Friday, April 28, 2006

F*#&%ing Spammers to Datamine Zombies

Slashdot covers a Globe and Mail article on the next generation of spam, which will use rudimentary datamining techniques to peruse the email inboxes of infected computers to generate spam messages to contacts that reference real conversations and will be difficult for humans, much less computer filters, to distinguish from real email.

I hate spammers.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Brain Scan Passwords?

In a follow-up to yesterday's post on mindjacks, Wired has an article discussing the possibilities of using brain waves for authentication. What I find most interesting is the statement (highlighted below) about biofeedback between monkeys and machines. Not only do we program the machines, but the machines begin to program us.

[Professor Jacques Vidal of UCLA] is more optimistic about a simpler form of mind reading, in which the computer provides a stimulus, then measures the brain's response. Such "event-related responses," or ERPs, to color flashes or specific sounds tend to produce brain signals that are different with each individual, but nearly identical when repeated on the same person. "ERPs could be used for biometric identification," says Vidal.

Such a technique could even benefit from the adaptability of our brains. Instead of trying to passively recognize a thought, like in the ideal implementation, a system could rely somewhat on the user deliberately learning how to generate the right brain pattern, using feedback from the machine as a guide.

In experiments with monkeys, researchers found that the animal and computer can effectively train each other. "As the animal learns to control the machine, both the neurons in his brain and the algorithm that uses those signals change," says Reza Shadmehr, professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at John Hopkins University. "Together, the coupled system converges to a successful decoding." |Wired (emphasis added)|

Library 2.0: Serving the MySpace generation

A colleague sent me a link to Paul Miller's article Coming Together around Library 2.0: A Focus for Discussion and a Call to Arms which discusses the application of Web 2.0 applications to the library world.

I think the criticisms highlighted below are only too true.

Miller declares:
[T]he widespread availability of rich, open sources of information has raised the skills, the expectations and the aspirations of our users ... and this is surely not a bad thing. It has shown us some of what may be possible, and has given us much toward which we can aspire and then move beyond. We should not lash out, attack, or complain.

[Libraries] should embrace these changes and extend them, in order to improve the range of services available and to meet the needs of our users.

Many of the library sector's current systems and processes may well be overdue for criticism, especially when viewed through a lens shaped by experience of the lightweight, flexible, intelligent and responsive applications encountered online every day.

Our innumerable opaque information silos, our endless authentication challenges, our wilfully different interfaces, and our insistence on attempting to suck everyone and everything into the library building or onto the library site – all of that, we should collectively be prepared to admit, could be better.|D-Lib (emphasis added)|
Of course, trying to get institutions to embrace bleeding edge technologies is a challenge...

But what would life be without challenges?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Worst President Ever

Sean Wilentz, Director of the American Studies program at Princeton, makes a compelling argument in Rolling Stone for why Bush may just be the worst president ever.
[N]early three-fourths of [historians polled] who gave Bush a negative rating -- reached back before Nixon to find a president they considered as miserable as Bush.

The presidents most commonly linked with Bush included Hoover, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan. Twelve percent of the historians polled -- nearly as many as those who rated Bush a success -- flatly called Bush the worst president in American history. And these figures were gathered before the debacles over Hurricane Katrina, Bush's role in the Valerie Plame leak affair and the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Were the historians polled today, that figure would certainly be higher.

Even worse for the president, the general public, having once given Bush the highest approval ratings ever recorded, now appears to be coming around to the dismal view held by most historians.|Rolling Stone|

Direct Neural Interface for Hard Core Gamers

Video games have long driven computer and video card sales. It is astounding how much time and money gamers will spend on their highly addictive hobby.

Well, now there is a new technology for them to spend their money on.
At least two start-ups have developed technology that monitors a player's brain waves and uses the signals to control the action in games. They hope it will enable game creators to immerse players in imaginary worlds that they can control with their thoughts instead of their hands. |Mercury News|

The potential for this is endless. Imagine horror games that learn what scares an individual and what doesn't and changes the game's make-up accordingly.

On a side note, the Koreans are again showing just how futuristic they are. Korea is becoming a very interesting place and I wonder what it will be like ten years from now.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New on SSRN: Extraordinary Rendition

Title: Ghost Prisoners and Black Sites: Extraordinary Rendition Under International Law

Author: Leia N. Sada, Washington University School of Law


This Essay examines the contentions of U.S. government lawyers that the U.S. should abandon the provisions of the Geneva Conventions in favor of a de novo legal regime that would govern the capture, detention, treatment and trial of enemy prisoners taken in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), whether captured in the U.S. or abroad.

