Monday, January 31, 2005

Paying the Piper

Common Dreams has reposted an articled by Professor David W. Orr titled The Imminent Demise of the Republican Party.

It's a really short opinion piece, but I'll pull out his two top reasons for the demise of the Republicans:

The rules of the Republican Party of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Tom Delay, and their brethren are these:

* Deny science when its findings are not agreeable to your base. Republicans, notably, are on the wrong side of the largest issue in human history: human driven, rapid climate change. They’ve chosen instead to live in a Crichton-esque science fiction fantasy in which real science has no standing and human actions have no tragic, irreversible, and global ecological consequences. This is not just boneheaded, it is a form of criminality for which we have, as yet, no adequate words.

* Deny the looming approach of peak oil extraction thereby advancing the potential of economic, political, and social chaos when global oil supply and demand diverge as soon they will....

Unfortunately, I doubt the Democrats have significantly more will to address these issues. Although it was Bush who killed the Kyoto Protocol, not Clinton.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Geo-location Architecture

One of my fellow students is writing a paper on systems architecture for RFID. There is a great deal of interesting proposals for RFID from homeland security to smart highways with with RFID tags embedded in the lanes to distributed sensor networks (or Super-RFID).

Geo-location technology means "the Net always knows where you are." Said Lynch, "People are building all sorts of fascinating distributed sensor networks, and they are beginning to hook them up to the Internet." Potential applications are very useful: 911 emergency services, "smart" highways, RFID tagging for inventory control, etc. But, as Lynch pointed out, "We don't know where all of this is going to take us." The privacy implications could be enormous. |Link|

I like that phrase, geo-location, b/c the issue of geo-location is much larger than RFID. What's really exciting are machine vision, augmented reality and the internet of things. GPS and distributed computing are as important as RFID. Verisign is planning ONS servers to enable the internet of things. Saw this post over at Slashdot about RFID enabled robots as guides for the visually impaired.

Back to RFID and big brother, here's an interesting article discussing how much all of this would cost and suggesting that little things like the laws of physics and the astronomical cost of these implementations would discourage significant invasions of privacy.

In contradiction, Stapleton-Gray suggests that these networks would be built by private industry and harnessed by gov't. This is actually quite similar to what the British did by networking all the private security cameras in London together. Stapleton-Gray calls this a bottoms-up network.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kansas makes the news: for having a shrinking economy

I'm an army brat, so I moved around a lot as a kid. But I consider myself as being from Kansas. I've spent more time in Kansas than anywhere else, and I have many fond memories of Kansas.

So I am always interested in news about my home state. Leita Walker has written an article on Kansas for the Christian Science Monitor that discusses how Boeing and Sprint may be downsizing their operations in Kansas soon.

Kansas is a nice place, but there aren't many high-paying jobs, that's for sure.

Actually, I think the most productive use of western Nebraska, western Kansas, western Oklahoma, and much of western Texas would be to build giant windmill farms to produce energy for the entire country.

We could use the few people still living in these parts of the country to help maintain the windmill farms. Clean, renewable energy would be a blessing for this country. I doubt it will happen anytime soon, the neo-cons are much more keen on killing brown people to steal their oil.

After I wrote this, I saw that Joshua Norton proposed something similar over at Strip Mining for Whimsy.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Catastrophe Corner: Global Warming

A new international report on global warming has come out, and it's not pretty.

The report says [the point of no return for catastrophic climate change] will be two degrees centigrade above the average world temperature prevailing in 1750 before the industrial revolution, when human activities - mainly the production of waste gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which retain the sun's heat in the atmosphere - first started to affect the climate. But it points out that global average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees since then, with more rises already in the pipeline - so the world has little more than a single degree of temperature latitude before the crucial point is reached.

More ominously still, it assesses the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere after which the two-degree rise will become inevitable, and says it will be 400 parts per million by volume (ppm) of CO2.

The current level is 379ppm, and rising by more than 2ppm annually - so it is likely that the vital 400ppm threshold will be crossed in just 10 years' time, or even less (although the two-degree temperature rise might take longer to come into effect).

