) months. The company made almost $8 billion (in PROFIT) in three months, and this was an increase of 32 percent. Exxon Mobil may surpass Wal-mart by the end of the year as the largest U.S. company by total revenue.

Profit Soars at Exxon Mobil
Surging Oil Prices Lead to Company's Best Second Quarter

Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded oil company, said yesterday that second-quarter profit rose 32 percent, to $7.64 billion, as Asia and North America used more crude oil and gasoline.

The quarterly profit was the third-highest in the company's history. Revenue climbed 25 percent, to $88.57 billion, Exxon said. A doubling of oil prices since 2003 has put the Irving, Tex.-based company on a pace to surpass Wal-Mart Stores Inc. this year as the largest U.S. company by total revenue.

Profit from worldwide oil and natural gas exploration and production operations jumped 28 percent, to $4.91 billion. Production decreased 4.3 percent, to 3.91 million barrels a day.

The gap between crude oil costs and prices for refined fuels was the widest ever, as consumption rose faster than supplies. Exxon's refining and marketing profit rose 34 percent, to $2.02 billion, mostly outside the United States.

It's amazing that a gas company can enjoy that much pure profit while a 54-year-old gas station owner, Husain "Tony" Caddi, risks his life (and loses the bet) to prevent a $52 loss.

The refined fuels market is a fantasy land.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Life's Complexity: Darwinists and Doubters Clash

NYTimes: In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash
For example, while Dr. Behe and other leading design proponents see the blood clotting system as a product of design, mainstream scientists see it as a result of a coherent sequence of evolutionary events.

Early vertebrates like jawless fish had a simple clotting system, scientists believe, involving a few proteins that made blood stick together, said Russell F. Doolittle, a professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego.

Scientists hypothesize that at some point, a mistake during the copying of DNA resulted in the duplication of a gene, increasing the amount of protein produced by cells.

Most often, such a change would be useless. But in this case the extra protein helped blood clot, and animals with the extra protein were more likely to survive and reproduce. Over time, as higher-order species evolved, other proteins joined the clotting system. For instance, several proteins involved in the clotting of blood appear to have started as digestive enzymes.

By studying the evolutionary tree and the genetics and biochemistry of living organisms, Dr. Doolittle said, scientists have largely been able to determine the order in which different proteins became involved in helping blood clot, eventually producing the sophisticated clotting mechanisms of humans and other higher animals. The sequencing of animal genomes has provided evidence to support this view.

For example, scientists had predicted that more primitive animals such as fish would be missing certain blood-clotting proteins. In fact, the recent sequencing of the fish genome has shown just this.

"The evidence is rock solid," Dr. Doolittle said.

The theory has unlocked many of the mysteries of the natural world. For example, by studying the skeletons of whales, evolutionary scientists have been able to trace the history of their descent from small-hoofed land mammals. They made predictions about what the earliest water-dwelling whales might look like. And, in 1994, paleontologists reported discovering two such species, with many of the anatomical features that scientists had predicted.

Intelligent design proponents are careful to say that they cannot identify the designer at work in the world, although most readily concede that God is the most likely possibility. And they offer varied opinions on when and how often a designer intervened.

Dr. Behe, for example, said he could imagine that, like an elaborate billiards shot, the design was set up when the Big Bang occurred 13.6 billion years ago. "It could have all been programmed into the universe as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Note that the large amount of evidence supporting quantum mechanics also contradicts the idea that the universe is following some pre-programmed sequence of events.

But it was also possible, Dr. Behe added, that a designer acted continually throughout the history of life.

There have been no observations to support this idea either. If someone was actively tinkering on a large scale, we would see correlations in observations that could not be explained by science. We see no such correlations.

Dr. Behe, however, said he might find it compelling if scientists were to observe evolutionary leaps in the laboratory. He pointed to an experiment by Richard E. Lenski, a professor of microbial ecology at Michigan State University, who has been observing the evolution of E. coli bacteria for more than 15 years. "If anything cool came out of that," Dr. Behe said, "that would be one way to convince me."

Dr. Behe said that if he was correct, then the E. coli in Dr. Lenski's lab would evolve in small ways but never change in such a way that the bacteria would develop entirely new abilities.

In fact, such an ability seems to have developed. Dr. Lenski said his experiment was not intended to explore this aspect of evolution, but nonetheless, "We have recently discovered a pretty dramatic exception, one where a new and surprising function has evolved," he said.

Dr. Lenski declined to give any details until the research is published. But, he said, "If anyone is resting his or her faith in God on the outcome that our experiment will not produce some major biological innovation, then I humbly suggest they should rethink the distinction between science and religion."

Dr. Behe said, "I'll wait and see."

 

CT Scans for Lung Cancer: Double-edged Sword

NYTimes: Opinion: Warned, but Worse Off
And hasn't it been reported that people whose lung cancer is found early by such scans have a five-year survival rate of 80 percent, as opposed to 15 percent for the typical lung-cancer patient whose condition is detected later? Why not get scanned today?

The answer may surprise most Americans: we just don't know if lung cancer screening does more good than harm. While the benefits of screening are unproven, the harms - one familiar, the other less so - are certain.

Make this network yours?

So I have been talking about current a lot lately.

Well, I figured out what they mean by viewers selecting content. It turns out that viewers can submit their own "pods" and get paid for them.

On top of that, viewers on the website get to view your pods after you upload them. Those viewers then give the pods the greenlight. Once enough people greenlight them, they go on. As you submit more, you get paid more for your pods that go on air. You get $250 for the first one, $500 for two and three, $750 for four and five, and $1000 for six and up.

So that's pretty cute.
 

Time to Move to Chugwater?

In my last post, I talked about Al Gore's new television network called current.

Well, they just now ran a story on Chugwater, WY. This is one of those many cities that has an increasingly elderly population who are worried that they're not going to be able to keep open their schools (and their communities, really) if they don't get a large influx of young people willing to start families there. To help bring young people into Chugwater, the town is now giving away land for free to people who gaurantee that they will live there for a certain amount of time and do other community-type things (or start a company or other such things).

This is becoming a common story in places like Wyoming and the Dakotas (and I'm sure elsewhere). I was listening to Wait Wait -- Don't Tell Me! this weekend as it broadcasted out of Colorado. One of the audience members picked to play one of the games happened to be a mayor of a small Colorado town. Even he mentioned just before the end of his time that if anyone is interested in moving to his town, they'll give you a free plot of land to build your house on. Land is being given away EVERYWHERE! (I think some of these towns also do similar things to bring big companies in -- they'll charge them no real estate tax for large amounts of time, etc. etc. -- but cities do this sort of thing all the time, and I think they want people living there more than just working there)

This fascinates me, as it fascinated the guy who put together the documentary pod. It's fascinating to think about worrying that much about your town dying. These towns realize that they need outsiders (who probably don't share the same morals/beliefs/etc. of the rest of the town) to come into the town just for the town to keep its head above water.