In particular, it examines the question of extraordinary rendition - transferring detainees abroad for detention and interrogation either from the United States, on behalf of the United States, or from occupied Iraq. Although the numbers of prisoners rendered abroad has been relatively few, the covert nature of the operations, and the allegations of prisoner mistreatment raise very troubling questions about the wisdom and the legality of the U.S. rendition program. It concludes that extraordinary rendition is not permissible under existing, applicable and well-established norms of international law.

Additionally, because renditions are carried out in secret, employ extralegal means, and often result in prisoner abuse, including cruel treatment, torture, and sometimes death - they appear to be emblematic of the larger human rights concerns that trouble many of the detention and interrogation practices employed by the U.S. government since September 11, 2001. Of particular concern is that rather than explicitly amending the law or articulating clear, narrowly tailored justifications for derogating from the law, derogations that would presumably be temporary and specific, such as the derogations permitted under international human rights treaties, government officials have sought to redefine legal norms in an exceptional burst of “executive activism” in ways that are neither particularly plausible or persuasive.

This use of legal subterfuge is deeply troubling in and of itself, as well as in regards to it potentially harmful consequences. Finally, the Essay questions the efficacy, as well as the wisdom, of these extralegal policies.|Link|

Virtual Holy Land

Two Carnegie Mellon students are creating a video game called PeaceMaker that puts players in the driver's seat of the most intractable political problem of the late twentieth century.
In "PeaceMaker," players choose between the role of an Israeli prime minister or a Palestinian Authority president. They make policy decisions, communicate with the international community and monitor opinion polls while coping with "black events" -- bursts of violence that threaten to throw the game off course.

"PeaceMaker" incorporates news footage of actual events designed to make players feel connected to the real world. The game's objective is peace through a two-state solution, but players can also wage attacks. |CNN|

The article also discusses last year's popular educational peace game, Food Force.

Can video games be used to increase interest in real solutions to endemic international problems? It's an interesting thought.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Clever car

The Compact Low Emission Vehicle for Urban Transport (CLEVER)is a cross between a motorcyle and car that is designed specifically for the urban area and holds the promise to decrease congestion and pollution.

Jonathan Fildes has a write-up in the Guardian or you can visit the project page at the University of Bath.

Ball and Chain

The Wall Street Journal has an article (sub'n req'd) discussing the rise of 45 year mortgages. These mortgages are especially popular in California where home prices have spiraled out of control.

I suppose that even 50 year mortgages are better than living in an apartment forever.

But it's just another sign of how oppressive the housing market is in venues like Southern California, Washington DC, Phoenix and Miami. The analysis I read suggests that in markets where people continue to immigrate, housing prices will remain steady or even climb. Housing markets are obviously quite local.

Of course, rising sea levels should make real estate in Miami worthless within the next couple of decades. The influx of environmental refugees states like Florida and Louisiana in the next couple of decades is going to make the New Orleans refugees look like a drop in the bucket.

CIA data mining blogs

The Law Libraian Blog is reporting that the CIA is data mining blogs now as a barometer of public opinion.

Highlights of the data mining are apparently showing up in Bush's intelligence briefings.

Sounds like an excuse for someone to read blogs at work, if you ask me.

So,if you're reading this President Bush, I suggest that you resign and go back to Texas before the impeachment proceedings starting in Illinois and Calfornia gain a full head of steam.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Kansas' crazy AG loses another one

Earlier I mentioned the lawsuit against the Kansas Attorney General for his crazy rule that all sexual conduct by minors must be reported to his office, although it turns out that he was only interested in using this information to harass anyone wanting an abortion.

I just saw over on Feministing that the court has ruled against the AG on this one.

Kansas Law Rev. rejects Jurisprudence of Fuck

The Law Librarian Blog has a post indicating that my alma mater took a total of 20 minutes to reject a law review article on the jurisprudence of fuck. Ah, Kansas.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Back in Minnesota

Sarah and I returned to Minnesota today. I had a great time in Kodiak, but I sure am tired from flying all night.

