March 22, 2015

Posthuman dystopia

I'd recently read Blindsight by Peter Watts after my Kindle recommended it and the content of the reviews suggested I would like it (correct and correct). It's a posthuman sci-fi novel about a small group of enhanced humans sent on a decades-long journey to investigate an alien presence at the outer regions of the solar system. Throughout, there's a sense that humanity has reached a dead end. As people with means alter themselves with enhanced abilities--man/machine interfaces, multiple consciousnesses in one person, neuro-physical updates--un-altered "baselines", without the ability to keep up against an advanced society, hook their brains up to a virtual world called Heaven. Once in, they abandon any emotional bond to those they left behind. One particularly odd aspect of the novel is that vampires exist as an extinct offshoot of humans. They have been resurrected and though there is a detente of sorts, they are so far advanced in intelligence and ability that even the most enhanced humans are like children. To trump even this level of insignificance, the aliens the crew encounter are orders of magnitude more adept than even vampires.

I've since started the sequel titled Echopraxia (which means "the involuntary repetition or imitation of another person's actions"). I'm 50-or-so pages in, but the grimness is the same. The action takes place on Earth where a group of hive mind Bicamerals push the boundaries of invention but cannot explain how they achieve it. It's another example of humans becoming so far from equal that there is no longer a single humanity. Non-Bicamerals are as threatened by them as baselines by the transhumans. Similar fears have been echoed in Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl (and his even more stunning and depressing short stories Pump Six), Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief trilogy, and even somewhat in Atwood's Oryx and Crake trilogy. Notably, Watts is a marine biologist, Rajaniemi a mathematician and programmable DNA entrepreneur, and Atwood a developer of remote robotics.

Contrast these with Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End (read at the same time as Oryx and Crake). Though he deals only slightly with posthumanism, he shows the tension of modern, augmenting technology. Rainbows End has all of the aspects of a dystopian warning--aggressive emergent AI, near 100% surveillance state monitoring, the physical destruction of all books in order to digitize--yet he somehow offers an optimistic message in the end. Ever the singularitanist. Or maybe the realist. Still, sci-fi is not about what will happen; it is simply plotting a straight line with a few of the data points we currently have. Sometimes it's a warning, sometimes a hope.

posted by sstrader at 10:21 AM in Culture & Society , Language & Literature , Science & Technology | tagged posthuman | permalink

January 19, 2014

Today's reading list

  • The Paratext's the Thing

    How directors' commentaries etc. are becoming part of the Primary Text. Makes me want to read the referenced book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation by Gerard Genette. Related thought: the fascination with binge watching but not with binge reading is a sad vindication of Infinite Jest.

  • What Is It About Middlemarch?

    Favorite section:

    One of the oldest and most universal moral precepts is the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want them to treat you. That mandate shows up in Confucianism and in the Code of Hammurabi. It was reiterated by Seneca and by the Buddha. It appears in the Bible, as the command to love thy neighbor as thyself. It might possibly have been taught to more people than any other notion in history.

    It is also, on reflection, a little weird. For a guideline about how to treat others, the Golden Rule is strikingly egocentric. It does not urge us to consult our neighbors about their needs; it asks us only to generalize from ourselves--to imagine, in essence, that everyone's idea of desirable treatment matches our own. As such, it makes a curiously narrow demand on our imagination, and, accordingly, on our behavior. And it is not alone. From Kant's Categorical Imperative to John Rawls's Veil of Ignorance, the self is a common benchmark in moral reasoning.

    Middlemarch breaks with this tradition. Morality does not start with the self, Eliot insists; it starts when we set the self aside. "Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of the world?" she asks. And then: "I know no speck so troublesome as self." What a killer line, and what a memorable image. We dwell in moral myopia; literally and figuratively, we are too close to ourselves.

  • What scientific idea is ready for retirement?

    Four answers dealt with a personal axiom: don't think of absolutes, think of a continuum. In "Humaniqueness", Irene Pepperberg argues against absolute human and absolute other. In "Things are either true or false", Alan Alda argues against the obvious. In "Essentialism", Richard Dawkins argues against our bias towards Platonic ideals. And in "Infinity", Max Tegmark argues against rounding up to infinity when actual values are available.

    Also interesting: in "Mouse models", Azra Raza (cool name) points out that it is well-known that mice are horrible models for human disease studies. Entrenchment and convenience seem to be the only reason they are still used. Or, to paraphrase, they're the worst model except for all others.

  • For World Literature

    I remember 20-or-so years ago I knew a guy that was teaching lit at Morehouse. He was preparing the most geographically eclectic syllabus I've ever seen. Apparently, that's still an aberration.

    Arguments against are: translations don't do justice to the originals, and only an insignificant fraction of any country can be presented. The article points out that of the most polyglot--which is rare enough--beyond five or so languages is rarer still. With that, the choice of Readable Literature is very small indeed. And the fraction of taught divided by untaught books in the English language is by necessity small.

    New directions include: large corpus text analysis to examine similarities of style etc.; borderless organizations of similarly themed yet differently nationed books; grouping books across global politics; etc. An example of Thoreau reading the Baghavad Gita, Ghandi reading Thoreau then revisiting the Baghavad Gita because of him, then MLK absorbing Ghandi's writing reminded me that part of this history is expressed in Glass's Satyagraha. That instance of cross-century and cross-nation influence seems an equally important approach.

posted by sstrader at 12:10 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 18, 2014


I started reading the article "The Closing of the Scientific Mind" on the recommendation of Arts & Letters Daily a few weeks ago. That has been my go-to site for gathering reading material when not deep into a novel. I comb through the interesting articles, add them to Readability, then send them to my Kindle. Long web articles are much more enjoyable on the Kindle.

This article, however, was agonizingly bad. Just painfully, painfully stupid.

The premise was a review of how computer technology has altered our view of humanity. The result was a caricatured attack on science. It pushes all my buttons for the misplaced arrogance of the Can Science Explain A Rainbow?!?? crowd, so the number of eye rolls per sentence were probably out of proportion to its offenses. But just a few:

[Scientists] have forgotten their obligation to approach with due respect the scholarly, artistic, religious, humanistic work that has always been mankind's main spiritual support. ... But science used to know enough to approach cautiously and admire from outside, and to build its own work on a deep belief in human dignity. No longer. - From the start, there's a feigned whither humanism back-of-hand-to-forehead fretting. From the straw man of some perfect historical time when scientific investigations circumscribed certain areas to the presumed right that some subjects are off limits. Man has searched for answers to everything everywhere at all times. It is only magisterial forces that would stop those investigations. Saying curiosity is offensive is like saying hunger is offensive.

Many scientists are proud of having booted man off his throne at the center of the universe and reduced him to just one more creature ... They are abusing their cultural standing. Science has become an international bully. - Confusion of outcome with intent, paired with oddly medieval incendiary phrasing. I'll assume that this is a reference to the discovery of evolution and the defense of that fact is the bullying we're discussing. How odd that the defense of the weak interaction of electrons or the gravity generated by physical objects is never assailed by the religious and ignorant. One discovered fact is little different from another, and certainly has no morality.

Attacking Darwin is the sin against the Holy Ghost that pious scientists are taught never to forgive. - I'll simply rewrite as: attacking universally accepted truths without any evidence against them reveals the attacker as a crackpot. There, that's better. Also, apparently when all you have is a hammer, everything must be expressed in terms of spirituality.

The Kurzweil Cult teaches that... - Ha. Kurzweil, in the most charitable circles, is considered a ... well, I'll just quote from a very popular review by a Carnegie Mellon professor of Kurzweil's most ambitious book, stating it is A Rare Blend of Monster Raving Egomania and Utter Batshit Insanity. The study of artificial intelligence and consciousness is far from a mature area. Much more is unknown than is known. To not only attack the unproven theories but also present them as the signpost of all of science, and pick the biggest crackpot out there as the model, is ... simply being an asshole.

There is much more in this vein, and I have to admit I could only rage through half of it, so maybe it completely turns around in the end. One last thing about the author: David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale. This makes me sad.

posted by sstrader at 9:51 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 13, 2010

Info wars 2010

Articles on or related to cyber attacks/security:

I had read about Barrett Lyon a few years back when his CSO story was linked around on Slashdot etc. At the time--and this is five years ago--a big enough bot net could take anyone down. Lyon built one of the first (*the* first?) DDoS firewalls to protect gambling sites from, what turned out to be Russian, extortionists. The CSO article ends wryly, noting that companies now pay around $50,000 to protect themselves from having to pay protection. Insert joke here about virus scanners slowing down your machine so that viruses can't.

The fact that Google can be attacked, and that they'd partner with the NSA, illustrates the gravity of the current threat. This time, it's not just thugs but government sanctioned thugs. I've read in Slashdot threads that Russia has the same tactics: leverage their hackers to disrupt Western corporations and governments. It's nice to know that the US doesn't stoop to such measures (insert joke that when *we* do it, it's not torture).

Lyon's company started protecting Scientology sites after Anonymous started their Project Chanology raids in January 2008. Since Anonymous employs multi-honed attacks (DDoS, black faxes, picketing, information) a firewall offers only partial protection. And, as had been shown with the Marblecake hack, sites can be subverted without being taken down. The True/Slant article references a Neuromancer quote as prediction of the decentralized, directed mob that is Anonymous. They're doing what any activists do: bring attention to an injustice. Reading the inevitable panic-stricken comments denouncing Anonymous, it's interesting to note the difference between "activist" and "terrorist".

The internet is at that awkward age of being both fragile and essential. Small groups like Anonymous are leveraging that fragility as much as are governments. Grab some popcorn; watch the show.

[ updated 25 Feb 2010 ]

US unable to win a cyber war [ via Slashdot ] reaffirmed that the US's extra-connectiveness increases its weaknesses. One proffered solution is to give the Pres access to the on/off switch of the internet (Reminding me of a two-panel cartoon I saw on the internet years back showing the difference between defending a cyber attack in the movies and IRL. The movie scene has the hero spewing 24-style techno-babel that barely makes sense in the fictional world. The real scene has the pimply tech grab the router and pull out the network cable. The Slashdot thread has an oddly compelling comment on what will happen when shit gets real.

[ updated 6 Mar 2010 ]

Slashdot posts a rebuttal and declares the concept meaningless.

posted by sstrader at 11:50 AM in Science & Technology | tagged anonymous | permalink

December 15, 2009

Limiting noise

Slashdot asking at what point you should just ignore another's argument. Global warming discussions often include those ignorant of or willfully distortive to the facts, and so how much time can you really spend countering their wild accusations? Here's a challenge: prove to a YEC that the theory of evolution is true. How much geology, anthropology, biology, genetics, and even cosmology would you need to know to prove this? How would you condense over 100 years of intensive, interdisciplinary science into laymans' terms? A layman aggressively opposed to what you're condensing? How much time would it take?

Add to this the knowledge that many who doubt are simply political trolls purposefully injecting false information in order to cloud the issues. Why would you waste energy arguing with them? I considered this when I was reviewing the leaked CRU emails. People are listening to Rush Limbaugh as he deliberately quotes from the emails out-of-context, but they're ignoring more detailed discussions. These people don't care to learn and are a waste of energy to argue against.

But unfortunately: they have power.

Mason had a discussion with some people w/r/t the CRU emails. It's locked behind the walled garden of Facebook, but it is a model of bad information. Denialists were referencing Bjørn Lomborg and The Washington Times. They'll believe someone with political science degrees or a newspaper that's a mouthpiece for the Moonies, but will ignore the opinion of nearly 100% of science groups and scientists. At one point, the word "hide" from one of the emails was quoted as proof of deception. It boggles the mind. Stink factor is high here and begins to put these arguments in the realm of creationists and flat-Earthers. Far from a logical fallacy, ignoring flawed sources is simply weeding for relevance. Having a different opinion from others does not automatically make it equally valid. You could argue against every view that exists, but why?

[ updated the same day ]

Michael Mann on On Point addressing a caller's complaint that skeptics are ignored in the peer-reviewed platforms:

Scientist should subject their own ideas to as much scrutiny as possible... that has to be distinguished from contrarianism which is not skepticism. It's often in the form of a denial of what the science shows without subjecting that denial to the kind of scrutiny [and] scepticism that it deserves. Not all ideas are equal. Not all propositions are equally valid. [emphasis mine] 1 + 1 = 2. If there were a mathematician who felt that 1 + 1 = 3, it's very likely that he or she would not be able to publish that paper in the peer-reviewed mathematical literature.
posted by sstrader at 9:58 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 25, 2009

Scientists' emails

Hackers recently liberated 13 years (!) of private emails, documents, and code from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia. Global warming deniers are heralding the contents as proof of a conspiracy to create a belief in global warming. Reading list:

The scientific process works. Everything I've read from the denialists concerning science's suppression of information has revealed itself as the denialists' simple ignorance of the scientific process. In the real world: scientist A makes a public and published statement, scientist B tries to replicate the results and cannot exactly, scientist B then publishes his corrections to A's paper. The corrections are, most often, not of the quality of changing an absolute TRUE statement to an absolute FALSE statement, but more of the quality of correcting value ranges or modifying result sets (e.g. changing "from 1200 CE to 1800 CE" to "from 1250 CE to 1900 CE"). How this process gets told by denialists is by simply quoting the original paper and then saying that it's been "proven incorrect." This is what was done with the Hockey stick controversy.

Scientists are being forced to spend more energy on politics and "spinning" their message to get it through to a public swayed by corporate and ideological lies. Good science is, unfortunately, no longer effective. The market of ideas is a market and therefore ruled by who has the money to shout the loudest. This is not necessarily different than in the past, but our problems are unique: fear of water fluoridation does not present the same risks as global warming denialism. Give me the history of nefarious conspiracies propagated by scientists. OK, now give me that same history by governments and corporations.

[ update 10 Dec 2009 ]

I sometimes feel the scientific apologist what with all of the railing I do against these uneducated people, so it's comforting when my railings are confirmed. The email brouhaha became important enough for to examine the assertions of the denialists. They make their findings as clear as they could possibly be, stating in the first paragraph on the assertion of scientific misconduct: We find that to be unfounded and later We find such claims to be far wide of the mark. Just today I discussed the issue with an ostensibly scientific-minded person at work. He repeated the exact misconceptions that FactCheck struck down in this article. I believe more and more that there is no good to come from arguing with these people. They have a expansive volume of knowledge and simply choose to ignore it. We are at the mercy of the willfully ignorant.

posted by sstrader at 11:40 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 7, 2009

Researching false positives reported by ClamWin

Several months back, I had to wrestle with a virus on my work computer (obtained via network shares, though I was never really sure how; best guess was an autorun weakness someone had heard about). Around a year ago my home laptop was infected. McAffee was useless, so I used a combination of Malwarebytes and ClamWin to do the clean up. I've had ClamWin running nightly ever since but unfortunately have had a few false positives. One on 17 July and another on 26 July. The hpHosts blog was a top hit in both instances.

Got another warning this morning: clamwin user32.dll.infected: Trojan.Onlinegames-1755. Searching on that brought up a thread on the ClamWin forums, which then pointed me to their article "How can I report a virus that ClamWin doesn't recognise? Or a false positive?". From this, they pointed to the VirusTotal site, which allows you to upload a file for it to examine and report the results from various virus scans. Very useful. Their scan of my suspect file showed it was clean.

[ updated 16 Dec 2009 ]

Report false positives directly to ClamAV here.

posted by sstrader at 11:48 AM in Home Network & Gadgets , Science & Technology | permalink

August 28, 2009

Week's reading list

Opera Mini Is Most Downloaded Mobile App - A flawed survey but it mimics what I've read from European/non-US sources. Some of the flaws I've found with Opera Mini on my BlackBerry Storm:

  • Cannot copy text from a page.
  • Cannot copy link addresses.
  • Manually entering an address is cumbersome.
  • You must touch a link (and not click it) to navigate to that link.
  • In mobile layout, which is more condensed, check boxes are virtually un-checkable.
  • Bookmarks can be resorted by touching (not clicking) and dragging in the list. Most of the time, they respond by resorting to unexpected locations in the list.
  • Search keys (via the address bar) are not available.
  • Opening images and videos shell out to the BlackBerry browser.