This also makes me think that once I find some young lassie ready to settle down with me... Should I go west looking for free land? Would it be stupid not to consider it? Should I take the next flight to Chugwater (or the nearest airport, which is only 40 miles away) to see what's available?
 

V / R ?

Remember the news about Al Gore starting his own television network called current?

I was flipping through the cable channels tonight, and I happened to notice that I have current. So I figured I'd check it out.

It's actually kinda cute and fun. It's like a much smarter version of the crap that they put on in college coffee shops that have TV's hovering overhead. (you know -- the stuff that comes between trendy music videos)

They have no shows on current. They just have these documentary-style "pods" that are no longer than 7 minutes. (and there's a little progress bar on the bottom of each so you know how much is left) They cover a wide range of subjects. It feels sorta NPR-like in that respect because they bring news from all over the world covering even individual stories of people who you probably haven't heard of before. However, they focus their material on 20-somethings. (all of their "anchors" are 20-somethings) Supposedly they use viewer feedback to determine new content, but I don't see how yet.

They're independently owned... That is, they're not owned by the four or five companies who own all the rest of the media.

And their website is kinda fun. It basically gives you a line up of the pod that's on now, the pods that were just on, and the pods that are coming up.

Anyway, I know it's pretty silly, but it's kinda fun to see 20-somethings doing journalism and being excited about it. It's inspirational... a bit... I dunno.

Maybe I'm just feeling sappy. Maybe I'm just feeling like Al Gore should be in the Whitehouse right now. Either way, I kinda like current. You should check it out.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Is your chocolate flavinol-rich?

Research promising for chocolate lovers
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's not exactly a guilt-free pleasure, but food researchers say cocoa beans could be good for you.

The health potential is real. Cocoa beans have natural compounds called flavanols, and a growing pile of scientific research suggests they do good things to blood vessels.

Despite the enthusiasm, flavanols are missing from much of the chocolate on store shelves today. Flavanols make chocolate and cocoa taste bitter, and confectioners have spent years trying to perfect ways to remove the pungent flavor.

Flavanols are found in other foods, such as red wine, grapes, apples and green tea, although cocoa beans are a particularly rich source.

Mars Inc. developed the technology to visualize flavanols on a computer screen. Says Harold Schmitz, the company's chief science officer: "Now we understand cocoa well enough to start to do new things with it."

The company is starting with CocoaVia granola bars, made with a special cocoa powder that retains most of the flavanols. The bars also have plant sterols, which have been shown to help lower cholesterol.

For now, the 80-calorie, 23-gram snack bars are sold only on the Internet. The bars have a satisfyingly rich chocolate flavor, along with a slight but distinct bitter taste.

Mars says its Dove dark chocolates -- a 1.3 ounce bar is 200 calories -- also contain flavanols.

Researchers are excited by the potential of flavanols to ward off vascular disease, which can cause heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia and hypertension. Vascular diseases are linked to the artery's inability to make a simple but fundamental chemical called nitric oxide. Flavanols appear to reverse that problem.

"The pharmaceutical industry has spent tens, probably hundreds of millions of dollars in search of a chemical that would reverse that abnormality," Hollenberg said. "And God gave us flavanol-rich cocoa, which does that. So the excitement is real."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Love handles are hot?

This is fascinating and fun:

Playgirl's hunks? The hairy, chubby & poor!

Apparently Playgirl surveyed its readers and asked about what they really liked. The trouble is, I'm not exactly sure most Playgirl readers are WOMEN! One of the commonalities between gay men and heterosexual men is a desire to look at porn! I'm sure that Playgirl has plenty of female readers; however, I'd be surprised if a large portion weren't men.

Anyway... Let's assume they are women...

Forget waxed chests and rock-hard abs. A new survey finds ladies like their men scruffy, a wee bit chubby - and definitely not a metrosexual.

Playgirl asked 2,000 of its readers what they find sexy in a man and the answers were surprising: 42% said they thought love handles were kind of sexy and 47% approved of chest hair.

Average Joes everywhere can send photos to models@playgirlmag.com to compete for a shot at a pictorial in a future issue.

Rich playboys need not apply - only 4% of women said the size of a man's wallet mattered. Metrosexuals are also out: 73% want a guy who is "rough around the edges."

"This survey shows that the guy who's most attractive to our readers is not your average Hollywood hunk," said Playgirl editrix Jill Sieracki. "It's the average Joe who came up on top. Women are practical about their choices, and they're smart."

New York matchmaker Janis Spindel, a self-described specialist at setting up "highly successful, well-educated, attractive professionals," confirmed the survey's findings. "It's scary, but women don't care [about looks]," she said. "Men are very superficial and very shallow."

But Spindel disputed the claim that women don't care about finding a rich man: "Women want a man who makes more money than they do," she said. "They want to be able to live a comfortable lifestyle."

So I guess guys should strive to be average and rich. Maybe this means I can keep my love handles and should get out of grad school ASAP?
 

Secret Overclocking

So this is interesting. In the competitive motherboard market, ASUS has started (at least with one motherboard) secretly overclocking the bus speed by 2MHz:

Secret Overclocking In ASUS Motherboards!

In other words, you set your bus speed in the BIOS to 200MHz and it ACTUALLY gets set to 202MHz. Set it to 201MHz and it gets set to 203MHz and so on...

This doesn't sound like much, but it ends up increasing the processor speed by 33MHz and the memory speed by 3.3MHz. This can make a big difference in bench marks. It's really unfair, because reviewers will naively compare one motheboard to another not realizing that one motherboard is configured to run faster than the other.

So that's pretty slimey...
 

Friday, August 19, 2005

What They Did Last Fall

NYTimes: Opinion: What They Did Last Fall by PAUL KRUGMAN
By running for the U.S. Senate, Katherine Harris, Florida's former
secretary of state, has stirred up some ugly memories. And that's a
good thing, because those memories remain relevant. There was at
least as much electoral malfeasance in 2004 as there was in 2000,
even if it didn't change the outcome. And the next election may be
worse.

We aren't going to rerun the last [elections]. But what about
the future?

Our current political leaders would suffer greatly if either house
of Congress changed hands in 2006, or if the presidency changed
hands in 2008. The lids would come off all the simmering scandals,
from the selling of the Iraq war to profiteering by politically
connected companies. The Republicans will be strongly tempted to
make sure that they win those elections by any means necessary. And
everything we've seen suggests that they will give in to that
temptation.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Gravity? No, "Intelligent Falling"

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New `Intelligent Falling' Theory
KANSAS CITY, KS—As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Burdett added: "Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

"Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the 'electromagnetic force,' the 'weak nuclear force,' the 'strong nuclear force,' and so-called 'force of gravity,'" Burdett said. "And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus."

Microsoft Invented the iPod?

Each year Microsoft submits hundreds of patent applications on ideas for technologies that may or may not be in development within the company. Occassionally articles like this one are written about them:

Microsoft, Intel Build Up Patent Portfolios

It's sickening to read some of the ideas that end up getting patented by Microsoft.

And now it looks like Microsoft's gross abuse of the patent system may have won it $10/iPod for every iPod sold.

