Saturday, December 31, 2005

And you thought weeds were bad before...

GM crops created superweed, say scientists
Modified genes from crops in a GM crop trial have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant "superweed", the Guardian can reveal.

The cross-fertilisation between GM oilseed rape, a brassica, and a distantly related plant, charlock, had been discounted as virtually impossible by scientists with the environment department. It was found during a follow up to the government's three-year trials of GM crops which ended two years ago.

The new form of charlock was growing among many others in a field which had been used to grow GM rape. When scientists treated it with lethal herbicide it showed no ill-effects.

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GMail and the Archive

So one of my biggest complaints about GMail was that it didn't have folders. It did have labels though, and I really liked labels. You see, a label is so much nicer than a folder because it's a TAG, really. You can apply multiple labels to each message. That's really nice. You don't have to duplicate the message or the conversation. The tag sits with the message (rather than the message sitting in the folder).

However, the big problem is that nothing ever gets out of the Inbox!! However, I just started using the Archive, and I realize that it combined with labels solves all my problems.

You see, when you archive a message (click the "Archive" button) it disappears from the Inbox until you either move it back to the Inbox or someone adds something to that thread (so new mail gets back into the Inbox).

So how do you see mail in the archive? Either click on "All Mail" or select the appropriate LABEL.

Thus, labels retain all of your folder functionality.

Now, if you use Firefox, you can use the Grease Monkey extension. It allows you to run special little scripts that modify the pages you view. Then you can go to persistent.info and try the extensions that he has put together there. These extensions include:

  • Gmail Macros (hit g and a QuickSilver-like dialog gives you a quick shortcut to your labels)

  • Gmail Label Colors (add a color name to a label and a OS X-like pill will bubble around each label name)

  • Gmail Saved Searches (adds saved searches to Gmail, like all other good e-mail programs)

  • Gmail Conversation Preview (this is the really nice one; right-click on a message and a preview window pops up)
There are also lots of other good Grease Monkey extensions for Gmail. There's one that adds a "Delete" button, for example, and a "Mark Read" button. There's another that forces GMail (and all other popular webmails) to always be secure. Additionally, there are lots of other Firefox extensions to do similar things to GMail.

Anyway, after all of this, GMail is starting to look like a good idea. I might start forwarding my normal e-mail to GMail as well. Now only if I can find a way to port all my existing IMAP mail over... Thoughts?

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Technorati: Popular

So this is even cooler than the Technorati search.

Technorati: Popular

Using its fancy analysis methods, it puts together the most popular recent news, books, movies, and blogs. It's a nice place to start if you're looking for a way to waste some time on the web.

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Now that's just silly!

So this is pretty cool: BoingBoing: How to break Silly Putty

A couple of days ago I wrote about a Google employee who mashed together 250 lbs of Silly Putty and then had a hard time breaking it up into chunks. Today Dr. Paul J. Camp, from the Department of Physics at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA emailed me to say:

"I guess they didn't try smacking it with a hammer.

"Silly Putty is a bizarre polymer, but like most polymers it has a transition temperature at which its physical properties change. In this case, there is a glass transition temperature (Tg) -- below Tg, the polymer will behave like a glass and shatter on impact instead of deforming. For example, PVC has a Tg of 83 C which makes it a reasonable choice for cold water pipes but not for hot water, which would cause it to flow like Silly Putty (addition of various plasticizers can adjust the Tg). However, often the viscoelastic properties of polymers have a rate dependence and this is the case for Silly Putty. Do the same amount of work over a much shorter time (smack it with a hammer instead of pulling) and the SP behaves as if its Tg has been raised. It then shatters into bits.

"You can read a mildly confusing scientific explanation here (from Case Western) along with pictures of Silly Putty subjected to the same force at different rates, or if you prefer a more visceral experience, watch the video from this experiment of what happens when you drop a 50 pound beach ball made of Silly Putty off the roof of a building."

So that's cool. Pack enough silly putty together and it gets glassy! It shatters! See the video!

Why do I have a feeling that this isn't news to anyone else?

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Blogger Backlinks: "links to this post"

So this is neat. I was poking around my blog settings and found a setting about "Backlinks" so I looked into them.

If you go into yoru Blogger dashboard, go to Settings, then Comments, you'll find the "Backlinks" settings. There's a "Backlinks: Yes/No" as well as a "Backlinks Default for Posts". For most people, "backlinks" are hidden. I turned them on.

So what are backlinks? What Blogger does is it adds a "Links to this page" section AFTER the Comments section in each post. When someone links to your post, her blog is listed here. On top of that, you can click the little triangle by the link and actually see a snapshot of what was written in that blog.

This basically enhances the comments section for your page. Not only do you see direct comments, but you see what other people have written about your post on their blogs. That's pretty sweet.

So I'm excited about it.

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Technorati Bliss

I know I'm a little late, but I just started playing with Technorati and wow am I impressed. There are lots of reasons why, but the blog search probably is the best thing to point out. Try searching for your blog. It will show you all the blogs that link to it. Try searching for your name. Try searching for anything. Then try adding your search to your "Watchlist." You can check back with your Watchlist periodically to see how the search results have changed.

Just searching for other things I've managed to find lots of info that I didn't expect. It's pretty neat.

So I recommend checking out Technorati. It also integrates well with other nifty sites like del.icio.us.

I also have some other things to say about Blogger, but I'll save that for my next post.

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Friday, December 30, 2005

Technorati Tags

So I'm going to start putting Technorati Tags at the end of my posts, I think.

You see, I recently installed the Performancing extension for Firefox, and it makes it pretty easy to blog on the fly. I just click on a little button in my status bar and half of my screen turns into a new blog post. I have access to all my previous posts. Most importantly (to this post), I have "Publishing options" that include being able to specify Technorati tags.

Now, what's upsetting is that Blogger doesn't support categories. If I was to use something like Movable Type, WordPress, etc., I would get categories and those categories would be my tags. Thus, you wouldn't see the tags at the bottom of the page.

