Archive for May, 2009

Why do I think this could be a really bad idea?

May 18, 2009

Gizmodo – Did You Ever Think You Could Deposit Checks Using Your Phone? Neither Did I – Mobile deposit software

Assuming you don’t already direct deposit all your checks, NCR’s APTRA Passport checking software could be great news. Your phone’s camera, which must be at least 2-megapixels, acts as a scanner that captures an image of the check. APTRA then uses Mitek Systems’ advanced recognition and image quality technologies to validate all data before transmitting those images directly to your financial institution or online banking web site. Presto! You’re done.

Now of course when you deposit a check to your account your bank generally knows who you are and can claw the money back if anything goes wrong, but this just seems like a perfect opportunity for some obvious scams. (Some of those scams could be arranged with paper checks as well, but this being able to script them is always a difference in kind.)

Of course, it will make me feel even more deliciously retro when I deposit a check — gasp — by mail.


This guy should never have been an economics reporter

May 15, 2009

Magazine Preview – My Personal Credit Crisis –

I wrote several early-warning articles in 2004 about the spike in go-go mortgages. Before that, I had a hand in covering the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Russia meltdown in 1998 and the dot-com collapse in 2000. I know a lot about the curveballs that the economy can throw at us.

But in 2004, I joined millions of otherwise-sane Americans in what we now know was a catastrophic binge on overpriced real estate and reckless mortgages. Nobody duped or hypnotized me. Like so many others — borrowers, lenders and the Wall Street dealmakers behind them — I just thought I could beat the odds. We all had our reasons. The brokers and dealmakers were scoring huge commissions. Ordinary homebuyers were stretching to get into first houses, or bigger houses, or better neighborhoods. Some were greedy, some were desperate and some were deceived.

As for me, I had two utterly compelling reasons for taking the plunge: the money was there, and I was in love.

And then he just went and spent $30K a year more than he had, in the magical belief that if he and his spouse looked the other way they’d be fine. He seems to write without any clue to the mindboggling conflict of interest in putting stories in the newspaper every day about people and companies who were even stupider than he was — but whose failure would also result in further disasters for him…

And then it climbs into your bed and smothers you

May 15, 2009

Gizmodo – Floor-Wiping Worm Robot Provides Crucial Missing Link in Robotic Fossil Record – Fukitorimushi floor-cleaning robot

the little robot is wrapped in a sticky nanocloth sleeve, which collects dust and debris as the robot crawls, worm-style, across the floor.

Its also got sensors to seek out dirt, so it takes a slightly different approach to floor cleaning than the Roomba,

This thing seems really cool, but I would sure hate to have it in the same house with a cat.

Inside a botnet

May 11, 2009

Schneier on Security

During that time, however, UCSB’s researchers were able to gather massive amounts of information on how the botnet functions as well as what kind of information it’s gathering. Almost 300,000 unique login credentials were gathered over the time the researchers controlled the botnet, including 56,000 passwords gathered in a single hour using “simple replacement rules” and a password cracker. They found that 28 percent of victims reused their credentials for accessing 368,501 websites, making it an easy task for scammers to gather further personal information. The researchers noted that they were able to read through hundreds of e-mail, forum, and chat messages gathered by Torpig that “often contain detailed (and private) descriptions of the lives of their authors.”


Worst science reporting headline ever?

May 11, 2009

BBC NEWS | Health | Trial drugs ‘reverse’ Alzheimer’s

In mice, the treatment helped restore long-term memory and improve learning for new tasks, Nature reports.

The same drugs – HDAC inhibitors – are currently being tested to treat Huntington’s disease and are on the market to treat some cancers.

They reshape the DNA scaffolding that supports and controls the expression of genes in the brain.

The work is actually pretty darn interesting and may be important, but what’s actually been done is a study of mice with an Alzheimers-analog condition. The article says human trials of derivative compounds may be 10 years away.

Of course the piece also says that HDAC inhibitors are on the market as anticancer drugs and are being studied for Huntington’s chorea, so expect a few thousand doctors motivated by hope or greed to start highly-expensive off-label treatments and publish oodles of anecdotal reports that make good randomized studies later impossible…

If civilization falls there will be plenty of dead cars to rebuild it

May 10, 2009

Open Source Machine

The MultiMachine starts there but adds many other functions. It can be a 10- in-1 (or even more!) machine tool that is built by using vehicle engine blocks in a LEGO-like fashion. The MultiMachine uses 6 unusual construction techniques to build 5 very simple “modules” that bolt to a worn out or broken vehicle or industrial engine block.

* Using engine blocks as building blocks is the first MultiMachine feature. Since cylinder bores are bored exactly parallel to each other and at exact right angles to the cylinder head surface, MultiMachine accuracy begins at the factory where the engine block was built.