Check out this article written a couple days ago:

Did Microsoft Invent The iPod?
The documents in the Patent Office do not mention the iPod by name. The documents describe a "portable, pocked-sized multimedia asset player" that can manipulate MP3 music files.

According to a citation on "Platt's home page, he and other colleagues at Microsoft developed a paper in the 2001-2002 timeframe discussing AutoDJ, "a system for automatically generating music playlists based on one or more seed songs selected by a user."

Other articles I've read suggest the $10/iPod licensing fee that Apple will have to pay Microsoft depending on the outcome of the appeal.

Isn't that crazy? Isn't that really sick?
 

Monday, August 15, 2005

With no divine intervention...

Harvard to explore origins of life
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) -- Harvard University is joining the long-running debate over the theory of evolution by launching a research project to study how life began.

The team of researchers will receive $1 million in funding annually from Harvard over the next few years. The project begins with an admission that some mysteries about life's origins cannot be explained.

"My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention," said David R. Liu, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard.

The "Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative" is still in its early stages, scientists told the Boston Sunday Globe. Harvard has told the research team to make plans for adding faculty members and a collection of multimillion-dollar facilities.

Evolution is a fundamental scientific theory that species evolved over millions of years. It has been standard in most public school science texts for decades but recently re-emerged in the spotlight as communities and some states debated whether school children should also be taught about creationism or intelligent design.

The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation.

Harvard has not been seen as a leader in origins of life research, but the university's vast resources could change that perception.

"It is quite gratifying to see Harvard is going for a solution to a problem that will be remembered 100 years from now," said Steven Benner, a University of Florida scientist who is one of the world's top chemists in origins-of-life research.

250 MPG on a Plug-in Hybrid

250 miles per gallon? They're doing it
Frank has spent $150,000 to $250,000 in research costs on each car, but believes automakers could mass-produce them by adding just $6,000 to each vehicle's price tag.

Instead, Frank said, automakers promise hydrogen-powered vehicles hailed by President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though hydrogen's backers acknowledge the cars won't be widely available for years and would require a vast infrastructure of new fueling stations.

"They'd rather work on something that won't be in their lifetime, and that's this hydrogen economy stuff," Frank said. "They pick this kind of target to get the public off their back, essentially."

What's fascinating here is that this is just the re-emergence of the electric car. The electric car was once a silly pie in the sky idea -- completely unrealistic. But now that we have the hybrid models, we have a way to easily migrate from gas to electric. People don't worry about having to plug-in in the middle of a trip -- they can just switch to hybrid mode. Eventually we get higher capacity batteries. Then we get more efficient and less destructive ways to generate electricity. (electricity is already relatively cheap (and clean) compared to gas) Eventually what happens? Hybrid cars turn into electric cars? Gas stations go away? It's not clear.

However, it is clear that maybe dumping all research money into a "hydrogen economy" is short-sighted.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Abacad, Efigy, Hiji-He-Hiji-Ho, ...

So a long time ago I was in a small improv group with some friends. We did a warm-up exercise that involved going through phrases that represented parts of the alphabet. It started out something like this...
Abacad! (for ABCD)
Efigy! (EFG)
Hiji-He-Hiji-Ho (HIJ)
Meckalecka-Hi-Mecky-Hiney-Hey (or was it Ho?) (KLMNO)
. . .

Sometimes people would just randomly yell "Abacad!" and we'd all start. No, this has nothing to do with Phil Collins and/or Genesis, and yes, we were all a bunch of geeks.

Anyway, it often gets in my head... but I don't really remember much of it. Has anyone heard of this before? Does anyone know how it's supposed to go? Most importantly, does anyone know the whole thing?
 

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A little freaked out...

So yesterday I didn't follow this story very closely because it took place in Tennessee. I knew they were heading north, but "north" is a pretty general term. It simply wasn't near me, and I wasn't really that interested. I would only really be interested in this news if it was local. I remember thinking this explicitly...

So I wake up today and find...

'Relieved' fugitives captured at Ohio motel

They caught them in Columbus!

Is the lesson here that I really do need to pay attention to every local story the media is excited about?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

At Clean Plants, It's Waste Not

At Clean Plants, It's Waste Not
Each week, hundreds of new cars roll out of the Subaru factory in Lafayette, Indiana. What doesn't come out of the plant is garbage. When the garbage truck rolls up to the curb in front of your house each week, it hauls away more trash than is generated by the manufacturing processes at the factory.

The factory is the first auto assembly plant in North America to become completely waste-free: Last year, 100 percent of the waste steel, plastic and other materials coming out of the plant were reused or recycled. Paint sludge that used to be thrown away, for example, is now dried to a powder and shipped to a plastics manufacturer, ending up eventually as parking lot bumpers and guardrails. What can't be reused -- about 3 percent of the plant's trash -- is shipped off to Indianapolis and incinerated to generate electricity.

Tiny Photon Resonator

This is so cool!

Caltech Scientists Create Tiny Photon Clock
In a new development that could be useful for future electronic devices, applied physicists at the California Institute of Technology have created a tiny disk that vibrates steadily like a tuning fork while it is pumped with light. This is the first micro-mechanical device that has been operated at a steady frequency by the action of photons alone.

Here's a picture:

You swing a bunch of photons down the edge, it collects them, they start exerting a pressure on the edge, it changes its shape, it stops collecting, and it relaxes until it starts over again. A neat little resonator!! So cool!
Kansas moves to stem role of evolution in teaching
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) -- After months of debate over science and religion, the Kansas Board of Education has tentatively approved new state science standards that weaken the role evolution plays in teaching about the origin of life.

The 10-member board must still take a final vote, expected in either September or October, but a 6-4 vote on Tuesday that approved a draft of the standards essentially cemented a victory for conservative Christian board members who say evolution is largely unproven and can undermine religious teachings about the origins of life on earth.

"We think this is a great development ... for the academic freedom of students," said John West, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design theory.

You see, to the rest of the nation they tell us that they're just trying to open the students to new ideas.

But in reality they're just trying to get RID of evolution. It's not about adding ID. It's about attacking evolution. It's not attacking evolution because evolution isn't scientifically sound. It's attacking evolution because it "can undermine religious teachings about the origins of life on earth."

See? It's not because ID does a better job. It's simply because evolution doesn't match certain people's interpretation of religion, and they are too worried about the harm to religion to care about what this is doing to science!!

And it's sickening.

Page 10? Anyone have page 10? Quickly!

Pirro at the Podium: Does Anyone Have Page 10?
“You will know where I stand on the issues,” Pirro trumpeted, staring at a fixed spot in the back of the room.

“Hillary Clinton,” she continued, and looked down at her notes. She then paused, mid-sentence, and said nothing. She shuffled through her notes, as seconds passed. Then minutes. Reporters shifted in their seats. Photographers flashed their cameras.

Then, in a muffled voice, Pirro asked her staffers, “Do you have page 10?”

Welcome, Ms. Pirro, to prime time.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Debunking the Drug War

The following is an August 9 editorial out of NYTimes. I've reposted it elsewhere (see the link below), but I think I'm just going to post the whole thing here too.

