Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Minnesota Dreaming

I'm off to the airport tomorrow morning for my interview and presentation on Thursday, so there will not be any blogging for the next few days.

Proliferation Watch: Brazil and the bomb

Who would have believed that those fun-loving Brazilians were secretly researching a nuclear weapon and had all but a working prototype when the democratically elected president scrapped the program? Judge the article's plausibility for yourself.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Nerd Fashion Advice

Wikipedia is having a fundraiser. We must save Wikipedia!

If you want to show your support for Wikipedia and intimidate people with how overbearingly smart you are, you could buy some Wikipedia wear to show your love.

Thank to the Bellman
for bringing this urgent news to my attention.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Plant Thieves

Yesterday someone stole a jade plant from my front entryway. What sort of cheap bastard steals a house plant?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

White House Mafia

I need another T-shirt like I need another hole in my head, but otherwise I'd buy a T-shirt from White House Mafia.

Their About us page is interesting b/c apparently Google yanked their Google ads b/c they weren't family friendly. WTF?!?! I notice the little flag at the top of my blog now. Does this mean that if I write too many heretical things on my blog my chain will get yanked by big brother Google?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Trivia: state muffin

Did you know that Minnesota has an official state muffin? But I have to wonder about the authenticity of this site. After all, isn't the Minnesota state bird the mosquito?

Video Vigilantes

It's amazing what people can accomplish with just a camcorder these days. Take this story of an 80-year old woman who shut down an open air drug market in Rio de Janiero.

Brief Biography: Hugo Chávez

Richard Gott provides some background and perspective on the curious career of Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela.

Safety Tips, Summer 2005

201. Don't get so drunk you can't walk.

202. Don't drive drunk.

203. Try to stay off the roads immediately after the bars close. The number of people driving under the influence immediately after the bars close skyrockets for at least an hour. Check with your local barkeep if you don't know when bars close in your area.

204. Don't fight with the bouncers.

Intellectual Property Corner: Plagarism / Copyright questions

Cory Doctorow over at Boing Boing asks whether flowcharts are in the public domain. I totally agree that copyright is a legal mess.

I like to blame it on the Mouse. While that is a vast oversimplification, Disney and their corporate counsel have worked hand in glove with the RIAA and the MPAA to subvert the basic rationale of copyright law to protect their interests.

Bastards. The urge to find a scapegoat for copyright's complex evolution is hard to resist...

I've read some about the machinations at the WTO to enforce copyright law, but it's hard to know who to believe and how to get a handle on the situation. The politics of patenting recombinant DNA and genetic manipulation is a whole Pandora's box of interesting questions.

Not only do I wonder about flowcharts, but also about powerpoint slides published on the Internet. If you copy someone's powerpoint slide in toto, you should give them credit. But what if you replace all the text? What if you just borrow a phrase or a backdrop? What is it's a free Microsoft backdrop? Should you give Microsoft credit? Am I obligated to go hunt for metadata to figure out who made it? If I don't, am I vulnerable to a plagiarism charge. Surely the plagiarism issues are the same in powerpoint slides as they are in texts and journal articles.

What if the person I borrowed it from stole it from somewhere else?

Suggestions welcome. Not that I lose sleep over this issue, but I wonder about it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Peak Oil Revisited

Over at the Daily Dose of Architecture, I saw a link to an article titled The Breaking Point by Peter Maass in the August 21, 2005 edition of the New York Times. The section that made me sit up and take notice was this:

Before leaving New York for Saudi Arabia, I was advised by several oil experts to try to interview Sadad al-Husseini, who retired last year after serving as Aramco's top executive for exploration and production. I faxed him in Dhahran and received a surprisingly quick reply; he agreed to meet me. A week later, after I arrived in Riyadh, Husseini e-mailed me, asking when I would come to Dhahran; in a follow-up phone call, he offered to pick me up at the airport. He was, it seemed, eager to talk.