However, it's hard for me to move away from Blogger. It's a pretty large blogging community, and I don't want to force my (very few) number of readers to start looking elsewhere and creating new logins and all that jazz. I'd like to keep things at blogger. (plus, I don't see a whole lot of advantage to using one of the other blogging softwares)

Thus, from now on you'll probably see "Technorati tags:" at the bottom of many of my posts (much like seeing "Keyword:" at the top of a publication next to the abstract).

So that's that.

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The Year In Images NPL 2005: NASA Photo Essay

So this is pretty neat:

The Year in Images JPL 2005

While the space images are pretty neat, I thought the terrestrial images were cool. There's one of the initial tsunami wave as it heads out from Indonesia, for example, and an infrared one of Mount St. Helens as it heats up.

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Amazon Credits Me?

So here's another interesting find.

Amazon Credits You

You see, apparently Amazon has this policy where they credit you the change in price on products that go down in price up to 30 days after you buy them.

The trouble is, you have to notify them when a product's price goes down.

So you enter your product's information into the site above and it will e-mail you with the proper Amazon link to claim your credit.

Isn't that fun?

Some neat JavaScript howtos

So I found these neat JavaScript howtos on del.icio.us's popular bookmarks.

  • JavaScript Animation - This shows a pretty simple way to do JavaScript animation. What do I mean by that? Imagine a button that changes color as you scroll over it. That's NOT JavaScript animation. Now imagine that the button gradually changes from one color to the next and then gradually change back as you roll off of it. It's the gradualness -- the memory effect -- that makes it animation. Take a look at some of the examples on the page. It's a neat effect.

  • Lightbox JS - This is a little simpler but at the same time a little more stunning. It's an easy-to-use JavaScript to make linking thumbnails to full-sized images a bit prettier. Rather than directing you to a new page, it displays the full sized image overlayed on top of the current page. It sort of dims the rest of the page (in a transparent sorta way). Once you click on the page, it goes back to normal. Again, look at the webpage for an example.
I also found some non-JavaScript links that might be helpful.
So I was thinking those were fun.

HOWTO: Be More Productive

Found this on del.icio.us's popular bookmarks.

HOWTO: Be more productive

Some of the suggestions are obvious. Others are pretty decent.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Google Maps for Apple Address Book

While I was looking for a way to simplify keeping my various address books in sync, I accidentally ran into this fun Apple Address Book plugin:

Google Maps Plugin for Apple Address Book

By default the Apple Address Book uses MapQuest. This configurable plugin makes Apple Address Book use Google Maps (with all its bubbliness).

It's simple to install and very handy.

[ Also, if you like the Address Book widget (I'm not a fan of widgets in general) and want to install Google Maps there, take a look at the Google Maps with Address Book widget ]

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Look at what Anna's riding!

Anna's bike has really come along. I hadn't checked her blog in a long while, but what she's come up with so far looks really pretty (though I admit that I know little to nothing about bikes)...

The Immaculate Obsession

Way to go, Anna.

Wicked Phone Support Dream

The date on that last post is pretty late for a Christmas Eve.

I actually went to bed around midnight, which is pretty good for me. However, for some reason I had this really very detailed dream about being an engineer or some sort of high level technician at a company with lots of cubicles. The dream consisted of me being on the phone with a customer for a long time trying to solve some strange problem.

I have no idea what it was about, but I know I woke up in a sweat very happy that it was just a dream (I did technical phone support a long long time ago). I've been restless ever since. I hope all this activity will help me get back to sleep...

Imogen Heap: "Hide and Seek" (and Frou Frou)

Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek" off of her Speak for Yourself album has been hauntingly going around in my head ever since I heard it on a a December 22nd ATC piece.


It's really interesting. It's an a cappella song where Imogen Heap's voice is run through some distortion (and a few loops occassionally). Because of that distortion, it really feels like there is a chorus of Heaps singing, but because it's just her, the entire "chorus" shares this careful deliberateness that is really touching about the song. (note that it apparently also has a music video; see the Imogen Heap Wikipedia link above)


I'm clearly a big fan. Give it a listen sometime. There is a song snippets at the Amazon page for Speak for Yourself and they play a pretty long snippet (that really almost is the whole song) during the ATC piece that you can listen to on-line (formats: RealPlayer or Windows Media Player).

What I didn't realize until looking up all of this information is that Imogen Heap is actually one of the two members of Frou Frou, who has lately become popular due to placement in movies and TV shows. So that's sorta fun too.

[ Also note that Speak for Yourself is unfortunately one of those Sony CDs loaded up with software that may do everything from crash your computer to violate your civil liberties; be sure to hold down the "shift" key as you put it into your Windows machine. ]

[ Additionally, note that Imogen Heap has posted on Amazon her own list of music you should hear. That's neat. ]

[ Imogen Heap: official home page, blog, messsage board.
Frou Frou: official home page. ]

Saturday, December 24, 2005

French File Sharing

French Assembly Moves to Legalize File Sharing
PARIS, Dec. 22 - A nearly empty midnight session of the French National Assembly voted to add amendments to an antipiracy law that would allow peer-to-peer sharing of films and music over the Internet, a move that would legalize here what is considered piracy nearly everywhere else in the world.

The small group of late-night lawmakers in the assembly, the lower house of Parliament, tacked on amendments that would establish a global license fee of 7 euros ($8.40) a month, according to the Dow Jones news service. That would permit Internet users to download unlimited digital music and films from the Internet for personal use. The funds would be distributed to copyright holders.

"We are trying to bring the law up to date with reality," said Patrick Bloche, a Socialist representing Paris, who was a co-author of the amendments. "It is wrong to describe the eight million French people who have downloaded music from the Internet as delinquents."

I really agree with that last part of that last statement. Person-to-person file sharing should not be treated as if it was city graffiti.

However, I have a problem with how this article depicts this piece of legislation. It's not some crazy liberal move. It's not legalizing file sharing. It's no crazier than some of the pay-for services available. And I don't think file sharers will be really excited about the $8 a month.

And I really don't understand why artists are that upset. It's going to generate a lot of cash if people actually sign up to do this legally. I suppose it's hard to figure out how to distribute it...

(note: after court costs, I wonder how much money recording artists make on that sort of court action anyway... It's probably less than they'd make off of this legislation... ya' think?)