NYTimes: Debunking the Drug War by JOHN TIERNEY
America has a serious drug problem, but it's not the "meth epidemic" getting so much publicity. It's the problem identified by William Bennett, the former national drug czar and gambler.

"Using drugs," he wrote, "is wrong not simply because drugs create medical problems; it is wrong because drugs destroy one's moral sense. People addicted to drugs neglect their duties."

This problem afflicts a small minority of the people who have tried methamphetamines, but most of the law-enforcement officials and politicians who lead the war against drugs. They're so consumed with drugs that they've lost sight of their duties.

Like addicts desperate for a high, they've declared meth the new crack, which was once called the new heroin (that title now belongs to OxyContin). With the help of the press, they're once again frightening the public with tales of a drug so seductive it instantly turns masses of upstanding citizens into addicts who ruin
their health, their lives and their families.

Amphetamines can certainly do harm and are a fad in some places. But there's little evidence of a new national epidemic from patterns of drug arrests or drug use. The percentage of high school seniors using amphetamines has remained fairly constant in the past decade, and actually declined slightly the past two years.

Nor is meth diabolically addictive. If an addict is someone who has used a drug in the previous month (a commonly used, if overly broad, definition), then only 5 percent of Americans who have sampled meth would be called addicts, according to the federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

That figure is slightly higher than the addiction rate for people who have sampled heroin (3 percent), but it's lower than for crack (8 percent), painkillers (10 percent), marijuana (15 percent) or cigarettes (37 percent). Among people who have sampled alcohol, 60 percent had a drink the previous month, and 27 percent went on a binge (defined as five drinks on one occasion) during the month.

Drug warriors point to the dangers of home-cooked meth labs, which start fires and create toxic waste. But those labs and the burn victims are a result of the drug war itself.

Amphetamine pills were easily available, sold over the counter until the 1950's, then routinely prescribed by doctors to patients who wanted to lose weight or stay awake. It was only after the authorities cracked down in the 1970's that many people turned to home labs, criminal gangs and more dangerous ways of ingesting the drug.

It's the same pattern observed during Prohibition, when illicit stills would blow up, and there was a rise in deaths from alcohol poisoning. Far from instilling virtue in Americans, Prohibition caused them to switch from beer and wine to hard liquor. Overall consumption of alcohol might even have increased.

Today we tolerate alcohol, even though it causes far more harm than illegal drugs, because we realize a ban would be futile, create more problems than it cured and deprive too many people of something they value.

Amphetamines have benefits, too, which is why Air Force pilots are given them. "Most people took amphetamines responsibly when they were freely available," said Jacob Sullum, the author of "Saying Yes," a book debunking drug scares. "Like most drugs, their benefits outweigh the costs for most people. I'd rather be driving next to a
truck driver on speed than a truck driver who's falling sleep."

Shutting down every meth lab in America wouldn't eliminate meth because most of it is imported, but the police and prosecutors have escalated their efforts anyway and inflicted more collateral damage.

In Georgia they're prosecuting dozens of Indian convenience-store clerks and managers for selling cold medicine and other legal products. As Kate Zernike reported in The Times, some of them spoke little English and seemed to have no idea the medicine was being used to make meth.

The prosecutors seem afflicted by the confused moral thinking that Mr. Bennett blames on narcotics. "Drugs," he wrote, "undermine the necessary virtues of a free society - autonomy, self-reliance and individual responsibility."

If you value individual responsibility, why send a hard-working clerk to jail for not divining that someone else might manufacture a drug? And why spend three decades repeating the errors of Prohibition for a drug that was never as dangerous as alcohol in the first place?

Peanut Surplus

It's amazing how screwed over the U.S. taxpayer is...

U.S. Appears Headed for a Peanut Surplus
Right now, the United States has too many peanuts and that, experts say, could be bad news for the peanut commodity program unless something is done to whittle down the piles.

"We're afraid if we cost the government a lot of money, we'll get less in the next farm bill," said Tyron Spearman, executive director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association.

Some 215,000 tons of peanuts are still unsold from the 2004 crop and agricultural officials predict growers will produce another 2.3 million tons this year, Spearman said.

Despite recent growth in peanut consumption, Americans use only about 1.6 million tons a year and another 300,000 to 400,000 tons are exported.

That leaves a surplus of about 485,000 tons.

Farmers won't lose because their government crop program guarantees them $355 per ton. The losers could be federal taxpayers who pay the difference between the guaranteed price and the actual market value of the peanuts.

Low peanut prices increase government costs, while higher prices reduce government costs.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Bush Gives $50-60 Million Dollars to Whiskey-selling Convenience Stores

So this is an interesting story:

One for my baby and one more for the road
The federal highway bill, signed last week, is a 1,700-page monster with a huge price tag of $286 billion. Besides funding bridges and roads, it includes an obscure provision that will repeal an alcohol tax.

Go to the site to listen to the whole story.

It turns out there is a tax that has its origins in trying to pay for The Civil War. In true Republican fashion, despite the deficit, and despite the highway bill having nothing to do with this tax, the highway bill is going to get rid of that tax. That increases the cost of the bill by $60 million or so.

Earlier today NPR ran a story on the energy bill including $250,000 for a particular constituent to do "cold cracking," a process involving using radioactive material to refine oil. However, none of the Congressmen who worked on the bill could explain it or even knew what it was, and the Congressman who introduced the provision had trouble explaining it during his introduction. When NPR asked other experts in the nuclear and oil industry, they too had no clue about this process. There are lots of other little Christmas-tree items on this energy bill (which is also a huge monster, just like the highway bill). Apparently this is the new way to legislate. 25 years ago a bill over 100 pages was very rare. Now it's common, and it's very easy to tuck little pork-barrel spending in in tiny little places where no one really will notice nor care. (after all, $250,000 is pretty cheap on the scale of the multi-billion dollar energy bill)
 

Sleeping your way to the middle...

Sleeping your way to the middle
Arthur Brief from Tulane University has researched how sex sells in the workplace. Not so well, apparently, unless women using their sexuality have given up shooting for the top in favor of landing in the middle.

Go to the website to listen to the whole story.

I'm a little skeptical of the methods used, but I believe the conclusion.

He also makes some comments about people needing to be cautious about doing things like opening doors or carrying not-that-heavy boxes for women in the workplace as that proliferates the view that women are the weaker sex. He wasn't saying that all chivalry should be squished; he was just saying that there needs to be caution about the impression that it can give.

Comeback Lyrics, Part II

Lately I've gotten a lot of referrals from people searching for lyrics to "The Comeback" by Shout Out Louds.

Thus, before Google forgets it's there, I'm going to post link to the original post (The Comeback Lyrics) here.

I always think it's fun when I post something that appears to be useful to people. Yay Google.

Sideshows?

So this is probably one of the dumbest things I've seen ever. Check out the video:

Cracking Down on Oakland's Auto 'Sideshows'

I do not understand the attraction to these things. Is this like black NASCAR?