It can be argued that in a nation devoted to oil, Husseini knows more about it than anyone else. Born in Syria, Husseini was raised in Saudi Arabia, where his father was a government official whose family took on Saudi citizenship. Husseini earned a Ph.D. in geological sciences from Brown University in 1973 and went to work in Aramco's exploration department, eventually rising to the highest position. Until his retirement last year -- said to have been caused by a top-level dispute, the nature of which is the source of many rumors -- Husseini was a member of the company's board and its management committee. He is one of the most respected and accomplished oilmen in the world.

After meeting me at the cavernous airport that serves Dhahran, he drove me in his luxury sedan to the villa that houses his private office. As we entered, he pointed to an armoire that displayed a dozen or so vials of black liquid. ''These are samples from oil fields I discovered,'' he explained. Upstairs, there were even more vials, and he would have possessed more than that except, as he said, laughing, ''I didn't start collecting early enough.''

We spoke for several hours. The message he delivered was clear: the world is heading for an oil shortage. His warning is quite different from the calming speeches that Naimi and other Saudis, along with senior American officials, deliver on an almost daily basis. Husseini explained that the need to produce more oil is coming from two directions. Most obviously, demand is rising; in recent years, global demand has increased by two million barrels a day. (Current daily consumption, remember, is about 84 million barrels a day.) Less obviously, oil producers deplete their reserves every time they pump out a barrel of oil. This means that merely to maintain their reserve base, they have to replace the oil they extract from declining fields. It's the geological equivalent of running to stay in place. Husseini acknowledged that new fields are coming online, like offshore West Africa and the Caspian basin, but he said that their output isn't big enough to offset this growing need.

''You look at the globe and ask, 'Where are the big increments?' and there's hardly anything but Saudi Arabia,'' he said. ''The kingdom and Ghawar field are not the problem. That misses the whole point. The problem is that you go from 79 million barrels a day in 2002 to 82.5 in 2003 to 84.5 in 2004. You're leaping by two million to three million a year, and if you have to cover declines, that's another four to five million.'' In other words, if demand and depletion patterns continue, every year the world will need to open enough fields or wells to pump an additional six to eight million barrels a day -- at least two million new barrels a day to meet the rising demand and at least four million to compensate for the declining production of existing fields. ''That's like a whole new Saudi Arabia every couple of years,'' Husseini said. ''It can't be done indefinitely. It's not sustainable.''

Husseini speaks patiently, like a teacher who hopes someone is listening. He is in the enviable position of knowing what he talks about while having the freedom to speak openly about it. He did not disclose precise information about Saudi reserves or production -- which remain the equivalent of state secrets -- but he felt free to speak in generalities that were forthright, even when they conflicted with the reassuring statements of current Aramco officials. When I asked why he was willing to be so frank, he said it was because he sees a shortage ahead and wants to do what he can to avert it. I assumed that he would not be particularly distressed if his rivals in the Saudi oil establishment were embarrassed by his frankness.

Although Matthew Simmons says it is unlikely that the Saudis will be able to produce 12.5 million barrels a day or sustain output at that level for a significant period of time, Husseini says the target is realistic; he says that Simmons is wrong to state that Saudi Arabia has reached its peak. But 12.5 million is just an interim marker, as far as consuming nations are concerned, on the way to 15 million barrels a day and beyond -- and that is the point at which Husseini says problems will arise. |Link|

So, the sky isn't falling. But there are limits to growth and we are a foolish society to ignore them. Read the whole article if you've time, it's pretty stimulating.

I think Jim Kunstler is awfully hard on Peter Maass (or Maas), the article is already longer than the average American's attention span...and Peak Oil is not a fun topic. I think we ought to applaud the NYT for running the article at all rather than throw (metaphorical) tomatoes at them for not spelling out the potential global implications in even greater detail.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Nanotube discovery

Researchers at UT Dallas have discovered a remarkably fast method of producing nanotubes that could perhaps lead to the development of the space elevator. Sweet.