This thing fascinates me. If I had endless time and a place to manipulate several tons of metal and concrete I would be so there.

Coming to signboards in some non-backwater country real soon

May 7, 2009

Translated version of

Shinoda Plasma Corporation, the company’s next PTA technology 3m, vertical 2m developed a prototype of the 145-film-type display. I turned around and announced to the market.

 1m × 1m sub module seamlessly combine 6 pieces, and a 145-inch diagonal.  Number of pixels is 960 × 720 dots (horizontal × vertical), which can be displayed in a curved bend.  The 145 display, weighs about 7.2kg and lightweight, the power consumption is 800W (up to 1200W).

 PTA is a principle similar to plasma emission, RGB and the length of the phosphor coating each 1m, about 1mm thick glass lined tubes, display structures put in a glass tube clip of the film electrode. More about 1mm can be achieved

So the pixel pitch is about 3 millimeters, which renders it useful only for big displays, but who cares? There are a lot of big display surfaces out there…

Perhaps this word doesn’t mean what you think it means

May 7, 2009

Steven Pearlstein – In Portugal, as in America, a ‘Third Way’ Is Reemerging –

Pinho took a similar approach to hydroelectric power, putting up for competitive bid long-term licenses to build and operate a dozen new or expanded dams. Bidders can also extend the life of the licenses if they agree to enter long-term contracts to buy nighttime power from the country’s wind producers and use it to pump water from reservoirs below the dams back up to the reservoirs above. Energy gets stored during those hours when demand is low and used the next day when demand is at its peak.

What’s noteworthy is that all this was done without a government subsidy

The portugese sound pretty smart, but Pearlstein sounds pretty stupid. A longer licensing period is pretty obviously a thing of value, especially for a dam, because once the capital costs have been paid off (during the initial license period) the profits from selling power are substantial. In short, the government is giving the companies a bunch of money to get them to do something (which happens to be profitable in its own right) that the government wants them to do. On my planet, we call this a subsidy.

This and a piece of vellum

May 7, 2009

Green-laser micro-projectors green-lighted

Microvision’s PicoP Display Engine is small – very small. Microvision lists the size of its evaluation kit (PDF) as 60-by-68-by-10 millimeters (2.36-by-2.68-by-0.39 inches), but EETimes reports that the OEM version will be squeezed into a 20-by-40-by-7 millimeter (0.79-by-1.57-by-0.28 inches) package.

Why wait for foldable e-ink or oled? One of these with a suitably engineered rear-projection screen would do just fine. (It could do front-projection too, but you just know everyone would be sticking their fingers in the beam to make shadow pictures.)

Better than old

May 6, 2009

Forging Ahead – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love eBay (h/t samefacts)

the local eBayers and craftsmen can make more money cranking out cheap fakes than they can by spending days or weeks digging around looking for the real thing. It is true that many former and potential looters lack the skills to make their own artifacts. But the value of their illicit digging decreases every time someone buys a “genuine” Moche pot for $35, plus shipping and handling. In other words, because the low-end antiquities market has been flooded with fakes that people buy for a fraction of what a genuine object would cost, the value of the real artifacts has gone down as well, making old-fashioned looting less lucrative. The value of real antiquities is also impacted by the increased risk that the object for sale is a fake. The likelihood of reselling an authentic artifact for more money is diminished each year as more fakes are produced.

I’m glad that the market for forgeries is making looting less attractive in a win-win, mostly nonpunitive way. But does the change really require a continuing supply of suckers who believe you can buy authenticated artifacts on eBay for a fraction of the otherwise-going price? I hope not, because that would eventually mean looting will start up again. My theory is that at least some of the buyers are in the “dollar and a dream” category — they’re paying an inflated price, compared to an obviously modern piece, for something that could conceivably be authentic, and if it’s not they’re not out a huge pile of money (as they would if they bought an undetected fake from a dealer). They also have a very nice little artifact.

As always, these kinds of reproductions/forgeries raise the question of what it means for something to be authentic. Made with the same materials, essentially similar methods, the same shapes, decorated with variations of the same iconography, just not actually as old or dug out of the same ground. Sure, you can argue that different thoughts were going through the minds of the people making them, but that’s probably romanticizing pre-colombian life.

It might be interesting to compare the evolution of the market for pre-colombian fakes on eBay to the evolution of the market for Pueblo pottery in New Mexico. Lots of stuff that started out being seen as cheap knockoffs of the “real” ancient finds has become recognized as art in its own right, and the people who made it as artists continuing and reviving cultural traditions. In some ways the work has become even more valuable because (a little like Menard’s Quixote) it is produced by people schooled to think modern thoughts.