The final lower-house vote is not expected before Jan. 17, when lawmakers return from a winter break.

All Families are Psychotic

What a good book title for this time of season!!

All Families are Psychotic : A Novel by Douglas Copeland
 

Friday, December 23, 2005

Hottie Bin Laden?

GQ: It Isn’t Easy Being the Sexy Bin Laden
What’s in a name? Plenty. Especially if you’re trying to become a sultry little pop star and you just happen to be the niece of public enemy number one


“You know Wafah bin Ladin?” Valvo asks the men loudly.

“Wafah Dufour,” she snaps, shooting him a look that’s more pleading than hostile.

The niece of the man who orchestrated the destruction of the World Trade Center seventy-eight blocks to the south has a point. After September 11, the name bin Laden (which is how it’s spelled when referring to Osama) turned radioactive, borderline satanic-by-association. It made her feel cursed, presumed guilty—made her wonder if it might keep her from ever getting a record deal. So she took her mother’s maiden name, Dufour, which makes for a better first impression, even though the bin Laden taint is always there.

NEW! From "Osama may be hiding, but niece is in full view" (click for larger):

Film-makers to Advertise Firefox

Film-makers to Advertise Firefox
Almost a month after rumors started trickling in that Mozilla would use independent film-makers to promote the next generation of Firefox, its free web browser, Mozilla has confirmed that it would indeed engage in this online "open source marketing" drive.

Mozilla formally announced the opening of the "Firefox Flicks Ad Contest" which calls upon professional, student and aspiring film-makers to join the growing community of Firefox contributors to create innovative, broadcast-quality 30-second commercials for Firefox. The ads will be judged by a star-studded panel of luminaries drawn from the film, television and advertising industries, with great prizes up for grabs. The winning ads will also be considered for inclusion in global marketing campaigns for Firefox.

2005's Top Scientific Breakthrough: Evolution

Evolution named 2005's top scientific breakthrough
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two days after a U.S. judge struck down the teaching of intelligent design theory in a Pennsylvania public school, the journal Science on Thursday proclaimed evolution the breakthrough of 2005.

Wide-ranging research published this year, including a study that showed a mere 4 percent difference between human and chimpanzee DNA, built on Charles Darwin's landmark 1859 work "The Origin of Species" and the idea of natural selection, the journal's editors wrote.

The Best CDs You DIDN'T Hear This Year

I enjoyed this ATC piece today.

The Best CDs You Didn't Hear This Year

Take a listen.

I found my KVM!!

After a long search, one of the cheapest damn KVM's ended up being the one that worked!

The QVS KVM-12CK was the one that did the trick. It's great! It supports ALL the features of my Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical (all of the 5 buttons plus the scroll wheel) plus all of the features of my Logitech Media Keyboard Elite. I BET it would work with the cordless keyboard and mouse I was using earlier with a crappy Belkin OmniView (DO NOT BUY ANYTHING FROM BELKIN EVER!! EVER!! BOYCOTT THIS AWFUL COMPANY!! BOYCOTT!!).

However, I do have a gripe or two about this new KVM switch. My biggest gripe is that its connectors come out the back (console) and two sides (each computer) and it's a square meant to sit flat, so it looks a little ugly and is a little inconvenient. I might rig up some sort of holder for it to hold it vertical attached to the hutch going around the monitor. It also has a single toggle button rather than a button for each PC, but since it's only 2-port then that's not so bad (it might even be preferable).

So this is exciting. It works. I'm pretty happy about it.

NOTE: IOGEAR also has a PS/2 version of this switch that I'm guessing works as superbly as the QVS KVM-12CK that is still working great today.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

More Fun Speedy Tools: CoralCDN and CoBlitz

I'm sure many Slashdotters have heard of CoralCDN, which is a fairly well-known project that caches web pages. That is, if you add ".nyud.net:8090" to any HTTP request, Coral finds the closest cache node to you and tells it to serve a cached version of that page to you. If it doesn't have a cached version, it goes out and gets it and distributes it all over its network.

[ For example, try going to http://phaseportrait.blogspot.com.nyud.net:8090/. Look familiar? (note that login information will probably not be preserved for blogger stuff since this is a web cache) ]

[ Note that this is paticularly useful for web site publishers. Publish your page on a slow server and make everything a Coralized link to speed up the whole site. ]

On Coral's web page there is a Firefox extension that will allow you to "Coralize" links (similar to the "GCache" extension). If you go to userscripts.org you can find Grease Monkey scripts that will change every link on a Coralized page to Coralized links (including images). This can be very nice if you're trying to access a web page on a server that is getting hit by lots and lots of server load.

However, it turns out that Coral is hosted by PlanetLab, which is a distributed network that also provides lots of other similar services. You can see a list of their services at

PlanetLab: Services

One of those services is CoDeeN, which is very similar to Coral but is accessed via a standard HTTP proxy instead (so rather than getting an extension to play with your links, you just change your proxy configuration to point to CoDeeN).

However, there are some other pretty neat ones. CoBlitz caught my eye immediately.

CoBlitz is a large file transfer service. That is, by prefixing any URL with "http://coblitz.codeen.org:3125/", (without the quotes) you ask CoBlitz to serve that file to you instead of the original URL. (note that CoBlitz can only be used externally for large files; internally (i.e., for CoDeeN nodes) they use it more generally)

So why is this cool? Well, let's say that you have a slow connection to the Internet (for example, over a cable modem) and you are running a little web server serving some large files for friends to download. Well, now you can have CoBlitz serve those files for you. It will not only reduce the draw on your own personal bandwidth but it will provide a much speedier download for your friends.

Plus, services like CoDeeN and Coral (and CoBlitz) are far less sensitive to Internet service outages (due to their collaborative nature).

So I really thought that was cool. I thought some others would like to know.

HELP! KVM+IntelliMouse Optical?

UPDATE: I found the wonderful QVS KVM-12CK KVM switch, and it works perfectly.

I have been pulling my hair out trying to find a good keyboard and mouse combination for my parents'. They just added a second computer to their rec. room -- the old one was just for the grand kids -- and want a KVM switch to switch from one to the other.

I have a few KVM switches that worked well 10 years ago, but none of them support 5-button mice.