Health insurers admit using 50,000 employees to lobby Congress to defend their outrageous profits - This is a tough one: on the one hand, a corporation is strong-arming it's employees to act in the political interest of the company; on the other, those employees have every right to say no. It

Johann Hari: Republicans, religion and the triumph of unreason - How do they train themselves to be so impervious to reality? - Every paragraph is a gem. I'll pick two to quote:

This tendency to simply deny inconvenient facts and invent a fantasy world isn't new; it's only becoming more heightened. It ran through the Bush years like a dash of bourbon in water. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the US right simply claimed they had been shipped to Syria. When the scientific evidence for man-made global warming became unanswerable, they claimed - as one Republican congressman put it - that it was "the greatest hoax in human history", and that all the world's climatologists were "liars". The American media then presents itself as an umpire between "the rival sides", as if they both had evidence behind them.

It's a shame, because there are some areas in which a conservative philosophy - reminding us of the limits of grand human schemes, and advising caution - could be a useful corrective. But that's not what these so-called "conservatives" are providing: instead, they are pumping up a hysterical fantasy that serves as a thin skin covering some raw economic interests and base prejudices.

That second one bears repeating. There are many good arguments to be had on healthcare reform. We're not having them and instead allowing the crazies to define the discussion.

The Truth: What's Really Going On With Apple, Google, AT&T And The FCC - Just one story of many where developers are getting fed up with the Apple ecosystem. The best assessment I've heard was from On the Media (I thought it was from the Aug 14th show, but can't find the reference). They were talking about how closed systems promote censorship. If the internet restricted who could create web pages, and what web content they could create, the on-line landscape would be of much less value. Similarly, when Apple arbitrarily block some applications from its phone while allowing other, they diminish the overall value of the iPhone environment. With the horror stories I've been hearing from developer blogs, I'm quickly becoming an Apple-hater. Bring on the Android!

[ updated 2 Sept 2009 ]

On The Media: The Net's Mid-Life Crisis, August 14, 2009 with Jonathan Zittrain, explaining the chilling effect of centrally controlled technology:

The downside [with the iPhone] is it sets up a new gatekeeper that's going to have its own motives and incentives that are not always the same as the consumers it's supposed to serve.

Somebody submitted an iPhone application to Apple called "Freedom Time." Basically it was a countdown clock for the Bush Administration, and it had the tagline, "Till the end of an error." The author couldn't understand why it was rejected.

Steve Jobs wrote him back when he complained, and said, this is an application that will offend roughly half of our users. What's the point?

Also of note from the same show, if off topic, The Net Effect with Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

One of the surprising things we found in that survey was that those who are the most technologically adept and those who are the most engaged with information actually are not in the echo chamber pattern; they are actually seeking out and finding out more arguments opposed to their views than those who are less technologically adept and less interested in political information.

Tweet count is much smaller than it should be - My Twitter count went from ~3000 to 0 after their DDoS. Still not fixed. :-(

posted by sstrader at 2:44 PM in Phones , Science & Technology , Today's reading list | tagged android, iphone | permalink

June 17, 2009

Roundup of new advanced search tools

There's been several recent feted releases of unique search tools. Though none are sea changes, they add interesting possibilities and complement existing methods (usually your search-engine-of-choice + Wikipedia).

First up, Wolfram|Alpha: structured answers to a hand tooled domain of data. The best use for this is when Wikipedia's search fails, usually when you have a combination of words within the domain you're interested in. Sometimes a Google search into Wikipedia can resolve that (e.g. search for rival "Franz Liszt" from Google). The biggest benefit of W|A is the clearly formatted results hyperlinked to deeper, related searches.

Second, the entertainingly naive Google Squared. It's still in Google's "Labs" area, so it's in alpha or earlier and gives results that you'd expect more from someone's Google mash-up or Greasemonkey script. Results are structured like W|A but culled from data scraped from the web rather than hand-picked. I hope it gets more attention from the developers because dynamic and emergent knowledge is more scalable than edited knowledge. When new information appears on the web, GS doesn't need to have updates added like encyclopedia yearbooks. W|A does.

Finally, of lesser note, TextRunner [ via Slashdot ] from the University of Washington allows very simple natural language queries and, like Google Squared, finds answers in an unedited corpus of web pages so is more easily scalable (if a bit slow). Like most basic NL search engines, queries are in the form WH-WORD VERB NOUN. While Google et al. have won the day by de-emphasizing semantic knowledge, it's good to see that tagged information extraction is still being researched.

posted by sstrader at 10:39 AM in Internet , Science & Technology | permalink

February 20, 2009

Your data is not your own

Facebook got the smackdown this week after they clarified their TOS (or was it TOU?) and declared that they own the data you upload and they will keep it in perpetuity, etc. It really didn't change what they had been doing (according to a law professor on NPR), but it had the appearance of menace. Another reason to hate the cloud.

Slashdot just reported on an astronomy project called that uses Flickr's open API to catalogue and tag photos of the sky. It matches the photo's star patterns with patterns in its star charts and then tags the photos (with those neat popup Flickr tags) and adds them to its own library.

People don't seem to be up in arms about this instance, and it's a situation where sharing information results in an otherwise unachievable benefit for all. It would be nice if Facebook data could be used in such a manner studying social dynamics or psychometrics. This was done recently when the "25 Random Things About Me" meme on Facebook was shown to have the same propagation model as a biological virus. The data was gathered using a 3rd party, wetware API (i.e. a Slate writer requested information from his readers), so no personal information was harmed without full knowledge. Imagine what could be done in the hands of a non-evil sociologist.

posted by sstrader at 2:52 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 10, 2009

Command line

I've been looking at the browser address bar as the future of the command line (as have others) and Firefox will be upping the ante with natural language in its "Ubiquity" plugin v. 3.2. The Slashdot wonks were particularly pissy seeing as how the dreaded "NL" phrase was dropped (there're a certain group of the technorati that hate the legacy of AI research...). The parser docs for the FF plugin outlines the basic imperative sentence parsing they're working on, with standard verb+subcats (e.g. "find X in Y" or "move X from Y to Z" where "find" subcategorizes for two objects and "move" for three). Similar to how Opera's custom search keywords work, Ubiquity would be able to expand on the simple concept that a web form is equivalent to a verb in an imperative sentence. Web searches only subcategorize on one object ("find X") because there's only one input in most search forms (the text box where search terms are typed). If a form had multiple fields then the form/verb would need to subcategorize for multiple objects. Ubiquity's example uses "translate X from Y to Z". I could also see websites and transports being subcategorized: "order X from Amazon," "IM 'X' to Y via Z," "email 'X' to Y's Z account."

posted by sstrader at 3:37 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 12, 2009

Digital republic

Listened to the podcast of an On Point show discussing the history of the song "House of the Rising Sun". It's the subject of a new book by Ted Anthony called "Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song." Origin unknown, but it is maybe 100 years old. Alan Lomax made the first recording for the Library of Congress in 1937 while traveling through Appalachia looking for remnants of Elizabethan songs. He recorded an a cappella performance by 16 year old girl named Georgia Turner in a poor neighborhood of Middlesborough, Kentucky.

When discussing the story told in the song, Ted Anthony invokes a phrase--"invisible republic"--that Greil Marcus used to describe a set of early recordings by Bob Dylan. In Anthony's assessment, the "invisible republic" is an inchoate expression of American myths manifest in Dylan's songs. Archetypal. My assessment: The more structured society of 1700s/1800s England was abandoned to the wilderness of the Americas. The arts that were kept were easily communicable in such an environment (dispersed, agrarian population) and were selected as stories most relevant to that environment (courtship ballades were out, morality tales modified to fit the New World). The unconscious, group process chose and molded the early arts and these incipient myths.

One connection I made on "House of the Rising Sun": spelunking from that article to the one on the English ballad "Matty Groves" brought up a reference to the aubade form: basically a romantic trope where lovers part in the morning (think Romeo and Juliet). I wonder if "House of the Rising Sun" has any relevance as a tragic aubade.

(Although the historical discussion was interesting, the musical discussion was sorely lacking with the author admitting he knows nothing about music. Simple guitar strumming is described as complicated picking; the chord progression is considered to be unique in the history of folk music. Bah. The chords are i bIII iv V i V i and very common w/r/t folk music in the minor key. It would have been nice if Anthony would have worked some with an ethnomusicologist to place it in historical context. Alas.)

I like the idea of being so close in history to the origin of modern myths. 40 years prior, Dylan probably felt he was tapping something primal (artists usually do) when he unearthed those tunes, and decades before him the folk musicians of the 40s and 50s probably felt the same. We're in touch with the origin of what will be the digital myths but, as with most events in history, it's difficult to discern the temporal memes from the eternal. Not every lolcat will survive the sieve of history. But where are the artists who frieze these incipient digital myths into a more permanent form? In the text-dependent environment of the internet, cyberpunk writers seem to have taken the place of folk musicians to write the history of digital society. Still, there's so much more out there that reeks of primordial potential: 4chan/Digg/Reddit, gamer forums, social networking sites, open-source collaborations. Even dead-and-dying groups have a mythic potential: Feed, Suck, BBSs. What different experiences will become digital archetypes?

posted by sstrader at 11:33 PM in Internet , Music , Science & Technology | permalink

November 13, 2008


Gizmodo had the Phoenix lander blog over the past few weeks. They were entertaining and accessible. Here they are, in order:

  1. Hello World, Phoenix Lander Here (12:01 PM on Tue Nov 4 2008)
  2. This is What Landing On Mars Feels Like (4:00 PM on Wed Nov 5 2008)
  3. Martian Ice Is Why I'm Alive and Why I'm Dying (2:31 PM on Fri Nov 7 2008)
  4. This is My Farewell Transmission From Mars (4:20 PM on Mon Nov 10 2008)

The tone, like that of the lander's tweets, is conversational, light, and informative. An image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was released that showed Phoenix parachuting on to the Martian surface. It was a beautiful image and an impressive moment as one robot watched another begin its adventure. In one blog entry, Phoenix editorializes the event, simply:


Phoenix's first-person blog entries were intimate (As my mission progressed into late summer, I saw a Martian sunset for the first time.) and, at the end, sad ([T]here isn’t much hope that I’ll ever contact home again.). It was Phoenix's Twitter account that opened people up to the conceit that a simple NASA robot could have a personality. All credit goes to Veronica McGregor for her impromptu decision to personalize in order to save space in the 140-character tweets.

Phoenix's last words were "Triumph" in binary.

posted by sstrader at 9:18 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 24, 2008


Comment thread on Reddit discussing (as a digression) how interactions in one domain affect your expectations in others.

  • Try looking at a book and the monitor and moving your mouse expecting the cursor to move from the monitor to the part of the book you are looking at.
  • I find myself looking for the arrows to vote no matter what website I am on.
  • I started drawing again reciently... every time I make a mistake my left hand makes the ctrl+z movement before I realize I need to pick up the eraser.

I just ranted to friends about the uselessness of comments without comment-voting. It's painful to even have to read that crap.

I've also been thinking of how a cross-domain utility could be written similar to the book/cursor: It'd be nice to transfer an IM discussion to SMS--or even voice--if you have to walk away from your computer. Transferable communication media. Some transfers make sense (SMS-to-email) some don't (voice-to-email?). It also feels similar to the R&D tech video showing copy-and-paste from print-to-screen (using cameras, OCR, and software). I can't find the video, but some university had put together a demo where they could "copy" printed material and paste it into an application on the computer. Kinda neat.

posted by sstrader at 9:26 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 20, 2008


Excellent selection of stories from last week's Talk of the Nation Science Friday. The host interviews the composer, director, and lead of Dr. Atomic. I hadn't realized how wide-ranging Oppenheimer's education was: he read the Bhagavad Gita in the original Sanskrit fer Christ sakes. Lisa & I will be going to see it on November 21st at the ASO! A discussion of the Miller-Urey experiment with the scientist who recently re-analyzed the material. Amazing stuff. And, there's a short piece about climate change and dealing with the doubters. My opinion: anyone who still doubts it is too ignorant to be worth the effort. But that's just like, my opinion, man; the host and guest were more charitable.

posted by sstrader at 5:05 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 28, 2008

ITT: Save the iPhone girl!

posted by sstrader at 1:03 PM in Phones , Science & Technology | tagged iphone | permalink

August 16, 2008

Command line

I'm not sure who came up with the idea that Google is the new command line. It was several years ago, I think, and I liked it at the time, but now I tend to think of my browser's address field as the new command line. It is especially useful to me since I use Opera and can customize it with any number of search commands. Prefixing with "a" will search on, with "dg" will search on my favorite German dictionary, etc. Here's the full list:

I'm sure Firefox has some sort of plugin to do the same. Having Google in there gives my address-field-command-line Google's tools (maths, unit conversion, etc.) plus access to those other silly sites making address-field > Google.

On a recent episode of Future Tense, Jon Gordon talked about a new web site that's making SMS into a command-line of sorts. Kwiry allows you to update your online accounts such as Amazon and Netflix. You can also leave notes to yourself much like Twitter. It's not incredibly powerful, but I have to admit that I'm jealous of the idea. I'm a heavy SMS user with the wife and Twitter, so I'll definitely be following as they add more functions.

posted by sstrader at 2:12 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 15, 2008

Put your head in the sand

Ira Flatow discussing climate change on the Talk of the Nation Science Friday segment Are We Headed Toward Extinction?

I've had scientists who have pulled me over to the side and said in private [that] the situation is much worse than we're willing to talk about in public because we don't want to scare people.

I've heard this same warning for years from others close to environmental scientists. Kinda sad. Well, maybe a little more than that.

posted by sstrader at 3:34 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 29, 2008

Over capacity


And in case you think it's just you that's seeing these messages, High Scalability has an essay asking the question whether Twitter's solution should be to throttle users' tweets-per-day. Not crazy considering the quality of service they're now providing. Here comes some real competition...

posted by sstrader at 7:54 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 23, 2008


Dear MetroFi User,

It is with regret that we notify you of our intentions to discontinue offering the MetroFi FREE and MetroFi Premium services in Portland. We are in the process of negotiating with a 3rd party network operator to keep the network in place, and during this time your services will not be affected. As soon as we know the outcome of these negotiations, we will provide you with further information.

Thank you,

The MetroFi Team

I told you wifi access in Portland sucked. (But, again, the city as a whole was awesome.)

posted by sstrader at 12:13 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 21, 2008

Google maps and traffic

Google maps added some nifty new stuff to its traffic view. Icons with popup infomation and traffic predictions by DOW and TOD. See the resulting niftiness:


Now you can see your commute go into the red for the day of the week of your choice!

See also Wikipedia, maps

posted by sstrader at 6:03 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

More Expelled fallout

I hoped it would die a lonely death. It's not. Dawkins wrote a letter to a Jew who was convinced by the movie that Atheists are evil. I am (sadly) not making this up. Dawkins reply is detailed and reasonsed. On the original letter-writer's unfortunate phrasing:

While, as for the Lutherans, Martin Luther himself wrote a book called On the Jews and their Lies from which Hitler quoted. And Luther publicly said that "All Jews should be driven from Germany." By the way, do you hear an echo of those words in your own letter to Michael Shermer, "We Jews will fight to keep people like you out of the United States." Don't you feel just a twinge of shame at those truly horrible words of yours? Don't you feel that, as a Jew, you should feel especially regretful that you used those words?

On that jackass, Ben Stein:

Mr J, you have been cruelly duped by Ben Stein and his unscrupulous colleagues. It is a wicked, evil thing they have done to you, and potentially to many others. I do not know whether they knowingly and wantonly perpetrated the falsehood that fooled you. Perhaps they genuinely and sincerely believed it, although other actions by them, which you can read about all over the Internet, persuade me that they are fully capable of deliberate and calculated deception. You are perhaps not to be blamed for swallowing the film's falsehoods, because you probably assumed that nobody would have the gall to make a whole film like that without checking their facts first. Perhaps even you will need a little more convincing that they were wrong, in which case I urge you to read it up and study the matter in detail -- something that Ben Stein and his crew manifestly and lamentably failed to do.

