Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Free Internet Security

Hurrah! Originally uploaded by ftruijens.
For those of us who are not fortunate enough to use Apple products that are relatively free from viruses, the online world is a very scary place with viruses, trojans, spam, key loggers, spyware, and spam.

In order to help make the world a better place, Safety Neal and the Bellman are providing some links to free computer security programs, to help keep the malware away.

  • Site Advisor is a new product that uses an artificial intelligence program to visit websites, fill in their forms, submits a unique email address, downloads their freeware products & then monitors the amount of spam, spyware, and malware that results.

    It’s not yet been publicly released, but you can use it as a tester if you want to be bleeding edge.

    I’ve been running it in Firefox for 2 weeks now and haven’t had a single problem.

  • Panda Free Anti-Virus Scan allows you to scan your hard drive manually.

  • Zone Labs Free Personal Firewall that allows you to decide if you want to allow programs to activate other processes as well as if you want to allow programs to access the Internet. In theory, even if you were infected with a worm, this program would keep the worm from reaching out to other computers. In practice, I find people often click through the warnings from their personal firewalls without reading them...human error is unavoidable.

  • Lavasoft's Free Anti-Spyware Utility Ad Aware will scan your computer for spyware.

  • Spybot's Free Anti-Spyware Search and Destroy has a built-in pop-up blocker that helps prevent spyware from being installed. It also destroys keystroke loggers.

Tags: , , , ,

Monday, January 30, 2006

A salve for their wounds

On January 10th, Congress re-authorized the Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act. It's a pretty short piece of legislation that you can read at Thomas.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Canadian Law Blogs List

British Columbia Misty Morning
Originally uploaded by frcsyk.

The Vancouver Law Librarian's Blog, maintained by Steve Matthews has compiled a useful list of Canadian law blogs [Updated:01/26/06]

Thanks to the Law Librarian blog for the link.

Tags: , , ,

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fights & Robbery on the Rise in the UK

The Reckoning
Originally uploaded by Tafa.
I've never understood the British prediliction for robbing people of their cell phone at knife point. Have you ever heard of an American having his or her cell phone stolen? Much less by force...

I thought this quote was interesting:
Mr Sims, Deputy Chief Constable of West Midlands force, told the BBC: "Despite the fact that actual crime is falling... people's fear of crime still continues to grow and that's an issue I think for police and others to try to tackle." |BBC|
Nice bit of spin. Sure, murders, maimings, and home invasions are down, which is certainly good news. But with muggings and petty thefts going up...is it really fair to claim the people's perception is wrong? Maybe they just need a nightstick to the head to knock some sense into them...make sure they show the proper respect for the MPS.

Anyway, the BBC has a nice chart at the end of the article summing it up.

Nerd Alert

NerdTests.com User Test: The Dilbert Personality Test.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sweden Aims for Oil Free by 2020

Maple Leaves in Autumn
Originally uploaded by Luminous Lens.
Treehugger is reporting that Sweden's official goal is to be free of fossil fuels as an energy source by 2020. Good for them. It's certainly a worthy goal.

Slashdot has a lively discussion of Sweden's new policy here (comments threshold pre-set to four).

Tags: , , ,

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jack Frost Returns

It's been really pleasant for most of this winter, but this morning when I took the dog out, the temperature was six degrees and the wind chill stood at five below Fahrenheit.

Of course, this is is nothing compared to the cold snap Russia is experiencing.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Angel of Death

Four men are being held in jail in the Twin Cities accused of the murder of a woman named Nancy Everson. What makes this case unusual, is that one of the accused killers is Nancy Everson's son, Grant.

The alleged shooter, Joel Beckrich, isn't your sterotypical murderer.
Joel Beckrich was an altar boy, an honor student, a Boy Scout...When a neighbor was stricken with cancer, he mowed her lawn and brought her groceries.

"Joel's always been a person of faith," Michelle Beckrich said of her 20-year-old son....But Joel Beckrich was praying from the Carver County jail, charged with the first-degree murder of the mother of one of his best friends, telling police he shot her in the head at point-blank range after asking her whether she'd prefer being shot in the head or chest, according to court documents.