Life should have a soundtrack

Ebohn tagged me with the music meme the other day and I've totally neglected to respond to him because I'm a bad person.

Another reason that I'm a bad person is that when I lived with ebohn, I used to make him listen to Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair each and every day for months on end. I know the incessant playing of Exile in Guyville tested his patience after a while, but he's such an easy-going character that he never once lost his temper when I played they album day after day...

Now I can play the album as often as I want with my Ipod and not bother anyone. Yes, I finally joined the Ipod generation a few months ago and it has improved my life in a small, but measurable, way.

I hope ebohn will forgive me for all the Liz Phair...

(BTW, Wikipedia has an entry for Exile in Guyville. How many encyclopedias can say that?)

I don't listen to Exile...that often these days, but I still enjoy the album every time I listen to it.

The most recent song that I've purchased from Itunes is 100 years by Five for Fighting.

Sarah has added a lot of music to our collection, but these are some albums that I've converted to AAC for our digital collection recently.

Shaking the Tree by Peter Gabriel
Tigerlily by Natalie Merchant
So Much for the Afterglow by Everclear

Joshua Tree by U2
Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack by Various Artists
Fush Yu Mang by Smashmouth

Live at Blues Alley by Eva Cassidy
Everybody else is, so why can't we? by the Cranberries
This Way by Jewel
Little Plastic Castle by Ani DiFranco

Live from the Fall (2 Vol)
by Blues Traveler
Shaming of the Sun by Indigo Girls

Several songs that I've been listening to quite a bit lately are Sand in my Shoes by Dido, Wednesday by Tori Amos, 100 years by Five for Fighting, Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Interview in Minnesota

I have an interview at an academic law library in Minneapolis on September 1st for a potential reference librarian position. The position involves teaching as well reference work, so I'll be leading a mock class as my presentation.

I'm one of two finalists...so wish me luck. From the preliminary interview it also sounds like there's some potential for me to eventually do some systems librarian work as well. For those of you not up on your librarian jargon, a systems librarian is a librarian who works with IT staff on the design and implementation of the information systems that form the infrastructure of the library.

On the importance of a good user interface

One of my information architecture instructors, Lynn Boyden, sent me a link to this brief essay by Bruce Tognazzini which explains how a poorly designed user-interface killed John Denver.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Neal's Information Tip #313

Carry a phone book in your car. A phone book is much faster than trying to access yahoo maps over your cell phone in most cases, although Yahoo maps does have a nifty feature now where you can email directions to your cell phone.

But the phone book is good for finding things to do to kill time in the general area and for when you're outside of your provider's cell network or the network goes down for any reason.

A phone book is like a reference work for your car. You can stuff maps and other finding aids into it.

Thanks to Mun for the tip.

Information Seeking Behavior in Context: Mysterious Highway Closure

So yesterday I was driving along at 125 miles per hour in a borrowed sports car. It was fabulous, except for the traffic of course. But the sensation of speed is a lot of fun. But I saw a CALTRANS sign that read: I-5 Closed Over Grapevine. I wasn't sure what that meant, so being Safety Neal, I slowed down to 100 miles per hour.

An hour later the entire freeway came to a complete stop. You could creep along at a pace of 10 meters every fifteen minutes, but people walk faster. Traffic was effectively stopped out in the middle of nowhere.

I turned on my radio and surfed the AM bands to hear something about a Hazardous Material spill on a country station. So I kept listening to country music and it was confirmed.

Since I was burning gas and my car could overheat, I pulled over and turned the engine off.

Some people call me hyperactive, but I like to think of myself as ambitious. When there are no other options, I try to wait patiently, but I generally try to find something to do like reading or taking an inventory of supplies.

I wanted to know why all four lanes of traffic were stopped. I began my research by chatting with some other individuals and heard stories of an explosive danger from a trucker. I was

I called out twice for information but was unable to reach anyone before the cell network overloaded and sent began sending out a signal that the network was busy.