A Jewish person had asked me this weekend about Obama's anti-semitism. I (also sadly) didn't have an immediate answer because I honestly don't know any of the source material that made them think that. More research needed. I do, however, know how to shut down the lies being passed around about atheism and/or evolution.

posted by sstrader at 7:36 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 9, 2008

HP UMPC 2133

Pretty sexy new mini-laptop coming up from HP. I'm seeing predicted prices from $500-$650 and up, but it has an 8.5-inch, 1366x766 screen (vs. the Eee's 7-inches) and built-in Bluetooth (vs. none). Plus, anodized aluminum case (vs. plastic). Pics stolen:

posted by sstrader at 1:01 PM in Science & Technology | permalink


Good for Time et al. for finally saying what every expert had been for a while: ethanol is not the answer (and not even "an" answer) to alternative energy. On the other hand, people have known this for years (see, for example, the second comment in this RealClimate thread from almost three years ago), so the media once again sucks on science coverage: parroting political opinion over scientific concensus and correcting only after the meme had already penetrated the masses. Sigh.

posted by sstrader at 8:02 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 6, 2008


Sci-fi is divided into stories of a future and an anti-future of societal control (think the optimistic Star Trek compared with the pessimistic 1984 or THX-1138) and stories of a future and anti-future of robotics (think pro-android Ghost in the Shell and uber-anti-android Terminator). In the cross-section of the two is Battlestar Galactica. I think these conflicts express the conflicted obsession of geeks. Technology is cool, but technology can also be a fucking hardcore bitch.

posted by sstrader at 11:10 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 5, 2008


More "common sense" jackassery with the recent science news that you don't really need eight glasses of water a day. Many comments throughout the internets are along the lines of: of course you don't need that much, prescriptive rules of how to live ignore that you should primarily listen to what your body says.

Ahh, it's nice to know that those with high cholesterol can eat whatever they want since that's proof of what their body wants. No medical issues there. And the morbidly obese, they got that way by listening to their bodies and purposefully overeating. And diabetics certainly don't need to change their diet or take insulin.

This is another example of people who don't understand science and feel that it's followed to the detriment of common sense. Social history is filled with forgotten common sense (in it's less kind form called superstition) that until examined by facts was more common than sense. What we're calling common sense is intuition based on quick pattern matching. Sometimes the patterns are right for the right reasons, sometimes right for the wrong reasons, and sometimes we end up with fear of witches based on eccentric behavior, adherence to slavery based on racial prejudice, or the somewhat more innocuous belief in astrology and mysticism.

This rant is makin' me thirsty.

posted by sstrader at 11:44 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 3, 2008

Wikipedia, maps

When did Wikipedia put coordinates and maps into its articles? The Lorraine Motel has a drop-down, Ajaxy map at the top right of the page. Clicking the coordinates goes to a page with external links to tens of external maps. Clicking the tiny globe opens a map of the location in the current page with credits as "WikiMiniAtlas." Map is draggable (in this day how could it not be?) and locations are links to their Wikipedia entry. Just. Wow.

posted by sstrader at 4:14 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 26, 2008


A few months ago, I had this genius idea to set up telescopes out in the country somewhere, hook them up to the internets, and write software to schedule viewing time. The hardware to control telescopes and record imagery is available and relatively inexpensive. Users could log into a web site, find a free block of time, and request images or video. Neat.

Alas, as proof that every neat idea has already been done, the recent issue of Wired lists four sites that already provide this service. Three of them free. I haven't messed with any of them yet, but it's a pretty cool concept (he says, sortof complimenting himself too).

posted by sstrader at 11:37 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 14, 2008


So one of our critical applications had some serious downtime a couple of days this week because of a faulty switch. Working from home yesterday, I wasn't able to attend the meeting where all of the details of the bonk were given to the company-as-a-whole, but I did hear--and I am not making this up--that the big whig giving the speech emotionally credited his wife's prayers as a key element of the solution. Ignoring logic and, well, good judgement in problem solving, I have to question for the 1000th time how a tech company gets so diluted with the faithful. Can I start missing deadlines on the basis of prayers not being answered? I don't want to diminish the anguish of a stressful situation, but crediting the hardware and software techs that actually used their skills to find the faulty hardware seems to me a more appropriate and finite direction of any gratitude than the carcass of a slaughtered goat or a few notched bones thrown in the dirt.

No harm done I guess (beyond insulting those who did the work) but geesh, join the 21st century will ya?


(photo courtesy of our friends at 4chan)

posted by sstrader at 5:21 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 4, 2008

New Asus

And now they promise a version with a 9-inch screen. I'm not so much interested in it (400 euros = 600 dollars), but I know the price of my 701 is going to drop. Still, you can't second-guess tech purchases: everything goes out of date...

posted by sstrader at 8:18 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 23, 2008

More Asus

Huh. I'm in good company. Apparently Stephen Fry likes him some Asus EEE [ via Boing Boing > ]. I still can't get Opera installed though!

posted by sstrader at 4:20 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 22, 2008

More leak

The Intelligence Daily points out that Bank Julius Baer's attempted strong-arming of Wikileaks could serve to scuttle their $1 billion dollar IPO. The media attention on the court order to remove the hostname from DNS servers, and the befuddlement over the unconstitutionality and technical impotence of such actions, makes BJB appear more shady than solid. Oh, that and the fact that they're laundering money for weathy clients...

Of equal interest, The Register outlines the impregnable wall that Wikileaks' creators (also the parents of The Pirate Bay) have constructed with the help of their ISP, PRQ. The data is encrypted, the server locations are undisclosed, the server logs are destroyed, and PRQ's lawyers are ready to handle empty threats of take-down. The Register is calling it bullet proof hosting, but we're all thinking data haven. As many others have said: this information will never disappear.

posted by sstrader at 12:28 PM in Science & Technology | tagged wikileaks | permalink

January 16, 2008


A major Italian university has agreed with many of its academic and student protesters and barred the Pope from speaking at the opening of the academic year. Their protest stems from when Ratzinger had, 18 years ago, defended the church's prosecution of Galileo. He invoked, and I am not making this up, postmodern philosopher of epistemology Paul Feyerabend in his support of Galileo's Renaissance incarceration. Who knew that the Pope could be a fan of the iconoclastic approach of postmodern writers. Oddly enough, the Pope is crying censorship.

Would Christians allow an atheist to christen their new church? How useful would that be? Stephen Jay Gould would refuse to debate creationists arguing simply that they had nothing to bring to the table. He suffered/suffers accusations of censorship. Is it really so odd for science to refuse to spend time with kooks, no matter how organized? There are many flat-earthers out there. The Pope insists that science is subordinate to faith. This is, obviously, stupid and what I'd expect from an intellect base enough to equate atheism with evil.

Many scientists are theists. Despite the protesters' statement that Knowledge needs neither fathers nor priests, there's no reason for such religious posturing--from either fear or arrogance.

posted by sstrader at 1:17 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 24, 2007


Two great energy stories from the world of nano: first, the much-touted production of cheap solar panels. Such advances were suggested earlier in the year when nano structures that are almost completely non-reflective were created. People need to shut up about biofuels and start treating wind and solar with the respect they deserve. Second, nanowires have been created that can be used in li-ion batteries to increase their operating time tenfold.

posted by sstrader at 12:40 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 21, 2007


Just heard on the current Talk of the Nation/Science Friday: out of body experience can be induced and directed into a virtual reality avatar. This is discussed in the new book The Body Has a Mind of Its Own. Neat.

posted by sstrader at 3:21 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 13, 2007

The vast wasteland

The New Yorker article "Life Lessons" (only partial content online) from the 5 June 2006 issue examines how soap operas are used in South American and Asian societies to introduce egalitarian and health concepts to the broad viewership. My only experience with telenovelas is with the wonderful-yet-Americanized Ugly Betty and clips of that evil Bruno from La Madrastra (copious examples of ridiculousness have been uploaded) that Joel McHale would show on The Soup. These may contain some social conscience, but it's lost to me through the scumbling of melodrama or meta-melodrama (camp) that can be both lovable and laughable.

What Ms. Rosin pointed out was that in places where local custom makes advances difficult, the telenovela acts as an entertaining PSA (as long is it doesn't get too preachy). An example: the day after an adult literacy campaign was included in a storyline on the Mexican telenovela "Ven Conmigo," more than twelve thousand people caused a traffic jam in front of the country's literacy headquarters, lasting past midnight. Another: in the year that "Accompaname" aired, with stories containing many conflicts that were resolved through family-planning, over-the-counter contraceptive sales went up 23%. Hard science it's not but with the fanatical following of these shows in all-countries-but-the-US it's not unlikely. This is the put[ting] the people's airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom concept that Newton Minow spoke of.

posted by sstrader at 9:30 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 11, 2007

Survival of the fittest does not mean what you think it means

People will often throw out the non-Darwin phrase survival of the fittest in order to indict modern social tolerance. The logic goes: we accommodate the disabled both great and small, they are free to reproduce, therefore their flawed traits are spread through the gene pool when they should be removed.

The "should be removed" part is where the greatest flaw lies. Darwin's idea of natural selection was not purposeful or directed to an end point. Whatever traits are best for the current environment will be the the ones selected. Humans have survived and currently survive through varying environments, each different one requires different and possibly discrete characteristics. Discussions in a recent /. article--stating that mutations, and therefore diversity, have increased in the last 10,000 years--reemphasize this point. A poster early on posits the fumbling we-coddle-the-weak-so-we've-killed-evolution argument and quickly gets smacked down. There's hope.

posted by sstrader at 10:23 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

The sad birth of Pleo

Ugabe promised this at $200:


They delivered this at $350:



posted by sstrader at 9:56 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 7, 2007


Over the past 10 years, a strong majority of the world's most accomplished scientists have said that global warming is occurring, that man is most likely the cause, and that the changes are likely to be destructive. Make that "highly likely." The argument against has moved from "it's not happening" to "it is happening, but it's part of the natural cycle" to "it's not part of the natural cycle but it's not caused by humans" to "it's caused by humans but it may be beneficial." A small contingent just doesn't give a shit what happens.

Science has always had a strongly skeptical opinion on the value of prayer to heal (or do anything else for that matter). The argument in support of prayer has moved from "prayer works" to "prayer works only if you believe" to "prayer works only if you believe and are not 'testing' god" to "prayer works only if you believe and are not 'testing' god, but it is only meant to give peace of mind." In effect: we'll act like it's testable, but it's not.

See also the mushroom cloud from Iraq and subsequent repositionings of the intent.

These examples could be compared with the similar state-of-mind (to paint with a wiiide brush) of those who say that science is religion (i.e. people follow its many mistakes blindly and unquestioningly). Ignoring the oddity of a religious person slighting religion in order to attack science, this position ignores the fact that most of everyday life is deferring intimate understanding to the credentialed experts. I can't rebuild an engine, but I also don't declare as mindless sycophants those that believe it can be done because a mechanic told them it could. And what of the religion of grammar? Those who blindly believe that English verbs must have tense are simply kowtowing to a cabal of lit-fascists who Think They Know Everything.

My favorite example is when we listen to legal reporters (no, not talk show blowhards) dissect court decisions. Though these people are decidedly not credentialed, they take the time to read the briefs, understand their rarefied language, and interview legal scholars on historical relevance. My faith in their summation is not blind, but neither does it need to be.

We trust the process of science to self-correct. Self-correction includes accepting and refuting your previous statements, not redefining your previous statements to make them look like they were never wrong.

posted by sstrader at 8:32 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 23, 2007


Digging through old New Yorkers for reading while I stairmaster. Last article was "The Search for Sweet" by Burkhard Bilger in the 22 May 2006 issue (abstract available online). Much of note.

One item that seemed important was the scientists' amazement when three of the five taste receptors were pinpointed. One didn't expect them to be found until the year 3000. People too often point out the over-ambition of futurists (one of my favorite recent finds, Paleo-Future, digs up artefacts of such pop and science predictions). Seldom are the over-cautious expectations examined. Others' hubris is more entertaining and self-satisfying than humility.

Another scary/interesting fact: Senomyx laboratories has a patent on the use of the sweet receptor, one of the three discovered 1000 years ahead of time. The remaining two are pending by the same company.

posted by sstrader at 11:48 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 20, 2007

Water and sun

Two tough questions came up in the breakroom on Friday:

  1. What percent of the water sent out from reservoirs is returned and reused via water treatment plants?
  2. What percent of the energy it takes to create a solar panel is returned by that solar panel?

Either of these would probably be worth a book-full of research just to get close to the truth. I, however, have only a bored hour-or-so of surfing to offer.

On the first question, I had guessed that 60-70% of water was recycled. A coworker was much more optimistic at 95-98%. The only usable link I could find was for Australian treatment plants where the recycled water use of six cities in 2001-2002 averaged ~5%. Yipes. Not a lot to go on, but still not good numbers. The question is probably more complex: recycled water is maybe never used for drinking, and so it's uses are limited.

On the second question, the website green econometrics got completely on my shit list. Here's the deal: they had the only useful page I could find, unfortunately it discussed the consumer's economic cost for using solar compared to coal, oil, and gas. In that regard, solar costs more per KWH because you have to pay more for solar panels that produce the equivalent energy. E.g. solar costs $0.38/KWH, where coal costs $0.006/KWH, oil $0.05/KWH, and gas $0.03/KWH.

The problem is that this doesn't tell us society's energy cost to produce a KWH of each. The fuel to produce and maintain digging equipment could be greater than the fuel to produce and maintain solar panel factories. Or it could be less. So, I posted a quick comment with my question in the section below the article with the friendly imperative: "Leave a comment." Within an hour, my comment was deleted. So much for the dynamism of web 2.0 sites.

I'll still pick around for the answer. My search fu could be a little weak, so maybe I missed an obvious article or encyclopedia entry. Until then, item 2 remains a mystery...

posted by sstrader at 9:02 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 12, 2007


Arctic sea ice loss more dramatic than scientific models (and, need I say, much more dramatic than what the deniers say), also discussed on Reddit. Al Gore's NPP has pushed the story out of any mainstream outlets (as far as I could tell, and to put an optimistic spin on its absence). The author puts it better than I could: The "skeptics" implied there are only two possibilities: either the scientific consensus is right, or global warming is not as bad as the scientists think.

I will again point to RealClimate and its tireless contributors, along with the New Scientist article "Climate change: A guide for the perplexed." Good Q&A.

Deniers have moved primary arguments from "it's not happening" to "it'll cost too much" (trying to forget that they were dead wrong on the previous argument). Soon, realizing they were dead wrong again, they'll be moving to "it's too late." At that point, I'm sure they'll crow over their prescient wisdom.

posted by sstrader at 9:49 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 24, 2007

My brother's rootkit woes

My brother's wife's laptop had started redirecting IE to Changing the Home Page to anything else failed in all attempts and failed insidiously when he manually changed through the registry: within a second, the old value was returned. I was at first puzzled as to why a rootkit would redirect to an apparently innocuous site but realized that redirecting to a spammy site would be too obvious.

Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror had recently detailed his unfunny exploits with cleaning up a spyware infestation and his assessment of the state of Windows security re rootkits. Both, along with their discussion threads, are valuable reading. His three dictums on security:

  1. Stop Running As Administrator
  2. Traditional Anti-Virus Doesn't Work Any More
  3. The Mainstreaming of Virtual Machine Sandboxes

WRT rootkits, the standard recommendation is always RootkitRevealer from Sysinternals. It's a raw interface that merely points to possible problems and offers no recommendations, but it comes from a reputable source. Google should be enough to find follow-up info anyway. An Information Week article recommended the freeware tool RootKit-Unhooker. Despite its oddly inconsistent CamelCase, it looks like a good tool.

On the infected laptop, RootkitRevealer revealed one item of suspicion: HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Window\CurrentVersion\MSSYCLM\Start. A search on "MSSYCLM" brought up the thread "Topic: ACEWSUWMB.EXE" at Sysinternals. It could be a false positive, but it could also be owned by the Winhound adware/malware.

He's still deciding whether to try to remove, re-image, or (god forbid) ignore.

posted by sstrader at 12:16 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 10, 2007

Genius idea

Encrypted sound. Add a module to your cell phone that encrypts the audio as it leaves the earpiece. Pair this with a hearing aid that decrypts the audio so that anyone able to listen in would only hear gibberish. This would also work across the wire but would require some asymmetric stuff.