Can you imagine how it smells around one of these things with all of that burning rubber?

Apparently a number of people have been murdered at these things. Women who refuse to give sexual favors have been ripped from cars, stripped naked, and forced to run home as their cars are vandalized.

Isn't that nice?
 

'Unprecedented' Ice Shelf Collapse

Historical Evidence Shows Larsen Ice Shelf Collapse Is 'Unprecedented'
In the spring of 2002, a large chunk of the Larsen B ice shelf (LIS-B) on the Antarctic Peninsula broke off and tumbled into the Weddell Sea. A new analysis published today in the journal Nature suggests that the more than 3,200 square kilometer area that collapsed signifies an unprecedented loss in the past 10,000 years and can be attributed to accelerated climate warming in the region.

A Comment from a Public School Teacher

A public school teacher I know recently said this on a forum post regarding teaching about "challenges" to evolution.
I would like to inject an observation from a friend who teaches biology at a private school. Some parents had forced a change in the science curriculum. They said they wanted a free and open discussion of the strenghts and weaknesses of the theory of evolution. He had a number of conservative, religious parents upset at him because he had a debate in class, and had students find all of the available evidence they could for and against evolution. Apparently, a number of the students who had thought there were gaping holes in evolutionary theory came away with changed opinions. And their parents were unhappy. Sort of falls under the category of "Be careful what you disingenuously claim to wish for..."

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Krugman's Opinion on Intelligent Design

Paul Krugman had a few things to say about Intelligent Design in a recent NYTimes op-ed. Most of his op-eds are about economics. It was fun to see this one about ID. I include a snippet below along with a repost of the article located in a place where the NYTimes cannot take it away.

NYTimes: Design for Confusion (by Paul Krugman)
Which brings us, finally, to intelligent design. Some of America's
most powerful politicians have a deep hatred for Darwinism. Tom
DeLay, the House majority leader, blamed the theory of evolution for
the Columbine school shootings. But sheer political power hasn't
been enough to get creationism into the school curriculum. The
theory of evolution has overwhelming scientific support, and the
country isn't ready - yet - to teach religious doctrine in public
schools.

But what if creationists do to evolutionary theory what corporate
interests did to global warming: create a widespread impression that
the scientific consensus has shaky foundations?

Creationists failed when they pretended to be engaged in science,
not religious indoctrination: "creation science" was too crude to
fool anyone. But intelligent design, which spreads doubt about
evolution without being too overtly religious, may succeed where
creation science failed.

The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics
or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to
attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective.
All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there
really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory.
That, together with the political muscle of the religious right, may
be enough to start a process that ends with banishing Darwin from
the classroom.

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Was Thomas Jefferson talking about 21st century England?

"He who trades liberty for security deserves neither and will lose both."

Oh, Tom, there you go again being silly. Calm down. As long as we all use our common sense, we don't need to be so principled . . .

Blair Acts Against Muslim 'Fringe'
LONDON, Aug. 5 -- Prime Minister Tony Blair outlined fundamental changes in British policy and law Friday aimed at reining in what he called the "fanatical fringe" of the country's 2 million Muslims following last month's deadly train and bus bombings.

The measures, some of them effective immediately and others requiring approval by Parliament, include deporting people involved with radical Web sites, shutting down places of worship seen as "fomenting extremism," and criminalizing speech deemed to justify or incite terrorism.

"Let no one be in any doubt," Blair said in a nationally televised news conference. "The rules of the game are changing."

See, Tom? It's like Tony said. The RULES of the GAME ar CHANGING. In this game, liberty is a luxury that sometimes we're just going to have to do without.
 

Making 3D Photos

So this is cute:

wikiHow: How to Make 3d Photos

The process is fairly simple and not too surprising after you read through it. Take two pictures of a very still object such that the pictures are spaced apart the same distance as the distance between your eyes. Edit the pictures on your computer. Convert them both to grey-scale. Turn off all but the red channel in one picture and all but the blue channel in the other. Combine the two pictures and voila -- you have a 3D photo ready for viewing with 3D glasses. Fun!

Sequence all your DNA for $1000

'Cheap' genome sequencing now possible
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Want your own personal genome sequenced? Researchers said they had found a faster and cheaper way to do it that would cost only about $2.2 million.

George Church and colleagues at Harvard Medical School hope eventually to reduce the cost further to $1,000 per genome -- the entire DNA code of a person, plant or other organism.

Their new method, described in a report in the journal Science, bypasses the traditional gel-based technology for analyzing DNA and instead uses color-coded beads, a microscope and a camera. It is considerably cheaper than the current methods, which cost an estimated $20 million for a human genome.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Science President

This man cannot do anything right. Yet his aides stilll say that he is a supporter of science. They even call him "the first President to support embryonic stem cell research." However, he still goes around bulldozing science and technology all around him.

Bush Remarks On 'Intelligent Design' Theory Fuel Debate
President Bush invigorated proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools with remarks saying that schoolchildren should be taught about "intelligent design," a view of creation that challenges established scientific thinking and promotes the idea that an unseen force is behind the development of humanity.

Although he said that curriculum decisions should be made by school districts rather than the federal government, Bush told Texas newspaper reporters in a group interview at the White House on Monday that he believes that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution as competing theories.

"Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about," he said, according to an official transcript of the session. Bush added: "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

"It is, of course, further indication that a fundamentalist right has really taken over much of the Republican Party," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a leading liberal lawmaker. Noting Bush's Ivy League education, Frank said, "People might cite George Bush as proof that you can be totally impervious to the effects of Harvard and Yale education."

Bush's comments were "irresponsible," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He said the president, by suggesting that students hear two viewpoints, "doesn't understand that one is a religious viewpoint and one is a scientific viewpoint." Lynn said Bush showed a "low level of understanding of science," adding that he worries that Bush's comments could be followed by a directive to the Justice Department to support legal efforts to change curricula.

Brutal Improvisation by GIs

Documents Tell of Brutal Improvisation by GIs
Interrogated General's Sleeping-Bag Death, CIA's Use of Secret Iraqi Squad Are Among Details

Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush was being stubborn with his American captors, and a series of intense beatings and creative interrogation tactics were not enough to break his will. On the morning of Nov. 26, 2003, a U.S. Army interrogator and a military guard grabbed a green sleeping bag, stuffed Mowhoush inside, wrapped him in an electrical cord, laid him on the floor and began to go to work. Again.

It was inside the sleeping bag that the 56-year-old detainee took his last breath through broken ribs, lying on the floor beneath a U.S. soldier in Interrogation Room 6 in the western Iraqi desert. Two days before, a secret CIA-sponsored group of Iraqi paramilitaries, working with Army interrogators, had beaten Mowhoush nearly senseless, using fists, a club and a rubber hose, according to classified documents.

The sleeping bag was the idea of a soldier who remembered how his older brother used to force him into one, and how scared and vulnerable it made him feel. Senior officers in charge of the facility near the Syrian border believed that such "claustrophobic techniques" were approved ways to gain information from detainees, part of what military regulations refer to as a "fear up" tactic, according to military court documents.