The apparent motive for the killing was to collect insurance money so the men could open a coffee shop in Amsterdam, where they could sell marijuana without legal trouble.|Star Tribune|(emphasis added)
Altar boy turned dope smoker kills his friend's mother for the money to start a coffeeshop in Amsterdam. That's really pathetic.

Tags: , , ,

The robots are coming

Originally uploaded by thunder.
The Korean government is planning to spend $34 million to develop robots for use in security, policing, and military operations. Of course, the US military is already developing robots for the battlefield and the police routinely use robots for demolitions and to carry phones and supplies into hostage situations. What caught my interest is that this article makes explicit that these robots will be connected to a remote sensor network and controlled through a network.

"If the robots prove to be viable technically and commercially, we will be able to begin developing them late next year," said Lee Ho-gil, head of the center.

When completed, the outdoor security robots will be able to make their night watch rounds and even chase criminals, according to Lee.

The government also seeks to build combat robots. They will take the shape of a dog or a horse, with six or eight legs or wheels.

Toward that end, the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) and the Defense Ministry will combine to channel a total of 33.4 billion won ($33.9 million) through 2011.

"The robots will be directed by a remote control system or move autonomously via their own artificial intelligence systems," MIC project manager Oh Sang-rok said.

``The two sophisticated robots will be empowered by the country's state-of-the-art mobile network, thus enabling mass production at an affordable price,'' Oh noted.

Smart robots need three basic functions of sensing, processing and action. Thus far, robotics researchers have tried to cram the three into a single dummy, causing expenses to soar.

Instead, the planned robots will be receiving most sensing and processing capabilities via a Web connection. Only the ability of movement will be located in the robot.

"In a nutshell, the mobile robot offers a hardware platform for the smart functions provided by the country's advanced network connected to the super computers," Oh said.|Korea Times|
This raises security issues to my mind. What happens when some bored teenager hacks the network and sends the computers on a crime spree?

This also reminds me of the PC game Deus Ex where you had to defeat combat robots.

I saw this item both at the Wired GearFactor blog and on Slashdot, which has a moderated forum. If you want to read more discussion about this issue, you can change the forum settings at Slashdot to only show the higher ranked comments.

Tags: , , , ,

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tyranny and the Unitary Executive

Originally uploaded by Kee Hinckley.
Al Gore gave a speech today titled Bush Administration Policies on Domestic Surveillance for the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy which I saw on C-Span. They have a link to the video of the entire speech on their website under the title Fmr. Vice Pres. Gore Speech on Executive Powers (1/16/2006).

The Guardian's Barbara Goldenberg covered the speech, but I don't think she did (former) Vice President Gore justice. If only he'd been this passionate and powerful during the 2000 presidential campaign.

"A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government," ....Mr Gore also called for an independent counsel to investigate the secret wiretap programme. He ranked the operation with other controversial decisions by the administration in the war on terror, including its holding of "enemy combatants" indefinitely without trial, and its justification of harsh interrogation techniques.

"The disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties," he said. |Guardian|

Gore argued that this administration's ideological commitment to the concept of the unitary executive has damaged the balance of power and system of checks in balances in our government and threatens the very future of our republic.

You can read more about the unitary executive and the wiretapping scandal in Jennifer Van Bergen's Findlaw article.

Gore suggested that the Bush doctrine should be called the unilateral executive, not the unitary executive.

Gore compared the misinformation that led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to the misinformation that led to the invasion of Iraq.

Gore used the word torture to describe what tbe Bushies prefer to call coercive interrogation and asserted that the US has tortured at least 100 people to death...and the US not even getting good intelligence for it. He quoted a Pakistani as saying that we are selling our soul for dross.

Gore argued that the logical conclusion of the Bush doctrine on the unitary executive is that there is nothing that can be prohibited. If can commit torture he can commit genocide, license slavery, and authorize summary judgment.

After hearing Mr. Gore speak, I must consider the possibility that Mr. Bush is a far graver threat to the Republic than Osama Bin Laden ever will be.

Tags: , , ,

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The battle over suburbia

nyc at sunset
Originally uploaded by dream awakener.