Phones really need to be open source.

posted by sstrader at 8:00 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 11, 2007


The god-of-the-gaps for global warming denialists just got smaller: 'No Sun link' to climate change. The original article, No solar hiding place for greenhouse sceptics, is behind a paywall at Nature.

posted by sstrader at 8:24 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 9, 2007

Apache on Windows, connection error

Connections start failing with the error:

The semaphore timeout period has expired. : winnt_accept: Asynchronous AcceptEx failed.

Add the following directives to httpd.conf:

EnableMMAP off
EnableSendfile off

Found at My Digital Life. The Apache documentation on Win32DisableAccesptEx elaborates some on the error and solution.

posted by sstrader at 7:12 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 1, 2007


IIS has been giving me untold grief the past two weeks. It just stops serving files for no apparent reason. This time I mean it: I'm moving to Apache.

posted by sstrader at 11:48 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 9, 2007


Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney are giving a talk in a scant few locales around the US titled "Speaking Science." It deals primarily with Nisbet's favorite subject: how science is represented and mis-represented in the public sphere (and how to fix that). Josh Rosenau has the lowdown and points to a YouTube video of the talk for those of us in backwater burgs. He also sums up the issue at hand:

In policy debates, the public tends not to have the background to assess scientific arguments, and can choose not to expend the effort needed to become educated on complex topics. I do this with particle physics, you may do this for art history or sports.

This is similar to the there-are-only-two-sides approach to politics that media watchdogs have been deriding for years. The public accepts a crippled version of issues simply because of time constraints (I don't care to research sports either). Nisbet regularly covers topics on science and the public in his blog Framing Science.

posted by sstrader at 11:22 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 22, 2007

Intelligent chemistry

A not-so-subtle, yet succinct, assessment of evolution denialists.

posted by sstrader at 11:15 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 3, 2007

Button button, again

A riddle (in the form of a cipher-cipher). And the sad story of Wikipedia banning the numbers.

posted by sstrader at 12:17 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 2, 2007

Button button

During the last few days there's been some exciting follow-up to net hero arnezami's discovery of the AACS processing key in February this year. Users of the world mass posted those pesky numbers in an attempt--looking to be successful--to DDoS the lawyer tools who've been sending out take-down notices. And our hats should be off to Digg users who first saw all of their posts w/ the numbers get killed until they pummeled Digg with messages so fast that the front page filled up. Kevin Rose and the gang eventually acquiesced. The best idea came from a /. user who suggested that popular search engine queries should be published, inadvertently releasing the numbers into the wild for good.

Oh, and for what it's worth: 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0.

posted by sstrader at 7:56 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 22, 2007


Fuckin' geeks.

posted by sstrader at 12:03 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 5, 2007

French climate science

Claude Allegre recants his belief in anthropogenic climate change and conservatives rejoice. It is, however, their distinct type of rejoicing without any research whatsoever. RealClimate has what should become a much-linked examination of and rebuttal to Allegre's assertions.

Science aside, Allegre's nonsense arguments were particularly annoying:

... the greenhouse-gas fanatics whose proclamations consist in denouncing man's role on the climate without doing anything about it except organizing conferences and preparing protocols that become dead letters.

Huh? So we're supposed to do something without organizing? OK.

posted by sstrader at 6:17 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 4, 2007

Take *that*!

Found on Digg:

3 billion years old spheres that don't look made by nature!

Once in a while, and more times than some "scholars" wish, "out of place objects" come to the daylight to defy all preconceptions of History.

I love it.

posted by sstrader at 5:29 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 6, 2007

Science blogs, non-science, and a book

The ScienceBlogs web site is an aggregation of 57 blogs that focus primarily on science. Their rss feed is a little busy but always a good source of new info. I subscribed sometime in the past year, and it has become a primary blog distraction.

One recent post from Evolving Thoughts--regarding a definition of science--is a good example of the casually thoughtful content that's available (though occationally the science does get a little too hot and heavy for the person on the street).

Also referenced from that article is the book The Best Writing on Science Blogs 2006. This is an area where self-publishing is ideal. There have been some phenomenal posts on the ScienceBlogs that deserve to be in dead-tree format.

posted by sstrader at 1:02 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 14, 2006

Recent server oddities

About a week ago, the Perl.exe processes (for MovableType) started multiplying and taking over the CPU. As fast as I would chop off one head, two would spring up etc. I spent ~10 minutes trying to reboot with little memory or CPU available, and had to eventually do a hard reboot.

Today at work, my wiki stopped responding and I couldn't VNC or ping. Luckily, Lisa was at home and saw that DirectUpdate (which refreshes my dynamic IP) had crashed. After some short tinkering, we rebooted. Then after I got home, ZoneAlarm's TrueVector process stopped "on its own," and I just happened to see ZA's warning dialog. After I restarted it, the Perl.exe's attacked me again. This time, I used ZA's stop button and eventually eliminated the 40-or-so offending processes.

The Perl-thing is spammers trying to post morecommentsthanmyservercanhandle, so that may explain the other instabilities on my low-memory machine. We'll see.

posted by sstrader at 8:16 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 28, 2006

Answers to global warming skeptics

Previously, I had voiced a desire to create a politics wiki that would definitively address flawed arguments that get repeated (torture works, Hussein linked to al Qaeda, etc.). I have great faith in wikis and feel that domain-specific wikis would (and do) provide unique and useful resources. Coby Beck, over at A Few Things Ill Considered, has put together an index to his "How to Talk to a Sceptic Guide" on global warming. Best of all, he plans on porting it to a wiki.

I'd just listened to a man-on-the-street comment on NPR concerning upcoming elections. The commenter said that after 15 credit hours of classes and a full-time job, he doesn't have that much time to research candidates. Just as Byzantine rules of Senate policy or state politics can be difficult to research, the depths of the science involved in global warming research will go beyond whatever you might remember from your 4 year degree. Add to that the haze of lies and non-truths that seem to bubble up in the media more quickly than complex truths: collectively vetted aggregations of available information fills a dire need.

posted by sstrader at 10:27 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 18, 2006

Converting between wikis

WikiMatrix [ via Lifehacker's article "Set up your personal Wikipedia" ] is a nice site that lists around 50 wiki packages. It provides detailed fact sheets on all of them, along with a wizard that helps you choose between the different packages and ultimately compare their differences. Just comparing the differences in markup is useful to appreciate a lack of standards.

There really needs to be default utilities in every wiki that can export to and import from HTML. That would retain 90+% of the content and make wikis a reliable option for data storage. People complain about lock-in with Microsoft Office; this is exactly the same if somewhat more obscure. Basic support should consist of: internal and external links, categories (tags), and images. Wikipedia lists some simple tools for converting to a Wikipedia article from various formats including HTML, but none support complete site import. Another failing of a lack of standards. And there're also several tools for converting blocks of wiki text to HTML--one written in Ruby.

New project!

Some additional links:

posted by sstrader at 12:40 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 15, 2006


An open-source, JavaScript-based timeline utility [ via Digg -> Lifehacker ]. You create XML files containing the timeline events and the js library renders them in a scrollable timeline. The XML schema is basic. This would be an easy way to create that life gantt chart I had wanted. Go see the examples and prepare to be amazed. Here's my work history from my resume.

posted by sstrader at 6:41 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 10, 2006

Goo goo goo

Troublemakers have again instigated a grey goo attack against Second Life [ via BoingBoing ]. Second Life apparently has rich enough tools for artifact construction to permit unconstrained replication. A previous occurrence of grey goo was actually pink goo let loose accidentally by a noob. Cute. It looks like the current problem is much less benign; follow the SL blog posts beginning early Sunday. Any server developers will read with unpleasant recognition the rapidfire up-down-up-down-up-down announcements, although the presence of self-replicating particle objects are probably not so common.

Watched South Park's "Make Love, Not Warcraft" episode on YouTube (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, while they last). The joke is that, at some point, the act of playing the game becomes more important than the experience of being in the game. If that makes sense.

Representational art in the Byzantine era, and similarly drama in the pre-Renaissance, was restricted (or at least looked on with suspicion) because Christian philosophers felt that the ersatz reality seduced us away from God's reality. Our susceptible minds would be enthralled by the stories and accept experience through them instead of through reality.

When I read a novel I'm immersed in the reality of that novel, and yet the experience is as static as watching television or maybe even playing piano. I'm passively--disregarding the active choice of art object and time--experiencing that which someone else had created. Maybe these virtual worlds are the next logical step in the art consumer experience, but with the addition of consumer interaction. And maybe the fears of art replacing sacred fidelity have changed to those of it replacing social integrity.

posted by sstrader at 12:51 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

September 3, 2006

Genius idea

An inexpensive observatory available from the internet. Users would buy a block of time and program the coordinates to observe. The results would be available either streaming live or as a video to download.

It would be implemented with a bank of computers hooked to basic telescopes with electronic eyepieces. Each computer would be configured with its latitude and longitude and so be able to register its time zone and appropriate sky charts with a central server.

Of interest to high schools and amateur astronomers who live in light polluted areas or simply do not have an observatory available.

Continue reading "Genius idea"
posted by sstrader at 3:19 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 31, 2006

It's supposed to be good for you

Don't be taken in by the idiot rantings of James Robbins over at The National Review. Check out the ScienceBlogs' various responses here (Page 3.14, The Island of Doubt, The Questionable Authority) and here (The Loom) and here (Cognitive Daily). Hooray for Global Warming indeed...

posted by sstrader at 1:28 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 23, 2006


Not to over-romanticize the notion, but this is sad.

His friends are said to have stated that he currently finds mathematics a painful topic to discuss; some even say that he has abandoned mathematics entirely. According to a recent interview, Perelman is currently jobless, living with his mother in St Petersburg, and subsisting on her modest pension.

I very much enjoyed the story of Andrew Wiles proving Fermat's theorem and am about to dive into Perelman's story in the August 28th New Yorker. I respect the passionate scientist, I think, more than the passionate artist.

posted by sstrader at 11:22 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 19, 2006


posted by sstrader at 11:08 PM in Science & Technology | permalink


This too is demoralizing.

Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicised," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."

I've recently had direct contact with otherwise educated individuals (hey, I'm in the tech industry) who doubt some of the most basic tenets of modern science without ever having made the effort to study them. Does the free information that's been made available on the internet devalue knowledge in some way?

posted by sstrader at 5:20 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 22, 2006

The National Review web site has a web virus

I followed the link Why Ann Coulter doesn't write on the National Review anymore - "emoting rather than thinking" - a letter from the NRO editor (in case you missed it) from First, Opera tried to download exp.wmf:


Then, AntiVir Guard reported this:


Contains signature of the VBS script virus VBS/Drop.Inor.EB

I could only dismiss the Opera dialog by clicking the X, and everytime I tried to switch tabs the tab with National Review would be forced into view again. I just hope Opera and AntiVir blocked everything... Hey! It's another reason to avoid conservative web sites!

posted by sstrader at 10:06 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 13, 2006

A history of THAAD

The recent test of the THAAD missile system is being called a success. How successful has it been in the up to now?

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the first 11 tests (from 21 April 1995 to 2 August 1999) had three successes and eight failures (37.5% success). When considering only the intercept attempts, there were two successes and 6 failures (33.3% success). Other sites confirm. Notably, it was the last two intercept tests that were successful. The tests were resumed in late 2005 after Lockheed Martin began production. All three tests were successful, with only the last two being intercept tests.

The news is oddly quiet about these successes--and what with Iran and North Korea getting all surly, it's very odd. Even Fox News is silent at a moment when they would usually be crowing. Am I missing something? When the Pentagon is pushing a deceitful campaign to send text messages to the troops in Iraq (with no plan to actually send them to the troops in Iraq), you'd think that any chance at actual good publicity would be a sure-thing. They make me suspicious of even their accomplishments. How frustrating...

posted by sstrader at 8:48 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 3, 2006

Truth, again

The WSJ has another op-ed on global warming. In contrast to the one of 26 July which attempted to discredit an AP article, this one lists its author: Richard S. Lindzen. Many quotes from the first are regurgitated in the second (actually, the first is quoting the second as if their publish dates were reversed). I had posted the original AP and WSJ articles next to each other along with inlined links and references to other sites debating the validity of the WSJ article. I can only assume that they'll be publishing the same op-ed--or some form of it--every few weeks until An Inconvenient Truth has finished its run of theaters.

posted by sstrader at 11:58 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 27, 2006


The AP has published a story that top climate scientists are giving Al Gore's documentary on global warming, five stars for accuracy. I wasn't surprized by this since the scientists over at RealClimate had already discussed it at length and given it (approximately) four-out-of-five stars. But now a Senate committe has come out debunking the AP report (originally from the WSJ). Last time I checked the Senate was suppressing science, so I'm not so sure how valid this information is. Wikipedia has wisely locked the article for the movie from anonymous editing and almost certain flame wars.

Many of the claims in the WSJ article are weak at best, as RealClimate quickly points out. Think Progress has also joined the fun of wading through the wreckage. To facilitate research, I've copied the two articles and Wikipediaed the links:

Continue reading "Truth"
posted by sstrader at 10:18 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 4, 2006

CO2 and you

On Ebert and Roeper's TV review of An Inconvenient Truth, Ebert criticized the media's reporting on the controversy of global warming where there is none. Roeper countered that the controversy is over whether it is caused by humans and that the movie should have admitted to that. He needs to read RealClimate's article explaining the correlation.

posted by sstrader at 1:15 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 30, 2006

RealClimate on An Inconvenient Truth

[ updated 31 May 2006 ] Well, this answers quite a bit about the JunkScience site:

Steven Milloy is a columnist for Fox News and a paid advocate for Phillip Morris, ExxonMobil and other corporations. ... Milloy runs the website

It's not his conflict of interests that allow us to dismiss his claims, it's his track record of lies listed at The Skeptic's Dictionary and SourceWatch. This is why you trust signed, open authorship: so you can weed out the noise.

Eric Steig over at RealClimate has posted a review of Gore's An Inconvenient Truth [ via Digg ]. Steig gives a very positive review of the science in the movie. For the few criticisms and controversies, he links to prior discussions on RealClimate that examined those issues. Good information; RealClimate is an invaluable and open forum for scientists and non. Another Digg commenter posted a link to JunkScience's negative review of the movie. It has, notably, no open comments, but since knowledge wants to be free the thread at the RealClimate review begins to address those assertions at comments #72 and #73. Much more to read later.

The phrase junk science has been adopted by certain for-hire and astroturf groups who spread misinformation under the pay of corporations. Their site may be different, but that association is distracting. Add the lack of a forum (suggesting they don't care to open their assertions to debate) and lack of authorship (cf. RealClimate's articles) and the JunkScience site begins to appear uncomfortably opaque. The facts asserted are the important issue, but certainly doesn't get any points for openness.

posted by sstrader at 1:46 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 27, 2006

My car 2009


New German concept car. It's a little future-y looking, but it offers 157 miles per gallon of gasoline or 1.5 l per 100km. Is there anything those Germans can't do?

posted by sstrader at 8:24 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

Net neutrality

Now that net neutrality has been smacked down, I'm beginning to worry. I really didn't think it would lose. The same telecom corporations that said that Internet companies (Google, Amazon, et al.) were getting a free ride by not paying some extra tariff for Internet bandwidth, above and beyond what they're paying their ISPs, have bought Congress. Such restrictions, designed to promote only what benefits telecom companies, could starve innovation and freeze the Internet into a state that always and only benefits those companies. Change would only appear in the context of which telecom company had the greatest power.

In this era of media congomerates, can anyone really expect an invisible hand to protect companies competing with those conglomerates from being throttled and firewalled out of existence?

posted by sstrader at 8:11 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

Maps updates

I was reading the article on Werner Herzog in the recent New Yorker (very interesting life). At one point, the author tells of how Herzog heard a friend of his in Paris was sick, so he walked there from Munich. I'm not sure what prompted me to do this, but I decided to try to map the route on Google Maps. It worked (838 km). It also includes the little overview window at the bottom right that first showed up maybe a week ago. Oh, and there're satellite shots too, presumably all from Google Earth. Nice features.

posted by sstrader at 12:16 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 15, 2006


I saw this a week ago and can't wait to get one in the fall (available October 15, 2006):


I'm not responsible enough to take care of a dog, and have been hearing horror stories recently of ill-mannered ones at that, so this could be the perfect substitute.

posted by sstrader at 4:50 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 14, 2006

Happy Pi day!

