Archive for December, 2008

Paolo Soleri eat your heart out

December 31, 2008

Nobody Goes There Anymore, It’s Too Crowded

All of which is a throat-clearing way of saying that if we see a big increase in the amount of walkable urbanism available to American families, an awful lot of it will probably exist outside the city limits of the municipalities that form the hubs of our metropolitan area. That will mean, yes, converting existing elements of the build environment rather than simply abandoning everything and trying to get everyone to move willy-nilly into downtown Cleveland. In other words — more housing in malls.

See also the links on actual conversions and other stuff in Matt’s piece.

But the real kicker, in my opinion, is going to be getting useful jobs into these areas. If all you have is a bunch of rich people who live at the mall and shop there while working 20 or 30 miles away by non-mass transit, and a bunch of lower-middle types who work at the mall and its associated offices while living 20 or 30 miles the other way, also by non-mass transit (because you wouldn’t want to make it easy for “those people” to get to the upscale mall and its residences), then you haven’t gotten very far at all.

The Tysons area may have done this pretty well, with oodles of office towers in bowshot of the malls and the incredibly ugly apartment blocks, except for the problem of getting from one part of the place to any other. You get in your car, drive out of the parking lot, navigate a couple of eight-lane cloverleafs (might only take half an hour if you’re lucky), find another parking spot and walk to your destination. If they had shuttles running continuously, or a few monorail loops, or just put up enough pedestrian bridges to pave over the big honking roads, it would be just perfect.

In the comments to Matt’s piece there’s a little bit along this line, with someone noting that this same kind of closely-sited residential and retail develpment at Springfield Mall/Kingstowne, but with a few hundred yards of completely unwalkable distance between them.  Pedestrian bridges and their equivalents really aren’t so hard to build, but many suburban developments seem religiously opposed to them.


Home Theater rescues British Economy!

December 27, 2008

from a mostly-unrelated story

According to research by LG Electronics the average person in the UK will spend £350 ($516) on home cinema equipment this Christmas.

A little googling for population suggests that in the month of December, british spending on home cinema (let alone other electronics or mere televisions and video players not destined for a home cinema) will have to be somewhere north of 21 billion (only US billion, but still) pounds, aka $31 billion. That would be the equivalent of US spending on the order of $160 billion on home cinema equipment. Which would be a problem, because retailers are reporting total holiday-season spending of roughly $90 billion.

If we were all dropping the kind of money El Reg imagines, there wouldn’t be a recession on. At least not until the credit-card bills arrive.

a lawsuit waiting to happen

December 26, 2008

Join The Revolution! » Untrusted Certificates

n an unrelated event which was briefly mentioned at the mailing list of Mozilla, something strange happened. During my attempt to verify and understand who stands behind the sending of fraudulent “reminder” email messages tricking our customers, I created a certificate from the source I was following. And my certificate was issued without any further questions.

This prompted me to create another certificate through them, but this time by using a domain name which should never be issued to me. For the purpose of testing, I selected the domain (I’m certain they will forgive me). Five minutes later I was in the possession of a legitimate certificate issued to – no questions asked – no verification checks done – no control validation – no subscriber agreement presented, nothing.

With the understanding about MITM attacks, the severity of this practice is obvious. No encryption is worth anything if an attacker can implant himself between the client and the server. With a completely legitimate and trusted certificate, the attack is perfect.

That’s why we call them certificate authorities, and why self-signed certificates are supposed to be so utterly evil. Right.

Funny but not-stupid tech

December 26, 2008

Prof’s robotic pole-snake goes big in Korea • The Register

The snaky robot is about 3 feet long, according to Dennis Hong of Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Lab, which developed it.

“Unlike inchworm type gaits often being developed for serpentine robot locomotion, this novel climbing gait requires the serpentine robot to wrap around the structure in a helical shape, and twist its whole body to climb or descend by rolling up or down the structure,” said Hong.

This sounds pretty cool. Outside the pages of old-style SF, I don’t think there are any creatures that move by rolling at all.

Lighting: Brilliant White Light Produced By Heated Diaper Rash Cream

“Duke adjunct physics professor Henry Everitt, chemistry professor Jie Liu and their graduate student John Foreman have discovered that adding sulfur to ultra-fine powders of commonplace zinc oxide at about 1,000 degrees centigrade allows the preparation to convert invisible ultraviolet light into a remarkably bright and natural form of white light.”

This is pretty nice. I only remember the first claims to converting UV from LEDS to incandescent-style light from maybe 10 years ago, but that’s pretty short in tech-development circles.

Why police officers are not generally trusted

December 26, 2008

Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Lights Start Flashin’ Behind Me

Like I said, horrifying, right? Every parent’s worst nightmare, some thugs come steal your kid in the dark of night. So what did the Galveston police do about it?

As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.


Well, that changes things. Not, you know, the horribleness of the action by police, or the horrible abuse of civil rights this represents, or the terror the girl must have felt. No, what it changes is that the police could compound the damage by making things even worse:

We’ll see how the Dymond Milburn’s trial for assaulting a police officer goes, but don’t you kinda expect something even worse to come out if there’s any substantial investigation? Who the hell calls out three plainclothes officers and an unmarked van to look into a report of three prostitutes soliciting a couple of guys, one of them a drug dealer? What quality of police officers grab a 12-year-old black girl and beat her up when looking for three white women really isn’t a question.