Joel Kotkin writes an opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal in defense of urban sprawl and the growth of suburbs. He feels there is an anti-sprawl bias among urban planning academics and city planning departments who have tried to slow suburban growth. Mr. Kotkin cites statistics that indicate that these anti-sprawl crusaders are failing and suburbia continues to spread like a fungus around the globe.
Perhaps the best-known case of anti-sprawl legislation has been the "urban growth boundary," adopted in the late '70s to restrict development to areas closer to established urban areas. To slow the spread of suburban, single-family-home growth, the Portland region adopted a "grow up, not out" planning regime, which stressed dense, multistory development. Mass transit was given priority over road construction, which was deemed to be sprawl-inducing.

Experts differ on the impact of these regulations, but it certainly has not created the new urbanist nirvana widely promoted by Portland's boosters. Strict growth limits have driven population and job growth further out, in part by raising the price of land within the growth boundary, to communities across the Columbia River in Washington state and to distant places in Oregon. Suburbia has not been crushed, but simply pushed farther away. Portland's dispersing trend appears to have intensified since 2000: The city's population growth has slowed considerably, and 95% of regional population increase has taken place outside the city limits.

This experience may soon be repeated elsewhere as planners and self-proclaimed visionaries run up against people's aspirations for a single-family home and low-to-moderate-density environment. Such desires may constitute, as late Robert Moses once noted, "details too intimate" to merit the attention of the university-trained. Even around cities like Paris, London, Toronto and Tokyo -- all places with a strong tradition of central planning -- growth continues to follow the preference of citizens to look for lower-density communities. High energy prices and convenient transit have not stopped most of these cities from continuing to lose population to their ever-expanding suburban rings.

But nowhere is this commitment to low-density living greater than in the U.S. Roughly 51% of Americans, according to recent polls, prefer to live in the suburbs, while only 13% opt for life in a dense urban place. A third would go for an even more low-density existence in the countryside. The preference for suburban-style living continues to be particularly strong among younger families. Market trends parallel these opinions. Despite widespread media exposure about a massive "return to the city," demographic data suggest that the tide continues to go out toward suburbia, which now accounts for two-thirds of the population in our large metropolitan areas. Since 2000, suburbs have accounted for 85% of all growth in these areas. And much of the growth credited to "cities" has actually taken place in the totally suburb-like fringes of places like Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.|WSJ|[Sub'n Req'd]

I suspect that he is right, which is all the more sad.

I've often thought that communism fails because it expects too much of human nature and capitalism succeeds because it panders to the most base appetites of humans.

That is why we need regulatory agencies to try to balance out the base appetites with some forethought and central planning. The goal is to bring about a prosperous yet fair and sustainable economy. Alas, the Republicans are totally hostile to reasonable regulation and assume the market will always regulate itself. This belief in the market seems almost religious to me in its unquestioned nature.

To my mind, suburban sprawl is another symptom of overpopulation. As population growth continues exponentially, and everyone wants a house and backyard, we will continue to see the growth of suburbia into farmland, wetlands, and wilderness areas.

If we could rein in population growth and develop sustainable energy sources then there would not be a problem with everyone having a house with a backyard.

However, our current patterns of consumption and overpopulation cannot continue unabated. The coming crisis from climate change, the end of cheap oil and the decline of farming productivity (related to the loss of fossil-fuel based fertilizer, cheap fuel for farm equipment and the shift in climate patterns) will make us eventually realize what a horribly myopic race we are and bring on an economic correction that will make the Great Depression look like a bad weekend. Well, that's enough metaphor mixing for now.

Let me conclude by raising a toast to suburbia. Let us enjoy our decadent American lifestyle while it lasts.

Note: Cross-posted at The Bellman

Tags: , ,

Friday, January 13, 2006

Like a kid in a candy shop

Originally uploaded by baby7.
Stuart Jeffries points to a source of stress in our post-modern world: the dizzying array of choices we are presented with on a daily basis.
[W]e need devices to protect us from our hopelessness at deciding between 57 barely differentiated varieties of stuff - be they TV channels, gourmet coffee, downloadable ring tones, perhaps ultimately even interchangeable lovers. This thought is inimical to our government's philosophy, which suggests that greater choice over railways, electricity suppliers and education will make us happy. In my experience, they do anything but....