We were all a-buzz about Pi Day here at work. Interesting trivia heard on The Leonard Lopate Show:

March 8, 2006


Study from the University of Chicago suggests that humans are still evolving. One argument I've heard often is that we're no longer evolving because we've taken the "danger" out living. To put it unkindly (but generally repeating the argument): the sick, crippled, and those with mental problems are now integrated into society and not "weeded out" by nature. This conceit is more common that I'd expect. The problem with it is that it emphasizes the phrase "survival of the fittest" (not Darwin's) over the theory's emphasis on species' interactions with their environment. I don't think that evolution can be described as a simple clearing out of the lame; that overly simplifies the role of environment and the concept of biological fitness.

[ updated 8 March 2006 4:18 PM ]

This /. poster expresses the concept somewhat more concretely.

posted by sstrader at 7:47 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 27, 2006

Treo 700w

Overall, I'm very happy with the Treo. Except for a few rare instances, you can navigate everywhere one-handed without having to use the stylus. (For example, you can't navigate in and out of the IE address box without actually reloading the address, and you lose focus completely when you shut down applications on the task manager screen--Option+OK. Very minor.) I'm moving from a Windows PDA with a larger screen, but I haven't noticed the difference and getting a smaller phone is worth it. I've hit the memory limits a few times--thus the need to shut down applications--which doesn't bode well for more extensive future use, but we'll see.

EVDO is transparently fast, but companies need to start producing better and more accessible PDA content. I'm using MapQuest's PDA maps, but I had to guess the URL because their main page actually sent me to the wrong location for mobile maps. I'm also using Agilemobile's Agile Messenger IM client for MSN, AOL, Yahoo!, and ICQ. There were a few hiccups on the software upgrade and it has some UI inconsistencies, but is otherwise good for a free IM client. And I'm still amazed at how good Georgia Navigator is for a state-run Web site.

The camera takes decent pictures in good light. It's about what you'd expect with a phone/camera and useful for that. I'll probably be taking a lot of pictures of wine labels when we go out so I can write them down later. Wine geek.

Overall, there's nice integration of PDA and phone features in a unit that feels comfortable. I'll be using this for a while. (If I don't lose it at a bar somewhere--at which point I'll kill myself.)

posted by sstrader at 1:00 PM in Phones , Science & Technology | permalink

February 22, 2006

More and more robots

In July of last year, I read Marshall Brain's "Robotic Nation" essay with some interest. BoingBoing just posted about the new Taco Bell/KFC robots taking jobs from honest, hardworking Americans. Damn dirty robots! "Robotic Nation" is, like all futurism, a crap shoot of emphasizing some facts and ignoring others, but it's still a good read.

Continue reading "More and more robots"
posted by sstrader at 12:47 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 12, 2006

Changing screen orientation on my Dell Inspiron

I was quickly hitting Ctrl+Left-Arrow to go back in my browser history and somehow changed my Dell Inspiron 6000 screen to portrait mode (everything's sideways). The mouse still, of course, responded in the same way--expecting that you had some sort of tilt-and-swivel setup--so up was left and right was down. Sort of. No key combination returned me to landscape, so I did a quick--yet cumbersome--search. Nothing. I eventually discovered the steps that will get it back to normal, here they are:

  1. Select the desktop
  2. Shift-F10
  3. Graphic options
  4. Graphic properties...
  5. Rotation tab
  6. Normal

Tada! I'm an idiot, 'cause I still don't know what I did to swap the orientation.

[ updated 17 May 2008 ]

Updated with minor clarifications.

posted by sstrader at 8:27 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 9, 2006

Quick update

An odd social artifact of making edits in Wikipedia: it promotes further edits. People are probably monitoring any recent changes and updating those as it strikes them. There are also ways to monitor specific entries, but for most I think that the presence of a recent edit is what's promting the attention. It's a nice, unexpected benefit.

posted by sstrader at 12:23 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 1, 2006

America, idiot

Pharyngula discusses at length an article from Esquire called Greetings from Idiot America [ subscription, free version here ]. A quote from the article:

On August 21, a newspaper account of the "intelligent design" movement contained this remarkable sentence: "They have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive."

A "politically savvy challenge to evolution" is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be. ...

It's a detailed redefinition of the anti-intellectualism that I rant against, and that they point out was deftly covered by Richard Hofstadter in his book from 1963 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. People have moved from hating expertise to believing that intuition is on equal footing with it. Intuition in the thought process is valuable in order to arrive at unique solutions; it's meaningless--or at least only personally relevant--if not subsequently vetted by knowledge and expertise.

And since I feel like I bitch too much, I'll quote the end of the Pharyngula article:

You would be surprised at how much email is sent to me telling me to stop being so derisive, that harsh language and ridicule turn people off and repel the very ones we're trying to persuade. My reply is like the one above; by refusing to ridicule the ridiculous, by watering down every criticism into a mannered circumlocution, we have created an environment where idiots thrive unchallenged. We have a twit for a president because so many people made apologies for his ludicrous lack of qualifications—we need more people unabashedly pointing out fools.
posted by sstrader at 8:09 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 24, 2006

Virus with SunTrust's Web site?

When I access the SunTrust online banking Web site, I get a virus warning.

The error specifies the HTML cache file that contains the error and gives the following message:

Contains signature of the PHISH/CitiBkfraud.G virus

This doesn't happen from other browsers, and the cache file and contained script appears harmless. There is virtually no information on this virus online.

posted by sstrader at 7:38 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 16, 2006


The Planetary Society has a collection of beautiful yet bare images of Stardust hitting the Wild 2 comet. I picked N2075WE02 as my wallpaper. It just returned from its ~ seven year trip. It's chilling to think of the distance from Earth and that we had something out there actually recording a moment in time. It reminded me of the movie someone had created back in July of the images from the Deep Impact satellite.

posted by sstrader at 12:03 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 15, 2006

Science blogs

A couple of my favorite science blogs are now under the umbrella of, naturally, ScienceBlogs [via Scott Spiegelberg]. The site is very clean and attractive. It provides high-level categories and a search of the 11 contributing blogs. It also has an RSS feed, but it's not an aggregate feed. That seems sensible for the blogs involved.

Beyond the cross-blog search there's not much added benefit, but it does act somewhat as a web ring: providing qualified referals.

posted by sstrader at 2:26 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 21, 2005


One of the most beautiful computing experiences (geek) I ever had was using my Newton. I had a 120 and eventually moved on to the 130--backlit! I was mocked relentlessly because of its size, but it didn't matter because the OS was. absolutely. perfect. Everytime I use my PDA, I miss the 130. The Newton Museum is selling off its entire collection on eBay [ via BoingBoing ]

posted by sstrader at 7:28 PM in Science & Technology | tagged apple newton | permalink

December 19, 2005

December 13, 2005

IM to phones

How-To use AOL Instant Messenger to send a Text Message to a phone. I found this after text messaging Lisa and wishing I could do it from Trillian. It works using my AIM account (see additional comments after the article). Only slightly useful but neat.

posted by sstrader at 4:03 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 5, 2005


Technology has not been treating me well. First, my keen laptop starts inexplicably shutting down whenever the battery is plugged in. I ordered a new battery that fixed it but only for a day. After an hour on the line with Dell, I get a case # to ship it in under warrenty. X (<- fingers crossed). Before that, the old crappy laptop that's hooked up to the stereo acting as our jukebox went wonky. After endless, lengthy reboots, I finally figured out that the wireless card was bad. I have a backup, but it's still got somethin' wrong. I'm too tired of working on it, so it'll have to wait a few days. Then, last night the power flickered (very rare here) and reboot all of my machines. After an hour of (1) disk scanning, (2) defragmenting, and (3) resetting most of the Zone Alarm settings that got lost, I went to bed. In the morning, I found out that I didn't reset Zone Alarm completely and the Web stuff was still down.

Please nothing else.

posted by sstrader at 10:23 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 26, 2005

Blogdex is back

In the past few days, Blogdex popped back online--around a month after it first disappeared. And, of course, BlogsNow is still up.

posted by sstrader at 11:25 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 25, 2005

Today's reading list

  • The Man Who Sold the War [ via Rolling Stone ]
  • The CIA paid the Rendon Group more than $23 million dollars to help bring down Saddam Hussein through propaganda and media manipulation. That propaganda, fed to Judith Miller among others, once reported was used by the administration to bolster support for the war. In one breath John Rendon criticises the media for reporting unflattering and incorrect information about the war, in the next he boasts of feeding incorrect information to that same media. Jackass.

    It reminds me of the essay "Astroturf: How Manufactured 'Grassroots' Movements are Subverting Democracy" from The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2003. In it, Jason Stella outlines how propaganda--lies--from the Kuwaiti government was used to push lawmakers to vote for the first Iraq war.

  • Crisis in Cosmology [ via In Defense of Marxism ]
  • First, I find out that string theory is in question, now the big bang too? My head is spinning. All of those problems that still exist with the theory could eventually bring it down--and in the process describe a universe that is at least 70 billion years old instead of 13! This is big. At the center of the dispute is plasma cosmology.

    The article is, however, absolutely dispicable in the way it presents modifications that occured in the big bang theory. At several points, scientific adjustments are presented as some sort of weasling out on the part of the scientists. Look: theories are meant to adjust as new facts are presented. That's what science is. If the theory eventually falls apart--which the big bang may-or-may-not--then the theory that best represents the new facts will replace it. Too much sensationalist science reporting. Jackasses.

    This, oddly, makes me wish Brian Greene had a blog. I wonder what the discussions are in the physicist and cosmologist circles...

    And, bravo to Eric Lerner for his vigilance in keeping the Wikipedia entry on plasma cosmology unmolested by rabid graduate students. New science is new science and it needs to be presented with fact and not ridiculed with emotion.

  • TiddlyWiki
  • Self-contained wiki based on JavaScript contained within the HTML pages. Basically, you can save your entire, functioning wiki to a single HTML file. Client-side scripting at its best. Now I have to think about porting my development wiki, and maybe even my blog, to this.

October 29, 2005

String theory's sad demise?

I can't keep up with modern physics as much as I'd like, so I was kinda shocked when I heard string theory outed as the emperor's new whatever last Friday on Talk of the Nation's Science Friday (not yesterday, but a week before). On it, Lawrence M. Krauss was talking about his latest book Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond (from Amazon's comment, apparently everyone listened to that show). I read Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe when it first came out and loved it--nice overview of string theory and everything leading up to it. Etc. Everyone's either read it or read of it, so that hardly needs to be repeated (his second one was a little more dense and needs a second reading). Now, Lawrence Krauss seems to be tearing down string theory by using the same concerns that we've read about: it lacks provability or disprovability with our current understanding. While these have always been issues to be resolved Krauss is saying that it's been too long and that they can never be resolved.

Definitely a book to-be-read. Hello wishlist. Several of his other books look familiar too.

Anyway, it got me digging through and old chart I made of the standard model in order to organize the basics in my head:

Continue reading "String theory's sad demise?"
posted by sstrader at 1:30 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 25, 2005

Balance of power, part 3

(Continued from part 1 and part 2.)

/. continuing the debate of Internet governance (I still like the title "War to Liberate the Internet") triggered from a WSJ article. A few good entries: AC provides a little more schooling on the whole issue. Later, daveschroeder pulls the ownership card but gets smacked down nicely here and here.

posted by sstrader at 4:50 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 22, 2005

Internally inconsistent

Two items found next to each other in a side banner on Daily Kos:

Kill ads! Subscribe now.
Advertise on the top 50+ trafficked Liberal Blogs -- the Liberal Blog Advertising Network.

This seems like a system about to have catastrophic breakdown.

posted by sstrader at 11:21 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 21, 2005

Science and the single professor

When the ID trial began, I had some concern based on the reporting. Several articles trotted out the ID redefinition of "theory" without once presenting the scientific meaning. Shame on them. Maybe the media is evil!?! But, no matter how many kneecaps you'd like to break, a good debate can sometimes reveal truths. Attorney Eric Rothschild gets the money quote by cornering Behe into admitting that not only is his definition of theory equal to NAS's definition of a mere hypothesis, but that astrology would fit into his definition. Egads.

Continue reading "Science and the single professor"
posted by sstrader at 1:26 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 9, 2005

Balance of power, part 2

More nationalist chicanery as the War to Liberate the Internet has begun. /. seems firmly in the camp that the UN is more corrupt than the US, so let's just keep the status quo. And, oh yeah, we invented it, motherfucker! Although one poster asked the question Would you say that nobody should have the right to control their own zoning laws except Iraq because the first known zoning laws were invented by the Babylonians? Indeed.

One odd argument against UN control is that law enforcement restrictions and monitoring could be inserted into protocols. Re-read that sentence again. People are worried that countries other than The United Patriot Act States of America will abuse surveillance powers w/r/t the Internet. Others repeat the shibboleth "oilforfood" as if they US government never had any management debacles that shifted money to the wealthy and unscrupulous. Again, nationalism can be so forgetful.

Having read the range of arguments that are out there, I still support international governance (but that's just how I lean anyway). Although many are rightfully ringing the warning bells for what could happen, the root servers have that odd mix of total knowledge and limited power. China already firewalls their citizens' access and gets Yahoo! to assist in imprisoning dissidents without even having a root server on their soil. Can UN control change that? suggests Bush's squeamishness with the proposed .xxx TLD and the UN's penchant for proportional dues based on GNP are what we have to fear. The Guardian ends menacingly and vaguely with the line The internet will never be the same again, after stating that there are many unanswered questions.

Finally, this pithy assessment from Three Wise Fellows on /.:

>> The US did invent the internet, and has always owned and controlled the root servers.

> Well fine. I'll go invent my own internet, with hookers! And blackjack!

Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

posted by sstrader at 12:39 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 2, 2005

Search and Google

After bitching about Google, and then continuing my internal dialog out loud last night against the sounding board of non-techie neighbors of my brother, and then re-reviewing the validity of my statements this morning, I found Google Watch's assessment of Google's long-term cookie (which expires in 2038, an absurdly long life for a cookie, but not that unusual. unfortunately). GW was reviewed in Salon back in 2002. As an alternative to Google, GW points towards the unpleasantly named Clusty, which got only honorable mention in secondary categories of this year's Search Engine Watch Awards. Oddly, the one feature that impressed me with Clusty (still don't like that name), the clustering of results under semi-descriptive headings, is declared as not all that special compared to directory results. Doesn't that miss the point that they have filled one of the feature gaps between directories and search engines?

posted by sstrader at 1:00 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 1, 2005

Balance of power

Two related issues: GoogleNet and the International Internet. We live in interesting times.

Continue reading "Balance of power"
posted by sstrader at 3:05 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

September 29, 2005


Review: Recording Web Radio, TiVo Style. I'm a visionary! A poor, lazy visionary.

posted by sstrader at 1:46 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

September 25, 2005

Freedom costs a buck 'o five

Several discussions with Mason this weekend about the ultimate hopelessness of freedom of information. Even as fact becomes more fully and precisely available, its access is limited by means (most of the population will still get information by fallible word-of-mouth or 5-minute news intros) and by volume (when fact is necessarily wordy or requires previous learning, who can take the time to discover and understand that fact). Mason compared it to burying the lawyers with tens of thousands of pages of useless disclosures. Who has time? Another example: we (bloggers etc.) are part of a technical aristocracy that knows how to circumvent DRM, even the weakest crippling of fair use, although easily bypassed by us, will impede most of the population no matter how readily available information is.

These discussions came at a time when I'm thinking about Cryptonomicon and its noble representation of geeks in their attempt to free information. It's a wonderful book and one that only a year later I'm anxious to re-read.

Similarly, a (less technical) friend had asked why anyone would want to use open-source software since it's less safe. As Titus says: more later...

posted by sstrader at 7:28 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

September 18, 2005

Spammed by Goooooogle

I just got comment spam (from recommending that I use Google. The only url in it was That's baffling.

posted by sstrader at 11:45 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

September 14, 2005

Google update

Thailand et al. have begun saying about Google Earth what basically every person I showed it to had said first: won't that help the terrorists? I felt that they were missing the point (isn't this information openly available anyway?) but the article has a humorous examination of the issue, looking at a Thai Air Force base:

They've even got an awacs parked there on the hard shoulder ... Hmmm. The good General may have a point.

And from India:

Reuters quotes an anonymous security official there as confirming that "the issue of satellite imagery had been discussed at the highest level but the government had concluded that 'technology cannot be stopped'."