Blogging will resume again once I've had a good night's sleep.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Alaska Bound

Sarah and I are off to Alaska for a few days starting tomorrow so blogging will be light.

Sarah has to go for work and I am just tagging along, so I don't feel quite as guilty about traveling by air. Jet aircraft are impressive, but air travel is among the most extravagent of our fossil-fuel burning ways.

We're going to Kodiak Island, which should be fun. This is my first trip to Alaska and it's about the same temperature up there as Minnesota was three weeks ago. I'm starting to get excited and I could use some time off after the past week. It was pretty darned hectic.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Post-Peak Oil Resources

Energy Bulletin is a new resource I've discovered that is proving a rich resource for solutions to dealing with the looming peak-oil problems.

Their peak-oil primer provides some background on peak oil as well as suggestions for ways forward.

I hadn't really thought of Cuba as an example of how societies can respond to the energy crisis, but it's at least proof that these issues can be addressed head-on and survived.

If you live in a centrally-planned economy in a tropical climate, at any rate...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Microsoft writes loophole into state spyware law

“Now we are talking about Microsoft having the freedom to check your computer for any sort of illegal or fraudulent activity you might be participating in. Without your knowledge or consent. It is giving up your rights to privacy.” [says] State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, about House Bill 2083. The bill gives software or online access companies freedom, without liability, to erase spyware and pirated software from users’ computers, in addition to monitoring for fraudulent or illegal activities. |Ok. Gazette|

Basicaly, your End User License Agreement (EULA) will determine what rights your trusted computing vendors have over your system.

The EULA is that huge block of legal boiler-plate that you click that you've read when you haven't really. I don't usually even bother to read them. They strike me as the worst types of contracts of adhesion where there's a total disparity of bargaining power and their terms are often horrendous...but what else can you do?

Don't even get me started on shrink-wrap licenses...

But this new step by Microsoft raises the stakes by giving the EULA the imprimatur of law. I find this incredibly distasteful and a bad omen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

I am the ship the state...

I've raged about this before, but Geov Parrish sums it up well:

[T]he Bush [National Intelligence Estimate] leak rationale follows an all-too-familiar theme: Bush cannot break the law, because Bush is the law....

Bush and the people around him appear to have genuinely believed, for at least the four and a half years since 9-11, that the President by definition is incapable of breaking the law.

On his sole authority laws can be ignored, overridden, or changed. Even implicitly. Even retroactively...
|Working for Change|(emphasis in the original)

Child Porn legal in half of Interpol member states

Law Librarian Blog has a disturbing post today that indicates that child pornography is legal in roughly half of Interpol's member states.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Linux makes big gains in Asia

Slashdot has two recent posts on the gains made by the Linux computer operating system (OS) in China and India. Go penguin!

I generally feel that open source software is better than proprietary (or closed source) software. If open source is adopted widely, then in the long run there will be more innovation and more stable computing platforms, which is a good thing for our embattled world.

Of course, Microsoft is still a huge power in the world, but I think in twenty years they'll just be another computer has-been, like Atari.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Dumbass in court for releasing alligator into lake

Just when I think my opinion of humanity couldn't get any lower, I read that the dumbass who released a six foot plus alligator into a lake in Harbor City, California is going back to court to determine how much of the $150,000 it cost to re-capture Harbor Park Harry.

I'm sorry, but if you're so stupid that you cannot discern that releasing a man-sized crocodile into a public lake is a bad idea, then you should be sterilized to make sure that you never breed.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Digital Vision

Doctors have now successfully hooked cameras directly into a person's optic nerve, allowing people without eyes to see.

That is so cyberpunk.

Now they just need to figure out how to port a 360 panorama around a vehicle directly into the brain and then we'll be cooking with gas...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Safety Tip #33: Portable Car Emergency Kits

I'm sure all of my devoted readers keep a survival kit in their auto. If not, the Los Angeles Fire Department has some suggestions.

But the point I want to make is that you should keep your survival kit (or kits) packed up in a bag or duffle so that if you borrow a car for a trip or rent a car, you can easily switch the kit to the new car.

I used to keep my survival kit scattered about in three different places in the back of my old, creaky Volvo and when I would borrow a car for a long roadtrip, I'd rarely transfer much of anything into the new ride.