So I keep trying new KVM switches that **SAY** they support "Microsoft IntelliMouse" (they have a Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical) but I get them home and find that that was a lie. I search on-line (needle in a haystack) and eventually find lots of other people with the problem.

Is there *ANY* KVM switch out there that can work?

I really want a KVM switch that has PS/2 connections to each computer since the grand kids' computer is hidden and can only be configured to be turned on from the keyboard if the keyboard is connected via PS/2. I suppose I could try a USB-to-PS/2 converter (which is correctly on the end of the current keyboard), but I don't trust converting *AFTER* the KVM since this keyboard has some fancy keys.

HELP?! SOMEONE!! PLEASE!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Run of the Mill" Night

So tonight I got a haircut. For most normal people this isn't that big of a deal. However, most of my memorable life I have been getting a haircut from my sister. (there was once a time during an internship in North Carolina when I got my haircut from a large black man with a very high voice in a Supercuts; that turned out very poorly) So my parents and I make appointments to go up to my sister's together. That means I run up to my parents place (which is 20 minutes away) and then we all go up to my sister's together, which is another 20 minutes away (and about 40 minutes away from my place). So it's a big ordeal.

Well, today was a special case of all of that because my mother spent most of the day with my sister baking Christmas cookies. This means dad and I met at my parents' place and then headed up together to get our haircuts, eat some pizza, and pick mom up.

There's another twist to all of this too. Early tomorrow morning I go to see a surgeon about my shoulder (torn labrum, we think) and mom insists on going in her own cute way. She started asking if I wanted her or dad to go with me. I said no, and I said it many times. I knew she wanted to go; with everything going on with everyone else, I thinks he's worried about all of this stuff. Plus, I have never had to go through surgery. Anyway, she hoped I would say yes... and eventually she just insisted on meeting me there. So rather than dealing with all of that, I decided to just stay over at my parents' and us go togethe rin the morning. At least that way I have a fool proof alarm clock. (funny thing is I think we'll drive separate so I can have lunch with a friend who I haven't seen all week who I owe at least a lunch; he's leaving for break late Wednesday)

ANYWAY, at this point I'm way out at my parents place and plan to sleep there. I get a voicemail from a friend (the same one who I owe at least a lunch) saying that he and Matt (his roommate) are going to some bar in Hilliard. I call him back to see what's up. He's at the "Run of the Mill Tavern" in Mill Run. I know where that is, so I head out there hoping to leave early enough to get some sleep before seeing the doctor in the morning. Keep in mind that Mill Run is a long way away too, and I am not excited about any of this, but I wanted to see George (the friend) before he leaves because I kept saying I'd do something with him and he's leaving Wednesday.

So I head out there.. I get there pretty late... and I find it's a SMOKING BAR! Now, don't get me wrong, I am completely into the battle for civil liberties that is the opposition to anti-smoking legislation. However, that being said, I *do* like begin in smokeless bars. So I'm upset about this, and I known George is upset about this.

So how did George and Matt end up here? Well, earlier today George needed a ride from Tuffy after dropping his car off. I couldn't do that because I was heading to my parents' place, so he called his roommate Matt. Matt suggested they go to this "Run of the Mill Tavern" in Mill Run. Matt wanted to go with a guy who he used to work with. So I meet the three of them there. They're about to do a Jager shot () in front of a pitcher of Blue Moon. The guy I don't know looks like someone who just got let out of prison. He's clinically unhappy.

Now, Matt has a tendency of telling a lot of stories because he's GROSSLY insecure about himself. However, we all deal with it. We all just sit and listen and nod. What else can we do? So Matt is explaining to George how he has a high tolerance for pain and how this involves his history of wrestling in high school and how a guy he coaches (he coaches a middle school wrestling team) has damaged his knee during practice... And this new guy cuts him off to say something like, "You guys want to go to Vanity?" Matt stops what he is saying, hoping for acceptance, and says, "Yeah!"

At this point I forgot what Vanity is. It takes me a while and then I realize it's the place that used to be called "Pure Platinum." It's a ritzy looking (on the outside) 18-and-up BYOB strip club that charges $20+ to get in to see all-naked women. (It's BYOB in order to be all-naked. They also have a downstairs they used to call the "shower room" that you could spend $150 an hour to visit... Yes, they have been busted for prostitution. It's right next door to "Columbus Gold," a "reputable" 21-and-up strip club and bar) I explained to this guy how Vanity has to be BYOB to be nude because serving alcohol comes with a requirement that girls wear bottoms and pasties, to which he responded "I miss Vegas." You see, apparently has hasn't been in Columbus long. He kept talking about "seeing some titties" and how he used to "see some titties" in Vegas all the time.

Of course, insecure Matt is all into this. I can tell that the look in George's eyes says that he's not interested in any of this. There is a point that most (educated?) guys get to where the thought of a strip club simple does not excite them. I think this is related to the point where women who have their first child after 30 tend to raise a much more productive child. Anyway, after this point guys have "bachelor parties" that involve a bunch of guys going on a vacation doing something like fishing or hiking rather than getting together in a cramped apartment watching strippers fire ping pong balls at guests... I'm pretty sure George and I were after that point and Matt and convict were before that point (perhaps never to cross it?).

Anyway, George says to me (timidly), "I won't tell if you won't tell," (referring to our girlfriends) but later explains to me that he understands if I don't want to go (my face made that clear) because of my doctor's appointment. The thing is, he and I both didn't want to go, and he and I both were upset about being in a smokey bar (and now my only clean pair of jeans is smokey! I was going to wear those tomorrow to the doctor's!!), but I knew there was no way I could rescue him. His roommate was WAY too excited in order to appease the convict next to us. Oh, I should mention that his roommate was recently declared single since his girlfriend screwed one of the guys she works with. During the "affair" (in her own roommate's bed) he (my friend's roommate) walked in on them and beat the crap out of the guy she worked with. Apparently he messed up her roommate's room too, which caused the girlfriend's roommate to demand that the girlfriend move... It's all very dramatic.

So I head home after one beer (clearly I decided to use my doctor's excuse)... After one beer that I had to chug because they really wanted to go "see some titties" at an expensive BYOB strip club.