"There is an ecological timebomb ticking away," said Stephen Byers, the former transport secretary, who co-chaired the task force that produced the report with the US Republican senator Olympia Snowe. It was assembled by the Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK, the Centre for American Progress in the US, and The Australia Institute.The group's chief scientific adviser is Dr Rakendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report urges all the G8 countries to agree to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and to double their research spending on low-carbon energy technologies by 2010. It also calls on the G8 to form a climate group with leading developing nations such as India and China, which have big and growing CO2 emissions. |Link|


Sunday, January 23, 2005


My wife, Sarah, had the day off Friday because her office was closed due to technical difficulties, so we took the opportunity to scoot up to Santa Barbara for a quick weekend away. The uniform style of architecture in SB makes one realize what a total hodge-podge of building styles LA is.

We also drove up a little town called Solvang, but it was really crowded and not the sleepy, small town we were craving.

We still had a good time. The highlight for me was a large pond near the ocean which sheltered a large number of ducks. Ducks rock.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Is Bush a Satan Worshipper?

I don't honestly think Bush is a Satan worshipper, but apparently many Norwegians are worried according to this AP article.

James Meek also questions what symbolism Bush was trying to evoke during his inaugural speech.

One of the models of American leadership is that of Moses, leading God's chosen people - then the Jews, now the Americans - towards a promised land, following a pillar of fire. At one point, according to the Bible, Moses was shown a sign: "Behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed."

But the key fire passage in the Burning Bush speech - "We have lit a fire as well; a fire in the minds of men" - actually has its origins in a novel by the 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Devils, about a group of terrorists' ineffectual struggle to bring down the tyrannical Tsarist regime.

One of the characters declares that it is pointless to try to put out a fire started by terrorists: "The fire is in the minds of men and not in the roofs of houses," he says.

The novel belongs to a period in Dostoevsky's life which the White House might find attractive, after he had been sent by the Tsar to a kind of Russian Guantánamo and emerged a deeply religious conservative.

Nonetheless, it is not clear whether Bush is identifying here with the terrorists - or the tyrants.

Hm, is Bush a satanist or a terrorist? I think everyone's giving him too much credit. He's simply a tool. Dick Cheney's tool, to be specific.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Tyranny, thy name is Bush

King George took his oath of office today. George pledged "the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world".

That's the funniest thing I've heard all week. Now that's irony coming from a man who has ordered political prisoners to be held incommunicado and to be tortured in the name of national security. A man who still refuses to charge Jose Padilla with a crime. A man who proposes to build a prison to hold these political prisoners for the rest of their lives without a trial or even access to a military tribunal.

This from the man who stole the election in 2000 and used fear and lies to gain power in 2004. God, that's too funny.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Earthquake Cities

I wonder whether LA or Tokyo is going to be levelled by an earthquake first. Tokyo is overdue for an earthquake.

Tokyo remains a great concern because of its high population, history of earthquakes and impact on the world economy if a major quake devastates the capital of the world's number-2 economy. Experts say a major quake is long overdue for Tokyo, which was flattened in 1923 by a quake and subsequent fires.|Link|

So is Los Angeles.

An earthquake on the southern San Andreas of magnitude 7.5 or larger could kill thousands of people, experts have said. On average, quakes of that size have struck Wrightwood at roughly 100-year intervals, although lulls between temblors lasted as little as 10 years and as long as 224 years. The tension that has built up along the San Andreas Fault in the past 150 years has to release itself eventually, said Sally McGill, a geologist at Cal State San Bernardino who specializes in the study of active faults and prehistoric earthquakes. "It's like pulling a rubber band and it's about to break," McGill said by phone from her campus office. "I'll be surprised if it doesn't break in my lifetime.'|Link|

Edited by Safety Neal:
Ok, I'm exaggerating when I call these cities deathtraps. New building materials retard fire much better than materials in 1923 and the buildings are much more resistant to earthquakes due to engineering/construction and architecture techniques.

I grew up in the Kansas, aka Tornado alley. Still, I much prefer tornadoes to earthquakes. Tornadoes are localized and are fairly easy to deal with. But a major earthquake is a systemic event and virtually impossible to avoid. Luckily, earthquakes don't happen very often. Perhaps I'm being provincial by preferring the devil I know to the devil I don't know.

No place is perfectly safe. Perfect safety is a pipe dream, a chimera, a waste of time to pursue. But it's also foolish to build your house on a foundation of sand or to let major cities grow in an earthquake zone. The environment is a constant source of change and you just have to pay attention and keep your wits about you.

But why borrow trouble? If your last house was carried away by a landslide or a flood, consider a better location next time.