After an hour, I strapped on my camelbak and grabbed my flat-brimmed hat and went for a walk.

I walked several miles and approached a retired couple. The y called a relative who was watching the news. According to the news, it was radioactive material that had spilled on the Highway. No one was going south. If you made it all the way up to the front, they sent you back along I-5 North to Bakersfield.

As I walked back to my car frequently people would ask me the news. Another woman whose car had overheated had talked to AAA who were also advising that it was radioactive materials.

Unfortunately, the geography of Southern California is such that the only real alternate route for the I-5 is to go East at Bakersfield and head into the Mojave desert. At least that was the general consensus among those of use there using our maps for shade.

Two hours later a cop came by on a loudspeaker and told us to get back in our cars.

Then it was a slow start, but eventually it was off to the races again in a massive traffic jam headed for LA.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Contemporary Issues in Public Librarianship: Online Child Pornography

They are trying to fire the head of a public library in Florida because a registered sex offender looking at child porn on the Internet at the library. If the article is correct, this seems crazy to me. It sounds as if the library had taken several reasonable steps to prevent the library from becoming a haven for smut.

This sounds like a pretext to get rid of the library director to me. I'll bet this ends up in court as a wrongful termination suit.

Municipal politics can be so much fun.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Climate News: Siberian thaw may represent climatic tipping point

A million square kilometers (or roughly 385,000 square miles) of Siberian peat bog that has been solid permafrost since the last ice age, 11,000 years ago, is thawing and may release tremendous quantities of methane. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas that over the next century "would effectively double atmospheric levels of [methane] gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming [according to Dr. Stephen Sitch, a climate scientist at the Met Office's Hadley Centre in Exeter]. |Link|"

The increased albedo of a peat moss bog as opposed to snowy permafrost will also accelerate the greenhouse effect and some scientists fear this may be a tipping point beyond which climate change spins out of control.

It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying "tipping points" - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a dramatic change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater increase in global temperatures.

Dr Kirpotin [of Tomsk University in Sibera stated that] the situation was an "ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming". He added that the thaw had probably begun in the past three or four years.

Climate scientists yesterday reacted with alarm to the finding, and warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards.

"When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it's unstoppable. There are no brakes you can apply," said David Viner, a senior scientist at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. |Link|
Who said science was boring?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Darwin Award: Video Game category

A South Korean man who played computer games for 50 hours almost non-stop died of heart failure minutes after finishing his session in an internet cafe. The 28-year-old had been playing an online battle simulation.
Reuters, Seoul |Link|

Random RFID Update: Microchipping License Plates

Wired has an article by Mark Baard on microchipped license plates. These are active RFID, which is basically a transponder. The article mentions the benefits of being able to catch anyone who is uninsured or has not renewed their license plate.

But it can also be used to track if you are speeding, if you drive on the wrong side of the road, cross a double yellow line, park in a handicapped stall.....

You get the idea. It isn't a backdoor method of surveillance, it's a front door method of surveillance.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Terrorism and Cyberspace

The Washington Post has an article Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser discussing how the Internet has been a boon for international terrorism precisely because of its ability to cross borders and its pervasiveness.

Selected quote:

The number of active jihadist-related Web sites has metastasized since Sept. 11, 2001. When Gabriel Weimann, a professor at the University of Haifa in Israel, began tracking terrorist-related Web sites eight years ago, he found 12; today, he tracks more than 4,500. Hundreds of them celebrate al Qaeda or its ideas, he said.

"They are all linked indirectly through association of belief, belonging to some community. The Internet is the network that connects them all," Weimann said. "You can see the virtual community come alive."

Apart from its ideology and clandestine nature, the jihadist cyberworld is little different in structure from digital communities of role-playing gamers, eBay coin collectors or disease sufferers. Through continuous online contact, such communities bind dispersed individuals with intense beliefs who might never have met one another in the past. Along with radical jihad, the Internet also has enabled the flow of powerful ideas and inspiration in many other directions, such as encouraging democratic movements and creating vast new commercial markets.