So I drove home (feeling a little bit of a headrush from that quick tall Blue Moon) and felt compelled to write this before getting to bed before the doctor's.

So hopefully I'll see George tomorrow for lunch and he can tell me about all the craziness. Poor guy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

It's like that song...

So this is sort of like a more modern version of that pina colada song...

MAN DATES GAL ON INTERNET FOR SIX MONTHS -- AND IT TURNS OUT SHE'S HIS MOTHER!
MARSEILLES, France -- Skirt-chasing playboy Daniel Anceneaux spent weeks talking with a sensual woman on the Internet before arranging a romantic rendezvous at a remote beach -- and discovering that his on-line sweetie of six months was his own mother!

Wikipedia: He-Man

(click for larger -- it's important to be able to read the image)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Google Web Accelerator

So Google has some pretty neat tools available at Google Labs.

I installed the Google Web Accelerator (which is avialable for both MSIE and Firefox, but only on PC's) and have noticed a big difference. It also gives you stats to show you exactly how much it's helped. I recommend it.

I also like the Google Firefox extensions, which work on both PC and Mac. In particular, I'm a fan of the "Google Send to Mobile", "Blogger Comments," and "Google Safe Browsing" extensions. I realize that I'm sending a lot of information to Google about my browsing preferences, but I'm okay with that. For some reason, I trust Google. I even use that whole "personalized search" feature where it logs my searches and customizes my future searches based on it.

Oh, and the Fasterfox extension (available at Firefox's extension page) also speeds up things a bit by playing with network and protocol settings. However, I noticed the biggest leap with Google's tool. (available for MSIE too, just not available on a Mac)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nice Guys Strikes Again!

My old Nice Guys Don't Have to Finish Last (actually this one) strikes again!

I recently installed a Google Firefox extension that places a little blob at the bobbom of the screen if it found blogs that blog about the page you are viewing. (honestly I trust Google with my browser information WAY too much -- I am setup with Google Personal too where it tracks a history of all my last searches and adjusts searches with a profile it builds about that -- I also have Customized Google installed to get rid of ads though...) Anyway, I went to my home page and noticed a few blogs popped up. Of course, most of them were here. However, one of them was not!

Nice people? or Timid People?

And it's positive too! So that's exciting. People like me... They really like me. :)

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Pornos for Bibles...

I'm not saying I approve or disapprove of this... Not really sure about the tolerance issues here.

Atheist group offers free porn in exchange for Bibles
 

People piss me off

Wikipedia hit by surge in spoof articles
Wikipedia was yesterday described as being as reliable as the Encyclopaedia Britannica despite a sustained attack from vandals intent on further wrecking its reputation for accuracy.

In an online article published by the respected scientific journal Nature , articles in Wikipedia - the web-based encyclopaedia created by volunteers - compared favourably to those in the foremost repository of knowledge in the English language.

This is despite a surge in the number of spoof articles and vandal attacks which have followed the furore over a biographical Wikipedia article linking John Seigenthaler, a respected retired journalist, with the assassinations of both John F and Robert Kennedy.

In one such fake article, it was suggested today that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's creator, was shot dead at his home by Siegenthaler's wife.

I blame this all on Seigenthaler and his enormous ego. He goes from being someone recognizable years ago to someone who is only occassionally consulted as an expert now. His expert status and the things that people let him write because of that status is all he has left, so of course Wikipedia appears to be an assault on him: it's a bunch of non-experts getting a whole lot more attention.

Wikipedia's one weakness is that these sort of spoofs can happen, but they are going to happen very frequently. They certainly aren't going to be coordinated (and eventually all of the present coordination is going to damp down). However, due to Seigenthaler's ego, he's enabled all of this. Wikipedia would not have been weak if it wasn't for him -- a high profile "expert" receiving far too much attention for far too small of an offense.

(hopefully this is all just a tempest in a tea pot -- all of this should damp down and Wikipedia should be back to its normal status soon (soon?))

More Wikipedia Stats

All Things Considered today ran "Accessing Wikipedia's Accuracy". (the story will be available in audio format a little later today)

It turns out that the Britannica articles had about 3 errors per entry (on average) and the Wikipedia articles had about 4 errors per entry. Most of the errors were minor (misspelling someone's name or having the wrong date) and very rarely there were some fundamental errors, but both encyclopedias had those.

What was also interesting is that 1000 scientists were polled and asked questions about Wikipedia. It turns out more than 50% had heard of Wikipedia. About 20% (27%? It may have been 27%) actually use Wikipedia on a weekly basis (something like twice a week). However, less than 10% actually contribute to it.

This is a great Wisdom of the Crowd type argument. You don't need smart people to have a smart encyclopedia. It's really fascinating.

At Stake: The Net As We Know It

So this is an interesting article...

At Stake: The Net as We Know It
Google et al fear broadband carriers will tie up traffic with new tolls and controls. Ultimately, it could mean a world of Internet haves and have-nots.

The Internet has always been a model of freedom. Today the Web is flourishing because anyone can click to any site or download any service they want on an open network. But now the phone and cable companies that operate broadband networks have a different vision. If they get their way, today's Information Highway could be laden with tollgates, express lanes, and traffic tie-ups -- all designed to make money for the network companies.

That prospect is the worst nightmare of Internet stars such as Google (GOOG) , Amazon (AMZN), and eBay (EBAY). They're gearing up for a clash with the phone and cable giants early next year as Congress begins to redraft the telecom laws for the broadband era. The Internet gang fears that unless they get lawmakers to intervene, the network operators will soon be able to put a chokehold on the Web. "The issue is about the future of the Internet," says Alan Davidson, Google's Washington policy counsel.

Personally, I think this is why Google is investing so much in getting San Franciscio up and running on a free wireless network. They're trying to shake things up.
 

Study: Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica

Wikipedia as accurate as Britannica
The online encylopaedia Wikipedia, home to nearly 4 million articles contributed by volunteers, covers scientific topics about as accurately as Encylopaedia Britannica according to experts.

In a comparison of 42 articles from the two sources, covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, the respected journal Nature found little disparity in accuracy.