The Japanese, of course, live on unstable islands, so maybe they have to accept more compromises, but I still think LA is a bit silly. And since I dislike LA in general, it's harder for me to see the trade-offs in its favor.

Is it time to bomb Iran yet?

Julian Borger suggests that the Bush administration hasn't quite made up its collective mind.

Update: The Financial Times details the Pentagon's response to Seymour Hersch's article (even implying Hersh is an anti-Semite) and the Christian Science Monitor discusses the Pentagon's response and what they are saying about it in Tehran and Islamabad.

From the Tehran Times:

Today, the Islamic Republic has acquired massive military might, the dimensions of which still remain unknown, and is prepared to attack any intruder with a fearsome rain of fire and death.

The U.S. always bluffs in its dealings with powerful countries and only has the nerve to challenge weak and feeble regimes that have nothing to defend since they are only puppet governments. |Link|

I don't like Bush very much, but I don't think he's one to bluff either.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Odd Fact of the Day: WD-40 and cocaine cause nosebleeds

I want to know which car mechanic/cokehead first discovered more about it at the BBC.

Germany investigating claims citizen kidnapped by US

Over at the Bellman, we've been discussing extraordinary rendition for some time, but the Associated Press is reporting an investigation by German authorities into an allegation that a Lebanese-born German citizen was kidnapped by the US or elements in league with the US.

Facts are too sketchy in this article to know if there's any substance to the allegations, but at this point, it wouldn't surprise me if the allegations were true.

More details are available in this Guardian article.

If true, the abduction would add to our understanding of a pattern of US behaviour frightening in its implications both for America and for the rest of the world. The former director of the CIA, George Tenet, told the US 9/11 Commission last year that even before September 11 the US had abducted more than 70 foreigners it considered terrorists - a process Washington has declared legal under the label "extraordinary rendition".

An investigation by the Washington Post last year suggested that the US held 9,000 people overseas in an archipelago of known prisons (such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq) and unknown ones run by the Pentagon, the CIA or other organisations. But this figure does not include others "rendered" to third-party governments who then act as subcontractors for Washington, enabling the US to effectively torture detainees while technically denying that it carries out torture. |Link|

Saturday, January 15, 2005

FBI's Carnivore is obsolete

SecurityFocus has an article by Kevin Poulsenon saying that the controversial Carnivore program has been replaced.

FBI surveillance experts have put their once-controversial Carnivore Internet surveillance tool out to pasture, preferring instead to use commercial products to eavesdrop on network traffic, according to documents released Friday.

Two reports to Congress obtained by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the FBI didn't use Carnivore, or its rebranded version "DCS-1000," at all during the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years. Instead, the bureau turned to unnamed commercially-available products to conduct Internet surveillance thirteen times in criminal investigations in that period.

I was suprised that it was only used 13 times in a year. I'd expect packet sniffers to be used more often with all the internet crime out there....

Saw this over at Slashdot: News for Nerds.

Curious George Strikes Again

I'm glad that Bush has learned as President that words are important. What a dweeb.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Life as Video Game

Wired has an article by Daniel Terdiman on people who (momentarily) confuse life and reality.

Chris Taylor, a staff writer at Time magazine and a regular game reviewer, said he thinks driving games and first-person shooters are particularly likely to make players lose track of reality.

"I just knew the first time I played Burnout 2, the crash part, that I probably shouldn't get behind the wheel of a car for an hour or so afterwards," Taylor said, "because you're expending so much effort on deliberately trying to make your car crash."

Taylor also said that after reviewing Quake III he had trouble getting his mind out of the game.

"I'd play it, then walk out into the office corridor and realize I was looking at my co-workers as potential targets," said Taylor. "I was so used to killing anything that moved."

Ok, I have to admit that I'm guilty of that. I remember driving to my brother's wedding in Chanute, Kansas and it was a long, boring drive. At one point, I was looking to pass on a single lane road with another car coming from the other direction.

I thought to myself that if I couldn't pass the car in front of me before the oncoming car arrived, I would just swerve onto the shoulder of the left lane and go around them both at high speed. No problem, I've done that move hundreds of times.

And then I realized that I had done that move hundreds of times, but only in the Need for Speed.

I decided not to pass any cars until I had a firmer grasp on reality. Driving simulators have made me a better driver in some ways, I think. I don't get flustered at all in emergency avoidance situations. I'm totally used to obstacles appearing in the roadway while having someone try to run me off the road.

Avoiding a bit of debris in the road is nothing compared to that....

