Archive for January, 2009

Utopian fantasies

January 31, 2009

The Reality-Based Community: Save the mad scientists

If I’m right, this is very good news: since it means that far more people are now able to release their creative bent. We can expect new ideas to germinate and spread faster, as long as obsolete IP laws do not get in the way. The effect will parallel the well-known changes wrought by Gutenberg’s printing, and the less remarked effects of Rowland Hill’s reliable postal service, which allowed Charles Darwin’s correspondence with Newcastle pigeon-fanciers and that great collective monument of the English Victorian gentry, the Wikipedia of its day, the Oxford English Dictionary.

The question: Is it the ideas and their refinement that we need, or are the changes in the resisting physical world and its institutions?


Stupid maemo tricks

January 29, 2009

Ok, everyone who’s been doing this for the past two years can laugh at me for taking this long to figure it out. But if you’re slow like me, you look for new apps for your n8xx on your PC, where the browser is fast and the screen is big. Then you navigate to the same place with the browser on your gizmo so that you can push the little “Install Now” arrow icon and start the application manager downloading and installing all the files you need.

Or click on that same icon in your PC browser, save the contents of the incoming whatever.install to your disk, and send it to your n8xx by bluetooth connection, and watch it open automatically with the application manager. Whee. I should have thought of that the first time I saw a .install file: maemo is *nix, so once you hand the application manager the right file, it couldn’t care less what route it traveled. (Yeah, if I were really cool I’d write a firefox plugin that invoked the transfer automagically. No security issues there.)

Tab Dump other

January 29, 2009

The Little Unions That Couldn’t – T. A. Frank

This is what lawmakers have sought to remedy in devising the Employee Free Choice Act. For all the controversy, EFCA is a surprisingly modest bill, with provisions aimed at strengthening existing labor laws rather than altering them substantively. Under EFCA, if Rite Aid had been found guilty of making illegal threats or of spying or of intimidation, it could have faced a monetary penalty—up to $20,000 per incident in cases of repeated violations. If Rite Aid had been found to have illegally fired a union supporter, it would have been required to pay not just the back wages, but three times the back wages. And if contract negotiations were being conducted without results, either party could seek federal mediation after ninety days. If, after thirty additional days, negotiations were still stalled, then an arbiter would be able to impose a contract settlement that would last two years. This would prevent employers (or employees) from running out the clock with bad-faith talks.

Interfluidity :: Nationalize like real capitalists

The reason to nationalize a bank is because the bank has failed and its former owners have no legitimate claim to its assets. The government has been forced to offer support with public money, thereby purchasing the corpse fair and square. We take the bank into public ownership because taxpayers who have been conscripted to accept extraordinary losses are entitled to whatever gains follow the reorganization they finance.

When a bank is nationalized, shareholder equity should be written to zero, and existing management should be handled as roughly as the law allows.

Back on Tracks – Phillip Longman

there is no reason we cannot again have fast, efficient express freight service of the kind the Railway Express Agency once provided. For cities as far apart as New York and Chicago, trains can beat planes on next-day mail service. As consulting engineer Alan Drake points out, when passengers and express freight or mail are borne by the same train, the economics of passenger rail improve dramatically, making possible far wider service. We also have the chance to reduce drastically the cost and huge carbon footprint of using trucks and planes almost exclusively to ship perishables across the country. Until the 1970s, railroads handled nearly all fresh food movement from California and Florida, and could again, making healthy winter fruits and vegetables cheaper, and less hard on the planet.

Big Box Reuse – The MIT Press

When a big box store upsizes to an even bigger box “supercenter” down the road, it leaves behind more than the vacant shell of a retail operation; it leaves behind a changed landscape that can’t be changed back. Acres of land have been paved around it. Highway exits lead to it; local roads end at it. With thousands of empty big box stores spread across America, these sites have become a dominant feature of the American landscape.

In Big Box Reuse, Julia Christensen shows us how ten communities have addressed this problem, turning vacated Wal-Marts and Kmarts into something else: a church, a library, a school, a medical center, a courthouse, a recreation center, a museum, and other civic-minded structures. In each case, what was once a place to shop has become a center of community life.

Air Force: More unmanned aircraft than manned in 2009 | Community

How important have unmanned aircraft become to the US military? Well how’s this: the Air Force says next year it will acquire more unmanned aircraft than manned.