The circumstances that led up to Mowhoush's death paint a vivid example of how the pressure to produce intelligence for anti-terrorism efforts and the war in Iraq led U.S. military interrogators to improvise and develop abusive measures, not just at Abu Ghraib but in detention centers elsewhere in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mowhoush's ordeal in Qaim, over 16 days in November 2003, also reflects U.S. government secrecy surrounding some abuse cases and gives a glimpse into a covert CIA unit that was set up to foment rebellion before the war and took part in some interrogations during the insurgency.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Day after ... Today?

Scientists puzzle over oddities along Pacific coast
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- Marine biologists are seeing mysterious and disturbing things along the Pacific Coast this year: higher water temperatures, plummeting catches of fish, lots of dead birds on the beaches, and perhaps most worrisome, very little plankton -- the tiny organisms that are a vital link in the ocean food chain.

Is this just one freak year? Or is this global warming?

Normally, in the spring and summer, winds blow south along the Pacific Coast and push warmer surface waters away from shore. That allows colder, nutrient-rich water to well up from the bottom of the sea and feed microscopic plants called phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton are then eaten by zooplankton, tiny marine animals that include shrimp-like crustaceans called krill. Zooplankton, in turn, are eaten by seabirds and by fish and marine mammals ranging from sardines to whales.

But this year, the winds have been unusually weak, failing to generate much upwelling and reducing the amount of phytoplankton.

Off Oregon, for example, the waters near the shore are 5 to 7 degrees warmer than normal and have yielded about one-fourth the usual amount of phytoplankton, said Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Newport, Oregon.

"The bottom has fallen out of the coastal food chain, and there's just not enough food out there," said Julia Parrish, a seabird ecologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Seabirds are clearly distressed. On the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco, researchers this spring noted a steep decrease in nesting cormorants and a 90 percent drop in Cassin's auklets -- the worst in more than 35 years of monitoring.

On Washington state's Tatoosh Island, common murres -- a species so sensitive to disruptions that scientists consider it a harbinger of ecological change -- started breeding nearly a month late. It was the longest delay in 15 years of monitoring.

Researchers have also reported a sharp increase in dead birds washing up in California, Oregon and Washington.

Along Monterey Bay in Central California, there are four times the usual number of dead seabirds, said Hannah Nevins, a scientist at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

"Basically, they're not finding enough food, and they use up the energy that's stored in their muscles, liver and body fat," Nevins said.

Fish appear to be feeling the effects, too. NOAA found a 20 percent to 30 percent drop in juvenile salmon off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in June and July, compared with the average over the previous six years.

And researchers counted the lowest number of juvenile rockfish in more than 20 years of monitoring in Central and Northern California. Fewer than 100 were caught between San Luis Obispo and Fort Bragg this year, compared with several thousand last year.

Scientists have seen some of these strange happenings before during El Nino years, when higher water surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific alter weather patterns worldwide. But the West Coast has not had El Nino conditions this year.

 

Brainwashing to Lose Weight

Swallowing a Lie May Aid in Weight Loss, Research Suggests
A team found it could make people believe that some foods sickened them as children.

In their battle against the bulge, desperate dieters have tried drugs, surgery, exercise, counseling, creams and even electrical fat-burning belts.

Now some psychologists have a new idea: subtle brainwashing.

A team led by psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of UC Irvine found that it could persuade people to avoid fattening foods by implanting unpleasant childhood memories about them — even though the memories were untrue.

In a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team said it successfully turned people off strawberry ice cream and, in earlier studies, it had done the same with pickles and hard-boiled eggs — in each case by manipulating the subjects to believe that the foods made them sick when they were children.

The scientists say they have also successfully implanted positive opinions about asparagus by convincing subjects that they once loved the vegetable.

The method, if perfected, could induce people to eat less of what they shouldn't and more of what they should, Loftus said. Good memories about fruits and vegetables could be implanted, as well as bad ones about low-nutrient, high-calorie foods.

Is this a good idea?

Isn't this a little scary?

What if you accidently brainwash people not to eat things that later in life they'll desperately need. Maybe you brainwash them accidentally into ingesting far too little calcium or sugar or something like that? Is it easy to undo the changes if needed? Does it become harder (or easier?) with time?

I wonder how long the link between bad memories and food lasts.

It must blow to live in Russia

Russia Declares ABC Persona Non Grata After Chechen Interview
Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Russia said it will no longer accredit ABC's journalists after the U.S. television network ran an interview with Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord who claimed responsibility for 2004's Beslan school siege.

``Contact with the ABC television channel is not desirable for all Russian government bodies,'' the Foreign Ministry, which overseas foreign journalists, said on its Web site today. When accreditation for ABC's staff runs out, ``it will not be renewed.'' Foreign journalists are accredited for a year.

Apple's Mighty Mouse

With x86 OS X coming up, Apple figured it would be a good idea to take multiple-button mice a little more seriously. However, they didn't want to freak out their single-button fans. So they came up with a really interesting little piece of technology:

Apple - Mighty Mouse
Meet the mouse that reinvented the wheel. The scroll wheel, that is. At $49, Mighty Mouse features the revolutionary Scroll Ball that lets you move anywhere inside a document, without lifting a finger. And with touch-sensitive technology concealed under the seamless top shell, you get the programability of a four-button mouse in a single-button design. Click, roll, squeeze and scroll. This mouse just aced the maze.

This mouse has no buttons. It just has one big top, making it look like a single-click mouse. However, its top is touch sensitive, and thus able to detect if a number of key areas are simply being touched. Its sides are force sensitive, thus making it able to tell if the mouse is being squeezed. So you can get the functionality of lots of different buttons IF YOU WANT and otherwise you can treat it like a one button mouse (with, perhaps, an extra squeeze button or scroll wheel).

I wonder if this mouse has a good way of rejecting false clicks though. I like to rest my hand on my mouse, and sometimes I like to take my hand off the mouse and put it back on later without clicking. Will it get confused and start clicking?

It should be interesting.

Europeans say no to software patents... for now

If you didn't know, the EU has no software patents. Recently, pro-patent forces have been trying to change this, and the most recent move to implement software patents has been defeated. The speculation is that the pro-patent forces will be ready for another push soon.

Richard Stallman, one of the oldest leaders of the open source movement, recently published a commentary in The Guardian:

Soft Cell

The commentary has some interesting sections. It also demonstrates some possible problems with how the EU really works.

One of the sections reveals just how dirty big business is:
Some governments ceded to threats from mega-corporations. Danish newspapers reported in 2004 that Microsoft had threatened to move a recently acquired company out of Denmark if the government did not put its hand up for patents. Earlier this year, after we had thanked the Polish government for rejecting patents, it bowed to four European mega-corps that threatened to move a laboratory out of the country where they spent perhaps $15m (£8.5m) a year.

In Bill Gates' book, he specifically says that the role of patents is to stifle innovation, and that's the reason why big companies that are on top should pursue as many patents as possible in order to stifle the rest of the industry. Microsoft is currently trying to patent everything they can. They have patent applications for phrases used in software products even.