Choice wasn't supposed to make people miserable. It was supposed to be the hallmark of self-determination that we so cherish in capitalist western society. But it palpably isn't: ever more choice increases the feeling of missed opportunities, and this leads to self-blame when choices fail to meet expectations. What is to be done? A new book by an American social scientist, Barry Schwartz, called The Paradox of Choice, suggests that reducing choices can limit anxiety.

This is hardly new. Economists have long realised that the perfectly rational utility maximiser only exists in theory. The Nobel laureate Herbert Simon said any firm that tried to make decisions that would maximise its returns would bankrupt itself in a never-ending search for the best option. Instead, they "satisfice", which means they content themselves with results that are "good enough". In business, it's not the utility maximiser who is prized but the decision maker. In this context, to be a good decision maker does not mean that you make good decisions, just that you make a decision. Ditherers are the real pain, as any waiter will tell you.

Schwartz offers a self-help guide to good decision making by helping us to limit choices to a manageable number, and ultimately derive greater satisfaction from the choices you have to make. This is a capitalist response to a capitalist problem. |Guardian|(emphasis added)
So all you need to do to limit your stress is to move to a monastery. Preferably one without cable.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good News

Couple of Mallards
Originally uploaded by 3 Steps Ahead.
Apparently I depressed John yesterday, so I wanted to share some good news with my loyal readers today.

First, the trade deficit narrowed this month. Whoo-hoo!

Second, Oreo cookies no longer have trans fats. Oh gluttonous day...

Third, Zwichenzug is back at The Bellman. Dude!

And finally, we may have turned the corner on the war against spam!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Let private sector fight climate change

By now I should be used to the Bush administration's mantra that the private sector can do absolutely everything better than the public sector, but sometimes their unmitigated gall still takes me breath away.
Speaking before the opening session [of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate] in Sydney, Samuel Bodman, the US energy secretary, said it was better for industry to devise more efficient technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than impose binding targets that hamper economic development.

"I believe that the people who run the private sector, who run these companies, they do have children, they do have grandchildren, they do live and breathe in the world," Mr Bodman declared.

"Those of us in government believe it is the job of government to create an environment such that the private sector can really do its work. It's really going to be the private sector, the companies ... that are ultimately going to be the solvers of this problem."

[SN: Well, that's certainly true, so long as these bozo's remain in control...]

The six participating states - who account for 45% of the world's population and nearly half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions - are expected to announce a series of measures aimed at developing cleaner technologies.

Among schemes under discussion will be "geosequestration", a process for capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground, and "clean coal", a technology for treating fossil fuel so that it releases fewer harmful gases.

Expansion of civil nuclear programmes is advocated by the Americans. Australia is expected to announce a $100m (£43m) contribution to a new technology development fund.|Guardian|(emphasis added)
Unbelievable. I've mentioned this point before, but I think it bears repeating. For fundamentalist Christians like Dubya, this world is just a testing ground. To him, the Earth is utterly disposable. He can nuke it, pollute it, and defoliate it for his is the kingdom of heaven.

Television is so passé

eyeball I
Originally uploaded by EyeOfTheJen.
Wired has an article on huge televisions being displayed at the Consumer Electronics show and some of these prototypes are actually making their way to the market.

Of course, I think this is all pretty silly. Regardless of its size, I don't want a monitor! I want the image to be patched directly into my optic nerve or directly into the vision center of my brain.

Almost every day my eyes burn for staring at these stupid screens. I want a heads up display and augmented reality, not a stand alone monitor on my desk or a hulking television in my entertainment center.

I want to be a cyborg, dammit. I want something like the Virtual Retinal Display. "The [Virtual Retinal Display] works on the principle of a dynamic 'Maxwellian-view optical system'. The instantaneous entrance pupil of the eye and the exit pupil of the virtual display device are coupled so that modulated light is scanned directly on the retina, producing the perception of a stable, erect image."|Human Interface Technology Lab|

Most companies who have made optical see-through displays have gone out of business. Sony makes a see-through display that some researchers use, called the Glasstron. Blair MacIntyre, director of the Augmented Environments Lab at Georgia Tech, believes that the Microvision's Virtual Retinal Display holds the most promise for an augmented-reality system. This device actually uses light to paint images onto the retina by rapidly moving the light source across and down the retina. The problem with the Microvision display is that it currently costs about $10,000. MacIntyre says that the retinal-scanning display is promising because it has the potential to be small. He imagines an ordinary-looking pair of glasses that will have a light source on the side to project images on to the retina. |How Stuff Works|(emphasis in the original)
People are willing to pay $150,000 for an eight foot television, but won't spend $10,000 for a DVR. Maybe the DVR isn't enough of a status symbol for them.