A Self-Referential Story

This Is the Title of This Story, Which Is Also Found Several Times in the Story Itself

Tab dump science-ish

January 29, 2009

Boffins monitor strato-weather from half-mile underground • The Register

This isn’t because the cosmic rays are affecting the atmosphere, but rather the other way round. If the stratosphere heats up, its density is reduced and fewer inbound cosmic particles collide with air molecules. In particular, incoming mesons are destroyed when they hit air – but if they don’t, they decay into muons.

Muons can be detected, provided the detector apparatus is well shielded from extraneous interference – in this case, by putting it in a disused iron mine half a mile underground in Minnesota. The NCAS boffins, analysing four years of records, found that an increased rainfall of ex-meson muons could be correlated in retrospect with sudden strato-heatwaves and their associated effects.

“Now we can potentially use records of cosmic-ray data dating back 50 years to give us a pretty accurate idea of what was happening to the temperature in the stratosphere over this time,” says Dr Scott Osprey of NCAS.

Lots of Pure Water Ice at Mars North Pole | Universe Today

The north polar cap is a dome of layered, icy materials, similar to the large ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica, consisting of layered deposits, with mostly ice and a small amount of dust. Combined, the north and south polar ice caps are believed to hold the equivalent of two to three million cubic kilometers (0.47-0.72 million cu. miles) of ice, making it roughly 100 times more than the total volume of North America’s Great Lakes, which is 22,684 cu. kms (5,439 miles).

Cape Wind Project Underway to Bring First U.S. Offshore Wind

The footprint for the proposed project covers 24 square miles, 15.8 miles from the island town of Nantucket. The project envisions 130 horizontal-axis wind turbines, each having a hub height of 440 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty, which stands at 305 feet. The blade diameter is 364 feet. The turbines would be sited between 4-11 miles offshore depending on the shoreline. This is enough to meet the needs of 420,000 homes.

Currently 45% of the Cape region’s electricity comes from the nearby Canal Power Plant in Sandwich, which burns bunker oil and natural gas. The Cape Wind proposal is relatively unique in that it would directly offset petroleum usage unlike most of the country where electrical power generation from oil is rare and coal power is more common.

Vehicles: ‘Mono Tiltrotor’ Combines Helicopter, Airplane and UFO

AeroCopter’s MTR vehicle has a single turbine driving a ducted fan pusher propeller and the electromagnetically driven 8.2m (27ft)-diameter ring that encircles the fuselage. Lift is generated by the rotor blades of the ring, which has counter-rotating upper and lower halves. A driveshaft linking the ring to the turbine uses permanent magnets to turn the ring, which has many more magnets located at short intervals around its circumference. Once at 1,000ft (305m) altitude the ring is tilted through 87° and locked in place.

Tab Dump CS

January 28, 2009

New Phishing Attack Targets Online Banking Sessions With Phony Popups – DarkReading

Amit Klein, CTO of Trusteer, says although he and his research team have not spotted full-blown attacks like this in the wild as yet, they have witnessed precursors to it. The attack goes like this: The phisher injects legitimate Websites with malicious JavaScript so that when an online banking customer visits one of those sites while banking online, he gets targeted. The malware exploits weaknesses in the browser that lets the attacker “see” the banking site URL where the victim is logged in, and then the phisher automatically generates a popup posing as that bank. If the user falls for the popup lure and enters his banking credentials, the phisher then gets those credentials.

“This is the next generation of sophisticated phishing attack,” Klein says. “It combines an online vector — the attacker waits for user to come to a genuine site that’s hacked — and browser shortcomings to detect which site the user is logged into in a different window or tab. This provides a very powerful avenue to conduct a sophisticated attack.”

Networked fridges ‘negotiate’ electricity use – Hardware – iTnews Australia

A thermal model for each unit is then built up using machine learning technology that collates a series of on/off signals and outputs a temperature profile for the fridge, according to West.

The model is said to characterise the fridge’s power requirements to allow predictions to be made on when the fridge will require another ‘on’ cycle.

“A lot of people don’t realise that fridges cycle on and off regularly, which means you’ve got a bit of discretion about when they use power,” said West.

The controller developed by the CSIRO enables communication between other fridges on the network and also the power source.

It has the potential to smooth out fluctuations in electricity demand by enabling fridges to manage available power, according to West.

“The fridges work together to decide when to cool down, and thus consume power, based on how much surplus power will be available,” said West.