I don't actually look at people as targets after playing first-person shooters, but I do find myself looking for cover and concealment and calculating the best way to cover all the entrances in a room subconsciously.

Carmeggedon is probably the most anti-social of the driving simulators. You had to run pedestrians over in order to accumulate enough time to finish the races (or kill all your opponents....). That's when my wife started making me wear headphones to play my games because the screams of the pedestrians disturbed her.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Solar cell breakthrough harnesses UV light with paint spray application

This article by the Candian Press discusses a new form of solar cell technology that is flexible enough to be applied like paint and offers to quintiple the amount of light that can be harvested for power.

"In fact, there's enough power from the sun hitting the Earth every day to supply all the world's needs for energy 10,000 times over,'' Sargent said in a phone interview Sunday from Boston. He is currently a visiting professor of nanotechnology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This breakthrough is a result of nano-fabrication. We don't have nano-bots (yet), but the nano-fabrication technologies are pretty damn cool.

Three cheers for the University of Toronto! Read their press release here. Thanks to Slashdot for the links.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The easiest way to purify water

According to this article from Swiss Info, you can purify water merely by putting it in a clear water bottle and leaving it in the sun on a hot roof for six hours. Who knew?

Saturday, January 08, 2005


The Guardian Unlimited has an article about a seventy-year-old woman named Eva Mozes Kor who survived the death camp at Auschwitz because she was a used as a subject of medical experimentation by the infamous Dr. Mengele. In her interview she talks about the power of forgiveness:

'In 1993 I met Hans Münch, a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz and a friend of Mengele. I found out that he was a real human being and a very nice man. I really liked him and that was a very strange feeling. He said the nightmare he lived with every single day of his life was watching the people dying in the gas chambers - he had to sign the death certificates when everybody stopped moving.

'I asked if he would go with me to Auschwitz in 1995 to sign a document saying what he did at the ruin of the gas chamber in the company of witnesses, and he said yes. Afterwards I decided to give him a letter of forgiveness. I thought maybe he would like it, but I also discovered that I had the power to forgive, and it was a tremendously empowering and interesting feel ing. So I began writing my letter which ended with a declaration of me forgiving everybody.

'If I could meet Dr Mengele today, I would say to him: "I have forgiven you." Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator. Forgiveness has everything to do with the victim taking back their life. I don't have to deal with the whole issue of who did what to me and how on earth am I going to punish them and make them pay for it. I am free of all that baggage.'

For thousands of other survivors, however, the search goes on and the questions remain. Sixty years on, the schoolchildren, tourists and researchers who visit Auschwitz, which is remarkably well preserved, find a desolate and cumulatively shattering place, devoid of hope or redemption - and a sense that all of us were diminished on the tracks to Birkenau. |Link (emphasis added)|

I don't think about forgiveness much. I'm more the type to hold a grudge. The world would be a better place if there were more forgiveness and more trust. But I'm not really the trusting type either.

But if Eva Mozes Kor can learn to forgive the people who murdered her family and tortured her...well, maybe I should learn from that. Peter De Vries once observed: "We are not primarily put on the earth to see through one another, but to see one another through".

In college I was assigned to read Gitta Sereny's Into That Darkness. My friends told me to stop reading it because I was becoming a right depressing bastard. I realize now that I have turned cynicism into my own personal religion. I expect only the worst from people. so I am never disappointed, and sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.

Gregory Corso once wrote: "The fall of man stands as a lie before Beethoven, a truth before Hitler." I think Gregory is on to something. There is so much good about humanity...and so much downright evil. All the hatred, racism, and sexism in our world. A world torn apart by war and genocide, murder and rape.

I will never forget what the Nazi's did. But I must remember that there is much good in the world. I have a wonderful wife and a good life....I am healthy and educated and a rich American. Nothing in my life even holds a candle to what Eva Mozes Kor lived through. I am truly in awe of her strength and her courage, as well as her power to forgive.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Democracy in the Hornet's Nest

Thomas Friedman begins his essay in the New York Times this way: "Each day we get closer to the Iraqi elections, more voices are suggesting that they be postponed. This is a tough call, but I hope the elections go ahead as scheduled on Jan. 30. We have to have a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there."

This once again raises the question Jon Stewart asked a mere two months ago: "What does one wear to a civil war?"

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Release your inner stats geek and check out Nationmaster. Thanks to my friend Julie for the link.