The findings were published in an online article on Wednesday which, according to its author, was the first time peer review had been used to compare the two encylopaedias.

Jimmy Wales, who founded Florida-based Wikipedia in 2001, said: "We're very pleased with the results and we're hoping it will focus people's attention on the overall level of our work, which is pretty good."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Phase Portraits

I've noticed lately that I've been getting a lot of search hits here and at the home page about plotting phase portraits (in MATLAB).

In the past, I have advised people to look into trying pplane (and dfield). pplane is a great program that makes it very easy to tackle nonlinear time-invariant differential equations of two states. Not only can you generate the field, but you can plot a phase portrait with trajectories of your choice and can then plot each of those state trajectories against time to see how the system actually evolves in finite time. It's a nice front-end to lots of other MATLAB utilities that makes it easy to get through your first course in nonlinear systems.

However, there is a lot of value to try doing all of this yourself. You'll learn a lot by opening up simulink and dragging an integrator in (you can use one integrator to integrate your entire state matrix -- an xdot vector goes in and an x vector comes out). Use the output of the integrator as your actual states. Setup your differential equations in simulink using those states and running the resulting expressions for each of the differentials into the input of the integrator. Then place a scope on one of your state vectors (on the output of the integrator) and watch how it evolves in time. Simulink will solve the differential equation for you. (NOTE: You load your initial condition into the integrator)

Doing this in simulink really gives you an intuitive feel for how MATLAB solves these equations numerically. In the end, it's a discretization -- the idea is to use the xdot vector to predict the NEXT x vector at the next sampling time. Simulink will pick its sampling time automatically by default, but you can change this too.

Once you've done it in simulink, you can see how you can add time-variance into the expression.

After all of this, it's really worth looking into doing it manually with ode45 (or one of the many other solvers). Type "help ode45" for details, but it's very simple.
Pass it an initial condition, a time span, and a function that represents the differential equation and it will give you a trajectory. You can even pass it output functions so it will automatically output the trajectories it generates each (or each 10th, for example) iteration. It's a nice tool.

When dealing with very high order systems (say a few thousand states), I find ode45 to be a great solver providing an easy way to simulate the system.

Start with pplane to get your bearings. Then work with simulink to make sure you understand what's going on. Then graduate to actually using the ode tools. You'll be better for it.

Off the streets and away from our women

I forwarded that mouse thing to a lawyer friend of my father's who is interested in such things. His creative response...
I'm more concerned here about the implications of the civil rights of the mice with human brain cells. For instance, do they have the right to vote, and if so, will they be Republicans or Democrats. Also, will they be a productive part of our society, will they work or simply expect to be fed and by the government. Who will pay their Social Security -- not me I hope. Since they only live to be about 2 or 3 years old, will Medicare kick in when they are, say 1 year, 6 months old. This will be unfair to the rest of us Americans who are gettin' real old. And what about all those kids they have! These Humice (Humans + Mice) will bankrupt us in about 3 generations. Of course we can continue to keep them locked up as we currently do. This keeps them off the streets and away from our women. Everyone knows that they will want our women -- as all "lower" races do.

Ted, as you can see, there are a lot of serious questions here to be discussed. I suggest that the next experiment we do is to put mouse brain cells in a baby lawyer or electrical engineer and see what happens. It may lead to an improvement in how we all live.

Coffee with Lola La Sueur?

It's been a strange day of e-mail.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Implants spawn mice with human brain cells

Implants spawn mice with human brain cells
By injecting human embryonic stem cells into the brains of fetal mice inside the womb, scientists in California have created living mice with working human brain cells inside their skulls.

The research offers the first proof that human embryonic stem cells — vaunted for their potential to turn into every kind of human cell, at least in laboratory dishes — can become functional human brain cells inside a living animal, reaching out to make connections with surrounding brain cells.

These embryonic stem cell techniques are going to work one day and make a big impact. It's really exciting.

It's inevitable that the conservatives are going to have to start supporting this research. It'd be nice if they'd give in sooner rather than later. Imagine what could be going on in laboratories if resources and support were readily available.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Newsmap

So I learned about this fun site today.

Newsmap

At the top of the screen you can select a number of different countries. At the bottom of the screen you can select a number of different news topics.

It then does a Google News query on that selection. Google news groups together related articles. Newsmap then displays those groupings grpahically. That is, articles that have very large groups are displayed as very large boxes with very large text. Articles that have few siblings are very small.

This not only gives an interesting way to survey the hottest news, but it gives a way to ask questions about the media bias on the Internet. You can see what topics are getting the most attention by the media. You can even normalize the effect to a particular subset of topics. For example, you know that science articles won't get as much interest as politics articles, so you can then ask about the hottest articles IN SCIENCE. So overall some science articles might be very small but normalizing for this given allows you to get more resolution on science articles in general.

Isn't that fun? Take a look.

Ohio residents: Call your state senator soon

Tomorrow Ohio's state senate will vote on House Bill 3.

House Bill 3 is a Republican-sponsored bill requiring an ID for those who want to vote. Those without an ID will have to use a provisional ballot, even if they have been voting in their neighborhoods (and thus have been on the community's voting rolls) for years.

Additionally, if you have moved within the last four years, your driver's license has your old address. This will mean that you too will have to vote with a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots are not counted until after the election and are subject to being thrown out for administrative reasons.

Not only this, but this greatly discourages people from voting. Not only do they have to worry about showing their ID, but they also have to stand in longer lines since each person needs to have an ID checked. This will discourage even more people from voting.

ADDITIONALLY, the current voting law requires that after the vote officials make a random count of the paper records to make sure that the counts are consistent. However, House Bill 3 removes this requirement.

Ohio residents, call your state senator and let them know you oppose this bill. It's simple to do. You just call, say that you oppose it, and they may ask you for your zip code.

To find your state senator, go here. If you need to look-up your ZIP+4 code, go here first.

Death penalty not a deterrent

CNN: Governor denies clemency for ex-gang leader

This just seems so silly.

Texas executes more criminals than any other state. There is a 1/20 chance of being executed when on death row in Texas. However, if you're selling drugs on the streets of Chicago, not only are you making something like $3/hour on the street level but you have a 1/4 chance of getting killed (and this doesn't even count the chance that you'll do something wrong and your employers will kill you). For people who have grown up with 1/4 odds of surviving, those 1/20 odds look pretty good!