“They are able to anticipate power shortages and change their running schedules accordingly to use as little power as possible during these times.”

The networked fridges are also able to take ‘surplus’ energy produced by renewable sources such as solar panels and store it in thermal mass inside the unit, said West.

Inbox Zero: Processing to zero | 43 Folders


* Smart Folder Rules:
o Date received is greater than 60 days
o Message is flagged
o Message is in Mailbox “To Respond”
* Usual load: 10-20 emails
* Time to completion: Usually? 1 second.
* That’s right. I delete them. Does this make me a bad person? Only for a second. Then I’m right back in the “Recent” folders saving the ones I can — hoping they never make it into the Euthanasia ward. The point is: this is where I draw the line in the sand — it’s the absolute last chance for a response. They either get it now or never. That’s how you stay sane. Just move on.

Homemade Scrabble Keyboard: Double Nerd Score

This wood and brushed aluminum keyboard features real Scrabble tiles with the points score slightly modded to show each key’s secondary function. It’s classy, it’s nerdy, and it’s worth a ton of points.

InformIT: Software [In]security: Top 11 Reasons Why Top 10 (or Top 25) Lists Don’t Work > The 2009 Software Security Bug Parade

# Too much focus on bugs. Software security practitioners have known for years that software defects lead to serious security problems. What we all seem to forget sometimes is that defects come in two basic flavors (divided roughly 50/50 in terms of prevalence): bugs in the code and flaws in the design. Top ten lists tend to focus on bugs, to the detriment of any attention for design-level problems.
# Vulnerability lists help auditors more than developers. Teaching someone how to do the right thing is much more cost effective and efficient than attempting to teach someone how not to do an infinite set of wrong things. Software people react more positively to being shown how to do things right than they do to a bug parade. On the other hand, big lists of bugs certainly make auditing code easier. But how efficient is that?

Kentucky reverses 141-site net casino land grab • The Register

The lower-court ruling rested on Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate’s highly specious finding that internet casino domain names constitute “gambling devices” that are subject to the state’s anti-gambling statutes. Tuesday’s decision disabused Wingate of that notion in no uncertain terms.

“Suffice it to say that given the exhaustive argument both in brief and oral form as to the nature of an internet domain name, it stretches credulity to conclude that a series of numbers, or internet address, can be said to constitute a machine or any mechanical or other device … designed and manufactured primarily for use in connection with gambling,” they stated. “We are thus convinced that the trial court clearly erred in concluding that the domain names can be construed to be gambling devices subject to forfeiture under” Kentucky law.

I can see why the code would be a trade secret

January 27, 2009

Courts are pushing back just the tiniest bit against breathalyzers, which is nice because the theory behind the device might be good, but if no one knows the actual implementation, theory is useless.

Manatee judge tosses DUI breath tests – Top Stories –

Manatee County Judge Doug Henderson ruled two years ago that any Intoxilyzer 5000 tests were inadmissible in trial, but prosecutors appealed. On Tuesday, Henderson told lawyers that his ruling had been affirmed by the Second District Court of Appeal and Circuit Court.

Henderson instructed attorneys to draft an order reflecting the court’s decision, and that he planned to sign it, he told the Bradenton Herald.

The announcement could mean long-awaited conclusions to a legal fight that has stalled the cases in Manatee and Sarasota counties. It was unclear late Tuesday whether other appeals were possible.

Prosecutors must now decide whether to take the cases to trial without that evidence or reduce or dismiss the DUI charges.

Defense attorneys have challenged the machines, saying their clients have a right to have DUI defense experts analyze whether the machines function properly.

But Kentucky-based CMI Inc., the company that makes Florida’s breath-test machines, refused to release its source code, or computer software. Both Henderson and Sarasota County Judge David Denkin ordered CMI to divulge the code, but CMI said it is a protected trade secret.

This second clip shows why the obvious “testing” method of seeing how the machine responds to various levels of alcohol metabolites in the breath is kinda useless, unless you know its responses to everything else in the world.

Ice cream causes positive alcohol test –

rosecutors inquired why the machine had registered a “fail,” which prevents the car from starting, despite the man’s claims that he had not been drinking.

The man claimed the alcohol reading was the result of eating a Bubble O’ Bill ice cream treat and Magistrate Rod Crisp ordered a test to be performed to back up the claim. Police recorded the man’s blood alcohol content as 0.00 and performed the test a second time after he took a few bites of Bubble O’ Bill, yielding a 0.018 reading.