So here I am undertaking a long trip with my car survival kit gathering dust at home. never had to learn that lesson the hard way, but in retrospect, it was pretty foolish of me. All that I'm saying is that portability is a virtue in a car survival kit.

One thing I do carry in my car kit that no one else seems to list are little sports cones designed for marking out football or soccer fields. They aren't as bright as flares, but they sure last a lot longer. I got mine at Sports Chalet for $1 each, but they don't carry them online right now.

The cones also work well for signaling caution and demarcating areas, for instance, when you're moving furniture and people are driving recklessly down the alley in which you're carrying a sofa backwards, the cones put them on notice to be more cautious.

Transforming the Classroom

There's an online convention occuring right now focusing on the pedagogical use of "blogs, wikis, RSS, podcasts, vblogs and other digital tools" called the HigherEdBlogCon.

Check out their website to learn more about transforming academic communities with these new social web tools.

Thanks to Debby for pointing this out to me.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Freedom of choice threatened in Minnesota

Minnesota is a state that respects the right of disadvantaged women to terminate their pregnancies and requires the state to pay for abortions for low-income women.

However, a new law, HF 3258, would change this fact and would track judicial bypasses of Minnesota's parental notification bill.

In Minnesota, the focus of [anti-choice] attention is a case known as Doe vs. Gomez that requires the state to pay for abortions for low-income women as long as it provides other prenatal services...

Taxpayer-funded abortions now account for 29 percent of the abortions performed in Minnesota, at an estimated cost of $1 million a year. Sponsored by Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, the [pending] legislation would prohibit all taxpayer-funded abortions except if the mother's life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest.

Leaders of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) say the bill would negate Gomez and could set up a new showdown in the state's Supreme Court, which has only two justices remaining from the court's original decision...

Planned Parenthood chief lobbyist Connie Perpich called the measure a threat to the Gomez ruling and "the most wide-ranging anti-abortion bill in the Legislature in 10 years."

A teenager seeking an abortion in Minnesota is required to notify both parents. But she can petition the court for an order allowing the clinic to proceed with the abortion....

Hamline professor David Schultz has said the abortion legislation is likely unconstitutional, and described its main provisions as an attack on judicial independence and a form of "legislative thuggery upon the courts." |Star Tribune|
Society definitely need more people having babies they don't want and can't afford.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Safety Tip #32: Clean your sponge

Clean or replace your kitchen sponge every month. They can harbor all sorts of nasty germs.

You can put your sponge directly into the dishwasher or microwave it.

Or you can soak it in bleach or baking soda. Or you can just toss it and grab a new one.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Jesus hates you...or is it the observer effect?

jc by Trappist.
A recent study of the effects of prayer on illness indicates that prayer actually makes the illness worse.

If true, this could mean a lot of things. It could mean that God doesn't answer prayers. Or that they were praying to the wrong God...or Goddess.

Or that there is no God.

Perhaps there is a higher power, but the Gods have some greater purpose intended from your death.

Or maybe it's just a flawed study, as one of the study's authors points out:
"Here [the heart patients] are, facing the biggest challenge of their lives, just about to go into the operating suite, and don't know whether they're coming back or not," said Charles Bethea, of the Integris Baptist medical centre in Oklahoma City, a co-author of the study. "And then we have someone come in and introduce themselves as a study coordinator."

The arrival of the "prayer team" may have convinced those patients that their situation was particularly dire, heightening their anxiety, Dr Bethea speculated.|Guardian|

Update: The Chronicle of Higher Education |Sub'n Req'd| also has some coverage of this item. They quote Richard P. Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University whose forthcoming book is called Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine as saying: "Faith...doesn't require documentation and proof, and it shouldn't. It's not only bad science, it's a disservice to religion to conduct these kinds of studies." |CHE|

The $2.4 million study was financed by the John Templeton Foundation and the Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation.

It is interesting that some turn to science to attempt to prove or disprove the existence and actions of some higher spiritual power.

There's a larger point to be made about what counts as persuasive in our culture and how the most absurd claims will be entertained so long as they are couched in statistical form...but we no longer are persuaded by visions, dreams, miracles, or divine intervention.

Back when I was in college, I wondered aloud several times what I would do if a burning bush asked me to kill my roommate, similar to what happened to Abraham. Would I listen to the bush or would I write it off as an hallucination induced by too little sleep?

I'm sure my roommate wanted to know the answer to that question as well...