One of the other comments reveals just how strange this fight is:
The relevant part of the European commission works hand in glove with the Business Software Alliance (BSA), and a BSA lawyer actually wrote much of the text of the draft directive the commission proposed. (We know this because they were so foolish as to publish it as a Word file, which contained information about who wrote what.)

That last parenthetical expression is telling. It says that the people who are in charge of legislating technology are technologically illiterate. Isn't that scary? I mean, isn't that really frightening?

And add to that, the EU is in bed with the BSA. So you have two bodies who know nothing about technology writing crap that does nothing but provide a smoother hand cream for the handjob that government continually gives to business.
 

Jennifer Aniston has a soul?

Aniston on split with Pitt
NEW YORK (AP) -- In her first interview since splitting with Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston says she was "shocked" by the breakup and is trying to "pick up the pieces in the midst of this media circus."

Aniston broke down twice during the interview for the September issue of Vanity Fair, on newsstands nationally August 9. Mostly, though, the actress comes across as resilient.

"Am I lonely? Yes. Am I upset? Yes. Am I confused? Yes. Do I have my days when I've thrown a little pity party for myself? Absolutely. But I'm also doing really well."

Aniston filed for divorce in March, citing irreconcilable differences after 4 1/2 years of marriage. The couple separated in January.

Aniston says she was aware of Pitt's attraction to Angelina Jolie, his "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" co-star, but doesn't blame their split on her.

"It's just complicated," Aniston says. "There are all these levels of growth -- and when you stop growing together, that's when the problems happen."

I love Brad; I really love him. I will love him for the rest of my life," says Aniston. "I don't regret any of it, and I'm not going to beat myself up about it."

"The sad thing, for me, is the way it's been reduced to a Hollywood cliche -- or maybe it's just a human cliche."

Another false report, Aniston says, is her relationship with Vince Vaughn, her co-star in the upcoming movie "The Break Up."

"I like a lot of people, but I'm sooo not 'in like' with anybody."

She then makes fun of Brad Pitt's hair saying that Billy Idol wants his look back.

It fascinates me that Jennifer Aniston has fairly "normal" problems in her dating relationships! She even said "in like." WTF? (not to mention "maybe it's just a human cliche")

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston aren't supposed to part because they weren't "growing together." They're supposed to part because they didn't like the coke the other one was getting from her dealer... or something else very remote like that.

So yeah... I'm (sadly) fascina-ted.
 

I can't stand this man...

Bush signs controversial CAFTA bill

How is it possible for someone to be that bad at such an important job?

How did this person ever get elected?

It's fascinating and so sad at the same time.

Medicaid insures historic number

USATODAY.com - Medicaid insures historic number
The nation has so vastly extended taxpayer-funded Medicaid to the working poor this decade that it has produced the biggest expansion of a government entitlement since the Great Society was launched in the 1960s, a USA TODAY analysis has found.

With little notice, the medical care program paid by federal and state taxpayers has grown from covering 34 million people in 1999 to 47 million in 2004, an examination of government data shows.

The expansion has won bipartisan support in Washington and state capitals, as a consensus has emerged to provide medical care for the poor, especially children. President Bush has proposed spending $1 billion over two years to encourage eligible families to sign up for Medicaid.

The expansion has had far-reaching consequences:

More children insured. The portion of children without insurance fell from 14.8% in 1997 to 11.7% in 2004, the Health and Human Services Department reports. The rate of young children being vaccinated has increased from 72% in 2000 to a record 81% in 2004.

Higher costs. Medicaid spending grew from $159 billion in 1997 to $295 billion in 2004. That 85% increase is nearly twice the rise in Medicare, which insures seniors. Washington pays 59% of Medicaid's cost; states pay the rest.

Reduced private insurance. Many low-income workers are choosing Medicaid over employer insurance because it is less expensive and often covers more. Medicaid is free or nearly free for recipients. Out-of-pocket costs and the range of services covered vary by state. The percentage of children covered by private insurance fell from 65% in 1999 to 59% in 2004, while those on Medicaid rose from 22% to 29%.

 

Another Reason Why Carbon Nanotubes Will Save Everything

Nanotube-Laser Combo Selectively Targets Cancer Cells, Study Shows
When exposed to near-infrared light, carbon nanotubes quickly release excess energy as heat. Nadine Wong Shi Kam and her colleagues at Stanford University exploited this property to attack cancerous cells. "One of the longstanding problems in medicine is how to cure cancer without harming normal body tissue," notes study co-author Hongjie Dai. Cancer cells tend to be coated in folate receptors, whereas normal cells are not. Thus to ensure that the carbon nanotubes were attracted only to diseased cells, the researchers coated them with folate molecules. The team then shined a flashlight-size near-infrared laser on aqueous solutions of both tumor and normal cells. Although harmless to regular cells, the light heated the nanotubes to 70 degrees Celsius within two minutes, killing the cancer cells they had invaded.

The researchers hope to refine the process for future use. "Folate is just an experimental model that we used," Dai says. "In reality there are more interesting ways we can do this. For example, we can attach an antibody to a carbon nanotube to target a particular type of cancer." To that end, Dai is currently investigating the possibility of using the technique on mice with lymphoma because lymphoma cells have well-defined surface receptors that can be targeted.

 

Monday, August 01, 2005

Grubs Change Behavior to Fight Parasites

Grubs fight parasites with food
Tiger moth caterpillars have been seen medicating themselves to treat a nasty influx of parasites.

Scientists found the caterpillars' sense of taste actually changed when they became infected with parasites.

Instead of avoiding certain alkaloid plants, the caterpillars actually developed a fondness for them.

This change in diet helps to beat the creatures' parasite infection, the researchers report in Nature.

The finding is slightly unusual because often when animals change their behaviour following a parasitic infection, it is to the invaders' benefit.

"It is a new and surprising kind of interaction between organisms," said Elizabeth Bernays, of the University of Arizona, US.

"When parasites change the behaviour of their hosts, it's usually to their own advantage."

Miani's should be called Lucifer's

This weekend I realized that every time we go to Miani's for drinks, we not only pay a $3 cover but if you pay with credit card you also pay a "credit card surcharge" of something like $1.82.

This, of course, hurts the most if you don't open a tab. However, otherwise it's equivalent to increasing your effective tip substantially or increasing the cover charge to $4.82.

Now, Miani's has fairly cheap drinks, and that's what justifies their $3 cover (covers on Columbus bars are fairly rare). There are other bars that have $5 covers, and so Miani's likes to feel special for having their "low" $3 cover, but with this credit card surcharge, you really may be better going to other bars.

I tried to explain to a friend how I thought this was pretty crappy. Miani's was taking advantage of drunk people who aren't looking at the total at the bottom of their credit card slip. As expected, he didn't know this was going on. However, what I didn't expect is that he was going to start defending Miani's. He argued that this wasn't crap because the drinks were cheap. He thought that I was saying that due to this $1.82 charge, no one should go there anymore. I wasn't suggesting any such black and white solution. I was just suggesting this is crap, and if there was another bar that had cheap drinks and a $3 cover, then maybe it would take a lot of business from Miani's if people actually realized this was going on.