Network neutrality in action

January 25, 2009

FCC wants to know if Comcast is interfering with VoIP

This potential choppiness stands in contrast, the FCC contends, to Comcast’s own VoIP product, Comcast Digital Voice (CDV), a difference that Comcast discloses on its FAQ Network Management page. “Is Comcast Digital Voice affected by this [network management] technique?” the page asks. “What about other VoIP providers?”

No, the company explains. CDV is a “separate facilities-based IP phone service” and “is not affected by this technique.”

The Commission would like some more details about this assertion. “We request that Comcast explain why it omitted from its filings with the Commission the distinct effects that Comcast’s new network management technique has on Comcast’s VoIP offerings versus those of its competitors,” its letter asks. And how is CDV “facilities based”? the agency wants to know, and does it impact network congestion differently from other VoIP providers?
Subject to regulation?

The soup gets even hotter. If Digital Voice represents a consumer offering “distinct,” in the FCC’s words, from its “broadband offering,” then it could conceivably be classified as “the privileged transmission of information of the customer’s choosing across Comcast’s network,” the agency suggests. In other words, by virtue of the way Comcast has structured its VoIP product, it’s a “telecommunications” rather than an “information” service, and thus potentially subject “to the same intercarrier compensation obligations applicable to other facilities-based telecommunications carriers.”

Of course they favor their own product over their competitors. The only thing they didn’t reckon with is that they may have thereby put their product in a different, way more expensive regulatory category.

This is actually an interesting potential solution to the net-neutrality issue: as soon as a big ISP treats its own offering of voice or video or whatever differently from those of its IP-based competitors, those products go in a different regulatory category, and all of a sudden a bunch of franchise fees, intercarrier obligations, per-subscriber fee payments and so forth go into effect.

Because people never change their minds

January 25, 2009

Two-thirds of Americans without broadband don’t want it

But when we look at the overall reasons why Americans don’t have broadband, availability isn’t the biggest barrier. Neither is price. Those two, combined, only account for one-third of Americans without broadband. Two-thirds simply don’t want it.
What’s the point?

The bigger issue is a lack of perceived value. 19 percent of dial-up users, for example, say that “nothing” would get them to upgrade, not even lower prices. Of the 25 percent of Americans that don’t regularly use the Internet at all (Hi, Mom!), a third said that they were “not interested in going online,” almost ten percent thought it was too “difficult,” and seven percent simply don’t “have time.”

Older and poorer Americans tend to be the ones who see less need for broadband, and it’s clear that demand for it could be boosted through national e-health and e-government programs. But Pew’s main point is that working on price and access alone will only bring broadband to a limited subset of Americans who don’t already have it—in the short term, at least.

And just how long is that short term? As long as the 5 years or so it will take to do last-mile buildouts?

I hope they’re expecting business to get much worse

January 22, 2009

Microsoft axes 5,000 staff as Q2 profit dives 11% • The Register

The software giant, which saw its shares fall 8.5 per cent to $17.88 following the announcement, said it would not be offering profit forecasts for the rest of the fiscal year.

For the second quarter ended 31 December 2008, revenue climbed slightly by two per cent to $16.63bn. Analysts had forecast $17.1bn for Microsoft’s Q2 results.

It pulled in operating income of $5.94bn, down eight per cent on the same period a year earlier. Net income panned out to $4.17bn, delivering earnings per share of $0.47, two cents less than analysts had expected.

Microsoft will axe up to 5,000 staff in its research and development, marketing, sales, finance, legal, human resources and IT units over the next 18 months, including 1,400 employees who were handed their pink slips today. The firm’s current headcount is around 91,000 staff worldwide.

Because when your profits are a mere $4 billion and change on $16 billion plus of revenue, that’s a position pretty much everyone but an oil company would envy. Note, by the way, that the planned cuts will yield well under a billion in savings (and probably a bunch of lost revenue), so their actual impact on profits is questionable.

For use on particularly calm days

January 22, 2009

How to move a boat without an engine, paddles or sails | Community

Pitt researchers said that in their experiments, an electrode attached to a 2-centimeter-long “mini-boat” emitted a surge that changed the rear surface tension direction and propelled the boat at roughly 4 millimeters per second. A second electrode attached to the boat’s front side served as the rudder.

OK, maybe they can get that up to many centimeters per second. I for one would not like to be in a boat whose engine had a maximum speed of less than a knot.