If I were completely cynical, I’d theorize that the three guys might be a crew of serial rapists preying on prostitutes, and the ostensible call was a cover story that will fall apart in discovery. If I were a conspiracy nut, I’d say that the call would hold up on discovery and that the dispatcher was a procurer alerting the three to potential victims. But the reputation of police in so many jurisdictions is such that incompetence seems as plausible an explanation as malice. (Or at least specific malice — even if you are detaining a prostitute for questioning, grabbing them without identifying yourself and beating her up displays malice; it’s just toward people whom society has labeled as disposable.)

Reconditioning lungs: OK, this is creepy

December 24, 2008

Boffins keep transplant lungs alive in glass dome • The Register

But now, with the Toronto XVIVO Lung Perfusion System, a set of lungs can be whipped out of the donor and put into a “protective, transparent bubble-like chamber”. Here they are hooked up to a “pump, ventilator and filters through which flow oxygen, nutrients and a special solution” and kept at human body temperature.

According to Dr Shaf Keshavjee of Toronto General Hospital, “lungs can be safely kept on this circuit for 12 hours in order to assess, maintain and treat them before successfully transplanting them”.

The two docs were pleased to announce the first full trial of their kit. Andy Dykstra, 56, received a pair of reconditioned lungs earlier this month and is now back at home. The XVIVO system had been tested before, but Dykstra was the first patient to receive lungs “which could not have been used if they had not been repaired first”.

And here’s the video, which really ought to be out of some science-fiction horror film about organlegging.

I found so much effing good pollen, man

December 24, 2008

Bees on cocaine: The facts • The Register

According to the boffins, cocaine turns good bees – productive members of the hive – into untrustworthy scumbags. The cocaine-addled insects would routinely exaggerate the quality of sugar or pollen they had found, lying to their fellow hive members through the medium of “waggle dancing”, the standard method of describing one’s work among bees.

But the bees’ dance remained accurate in terms of where the food was, according to Robinson. The insect drug-slaves maintained a certain level of dignity.

Global engineering

December 24, 2008

Scientist proposes ‘colossal refrigeration system’ to stave of global-warming

First, the sprayed droplets would transform to water vapor, a change that absorbs thermal energy near ground level; then the rising vapor would condense into sunlight-reflecting clouds and cooling rain, releasing much of the stored energy into space in the form of infrared radiation.

Kenneth Caldeira, a climate scientist for the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University whose computer simulation of Ace’s invention suggests it would significantly cool the planet.

The simulated evaporation of about one-half inch of additional water everywhere in the world produced immediate planetary cooling effects that were projected to reach nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit within 20 or 30 years, Caldeira said.

The evaporation of about one-half inch of additional water everywhere around the world would also have massive dislocation effects on the weather, and we still don’t know for sure that added clouds will cool things, but mostly I’m doing a back of the envelope here. Call that one centimeter, which would would be 10 liters per square meter of the earth’s surface, or 10 million liters per square kilometer, or about 5 quadrillion liters total. That’s roughly 8 times the annual output of the Amazon. Or somewhere upwards of 400 gallons a day pumped into the atmosphere for a year for every human being on the planet.

If we could do engineering on that scale (without creating so much waster heat as to make things even worse) then climate change would be the least of our worries.

brilliant if true

December 23, 2008

The Sentinel

the parent said, students duplicate the license plates by printing plate numbers on glossy photo paper, using fonts from certain websites that “mimic” those on Maryland license plates. They tape the duplicate plate over the existing plate on the back of their car and purposefully speed through a speed camera, the parent said. The victim then receives a citation in the mail days later.

It’s a good thing, of course, that speed cameras have thorough audit trails. Oh, wait.

Is there something else about identifying as queer?

December 22, 2008

Lesbian youth at high risk for pregnancy: UBC study

The heightened risk is explained by several factors, including an attempt among closeted gay, lesbian and bisexual teens to prove they are heterosexual to avoid harassment and discrimination.

“For some gay, lesbian and bisexual teens it’s camouflage,” said Elizabeth Saewyc, lead author of the study and an associate professor at the University of B.C.’s school of nursing, “because it’s still pretty stigmatized and they still face a lot of harassment at school.”

Results from the surveys, which were conducted anonymously among about 30,000 students in grades 7 through 12, indicated as well that boys are more likely to cause a pregnancy if they identify as gay or bisexual.

In the 1998 survey, 10.6 per cent of girls who identified as bisexual reported pregnancy, and 7.3 per cent of lesbians reported pregnancy. Among the heterosexual girls, 1.8 per cent reported pregnancy.

The data are old, but they’re probably all anyone has…

What strikes me, perhaps mistakenly, is the tiny percentage among heterosexual girls. Now of course this is Canada, where teenage contraception doesn’t get wingnuts running screaming through the streets, but even so I’m betting that a big contribution to that number is that you don’t need to be sexually active to classify yourself as heterosexual. Conversely, anyone who has done enough thinking about the matter to classify themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual is much more likely to have done rather more than just think.

(And then you get the inner-turmoil issues that map nicely to the craziness of abstinence-only types in the US, who also have an anomalously high pregnancy rate. If you’re really freaked out about which parts you want to be using with whom, you’re probably going to be less likely to use contraception consistently and effectively just because that would require too much mental coherence.)