I really would be okay if this wasn't a credit card surcharge but rather a "cheap drink surcharge." I'd be okay if Miani's had a $4 cover for everybody rather than a (at least) $4.82 cover just for credit card users. Miani's probably argues that other bars charge everyone much more for drinks just to support the credit cards, so they just charge the credit card users to recover that cost, but I don't buy that.

Am I wrong for thinking this is crap? And is my friend an ass for thinking that I was suggesting we should boycott and picket outside of Miani's?

Successful Strategies for Commenting Your Code

I ran into these very general commenting guidelines today:

Successful Strategies for Commenting Your Code

The author has done a survey of a number of authoritative references on good commenting conventions and makes notes of some commonalities among the references. He gives some examples of why these conventions are good. He also links directly to these references for more information. I think it's fairly well done.

I especially like one section:
On a more personal note, after I applied my findings to some of my recent projects, I noticed some significant improvements to my programming lifestyle:

  • I was writing better code. By commenting everything, I was forced to think about why I was doing something rather than just making it work. I was programming smarter rather than harder. Because commenting my code forced me to verbalize my logic and make me think twice about a line of action when putting it into words, I usually found ways to optimize my code when it didn’t “sound right” to me. The comments lead to increased optimization and ultimately less work. Had I gone through after I finished a project to explain things, I’m positive I would have wasted a lot of time reprogramming and recommending bad logic. Time will tell if it decreased bugs as well.

  • I was improving the future. You never know who’s going to be looking at your code or when you’ll need to refer back to it. Future Ryan, my co-workers, potential employers and even my mom are really going to appreciate my commenting investment, because it’s going to save them time. Time is money (especially in programming) and so shaving off time wasted on confusion and interpretation is definitely worth the effort.

  • I was proud of my work. One of my biggest problems I have in my life is working on the same thing day in and day out. If I’m proud of what I doing, it basically removes that mental block. Because my projects were clean, flexible, efficient and sexy, I really enjoyed coming back to them and that, to me, is something priceless. Also, it makes it a lot easier to give a great first impression to job applicants, investors or even obsessive-compulsive blog readers when the code was created in a professional and consistent manner.

Sneaky Minnesota Conservatives

The politics behind the fetal pain law
A Minnesota law that takes effect Monday requires doctors who perform abortions to offer anesthesia for late-term fetuses. Minnesota is the second state to enact the requirement, following Arkansas.

St. Paul, Minn. — The law was a top legislative priority for the state's largest anti-abortion group, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. While such measures often draw a fight from abortion rights supporters, Minnesota's fetal pain measure passed with little opposition.

"We do want people to know that these are unborn children, and they can feel pain," she said.

In the end, the fetal pain language was added to Minnesota's 24-hour waiting period law, which requires doctors to give women information on the risks and alternatives to abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure. Similar legislation has been introduced in Congress.

Way to follow Arkansas' example, Minnesota. You make us all proud... (or not)

For those who don't understand my attempt at biting criticism, it is clear that this law is just meant to make abortions more difficult and to come closer to setting an implicit precedent that a fetus is a person and thus abortion is murder. It's backdoor legislating something that they can't do directly. There's a good chance that these Minnesota conservatives don't even believe what they're talking about; however, they have a bigger picture in mind that justifies lying to the public.

Minnesota is also home of Senator Norm Coleman, who is listed in the Guinesss Book of World Records as "one of the most evil men ever born".

Wow -- Minnesota looks like a great place to live... (or not)
 

Fast DNA Sequencing is... hot?

DNA Sequencing Speeds Up
The novel sequencing technique, designed by Jonathan M. Rothberg of 454 Life Sciences Corp. in Branford, Conn., and his colleagues, uses tiny fiber-optic reaction vessels that measure just 55 micrometers deep and 50 micrometers across--a slide containing 1.6 million wells takes up just 60 square millimeters. The set-up allows for the amplification and sequencing of hundreds of thousands of DNA molecules simultaneously. Using light to measure the reactions, tests of the apparatus indicate that it can sequence 25 million bases in a single four-hour run with greater than 99 percent accuracy.

To compare the approach to standard procedures, one member of the research team successfully sequenced and assembled the entire genome of the parasitic bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium, which includes 580,069 base pairs, in a single run on the new machine. The results cover 96 percent of the genome with 99.96 percent accuracy. The authors conclude that the continued miniaturization of fiber optics suggests that in the future, this technique could become even faster when more sequencing wells can fit in a given area.

eHow Nifty is This!

I found a neat site last night.

eHow.com - Clear Instructions on How To Do (just about) Everything

They're really serious about that. They document how to install a deck pier. They document how to get rid of split ends. They document how to give a child CPR. They document how to compliment a stranger on how he or she looks. It's a very wide spectrum of instruction. (I recommend checking out the "Dating" section just because it's fun)

And on top of that, it grows very quickly because many of the HowTos are located on their Wiki. You can access the Wiki directly at:

wikiHow - The How-To Manual That Anyone Can Write or Edit

It's neat stuff.
 

Surfing the web anonymously

I noticed Personalized Google now has the ability to give you HowTo's of the day. Today's HowTo was on surfing the web anonymously using anonymous proxies.

How to Surf the Web Anonymously With Proxies

By using an (anonymous) web proxy, you can not only speed up your Internet access (due to caching in the proxy), but you can help protect yourself from identity theft, advertisers, and even spyware that is able to target your IP address. (note that this also (unless I know which proxy you are using and no one else uses that proxy who visits) prevents me from knowing that you read my blog :) )

It's easy to setup a proxy, and it usually has little to no negative consequences to most people.

There are instructions on that page for Firefox as well as Internet Explorer. There is also a link to a site that gives you a list of proxies that you can use for free:

Public Proxy Servers

Looked for the ones marked "anonymous" if you're into that sort of thing.

Google Fighting

This is cute.

I'm a little confused by the magnitudes though -- they seem awfully high.

Try your name compared to other people's names. That's always fun.

It's not just Bush - Catholics can say stupid things too

Cardinal: Chavez needs 'exorcism'
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- An outspoken Catholic cardinal took his war of words with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to a new level in an interview published Sunday, calling him "a paranoid dictator" who needs "an exorcism."

Atkins: Not So Healthy Business

Low-carb king Atkins files Chapter 11
Company owes $300 million in outstanding principal and interest

NEW YORK (AP) -- Atkins Nutritionals Inc., the company that promoted low-carb eating into a national diet craze, filed for bankruptcy court protection Sunday, a company spokesman said.

Atkins has been hurt by waning popularity of its namesake diet, which focuses on eliminating carbohydrates such as bread and pasta to shed weight. The diet became one of the most popular in U.S. history, spawning a virtual cottage industry of low-carb regimens, but also drew criticism from experts for its focus on fatty foods and low fruit and vegetable consumption.