The Future of Privacy: Ubiquitous Computing

UC Berkeley has some interesting readings on privacy and ubicomp listed here.

The Future of Privacy: GAO finds TSA broke federal privacy law

Leslie Miller of the Associated Press has the details courtesy of Information Week.

The GAO letter said that the TSA also said originally that it wouldn't use and store commercial data about airline passengers. It not only did that, it collected and stored information about the people with similar names.

“As a result, an unknown number of individuals whose personal information was collected were not notified as to how they might access or amend their personal data,” the letter said.

It was only after meeting with the GAO, which is overseeing the program, that the TSA published a second notice indicating that it would do the things it had earlier said it wouldn't do.

Oberman said it's not unusual to revise such notices.

“We are conducting a test,” he said. “I didn't know what the permutations would be.” |Link|
See, it was just a test to see if they could violate the privacy laws...It's good to know they can violate our (weak) privacy laws with impunity anytime they want in the name of national security.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Random RFID update: Former HHS director pushes Verichip

Did you know Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin and Director of Health and Human Services under Dubya has been Verichiped and wants to do the same to you?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

What is a reliable answer? What is truth?

In my Information Architecture class we discussed Robert McHenry's article The Faith-Based Encyclopedia.

Traditional encyclopedias may hire a recognized expert to create a succinct article on a topic, but other experts may differ from the one the encyclopedia hired. On Wikipedia you can see that the expressed viewpoint is disputed and you get links to external resources that will amplify your understanding. And in a week the answer on Wikipedia may change. And it's true that the different paragraphs of the Wikipedia entry aren't necessarily internally consistent with each other.

I see Wikipedia as one's entry into the conversation on what is true rather than an authoritative resource that should be taken as gospel.

It is comforting to have a definitive answer, but definitive answers are so often misleading.

I like to flatter myself into thinking that I always choose the less comfortable, murkier realities to struggle with. I at least make an effort to investigate the shades of grey...

I do not believe that there is objective truth, there are only our perceptions of reality. It's like the blind men trying to describe the elephant. I won't digress into epistemology too much in this post, but I think that seeking a definitive answer to a query forces on to ask if there is such a thing as a true, justified answer. I think all we can get to is justification and the truth is always a bit elusive. The standard has to be a claims' persuasive value and predictive value rather than its ultimate truth.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The entire battalion went AWOL?

Jerry Seper has an article in the Washington Times discussing the growth of an organization known as Zeta. 15 years ago, Zeta was an elite anti-narcotics paratroop battalion. Then one day the battalion deserted en masse and began freelancing for drug cartels. For Zeta members, duty and honor couldn't compete with the rewards offered by criminal syndicates.

The organization's hub, law-enforcement authorities said, is Nuevo Laredo, a border city of 300,000 across from Laredo, Texas. It is the most active port-of-entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, with more than 6,000 trucks crossing daily into Texas, carrying about 40 percent of Mexico's total exports.

Authorities said the Zetas control the city despite efforts by Mexican President Vicente Fox to restore order. He sent hundreds of Mexican troops and federal agents to the city in March to set up highway checkpoints and conduct raids on suspected Zeta locations.

Despite the presence of law enforcement, more than 100 killings have occurred in the city since Jan. 1, including that of former Police Chief Alejandro Dominguez, 52, gunned down June 8, just seven hours after he was sworn in. The city's new chief, Omar Pimentel, 37, escaped death during a drive-by shooting on his first day, although one of his bodyguards was killed.

Authorities said the Zetas operate over a wide area of the U.S.-Mexico border and are suspected in at least three drug-related slayings in the Dallas area. They said as many as 10 Zeta members are operating inside Texas as Gulf Cartel assassins, seeking to protect nearly $10 million in daily drug transactions. |Link|