"We are aware that there are websites which give detailed pictures of buildings like the president's house including every tree in the compound. Our security agencies are aware of this but how can we stop technology?" he added.


And finally (gotta get to work!), be prepared for a Google blog search. Or, rather: a Google search for blogs. Who else has taken a sabbatical? Who else listens to WNYC?? Answers to these questions and more...

posted by sstrader at 8:52 AM in Science & Technology | tagged thailand | permalink


From the Microsoft Max page:

Today Max lets you make lists of your photos and turn them into beautiful slide shows to share with your family and friends. Tomorrow...who knows?

Could they have come up with a weaker line? Slide shows, eh? Ooooh. Maybe they'll have some good ideas for it, but still ...

Max makes it easy to share your memories with friends and family around the world. ... When you update the list, they get the new photos automatically. You just need a Microsoft Passport network (or MSN Hotmail) account. If you don't have one, you can get one right now.

That tears it.

posted by sstrader at 8:37 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

September 12, 2005


Playing Mr. IT Person today with the rents. First up: move data from old computer to new via poor man's click drive (digital camera). Bulkier, but it got the job done. Man-oh-man do applications have a long way to go to making porting easier/less tedious. Next up: wipe out all personal data. I need to put together a CD of useful apps for just such occasions. Those occasions only happen every five or so years, but it'd be nice to have that virus/adware scanner, disk cleanup app, etc. all bundled together when you need them.

Finally, I turned my mom on to OpenOffice. She and dad have only MS Works on their new machine, and she needed some way to edit a spreadsheet she brought home from work. The OO installation, although generally non-technical, still hits the wall for users who just do not live in the world of technology (and don't need to). It's a problem that will always be there and is not new to computers--clean my carburetor?!?--so there are no easy answers. Once told about OO and how it came about, her response was "who would take the time to do that?" That was a more philosophical question than I could begin to get into while wearing my IT hat. "Nice people, mom. Very nice people."

posted by sstrader at 8:55 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 29, 2005

The passion of the office

Over at /. they're tearing up on OpenOffice. At first I felt bad for the little office that could: raked over the coals in the one place it could find fellow travellers. Then I was happy that it didn't get a free pass--too much praise of anything at /. usually makes me suspicious. The problems:

Others pointed out the incredible savings from using OpenOffice if you can. All agree that it's a best fit only for single-office/home-office (SOHO). I've been using OpenOffice for a while and have generally been happy with my low-impact use. It fits my simple word processing and graphics needs as it would for any home user. I'm not the activist type, but I'm really close to removing MS Office from all of the machines on the home network just as a symbolic purgation. Still, as with browsers, there are some situations that you need that other product because of some proprietary design or somesuchthing.

Side note: What I appreciated the most from the /. thread was the no one brought up the spurious argument that you can't/shouldn't criticize something that's free. Whether it's open-source, Google, blog articles, or art, too many people think the object is somehow above examination. Most on the OpenOffice thread correctly argued the intent and whether and how much that intent was acheived.

posted by sstrader at 11:48 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 26, 2005

Out to launch

Rats. I missed it this time.


Look out! They're ruffled!!

Continue reading "Out to launch"
posted by sstrader at 10:58 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 25, 2005


I had first heard of Konfabulator when Apple released a competing product as part of their OS. Now, Yahoo! has purchased it [/.] and I find out--late in the game--that there's a version for Windows (released back on 8 November 2004). Although I haven't yet tried it, I admired the design: a combination of existing open standards to create, combine, and extend existing technology.

posted by sstrader at 10:04 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 24, 2005

Monkey brains

Scientists have been injecting human brain cells into monkey fetuses (,, Google News). The resulting animals, if left to grow, could develop self-awareness--or, if as some argue, many animals are already self-aware, they could develop consciouis characteristics more indiscernible from humans.

Last November, I noted that animals were begin engineered to produce more human-like organs. Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future [Amazon] addresses many of these issues and suggests that limits be defined soon so that the "natural" definition of human is not altered.

posted by sstrader at 11:33 AM in Science & Technology | tagged fukuyama, posthuman | permalink

July 23, 2005

Google maps/earth

When did Google Maps add a "hybrid" view that combines the map and satellite views? It's actually much more readable than Google Earth.

Continue reading "Google maps/earth"
posted by sstrader at 5:48 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 13, 2005


At around 2:00 PM EDT today, news sites began reporting that the mission has been scrubbed. Aww. Mason IMed me after he got it from a friend at the launch site. NASA TV had been silent for a while. NASA TV said the cancellation was due to a failed eco-sensor; news reports are saying faulty fuel-tank sensor. I'm assuming they're the same thing.

Inspired by the geek clients that Lisa's company is doing work for, I'm watching NASA TV in anticipation of the launch today at 3:51 PM EDT (it's really been 2-1/2 years?). I remember watching NASA TV early on in Internet streaming days. They broadcast extended camera shots of the rotating Earth from earlier shuttle trips, and I would leave RealPlayer up in a small window alway-on-top as I'd spend late nights at one-company-or-another writing code. It was kindof peaceful and completely silent, and I'd imagine that it was happening real-time. Me looking at my screen looking at the world--like how it feels with Google Earth now.


Their official site for this launch has all the low-down, including a countdown clock so that you can do the 10-9-8-7-6-thing at home!

Continue reading "Shuttle"
posted by sstrader at 10:40 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 7, 2005


Another newspaper article on home PC users and their trials with spyware/malware. Terrifying. And a commenter posted to a detailed experiment testing what methods are used to capture individuals' computers. More terrifying. The author of the article put together a test machine and jumped on the Internets to see what's what. He followed some Yahoo searches to look for games and almost immediately aquired a trojan. Check out the details of how it happened. If you're not careful, you could be next.

After reading about some of the geeks that were helpless to accidental infections (wipe, re-image), I didn't feel so bad about not being able to help a friend with her infected computer.

posted by sstrader at 8:23 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 4, 2005

Deep Impact hitting Temple 1

temple 1

A fun story I haven't been following enough, the Deep Impact satellite rammed into the Temple 1 comet at 6:52 UTC today (fireworks!). /. points to a movie of the impact from the point of view of the satellite. Extremely cool. They also have a highly useful discussion on the amount of energy that was released from the impact:

1 tonne of TNT = 4.184 x 10^9 joule = 4.184 Gigajoules/tonne
19/4.184 ~ 4.5 tonnes TNT
1 Kcal = 4186 J
1 Snickers contains 280 Kcal = 1172080 J = 0.00117208 GJ
19 / 0.00117208 ~ 16210.5 Snickers
So the amount of energy released is the equivalent of about 16.2 Megasnickers.

Ah, now I see.

Also from /.: a GIF animation of the impact from the Lowell Observatory; and from the NASA site, what Hubble saw.

Continue reading "Deep Impact hitting Temple 1"
posted by sstrader at 12:34 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 28, 2005

Google Earth, part 2

Initial comments on the (beta) software:

  • Clunky interface, like a first-generation cross-platform UI
  • Tools to the left of the screen are crowded and never seem to be the right size. I'm constantly resizing one or the other.
  • Intermittent failed refresh of layers. Sometimes street names or other features will disappear if you fly to a new location.
  • The features included in the layers tool--restaurants, ATMs, MARTA stations--will become a first-stop for many people. Lasoo had this around four years ago [SearchEngineWatch], and its demise hit me almost as much as that of WebVan's ... almost. Some of this is available in much more laborious interfaces at Yellow Pages Web sites, but the effort to use those is just too great.
  • Oh why does it have to be a binary client? They bend space and time and make the most elegant map client out there, and then they shove it in this ugly UI. I understand they're in their own embrace and extend [Wikipedia] period now (Blogger, Picasa, etc.), but I'm getting spoiled by all that the Web can (and should) do. I'm on three different computers a day. It'd be nice not to have to install stuff on all of them. I'm not sure where I first heard the phrase "universal client" for Web browser, but it's a good model to use.
Continue reading "Google Earth, part 2"
posted by sstrader at 11:07 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

Immersion, part 2

Remember when you re-watched one of those cyberspace movies that had a 2nd-tier kind of popularity 10 years back or so? And remember how painfully gay they looked with people flying around in space and manipulating colored boxes that represented THE CENTRAL MAINFRAME, or something equally stupid? Well, check out Google Earth [via cyanbane]. Just last week, I was in a debate with someone about the value of these new, immersive search options such as this and MS's Virtual Earth. We're certainly in the heydays of search technology.

It's like flying around in cyberspace. Only not so gay.


(Props to the long-defunct Lasoo search engine for having several of Google Earth's features five years ago.)

Continue reading "Immersion, part 2"
posted by sstrader at 4:33 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 25, 2005


Randomly spelunking through comments at The Washington Monthly on an article discussing the Republican war on science, I noticed that people still try to counter global warming by bringing up global cooling [Wikipedia]. They suggest that scientists were screaming dire warnings in the 1970s, and have now reversed themselves. Foolish science, when will it learn? Wikipedia's entry, specifically the section discussing the history of the scientific position, points out that this was an idea discussed in scientific journals and blown out of propotion by misquotes in the popular press. Cooling did occur up to around 1966, and the scientists were examining its possible causes.

(This Newsweek article is often cited by anti-climate change proponents. This section in the Wikipedia entry addresses that.)

To the credit of the comments in The Washington Monthly story, many people countered with the facts, along with several good citations from Wikipedia and RealClimate (which I had originally heard about from an NPR show, kinda supporting the Republicans v. science paranoia).

Next they're going to say that climate change is "just a theory."

Continue reading "Cool"
posted by sstrader at 12:49 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 19, 2005

Google mobile, mobile Google

Google has begun providing a PDA-focused front-end for searching [via [H]ard|OCP]. I had noticed a week or so ago that their site was slightly different on my phone. I had assumed it was a simple reformatting of an already sparse page, and had hoped that they would eventually update it to index PDA-only content. Voila, they have.

On the ride up to Nantahala yesterday, Lisa wanted to check scores for some college game of some sort. Sports pages are notoriously bulky and inefficient (Flash, tables, no CSS, etc.), so just loading a page of scores was iffy. I went on a bitching jag about the general idiocy of commercial Web sites that provide neither lean nor PDA-friendly sites. I haven't tested the Google results, but their intent should bring more traffic to the existing PDA content and therefore more attention to the greater demand in this era of A Blackberry in Every Household.

Continue reading "Google mobile, mobile Google"
posted by sstrader at 2:16 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 28, 2005

Dawkins and the value of uncertainty

Dawkins gives a passionate and eloquent defense of scientists plagued by the deceit of Intelligent Design. Scientists revel in the unknown in the hope to make it known. That admission of uncertainty, even when used as rhetorical setup to make the reveal of a truth more dramatic, is being used with deceitful misquoting by ID advocates.

Today’s scientist in America dare not say: “Hm, interesting point. I wonder how the weasel frog’s ancestors did evolve their elbow joint. I’ll have to go to the university library and take a look.” No, the moment a scientist said something like that the default conclusion would become a headline in a creationist pamphlet: “Weasel frog could only have been designed by God.”


Scientific American's article "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense" should be required reading for high school students. In fact, it should be put on stickers in the front of every biology book.

Continue reading "Dawkins and the value of uncertainty"
posted by sstrader at 11:37 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 17, 2005


radioSHARK is a Mac/PC product for time shift recording of AM and FM radio. It requires a slick-lookin' shark fin shaped radio that hooks up to a USB port, and the companion software to set up time-based recording (as opposed to named-schedule recording).


The software looks usable and simple, and it saves to AIFF, AAC (Mac), or WAV (PC). For $70, this is an affordable, if niche, little tool. I use High Criteria's Total Recorder software to record streaming stations for RadioWave. It is powerful, inexpensive ($12), and they have a nice Primer on PC Audio on their site, along with information on where to get the popular Lame MP3 encoder (and, most importantly, a command-line interface). I really appreciate companies that offer reference information unrelated to purely selling their product. Listen up, companies: become the de facto clearing-house for your knowledge domain and you'll win over a lot of customers.

Continue reading "radioSHARK"
posted by sstrader at 9:52 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 11, 2005

Mr. and Ms. Robot

Yay: someone's created a self-replicating robot. And yet, I can't help but feel a little let down. The robots replicate by assembling a collection of four or five pre-built pieces of themselves. And those pieces are merely cubes that lock on to each other with magnets. Is this truly the first of its kind?

I guess robots that assemble themselves from more atomic components, or ones that must search for those components, will eventually be designed from this initial research.

It was pretty neat watching the movie, though! It was like my old Legos were building themselves.

Continue reading "Mr. and Ms. Robot"
posted by sstrader at 11:45 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 10, 2005

Religion and science

Finally, someone else points out the otherwise obvious complaint that those who deride evolution as a mere theory seem to forget that gravity falls into the same bucket. Daily Kos recently made a similar but more nuanced argument that [t]he boundary lines between God and science, however, are always exactly laid at the limiting lines of the practitioner's own education. Fancy that. No creationist is complaining about gravity or even most of biology, yet the assertions of all of these disciplines evolved from the same processes as evolution.

In Joseph Campbell's lecture The Way of Art (originally recommended by The Centrifuge), he defines all of religion as metaphor:

All religions are mythological. You see what that means. They don't realize that Yahweh is a metaphor. The terrible thing about Yahweh is, he didn't realize it either! He thought he was the connotation, don't you see? So, when a metaphor is read with reference not to the connotation but to the denotation, it's a lie. Hence atheism.

Meanwhile, the ones who are worshipers of the metaphor don't know what they are doing, so they are missing the message. Do you get what I'm saying? This is really important stuff. I don't know whether its in the N. Y. Times yet but its important.

If you think your metaphor is the connotation then you think the other guys metaphor is a lie. You see what I mean? And here all these people all over the planet talking about the same connotation, sticking to their metaphors and we're having trouble. I think I've got the answer to the contemporary problem.

This is important stuff. The spiritual is important not because there's a big bearded guy that will help Homer get Moe's bar back but because it's an external metaphor for our understanding of humankind's purpose in this world.

When the journals Science and Nature were accused of editorial abuse by excluding papers from scientists that doubt climate change, I felt that their charges should be addressed by those journals to avoid the assumption of conspiracy. I don't think I feel the same way concerning the silence/absence of scientists at the recent hillbilly creationist debate. Could flat-earthers command such attention?

Continue reading "Religion and science"
posted by sstrader at 1:22 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 3, 2005


PC Magazine recently had a flurry of reviews on stream rippers and wave editors. I'm trying out the SourceForge app Audacity to edit out the announcers in the recordings I ripped from Internet radio using RadioWave. It processes a little slowly, and the UI flashes quite a bit, but it's got quite a few effects.

SourceForge is god.

Continue reading "Audacity"
posted by sstrader at 11:57 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 2, 2005

The other voice of climate change

The Telegraph is reporting that many scientists are being shut out on the debate on climate change. Dr. Benny Peiser and Prof. Dennis Bray both say that the reported consensus among scientists doesn't exist, and if it appears to exist it's only because contradicting opinions are barred from publication.

A search on Dr. Peiser brings up both his links to ExxonMobile funding (which has little to do with the truth of his assertions) and also that he argues against catastrophism. Is he the tip of an iceberg of ignored scientists? I don't know, but such an accusation needs to be addressed by those journals (the eminent Science and Nature) that he accuses. Prove him wrong, and we'll all be more comfortable.

He sees the debate on climate change as a frenzy of extremes. Apocalypse has always been a compelling drama for societies throughout history, yet for such careful research as is found in Jared Diamond's Collapse [Amazon] or even in David Keys's Catastrophe [Amazon], "apocalyptic" is a less-than-fair generalization. Still, accusations work themselves into tacit truths if left unchallenged.

Continue reading "The other voice of climate change"
posted by sstrader at 8:49 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

April 22, 2005

RealClimate gets props

Speaking of "Talk of the Nation," it's Friday which means it's time for Science Friday! And it's Earth Day to boot, so we have environmental scientists laying out the straight dope on climate change. Check out RealClimate for active discussions on the subject of climate change--especially their debunking of Crichton's lies. Lisa recently heard a science writer [who?] responding to the question: "what is your response to Crichton's popularity?" His reply: "Well, Crichton writes fictions; I'm a scientist."