Additionally, the death penalty was brought back in order to be a deterrent to help stop crime. Though the death penalty only applies in murder cases, so it only has an impact on murders. Thus, the criminals mentioned above still do as much non-murder crime as they do without the threat of the death penalty.

Now, I don't know how such studies were done and I'm a little skeptical of these numbers, but apparently studies have shown that the aggregate effect of 10,000 executions is the reduction in the number of murders by 1. We brought back the death penalty in 1976. Earlier this year, we performed our 1000th execution (on December 2nd, actually). Do the math. Even if that stat about 10,000 executions is not correct, if there have only been 1000 executions, there is no way the death penalty could possibly be making a dent in the glut of murders in this country.

Justice Harry Blackman, one of the justices responsible for bringing the death penalty back, was later quoted as saying, "I will no longer tinker with the machinery of death." He and others have also referred to it as being arbitrary, capricious, racist, and classist.

Imprisonment, however, has shown to be a very good deterrent against crime. So does enforcement. Increase enforcement and imprisonment and crime will decrease. The death penalty's additional deterring force is miniscule at best -- it just gets lost in the noise.

Unless we plan on killing people for things other than murder and doing it far more often, we really need to get rid of this broken device.

HappyNews

I have mixed feeling about this.

Web site focuses on happy news

The article talks about a site that delivers purely good news:

HappyNews.com

At first I thought this sounded like a bad idea. However, when I went there I did find a number of stories that seemed to be good (as in well produced) news that tended to be fairly uplifting... So maybe it's a good thing.

Who are these awful people?!

Please let all of these people be grotesque examples of the modern American citizen. Please let it be that they are simply strange uneducated backward awful people who contribute nothing significant to the people around them. Please let it be that these people have little-to-no more influence over the world than chance alone:For more information, see the following:Additionally, here is some interesting information about Daniel Brandt, the "sleuth" in this case:I wonder what Brandt thinks about blogs and web forums...<?>

I'm pretty sure Brandt is one of those assholes out there who whines about the BCS not being perfect too. Maybe I should add that category of people to the list as well... but then I think I might come close to sounding a little snippy, so I'll leave things as they are: cool, calm, and verifiably correct. The people above are crazy. Lock 'em up, throw away the key; we don't want to encourage more of this type of behavior.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Playboy Bodcasts and iPod Sex Toys

Playboy Introduces "Bodcasts" For Apple's iPod
Heh, heh, they said, "bod" [Mature warning]

Since everyone loves the iPod and sex, Playboy has found a way to make the two work together -- well, not literally like some products.

The new service from Playboy appears to be a series of videocasts (for the video capable iPod). For the price of your e-mail address the "bodcasting" is currently free, although a "premium" service is mentioned as being in the works.

Told you so.

--Trent Lapinski

Somebody woke up on the wrong side of the playpen with his pacifier stuck up his ass...

This editorial piece was posted on USATODAY.com recently.

A false Wikipedia 'biography' by John Seigenthaler

So who is John Seigenthaler? According to the bottom of the editorial:
John Seigenthaler, a retired journalist, founded The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. He also is a former editorial page editor at USA TODAY.


It baffles me that a man who could write this piece would also found a place called "The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center." If this guy were in charge, he'd make Stalin's purgings look merciful. However, this piece also makes me wonder about the competence of this man, so perhaps I am giving him too much credit by comparing him to Stalin. (though I do confess that after typing this I worry about him sicking his attack dogs on me (even though maybe three people, including me, will ever read this post))

The gist of the story is this. Once upon a time this guy was a public figure and so he is mentioned in Wikipedia. Some time ago, some content was added that had questionable truth. It took 132 days for anyone to notice that the content might be wrong, and when that occurred Wikipedia removed the text (after this guy requested it; it's puzzling why he didn't just edit the entry himself). At this point the guy reacts as if the whole world has visited that Wikipedia entry, read the passage on him, and committed it to memory, so the guy feels that there has been a major libel law violation. He does his best to contact the ISP from which the anonymous poster was connected, and of course nothing happened. He gets frustrated by the lack of legal basis for his claims, and then he complains that Wikipedia should not be called a reference source because anyone can post whatever rubbish they want on it.

Let me put it another way. This guy is a big fat whining baby who has a phobia of technology and has trouble seeing the forest from the trees. Additionally, he has trouble getting over the fact that his name can now only be found in the annals of obscurity and is fighting hard to try to make himself feel important one more time despite defaming a perfectly good resource like Wikipedia.

In the end, this guy's attack on Wikipedia is no better (and perhaps worse) than the "attack" he found on him.

Let's look into his piece in a little more detail for fun.

"John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960's. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven."

— Wikipedia


This is the offending text. For all we know, for a brief time he was thought to have been directly involved. There may have been people who thought that. What's wrong with admitting it?
This is a highly personal story about Internet character assassination. It could be your story.


When did this become "highly personal," Jack? When you took the job in the Kennedy administration, were you expecting no one would ever notice you? Were you seriously not expecting the certain amount of fame that went along with it? Isn't this sort of focus something you should expect for taking such a position? Clearly this could NOT be the story of the average person. Even if it was the average person's story (call her Jill Doe), anyone reading the article wouldn't know who Jill Doe is, so there really wouldn't be any harm done.
I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious "biography" that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular, online, free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable.


It went for 132 days because NO ONE CARED. No one noticed. It wasn't broadcast on national news. It has not caused you great financial damages. Your life does not have to change because of this statement. It MAY be libel, but it's not anything that you could prosecute against even if it was written on paper.

At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong.


We're all surprised that you're so surprised and hurt about this. At age 78, you're as naive and as mature as someone of age 8.
I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about "the wonderful world of Wikipedia," where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference "facts," composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge — and sometimes by people with malice.


Oh, calm down! There is no conspiracy. Wikipedia works so well because it effectively aggregates the wisdom of a wide variety of sources. Sure, one source can be incorrect, but as long as there are enough independent contributors who are freely able to publish, things will get corrected. As we will read in a moment, things got corrected here.

You cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. People who are skeptical of the openness of Wikipedia just don't get it.
At my request, executives of the three websites now have removed the false content about me. But they don't know, and can't find out, who wrote the toxic sentences.


Couldn't you have removed the "false content"? Couldn't you have worked within the system?

Are the sentences really so TOXIC? Are you okay? Do doctors think you can surive this?
I phoned Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder and asked, "Do you ... have any way to know who wrote that?"


You don't think this is a bit overboard, do you?

Couldn't you have just used the log files available from Wikipedia? Why are you asking him? Don't you know how this works? Can't you use the resources available to you?

"No, we don't," he said. Representatives of the other two websites said their computers are programmed to copy data verbatim from Wikipedia, never checking whether it is false or factual.


How are they supposed to check? People go to Wikipedia to get information that they cannot find anywhere else.

Additionally, it would cost MILLIONS to be able to employ a staff capable of checking the Wikipedia material continuously in such a way that updates would be able to show up within a reasonable amount of time. Is it really worth the cost when you can just make it open to everybody and let them hash it out? After all, we all want Wikipedia to be useful to us, so plenty of us will work to actually make it useful. The system supports itself.

This one silly example hardly destroys the utility of the tool.

And face it, if it wasn't for the openness of Wikipedia, it would be a surprise that anyone had written anything about you, Mr. Big Shot.
Naturally, I want to unmask my "biographer." And, I am interested in letting many people know that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool.


GET OVER YOURSELF.

Is your skull really this thick and yet your skin this thin?

Is it really that difficult for you to get it?

Are you really that sensitive?

So the guy finds the IP address of the person who posted the note. Then he contacts his ISP. The ISP has an abuse handler and sends him a form letter back. The VERY HELPFUL (to a strange extent) Wikipedia founder explains to him that such requests infrequently get any real handling by the ISPs. So he calls BellSouth's Atlanta headquarters, manages to get through to someone, and gets the explanation that BellSouth cannot release any name unless he files a "John or Jane Doe" lawsuit in which the name can be subpoenaed.

Okay, so why does he even CARE about the name? This guy has sufferred ZERO financial losses. Is he really looking for punitive damages here?

You see, most sane people (a set that seems to exclude this guy) would have encouraged BellSouth to take action against this guy without releasing the name to him. If BellSouth did not respond adequately to him, he could have contacted the BBB (or possibly the AG) and let them handle it. Back when I used to work for an ISP and we had a user who was getting attacked in some form (and this usually meant someone was targetting them with technology and not with words) we would follow this procedure and it worked very well.

But, like I said, this guy seems to be incompetent.

So then he goes on to complain that providers or users of interactive computer services cannot be treated as a publisher or speaker. A tremendous derth of the Internet is on par with a tape recording of everyday parlance among people. It would be wrong to hold this very public resource to some higher standard where only those with money and legal teams could contribute. It would just be silly. It would be an attack on free speech (as well as lots of other important liberties).

So then the whining continues...
Recent low-profile court decisions document that Congress effectively has barred defamation in cyberspace. Wikipedia's website acknowledges that it is not responsible for inaccurate information, but Wales, in a recent C-Span interview with Brian Lamb, insisted that his website is accountable and that his community of thousands of volunteer editors (he said he has only one paid employee) corrects mistakes within minutes.


Mistakes can only be corrected quickly if they are accessed quickly and often. Your name was not. By this very fact it's silly to assume there have been any great damages done!

You want someone to be imprisoned and fined for doing the equivalent of telling a dirty joke amongst a handful of people that you do not know who will probably forget the joke soonafter they hear it. Again, I compare you to Stalin.

And then there's some more stuff that really gets under my skin... But this last part is the best.
When I was a child, my mother lectured me on the evils of "gossip." She held a feather pillow and said, "If I tear this open, the feathers will fly to the four winds, and I could never get them back in the pillow. That's how it is when you spread mean things about people."

For me, that pillow is a metaphor for Wikipedia.


That's... really... beautiful. I sorta have a tear coming to my eye. All those feathers... You just can't get them back! That's so sad... And so true!

...and yet so much crap.

And so I hope his editorial generates more bad things said about him than the original Wikipedia article. I'm tempted to go in and add a page linking to his editorial and talking about his hatred for Wikipedia. I'll give his pillow quote. Yeah, I think that's a good idea. And that way something that is verifiable will be in there, so the Wikipedia people won't remove it, and he and his equally incompetent son will not have the technicaly savvy to figure out how to remove it themselves...

Heck, maybe they'll write an editorial about me. And then I can call the head of USATODAY and complain to him about this great injustice that has been done. Then I can talk to USATODAY's Internet provider and try to get them shut down. Then I can press charges in a federal court... (sound familiar? sound pretty silly? yeah, I think so too)

See what can happen when you cut down all the trees?

Russian squirrel pack 'kills dog'
Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park, local media report.

Passers-by were too late to stop the attack by the black squirrels in a village in the far east, which reportedly lasted about a minute.

They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh.

A pine cone shortage may have led the squirrels to seek other food sources, although scientists are sceptical.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Iraqi Honor Killings

This was on NPR today:

Activists Sound Alarm on Iraqi 'Honor Killings' by Anne Garrels
All Things Considered, December 7, 2005 - Women's rights in Iraq are a subject of growing alarm for activists and some secular groups. The widely accepted and seldom prosecuted practice of "honor killings" -- in which family members of women who have had extramarital sex have a right to kill her -- is of particular concern.

The story will be available to stream from the website a little later today. The summary sounds bad enough, but it gets worse.

During the piece, a number of Iraqs tell stories about their own families. Their daughters or sisters were abducted and the abductors threatened to rape and kill the women if the families did not pay a ransom. The families would pay the ransom, get the women back, and then kill the women because the family could never be sure that they were still virgins. The shame brought upon the family for housing a woman who had extramarital sex would be too much for the family, so they had to result to killing the women.

These killings typically go unpunished. They are a tribal custom. Islam does not condone them, but the tribal customs are an even stronger influence than religion.

The new Iraqi constitution does not address women's rights at all, so there is no hope that this practice will cease.