Or maybe they don't want to be a cyborg....silly biological units.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Better late than never

winter reflections
Originally uploaded by mike nl.
I introduced my 75 year old boss to Firefox today.

The Internet is so cool, it's hard for me to fathom how we ever got by without it.

Can you imagine going without Firefox for 75 years? ;-)

The End of Faith

Autumn sky
Originally uploaded by ciemor.
I was watching BookTV on C-Span tonight and saw a presentation by Sam Harris about his first book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Harris proposes that non-believers must confront the irrationality of religion squarely by challenging the ridiculousness of these belief systems. Wikipedia already has an entry discussing Harris and his book's premise.

I assumed Harris was a philosopher or professor of religious studies, but he's actually a neuroscientist. He made some interesting comments about the role of meditation for self-examination and for allowing us to deal with facts of life (such as death) in a reasonable manner, rather than relying on the crutch of a fairy-tale afterlife.

I just ordered the book, I'll let you know what I think after I've read it.

Photo Blogging and Open Worldcat

Evergreen Lake
Originally uploaded by Aprevit.
flickr has made photo blogging incredibly easy. And so long as the poster's privacy settings allow, you can blog any photo on Flickr.

Another wonderful development for blogging is the launch of the Open Worldcat initiative. Open Worldcat now allows bloggers to provide an authoritative bibliographic record for print resources. Worldcat will then help people find that print resources at a physical library near them. You can also download a Worldcat interface for your browser's toolbar (IE and Firefox).

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I took the personality test over at Rum and Monkey and it turns out that I'm a generally unfuckwitted, liberal, tight as fuck, relatively well adjusted human being!

See how compatible you are with me!

Actually, the only time I've ever used the phrase fuckwit is when discussing our current political leadership...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Law School Daze

I've been co-teaching a class on Internet Legal Research this week and I am feeling sleep deprived. I've been a bit nervous as this is my first serious teaching assignment so I haven't been sleeping well. I had to work late last night to give a library tour and then I was up until 2 AM reading my students assignments.

It's only a one credit, five day course, so it'll be over soon and I will go back to usual (erratic) sleep schedule. I'm enjoying it, though.

I did post an entry over at the Law Librarian Blog on Data Mining and the Evolution of Privacy, if you're interested.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Resource Wars: Water Shortages in North America

Dennis Bueckert reports for Yahoo!Canada that water shortages for the U.S. and Canada are an increasingly serious problem.

U.S. water shortages are becoming critical. Flow in the Colorado River, which feeds the Las Vegas Valley, dropped by almost half between 2000 and 2005 due to successive droughts. Yet Canada has major water problems of its own.

The International Joint Commission has repeatedly warned about declining water quality in the Great Lakes due to toxic contamination, and water levels in the lakes have dropped to record lows.

"Although the Great Lakes contain about 20 per cent of the fresh water on the Earth's surface, only one per cent of this water is renewed each year," the commission noted in a recent report.

Ontario, Quebec and eight states signed a deal earlier this month that will prevent thirsty jurisdictions in the southern U.S. from getting access to water from the Great Lakes.

But critics have said the deal still allows for water to be withdrawn at unacceptable levels..."The consequences of these hydrological changes for water availability . . . are likely to be severe," said a study published last month in the British science journal, Nature.....

Maude Barlow, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, argues that a global shortage of water will be the most threatening ecological, economic and political crisis in the 21st century. (emphasis added) |Yahoo!Canada|

K-State gets a new head football coach

When I enrolled at KSU in 1991, it was one of the worst football programs in the country. But the new head coach Bill Snyder, almost single-handedly turned it into a winning team that went to a Bowl game almost every year. I've never been much of a sports fan, but it was exciting to watch the program turn around so dramatically.

Well, Bill Snyder retired this November and Ron Prince has been named the new head football coach.