Continue reading "RealClimate gets props"
posted by sstrader at 2:31 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

Real gets props

Classy apology by BoingBoing writer Mark Frauenfelder for his mis-configuration of Real and the subsequent, unjustified rants. I followed the recommendation and am now able to listen to KQED more reliably (I love "Talk of the Nation"). We'll see if the fix lasts. Also, it hopefully will fix the intermittent failed recordings from Real content on RadioWave. Hopefully.

Continue reading "Real gets props"
posted by sstrader at 2:06 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 25, 2005

Srinivasa Ramanujan's mad skilz

In the New Scientist article "Classic maths puzzle cracked at last", they report that a graduate student from the University of Wisconsin has discovered the pattern behind Srinivasa Ramanujan's [Wikipedia] partition function [Wikipedia]. It broke my brain trying to follow the steps of historical discovery within this problem, but it reminded me much of the Fermat story. Some notes to get it straight in my head:

Continue reading "Srinivasa Ramanujan's mad skilz"
posted by sstrader at 1:31 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

March 19, 2005

Ex. Ter. Mi. Nate.

How to destroy the Earth via Schneier on Security. Beware the insanely intense background red--after reading the entire (lengthy) article my rods and cones are completely scrambled. I'll be seeing green for hours.

The article also forced me to look up mass driver [Wikipedia] and Dyson sphere [Wikipedia].

posted by sstrader at 1:48 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 28, 2005

The battle between flat and deep hierarchies

Beelerspace has a nice introduction to the tagging system in which he refers back to his praise of flat hierarchies. The argument goes that storing data in folders locks that data in to one tag--albeit one tag that exists in a hierarchy--and that limitation actually removes information from the data. For example, an email about music from a friend could be filed in the Personal > From Friends folder, eliminating the chance to categorize it in the Entertainment > Music folder. What to do? By flattening the hierarchy to tags, you can tag the email with both categories and find it under either folder.

Continue reading "The battle between flat and deep hierarchies"
posted by sstrader at 11:55 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 22, 2005

DRM for computer hardware?

A blogger has found that his HP laptop (Compaq/HP nx9110) won't accept a new 802.11g card, not because of hardware incompatibilities but because it's not on the list of "accepted" cards in the BIOS. I'm not sure if the HP hardware was upfront about this ("as per your BIOS, this card is not supported") or whether the blogger had to do a little snooping. I can't believe that this is the first instance of such an economic atrocity, but it's the first that I've heard of. Instead of a may-or-may-not-work situation as you hunt down applicable drivers, you're stuck with a certainty as defined by the manufacturer. Talk about mixed blessing. As Cory says over at BoingBoing, sorry, no modern hardware for you, your laptop only works with museum pieces.

I have a slightly different situation on my Audiovox Thera phone. Although it has an SD slot, the OS doesn't have the abstraction layer to allow SD WiFi cards to run (and as far as I've found, it can't be added). This is less an insidious restriction that an idiotic misstep.

[ via HP BIOS locks out all cards save those on a whitelist (BoingBoing) -> Welcome to Trusted Computing (Hardcore Hogbender) ]

Continue reading "DRM for computer hardware?"
posted by sstrader at 9:42 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 19, 2005

Today's reading list

  • The Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design
  • This Is Why Your Game Magazine Sucks (part one)
  • Skulls may be oldest known human remains
Continue reading "Today's reading list"

February 18, 2005

Another example of music wanting to be free

Ars Technica recently reported on the Napster To Go trial period hack that I first read about when marv on record's now infamous blog entry got passed around. Within the 14-day free trial period, you can easily set up a few machines dedicated to downloading, ripping, and burning for 24-hours a day. Voila! 252 free CDs!

I love how he categorizes it as theoretical fun. Tee-hee. A few months back I went through some similar steps using Rhapsody, hypothetically, and found them too tedius. However, all of the technology is there, and no amount of DRM could ever defeat it. The solution is to have some more automated software--apparently Winamp with its open-source friendliness does the trick.

What a wonderful future we live in.

posted by sstrader at 2:42 PM in Music , Science & Technology | permalink

February 15, 2005

Techie stuff

Jorn Barger of Robot Wisdom fame (not really as interesting as everyone says, but one of my very early bookmarks) has an article in The Register summarizing what caught his eye at CodeCon 2005. Much of great interest and too little time to research it. The item that caught my eye was a quick reference to the Wheat programming language. It's apparently not-ready-for-prime-time, but I can see the approach of using the Web as the root object namespace as either old news or innovative. Still not sure how it differs from existing scripting lanugages, but the excitement of some may justify further investigation.

According to Kottke, Google's define: operator (of which I mentioned recently) is actually harnessed on's content. Google had used (quick-and-dirty but good enough), but felt that offered an improvement for our users. Very noble. Thanks again Google, and thank you for focusing on item 6.

Continue reading "Techie stuff"
posted by sstrader at 4:02 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 14, 2005

BoingBoing and Napster

Xeni Jardin over at BoingBoing presented a completely indefensible attack against Napster's pay model. I had been getting increasingly irritated at her fanaticism (fanatics should never ever ever exist!), but with the help of Blogdex found that many others felt the same as me--available despite BoingBoing's lack of comments.

Quickly, her absurd logic states that Napster is trying to rip you off because you pay $15 a month yet don't end up owning anything persistent. For that $15, you can download and listen to as much music as you'd like, but that music will "self-destruct" after you stop paying the monthly fee. Xeni is arguing that any model that excludes absolute ownership is flawed. This is absurd. Even more so because those authors at BoingBoing continually mock the old guard of the music industry as incapable of embracing new models that arise from Internet culture.

I have often see authors at BoingBoing address their critics. I hope they make no exception here.

Lack of commenting, although understandable (poker and p3n1s en.larg.men7 anyone?), is a huge flaw. Being forced to sit next to your critics is one of the best and most self-correcting aspects of the blog model. Thousands of other large-scale sites deal with it and BoingBoing should too.

Continue reading "BoingBoing and Napster"
posted by sstrader at 11:14 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

February 13, 2005

Today's reading list

  • Wake up and smell the fascism
  • Whither Apple, Google, Blogs, and DVRs
  • Reinventing Physics: the Search for the Real Frontier
  • Interface Culture
Continue reading "Today's reading list"
posted by sstrader at 10:35 PM in Art , Music , Politics , Science & Technology , Today's reading list | permalink

February 8, 2005

OK, now I'm depressed

This article from The Independent is less-than-cheery:

Last week, 200 of the world's leading climate scientists - meeting at Tony Blair's request at the Met Office's new headquarters at Exeter - issued the most urgent warning to date that dangerous climate change is taking place, and that time is running out.
Next week the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty that tries to control global warming, comes into force after a seven-year delay. But it is clear that the protocol does not go nearly far enough.

Jared Diamond's succinct quote always comes to mind. He asks of the final generation of Easter Islander before they died of starvation:

What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?
Continue reading "OK, now I'm depressed"
posted by sstrader at 11:53 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 31, 2005

Simon Singh interview

I recently recorded this interview (33 MB MP3) with Simon Singh from KQED [RadioWave] out of San Francisco. Spencer Michels gives him a good grilling over the subject of his new book Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe [Amazon]. Michels plays the perfect dubious layman as he machine-guns aggressive and skeptical questions (why should we trust any scientist when so much has been passionately believed in the past yet eventually proven wrong?). Although the book is getting very mixed initial reviews on Amazon, the interview was spirited and entertaining. Singh loves the subject of cosmology.

Sady, I only got the first half of the show because the stream dropped, so the listener Q&A is cut off. The recording will be available for a week.

Continue reading "Simon Singh interview"
posted by sstrader at 3:48 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 30, 2005

A9's Yellow Pages

Amazon's A9 search engine has recently added Yellow Pages to its search tools. Along with a map of matches within a specific region, it provides addresses and--get this--store-front photos. You can also move the view up and down the street or get a listing of nearby businesses.

This will be a must on our next trip to NYC at the beginning of June. Hopefully by then I will have figured out how to link to stores. The URLs are session based but come from Amazon, so they should be similar to their other URLs. I can add the results to a travel Web page with addresses and photos of places to go. We had been regularly staying at The Metropolitan on 51st and Lexington, but a recent bad experience during renovations and the resulting cost increases after those renovations have us looking for new lodging in an as-yet-undetermined neighborhood. Currently reading recommendations from The Morning News.

[ via CNN -> A9 ]

Continue reading "A9's Yellow Pages"
posted by sstrader at 1:01 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

January 12, 2005

Astronomical dating of an historical artifact

This Science News article is reporting on how an historian is linking the carvings on an ancient Roman sculpture to the work of the Greek astronomer Hipparchus.

Continue reading "Astronomical dating of an historical artifact"
posted by sstrader at 11:38 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 20, 2004

Random numbers

I've still got cryptography on the brain from reading Cryptonomicon (so I'm going to be drinking cosmos after reading the DeLillo?!?), and probably will for a while. Looks like the rest of the Internet does also. Here's a collection from 1955 titled A Million Random Digits published by RAND [Wikipedia]. Good random numbers are hard to come by computationally, so I assume this was a good crib in the early days of computation. I pointed out recently how truly random numbers must come from natural systems, not calculated. This document from 1959 titled A Generator of Random Numbers contains a description of how to create a random number generator to attach to a computer. Plug-and-play?

[ via BoingBoing -> A Million Random Digits ]

[ via Schneier on Security -> A Generator of Random Numbers (2 meg PDF) ]

Continue reading "Random numbers"
posted by sstrader at 11:04 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 14, 2004


Bruce Schneier has a list of recommendations for Safe Personal Computing. He's the man when it comes to security in almost any form, so let's go through and see how many points I fail (eep).

(Security is an area that's become quite the testosterone-tinged hobby these days. Just bring up a discussion on firewalls or ftp around the office and watch the dicks get whipped out and measured. Once you get beyond non-trivial computing (which is the point that most every household is at), you get non-trivial security issues. Blame it on the vendors or the technology in general, but there are often no simple answers.)

Continue reading "Security"
posted by sstrader at 10:12 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

December 10, 2004

More high-level consensus

In Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Science magazine confronts various members of the government and elsehwere who suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change and unequivocally states that [t]his is not the case. They emphasize that all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter agree including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Is this some blindly-held belief that has gotten a foothold in the societies of Amerian science? Is this the only example? Non-scientific attacks on other scientific "theories" include the obvious creationist and Intelligent Design blather which are also summarily rejected by scientists yet believed by many. At what point does this become accepted?

[ via /. -> Science magazine ]

Continue reading "More high-level consensus"
posted by sstrader at 11:38 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 28, 2004



This blog contains material on art, music, programming, and science. I am not a published artist or musician, am currently unemployed, and have only a slight understanding of the details of many scientific processes. This blog should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.

(Although you probably won't gain much by studying it carefully.)

[ via Arts & Letters Daily -> Disclaimer stickers for textbooks ]

Continue reading "Disclaimer"
posted by sstrader at 11:31 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 22, 2004

Unfriendly climate

And CNN has a report stating that Climate report leaves U.S. policy unchanged, referring to the report I originally spoke about here.

The AP writer for the CNN article points out some wacky inconsistencies in Bush's policy:

Continue reading "Unfriendly climate"
posted by sstrader at 2:44 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

Poll on evolution

Gallup poll: Third of Americans Say Evidence Has Supported Darwin's Evolution Theory.

I don't know why, but I expected the headline to read "Two-thirds of Americans Don't Believe Darwin's Evolution Theory." I guess it depends on how the question was asked ... although that still doesn't explain my impulse. The findings:

Continue reading "Poll on evolution"
posted by sstrader at 2:03 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 20, 2004

Links, old and new

First, paleontologists in Spain have found a 13-million-year-old fossil that may be the link between the line that developed into Homo sapiens and the one that developed into great apes. The Smithsonian's Human Origins Program has a phylogenetic tree [Wikipedia] of human ancestors going back 5 million years. Some scientists doubt that this fossil represents our common ancestor, but it will be an interesting story to watch.

Second, The Washington Post has a report on hybrid animals being created using human stem cells.

In Nevada, there are sheep whose livers and hearts are largely human.

What to do?

[ via BoingBoing -> The Washington Post ]

Continue reading "Links, old and new"
posted by sstrader at 5:36 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 18, 2004

Capturing streaming media

A company called Applian Technologies is selling a streaming recorder called, simply enough, WM Recorder. It's slick-looking, but $30 for something that's readily available for free is a little steep.

  • ASFRecorder - Serialize Windows Media
  • Net Transport - Serialize using multiple download threads (HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, Microsoft Media, Real, and PNM)
  • All2WAV - Serializes any audio on your PC

[ via PVRblog -> WM Recorder ]

Continue reading "Capturing streaming media"
posted by sstrader at 2:05 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 14, 2004

ID: 1, Evolution: 0

School board OKs challenges to evolution. The article says that this Dover, PA school is the first in the country to let in Intelligent Design. Gah. And the Cobb county trial is finishing up, so maybe we're next.

The point at issue in Cobb is the mandate that stickers be placed in biology textbooks stating that [e]volution is a theory, not a fact. People: gravity is a theory. But it's also a fact. The scientific explanation of gravity is the theory part. The observation is the fact part. It's a fact that organisms have changed over time. Evolution is the only theory we've got that explains that fact adequately.

As a side note, check out the cool Flash animation, from the Dover, PA article, showing the four major geologic period and showing the arrangement of the continents for each. Very spiffy.

Continue reading "ID: 1, Evolution: 0"
posted by sstrader at 11:33 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 9, 2004

Ozone and you

I was reviewing the entry on ozone at Wikipedia (referenced in one yesterday's entries).

Continue reading "Ozone and you"
posted by sstrader at 1:29 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 8, 2004

Study: Arctic warming at twice the global rate

The ACIA report (which I mentioned a few days ago) is bubbling up to larger media outlets (CNN), but will probably be ignored by most.

The report mainly blames the melt on gases from fossil fuels burnt in cars, factories and power plants. The Arctic warms faster than the global average because dark ground and water, once exposed, traps more heat than reflective snow and ice.

For years, most objective scientists have agreed that this is happening, yet the dissent of a few in the minority has commanded our policy. Years ago, it was the ozone hole over Antarctica [Wikipedia] that signalled trouble. This is not an I-told-you-so on my part, but I'm sick of arguing with ignorant assholes who believe that there's some scientific conspiracy against the oil companies. Stop being dumb, people.

Continue reading "Study: Arctic warming at twice the global rate"
posted by sstrader at 3:03 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

November 4, 2004

Genius idea #3

Dammit! Now there happening before I even write them down.

This article describes research being done to create portable projectors for cell phones and PDAs. I first wanted something like that for my digital camera. We're always passing the camera around to show the picture we just took or to slide-show a group of pictures. If it had a built-in projector, we could use a white wall or table to show the images to a group of people all at once.

Even better, if the device connected through a card slot or USB port, you could attach it to your PDA or possibly your phone.

Very cool that someone's actually working on it.

[ via BoingBoing -> The New York Times ]

Continue reading "Genius idea #3"
posted by sstrader at 3:29 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 30, 2004

Wikis for some, tiny American flags for others

/. has an entry on Wikis. A Wiki [Wikipedia] (pronounced "wicky" or "weekee") is a website that allows any user to add content [and] allows that content to be edited by any other user. The /.ers suggest that Wikis will replace Lotus Notes. Although Notes and Wikis share the feature of document repository, Notes IIRC is also scriptable groupware [Wikipedia] used as a collaborative management tool. With Notes, documents not only are editable by the group, they can automatically be passed from person-to-person as their responsibility is completed. Admittedly, any company I've seen using Notes is using it primarily as a Wiki (and hating every minute of it).

Continue reading "Wikis for some, tiny American flags for others"
posted by sstrader at 11:26 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 26, 2004


So I recently talked about getting an SD GPS card for my phone. Right? Well what do I get today but an email from MobilePlanet with the subject line Scott: GPS Pocket PC with 128MB SD Card. Even though I'm on their mailing list, it'd be scary if it weren't useful.

OK, it's still a little scary.

Continue reading "Tracking"
posted by sstrader at 2:20 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

Genius idea #2

This is an idea I had a while back, but a Web site just reminded me how useful it would be--that's always a good sign for an idea if you keep thinking about it.

There needs to be a Web utility that retrieves and organizes all streaming schedules so that they can be searched. Many radio stations, generally classical, broadcast their playlist or at least a description of thier specialty shows. All of this information could be scraped and imported into a database so that people could search for "Shostakovich" or "Red Hot Chili Peppers" or "symphony" or even "David Foster Wallace interview." Once a reliable schedule database is set up, you could schedule songs or shows to be recorded.

I think of it as Radio TiVo.

Continue reading "Genius idea #2"
posted by sstrader at 11:21 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 25, 2004

More robots

A recent Wired article discussed the findings of a United Nations report on world robotics. /. also picked up on the story this week, and someone there made the connection I did with Marshall Brain's Robotic Nation essays (I wrote about them a few months back). Oddly, he has not added this article to his Robotic Nation blog--apparently inactive since August of this year.

Quoting the report, the Wired articles says that [b]y the end of 2007, some 4.1 million domestic robots will likely be in use. Sure, that includes the Roomba [Amazon] from the iRobot Corporation, but combine those with lawnmowers, pool cleaners, automatic checkout, and low-level factory robots, and the economic fears become, although not completely justified, somewhat understandable. Where's our invisible hand?!?

What is the forecast for 2007? A conservative forecast points about one million units worldwide, of which 350,000 in Japan, 326,000 in the European Union and 145,000 in North America.
Continue reading "More robots"
posted by sstrader at 10:47 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 24, 2004

I to the D

Wired has an article on the attack on teaching evolution in schools. In 2002, the Ohio Board of Education was considering allowing Intelligent Design to be taught next to evolution. I've recently heard some very endearing stories about personal faith, but when events like this occur it nearly nullifies any tolerance I have for religion. The Centrifuge gets fed up when presented with religious hatred. My limit is when people try to bastardize science.

It really angries up my blood.

Continue reading "I to the D"
posted by sstrader at 9:42 PM in Science & Technology | permalink


I picked up the November issue of Wired in the airport on my way back from Las Vegas on Friday. It had a multi-page ad that presented around 20 gadgets with feeble semi-reviews. It was a cheap blur of ad and content (where's their ombudsman? do they even have one?), but it contained a couple of cool gadgets. Let's have a look, shall we?

Continue reading "Gadgetology"
posted by sstrader at 7:03 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 14, 2004

My little google

I hate browser tool bars and add-ons. I love the concept that an application can be so open that you can plug in third party utilities and widgets, but I hate that those widgets are location-specific. I use a browser at home, work, to a limited degree on my phone, and less-frequently-but-occasionally elsewhere. It's a hassle, although small, to have to install those widgets all over or to do without. Maybe if widgets could be distributed and activated while you're browsing ... maybe.

Continue reading "My little google"
posted by sstrader at 11:20 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 9, 2004

GMail on windows

Someone has written a shell extension for Windows to turn GMail into a virtual file system. Someone had previously created the same for Linux. Someone's been busy.

[ via /. -> ]

posted by sstrader at 5:43 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

Google ueber alles

Google is out of control. First they come out with an SMS search utility. You can send a specially abbreviated search to 46645 (gah! apparently not supported by my phone) and get targeted results back. Now, they're taking on Amazon, Amazon, with a full text book search engine.

Continue reading "Google ueber alles"
posted by sstrader at 1:00 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

October 7, 2004

The month of the Gigabyte!

I received emails from both and MobilePlanet touting several new forms of 1GB storage. All are very affordable. The MobilePlanet 1GB SD card is out of stock, but the offers are (currently) still available and have big discounts if you order before the 9th.

Here are the listings and discount links they sent me:

Continue reading "The month of the Gigabyte!"
posted by sstrader at 7:50 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

September 6, 2004

Natural piety

Seems like religion's getting discussed quite a bit lately. Here's an interesting essay by Richard Dawkins titled "What Use is Religion?" In it, he suggests that to understand religion [w]e have to rewrite the question before we can sensibly answer it. The question may not be "how does religion add to the survival of the species?" but instead be something along the lines of "what survival trait gave rise to the behavior that is religion?" He offers some suggestions, but I was more interested in his examples of other "wrong questions" in the natural sciences.

Continue reading "Natural piety"
posted by sstrader at 1:27 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 24, 2004

Genius idea #1

[ updated 29 August 2004 ]

I had this idea a few months ago, but genius ideas are genius ideas. If I get it down in writing here, I will always remember to go back to it. And if I never get back to it, maybe someone else will implement it and become the Hero of the Playground.

So, as anyone and everyone is giving away email space these--10 MEG, 100 MEG, and Google's 1 GIG--I had an idea of how to harness it. You could write an application to access that space via a POP3 interface and turn it into a virtual, remote hard drive. Files would be stored as Base64 encoded mail messages, and the software would make them look like files on a virtual drive. This would turn free email into free off-site server space for backups or remote storage.

Continue reading "Genius idea #1"
posted by sstrader at 5:25 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

August 21, 2004

Language and thought

New Scientist has an article about a recent study of a Brazilian tribe and how they differentiate between different numbers of items. The tribe, the Piraha, have a word for "one," "two," and "many" but not for any other values. Members of the tribe were shown a group of four items and then a group of five items. They could not tell the difference between the two groups.

This suggests that language defines, or can define, the limits of what we are able to think.

Continue reading "Language and thought"
posted by sstrader at 1:34 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 29, 2004


Some daring bastard discovered how to get rid of IE completely. I say "daring" because it's one of those back-up-your-registry things. I'm a 95% Opera user, but don't know if I'm ready (or fanatical enough) to go cold turkey. Hats off to this guy though.

posted by sstrader at 8:43 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 24, 2004

Robotic nation

Earlier this year, Marshall Brain (yes, Brain) of the wonderful How Stuff Works put out a longish essay titled "Robotic Nation." In it, he predicted 50% unemployment in 20 years as automation takes over the workplace. As it stands, the world's economy would collapse.

He's been busy since then bolstering his argument:

Continue reading "Robotic nation"
posted by sstrader at 12:28 PM in Science & Technology | tagged fukuyama, posthuman, robots | permalink

July 23, 2004

The oil we eat

Harper's Magazine periodically publishes older content on their Web site. They just put up a good article from a few issues back called "The Oil We Eat." In it, Richard Manning discusses the conversion of energy into different forms of matter: sunlight and oil in fertilizers into carbohydrates in plants, oil in farm equipment into harvested plants, harvested plants into protien in animals ...

There are quite a few assertions, all of them interesting, some of them possibly unreliable. Here are a few excerpts:

Continue reading "The oil we eat"
posted by sstrader at 7:07 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 22, 2004

Hawking speaks

Yesderday, Stephen Hawking presented his theory [NYT] that black holes return information to the universe. I spoke about it earlier and glossed some notes from Brian Greene's first book.

From the article, one physicist in the audience is quoted complaining that Part of the problem is he's providing so few details, so it's impossible to know whether we can believe these calculations. Stephen Hawking's not stupid, so we're going to take what he says seriously ... but the whole theory we're hearing seems extremely speculative.

I guess we wouldn't understand the details even if he provided them. It would've been nice to be asked though.

/. has a discussion on the news.

Continue reading "Hawking speaks"
posted by sstrader at 1:17 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 19, 2004

Seed magazine

Thanks to BoingBoing for pointing me to Seed magazine and its loooong article about Brian Greene.

Yet another thing to distract me from getting through his damn book!

Continue reading "Seed magazine"
posted by sstrader at 7:40 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 17, 2004

Black, like my ... well, you know

Next Wednesday, Stephen Hawking will present a talk at the 17th International Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation in Dublin. At the last minute for applications, he sent a note to the group chairing the scientific committee for the conference that I have solved the black hole information paradox and I want to talk about it. This was originally reported in a New Scientist article. The information paradox states that the quantum information of particles lost in a black hole is never returned to the universe because the information contained in the particles returned is different (and, in a way, empty). That loss of information screws up quantum determinism: we would have to admit a greater randomness into the universe. It's a philosophical admission, but science has always defined our philosophical understanding of the universe.

If Hawking's hour-long presentation convinces the attendees, He and Kip Thorne of Caltech will lose the bet they made with John Preskill of Caltech. In it, the loser(s) will reward the winner(s) with an encyclopedia of the winner's choice, from which information can be recovered at will.


Anyway, the math is beyond me, but Brian Greene touches on the issue in his book The Elegant Universe.

Continue reading "Black, like my ... well, you know"
posted by sstrader at 9:59 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 16, 2004

Crappy name

Codermonkey just ... hypothetically ... got me a copy of 9/11 from some BitTorrent source. He pointed out that BitTorrent is different from Kazaa and its ilk because BitTorrent files don't have a fancy search feature.

Point out no more!

(But "bitoogle"?!? Crappy name.)

posted by sstrader at 8:37 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 12, 2004

Lake Vostok

Scientists recently discovered that Lake Vostok is divided into two basins. Two separate evolutionary paths, related or unrelated, could be found in the different sections. Cool.

Continue reading "Lake Vostok"
posted by sstrader at 12:43 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 11, 2004

July 10, 2004

It's easier than reaching...

Fascinating and terrifying research being done to use conscious brain activity to control machines. From the Forbes article:

Then, the monkeys learned to get rewards by mentally controlling a cursor on the computer screen instead of physically reaching. The cursor moved in response to the brain patterns indicating a desire. "They like it because it's easier than reaching," Andersen said.

Gah. Is this the first step to some dystopia of atrophied bodies? On the other hand, I'm reminded of the patients in Oliver Sacks's book Awakenings. In it, Sacks writes of the patients who have succumbed to a sleeping-sickness that left them completely paralyzed. I have fond memories of the movie and remember a very moving quote. Two doctors discuss whether the paralyzed individuals are conscious of their environment. The older doctor is positive they aren't and when the younger one asks why he replies that the alternative is unthinkable. He couldn't imagine the horror of having no way to communicate and affect the world and yet still be alive.

Continue reading "It's easier than reaching..."
posted by sstrader at 2:37 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 7, 2004

We are less alone

This BBC article, et al., is reporting that astronomer Kailash Sahu has used the Hubble over a seven-day period to find up to 100 new extra-solar planetary systems.

The astronomers expect it should be possible to study the atmospheres of between 10% and 20% of the planets discovered.

When are we going to suck it up and just schedule people to maintain the damn thing?

Continue reading "We are less alone"
posted by sstrader at 8:17 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

July 6, 2004

Cassini and Titan

Cassini's been taking some keen pictures of Titan. Although it won't drop the Huygens probe into Titan's atmosphere until X-mas of this year, it's been gathering a lot of information. Last time I checked, it was taking pictures of Phoebe and only getting distant, blurry images of Titan.

Continue reading "Cassini and Titan"
posted by sstrader at 11:50 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 23, 2004

Serial numbers

This site just saved me from embarrassing can't-install-the-software-we-own-itis. If you forget to write down your product key and during installation hit the dreaded wizard page with five big empty edit boxes blocking your way, go to that site to get a product key. I'm sure there're a million other places like it, but I'll recommend this site until it fails me.

Did I mention that we own the software?

(Dot ws? Where's that?!? Ah, Western Samoa, according to IANA. Legal reasons?)

posted by sstrader at 11:42 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 22, 2004

Animal magic

We've all read the recent news about the border collie who had a 200-word vocabulary and could acquire new words at a rate equal to to that of a three-year-old child.

And remember the parrot with a 950-word vocabulary or the intelligent crow who could fashion an ad hoc tool to retrieve food from a container?

Or, geez, the pop culturally overloaded meme of Koko the gorilla communicating with a modified form of American Sign Language to everybody and anybody.

What's the impact of all of these stories? They bring up interesting points from several domains of knowledge.

Continue reading "Animal magic"
posted by sstrader at 11:38 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 20, 2004

Space flight tomorrow morning

SpaceShipOne (crappy name) will have a test flight into space tomorrow morning at 9:30 Eastern time. It's the current leader in the Ansari X PRIZE: a $10 million challenge to have a private company build and launch a spaceship carrying three people to an altitude of 100 kilometers and repeat the journey two weeks later.

Continue reading "Space flight tomorrow morning"
posted by sstrader at 10:06 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 15, 2004

Saturn's moons

Here's a painfully geeky but very sincere review of the recent photos from the Cassini probe. It's getting blurry photos of Titan now:

If present-day Titan could be warmed enough to melt its icy exterior, its atmosphere would bear a striking resemblance to that of early Earth, billions of years ago, prior to the emergence of life. Might Titan be a frozen, pre-biotic Earth, telling a tale littered with clues to the origins of terrestrial life long ago?

The past several day it was taking very stunning photos of Phoebe.

Continue reading "Saturn's moons"
posted by sstrader at 1:19 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 8, 2004

The transit has begun...

Today, I'm a geek. I've stayed up to watch the venus transit over a Webcast.

I've got images from:

  • 1:25 AM 1st Contact (Venus enters the Sun's disk)
  • 1:30 AM
  • 1:36 AM
  • 1:36 AM (full disk)
  • 1:40 AM 2nd Contact (Venus is completely within the Sun's disk)

Saw 1st and 2nd contact, but because of the way they were filming, you couldn't see the halo of Venus's atmosphere in the dark region before it entered the Sun's disk.

It looked like a beautiful day in Athens (+7 hours from EST ... see you there in September) with the Exploratorium people narrating for posterity. Their site's getting beaten to death tonight.

The entire transit should last 6-1/2 hours (until ~8 AM EST).

See the pictures...

Continue reading "The transit has begun..."
posted by sstrader at 1:19 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 4, 2004

More on Venus

The Venus transit was a major theme throughout Mason & Dixon, and it is a signature trademark of Pynchon's stories. Many of his themes deal with ineffable transition periods (e.g. the parabolic arc of a rocket as it changes from ascending to descending in Gravity's Rainbow).

The reason behind early attempts at recording the transit was to calculate the distance of the Earth from the sun (the astronomical unit).

At the suggestion of Edmond Halley, the transit pair of 1761 and 1769 was used to try to determine the precise value of the astronomical unit using parallax. Numerous expeditions were made to various parts of the world in order to observe these transits; in effect this was the first international scientific collaboration.

Pynchon had Jeremiah Dixon involved in this measurement. I never researched whether Dixon actually did this or not.

Continue reading "More on Venus"
posted by sstrader at 1:45 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 2, 2004


On June 8th, we'll get to see the unspectacular but momentous transit of Venus. This event is when Venus passes between the Earth and the sun, and happens every 122 years in pairs eight years apart (so the previous two were in 1882 and 1874, the next two in 2012 and 2134). Oops, I took the 122 years number as gospel. It's apparently a cycle of 122 years -> 8 years -> 105 years -> 8 years -> 122 years, etc. Hope for clear skies or watch here.

(Thomas Pynchon wrote about the previous transit in his novel Mason & Dixon.)

Continue reading "Venus"
posted by sstrader at 9:13 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

June 1, 2004

Viva TechTV

Got bumped from a Delta plane to a Song plane on my flight to Las Vegas this morning. Song has tiny TVs for every seat.

Cool. Cool. Cool.

So I get to watch that Screensavers show on TechTV (now G4 TechTV). I understand that some subjects need to be dumbed down for more general audiences, but this show is like the Highlights magazine of tech shows. They were pretty weak.

(but it's fun posting this from my Thera Pocket PC Phone...)

This article from Wired discusses the many problems of G4TechTV. Maybe the dumbing down happened after the merger...
Continue reading "Viva TechTV"
posted by sstrader at 9:49 PM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 26, 2004

Death to SUVs

This blog entry hits it home in defeating the argument that larger cars are safer. It draws from an earlier article from The New Yorker but includes side-by-side photos of a crash-tested BMW Mini and Ford F150.

Now there's no question what would win in a head-on collesion [sic] between the two but then again the majority of accidents involve only a single car.

posted by sstrader at 9:03 AM in Science & Technology | permalink

May 12, 2004

Media client snobs

This recent quote got me thinking again about the pervasive Real-bashing that goes on in Internet-land:

As someone who refuses to use either Real or WM, I cannot listen to anything on the Fresh Air site.

It may only be a fringe-geek obsession, but often as goes the geeks so go those who listen to the geeks.

Continue reading "Media client snobs"
posted by sstrader at 2:01 PM in Science & Technology | permalink